Spain: Millions strike to defend working rights

October 2, 2010
Barcelona, September 29.

More than 10 million workers staged a general strike in Spain on September 29 in response to vicious government attacks on their rights and pensions.

The huge mobilisation, organised by the Confederacion Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) and Sindicato Union General de Trabajadores (UGT) labour unions, produced a 75% turnout of members, sending a strong message of opposition to the austerity measures.

UGT secretary for organisation and communication Jose Javier Cubillo said that in some sectors of the economy, such as steel and energy, support for the strike was close to 100%.

Services such as transport, which have a high union density, were severely affected, leaving many people unable to enter major cities.

Picketers hurled eggs at buses and blocked lorries from delivering produce to wholesale markets.

But unions have accused police and Spain’s right-wing media of demonising workers.

Fernando Lezcano from the CCOO said pickets had encountered aggression and even physical violence.

He said: “The statements of the employers and the campaign of certain media have encouraged violence against unions, with the result of several injuries among the members of picketing workers.”

The general strike — the first in eight years — marks a bitter split in the close relationship between unions and Spain’s Socialist government, which is struggling with a 20% jobless rate and a large deficit that has prompted market worries that the country might end up in Greek-style crisis.

Under pressure from the European Union Commission and the International Monetary Fund, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero introduced labour “reforms” in May that made it easier to sack workers and cut their minimum redundancy payments.

A €15 billion (£12.9bn) austerity package that includes a 5% cut in civil service pay, cuts in pensions, a rise in the retirement age and cuts in government capital-spending programs, much to the dismay of unions that had previously enjoyed a constructive relationship with the government.

The Communist Party of Spain-dominated United Left front, which is giving political support to the anti-cuts campaign, praised unions for their principled stand.

United Left federal co-ordinator Cayo Lara said: “The workers have shown they are invincible when they are organised and know how to respond appropriately to attacks from those who hold economic power in our country — those who are engaged in cutting our rights.”

[Abridged from]

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