The miners’ struggle in Spain has become a focus for the fight against austerity.
Police fired rubber bullets into a demonstration of hundreds of thousands in the capital Madrid on Wednesday of last week.
The protest occurred as the conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy announced a further £50 billion worth of austerity measures. These include a VAT hike, cuts to unemployment benefit and public sector wages, and privatisation of ports, airports and railways.
For more than 50 days the miners have been striking against cuts in subsidies that would destroy their industry. Workers across Spain have been inspired by their struggle, including running battles with the police and mine sit-ins.
Other workers had a chance to join them on Tuesday of last week, as a delegation of miners arrived in the capital Madrid after a march of more than 270 miles.
Miners’ helmet lamps lit up the streets as more than 150,000 people turned out. Chants of “Long live the struggle of the working class!” rang out across the city, as did songs from the 1936 revolution. Supporters had travelled across Spain to greet them.
The huge march that followed was an official demonstration, called by the largest trade union federations in Spain, the UGT and CCOO. But that didn’t stop the police attacking it.
Olvidio Gonzalez, a 67 year old retired miner, was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet. “We were walking peacefully to get to where the union leaders were speaking and they started to fire indiscriminately,” he said. “There was no warning.”
Demonstrator Sam Robson told Socialist Worker, “We took shelter in a metro station, but it was impossible to get back out. As soon as anyone tried they would get shot at.”
As Rajoy read out his plans for the unemployed, his party’s MP Andrea Fabra shouted that the jobless could “go fuck themselves”. The opposition have called for her to resign, and images of other conservative MPs applauding her have further fuelled wider anger.
Protests have since targeted the offices of Spain’s ruling Popular Party. It is now a mainstream conservative party, but it can trace its roots back to General Franco’s dictatorship.
Public sector workers have also led militant protests, including roundblocks, against the pay cuts. Union leaders have indicated they could call a general strike.
This could be a turning point for the resistance in Spain. Union leaders cut a shoddy deal after a general strike in 2010 leaving many workers pessimistic. But everything changed in May last year, when assemblies of mostly young protesters occupied city centres.
Millions of people got involved in this movement of indignados. Despite initial suspicion of the union movement, their anger has fed into workplace struggles. The second general strike in March of this year reflected this new mood.
Now the miners’ strike has crystallised the desire to fight back. For decades they have been one of the strongest and most militant sections of the working class. In the small mining villages of Spain almost every job depends on coal.
Santiago spent 21 days occupying his mine—and then left to join the long march to Madrid. “I haven’t gone through all that sacrifice just for money,” he said. “We’re fighting so our children don’t have to quit our towns. We’re fighting so that our communities survive.”
The government wants to smash the miners so it can attack on everyone else. But miners have inspired workers across Europe. If they win it will give a huge boost to the resistance.