THE CITY of Seville in southern Spain was shut down on the eve of the European leaders' summit there last week. A general strike of workers saw militant pickets defy the law and shut down major industrial and transport centres. Most shops, bars and restaurants were also closed down for the day.
It was exactly the same story in towns and cities right across Spain. Some ten million workers were on strike last Thursday. Over two million joined demonstrations in more than 90 towns. Thursday's strike and demonstrations were just the start of days of protests and marches focused around both the European Union summit and the attacks Spain's Tory government is mounting against workers.
Those attacks will be familiar to workers across Europe. They are part and parcel of the drive to 'flexible' labour pushed across the continent by the alliance of Tony Blair with the right wing prime ministers of Spain and Italy, Jose Maria Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi.
In Spain Aznar is attacking the welfare benefits of unemployed workers and seeking to force them to accept any job, no matter how low paid. Spanish government ministers used the media to claim the general strike had failed.
Yet the impact of the workers' action was visible everywhere, and even the BBC reported that there were ten million workers on strike across Spain. Levels of electricity use were down to below that of a normal Sunday. The car industry, most public services and transport links were brought to a halt. Hundreds of thousands marched through dozens of cities proclaiming their determination to fight Aznar's plans.
Whole families joined the march in Seville. One of the demonstrators, Sonia, told Socialist Worker why she was marching:
'The government is trying to take away the fundamental rights of workers. I have a job as a biologist at the university, but I have no right to unemployment benefits or to union rights.'
Her mother, Carmen, added that they had no faith in the European politicians and their summit: 'They are only talking about the rights of capital, not the rights of workers or human rights.' Many marchers waved red flags and carried home-made workplace banners. They sang and chanted.
The atmosphere was more like a carnival of resistance than a traditional trade union demonstration. Banners said 'We will not be slaves' and 'First they make us emigrate, then they discriminate against us. If you are rich they call it tourism, if you are poor they abuse you'. The Spanish government wants to ignore the workers' movement.
When the unions claimed some 600,000 had marched in Barcelona, the government said it was only 15,000. Even the local police admitted the march was around 500,000! In Seville the unions reported some 100,000 on the streets, but the government lie machine said there were only 9,000.
The Spanish government can try to ignore the workers' action, but the militancy and anger of the strike, on the picket lines and on the march, showed the power to beat Aznar and gain the momentum for the working class.
'Flexible labour' key issue behind battle
SPAIN'S PRIME minister Aznar received applause from recently elected right wing leaders across Europe when he claimed, wrongly, that the general strike had been a 'fiasco'. Those leaders-Berlusconi from Italy, Raffarin from France, Schussel from Austria and Balkanende from Holland-were all overjoyed. Aznar also called Tony Blair 'my friend'.
The issue at stake in the strike was the centrepiece of the Blair-Berlusconi-Aznar alliance creating 'flexible labour markets' by attacking workers' rights. This goes together with the attacks on asylum seekers that were at the centre of European leaders' summit discussions.
Behind the Spanish strike is a decree from the Aznar government. This takes away unemployment benefit from anyone who does not accept any job available within 20 miles of their home, regardless of pay or conditions. It is also scrapping benefits for hundreds of thousands of agricultural labourers in the south of the country, for whom there is only work three months of the year.
This will compel them to emigrate hundreds of miles to the north of the country if they want a livelihood. Spain's union leaders are not especially militant. Until recently their language was close to the 'social partnership' talk of Britain's TUC union leader John Monks. The Workers Commissions union federation (CCOO) has been run by its 'moderate' wing for several years.
And the other main union federation, the UGT, has usually been thought of as even more 'moderate'. But Aznar's 'take it or leave it' attitude to his attack on workers' rights forced these union leaders to respond. Only a small minority of Spain's workers are formally members of the unions. But on Thursday between 80 and 85 percent of all workers joined the strike. Aznar's hard line forced union leaders speaking at the Seville demonstration to use very militant language.
The leader of the Workers Commissions told the demonstrators this was 'a historic day for the working class' and they would show that Spain could not be governed without the unions. Aznar will now be putting pressure on the union leaders to go back on such talk. They may fall for his line.
But the militant mood shown on the picket lines and demonstrations must in reality be frightening Aznar. There was an enormous sense of solidarity from workers of all sorts, public sector and private sector, manual and white collar, women and men.
People in their fifties who remember the fight against General Franco's fascist regime, which ended 27 years ago, were there alongside workers in their teens. There was the same spirit we saw in the great anti-capitalist demonstrations against the G8 summit in Genoa last July, and in the uprising in Buenos Aires which toppled the Argentinian government in December.
Pickets in the morning
THE FIRST pickets took to the streets of Seville at midnight. They paraded through the popular bar and restaurant quarters of the city, chanting 'Strike! Strike!' and shutting down bars.
At 5am pickets gathered at the central Prado bus station. Maria Jesus Gallardo Ventura was one of the 30 or so who closed the station down. She told Socialist Worker, 'The strike is against the government that wants to take away our rights and benefits. They want to take away all aid from the agricultural workers, making them have to leave home and move to cities. The government considers the unemployed to be delinquents.'
There were cheers when the doors of the station were shut and barriers thrown across some entrances. Jose Manual Gil added, 'Today there will be no buses.' Another picket told Socialist Worker, 'People are getting more angry. It was the government that imposed their reforms. People think it is time to stand up and stop Aznar.'
'Anti, anti, anti-capitalistas!'
A MASSIVE anti-capitalist demonstration burst through Seville last Saturday. The city was filled with well over 100,000 demonstrators, the majority from southern Spain. The police shut down the train station, stopped buses, and closed the border with neighbouring Portugal to try and ruin the march.
But demonstrators defied the police, and temperatures of 38C (100F), to show their opposition to the European Union summit. The mood was very militant, echoing the mood seen in the general strike and trade union demonstration two days earlier. The march was organised by the Social Forum of Andalusia. It had two official banners.
One read 'Against a Europe of capital and war' and the second read 'There is no such thing as an illegal person.' Antonio from the social forum told Socialist Worker, 'The number of people here is very good. 'The general strike woke people up and made them want to have more marches and actions.'
People demonstrated over a huge range of issues, from the environment to solidarity with Palestine, from women's rights to anti-privatisation. A huge balloon painted as a globe bounced along the march to illustrate the slogan of the movement, 'Another world is possible'.
There were big delegations from the major Spanish trade unions. They carried the flags and balloons they had made for the general strike. All these protesters were united in their opposition to the policies of Spanish prime minister Aznar.
And they were united by their opposition to capitalism itself. The chant of 'Anti, anti, anti-capitalistas' was taken up time and time again. Some banners read 'Imperialism is the father of real misery' and 'No to capitalist terrorism'.
A popular chant went, 'Bush, Sharon-asesinos! Viva, viva, los Palestinos!' Another theme running through the huge demo was solidarity with refugees and immigrants. There was a delegation from the 500 immigrants who had been occupying a building at the university in Seville.
People watching from their balconies clapped the demonstrators and poured watering cans, buckets and even hose pipes to cool down the cheering crowd. The spirit of anti-capitalism was visible in every section of the march. From the beginning right to the end, protesters sat down in the road, held back and charged, chanted and danced. The En Lucha group, Socialist Worker's sister organisation, led one of the liveliest, most militant sections of the march.
Europe hit by protests
SPAIN WAS not the only European country hit by workers' strikes and protests last week.
- GREECE was paralysed by a 24-hour public sector workers strike against the government's plans to savage pension rights. Buses, flights, trains and ferries were all hit, as were public buildings and government offices.
- ITALY saw workers in factories across two key regions, around Milan and Naples, strike against government plans to make it easier to sack workers. Magistrates and judges also struck across the country.
- GERMANY saw the start of the first building workers' strike since the Second World War. Workers on sites in Berlin and Hamburg downed tools, and union leaders have threatened to extend the strike over pay.