2006: Interview with a CNT striker at Mercadona

A 2006 interview with a CNT member on strike in Barcelona.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on October 20, 2014

Our Mercadona fellow workers in Barcelona have been o­n indefinite strike for almost 100 days. We interview Jose Uribe, secretary of the syndical section of the CNT. The main reason is the readmission of various fellow workers fired by Mercadona and the withdrawal of a sanction --that they also imposed o­n me-- of job and salary suspension for several days. The corporation found out about our union activities and reacted this way. Nevertheless this is the straw that broke the camel's back; and it doesn't mean it's the o­nly reason nor the most important o­ne. In fact, we started our union activities before these workers were fired. We've been fighting the daily harassment of workers at Mercadona for a while. We also demand safety and hygiene, because we handle a lot of merchandise daily, unloading boxes, preparing orders etc. A single striking worker can prepare and unload 2 tons of Mercadona merchandise in o­ne day-- that's why we need safety and hygiene. We have none-- we don't even have a food handler's card. With these conditions, you could kill yourself any second. We also demand a paid half-hour lunch break. Mercadona doesn't pay breaks-- not even lunch breaks (this was signed by the UGT union)

What is the corporation's attitude?

Even before starting the strike, they brought a bus full of scabs-- and they've continued doing that ever since. It's interesting, because the first days there were lots of workers who supported the strike-- soon after there were o­nly 20-- the same as today. But the scabs continue working; about 100 approximately. In the meantime Mercadona has lowered the level of production (workload) because if they maintain it as high as it was before we began striking-- the other workers will begin striking again. In any case, Mercadona is exploiting even the scabs, because the strike is getting long and it's expensive for Mercadona to maintain scabs in 4 star hotels, pay for their rental cars and "scab extra money" Nevertheless these shameless scabs are lazy, and couldn't withstand for a month the job we've done for years. Mercadona is bringing more scabs and they're even hiring new personnel.

Mercadona's attitude is o­ne of repression, fear and harassment. They tried to bribe and blackmail us-- insinuating deportation of the (mostly Latin American) strikers and other such tactics. The other day, someone sent 2 men pretending to be policemen to my house-- I was with my wife and daughter when they told me that they wanted to have a few words with me. They knew I was a spokesman for the union, and when we sat down to talk they threatened us with deportation and with "grave and unknown consequences"

How come you were so many at the beginning, and now you're so few?

Coercion is the main reason why. We think Mercadona has even brought psychologists to persuade the workers to quit striking. The first day they brought a security company with many cars and men to guard everything (even the buses that carry the workers to Mercadona--which are several per day-- carry security guards) They also brought bosses from everywhere-- harassers who didn't hesitate in using all possible means to prevent employees from going o­n strike. Due to this environment, our number was reduced. But anyway-- us remaining strikers, are no longer traumatized by our reduced number-- because if we were 200 striking workers, Mercadona would bring another 200 scabs. Between charges we've filed and the time that it takes for them to be resolved--even a grave charge-- the strike would prolong for many weeks with many workers without income; and we are not very enthusiastic about the idea of people focusing their solidarity o­n workers whose o­nly motive to go to the strike is to support it, and at the end of the month be paid solidarity money. Here you have to live the strike by heart-- otherwise you can go back to work. We are not going to agree o­n anything for people who don't back the strike down to its last consequences.

Have you done anything legally about the scabbing?

Yes, we are trying, but Mercadona doesn't allow the strike committee to enter the work area. We're pursuing all kinds of lawsuits.

What kind of support have you received so far?

Apart from the unions associated with the AIT, we've received support from SEAT (automobile corporation) fired workers. A short while ago they invited us to o­ne of their assemblies. Also from some small left-wing collectives which were interested in asking questions and interviewing us for their publications. That's about it. We've also received support from anarchist associations and collectives in Barcelona. And like in all strikes, from many people in Barcelona, who witnessed our strike. We haven't received support from other unions-- of course not the CC.OO and UGT unions-- we don't want anything to do with them-- they're a bunch of exploiters and they know about immigrant exploitation. UGT is in the Barcelona Mercadona corporate committee, and testified in the trial of our 2 fired fellow workers.

Since many of us come from Latin America, where we've experienced tough social conflicts; with unions, wars etc-- the first thing we did when we came to Barcelona is join those 2 widely known business-friendly unions. Fortunately, we've been able to maintain a certain level of organization amongst ourselves, and that's what made it possible to strike against Mercadona-- because if it was for the UGT and CCOO, by now we'd all be fired. CCOO o­nly cares about the union elections-- and none of us want that. Here we believe we are all in charge-- that there are no leaders-- we have to work and decide everything with the assemblies.

Do you await good results from the law regarding firings, sanctions, scabbing etc?

No. The Generalitat (local government) is against us. They don't want us to strike and without offering any arguments they've declared all strikes illegal. They've ruled we have to be o­n the sidewalk and we lost the appeal when we tried to contest the ruling.

It turns out we don't have the right to strike and they can rule it illegal without an argument. This behavior from the Generalitat is provoking us into to taking the matter all the way to the Constitutional court-- which perhaps someday will remind these parties of their contempt for people-- but taking it to the Constitutional court would take years.

About the firings, we also don't have any hope. They'll be deemed inadmissible and we'll have to appeal to the Superior Justice court-- there we do have hopes; but right now we are going to win with direct action, by striking. We are seeing how business power comes from all corners-- our strikes are declared illegal and the rulings are very abnormal. Also, the Guardia Civil (similar to police) guards Mercadona when there are pickets-- and there many forces don't allow the strike committee to pass. If you try to reason with them the best thing that can happen is they'll shove you. Those of us who are striking know that the o­nly thing we can count o­n is our own work and the solidarity from the union or other organizations and people.

How do you see the future of this fight?

During the strike it always seems grim. We've consulted with other fellow workers from the CNT who lived through other long strikes (such as the crane or Tomares strikes) and the truth is that while they were striking they never saw the light at the end of the tunnel. As is obvious, business doesn't want to yield an inch-- but time and persistence gives us the hope we'll win someday.

Want to add anything?

I want to thank you in the name of all of us who are in strike, and to call to arms all those who fight against capitalism. You have to know that this corporation, Mercadona is an exploiter, just like Corte Ingles or any other big business with a well-known anti-union anti-people reputation.

This is the front against capitalism-- you must come to the front and support striking workers-- you must make their struggle your struggle; their strike your strike. Take into account that there's nothing o­n your side except people's solidarity. Everything else is against us: politicians, local and state governments, the police, business unions, and the mass media. We have to unite in solidarity-- many of us have different beliefs, from people who believe in nothing to christians and anarchists or leftists, but we share the belief that we have to change things and we can't look the other way-- this fight is the daily struggle of the working class-- a perfect example of what happens in these big corporations-- horrible exploitation. There's always fear and very few times has it been
possible to organize workers in big corporations- that's why anytime there's a struggle against o­ne of these behemoths, we must support it as an example to all workers.

Translated by Jonathan Shockley
Taken from Ainfos