Metalworkers in Cadiz, Spain were on strike for 9 days in late November until the mainstream unions signed an agreement with the employers that many consider insufficient and even insulting. Nonetheless, things are now pretty much back to normal and it’s time to take a stock of the whole affair.
Cadiz, in southern Spain is a very depressed area with endemic unemployment -currently over 50% for workers under 30. Historically, the only income available for most families in the Bay of Cadiz has come from working on the shipyards or in hospitality during the summer season. Since the mid 80s, most of the metal sector has been relocated to other countries and the little that remains today only survives because of the strikes, tireless mobilisation of its workers, and the support of their communities that see the dying metal sector as their last lifeline.
This strike, the first since 2018, started to brew earlier this year when the workers began to realise that the purchasing power of their wages was plummeting. The unions initially tried to contain the situation within the framework of the collective agreement negotiations. But the employers are not giving in. Inflation is increasing their profitability and they want to consolidate it.
The unions, under increasing pressure from the workers, then convened an open meeting and took the lead in calling for a strike. It is clear that this was not their own initiative. In other sectors where union strikes had been called, such as in the meat industry, the unions avoided strike action by reaching agreements on wage increases below the consumer prices index (CPI).
The combination of inflation and ‘wage containment’ plays a central role in the “recovery strategy¨ as understood by the Socialist Party-Podemos-CP government. The metal strike in Cadiz, which quickly echoed across the country, is not only a ‘dangerous example’, but necessarily uncomfortable for the ¨most-progressive-government-ever¨.
The media circus is set in motion. The news outlets will make a great effort to limit the public debate to the alleged “violence” of the protests. The ‘Communist’ Party tells the workers to have confidence in the government, and even warns them that the strike is only helping the right-wing parties in the opposition. Their cynicism only fuels the mistrust and discontent of the workers, who step up the pressure and stage a protest in front of the trade union headquarters.
On Tuesday 23th, students in Cadiz went on strike and solidarity protests start to be called in different parts of the country. For some, the strike is seen as a much needed change of pace against the inaction of the last few years in the middle of a never-ending crisis
And then on Wednesday night. just before a weekend with several solidarity protests programmed all over the country, the first news of an agreement emerged from a meeting of the mainstream unions, CCOO and UGT, with the employers behind closed doors.
The agreement reached goes against the aim of the strike and differed only in detail from the employers’ initial offer. Instead of covering the effects of inflation (4.6% today, possibly 6% by the end of the year), they settled for a third (2%) plus the promise (!) of a review to cover up to 80% of what was lost.
The unions say:¨We have reached an agreement, which we will pass on to the union reps from each company and, subsequently, each one of them in his company, if he sees fit, will put it to a vote.¨
Less than twelve hours later, on Thursday morning, the details of the agreement are leaked to the press and the strike is called off even before most of the workers have had the chance to vote on anything.
The truth is that in the absence of proper strike committees, the union reps from CCOO and UGT have been told by their leadership that only if, one by one, each of them met with a lot of resistance, could they call a ballot… and a secret ballot at that.
Meanwhile, the alternative unions (CGT and CTM), who are organising demonstrations in support of the strike, rejected the agreement and called for a continuation of the strike. But when it comes down to it, they play by the rules imposed by the unions: workplace-to-workplace endorsement and by secret ballot.
But the die is cast: the media celebrate the ‘agreement’ in style, and confusion and frustration, if not demoralisation, reigns.
Nobody is happy with the agreement, but the workers come back to work resigned, treating the unions treason like business as usual. At this point, it can’t even be considered a treason anymore.
However, the 220 CYMI workers, a Dragados subcontractor with some of the most precarious contracts with not even union representation and left out of the infamous agreement decided to keep striking for almost two weeks in total until they got rises of between 200 and 400 euros.
There has been some more strikes all over Spain that normally end with similar results but it feels like more workers are starting to get pissed with the whole situation. The question is if the workers will find the way to self-organise in a way that allows them to put up a fight on their own terms.
Some union bureaucrats are having a hard time to keep the workers in line, like this CCOO representative telling this group of cleaners that the strike has been called off and them telling him to fuck off. Instant classic.