Struggles in the Spanish shipyards re-ignite - reports from September and October 2004

This is a blow by blow account of the shipyard workers revolt in Spain in the Autumn of 2004. The revolt was in response to the Spanish state declaring that half the shipyards were to be privatised.

Submitted by Jason Cortez on March 18, 2009

The workers resistance was met with violence from the police leading to major confrontations. It was originally a photographic report, hence the rather sparse texts about individual events.


Right up until the Spanish elections in March 2004 (and the train bomb attacks in Madrid), the shipyards of Spain were in open revolt against wage levels and lack of work for the 11,000 workers of the State-run IZAR shipyards. Battles raged across the country, particularly on the streets of Cadiz (in the South) and Bilbao (in the North) and an aggressive programme of strike action was in place . In addition to the workers directly employed by IZAR, there are 60,000 in (Reports on industrial action in Spain - February and March 2004) the auxiliary sector (often subcontractors) and 36,000 in adjacent industries. The Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist union CNT were heavily involved in the auxiliary companies of the shipyards of Seville and Puerto Real, although recent job cuts seem to have reduced their influence.

When the New Labourish Spanish “Socialist Workers” Party (the PSOE or PoliticS Of Excrement) won the election the main shipyard unions dramatically made a pact with the new Government to cancel the whole campaign of industrial action. Officially this was to give the Government “a chance” to save the shipyards. Unofficially, the unions were losing control of the workers action and the unions also took cynical advantage of widespread revulsion against the train bombings to call a halt to the violent strike action.

So disgusted were the CNT with this dramatic and total union sell-out that they wrote off the shipyards at the time as having no future – even writing a requiem for the industry, which had already undergone three restructuring plans in the 1980’s with the loss of 30,000 jobs. Back in March it looked like the yards had rolled over to the new Government and were finished.

As the summer progressed, it appeared that this prediction was coming true. The Government set up a Commission to look at the future of the shipyards, a move that was interpreted as trying to find a new way to cut back the industry. In July it was revealed that the previous PP Government (People’s Party – similar to Tories) had known that the European Union was demanding the return of €300 million of illegal subsidies given to IZAR, but had not bothered to mention this to the PSOE – so now the yards were in even more financial trouble.

Everything came to a head on 8th September when SEPI (the organisation which runs the shipyards for the State) announced that it was going to split the shipyards in two and privatise half of them. The State would convert half of the yards into profitable military ship production (and keep control of them) and the other half would become a commercial ship company and be sold off.
The following day the shipyard workers went out on the streets across Spain and the mainstream unions called four days of official strike action through September. For the rest of that week the workers of San Fernando (Cadiz), whose yard is threatened with closure, battled with the police and erected burning barricades across motorways and railway lines.
The first official strike day on 14th September featured demonstrations at all 10 Spanish yards, with street battles and barricades outside the Cadiz yards of San Fernando and Puerto Real.

The next day, in a pattern to be successfully repeated throughout September, wildcat action by the workers of San Fernando took the police by surprise, erecting burning barricades to block major roads and on this occasion overturning a car on the motorway and setting it alight.

On 16th September the workers of the Sestao yards of Bilbao rioted, setting fire to a number of barricades and blocking roads and railway lines (at one point a forklift was used to pile up material to make a better road block!).
The fighting was widespread and fierce, with one worker losing an eye when the particularly nasty Basque “Ertzaintza” riot police attacked the workers with CS gas and rubber balls (like bullets but round):

Workers in Puerto Real also took to the streets using catapaults to fire steel bolts at the police who blocked their way into Cadiz with armoured cars and a tank.
The workers of San Fernando decided to take a day off as they had fought with the police and blocked roads for the past six days!
The next day (17th Sept) a large group of shipyard workers in Seville tried to block the huge Centennial V Bridge (in the background of the picture below) but were forced back towards the yards by a ferocious riot police attack that left at least 23 injured.
They blocked another main road instead, with lampposts and furniture taken from a lorry:

Official strike days were called on 21, 28 and 30th September and were generally marked by large peaceful demonstrations, although individual yards still rose up in more violent revolt.
On 21st September it was Gijon’s turn, with roads and railways blocked:

On 23rd September workers in Sestao built barricades from burning cars and on 24th workers in Gijon rioted again, blocking roads with burning tyres.
On 27th September workers from the San Fernando yards blocked the main railway line with for the second day running, but this time they also ripped up 100 metres of track!
On the 28th there were demonstrations at every shipyard in Spain.

Throughout this dispute the local communities that surround the shipyards have shown widespread support for the strikers, joining them in large numbers on their demonstrations.
This unity of action across the workers in Spain’s shipyard industry has been a welcome change, as in the past different regional politicians and unions have been able to play the yards off against each other, and there has been a fear that some of the smaller yards would be left to fend for themselves.

This unity took a bit of a knock on 30th September when the workers of Sestao discovered that a ship which was going to be built at their yard was switching to Puerto Real.
Their anger over this decision provoked one of most violent days in the City.

In Ferrol a peaceful demonstration of 3,000 workers turned violent when the strikers began to the block roads leading into the port. Later in the day sentries at one of Ferrol's military installations threatened demonstrators with an assault rifle after they threw fireworks towards them.

Meanwhile, the workers of Manises blocked the runway at Valencia airport.The workers of Manises are particularly worried that the local Government want to sell off their yard to property developers because of the high value of the land.

On 1st October there was a widespread general strike in San Fernando and Puerto Real in support of the shipyards, the first strike of its kind since 1991.
A demonstration of 25,000 people in Seville on 5th October brought shipyard workers from across Andalucia onto the streets, along with workers from the Altadis factories and the Magical Island theme park of Seville (who are also threatened with closure), and workers from FASA-Renault and EADS-CASA.
The latest day of action was on 6th October. In Seville, there was what was described as a “pitched battle” with the police after they stopped the shipyard workers from marching into the city.
The workers fired home-made rockets at the police, burned cars and threw petrol bombs.

In San Fernando, another fierce battle around the shipyard itself saw a 38 year old man lose an eye after been shot by the police some 60 metres inside the factory. An ambulance taking him to hospital was blocked by a tank that was deliberately parked across the gates of the yard.

Workers in Puerto Real again fought the tanks and armoured cars of police who stopped them from entering Cadiz.The strikers later displayed missiles that the police had been firing at them:

The concerted and violent action of the shipyard workers has shaken the new President Zapatero, with some commentators referring to them as being “urban guerillas”. On the union front, the pressure is increasing and splits are appearing between the mainstream unions. The two largest unions (CC.OO and CGT) have come out in support of privatisation in the last few days, much to the dismay of all the other unions.

In advance of the latest meeting between the unions and SEPI, several yards (including Seville and Gijon) have put their plans for industrial action on hold to see the new proposal that is apparently on offer: no closures and no job losses. It remains to be seen if this is all it first appears and what protection there will be for the workers of the Auxiliary Industry.

Report by Jim Bradley 11/10/04
This article taken from
A similar article also appeared in Direct Action No.34 Spring 2005, the magazine of the Solidarity Federation-IWA
Background on the Puerto Real shipyard strike of 1987: