Puerto Real in flames-Industrial action at shipyards in Spain, February & March 2004

Puerto Real in flames-Industrial action at shipyards in Spain, February & March 2004

This is a series of on the spot action reports, from the strike in the Puerto Real (Cadiz) shipyards in early 2004, Which erupted into fierce fighting with the police and spread to other industries with wide spread support and involvement of the local community.

IZAR - Spanish shipyards

Report - February 18th 2004

There is a lot of militant industrial action going on in Spain at the moment, including a national shipyard workers strike which really kicked off this week. Pictures below are of the workers of the Izar shipyards, in Puerto Real (Cadiz), who returned to maintain confrontations with the Police, yesterday on the Carranza bridge (there had previously been battles in Puerto Real on 5th and 6th February). This dispute goes back more than a year but has become more confrontational in recent months.

38 Strikers were also injured when the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at a demonstration on the same day at the gates of the shipyard in Seville, during which a van was set alight and used as a barricade (below). For the views of the CNT in Seville check out an interview with one of the activists involved.

Demonstrators also blocked train lines in San Fernando. Over 100 home-made rockets were reportedly fired at the police in Seville and another simultaneous demonstration in Cadiz, including a new "crescent moon" design with metal disks that cause severe hand injuries (one policeman had a finger cut off in Cadiz). Many large ball bearings and bolts from the yards were fired at the police with catapaults.

The strike is over labour and wage conditions of 11,000 workers of eleven centres including Andalusia, Asturias, Valencian Community, Galicia, Madrid and the Basque Country (the bosses may also want to close down yards and cut a lot of jobs). There were also demonstrations in La Coruña (4,000 people) and Oviedo. In Bilbao (Sestao shipyard), about 1,200 strikers blocked the Bilbao-Santurce highway with burning tyres.

Map of the IZAR shipyards

Report - 21st February 2004

After the big street battles in Cadiz and Sevilla earlier in the week (which were followed by unprecendented actions by the police and shipyard agents who frisked everyone leaving the Cadiz yards and took their photographs as they left the gates and later it was discovered that the police had also mounted 2 cameras and 5 microphones next to the venue for the workers assemblies inside the shipyard), things have calmed down a little in the south. That is, the official unions have taken hold of things. There have been large peaceful demonstrations in Sevilla, Manises (Thursday 19th Feb) and Cadiz (Friday 20th Feb).

Yesterday’s demonstration of about 6,000 in Cadiz (below) was quite interesting as it was joined by workers from the Delphi car company and workers from the Comes transport company (who have also gone out on strike over pay today, see below) and Altadis (tobacco manufacturing factory threatened with closure), and seemed to get a lot of support from local people despite a very oppressive police presence and the fact that it was also pissing down throughout!

The police had said that the workers from Puerto Real could not march across the Carranza bridge again, after the blockades on Tuesday, but they went across anyway and the cops backed off. The unions have called for next week to be a week of no protests, but to “inform public opinion”. There are due to be negotiations at the start of March.

Not to be outdone, however, about 1,200 workers of the yards in Bilbao took to the streets on Thursday (19th), blocking the Bilbao-Santurce highway with burning barricades (again). This time the cops were very violent , injuring 30 strikers with rubber bullets and CS gas.

The activities of the strikers are organised in assemblies, with a clear difference emerging between many of the workers and the official union representatives (who are putting a lot of effort into closing down the street actions of the workers). During the large confrontations at the yards in Sevilla earlier in the month (5th Feb), when one of their comrades was arrested, an improvised assembly organised itself and came up with an offer to the police: set him free and we will stop the battle. Within an hour he was released!

As far as I can make out, one of the issues that has made life difficult for workers’ fightback has been the the two main unions - the UGT and the CC.OO (because Izar was formed out of 2 shipbuilding companies, each with their own union representation), who have entered into damaging agreements with the owners and maintained the old divisions between workers. The official representatives are seen as being “bought off” by the company and as working in tandem to control the workers. The CNT are very excited about the way the new industrial action has brought a new sense of unity across the company (partly because of being organised in open assemblies). All these strikes have been wildcat actions so far, although there will be "official" action and a ban on overtime in March.

From a leaflet that the CNT has been distributing in the Seville yards:

“We say: put on the pressure and negotiate at the same time. Are we saying something that is not common sense? A union which worries about the company more than the industrialist himself does, is a weak union. A union that negotiates more than it puts on pressure is a weak union. A union that is dependent on subsidies and State financing is a weak union. A union that fragments the interests and the unity of the workers is a weak union. And all of this is happening at the present time, the unions are getting discredited more each time it happens and the conclusion and the only way out is social conflict*. This is what we’ve always known: that when the other means fail, to take the conflict to the street and to push politically opens any door.”

*I think this may be better translated as “class warfare”

Report - 24th February 2004

Quiet day monday with 3,500 astilleros from the shipyards of Fene and Ferrol, in the north of Spain (La Coruna), marching through Santiago (the capital of Galicia - picture below). A few fireworks were thrown at the local parliament buildings while the union leaders went inside and were patronised by the Spanish equivalent of Mike O'Brien.

Report - 2nd March 2004

The astilleros of Puerto Real (Cadiz) came out again this morning (below) and blocked the main road into Cadiz for a few hours. The usual tanks and rubber bullets came out to stop them reaching Cadiz but they managed to put a few cops in hospital with bolts fired from catapults and had 3 seperate burning barricades going at one point.

They caught the cops by surprise as no actions had been announced today, but an assembly was held at the shipyard at about 0800 this morning which decided to go for it! The boss of the State organisation (SEPI) that controls the Izar shipyard group announced yesterday that the workers had two choices: to accept their previous offer or "permanent conflict" (I thought at the time that this was a touch foolish on his part!). A union leader at the yards said that the workers in the assembly were not under their control and had decided to give the boss a dose of the permanent conflict! There is a national demonstration organised for Friday but they could not wait until then!

Report - 5th March 2004

Somewhere between 10000 and 15000 shipyard workers and supporters marched through Madrid on Friday (5th March) in a demonstration called by the six main unions involved in the yards: CCOO, UGT, CIGA, ELA, USTG and CAT. It was a lively and combative march, with enormous firecrackers being set off throughout (despite pleas from union leaders for this to stop).

There was little trouble, other than some 15 Madrileño anti-Capitalists being attacked by riot police on their way home afterwards. The march ended in a rally outside the headquarters of SEPI (State Society of Industrial Participation, the agency which controls the Govt’s stake in the Shipyard company IZAR). One of the slogans being chanted was “Si esto no se arregla, guerra, guerra, guerra; si esto no se apaña, caña, caña, caña!”, which sort of roughly translates as “If this is not agreed, war, war war; if this is not sorted out, bash, bash, bash!”.

There were the usual speeches, although some quite good speakers who talked about direct action being the only way forward, and when union leaders José Maria Fidalgo (CC.OO Workers Commission, the biggest Spanish Union, like T&G) and Cándido Méndez (UGT General Workers Union, like GMB) appeared they were apparently booed by a lot of demonstrators. Méndez keeps going on about how the strike is “not political” but is purely a “labour issue”. It would seem that union officials all speak bullshit, the language that transcends borders.

Report 21st March 2004

Following the train bombings in Madrid on 11th March, which was the date of the first scheduled day of action, the demonstrations were all cancelled (although the 3-hour strikes still took place). The shipyard workers in Cadiz stood outside the local Government offices in solidarity with the victims of the attack. The workers of Puerto Real lined the Carrenza bridge holding placards condemning the bombings (but did not block the bridge). The strikers in Seville and San Fernando stood at the gates of their yard with banners condemning terrorism.

Following the PSOE (Spanish "Socialist" Workers Party) election win on 14th March, the six main unions involved in the Izar strikes will be meeting on Tuesday 23rd March to decide whether or not to continue with the rest of the scheduled days of action (the next 3-hour strike is due on the next day). There are already signs that the leaders of the unions are preparing to call things off, or at least suspend the strikes, with especially conciliatory language coming from the UGT. The Andalucian provincial secretary of the UGT, Pedro Custodio González, said on Thursday that "the political situation has changed in this country," and that with this "the situation has returned to normality and the period of tension was over". The decision is not entirely straightforward, however, as both the IZAR company's management and directors of SEPI have continued to talk tough and take aggressive action towards the strikers, including suspending ten members of the union committee at the Ferrol shipyards - a move which has raised the tension considerably.

Report - 10th March 2004

About 3,000 workers at the Acerinox stainless steel factory in Cadiz went on strike on 9th February, over a pay rise and a cut in the working week. On Monday 16th Feb there was a big fight at the plant, with about 400 workers seizing part of the factory and the main gates to prevent a bus load of managers and directors entering. Large numbers of riot police eventually cleared the factory with CS gas.

After a couple of weeks, the strike took a turn for the worse, with the company playing off its other factories around the world against the workers in Spain, saying it would withdraw a 35 million Euro planned investment at the plant and threatening to move all the work to its other plants in South Africa and the USA (Kentucky), which would effectively have been a decision to close the factory in the long term. They also seemed to be playing a divide and rule game with the strikers, trying to marginalise the union and break the collective agreements. On 20th Feb they offered to double their original pay rise if the strike was called off. A smaller increase was offered at the end of the previous week but a large assembly of workers rejected it.

Acerinox pickets - the sign reads "a decent agreement or WAR!"

The strike ended on 9th March, after one month, when a workers assembly voted by 1048 to 382 in favour of a deal that guaranteed that negociations of the collective agreement would continue as long as the strike was called off, together with an improved pay offer (but also seems to have brought in day rates and productivity elements to the wage).
Comes bus strike

Report 1st March 2004

The Comes 48 hour bus strike (which finished tonight 21-22 Feb) was very successful, with only 20% of buses running in Cadiz over the weekend. Those that did run seemed to have a problem that their windows kept getting broken, leading to the buses being withdrawn anyway:

Negotiations continue, with the local unions threatening further action in the future.

All reports by Jim Bradley.

This article originally appeared on www.red-star-research.org.uk

Posted By

Jason Cortez
Mar 18 2009 11:26



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