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(en) UK, FREEDOM, October 16, 2004, Spanish Struggle Re-ignites - by Jim Bradley

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(Robby Barnes robby-A-scn.org)
Date Sun, 24 Oct 2004 07:31:03 +0200 (CEST)

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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 (see Freedom,
6th March). 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 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 ship-yards. 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 1980s 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 euros 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

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 ten 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 (see Freedom, 2nd October).

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 catapults 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 September) a large group of shipyard workers in Seville
tried to block the huge Centennial V Bridge 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 lamp-posts and furniture taken from
a lorry.

Official strike days were called on 21st, 28th 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 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 the most violent days in the City. 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.

The latest day of action was on 6th October. In Seville, there was what was
described as a 'pitched battle' with the police who 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 having been shot by the police some 60 metres inside the factory.
Workers in Puerto Real again fought the tanks and armoured cars of police
who stopped them from entering Cadiz. The concerted and violent action of
the shipyard workers has shaken the new President Zapatero, with some
commentators referring to them as 'urban guerrillas'. On the union front,
the pressure is increasing and splits are appearing between the mainstream
unions. The two largest unions (CCOO and UGT) have come out in support of
privatisation in the last few days, much to the dismay of all the other

Jim Bradley

For background info on the Puerto Real shipyard strike of 1987 see

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