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(en) Spain: Mercadona supermarket strike enters fourth month

Date Wed, 12 Jul 2006 10:11:52 +0300

Workers at the logistics centre in Sant Sadurni d'Anoia, Barcelona of the Spanish
Supermarket chain Mercadona are entering the fourth month of their indefinite strike.
The strike is organised by the CNT anarcho-syndicalist trade union.
Mercadona, whose slogan translates as "supermarkets of trust", is
Spain's biggest national supermarket chain by sales, with 990 outlets
across the country and 54,000 workers. The company likes to pride
itself on its claim that 100% of its staff have permanent contracts.
In reality, employees have found that their jobs are not quite so
secure once they start demanding their rights. At the start of the year
local conflicts were ongoing in the provinces of Almeria, Cordoba
and Huelva after supermarket workers suffered unfair dismissals and
mistreatment. In March a court in Cordoba ordered the chain to pay
30,000 euros compensation to a worker who was the victim of

The present conflict came to a head when workers at the logistics
centre, located in a town forty kilometres outside Barcelona, set up a
CNT branch and began to organise for improved working conditions.
Management's response was to refuse to recognise the CNT
delegates, then to sack three union members.

"We started our union activities before these workers were fired,"
says Jose Uribe, secretary of the CNT section in the centre, "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 two 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

On March 23rd the CNT called a strike, initially for ten days. When
management refused to negotiate, the strike was declared indefinite.

The response has been heavy-handed. Pickets outside the centre
have been attacked by private security, as well as the police.
Individual strikers say they have received anonymous threats,
including death threats, by telephone.

"Mercadona's attitude is o­ne of repression, fear and harassment,"
says Uribe. "They tried to bribe and blackmail us-- insinuating
deportation of the (mostly Latin American) strikers and other such
tactics. The other day, someone sent two 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'."

The other main tactic has been the old standard of scab labour. A
large proportion of the workers came out in the first few days, and
management bused in around 100 scabs to fill their places. As the
strike has gone on, the numbers have been whittled down – there
are now just twenty strikers. But, says Uribe, the full complement of
100 scabs has been kept on, enabling Mercadona to temporarily
lower the workload.

"If they maintain it as high as it was before we began striking," he
says, "the other workers will begin striking again."

So what are the prospects with only twenty workers still out? The
strikers are fighting a tough battle, with the Catalan government as
well as the 'reformist' UGT and CCOO trade unions lining up
against them. (UGT representatives signed the agreement with
management foregoing lunch pay, and testified against sacked CNT
strikers.) On the other hand, Mercadona is paying a heavy bill to
maintain security guards and scabs and reduce the workload so that
other workers don't rejoin the strike. Nationally the CNT is running
an ongoing campaign of demonstrations and boycotts to keep the
pressure on. There has also been international support, including a
recent picket of the Spanish Consulate by Manchester Solidarity

"As is obvious, business doesn't want to yield an inch," says Uribe,
"but time and persistence gives us the hope we'll win someday.
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."

The CNT is appealing for urgent financial help for the strikers –
the union needs at least 50,000 Euro a month to maintain the strike.
Bank details for sending donations are:

Spain: 2100 (La Caixa) - 1183 - 35 - 0100505773
Europe: IBAN: ES08 2100 1183 3501 0050 5773
Rest of the world: BIC (Swift): CAIXESBBXXX 2100 1183 3501
0050 5773

Read the full (English) text of the interview with Jose Uribe:

For more information see also http://www.cnt.es/mercacoso/ and
http://barcelona.cnt.es/ (both in Spanish) and this thread in the
libcom.org forums, which has the contributions of CNT members:

Strike enters second month report:
- Contributed by: libcom
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