We received the following brief report on the Spanish air controllers’ defeated strike from a friend in Spain.
Days ago Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) government of Rodriguez Zapatero had a meeting with representatives of the largest Spanish capitalist enterprises. At the meeting, these groups dictated to him new measures to continue cutting workers rights. These measures include eliminating the monthly payment of 426 euros for workers who have been unemployed for longer than three years, privatizing public companies like AENA, which runs Spain’s airports, and accelerating the process toward increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67 years together with changing the way pensions are calculated in order to reduce pension payments. In addition, the government signed a decree imposing otherwise illegal labour conditions on air traffic controllers, eliminating their right to the collectively bargain their working conditions.
The air controllers’ working agreement established a maximum of 1,670 annual hours of work. Most of the controllers had already surpassed those working hours by the end of November. In order to force them to keep working, the government decided to remove from their paid work hours vacations, sick leave and other permitted days off, union time, etc. As a consequence of this attack, the air controllers mobilized and stopped working (without saying they were on strike). In response, the mass media began an aggressive propaganda campaign to criminalize the air controllers and workers’ right to strike in general. Basically, the mass media tried to present the air controllers as privileged workers that only care about their own benefits, screwing the vacations of other workers who were travelling on their five vacation days off during the beginning of December (this would be the equivalent of going on strike Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S.). Obviously, air traffic controllers are well paid in comparison with other workers, but the mass media forgot to make any mention of the bankers and bosses to whom the government recently subsidised with 150,000 million euros.
Because of the mass media propaganda and the fact that the strike began on the first day of vacations without any previous announcement (with many workers losing the vacation travel they had already paid for), the strike created a great commotion. This commotion helped the government mask the most important issue regarding airports: the privatization of one of the more profitable public companies, the AENA. The fact that the controllers (2,000 employees) went on strike protesting the attack carried out by their labour agreement without making the privatization the main issue of the conflict and without calling for the rest of the 80,000 employees of AENA to join the fight, helped the government to criminalize them. As a consequence of their wrong tactic the air controllers lacked public support and their strike was soon isolated.
A key role in this sense was played by national unions (CC.OO and UGT) and the United Left (IU). They were openly against the strike and supported the government against the air controllers. Only the small union CGT and small left-wing groups spoke in support of the strikers.
The government and the big bourgeoisie succeeded in getting the rest of the working class to oppose the air traffic controllers. Their success was so great that nobody complained about the fact that the government declared a state of emergency for the whole country (the whole working class had no right to strike or demonstrate for fifteen days) and militarized the airports, meaning that the air traffic control workers were subject to military law and were forced by the army to work under threat of jail if they did not do so. The consequences of this defeat will be important not only for air traffic controllers, but for the whole Spanish working class. The suppression of democratic liberties is a tool that the bourgeoisie will use again if needed to continue its attack on benefits during the crisis. As the working class showed its strength in the national strike of September (in spite the work done to sabotage the strike by the bureaucrats of CC.OO and UGT union federations), the bourgeoisie has shown that it is able to send the army into the streets if the workers mobilize actively to fight against attacks on their rights.
Unfortunately, the Spanish working class is under the control of the union bureaucracy and therefore it will be difficult for it to draw the correct conclusions from the defeat of the air traffic controllers. Workers should prepare to fight back against the bosses’ and government’s attacks. In order to do it, they should break with the leaders of their own organizations who hold them back or even support the bosses’ side. This is at this moment the main task of the revolutionaries throughout Spain. Through common and militant struggle against the bosses and the government, it could be possible to start building a revolutionary party that can lead the working class towards socialist revolution. Any other option or shortcut to win the workers from inside the union bureaucracy will lead the Spanish working class to new defeats and the loss of more of their rights.
December 8, 2010