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Spanish and International Unions Strike to Defend Spanish Dockworkers

The conservative government of Spain has set in motion plans to scrap the current port labor system, which would force over six thousand dockworkers to be laid off over four years. In response, Spanish dockworkers’ unions have launched a round of strikes that will begin on March 10. That day will also see international union federations hold an international day of strike action in solidarity with their Spanish colleagues.

Sean Robertson

March 9, 2017
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For more on the Spanish dockworkers’ struggle, see Over six thousand Spanish dockworkers’ jobs face the axe

Spanish dockworkers are currently in the midst of the fight of their lives. Under pressure from the European Union, the minority conservative government led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Partido Popular (PP – People’s Party) has proposed a Royal Decree Law that seeks to scrap the current port labor system. If adopted, this decree law would see Spain’s 6,500 dockworkers made redundant over the next four years, stevedoring companies free to hire non-union and untrained labor, and dockers’ wages potentially fall by up to 60 percent. The conservative government initially planned to have this decree law debated and voted on in the Spanish parliament on March 9. It has now been postponed to March 16 in order to allow opposition political parties to express their views on the matter.

In late February, Spanish dockworkers’ unions responded to this wholesale attack on their jobs and livelihoods by calling for nine days of strike action from March 6 to 24. These strikes would take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on alternating hours during the day (one hour working, then one hour where work stops and so on). However, after discussions with various political parties including the social-democratic Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the leftist Unidos Podemos (United We Can), which have both promised to vote against the Decree Law in parliament, the strikes planned for March 6 and 8 were suspended in early March. The first strike will now kick off on March 10.

These strikes have been convened by a number of dockers’ unions. The most important is the Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores del Mar (CETM – State-wide Coordinating Committee of Maritime Workers). The CETM, better known as La Coordinadora, covers around 85 percent of all dockworkers across Spain’s 46 different ports. La Coordinadora has its roots in Spain’s strong anarcho-syndicalist tradition. All major decisions in this union are made in assemblies and all elected union officers still maintain their jobs on the docks and receive the same salary as their workmates.

Along with La Coordinadora, there are other smaller dockers’ unions that have footholds in a handful of ports around the country. These are affiliated to various union federations, including the Comisiones Obreras (CC. OO. – Workers’ Commissions, historically linked to the Communist Party of Spain), the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT – General Workers’ Union, aligned with the Spanish Socialist Party, the PSOE), the radical nationalist Confederación Intersindical Galega (CIG – Galician Inter-union Federation) and the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT – General Confederation of Labour).

Despite their differences, La Coordinadora and the dockers’ unions belonging to the CC. OO., UGT, CIG and CGT have joined hands in their efforts to fend off this fundamental attack to the Spanish port labor system.

Alongside the first strike called by Spanish dockworkers’ unions for March 10, the International Dockworkers Council (IDC) in conjunction with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have called for an international day of strike action in solidarity with Spanish dockworkers. March 10 will see ports across Europe stop work for three hours from midday to 3pm, while ports in the rest of the world will stop work for one hour from midday to 1pm. Dockers unions in neighboring countries will also ensure that no cargo destined for Spain is unloaded in their ports while Spanish dockworkers are on strike, in particular the ports of Marseille-Fos, Lisbon and Tangier. Other possible measures that may occur if the conflict continues include the targeting and boycotting of Spanish cargo around the world and worldwide protests outside Spanish embassies.

The planned strikes are not just a chance to defeat the Decree Law that threatens the jobs of over 6,000 Spanish dockworkers. As an article Izquierda Diario, Spanish State website points out, they are also an excellent opportunity for the coordination of numerous struggles that are now being fought against government attacks. March 9 is the date of a strike called by the coalition fighting to defend public schooling (the Plataforma Estatal para defensa de la Educación Pública) which includes a number of student and union organizations. This strike will see the entire educational community across the Spanish State out on strike and taking to the streets.

Bringing the struggles of the dockworkers’ and the education sector together will strengthen solidarity and class consciousness among Spanish workers and give those fighting various government attacks a better chance of victory. Better yet, it can also be the harbinger of a movement that can bring down the minority conservative government of the Partido Popular.

Various left-wing political parties as diverse as the newly formed Trotskyist organization IZAR (Izquierda Anticapitalista Revolucionaria – Revolutionary Anti-capitalist Left*) and the Stalinist Partido Comunista de los Pueblos de España (PCPE – Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain) are now putting forward the need for a general strike. Given the array of forces lined up against the dockworkers, a general strike that brings down Mariano Rajoy and his minority Partido Popular government may be the only way to save their jobs and livelihoods.

Stop Press: Spanish dockers’ unions have now postponed the strikes that were planned for March 10, March 13 and March 15. This comes after the government’s delaying of the Decree Law vote for another week, and the port employers’ association ANESCO agreeing to meet with dockers’ unions. Nevertheless, the strikes scheduled for the 17, 20, 22 and 24 of March remain in place.

The IDC/ITF international day of strike action planned for March 10 has also been postponed to March 23.

* “Izar” means “to raise” or “to hoist” in Spanish, and “star” in the Basque language (Euskara). IZAR is a left split from Anticapitalistas (Anti-capitalists), the current which dissolved into Podemos in 2015 and is affiliated to the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI). IZAR has just signed a left opposition document with other USFI groups that targets the USFI majority’s “broad parties” policy which can be read here

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