The Spanish government recently announced that it had secured from its eurozone partners a 100 billion euro loan that it will use to subsidize its failing banks, whose risky loans and speculation caused a double-dip recession that has left 25 percent of the nation’s workforce without a job.
While the government was seeking loans to subsidize bankers, it was telling mineworkers that they would have to make sacrifices. Three weeks ago, the government announced as part of its austerity program that it was reducing subsidies to the country’s coal mines by 190 million euros. The cuts will put thousands of miners out of work and devastate local economies where the miners live.
In response to the cuts, the miners went on strike. The strikers are holding sit-ins, occupying the main square of Oviedo, the provincial capital of Asturias, the heart of Spanish coal country, and blocking and barricading highways connecting Asturias to the rest of Spain.
“We will stay here until we have a solutions,” said Alfredo Gonzalez, a miner occupying a mine near Santa Cruz de Sil to Agence France Presse.
The open-ended strike, which is supported by Spain’s two largest union confederation, Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and Confederation Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), began on May 23 and has involved about 8,000 miners in Asturias, where 40 mines and a number of nearby communities will be affected by the subsidy cuts.
The strike, which the unions reported had the support of 100 percent of the miners, was briefly called off in late May to give the government an opportunity to find money that would allow it to scale back the cuts. But during negotiations with the unions, the government said that it couldn’t find the money to fund the subsidies, and the strike resumed.
The strike has become more intense. Sixteen main roads in Asturias have been blockaded and two rail lines have been shut down by the strikers. The Guardia Civil, Spain’s paramilitary national police force, has entered the fray in an attempt to keep the roads open. Dozens of strikers and police have been injured in clashes between the two sides and some strikers have been arrested.
On May 31, 15,000 miners and their supporters gathered in front of the energy ministry in Madrid to demand that the government stop the subsidy cuts. Police charged the demonstration and the workers fought back. Fourteen people including eight police officers and two journalists were injured in the ensuing melee.
The subsidy cuts are part of the government’s austerity program undertaken to please the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Central Bank, which are demanding that members of the eurozone slash their public spending.
The Spanish government has justified its austerity measures, including the mining subsidy cuts, by saying that the country’s economic difficulties can only be overcome through shared sacrifice.
But apparently, the country’s bankers are exempt from the sacrifices. The 100 billion euro loan that the government asked for and received over the weekend will be used to recapitalize Spanish banks. The government will dole out the 100 billion euros to the country’s banks, which are holding about 180 billion euros in toxic loans and other worthless assets.
The loan and the banking subsidies for which it will be used also will provide some measure of insurance for the banks’ bondholders many of whom are banks and financial services firms in Germany, the UK, and France.
In order to get the loan from its eurozone partners, the Spanish government had to promise to repay any defaults by banks that take the subsidy.
Over the weekend, the world heard about the new loan, but the world has heard very little about the miners’ strike. A group of former miners in the UK is hoping to change that and has begun to build worldwide support for the striking miners.
Members of Spanish Miners’ Solidarity Committee in a recent letter to the Guardian said the Spanish miners strike was reminiscent of the strike that took place in the UK coal mines during the mid-1980s when the Thatcher government used police against the strikers.
At time, Spanish miners demonstrated support for the comrades in the UK with solidarity demonstrations and financial support. The Spanish Miners’ Solidarity Committee was formed to return the favor. In a further demonstration of solidarity, members of the UK’s National Union of Mineworkers will be travelling to Asturias on June 22 to show their support for the striking miners.