Miners in Spain lead protests against government austerity measures

Police in Madrid fired rubber bullets at Spanish miners and their supporters as their massive July 11 demonstration against the Spanish government’s austerity cuts was winding down. At least 76 people including 43 demonstrators were injured.

The miners, some of whom marched 250 miles over a three-week period from their homes in northern Spain to Madrid, have been on strike since May 31 to protest the government’s 190 million euro cut to mining subsidies that sustain mining communities while Europe transitions away from coal as an energy resource.

On Tuesday night (July 10), they marched into Madrid in tight columns wearing black t-shirts and their lighted mining helmets.

As the miners marched along the streets of Madrid, thousands gathered on the sidewalks to cheer them on like heroes. Others rushed into the street, swelling their ranks.

By the time the march ended at Puerta del Sol, Spain’s most famous gathering place where the Indignados camped out last year to demand action to halt the economic crisis, the number of marchers had swelled to several thousand.

Pepi Garcia, a waitress, summed up the mood of those supporting the miners. “I’m not here just to show solidarity,” Garcia said to the Associated Press. “We have to protest to stop the madness that is happening. (Spain’s Prime Minister) Rajoy is defending the banks and the rich. He would rather save the bankers than the miners.”

As the miners were converging on Madrid, Rajoy was announcing that his government had finalized a deal with its European partners that would help prop up Spain’s failing banks, whose reckless speculation led to Spain’s current crisis, which has driven Spain’s unemployment rate up to 25 percent.

The deal immediately frees up 37 billion euros from the 100 billion euro line of credit extended to the Spanish government. The government will disperse the money to banks that will use the money to recapitalize themselves.

Wednesday morning as the miners gathered in Puerta del Sol to begin the final stage of their march to the government’s Industry Ministry building, Rajoy announced more austerity measures that include a 3 percent increase to the VAT (a sales tax), reduced unemployment benefits, pay cuts for public sector employees, and reduced funding for local governments.

Rajoy’s austerity plan also will force some bank customers at the failed banks to take a loss on their savings accounts.

The Wednesday morning march and demonstration was even bigger than the one that took place the night before. The CCOO, Spain’s largest trade union federation, estimated that 25,000 people took part in the Wednesday demonstration. CCOO and UGT, the second biggest union federation, co-sponsored the event.

As the demonstration came to a close, and Rajoy’s cuts became known, CCOO General Secretary Ignacio Fernandez Toxo announced that the fight against the austerity measures would continue and called for a general mobilization for the week of July 21.

Back in the provinces of Asturias and Leon where most of Spain’s coal mines are located, the miners who remained behind have kept up their six-week old strike. Some miners like Dario Martinez and 13 of his comrades are occupying their mines.

Martinez’s wife Elisabeth told the Global Post that her husband “tells me he’s doing it for our son.”

“They are determined to stay down there until there is a solution from the government, but I worry that he will get sick,” she said.

The mining subsidy cuts if carried through will cause more mines to shut down even more quickly leaving thousands of workers and their families without jobs and devastating local communities. Without the subsidies, the transition to new industry that can re-employ laid off miners will not happen.

The sense of desperation created by the cuts has led the miners to carry out guerilla-like actions to keep the mines closed. They continue to erect barricades on highways and train tracks and fight with the Civil Guard, Spain’s paramilitary police.

The Global Post reports that the miners “hide in the forest and use small home-made mortars to shoot rudimentary but effective ammunition, ranging from golf balls and powerful firecrackers to pepper and cayenne.”

The miners are bitter about their unequal treatment. “The government doesn’t have 200 million euros to guarantee the survival of our jobs and villages, but funnily enough, it has 23 billion euros to rescue Bankia,” said Manuel Robles of the UGT, referring to Spain’s fourth largest bank.


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