Chanting, “to strike is not a crime” and “We are not 8, we are thousands,” five thousand people marched through the streets of Madrid on February 9 in support of the right to strike.
The march took place on the first day of the trial of eight trade unionists who face up to eight years in jail each for participating in a strike.
The Airbus 8 as they have become known were arrested in 2010 during a demonstration at the Airbus factory in Getafe, a suburb of Madrid.
The Airbus 8 were participating in a general strike called by unions to protest the Spanish government’s austerity program.
They and about 500 other Airbus workers were holding a demonstration outside of the Getafe Airbus factory in support of the general strike.
Also at the factory were the national and local riot police. The police fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the demonstrators.
When the shots were fired panic ensued, and the Airbus 8 were arrested and charged with interfering with the right to work under Article 315.3 of the Spanish penal code.
Article 315.3, implemented while the former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was in power, makes union picketing at a work site an illegal offense punishable by a mandatory prison sentence.
Prior to the arrest of the Airbus 8, the law had not been used since before the death of Franco in 1975.
In addition to the Airbus 8, 300 other Spanish union members have been arrested and face prison sentence for protesting the country’s austerity measures.
“It is simply unbelievable to be in this situation in 2016,” said Carmelo Ruiz de la Hermosa, general secretary of the UGT-Madrid, one of the unions to which some of the Airbus 8 belonged.
Ruiz said that the austerity measures imposed by the government after the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 have intensified “inequality and poor working conditions.”
He also said that the trial of the Airbus 8 is part of a “legal and media offensive against trade unionism” which seeks to silence voices that oppose the government’s austerity policies.
Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, general secretary of CCOO, another union to which some of the Airbus 8 belong, said that forty years ago strikes played an important role in weakening Franco’s oppressive dictatorship and helped to usher in democracy.
“(Strikes were) an advance not just for working class but for the entire society,” said Fernández
Cándido Méndez , secretary general of UGT, said that Spain is facing an “economic and social emergency” and called for the repeal of Article 315.3.
Spanish trade unionists aren’t the only ones who recognize the importance of protecting the right to strike.
“The attempts by Spanish authorities to silence trade unions and intimidate workers are a sad step backwards for democracy,” said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, an international confederation of unions in the manufacturing sector.
“To strike is not a crime and to be a trade unionist is not a crime – so why are the authorities pursuing this legal action?” asked Luca Visentini, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.
Visentini also noted that trade unions and the right to strike are under attack in other countries besides Spain. As an example, he cited the United Kingdom where Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed the Trade Union Bill, which the UK’s Trade Union Congress says, “threatens the basic right to strike.”
The Airbus 8 and other workers facing prosecution for participating in a strike received some good news on February 10 when a court in Malaga located in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain acquitted two trade unionist, Lola Villalba, the general secretary of the CCOO Services Union of Malaga, and Gonzalo Fuentes, a member of the regional executive committee of the Services Union.
They had been charged with violating Spain’s labor laws after participating in a 2012 general strike against the country’s austerity measures.
“The acquittal of Lola and Gonzalo is a recognition by the Malaga court of the right to strike,” said Philip Jennings, general secretary of UNI, a global union representing 20 million workers from over 900 trade unions worldwide.
Jennings noted that despite this one victory, some Spanish union members are still in prison for striking and many others are facing the possibility of spending time in prison for striking.
“This attack on the Spanish unions is symptomatic of a wave of anti-union measures being touted by right wing governments from the UK to Finland,” said Jennings. “We will follow the example of our Spanish unions and not give in.”