Ron Ridenour

About Ron Ridenour
Short stories



Reflections on Spain’s General Strike
[October 3, 2010]

”Listen [government] to the voice of the workers”…The economic crisis is the “failure of the capitalist system,” asserted the principal unions (CCOO, UGT, USOC, CSC) of Catalunya at the rally of 400,000 people demonstrating in Barcelona.

Wow! “Capitalism” is the culprit, yes! I never hear that from Danish or Untied States unions—the former where I live, the latter where I was born. So this day (September 29) demonstrating with 50,000 workers in the streets of Valencia, Spain was special.

Nationally, unions assembled 1.5 million in marches through several cities, marches planned to coincide with the general strike in which the majority of workers participated. All industry and ports were totally locked down in protest to regressive policies adopted by the so-called “socialist” PSOE government of José Luis Rodríquez Zapatero.

The unions declared the general strike to be 70% effective overall—ten million workers struck—while the employer association (CEOE) claimed normalcy with only 5% “abstention”.

What is indisputable is the fact that in Catalunya electricity use was down 25% normal and nationally reduction approximated 20%, indicating that production of goods was greatly affected.

Students and professors stayed away from educational institutions in great numbers too, more students than professors but in secondary schools teachers struck in large numbers. The one daily newspaper of credibility and old-fashioned “objectivity”, El Público, calculated there was from 7-50% student abstention from schools, and teachers between 5-45%. However, Catholic Church schools showed loyalty to the capitalist system with teacher abstentions of just 1%.

I participated alongside several contributors to and in Valencia. Here I learned that “labor reforms” were announced by Zapatero to appease the capitalist class, which their presidents, USA’s Barak Obama, and Germany’s Angela Merkel demanded. Spain was to drastically reduce its social security network and wages in response to Germany’s banker’s interests, to which the Spanish government is greatly indebted.

Just days following these demands last May, Zapatero announced the greatest social cutbacks in Spain’s history. These regressions include:

1. It is to be easier for employers to fire workers, which will increase the high number of unemployed--5 million people today. Firms are also now allowed to make reductions in wages despite contracts agreed upon by unions and employers. Since the directors for the owning class pay only 1% of their millionaire salaries in taxes, the government has less budgeted for public workers wages and social welfare.
2. The 4.5 million pensioners shall not get increases, and the age limit for new pensioners is increased by two years.
3. Privatization of public health centers is encouraged and government tax-funds to hospitals are decreased.
4. Funding for people in need of public assistance is reduced as is funding for education.
5. Zapatero accepted the International Monetary Fund demand to cut back on the public debt even though the debt is largely due to the billions of dollars the government gave to save banks from collapsing. Workers and the poor shall accept cutbacks while paying the rich to maintain their “style of life”.

What a day Thursday, September 29, was for me and so many millions and millions of people throughout Spain! Progressive political organizations and every left-wing party were present. Street after street filled with people carrying varieties of leaflets, balloons, banners and flags. A unique one was the Republican flag, which waved its red, yellow and purple stripes liberally about.

We marched lively and with determination in our shouts and songs. We heard from organizers (and later from various media reports) what had happened during the day in many cities where pickets urged non-complying workers to join the strike. Thousands of bus chauffeurs did strike but many did not and these were often blocked by pickets.


One of the weakest areas in the strike were federal government workers (about 10% compliance) fearing reprisals from government leaders. Postal employees were a target of picketers. In Valencia, for example, a few thousand workers joined hands in front of the post office to prevent business as usual. Police brutally assaulted them, breaking arms with batons and smashing faces. Seven picketers were hospitalized.

On the way to the march, I had spoken about this with a female postal guard inside the impressive building. She casually informed me that there had been a “problem—some people wanted to close down the post office—but the police quickly resolved the problem.”

Apparently, police had the excuse, in some cases, that picketing had not been approved. Like in Denmark, Spain has an equally anti-democratic law that requires those who wish to demonstrate to ask permission of the police.

(Later that day on the march, I asked a policeman carrying a police association sign in support of the strike, why his non-striking colleagues had beaten fellow union picketers. His reply: “I wasn’t there but police hit when it is necessary to stop an illegal action, and the picket was illegal”.)

Heading further toward the square from which the march would begin, I saw several helmeted workers building a street. I asked one why he wasn’t striking. “It is a free choice. Many working here decided to strike, others, like me, don’t want to. Nothing happens if you do or don’t—other than the fact that you don’t get your wages for the day.” [Additionally, a percentage of what the government and private employers pay into social welfare is deducted from striking workers paychecks. Unions have no strike funds either.]

This man was not the only I had met in Spain who chose a day’s wage instead of acting in solidarity with their class interests. He told me about the same as others did who rationalized their individualist position: “nothing will come of it anyway. The governments and banks are happy because they save money this day. And the unions aren’t tough enough, nor do they have money enough, to sustain the strike. So, when the day is over, no results will be forthcoming.”

The weakest, and most negative, aspect of the strike was the reactionary nationalist position taken by the major unions (ELA and LAB) in the Basque territory. They refused to join the strike. Their long-seeded understandable anger against Spain led them to disdain the working class action. Opposing class struggle for misguided nationalism can only aid the capitalist class and their interests in constantly repressing workers rights and gains whenever and wherever they see weaknesses. The capitalist class intelligently unites around its global interests while so many unions, and so-called worker-oriented political parties, grovel in separatism and internecine warfare. (In Valencia, for instance, the pro-PSOE government UGT union actually roped its leading marchers away from the tail end of the one-time pro-Communist party CCOO unionists). Nevertheless, about ten percent of Basque metal workers and a few other workers followed their class consciousness and joined their brothers and sisters throughout Spain.

There are some self-described “anti-capitalists” (mainly anarchists) who deduce from the lack of anti-capitalist conviction present throughout much of the working class and the major unions (nationally, the unions made no announcements against capitalism as the local ones did in Catalunya) that employing violence against private property is a good tactic. They attacked Banco Español de Crédito and Cortes Inglés department stores in Barcelona: smashing windows, burning a police car, and valiantly fighting police, injuring two dozen. Thirty-six “anti-capitalists” were arrested.

About 100 union pickets in other cities were arrested. The latter were condoned or even organized by unions. These unions, however, condemned the aggressive “anti-capitalists” for “tarnishing” the workers’ strike day.

It is hard for me to judge what tactics are best or worse for workers and their unions, especially in a country to which I do not adhere. Is it time for property violence? Is it good or bad to smash Cortes Inglés or Mac Donald’s? What I do know is that without naming and working against the cause of the “labor reforms”, the cause for wars, or the cause of adverse “climate change”—such as stated by Bolivian President Evo Morales and 35,000 of us from 140 countries last April in Cochabamba—that is, capitalism, we will never get the positive results we wish for ourselves. (1)

What I also know is: if the Spanish workers really want to turn back the “labor reforms” one day away from the job is not enough. This strike day must lay the foundation for many more to come. And if the Spanish workers wish to go beyond just turning back regression, an acceptance of the anti-capitalist analysis must be forthcoming, and then the real fight towards victory can begin.
Note: (1) People’s Agreement. Excerpt taken from the “World’s People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth” (April 24, 2010):

“Today, our Mother Earth is wounded and the future of humanity is in danger.”
“The capitalist system has imposed on us a logic of competition, progress and limitless growth. This regime of production and consumption seeks profit without limit, separating human beings from nature and imposing a logic of domination upon nature, transforming everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.”
“Capitalism requires a powerful military industry for its processes of accumulation and imposition of control over territories and natural resources, suppressing the resistance of the peoples. It is an imperialist system of colonization of the planet. Humanity confronts a great dilemma: to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to chose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.”

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