by DAVID GARCÍA ARISTEGUI – Solidaridad Obrera, Madrid
This 14N was called by the quasi-totality of trade unionism. There might be a different perception by the left from outside Spain, since rather influential media – like Diagonal or Madrilonia – within what we call, to simplify, the 15M movement tried to minimise the trade unions’ role and to aggrandise the role of social movements. The 14N call started off from the official trade-unionism of the Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) and Union General de Trabajadores (UGT), who once more won over the numerous organisations of the unionist left and of anarcho-syndicalism. The trade unions’ agenda is once more central and 15M, who always stopped at the gates of workplaces, played a secondary role in this mobilisation. This is because 15M is not used not to be the centre of attention in each mobilisation in which it is involved, and which it usually spurs autonomously. It looks like only the general strikes called by the trade unions can press the agenda on 15M.
We remind our readers that one of the first proposals that were snatched by 15M was that of «unionism without unions». Basically, it was publicised and debated, like many things by 15M, on the internet; in the actual meetings it was not given much importance. This proposal, paradoxically, was promoted by the TIC representative of CCOO in Madrid. The campaign «Toma la Empresa» had great diffusion on the internet without any results, it was an illusion, since no single meeting in any workplace was set up at the peak of effervescence of 15M.
Within 15M in Madrid, the Comisión de Extensión Laboral (Labour Commission) was languishing until it disappeared after the spring of 2011, while the Grupo de Trabajo «Huelga General» (working group for the general strike) was being organised in parallel. This group launched several interesting communiques, and it also merged with Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT-AIT) and Solidaridad Obrera for a Day and a Week of Struggle – unfortunately a struggle for oblivion, because of the sound fracas of both – and other, subsequent calls that began the more or less periodical contact between a portion of 15M and anarcho-syndicalism, until the arrival of Bloque Unitario (Unitary Bloc). The working group for general strike is dwindling, and now holds a token presence, whilst 15M merged with anarcho-syndicalism into the Bloque Unitario. B.U. is the platform within which CNT-AIT, CGT and Solidaridad Obrera coordinate their efforts with the groups within 15M that are interested in pushing for a general strike. After 14N, the future of the Bloc is uncertain. Another sector of 15M, that which gave rise to the Oficina Precaria (Precarity Workshop), coordinated their activities during the general strike in Tomalahuelga. As we see, within 15M there are at least two very distinct ways to understand intervention in the work sphere.
We note that many people from the acampada were only present in the first gatherings that did not strike in 2010 nor before 15M, and now this was the second strike in a year in which the movement finds itself involved. The unions are no longer alone in the general strikes, now they have what we call a «social buffer» since they are able to influence 15M so much that it joins the strike (with «citizens’ pickets», «students’ pickets»). The presence of the strike in many neighbourhoods of Madrid was organised by pickets composed exclusively by groups from 15M, since in those contexts the unions (which have stopped organising in the neighbourhoods since long) cannot reach, nor do they want to.
It is extremely peculiar how people who campaigned and voted in favour of the EU in Spain – influenced by the weird Europeanist discourse of intellectuals such as Toni Negri – now have the most belligerent complaints against «Europe». To date, in Spain there is nothing similar to ‘Euro-sceptical’ discourses such as they exist for example in the UK. In some media one can indeed detect some animosity against Germany, but I think that at present Hollande’s France is being looked at with some sympathy. There is no sense of «Europe» or the EU as a homogeneous bloc. Those who are indeed beginning to be seen as enemies are (at last) the neoliberal policies of the Partido Popular (PP) and before them of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE).
The European dimension of the strike was reflected only at the level of the media, both the official and corporate ones, and the alternative ones and/or those of 15M. As an example, we can see the communique of the largest organisation involved in the strike, CCOO, which does not even mention explicitly the days of strike organised in other countries. This strike cannot be read in a nationalist key, destituent and/or against debt or the policies of the Troika. This is the discourse of only a part of 15M, and not necessarily the majority. This was a strike of resistance against all the government’s cuts and the labour reform, which have really devastating effects. It is enough to analyse the writings of the Cumbre Social initiated by CCOO and UGT as well as the texts of alternative unionism. The unions’ knowing winks at the slogans of the media-savvy 15M movement are constant (it is obvious why), but this was a general strike against cuts to wages, social welfare and rights, that is, against the labour reform.
Migrants keep on being invisible in general strikes: they do not normally strike, they represent the weakest link in the chain. They are those with the most precarious jobs, they suffer more exploitation and they are those who most fear dismissal (or deportation). Most times they don’t even attend authorised demonstrations, in case they are asked for papers. The few Oficinas de Derechos Sociales left (now a similar initiative is being created, the Oficina Precaria) were the only spaces from which activists and migrants could organise jointly (street pedlars, domestic workers), as well as helping to articulate the struggle against migrant detention centres, against racist police raids… Unfortunately, this «social syndicalism» seems to be circumscribed to the specific struggle of migrants. And this is not something of minor importance, since it should spur a reflection by all «classical» unionism on their chronic inability to work with migrants. As we also saw in this strike. One of the most important migrant organisations in Madrid, Asociación Sin Papeles, did not even issue a call to strike this 14N. That migrants (with or without papers) keep seeing trade unions as something totally alien is to date one of the biggest defeats of unionism. Unfortunately, the slogan «de dentro o de fuera, la misma clase obrera» (from inside or out, the same working class) is simply this, a slogan chanted during demonstrations, but regrettably without significant consequences in the organic reality of unions.
We stress that also in Spain the age of collective-bargaining unionism is dying out. It is today a great conundrum how CCOO and UGT will reinvent themselves, because after the last reforms collective bargaining, one of the fundamental pillars of their power (besides funding), already belongs to the past. The employers’ Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales (Spanish Confederation of Entrepreneurial Organisations, CEOE) managed to secure, among many other things, the bargaining of labour rights within each single company, and, if possible, on an individual basis.
To conclude, we want to recall how in the so-called job market, migrants, youth and women of any age are subject to higher-than-average unemployment rates, lower wages and greater precarity in their contracts. And it is precisely these groups that have less collective presence and representation in the trade unions. The result of this failure in the encounter between the trade unions and the sectors that most need collective action and defence is an old and much-hoped-for neoliberal dream. After any possible «social contract» is dissolved, the strength of labour is nothing but simply its being another commodity, that can be bought or rented, and without the unnecessary harassments of trade unions, agreements, and collective demands in the way. The labour relation is reduced solely to its mercantile dimension, mediated exclusively by a «self-regulated» job market.
This general strike has generated more doubts than certainties, and this is due to its relative success. CCOO and UGT keep holding the bulk of mobilisation power in this country, despite claims to the contrary. The universe of alternative unionism and of anarcho-syndicalism, when it manages to coordinate adequately with 15M, can organise demonstrations that in Madrid reach 100.000 people, and even more in Barcelona. And the presence of the general strike in the neighbourhoods, at least in Madrid, has had consequences for the pickets organised by 15M, sometimes alone, sometimes with unions, but pickets set up according to the parameters that defined 15M’s own meetings and drawing back into the neighbourhoods a long-disappeared unionism.
The unions have brought in the legalisation of the strike, of the demonstrations’ routes, and they opened their spaces for the meetings of 15M. And 15M, with its overpowering and (currently) unstoppable strength within social networks, decided to adhere to 14N from a critical perspective (especially against CCOO and UGT), and played an absolutely fundamental role in its prior diffusion in the strike and in the street. The situation is unclear: institutional unionism, alternative unionism and 15M emerge in some way equally empowered from this 14N. But all this display of power – like the different squabbles that occurred once the mobilisations were called off – does not make the government of the Partido Popular falter or withdraw by a millimetre. It was like banging against a wall.