ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Après 18 jours de marche, les mineurs investissent Madrid
by Cathy Ceïbe
Translated Sunday 15 July 2012, by
After marching for two weeks, the miners entered the Spanish capital. They are on an open-ended strike against the sacrifice of their coal industry. Today they are demonstrating outside the Ministry of Industry.
Along the roadside, thousands have cheered and encouraged them. At each stage of their odyssey, they have been welcomed as heroes. While Spain is sinking into depression, the miners have raised their heads, and with them, the victims of the economic crisis. Arriving from Asturias, León, Aragon, Castile-La Mancha, and Andalusia, over 500 miners were expected at the Puerta del Sol, the social epicenter of Madrid, on the evening of July 10, following an 18-day march.
Calling out to public opinion and the authorities
The miners were to march at nightfall in blue working clothes, with helmet and lantern, as they have done since May 23, when the conflict began. Several other miners have locked themselves in their mine shafts to call out to public opinion and the authorities. The right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy has dispatched thousands of riot police to the villages and the mining regions, where they are exercising violent repression against the miners, who are forcefully defending their means of production. “The government has transformed the mining conflict into a symbol. The people identify with the miners because the people have had to put up with many budget cuts without being able to react,” Candido Mendez, the general secretary of the UGT, said on Spanish national radio on July 9. He added: “There’s a combination of obscurantism and authoritarianism. Things are worsening and the executive branch lacks transparency.”
Using the economic crisis as a pretext, the People’s Party government announced in May a a 190-million-euro reduction in government subsidies to the mining sector, which amounts to a 63% reduction in subsidies and means the death of coal and anthracite mining. Since then, the miners have been on an open-ended strike, in the absence of negotiations between representatives of the sector and José Manuel Soria Lopez, the minister for industry, energy and tourism. Soria Lopez closed the door on dialogue and called into question the “Coal Plan” which stipulates that government subsidies are to be maintained until 2018.
Thousands of jobs threatened.
Over 8,000 direct jobs and 33,000 indirect jobs are now endangered. “This is nonsense,” insisted Candido Mendez. “The government is defending a jobs plan at the European level, but in our country it’s throwing the mine workers and their families out into the street. It says that there are unlimited funds to save Bankia (the fourth-largest banking firm) but that there isn’t any when it comes to respecting the signed agreement.”
The authorities are hiding behind the European Union to justify their decision. And yet Brussels, after having demanded the end of government subsidies two years ago, in the name of “competitiveness,” ultimately authorized their continuation until 2018. For its part, the mining sector is insisting on the economic aberration of closing mines whereas Spain is already being forced to import coal. For example, Asturias, which only yesterday was the flagship of coal mining, now imports 70% of the coal it consumes.
The miners were to demonstrate on July 11 outside the Ministry of Industry. They guarantee that there is no going back for their movement.
Eurogroup “aid” in exchange for more austerity.
In the face of the untenable rise of interest rates on Spanish treasury bonds to over 7%, the finance ministers of the Eurogroup decided to advance 30 billion euros to Madrid on an emergency basis by July 30, on the scheduled aid, so that it can recapitalize its ailing banks. The Spanish government also obtained an additional year’s time, until 2014, to bring the government deficit down to 3%. In exchange for these measures, Madrid has been “invited” to redouble its efforts and to tighten the current drastic austerity plan another notch. Mariano Rajoy, the right-wing head of the executive branch, was to announce this on July 11. Recurring rumors foresee a small rise in value added tax to increase tax revenues, but above all another turn of the screw in civil service expenses, with a wage cut for government personnel and job cuts in various government organizations and agencies.