Spanish unions work with PSOE-Podemos government against strikes by postal workers and metalworkers

As mass strikes break out every week in Spain, the company’s management and the Socialist Party (PSOE)-Podemos government rely on the Workers’ Commissions linked to Podemos (CCOO) and the General Union of Workers (UGT) social democrat to isolate and repress these strikes. Unions no longer serve as labor organizations in any meaningful sense and are instead exposed as bureaucracies in the service of management and the capitalist state.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (PSOE), second left, walks next to Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, second right, and First Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, left, at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid , Spain, Tuesday, January 14, 2020 [Credit: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez]

In Cantabria, 20,000 metalworkers have been on indefinite strike since June 2 against employers’ blocking of a collective agreement and a wage agreement below inflation. The strike is supported by 95% of the workforce. The employers’ association Pymetal has offered metalworkers 2% in 2021, 2% in 2022 and 2.25% in 2023, with a review clause in 2024. Inflation was already at 6% in 2021 and at 8, 7% in May this year.

The unions are demanding a retroactive 6.5% increase for 2021 and increases equal to official inflation plus 1% this year until 2024, as well as a slight increase in leave and disability benefits. However, Pymetal dismissed this out of hand, calling it “absolutely unaffordable”.

The UGT, CCOO and USO unions, which authorized the strike, made it clear that they were not in favor of strike action. Despite the workers’ overwhelming vote in favor of the strike, they claimed that the workers “don’t want to go that far”. The fact that they are calling for inflation-parity wage increases – after offering below-inflation wage increases, equivalent to a cut in real wages, in other industries – clearly shows that they are maneuvering in the face of mass worker anger.

Trying to wear down the workers, they absurdly insist that the only way forward is to argue with Pymetal. Their statement yesterday complained: “If the employers insist on continuing to lengthen the strike, not only will this affect the 1,500 companies, but it will also put in difficulty the major industries in the region, which depend in part on services. provided by the companies affected by the strike. They have sat down 10 times so far, with the latest negotiations failing last Sunday.

Today they called the workers to a supposedly informative meeting to discuss the next actions.

Unions have so far refused to call for joint action with metalworkers in the neighboring Basque country, where negotiations between unions and Bizkaia’s Metal employers’ associations have stalled. Metal de Bizkaia is proposing a salary increase of 2.75%. The collective agreement concerns 50,000 workers in the Basque Country.

The CCOO and UGT unions, as well as the Basque separatist unions ELA and LAB, have announced three days of strike action, specifically June 23 and 30 and July 1, hoping that by then the metalworkers’ strike in Cantabria will have been settled .

In Galicia, 16,000 metalworkers have gone on strike in recent weeks for wage increases. CCOO and UGT have called strikes for June 8-9 and 28-30, always with the aim of avoiding any united action with its members of the same sector in the neighboring regions of the Basque Country and Cantabria.

In Correos, the postal workers carried out a three-day strike, from June 1 to 3, at the call of CCOO and the UGT. The strike was followed every day by more than 75% of the workforce, despite workers’ mistrust of these unions. The shutdown virtually paralyzed transportation routes to major distribution centers. The success of the strike highlights the immense dissatisfaction of postal workers with their pay and working conditions and their opposition to the privatization of the company.

Correos is currently a public company. Originally, his main task was to run a public service, distributing letters accompanied by official attestations and notifications. But as letters have dwindled in recent years with the rise of the internet and social media, Correos management and successive Spanish governments have sought to make the company profit like any other private company.

For this, Correos is increasingly directing its business towards parcel delivery, seeking to take advantage of the boom in e-commerce, so that companies like Amazon can offer very cheap delivery rates to their customers. This model would depend on the availability of many highly exploited and poorly paid workers.

A privatized Correos could also offer its extensive public infrastructure (premises, vehicles, distribution centers, etc.) to try to offer competitive rates to these companies.

The privatization of Correos has been underway for decades. Since 2001, the workforce has gone from 62,000 to 47,000 workers with a significant increase in workload and exploitation. Moreover, while at the beginning of the century the base of the workforce was made up of civil servants who entered by way of competition and had more guarantees of employment and salary, these competitions were abolished in 1998.

Most of the workforce is now made up of workers who do not enjoy the job protections afforded by civil servant status. A quarter of the workforce is made up of part-time temporary workers. According to the unions, the company’s plan is to cut an additional 8,000 jobs and reach nearly 20,000 temporary positions (40% of the total workforce) before 2025. Their wages, frozen for years, rise on average at €1,000 per month.

If CCOO and the UGT have called a strike now, it is not to defend the postal workers but because they are terrified of the growing opposition from below and seek to control it by calling for strikes to liberate steam. After briefly trying to project a false image that they were fighting over wages, the unions have now quickly returned to the negotiating table with the company.

Correos clarified that the privatization will continue, saying that the public company “demands a process of transformation of the business model that in no way involves a weakening of the service, or the closure of offices, or any process of layoffs” .

The unions again refused to broaden the struggle, instead calling on the PSOE-Podemos government to intervene, the same government that has repeatedly shown its willingness to crush the strikes. During last year’s strike of 22,000 metalworkers in Cadiz, the government sent in riot police and armored vehicles. Against the drivers’ strike last April, the government launched a brutal crackdown, arresting and fining hundreds of strikers and deploying more than 23,000 police, the largest ever deployment against a strike in Spain.

Even then, the unions insist that the strike has “sent a clear message to the government: it cannot ignore the public postal service, nor condone with its silence the dismantling of Correos and the terrible management of its president, Juan Manuel Serrano. “. In fact, successive governments, including that of the PSOE, presided over the dismantling of Correos, with the complicity of the unions.

The rest of the company’s minority unions, the CGT or the Sindicato Libre, have made rhetorical criticism of the big unions, but offer no alternative to workers. They have not organized any major demonstrations against privatization, the deterioration of working conditions or the wage freeze.

These struggles underline that to pursue the class struggle and impose their demands, the workers need their own organizations, independent of the unions. They are base committees built by the workers themselves, and ready to fight against openly right-wing but also pseudo-left bourgeois parties like Podemos. The fight against inflation and the social attacks carried out by national governments and international financial markets requires the coordination and unification of these struggles within the International Alliance of Rank-and-File Workers.

Maria D. Ervin