On 11 July several hundred Spanish coalminers, who had walked 284 miles for three weeks from Asturias to Madrid, were joined by 25,000 supporters. Clashes with the riot police took place near the Ministry of Industry. Coalminers carried banners saying “Miner's Struggle = Worker's Struggle”. Supporters threw firecrackers, stones, bottles, and cans at the police who were firing rubber bullets. Ten protesters were hit by rubber bullets, several arrests were made and there was a total of 76 injuries.
The working class in Spain is bearing the brunt of the austerity measures there –regulations that make it easier to sack workers, cuts to education and the national healthcare service, and 24 percent unemployment. The coalminers have had cuts in funding to learn new professions. The protests in Madrid happened on the same day that Prime Minister Rajoy announced a €65 billion austerity plan that will further assault the living standards of the working class as the country heads for a double-dip recession.
The main issue for the coalminers is the 63 percent cut in subsidies to coal mining industry that will destroy the industry. Twenty years ago there were 40,000 coalminers in Spain and Asturias was one of the country’s most prosperous regions. Today there are 9,000 coalminers left in the dwindling industry, but a total of 50,000 jobs in the coal mining communities would be affected by the closure of the coal mines.
One coal miner was reported as saying: “This is not the first time miners have fought for all workers”. The coalminers three-week march through the hot, dusty La Mancha region of central Spain elicited much support and solidarity from people who gave them food, water and shelter, the Spanish Red Cross was on hand to attend to any injuries and sore feet, and like athletes on a marathon they had regular food and water stations. This all demonstrated that the working class can work in co-operation in pursuit of a common interest.
Socialists recognise that the strike is a weapon of the working class in their struggle with the capitalist class. Socialists stand with the working class in their necessary battles with capital but it is important to continually point out that the real objective to aim for is the abolition of the wages system; the replacement of capitalism with socialism. The battles of the Asturian coalminers to save their jobs and communities are secondary to the ultimate goal which should be the whole world for all the workers.
Marx wrote that class struggles like that in places like Asturias were like “unavoidable guerrilla fights that incessantly spring up from the never-ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market”. Working class struggles with the capitalist class are one fertile ground for the development of socialist consciousness and workers coming together in a Marxist socialist party to take political power. If the working class use elections intelligently they can win power by sheer force of numbers. The main lessons of syndicalism and general strikes such as 1926 in Britain and 1968 in France is their ultimate failure because state power remained with the minority capitalist class.
We urge, as Marx would have, the Asturian coalminers should “inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword 'Abolicion del sistema de salarios'”