The metalworkers' strike in Cádiz shows us that we need to fight in a different way. And that means, from now on, to take control of the assemblies today monopolized by the unions. And to do so in order to extend the struggles, open the assemblies and make joint demands that go beyond all the divisions by sector, province, region or contract type.
The root cause of the metalworkers' strike in Cádiz is the drastic lowering of the purchasing power of the wages
The metalworkers' strike in Cádiz came about during the month of October, when workers realized that the purchasing power of their wages was plummeting. The unions initially tried to contain the situation within collective bargaining negotiations framework. But the employers are not yielding. Inflation is increasing their profitability and they want to consolidate it.
The unions, under increasing pressure from the workers, then convened an assembly and led the call for a strike. It is clear that this is not their own initiative. In other sectors where union strikes had been called, such as in the meat industry, the unions avoided the strike by reaching agreements on wage increases below inflation.
La izquierda-y-los-sindicatos-frente-a-la-huelga-del-metal-en-cadiz">The left and the unions confronting the metalworkers' strike in Cádiz...
Metalworkers' strike in Cádiz. Barricades in Puerto Real.
But the combination of inflation and "wage containment" is a central axis of the "recovery" as understood by the PSOE-IU-Podemos government. The metalworkers' strike in Cádiz, which soon echoes throughout the country, is not only a "bad example" but necessarily uncomfortable for the parties that are part of the government.
The circus of the opinion industry kicks into high gear. The media will make a conscious effort to reduce public debate to the alleged "violence" of the protesters. The PCE calls on workers to have confidence in the government, which "warns", in the purest stalinist tradition it has been celebrating these last days, that the protests are fueling the right wing.
This extra dose of cynicism only feeds the distrust and discontent of the workers, who increased their pressure and protested in front of union headquarters. Aware that an overflow is brewing, Unidas Podemos reacts and moves to "support" the strike.
The left wing, both trade unions and the political parties, dusts off the old playbook of the steel and naval reconversions of the 1990s and distributes roles to each other.
The trotskostalinist left is mobilizing. "Anticapitalistas", which holds the city council of Cádiz and is in full swing towards Andalusian nationalism, tries to turn the strike towards a conflict "with Madrid". The minor groups of the same matrix (Izquierda Revolucionaria/ Sindicato de Estudiantes) strive to steer the solidarity aroused by the metalworkers' struggle in a way that does not damage the parliamentary left.
The street mobilization is led by CGT. They present themselves as the "radical" alternative but all their radicalism remains in outbursts against the police... which derail the discussion into the sterile terrain of what is an acceptably democratic level of repression.
Meanwhile, of course, the actual direction and goals of the strike remain in the hands of the usual union bureaucrats...with their usual objectives.
Why do the left and the unions block the strike?
In the division of roles between unions and the left in the metalworkers' strike in Cádiz, the extra-parliamentary groups only serve to divert the solidarity of other workers into a sterile field which keeps the strike effectively isolated.
Only on the basis of the most absolute ignorance could one expect anything else from the unions, be they "the big ones" or "the militant ones" (CGT, Coordinadora...).
It is not their business to help the development of struggles. Their business is to mediate the sale of labor power aspiring to convert the organization of which they are professional cadres into one more monopolist within the great game of capital that determines prices and wages.
Earning money by organizing labor power in production is the same thing done by a manager of any company. The salaried manager is the characteristic form of the corporate bourgeoisie in the state capitalism under which we live.
What is to be expected from the corporate...union bourgeoisie?
Thus, unions actually abort the organization of workers by corporativizing them in order to channel the desire and need to fight into a terrain that in reality merely organizes the labor market, not the struggle for the universal needs of workers. As in the market, in the trade union the whole set of possibilities is summed up to the result of supply and demand in a rigged game.
That is why the whole trade union experience of the last century can only be demoralizing: because trade unions are no longer tools for organizing workers as a class. And without class organization there is nothing but atomization - however coordinated it may be - and demoralization.
That is to say, neither as an organization nor as a group of cadres can trade union officers and activists aim at extending the struggle in a real way, the only way in which it can triumph. They have long been part of the state, in fact, fundamental pieces of state capitalism under which the Spanish bourgeoisie organizes its own rule. Pieces that are neither more nor less contradictory than others.
Starting with the parties of the extra-parliamentary left. We have already seen Kichi (Cádiz's mayor) offers himself as a "mediator", that is to say to freeze the struggle in the current demands and in the firms mobilized today... while the resistance funds and the workers' savings are consumed. When the left dons the shirt of the workers, it is always for that purpose. How could even the very Minister of Labor not be thankful towards him?
Why do the workers need to take control of the assembly?
Demonstration in support of Cádiz metalworkers' strike
If capitalism has reorganized itself during the last century it is, first of all, as a way to armor itself against the permanent tendency to crisis, but it has also changed its capacity to respond to workers' strikes and struggles. And both things come together in each concrete battle.
If in a company, workers' demands force a change in conditions threatening to reduce profits below the regional or sectoral average, managers know that capital will leave immediately and that this will possibly make the chances of recovering or gaining new profitability by capitalizing less likely.
What do the trade unions do? First they embrace the logic of the managers - they do not cease to be managers themselves - and tell us that "no profitability, no employment". And with the profitability of capital as their banner, they limit the goals of strikes and curb their extension. That is when they do not adopt the demands of the business managers in relation to the state, as in Navantia or in Alcoa.
They are right when they say that without profitability it takes seconds - sometimes less - for capital to leave for another, more productive application. But it is not true that the consequence of that should be accepting the subservience of workers to the profit and success of managers.
In fact, from the beginning of the 20th century, when capital began to take more and more the form that we know today, a new form of struggle began to emerge in which the demands of a company's workers were no longer distinct from the struggle to transform the general conditions of exploitation. A new form of struggle that responded to a situation - ours - in which with an increasingly "liquid" capital, the working conditions of each group of workers depended more and more on the general conditions that apply to all workplaces.
The new form of struggle, was nothing more than to respond by working on a scale closer to that on which capital played. The strike instead of being endless and localized, expanded "horizontally" from one company to another throughout the territory.
From the first moment it became clear that it was a class response, not a response of a particular group of workers to the situation in a particular company. In fact the strikes spread and organized not only in factories or companies, but in the neighborhoods, grouping all the workers scattered in small businesses, precariousness, unemployment and informality.
The organization, therefore, even if it had continued to have trade union members among its driving forces, could no longer be syndical either: they were only functional assemblies coordinated by committees of delegates elected on a short term and revocable by them.
Let us see where the extension of the strike over the territory leads: capital has nowhere to go within it, it fears that the example will expand by jumping over sector, province or region boundaries; the general conditions of exploitation are now its problem and that of the state. The strike as it expands puts capital as a whole where once the enterprise strike put the particular capitalist.
The union, its goals and its very form of organization are no longer aligned with the needs of concrete struggles, they are incapable of pulling us out of the gridlock of isolation. Indeed, they do the opposite. The memory of the generations that are working today suffices in order to realize that the isolated struggle in the company, the sectoral strikes, the "social dialogue", the requests to the government for "workload"... have only led to a spiral of precarization and to powerlessness in the face of plant and company closures.
What can we expect? What should we do?
What is happening to our purchasing power, to our pensions, to our working conditions, is not just a matter of one sector or one group of companies. It is not a "consequence of Covid" and it is not going to be fixed by a government that has arranged for the decline in our purchasing power to be turned into profits for companies and banks.
Something which affects us all cannot be confronted either with each workforce acting on its own. Well enclosed each by the unions in their particular agreements, we can expect nothing different from what we saw in the meat industry for example: real wage cuts and everyone back home.
Neither can we count on a union-led general strike to fix anything: we already know what the unions do with them as soon as the end of the day's shift arrives. There is not a single discordant example in the whole world. And there is not going to be one in Cádiz or in Spain now.
The metalworkers' strike in Cadiz shows us that we need to fight in a different way. And that means, from now on, taking control of the assemblies today monopolized by the unions. And to do so in order to extend the struggles, open the assemblies and make joint demands that go beyond all the divisions of sector, province, region or form of contract.