Like ears of corn under the rain : the unemployed councils multiply in Spain

By JM Delgado

At the end of 2008, unemployment in Spain reached three million workers. Just three months later, it was four million, with the unemployment rate up to 17.4%, doubling in the last 12 months. One million households, 6% of the total, have no employed members. Among immigrants the unemployment rate has reached 28.4%, while for the native-born, 15.2 % are unemployed. All of these figures are official ones, published in a April 24th, 2009 press release on the Economically Active population, by the National Institute of Statistics. But, as we know, the numbers are increasing and by the end of the year, five million are expected to be out of work.

As a result of the demonstration called by left-wing union confederations (CGT, CNT and SOC-SAT) and from the organizing of social forums, and other mass actions, assemblies of the unemployed have been formed on an almost daily basis across Spain, starting at the beginning of 2009, to address the crisis and demand solutions.

Now there are unemployed councils, or assemblies, in Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Seville, Granada, Cordoba, and Albacete, Valencia and throughout Spain. This article surveys some of the activities in the spring.

On March 23rd, activists of the assembly of unemployed of Madrid, formed on initiative of affiliates of the CNT, occupied offices of the state employment ministry, INEM. They opened banners that demanded:

Reduction of the national maximum work week to 30 hours without reduction of pay;

Prohibition of overtime, piecework and contract, multiple jobs;

Guaranteed vacation of 31 annual working days and Decrease of the retirement age to 55 with no reduction in pensions.

On April 20th , the newly constituted assembly of unemployed of Barcelona occupied in turn another unemployment office and distributed pamphlets demanding:

- Jobs for all unemployed or no limits on duration of unemployment compensation;

- Minimum compensation of 1,200.00 Euros per month;

- Free public transport for all unemployed;

- Prohibition of layoffs;

- State payments of rent, gas and electric and university charges for the unemployed.

In Moron (Seville), a group of unemployed occupied the town hall for 4 days to protest that only 10 % of the 5 million Euros of the newly approved State Fund of Local Investment, destined to relieve the unemployment, especially in the rural areas, had actually been used and only 74 jobs had been created. They also denounced the absence of transparency in awarding contracts.

The assembly of unemployed of Granada issued calls for a general strike with explicitly anti-capitalist slogans denouncing the bank bailouts.

In the city of Dos Hermanas (as well as in Seville), the assembly of the unemployed and temporary workers organized demonstrations against foreclosures and evictions. In Cordoba, the assembly demanded free municipal services, such as urban transport, and financing this by taxes on the rich. They also demanded assistance for those in precarious situations, and on strike, who confront evictions and repossession of valuables for non-payment. This assistance would come in the form of the city governments creating jobs, a program that would be democratically controlled by the unemployed.

At the end of March and beginning of April, the Forum for Social Change (in the Basque Language, “Herria-Abian!”) had their first demonstrations in Bilbao, Domestic, Irene and Gastric under the slogan "In the Face of the Crisis, Social Change” (in the Basque language “Aldaketa Soziala”) and deliberated on whether to support the general strike called for May 21st by the pro-separatist Basque unions and social organizations. In Seville activists announced that on May 7th they would hold a preparatory meeting for the creation of a local assembly of the unemployed in that city.

Although ignored and looked at with suspicion by the big trade union bureaucracies, CCOO and UGT, the assemblies of unemployed are blooming throughout the country. Not a week goes by without demonstrations. Generally the demands include free public services and 1,200.00 Euros per month minimum benefits. In all the places with an explicit or implicitly anti-capitalist base, the movement raises demands against the banks, the G-20, and the government of the “Socialist” President Zapatero...

All the unemployed groups have adopted the workers’ assembly form of organization without fixed "representatives", secretariats, commissions, or bureaucracy. This is a form of organization that has traditionally been used by the working class during the most intense periods of the class struggle in Spain, later to languish under the manipulative pressure of bureaucratic trade unionism.

The assemblies of unemployed are an important part of the self-organized resistance of the working people against the crisis. They deserve the whole support of the alternative trade unions and of all the workers in general. In addition, the support of the unemployed assemblies must be a central focus and obligation of the revolutionary left.

The revolutionary left should help the assemblies organize and spread throughout the country, without replacing or manipulating them; they should contribute to their coordination beyond just the local realities; and defend their independence, their transparency and their radically democratic character. If this happens, that would be a sign that the unemployed revolutionary militants within the movement, and the supporters from the outside, are going in the right direction – the direction of Socialism. There is no other alternative.