A three-week march of miners reached Spain’s capital, Madrid, last week. Marcher Jose Luis Fernandez Roces told Socialist Worker about the fantastic reception that greeted it
We didn’t expect such an amazing reception when we marched into Madrid on Tuesday. I didn’t dare to dream that it would be like that. The sheer size of the march meant we could barely move.
That evening we had to have a sort of security cordon around the march so we could go forward. The Madrid fire brigade lent us a hand with getting through the crowds too.
Firefighters there have been involved in their own dispute over pay and benefits for a year now. It was great to see solidarity between the two groups.
It wasn’t until the Wednesday that our people from the mining communities across Spain arrived for the main daytime protest. The amazing thing for me was that, when we arrived on the Tuesday evening, it was ordinary people from Madrid who made up the entirety of the crowd.
The sheer size of the marches on both Tuesday and Wednesday is hard to describe. There were civil servants, nurses, teachers and so on. There was a large union presence.
The UGT federation, to which my union, the Asturian Mining Workers’ Union, is affiliated, was out in force. Another federation, the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), was there too.
There were other groups present too, ranging from the Izquierda Unida leftist bloc to the PSOE Labour Party. A conservative mayor even came to show his support against his own party!
There were a number of mayors from the mining communities there. The indignados also protested with us. All this has shown us the pride people feel in the miners.
Our march had set out from Asturias with about 80 people. Along the way we were joined by two other groups of miners, one from Leon and one from Aragon. The journey was long and arduous. Real friendships developed over the course of it.
It was extremely hot—at times up to 40 degrees. We got sunburn, and felt the strain of the heat constantly.
It was physically very hard. There were all sorts of minor injuries picked up on the way. But we received help from local people—they provided food, medical supplies, anything we needed really.
The whole march was special, but two moments stand out. First, when we met up with the miners who had marched from Leon and Aragon.
Huge crowds came out to see the marches come together. There were hugs all round and it was really emotional. The camaraderie on display was brilliant.
The other was 1 July, the day of the final of Euro 2012, when Spain played Italy. We had got to a village called Mota del Marques. The locals prepared a huge feast for us!
We all ate paella and then watched the match on a big screen in the central square. The whole town had come out to support us and share the food and the football with us. The hospitality was fantastic.
It has been tough being away from home. People talk about violent clashes in the mining districts. But, we engaged in peaceful tactics. One was blocking the roads.
The police responded to this with violence and we were then forced to defend the barricades. The battles we have to fight with the police are not pretty. The strike has been going on for a long time now and we have to defend it.
So what has changed? Well, it hasn’t changed the government’s mind. They’re still intent on pushing through the cuts. And so we have to continue fighting.
We have seven miners in Asturias completing their 46th day in occupation underground today. That’s a sign of how determined we are.
We could be the spark that sets everyone else off. It happened in 1962 when the miners led a movement that grew to include a vast array of groups.
First and foremost, though, we’re defending our lives, our communities, our families. But we are an example to others. It’s difficult to unite disparate struggles but this can happen—there is a call for protests on Thursday of this week.
What we do know is that these cuts are brutal and they always go in one direction—against working people. We’re all suffering as a result of the crisis caused by the banks. The banks are the problem, and yet they’re getting away with it.
We don’t want to be doing what we’re doing—but we’re faced with no choice but to fight. We’re not demanding anything unreasonable. We’re only asking that the “coal plan”, agreed last year, be respected, and not ripped up by the present government.
The cuts are devastating. For miners and those who don’t work in the mines life is also getting tougher by the minute. Cuts to education grants and other benefits mean that young people are really feeling the pinch.
Everybody is being targeted and the cuts are really biting. We have to keep on fighting to win because the alternative is disaster.