Fight for wages behind a barricade | Economy

José Manuel Riles is back in the starting box at 42 years of age. In 2008, he escaped from the construction crisis and became an auxiliary industry worker in the Cadiz naval sector. But since Navantia delivered the last of the four tankers of the Suemax shipping company, the worker does not know what a long-term contract is. He has been unemployed for six months, surviving “with the minimum income and the botched ones”, but he is on the warpath in the fight for a new agreement that does not lead workers in the metal sector like him to lose purchasing power in their salaries. “They want to take away all our rights,” Riles bellowed, before losing himself in the mass that already on Wednesday of last week gave the first serious warning to the bosses of what was to come with a massive demonstration that bottled Cádiz.

That concentration of more than 2,000 people has already heated the streets, but it was only a preview of the days of these Tuesday and Wednesday, the first two days of the indefinite strike to which 30,000 workers from Cadiz from more than 6,000 companies are summoned, according to data of the employer. The cars burning on barricades at the gates of the Navantia headquarters in the capital and San Fernando (the latter, a police vehicle), the kilometer-long traffic collapses in the Campo de Gibraltar (which have come to affect the La Línea hospital) and the railroad cuts have evoked those hard wars that the naval sector fought in the 80s and 90s for the reconversions and to avoid a closure of the shipyards that was about to take place in 1995.

The employer does not accept to raise 5.4%

The fight today has different motives, although the socioeconomic backdrop of Cádiz remains almost as bleak as it was then. The Cádiz metal sector agreement expired last September after four years of duration, but the renewal has been jammed on account of wages. The unions demand the rise in the CPI – which was 5.4% year-on-year last October – for this same year in a short-term agreement, since they have asked the employer to start negotiating another new text calmly from January of 2022. However, the Femca [Federación de Empresarios del Metal de Cádiz] saw the proposal unaffordable in the last negotiation last Friday and offered the unions a 0.5% rise this year and 1.5% in the next two.

“We understand that the worker is not losing because the current agreement has raised their salary by 5.2%,” says José Muñoz, Femca’s secretary general. But to Juan Linares, general secretary of the Provincial Union of Industry of CC OO, the offer seems a mere “statement of the past time that has already been achieved.” With the positions so far apart, both parties were summoned by the Employment Ministry on Wednesday afternoon to a new meeting in Seville for an attempt at an agreement. By then, Muñoz and his family had already surveyed the margins they had to negotiate in a context that they say is complicated: “The large tractors are still in ERTE, our companies [por las auxiliares y pymes], too”. After more than 12 hours, the appointment ended without agreement. “Femca does not feel like negotiating […]. We are going to continue, with more force than before, in the mobilizations ”, assured Antonio Montoro, secretary of the Federation of Industry, Construction and Agro of UGT Cádiz.

A worker pours white spirit on the plastic pavers to cut the train tracks at the Renfe station in Cádiz.
A worker pours white spirit on the plastic pavers to cut the train tracks at the Renfe station in Cádiz.Marcos Moreno

Beyond the negotiating table, the street burned. The protesters concentrated on the Cádiz Industrial Highway – at the entrance to Navantia – threw a vehicle into the barricade fire, burned some nearby construction booths and cut the railway station tracks with pipes and fences. The tension ended in charges and shots of rubber balls by riot police deployed by the police. The scene, with less or more virulence, was repeated at the entrance to the Puerto Real and San Fernando shipyards. The large companies in the sector, such as Navantia, Dragados, Acerinox, Airbus or Alestis stopped with follow-ups “close to 100%”, according to Linares. Although there is no agreement on that with the other party: “We estimate that the follow-up is 15% because small companies (the sector groups from vehicle workshops to locksmiths) have continued normally. Although the big ones are stopped, it is a success of pickets, not of strikes ”.

Cádiz: unemployment rate, 23%

The battle for the strike slipped into politics, after the Andalusian Regional Government’s Health Department demanded that the Government act, after the protesters cut off one of the two entrances to La Línea de la Concepción -the CA- 32, between San Roque and this town — and affected the operation of its public hospital. The traffic collapse caused delays in scheduled operations, shift changes and caused a woman in labor to have to be treated by an ambulance, as she was unable to reach the center, according to the counselor Jesús Aguirre. At noon yesterday, normality returned to the province with the end of the barricades. It was an evaluation of damages and also injuries, after a worker from Campo de Gibraltar was attacked in the head by a man when he tried to access his job, as explained by the Government Subdelegate, José Pacheco.

This fight for metal wages catches Cádiz with a high unemployment rate: 23.16% according to the latest Labor Force Survey, far from the 14.57% of the country’s average unemployment rate. In addition, the sector faces a new confirmed death. Between now and 2024, Airbus Puerto Real will join a long list of closures that already swell Delphi, Visteon, Tabacalera or Gadir Solar. And Muñoz does not foresee a much better 2022, since the workload for the shipyards “may take time” and the Campo de Gibraltar has not yet received key investments that can weigh on maintenance or job creation. “This is a province where you have to come and this is a handicap,” says the businessman. However, the employer’s secretary defends that Cadiz metal is still competitive. Linares agrees with him: “I do not think that the future of Cádiz is tourism, it would be its industrial death”. At least on that both parties agree.

A matter of image

JA Reeds

Every time tires burn in Cádiz, the province takes up the debate on the image it projects abroad. “[Con el convenio]We don’t want to take anything away, but we are going to make it easier for people to have an interest in investing here, ”says José Muñoz, Femca’s secretary general. [Federación de Empresarios del Metal de Cádiz]. Although far from achieving its objective, the clash between employers and unions has caused a bloody strike with images that have been around the country. For Muñoz, it is a negative image that can have consequences: “The cruise ships looked to Cádiz for their repairs, after mobilizations took place in Marseille.”

Although Juan Linares, general secretary of the Provincial Union of Industry of CC OO, is already tired of hearing the same argument “many times”. “They will not wait for us to touch their palms,” says the union member in reference to the lack of agreement, on account of what they consider a loss of purchasing power. “If a good product is offered, the customer will come,” says Linares, who separates the union struggles from a possible deterioration that may occur in the industrial fabric of the province. The head of Commissions yesterday condemned the violence of the pickets. However, he believes that his sector, known among the people of Cadiz for its historical combative character, still has the favor of the street: “Cadiz society has undergone many reconversions and it will always be on the side of the working class.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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