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Conditions of the Working Class During #COVID19 in #Spain

The updated figures can be found on this web site, so we will not go into them given the continuous change in the number of sick, dead and recovered people. Because workers are not allowed to stop production and must use public transport to get to work, there are thousands of new cases every day in Spain.

Originally published by Fever Struggle. Written by Trabajadores cabreados.

We will deal with the question of the conditions of the working class in Spain in relation to the measures taken against the coronavirus with regards to the following points:

  1. The situation in the country including the level of alarm, laws applied, who is in power, the state of transports, and the economic situation.
  2. Working and living conditions including how the measures are affecting the workers, regulations of wages and days off work, public assistance, prevention measures, and repression.
  3. Conditions relating to prisons and prisoners and other excluded persons.
  4. Protests including descriptions, links to web pages explaining the problem, pamphlets, weaknesses, and limits.

1. Situation in the country
On March 14, the Organic Law of 4/1981 of June 1 was approved for execution throughout the national territory. This decree establishes 3 possible states of alarm, exception, and siege. This can last for a maximum period of 15 days, after which the period can be extended. This mechanism is activated for 4 reasons: a) Natural disasters (earthquakes, fires, etc.), b) Health crises (epidemics, pollution), c) Paralysis of essential public services, and d) Shortages of basic necessities. For this reason, the only time this decree has been used so far was during the air traffic controllers’ strike in 2010.

The state of alarm, currently activated under cases b) and d), gives the government the power to: a) Limit the movement of people or vehicles at specific times and places, b) Practice temporary requisitions of all types of goods and impose mandatory tasks on individuals, c) Intervene and temporarily take control of industries, factories, workshops, farms or premises of any kind, except private homes, d) Limit or ration the use of services or consumption of basic necessities, and e) Ensure the supply of markets.

In order to impose these measures, the state mobilized all the security forces and corps, which are obliged to follow orders or face suspension. If any citizen does not carry out what is stipulated in the law, he or she will face legal proceedings (fines from 100 euros to 1 year in prison). If the authorities fail to comply with the provisions of the competent authority, the latter may assume jurisdiction over them.

The government has appointed the Armed Forces as “agents of the authority” (LO 4/1981). It has deployed 350 soldiers of the EMU (Emergency Military Unit) in Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, León, Las Palmas, and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, places where it has a base and where they will operate on a reconnaissance mission in logistics centres for trains, metros, and buses. They will be deployed on the streets in what they have called the “fight against the pandemic” and will relieve the police of the task of patrolling the streets so that the latter can be assigned to more complex tasks.

For the needs of the population they have mobilized 150 doctors and 70 military nurses in reserve and have asked military pharmacies to produce disinfectant solution.

The state of emergency allows for the arrest of persons when there is a suspicion of disturbance of public order, which will be reported to a judge within 24 hours. The government authority may order inspections and house searches by a prior written order to the agents. It may intervene in all types of communication, including postal, telegraphic, and telephone communications. It will also have the power to prohibit the movement, request identity, compel, and temporarily transfer dangerous persons out of the locality. They are not allowed to intervene in meetings of political parties unless they pose a risk to public order, but they may dissolve meetings, demonstrations, and strikes. Foreigners may be expelled from Spain. In addition, all types of weapons will be seized and armed posts may be set up to protect the population and property.

The state of siege will be activated if an insurrection occurs or threatens to occur and will involve the temporary suspension of the legal guarantees of the detainee, in addition to all the measures implemented in the two previous scenarios. The government will establish a military authority to direct the measures of the state of siege.

School activities in universities and primary and secondary schools across the country were disrupted. The confinement of four municipalities in Barcelona had already been established. Inhabitants were forbidden to leave their municipalities for 15 days, and the perimeters were cordoned off by the Mossos de Escuadra (Catalonian police). An internal service and a support group were created to supply the shops and the distribution of food and medicines. The total number of inhabitants of the four municipalities, 70,000, required 106 regional police officers divided into three groups used for perimeter control, citizen assistance, and escorting basic public service workers engaged in cleaning and delivering supplies. The inhabitants are forbidden to leave the perimeter, but not their homes. They are asked to limit contact and reduce their going out to the street to doctors, work or shopping only.

As of March 16th, this situation has applied to the entire population of the country. The Council of Ministers imposed the closure of shops, except those offering basic necessities (such pharmacies or food), and severely limited how long customers could be present in these premises. Religious ceremonies, including funerals, are subject to the condition that there is at least one meter of space between attendees.

State of transport
The state has decided to restrict the movement of transport by limiting daily travel by about half and the sale of tickets to one third in order to maintain a safe distance for those traveling by air, rail and road traffic. Renfe tickets could be cancellation and changed without cost since March 16. On March 15th, the Madrid transport consortium gave priority to all lines with stations near hospitals and excluded lines 8 and 11. On buses the seat behind the driver will not be screened off but they will try to not overcrowd the buses in order to maintain safe distance among passengers.

In air transport, the reductions established by the decree have compounded the measures taken by some countries that have banned the entry of people from Spain or have suspended connections with Spain. Other countries have chosen to quarantine passengers coming from Spain or other types of measures, as is the case with Italy.

The transport of goods is intended to guarantee the supply of the population.

Economic situation
According to El País, “10 years after the outbreak of that crisis, the public debt is close to 100% of the GDP, unemployment is still very high for the European average (14%) and the deficit is at 2.4% and is likely to grow at full speed….” “Spain closed 2019 with 2% growth, and the government is forecasting a slight slowdown of up to 1.5% this year,” El País also reported.

As part of the first package of measures adopted on Thursday, March 12th, the government is “injecting US$14 billion into the economy through tax deferrals; US$3.8 billion into health; US$400 million into the most affected sectors of activity; and US$25 million into child support. Although high, the total figure is well below the 34 billion mobilized by the UK or the 25 billion by Italy.”

2. Working and living conditions.
Royal Decree Law 8/2019, issued on March 8th, includes the economic aid measures as well as urgent measures for social protection and the fight against precarious employment in the workplace. The first measure involves the extension of unemployment benefits for those over 52 years old, affecting more than 379,465 people. The financial allowance paid to families with for dependent children was raised to 341 euros per year and to 588 euros per year for families in severe poverty. Only 5.3% of social expenditure in Spain is devoted to families and children, compared with the 8.4% of the European average.

While central government employees continue to be paid 100% of their salary they have remained isolated and have to care for dependents. In the private sector the situation is quite different. Employees and self-employed workers registered with the social security system who present symptoms, or are in isolation due to coronavirus, will receive 75% of their earnings.

According to the CCOO union, in Madrid there have been more than 70 temporary employment regulation (ERTE) cases initiated by employers. This allows companies to suspend employment contracts or reduce working hours temporarily when they are experiencing economic, technical or organizational difficulties that jeopardize their viability.

3. Conditions relating to prisons and prisoners
A hunger strike was launched in Brians I Prison (Barcelona) after radical restrictions on visits were introduced. A whole wing of the prison remained isolated while the guards walked around without masks, potentially spreading the infection.

A bonfire was lit in the prisoners’ yard at Fontcalent prison (Alicante) to protest the lack of information about the virus. In Melilla, a chief of service has infected 12 staff members, causing 164 inmates and 50 staff members to be put in isolation.
An uprising occurred in Tahíche prison (Lanzarote) when a prisoner refused to be isolated. Prisoners were protesting the cancellation of visiting rights and the fact that officials continue to come to prisons without masks, bringing the virus from their homes.

In Murcia I, the following appeal was made on March 15: “This afternoon, at 8:00 pm in the Module 3 of Preventive Medicine of the Sangonera Prison in Murcia, the prisoners are going to carry out a peaceful sit-in asking for their freedom and refuse to return to their cells. In China and Italy, the government has granted freedom to prisoners who have not committed serious crimes. Having these people locked up, besides being a perfect breeding ground for spreading the disease, can make an already difficult situation even more dire…”

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4. Protests and strikes
After the first case of coronavirus infection was discovered at the Airbus company, they proceeded to close the premises of the work centre of Getafe for 8 hours in order to disinfect it. The five unions represented in the works council have called on the workers to “immediately leave the work centre.” The company has reacted by warning the workers, contrary to the recommendation of the authorities, that “it will take the necessary measures with any employee who takes an unauthorized leave.”

The situation at the Post Office and at Amazon does not look very promising. Translations of initiatives by Amazon workers in New York have been published, as well as texts of complaints that can be downloaded and presented to the company’s headquarters. Attempts have been made to make the situation of the delivery staff visible in various ways. Without doubt, the most effective measure has been for the workers themselves to be courageous and refuse to work since there is a lack of preventive equipment such as gloves, gel, and masks. However, it is not an easy task because the bosses continue to threaten whoever refuses to work. When the employees of one of the largest postal sorting centers (CTA) refused to work and Amazon parcels were found unsorted in the centre, the American giant cancelled its contract with the post office and removed its goods from the centre. The general trend of the company is always to pass on its losses to the workers, which is why its main spokesperson, the CCOO union, is spreading the message among the workers that 8,000 temporary jobs will no longer be needed.

The international meeting of Amazon workers, which promised to be one of the most highly attended, has been disrupted by the circumstances and the impossibility of the colleagues to travel. Let us hope that they arrive at the next meeting with twice the strength. The meeting issued a common declaration about their common position regarding the pandemic. Contrary to other companies, Amazon is taking advantage of the situation and hiring more temporary workers to deal with the increase of purchases during quarantine around the world. For that, the company is offering a wage increase of 1€ to 2€ depending on the country and the level of unemployment in each country.

Because coordination between Amazon and the postal services of the different countries is more necessary than ever, efforts in this direction must be made. An international organization can serve as a catalyst and help in this task.

At the Vitoria Mercedes-Benz plant, the workers managed to stop production allowing only the necessary qualified personnel to remain in the factory.

The LM Wind Power metal company, which has different plants in the peninsula, has taken different measures. It forces workers to take vacations. It also requested a Provision for Temporary Regulation of Employment (Expediente de Regulación Temporal de Empleo or ERTE) in Ponferrada. However, in their Castellón plant, the workers pressured the company to stop production.

The comrades at the Madrid airport have launched a protest on the platform. The CTA union circulated a note with their demands regarding the conditions faced by the workers. 90% of airplanes are grounded and most workers at the airport are on ERTE.

The workers of Burger King and Vips are opposing the imposition of an ERTE that will affect 20,000 workers.

The left has launched the online campaign #mequedoencasconrentabásica with the demand for a moratorium on the payment of rents, mortgages, and electricity, water, and other bills. They are also demanding a basic income be made available for those who need it, denouncing the unequal distribution of wealth.

The more one looks, the more one finds cases of workers protesting in many companies. This shows that although workers have a unity of opinion there is a lot of work to be done to deepen the level of organization.

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