Galicia: Mobilisation for workers’ rights

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There is no doubt that collective bargaining is the main tool available to the working class to combat the neoliberal policies imposed over the last eight years under the pretext of the crisis.

By Xosé Luís Rivera Jácome, Head of International Relations for the CIG

There is no doubt that collective bargaining is the main tool available to the working class to combat the neoliberal policies imposed over the last eight years under the pretext of the crisis, leading to drastic cut-backs which have hit the working and underprivileged classes the hardest, ranging from the destruction and privatisation of essential public services, increased job insecurity, affecting both wages and working conditions, increased unemployment (hidden behind the propaganda about the figures for new contracts, most of which are for under 6 days a month), anti-worker labour reforms, the loss of labour and union rights and increased inequality, insecurity and poverty, to the loss of civil rights, penalising legitimate protest and response by society with fines, a clampdown on trade unions and convictions for union activists.

In Galiza, the figures speak for themselves:
• A net drop in the workforce in 2016.
• 153,000 young people less since the crisis began.
• Over 160,000 jobs losses over the last eight years, 150,000 of which affect people under 34.
• 13.6% of the workforce is in part-time employment.
• Over the past year, 35% of contracts were for one week’s duration only.
• The official Labour Force Survey noted a rise in employment in 2016 precisely in those sectors notorious for exploitation and the recent spate of insecurity within the job market, including the 8.2% increase in the number of employees obliged to register as self-employed not in order to improve their standard of living but to lower their earnings and their working conditions and making them pliable to the conditions set by the companies employing them.
• The level of labour income in the Galizan GDP fell by 3.4%, whereas capital gains rose by 1.5%.
• An increased tax burden for the working population, with a 2% increase in direct taxes and an “incalculable” rise in indirect levies.
• The alarming figure of 185,000 people whose net income is less than half of the minimum wage, with an average annual income of 1,862 euros.
• The percentage of workers whose income is below half of the minimum wage is 18.1%, with those whose income falls below the minimum wage accounting for almost 31% of the workforce.

Collective bargaining and mobilisation
In order to turn the situation around, the workforce must become a tool in its own right, pushing for fair demands in the face of employers who are more than happy with job insecurity and the high level of demand for any kind of work. Together with collective bargaining, it is therefore crucial to mobilise the workers in order to win back the rights snatched from them over recent years. This is why we also believe that above and beyond the benchmark State agreements, it is vital to strengthen collective bargaining at the Galizan and Provincial levels because they are closer to the ground and involve the workers affected more directly in the negotiating process. The figures clearly show that employers benefit from State-level bargaining thanks to the low level of workers’ participation in the process, as well as from company-level negotiations which increase the pressure by the employers on the workers’ representatives.

Experience has shown that collective bargaining and mobilisations are the only way to grapple back decent working condition and wages. There are many examples of mobilisations and strikes all around Europe that show that the only way to combat capital is to stand up with all the means at our disposal. This is something we have also seen in Galiza, where all of the agreements reached over the past year came about as the result of unrelenting workers’ mobilisations: the strike by Bershka workers against the powerful Inditex management, the strikes in the public transport sector, the ship-building ancillary sector, the telemarketing companies, in Ferroatlántica, the metallurgy sector, healthcare, schools, the judiciary, etc. It is only through persistent protest by the people affected with the backing of the unions, providing them with the necessary resources, that the working class will be able to wrestle fair agreements.

This marks the way for the year ahead, at both the local and European levels, because those responsible for the situation are (almost all) of the EU members states together with the transnational companies, which means that our social organisations must all join forces in order to present a common front.