General strike in Spanish mining sector

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A strike in the mining companies, Hunosa and Minas de Figaredo, escalated into a well-supported general strike in the whole Spanish mining industry in January 1998.

After a nine-day strike in the publicly-owned mining companies, Hunosa and Minas de Figaredo, in Asturias, Spanish miners called a general strike on 26 December 1997, which was held in January 1998 with widespread support. The general strike affected all of Spain's mining areas: Asturias, León, Palencia, Teruel, Coruña, Catalonia and Andalusia.

The Asturias mining dispute has been accompanied by barricades, road blocks, overturned lorries, arrests and confrontations with the police. In fact, in one of these road blocks a driver who tried to avoid one of the barricades went on to the hard shoulder and unintentionally knocked down and killed a demonstrator. This regrettable event further embittered attitudes amongst the miners. Thus, after hearing of the worker's death, the CC.OO and UGT trade unions called for a 24-hour general strike on 13 January by the 25,000 miners in Spain in solidarity with the worker who had been killed. In Asturias this strike was extended to 48 hours because it has a special significance there: firstly because this region has 60% of the employment of the whole Spanish mining sector; and secondly because the long strike was the result of the intensification of restructuring in the sector and the deadlocked negotiations in Hunosa and Minas de Figaredo. These two companies employ 10,000 miners, which gives an idea of the dimension and local significance of the conflict.

This dispute arose as a result of the Government's plan for reorganising public companies (ES9707119N). In summer 1997, the unions and the Government reached an agreement by means of which Hunosa and Minas de Figaredo would cut their workforces over the period 1998-2001 by about 4,000 through early retirement. This adjustment would be compensated through the recruitment of 1,061 new workers. Also, over this period production would be cut from 2.5 to 2.1 million tonnes of coal and no further mines would be closed.

However, the European Union has rejected this agreement and has asked the Spanish Government to cut production by a further 400,000 tonnes and to recruit fewer new employees than is laid down in the above agreement. Obviously the requests by the EU have not been well received in a region in economic decline that has already been severely affected by successive phases of restructuring of the mining sector. The unions demand fulfilment of the agreement and no further reductions in the workforce and production levels beyond those they accepted in the agreement.

The Ministry of Industry and the management of Hunosa and Minas de Figaredo have stated that they are willing to defend the reorganisation plan agreed with the unions in Brussels. However, the unions demand guarantees that the plan will be fulfilled, and the fact that none has so far been given has led to deadlock in the negotiations and the escalation of the conflict. The unions are also demanding a reindustrialisation plan for the region.

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