At the end of last year metalworkers in the southern Spanish port city went on an immense nine-day pay strike as inflation bit into the value of wages, before being brutally let down by union leaderships. More independent and autonomous unions such as the CTM were at the forefront of organising on the ground floor, and Vallador produced the following in-depth interview about the situation there.
First of all, we would like to ask you about the CTM. Can you tell us about its origins? What distinguishes you from other unions or worker groups that may exist both in the Cadiz metal sector and in the rest of the country?
The CTM was born, at first, as CPM (Coordination of Metal Professionals), a group made up of metal workers from Navantia, subcontractors, eventuals. After being a collective we became a union a year and a half ago. The difference is that we are workers, not lifelong activists or unionists. After a professional life in the shipyards, we decided to form a union in which the workers decided, with the leading role precisely for the workers.
Do you think that the CTM is a union alternative capable of reinforcing the autonomy of metal workers – capable of breaking with the conciliation and transfer policy of the large union organisations?
We try to be an alternative to official unionism, which has led us to precariousness, which has sold us out, which has not even allowed us to have an opinion … a unionism without workers. We are faced with the outsourcing model, which leaves us practically no space to claim. It is very complicated to have organised a union of temporary workers, defending ourselves is quite difficult when we can’t elect practically delegates or present ourselves to committees. It takes six months of work, which sometimes we are not given, or workers are fired.
Faced with this impossibility of having delegates we must change the union model, adapting it to the circumstances we need. We cannot ask a colleague with a three-month-old and a contract for works and services to take to the streets with us. We want to be the alternative, but we know that it must be a long-term task, in which we must act differently. Possibly removing the conflicts from the factory, explaining to the people that there is a way out, that although we have normalised agreement breaches and a loss of rights it should not be like that. A pedagogical work that allows us to reach the citizens with assemblies, explaining that they do not have the problem of being fired … and all this trying to change the subcontracting model, which is very complicated by our economic limitations.
After the strike, what possibilities do you see of consolidating a minimum of autonomous organisation among metal workers? And outside this sector, in the rest of the Bay of Cádiz?
There have been situations that had not occurred until now. The awareness achieved these days is very important. You have to work a lot in organisation, think a lot. The fact that we are a very independent union from the Cádiz metal sector does not mean that we should be alone, we have to help other classes of groups from other sectors and try to make the CTM an alternative. If we have to draw a conclusion from our days of striking, it is that the rights of auxiliary workers and the ray of hope that we have sent to other workers have had great relevance.
The metal strike has been the strike of all of Cádiz. We went down the street making demonstrations wherever we wanted, without obeying the police and we had support everywhere. This strike illuminates, does not overshadow, any other sector. The factories have a lot of worker muscle and it is easier to strike in them than in the service sector. Inside, it is complicated because we are subcontracted workers, but this force must serve as an outpost to other sectors. Although the chances of claiming for a subcontractor are small, they are greater than for a hospitality worker. If we have achieved something it is that other sectors, in Cádiz and beyond, see what can be achieved. The people of Cádiz are with us and we must know how to work and channel it.
Do you think that a strike as tough as the one you waged could have repercussions beyond the metal sector? That is to say, as the first really forceful strike that has been fought in years, could it have an echo outside your sector and be an example to break with so many years of horrible social peace?
It is clear that the echo and the repercussion has been all over the world. We could spend all day thanking the groups that have supported us. We are metal workers from the province of Cádiz, but above all we are workers: we are clear that there is only one class, one fight, with small battles. Ours has been this: a very powerful battle, which we are sure will mark a before and after because the conditions of the metal working class and every other sector are very precarious, so such work is not only here, but must occur in any place where there are injustices, that is, anywhere.
And we have to channel all these energies, to think again of the working class as one, of class pride, we have to be able to channel these things that have happened, work on it from specific groups, coordinating ourselves, because if we don’t, we will not fight the battles we would like to fight. We are many but we must be united and row in the same direction.
Have you followed the recent metal strikes in La Marina and Alicante? Can you say a few words about them?
First our solidarity with these conflicts and with any others. As far as possible, we are here to contribute our bit. In the case of the Marina (Vigo), we know that it is something very similar to what has happened in the province of Cádiz, that they have been dismantling the industry since the 1980s and have left only bars and the service sector. This is very negative for any local economy because dedicating itself only to services is very difficult, something that has been seen now with the pandemic, but also by the workers themselves. The hospitality industry, etc. they are poorly paid jobs, with noncompliance being the order of the day.
With regard to the comrades from Alicante, it is a conflict over the SME collective agreement. That is very complicated, because although we have it a little easier than in the hospitality industry, The outsourcing model is very complicated … that is where we have to work together, on common problems, try to attack the model, which not only hurts us because of the eventuality and insecurity, but because it makes it impossible to claim for workload and agreements. We are very divided, with the big companies and their works councils1 making unionism available for a few, with some staff who have more or less acceptable conditions but are in full compliance with agreements and, later, some contract workers with whom the agreement involves different rights, different salaries … A divided working class.
This happens in Cádiz, Alicante and throughout the State, obviously we have to look for common solutions. In common problems, trying to attack the model, which not only hurts us because of the eventuality and insecurity, but because it makes it impossible to claim due to workload and agreements.
According to the CTM, a union policy that is truly class-based, which exclusively defends the interests of the workers, what basic points should it have?
One of the things that we are clear about is that the message we send out is very important, but the messenger, the workers, are more important: we cannot outsource it. A union is an organised group of workers and we cannot forget this fact. Obviously you have to have lawyers or advisers, but it is the workers who have to make the decisions. From here, we have to go back 30 years of non-unionism, commercial unionism and a lack of awareness created by these … tomorrow, if we call the workers, they will not all appear without more, there is great mistrust towards the unions but we must show that we are welders, electricians, painters … and with this we must create trust.
Of course, being as honest as possible, defending class consciousness as the main and long-term element. We workers must return to a pure unionism, adjusted to the circumstances. In our case it is outsourcing and we must start from this fact, which is a difficulty to fight and go out on the streets. With these circumstances we must carry out a substantive work, aimed at changing the subcontracting model, but always, the key is for the workers to do it.
A question about the history of the metal struggles in Cádiz. It is obvious that the metal sector has an immense weight nationwide when it comes to mobilisations, if not like mining in the north2, very similar. However, the impression one has is that after 40 years of very hard fights, defeat has been the keynote, if not in the short term, then in the long term. Is this true? If so, why? Can you sketch an assessment of these years of mobilisations? How did you get to this situation in which there is a very high rate of temporary employment, subcontracting, such low wages, etc.?
We still have the three Navantia shipyards3 open, due to the struggle of the ’80s. The goal was to close them down and deindustrialise the area. Over the years, with the outsourcing model, marked by Europe, has been gradually dismantled. But with the struggle of the ’80s it was ensured that no-one was fired. Regarding those, our modern struggles have had some differences. Although ours have been very street, very forceful, and with the support of all citizens, they have been carried out by subcontractors. Before, they were strikes by the workers of the main companies.
Now it is very complicated: there are some “privileged” workers from the main companies, and some workers from the subcontractors who are very precarious. Added to this is a unionism that does not look out for the rights of all workers. This has weakened us, precisely because it has led us not to fight, because when we fought we did not lose jobs. Of course, when people were fighting in the street, what they say with violence … then, little by little, the companies disappeared because social peace was signed and a unionism was imposed that put the workers to sleep. But when it has been fought, it has made a lot of money.
A couple of more specific questions about the strike. With a salary increase as meager as the one that CC.OO. and UGT, who also say that it is likely not to be respected, have negotiated, will the workers endure? Do you think they will return to the street?
It is clear that we take to the streets when the agreements are not fulfilled. The agreement has just been signed and is no longer being fulfilled, workers have been fired for fighting. But the workers are now stronger. It might seem that being pushed back to the factories was going to weaken us, but the people are strong. Now we have to do solid union work so that the next time it catches us we will have more strength, especially in organisation and class consciousness. We will return to the streets with more strength and intelligence than now.
We were all surprised by how, in what seemed like the hardest part of the strike, CC.OO. and UGT gave orders to return to work and, with deception, bad faith acts, etc. they got it done. You, for your part, continued with the call. What do you think made this return to work take place? Why did the workers not want, or could not, continue the strike?
It is a very difficult question because it has many ramifications. The first thing is that we do not have real representation, committees … In Seville, a salary increase was being negotiated by our legal representatives, not real and in Cádiz we were on the street precisely because what we wanted was not being negotiated, because there were continuous breaches of the agreement. Because if, in Seville, a 30 euro salary increase is negotiated, in Cádiz there were colleagues with 400 below the agreement. It was impossible to sign what we asked for because it was not being negotiated.
The agreement was signed at night, at 10.30pm the delegates were called, enough to give legal validity to the signature. There was no assembly, the strike ended without an assembly, as in the last agreements. With a union representation that does not exist at dawn, the workers were called to rejoin the job, without leaving us the ability to react. Although the CGT had an open strike ballot, we decided to enter with the workers.
A great job had been done and, with workers under great pressure, we could not divide them. They had been on the pickets with great force, but we did not want to create a fight between the workers themselves. We agreed to maintain the strike as CGT, but we did not call to continue because it was necessary to come back at another time, with other conditions, better studying the conditions in which we move, especially the null armour of the workers.
1. Works councils exist in many of Spain’s largest industries and have acted very effectively to fracture union power by funnelling recognition and influence into narrow, controllable channels. A dispute over the use of works councils in the post-Franco era was a major part of the split between the CGT and CNT syndicalist unions in 1979.
3. Navantia is Spain’s State-owned ship builder, which maintains most of its largest facilities in and around Cadiz. During a ship-building crisis in the 1980s as south-east Asian production ramped up the government attempted an overhaul of the region’s industry including major rounds of layoffs.
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