“It is time to take the offensive”

Jan 20, 2020
On the 30th of January the Basque Country is called to stop and take to the streets in the general strike called by the Charter of Social Rights of the Basque Country in defence of pensions, employment and dignified life. Mitxel Lakuntza, general secretary of ELA, reflects on this strike and emphasises the need to take the offensive.

30th of January, 2020. General Strike. What are the reasons for it?

There are too many reasons. We are living a constant insecurity in working and living conditions for the working classes, with growing figures for poverty, inequality and insufficient social cover. If we analyse, for example, what is happening with wages, we see that they have lost around ten points in purchasing power since the start of the crisis and this has happened above all with the lowest wages. The figure of the poor worker has emerged, with an increasing amount of part time contracts, which affects women most of all, at the same time as rents shooting up and pensions do not even have the RPI guaranteed. The politics/policy that is being followed is the one wanted by the employers and the large companies, because the economy is growing, but the wealth is increasingly unfairly shared out. In view of all this we are rebelling, we are aware that if our claims are not in the streets they will not be on any political agendas and that the strike is a great opportunity to put our demands at the centre of the political debate.

Who has organised this strike?

The plurality of the convening of the strike should be underscored. Six years ago many trade unions and social agents formed, through a participative process, the Charter of Social Rights of the Basque Country, and since then, we have developed initiatives in favour of these rights. Furthermore, a few months ago, the pensioners’ movement of the Basque Country, which has been mobilising every week for the past two years, pointed out the need to take a qualitative leap in its mobilising dynamic by asking us to join forces. And we believe that there are reasons to join them because we understand that it is a struggle that affects all of us.

At ELA, and in the Charter of Social Rights of the Basque Country we decided to take up the gauntlet. Therefore, we have agreed on a calendar of mobilisations, which includes a general strike on the 30th of January, 2020. It must be remembered that in 2011 we also called a strike against the reform of the public pension system.

The pensions will be one of the core points of the strike, but it won’t be the only one. There are another two demands that are directly related and that must also be at the centre of our agenda for demands: job quality and social rights. All these struggles are the one and the same.

It is also true that not all the trade unions have joined the call to strike, but we cannot forget that some of them agreed some of the measures that are being fought against with this strike (such as the increase in the retirement age to 67) and that led us to call another general strike in 2011.

What is this general strike seeking to achieve?

The strike is a great chance to recover what has been taken away from us over the past decade and take the offensive. It is our way of saying: our problems are still here; we want changes. For this reason we have developed a very powerful table of demands: a minimum pension of 1,080 euros, maximum retirement age of 65 years, a minimum salary of 1,200 euros, a 35-hour working week, overruling the labour reforms and collective bargaining agreements approved in recent years, guaranteeing social rights. The idea is to stem insecurity in working and living conditions.

The call for a general strike has not been to the liking of the Basque Governments or the employers. They have qualified it as a political strike and have guaranteed that it does not approach them as the elements it demands are not their responsibility. Who is this strike aimed at?

The Basque Government and the employers share common arguments. At times it is difficult to distinguish between them. The Basque Government has told us that we are at the wrong window, that we should go to Madrid as that is where our demands should be attended.

Our reply is clear: we are approaching both the Government of Madrid and the Basque Government and obviously, the Employers. Because although it is true that the responsibility on the subject of pensions and labour legislation lies in the hands of the Central Government, the Basque Government has the capacity to influence on important aspects in relation to these subjects. It can, for example, supplement the minimum pensions until they reach 1080 euros, they can also guarantee the right to a house, decide on the subject of the attention model for dependent persons, it can recognise by law the right to subrogation and to a minimum salary of 1,200 euros for personnel from public outsourcing contracts, they can bring an end to temporary work contracts in the Basque Public Administration or pass a law that brings an end to discrimination and the salary gap.

In Madrid a new, so-called progressive government has just been formed, in a context of fierce attacks from emboldened extreme right wing parties. Is this the right moment to call a general strike?

Obviously it is a relief that the worst case scenario has been avoided, that is, that of a right-wing government (one could say of the extreme right, seeing what happened in the investiture debate of Pedro Sanchez). The option of a PSOE and Unidas Podemos government is not that of the economic, financial and media powers of the Spanish State. Nor has it been the first option of the PSOE, which has only agreed after repeating the elections.

The threat from the right wing, the ultra and the even more ultra right wing is there and we should not forget this, but this fact should not make us lose perspective. We must carefully value the agreement reached between PSOE and Unidas Podemos and the real policies that they develop.

Nowadays, the agreement incorporates some significant amounts of ambiguity and we will have to wait and see what their real materialisation is going to be, but it is obvious that they do not respond to most of the points included on the general strike’s Table of Demands. The situation today does not mean we should sit around waiting to see what happens. Social demobilisation is the worst decision that we can take as trade union and social organisations. It is the time to put pressure on from the streets to manage to channel our demands. It is what any progressive government would expect of us, as some new government ministers have already said.