This article deals with a number of specific episodes of class struggle in Lower Andalucia[1] in the recent period. Although these struggles have specific regional characteristics, connected to the highest unemployment rate in Europe (43% in Jerez[2] and Cadiz[3]) and exceptional poverty (only a handful of regions in Europe are poorer), they actually fit a national and, above all, international pattern.

Andalucia is the major entry point into Europe for immigrants from North Africa and Black Africa, the growing mass for whom jail in Ceuta looks preferable to the social and economic void at home. Andalucia has mass unemployment and economic precariousness on a scale unknown anywhere else in Europe. It manifests the same demographic Malthusianism. The typical worker with a permanent job (trabajo fijo) is 40 years old or older. In Andalucia, as in much of the rest of Spain (and unlike much of northern Europe and the United States) the family serves as a buffer for the fragile estado de bienestar, with six, seven or more people living from one paycheck or pension.

Andalucia, together with Extremadura and Galicia, has long been a place of emigration. From the liberalization of 1958 to the crisis of 1973-75, that meant emigration to the north of Spain (Madrid, Barcelona) and to northern Europe. With the onset of the crisis, the closing off of the possibilities for emigration abroad resulted in a large-scale return of population, and an astronomical rate of unemployment, with no end in sight. Andalucia also remains a “country of internal emigration” with approximately a million day-laborers, who follow the harvests for part of the year.[4]

Andalucia, within Spain, weighs disproportionately in the organizations of the official left as a whole. Even in the March 1996 national elections, won by the right-wing Partido Popular (PP), the combined vote for the PSOE[5] and the CP-oriented coalition Izquierda Unida (IU) in the province of Cadiz was 61%, and more than 63% for Andalucia as a whole. Only one-fifth of Spain’s population lives in Andalucia yet it had one-third of the delegates at the 1995 congress of the PCE.[6] The PSOE government of 1982-1996 had a disproportionate “Andalucian” presence.

The PSOE rules Andalucia, to the point that the term “Neapolitanization” has been applied to its clientelist hegemony.[7] Through the administration of the rural unemployment (PER) and other regional and local funds, it is able to mobilize this support, as it did during the 1996 elections, by exploiting the fear of the “right.” This political power is not without importance for the control of workers’ struggles.[8]

The Struggle at the Cadiz Shipyards (July-October 1995)

One of the most militant workers’ struggle in Andalucia in recent years has been the battle over the Cadiz shipyards.[9] At the height of the last mobilization in the fall of 1995, workers and their supporters fought weeks of pitched battles with the riot police, 100,000 people went into the streets and on the night of September 14-15, thousands of workers and their supporters rioted in Cadiz.

The workers of the Cadiz shipyards have engaged in repeated struggles against layoffs since the mid-1980s, as part of the general pattern of struggles against PSOE restructuring of industry, including shipyards all over Spain. At their peak in the 1970s, the Cadiz and Puerto Real[10] shipyards employed 5,000 workers, and 3,000 worked in local auxiliary industries. By 1995 only 2,100 workers remained. The dominant unions in the shipyards, CCOO and UGT,[11] repeatedly accepted retirement and job buyouts to reduce the work force, whereas CGT and CNT,[12] with far less presence, opposed the negotiation of any layoffs.

The 1995 struggle over the Cadiz shipyards began in July with a one-day strike and the mobilization of 100,000 people in anticipation of a new wave of layoffs by the Division de Construccion Naval (DCN), the government agency that administers Astilleros Españoles. From July to September shipyard workers blocked the bridge between Cadiz and Puerto Real in warning actions on an average of two to three times per week with burning barricades. On September 4, workers invaded the RENFE[14] train yards and set two cars on fire. On September 7, police charged a worker demonstration in Seville, wounding two participants.

Then, on September 14, the Madrid government announced the long-expected restructuring plan, closing the Asterilleros Españoles in Cadiz and Seville (the latter employing 500 workers), privatizing the Vigo, Gijon and Santander shipyards, and reducing the staff in all other shipyards by 50%.[15]

That night thousands of workers rioted in Cadiz, setting fires and confronting truckloads of riot police from Seville. At the height of this confrontation, the PSOE headquarters at the Plaza de San Antonio was set afire. Similar confrontations occurred in Seville. By the evening of September 15, when police regained control of Cadiz, ten banking outlets had been destroyed, twenty shops damaged, eighty-six fires set, eighty traffic lights smashed, and 134 trashcans had been set afire or transformed into barricades. On the 18th the offices of the Seville shipyards were also destroyed.

In many of these actions, workers received support from the populations of Cadiz and Puerto Real, who repeatedly bombarded riot police with heavy objects from apartment windows.

From the beginning the struggle was vulnerable to manipulation by the Cadiz and Andalucian political class. Minimal media coverage in the rest of Spain and internationally kept the Cadiz struggle from disrupting the emerging national electoral campaign, and the PSOE civil governor of Cadiz province Cesar Braña predictably denounced the riots as “unjustified savagery.” Right-wing PP[17] mayor Teofila Martinez, backed by PP politicians from all of Andalucia and members of the local church hierarchy, skillfully supported the movement (as if a PP government in Madrid would not enact the same kinds of cuts), and participated in some of the large demonstrations, thereby transforming the movement into a kind of cross-class “sacred union” to save the city.

Violent confrontation resumed on September 19, as shipyard workers closed the Carranza bridge across Cadiz Bay, again receiving tactical support in working-class neighborhoods, and fighting all day on the bridge. The riot police fought with tear gas and rubber bullets, the workers with slingshots and anything that could be thrown, particularly heavy strews and bolts that were effective in piercing police windshields and helmet visors.

The PSOE leadership in Cadiz met in their fire-damaged headquarters and decided that they, too, also supported the workers’ demands, but “firmly rejected violence” as a means of protest. On September 23, the CNT in Puerto Real rightly denounced the tight control of the movement by CCOO and UGT.

Rioting resumed on September 26, even as the unions and the government were meeting in Madrid to discuss the crisis, with three workers and sixteen police injured. This time, 1000 workers from the local General Motors plant joined in the fighting, burning then-Prime Minister and PSOE leader Felipe Gonzalez in effigy. Freeways and train lines were closed by burning barricades. Four days later the government and the unions announced an agreement in Madrid. The initially planned 1,300 layoffs were reduced to 800, and these would be achieved by early retirement. In October, this agreement was approved by the rank-and-file by a large majority.

The 1995-96 Struggle at Jerez Industrial

In February 1994 the graphic arts company Jerez Industrial suspended its payments on 2,800 million pesetas ($23.3 million) in debts and announced a restructuring plan laying off 180 of 410[18] workers in Jerez de la Frontera.

Jerez Industrial makes labels and boxes for the Jerez sherry industry, which has itself laid off thousands of workers in the past fifteen years. In fact, three major sherry producers (bodegueros) held controlling shares in Jisa and wanted to implement the rationalization they had imposed on the bodegas. By April 1995, however, the company yielded to union pressure[19] and accepted a new plan with sixty workers taking early retirements and twenty-two job buyouts.

However, in September 1995 Jisa reported heavy new losses for the first quarter and proposed a new plan for 132 layoffs. On September 28, as the crisis in nearby Cadiz was reaching its climax, the Jisa workers burned this restructuring plan in the main plaza of Jerez, announcing their intention to link their struggle with two other Jerez companies (Puleva and La Casera) in the midst of layoffs in a “general mobilization” for October 26.

On September 30, the Jisa workers closed nearby National Highway IV for the first of many times with burning barricades.[20] The shop steward committee accused Jisa of fomenting the crisis to cover up bad management and to divert state bailout funds for real estate speculation. They said they were willing to discuss a plan for industrial reconversion, internal reorganization and technological upgrading to make the firm competitive.[21]

On October 7, workers from Jisa and from Puleva (a large dairy company also threatening massive layoffs) burned more barricades in front of the Puleva installation; On October 14 Jisa workers again blocked National IV.[22] However, on December 19, all negotiations on Jisa broke down. The shop stewards committee accused the Junta de Andalucia[23] of trifling with them and made it clear that they wanted jobs, not buyouts or a cooperative with obsolete machinery which would leave them in the street in two years.

On January 3, the shop stewards committee again met Jisa executives and heard another unacceptable final offer. Moments later, workers gathered outside barricaded the negotiators in the plant, keeping them there until the evening when riot police from Seville arrived to dislodge them. Jisa workers announced a series of strikes.

On January 4, some Jisa workers chained themselves outside the Jisa offices in another part of the city. By January 8, the plant was shut down by an initial one-day strike. On January 9 workers escalated the struggle by closing down the Jerez train station for two hours, until the arrival of the riot police.

On January 12 National IV was again cut. A few days later shop stewards and Jisa official met with the Jerez city government to discuss a bailout of the company. On January 19 the Junta de Andalucia was pulled into the negotiations, opening the prospect of a state bailout of Jisa. The new plan on the table provided for eighty early retirements and thirty-six job buyouts for workers 53 and over. This development also tended to “politicize” the Jisa struggle directly as a question in the Andalucian regional elections scheduled for March 3, as the ruling PSOE wanted to refurbish its image as a party of the working class.

At the end of February, however, Jisa had failed to come up with the 560 million pesetas representing its contribution to the early retirements, and on March 1 final settlement of the Jisa struggle was postponed until after the elections. In the final agreement, signed in May 1996, eighty workers 53 and over received early retirement and thirty-six workers each received 7,750,000 pesetas ($65,000) in job buyouts.[24]

The Struggle Against Layoffs at Puleva (Jerez-Granada)

The restructuring and bailout of the Andalucian dairy company Puleva is the least dramatic of the struggles considered here. With some variation, it presents a pattern similar to those of the Cadiz shipyards and Jerez Industrial: a company announcement of insolvency and the need for massive layoffs, worker mobilization (in this case under the control of CCOO), and a settlement with fewer (208) and better-compensated layoffs. As with Jerez Industrial it began with a suspension of payments on its debts. It ended in early 1996 when the Junta de Andalucia underwrote 730 million pesetas of a restructuring plan costing 1.1 billion pesetas and sending 103 Puleva workers into early retirement on 90% of their salary, maintaining 582 jobs. Once this state bailout was in place, Puleva announced new investments, under a consortium of Spanish and foreign banks.

Is Militancy Enough?

The three struggles considered here are part of a pattern of struggle in Spain that has prevailed since the post-Franco transition and the Moncloa pacts between CCOO, UGT and the employers’ association, and particularly since the PSOE government began its program of industrial restructuring.

Despite the willingness of the workers to use violence and illegal tactics, these struggles never went beyond the trade union form, in contrast to the strike actions of the 1975-1977 period. They showed little of the conflict between the rank-and-file and the union apparatuses so common in the 1970s. They were struggles of the working class as it was constituted in the 1960s and ’70s, mostly men over the age of 40, fighting to maintain their jobs or to negotiate the best possible terms for a job buyout. This in itself is a perfectly comprehensible aim, but the struggles did not in any way open up a new perspective for the working class as a whole. In this way they resemble even more militant Spanish struggles, such as the successful fight (1985-1996) to keep the Gijon (Asturias) shipyards open, or similar battles against mine closings in Asturias in 1992.

While not all of the struggles (such as those against restructuring in Vizcaya) have been as successful as the ones described here, the settlements have usually been possible because of national, regional and local subsidies and support from the local political class, whether of the left or the right[26], in the aim of buying social peace. They achieve widespread support from the rest of the working population, which recognizes the “emblematic” position of these relatively elite workers, whose sectors are often (as in the case of the Cadiz shipyards) the sole economic life of whole towns and cities.

With few exceptions, they do nothing to address the growing gap between this aging elite stratum and the rest of the working class, increasingly trapped in the temporary labor market and “garbage contracts,” compelled to live with their parents (often the very same workers of the older elite) into their 30s. Already in regions such as Asturias, more people are living from pensions than from salaries.

Such a situation cannot continue, and such settlements cannot be acceptable to capital much longer. Ultimately, these struggles are smaller versions of the limitations of even the general strike in France in November-December 1995.

In all these cases, workers are fighting defensively to keep what they have, wanting to maintain the old “social contract” when the capitalists have already walked away from it. They are, in the best of cases (such as the Madrid bus drivers) using tactics that worked in the early period of expansion, but which increasingly do not work. No capitalist regime on the continent has advanced as far as the United States and Great Britain in breaking the power of workers to win such sectoral strikes, but there is every sign that they are preparing to do so.[27]

A recognition that the old tactics no longer work has created, in Andalucia as in the rest of Spain, a polarization between the dominant unions CCOO and UGT, and the more militant small unions; in Andalucia the latter include the SOC, CGT, CNT, SU and USTEA.[28] But while these groups are increasingly able to win union elections and counterpose themselves to the dominant unions,[29] for the most part they do not offer any new concepts of strategy and tactics beyond being more militant within a trade union framework,[30] a framework which offers nothing to the growing mass of younger workers atomized in the neoliberal nightmare of unemployment and temporary jobs.


1. Andalucia is the Spanish south. “Lower Andalucia” refers to southwestern Spain, the area between Seville and Cadiz, which was an important Phoenician colony, then a breadbasket of the Roman empire, and which inherited from the latter a latifundia tradition which survived through the period of Arab domination (711-1492) until today. Together with Barcelona, this relatively small area was the major birthplace of the Spanish anarchist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

2. In Jerez de la Frontera, for example, 22.4% of all households live at or below the poverty level, defined as 43,000 pesetas ($350) per person per month (Diario de Jerez, 3/8/96), compared to the Spanish national median of 86,000 pesetas ($700). (Diario de Jerez, 4/26/ 96). The unemployment rate for Andalucia as a whole was 34.9% at the end of 1995 [El Pais(Andalucia), 12/11/95].

3. The Wall Street Journal on 12/4/95 published an article on Cadiz as the unemployment capital of Western Europe.

4. According to the terms of the PER (Plan de Empleo Rural), a day-laborer must work forty certified days in the harvests to qualify for unemployment insurance during the off-season. This system leaves the jornalerovulnerable to all kinds of manipulation and local clientelism, because each day worked must be certified by the signature of the employer, and in practice this is often withheld or extracted for a kickback. The contracted wage for a 6-hour day is set at a miserable 4,200 pesetas ($32) but both the hours and the pay rate are subject to manipulation by employers. The SOC (Sindicato Obrero del Campo) has been able to enforce the contracted rates in the few areas where it has influence, and has also oranized direct actions (such as the occupation of the Santa Justa train station in Seville) against efforts to dismantle the PER. In April 1995, 190,677 day laborers were receiving unemployment payments from the PER, 44% of all Andalucians then on unemployment [El Pais (Andalucia) 12/24/95]. Almost immediately after its victory in the March 1996 elections, the PP government announced plans to “modify” the PER [El Pais (Andalucia), 4/2/96].

5. Assuming, for purposes of discussion, that a vote for the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) can be considered a vote for the left.

6. Partido Comunista de España, the Spanish Communist Party.

7. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, almost one-fourth of the Andalucian population receives some form of government subsidy [El Pais (Andalucia)].

8. The following hardly claims to be definitive. It draws on material collected from different sources, above all conversations with militants. It uses two specific “exemplary” struggles to highlight broader trends.

9. Astilleros Españoles S.A. is the state-owned shipbuilding company with operations in various Spanish port cities.

10. The Puerto Real shipyard builds ships, whereas the Cadiz shipyard is today used only for repairs.

11. CCOO are the Comisiones Obreras, the national trade union federation historically associated with the Communist Party, but now increasingly independent; the UGT is the Union General del Trabajo, associated with the PSOE but forced, during the 1982-1996 period of PSOE rule to distance itself from the latter’s Thatcherite economic policies. CCOO and UGT between them have over 80% of all unionized workers in Spain.

12. The CGT is the Confederation General del Trabajo, the largest of the small, more militant unions which have grown in recent years because of the dominant unions’ involvement in austerity policies of the government. It arose in 1980 from a split with the CNT (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo), the classic anarchist union which peaked in the pre-Civil War period with 2 million members, which survived the Franco era in exile and in the underground, and now has a small presence in and around the Spanish working-class movement.

13. A repeated theme in the Andalucian struggles (a theme present throughout Spain) is a clash between the dominant unions (CCOO and UGT) and the smaller, more militant unions on the type of settlements negotiated for layoffs. In the struggles discussed in this article, layoffs were either prevented or early retirement and buyouts were won with massive financial aid from the Junta de Atidalucia. The CGT and CNT have denounced these settlements for bailing out employers with public funds, while the latter pay little or nothing. Moreover, CCOO and UGT have been accused more than once of selling jobs in negotiating layoffs, as the smaller unions insist. In January 1995 it was revealed that CCOO in 1992 had received 10 million pesetas ($830,000) from Elcano, the state-owned merchant marine, after negotiating 325 layoffs (El Mundo, 1/21/95), and both CCOO and UGT were accused of receiving 11 million pesetas ($925,000) from the Swedish firm SKF Española in 1994, after negotiating 110 layoffs and big wage cuts for the remaining workers.

14. RENFE is the Spanish national railway.

15. At the time of the announcement, the comité de empresa(shipyard committee) had 11 delegates from CCOO, 11 from UGT and 3 from the CAT (Conferacion Autonoma del Trabajo, left over from the period of clandestinity and the transition), but the CNT, while not represented in the comité de empresa, had a presence of about 100 workers and maintained real influence.

16. Diario de Cadiz, 9/15/96.

17. The Partido Popular (PP) is the recomposed Spanish right-wing party, which won the March 1996 national elections with 38% against 37% for the PSOE, and which was obligated to form a working parliamentary majority with the Catalan nationalist party of Jordi Pujol.

18. At the beginning of the crisis Jerez Industrial operated in eight locations around Spain; its restructuring plan concentrated all operations in Jerez. CGT militants were of the opinion that the company had used “creative accounting” to make the Jerez operation appear unviable.

19. Jisa was unusual as one of the few companies in Cadiz province in which the CGT had a serious presence (9 of 27 delegates) on the shop stewards committee (with 9 UGT and 9 CCOO). In June 1995 the CGT increased its representation to become the majority union.
20. The tireless PSOE civil governor of Cadiz province, Cesar Braña, did not hesitate to connect such actions to increased street crime, as they diverted tightly-stretched police from fighting crime. He urged the workers to by “more peaceful” methods of protest (Diarío de Jerez, 11/29/96).

21. Diario de Jerez, 10/1/95.

22. On Oct. 21, the Jerez struggle bean to take on the character of a “sacred union” when the bishop of Jerez called on “all Christians” to show their solidarity with the planned Oct. 26 mobilization.

23. The Andalucian regional government, which mediated the negotiations between the unions and Jisa.

24. The average severance payment for a layoff in Andalucia is 1,956,000 pesetas (about $16,000), about 20% below the Spanish national median (El Pais(Andalucia), 12/9/95). This figure shows the special position of the three struggles considered here, where the lowest severance payment was five or six times that figure. The new PP government is rushing to cheapen the cost of layoffs, but the process began years ago under the PSOE with the proliferation of “garbage contracts” (cont ratos de basura) for increasing numbers of jobs, particularly for young, workers.

25. Asomewhat exceptional case is represented by the radical bus drivers of Madrid, organized in the Plataforma Sindical (PS) de la
EMT. Unlike all the struggles mentioned above, which have been of a defensive nature, the PS has been able to take use its strategic position to go on the offensive and win major gains in a period of general rollback, of labor. The PS de la EMI broke away from CCOO after the famous Madrid transit strike of January 1976. They carried out strikes on their own in 1985 and 1988, and by 1989, when they won a 25% pay increase, they were under attack from the official left, from CCOO and UGT to lzquierda Unida and the PCE; the, latter organization called the PS a “fascist” organization in a 1990 leaflet and the PSOE government tried to demagogically link the bus drivers with ETA, the Basque terrorist movement. The strength of the PS de la EMT was such that by 1990 Felipe Gonzalez himself had to support the PP mayor of Madrid against them. The PS carried out three illegal strikes in 1991. But their activity culminated in 64-day strike in January-March 1992, which succeeded in polarizing all the official left unions and political parties, and during which representatives of CCOO and UG met with Felipe Gonzalez to discuss a repressive Ley de Huelga (Strike Law). The 1992 bus drivers’ strike won job security, although 8 strike leaders lost their jobs and 24 were tried for strike activities (by ajude who was a former labor lawyer for CCOO). The 1992 strike attracted international support from radical workers’ groups in the rest of Europe, and was supported in Madrid itself by neighborhood committees, far-left militants and marginal people.

26. Recall the support of the PP major of Cadiz, Teofila Martinez, for the Cadiz shipyard workers, even after the eruption of mass violence.

27. The Italian workers stopped Berlusconi’s attacks on pensions in fall 1994, but the new “left” Olivo government is moving ahead with its own austerity plan. Many of the changes demanded by the Juppé plan, which provoked the French strike of NovDec 1995, were pushed through after the movement had been demobilized. In late spring the Kohl government in Germany showed its willingness to confront the unions, and the new Aznar government is moving ahead aggressively with another attack on many fronts, including its announced aim of cheapening the cost of layoffs.

28. The SOC, as indicated earlier, is the Sindicato Obrero del Campo, an independent union of rural day laborers. USTEA is the Union Sindical de los Trabajadores de la Enseanza (Andalucia), the Andalucian wing of the national teachers’ union. In May, 1996, the SOC, CGT, and USTEA met in l Bosque (Cadiz) to begin discussions leading to a fusion. Several other groups, including the SU of Huelva and an independent union in Marbella boycotted the meeting to protest the presence of the CGT, which lacks as a Spain-wide union) an “Andalucian” perspective. In fact, the question of Andalucian nationalism was a major point of disagreement at the meeting.

29. On May 1, 1996, in Seville, the “dwarfs” for the first time called a counter-demonstration to that of the CCOO and UGT, attracting perhaps 2,000 people against 10,000 for the officials.

30. They advocate a “class-based trade unionism (sindicalismo de clase) against the dominant CCOO and UGT “service unionism” (sindicalismo de servicio).