Spain’s entire workforce of dockworkers — over 6,000 workers — could be laid off in the next four years if a Royal Decree Law announced on February 17 is adopted by the Spanish parliament. This Decree Law is due to be put to a vote on March 9, when the minority government of conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy places it before the Spanish Congress of Deputies.
The jobs and livelihoods of the Spanish dockworkers came under serious threat on December 11, 2014, the day that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the current Spanish port labor system was at odds with the European Union (EU) Treaty. In particular, the Court ruled the current system violated Article 49 of the EU Treaty which deals with the principle of freedom of establishment.
Under the current Spanish port labor system, all dockworkers must be members of a stevedoring society, known as a Sociedad Anónima de Gestión de Estibadores Portuarios (SAGEP - Port Stevedores Management Company). These stevedoring societies are responsible for the recruitment, training and allocation of all dockworker labor to stevedoring companies. All terminal operators and other cargo handling companies are required to source their labor through the SAGEP system as well as financially contribute to it.
The system works in a similar fashion to the hiring halls of longshore workers in the United States. All work allocated through the SAGEP system occurs on a rotational basis, thus ensuring that dockworkers work in an environment that is relatively free from discrimination and favoritism. Employers argue that this system is effectively a “closed shop” which allows for the continuation of “inefficient and expensive work practices.”
It was this SAGEP system that was targeted by the December 11, 2014 European Court of Justice ruling. The Court ruled that the Spanish port labor system forces businesses from EU member states outside of Spain to register and take part in these stevedoring societies, which it deems to be in breach of the Article 49 of the EU Treaty.
Along with its ruling, the ECJ gave the Spanish government a February 2015 deadline to inform the EU of how it was going to comply with the European Court ruling, a deadline which the Spanish government failed to meet.
During the first half of 2015, the union that covers the vast majority of Spanish dockers, the Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores del Mar (CETM - State-wide Coordinating Committee of Maritime Workers, better known as La Coordinadora), met with stevedoring employers and the Ministry of Public Works to try and draw up a consensus document that would facilitate the adaptation of new legislation. However, this negotiation process was paralyzed by Spain’s ongoing political instability. The country has had two indecisive general elections in December 2015 and June 2016 and a continuing deadlock that was only broken in October 2016 with the coming to power of the current minority conservative government.
For failing to meet this deadline, the European Court handed down a fine to the Spanish government of 15.6 million Euro ($16.4 million) in July 2016 along with additional daily fines of 134,000 Euro ($141,000) for each day that this ruling was not abided by.
The conservative Partido Popular (PP - People’s Party) government has now moved to abide by the European Court’s ruling with its recent Royal Decree Law. This now infamous decree law which seeks to amend the Ports Act of 2010, was put forward by the Minister of Public Works Iñigo de la Serna and signed by the Spanish Council of Ministers on February 24. De la Serna claims that his decree will make use of the maximum amount of flexibility allowed under EU law to protect jobs and workers’ rights. But this claim could not be further from the truth.
De la Serna’s decree law would see the scrapping of the SAGEP system within four years. If adopted, this legislation would oblige stevedoring companies to only contract 75 percent of their labor needs from the SAGEP system in the first year, 50 percent in the second, 25 percent in the third and none by the beginning of the fourth year. The Spanish government would then have to subsidize the redundancies of the over six thousand dockworkers made redundant as a result.
Removing this system would leave stevedoring companies free to hire untrained, increasingly casualized and non-union labor in an industry with a union density of over 95 percent. If this was to occur, injury and fatality rates in an already dangerous industry would skyrocket, secure full-time jobs would be replaced with casual labor, and dockworkers’ wages could fall by as much as 60 percent. One consultancy report suggests that the average annual salary of 67,800 Euro ($72,000) — a figure disputed by dockers’ unions — would collapse to 26,934 Euro ($29,500).
Spanish dockers’ unions have pointed out that the current Royal Decree Law is in contravention of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 137, which ensures the permanent and regular employment of dockworkers, the maintaining of registers for all categories of dockworkers, and states that registered dockworkers should have priority for all dock work.
These strikes have been convened by a number of dockers’ unions. The most important is the Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores del Mar (CETM - State-wide Coordinating Committee of Maritime Workers). The CETM, better known as La Coordinadora, covers around 85 percent of all dockworkers across Spain’s 46 different ports. La Coordinadora has its roots in Spain’s strong anarcho-syndicalist tradition. All major decisions in this union are made in assemblies and all elected union officers still maintain their jobs on the docks and receive the same salary as their workmates.
Along with La Coordinadora, there are other smaller dockers’ unions that have footholds in a handful of ports around the country. These are affiliated to various union federations, including the Comisiones Obreras (CC. OO.I - Workers’ Commissions, historically linked to the Communist Party of Spain), the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT - General Workers’ Union, aligned with the Spanish Socialist Party, the PSOE), the radical nationalist Confederación Intersindical Galega (CIG - Galician Inter-union Federation) and the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT - General Confederation of Labour).
Despite their differences, La Coordinadora and the dockers’ unions belonging to the CC. OO., UGT, CIG and CGT have joined hands in their efforts to fend off this fundamental attack to the Spanish port labor system.
Stop Press: Spanish dockers’ unions have now postponed the strikes that were planned for March 10, March 13 and March 15. This comes after the government’s delaying of the Decree Law vote for another week, and the port employers’ association ANESCO agreeing to meet with dockers’ unions. Nevertheless, the strikes scheduled for the 17, 20, 22 and 24 of March remain in place.
The IDC/ITF international day of strike action planned for March 10 has also been postponed to March 23.
Article from a Spanish shipping site on the state of negotiations. Considering that this is business journalism it's interesting to see how damning it is about the government's position.
Some more business journalism, this time pointing out the benefits of the government proposals to the balance sheets of investment funds with an interest in Spanish ports. JP Morgan and a possible sale are mentioned here (headline: "JP Morgan are rubbing their hands..."). A benefit to a few investment funds isn't the same thing as a benefit to the wider economy, and certainly not to the local economies of some of the port cities where the loss of large numbers of relatively well paid jobs can be expected to hit other business interests. This may help to explain some of the support for dockworkers from what on the face of it look like unlikely sources.
An article from the same site on investment funds with interests in ports lobbying in support of the government proposals. Headline: "War in the ports. The bosses want to cut the pay of dockworkers by 60%".
Drawing by the daughter of a dockworker from Huelva
Mark, appreciate the updates!
Interview with Miguel Rodriguez from the Coordinadora (in Spanish)
Portuguese dockworkers ban work on ships diverted from Spanish ports between March 20 and April 3 (report in Portuguese)
Getting the message across to the European Commission:
I'm not on twitter myself but anyone who is may want to retweet this.
Dockworkers linking up with taxi drivers, transport workers and other groups with ongoing conflicts. I think this initiative may just be in Barcelona but I'm not sure.
Estibadores, taxistas, transportistas y otros colectivos con conflictos laborales abiertos han creado Lucha Solidaria Obrera-Intersindicatos, una plataforma "de combate", que rechazará cualquier tipo de "concertación, pacto o paz social a espaldas de los trabajadores". La agrupación promete hacer "sindicalismo de clase" y construir un tejido productivo "propio, autónomo de carácter público y de gestión social".
La iniciativa nace de una reunión mantenida la pasada semana en Barcelona entre el colectivo de estibadores, la Plataforma de Transporte en Ruta Todos a Una, el sindicato de taxistas La Élite, la Unión Sindical de Controladores Aéreos (Usca), Cobas, UGT y los Sindicatos de Camareros de Adif y del Aeropuerto.
Pretenden dar apoyo mutuo a los conflictos abiertos que mantiene cada colectivo y recuperar la "dignidad y respeto de la clase trabajadora".
Article from a Spanish leftist site about the postponement of strike action, with some criticism of Coordinadora tactics, including from dockworkers in the FSOC - the Frente Sindical Obrero de Canarias. I've no particular position on this and I can't say I understand much about the disagreements between the different unions.
Report on the postponement of strike action from portstrategy.com
("insight for senior port executives")
TV report from Algeciras, Spain's largest port, on Canal Sur (in Spanish). The first nine minutes of the video deals with the dispute and what working in the docks now involves. Coordinadora get the chance to put their case. The employers' organisation Anesco declined to take part.
Report from Las Palmas paper La Provincia on myths about dockworkers
From 'O Estivador' the blog of the Portuguese dockworkers union, the Sindicato dos Estivadores e da Actividade Logística
Estivadores decretam greve aos navios desviados de Espanha
Determining ground for the calling of the strike
These constitute serious reasons, determinant of this strike declaration:
We must note the brutal attack that the collective of Spanish dockworkers is under, with a contingent of more than 6.500 professionals, men and women trained in the best port sector training schools that we can find on this planet, threatened by a shameful and unacceptable collective dismissal, a consequence of a royal decree unilaterally approved by the Spanish government in office to allegedly comply with a sentence of the European Court of Justice (EJC) which considers the current working model agreed between the social partners in the sector to be illegal.
We consider it unacceptable that an EU government decrees the collective dismissal of all professional dockworkers in Spanish ports, one of the most professional and efficient groups in the EU, replacing them with the same or other workers with precarious links, which determines the deep degradation of their working and social conditions; To accept and agree with such a scenario would be to accept that the various European Treaties which uphold this Europe, many of which have not even been endorsed by the people of the various countries, legitimize, lead and compel to the dismissal, precariousness and continuous and progressive degradation of the life of the hundreds of millions of their working citizens and, consequently, of their populations.
We can verify the parallel and the evident effects of contagion of the labour deregulation of the port sector in Spain, with what has recently happened in Portugal and hasn’t still been object of correction by the present government, to be mentioned, as an example:
In Portugal, the previous PSD / CDS government, subservient to the financial interests of the powerful economic groups that dominated the national port sector, approved port work legislation without respecting the workers’ organizations that represented the overwhelming majority of Portuguese dockworkers, through which they have sought to liberalize the sector, to de-characterize the profession, to perpetuate the widespread precariousness and degrading conditions that permeate most Portuguese ports, by permitting the precariousness of port workers in a much more deregulated and permissive way than what the Labour Code permits, which, by the way, remains regrettable and incomprehensibly without being revoked or at least profoundly altered, even more so that it cannot be ignored that the previous government claimed that such legislation made Portuguese dockworkers “guinea pigs” of a degraded and misery labour model to be exported to the whole of Europe.
In Spain, the current government intends to condemn to the disappearance of one of its professionally most well-prepared groups, to lead to a collective dismissal of workers, in one of the harshest and most dangerous areas of activity, responsible for the sustained growth of Spanish ports and the positive impact that such behaviour of such a strategic sector of the economy has on its overall performance; Without conceding the results achieved through the dialogue process which the social partners in the sector have been maintaining for a long time, although it is well known that the unspeakable behaviour of the Spanish government is largely due to its subservience to the millions and to the ambitions of JPMorgan, one of the main owners of the Spanish ports, which will certainly be supported by other more veiled public expression employer forces, all of them eager to transfer a large part of the labour income to the capital side, hence increasing the inequalities to disproportionate gaps.
The Portuguese dockworkers represented by this National Union could whistle aside and pretend they forgot how decisive was the intervention of the IDC – International Stevedoring Council, the 100,000 dockworkers it represents, militants struggling in the active and constant defence of their profession, the action of their leaders, starting with their World Coordinator, always ready to fight on the most diverse fronts, be they through communiqués or letters of solidarity, interventions at embassies or the declaration and organization of strikes and their pickets, local or international demonstrations, but still and above all, cannot forget how solidarity actions in the field will always be decisive, as proved by the actions of our colleagues in Algeciras to maintain the quality of employment in Lisbon, with all the positive consequences that such a result will certainly have, in the future of workers from other national ports.
We do not accept to be “bought” by vouchers of 70 euros to dispatch more ships diverted from Spain and thus to collaborate objectively in the attempt of collective dismissal in course, planned by the Spanish government, in promiscuous relation with the capital without borders, to which it renders interested vassalage.
The international solidarity now enacted is a direct consequence of a decision taken by IDC’s world leaders at the grassroots level, an organization to which this Union, with pride, belongs, being bound by that decision, or by having directly contributed to the formation of the collective will underlying it, or because it fully agrees with the purposes it intends to achieve with it.
Interview in Portuguese with Lisbon dockworkers leader António Mariano on the formation of SEAL as a new national union:
Blog post from a dockworker in Algeciras
Cuando ya estamos con la comida en la mesa, llegamos al punto donde nos encontramos ahora mismo, hoy es lunes, otro lunes más de incertidumbre, otra semana más de estrés y dudas, dudas sobre si los partidos políticos de la oposición que hasta ahora apoyan a los estibadores españoles seguirán con el NO al Decreto, dudas sobre si se presentará por fin esta semana a votación, o si el señor Ministro seguirá estirando la cuerda del tiempo a ver si algún partido empieza a sufrir la presión que están ejerciendo. Dudas sobre el futuro de nuestra forma de vida y las consecuencias a las que nos pueden llevar estos señores…
Roughly translated: "...today is Monday, another Monday of uncertainty, another week of stress and doubts, doubts about whether the opposition parties which up to now have supported the Spanish dockworkers will continue with the NO to the decree, doubts about whether it will finally be put to the vote this week, or if the Minister will carry on stringing things out to see if some party starts to feel the pressure they're putting on. Doubts about the future of our way of life and the consequences these gentlemen can lead us to..."
Article in Spanish on dockworkers struggles during the transition, from 1976 to 1986
Also this radio broadcast
Hablamos con Francisco Aroca de las luchas en las que participó como estibador del Puerto de Barcelona, que han tendido a verse como el epílogo de la autonomía obrera en la Transacción española: el trabajo en los puertos ayer y hoy, la repercusión de la jornada de lucha de la C.O.S. en noviembre de 1976 y la cristalización de la Organización de Estibadores Portuarios de Barcelona como instrumento de lucha asambleario, autónomo y anticapitalista, su extensión al resto del Estado como Coordinadora y sus ramificaciones internacionales, su relación con otras luchas del momento, su degeneración; la lucha contra la “reconversión” del trabajo portuario en 1980-81 y 1986 con los gobiernos de UCD y del PSOE, la huelga selectiva y la socialización del salario, la represión patronal, policial y mediática, el órgano de expresión La Estiba, etc.
Report from a shipping site on the state of negotiations (in Spanish). In summary Iñigo de la Serna, the minister responsible, is still hoping to get the PSOE to vote with the government on Thursday morning. The PSOE abstaining would be enough for the decree to be passed. He's offered assurances that jobs would still be secure, without any real explanation as to how this would work. The European Commission has indicated that there's still time to negotiate. In the opinion of the journalist; "Hay tiempo y este compromiso es algo que los grupos de la oposición deben tener my claro antes de creer las mentiras del ministerio." ~ "There's time and this commitment is something the opposition groups should be very clear about before they believe the lies from the ministry." Given this kind of coverage it may be hard at this point for any of the opposition parties to be seen to be backing the government.
Press statement (in Spanish) from the Coordinadora, rejecting assurances from de la Serna.
Report on the dispute and interview with Coordinadora president Antolín Goya from Canary Islands TV.
Article (in Spanish) on solidarity among dockworkers, giving some historical background.
This report suggests the decree could be passed by 174 votes to 173, depending on last minute political deals and which deputies are out of the country or ill.
Press statement from Coordinadora on the government's latest manoeuvres.
It's still going on but it looks clear that the government is going to lose the vote.