The “Black March” Flows Into Madrid
By Sonia Arias Valtuille - 12th July 2012
Two hundred coal miners who made what is known as the “Black March”, walked into Madrid on the night of the 10th July of 2012. They were well organised but tired, their feet were destroyed and their tendons sore, they felt exhausted but proud. They had come from all the Spanish coalfields and burst into the Spanish capital singing “Santa Bárbara Bendita”, the Spanish miner’s anthem. With their helmet lights on, they were demanding to earn a living from mining coal, as their parents and grandparents had done before them. Walking in the sun for 19 days, they had covered more than 450 kilometers (277 miles), coming from Asturias, León, Aragón, La Mancha and Andalucía coalfields. The north, the east and the south of one country have been wracked by an economic crisis that is devastating a welfare state, which had taken many years of struggle to achieve.
There have been other “Black Marches”, other miners’ disturbances, even during the second Republic or during the Franco period - all of them harshly suppressed. The June 2012 march is the first to gather all the Spanish miners together in the face of the threat of their mines closing due to a sharp reduction by 63% of state subsidies needed for mining development.
Forced by the European Union to impose drastic cuts in return for the loan of several billions of Euros to fund the Spanish indebted banks, the Spanish government has hammered the final nail into the coffin of an industry already condemned to extinction since the EU agreed to end its aid to coal at the end of 2018. At the moment there are 7,900 miners employed in 47 existing coalfields that counted on six more years to find a way out. Suddenly, without warning, that margin has disappeared.
In Spain, Spanish coal has always been more expensive than foreign coal and has always depended on state subsidies. It does not even meet the energy needs for the country since only 8.5 million tons a year are produced, while between 16 and 20 million need to be imported. On the other hand, it is very well known that many businessmen and politicians have been enriched thanks to this subsidy. Also, people had heard about the diversion of Spanish and European funds destined for the restructuring of the mining areas, which were promised but failed to materialise.
The fact that producing energy using coal contaminates the environment doesn’t help. Neither does the fact that other countries with a traditional coal culture, such as Great Britain or Germany, are closing their mines, or did so years ago. Other arguments against coal are that increasingly there are less people depending on mining to make a living, so it doesn’t make sense to pay so much for so few, and early retirement is very costly for the rest. Even though some people point out the importance of keeping mines open as a strategic source of energy, the majority see the future to be in renewables, in order to get energy independence.
But what everybody agrees about the miners is that they are a reference point in the history of the workers struggle, that they are workers with an incredible team spirit and a great capacity for organisation, resistance and facing challenges. The Spanish miners went on strike from the end of May and haven’t been paid since then. Without receiving any money they’ve been raising barricades, blocking highways, facing down the police and having comrades shut up in the mines following their struggle underground. They all have the support of their families because everyone knows that when a mine closes nothing else will stay. The miners’ town will die or lose its character and its people will migrate to the cities, or emigrate to other countries to look for a living in these difficult times.
But the “Black March” into Madrid will undoubtedly be remembered, at least for those who lived through it. Although its initial target was to begin negotiations about the cuts the next day with the Industry and Promotion Minister, the march had already illuminated the night of many Spaniards who cheered them while passing by villages and cities for 19 days. Then in Madrid, thousands of people went out in the middle of the night to receive them as heroes.
For 19 days, the blisters on the feet of the miners were also those of the 25% of Spanish unemployed people and those of the thousands of evicted families that have lost their homes. The miners and those many other voices were raised against the increase in taxes and working hours, the increase in the retirement age, the cuts to pensions and benefits, the dismantling of the free and universal system of education and health, and, especially, against the systematic destruction of democracy.
The Black March finished on the day after the miners discovered that the already approved measurements were not going to change. On that very same day the Spanish government had approved the largest number of cuts in the history of Spain, of which the mining cuts were only a drop in the ocean. The miners shouted again and faced the police, as they slowly climbed onto the buses that would take them home and sat down, possibly deflated.
But the people continue to speak out because the Black March has laid down tracks by announcing that together we are stronger, that citizens can regain power. The government is at the edge of the rupture of the social agreement; they all know that the marches of different colours will keep on coming.
Sonia Arias Valtuille is on the Nerve Review Writers’ course.
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