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Spanish Telecom Workers on All-Out Strike
The following document is translated from teleafonica.blogspot.com.es. It concerns the indefinite or all-out strike of workers in the telecommunications sector in Spain. This in itself has been a rare thing in the class struggle in recent years. We don’t necessarily share the perspectives of the writer (who we don’t know) but we are publishing it as part of our internationalist duty to break the communications black-out on workers’ resistance to the increasing attacks of the capitalist system on their living conditions. From what we understand the strike is still going on after two months and the workers have organised themselves in assemblies which meet every fortnight. It is rare these days for workers to go on all-out strike but as JM makes clear they have reached a point of desperation faced with the level of exploitation through the kind of casualisation of working conditions (fake “self-employment” to make workers pay for their own equipment, zero hours contracts etc) that are now increasingly prevalent across the advanced capitalist world. It will have many echoes for workers everywhere facing the same conditions.
His comments about unions, established and new are interesting. Basically he accuses them both of being useless for defending the immediate interests of workers. This seems to be putting it more than mildly. We have learned from other sources that the traditional unions the CCOO (Workers Commissions linked to the Spanish Communist Party) and the UGT (General Union of Workers) linked to the Socialist Party have done everything in their power to sabotage the strikes. Once it was clear (after several weeks) that the strike was organised without them and that it was solid these trade unions called their own weekly two-day strike. They then entered into an agreement with the bosses, going behind the backs of the self-organised workers. The strikers denounced the actions of CCOO and UGT as an attempt to destroy the strike before its demands had been met. Slogans such as “we fight, we negotiate” have featured prominently in the protests, while union offices have been surrounded by angry workers and bombarded with eggs, flares, fireworks and other missiles.
This is not betrayal as some think but the normal actions of established unions which have become so much part of the legal framework of the state that this is now accepted by many workers world wide. However many still hope that by setting up new, rank and file, unions they can transform them into real organs of struggle. However, as JM hints, the new unions are little better than the old ones as they soon find that having a permanent existence means also that they too are sucked into the institutional arrangements of the state and answer to a different agenda than that of the workers in struggle. The problem here is not of intentions, or good or bad leaders, but the function of any economic organ which attempts a permanent existence under capitalism today. For the workers strike committees formed out of the struggle controlled by mass meetings or assemblies are a more likely fruitful path to real struggle as the telecoms workers in Spain are showing.
The telecoms workers are fighting for their very existence here and JM’s arguments about why there should be greater solidarity with them are very persuasive. We do not comment on their demands raised which are a matter for the workers in struggle but achieving them will be difficult given that a capitalism in crisis needs to raise the rate of exploitation. There is also one omitted aspect in JM’s account. There are concrete possibilities here for international extension of the struggle as Teleafonica operates in 5 countries and has over 100,000 workers but this is not mentioned in this document. However this does not detract from the fact that after years of retreat this struggle is one more piece of evidence that the working class which capitalist scribblers have written out of history still has a history of its own to make. In the long run this will not be just about demanding better working conditions from bosses but a better system which not only does away with bosses but the entire system of exploitation. From struggles like these the sparks of consciousness will develop and in the course of time link up politically with the communist programme to establish an organisational framework which can lead the fight for a new world of freely associated producers.
Chronicle of a historic indefinite strike
By J.M., a striker on a direct staff contract
A struggle that should have happened before
It all started on March 28 in the capital Madrid where a group of hired, outsourced and self-employed or, rather, "pseudo self - employed" workers working for the company Telefonica-Movistar said enough to a new contract entailing very precarious, inhuman working conditions and decided to call an indefinite strike against the telecommunications giant, which is the largest quoted on the Spanish stock exchange the Ibex35.
When this strike began in Madrid, it quickly set off alarms in the rest of the country and from Barcelona, together with Madrid, the possibility of convening a state-wide indefinite strike, began to emerge. This became possible on April 7th.
A historical struggle that ought to have occurred before started on April 7. It is historical because a strike of this size has never occurred before affecting so many companies in this sector. Thus began a just strike where the fight was against job insecurity, capitalism’s abuse of power, the abuse of power of the few and the slavery of the many, the slavery of a working class that is suffering cuts in wages, rights and the freedom of expression. This struggle, known as the "Revolt of the Ladders" gave birth to a movement called the BLUE TIDE.
This strike has suffered injustice for two reasons, firstly and very importantly at the hands of the mass media; from the beginning it has been hidden, omitted and boycotted by the said media. We all know that Telefonica-Movistar pay a large sum of money for advertising on television, newspapers and radio, but the news has to be told. Possibly it is the biggest advertising investor in the country, but gentlemen journalists, misinformation is not journalism. What cannot happen in the XXI century, in the age of information, in the age of telecommunications, is that news of this nature remains censored because it affects a company that advertises on this media. I, in my humble ignorance, think it right to explain and disseminate what more than 15,000 workers are suffering in precarious situations, in slavery, in a situation that is now leading many of us to a precipice, I think, gentlemen journalists, enough of hiding the truth and time to explain a reality, a reality of how a company with millions in profits exploits workers which it does not recognise as its own, but whom it enslaves for higher profits.
The role of the CCOO and UGT
The second unfair and not so minor reason, is that we have the big unions putting spanners in the works so this Blue Tide may ebb and not achieve its goals. If the two big unions CCOO and UGT do not work to defend workers and are dedicated to keeping the employees calm so they do not achieve their goals and allow employers to operate with ease, ladies and gentlemen, here is another big problem in this capitalist system which sweeps away and destroys everything in its path. We do not mean by announcing a public indefinite strike that minority unions such as AST, CGT and Cobas who turn up at the last moment without asking, what’s going on?, what are you asking for? Why are you in this situation?, and put themselves at the head of the conflict without having called it, instead calling for two day strikes over three weeks, a far cry from the demands of those who suffer this very precarious situation in the flesh.
From here we ask them if they want to do something real for us, to stop delaying the fight and call an indefinite strike and let us in on the negotiations they have opened where not a single worker in the sector is there to explain our situation and what the strikers ask after 37 days of fighting. Not even 10% of those affected are following the strikes called by the CCOO and UGT, however 60% or 70% of staff are following the indefinite strike. Open your eyes for once and help workers already involved. The next strike called for 6 days ought to be indefinite already, do not lengthen the process, do not draw out the conflict, nor drown the struggle; we can say it louder but not clearer. Enough of helping employers and those who do not respect the laws, enough of helping those who mistreat us, enough of helping those who destroy decent jobs and make sectors precarious, enough please, enough is enough, let us have a little dignity, a little morality and principles.
What is the Blue Tide? Why do we fight? How has this situation come about? How are they fighting? What support do we have? What do we ask?
The blue tide are Telefonica-Movistar workers working on direct contracts, subcontractors of the contracted and self-employed working for subcontractors of the contractors, but in reality are pseudo self-employed receiving orders every day as if they were staff wage-workers, but they pay for their own clothing, gasoline, vehicles, tools, etc.
We fight because we have reached a precarious situation, one of slavery, we have no rights and work 10 to 12 hours a day from Monday to Sunday for wages in many cases 600 or 800 euros gross per month. Perhaps some readers will be saying or thinking I'm exaggerating, but I tell you I am not, that is the truth that we are living and to which this crisis we have been experiencing since 2007 has led us, but which in our sector does not exist because telecommunications are essential today for many of us, for many companies related to us, we are all connected and we all need to communicate. So, stop enslaving us to increase profits and regularise the sector that should have been regularised years ago so that we would not have reached this point. I repeat, this sector has never been in crisis so we do not understand why there are so many cuts in every contract.
We have arrived at this situation due to the privatisation of Telefonica in 1996. Telefonica-Movistar had a staff of 72,000 workers, of whom roughly 22,000 remain today. Make the calculation yourself and consider the jobs that have been destroyed for much more precarious slave-like jobs today. Once it was privatised, it began retirements and early retirements converted into EREs for the direct workforce of Telefónica in their early fifties, early retirement we have paid for and which all the large unions signed for one after another, destroying the staff. Telefónica decided not to hire more people and here we, the subcontracted, come onto the scene. Thus a new link in the chain of insecurity was established, but it would not be the last. As Telefonica-Movistar has its own agreement on working conditions, to this new link created today by nine or ten companies including Comfica, Itete, Elecnor, Cotronic, Abentel, Cobra, Montelnor, Liteyca, Teleco it occurred to them to put their businesses within the Metal Agreement, which is not suitable for our sector and besides, they do not meet its obligations.
How does the relationship between Telefonica-Movistar and these companies work? It’s easy to explain; among them there is a commercial contract called the "contract loop" which is renewed, always on a downward trend, every 3 or 4 years. The straw that broke the camel's back was the last contract which came into force on May 1, 2015. I will give an example so you may see the situation where we are. In our industry Telefonica-Movistar invented a points system to measure performance saying that a point is an hour's work. Each task we perform has a different scale, which has been modified in each new contract to their liking without measuring production times. The example or rather, examples that I will give reflect the abuse of power by the multinational and the submission of the subcontracted firms. To give you an idea, the scales of 2006 said that a production line be it of Jazztel, ONO, Orange, Vodafone ... was measured at 4.07 points, having to make at least 3 units to be profitable, according to our companies. Today with the new contract the scale is 0.47, having to make 21 units to be profitable according to our companies. In nine years we have increased production 700%, it is impossible to meet these conditions due to lack of hours to perform the work. In addition, there exist another series of tasks which are set at 0 points, i.e. we do them for free.
Because of these worsening loop contracts our companies thought, if Telefonica-Movistar created contracts, why don’t we do the same and in 2012 there began a new stage, more slavish and even more precarious than the last. Many of these companies are no longer in the metal agreement or, but in other agreements which still less reflect the reality of the sector. Of these contracts of the contractors, i.e., subcontractors, most not all, do not meet the laws preventing risks, do not meet schedules and what is worse, do not hire workers 40 hours a week as established by law, but give them two hour contracts while working 10 to 12 per day and pay the rest cash in hand, thus causing incalculable losses for the state coffers today, but, I assure you, they run to millions of euros. However giving a further turn of the screw, these subcontractors decided to create yet another precarious and slavelike position called "Entrepreneur" by many politicians, "Self-Employed" by the bosses and "Pseudo Self -Employed" by us which is what it really is.
Substitution of staff by the pseudo self-employed.
What is a pseudo self-employed worker? It is a worker who was mainly staff on a contract and when the contract ran out was dismissed because there was no work, but they came up with the brilliant idea of telling the worker if s/he invested their dole money, plus a small settlement but not one that was fair, and bought tools, he or she could continue working as their own boss, taking orders as the staff did but without vacations, pay, sick leave, obligations, i.e. zero cost and high profit. The perfect business, labour at zero cost and below that which life needs in order to survive.
On the other hand considering the positive side experienced in this struggle, I have to say from my humble point of view and my ignorance, that I was stunned by the great help received from social organisations, universities, social movements etc. I had never felt so much support and so much solidarity freely given, I cannot say in words what these 27 days of strike taught me in and what I have come to feel about all these groups that have made the "rebellion of the Ladders" no longer just a struggle of the Blue Tide, but a struggle of all. People have filled the collection tins, made popular collections of donated meals, collections at concerts, contributions from councils etc. To all these groups I want to tell you thank you very much, that we have run out of words and that without you we would never have been able to fight for so many days. In addition I say to the Blue Tide that we are not alone and that regarding the encouragement we need every day, these groups will be there to give us that boost. Do not throw in the towel, we have nothing to lose, we lost all labour conditions, we lost our rights, we lost the fear, at least let’s not lose our dignity and not lose the possibility to live a better life together.
Before concluding by saying what we are asking for, I would tell Telefonica-Movistar this struggle is their concern and to recognise us as their workers. To the companies hired by Telefonica-Movistar, which are only puppets manoeuvred by Telefonica-Movistar, we say put pressure on the company to take a seat at the negotiation table, otherwise we'll never reach an agreement. To the large unions, CCOO and UGT, please do not get in the way unless you really want to help in the conflict, accepting our list of demands. Small unions, we thank you for giving us all the facilities for this to succeed and putting all their resources at our disposal. We thank social entities for making our struggle their own and supporting us. I would tell politicians that the laws they are approving only benefit a few and they forsake many, you should stop turning a deaf ear to the people and stop favouring their cronies to later place them in multinationals as advisors through revolving doors. And let one thing be very clear, if you want to help the working class, help it, but do not use us for campaigning now elections are coming, we want help now and when the elections finish, continue to help to reverse this situation that not only affects the Blue Tide, but many groups that are quiet now, but will soon realise they have to take to the streets to defend their rights. We did not have to pay for this crisis. To all my colleagues I say that WE WIN OR WE WIN this struggle. No turning back, we have no fear, they have the fear because we control the country's communications.
Finally I want to give advice to all directly hired staff, to which I belong on one of the contracts. For anyone who says he or she is satisfied with what they have today and that this strike does not suit them, tell them our staff decline every day and that someday, you who are saying that, you will be fired because you will not give them the expected profit , i.e. you will be expensive for the company but a pseudo- self employed will be much more profitable. What will you become of you after this, comrade? Become subcontracted telling social security you work two hours and when you retire you will remember what I said or you'll become a pseudo- self employed, enslaved from dawn to dusk for a few euros and then you’ll also remember having read this paper. Having reached this point will you say to the pseudo- self employed, shall we strike now? And I'll answer for them, we tried once and it did not go well. To other colleagues I tell them not to throw in the towel. Until we have a decent sector to work in we do not return to work, and overnight they won’t find 15,000 people who can install and repair telephone lines and fibre optics.
So comrades come out of the den where you are hiding and fight for WORTHY jobs. At least we, when we can end this fight, can hold our head high, while the scabs, who go so far as to disguise themselves at work will not be able to look us in the face. All I can say to you scabs is careful because some companies are laying off people who have not gone on strike, so you could be next.
What do we ask?
This is our platform of demands, agreed between all the groups in struggle of all provinces of the State:
PROPOSAL BY THE STATE COORDINATOR OF PROVINCIAL ASSEMBLIES ON INDEFINITE STRIKE
IF THESE POINTS ARE ACCEPTED, WE WOULD BE ABLE TO SUSPEND THE STRIKE TEMPORARILY UNTIL THEY DEVELOP.
There are, today, three indefinite strike called at the request of the assemblies of workers in the sector of companies that provide services to Telefónica, SAU
Forming the sector:
- Contracting companies and their staff
- Subcontracting companies and their staff
- Self-employed workers who work for both.
What we decided:
1st. The repeal of the current trade agreement between Telefonica and its Contractors. The aim being to guarantee worthy labour and wage conditions, the new standards will be the result of an evaluation and timing, by an independent body chosen by both parties, of the tasks that are part of the work of this sector to ensure working days of no more than 40 hours per week and a salary which significantly exceeds the minimum wage that came into being through the various Metal agreements. Until this independent evaluation is conducted, the rates of the contract that expired in 2006 to 2009 for copper and FTTH will be upheld, and also payment for access will be done away with.
With every renewal of the loop contract the points rating of the proceeding contract should be maintained and the value of the point annually increase one percent above the CPI. In other words, future contracts of TELEFONICA and CONTRATA in relation to the jobs mentioned in this strike should not in any sense, concept and / or quantity, revise DOWN, REDUCE this agreement, but on the contrary, increase at one percent above the CPI. Regarding new tasks arising, assessment will be carried out by the same independent body.
The autonomous technicians will collect payment meeting the deadlines for legal purposes of confirming payment, promissory notes, etc. allowing a maximum limit of 45 days to pay the payment. In no case it is correct to charge the installer CHARGES FOR MATERIAL of any concept or nature involving the work needs of TELEFONICA.
2nd. Metal Collective Agreements may not fit the reality of this activity and the setting up of a Telecommunications Sector Agreement, which collects the activity of enterprises engaged in installation and maintenance of all kinds of voice and data telecommunications lines, External Plant, Operation and Maintenance of Equipment etc is necessary. In the case before us, and until further job categories or activities are included within that agreement, the technical and administrative staff needed to carry out these activities will be incorporated within it.
There will open, therefore, a negotiating table for the preparation of the new agreement of the Telecommunications Sector. The negotiating table should be open within ten days of the signing of the preliminary agreement. The agreement should be ready for signature on October 1, with the negotiation period able to be extended to three months while the parties agree in good faith to work for it. Meanwhile, as a measure to obtain the indefinite suspension of strikes in progress, a provisional wage will be set during the negotiations equal to the salary scales of the operating company. The remaining issues shall be provisionally governed by the Madrid Metal agreement, until the new agreement is agreed.
3rd. The subcontractors and independent contractors legitimately aspire to belong to the direct workforce of Telefónica; while steps are taken in this direction, and to ensure collective bargaining and to safeguard the spirit of the signing of this agreement, it will be agreed to incorporate all those self-employed and / or subcontracted that request it as direct staff, keeping this option open during the negotiations and of course, during the term of the agreement when signed.
4th. These points need, to be applied with guarantees, the commitment of Telefónica and its Contractors to keep the same total jobs of staff (contractors, subcontractors and freelancers) that were involved in the operations of Telefonica andContractor companies on 1 March 2015. The 4th clause must simultaneously be applied to other clauses in the agreement and we state that any dismissal that occurs will be considered an anti-union retaliation and therefore unfair dismissal.
5th. Regarding work on weekends and holidays, the parties recognise the need to work to address the urgent breakdown of essential services to the community, regarding the elimination of normal work on Saturdays and holidays as the usual working method. Work on Saturdays and holidays (calls), shall be rotating and equitably distributed among all staff by a calendar which must be published one month in advance and in no case involving more than one call per month. Each working day on Saturday or a public holiday will be compensated with one day off plus a bonus to be agreed.
6th. Telefonica and companies in the sector will employ all means be so all work can be carried out with maximum safety. For this, among other things, companies assume the cost of PPE, including for the self-employed. Likewise, actions that for any reason, and mainly for safety reasons, require two technicians, are thus carried out. While a definitive agreement has not been reached, the provincial health and safety committees of Telefonica will be responsible for ensuring compliance in all aspects of health and safety of workers.
In view of this minimum agreement for calling off the strike and the opening of a negotiating table for a new Sector Agreement, the convening parties would suspended their strike until Oct. 1 to carry out the negotiations as long as the good faith of the negotiating parties remains.
 CCOO = Workers Commissions (linked formerly to the Spanish Communist Party) and the UGT is the General Union of Workers (founded by the Socialist Party (PSOE) in the nineteenth century.
 ERE stand s for “Expediente de regulación de empleo”, a law which was passed by the state to allow firms “in difficulty” to lay off whole swathes of workers more easily.
For those who can read Spanish, more on the strike can be found at elsalariado.info. The document translated above can also be found in French at Www.robingoodfellow.info as well as on the French part of our site.
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