For two months Spain’s coal miners have been on strike; they famously marched on Madrid to take their protest directly to the conservative government; more recently they have been subjected to brutal police repression, fighting back with home-made rockets and dynamite. Their dispute hinges, as do all politics at the moment, on austerity measures. The Spanish government decided to cut the subsidy to the coal mining industry by €450 million, from €703 million to €253 million. To put this in perspective, this sum amounts to 0.45% of the €100 billion bailout for Spanish banks agreed last week. Or more polemically, the European (and global) ruling classes are willing to bail out the hegemonic section of their class, financiers, by 95.55% more than they are willing to bail out the 8000 miner’s directly involved in the coal industry, and the (at least) 45000 who are indirectly dependent. The equation is quite literal: the few bankers of Spain are worth astronomically more than the near 60000 people in the coal mining industry. Two more points of demographics:
1) Spain was famously one of the countries to suffer a speculative housing bubble collapse. Who leant for the construction of properties, and at the other end of the “transaction”, who leant to the purchasers (often buy-to-let purchasers)? Banks, not just Spanish of course, but this is why we talk about classes, not nations.
2) The fate of 60000 workers during a depression resonates much more loudly than it does in times of boom. 60000 workers loosing their jobs in a country in which 50-60% of youth are unemployed (and most of the rest are underemployed by many accounts), and in which the official unemployment rate is about 25%: all this is a major event, without even considering the humanitarian consequences to particular miners and towns (as in many traditional mining areas, the pits support small towns which have no other independent industries).
This is, of course, mere “creative destruction” to Spain, and Europe’s elite; creative of profits, destructive of, well, who gives a f..? Quantitative easing for the 1% has its reverse correlation in the qualitative uneasing of everyone else.
Two political arguments come up: firstly, why subsidise anything? Second, why support a fossil fuel industry given the environmental stakes? The first of these question should hopefully not need answering; it is the Hayak-Pinochet-Thatcher-Reagan question.
The second question is interesting, a node of “contradiction” within left-wing causes, or, why should the class dispute of these miners take precedence over ending reliance upon a dirty fuel? The main answer is: it doesn’t, but we need to weigh up how the environmental causes can be reached. Firstly, ending coal mining in Spain will not end its neoliberalised energy industry’s reliance upon coal power stations; as with Britain, which lost its mining industry in the 1980s, coal will simply be imported. There used to be a saying in the UK, like the American one “selling ice to an Eskimo”: “sending coals to Newcastle” – Newcastle, along with Durham and North Yorkshire, understood as sitting on the largest coal fields in the world, and having myriad coal mines. Well, indeed, today coal ships (mostly from Latin America and China) dock in Newcastle, supplying the region’s power stations with imported coal. So the first point is that closing Spanish pits will in no way make Spain “greener”, but it will make up to 60000 people unemployed; it will increase dependence upon imported fuel, mined with less environmental regulation, and shipped thousands of miles.
Directly linked to this is again, the class issue. Have neoliberal regimes, i.e. a capitalist elite, genuinely “greened” any economies? No, and they are very unlikely to do so given their aversion to spending upon national infrastructure. Moreover, they are very likely to try and privatise energy industries (along with everything else), and as California discovered with Enron, to say the least, very little is reinvested in energy infrastructure! (So-called “natural monopolies”, i.e. realms in which “real” competition is basically impossible – you should only really have one electricity cable going into your house – when privatised functionally disincentivise re-investment of profits in infrastructure).
The other side of the class issue is the “universal nature” of the proletariat; that is, the miner’s fight is the fight of all who oppose austerity, and who will be ravaged by austerity. Our rulers are visiting destruction, poverty, immiseration and injustice on our homes, children, communities, workplaces, friends. Nobody will come out of the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis unscathed. This includes the bourgeoisie, given that they are immiserating their workforces, and that, however gated their communities become, they still have to share this rock with those immiserated subjects.
In the fight-back against austerity every battle is crucial, and every battle is part of a broad front. If you’re facing a school closure, an arts funding cut, unemployment, underemployment, privitisation, outsourcing, or whatever, the Spanish miner’s fight is your fight; they are fighting against the same logic as you, the same regime – this is the flip-side to the meaning of globalisation. On the left we call it internationalism. Fights join in “chains of equivalence” as Laclau calls them. Self-immolation in Tunisia sparks the Arab Spring; Tahrir Square sparks #Occupy, the Indignadas, et al. Dictators have fallen; the EU is still worrying that Syriza will be elected when the current Greek government inevitably falls (again); the British government have done a volte face on every major bill they have tried to pass, and those that have passed have been completely re-written through confrontation. In all of this, the miner’s struggle in Spain is becoming a lighting rod, a test case throughout Europe (and really the world) over whether a population can resist the onslaught of a rabid, crisis-strewn neoliberalism.
Environmentalism can, by no means, escape this greater chain of equivalences; environmental destruction is obviously chained to capitalist growth. The fights over coal-tar sands, fracking, new coal power plants, the transport industries etc, all suggest that, contra Al Gore, the two cannot by unchained. But a political force which thinks in terms of production for use, not profit; in terms of progeny rather than short-term financial or electoral gain; a political force which knows not (and does not have the means) to try and buy its way out of crisis – this is a force which can, and does, take environmentalism seriously, and this the force in which the Spanish miners are currently leading. They need your support, solidarity, your money, to sustain them in this struggle, because their victory over State austerity will be our victory generally; it will let us know what can be done, just as the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Icelanders, the #Occupiers, and so many others, have been letting us know that another world is not possible, but necessary.