While we ‘set ablaze’ social networks, the miners set fire to barricades, lighting the way forward in the struggle against austerity and capitalism.
That it should be the miners, in these hypertechnologised times, who should be the ones to show the rest of the workers the way, gives pause for thought. That in the era of flexible enterprises, information society, global economy, virtual wealth and displaced and de-ideologised workers, it should have to be the old miners, with their tough tools, their calloused hands and their strong collective consciousness, to be the ones to come out into the light and start walking so that we follow them, ought to make us think about what has happened to workers in recent years, what it is we have done and what we have allowed to be done to us.
Some will say that the miners’ leadership these days is entirely fitting: if the crisis and the anti-crisis policies mean a leap back in time for workers, a rough return to the 19th century, who better than the miners at the head of the demonstration, who so resoundingly incarnate those early days of the labour movement. But we are not faced with a matter of historical fittingness, but much more.
The moving scenes lived out in every village through which the miners have passed on their march toward Madrid, the welcome, the words of encouragement, the assistance received, the solidarity extended throughout the entire country, in the streets and on social networks, and finally the reception in the capital and the accompaniment in their protest by so many workers, ought to be a turning point, a point of inflection in the construction of collective resistances. The miners have broken something, they have awakened something that was asleep inside us, they have pushed us.
I know that there is no small component of sympathy that stays clear of the reasons for their protest. There is something of historic justice, of memory, of working class sentimentality if you will, in the affection that the miners receive these days, and I say affection deliberately, because at times it has more to do with affection than with an understanding of their demands. The figure of the miner with his helmet, his lamp and his blackened face has been strongly rooted in the working class imaginary for centuries, and hence the usual discourse, about those who are ‘privileged’, which some people in right-wing media try to use to cancel them out, does not work (for that reason, and because mining has always represented what is most tough and dangerous about the world of work, their fatigue, injuries, illnesses and accidents do not fit well with any privilege). For of all this, for their popular status as heroes of the working class (demonstrated, elsewhere, in so many episodes of heroic struggle indeed over centuries), it seems natural that the miners should meet with so much warmth while on their way through the villages. I do not think a march on foot, of let’s say, waiters, builders, journalists or civil servants, would get so much support, so much affection, so many welcomes, homages and approvals, however just their demands might be.
But beyond this emotional component, the moment in which this exit from the mines has come about is important. In a moment of economic terror such as this one, when we workers feel cornered, hopeless, and our resistance is limited to guessing where the next blow will come from, the appearance of the miners on the scene can be the little light at the end of the tunnel (the tunnel in which we workers wander lost, not the stereotypical tunnel of exit from the crisis where the only light in sight is that of the oncoming train up ahead), the signal we were waiting for. The miners are giving us a lesson that we ought not let pass us by, and which goes beyond their demands, just as these may be.
And they are. The miners in their struggle have right on their side, and I am not going to go on at length on why they are right, They are right for all the reasons you will have already heard and read about these days, but even if they did not have those motives, they would still have right on their side, because of an elementary question of historic justice. We owe them, them and the generations of miners who go before them, and that is enough to oblige us to respect their way of life and their territories, to offer them decent ways out and not begrudge them a sum of money that is small change compared to the financial bailouts. But I insist: what interests me today is not so much their particular struggle (which I support), but that lesson of dignity, solidarity and resistance that they give to all other workers. We have all felt called forth these days by the miners’ struggle, in two directions: because in their demand for a decent future there is a place for all of us who equally lack that future; and because the forcefulness of their struggle makes the poverty of our reaction to the attacks we have suffered all the more obvious.
Regarding the former, the miners’ demand extends to all of us. In the miners we see our past, our class consciousness that at some moment we lost or had taken away from us, the possibilities for collective struggle that today we cannot find. But above all, we see in them our future: in their cry not to be abandoned, not to disappear, not to see their villages and their lands devastated by unemployment and inactivity, a glimpse opens up of the future that awaits us all, converted into workers abandoned to our fate, headed for a long time of scarcity, of misery: at the mercy of a wind that leaves nothing standing; with millions of jobs under extinction, and the whole of Spain turned into a huge mining region threatened by desolation and a lack of a way out.
With regard to the latter, the classic toughness with which the miners resist, the violence with which they respond to violence, enjoins us to look for another word to name what the rest of us do, that which we often exaggerate in calling it resistance. Whilst we ‘set ablaze’ social networks, miners set real fire to barricades on the motorways. Whilst we call a strike every two years, with no great conviction and above all without continuity, the miners opt, inflexible, for an indefinite strike lasting weeks. Whilst we write posts and tweets denouncing the cutbacks (and I am the first to do so), they lock themselves into the pits, paralyse the traffic, put entire regions onto a war footing, and finally start walking along the highway. Whilst we paint ingenious posters and compose nice couplets to shout out at the demonstration, they go up against the Guardia Civil. Whilst we retweet and hit thousands of ‘Likes’ to support the demands of those collectives that are being punished the most, they go from village to village giving and receiving hugs, sharing food and shelter. Whilst we await the next anniversary to go back and take the squares, they set down in the Puerta del Sol after having made the squares of all those towns they passed through their own.
The lesson is clear: faced with the all-out attack against workers, these are not times for hashtags, but for barricades. Faced with the ephemeral solidarity of the social network and inoffensive outrage, these are times for walking along together, for sharing lock-ins and marches, for meeting one another in the streets, for embracing each other as we had no longer embraced, as in these days the miners would embrace those who awaited them at the entrance to each village.
Because of all this, the government cannot allow the miners to win this contest: because if they triumph, they will be giving a bad example to the rest of the workers, because we might take note, to learn the lesson, to follow their example so as to be listened to, not trampled on, so as not to keep on losing: to struggle, to resist, to build networks of solidarity, to hold firm, to hang on until the last, to take to the street, and to take it back. Hence the immense police repression against the miners and their criminalisation in the media.
For the same reasons, we workers need the miners to win this contest: because their victory will clear the way for us, and on the other hand their defeat will make it more difficult for us to raise resistance. That is why today we are all miners, and we have to be there with them. For justice, for history, for memory, because they deserve it. But also for us, because if they fear for their future, ours is blacker than black, black coal.