Communist Party of Spain (M-L): Social and environmental aspects of Spanish mining in the first decade of the century

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From Unity & Struggle No. 25, Spring/Summer 2013

Spain

1. Introduction

 In the second half of the nineteenth century, and especially after the Mining Law of 1868, Spain became the leading mining power in Europe, although most of the deposits were in foreign hands. At present, mining represents 10,000 million Euros, less than 1% of GDP. 80% of the value corresponds to industrial rocks and minerals, 1% to metallic minerals and 19% to energy minerals. In industrial rocks and minerals, Spain still occupies a prominent position: leading producer of roofing slate and red clay, second largest producer of marble, celestite and gypsum, and Europe’s leading producer of granite, gypsum and sepiolite.

Spanish mining in recent years has been marked by reduction of production in coal mining and the metal mining crisis. The value of coal mining production has fallen significantly, especially since the beginning of the “Plan of Coal Mining and Alternative Development of Mining Areas 1998-2005”. While in 1998 the production of coal reached 1,117 million Euros, in 2002 had fallen to 625 million.

Graph1

The same process is observed in metal mining, with closure of establishments of copper and zinc. Among them, the Company “Asturiana Torrelavega Zinc” and Boliden, Almagrera, Rio Tinto and Tharsis companies.

However, non-metallic mining, in decorative stone and quarry mining, the value increasing has been rising steadily, especially in building materials, because of the “property boom” of the past few years. If the number of exploitations and rock quarries was 3679 in 1998, in 2002 had increased to 3713. This trend has undergone a radical break since the 2008 crisis and the paralysis of building.

There has also been a marked decrease in employment. In just two years, from 2008 to 2010, the mine workers have gone from 53,200 to 46,800. The loss of 6,400 jobs shows the decline of this productive activity.

Today, in the Spanish mining we can highlight two aspects that we consider essential. One, and in our view the most important, is the derivative of the restructuring of coal mining. The second is the impact on the nature of the opencast mining.

2. Social problems

One of the most tragic aspects of Spanish mining in recent decades has been the restructuring of the coal sector, for the social and human consequences it has generated. From the eighties of last century, and in the context of accession to the European Union, took place a process of reducing production and workers, based on a discourse that emphasized the low profitability of Spanish coal and the low productivity of our exploitations. With the technocratic language that use all those for whom the economic balances are priority before people, successive governments of the PSOE and the PP have insisted on the impossibility of sustaining public mining due to the high cost for the state. The result of this policy has been disastrous from the point of view of employment.

HUNOSA, the largest company of mining public sector, established in 1967, has been experiencing a systematic loss of employment, with the sharpest decline in 1991-1995 and 1996-2004.

Graph2

The “program contracts” applied in the decade 1980-1990 and successive Mining Plans (1998-2005 and 2006-2012), with reduction of public funding and workforce adjustments have led to the Asturian and Leonese miner valleys towards a social disaster. The destruction of the mining industry could not be replaced by other economic activities. The early retirements and mass layoffs have left no future for thousands of families.

While public money has flowed abundantly to help banks, to finance infrastructures clearly deficient and sportive projects, mining has been stigmatized as a source of loss for the State. Although unions have submitted projects that show the feasibility of mining, it is clear that the destruction of mining, and the dismantling of other industries, responding to political strategies directly related to the price that Spain had to pay for joining European Union.

This aggression against workers caused a growing class struggle in the region, with general strikes in the Asturian exploitations in 1991 and 1992. The miners showed, once again, be the leading detachment of the Spanish working class and with their actions forced governments to negotiate, delaying their closure plans for exploitations, but failed to halt the process. Is also need to specify the role of the main trade unions, which in many cases have bowed to government decisions and have agreed outside workers (1).

The consequences of mine closure have been devastating in many Asturian shires: population loss due to migration for seeking employment, aging, increased school failure, psychological problems caused by unemployment, etc. In 2006 was published in the “Spanish Journal of Counseling and Educational Psychology” an article entitled Analysis of the educational, guidance and social needs of the mining valleys of Asturias, written by Marisa Pereira González and  Julián  Pascual Díez, professors of the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Oviedo. In this study, using extensive written documentation, as well as surveys and interviews with teachers, social workers and youth, presented a bleak picture characterized by high unemployment, lack of vocational training of young people, emigration due to the lack of job prospects, high alcohol consumption and demotivation of students in schools, that is, a large casuistry motivated by mining restructuration.

The mine in Asturias was not only a source of employment, but also a way of life, culture and community social relations system that has been virtually destroyed by a neoliberal policy that leads to catastrophe.

In this catastrophe not all are losers. There are private entrepreneurs who have profited from public support to mining committing all kinds of fraud and corruption. In December 2001, were arrested several executives of the mining company’s La Camocha SA, including the largest shareholder, accused of fraud to the Treasury.

The modus operandi was to import thermal coal at international prices (between 4,000 and 6,000 pesetas per ton – 24 to 36 euros) from South Africa, Australia and Ukraine, which was landed in ports of Gijón and Avilés in Asturias. The importation was made ​​from intermediary companies that received money from La Camocha by different issues to coal supply, such as the payment of rental equipment, business services, etc.. Coal was transported by truck from the port area to the land of La Camocha, which was mixed with coal mined, the cost was 18,000 to 20,000 pesetas per ton (108-132 euros). In this way the company sold more coal and received the price paid by power plants, which was equal to the international price, and state subsidies for domestic coal expected to cover the difference between the actual cost of production and the selling price. As the price of imported coal was four times lower than the Spaniard coal, the company obtained through state subsidy a massive benefit from public funds.

Mining has another dramatic aspect, which are the accidents. Although a wide number of rules related to make mining safety, the reality is that the infringement from many employers causes fatal accidents every year. In 2011, four coal miners died in accidents and 7 more in other extractive industries. A tragic balance that could be avoided if the work inspection was more demanding and penalties for breaching the rules of safety and labor hygiene was much more severe.

3. The miners’ strike of June-July 2012

While writing this report for the XVI International Conference “Problems of the Revolution in Latin America”, the Popular Party’s government announced a 63% cut in subsidies for coal mining, which can lead to the dismissal of 13,000 workers and the closure of almost all coal mining. The Asturian miners have responded with large demonstrations and an indefinite strike.

 The struggle of the Spanish miners has been really impressive. A long strike that has been marked by brutal police interventions, and a 22-day march that finished with the arrival to Madrid of the miners columns. Throughout the journey the solidarity have been continuous and the welcome  of the people of Madrid exceeded all expectations. Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets to accompany these men and women whose struggle is the struggle of the entire working class. The Communist Party of Spain (Marxist-Leninist) drafted a notice that we reproduce in full due to its importance:

The cause of the miners represents the people’s struggle

During the month of struggle that take place, the miners have won widespread support from the rest of the working class and the people, despite of the intense manipulation in the media which  couldn’t diminish or obscure their bravery.

As successive operations of the last thirty years, coal mining is a victim of a government sold to the interests of the oligarchy and submissive to the orders of international capital, embodied by the European Commission and leaders like Angela Merkel. Today as yesterday, social and strategic considerations are erased at a stroke under pressure to achieve “fiscal consolidation” in the form of brutal cuts in many areas. Not all, of course, because this policy is not dictated by technical reasons, as argued by party leaders of PP (and PSOE), but by class interests.

Thus, reduction of direct support to the exploitation of coal mines in 190 million could mean the loss of 30,000 jobs in the affected areas. However, the Government has no problem in assume Bankia rescue at a cost so far of 25,000 million. We can also compare the cut in mining funds to the rescue of the motorway companies, is itself a wasteful and unproductive activity, entailing 280 million. Of course behind these companies are giants of building business such as Sacyr, Acciona and ACS as well as various financial institutions also ruinous, as CCM or Caja Madrid.

To this we can add the noisy opposition that the big energy companies have against coal support policies that force them to use the Spanish coal in thermal power plants, increasing their costs; one more argument  for the fallacious version of  “tariff deficit ” that keep these corporations.

From its side, mining companies crouch behind the brave workers, whose efforts hope to benefit and use to pressure the government for their own interests, but not vacillating to sacrifice them if some difficulty appears, as it did in 2010 to avoid paying wages for months. The mining bosses have been benefiting from protectionist policies for more than a century, and only now, when other factions of the bourgeoisie imposed its own program stronger, the mining bosses claim the time required to implement measures to make enable surviving in the global market.

Meanwhile, the regime politicians have been unable to implement sustainable alternatives to coal and wealth creation, as well as they have squandered the mining funds on things of questionable social value, but very suitable for electioneering purposes.

In short, we face again a policy designed for the exclusive benefit of the financial oligarchs and owners of large energy and construction corporations, effectively represented by PP and PSOE, with its institutional control of springs, and thanks to their absolute lack of social control and opacity in economic decisions. Are these monarchical governments which have privatized the key sectors and which have created the conditions for the brutal accumulation of benefits that has allowed these companies to expand across the world, at the cost of millions of Spanish unemployed workers and the downfall of entire shires .

Against this, the miners symbolize the values ​​of working class: unity, cooperation, hard work and determination to defend the collective rights. Despite bourgeois propaganda, still lives the footprint of the large mining struggles, which always, in one way or another, have synthesized the aspirations of an entire people: from the revolution of Asturias in 1934 to the resistance against the closures in the 80’s, through the 1962 strike.

The great value that is taking the fight of the miners, even beyond the decision with miners are defending their rights and the future of their land, is the showing of which character must take the people’s struggle: a whole people united in this struggle, realizing that the miners are not only defending their work, but also the future of entire regions, recognized with its full solidarity. The literally general strike of  coalfields, marks the way forward. Also achieved international solidarity of the British, Chilean, Australian, American miners … which recalls the need for unite efforts to great scale, for the moment, European unity if we want to face the policy of aggression and cuts with guarantees of success.

During this month and a half of hard struggle, the people of the mining shires have returned to materialize all these values, providing valuable lessons to the entire labor and popular movement. For that symbolic value and for reflect one of the most important strongholds of labor organization and labor force, the repressive forces have endeavored to remember,  scenes of Asturias in 1934, occupying miner villages and with indiscriminate attacks, including children and the elderly. The attack to Ciñera by the Guardia Civil (a special Spanish police, linked to the army), in particular, has abstracted the special brutality with which the bourgeois State tries to silence dignity samples, solidarity and determination of the working class, that is not daunted to gases, phone tapping nor police aggression.

Logically the miners’ struggle alone cannot end the succession of attacks by the oligarchy. On the one hand, certainly demonstrates the power of organized labor and the need for organization, but the truth is that the development of capitalism in Europe has not only reduced the numerical importance of the miners, but, with dispersion of production units , has leaded to the situation in which these features characterize only very specific segments of our class. Therefore it is necessary, above all, provide with political objectives this struggle that today is seen as a stimulus by millions of workers and that for its resonance, could be an incentive for general mobilization. The miners have reported that members of the Asturian PP (and not only them) are mercenaries, that the deputies of Leon only care about their paycheck. But now they must go a step further and assume the need to break with the regime responsible of all this, as the guarantor of the interests of a minority against the working class and the whole people. With that aim and to make its determination and courage serve to unify and strengthen the rest of the popular struggles around the same purposes, the fight of miners could be very important, perhaps decisive, for the development of this battle against the oligarchs.

Communists advocate the maintenance of coal mining as a strategic sector, especially as the erratic energy policy of monarchical governments is unable to articulate a powerful industry based on renewable energy and industry needed to do so. Both strategic considerations, social need and economic efficiency, it is necessary that the energy sector pass into State hands, so it is possible to ensure rational planning of the needs of our economy and heed social and territorial demands of mining areas, eliminating the constraints imposed by the private benefit.

However, this is not possible in the current political context. A regime that has spent decades promoting the interests of multinationals and banks will not be the one to improve the situation of workers in this country. The miners’ struggle reminds us of the value of the collective and of the unity of the popular sectors to advance. Now we have to extend this unit among the rest of the fights, and give them the common aim of overthrowing this outdated and corrupt regime to build our future with new tools, so that we can achieve higher levels of prosperity and welfare.

For the future of employment and the mining valleys!

For a popular block to stop the attacks!

Down with the capitalist monarchy, liar and corrupt!

The outcome of this struggle is not yet decided. The government is maintaining its position and the miners returned to work temporarily to accumulate forces and think new strategies to fight. But what has become clear is that mining workers have been again the vanguard of the Spanish working class.

4. The environmental impact of opencast mining

Opencast mining is an economic activity with high environmental, social and cultural impact, while unsustainable exploitation because the resource tend to exhaustion. This type of mining removes the top layer of the earth to make accessible the extensive mineral deposits. Modern types of excavators, conveyors and large machinery in general allow to remove vast tracts of land, in some cases the exploitation is 150 hectares of extension and 500 meters deep.

During the extraction phase, opencast mining (Opmin) devastates the surface, modify the morphology of the terrain, destroys cultivation areas, can alter watercourses and form lakes with waste materials. Also produces air pollution from chemicals used in the mining process: cyanide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, etc.., And heavy pollution of surface water, affected by solid residues from areas of extraction. Similarly are affected the groundwater by the filtration to water tables of these same residues.

<> In Spain, a clear and devastating example of these effects we observe in the mining of the Iberian Pyrite Strip, located in the province of Huelva, in particular in the area of ​​Riotinto, whose mines were exploited intensively by a British company between 1873 and 1954.

The Riotinto copper opencast mining by digging deep layers caused the generation of colossal amounts of waste materials stacked in large dumps, and the construction of numerous pools and dams to store residues from copper hydrometallurgical process . The depletion of deposits required to exploit new areas, resulting to a drastic geographical alteration and causing a barren landscape with almost absolute predominance of anthropogenic and abiotic elements.

Abandoned mines also have a wide range of potential sources of acidic water whose origin is in the settling and leaching pools to store mining residues. The reddish color of the rivers Tinto and Odiel is directly related to mining and metallurgical activities that took place throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The danger of this type of mining was evident in the accident which took place on April 25, 1998 for the breaking of the containment barrier of a settling pool in Aznalcóllar pyrite mine, owned by the Swedish company Boliden. The spill was 4.5 cubic hectometres of water and sludge that spilled over the banks of the rivers Agrio and Guadiamar along 40 kilometers, affecting 4,402 acres, reaching the outer zones of Doñana National Park. The water had a high concentration of heavy metals, which involved the destruction of crops, fauna and flora, with agricultural losses of 11 million euros.

The most shocking of this was the legal impunity. The Andalusian Government (the regional government) demanded to the company the payment of cleanup costs , estimated at 89.9 million euros, but the courts, in different instances, have argued against the thesis of the Andalusian Government, and the Swedish company, guilty of a huge environmental disaster, has not paid any compensation, with the aggravating circumstance that the company received public support from the Andalusian Government. Spain is a paradise for the big offenders.

Another ecological disaster due to Opmin is found in Laciana, a shire of León in the valley of Ancares, bordered on the north by the Somiedo Natural Park, Asturias, on the west by mountains of Bahia and on the south by the Bierzo valley. It is a valley of great biodiversity with protected species inhabiting like the brown bear and the grouse, endangered species. The area is included within the NATURA 2000 NETWORK, it is a SITE OF COMMUNITY INTEREST, AREA OF ​​SPECIAL PROTECTION FOR BIRDS  and an UNESCO BIOSPHERE RESERVE.

For more than 100 years it is a mining valley where coal was mined in underground galleries, but since the 90s of last century was exploited with opencast mines. The company “Coto Minero del Cantábrico” has destroyed entire mountains, polluting with heavy metals several aquifers and the river Sil. The tailings have destroyed large areas of forest. Moreover, these exploitations create very little employment since the use of industrial machinery generates only 60 jobs per exploitation. Despite operating illegally in protected areas, the company owned by Victorino Alonso, has received substantial aid and grants amounted to 130 million euros annually.

The struggle for the defense of the mountains of Laciana began in 1985. After twenty seven years of protests, the 18 January 2012 the Courts of León declared illegal coal mining in this area, agreeing with environmental groups who filed complaints. In 2011 the European International Court of Justice sanctioned the Spanish State for authorizing the “Nueva Julia” mine and other opencast mining operations of “Coto Minero del Cantábrico” company, but the  Regional Government ignored the judicial resolution. Following the judgment of the court, opponents and activists from Laciana have received threats and suffered multiple attacks.

5. Clean and renewable energies in Spain

Accelerated climate change and the horizon of the medium-term shortage of fossil fuels becomes an unavoidable necessity the use of renewable energies, whose availability is unlimited in time. However, the strong interests of oil multinationals try by all means to delay or prevent the use of alternative energies, spreading, in collusion with many governments, the message that these energy sources are expensive and can never supply the needs of a growing population.

The reality is that renewable energy generates 55 times less environmental impact than conventional energy, produces clean energy compared with that from oil and nuclear, has no negative impact on health and its impact in case of accident are minimal in relation to the dire consequences of an accident at a nuclear plant or a sinking oil ship. And it is a certainty that fossil fuels are finite, while renewable are endless. What will happen when these fuels are depleted? Simply that the global military conflicts will proliferate.

Renewable energies are currently underutilized. According to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, we only use 2.5 percent of renewable resources available. Numerous technical and scientific reports show that it is possible to obtain an energy future supplied with 100% renewable energy.

In Spain the use of renewable energy has been low, but since the late twentieth century has seen strong drive, which has allowed in 2010 35% of electricity production comes from these renewable sources, although in all primary energy provides only 9.4% of total. Highlights the importance of wind energy, which in 2010 accounted 16.5% of electricity demand, which puts Spain in third worldwide place in terms of installed capacity. As shown in the following tables, about installed capacity, electricity production and consumption of renewable energy have seen a significant increase between 1990 and 2010.

Renewable energies contribute to the Spanish economy for 0.67% of GDP and employs about 200,000 people. Its importance from the economic and social viewpoint is undeniable:

  • Work to increase national wealth.
  • Reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels and in 2020 would allow a saving of 13,551 million euros.
  • In 2020 would achieve not generate 67.3 million tons of Carbon Dioxide.
  • The evolution of its costs trends lower.
  • The technological improvement will allow in the near future to be more profitable than conventional energy.
  • They help to create highly qualified jobs.
  • Are autochthonous, which ensures the supply and avoid international dependence.
  • They are clean energy that do not degrade the environment.

In September 2011, Greenpeace produced a voluminous study entitled Energy 3.0. An energy report based on intelligence, efficiency and renewable 100, which shows that it is entirely feasible for 2050 have an energy system that ensures 100% of consumption on the basis of renewable energy and that would also be cheaper than the current one, would save 55% of energy consumption compared to 2007 and reduce emissions to 0. The cost savings of this model would be 200,000 million.

The report provides a detailed analysis of energy demand in all sectors (construction, transport, industry, agriculture and utilities) projecting its evolution until 2050 under two scenarios: continuity and efficiency. And concludes that there is no economic or technical barriers to replace the current energy model to one based entirely on renewable energy.

What do exist are political obstacles and powerful economic interests. The Renewable Energy Plan 2011-2020, prepared by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism, expected to provide 22.7% in renewable energy of gross final energy consumption in Spain in 2020, while its contribution to electric energy production will be 42.3%. However current policy of Popular Party’s government are in the opposite direction. Opting for nuclear energy and suppresses renewable energies subsidies. A policy that is consistent with the interests of large electricity companies and punishes citizens with strong increases in electricity tariff.

The cuts in “Research & Development & Innovation” also hurt renewable energies because its development is linked directly to technological research. The storage and generation  of wind, solar, photovoltaic, tidal, geothermal or biomass power is only possible with advanced technology. Renewable energy and the scientific and technical development are linked, complementing, contributing to economic growth and Spanish scientific advancement. Promoting clean energies is also promoting the Spanish science and technology. Cuts in this field will be a catastrophe for both sectors.        

….

Spanish mining is not condemned to extinction. The crisis in this sector is part of the global crisis of capitalism and neoliberal policies on Spanish society. There is future for the Asturian and the rest of the country miners, but not in the current political and economic framework. It is necessary to articulate a new model of production and labor relations that having as axis State intervention in economic life and national wealth put at the service of citizens; to intensify the use of renewable energies based on increasing investment in education and scientific research. However, this production model may be launched only after overcoming the present monarchy and the proclamation of the Third Republic.

6. Bibliography

ALGUACIL, I.; GRANADO, M. y VÁZQUEZ, C.: Una aproximación al Patrimonio Minero de Huelva.  Consejería de Innovación, Ciencia y Empresa.Junta de Andalucía, 2007.

COMISIÓN NACIONAL DE ENERGÍA: Desarrollo normativo de la Ley del Sector Eléctrico.  Madrid, 2003. Vol. 6.

COMISIONES OBRERA. FEDERACIÓN MINEROMETALÚRGICA: La minería en España (I). Madrid, CCOO, 2005.

CORTINA GARCÍA, J.: La planificación energética de España, en “Economía Industrial” (1995),  nº302,  págs. 45-70.

FERRERO, M.D.: Un modelo de minería contemporánea. Huelva, del colonialismo a la mundialización. Universidad de Huelva, 2000.

GARCÍA GARCÍA,  José Luis; LÓPEZ COIRA, Miguel Mª; DEVILLARD, María José; ESCALERA REYES, Javier; GARCÍA MUÑOZ, Adelina y HERRERO PÉREZ, Nieves: Los últimos mineros. Un estudio antropológico sobre la minería en España. Madrid, CSIC, 2002.

LÓPEZ MORELL, Miguel Ángel y PÉREZ DE PERCEVAL, Miguel: Minería y desarrollo económico en España. Madrid, Síntesis, 2007.

MARÍN QUEMADA, J. M.: Políticas de energía. Política económica de España. Madrid, Alianza editorial, 2000.

MENÉNEDEZ PÉREZ, E.: Las energías renovables. Un enfoque político-ecológico. Madrid, Los Libros de la Catarata, 1997.

PINEDA, M. y  CATIELLO, P. (editores) : Energía de biomasa: realidades y perspectivas. Córdoba, Universidad de Córdoba, 1998. 

PINEDO VARA, I.: Piritas de Huelva. Su historia, minería y aprovechamiento. Madrid, Summa, 1963.

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