“Mining is an industry that has always been in crisis”, quoted Jesus, one of the drillers working in the pit Maria Luisa fromAsturias. His daily work consists of opening paths in tunnels
Cristian Jara Alvarado Translation: Cristina Gracia
“We are not seeking a struggle: we want a deal by all means.”
“Sometimes you have no other choice than to start a fight”
“The government signed some agreements with the party that represents mine workers of this country and can’t break these deals suddenly”
“Now I’m not playing with my life but of my children.”
“What we want is that the Ministry of Industry take matters into energy industry in this country, because there has never been an energy policy.”
“Mining is an industry that has always been in crisis”, quoted Jesus, one of the drillers working in the pit Maria Luisa fromAsturias. His daily work consists of opening paths in tunnels; in the wells. Araceli, his wife, works as an assistant mining for six years. “They pay me one 1.100 Euros to descend 700 meters underground and risk my life”.
They are one of many families who live directly in mining; they have three children and an uncertainty and black future that awaits the severe difficulties which is facing the mine sector. Beyond cuts, they ensure that each plan has meant to get into a new crisis and that all life has been always the same, but this time they are convinced to fight till the end.
Don’t you see the end of the tunnel?
Jesus: The industry will disappear: it is not the fact that a company close because it is not a good invest and make the way out for another one that could be profitable, no, it will close the entire sector, nowadays, there is no one that you could consider profitable and all those that make use of the plans, even get to 2018, because it is assumed that if a company is profitable can goes on, is a chimera, because if these companies have to return the millions of pesetas in 2018, it makes no sense if they are profitable or not. Right now they are bringing coal from Colombia, but if you look at what kind of working conditions are extracting this coal, maybe you can conclude that the miners from there, are the ones to be exploited.
Araceli: And then you have to “play a comedy” before the ONU, at Kyoto …
Jesus: It’s true that there are up to exploitation. The same goes for Chinese coal. And I’m not talking as a miner; I have the feeling that we are cheating.
I’ve always heard: “we are not competitive”; ¡we are not competitive with what! Compared to what? Everyone knows what happens in China. A worker in a Chinese factory works from dawn to night and some even live there. You cannot make a competitive society with ones that don’t guarantee their labor rights, which hasn’t any kind of security and, in the other hand, what they are paid don’t cover their basic needs. A few years ago we were not going in the wrong way: we didn’t make any public campaigns against Nike or Adidas, but it was denounced anyway …: you can sell this, but you produce it four times cheaper and under the worst conditions for workers. It’s happening the same now in the field of mining, the electrical companies are the main beneficiaries of all this. We can say that the Spanish coal is subsidized on its exploitation, but then they subsidize to the electrical companies to burn our coal. It’s just … it’s hard to explain, because they are more interested in the foreign coal. And I tell you just one thing: if society is helping me, as a worker, to make my product competitive against what’s coming out, and at the sametime another company of the same society pressures government to aid you to burn … I think that many things should be reviewed. When a few years ago our coal was cheaper than the coal from abroad, the power companies had the nerve to tell the government that we must climbed our production capacity. Now it is an area to wind up and we don’t know whether we are paying the fact of being too much protesters.
The intricate world of mine …
Jesus: I think that nobody can get an idea about what is the mine until you get into it. It’s a difficult world to understand, difficult to explain and unknown. When I first entered a mine I had already the military service license. I went to seven o’clock and at ten I almost give up and get out. And I said, My God where I’ve gotten. Imagine, I didn’t know anything. I was brought in a rampla with picks, a rampla of 40 inch pitch. Imagine a football field that you were able to put a 40 centimeters slab. It’s very hard to work in the mine. You are 500 meters above ground. No view. There is dust and high level of noise that has left me with a hearing loss of 50%, and there’s also the wet environment. I go to work and when I finish my labor it’s like I had taken a shower with my clothes on. It’s said that silicosis has been eradicated from the country, but this year there have been 64 cases reported in the Spanish mining. Silicosis also seems that clogs because they say that health care will close, our disease cannot be cured without specialists to attend it … because the disease upon entering the first grade is chronicle, not removed, over time come to third grade. Those who has declared a first silicosis degree may die of lung disease.
There is a lot of misinformation about this matter
Sometimes students come to visit the mine and are surprised by the ignorance that is outside of the work we do, everyone of them are agree that wouldn’t work between noise and dust, it’s an unknown field. Furthermore, when media wants to inform they misinformed because they publish information that is not real, in fact, it’s not true that 42% of miners are retired with a pension of 2.100 Euros. The 80% of them have a salary like any other Spanish. But I was stunned when the Minister declares in Soria TV that miners are privileged because we retired with 3.000 Euros and at 40 years old.
Araceli: that’s a lie!
Jesus is a torpedo in the line of exploitation. If you look it from the outside … I could be convinced about it… ¡what these miners want! I would think so.
Araceli: we are like any other Spanish people: We are a family with three children, we pay a mortgage, we pay the car, and I charge one 1.00 Euros as a mining assistant, in the same way as any person working in a supermarket.
Jesus: now they suggest that I receive money for nothing. No sir, I’m a jobber! When I started working in the mine, my first salary was 968 Euros.
Araceli: What about mine? Six years ago when I worked in the strips I got 870 Euros. Now I get 1.100 Euros by charging down to 700 meters below the ground and risk my life every day.
How many hours a day?
Araceli: 7 hours and 15 minutes
How long have you been working in the mine?
What encouraged you to come to Asturias?
Jesus: The lack of work. We came from another mining area.
Araceli: we came to Asturias to work. We left everything to come. At that moment, it was a good job.
Jesus: I was forced to go out of León because the company where I was working had to close. It’s not new. Since the signing of the sector restructuring, they have been damaging the mining sector gradually. They gave tempter options to the employers to close the company. The first company in Spain to close, cause of the restructuring, was Savero Ulleras. I worked in a company which worked for them, there were 1.500 miners. And that voluntarily filed with its own workers. They closed the company management with the workers. I remember that Leon mining area; I remember villages of ten thousand people. For the properly functioning of a well, you need an infrastructure on the other side but all this industry is focused on this sector, if the sector fails, then, everything fails. A couple years ago we went there in summer and we only saw abandoned towns. You really get sad. Years ago, there was nowhere to live. You worked in the mine and the nearest alternative to live was 30 kilometers away. There was nowhere to hire, to live.
And now many years are you in this well?
Jesus: I’m going to nine. For a while I was forced to work outside of mining and then they accept me again, and that’s very difficult because once you leave the area of the mine and then, you can’t come back. They allowed coming back because my father had a fatal accident at the mine and relatives have priority to fill those jobs, through agreements between unions. When came to Entrego I liked this town. I was living in Ciaño because I could not find a residence, however, now I talk to the baker, the waiter, and tell me that the floors are rented, sold. The advantage here is that you are well emplaced. When I came the infrastructure were made, but in the future this area will remain as a bedroom area cities. It has fallen sharply in nine years. Years ago, it was amazing. There was more movement, now, you see that it shrinks. There comes a time when the children of these miners have to pack their suitcases to go to Madrid or Barcelona. Once the mine is closed here’s no way out.
It is already contemplated
Well. I believe that in eight years can happen a lot of things.
But have you got any other plan?
Jesus, since I’m in mining I have no plans. This is a day to day, it always have been so. When it comes a new plan and you know that you have four years of quietness work but then, it comes the defaults. Defaults on the plans that come from a long time ago. Now what happens is that they answer to some demands from outside. What I see is a harassment and demolition of the rights of citizenship in every way. They talk of crisis, crisis, but there comes a time that you don’t understand anything. We are in continual crisis. Each plan in mining is a crisis. I started working in the late 80’s; it’s a bad time in this country to find work. They cut more rights.
Araceli: but who says we have lived well? You’ve been working since the age of sixteen.
Jesus: We must awareness people…
Araceli: when we have lived well?
Jesus: It is not about of living right or wrong it is to live with dignity…
Araceli: the government says we have lived well. I’ve been working since I was 18. It hurts me that my children can’t know what is about the mine, because I know they won’t know it but at least they should stay where they were born. To have something for them. To fight to have something here but, there’s anything here.
Don’t you think there would be any way to refurbish the sector?
Jesus: at the moment, governments have not been involved in doing any industrial structure here. That’s what we want and what we have fought and why the miners have managed these funds to create this industrial structure and try to avoid depopulation.
Araceli: What we want is that the Ministry of Industry take matters into energy industry in this country, because there has never been an energy policy. We want to get through 2018, but ¿what next? This country needs to have a strategic reserve; otherwise, tomorrow we will rely on other countries as we are dependening on almost everything.
Have deals always been complicated?
Jesus: Since I can remember, all agreements have been fought. We’ve always had to go to the protest and demonstrations. They always were saying that we were a strategic sector when energy was fired. It always was considered a strategic reserve. Suddenly, all that was gone.
Are there people who are going to work in other sectors?
Jesus: The work in the mine is stuck.
Araceli: In the regions there is no work. Anyone who have a work right now, can’t risk to leave it.
Does the mine have always been an alternative to unemployment of this zone?
Jesus: This is one of the quintessential mining areas.
But working in a mine is profitable?
Jesus: And ¿what we can call profitable? We are not accused of not being profitable. The scale is: a kilo of raw material for energy; but nobody cares to know. Nobody wants to accept it. The cheapest energy is coal. A coal kilowatt now goes to a euro, more or less. And then there are the so-called alternative energies which are priced out really expensive, solar power in Spain should have received grants from 5.600 million Euros. In the case of mining, this year, will release an aid of 110 million what is production. The idea was to start closing and removing mining jobs but in turn to give some funds to municipalities, provinces and local governments to create infrastructure and businesses, as it was undermining, the sector would be raising an industrial, but that was not fulfilled. Now the Minister … asks for the money. As a miner, that’s not my problem, what I do is that these funds falls were able to pluck us as workers. Here the struggle was always on our work, our salary and our region. This region is up with the funds that we manage ourselves as mine workers, most of these highways financed with those funds. The infrastructure has been achieved but the reindustrialization failed. I work in a well where we have the two opposite faces. It doesn’t come in new people and we are becoming less people and next to it, there is one of the companies that was sold as a flag of industrialization and open lasted one year.
What’s its name?
And I can mention more examples: Venturo21. The companies came here and grabbed those funds, they did the operation and once those funds were consumed they disappeared. The outside staff and the aids gone with the owner of the company. That has been going on since the beginning of this. Nowadays, there are very few strong companies created with those funds.
Is there any interest?
Araceli: There is a speculative interest from the municipalities of catching all the money they can. Where those funds are going to? That has to do with the government! Thta’s one of their duties! They don’t have to ask for anything to us!
Jesus: the image given is that it is our fault, we have squandered the money, no, and we’ve got it!
What about dealing?
Jesus: There was a plan in place since 2006 … It happens the same as Bankia: from 3.600 million of benefits to have a hole of 23.000. And that is accounting, but a citizen doesn’t understand and an economist gives you few details and other give you the opposite results, then, Soria (the Minister) said that if mining is the sector that takes it all, if you say that to people, it is logical to ask where has gone those 24 billion euros. When it started, here there were 80,000 miners. Hunosa had 20,000 employees. There were many companies. As those companies were closed the aids stopped. Then they say that we have received 24 billion euros, during a period of 20 years. And then most of that money has been given for infrastructures.
And now what will be the attitude
Just follow. We have no other way. We should have come in 2017 with these cuts and we are in 2012. It is putting us in a critical situation. That cut was scheduled to a year before closing with a lower number of miners, with a lower number of exploitations. Less money but also a smaller sector to distribute these kinds of aids.
And how many of you are willing to follow?
Well fortunately or unfortunately mining is a very united sector and we have always taken these things very seriously. Here, when we say stop, it stops. We maintain the minimum services established by the company for security reasons and then we stop.
And then it comes the noise…
Well, at first, we started doing demonstrations, puffs, marches, and then we went on strike. We got nothing as a result, and one week passed and nothing happened, two weeks…and nothing. We had to attract attention and ¿how can a worker attract attention? Becoming apparent and that is the problem: when you ask for your rights, then you are annoying to others and on the strikes you always injured someone; but sometimes you have no choice than to start a fight, as I said previously. You get noticed but we respect the law, it’s all about of trying to force the dialogue. There are people against this behavior and I understand it. It’s hard that when you are over forty years and your family has to be in these situations. I don’t want these, it doesn’t match with my education, but that there is no alternative.
It’s like taking a step further…
But that’s the sad thing. If in the end, after all, the problems of mining are an assault on worker labor rights. The government signed some agreements with the party that represents mine workers of this country and can’t break these deals suddenly. It’s like if I’m going to the bank, I get a mortgage and then I say: “hey, I don’t want this anymore”. We aren’t extremists; the problem is when you realize that you have no future. Now I’m no longer literally playing my life but my children. I can understand as an adult, but my son…¿ what can I get to feed him? and ¿what do you do with your family?, I don’t know, it’s like when you take a wounded pig and if you try to corner it, you will probably end badly…it’s just that the same matter, when it happens things like this, the people say that we only want to look out on television. We are not seeking a struggle: we want a deal by all means.
But there were raised some clashes…
Jesus: it was a disproportionate and brutal struggle against police, I have been in many protests but the struggle we got that day left me scared, it is normal that after a roadblock the Civil Guard tell you: “well, way out in ten minutes” but that day, without any kind of notice, appeared an elite and attack with smoke canisters, rubber bullets and a bang bring us out of there and a picket was evicted by a Civil Guard who had a gun. I think that the Civil Guard had a personal problem, otherwise, if that will be the answer that mining is going to have, then the environment can get tenser and someone can get hurt. I’m not blaming the security forces but everyone begins to lose his temper. In mining we are used to hard situations. We have never been frightened, even if they dismayed us now. If they go on this way, they will have to build a jail to fit 5.000 miners.