Strikes grow 20% with inflation triggered at the gates of the wage battle

"If this happened in Madrid, we would be opening all the newspapers," said a trade unionist before the massive strike that paralyzed the metal sector in Cantabria for more than two weeks in June. Labor conflicts have increased by 20% in the first half of the year compared to 2021. A boom in the mobilization of workers who in many cases share a name and surname: salaries and inflation. Prices are skyrocketing almost 11% annual increasewhile wages in collective bargaining grow four times less. That enormous distance has already thrown thousands of workers into the streets and, now, the unions are warning of a restart of the mobilizations after the August break.

"An autumn and a hot winter are expected," they say in UGT. The union leader, Pepe Álvarez, showed on Monday his solidarity with dockworkers in the United Kingdom, who have joined the wave of strikes in the country in the face of the great rise in prices, in what has been described as the 'summer of discontent'. "They are a prelude to what is going to happen in the European continent as a whole and, of course, in Spain if the employers do not sit down to negotiate the agreements and we are not able to transfer the significant increase in the cost of living to wages" Alvarez warned.

From CCOO, its leader also warned before his break in August of the need to reopen salary negotiations to raise wages as soon as possible, like the smi. "There are millions of people with many problems to fill the shopping basket and I think it is the great economic and social problem that Spain and the euro zone as a whole are facing right now," stressed Unai Sordo.

Pepe Álvarez has advanced that both unions have been working during the summer on a joint calendar of mobilizations to force the employers to talk about wages. If there are no changes in the CEOE, these could begin at the end of September, Pepe Álvarez has warned. Some protests that have received the "explicit support" of the Second Vice President and Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díazwith some forceful declarations addressed to the leader of the bosses, Antonio Garamendi, asking him to sit down and negotiate with the trade union centrals.

In reality, the mobilizations have already escalated so far in 2022, as shown by the strike data published by the Ministry of Labor. Until June, the number of affiliated workers who participated in strikes was 150,398, who carried out a total of 321,621 days not worked. In both cases, the figures represent almost 20% more than those registered in the first half of 2021, a year still very marked by the pandemic, but they are also higher figures than those of years prior to COVID, such as 2018 and 2019.

The sectors that accumulated the most strikes until June are the manufacturing industry, with 107,994 days not worked, followed by "public administrations, defense and Social Security", with 65,791 days of strikes, and administrative activities (42,710). The following graph shows its incidence according to the number of workers participating in the strikes in the different economic activities and the evolution with respect to 2021.

By sex, there was more mobilization among women than men. In total, 84,857 (56.4%) workers participating in strikes were women compared to 65,541 (43.6%) men. Due to days not worked, they accumulate more hours of strikes: 44% were women and 56% men.

Regarding the territorial distribution, the participants in strikes in the first half of the year are illustrated below, with the increase compared to the same period of the previous year. It stands out for the boom above all Cantabria, which has almost tripled its number, and in absolute number of participants in 2022, Catalonia stands out, with 55,543 workers.

"Tensioning" of the negotiation since May

At the start of the year, the salary battle landed as one of the union priorities although the hope was that inflation would subside. In 2021, the price increase had already translated into a loss of purchasing power for workers, but the context was one of recovery due to the pandemic, the exit of the ERTE and economic activity still reduced by COVID.

"The unions sign agreements from the highest responsibility, making efforts to save the country from the pandemic," highlights Mariano Hoya, Deputy Secretary General for Trade Union Policy of the UGT. "Last year, in January, I signed the Metal de Madrid agreement, with salary increases for 2021, 2022 and 2023, with percentages of 1.3% per year. It is true that with a review clause, but with inflation already high, we signed agreements from moderation", emphasizes Mariano Hoya as a sign of the "efforts" of the workers in the salary negotiations.

The forecast that prices would fall was a mirage that brought down the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February. The war at the gates of the EU, which has had a great impact on the economies of the old continent, especially in relation to energy, but also with the rise in the price of certain raw materials, contributed to continue to shoot up prices.

With runaway inflation, and in a context of recovery in employment and activity at the end of the pandemic, the unions urged employers to agree to wage increases in collective bargaining to avoid further impoverishment of the population. Also with the location of the Government to a "revenue pact" to share the war effortthe parties sat down to negotiate, but they broke off the talks in May.

The unions accepted more moderate salary increases, around 3.5% this year, but in exchange for including clauses of subsequent salary revision according to the evolution of prices. The employers refused to this last point and, thus, the collective bargaining table was adjourned without any salary recommendation.

CCOO and UGT then launched the campaign 'Wages or conflict' to put pressure on the employers, with which they announced a "tightening" of collective bargaining. Namely, strong hand in the open tables of collective agreementsin companies and sectors, with an eye on the salary issue and the guarantee of purchasing power in the face of inflation.

Since then, there have been important mobilizations in the metal sectors of Cantabria, Galicia and Asturias, among others. "Where we are stronger, like the Metal sector", explains Mariano Hoya. There have also been strikes in very feminized sectors, like the contact centerhome help in Asturias, telecare for the elderly in Euskadi, and in others where mobilization is difficult, such as ICT and Consulting with partial strikes at the state level.

In addition, this summer, although it does not yet appear in the statistics of the Ministry of Labor, the months of July and August have also accumulated a boom in strikes in the airline sector, with strikes at Ryanair, easy jet Y the most recent summoned in Iberia Express. Although with its particularities, being a sector that was highly affected during the pandemic and that was forced to make adjustments, the conflicts also have the focus on the salary issue.

September, decisive month

Thus, the new course of 2022 has been reached. Price increases have led to record inflation figures for almost 40 years, with the latest CPI data at 10.8% year-on-year rise, while the collective agreements include much lower salary increases, of 2.56% from mid to July. And only 15% of the agreements with the guarantee of the revision clauses, according to the evolution of the prices.

The framework is also that of a war that does not stop in Ukraine, which threatens gas cuts to EU countries, and with recession drums pounding in europe, which affect the north in the first place, but which could advance in a domino effect towards the south. Spain, for the moment, is less affected than other European states, such as Germany, and for example in the second quarter it almost doubled the economic growth of the eurozone. But in the Executive they have already warned that "curves are coming", in the words of Vice President Nadia Calviño.

That economic uncertainty and possible recession is what employers cling to to reject salary increases, who insist on "moderation" of salaries. The unions refuse to allow the workers to bear the full weight of the efforts due to the inflationary situation and stress that, while wages barely rise, sales revenues of companies are increasing much more.

Unai Sordo, secretary general of the CCOO, repeatedly emphasizes the large increase in underlying inflation (without energy and unprocessed food, which is more volatile), which stood at 6.1% in July. "Companies are increasing their margins" of profits, they reiterate in CCOO and UGT, which refuse to allow workers to be excluded from compensation for the price boom. As a matter of social justice, protection of consumption and distribution of damages, they explain, but also recall that the population with fewer resources is the one that is most affected by inflation, with homes on the limit due to the price boom.

September will be key to confirm a "hot autumn" of union protests, or instead, a new opportunity for the salary and income pact that the Government continues to summon. The Executive, for its part, will have to agree before the end of the year on the increase in the minimum interprofessional salary (SMI), which both parties to the coalition have agreed to set at 60% of the average salary. But now UGT has asked for more, which this grows 10% due to inflationup to 1,100 euros per month.

At the moment, the CEOE employers do not respond on the possibility of recovering the salary negotiation table that the unions demand, nor on the message sent by the vice president Yolanda Díaz and they limit themselves to confirming that "there is no date" for a meeting, to queries from this medium. Some members of the employers' association have criticized the person in charge of Labor, whom they accuse of making an "election campaign" and of "arrogance."

The employer's association is awaiting its internal electoral process, in November, by which the current president (Antonio Garamendi) submits his leadership of the business organization to a vote. A leadership that in the past has been called into question, precisely because of the agreements with unions and the Government.

"This internal process cannot prevent the negotiation table from meeting in September, as they tell us in the employers' association, that we wait until later. It is not possible, it has to be now," reiterates Mariano Hoya. On the horizon, the UGT representative points out the pending negotiation in many sectors, such as "cleaning and citizen services." "Fall can be hot and so can winter," he warns.

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