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Spanish coal miners call strike

Spanish coal miners call strike

Angry Spanish coal miners demanding unpaid wages and aid for a decaying industry have called a strike, adding aboveground pressure to a protest being staged by dozens of their brethren already on strike deep in the shafts.
The stoppage was convened for Sept. 22, 23, 29 and 30 after talks with the government Wednesday night failed to break a deadlock over forcing electrical utilities to burn Spanish coal as opposed to imported coal, which can be cheaper.
"We are hoping for total turnout at the strike," Victor Fernandez, a representative of the General Workers Union, said Thursday from inside the Industry Ministry, where he and five colleagues have been staging a sit-in since the talks there failed.
Spain's coal industry has been in decline for many years as it has fought to compete with imported coal and as the country turned to cleaner and renewable sources of energy. It now employs some 10,000 miners, down from 50,000 in the late 1970s, and all of the country's 17 coal mines lose money and survive on subsidies.
Spanish coal mining companies say they are struggling because utilities do not buy their product, and nearly 3,000 miners have not been paid since June.
These include 50 who have holed themselves up at a depth of 500 meters (1,650 feet) in a mine in northern Palencia province for the past two weeks, without toilets, showers or any other amenities, and another 15 further northwest in a mine in Leon province. There, four miners above ground started a hunger strike Monday.
Spain's underground strikes come as 33 miners in Chile have been trapped for more than a month and are awaiting rescue. The protesters here insist they are not being opportunistic and have very long-standing gripes that have now come to a head, and acknowledge theirs is not a life-and-death situation like the one in South America.
The Spanish miners want the money they are owed, but even more importantly they want the government to implement a decree to force utilities to burn Spanish coal _ with subsidies as a sweetener. That decree was passed by the government in February but has been held up in Brussels.
In the meeting with unions here Wednesday night, Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian said he hoped Spain would get the European Union's green light for those subsidies by the end of the month.
In the Palencia mine, called Las Cuevas, or the caves, miners screamed out in frustration when they heard that, rather than the hoped-for word that the decree would be implemented right away, said the mine's foreman, Eleuterio Arto, 42.
"We took it like another stab in the back. But we have very strong backs," said Arto, who said the miners are deeply disappointed that the Socialist government did not act earlier to rescue their beleaguered industry. He said the miners with him are determined to stay put until the decree is implemented.
Their employer, a mining company called UNMINSA, has now paid half of their July wages, he said.
"But for a guy who makes 1,000 euros ($1,300) a month, what do you do with that kind of money?", he said, taking a break from the underground protest and coming up to the surface to speak to the AP.
Over the longer term, Spain's coal mines have a virtual death sentence hanging over them anyway: this summer the EU said any coal mine that survives on subsidies must close by 2014. Spain is pressing for this deadline to be extended to 2020 as it works to retrain miners for other professions.


Updated : 2021-10-20 01:28 GMT+08:00