“We are now entering the second phase of the Process with a lot of pedagogical work in the factories” Interviewing Carles Sastre, Secretary General of the Catalan Intersindical-CSC Trade Union

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As a national and classe union, how do you see the self-determination Process?

We understand that any nation, any human group with a national conscience, has the right to self-determination. The relationship between the Spanish state and Catalonia has entered a critical phase in the last few years. In a context of a major economic and social crisis, the State has cut a Statute of Autonomy approved by the Parliament of Catalonia and voted in referendum by the people. From here, a process of popular mobilization has begun, which has been the most important one in Europe in recent years. The distance between the State and Catalonia has widened and, increasingly, the State has shown signs of authoritarian and undemocratic behavior, denying any kind of dialogue. The social consensus in Catalonia sees today the impossibility of continuing the relationship with the State under the current terms. In the evidence that the State is unreformable in the short or medium term. As the process progresses, the State brings forth its pro-Franco ascendants. We understand that the situation in Catalonia is irreversible and that the process of self-determination will be the means of democratically solving a major political conflict.

What sort of a campaign do you foresee?

For the time being, we have jointly made a public awareness campaign with the ANC (Public National Assembly) about the risks or absence of risks that can be found in a self-determination process in a context not agreed upon with the State. It’s about eliminating fears and gaining security. From the state, opposing political parties, the media and unions have placed the civil service as a high-level political target, thus trying to intimidate and generate fears. Lately civil servants have been called in by the Civil Guard for questioning regarding acts that in no case have happened. It is all about punishing not the facts, but their possible intentions. In the same way as elected representatives are prosecuted for the fulfillment of their functions authorizing a vote in the Parliament of Catalonia for example.

Now we will enter into a second phase of the campaign and we will do pedagogy at the work centres of the private sphere of the self-determination Referendum, its legality and legitimacy. And about the need, as regards the popular classes, to position themselves with the YES vote. In fact we are the main YES union, there is none other.

At the same time, we participate in unitary left-wing platforms by doing a street campaign for the YES vote. Here we are once again the only union present.

In the event of independence, how do you thing labour relations will be affected?

As I’ve said, the process coincides with the economic and social crisis that began in 2008, a crisis that has led to both a widespread impoverishment of the popular sectors and an increase in social inequalities. In addition, the other important factor has been the regression of both labour and social rights and guarantees. There are two ideological factors: the current of neoliberalism in an increasingly virulent reactionary substratum. New we need new action, a constitutive process must be initiated that places people and popular classes, the majority of society, at the centre of politics. It is about recovering rights, guarantees and freedoms, and as far as possible, constraining them constitutionally. We can draw up the first European constitution of the 21st century. The role of the popular sectors must be crucial, the result will be what determines the correlation of forces. And in a Catalan Republic the correlation of power will be better for us. It is evident that Catalonia has always opted for positions more to the left than the rest of the state. And that a process of self-determination undermines the foundations of the Spanish extractive oligarchy, of which the Catalans form part, obviously.

How do you think a Catalan Republic might enhance the position of the workers?

From the beginning we remove the crust of the most reactionary sectors of power in Spain, the PP, with a majority in Spain and residual in Catalonia. We could review the economic and productive model, now based on low wages and intensive exploitation of the territory, which leads us to a collapse of domestic demand and structural impoverishment. In the Spanish context, this is not possible for three factors, lack of skills, lack of resources, and the need to finance an obsolete and ineffective State model.

The landed, speculative and official oligarchy is expensive to upkeep and what’s more, it is a falsely autonomous model that has made a clone copy of the state model at an autonomous level, with all its vices. Clientelism, malicious corruption, nepotism, little democratic volition … this is a expenseive to maintain and is sustainable thanks basically to the extra tax contributions of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencia. It would be a serious mistake to repeat the model.

This extra contribution that is made from the Catalonian Country means a drainage of resources of around 8% of the gross domestic product, wealth that we produce and which disappears, so to speak. In a graphic way, we are doing a race with the backpack full of stones, These resources could be reversed in public services, social benefits, infrastructures … It cannot be that we have an obsolete suburban train service, that Barcelona’s El Prat Airport is boycotted for state reasons, that the railway link that follows the Mediterranean coast is in many sections sinle track, to give just three examples. It is difficult to do things with the state against one.

Lately we have seen laws of social importance, such as the effective equality between men and women, the housing emergency against evictions, the Law against energy poverty or that of taxes on empty housing. They have all been challenged by the Government of Madrid by way of the Constitutional Court. It is not just about the lack of competencies in labour regulations, social benefits, fiscal … It is about blocking any legislative initiative. We are in a phase of important re-centralization that is only applied in Catalonia without taking into account the social impact involved.

In addition, the State is bankrupt, financially and morally. Loans made to the bank are forgiven (this means more than 60,000 million euros), and credit had to be requested to the bank to be able to pay the retirement pensions for the month of July, whose reserve funds had been used to cover the deficit generated by the loss of bank funds. It is true Spanish-style bedlam!

From your union, the Intersindical-CSC, what impression do you get from the rest of Catalan unions ar regards the Process? What about in Valencia and the Balearics?

With regard to Catalonia, it is clear that the process has acted as a “shredder” of political organizations, opening internal contradictions, and that is uncomfortable. Moving from formal declarations to facts always decanting and clarifying positions. A process is like a funnel, in the broad part you have a room to maneuver, in the narrow part you have little margin and a lot of pressure, and we are in the narrow part. They try to stay in a zone of comfort, accepting the right to decide in a generic way, and emphasizing the legal guarantees and the binding effect, which is often a way of saying “OK we agree” without specifying it. Basically, there is concern about the civil service and the hypothetical repercussions, challenging the Catalan Government. In some cases civil servants have been asked to report to the public prosecutor or the police if they find signs of criminality, it’s quite regrettable. It must be remembered that the great state centres tiptoe over the subject. And that there is not too much talk of the demophobic, authoritarian and repressive attitude of the State. It is more convenient to appeal to the Government of the Generalitat demanding guarantees. Guarantees against whom? We do not ignore the fact that there are many created interests, trade union hours, releases, salaries, diets, certain jobs in the trade union terrain … and whoever steps out of line gets clobbered, it is necessary to be realistic.

As regards the Unions in Valencia and the Balearics, we know that they follow the Process with great interest and solidarity.

Do you think we will vote on October 1? Do you think there is a possibility that you cannot vote because the army and the civil guard prevent us from doing so? If so, what do you think should be done?

These types of conflicts are won by he who does not lose, by he who makes fewer mistakes. But the intervention of the army or the civil guard on October 1 would be a serious mistake. If this happened despite not voting we would have won the contest. The civil guard confiscating ballot boxes brings us to mind the Franco regime, we all know this, it is the photo they do not want. If, in spite of this, it were to occur, the Catalan institutions should move forward with the popular mobilization by their side. There is no other solution.

 

What would you say to make unions and shop stewards understand the Catalan Independence Process at an International level?

It should be remembered that, at the request of Intersindical-CSC, the World Federation of Trade Unions (FSM / WFTU) took up a positive attitude and signed its support for this Process. Remember that this Federation brings together more than 320 unions in the five continents. And this for the basic respect for the right of self-determination of peoples. Therefore it is necessary to appeal to this basic value of the left. It is necessary to explain that the Kingdom of Spain is in full crisis, leading to reactionary and authoritarian positions. It would be a good idea to explain that an end must be put to the 1978 regime which was a mere appendix to the Francoist regime. Indeed the agreement known as the Transition is politically and socially exhausted in Catalonia. We are being denied our rights, as a people. They do not want to let us be as we want to be, they do not like the idea, that’s the bottom line…
And there are three myths to be overcome: the first is the myth of Republican Spain.  I see few possibilities of a Republican Spain coming about in the mid-term, of “storming heaven”– as Pablo Iglesias puts it. If we stayed in Spain, we would have to continue waiting for Godot eternally. The second myth is our “lack of solidarity” as Catalans. Here we must remember that the biggest recent demonstrations in Europe in favour of hosting refugees, have been in Catalonia, we are not selfish, we do not want to decide out of selfishness. And nationalism (understood as exacerbation), a Frenchman or a Spaniard are thus “by nature”, but they are not seen as nationalists. A Catalan who claims his condition as such, is termed a nationalist by default, and this generates antibodies in sectors of the European left today.

 

Carles Sastre is Secretary General of Intersindical-CSC

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