Posted on January 22, 2016 at 01:59 PM

Esther Lynch:   - ETUC Confederal Secretary
Esther Lynch:
ETUC Confederal Secretary

ETUC Confederal Secretary Esther Lynch on the strange case of the Spanish workers known as the ‘Airbus 8’, who face trial next month on charges brought under a Franco era statute

Even now, four decades after his death, the ghost of Franco still haunts Spanish public and political life.

In 2011, a map revealing the existence of more than 2000 mass graves containing over 120,000 victims of Franco’s ‘White Terror’ was published by the Spanish government. 

To date, only a small minority of those graves have been excavated. 

In addition, it is estimated that a further 20,000 died in the purges and revenge killings that began with the triumph of Franco’s Falangist forces, in 1939.

Many thousands more were imprisoned or exiled, with trade union members and activists a prime target for Franco’s campaign of ‘political cleansing’.

But 40 years after his death, it is clear that ghost has yet to be fully banished.  

In 2010, Spanish unions called a general strike in protest at the punishing austerity programmes implemented by their government, in response to the global banking and financial crisis.

The strike took place on September 29th and resulted in widespread stoppages and demonstrations, one of which was held outside the Airbus factory in the Madrid suburb of Getafe.

Early that morning, several hundred workers gathered at the entrance to the Airbus facility to support the strike.

There was a heavy police presence, including a large number of riot police and the atmosphere was said to be tense.

At least seven shots were fired by police officers, sowing panic and fear among the protestors and causing many to flee. There were also violent confrontations between police and protestors.

The following day, eight of the protestors were arrested and accused of “attacking the authorities,” and “attacking the freedom to work.”

The eight trade unionists charged are Enrique Gil, José Alcazar, Rodolfo Malo, Tomás García, Raúl Fernández, Jerónimo Martín, Edgar Martín and Armando Barco.

Now, five years after the event, Spain’s Public Prosecutor is demanding that each of the ‘Airbus 8’ be sentenced to eight years and three months in prison. 

All of the workers strongly deny the accusations and characterise them as politically-motivated, owing more to the illiberal legacy of Franco than a modern democracy.

Indeed, there is a very direct link between this case and the years of dictatorship, with the authorities utilising Article 315.3 of the Spanish Penal Code to level their charges.

This entails prison sentences for trade unionists participating in pickets and was introduced during the Franco era. In fact, this piece of legislation has not been used since 1972, when the dictator was still in power.

The trial of the Airbus 8 is scheduled to open within a few weeks, on February 9.

I met with Airbus 8 workers in recent days. They told me of the events of that day and how police actions had caused widespread panic among the protestors.

Of particular concern is the fact that the eight workers arrested and charged were all key union leaders, shop stewards and strike committee members.

Targeting the union leadership sends a strong and threatening signal to the entire membership. And it constitutes a particular violation of ILO Conventions protecting trade union rights.

I was struck by the sincerity and resolute determination of these workers: they are not the hooligans they have been portrayed as, merely workers seeking to protect their rights, their families and communities. 

The ETUC supports the Airbus 8 and the campaign of the Spanish unions (CCOO and UGT). They argue that the accusations against the Airbus 8 are false and that the sentences demanded by the prosecution are disproportionate to the alleged crimes.  

Their case should be of concern to all who value union rights and human rights and those who wish to see Franco’s legacy finally buried with him. 

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