The workers were responding to the governments deficit-cutting move to sell off about 50 percent of the airport authority AENA to raise $12 billion. The two largest airports in Madrid and Barcelona would be completely privatized. At the same time, the size of the air traffic workforce has been declining as its workload has risen, and there has been no new hiring.
Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero declared December 4 a 15-day state of emergency, for what he claimed was an act of disobedience and a challenge to the democratic order. This is the first time the government has enacted a state of emergency since dictatorial rule by Gen. Francisco Franco ended in 1975.
The controllers only returned to work after the Socialist government sent in the army to take over control towers and threatened controllers with jail, reported Reuters. More than 2,000 cops were deployed to the airports and 190 air force officials to patrol the air traffic control towers.
Spains attorney general told the media December 9 that he would recommend prison sentences of as long as eight years for controllers who organized the strike.
The governments plan is to cut annual pay for air traffic controllers from $470,000 to $263,000. The high wages of controllers, 10 times an average workers wage in the country, makes them an easy target. Government officials and the capitalist media have played up the contrast of 20 percent unemployment in Spain to justify the union-busting moves and military measures being taken against workers.
Similar steps were taken in the United States when, in the midst of a deep recession in 1981, U.S. president Ronald Reagan intervened to crush a strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. That defeat emboldened employers in other major industries and the government to broaden their offensive against the unions.
Iowa unionists back locked-out workers
Bangladesh: Thousands strike for higher wages
On the Picket Line
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