The endless escalation of prices, unbridled inflation and the continued loss of purchasing power have been the three main battlegrounds at the May 1 demonstration in Tarragona. In a concentration with practically pre-pandemic airs, with hardly any masks among the attendees, around a thousand people have demonstrated this Sunday morning in a march that started in the Imperial Tarraco and ended with various parliaments in the Estàtua dels Despullats. Tortosa also celebrated its respective claim.
The event served to put on the table the general union claims and also those that have to do with specific companies. Workers from the chemical sector, the Post Office, tourism, cleaning or supermarkets took to the streets to expose their struggles, which have some links in common, especially the fight to update wages at the rate of the CPI, something that has caused an increase in conflict within the business. “We are finding companies that are earning a lot of money in our demarcation, especially in the chemical sector and in the public services sector, are not complying with the salary increases that are agreed within the agreement, especially in the CPI differentials, that at the moment they are 8 or 10% and that they do not want to pay, ”said Joan Llort, general secretary of the UGT in Tarragona. “Now we will see that these companies this month and the next will distribute dividends among their shareholders while they do not have their employees,” explains Llort.
“There are more inequalities”
Mercè Puig, general secretary of the CCOO in Tarragona, in a similar vein stressed that the challenge is “to curb prices and inequalities, that is why we are on the streets, because we have a problem with electricity, with people who cannot pay the day-to-day bills, or the shopping cart. Inequalities are increasing and that cannot be allowed. We need to raise wages because people are getting poorer.”
Llort, speaking specifically about the petrochemical sector, said that “we will go to a conflict if the employers do not want to assume the CPI differential” and gave some examples: “We are seeing it in Covestro, in Repsol or in BASF, and also in companies outsourced. Companies that are making a lot of money now do not want to pay what is marked in the agreement. We’re not going to back down on that.” In recent weeks, the protests of templates that ask to match the salary tables to the IPC have grown.
One of the examples at the demonstration was from the supermarket employee sector. “We are negotiating the agreement and they offer us a 1% increase when the CPI is soaring,” explains Tomasa Guerrero, general secretary of the CCOO union section in Fragadis. Guerrero also added: “Throughout the entire pandemic we were essential personnel and suddenly we became forgotten. The companies do not offer us a decent raise and that some are earning 165% more, we are in precarious contracts, 20, 24 or 30 hours and working 40. We end up doing additional hours, so we fight for fair agreements and conciliation worthy family.
Around the IPC
The unions denounce that they are beginning to see that the companies do not apply the previously agreed conditions. ‘We ask for clear and defined articles of agreement’, said one of the banners of the march. “The rise in the CPI is fundamental. We are negotiating the agreement and they do not recognize the CPI for 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 and they do not want to give us the difference. They are refusing to give us that delayed CPI,” explains Paqui Chaves, from the works council in the cleaning sector.
Yolanda Martín adds: «We have an article that foresees the rise in the CPI but the company says that it is not well closed, we have had two meetings without agreeing, because we have one interpretation and they give you another, they propose to raise very little, like this that we are likely to have to make claims.”
Some 1,000 people took part in the march through Tarragona, almost without masks
The key to all these conflicts is in the evolution of prices that have skyrocketed for a year, first after the uneven exit from the worst moments of the pandemic and then due to the conflict in Ukraine and all its consequences. This is a breeding ground that hits the working class, based on two indicators that grow but do so at totally different rates: in March, according to the INE, prices shot up 10.5% in Tarragona, a figure record, unprecedented in more than 30 years, while salaries (and only those that are under agreement) increased by only 1.67%. Therefore, so far in 2022, the cost of living grows in the province six times more than wages. What until now was not a noticeable problem, because the CPI remained in recent years without excessive variations, has now become the main –and thorny– point of negotiation between unions and employers.
But this Sunday there were more open fronts. Llort gave a warning to “those administrations that want the skills and, when they have them, then subcontract to companies that speculate, with poor working conditions and that offer poor service to users, so we ask the public services to they assume and that they do not outsource to end up becoming precarious».
Tourism was also under the spotlight. Paco López, from UGT, recognized that “we have little to celebrate” and drew a scenario with “workers who do not make it to the end of the month and are on the verge of poverty”, because “we only have the crumbs of the wealth we generate”. He alluded to the 20-40-60 model (‘you get hired for 20 hours, they pay you 40 and you work 60’) and cited, among other sectors linked to tourism, “the terrible conditions of beach lifeguards.”
There was barely time to get chest of one of the most positive aspects, according to the unions, of the labor reform. “We have gone from 4% of permanent contracts to 35% in Tarragona and that ensures a future and stability for workers,” said Llort, about achieving the goal of cutting down on temporary employment.
“They will put sticks in the wheels”
«We hope to see changes in a sector like tourism, which is one of the most precarious, but we must know that companies are going to put sticks in the wheels. We are a very flat territory, with a lot of youth unemployment, and inequalities are extreme”, added Mercè Puig. Llort, his counterpart at UGT, in turn denounced the speculation of some companies with the interprofessional minimum wage, which unify salary supplements to reach 1,000 euros of salary, which “makes you lose purchasing power”
José Martín, general secretary of industry of the CCOO in Tarragona, highlighted the positive example of Pastifred, a Montblanc industry “that has given stability to the workers” after the last reform and also mentioned the latest turbulence in the industrial sector: “We are in in the midst of an energy and industrial transition that we have to make without leaving anyone by the wayside”. The act did not end without a claim from the public, this time by Mar Vázquez, Secretary for Equality and Social Policies of the UGT in Tarragona: «We are fed up with politicians using public services to fill their mouths and we remind them not to they are made to make money. They are the ones who have been holding on during the pandemic.”