The coronavirus lashes out at giants like Nissan or Alcoa as demand for an ambitious policy for the sector grows.
Andrés Mateos has just turned 40 and is about to take a radical turn in his life. After two decades with a good position in the industry, he is considering leaving the Barcelona Free Zone to return to his origins in the small Salamanca town of Torresmenudas. But the crisis is not his, but the one of the automobile multinational for which he works and, through a subcontractor, his partner. “Nissan has forced us to make this decision. It has been many years of lies and look how we are: closed and on the street, “he laments. As the end approaches, Andresín, as he is known at the factory, continues to participate in the protests that have collapsed the Catalan capital and add up to three months of indefinite strike. The time is running out: on July 30, the term to negotiate the employment regulation file (ERE) announced by the company expires. If no solution is found, the plant will put the lock on a century of history and its 2,525 workers will be out of work. It will only be the most difficult autumn prologue for the Spanish industry.
Alcoa, Airbus, Arcelor … There are many companies with difficulties, but the case of Nissan has become paradigmatic. The collapse in demand for the coronavirus pandemic has only been the highlight for a factory that was carrying a decade of low workload, still with the hangover of the Great Recession of 2009. The lack of investment has condemned the factory, immersed in an oversized sector that is in the midst of a transition to the green economy and is highly aware of new regulations.
The metallurgical or aeronautical companies face similar challenges, but Rafael Myro, professor of Economics at the Complutense University of Madrid, does not believe that Spain suffers from an industrial crisis: “Before Covid we had recovered quite well thanks to the increase in exports. The industry was resilient in the previous recession and now it is going to suffer. ”
Despite improving its competitiveness, the manufacturing sector has been losing weight in the Spanish economy: it now only represents 12.6% of GDP, 3.4 points less than at the beginning of the century, and carries serious structural deficiencies, such as poor innovation or the high cost of energy. Miguel Sebastián, socialist minister of the branch between 2008 and 2011, believes that many of these problems have their origin in the absence of an industrial policy: “The case of Nissan has been ruminating for years. It should have been stopped in time with public support, ”he denounces. And Myro adds: “We have tremendous potential and an Administration that does little.” The social partners are demanding a state pact, while voices are growing so that the European recovery fund will serve to promote the re-industrialization of the country.
Employers and unions continue to defend social dialogue, and the centrals will accompany it with protests in specific conflicts in the coming months. Spain will not explode in the autumn, although the situation is becoming increasingly entrenched in some plants. The European lifeguard will help finance government-sponsored job maintenance policies, and union sources consulted hope to achieve a further extension of temporary employment regulation (ERTE) records in September until the end of the year. Pedro Leaves, secretary general of the UGT Industry Federation, recalls that this is a short-term solution: “If we are not able to revive the economy, we will have very serious problems.”
When the Damocles sword of the clasp hangs over the helmets of the operatives, the mitigation measures are of little use. At Nissan, the multinational’s refusal to negotiate something other than the conditions of the layoffs has broken all bridges with the works council, which will fight to the end to find an almost impossible alternative and is even willing to resort to judicial channels. to avoid ERE. In Alcoa, the workers rely on the help of the Ministry of Industry, which has revealed the existence of a buyer interested in refloating the San Cibrao metallurgical plant (Cervo, Lugo), a fishing village where the blue ribbons hanging from the facades remind that the layoffs would affect 534 families. This Friday, the works committee ended the confinement in the Government Subdelegation in the province, after obtaining an extension until August 4 to negotiate the ERE and, above all, save time.