madrid — After a strike lasting 2 1/2 weeks that affected the loading and unloading of all nonperishable goods at 26 of Spain's 30 ports, the leading port companies association, Anesco, and unions representing dockworkers agreed last week to accept the arbitration of the Ministry of Labor.
In this way, the longest dispute on the docks since the establishment of democracy in Spain in 1977 is on the point of being resolved, after losses to the economy estimated at $260 million.
The agreement coincides with a one-day general strike called by dockworkers in mourning for the death of the daughter of a dock family who died during a demonstration in the Canary Island port of Las Palmas recently. In the Basque region in the northwest, Spain's leading private integrated steelworks, Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, was forced to limit production lately after delays in the unloading of coal deliveries at the port of Bilbao.
In mid-July, in an attempt to undercut the strike, the government issued a decree allowing port companies to contract workers at local unemployment offices. However, this resulted in the most serious clashes seen in the docks in three years between pickets and police. In the Canary Island ports of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas, 28 workers were arrested.
Underlying the dispute is a proposed reform of the Organization of Port Workers (OTP). Set up during the Franco regime, this was originally a corporativist organization, dependent on the Labor Ministry. However, with the establishment of a democracy the government and management went their separate ways. The OTP became an organization that exclusively represents workers.
In these circumstances, Anesco and the socialist trade union (which represents barely 5 percent of all dockworkers) agreed to a reform, according to which the OTP would lose its powers to control a census of dockworkers and the power over hiring and firing. In a bid to make this agreement stick, Anesco emphasized that there was no question of any negotiation on new wage contracts, pending since April 1, until the other dockworker unions -- principally small radical ones and the Communist-backed Confederation of Workers Commisssions -- agreed to the reform as well.
This, however, is anathema to these unions. Both the confederation and the small unions have so far maintained a closed shop in the docks via the Organization of Port Workers. They fear the risk of further unemployment, following a loss of 1,000 jobs last year because of the introduction of containers, should the port companies take charge of the census and disciplinary measures.
That said, it is proof of the continued combativeness of the OTP that all the small and medium-size port companies, and even several companies belonging to Anesco,have already signed labor contracts establishing a 17 percent wage increase retroactive to april 1, valid for year and a half. The significance of this is that the rise exceeds the 13 to 16 percent ceiling established in a pact between the socialist union and Spain's employers' association at the beginning of this year. The pact was never agreed to by Spain's larger communist trade union.