1 July 2010

Basque Info 30/06/10

• Pro-independence workers fight back against Zapatero’s anti-labour measures
• Basque pro-independence activist arrested in Belfast
• Tributes to Basque refugees, murdered militants and prisoners

Pro-independence workers fight back against Zapatero’s anti-labour measures
Yesterday, Tuesday 29th, a general strike was organised in the southern Basque Country (under Spanish administration) by the Basque pro-independence trade unions, who have the majority of elected representatives in workers’ councils. The general strike was also supported by the Basque pro-independence left parties.

Last week the Spanish government passed several new legislative measures attacking workers’ rights. The Basque pro-independence trade unions immediately called a general strike.

Despite the deep economic crisis in the Spanish state and its impact on working people the only general strikes organised have been in the Basque Country. In June last year the Basque pro-independence trade unions organised a successful general strike followed by many demonstrations and campaigns in working places. Last month they also organised a public service general strike and finally yesterday they organised a yet another strike in all sectors. This time the Basque branch of the largest Spanish trade union also supported their call.

From the early hours of the morning groups of organised workers walked the industrial estates and participated in demonstrations and pickets. Later in the morning they joined students, clerical workers, pensioners and others to explain the issues to other citizens and remaining workers and to encourage them to join in the strike.

At midday around 65,000 people took part in demonstrations in the capital cities of the four Basque southern provinces. The slogan chosen for the day was “Stop impositions. Let’s defend our rights!” Representatives of trade unions told the large crowds that the Spanish Government’s new labour reform is the worst in 30 years. The legislation includes cuts in public services and pensions, reducing the workers’ redundancy payouts and other anti-labour measures.

The speakers also said that the general strike is not the end but the begining of a long and hard struggle that must be fought. They also spoke against social partnership as they consider it a mere tool of social control and blackmailing in the hands of the employers.

Thousands of people took also part in the evening demonstrations in the four capitals and in the many other local ones organised throughout the day.

The police charged against pickets in many places, especially in Bilbao and there were several arrests.

Basque pro-independence activist arrested in Belfast

At midnight last Thursday a Basque pro-independence activist was arrested by the police in Belfast in an operation assisted by the Spanish police.

He was then taken for interrogation to Antrim police station. The arrested person is Fermin Vila who stood for the European elections in 1994 as a pro-independence candidate for Herri Batasuna and reportedly has been on the run since 2000. He was also the Basque local councils’ spokesperson for demilitarization and represented the anti-conscription association.

Despite being released on Saturday on charges of “terrorist activities” in the north of Ireland he was immediately rearrested due to an existing European Arrest Warrant issued by the Spanish authorities.

During a preliminary hearing at Belfast Recorder's Court on Monday, his barrister Sean Devine said he would not be consenting to the extradition request. Judge Burgess said he was satisfied the defendant should be remanded in custody until the hearing of this matter.

A timetable for the case is expected to be agreed later this week, with a full hearing expected in September.

In a statement Fermin Vila said he was proud of his involvement in the Basque pro-independence struggle and that he was only sad to be jailed for being a Basque political refugee. He also stated his support for a peace process in the Basque Country and said there were many lessons to be learned from the Irish process.

Meanwhile, an appeal by another Basque pro-independence activist against an extradition order to face a charge of “glorifying terrorism” has been put on hold. Inaki de Juana, who was granted bail to live in Belfast, has not been seen since April. He was due to challenge a ruling that he should be returned to Spain for trial. But with his whereabouts unknown, judges in the Court of Appeal on Monday agreed to stay the case on the basis that it would be an abuse of process to go ahead with it.

Tributes to Basque refugees, murdered militants and prisoners
Today Wednesday 30th is thirty years since Basque political prisoner Jose Mari Sagardui “Gatza” was imprisoned. He is called “the Basque Mandela” as he is the longest-serving prisoner in Europe. His solicitors denounced his situation at a press conference last week and branded the Spanish authorities’ prison policy as cruel, inhumane and vindictive. He should have been released last year but instead, as is the case with many other Basque political prisoners, he has seen his sentence extended by new retroactive laws. Fifty-three Basque prisoners have already been in jail for more than 20 years and thirteen for more than 25 years.

Forty-nine year-old Basque political refugee Mikel Zalakain died last week after a short illness in Corsica. He left to escape repression in 1986. His entire family was then arrested and his father died in jail. Mikel was arrested in 1992 and spent one year in a French jail. After his release the French authorities ordered his confinement to Paris but he eventually broke the confinement and escaped to Corsica, where he spent the rest of his life on the run with his wife and son.

Both Gatza and Zalakain were remembered by the Pro-Independence movement and the weekly vigils in support of the prisoners.

A commemoration took place last weekend in the Basque Pyrenees to remember two Basque Volunteers who were murdered by the Spanish police there 20 years ago. Another volunteer was seriously wounded and was fortunate to survive the shots to his head at close range. The circumstances have never been officially clarified by the Spanish state.

A Basque prisoner’s mother and a friend who died in a road accident on their way to a prison visit 20 years ago were also commemorated over the weekend.

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