“But our dead did not understand the laws of the market”
So Paco Espiñola closed his article in ‘La Opinion de Granada’ on 8th November. Paco was writing about the fatalities on the construction of the A7 ‘Autovia del Mediterráneo’ the new Mediterranean motorway currently under construction in southern Spain. Six workers died and four were injured, one still in a grave condition as I write this. At 15.40 on 7th November at Torrecuevas near the town of Almuñecar, one of the platforms of a new viaduct under construction collapsed, the metal and concrete platform 60metres in length and 12 metres wide weighing about 20 tonnes plunged 80 metres into the valley below. Six workers, five Portuguese and one Spaniard were killed instantly. Paco Espiñola rubbished what some of the media were promoting as an important fact, “Their nationality is not important they are our dead." he wrote emotionally.
It will be many days, if not months, before the full facts become available; but one thing is certain - this sort of accident reflects neo-liberal, free market cavalier approach to workers safety in the pursuit of profits. This particular piece of the project appears, from the evidence available, to have been subcontracted at least three times if not more.
Already faulty materials are being prepared as an excuse; the metal used, from a steel company in Turkey was, perhaps, not of the right quality. The fact that this material has been, and is being used elsewhere on the motorway is not questioned. It is to late for six dead workers and their families to introduce quality control mechanisms with hindsight. But quality control costs money at a time when many of the workers have talked of the pressures they are being put under, many working up to 18 hours a day.
Who will be held responsible? Probably nobody. Those culpable are, or will soon be, comfortably hidden under a web of intermediaries, technicians, lawyers, complicit silences, contracts and subcontracts - that is the modern world of flexible labour and quick profits. The main Trade Unions involved CC.OO. (The Workers Commissions) and the General Workers Union (UGT) are already protesting against the jungle of subcontracts that accompany this and a vast number of other public sector construction projects.
Jose Maria Fidalgo, General Secretary of CC.OO. (Andalucia) said, “Lamenting the pain of the deaths of these workers is not enough” “It is necessary for us to do much more” He spoke of the precariousness of working in the construction industry and of faults in the chain of responsibility of subcontracting. Fidalgo went on to say that the process of inspections was very weak and that the bosses were irresponsible, he said these were the principle causes for Spain being at the top of the European list for deaths in the workplace. This situation will not change whilst nothing is done to reform the labour market. Cándido Méndez, Secretary General of UGT said that the fight against deaths in the workplace was not simply between workers and their Trade Unions and the bosses but also all the different administrations as well. Both leaders called for the National Health and Safety Commission to open a debate that involved both central government and the autonomous regional governments, “There must be better levels of control over the bosses and subcontracting” He called for a large increase in the number of inspectors across the country.
As more and more public works and services are privatised across Europe so more accidents and deaths will arise in the relentless pursuit of private profits. But there appears to be no respite as the majority of EU governments accept the Blairite image of the free market and so-called flexible labour which they are trying to enshrine into EU law with the proposed European Constitution. I believe that this abuse of public income to support private profits rather than improve public works and services was probably the main reason both French and Dutch voters, fed up with unemployment, redundancies and poor conditions at work said a resounding “NO” to this neo-liberal constitution earlier this year. But for a campaign of misinformation by the Spanish government the NO vote there might also have been much closer to a majority, as it grew from 5% to 17% by the end of the campaign.
But again the question springs to mind – is this road really needed? Or is it not just about getting more holidaymakers to the beaches quicker so that they can be fleeced of their hard earned cash sooner? As the rates of pollution steadily increase as more and more vehicles are encouraged to rush to the sun, and, as the water levels in the reservoirs in this part of Spain sink to drought conditions some are beginning to doubt its worth.
As the local Judge prepares to investigate the deaths of these six workers for what are being described as “careless homicides” there appears to be little chance of any real justice for their families, perhaps a compensation payment whilst the real criminals go free – The moral of this story? In today’s world the only real beneficiaries are privatisation and profit.
PS An interesting aside to this article - on the same day as the disaster happened the newest member of the Spanish royal family made her first public appearance. Most of the media gave due respect to the dead workers and their families and demoted the royal event to the inside pages. Not so the two most right-wing newspapers, La Razon and ABC, they both filled their front pages with pictures of proud parents and offspring, what are the deaths of a few workers compared to the continuation of the monarchy?