After the end of the miners’ blockades: the struggle continues
A few days ago (on 12 October) the fourteen-day blockade organised by miners and energy workers in defence of their income and jobs ended. Although the main demand was not met – the ‘fair transition’ plan was not withdrawn by Brussels – the workers achieved some minor successes that were spelled out by the government and some of the unions in the sector. But the real successes of this movement unprecedented in scale and duration are not contained in the petty agreements between union leaders and the government. Miners’ resistance to plans for an (un)just transition is a long-term struggle that has yet to unfold in the coming months and years. Much more important, therefore, than the petty agreements that the government can and will renege on at the earliest opportunity, are collective strength, workers’ solidarity and a willingness to fight for the long term in the sector.
Before we continue with the analysis of the protests, let us turn our attention to some of the criticisms of the workers. We will not comment on the outpourings of liberal commentators, such as Dainoff, who called on the state to crush workers’ discontent by force. They have no value beyond the possibly sobering effect they may have had on some misguided people on the left who are dumbly and stubbornly trying to find something progressive and social in the urban right. What is worth commenting on is the contradiction imposed by politicians between the social interests of workers and the solution to environmental problems. This artificial contradiction is being cleverly exploited by businesses with a vested interest in the green transition and the political representatives who serve them, who point the finger at miners calling them irresponsible, or more directly, too stupid to understand the environmental problems necessitating the transition. Of course, the anti-social and anti-worker positions of the Bulgarian “green” politicians do not surprise us – this has been their behaviour for years, harming not only the workers and society as a whole, but also the very environmental cause they are supposed to defend. In fact, these are ordinary ‘green capitalists’ who defend environmental causes only insofar as they are in the interests of certain segments of business and in the interests of their positioning in the European bureaucratic machine. The reality is far from their propaganda. Miners and those living in the region are well aware of the environmental consequences, if only because, unlike the Greens, they live with them every day – in their workplace and in the region as a whole. But the green transition, as it has been brought down from on high, promises not cleaner jobs and healthier lives in the region , but the opposite – economic destruction. They tell us that miners and their families must pay for this transition. We oppose this and categorically reject the idea of a green transition at the expense of workers.
As a famous slogan put forward by the Yellow Vests during the protests in France said – “we are concerned about the end of the world, but we are more concerned about the end of the month”.
So the miners’ protests are a rational workers’ reaction to the attack on their jobs and the lies of the green capitalists. Their protests should be supported not only by workers in other sectors, but also by that part of the environmental movement that has no business interests in the green transition, but actually believes in the environmental cause. Because there can only be a green transition when the social interests of workers and their families are central to it. Until then, any plans for regional privatisation masquerading as a ‘green transition’ must be met with resistance.
But how can this happen? The miners have already shown us graphically – through solidarity, a show of strength and a willingness to fight.
It is here that the miners and their colleagues in the power stations have had their greatest successes – the blockades have been a demonstration of strength and resilience. 14 days of blockades under pressure from the state and the media failed to break them. What is more, the workers showed their ability to emancipate themselves and to a large extent to defend their own interest, to the horror of liberal commentators who were quick to declare the workers a pawn in the hands of the energy bosses and the unionised power stations. On the contrary, the workers organised general meetings of the blockades, with the participation of all, regardless of union membership, at which they democratically discussed their demands, accepted or rejected the agreements of the union representatives and coordinated the blockades in the different regions.
Despite these successes, workers face a number of challenges. On the one hand, the most obvious enemies of the workers are undoubtedly in the ruling coalition, which has both a political and material interest in crushing the labour movement and carrying out the green transition unchallenged at the expense of the workers.
On the other side are the opposition parties, who vehemently declare their support for the protesters while at the same time actively trying to frame the social conflict in nationalist terms, pushing the ‘national interest’ at the expense of the workers’ interest, or handing out promises of a complete halt to the green transition and centuries of active coal mining. The talk of the national interest and undeliverable promises is not just PR by opposition parties to appeal to workers and the broader sections of society that support them. It is a tool to bring conflict into the institutional frameworks of the state. With this rhetoric, the nationalist parties are saying to us, ‘Well done, it’s great that you are protesting and organising blockades, but at the end of the day the only ones who can solve the problem are us, and the only way to do that is for our party to take power’.
There is one aim to this propaganda – to get people out off the blockades, protests and strikes and into the polls. This type of propaganda has been particularly successful in all kinds of social conflicts in Bulgaria, and we see its partial success among the miners as well – although they have managed to keep most of the political scumbags at a sanitary distance, their messages have also managed to penetrate the protesters, who have begun to talk more and more about their struggle through the prism of the national interest. This approach undoubtedly seems tempting and the miners are using it not just because the nationalist parties present things that way to them, but because they themselves see the benefits of presenting the struggle as defending the national interest , national energy etc with the idea that this would win public opinion to their side. But a sober look at “public opinion” would convince us of the opposite – we see a society that is far from being united around some common national interest, but is deeply divided along political, but above all social and class lines. We see the greatest hatred against the miners from the so-called business community and the middle class concentrated in Sofia’s central offices, and the greatest support among workers from various sectors across the country. And the workers support the miners not out of a selfish fear of the collapse of the Bulgarian energy industry or because of some abstract national interest, but because of a very concrete sense of solidarity with people with whom they share common interests and a common destiny as workers.
The question of the nature of the workers’ struggle may seem abstract, but in fact it is largely the answer to the question of whether resistance to the (un)just green transition will be successful, and for whom. We can see this vividly in the current situation – the two ideas about the nature of workers’ struggle that are currently running in parallel. On the one hand, the political parties that are in the midst of campaigning, including a local movement contesting the elections on a platform based on resistance to the green transition. On the other hand, workers have initiated a vote for effective strike action in the winter. No doubt these two approaches to struggle will go hand in hand, at least for the foreseeable future. But for the success of the struggle, it will be most important for workers not to trust political parties, but to rely above all on their own strength.