The Last Mohicans

This is a translation of a piece published by Jorge Moruno, published 9th July in Público, on the miners' march – #marchanegra – descending on Madrid today.

The Last Mohicans

(image via)

I can recall stories that my father told me during my childhood, about the times my grandfather would come back crying from the mine, because there had been an explosion and some comrade had been injured or at times even killed. It was not in Asturias or León, but in Peñarroya, Andalucía, where today not a trace remains of those coalmines. Between 1931 and 1930, with exceptions, real consumption of coal in Spain never rose above 5 million tonnes. England already produced and consumed that amount in 1750 and France, a century behind, consumed it in 1840 and produced it by 1850.

Spain, by comparison with those countries, has never reached such a high volume of mining production, but that did not mean it was not a central sector. Iron and coal, key materials for driving a process of industrialisation, were by no means lacking in the Spanish economy, but thanks to the Mining Law of 1869, which liberalised the exploitation of deposits, and subsequent modifications, their development was limited.

International companies, founded on mixed capital –domestic and foreign- concerned themselves with exploiting and exporting minerals to industrialised countries at very low cost. Of the minerals most in demand –from all the ranges in existence – zinc, copper, iron etc…- 90% to 100% of total production was exported. This was the case until the nascent steel and metallurgical industries, installed in Euskadi in particular, began to incorporate it towards the end of the 19th century.

We can draw a parallel with something similar happening to us today. Only we no longer export cheap coal and iron; today, by contrast, we do it with the talent and knowledge of young people trained with public money, who prove extremely cheap to the countries that receive them. As the urbanist Jordi Borja points out, the emigrant is manna for whoever receives her and an affliction for whoever loses her. Different elements, but functioning according to the same predatory logic: yesterday minerals, today knowledge of every kind.

In 1893, 300,000 English miners went on indefinite strike for 4 months against the reduction of their wages by 25%, imposed by the owners of the mines. With their stoppage they managed to endanger the supply of combustibles, holding out thanks to their excellent organisation and resistance funds that held several million roubles, the fruit of solidarity. Women, far from being a passive subject in the struggle, maintained the backbone of the community; that shared cultural feeling of autonomy that drives struggle on. Rosa Luxemburg, the Marxist leader said of them that, with their steadfastness, “they shouted out proclaiming that they would sooner kill their children than allow their husbands and children to go back to work and accept the pittance they were offered.”

Sheffield miners on strike in 1893 via.

The spirit of the Leonese and Asturian miners has not changed since then; their ardour and clamour in the struggle for the community remains the same. But their conjuncture and situation in the economy and labour of the 21st Century have been completely displaced, and this is why they are coming out from the coalfields. The miners stand before our eyes today as the last Mohicans of an era that even precedes the one we are leaving behind today. They go back to times where assembly line production, mass transport and consumption still had not been developed, nor had that now decaying system of social regulation through wages, known as the Welfare State.

We are entering a world where products are not so much sold for their utility, as for the idea and the imaginary with which they are associated. A real time economy, which needs a fragmented and precarious labour market to attend to the changing demands in the new sites of consumption. A market that needs labour power immersed in a schizophrenic situation: under permanent training, versatile whilst submissive, fearful, and enthusiastic in equal parts.

But also flexible, proactive, entrepreneurial, cooperating and individualist, within a tangle of informal relations and dependencies. Now that working class cultures, which had served as a dyke against the tempests of capitalism, have been broken down, the elites seek to replace them with a desert. We are all our own entrepreneurial property, but on account of our precariousness; free agents, they call it. With no working class tradition, those in precarity who now recognise themselves as such can see in the miners an older sibling who must be listened to so that they can come to understand their own present.

The miners have an allure because they have the strength of being able to play the trump card that many others would wish for. The miners are also held in contempt because they have the strength of being able to play that same trump card, which many others do not even wish for and even oppose. The philosopher Spinoza observed these different forms of human sensibility by declaring that ‘the former, I say, aims at living for its own ends, the latter is forced to belong to the conqueror; and so we say that the former is free, but but the latter is a slave’.

Those of us among the former are learning with the miners that their reality and ours is not the same, nor does it have to be, but the reasons that bring them to Madrid are the same as those that subjugate us to debt and absolute precarity. We operate like a stereogram, that is, like an optical illusion that captures images from different points of view. It is only in this way that struggles can be woven and co-ordinated strategies can be built and co-ordinated collectively at different levels. Basic income can be one of these demands.    


The Chair in State Theory Antonio Negri claimed years ago that the history of continuity in revolutionary movements is their rupture and discontinuity. “The revolutionary working class movement is continually being reborn from a virgin mother”. Different but with a same spirit, precarians and miners must search together for Marx’s third thesis on Feuerbach: it is only through revolutionary practice that human activity can coincide with the changing of circumstances. The government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, is well aware of this and insists on preventing any symbolic connection between the 15-M and the miners from being established. She warns that she will not allow any acampada in the Puerta del Sol, and comes forward to announce that the miners will be finally offered a place to spend the night.

This coming 10th of July the #marchanegra will arrive in Madrid. They will be received as they deserve, as what they are, children of the same mother. On their journey they leave behind a trail of dignity in every town they set foot in, and hence they receive the warmth and the applause of its inhabitants. Offering a town or a city so that it is theirs too. Those below declare to the travellers that wherever their feet touch the ground, that is their country, –Ubi pedes, ibi patria-; the feet of the Republic of the 99% against the dictatorship of the financial rentiers of the 1%.


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