Thousands of striking coal miners and supporters marched through Madrid on Wednesday. The protest occasionally turned violent as protestors threw fireworks and police fired rubber bullets. The coal miners were protesting cuts in government subsidies they maintain will kill the coal industry.
Mining subsidies have been cut by 63% as Spain has introduced austerity measures due to the ballooning deficit. Demonstrating miners had hoped to convince the government to reinstate mining subsidies to help save their jobs. Instead, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced additional austerity measures amounting to €65 billion ($80 billion) through to 2015. The massive new round of cuts includes a value added tax increase to 21% from 18%, and cuts to unemployment benefits and public sector wages. With the unwelcome announcement, he warned that Spain’s economic position is now “extraordinarily serious.”
Protesting coal miners were met by supportive crowds in Madrid. Many miners had come from northern regions of Spain to demonstrate against the cuts. During the protest a standoff with police reportedly resulted in occasional police charges at protest lines, and rubber bullets being fired.
Following is a video produced by The Guardian, Spanish coal miners: ‘We need to keep on fighting’, showing continuing and escalating protests by coal miners in Spain. Miners have been on strike since May 31st. As the video states, there are still 8,000 miners living directly from coal mining, and 30,000 to 40,000 families indirectly living off mining.
It’s possible that similar situations could occur in other coal mining parts of the world in coming years. Aside from Spain’s austerity-led subsidy cuts, there have been numerous calls for governments to cut fossil fuel subsidies in order to further invigorate renewable energy development. Additionally, climate scientists (such as James Hansen) and environmentalists assert that coal needs to be phased out over coming years. It may be a matter of how smoothly governments handle the transition away from coal to renewable sources, as to how much conflict occurs. Unfortunately, in many coal mining areas, that transition will not be an easy one.