From the workers’ struggle to the fight against the coronavirus
The Biscayan town of Basauri, with 40,000 inhabitants, has been until Tuesday the first municipality with positive results after the Basque capitals
“Then you were fighting to conquer rights, now we are fighting to preserve life.” Manolo Castiñeira, Galician and retired, resident in Basauri, regrets that Sars-Cov-2 is decimating the generation that fought in the sixties and seventies for freedoms and labor rights. “It is happening throughout Spain, we are the most risky group, but in Basauri it is attacking us in a terrible way,” he acknowledges. During the month of March, the municipality of Biscay, one of the oldest in the Basque Country , was the most positive for Covid19, with 262 cases, after Vitoria (1,838), Bilbao (1,036) and San Sebastián (284). This Wednesday Barakaldo overtook him for ten cases (272) with a population of 100,881 inhabitants when Basauri barely has 40,700 inhabitants.
Castiñeira, a former UGT retired delegate in Firestone – now Bridgestone – is sure that many of those affected worked in one of the heavy industries located in the industrial belt such as Firestone itself, which ended up employing more than 3,000 workers over the years seventy eighty. It was not the only one, Sidenor, Bands – now Arcelor Mittal -, Edesa, Ceplástica or Metacal turned the diver into the usual clothing of the municipality. In fact, more than 70% of the working-age population was employed in industry in those decades. Now, according to the Basque Statistics Institute, Eustat, 44% of its active neighbors live from industry and the rest from services.
Two of the first victims that the virus left in Bizkaia were elderly residents of Basauri, and the City Council was forced to adopt, already on March 12, special restrictions to avoid an alarming spread in the town compared to the development of the virus. in the main Basque urban centers. 27.06% of its population is over 65 years old.
Basauri City Council announced this Friday that as an additional measure to those already taken to protect its older inhabitants, it is calling by phone the more than 2,500 residents who are over 80 years old to take an interest in their needs. According to data from the Basque Government, the average lethality of the virus is 2.3% for those between 60 and 69 years old, it rises to 5.9% for those between 70 and 79 years old, and it shoots up to 17.3 % among those over 80 years old.
“Many of them staged one of the most notorious challenges to the Franco dictatorship with the Bandas strike, -Lamination of Bands Echevarri- that lasted 163 days, from November 1966 to May 1967”, recalls Pedro Etxaniz, trade unionist and also a resident of Basauri, who worked closely with the historic leader of the UGT Metal, Manuel Fernández López, Lito . “Felipe González was the lawyer who coordinated the team that advised and defended the strikers,” explains Etxaniz. “Who was going to know then where he was going to go next?” He recalls now.
The account of those long and hard days of workers’ struggle, when CCOO and UGT were still illegal, was published in 1968 by the then prohibited publisher in Spain, Ruedo Ibérico, with a cover designed by the sculptor Agustín Ibarrola, a native of Basauri. Felipe González was the bridge between those mobilizations and those that, almost a decade later, between December 1974 and April ’75, starred the Firestone workers. The one who later became President of the Government “advised the works council and defended us in all that strike,” recalls the Galician union member of the tire company.
But Basauri’s marked industrial character began neither with Bands nor with Firestone or Sidenor. In 1892 several Biscayan industrialists set up La Basconia, a tin sheet factory that in 1969 was taken over by Altos Hornos de Bizkaia. From its smelting furnaces came, among many other structures, that of the Deusto bridge in Bilbao, according to a publication by the Basauri City Council.
“We do not know where the virus has come from, but the situation is getting worse every day and it is very worrying”, explains Castiñeira, “the only thing that is working at full capacity in Basauri is Mercabilbao, to supply all the shops. Basauri is attached to municipalities such as Galdakao, Etxebarri and Arrigorriaga. They share the industrial belt that flows into Bilbao. If the cases of these four municipalities, eminently industrial, are added together, the total number of positives recorded amounts to 449 for some 80,500 inhabitants as a whole, when Bilbao, with four times more population, 346,000 inhabitants, has 1036 cases.
“Before, it was easy to fight, we were very clear that either we fought together or there was nothing to do. The world is much more individualistic now. Perhaps the teaching of fighting this virus is that, united, as then, we can achieve much more important things ”, summarizes Etxaniz.