The entry into prison of the pro-independence politicians was a blow to the UGT union in Catalonia. The until then Councilor for Treball, Dolors Bassa, had been one of the organization’s most prominent leaders for years and maintained ties of friendship with many of its members, including its Secretary General, Camil Ros.
The unions UGT and CCOO support pardons to Catalan politicians to “promote a scenario of dialogue”
The entity was one of the first to request a pardon for its former partner when practically none of the parties supported this option. Ros (Vallromanes, Barcelona, 1962) answered elDiario.es by phone last Tuesday at noon, when there were just a few minutes left for the grace measure to be announced for the nine pro-independence politicians in prison since 2017.
While you and I speak, the pardons are being approved for the independence prisoners.
We are happy for a double reason. First, because Dolors Bassa and the rest of the imprisoned people will be able to leave for good. We understand that they should never have been sentenced to prison. On the one hand there is the political dimension but on the other the human dimension, that of the people, the prisoners and their families … And we are happy that this suffering is finally over. We believe that these pardons are not the end of anything but the beginning of a new political moment. Finally, between judicialization and unilateralism, a great path opens in the middle to find a solution.
Do you see pardons as a minimum measure? Or do you consider that they are the most suitable solution?
When we decided in January of last year to present the petition for pardon of Dolors [Bassa]We said very clearly that starting a dialogue process with people in prison was very difficult. And therefore we believed that [los indultos] they were an almost indispensable condition if the dialogue process is to go well. All these people who ridicule the decision or say that it is useless, because I think it is the beginning. Without this situation, it was very difficult to enter into a dialogue process. It had to start with the people who have suffered the most from the situation. Minimizing the release of some people, even by the pro-independence supporters, I think denotes a lack of humanity.
UGT initially requested the pardon only for Dolors Bassa, who had been the General Secretary of the union in Girona. Why didn’t they ask for it for the rest of the prisoners from the beginning?
I was talking to most of the inmates in Lledoners after the sentence. Both we and other organizations would surely have considered asking for pardons for all, but at that time there was not so much unanimity around this measure. That’s why we decided to prioritize Bassa’s, because there were people who loved them and people who didn’t. At that time there was not the right political climate. When we presented the petition for pardon for Bassa in January last year, we were highly criticized on one side and the other. Now I believe that the measure already has a very broad majority that supports it. Few extremes reject it.
Has there been debate within the entity about the position regarding this measure of grace?
When we approved the petition for clemency in our national committee, which is the highest body between congresses, it received the support of 90% of the people. In a plural organization like ours, I believe that pardon is above whether or not you are in favor of the political decisions they made [los presos independentistas]. Asking pardons does not mean supporting the procés or being against it. It means saying that a partner like Bassa shouldn’t be in prison even if you don’t agree with what she thinks. In 2017 and 2018 we were highly criticized for trying to bridge and defend dialogue, therefore the pride that we as an organization now have is that we have contributed to making this solution happen now.
And at the national level, was it easy to get the union’s support?
Pepe Alvarez [Secretario General de UGT] He was one of the first people to join the petition. It has been seen after many years that in Catalonia there are two blocks and in all elections since 2017 the blocks are the same, with 2% up or down. People will not change their vote, they can change parties but not blocks. It is clear that here there is a reality that can only be solved through dialogue and plural organizations like ours, where there are people from all over, we have an important role when it comes to sewing this together and finding political solutions. In this debate there has been support from the entity.
How has a former union colleague like Dolors Bassa lived in prison?
There have been very hard times. Think that I have been to see her once or twice a month during this period. She is a fellow union member but also a friend. We have worked with her for many years together in Girona and she was the one who replaced me as general secretary in that province. There is a very close relationship and the suffering has been very great. When you leave or enter jail a tear of rage falls on you, but now if there are tears they will already be of happiness to see you leave. For all of us who consider ourselves to be in the personal environment of those affected, the pardon is a relief. I was able to talk to her last weekend, that she was on leave, and a new reality opens up for her, of illusion, of not being thinking about whether they will give her or take away the third grade, whether they will give her a leave or whether she should return to jail… They have been three very hard years.
Did you expect such a clear position on the part of the Catalan employers regarding the pardons?
We have been pleasantly surprised. When we ask for the pardon for Bassa, PIMEC [la patronal catalana de pequeñas y medianas empresas] He supported us, but Foment did not. So now they are, I think it has helped. Seeing the unanimity of the economic sectors satisfies me. It is true that [los indultos] they will bring tranquility to the economic spheres. The two governments are at a time when neither of them has elections in the short term, it is a good time to agree next generations [los fondos europeos], airport, social policies … If we are in a process of political relaxation, then everything helps.
He has already had the opportunity to meet with Pere Aragonès. What feelings do you have with the new Government?
I think that the majority of councilors and the president want to govern and this is important. Now we have a very clear priority: getting out of the pandemic and not falling into the pandemic of precariousness and unemployment now. The feeling is that the Government, rather than trying to do acts of symbolism, wants to govern. At the moment we have met with most of the councilors once, we will see the debate on Budgets and the political wills, but we hope that the internal instability that we had during the previous legislature will end and that they will focus primarily on exiting the economic crisis.
You were very critical of the “scuffles” of the previous Government. What makes you think that they will not be repeated considering that the partners are the same?
The feeling is that, due to their profile, the new councilors have more desire to govern and this works in their favor. If they start to see who is more independent and who does more acts of disobedience, then we will go back to what we did a year ago. We hope that this does not happen now, although the risks are there: the Government agreement that was reached could have been reached two months earlier and shows that there are still differences. It seems that the fights, in any case, are now parked and hopefully it lasts. We need both the Government and the Central Executive to finish the legislature and govern even if we do not agree with their policies. We need stable governments due to the situation of economic crisis and to find a political solution to the process.
You, like so many others, were booed on Monday upon your arrival at the Liceu. What do you think of this sector of the independence movement that manifested itself in Barcelona?
It has happened to me all these years. For my decision to try to be in the middle I have been accused of botifler [traidor] and as a coup plotter at the same time. We are in our role and proud to have been able to contribute to the pardons. We respect criticism and extremes, but I believe that this is not a time for extremes but rather to build the future.
Expansion of the El Prat airport, yes or no?
Right now neither yes nor no. The first thing the two governments have to do is meet and agree and make a proposal to us. This is the first. And we are at the right political moment, due to the situation that I have commented on before. Both governments must demonstrate that a sustainable proposal can be made with the territory and generator of wealth. What I have told the president of AENA is that I am concerned about the working conditions at the airport. Therefore, the quality of employment will be a determining factor when it comes to supporting the expansion or not.
There are just a few months to go until the closing deadline of the Nissan plants in Catalonia is fulfilled. Do you think that an alternative will finally be found for the thousands of workers who see their jobs threatened?
At this time it is not clear and this is a problem. Here part of the problem is labor legislation, which does not allow you to condition future activity on your own employment regulatory record. It will take a lot of pressure. At the moment, a lot of information is circulating, but there is no specificity about any great project that could be a real occupational alternative. Therefore, we are very concerned about the Nissan situation. We hope there will be a solution by the end of the year.
Could European funds be the solution?
No, because they will be late. A solid industrial project is missing. Afterwards, obviously, we can ask for European funds for the next two years, but the important thing is that there is a person with a project. Later we will see if the project needs European funds, but the first thing is that there is a clear and viable industrial project.
Do you foresee more mobilizations of the company’s workers?
As many unions are there, it has to be decided in coordination with the works council. There is a very clear unity and therefore on our part we will show full support for the decisions they make.
UGT Catalunya foresees an ERE that will entail the dismissal of 45 workers. What is the economic situation of the union after a year and a half of pandemic?
The file is in the process of negotiation and therefore we have to be respectful with the negotiation of the parties. I will not go into this here, it is a more fundamental question, that when we finish the negotiation process we will explain it: the situation we have reached and what are the future prospects and the decisions we have had to make, which obviously in no case we wanted drink.