The population pyramid of the Leonese region of Bierzo has two ‘bites’. Two entire ‘lost’ generations, and practically consecutive. The first is from forty-somethings to fifty-somethings and the second from twenty-somethings to thirty-somethings.
One was taken by heroin. Young people of the eighties of age to go out and experiment, from the mining basin, with possible and in the middle of the passage of drugs from Galicia to the rest of Spain, who did not know the consequences of a bad peak. The one who did not die in a disco bathroom, did not come out of the car parked next to the cemetery by his own foot. Entire groups of friends of which hopefully a couple remain. Those who ‘controlled’ then and managed to leave, those who ‘controlled’ and every week wait at the Health Center for the distribution of methadone and those who never tried the white queen because they were impressed that the ticket for the trip included a syringe.
The second is that of those who crawled when junkies were buried. They grew up knowing the dangers of hard drugs, but chaining economic crises. The strangulation to death of the sector that fed the entire territory and a black future like coal that did not help to clear up neither the real estate bubble nor the replacement of mining companies by renewable energy companies has forced them to emigrate or live in a continuous ‘survive as you can’ that offers fewer and fewer alternatives. They are more a generation abandoned to their fate than a lost generation, although they undoubtedly lose all: themselves and also the territory that sees them leave, with the risk that they take root abroad and no longer return more than twice a year to weddings and funerals. of those who stay.
The ‘abandoned’ generation
Words are always better understood if they are accompanied by images. And to the economic, social and demographic crises if you put a face on them. Alberto López is 34 years old, he is a native of Vega de Espinareda, and he decided to start working as a minor to earn a living. From the fire brigade he went to carpentry, but the puncture of the housing bubble ended up pushing him to mining. From 2004 to 2012 it was between the Fabero and Alinos coal washes. They were years of “ups and downs”, which in other words mean Employment Regulation Records (ERE), strikes, pickets, black marches and months without payment.
He was one of the hundreds of miners who marched to Madrid in 2012 to claim a future shouting “If this is not fixed, war, war, war.” He acknowledges to this medium that what they were asking to fix was the ‘unblocking’ of aid to the sector for the ‘king of coal’, businessman Victorino Alonso, owner of most of the Bierzo farms. The well-known businessman “blackmailed us with layoffs and people got scared, and signed and did whatever it took”, to the point that the closure of the sector, which was initially “scheduled for 2018, brought it forward.”
“Then I was unemployed and I had to go to Valladolid to look for life,” he recalls. He worked for a year at the Renault plant on a temporary contract and when it ended, he tried to return home with the only alternative of interspersing in the capital of the Community twelve months of work with six unemployed in the manufacturing company of cars. He threw the résumé at the LM Windpower wind turbine factory in Ponferrada and, “I was lucky!” He says. They got it.
At the Ponferradina plant, owned by General Electric for a couple of years and today the largest company in the region and one of the largest in the province of León, he met Mario Álvarez, from Villadepalos, 30 and a worker in the ‘green’ energy sector since he was 27. He also did not extract coal from the soil of the Leonese region, but he was one more element of the complete mining gear since he was 16, working in the technical service of the inland mines and exterior and public works by Victorino Alonso.
Both held their breath last July when LM Windpower announced its intention to fire 393 people in the capital of Bierzo or relocate them to France to work at its plant in Cherbourg. Once again they found themselves at the crossroads of fighting or losing their job, and they decided to fight with the weapons they had: the strike. “I would go away, but I don’t want to. I want to try to stay here and make my life here. I don’t care what to work on,” emphasizes López, known by his friends as ‘Polilla’.
An outbreak of disturbance over the breakdown of negotiations between the company and the unions early in the morning before the deadline for reaching an agreement ran out forced both parties to sit down at the table again. In the end, the nearly 400 laid off were 250. Alberto and Mario waited the first days of their vacation for a notification of bad news that never came. “This time it has not been, but it does not give us peace of mind or stability for the future,” laments the man from Vega de Espinareda, “they do not guarantee that you can make your life, settle down, make a home, have a family …”
Those who left
David Navarro (32), a native of Fabero, was for a long time ‘the smallest’ in the Cerredo mine, on the border of Asturias with the Laciana region of León. He started working as an electrician at the well in 2007, when he was just 18 years old, and ended his days in the mining sector in the open pit of Jarrinas de Fabero in 2014. “From my high school class we still stayed ‘around here’ half, “he explains. Around here, he understands, to be two hours from home as is his case.
After making the 2010 mining march, from Villablino to León, the waters of the sector returned to their course but for a short time. The occurrence of forming a strike committee by the EREs in 2013 caused the coal magnate to dismiss them as insurgents. To him and the other eleven colleagues from the first attempt at union organization. Also to the next twelve brave men who wanted to consolidate what they had started but obtained the same result.
After lawsuits, the mining entrepreneur was forced by an unfair dismissal sentence to ironically reinstate them when the rest of the workforce was hand over hand and the company was in cessation of activity. Worn and jaded, he did not wait for some supposed early retirement that he did not have at the time of 26 years, and he went to Ponferrada to work as an electromechanical. Now, already in his thirties, he is carrying out his personal and work life in León capital in the Vidal León diesel company.
Manuel Molinero (39 years old), a native of Vega de Espinareda, on the other hand, had to pack a bigger suitcase after the mining closed. Victorino Alonso, who was the great businessman in the sector in León, offered his best employees the option of continuing with work but outside. He, who had dedicated himself to disassembling mining machinery in Spain to sell it, went on to assemble it in Scotland. He was chaining temporary contracts until, once he obtained the title of father and twice, he stood up and claimed to have conditions that would allow him to settle with his family at a fixed point or leave it.
Thus, he has been in the British region for three and a half years now “very happy with the experience. And although I do not think about retiring here, for the moment, in the labor issue, I have nothing in Spain that can equal this even remotely”, he says to this medium. The hardest thing, he admits, was “parting with our family and friends. Especially the first year”, but for now his family is growing and his place is in the north of the United Kingdom.
The four share the common traits of many others from their ‘abandoned’ generation: they are young, born in a very close geographical area, without higher education because when they began their working life what was needed was labor, but with very specific training and valued in their positions. They have never been without work for long, but their options are increasingly reduced in the rural environment to which they belong and which, like the waves of water in a pond when throwing a stone, expand as they move away. The entire region is emptied of people like them: from towns to cities and from one city to another, in a spiral of depopulation and scarcity of opportunities that many speak of but which no one has, so far, remedied .