Cartagena, a city in the southeast of the peninsula, is geographically characterized as a port enclave, a strategic location for the installation of the first petrochemical industry complex on the peninsula. It was the beginning of a cycle of economic reorientation in the post-Franco war period, highly influenced by the United States and the imposition of a developmentalism dependent on oil and fossil fuels. In a few decades, companies related to fuels, fertilizers and mining were established that represented a turning point in the economic and demographic growth of the famished municipalities of Cartagena and La Unión, but also generated significant environmental impacts. Among them, one of the most important ecological disasters in Europe: that of Portman Bay. In some territories, its people have had no other way to jump on the bandwagon of economic development than to poison themselves and sell themselves to extractivist logic, and Cartagena, which never had the power to decide on these industries, thus obtained the title of the dirtiest city in the world. Condition. The smoke from the factories was the main welcome sign in the city, affecting the health of the population.
The award-winning documentary The year of discovery, by Luis López Carrasco, focuses on intense months of riots in Cartagena, when much of that industrial fabric was coming to an end. The film points to the historical antecedents and the consequences of the industrial “reconversion”, looking towards the Francoist past and the poverty of those years, the scarce political weight of the Region of Murcia -and even more so of Cartagena- in the political panorama, but also to a not very exciting present for the daughters and sons of that generation of laid off workers and families left to their fate.
But these lines speak of what the documentary does not tell. Where are the experiences of women? There are at least three important silences linked to the maintenance and recomposition of lives. We have chatted with some women who know this story well.
One: the shifts
The petrochemical industry that caused the “Spanish economic miracle” in Cartagena was operating continuously. A week in the morning, a week in the afternoon, a week at night, ten days off and start over. Shifts that bust you.
Sonia, a 36-year-old from Cartagena, now works rotating shifts in a petrochemical plant, the same job her father had, one of the workers laid off in 1992. For her, “the most difficult thing about working shifts is that you don’t have the routine of Nobody, you don’t know the day you live. And, although among the seven days of work I have two pounds, which are not two because the one I’m freeing you leave work in the morning, I sleep all morning and I have the afternoon and the day next. Then you have the feeling that it is 21 days of continuous work. You are dragging it because your body does not rest “.
These were the rhythms and working conditions of many of the nuclear families that lived in the municipalities of Cartagena and La Unión; possible rhythms because those factories had, in their invisible workforce, the women – couples and other family ties – of those workers. They were in charge of taking care of the house, managing the economy, caring for creatures whose rhythms were antagonistic to those of the industry, sustaining and repairing the lives of those workers and their families in what Carol Lopate, in Women and Pay for Housework (Women and Salary for Housework), calls the “last frontier in which people keep their souls alive.” An essential job for that industry since it produced, without obtaining rights for it, the most precious thing for its operation: the workforce.
That these women were part of this invisible workforce is confirmed when they also suffered from occupational diseases resulting from work in the industry. Cartagena is one of the areas with the most people killed by asbestos in the State and, although the majority of the deceased are male workers of companies in Cartagena, for every almost three men a woman dies: couples or daughters who were in charge of washing clothes of the workers.
Two: the fight
Capitalism has a role assigned to each territory and the Spanish State is Europe’s “vacation spot”. The transition inherited a heavy industry, run by entrepreneurs hired by the Franco regime and who knew how to handle themselves in the conditions of exploitation, lack of rights and regulation of a dictatorship, but not in a scenario of trade union freedoms and the opening of Spain to international markets. The socialist government of Felipe González, while speaking of industrial reconversion and modernization, liquidated sectors and public companies or left them in the hands of European multinationals. Some took factories to their countries.
The so-called “reconversion” threatened some 15,000 jobs in the municipalities of Cartagena and La Unión, affecting the mining, shipyard, fertilizer and refinery sectors. They were months of intense struggle in each of the industries: in the shipyards –Bazan– 127 demonstrations were organized in 180 days; in the Peñarroya factory – metallurgy – they participated in 186 demonstrations in 4 months –117 of them continuous– and put pressure on hunger strikes. 150 demonstrations were organized by the fertilizer companies.
Without the role of women, that fight would have been simply impossible. How do you maintain months of continuous and intense mobilizations without a vast network of care that continues to sustain life? A network that, by the way, also made possible the participation of women – once again invisible – in these mobilizations. La Finuchi, Sonia’s mother, told me about the bustle of those months: “I went to Murcia, I went to Cartagena. We women moved, my mother stayed with the children, we asked a bus to go to Murcia. We were moving for several months. Where they said we were going. And my husband was going too. ”
The end of the movie was written.
The defeat left many families in a shitty situation, economically and psychologically, compounded by the feeling that they had done everything in their power, that they had tried hard, that they had fought all they could and that it was useless. . This defeat is reflected in the documentary in the accounts of the depressions and psychological and psychological suffering of some of the fired workers, in the resignation and anger of those unemployed who, however militant, got under the tables. They obviously weren’t the only ones to suffer those consequences. Finuchi remembers it very well: “I took a very strong depression, really. Because I saw, hell, those who say they are socialists, and don’t help us, we were with the unions and they didn’t do anything. I mean we moved a lot And it was useless. Felipe González sold everything and led us all to ruin. So, you see the falsehood and the lie. And nothing aunt, nothing. ”
But it was more important not to eat the savings, especially when the severance pay came ten years later: “I had three small children to support, so I told Maruja if I knew a woman to take care of and then I started taking care of to an older woman, Doña Margarita de la Serna, who used to go in the mornings to bring help into the house. My husband went out into the street, to see what he got, but na, four hard. And we were bad, but A lot of people had a worse time, I also say so. They took away the house from others, if they didn’t have enough to eat, how would they pay for the house.
Luis –fictitious name– talks little about when his father was fired from the Peñarroya company, which for more than 30 years dumped 7,000 tons of waste with zinc, cadmium, reactive residues and lead in the Bay of Portmán for more than 30 years. He says that “everything that his mother had endured”, who, in addition to continuing to raise Luis and his two sisters and looking for a few hours of work taking care of minors, had to deal with her husband’s alcoholism problems after the loss. of employment. He was not the only one, the bar and alcohol became the common elements for some of those workers who did not have or could not find other elements with which to rebuild their identity as breadwinner of the family.
Many women thus assumed the responsibility of bringing income home – hardly a salary – and women’s networks were once again key to sustaining life at home. Sonia remembers that her mother “spent five years working outside the home. Although I was little, I do remember that, because it was like my mother was leaving my house and I was always with my grandmother.” His sister Laura, who was older, was aware of other tensions and problems, but also that it was the time when he was able to spend more time with his father: “My father took me with 127 to high school. I stop, those four years it took me every day. He didn’t go to the bar because my mother was worried about money and she told him: ‘Boy, you can’t stay at the bar for so long, we’re not going to make ends meet , that we have three children. ‘My mother had it cut out, go. And it is thanks to her, thanks to my mother, it is that my father has a penny “.
Epilogue: the present
Almost 20 years later, the testimonies in the documentary of the youngest people and of some and some protagonists of those events, show little expectations, alternatives or simply hopes for the future – and for the present -. It is foreseeable to find this void if we only look at employment without talking about the whole of life.
For 3 hours and 20 minutes, the role that women had in supporting those workers and their families, in the struggles and mobilizations, in the recomposition of those homes, families and workers fired after the defeat was ignored. If the aesthetics and the bar in which the documentary takes place have an anachronistic aspect, the focus solely on the sphere of employment and the questions that are posed for the present and the future are also anachronistic. As if decades of neoliberalism had not passed us by, but neither have the approaches that have been put on the table by feminist, environmental, and anti-racist movements, among others. Spaces where there is also talk of unionism, but of a social unionism, biosindicalismo or feminist unionism; in short, a trade unionism that does not focus on employment, but on the set of jobs, territories, subjects and resources necessary for the maintenance and reproduction of life.
These lines are dedicated to La Finuchi, to Luis’s mother and to all those women and women’s networks without whom it would not be possible to sustain life; the mobilizations, resistance and struggles and the recomposition of the defeated bodies; while “the history of the working class” continues to make them invisible.