Two days after the central government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, noted that the “black march” organized by protesting miners had been entirely without incident, the denouement of the 430-kilometer journey descended into violence in the center of the capital.
The 200 marchers were joined by thousands of sympathizers and members of the labor unions as they marched from Colón square to the doors of the Industry Ministry along nearby Paseo de la Castellana on Wednesday. Among the newcomers were members of the 15-M protest movement, teachers protesting cuts in education, families and politicians. Also among the throng — which the CCOO and UGT labor union expected to be 25,000 strong, although no official figures were available — were what an Interior Ministry spokesman described as “anti-system groups, armed with bottle rockets and bricks.”
Shortly after the march arrived at the Industry Ministry, violent clashes between police and protestors began to erupt. Some marchers attempted to break through the police barrier outside the ministry and all sorts of objects were hurled at security forces. Of the 76 people injured in the clashes, 42 were protestors and 33 were police officers. Also hurt in the mêlée was a photographer working for an online publication based in Asturias, one of the regions worst affected by the proposed cut of 63 percent in subsidies to the industry this year, which the sector fears would augur the end of coal mining in Spain.
Police made eight arrests — none of which were of miners — and employed rubber bullets after firing several warning salvos.
The black march had set out from coal mining regions across Spain — Asturias, León, Palencia and Aragon — with the intention of making its voice heard. “We’re like the Spanish football team, without dropping a cup,” joked Faustino Balaguer as he departed Puerta del Sol square on Tuesday evening at the beginning of the night protest march organized by the miners.
Thousands of supporters greeted the marchers with cries of “champions” and “this is our team,” inspired by Spain’s recent European success. Firefighters also joined the march as its numbers swelled ahead of the planned Wednesday stretch between Colón and the Industry Ministry, which was headed by the 200-odd veterans of the black march. “You are the pride of the working-class struggle,” was one of the most repeated slogans shouted by civilian participants.
“Coming here is the most honorable thing I have done in many years,” said Luis, a miner who had arrived on one of the 500 buses organized by mines across the country to ferry more protestors to the capital. “Our demands are justified.”
José Manuel Martínez, 12, was under no illusions as to why his father had brought him to Madrid. “If they close the mines, we’ll lose our homes,” he said.
The secretary generals of the UGT and CCOO labor unions, Cándido Méndez and Ignacio Toxo, who marched behind the leading miners, accused the government of bringing the conflict upon itself by acting with “injustice, insensitivity and a complete lack of intelligence” in its dealings with the sector.
No representative of the Industry Ministry, headed by José Manuel Soria, agreed to meet with the protestors on Wednesday.