Spain’s women of coal are singing, rising up and sitting down

The women of Asturias are singing En el pozo Maria Luisa.

For centuries, Asturias has relied on coal mining. For centuries, mostly men have gone down into the earth to pull out coal. They have been injured and killed by the lethal working conditions. For centuries, their families and communities have struggled and organized. For centuries, the men have sung a song of resistance, called En el pozo Maria Luisa, a song to Santa Bárbara Bendita, the patron saint of miners. They sang this song during miners’ uprisings and strikes, such as those in 1934 that rocked Spain, and they sang this song during the Civil War.

The song tells the story of an explosion in the infamous Maria Luisa mine. A miner comes home from a mine blast in which four miners were killed. He is covered in their blood, and in his own, his head split wide. And he calls to his wife, Maruxina, and has one request: “mirái.” “Look.”

“mirái, mirái Maruxina, mirái / mirái como vengo yo”.

Look. Look Maruxina, look. Look at how I am.

This is a song traditionally sung by men, but times are changing.

Last month, the Spanish government announced it would cut subsidies to the coal mining industry by 63%. That would mean the end of coal mining in Spain. And that would mean the end of the mining provinces: Asturias, Castile and León. The miners engaged in local actions, and then declared a general strike. They have organized a Black March, which should arrive in Madrid on July 11, when the Prime Minister will report on the bank bailout and the economy.

Though a distinct minority, there are women miners now in Asturias. Women such as Ana Sánchez, who is on the Black March. She marches for herself, for her comrades, for her community, for her daughter and granddaughters. Somewhere right now she is singing the words to En el pozo Maria Luisa: “mirái, mirái Maruxina, mirái / mirái como vengo yo”.

Before the miners started walking, another group leapt into action, the women of coal, las mujeres del carbon. On June 18, some 400 showed up at the Senate in Madrid, at the discussion of the budget. 110 were allowed into the chambers, and they raised a ruckus. They chanted, they roared, they thundered, “Aquí están, estas son, las mujeres del carbon”. “Here they are, and they are … women of coal.” And they stopped the proceedings, while they sang the words to En el pozo Maria Luisa.

They continued in the streets, and they continue to this day. Today, the Black March arrived in León. This morning, two hundred women went to the national highway that cuts through town, and they sat down. And they stopped traffic, all traffic, for two hours. And they sang: Look, look how I am.

A specter haunts Spain. Look: “Aquí están, estas son, las mujeres del carbon”. Look. They’re everywhere.


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About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.