The secretary general of the trade union Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), Pepe Álvarez, has acknowledged to his organisation's executives, businessmen, members of parliament and senior commanders of the Armed Forces that the national defence industry "radiates technology, prosperity and generates wealth in Spain".
At the opening of the conference on "The defence industry: economic and social welfare engine" held in Madrid on 10 and 11 May and organised by the trade union and the Anastasio de Gracia Foundation, the UGT leader said that the sector will have "a very significant exponential growth in our country" in the coming years. "We, as a trade union organisation, do not want to be on the sidelines".
Pepe Álvarez reminded the Minister of Industry, Reyes Maroto, that the events of recent months in Europe indicate that defence and the Armed Forces have an "extraordinary strategic value in protecting our system of life and well-being". And she assured the minister and those present that "we do not want to fight it", in reference to the defence industrial sector. On the contrary, "we want to participate actively in what is going to be a substantial increase in defence".
Having just returned from Germany - where on 9 May he had attended the congress of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) - the UGT leader explained how Chancellor Olaf Scholz had given a speech in which he spoke of the "very important" budget increase that Germany is going to devote "to its military investments". In the light of Berlin's policy, the Spanish trade unionist is in favour of "making an effort as a country".
He is also in favour of opening "a national and public debate on defence in which the majority of citizens can participate". Along the same lines, Pedro Hojas, in his dual capacity as president of the Anastasio de Gracia Foundation and secretary general of the UGT Federation of Industry, Construction and Agriculture (UGT FICA), alluded to the fact that the first thing the sector has to do is "open up to Spanish society" and stop being "a little inbred".
The secretary for industrial policy of UGT FICA, Juan Antonio Vázquez, agrees with both and stressed the need "for everyone" to explain to Spanish society "with courage, clarity and transparency" that the defence industry "brings real benefits, contributes to improving the lives of all and favours the welfare state". What would Cadiz, Ferrol or Cartagena be without the defence industry, he asked.
Vázquez argued that the defence industry is a strategic sector for Spain and that, for this reason, "it must be considered a state issue and there must be consensus between the two major parties". And Pepe Álvarez projected his vision beyond the manufacture of weapons systems and pointed out that "behind" the research, development and innovation involved in the defence ecosystem there is much more. There are "a good part of the most important technological and medical advances that are produced on the planet", which is why he considers that "Spain should not be left on the sidelines".
In his opinion, it is "very important that the increase in defence investment is made from the perspective of public-private collaboration and with the involvement of universities". The defence business network "is not only there to defend our way of life and our values. It also serves to develop the country from a technological and social welfare point of view.
The man who has held the reins of the UGT since 2016 affirms that his "commitment to this sector makes perfect sense". "Time has shown us - he stressed - that having an important defence industry and an Armed Forces with full possibilities are not synonymous with war, but with peace, contrary to what some might think". We are a "pacifist" trade union organisation, but the sector offers stable, high-quality jobs, jobs that have a future and, as a country, under no circumstances do we have to give up".
Regarding the government's planned increase in defence investment to 2% of GDP, the trade union leader stressed that this should be done "without reducing social policies. Resources must not be taken away from the items dedicated to the welfare of citizens". It is necessary to achieve "sufficient and more efficient tax collection to respond to all needs", he pointed out.
In agreement with his leader, the secretary for industrial policy of UGT FICA also argues that the strengthening of the defence ecosystem "must not serve as a justification for possible cuts in social, health, pensions or education.
A veteran trade unionist at Airbus in its Seville factory, Vázquez wanted to send out two messages. The first is that "where there is a strong defence and a powerful industry, there is security, freedoms and improved health, pension and education systems for citizens".
His second call for attention was addressed to the institutions and, in particular, to the political parties "with possibilities of governing, whether alone or in coalition". "We must move from words to deeds" and in the coming months tackle a "law on the financing of military programmes, with multi-year budgets that go beyond five years, as is already in place in neighbouring countries such as France and Portugal".
Vázquez called on the government to ensure that its budgetary commitment to the defence industry "becomes a reality as of 2022". In the closing session, the secretary general of UGT FICA, Pedro Hojas, addressed those present: "I ask you to open up, to involve us in your debates. We are a chain of transmission and we will help to make everything much easier to understand". For his part, the head of the Union, Pepe Álvarez, asked his members to bear in mind that "today's defence is part of the need to protect the welfare state and our system of life".
At the Conference, the Secretary General for Industry, Raúl Blanco; the Director General for Armaments and Material, Admiral Aniceto Rosique; the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Plans Division, Air Force General Antonio Herrera; the Deputy Director General of Technological Planning, General José Luis Murga, as well as the MPs Ana Botella (PSOE) and Jesús Postigo (PP), the President of SEPI, Belén Gualda, the Professor of Economics Antonio Fonfria, senior officials from Airbus, Gahn, GMV, Indra, Inetum, Santa Bárbara Sistemas, Tecnobit and the Presidents of the associations TEDAE and AESMIDE.