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The Workers' Movement and Political Change in Spain, 1956–1977

  • Xavier Domènech Sampere (a1)

“That the number of our Members be unlimited” … Today we might pass over such a rule as a commonplace: and yet it is one of the hinges upon which history turns. It signified the end to any notion of exclusiveness, of politics as the preserve of any hereditary elite or property Group … To throw open the doors to propaganda and agitation in this “unlimited” way implied a new notion of democracy, which cast aside ancient inhibitions and trusted to self-activating and self-organising processes among the common people.

E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class The decline of labor history in the research agenda of senior Spanish scholars matches the surprising interest in it of young researchers as indicated by the opening of new lines of research and the explosion of studies on other social movements that also have a strong class character in their origins. Moreover, despite the progressive decline of published academic research on the quintessential social movement, the truth is that its history is still crucial for understanding the political and social dynamics of the late Franco regime and the first years of democracy for at least two reasons.

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1. If we follow, for instance, the communications presented in the 1999 Francoism Research Meetings to this day, despite not maintaining the importance they had in the early years of these meetings, the decline of those aspects associated with the history of the workers' movement can be observed from another point of view. For instance, during the IV Valencia Meeting (1999), the themes on this subject were 26 of the total communications, only exceeded by those on the ideology, culture, and media. During the V Meeting in Albacete (2003), 29 of 115 communications were on labor; furthermore, at the VI Meeting in Zaragoza, 13 of 75 communications were on this subject. In fact, despite a noticeable decline of communications on class and labor during the 2003–2006 period, during some particularly prolific Francoism meetings, such as the meeting on the transition that took place in Barcelona (2005), 23 of 68 communications were associated with this theme. Nonetheless, during recent years, the specific theme of workers was displaced by studies on “popular” residential neighborhood movements, which has a clear class focus that enriches the studies of the working class during this period.

2. For the perception of the regime on the workers' movement toward the end of the dictatorship, see Ysàs, Pere, Dissidence i Subversion (Barcelona, 2004).

3. For these themes, see Victimas de la Guerra Civil (Madrid, 1999); Espinosa, Francisco, “La ocultación del genocidio” in Morir, Matar, Sobrevivir, ed. Casanova, Julián (Barcelona, 2002), 103114. [Editor's note: For a recent study of these issues in English along similar lines, see Preston, Paul, The Spanish Holocaust (New York, 2012).]

4. Casanova, Julián, “Las caras del terror” in Morir, Matar, Sobrevivir, ed. Casanova, Julián (Barcelona, 2002), 1941.

5. See, Font, Jordi, ¡Arriba el campo! Primer franquisme i actituds polítiques en l'àmbit rural nord-català (Girona, 2001); Mir, Conxita, “La colaboración en la represión,” Morir, Matar, Sobrevivir, ed. Casanova, Julián (Barcelona, 2002), 173182.

6. Vinyes, Ricard, Irredentas. Las presas políticas y sus hijos en las cárceles franquistas (Barcelona, 2002), 143.

7. Centro de Documentación de Historia Contemporánea del País Vasco, La huelga general del 1 de mayo de 1947 (San Sebastián, 1991); Ferri, Llibert, Muixí, Jordi, i Sanjuán, Eduardo, Las huelgas contra Franco (1939–1956) (Barcelona, 1978); Fanés, Felix, La vaga de tramvies del 1951 (Barcelona, 1977).

8. There is no official information for 1962 (in fact, the registers started in 1963); therefore, any estimate is an approximation and must be based on sources of the opposition itself, which are usually overestimated. Jordi Blanc (Manuel Castells), reproducing data from Nuestra Bandera (42–43, 1965), reports 659,360 workers participating in the 1962 strikes. Carme Molinero and Pere Ysàs, reduce this estimate to 200,000–400,000 participating workers. See Jordi Blanc, Las Huelgas del Movimiento Obrero Español, 274; Horizonte Español 1966, 249–74; Molinero, Carme and Ysàs, Pere, Productores Disciplinados y Minorías Subversivas (Madrid, 1998), 143. For an argument that in 1962, unlike what occurred in other cases, the opposition data underestimated, rather than underestimated, the conflict, see Vega, Rubén y Serrano, Begoña, El Movimiento Obrero en Gijón bajo el franquismo (1937–1962) (Gijon, 1998), 227–28.

9. Here, we are discussing only the emergence of the new workers' movement in relation to the changing conditions for the development of conflict. Evidently, this was not the only reinforcing factor in the process. There are at least three more to consider: the rise of a new worker culture under Franco, the creation of new social networks from the phenomenon of urban development, and migratory processes and the changes that occurred within the political opposition. In this case, and because of space constraints, we have decided to focus the analysis on only one of these factors, which is the factor that activates the new situation for the rest. For an argument discussing the transition from one conflict model to another, see Sampere, Xavier Domènech, Lucha de Clases, Dictadura y Democracia (Barcelona, 2012).

10. For the development of this model in three examples, see Riera, Ignasi and Botella, Joan, El Baix Llobregat. 15 años de luchas obreras (Barcelona, 1976), 2535; Palomero, Dora, Los trabajadores de ENASA durante el franquismo (Barcelona, 1196), 112–14; Junta Superior de la Policía de Barcelona, 1967–1968, box 274, ODAG File. Informes laborales, Historic Archives of the Civil Goverment of Barcelona (Archivo Histórico del Gobierno Civil de Barcelona) (AHGCB).

11. See Pérez, José Antonio, Los años del acero (Madrid, 2001), 265–67 and 280–82; Ibarra, Pedro, El movimiento obrero en Vizcaya: 1967–1977 (Bilbao, 1987), 49.

12. Babiano, José, Emigrantes, cronómetros i huelgas (Madrid, 1995), 237–46.

13. Foronda, Ángel Martínez, La conquista de la libertad. Historia de las comisiones obreras de Andalucía (1962–2000) (Sevilla, 2005), 130–55.

14. Sampere, Xavier Domènech, Clase obrera, antifranquismo y cambio político (Madrid, 2008), 95132.

15. For the history of these new forms of organization, see Ruiz, David et al. , eds., Historia de Comisiones Obreras (1958–1988), (Madrid, 1993).

16. For the role of the 1966 union elections, which were convened by the regime in an attempt to legitimate and to increase the social consensus, and the relevance of these elections to the maturation of the new workers' movement, which had significant success in them, see Domènech Sampere, Luchas de clases, dictadura y democracia, 149–61.

17. Xavier Domènech Sampere, 1999, Interview of Ginés Fernández Pérez, Projecte de biografies obreres. Fonts orals i militància sindical (1939–1978), Arxiu Històric de la Comissió Obrera Nacional de Catalunya (AHCONC).

18. Tejada, Sergio Rodríguez, “Estratègies d'oposició i moviment estudiantil antifranquista: una reflexió des del cas valencià,” Recerques 44 (2002), 139–72.

19. For the role of the workers' movement relative to the other social movements in the Catalan case, see Sampere, Xavier Domènech, “La reconstrucció de la raó democràtica”, en Construint la ciutat democràtica. El moviment veïnal durant el tardofranquisme i la transició, eds. Molinero, Carme and Ysàs, Pere (Barcelona, 2010), 132–45.

20. For a good definition of the sociopolitical meaning of the Worker Commissions (CCOO) to their protagonists, see: Debat. CCOO. 1968–1969: repressió i crisi,” Quaderns (1981), 111–12.

21. For an expanded explanation of the organizational changes and forms of collective action during this period, see Domènech, Luchas de clases, dictadura y democracia, 174–89.

22. See Foronda, Martínez de et al. , eds., La conquista de la libertad. Historia de las Comisiones Obreras de Andalucía (Cádiz, 2005), 234; Babiano, José, Emigrantes, cronómetros y huelgas (Madrid, 1998), 239; Domènech Sampere, Xavier, Quan el carrer va deixar de ser seu. Moviment obrer, societat civil i canvi polític. Sabadell (1966–1976) (Barcelona, 2002), 116–17.

23. For example, see Roda, José Antonio Gómez, Comisiones Obreras i repressió franquista (València, 2004).

24. See, Sampere, Xavier Domènech, “El partit dels moviments: tres moments d'una relació” in El PSU de Catalunya, 70 anys de lluita pel socialisme, ed. Pala, Giame (Barcelona, 2008), 207–43.

25. See Ugarte, Javier et al. , eds., La transición en el País Vasco y España (Bilbao, 1998); Pérez, Los años del acero; Rivera, Antonio et al. , eds., Dictadura y desarrollismo en Álava (Vitoria, 2009); Babiano, José, “Auge y declive de la ciudad proletaria: Madrid, del franquismo a la democracia” in El movimiento obrero en la gran ciudad, Barcelona, ed. Tebar, Javier (Barcelona, 2011), 177–94; Tusell, Javier y de Llano, Genoveva Queipo, Tiempo de incertidumbre. Carlos Arias Navarro entre el franquismo y la transición (Barcelona, 2003), 1316.

26. For an example, see Oscar Marin Garcia's admirable work, A tientas con la democracia. Movilización, actitudes y cambio en la provincia de Albacete, 1966–1967 (Madrid, 2009), 307 and 308309.

27. For two case studies on this process in two completely different realities, and also with different intensity, see Sampere, Xavier Domènech, Quan el carrer va deixar de ser seu. Moviment obrer, societat civil i canvi polític. Sabadell (1966–1976) (Barcelona, 2002); Martín García, A tientas con la democràcia.

28. See Pedro Ibarra, El movimiento obrero en Vizcaya: 1967–1977, 522; Guindal, Mariano y Giménez, Juan H., El Libro Negro de Victoria (Madrid, 1976), 104; Iriarte, José, Movimiento obrero en Navarra (1967–1977) (Pamplona, 1995), 283–84. For the Vitoria strike, see Carnicero, Carlos, La ciudad donde nunca pasa nada. Vitoria, 3 de marzo de 1976 (Vitoria, 2007).

29. Ibarra, El Movimiento obrero en Vizcaya, 495–500.

30. Iriarte, Movimiento obrero en Navarra, 275–87.

31. Ruiz, et. al., eds., Historia de Comisiones, 179–82.

32. Ibid., 284. Also: Gómez, José y Santidrián, Víctor, Historia de comisións obreriras de Galicia nos seus documentos (A Coruña, 1996), 309–87.

33. VVAA, Madrid en Huelga. Enero de 1976 (Madrid, 1976).

34. Balfour, Sebastian, La dictadura, los trabajadores y la ciudad. El movimiento obrero en el área metropolitana de Barcelona (1939–1988) (Valencia, 1994), 234.

35. Morales, Rafael, Transición política y conflicto social. La huelga en la construcción de Córdoba en 1976 (Córdoba, 1999); Botella and Riera, El Baix Llobregat. 15 años de luchas obreras; Carnicero, La ciudad donde nunca pasa nada.

36. This participation had its limits. In the June 1977 election, the PCE was not legal until April 1977; significantly, the PSUC was the main communist party in Spain until May, and the parties that had republican references in their names or symbols were not allowed to participate in the election. Nonetheless, the results—although surprising—left no room for doubts. The Francoist parties, despite presenting themselves as democrats in some areas, obtained only 43 percent of the votes, whereas those parties opposing Franco won 49 percent of the votes. This result, despite the electoral law assigning the majority to the Democratic Center Union, de facto transformed the upcoming Cortes into a constituent assembly, initiating the end of Francoism.

37. For a broad description regarding this loss of importance of the workers' movement as a political and social subject and regarding the recovery of the initiative and hegemony by the entrepreneurs within the process of Spanish political change, see Domènech Sampere, Lucha de clases, dictadura y democracia, 233–40.

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International Labor and Working-Class History
  • ISSN: 0147-5479
  • EISSN: 1471-6445
  • URL: /core/journals/international-labor-and-working-class-history
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