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International Socialism, June/July 1969


P. Catala



From Survey, International Socialism (1st series), No.37, June/July 1969, pp.11-13.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In 1969, after 30 years of dictatorship, a State of Emergency was declared in Spain. This is a good time to analyse the present state of the fight against capitalism waged by the Spanish workers. On January 24th the State of Emergency was proclaimed following a sudden meeting of the Cabinet. The minister of information, Fraga Iribarne, had to justify the measure in the mass media: Its aim was:

‘... to end subversion, to spare Spanish youth from involvement in a French May, in an orgy of nihilism imposed by a rebellious minority skilfully manipulated from abroad.’

The measure has been generally interpreted as a fight for power within the government which was won by the ‘ultras’ and lost by the ‘evolutionists’. But the facts show that both sides agreed to direct the main force of the repression against the working class movement.

The strikes which followed the declaration of the State of Emergency, particularly strong in the industrial area of the Basque country, were not a mere response to the measure but the result of the negotiation of contracts, continuing political repression against militants, etc. [1] Trade union demands take on a political character due to the repression and the lack of trade union rights. The Milchelin factory at Lasarte, near San Sebastian, was occupied by the workers for 30 hours. They were evicted by the police and the official union refused to support their demand for the reinstatement of a shop steward who had been dismissed and deported to southern Spain. The coalmines of Asturias have been strike-ridden for months as safety conditions are so appalling that accidents occur almost continuously leading to large demonstrations. There was a strike on February 4th following an accident that killed two miners. Another continuous source of trouble is the lack of adequate provision for miners suffering from industrial sickness. General opposition to the new trade union law which is being prepared by the government has aggravated industrial unrest. There were also strikes in Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, etc, with a total of some 120,000 workers involved. All over Spain workers’ demands include: the freedom of detained militants, freedom to negotiate collective contracts through the workers’ elected representatives, minimum daily wage of 300 pesetas (less than two pounds), 44 hour week and 21 days of paid holiday.


The immediate consequences of the victory of Franco’s forces in the civil war had been the complete smashing of all workers’ organizations; the illegality of all strikes; the creation of ‘vertical’ fascist trade unions (sindicatos) membership of which was compulsory. All these measures aimed at controlling the workers and running a low-wage economy, which allowed the rapid accumulation of capital as an attempt to build a self-sufficient economy in the early years of Franco’s regime (1939-59). The government’s agrarian policy aggravated the old problems. It involved the increase of land values, restoration of land to landowners who had been expropriated, and inappropriate irrigation projects. [2] The increase of industrial production proceeded slowly and falteringly. The National Institute of Industry (INI) was created as an attempt to increase production through government investment in basic sectors. But the funds for that investment were extracted from the workers (the Spanish tax system is notorious for its heavy reliance on indirect taxes and tax evasion by the rich) and the new industrial plants reverted to private control after they became profitable. [3]

In the political field the consequences of the outcome of the Civil War were: banning of all political parties, except the Falange, and persecution of all opponents of the government, specially the CP. [4] Franco governed by maintaining an equilibrium between the various groups that had sided with him in the war, without allowing any of them to dominate. His first governments were composed of Falangists, army men and monarchists.

With the beginning of the Cold War the political and economic isolation of Spain ended. In 1953 a treaty of military co-operation was signed with the US and the American Export-Import Bank made a loan to the Spanish government. From 1958 on the technocratic Catholic tendency, Opus Dei, acquired importance within the government, without, however, dominating it. Two lines came to co-exist – the ‘ultras’ or hard-liners and the ‘liberal’ technocrats, the ‘evolutionists’.

Under the Stabilisation Plan of 1959-63 the aim became to prepare for the integration of Spain into the liberal capitalist system of Western Europe with foreign help, but mainly on the forced sacrifices of Spanish workers: wage freeze, higher interest rates, tax reform etc. Under the plan the industrial areas of the town grew, while the active population of the countryside fell by 60,000 every year. The growth of the industrial labour force favoured the creation of a working-class movement. The strikes in the spring of 1956 won increases in basic wages of 25 to 70 per cent. After the strikes of March 1958 the workers won the right to negotiate collective contracts, which became an important instrument of economic demands.

The working-class struggle gradually led to the creation of unofficial trade union groups. For example, in 1962 the ASO was created following another attempt two years earlier (the Alianza Sindical, AS). It regrouped three traditional organizations: the CNT, the UGT and the Basque Workers’ Solidarity. It got support from some European trade unions including the German IG Metal, but because of its purely trade union and anti-communist tendencies it never became a major influence. Other attempts were the USO (ex-catholic workers), VOJ (Young Workers Vanguard, of Jesuit inspiration) 1960 and in 1962, AST Alianza Sindical Trabajadora, independent but originating in the same tendency, FST, Federacion Sindical de Trabajadores, 1960.

The Workers’ Commissions, constituted in 1962 after the strikes in the Asturias coal-mines gave new form to the workers’ struggle. The Commissions are shop-floor organizations which take advantage of the democratic possibilities offered by the official unions at factory level, and take part in the negotiation of collective contracts. In their early years, the Commissions had no permanent set up; they were constituted or folded up according to the needs of current struggles. But since their participation in the elections for factory committees in 1966 their structure became consolidated at all levels (factory, area, national) and they emerged as a united opposition to the CNS (official union) whose aim was to build a democratic workers’ union. Although they are illegal, they have been recognized in some form by members of the government, including Solis, the official trade union chief, and by managers who find themselves forced to deal with them. From beginnings in the main industrial centres of the North and Madrid, the Commissions have spread to other areas, Valencia, Sevilla and Zaragoza. They tend to be strongest in large firms and they do not exist in all factories. Their building has been slow and very hard due to the difficulty of communications, continuous repression, sackings and imprisonment of militants. The main political tendencies within the Commissions are the CP Front.of Popular Liberation, AST, Marxist Leninist Party. The FLP predominates in Catalonia but the CP has a majority in most other areas. There are political groups not taking part in the work of the Commissions, for instance the Socialist Party and the UGT who are strong in the Bilbao area. And naturally many militants in the commissions are not members of any political group.

The Spanish Development Plan 1964-67, drawn up on the model of French indicative planning, attempted to increase industrial productivity by encouraging domestic and foreign investment and by government help to backward industries. The Plan was catastrophic for Spanish agriculture. It resulted in migration from the villages of 260,000 over a three-year period, which reduced the agricultural workforce to 30 per cent of the total (industry 35 per cent, services 34.6 per cent in 1966). But there was no corresponding modernization and increase in agricultural productivity.

Industrial growth was unbalanced, mainly concentrated in light industry (conversion sector). The acute crisis in the basic sector persisted. New industrial areas were created around Madrid, Sevilla, Zaragoza and Pamplona, and an atmosphere of prosperity spread. High levels of employment were maintained partly thanks to the planned migration of 60,000 workers to other European countries. This part of the plan was fulfilled in 1964 and 65 but in 1966 net migration was negative due to the growth of unemployment in Europe.

Rapid inflation led to the devaluation of the peseta in 1967, following the devaluation of Sterling. A total wage freeze was imposed in late 1967 which lasted for the whole of 1968.

During those years the institutions of the country changed. Despite its overwhelmingly middle-class composition the student body in the universities has gradually been politicised. The first protest took place in Madrid 1956. In 1965 the official students union collapsed following the capture by militants of union posts in the colleges and the complete loss of control by the government-appointed union bureaucrats. The students have organized around the unofficial Democratic Union and resisted government attempts to impose a semi-official union. The line of the Church has continued to be one of support for the government, but there are dissenters even within the hierarchy, as shown by the protests of some bishops against the State of Emergency.

Since 1956, following a change of leadership, the line of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) has been to advocate an alliance of all anti-Franco forces (Reconciliation Nacional) and the fight for a democratic government. This has been in line with the pacifism and coexistence line of other European CPs. The Spanish CP continued to preach a peaceful general strike which would make the government fall (but an early attempt to do this failed in 1959). In order to achieve the alliance of all progressive forces, the CP declares that they do not want a revolution. [5] The CP has been the most influential and most persecuted party. However, it is not the only force in the working-class movement (although it played a leading part in the setting up of the Workers’ Commissions). In the last two years the CP has lost influence in the universities, where the students have become interested in more revolutionary ideas.

The Situation Today

The wage freeze since 1967 has been an attempt to increase profits, but it has been broken by working-class pressure. Unemployment has risen continuously (700,000 in June 1968) and migration has not been a solution. Many emigrants have returned to Spain worsening the problem. Collective Contracts have not been renewed and many firms have sacked some of their workers despite the stiff Spanish legislation against redundancy. Altos Homos of Sagunto, for example, reduced the compulsory retirement age in order to get rid of their older workers. Effective government control of the working-class movement became more necessary than ever in this situation of economic difficulties. A new Trade Union Law is in the making, and to prepare the terrain for its trouble-free acceptance the Terrorism and Banditry Bill was enacted in the summer of 1968.

Since the end of 1967 the repression of the workers’ movement has grown. Elected shop-floor representatives who belonged to the Workers’ Commissions and availed themselves of existing legal trade union rights to negotiate, to meet, etc. have been removed by the union hierarchy. Many militants were arrested and thrown into jail. In August 1968 an attempt was launched from Madrid to finally smash all industrial opposition. This was called ‘Operacion Central’. As a result, several hundred members of the Commissions were arrested and tortured in a few months. These measures produced a popular reaction of indignation and led to the letter of protest sent by 1,500 intellectuals to the Minister of Justice. At the same time the combativity of the students increased with a number of commando actions.

However, the danger to the government did not come from these student actions but from the growing discontent among the workers. The refusal of many firms to renew collective contracts in terms acceptable to the workers led to strikes. The partial lifting of the wage freeze in January 1969, with a government determined ceiling for wage increase, was not accepted by the workers. In the face of continuing opposition the government required stronger political resources to destroy all resistance.

The State of Emergency has to be understood in this context and not simply as a lunatic measure imposed by the ‘ultras’ who panicked in the face of student unrest.

End of Emergency?

On March 22nd the government announced that the State of Emergency was going to be lifted, the causes for its imposition having disappeared. Several ministers petitioned Franco in this respect in view of the fall of foreign investment and to avoid a large drop in the number of tourists visiting Spain in Easter and the summer holidays, plus worsening prospects of entry into the Common Market and of the chances to renew the military agreement with the USA.

The State of Emergency has been a hard blow to the working-class movement, but its end does not mean the end of the repression. Arrests of militants have continued as the industrial struggle continues also. The ceiling on wage increases is being broken in many negotiations. More important, this experience has compelled the militants in the workers’ Commissions to think about their orientation, towards pure trade union demands or the wider political objectives of the total transformation of society. While carrying on the fight for basic freedoms, the Spanish working class is today faced with the dilemma of either co-operating in the consolidation of monopoly capitalism or use this fight as a step towards revolutionary objectives. To this idea corresponds the new structure which the Commissions are building in some areas of Catalonia and Madrid, which is based in areas and localities rather than on firms and industries and aims at participation in all local struggles and involvement of students, specially in the Youth Commissions (COJ).


1. See article in Socialist Worker on the strike in Altos Hornos de Vizcaya.

2. See C.E.Q. Garcia, De L’Autarcie Economique au Plan de Development, Partisans 34-35, 1967.

3. Lopez Munoz and Garcia Delgado, Crecimiento y Crisis del Capitalismo Español, Madrid 1968, EDICUSA.

4. See Luis Ramirez, Nuestros Primeros 25 Anos, Paris 1964, Ruedo Iberico.

5. Santiago Carrillo, Nuevos Enfoques a Problemas de Hoy, 1967 Editions Sociales, Paris.

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