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Paul Harrison &
Ian H. Birchall

Spain: The Prospects

(May 1976)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.88, May 1976, pp.25-29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE present crisis in Spain must be understood in terms of a coming together of economic and political factors. After the Civil War Franco built an economy based on state regulation and import controls. It was 1950 before levels of production had reached pre-Civil War figures. The economy was stagnating and it became clear to the Spanish ruling class that it needed to look outwards. In the first instance aid and bases were negotiated with the United States. By the late 1950s Spain was beginning to be reintegrated in the world capitalist economy, with the rise to power of the ‘liberal’ technocrats of the Opus Dei faction. In consequence the national budget was balanced in 1960 for the first time in years, and the foreign trade balance actually revealed a slight surplus.

During the sixties there followed a period of rapid industrial growth. This meant a rapid increase in the size of the working class. The percentage of the active population engaged in agriculture dropped from 54.8 per cent in 1940 to 27 per cent in 1970. There was a massive influx of new workers into the industrial areas. At the same time, large numbers of Spanish workers emigrated to find employment elsewhere in Europe. By 1966 it was estimated that 850,000 Spaniards were working in other European countries. The remittances from these emigrant workers, combined with the huge income from tourism, changed the balance of payments deficits into surpluses.

The development of the Spanish economy forced the Spanish bourgeoisie into closer contact with the Common Market. In 1970 a preferential trade agreement, covering a period of six years, and seen as a first step to Spain’s integration into the Common Market, was signed between Spain and the EEC. The EEC agreed to reduce tariffs over a period of six years by an average of 63 per cent on 93 per cent of industrial goods imported from Spain into the EEC, and by an average of 27 per cent on 64 per cent of the EEC’s imports of Spanish agricultural products.

However, the Spanish bourgeoisie’s hopes of a smooth integration into the advanced economies of Western Europe were dashed by the world economic crisis that began to develop in the early 1970s. Since Spain went into the crisis late, its hopes of benefiting from the much heralded boom are slim. Unemployment has risen to 5 per cent of the active population, and the situation is aggravated by the fact that unemployment elsewhere in Western Europe means that emigration is no longer a solution for unemployment in Spain. Inflation is running at close to 20 per cent, and in 1975 the GNP rose by only 0.8 per cent, as compared with figures of up to 10 per cent in the boom period. All this means that the economic space for political manoeuvre is very limited.

The Crisis of the Bourgeois Reform Strategy

THE team of men who have been running Spain since Franco’s death were Franco’s accomplices. They ruled with him for decades; now they rule without him. That alone should be enough to convince us that their strategy for reform is strategy purely and simply in the interests of the Spanish ruling class.

The reform strategy has two basic motives. Firstly, faced with a rising level of working-class combativity, the Spanish ruling class need to give some sort of institutionalised recognition to representatives of the labour movement, in order to have some kind of intermediary in the event of confrontation. The present aim appears to be to legalise the PSOE, but not the Communist Party. This may fail as the PSOE are insisting on the legalisation of the Communist Party. Efforts will doubtless be made to buy them off, but if they fail the regime can certainly survive a legalised Communist Party.

The second aim is to gain admittance to the European Common Market. For reasons deriving from the Common Market’s pretensions to democracy and the presence in its leading organs of social-democrats attached to parties with memories of the Spanish Civil War, this will be impossible unless there is at least some form of liberalisation.

So,the scenario planned by Franco’s successors is the slow introduction of a number of democratic reforms,with elections some time in 1977, but great care will be taken to learn from the Portuguese experience and not let things get out of control.

Such a strategy necessarily requires a delicate balancing act. Moreover, any government trying to carry it through inevitably opens itself to criticism from both left and right.

The problems of Spain’s rulers are aggravated by the world economic crisis. Faced with recession and inflation, they find that even if they wanted to buy off the working class, they have precious little possibility of doing so. This has already led to tensions within the Government. When the Finance Minister Villar Mir introduced the 1976 budget, he stated that ‘The race between prices and wages has been won by wages’. It was an open secret that many of his colleagues in the government considered that such an attempt to blame inflation on workers’ wages was politically inept, and the official paper of the state trade unions. Pueblo has regularly criticised the Finance Minister. (Le Monde, 4-5 January 1976).

Another complication is that even if the government solve the internal problems, they may have difficulties in gaining admission to the Common Market. While France, Belgium and West Germany are supporting Spanish entry, Britain, Holland, Denmark and Italy are all at present hostile. (Economist, January 31) One factor that may affect their calculations is that if Spain and Greece (and possibly Portugal) all join the EEC, the plans for political consolidation of the EEC will face new difficulties.

A partial consolation is the fact that the military agreement signed between Spain and the US in January brought Spain a considerable amount of military and economic aid. This may lead the Spanish ruling class to consider whether its interests lie closer to Europe or the US. As Prime Minister Arias Navarro told Newsweek in January:

‘Either Europe recognises our role as a natural ally or Spain will have to limit the use of its military bases to the needs of the US and of the Spanish people.’ (reported Le Monde, January 6).

All this means that the Spanish government is far from a united and coherent body. The Economist (March 13) reported on the political tensions that are emerging between its leading members:

‘The cabinet is feeling the strain of the complex politicking imposed upon it by the need to lay the foundations of a democracy while pretending to respect the elderly dogma of Franco’s anti-democratic National Movement. Military ministers are unhappy about the strikes and Mr Fraga’s talk of democratization. Mr Fraga has contradicted Mr Are/tea’s statement that the Communist leader, Mr Santiago Carrillo, will be allowed to return. There is a gap between Mr Fraga and the prime minister, Mr Arias, who is not keen to be the fall guy for a reformist operation that may go further than he would like. ‘There is also the problem of Mr Villar Mir, the Finance Minister, whites considered a liability by some of his colleagues. Having tolerated for too long a major flight of capital, issued a tactless call for belt-tightening, and then devalued the peseta without taking the complementary measures needed to obtain maximum benefit from it, Mr Villar has angered workers, businessmen and administration alike.’

The divisions in the cabinet are sufficiently open to the opposition outside that it was possible for Felipe Gonzalez, leader of the PSOE, to state:

‘Fraga is the only member of the government who has a programme to carry out.’ (Cited Intercontinental Press, March 8).

These conflicts to some extent reflect conflicts between the social forces in play.

At the time of the strikes in early March, Le Monde (March 10) reported conflict between the political strategy of the government and the economic needs of the employers.

The financial policies of Villar Mir are seen as being in the interests of the big banks and the multinationals and are therefore arousing the hostility of the small and middle-sized firms which constitute a large section of the Spanish economy. As a result some sections of the capitalist class are turning to the Democratic Convergence.

Moreover, there is conflict between the various political institutions. Representatives of the extreme right are strong in the Council of the Kingdom, which has tried to block the government’s plans, and in the Cortes. At one meeting of the Cortes defence commission, Mr Pedrosa, an old Falangist, described the University as being a ‘Marxist bunker’; his son had participated in a ‘Christ the King’ guerrilla attack on the Madrid law faculty. (Le Monde, February 22).

The extreme right do not necessarily share the interests of Spanish capitalism. Whereas the sections of big capital linked to the multinationals see the EEC as an essential component of their future, the Falangist leader Jose-Antonio Giron has publicly attacked Ministers who were ‘begging at the gates of Western Europe’. (Le Monde, March 21)

But the Spanish bourgeoisie is wisely not putting all its eggs in one basket. If the present government does stumble and fall from the tight-rope, there are other bourgeois forces to replace it. A number of bourgeois liberal opposition groups have come into existence, taking a position of criticising the government for the slowness of reform, but not querying the basic premises of its strategy. Probably the largest grouping are the Christian Democrats, who on February 1st, held a legal conference of over three hundred delegates in Madrid. The Christian Democrats believe they and their allies could win more popular support than the present regime. One leading Christian Democrat said in January:

‘We don’t need violence or subversion because we know there is a clear majority in the country for a democratic regime. But ministers are frightened of democracy, because with the possible exception of Fraga and Areilza they would all be defeated in a free election.’ (Economist, January 24).

Meanwhile, the extreme right are also mobilising. Guerrilla attacks on the left are becoming more frequent. Recently the director of Doblon, a moderately reformist economic journal, was kidnapped by right-wing guerrillas, taken into the hills thirty miles from Madrid, assaulted and told to leave Spain within three days or he and his family would be killed. (Le Monde, March 10) For the moment the extreme right serve as a means of intimidating the left rather than as an alternative contender for power: but if the bid to enter the EEC finally fails, then more sections of the bourgeoisie might see the extreme right as the safest bet.

Faced with a growing challenge from the working class, the government’s reforms will be more and more clearly revealed as illusory. The bourgeoisie will then have to select an alternative, either to the left or the right. In such a situation the role of the army, where left and right are organising, can be crucial.

The Workers’ Organisations

BUT the bourgeoisie’s ability to save the situation will depend crucially on the strength of the political challenge from the Spanish working-class organisations.

Any account of these must begin with the Communist Party (PCE). It was formed in 1920 and was still a small organisation (800 members) [1] when the Second Republic was founded in 1931. By the beginning of 1936 it was still only 10,000 members strong. [2]

During the Civil War the PCE increased its membership enormously, partly from the working class and also from the ranks of the petit bourgeoisie whose small holdings and businesses were being threatened by the collectivisations of the Anarcho-Syndicalists. The new recruits were attracted to the Party by the Popular Front policy, which meant that its strategy was to block with various Republican parties against working class organisations in order to keep the political struggle of the time within the limits of a fight to defend the Republic. This strategy often meant the repression of genuine working-class organisations.

After the defeat of 1939 the Party managed to maintain its organisation in Spain during the following period of repression and isolation. Because it was virtually the only organisation continuing to resist Franco inside Spain it started to gain the respect of large numbers of workers. After ‘de-Stalinisation’ in 1956, the political line of the PCE stressed a policy of ‘National Reconciliation’, i.e. the need to unite all ‘patriotic and anti-fascist’ forces of the nation to achieve the end of the dictatorship by ‘peaceful and democratic means’. By the late fifties it had not built a very solid base, and its clandestine trade union, the Organisazacion Sindical Obrera, had not achieved very much. This was soon disbanded when the Collective Bargaining Law was introduced in 1958 and a new form of workers’ organisation grew up.

The Collective Bargaining Law decreed that in future wage negotiations would be carried out between workers and management without state interference. The intention was to harness workers to the aims of their employers. In fact, the opposite happened. The bottom layer of the fascist unions, which was supposed to do the negotiating, was usually more on the side of management than of workers. So workers started to set up their own organisations, the workers’ commissions, in order to mobilise for better wages and conditions. During this time (1962-63), the workers’ commissions led many strikes and commissions were particularly well developed in the industrial areas of Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and the Basque country. The commissions usually existed in any real form only for the duration of the struggle and then would withdraw into isolation. Some of the more conscious militants tried to create permanent workers’ commissions, but they were usually little more than informal groups of militants meeting together secretly to discuss the problems of their factory. With the growth of the workers’ commissions, which had taken the Communist Party and the rest of the left by surprise, the Party ordered its members to attempt to control them.

In 1966 the Falangist bureaucrats of the fascist unions made an attempt to bring the workers’ struggles back into their unions by holding elections for a few posts. Alone among the groups on the left, the PCE considered this to be a challenge on the part of the bureaucrats which had to be accepted. They put up candidates and waged a campaign everywhere they had influence. This was quite successful and their candidates were elected at all levels in most of the major industrial regions. The problem with this policy is that the fascist unions are generally distrusted by workers for very good reasons; and that it exposes militants to victimisation and pressure is put on workers to vote the right way by management; e.g. in some factories voting is in the manager’s office and in his presence. While the PCE made gains in the elections a lot of militants exposed in the process were thrown out and sometimes brutally suppressed in the period up to 1969.

Most other groups on the left from the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party) to the revolutionaries have taken the position of boycotting the elections. In the most recent elections the left campaigned for a boycott with a large degree of success. For example, in Madrid, the percentage of abstentions ranged from 20 per cent to almost 100 per cent. In Barcelona a similar picture emerges; in one workplace with 500 potential voters, only 30 votes were cast, of which 22 were blank. In the Basque Country the level of boycott was highest; in Guipuzcoa the average percentage of abstentions was 50 per cent; in many factories the elections were cancelled because of the workers’ boycott. [3]

The rising level of struggle and the success of Communist Party-supported candidates in the official trade union elections is also leading discussion about the whole question of organisation. Within the Communist Party some currents (represented mainly by the PSUC – Catalan Communist Party) want to move towards liquidating the workers’ commissions in favour of work in the legal unions, while an opposite tendency, represented by Camacho favours parallel work using both the legal unions, and the workers’ commissions on a factory level. [4]

There are two other trade union federations. The USO (Union Sindical Obrera) has links with the CFDT in France; it is in favour of workers’ management and co-operatives rather than nationalisation. Under the influence of events in Portugal, the PSOE has recently been building up its union, the UGT. The PCE and USO are in favour of one single trade union federation, the UGT are opposed, being in favour of political unions. The relative strengths of the federations are difficult to estimate. The Economist (January 31, 1976) suggests that of those on strike in Madrid during January, half were influenced by the workers’ commissions and a third by USO and the UGT.

Between November 1968 and February 1969 a ‘state of siege’ was declared throughout the country. During this time thousands of working-class militants were arrested, jailed and worked over in the police stations. As pointed out earlier, the job of the police was made easier by the PCE’s policy of infiltrating the fascist unions. The workers commissions movement appeared to have been completely destroyed. But by the early seventies new workers’ commissions had been set up, this time presented as autonomous organisations of the working class.

In Barcelona fifty factories were linked together by a co-ordinating committee. But again they suffered from having to operate in clandestinity. During periods of struggle there was often the possibility of mass meetings where the workers commissions could be elected and could be controlled by the workers. At other times they became just talking shops for militants. That is, if they had not suffered from repression or the sectarianism of left-wing organisations. In the absence of mass struggle, workers’ commissions would be set up by any group of militants in a factory, often just the militants of one political organisation. This led to a situation where in some factories, with members of several different political groups, there were several different workers’ commissions.

Similarly, the co-ordinating committees did not mean very much as they consisted of activists in isolation. All this is not to downgrade the workers’ commissions; in times of struggle they have been genuinely autonomous working-class organisations.

Having set out the general picture of the labour movement, we can now turn to the political organisations. The PCE is continuing the Popular Front strategy with a vengeance Santiago Carrillo (Secretary General of the PCE) and Calvo Serrer announced the formation of the Democratic Junta in June 1974. Calvo Serrer is an ex-member of Opus Dei he now claims to be a ‘liberal monarchist’. His links with various fascist organisations in the past show the breadth of the Democratic Junta. Apart from the PCE and Serrer’s Agrupacion, the Junta contains the Confederacion Socialista, which comprises the PSP (Popular Socialist Party), which split from the PSOE, the FID (Independent Democrats), and numerous regional socialist groups. The politics of the Junta are summed up by a quote from Mundo Obrero (PCE newspaper) of January 22 1975:

‘Today the Democratic Junta covers a wide sweep of social forces from left to right, from the working class to the dynamic sectors of capital.’

Its twelve-point programme is a programme for parliamentary democracy with no mention of socialism, and includes such gems as Point 8:

‘The political neutrality of the army and its exclusive professional dedication to external defence.’

As one writer describes the Junta:

‘The only political bodies excluded by definition from the Junta are the Spanish Government itself and the so-called extreme right of the Falange.’ [5]

This alliance with the ‘dynamic sectors of capital’ means, of course, that the PCE leadership has to prove its strength by mobilising the working class, and also its suitability for government by restraining the working class.

This has led the party to oppose some strikes. For example, when 200,000 workers in the Basque country were on strike. Party members distributed leaflets opposing it. This has meant that the PCE has lost support in some industrial areas.

The other main alliance is the Platforma de Convergencia Democratica (Democratic Convergence). Thus brings together the PSOE, the UGT, Christian Democrats, Basque National Party, Carlist Party, Movimiento Comunista (Maoist) and various other social-democratic groupings and regional Christian Democrat groups. This alliance also contains ‘ex-fascists’. Joaquin Ruiz Gimenez, the leader of the Christian Democrats is a former President of Perkings Hispania, subsidiary of the Massey Ferguson multinational. He was a member of the fascist Falange in the Civil War and served as an officer in Franco’s forces. It is clear that the Democratic Convergence will attempt to emulate Soares’ success in Portugal, putting themselves forward as the guardians of democracy and backed by the US and European Social Democracy. But, as in Portugal, this will not preclude temporary alliances with the Communist Party. The Democratic Junta and the Democratic Convergence are at present in negotiations for joint action against Juan Carlos, but it is not clear how stable such an alliance can be. (A formal alliance of the Junta and the Convergence has now been ratified – Ed.)

Another important factor in the situation is the various nationalist organisations. The best-known of these is ETA V in the Basque Country. Until the early seventies, ETA consisted of largely middle-class elements, and the movement was dominated by a petit bourgeois ideology. But more recently there was a growing influence of working-class activists which tried to change ETA’s politics to class politics. This culminated in a split at the Sixth Congress where ETA VI split from ETA and subsequently joined the LCR (Liga Comunista Revolucionaria), the Spanish section of the Fourth International (Mandel). The remainder of ETA is now known as ETA V, and is the section well known for its guerrilla activity.

During the sixties a large number of small left-wing groups emerged. The Russia-China split and the reformism of the PCE gave rise to a number of Maoist groups. The PCE’s break with Moscow even gave rise to a pro-Moscow Communist Party, and a non-stalinist left grew out of radical Catholicism and guerrillaism, and has developed a political analysis which takes as its starting point the POUM and possibly has traces of anarcho-syndicalism.

The PCE split with Moscow after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. It is said that Dolores Ibarruri (‘La Pasionaria’), leader of the PCE then living in Moscow, visited Brezhnev just before the invasion imploring him not to send in Russian troops as it would set the Communist movement back ten years. She was ignored and the PCE is now completely independent of Moscow. In 1970 the Russians set up a rival Communist Party, the PCOE (Spanish Communist Workers Party), headed by Enrique Lister. It appears to be very small but did oppose the PCE’s participation in the fascist union elections.

There has been a proliferation of Maoist groups which have taken positions ranging from critical support of the PCE’s strategy to FRAP who advocate guerrilla struggle.

One of these groups, Bandera Roja (Red Flag), split from the PCE and in a pamphlet [6] published two or three years ago criticised the PCE for:

  1. losing influnce in the workers’ movement because of the increasing revisionism of their slogans, in particular the demand for anmesty, petitions to Bishops, etc.;
  2. uselessly compromising itself by participation in the sindicatos verticales (fascist unions);
  3. making a pact with the so-called evolutionist sectors of the oligarchy;
  4. the recruitment of middle-class elements into the party for lack of ability to attract workers;
  5. the view of the army as potentially a patriotic force which will defend the Spanish people instead of enslave them as it did in 1936.

Bandera Roja has since split, with a large section going back into the PCE. The remainder gives total support to the Democratic Junta.

A similar thing happened with the Oposicion de Izquierdas (Left Opposition). After a year outside the PCE in which a number of the PCE’s more pacifist and social-democratic characteristics came under fire, they have now re-entered the PCE. Another Maoist group which has fallen into line behind the Democratic Junta is the PT (Labour Party), formerly the Partido Comunista Internacional. One of its leaders is quoted as saying:

‘We have a number of reservations about the Democratic Junta, but we are in agreement on the essential things. We do not renounce the revolution nor the principles of Marxism-Leninism, but we are now beginning a transitory period. The essential point today is to fight against the Franco dictatorship’. [7]

One of the Maoist groups which has managed to make a more pronounced break with the PCE (M-L) (Communist Party of Spain Marxist-Leninist), whose front organisation is FRAP. They advocate a Popular Federated Republic which would be a kind of coalition between the small and medium bourgeoisie and working class against the monopolist bourgeoisie. They are well-known for some very heroic guerrilla operations; they seem to consist largely of students.

There are two other groups, the MCE (Communist Movement of Spain) and the ORT (Organisation of Revolutionary Workers). These groups have deeper roots in the working class, especially in the Basque Country. They disagree with PCE (ML) on the importance of work in the workers’ commissions, in which they are active. Both ORT and MCE were in the Democratic Convergence, but ORT left it in November last year.

There are many groups on the non-Stalinist revolutionary left. The CNT (Anarcho-syndicalist trade unions) has now virtually disappeared, but one can detect its influence in some of the groups. The POUM still exists. Having suffered Stalinist repression during the Civil War and later fascist repression, it still manages to maintain an organisation with some, though small, base in Spain. Many Spanish revolutionaries characterise it as an ‘ex-combatants club, but with no capacity to open new directions, it sits instead as the custodian of a rich political history, waiting to transmit that history to the post-war generation.’ It has been the point of departure for those trying to develop a revolutionary position.

The revolutionary left is still very small, few of the groups are organised nationally. Some of the revolutionary groups split from the FLP (Popular Liberation Front). This was a Castroite grouping which came to a revolutionary position while in the HOAC (a legal organisation of Catholic workers which organised to fight for higher wages and conditions). It was one of the earliest forms of workers’ organisation under Franco and was largely left alone due to its claim to be a religious body. The FLP carried out numerous guerrilla actions and had some measure of support, particularly in Catalonia in the early sixties. The FLP appears to have been responsible for the increasing working-class influence in ETA which gave rise to split of ETA VI. And there have been other tendencies in the FLP which have rejected guerrillaism and turned to working in the class.

One of these groups is Accion Comunista (AC). AC argue that in the short-term their priorities are democratic demands, work around the unemployed and building the workers’ commissions into a mass movement. They are in favour of one workers’ commission in each factory, elected at mass meetings of workers in the factory. They are also active in building workers’ commissions in the shanty towns, and among unemployed workers. These commissions take up questions of unemployment, the conditions in the shanty towns, amnesty for political prisoners, freedom of the press and assembly, the right to free trade unions and the dissolution of the Civil Guard and the political police. AC call for one trade union confederation uniting all workers.

On the national question, AC argue for self-determination for the Basque Country, Galicia and Catalonia. That is to say, they argue for economic unity of the whole of Spain, but for cultural and linguistic autonomy for these regions. But if the workers of a region wish to secede they have the right to do so. The decision on a region’s relationship with the rest of Spain would be decided by all the workers in the region. This means that in the Basque Country where more than 50 per cent of the workers are from other parts of Spain, many from Andalusia, all workers would have the right to decide.

Until fairly recently AC have had a perspective of building a tightly-knit cadre party. This, they argue, was the form suitable for conditions of clandestinity. Now there is the possibility of building a mass revolutionary party and this is the perspective they have adopted. AC have members in most of the major industrial areas.

Another significant organisation on the revolutionary left is the OICE (Organisation of the Communist Left in Spain). OICE rejects the theory that the zigzag between liberalisation and repression is caused by splits within the bourgeoisie. It sees repression as an essential element in the bourgeoisie’s attempt to carry out a controlled reform of Spain’s political apparatus. Therefore it rejects the Communist Party’s strategy of alliances with the ‘democratic bourgeoisie’ as suicidal.

OICE’s main activity is in the factories, where it attempts to build ‘Anti-Capitalist Committees’ to fight around immediate concrete demands. It has a perspective of building the workers’ commissions into workers’ councils, and therefore is opposed to raising the demand for the creation of independent trade unions, but would work in them if they came into existence.

OICE is also active in building neighbourhood associations, and in struggles about health and education.

The fact that the OICE has been able to exercise some influence in the present wave of struggles is shown by a report in the legal Christian Democrat magazine Cuadernos para el Dialogo (March 20), about the struggles in Vitoria, which quotes a local leader of the UGT as saying that if anyone was responsible for uniting the various workers’ organisations, it was the anti-capitalist committees.

The LCR-ETA VI (Revolutionary Communist League – Basque Nation and Freedom VI) have already been mentioned. The LCR fused with a section of the Basque Nationalists and are the Spanish section of the Mandel International. It is said that they were composed initially of students but their ranks have been expanded with the entry of some worker militants in the last year or so. They believe that a general strike in Spain would initiate a revolutionary crisis in Spanish capitalism which would open the way to a socialist solution.

Among other groups we may mention UCL (Communist Union of Liberation) and LO (Lucha Obrera – Workers’ Struggle). LO seem to be based mainly among Spanish immigrant workers in Germany, and they have been active in organising immigrants.

A number of these organisations have had discussions on regroupment, in particular LO, UCL, AC and POUM. The discussions apparently broke down after a disagreement over the demand for one trade union federation. These groups continue to have the perspective of eventual regroupment.

The Working Class Upsurge

THE strike wave of the first three months of 1976 was the deepest and widest that Spain had seen since the Civil War. The strikes involved all the main sectors of the working class, and in some cases there were occupations of workplaces. Le Monde (March 2) reported that ‘Several industrial estates close to Barcelona are in a state of virtual rebellion. In some cases traders and the population are supporting the strikers’. Moreover, the strikes spread into new sectors of the population. On 1 March, a teachers’ strike left a million children without classes. Even football was affected, with a number of leading footballers demanding trade union rights (not an insignificant fact, given the importance of football in Spanish society).

In February a strike of public employees in Barcelona led to the government having to requisition for military service three thousand policemen and five hundred firemen who were striking for higher wages. They were compelled to return to work, wearing the letter ‘M’ (for military) under threat of court martial.

What the strikes showed was the breakdown of the dividing lines between economic and political struggle. It was clear that in most cases the struggle began as economic struggles. Le Monde reported (14 January) after the ‘day of struggle’ on 12 January:

‘The results of this “day of struggle” show that the working masses in Spain today are being mobilised only by trade union questions: strikes are taking place only in those sectors involved in the collective agreements in process of being negotiated. After this test of 12 January, no political party, no clandestine union can claim to be deeply implanted in the working class.’

If this view was belied by the events of the next few weeks, it was because, in the situation of economic crisis combined with government promises of liberalisation, the dividing line between trade union and political issues became almost invisible. As another Le Monde correspondent wrote a few weeks later (6 March):

‘The desire of workers to gain the right to permanent and free bargaining with the employers naturally leads into the demand for genuine trade unions and for the freedom of speech.’

In a situation where the government was trying to impose wage controls, and using the state machine to repress economic strikes, then every strike automatically became political.

The Madrid metro strike in January posed a direct threat to the government. The workers’ initial demand was economic – a wage demand of almost 50 per cent. But to grant such a demand – and since they were public service workers the government was directly responsible for the decision – would have meant the complete collapse of the wages policy. Yet the strike could not be ignored. Two million people a day use the Madrid metro. Hesitating to requisition the strikers, the government sent troops in to run the trains. The strikers got pledges of support from the Chrysler and Standard Electric factories in Madrid.

The strike was called off when the workers were offered a flat-rate bonus of 1,500 pesetas while negotiations continued. But if the strike could be solved on the economic level, the political impact was enormous. The Minister of Information pledged that there would be no victimisation of strikers. Even more striking, as Le Monde reported (11 January).

‘The press service of the Army Ministry has issued a statement saying that if soldiers took on the job of running metro trains during the strike, they did so on government orders. The statement stresses that the army does not take sides on the issues of the dispute.’

The strikes in the Basque country, notably at Vitoria, also began as essentially economic struggles. At Vitoria the issue was aggravated by the refusal of the employers to negotiate with anyone other than the totally unrepresentative official unions.

The level of struggle is shown by some extracts produced from a document produced in Vitoria:

‘The 3rd of March will remain in the memory of the Vitorian working class as one of the most dramatic in their history. From early morning a general strike paralysed all the large companies (with the sole exception of Michelin), all the small factories, building sites, centres of education, most businesses, bars, banks ...

‘At 10.00am the first large demonstration of the day took place. From the Andurza district some 8,000 people marched towards the centre of the city, where a large number of students were waiting to join the demonstration. The police fell upon the demonstration with an extraordinary violence, using all their resources; rubber bullets, tear gas, firearms ...

‘At 1.00pm the forces of repression momentarily abandoned their sites, something that was taken advantage of by the Vitorian people in order to organise themselves. They built barricades. Some 5,000 people assembled in the Church of St Francisco to reflect upon the situation and devise plans of action for the afternoon. But the “greys” (police) soon returned, surrounding the church and stopping more people from entering the meeting. They would not even allow the representatives from the factories on strike to enter the church. Within a short time a large number of people were concentrated outside the church, a large number of people who, as in the morning, were shouting slogans readmitting the sacked workers and withdrawing the police, and calling on the employers to accept the demands of the striking workers, etc.

‘The tension increased every minute. The “greys” who were surrounding the church received reinforcements and, without waiting for more, brutally attacked those standing outside the church. At the same time they began throwing bombs of tear gas inside the church, through the windows. There is no need to explain the consequences. Immediately the interior of the church became completely unbearable, no-one being able to breathe. People inside the church could hardly see the person next to them. It was impossible to remain inside. There was no alternative other than to break the windows and leave the “hell” any way they were able to.

‘The police waited outside. The orders they received were very precise. A few minutes earlier the “greys”surrounding the church had received the following message on their radios: “If you cannot disperse the crowd in any other way SHOOT TO KILL”. And this is what they did. Immediately those inside the church began to leave, feeling sick from the gas, the armed police charged them, waving batons in all directions. The workers tried to defend themselves in any way possible from the aggression of which they were the object. Immediately the police had began to machine-gun the crowd. To kill. The screams of the crowd were so loud they drowned the noise of the machine-guns which continued unfeelingly. Three comrades, Pedro Maria Martinez, Romualdo Barroso and Francisco Aznar were murdered. More than a hundred were wounded by fascist bullets.

‘The horror, indignation and controllable anger extended throughout Vitoria as people heard the news ... The same night the Committee of Representatives agreed to issue a call to express their solidarity with the people of Vitoria and issued the following document:

‘After two months of strikes by the whole working class and working people demanding bread, the answer from the employers with their government backing them up is ... one two three ... deaths and large number of wounded. The working class and the people of Vitoria demand popular justice for the murderers of the dead workers. We demand the demotion of the Civil Governor, the Chief of Police, of the Mayor, and the President of the Committee. We demand the dissolution of all repressive bodies.

‘In the face of such a massacre we call for an INDEFINITE GENERAL STRIKE of the whole working class and people of Vitoria.

‘We call on the whole town to attend factory and neighbourhood meetings and that everybody comes out on the streets. COMMITTEE REPRESENTING THE FACTORIES IN STRUGGLE. 3 March 1976.’

‘... News of the bloody events of Vitoria shook the entire working class of Euzkadi. In Pamplona, on the same day, the 3rd, the workers council with more than 1,000 delegates ... The first information that arrived was confused. It was rapidly confirmed. In effect, the police had machine-gunned thousands of workers in Vitoria, there there were various dead and wounded, and indignation was widespread. And the decision unanimous: the following day would be general strike.

‘And that’s what happened. The first to strike were those on night shift at Potasas mine. The following day, all the assemblies confirmed the decision taken the previous night by the delegates “for the strike”

‘Small businesses, bars, everywhere workers were leaving their work. Students also united with these actions which, during the morning, took the form of demonstrations.

‘... In the rest of Navarra actions were reported; in Tafalla. where there was a general strike on the Thursday that affected all the work centres and all businesses. A demonstration took place in the centre of the city. On Friday the stoppage continued in the factories as well as in an important part of the commercial sector. During the afternoon a funeral was held for the victims of Vitoria which was attended by almost the whole village’.

The strikes of early March have been followed by a further lull; but the intensity of these conflicts and the breadth of involvement shows that the class struggle will remain at a high level for many months to come. The revolutionary left’s ability to relate to these struggles could be decisive for the future of the European revolution.


We have taken a large amount of information from the article by Jean Monds on Syndicalism and Revolution in Spain: The Workers Commissions in Radical America (March-April 1975). The article by Manual Fernandez Spain: The Gathering Storm in IS 80 is also very useful. We also owe many thanks to the IS Spanish Group for collecting much of the information and for developing the analysis of the Spanish situation.

1. Figures from a speech by ‘La Pasionaria’ (leader of PCE) in Moscow 1934. Quoted in Introduction to Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (Pathfinder), p.29.

2. Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War; quoted in Introduction to Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution, p.29.

3. UGT – an information sheet published by the PSOE in London.

4. cf. Intercontinental Press, February 9, 1976.

5. Jean Monds, article quoted above.

6. Carrillo’s Trip to China and the Bankruptcy of Revisionism, quoted in Monds, op. cit.

7. Le Monde, 4 December 1974. Quoted Monds, op. cit.

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Last updated: 7.3.2008