What The Civil War May Mean To Spanish Trade Unions

Foreword by

Isabel de Palencia

The General Union of Workers in Spain—the U.G.T., as it is commonly called—is probably one of the best organized and most disciplined and, politically, one of the most alert organizations in the world. It came into existence over fifty years ago under the leadership of Pablo Iglesias, founder of the Spanish Socialist Party. The first union was that of the printers, which now comprises all the press workers, from the humblest newspaper vendor to the best known editors.

The U.G.T. has, as its political organ, the Socialist Party, which has at all times given a high example of leadership.

When the military rebellion broke out, the U.G.T. Had over 1,000,000 members. The agricultural workers alone numbered 400,000. It must be borne in mind that all the labor legislation which had been achieved in Spain was due to the efforts of the U.G.T. At the moment of the rebellion, the Builders’ Union had obtained the forty-hour week, and this benefit was about to be extended to other unions.

Naturally the progress in labor legislation, although considerable, left much to be desired. The wages of Spanish workers in all trades are decidedly lower than those prevailing in many other countries. Yet even these low wages had provoked great opposition among the employers. Were anyone to doubt this, he need only look over the decrees issued by the Department of Labor during the two and a half years when the Department and the fate of the Spanish workers were alike in the hands of a member of Lerroux’s party, and afterwards of Senor Salmon (the alter ego of Gil Robles, leader of the Jesuit Fascist Party and ardent supporter of Franco). Wages came down with a rush to pre-republican standards. Protective laws for women and children were reduced or ignored. The mixed Boards of Trade that had helped to solve so many conflicts were done away with and replaced by courts under the chairmanship of magistrates.

It was useless to present claims, for workers got no proper hearing. Finally the strike of October, 1934, gave an excellent excuse for the dismissal of thousands of men and women from their jobs, particularly those who formed part of the executive committees of their respective unions.

The misery in the agricultural zones became so great as a result—since all members of the unions were refused work—that in 1935 people in some villages were reduced to eating grass alone for very hunger.

These recent occurrences give us an excellent indication of the fate that would overtake all workers’ organizations were Franco to win. His attitude toward the unions has already been made evident by the fact that in all those towns and villages where his forces hold control not only are members of the executive committees of the unions shot down, but also all workers carrying a mere membership card in a union.

In the first manifestoes issued by him, where he speaks of the necessity of establishing a military dictatorship in Spain as the only means of ensuring order, Franco also speaks of dissolving Parliament and all workers’ organizations.

Lately, because of the country’s resistance to his dictatorial attempts, he has published another manifesto in which he addresses the Spanish workers and calls upon them to separate from what he calls their traitorous leaders and to join him. Were not the moment so tragic, Spanish humor would find occasion for the exercise of irony in commenting on this appeal.

There is not a worker in all Spain who does not know that the triumph of Franco would be the end of all social advances, the protective laws, the liberty of association, and even the personal freedom of every Spaniard. The Spanish capitalists and employers have the feudal doctrines and beliefs too deeply ingrained in their systems not to take advantage of such a victory to reduce the working class to absolute slavery.

Fortunately such will not be the case. Rather face extermination than a fascist dictatorship! One must remember that Franco is not a man of intelligence or vision. He has never been interested in any problem affecting the vital interests of the country; and the men who are giving him their support, notably Gil Robles, instead of taking the labor problems into consideration, have done nothing but increase the tension between workers and employers and irritate the masses with their unjust measures.

It must be remembered that, except in the Basque Provinces, where the Catholic Party has understood how to plan and carry out social reforms, the Catholics have nowhere managed to form a labor party or even a workers’ organization. The small group they claimed to have formed is non-existent.

These reasons alone are enough to make all Spaniards sacrifice everything rather than allow Franco to win. Remember the slogan: “Rather die standing up than spend the rest of our lives on our knees!”