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THE CATHOLIC CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIRTH OF THE CC.OO

For much of the first half of the twentieth century, Asturias had performed a central role within the labour movement in Spain, and it thus only stood to reason that some of the very earliest tender shoots of CC.OO activism under the Francoist yoke could be traced back to this combative province. Tentative moves towards the construction of workers’ commissions took place from 1956 onwards, and the two political subcultures which stood in the vanguard of such moves were the PCE and the HOAC. HOAC activist Manuel Hevia Carriles had been arrested for a militant speech on the occasion of an apostolic campaign in Gijon as early as 1952, as had HOAC activist Jose Borbolla in 1954 in Aviles. HOAC’s crucial contribution to the growth of CC.OO in its heartland territory of Asturias was thus a natural consequence of its outlook and orientation in previous years.[1]

The first workers’ commissions destined to survive for some time and to inspire similar formations elsewhere—and now generally regarded as the classic example of a CC.OO operating successfully in adverse conditions— was the Comision Obrera at the mining complex of La Camocha. Paradig- matically and symbolically, here—as in neighbouring Asturian mining com- munities—HOAC activists played indispensable roles. In fact, at La Camocha, the local parish priest was a member of its coordinating commission from the very outset.[2] The 1962 strike wave was centred on Asturias and the neighbouring Basque provinces of Vizcaya and Guipdzcoa, where the Madrid government clamped down by proclaiming a state of emergency. The mining valleys southeast of the capital city of Asturias, Oviedo, were at the very centre of the conflict. On 24 April 1962 all mines in the area shut down in a coordinated action. That very same day delegates from all affected pits gathered for a meeting which elected another novelty for underground Spain: a strike committee. The meeting was moderated by a leading HOAC activist,

Manuel Morillo, with the central organizer of national HOAC trade union work, Jacinto Martin, advising the proceedings from behind the scenes.[3]

Catholic workers agitated side-by-side with PCE members in the mining and industrial conflicts in the Basque country. In Vizcaya, the strike wave rapidly resulted in the arrest of fifty-two activists. Local workers’ commissions elected five spokespersons to engage in negotiations with the authorities to obtain their release. The majority of this leadership body consisted of HOAC members. This emergency coordinating committee eventually mutated into the Vizcaya provincial leadership of area CC.OO, the very first such provincewide CC.OO in all of Spain! And here again HOAC (and JOC) activists continued to exercise important functions.[4] Other locations where Catholic—and, in particular, HOAC—activists played crucial roles in the launching of CC.OO include Burgos;[5] the Basque province of Alava, where the CC.OO for all practical purposes arose within radicalized Catholic associations including HOAC members, to be sure, but also activists of the radical Jesuit network, Vanguardias Obreras;[6] Andalusia;[7] and many other important industrial and mining areas throughout Spain. An autobiographical account by the secretary of the very first workers’ commission in Barcelona, Angel Alcazar, might stand for the experiences of many other hoacistas.

A bank employee in the Central Contable de Banesto in Barcelona, Alcazar was centrally involved in drawing up a list of company-specific grievances over working hours, working conditions, and remuneration which, to everyone’s great surprise, management accepted in full. The year was 1957. The action committee consisted of a group of Christian white-collar workers, animated by a Jesuit. News of their victory travelled fast to other Barcelona banking institutions, where employees began to draw up similar lists. A qualitative breakthrough then occurred, as elsewhere in Spain, during the strike wave of 1962 which also spread throughout Catalonia. Bank workers, already familiar with each other due to their earlier cycle of mobilization, now joined forces, produced and distributed leaflets and information sheets, deciding to adopt the label ‘workers’ commission’ for their group, which became La Comision Obrera de Banca. According to Alcazar ‘it was in the apostolic workers’ movement where we developed those ideas through person-to-person interaction and where we consequently lost our fear of joining forces with Communist activists’.[8]

In September 1964, then, at the instigation of the workers’ commission at the Montesa works, where JOC and HOAC activists played crucial roles, forty activists from a range of enterprises and industries met in the building of the Parish of San Miguel de Cornella. The gathering constituted itself as the Central Workers’ Commission of Barcelona. With characteristic selfdeprecation, Angel Alcazar notes: ‘I was chosen to become its Secretary, probably because of my professional experience with administrative tasks. This Central Commission met every week, always in buildings belonging to the Catholic Church.’ In November 1964, the Central Commission organized a general assembly in the Parish of Sant Medir, to which 300 workers came, approving a list of far-reaching demands, including a ‘minimum wage, a sliding scale of wages, the right to form trade unions, and the right to strike’.[9] A second general assembly—also in the Parroquia de Sant Medir—in 1965 elaborated a concrete action plan, then decided to present their grievances to the regime-friendly official trade union federation in central Barcelona in a show of force during the early evening of 23 February. Three days before the target date, the entire Central Commission were arrested, along with others. If anything, however, this repressive act had the opposite effect from the intended intimidation. At the appointed date and location, 15,000 workers gathered for a lively demonstration. The CC.OO de Barcelona were there to stay.[10]

The Working Class Goes to Paradise

  • [1] Ruben Vega Garcia, ‘Cristianos en el movimiento obrero asturiano durante el franquisme.Un apunte’, XX Siglos 5, no. 22 (1994), pp. 4-5.
  • [2] Javier Dominguez, ‘Las Vanguardias Obreras en la lucha por la democracia’, XX Siglos 4,no. 16 (1993), p. 70.
  • [3] Lopez Garcia, Aproximacion, p. 144. Jacinto Martin, like so many other key HOAC leaders,had been profoundly influenced by anarcho-syndicalist theory and practice in his youth,introducing many of its principles into Catholic social theory and practice within the HOACin 1950s and 1960s Francoist Spain. Manuel Morillo had once been a member of the PCE.
  • [4] Pedro Ibarra Guell and Chelo Garcia Marroquin, ‘De la primavera de 1956 a lejona 1978.Comisiones Obreras de Euskadi’, in David Ruiz (ed.), Historia de Comisiones Obreras(1958-1988) (Madrid: Siglo XXI, 1993), p. 116.
  • [5] Enrique Berzal de la Rosa, Sotanas rebeldes. Contribution cristiana a la transition demo-cratica (Valladolid: Diputacion de Valladolid, 2007), pp. 82-3.
  • [6] Guell and Marroquin, ‘De la primavera’, p. 118.
  • [7] For much important detail on the Andalusian context, see Jose Hurtado Sanchez, ‘Sevilla:Obreros cristianos en la lucha por la democracia’, in Jose Maria Castells, Jose Hurtado, and JosepMaria Margenat (eds), De la dictadura a la democracia. La Action de los cristianos en Espana(1939-1975) (Bilbao: Desclee de Brower, 2005), pp. 366-7; and Carmen R. Garcia Ruiz andAlberto Carrillo Linares, ‘Cobertura de la Iglesia a la oposicion. La colaboracion con CC.OO. Loscasos de Malaga y Sevilla’, in Castells, Hurtado, and Margenat (eds), De la dictadura a lademocracia, pp. 411-21.
  • [8] Angel Alcazar, ‘Los cristianos en la creacion de Comisiones Obreras’, XX Siglos 5, no. 22(1994), p. 120.
  • [9] Alcazar, ‘Comisiones Obreras’, p. 120.
  • [10] Alcazar presents an informative insider’s view of the overall stages of the development ofthe Barcelona CC.OO until the early 1970s in his ‘Comisiones Obreras’, pp. 118-26. For moredetail on the important Barcelona CC.OO from an insider activist perspective, note Jose AntonioDiaz, Luchas internas en Comisiones Obreras. Barcelona 1964-1970 (Barcelona: Bruguera, 1977),and Julio Sanz Oller, L’Espoir demeure. Les Commissions Ouvrieres de Barcelone (Lyon: Federop,1975). For a stimulating academic study on the development of the Barcelona CC.OO in animportant industrial zone, see Emili Ferrando Puig and Juan Rico Marquez, Les ComissionsObreres en elfranquisme. Barcelones Nord (1964-1977) (Barcelona: Abadia de Montserrat, 2005).On the HOAC in Catalonia, the standard reference work for years to come will remain EmiliFerrando Puig, Cristians i rebels. Historia de l’HOAC a Catalunya durant el franquisme(1946-1975) (Barcelona: Mediterrania, 2000).
 
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