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MAY DAY 1968 IN SANTANDER

The Spanish underground labour movement grew yet more visible and strong in the following two years. In June 1967, CC.OO delegates gathered for the first-ever national assembly. Then, in October 1967, a national Day of Action brought the atmosphere to boiling point. Huge demonstrations of up to 100,000 workers took to the streets in the activist hotspots of the Spanish peninsula. Police repression was correspondingly ferocious. The calendar year of 1968 thus saw an understandable decline in working-class mobilization across Spain. Catholic workers remained in the thick of the movements. But the consequences of their recalcitrance were correspondingly tragic. A brief snapshot of the 1968 feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker in Santander provides insight into the dynamics under way.

At 10:15 in the morning of 1 May 1968, a crowd of about 250 workers, hailing from various locations throughout the province, gathered at a predetermined location where they remained assembled until just before 11 a.m. The police then arrived and dispersed the crowd without major incident. At noon, about 200 people gathered in the centre of Santander, rapidly targeted by armed police. With police reinforcements arriving, ‘a hailstorm of beatings by fists and truncheons was launched against the workers who stood with arms tightly linked, without even once attempting to defend themselves against the brutal police aggression. Witnessing this shameful spectacle of workers and a group of students being beaten to a pulp with indescribable fury and blind rage, falling to the ground, tossed in all directions and continuously punched, countless people, young and old, began to shout: “Assassins!”,

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‘Informe de los acontecimientos’, p. 2.

“Riffraff!”, “You have no right to do that!”, “Bloodhounds!” and similar epithets.’[1]

One particular group was isolated from the rest of the victims and suffered further ‘brutal aggression of unimaginable extremes’, before being summarily arrested. Between 20 and 25 demonstrators were jailed, some of them quickly released, leaving nine protesters in prison, three of them women. All but one of these victims were members of the Santander HOAC. At 5:30 p.m., the HOAC attempted to hold the traditional Mass associated with this feast day, ‘as they had done in all previous years, a mass exclusively dedicated to the honour of our patron saint, Saint Joseph the Worker’, only this time things turned ugly in the church. The regular parish priest of the chosen church, San Jose (Saint Joseph) in the neighbourhood of Tetuan, had been placed under house arrest by the police, forcing the organizers to quickly find a replacement. But Mass was never held in Santander on 1 May 1968. About 100 people entered the chosen church but, mere minutes before Mass was scheduled to begin, a large number of police arrived, ‘blocking off in a spectacular coordinated manoeuvre the adjacent streets and the entry to the church, demanding identification cards from all present and barring access to the interior of the church to others. Several police officers entered the church with the intention of carrying out arrests, ignoring the protests of the priest.’[2]

The streets of Santander did not become quiet until after midnight. The human toll was significant. Apart from numerous individuals suffering severe bruises and related injuries necessitating medical interventions, a 23-year-old was hospitalized with multiple face wounds and the loss of vision in one eye. Another 20-year-old with similar injuries, ‘but in an even worse state’, was likewise battling to retain vision in one eye. Was Saint Joseph the Worker looking the other way?

  • [1] ‘Informe de los hechos ocurridos en Santander, con motivo de la celebracion del Primerode Mayo’—AHOAC, 32.4.
  • [2] The citations in this and the following paragraph are from ‘Informe de los hechos’, p. 2.
 
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