Shaking Up Franco’s Spain

Nobody could have been more surprised than the Spanish left last December 20 when a splinter group of Basque ETA (with the reported help of the IRA) assassinated Premier Luis Carrero Blanco in a muddy street in Madrid, literally blowing up his car, which landed on the fourth floor of the church he had just left. The bizarre killing must have confirmed the worst nightmares of Santiago de Carrillo, the titular head of the Spanish Communist party, about irresponsible revolutionary violence. It occurred on the same morning as the opening of the trial of the “Carabanchel Ten,” the ten members of the illegal workers’ commissions who had been held in Carabanchel Prison for fourteen months, and who were being prosecuted simply for “illegal assembly” in a monastery at Pozuelo.

The Spanish center-left had wanted the case of the ten to be their great show trial, dramatizing the immediate and crucial issue: whether a modern, industrialized Spain would legalize the trade unions. Most of the Spanish establishment who were at least one degree left of Franco were backing the workers in this trial. The workers were represented by prominent lawyers, including Gil Robles, the former head of the conservative Catholic CEDA during the civil war, and Ruis Gímenez, Franco’s minister of education during the 1950s. Many lawyers in Madrid angled to get a seat in court; foreign observers and press were invited; factory demonstrations were planned throughout the country. The Spanish workers had every reason to be confident. They were at last becoming a coherent political force, after ten years of careful planning by both the workers’ commissions and Spain’s new-style Communist party. By breaking with Moscow over Prague in 1969, the Spanish Communist party (PCE) improved its position, reorganizing itself and its image along highly domestic and nationalistic issues, in effect “going respectable.”

The workers’ commissions movement, begun in the early Sixties, flourished for a variety of reasons. Many Spanish workers quickly became more radical when they went to work in the big automobile and industrial plants of Western Europe. For the new urban Spanish worker, the workers’ commissions, which were a loose trade union movement and not a political party, did not have bitter memories of the old-time competition between rival anarchist and socialist-communist trade unions. Though the heaviest support for the workers’ commissions comes from communists, liberal Christian Democrats, and socialists, nearly all groups and parties to the left of Franco maintain loose relations with the commissions.

Hundreds of members of the workers’ commissions have been arrested, jailed, beaten, tortured. Still, some officials in Franco’s regime as well as some Spanish factory owners have at times dealt with the commissions as though they were semilegal. Thus, by 1973, through a combination of aggressive organization, astute “brakings” of revolutionary action, and a center-left political image, the Spanish Communist party and the workers’ commissions helped achieve for the workers, with very moderate losses, a series of strikes that were more severe than any in other European countries …

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