This two-part tour looks at the history of trade unionism in Spain and in particular the city of Barcelona, which in the pre-war 1930s had the reputation of being the most unionised city in Europe. We’ll begin with the guild origins and the formation of the socialist UGT as the first trade union in Spain, but above all the formation of the anarchist CNT in 1910 and its earlier 19th century roots and forms. We’ll discuss why uniquely in Spain anarcho-syndicalism took hold so strongly while by the First World War it was on the wane in the rest of the world, taking us onto the 1919 “Canadian” strike in Barcelona, one of the most remarkable labour actions in European history. We’ll move through the different fortunes and tensions of and between the CNT and UGT in the 1920s and 30’s before looking at their key role in the collectivisation and organization of the city from 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.
Franco’s victory in 1939 brought dark and clandestine times for trade unionism in Spain, with workers now forced to organise within an official fascistic so called “vertical union”. The first very timid organised work resistance to the regime began in the late 1940s, but activity was weak in the 1950s, until communist and catholic worker’s committees in the early 1960s managed to subvert the official trade unions from within, leading to the formation of the cmmunist influenced CCOO. We’ll talk about the strike and labour actions against the regime and its industrial supporters in the 1970s and the role of the unions in the so-called transition to democracy, which saw them legalised along with political parties. The new emerging society and industrial changes brought about the virtual disappearance of the CNT as an acting trade union, but also saw the emergence of the slightly more moderate but still anarchist CGT.
We’ll end by talking about the role of the big two trade unions UGT and COOO in democracy and their successes with general strikes and failures, and the issues affecting trade unionism and falling membership today… which of course will have many common ties with Canada.