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Spanish coal miners challenge Franco dictatorship, 1962
The strikes in April and May of 1962 in Asturias (the coal mining center of Spain) were executed by the miners of Asturias and were a direct challenge to General Francisco Franco’s regime. Although the mines were privately owned and operated, the state dictated the wage rate and workers’ rights. The Spanish Communist Party played a significant role in the working class’s success against the fascist dictatorship. The “economic stabilization plan” created by the Franco government called for a wage freeze. The strikers aimed to put an end to this freeze and, eventually, to usher in the democratic liberties that Franco had stolen away. The strikes disrupted Franco’s plans to stabilize poverty, which he had attempted to do by maintaining a very low wage level in order to supply European monopolists with a cheap labor force. However, the Spanish miners organized and fought against the government’s attempts to control the wage rate and at the end of the strikes the miners earned a wage raise from 95 to 150 pesetas. As a result of the miners’ efforts, workers in other industries, transport services, and agriculture also saw increases in wages.
The strike was very difficult to organize at first because of the dictator’s formidable reputation as a repressor of all forms of protest. When the miners from the Asturian mines began their strikes in April 1962, Franco refused to recognize the illegal strikes. On April 7, 1962, miners from Nicolasa mine declared a strike. The campaign grew quickly with miners from Baltasara striking on the next day. Then a strike was declared in Polio and a week later the whole Caudal Valley in Asturias was on strike. On April 16, 1962, the strike spread to Turo'n and then to the Nalo'n Valley. At this point 60,000 workers were striking. The slogan the strikers chanted was "General salary raises and solidarity with our comrades". Franco responded with brutal repression, including detentions and beatings of workers and even women.
In Francoist Spain, striking was equal to military rebellion and was punished harshly. However, the strikers were able to organize effectively and the strike grew to almost 500,000 workers in 24 provinces, who carried out the strike for more than eight weeks. Another benefit from the strikes was the fact that the Franco government was forced to consider recognizing a Spaniard’s right to strike, suggesting the vulnerability of Franco’s regime as the fascists were forced to backtrack and take into consideration the workers’ efforts to improve their own living conditions. In addition, the fascist trade unions run by the Falange—the ruling Spanish right-wing political party—were ignored by the organizers of the strike, proving that the workers did not trust these organizations. This contributed in bankrupting the Falangist trade unions. The miners chose to organize in their own workers’ commissions and strike committees, which coordinated the carefully organized strikes.
The creation of the commissions and committees formed a solidarity that transformed into the Movement of Trade Union Opposition. The Communist Party used this movement to create a centralized trade union that welcomed all workers without regard to political or religious affiliations. The most important facet of the movement was unity, highlighting the fact that the workers refused to have a split in the labor movement. One tactic that was used to ensure unity was a display of peer pressure. Workers who did not participate in the movement were insulted with grains of wheat that were thrown at the doors of their homes. This was a symbol of cowardice as wheat is food for chickens. The unity of the strike was a major factor contributing to the unity of anti-Franco forces that emerged after the strikes.
Finally, on May 4 the government declared a state of siege in the provinces. However, the miners had already gained their momentum. May 21, 1962, marked the climax of the strike in which four opposition parties, including the Monarchists all the way to the Communists, came together to sign four similar statements stating a commitment to solidarity with the strikers and declared a strengthening of the struggle against Franco’s regime. On May 24 the Official State Bulletin agreed to the strikers' demands and on June 5 and 6 of 1962, the strikes ended with wage increases being granted.
Following the successful strikes, leaders of the opposition met to organize and agree on a common platform for the political battle against Franco. The opposition congress, which met in Munich, included 80 leading members of the opposition within Spain and 38 people representing groups of exiles. One of the more prominent figures was José Maria Gil Robles, who was the former right-wing leader from the second Republic and the leader of the Social-Christian Democratic Party. In addition, Dionisio Ridruejo (liberal leader), Joaquin Satrustegui (financier and leader of the Monarchist Spanish Union), representatives of workers’ organizations, the Spanish Catholic Action and other progressive Catholic groups, leading members of the republican parties, Basque and Catalonian nationalists, and more were in attendance at the congress.
The meeting created an agreement based on five conditions necessary for the reinstatement of democratic freedoms after Franco had taken them away. These included: freedom of the individual and speech, the abolition of government censorship, the right to strike and of association, the ability to organize groups of people, who hold the same opinions, and political parties. They were determined to abolish dictatorship and usher in democracy. The miners’ victory was the first mass workers' movement to successfully take on Franco’s regime and eventually led to the nationalization of Spanish mines, forming the massive enterprise Hunosa. The Spanish democratic movement stemmed partially from the Asturian miner strikes, which had given the movement strength, momentum, and hope that fascism in Spain could be beaten.