Spanish workers strike in Asturian mines, 1963

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Timing
Time Period:  
End of July
1963
to
End of September
1963
Location and Goals
Country: 
Spain
Location City/State/Province: 
Asturias
Goals: 
The strikers wanted the right to direct representation by their own delegates. Thus, they rejected the vertical union structure that Franco was trying to put into place, where workers and managers are lumped together in organizations.

The miners also wanted: Better working conditions in the mines, more paid vacation time (one month paid vacation per year), wage increase for salaried workers to keep pace with the rising cost of living expenses (right of union pressure to regularly increase salaries), and the right to strike

 

The Asturian strikes that occurred in the summer of 1963 were the second major challenge to the Franco dictatorship over the span of one year. The first challenge had occurred in the spring of 1962 (see “Spanish coal miners challenge Franco dictatorship, 1962”). As with the strikes in 1962, the 1963 strikes began in the privately owned mines of Asturias during the last week of July 1963. In total, the miners’ executed their strike for 60 days, finally stopping the strike at the end of September. By the end about 40,000 to 50,000 workers had participated in the campaign. The strikes in 1962 inspired this resistance, which began spontaneously when one single coal mine decided to go on strike, and then the other coalmines in Asturias joined their fellow workers to demonstrate the solidarity of the movement against the Franco regime. Miners in southern Spain and lead producers in Jaen also joined the strikers late in the campaign. However, the strike did not carry to Catalonia (Barcelona), the Basque country, or Madrid, which were the major industrial centers of Spain, and for this reason the campaign was not able to ultimately achieve the immediate success it desired.

The strikers wanted to see improvement in their overall working conditions. They did not demand anything very radical in an economic sense. The miners wanted to see an increase in salary for salaried workers because of the rise in the cost of living that had occurred in the months following the wage increase that had resulted from the strikes in 1962. The workers also wanted more vacation time and better working conditions in the mines. For instance, after metallurgists in Miaros were rewarded with one month of paid vacation per year, the Asturian miners set that as a goal for their campaign. However, the main demand was that they wanted the right to direct representation by their own delegates. Thus, they rejected the vertical union structure that Franco was trying to put into place, where workers and managers are lumped together in organizations. While the strike in 1962 was mostly economic, this strike took on a political mission as the proletariat was attempting to gain back their right to contestation under the Franco dictatorship.

The methods employed by the Asturian miners were geared to defying the Franco regime as much as possible. Each mine shaft picked their own delegate to represent them in the secret meetings and the delegates were the leaders of the strike. Also, in a show of defiance against the Franco regime and his unions, the strikers sent the central government in Madrid a group of Asturian miners that had fallen ill with silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by inhaling silica dust, effectively telling the regime that they would not recognize any other representatives than themselves.

Solidarity was a major key to the movement and the workers who refused to participate were disgraced with the insults of grains of wheat being thrown on their door steps, indicating that they were chickens and should eat chicken food (grains of wheat). Another show of solidarity came with fishermen in Bilbao agreeing to work longer than their normal shifts in order to supply the miners with fish. Other miners who had the ability to farm did so to survive and shared their crops with less fortunate miners. Also, small businesses supported the strikers by providing food for workers that lived in their respective neighborhoods.

The main allies to the Asturian economic justice campaign were groups within the union alliance—which was mainly made up of anarchist militants and Socialists, but also a lot of young workers—and the Popular Liberation Front (a secret leftist, anti-Francoist group), which aided the campaign with supporters, including intellectuals and students.

During the 1962 strike, Franco had attempted to simply conceal the existence of the strike and eventually had to admit the existence of the strikes and concede wage increases to the workers. However, the second wave of strikes made Franco approach the situation very differently. Right away Franco recognized the existence of the strikes and responded with lockouts. Additionally, the authorities suggested a debate with the union concerning the future of the mines; however, the strikers quickly rejected the offer.

The government attempted to reopen the mines every Monday, but the managers of the mines had to admit that there were simply not enough miners to coordinate the work teams and they were forced to hold another lockout. Next, the government simply decided to let the strikers use up all their financial resources, while the authorities went to work trying to prevent the strike from being extended. Franco’s regime also used brutal violence to repress the miners. The police carried out the violence, as well as the arrests and imprisonment of the workers. Torture was often used in the process, but the torture and violent repression was largely hidden from the general public.

In an attempt to slow the strike, the regime also held a trial of five anarchist militants, who were arrested before or after (it is unclear) the explosion of several weak bombs and were charged with the crime of exploding these bombs in protest of tourism. Two of the anarchists on trial were Spanish and they were punished with garroting, a medieval punishment in which an iron collar encloses around the prisoner’s neck until they are strangled to death. The other three were sentenced to 15-30 years in prison. The trial and subsequent harsh punishment were meant to cast doubt upon the miners’ cause and to discourage more workers from joining the campaign.

While the dictatorship was able to outlast the strike with repression and the exhaustion of the miners’ financial resources, similar struggles continued throughout the remainder of Franco’s reign with the same demands (the right to strike and the right of union pressure to regularly increase salaries) until democracy finally arrived after Franco’s death in 1975. Beginning with the armed insurrection in 1934 and continuing with the nonviolent strikes in both 1962 and 1963, the Asturian miners played a major role in challenging Francoism in Spain during the dictatorship. Their work helped the nation inch closer and closer to democracy.

Research Notes
Influences: 

This campaign was influenced by the insurrection of 1934 and the Asturian strikes in 1962 (see "Spanish coal miners challenge Franco dictatorship, 1962") (1).

Sources: 
Debord, Guy. “The Asturian Strikes of 1962-1963.” Libcom.org 29 July 2009. Libcom.org 27 Nov 2009. http://libcom.org/history/Asturian-strikes-1962-1963.

“Miners Strike in Asturias (Spain) 1890 to 1998”. Spanish Revolution Archive. 17 Nov 2007. Struggle archive. 1 Dec 2009. < http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/spain/asturian_mine_strikes.html>

Additional Notes: 
Edited by Max Rennebohm (07/06/2011)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Anthony Phalen, 02/01/2010