May 1st in Guadalajara: a history of more than a century of struggle

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The first popular demonstration on May 1 was held in Guadalajara in 1901, with two hundred UGT bricklayers demonstrating along Paseo de las Cruces to the Civil Government.

The first celebration of May Day, the international day of the working class, took place more than 130 years ago when the Socialist Workers’ Congress of the Second International, held in Paris in 1889, called on that date an international strike for the achievement of the eight hours of work a day and also as a tribute to the five anarchist workers (Engel, Fischer, Parsons, Spies and Linng), murdered in Chicago in 1886, during a mobilization for the limitation of working time. Demonstrations were called around the world. In the Spanish State there were in Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Bilbao and other locations.

More than ten years would pass before this date was commemorated in Guadalajara. A city in which since 1882 the construction of a large group of buildings consisting of a Model School, an Asylum, a church and a huge Pantheon – commissioned by María Diega Desmaissieres y Sevillano, Duchess of Sevillano – brought together hundreds of workers. During the year 1900, the bricklayers held meetings to form their association and, in January 1901, the national executive of UGT accepted the membership of the Society of Bricklayers of Guadalajara and called a demonstration on the first day of May, which took place with two hundred bricklayers. , along Paseo de las Cruces to the civil government, where a commission delivered this text to the governor Juan Sanchez Lozano:

“Society of Bricklayers of Guadalajara: His Excellency. This society gives Your Excellency the most expressive thanks for the kindness with which you have attended to our humble request and we beseech Your Excellency on this day to request from the public powers how to improve in as possible the afflictive situation that this class, as unfortunate as it is honest, is going through. Our request is reduced to making a law of the normal eight-hour work day at all times in order to eliminate the contingent of unemployed workers that exists for the majority. of the year. Grace that they do not hesitate to achieve from the benevolence and righteous justice of Your Excellency. May God keep you for many years. May 1, 1901. For the Society, the Commission. Ignacio Aragonés, Pedro Wandelmer, Nemesio Castillo, Juan Bautista López. Your Excellency Mr. Governor of the province.” (The Chronicle, 2-5-1901).

Since then, every year in Guadalajara an event was held at the Teatro Principal, where socialist speakers insisted to attendees on the need to organize unions, bring worker councilors to City Hall or denounce the Moroccan War. A demonstration then toured the main streets of the city, which culminated with the delivery to the highest provincial authority of the demands approved after the rally. The day ended with a picnic. Most of these activities were prohibited during the general’s dictatorship Miguel Primo de Rivera.

Until the 1930s, the celebration did not have an impact beyond the capital of the province, as was the case of Brihuega:

“…here, the most working-class population of the province in other times, that party went unnoticed…” (El Briocense. 5-15-1906).

II Republic: plaque in the name of Pablo Iglesias

With the Second Republic recently established, May 1, 1931 had special relevance, with a large demonstration and the discovery of a plaque in the name of Pablo Iglesias in the square where the Casa del Pueblo building was located, followed by a speech by Marcelino Martín González del Arco, recently elected first socialist mayor of Guadalajara, who praised the personality and work of the labor leader. In the following years the celebration was no longer the monopoly of the local UGT and PSOE, but anarchists and the PCE participated in it.

The 1936 demonstration, on the eve of the Civil War, was massive, as the veteran communist militant Aurelio Sampedro recalled many years later:

“In ’36, about four thousand people paraded flanked by the Unified Socialist Youth, many were uniformed with blue pants and shirts, some with red ties, others with sport collars. There were also about one or two hundred bicycles from the popular sports services, since in Guadalajara at that time there were about a thousand bicycles and the Workers’ Sports Group was very well organized. In the demonstration, all the unions integrated into the Federation of Workers’ Societies were represented, which were more than twenty, each one carrying its flag that brought it together. to the board of directors and the members of each union, the most important were the construction union, the various trades union and the metal union called ‘El Baluarte’, which was very important because it brought together a large part of the two thousand workers of the ‘ Hispano Switzerland’. Different local representations of the towns and peasants of the Federation of Land Workers also participated. . (Guadalajara Diario, 4-27-1980).

That year there were also large demonstrations in Molina de Aragón, Sigüenza, Espinosa de Henares, Anquela, Milmarcos, Tortuera and Fuentelsaz.

The worker rebirth

Incidents in the demonstration on May 1, 1979//Source: Guadalajara, morning newspaper, 2-5-1979.

The first beats of the rebirth of the labor movement after the defeat of the Civil War were felt in Guadalajara in meetings of young workers to mark the date, back in the sixties, organized by one of the pioneers of CCOO in Guadalajara, Roberto Muñoz Soap Holder:

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“Guadalajara. More than a hundred young people of different tendencies held a meeting on May 1. In their interventions they presented their demands and the need to defend their rights fighting together for freedom and democracy”. (Worker’s World, 1-6-1966).

For the first time, after forty years, in 1978, unions and labor parties legally celebrated May 1st in Guadalajara. The PCE, taking to the extreme its policy of ‘National Reconciliation’ that it had promoted since 1956, accepted the Monarchy as a form of State and opposed the display of the tricolor emblem carried by the militants of the Communist Organization of Spain (Red Flag). . A pitched battle broke out between the order service of the demonstration and the members of Bandera Roja when they tried to snatch the flag of the Republic and silence the shouts against the Moncloa Pact, in addition to forming a barrier to leave them out of the procession. . Red Flag and CNT protesters then chanted: “Police for what, we already have the PCE.” And what they said was not exaggerated because it responded to the blackmail tactic – to which the PCE had given up – of Rodolfo Martin Villa, Minister of the Interior of the UCD Government, consisting of the law enforcement services acting in place of the police, by holding the organizing organizations responsible for what happened. The incidents were repeated the following year for the same reason:

“As soon as the demonstration began, and in response to the slogans of the bulk of the protesters, the members of Bandera Roja chanted republican slogans while two republican flags emerged within the same group. The CCOO order service, as soon as the protests arose mentioned banners, tried to get them to fold, resulting in the first incident between the members of ‘Bandera Roja’ and the aforementioned law enforcement service.”. (Flowers and Bees, 3-5-1979).

The subsequent calls were against the coup, terrorism and crisis files, when a good part of the industrial fabric of Guadalajara was dismantled due to the economic crisis that began in 1973.

CCOO and UGT union manifesto. before May 1, 1981//Courtesy: Félix Hernández Arroyo.

Currently, the CCOO and UGT unions are holding a demonstration that day in Guadalajara, attended by a notable number of workers, although this does not come close to representing a significant percentage of those currently in Guadalajara. The Logistics sector alone brings together nearly 40,000. The cause?

Examining the role of the majority unions, it is observed that many years ago the desire for understanding with business powers and the State apparatus, negotiation without mobilization, renunciation of economic autonomy and dependence on subsidies was established in them. , a growing bureaucratization to the detriment of internal democracy… All of this with disastrous results translated, among others, into a significant decrease in the participation of salaries in the National Income, which has evolved from 64.6 percent in 1976 (year in which only in the first three months there were 17,731 strikes, according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior) to 47.5 percent in 2022.

The demonstration as a symptom, one could say, of the state of disaffection of many workers towards unions with which they once felt more identified and which today are not willing to sacrifice their leisure to attend the events of that day which, to a large extent , have become a mere tradition.

Recovering May Day as an authentic day of protest requires a change in the current role of union organizations, which must resume the traditions of struggle, without which the working class runs the risk of losing much of what it has achieved and being relegated to being increasingly simple raw material for exploitation.

Enrique Alejandre Torija. Researcher of historical topics. Author of ‘The labor movement in Guadalajara. 1868-1939’ and ‘Guadalajara, 1719-1823.A conflictive century’ and ‘The working woman in Guadalajara.1868-1939’.

Sources consulted for the preparation of this article

Press collections from April, El Briocense, La Crónica, Flores y Abejas, Guadalajara, morning newspaper, Madrid Sindical, Mundo Obrero, El País and El Socialista.

May 1st demonstration in Guadalajara in 2022//Image: courtesy Enrique Alejandre Torija.
May 1st demonstration in Guadalajara in 2022//Image: courtesy Enrique Alejandre Torija.
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