Labor Relations in the Franco Era
Labor relations until the late 1950s were generally of a fascist, authoritarian type. Wages and working conditions were set by decrees issued by the government, and all wage earners were required to be members of the government body, the Spanish Syndical Organization (Organizacion Sindical Espanola--OSE). Collective bargaining, independent labor organizations, and strikes were prohibited. In conjunction with the general economic liberalization of the late 1950s, the 1958 Collective Bargaining Law (Ley de Convenios Colectivos) for the first time permitted limited local collective bargaining between employers and labor within the framework of the OSE.
Despite police repression and the heavy penalties that were given to striking workers--striking was considered the equivalent of a treasonable offense--there were a number of labor conflicts during the 1950s, especially in Barcelona and in the Basque region, both pre-Civil War trade-union strongholds. Through harsh police measures and the imprisonment of workers, these conflicts were readily brought under control. They were, however, harbingers of a tidal wave of labor unrest that was to inundate the country during the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
As workers and their clandestine labor organizations grew more assertive during the mid-1960s, they sought a larger share of the country's growing prosperity. An oppositional grass-roots labor movement, which became known as the Workers' Commissions (Comisiones Obreras--CCOO), arose within the official labor organization. During the 1960s and 1970s, the CCOO became the principal opposition to government-controlled labor organizations. The CCOO had links to the Roman Catholic Church, which during the same period was undergoing a growing liberalization with the encouragement of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. The church dissociated itself from the Franco regime, and it championed Spanish trade union freedoms and collective bargaining rights. Some church-sponsored labor groups were permitted to operate openly, most notably the Catholic Action Workers' Brotherhood (Hermandad Obrera de Accion Catolica--HOAC). On July 24, 1968, the Bishops' Conference condemned Spain's government labor organizations and issued a call for free trade unions. Churches provided a sanctuary for striking workers and served as a refuge from the police.
Oppositional union groups became more active in elections for shop-level representatives. As slates of candidates sponsored by the CCOO and others increasingly won elections for factory shop stewards (jurados de empresa), the OSE became more and more dysfunctional. Meanwhile, the influence of the Catholic leadership of the CCOO lessened, as communists became increasingly dominant and as the movement became more active. Labor unrest underwent an explosive expansion. There were 777 strikes in 1963, 484 in 1965, and the number mushroomed in 1970 to 1,595. The strikes resulted in major wage gains, frequently exceeding official guidelines.
Semiclandestine independent trade unions began to emerge during the final decade of the Franco regime. In addition to the CCOO, other groups began to make their presence felt. The socialist General Union of Workers (Union General de Trabajadores--UGT), historically, the labor arm of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol-- PSOE), belatedly emerged as a leading contender for worker leadership. In the Basque region, the Basque Workers' Solidarity (Eusko Langilleen Alkartasuna-Solidaridad de Trabajadores Vascos- -ELA-STV), the labor adjunct of the Basque Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco--PNV), also made a reappearance. In addition, various organizations spawned by the church's active defense of workers' rights, the most notable being the Workers' Syndical Union (Union Sindical Obrera--USO), vied for workers support. The anarcho-syndicalist National Confederation of Labor (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo--CNT), which had been one of the two dominant trade union centers before 1939, reappeared sporadically in post-Franco Spain as a tiny, marginal force.
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