February 20th, 2021

Feminism in the Union

An interview with Begoña San José

Begoña San José is a feminist activist and trade union leader.

Maya Adereth: Tell us about your introduction to political activism and feminism.

Begoña San José : I had a religious upbringing and went to school at a convent when I was very young. The first movement I participated in was around the Second Vatican Council, which was about renewing the commitment to working people and the poor. When I left my parents’ house at the age of eighteen, I started working as a house cleaner, and in 1970 I was hired by OSRAM, a multinational company producing light bulbs and lamps. Even before I started working, I wanted to join the CCOO. I knew priests who were involved with it, and I knew about meetings held in Orcasitas, a working-class neighborhood in Madrid. But union operations were clandestine, and I had to join the ORT, a Maoist organization, in order to join the union.

I finally joined the CCOO in 1971, when a collective agreement was being negotiated at my factory. In 1973 I got arrested during a CCOO meeting and imprisoned without a trial. Shortly before entering prison I joined the PCE, and after I was released I continued working for the same firm. In 1974 I was arrested again and this time I was fired from the factory. In prison, I met members of a feminist organization called the Democratic Movement of Women. They worked closely with the PCE to organize solidarity efforts for political prisoners; they brought us books, clothes, and food. In 1975, Franco died and the feminist movement erupted. A common platform was developed, demanding equal access to employment, universal access to early childhood education, the legalization of contraceptives, and the elimination of sex-differentiated criminal sentences. I was active in this through the CCOO. We would meet exactly at the location where the Atocha massacre occurred in 1977, and after one of these meetings I was invited to a DMW meeting. My boss, a man, said I shouldn’t go, and that is what drove me to attend.

That was the first feminist meeting I attended in my life. I vividly remember watching the wives of trade union leaders and politicians criticize their husbands for defending democracy in the street and ignoring it in their homes. This feminist call for equality and democracy in the home hugely impacted me. One or two years later, the CCOO created a Department of Women, and I became an active member in 1976. I’ve been active in the Spanish feminist movement ever since.

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February 20th, 2021

New System, New Society

An interview with Felipe González

Felipe González was Prime Minister of Spain from 1982-1996.

Maya Adereth: Let's start with your experience in the anti-Francoist resistance.

Felipe Gonzalez: In the final years of the Franco regime I spent a lot of time getting prosecuted and detained—in 1971 I was detained three times. But I was never tortured, like some of my cellmates whose condition I lament to this day. For me, this period was about understanding clearly that I wanted an end to the dictatorship, and that I did not want to replace one dictatorship with another. I joined the PSOE in the 1960s because of its history of struggle over civil rights, and its commitment to social democracy. And I’ve stayed there ever since.

Javier Padilla: Did you have any political or ideological mentors?

FG: There was a group of us in Sevilla, sometimes referred to as the “Tortilla Group” which included Alfonso Guerra, Luis Yáñez, and Manuel Chaves. We were committed to ending the dictatorship, but we didn’t have particular political mentors. We regularly read Nouvelle Observateur, and we learned about models of workers self management and cooperatives in Yugoslavia. These ideas interested me from both a political and theoretical point of view because of the ways in which they distanced themselves from Soviet planning.

JP: Tell us about your process of becoming leader of the party. What was your opinion of the party leaders who were in Toulouse?

FG: We had an interesting situation in Sevilla. Alfonso Fernández Torres was an old socialist militant from Jaén who clashed with the leadership in exile when we met him. We didn’t know why, and we didn’t even know that Rodolfo Llopis had expelled the Andalusian organization because he considered it too rebellious. We were just a group of young people who were agitating at the University. We used the faculty and graduate students at the Law Department in order to build contacts with the CCOO and the UGT. At a certain point, we met an Andalusian socialist who invited us to the national congress of the party in Baiona on July 16, 1969. At this congress, we realized that the vision of reality held by the exiled party leaders was entirely distorted. They had an irreconcilable hatred for Santiago José Carrillo, and they had no idea what was happening on the ground.

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February 20th, 2021

Revolution in the Long Run

An interview with Hector Maravall

Hector Maravall is a long time member of the PCE, a labor lawyer, and a leader of the Comisiones Obreras, the largest trade union in Spain.

Maya Adereth: Tell us about your political experiences at university. Who were your ideological influences at the time?

Hector Maravall: When I started university in 1966 at the Universidad de Madrid, it was the most politicized school in Spain. And yet, those who participated in anti-Franco activities were a minority. At the Faculty of Law we had fifty or sixty members of anti-Franco organizations out of 5,000 students. Many students had a desire for freedom and democracy, but few were willing to endanger themselves to get it.

The most important political organization at the height of the resistance to the Francoist Union was Partido Comunista de España (PCE). Although it had been powerfully repressed, it had rebuilt a cultural and intellectual presence. After the PCE was the Frente de Liberación Popular, which started as a Marxist-Christian organization similar to liberation theology, but ultimately developed currents influenced by Che Guevara and heterodox communism like that of Yugoslavia. Outside of the PCE and FLP were small anarchist groups, Maoists, and others. The socialists barely had a presence among the students.

Javier Padilla: Tell us about the Francoist student union.

HM: The union, named SEU (Sindicato Español Universitario), was created during the war by the falangists. During the 1960s, there was a movement to reform the fascist union through elections. The left ran for elections and won, forming a new union named Sindicato Democrático de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Madrid (SDEU). In 1967–68, the union was given some paralegal structures; they were tolerated but not legally recognized. This is the context in which May 1968 took place.

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