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.