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Spain: Bourgeois Stirrings

3 minute read

In velvet and ermine, tiaraed and beribboned, Europe’s royalty turned out in Athens this week for the wedding of Greece’s Princess Sophie to Prince Juan Carlos, 24-year-old son of the Spanish Pretender, Don Juan. Through the sunny streets strolled some 5,500 Spanish monarchists, all hopeful that the marriage was an omen for the return of the Bourbons to Spain. But absent was the commoner who alone could decide whether Juan Carlos would ever take the Spanish throne: Spain’s Dictator Francisco Franco. Far from the hoopla in Athens, El Caudillo was in Spain last week dealing with the most serious unrest to beset his 24-year rule.

Immediate cause of the trouble was Spain’s longest, biggest and costliest labor dispute since the Civil War. The fight began last month in the coal fields of the northern province of Asturias, where miners, alarmed at skyrocketing prices, struck for a $1.50 wage boost, to bring their pay to $2.50 a day. Though strikes are illegal, the miners stubbornly stuck to their walkout; they had no strike funds, no organization, ran the risk of losing all their social security and pension benefits from the government’s puppet labor union. But their tenacity won them sympathizers; from the northern industrial provinces, the walkout fanned out into mines, factories and shipyards all over Spain until 100,000 workers were out.

Civic Exercise. The strikers began boycotting shops, and a Communist radio station in Prague beamed encouragement to them. Worried by the draining of some $200 million from the Spanish economy, Franco finally declared a state of emergency. To the three northern provinces of Asturias, Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya, he rushed reinforcements of armed police and civil guard units, partially suspended the fuero (the Spanish bill of rights). Said one Spaniard: “The only time we ever hear about the fuero is when it’s suspended.”

The determination of the strikers served to strip away Spain’s normal political apathy. Intellectuals in Madrid issued a manifesto protesting the government’s news blackout of the strike; ridiculing the official explanation that the unrest was fomented by the Communists, they declared: “Nothing is said of the real social situation that caused the strikes.” Admitted one of the signers: “This won’t have any effect. But it gives us a little exercise in civic duties.” At the University of Madrid, student riots about the mounting influence in education of Opus Dei, a powerful Roman Catholic lay order, turned into sympathy demonstrations for the strikers.

End of Indolence. The strikes finally unnerved Franco. Canceling a long-planned fishing vacation, he tarried in Madrid and discussed proposals to end the walkout. He balked at bowing completely to the strikers’ demands, but he was expected to order across-the-board wage readjustments to head off further trouble.

Spain is anxious for a new era to begin, but what Spaniards want is not so much political revolution as greater economic progress. Under Franco, there have been gains. Wages have risen, and white collar workers can now afford motor scooters and a seaside holiday. Where it was once fashionable to be indolent, it is now even more fashionable to make money; girls of good families open boutiques and ambitious young men invest in ocean-front apartments for tourists, look abroad for business markets. But such individual efforts are nowhere near enough to meet the country’s rising expectations. Spain is in a bourgeois, rather than a revolutionary, mood—not because it has achieved bourgeois status, but because it sees its European neighbors achieving it and would like to do the same.

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