Notes of a militarised Spanish Renfe rail worker, 1976

Renfe train from the 1970s
Renfe train from the 1970s

The very interesting personal account of a rail worker in post-Franco Spain when the railways were militarised following a strike in 1976.

Submitted by Ex-temp on January 12, 2009

Renfe, through its rail services, spreads throughout the Spanish State, and is the company which employs most workers (72,000). Every Spaniard knows this and also knows that these workers have the job of ensuring a regular service to the country, crucial to its well-being and development.

What few know, however, is the kind of life which the majority of these men live. For example those belonging to the train service have to stand up in the engine cab, without knowing when they can rest, on journeys which are totally exhausting. The men who work in the baggage and parcel sections, under sub-human conditions, are treated by the managers in a way which is no different from the times of the Inquisition - these are the real tortures within the company. The men of the marshalling yards and repair yards are perhaps the most despised and worst paid, but who, without anyone ever bothering about them have a job as important as anyone in guaranteeing the circulation of the trains. They live a life of pure slavery and get paid miserably for it. If to this we add the persecution which those who struggle for their comrades suffer, the threats, punishments, being shifted to the worst jobs, the pressures to which they're subjected and the famous BLACKLISTS which were made out by fascist motherfuckers from within the ranks of the workers - the picture could not be blacker.

Renfe has always been dominated by a group of capitalists who have fattened themselves out of the misery of the railwaymen until, little by little, the railwaymen shrugged off their lethargy and paralysis to become those who have recently waged the most important struggles that Renfe can remember in 40 years. And if this struggle has not been greater then it is due to the fascist dictatorial repression carried out through the militarisation of the workers. It is worthwhile going back over what happened from October until today.

Renfe is a State-run company which has no collective contract and is subject to labour legislation which is completely anti-worker since all its articles favour the bosses, and those which appear to favour the workers have a series of clauses which condition them and take away all the benefits which they could have.

Because of this we decided to struggle for a collective contract. To do so we gathered signatures and got some 30,000 which we presented to the company.

But the committee set up to investigate the petition had been bought out by the traitor Garcia Rives, head of the transport and communications union, and the petition was turned down. Other actions, like sending telegrams to the ministry of labour or communiques to the industrial relations officer of Renfe etc, were taken. The answer was nearly always complete silence, but when we did get an answer, it was to the effect that Renfe was losing money and therefore could not make a contract. In the meantime, the railwaymen were desolate and condemned to a situation whereby they had not even the basic rights of the Spanish worker. They were paid miserably, only able to eke out a living by putting in 12-14-hour days or else by taking on part-time jobs after work, thus unable to rest or to spend time with their kids.

After years of unsuccessful petitions October 1975 came. At this time various departments took the decision to struggle more openly.

After various assemblies at the Central Repair Yard in Lower Villaverde we decided to take more direct action so as to get the other departments to make a series of necessary and urgent demands of a local nature.

It is worthwhile keeping the working conditions in these yards in mind. Renfe, from its foundations, had established a work system which was medieval. It was based on repression and keeping tabs on the workers and this system has been maintained up to the present day. A group of fascists had taken over and around them they had gathered intermediaries, foremen and sub-foremen, who in exchange for certain advantages carried out the lowest and vilest services in order to humiliate and persecute the workers. Of the twenty such types only three were able to defend themselves against our accusations.

This work system used all the modern European tactics and techniques for increasing production. They copied the production systems in various countries and put them into practice in Spain, especially in these yards. Thus European-style time and motion systems were used to ensure the greatest exploitation of the men. They made considerable profits at the cost of the miserable wages of the workers.

In October 1975, at the Central Repair Yards it was decided that this system had to be changed. It was decided to press for a higher hourly rate - this rate, the same as in 1968, is still 28.50 pesetas. (20p) .

After a great deal of thought, Renfe replied to our petition, giving us an increase. The new rate was 29 pesetas, an increase of 50 centimes per hour!

It's not difficult to imagine the reaction of the workers. We had various assemblies and we agreed to a go-slow; to maintain the work rate at 100% as established by the company and by the ministry of labour according to the norms laid down by the national committee of productivity. We had been working at 130%. In this way we were able to create a dent in production without exposing ourselves. At the same time we all agreed not to work overtime.

Two months came and went like this. The measures were unanimously put into effect.
Since Renfe did not react in any way whatsoever, despite the losses it was making, and because of the increasing cost of living we began to make contact with other departments. We decided to go on strike for the demands listed in our Platform, the most important points being:

* A minimum wage of 25,000 pesetas

* Three extra paid months per year

* Automatic increases of 7% for every three years of service

* Reassessment of wages every six months

* A forty hour week

* The right to hold meetings, association and strike

* Amnesty

* Election of representatives to negotiate the first contract

* Re-admission of all personnel fired for labour or union activities.

Thus the day of 15th of January came and the strike took place in various yards and departments in Renfe. Among them, on the first day, were the Central Yards, the Puesentes, Fuencarral and General yards. Others joined on the following day, doubling the number of yards and depots on strike. Production stations stopped, the entire technical part and various regional stations also stopped, Valladolid, Sevilla, Orense, Valencia etc.

By the 17th the strike was being extended to a few baggage warehouses, ticket control etc. . .

The form which the strike was taking caused the government to decree the total militarisation of all Renfe personnel. On the 19th of January, 72,000 people in Renfe were subject to military discipline.

Then the real shame. Immediately after this bill was passed four jeeps appeared at the Villaverde Yards under the command of a comandante and a captain. These proceeded to terrorise the entire factory, their details with automatic rifles at the ready, ordering everyone back to their jobs.

The comandante climbed up on top of a machine and called all the personnel together in order to give us his chat. He told us that we were all military now, both inside and outside the factory, that any disobedient act would be punished by the military code, that we could not meet in groups of more than three and that we were to talk to no one... if you like, the true model of the fascism of the 1940s.

A worker asked the comandante if now that we were all military would we receive the same salaries as they did? 'Arrest that guy', came the reply. This didn't happen though, because we all protested loudly.

At the end of his little chat with us the comandante concluded, 'And now I want everyone to shout loud and clear - 'Soldier, long live Spain!'. The railwaymen remained totally silent. With this the military parade was terminated.

The Yard changed into a real concentration camp. The director and sub-director were relieved of their posts and the commandante and captain took over. On the next day, the 20th, some twenty civil guards arrived and joined the soldiers, forming groups of four to patrol different parts of the Yard. Everyone was dead nervous but it didn't go beyond this since the calmer workers cooled out the more nervous.

In this situation of high tension a railwayman was arrested. The military and the civil guard made him march through the great nave (350 metres high), four soldiers and four civil guards forming the guard with automatic rifles held in firing position. In an act of provocation he was marched through twice. It was a repugnant sight.

He was held for five days and no one knew where, neither his family nor us. No one knew anything and neither the barracks nor the DGS (political police) would give us any information. We were to find out bat he was being held in Carabanchel prison where he is still being held. If they accuse him of sedition we would like to know the reasons.

Meanwhile the military carried out their repression in this and that yard. They forced the workers to work at a pace greater than 100%. They warned various comrades that they would appear before the captain and threats like the following were made: 'You work at 125% or go directly to Carabanchel, there are still some cells empty.' And not satisfied with that they worked out another tactic to achieve this fabulous level of production, whose so many benefits were reported in the press. It consisted of the following. They sent letters signed by the director to various comrades to oblige them to do overtime (up to four hours daily) with the threat that they'd be sent to Carabanchel.

Against the military code there are few or no recourses.

In this way they humiliated the working class. But we will continue fighting until we achieve our total liberation and the end of exploitation of man by man.

February 1976

Text taken from and slightly edited by libcom from the book "Wildcat Spain encounters democracy, 1976-1978" taken from