Council of Construction Industries

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 22, 2010

In foreign literature on Spain, abound descriptions of the tragedy of the Spanish home. A great number of the population still live like troglodytes or in places not fit to be mentioned as homes. 1 If raw material were lacking this situation might be in a way explained. But there is no scarcity of building material nor of architects and builders. Relative scarcity of wood is easily made up for to advantage by the modern use of metal; also the supply of stone and bricks is more than abundant. It is, moreover, a striking fact that precisely in the Syndicates of the construction industries, exist the greatest number of unemployed.

In 1910 there was a total of 3,644,483 dwelling houses; other buildings were in the number of 800,179; unoccupied buildings numbered 442,931. Of this total 1,738,557 were mere huts of one-story; 2,355,227 of two-stories and 793,809 of over two-stories. Since 1910 there has been more building but on the other hand a good many houses have been torn down as well as crumbled by time. The result is that a considerable number of inhabitants live in conditions completely deficient in hygiene and exposed to illness through humidity, faulty ventilation and filth.

In the big cities the sight of the so-called populous districts causes horror. The Ghettos of Madrid and the "barrio chino" of Barcelona are outstanding examples. In Madrid, official inspection has listed 28,000 homes as inadequate, of which 10,000 were declared uninhabitable. But the working population day after day must still live in them. This is not all; in December 1933 the total of dwelling places available was 205,835. The census of heads of families reached 215,842.

Not alone are the living conditions bad and scarce but also dear. In Madrid, rents of 50 to 7S pesetas per month number only 60,000. Consequently, the proletarians have to spend an excessive part of their earnings for rent.

In the beginning of 1935 the Cement Manufacturers' Association complained of the low consumption of its products. Up to 100,000 workers of this trade were jobless and the factories, erected for large scale production of a material which is more than abundant, were unable to function profitably.

The capacity production of the cement works is calculated at 2,600,000 tons per year, i.e., 509 more than has been consumed in the last five years. We can see, therefore, that there are enough cement factories capable of satisfying the needs in Spain, to the extent that not a single worker in the building trades should remain without a job. There is plenty of iron, plenty of space in the cities, and adequate technical requirements. Nothing is lacking towards the initiation of a radical transformation of dwelling places in Spain, in accordance with all the needs of hygiene and comfort.

Naturally, the Revolution cannot supply what is not there. In the beginning it would be a great improvement to distribute equitably the houses monopolised by small families in the rich quarters of the cities, among the homeless families of the workers.

But it must not stop there: the Revolution from the very beginning must direct its attention to the construction of modern dwellings in the cities and countries, in sufficient number to house comfortably all the inhabitants. If there is anything to fear in the post-revolutionary period, it is the possible lack of sufficient personnel necessary for the immediate industrial and technical renovation. This, in conspicuous contrast with the present situation where 40 to 60 per cent of the building trades are jobless.

In the organization of the construction industry, the same principle of factory and shop Councils, syndicates and federations, as in the foodstuffs industries, would be instituted. The workers, administrators, and technicians of each shop or factory would be guided and coordinated by the function of the syndicates, in which each establishment would be represented by its elected delegates. Sections of architects, builders, carpenters, electricians, plasterers, etc., could be formed and coordinated under the local federation. 2 Here again, the electricians, for example, might belong to the local Council of the electrical industries. These are questions of convenience and would not create any friction. The same would hold for transportation. All of which goes to show the impossibility of a rigid classification, and the necessity of leaving detailed organization to practical and spontaneous solutions.

The important thing is to maintain the individuality of each worker in the factory, of each factory committee in its syndicate, of each syndicate in the local branch Council. The painters and architects in turn could hold their assemblies and permanent committees as well as establish professional schools. All the activities, however, should be resolved by the productive and distributive organs emanating from the administrative Council of each locality; to be finally connected through the syndicate, branch and local council, to the federal council of economy.

An important function would be rendered by neighbourhood committees, which in representing the residents, would propose improvements, reforms and other necessities. This would give the population in general due expression of their needs and would afford them the opportunity of solving their own problems.

When necessary, the regional councils would create special schools for architects, engineers, technicians and specialised workers. These research centres would constitute in turn their administrative committees with delegations throughout the branch. All the elements contributing to the construction of dwellings would thus be coordinated locally, regionally and nationally, on an equal basis, with equal rights for all and by all.

  • 1Tens of thousands of Spaniards live in caves and one whole city, Guadix, consists 60% of caves. In the southeast, Aragon and Castilla and other provinces, our impressions of these horrible human ant-hills are unforgettable. Gonzalo de Reparaz, "Misery and Backwardness of Spain", page 49.
  • 2In Sweden, in defence against unemployment and against the possible boycott of reformists, there have been formed construction guilds by the Syndicalists of the S.A.C. These have demonstrated, even within the present system of private property and money value of labor, the vitality of syndicalist action.