Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Acción Obrerista: Confessional Labor Organization in the Spanish Republic, 1931-36

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Acción Obrerista: Confessional Labor Organization in the Spanish Republic, 1931-36

Article excerpt

In September 1931, Catholic labor organizers Dimas Madariaga, Rafael Sanz de Diego, and José Ramón Otero met to organize the creation of a "great party of manual and intellectual workers."1 This meeting led to the establishment of a labor union, the Coalición Española de Trabajadores (CET) and a confessional political party to represent the interests of Catholic workers, Acción Obrerista. This organization would become the official working-class party of the Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA), the largest political faction of Spain's Second Republic as well as the only confessional Catholic political party. Due to its adherence to social Catholic doctrine, its close ties to the church hierarchy, and its refusal to endorse direct action to address labor abuses, Acción Obrerista failed to amass a major following among the left-leaning working class and is ultimately an example of the weakness of the Catholic labor movement in Spain.

Much has been written about the CEDA and its youth organization, the Juventud de Acción Popular (JAP), but this article examines the obstacles faced by Acción Obrerista, a "working-class" political party that allowed nonworkers to serve on its councils, urged workers to be patient, and opposed class conflict, yet classified itself as a right-of-center, nonviolent, antirevolutionaiy party advocating social justice. Despite a general belief among its adherents that the majority of Spanish workers would prefer a movement rooted in social Catholic doctrine, Acción Obrerista grew from 40,000 to approximately 80,000 members during its four-year existence.2 This rate was so disappointing that the scholar José Ramón Montero once called the party '"Acción Obrerista: a national political party that was no more than an autonomous section of the CEDA.' And an autonomous section, I might add, among the least important of the confederal party."3 From the perspective of the CEDA's history, this might be true, but Acción Obrerista was the only attempt to create an independent political party, instead of a syndicate, for Catholic workers during the Second Republic. Acción Obrerista faced serious obstacles not just within the labor movement but also within the CEDA itself, as many of the confederation's leaders refused to allow an independent worker movement within its ranks. As the CEDA was divided into factions of barely reformed monarchists and proto-Christian Democrats (among others), its very structure helped undermine the efforts of its working-class affiliate.

Clericalism and Anticlericalism in Pre-Republic Spanish Labor Movements

The Spanish labor movement developed later than in most other western European countries, but once underway, it was more revolutionary than left-wing movements in many western European states.4 Initial reactions to industrialization in Spain included machine-breaking and other protests, often in conjunction with anticlerical activities. Workers flocked to left-wing labor movements largely because these promised to fight (often literally) to protect the interests of workers, as the late-nineteenth century surge in strikes and violence attests.5 The Spanish government relaxed restrictions on labor organization after the Revolution of 1868, opening the door to anarchism and socialism.6 The anticlericalism of these groups was less a question of religion than of political and social power, and it is distinguished from bourgeois anticlericalism by its reliance on socioeconomic factors for justification. Pablo Iglesias, the father of Spanish socialism, wrote in 1902 that "for a tme socialist the principal enemy is not clericalism but capitalism." The Church, he said, had "become, more or less voluntarily,... a powerful auxiliary for the exploiting classes."7 Because Spain's late-nineteenth-century government relied on the Catholic Church as "an essential pillar of the political system, legitimizer of the Restoration regime," radical movements believed that attacking the regime's confessionalism would make it more vulnerable. …

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