by Rubén Vega García
Historian. Professor at the University of Oviedo. Head of the Oral Sources Archive for the Social History of Asturias. He has worked on the Francoist and democratic periods, following research lines focused on working cultures, labour unionism, social unrest and de-industrialization processes.
The workers’ movement was the main social and political backbone of Asturias throughout the twentieth century. The history of the working class is to a large extent also the history of the region during this period.
Along with Catalonia and the Basque Country, Asturias was one of the most industrialized regions in Spain throughout the twentieth century, as well as one of the places where the workers’ movement was stronger. Coal mining and metallurgy were the pillars of the region’s economy, scarcely diversified and always relying on support from the state. Population concentrated around these industries in the central area, the locus as well for socio-political organizations and social conflicts. This is how the perception of Asturias as a workers’ stronghold was born, embodied by the combativeness of the miners of the 1934 revolutionary uprising, who became the reference for the political opposition during Franco’s dictatorship. Some of those struggles are regarded as landmarks nowadays, and their epic component contributes to their endurance.
Given a democratic context, social, political and (at times) cultural hegemony has been in the hands of a well organized working class, highly capable of mobilizing. And during periods of dictatorship – especially during Franco’s – the workers’ movement in Asturias has been one of the main forces of democratic resistance. The population of the mining valleys and the industrial cities has traditionally produced politically active and cohesive workers’ communities. Socialists, anarcho-syndicalists and communists were firmly established. Working culture values and class solidarity spread until becoming the norm, and were solid enough to endure the dictatorship’s repressive milieu after the war. Industrial decline has undermined these foundations and yet it has also revealed their solid roots.
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