IN JULY, 1936, General Franco, backed by most of the Spanish Regular Army, launched a rebellion against the radical Republican Government of Spain, whose Prime Minister, Largo Caballero, had worked closely with Walter Citrine in the International Federation of Trade Unions. Two weeks after the revolt began, a joint meeting in Brussels of the IFTU and the Labour and Socialist International learned with surprise that Leon Blum, the Socialist Prime Minister of France, had declared against supplying arms to the Spanish Government, and was receiving support from other Powers including Great Britain for a policy of complete non intervention, as being the policy most likely to prevent a European war.
It was this policy that the Trades Union Congress in September, despite sympathy for the Spanish Republicans and detestation of fascism, endorsed as the lesser evil, by 3 million votes to 50,000. But if the TUC albeit reluctantly, fell into line with Leon Blum, Hitler and Mussolini did not. Non intervention was not only not complete: it was proving to be utterly one sided. By the end of October the General Council joined with the Labour Party in demanding that the right to purchase arms should be restored to the Spanish Government. It was difficult, however, to see what could be done effectively to change the Government's non-intervention policy.
Citrine in his autobiography tells of this question being raised at a session of the General Council of the TUC at Blackpool in September, 1938. He had asked unions who felt that the General Council's efforts to secure arms for the Spanish Government were inadequate and could be supplemented by some new policy, or action, to make specific suggestions as to how that could be done.
"In the Council's view" wrote Citrine "there were only two ways in which a reluctant Government's policy could be changed. One was by means of general propaganda in which the movement had been indulging vigorously, and the other was to take some kind of coercive action. It was clearly the latter course which was in the minds of those who felt that the movement was not doing enough.
"I raised the issue of the justification for taking industrial action for a political objective. We were meeting at a time when contempt had been lavishly sprayed over Parliamentary institutions. It was said that democracy was played out and that government by consent, as distinct from dictatorship, was dead. I tried to show that it was not for the trade union Movement, which had repeatedly attested its belief in democracy, to strike a blow at its institutions. We ought not to give the fascists encouragement by ourselves trying to change by force the views of a democratically elected Parliament".
In the following year, the democratically elected Spanish Government was compelled to give up the unequal struggle against the combined Falangist, Italian fascist and Nazi armaments and forces. The massacre bombing of Guernica had paid off; and the stage and the pattern was set for the second world war. The only thing now in doubt was the starting date.
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printed 23 May 2013 at 21:42 hrs by 18.104.22.168