Carme Arbonès Sàrrias earned 400 pesetas as a typist for the textile company Corbera i Bertran, owned by two gentlemen bearing those surnames, Jaume and José. Carme was 20 years old and already married. We were at war. It is 1938 and Barcelona is being bombarded continuously and systematically by Nazi and Italian fascist aviation. More than 4,000 dead. More than 2,700 injured. More than 300 buildings totally destroyed. More than 1,800 damaged buildings, including the cathedral. More than 1,900 pumps.
A terrible story among the tin cans of Muros
Carme signs her job form at Corbera i Bertran with a round and optimistic handwriting that first turns in large circles backwards but ends like an arrow, in a decided straight line, forward. He lives at 300 Rosselló Street. When he signs his treball certificate is August. In March, during the three terrible days in which the Italians destroyed the center of the city, a bomb fell very close to his house. Every day, Carme walks the 15 minutes that separate her house from the factory on foot, skirting the Gràcia neighborhood, in the Dreta de l’Eixample, between the current Verdaguer and Joanic metro stations. The typewriter has a wide and serene gaze, a small mouth that seems to always smile, and her hair in curls, parted at the side, in the style of the 30s.
All that, which is nothing and is a lot, Fran was able to find out about Carme Arbonès Sàrrias ten months ago, when a filing cabinet was found in the trash. It was a binder with rings, cardboard covers, landscape and with laminated covers. Inside them, a treasure: the files of all 206 Corbera i Bertran employees in August 1938. It was in a container on València street, along with other objects from an office that seemed to be being emptied and everything there had been destined for the landfill. Fran is part of the historical memory group of the Ateneu Llibertario de Gràcia, so it seems that it was the filing cabinet who found him.
Everything happens around the popular Gràcia neighborhood: the factory, the workers’ homes, the Ateneu, the container in which the filing cabinet was found, but the threads that tie this story well together are still missing. The rest of the colleagues in Fran’s group are working on it. They read the files, made them public, began to look for the descendants and to prepare an exhibition. They don’t know much yet, but this is only the beginning.
Corbera i Bertran was a factory that had been established in the neighborhood in 1929, at number 1 Romans street, where now there is a brick residential building with nothing in particular, vulgar, ugly, where the only thing that stands out is a pharmacy on the corner. In 1936, Catalonia owned 80% of the country’s textile industry and was one of the most powerful sectors. The CNT had a strong and majority implantation so, when the social revolution that happened parallel to the Civil War began, the CNT-FAI began a process of collectivization of the industries that was very successful in the textile industry. Corbera i Bertran is one of the businesses that enter into this dynamic of self-management but neither Jaume Corbera nor José Bertran are expelled from the company, as shown by their files in the filing cabinet, although they maintain their jobs as managers and earn a higher salary than the rest of workers. “The historiography says that in the anarchist collectivizations the bosses were charged and this Carpesano shows that this is not the case,” says Xavi Bou, from the Ateneu group.
But things were not going well in the textile sector: the war prevented access to markets, warehouses were filling up with stock, cotton stopped arriving via import, the wage rise raised costs and reduced competitiveness. Xavi and his colleagues began to investigate the factory, which they had never heard of. Immersed in the newspaper library, they found out that it was a particularly active business and that they stood out for their solidarity with the front, sending the militiamen both warm clothes and money through the Socorro Rojo.
When turning the pages with all those cards, the overwhelming majority of women caught their attention: they are almost 90% of the total. The architect and urban planner José Luis Oyón is also part of the Ateneu group and, with him, they are studying what those papers tell, what history can be extracted from them. “The women lived very close to the factory because in addition to working they had to take care of the children and do housework. The woman was conditioned to have to work in a nearby place. We also see that many family groups work, because they bring to the daughters and some pull others “, says Bou. “In addition to the files of the factory employees, there are also those of those who work at the headquarters where they had their offices, at 21 Bruch Street, and there they are already mostly men and live further away from their place of employment. work, “he adds.
If the families were from the neighborhood, it should not be very difficult to find descendants. The story of this find appeared in local media and the Ateneu memory group did its best to capture the attention of anyone who might know something. But only a relative of one of the workers appeared. “It is normal, the female memory with surnames disappears after a generation,” he recalls.
The factory survived the war, the postwar period, the repression, the dictatorship and the crises, but not the relocation. It even overcame the divorce, to call it that, between Corbera and Bertran in the 40s. In the 80s it moved to Rubí and closed permanently in 1990. How this file ended up in a container in the Eixample of Barcelona and who had it, It is something that is not yet known. Xavi has the suspicion that it could have been kept by an auditor of the Generalitat, which was the one that controlled the company during collectivization. When they have finished studying it and have made the exhibition they plan, they will donate the folder to an archive that will safeguard it and remain accessible to historians of the future, if any. “The greatest danger of memory is not that people disappear but that people become insensitive to this,” he warns.