Tuesday, March 21

The songs of the canning workers in the Franco regime: “It was the only way to protest, they treated us like slaves”

“Blood, sweat, tears and more things I left inside the factory, and like me the thousands of women who carried out the canning industry with our hands.” At 84 years old, Amparo González has lost neither her enthusiasm nor a memory – that of the female working class that was forged during the Franco regime – that she never tires of valuing. Sitting in the living room of her house in the center of the Murcian capital, she remembers the first day she walked through the doors of one of the factories in her town, Molina de Segura. “I was only nine years old but I was very happy to work and be useful at home, that my mother could go to the store without being credited,” explains this woman, the youngest in a family of eight children who grew up in the garden , in the outskirts. “When I won my first 20 dollars, I ran the three kilometers that separated the factory from my house to give the money to my mother, but I soon realized that there were many injustices there.”

It was 1946. And although the Civil War slowed down activity a lot, and after the conflict there were export problems and a shortage of sugar and tinplate, the canning industry experienced a strong expansion in those years in the Region of Murcia, with very affordable raw materials and an even cheaper workforce, mainly female. The employment was seasonal and with a strong irregularity in the contracts. “There are women who started working as children and never contributed,” complains Amparo. Wage differences by gender were institutionalized until 1970. In 1941 the minimum daily wages were 9 pesetas for specialized workers and 6.50 for the same category of women, according to research by Domingo A. Manzanares Martínez, dean of Labor Sciences at the University of Murcia (UMU).

To recognize their memory, the PSOE has presented a motion to the Regional Assembly for the Chamber to urge the Governing Council to honor these working women on March 8, International Women’s Day. “The submission of these women not only came from the moral discourse proposed by the political framework of the moment, but was also reflected through punishments that they could not denounce,” the motion states.

Indeed, “there were many things to change, and although it was very difficult because people were very afraid of losing their bread, since I was little I had that initiative to raise awareness among women,” says Amparo Martínez, honorary president of the PSOE in Murcia. “So there were two classes, the exploiters and the exploited; we were nothing, just slaves.” Her first claim was to ask that they leave some boxes of fruit for the older women so that they could sit down for a while, “she saw them standing up and had a very bad time.” It was the first time they were angry with her, and they refused to return to work the next day. “They always insulted us, they told us that we were sows, vagrants and daughters of bitches, they made us give birth from a pulpit, they even controlled you how often you went to the bathroom and what you went to, you had to ask permission even to drink water” .

Work to the rhythm of the rosary

They asked them to pray the rosary to work to the rhythm of their litanies, “that’s when I started teaching songs to women; I was from the Christian Workers’ Youth (JOC), because it was the only place where we could meet in peace and I knew a lot songs”. With his rhythm still in his head, he sang some songs: “To be part of the JOC, today you don’t have to be a Solomon, we are simple people with the pride of being a worker” and another that said, “Consumers and producers all at once we want to be, that some produce and others shine, we will never be able to understand”. “It was the only way to protest, but since many times I was the one who showed them, then they wouldn’t let me enter the factory and I visited all the factories in the municipality and some in the capital.” Her intention was to “awaken class consciousness,” says this small woman who after three decades of hard work in the canneries and domestic service managed to get a Nursing degree and ended her working life at the Virgen de la Arrixaca Hospital in Murcia.

In ‘Memoirs of a buried stone. The collective songs of working women from Murcia (1939-1959)’ gathers this thesis by the historian Ibán Martínez. “We find very interesting social networks from an anthropological point of view,” he explains to elDiario.es Region of Murcia. “In places like Totana or Alcantarilla I found a practice with a very vivid memory; the research is based on 60 interviews with women who worked in four factories, so I start from a memory contrasted by many informants, all working women from Murcia.”

As Ibán Martínez has been able to verify, there was a certain permissibility with the songs during those years “because it was not yet assimilated with leisure and helped to synchronize the work; many were improvised collectively with previous melodies, such as trovos, and they put the lyrics that were invented and that dealt with intergenerational issues, such as the short skirts of young girls, the ‘garçon’ hair or the ‘lip sticks’. The younger ones, on the other hand, “complained that their mothers watched them when they went to dances or outings.” On Fridays, explains the historian, “they had to recite biblical lyrics to expiate their sins, we cannot forget that there was also a lot of sexual violence inside the factories.”

“If there are eight, I don’t know because I work at least ten”

In other lyrics they criticized “the power of men, of masters, like someone who said if our master’s clock had a good bell, he would send us to eat because we already feel like it, or let’s girls go to work, which is eight hours and there are to squeeze, if there are eight I don’t know because I work at least ten”. And in some songs “domestic violence was also referred to, because they were criticisms that went more unnoticed with the songs.”

In Molina, Amparo Martínez recalls, “when it was one o’clock the factory whistles blew, and as a very young girl I was excited because I thought my town was a hard-working and important town; but very soon my perception changed.” When she entered the factory, “there were about 15 girls my age, we dedicated ourselves above all to carrying the jars from one place to another, to the one who put the pulp, the one who then closed them…” They earned very little, and the biggest problem “is that we put in many hours of work; you knew when you came in but not when you left.” And every day there was a selection process at the gates of the factory: “The owner would come out and point out with his finger who entered and who did not; for example, not going to mass was a reason for dismissal; we were not aware that we were people , that we had rights and dignity, nor did we have any culture”.

Under this labor model “there were many benefits concentrated in a few, the investment figures in the companies were motivated by the conditions of treatment that was given to the employer and the working class, as slaves, under the Franco regime,” says José Miguel Martínez Carrión, doctor in History and professor of History and Economic Institutions at the UMU. 40% of the exports of canned vegetables during that time were from Murcia. And 90% of the employment of the entire food industry, the flagship of the Murcian industry, “about 25 or 35,000 workers were from the canning sector.” Those were the official data, “because for many years there were no payrolls, no contributions, nothing.”

The statement, the payroll, did not arrive until almost the 1970s. “It was a great advance because until then we had not been recognized for anything; if you had, for example, an accident at work, and they were frequent, the doctor would treat you at that time and at most They gave you a ‘gift’ to buy silence, but nothing more,” Amparo complains.

Bites and harassment of the migrant worker

The women of the canning factories of that time are the migrant population of today. The Region, with a 14% foreign population, has a reserve of cheap labor, employers have many people to turn to and can offer lower salary conditions. The majority of jobs are managed through Temporary Employment Agencies (ETT), with intermediaries who take invented bribes for helping candidates find a job in a sector in which the norm is usually the breach of contracts and contributions and the incomplete and irregular payment of wages. The days can be extended in season until 1 or 3 p.m. and work is done by piece, by piece collected and not by hours.

Migrant women continue to be the majority in many stores and continue to denounce harassment practices towards them. In September 2020, an agricultural manager was arrested in the Region for twenty sexual assaults on seasonal workers in the Campo de Cartagena in the framework of Operation ‘Yawari’.