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Structural change, collective action, and social unrest in 1930s Spain


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  • Jordi Domènech Feliu


  • Thomas Jeffrey Miley


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    The Spanish 2nd Republic (1931-1936) witnessed one of the fastest and deepest processes of popular mobilization in interwar Europe, generating a decisive reactionary wave that brought the country to the Civil War (1936-1939). We show in the paper that both contemporary comment and part of the historiography makes generalizations about the behaviour of the working classes in the period that stress idealistic, re-distributive and even religious motives to join movements of protest. In some other cases, state repression, poverty, and deteriorating living standards have been singled out as the main determinants of participation. This paper uses collective action theory to argue that key institutional changes and structural changes in labour markets were crucial to understand a significant part of the explosive popular mobilization of the period. We argue first that, before the second Republic, temporary migrants had been the main structural limitation against the stabilization of unions and collective bargaining in agricultural labour markets and in several service and industrial sectors. We then show how several industries underwent important structural changes since the late 1910s which stabilized part of the labour force and allowed for union growth and collective bargaining. In agricultural labour markets or in markets in which unskilled temporary workers could not be excluded, unions benefitted from republican legislation restricting temporary migrations and, as a consequence, rural unions saw large gains membership and participation. Historical narratives that focus on state repression or on changes in living standards to explain collective action and social conflict in Spain before the Civil War are incomplete without a consideration of the role of structural changes in labour markets from 1914 to 1931.

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    Paper provided by Universidad Carlos III, Departamento de Historia Económica e Instituciones in its series Working Papers in Economic History with number wp13-05.

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    Date of creation: Jun 2013
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    Handle: RePEc:cte:whrepe:wp13-05

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    Keywords: Structural change; Social conflict; Labour markets; Spain; Civil War; Interwar Europe; Migration; 2nd Republic;

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    1. Shiells, Martha Ellen, 1990. "Collective Choice of Working Conditions: Hours in British and U.S. Iron and Steel, 1890–1923," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(02), pages 379-392, June.
    2. Magnac, Thierry & Postel-Vinay, Gilles, 1997. "Wage Competition between Agriculture and Industry in Mid-Nineteenth Century France," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 1-26, January.
    3. Simpson,James, 1996. "Spanish Agriculture," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521496308.
    4. Marco H. D. Van Leeuwen, 1997. "Trade Unions and the Provision of Welfare in the Netherlands, 1910–1960," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, Economic History Society, vol. 50(4), pages 764-791, November.
    5. Jordi Domenech, 2008. "Labour market adjustment a hundred years ago: the case of the Catalan textile industry, 1880-1913 -super-1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, Economic History Society, vol. 61(1), pages 1-25, 02.
    6. Juan Carmona Pidal & James Simpson, 1999. "The "Rabassa Morta" in Catalan viticulture: the rise and decline of a long-term sharecropping contract, 1670s-1920s," Working Papers in Economic History, Universidad Carlos III, Departamento de Historia Económica e Instituciones wh985902, Universidad Carlos III, Departamento de Historia Económica e Instituciones.
    7. Betrán, Concha, 2005. "Natural resources, electrification and economic growth from the end of the nineteenth century until World War II," Revista de Historia Económica, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(01), pages 47-81, March.
    8. Domènech, Jordi & Elu-Terán, Alexander, 2008. "Women's Paid Work in an Urban Developing Economy. Barcelona in 1930," Revista de Historia Económica, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(03), pages 375-401, January.
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