Road to Revolution: The Barcelona Rent Strike of 1931.

A look at how the Barcelona rent strike of 1931 prepared the ground for the revolution of 1936. 

by Dermot Sreenan    The Barcelona Rent Strike of 1931 not only served to reduce rent costs for working class families but was also an education in self-organisation for thousands of workers. It, along with other struggles in those years, created an organised working class that in 1936 made the most successful attempt yet to overthrow capitalism and create libertarian communism.

“1931 mass arrests in Barcelona due to the Rent Strike  (Foto 👉 Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular) …

The CNT was an illegal organisation during the 1920’s and thus many members had been reduced to the role of passive spectators as dedicated militants battled with the police and pistoleros. The dictator, Primo de Rivera, had fallen in 1930 and the new government (who declared a republic in ’31) let the CNT re-emerge.

As anarchists, the CNT wished to widen the union into a real participatory social movement. To do this they had to broaden its realm of influence. They knew that only via mass organisation, participation and struggle could the foundations be laid so that people would acquire the skills to construct a new society.

Direct action to win a Barcelona transport strike

The Idea

In January 1931, the popular CNT union paper Solidaridad Obrera (the Soli) published an article calling for action around the housing crisis. In April that year the CNT construction workers set up the Economic Defence Commission {EDC}, inviting other groups to join in,  and said they would study the expense that corresponds to each worker for the wage earned in relation to rents.

There was a worldwide recession and the exorbitant rents of the 20’s boom in Barcelona were impossible to pay to the rapacious landlord class.

On May 1st the EDC presented its first basic demand that there should be a cut of 40% in rents. Three articles quickly appeared in The Soli. The EDC followed these up, demanding also that the unemployed enter the workplaces to demand that the bosses hire 15% more men, that food prices would be agreed and local defence groups would weed out speculators.

book presentation on social struggle  in the 20’s and 30’s

After the publication of these demands individual actions began to take place. Workers re-installed an evicted family on May 4th. The EDC sought to encourage this action by holding meetings in working class areas of Barcelona and the surrounding towns. Many of these meetings were held through June and into July.

Large numbers of women attended and got involved as it was usually left to them to pay the bills and rent. Mass leafleting took place and a huge rally was built for. On 23rd June an evicted family was re-housed by the local people in Hospitalet and this caused great discussion in that part of the city.Barcelona women on picket line in the Huelga Mercantil strike

The mass rally on July 5th declared the demands of the campaign to be : For July the security (deposit) should be taken by landlords for rent; From then on rent would only be paid at 40% of the previous rate; That the unemployed should not have to pay rent.

If the landlords refused to take the reduced rent then they would get nothing as a rent strike was recommended.

No rents for Landlords

The EDC claimed that there were 45,000 strikers in July growing to 100,000 by August 3. Every working class estate became self organised so that the authorities did not have enough guards to prevent evicted families from being re-entered onto property.

From the end of July onwards the repression of the strikers grew with the Chamber of Catalonia (i.e. Chamber of Commerce) ordering the arrest of all organisers. The EDC rally and leafleting due to be held on July 27th was banned.

arrests, rent strike, 1931

In early August the EDC began to publish a series of articles exposing landlord tax-fraud, pointing out how there was one law for the rich and another for the poor.

In turn the state arrested 53 members of the CNT. This led to a riot inside the prison and a general strike outside. By October, the EDC were forced to go underground after the CNT had been heavily fined for not turning over the names of those involved.

The strike was ending, however it never entirely ended in many districts, and many landlords were forced to compromise and cut back on their worst crimes. What successfully broke the strike was the practice of arresting tenants when they returned to their homes. Some tenants put their hope in a Rent Decree (December 1931) which depended on legal ways of pursuing a claim for fair rent, but unsurprisingly it proved completely useless.

 Today  in 2017 we still need to Stop evictions..    the Raval barrio (Barcelona old city) has opened a  mutual support hotline.  .. we’re living a situation of extreme urgency with weekly and often daily evictions, harassment and bullying, an exponential increase of speculative practices, and price rises that are covert expulsions of the population;   twitter#Ravalresistim           see also


The Fruits of the Rent Strike

It had taken major repression by the state to end the strike but a valuable journey had begun. For many young people this was the first time they had been exposed to the ideas of anarchism and direct action, and exposed the new Republic of continuing the dictatorship.

The CNT union was now not only in the workplace but was embraced in the barrios, by the women, the unemployed and youth, with its self organisation anti hierachical methods. They would go on to join the CNT and become the revolutionaries of 1936. The rent strike was the beginning of many campaigns which established anarchist ideas and practices in the communities.Image result for Can vies resistsEven today the tradition of direct resistance continues, as when the State tried to evict the anarchist social centre Can Vies in 2014, causing an uprising, the burning of demolition machinery , and forcing the Council to back down.

People were exposed to playing a vital part in fighting their own oppression. They became fuelled with a belief in challenging the way things were. All illusions of change by the Republican government were quickly shattered.

The lessons of mass action and self organisation would later be put to use by the people who went on to make history in 1936.

When the fascist coup happened in 1936 in Spain, the left there and in other countries called for the state to put down the fascists. The more radical Marxist groups called upon the state to ‘arm the workers’ (earlier the same demand was heard when the fascists took power in both Italy and Germany). Yet the anarchists of the CNT got out onto the streets, took the arms for themselves and immediately began to defeat the fascists.

Why did this happen? Anarchism has a proud tradition of self-activity and mass participation. The anarchists in Spain did not cry out for the state to put down the fascists. In 1936 tens of thousands of anarchists were ready to seize arms and fight the fascists. No leaders, no calls on the state, just people who knew what to do and went out and did it. This self-organisation was in part the legacy of the Barcelona rent strike of 1931.

Dermot Sreenan

rent-strike-1931-cnt ( some info added) This article was published with the article  The road to revolution

Since the property bubble crash in 2008 mass evictions have escalated, along with self organised solidarity groups and networks like the PAH which have used tactics similar to the EDC in 1931, eg. re.occupations, mass resistance and pickets on banks and property owners homes. Even in 2014 34.680  homes were embargoed for eviction and in total at least half a million people have been evicted.

A book on the 1931 rent strike has been published, in Spanish by the anarchist editorial VIRUS and is available, with many other books,  here:

Author: thefreeonline

The Free is a book and a blog. Download free E/book ...”the most detailed fictional treatment of the movement from a world recognizably like our own to an anarchist society that I have read...

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