1925: The Sleeping Factory

Daniel Vázquez Díaz - The Factory in the Mist (c. 1920)     Daniel Vázquez Díaz - La fábrica dormida [The Sleeping Factory] (1925)

Daniel Vázquez Díaz:
La fábrica bajo la niebla [The Factory in the Mist] (c. 1920)
La fábrica dormida [The Sleeping Factory] (1925)

In February 1919, after eight workers were fired for political reasons from a hydroelectric plant in Barcelona, Spain, workers launched a strike that would ultimately result in the world’s first 8-hour day.

The strike started slowly, with 140 workers walking out to protest the firings; more and more followed in the days after. Soon, sympathy strikes were spreading across the city. Factories in the textile industry shut down; electrical workers went on strike—and soon the entire city was paralyzed by a general strike, with all the workers demanding shorter working days, pay increases, and union recognition. The strike was led by an anarcho-syndicalist union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), which boasted about 755,000 members in 1919about 10% of the adult population of Spain.

Authorities attempted to stop the strike by declaring a state of emergency and martial law—announcing that all the workers were being drafted into the army. The order was ignored, especially since workers in the printshops refused to print any information about it. Moreover, the heavyhandedness of the government only served to excite more and more acts of solidarity, with the railway and tram workers next to declare themselves on strike.

Union officials were arrested, along with 3,000 strikers; the economic pressure mounted by the strike, however, was working, and the union called for an eight-hour day, union recognition, and the reinstatement of all fired workers. They also announced a new general strike to begin March 24th and last until April 1st—and the authorities swiftly conceded to all demands. Spain became the first country in the world to legislate an eight-hour workday.

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