Thursday, November 4, 2010


Last Saturday Madrid’s Puerta de Alcalá was packed once again to receive Marcelino Camacho. The plaza had been the scene of many of his May Day speeches but on this occasion the crowds had gathered to mourn his passing as the cortege passed by.

The tributes to Camacho – a founder of the CC.OO union and a former Communist MP - were led by the writer Almudena Grandes and included contributions from one of his sons, Marcel Camacho, as well as the secretary general of the Spanish Communist Party, José Luis Centella plus the secretary general of the CC.OO Ignacio Fernández Toxo.

When the union leader relayed the condolences sent by the Royal Family the words were greeted with heckling by some of those present who supported the Republican cause. Camacho’s widow, Josefina Samper, led the mourners in singing La Internacional and recalled her deceased husband’s recent words “If one falls, you get up immediately and walk on.”

When he died Marcelino Camacho Abad was 92 years old. He had been a dedicated unionist and politician throughout his long life. He founded the CC.OO union and was its first general secretary between 1976 and 1987 and a Communist MP for Madrid between 1977 and 1981.

It was back in 1935 that he joined the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and the UGT union working on the railways with his father in Soria. After the military uprising along with other rail workers he cut the tracks preventing the Fascist advance. He then crossed on foot to the Madrid mountains and was a member of a Republican fighting band during the Spanish Civil War. In the final days of that conflict he imprisoned by the Junta de Casado – the government that signed an accord between Madrid and Franco. Camacho escaped but whilst on the run he was denounced by a person he did not know and was sentence to hard labour in work camps ending up in the Moroccan city of Tangier.

In 1944 he escaped again and this time went to Algeria. He was detained by the French police as he crossed the border and taken to Orán where there was a large colony of Spanish immigrants. Some were economic migrants and others Republican refugees amongst them Josefina Samper who he married on December 22, 1948.

In 1957 he returned to Spain as a metal worker at the Perkins Hispania factory. It was not long before he started representing the workers and again became an active communist infiltrating the union organization of the Franco regime. Because of his union and political activity he was jailed for nine years in 1967 at the infamous Carabanchel prison in Madrid.

Following the death of Franco and the collapse of his regime in 1976 the Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) was constituted with Camacho as its secretary general. He was also a central committee member of the PCE and was elected an MP in 1977 and again in 1979. He resigned from parliament after the PCE backed government plans for labour reform with which he profoundly disagreed.

During Camacho’s tenure as secretary general the CC.OO became the major union in Spain. It called the first general strike against Felipe González’s socialist government in 1985 and Camacho played a leading part in the protests over Spain’s decision to join NATO in 1986. Finally in 1987 he stood down as secretary general and became the union’s honorary president. However he resigned from that post in 1995 as he disagreed with the direction that both the union and the PCE were taking.

Until his death he remained an active member of the PCE, its Federal Committee and also of its affiliate Izquierda Unida. In his later years he received doctorates from the universities of Valencia and Cádiz including the Medalla al Mérito Constitucional from King Juan Carlos I. The Spanish Civil order had been created by the socialist government of Felipe González to honour those people who had given service to the Constitution, to its values and who had helped establish it.

At his funeral writer Almudena Grandes said that Camacho had been one of the true fathers of democracy, of liberty and of human rights and such a figure could never die. The one time leader of the CC.OO had frequently spoken at factory gates but with the objectives of “liberty, social justice and peace but always equality.”

(The above article appeared on Thursday November 4 on The Comment Factory website)

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