When Spanish crews in British ports went on strike in the run-up to civil war

Post date: 06/05/2021

The crew of Spanish steamer Eolo, which went on strike in Aberdeen in 1936.

Eighty-five years ago this month, a wave of strikes hit Spanish ships in British ports as crews demanded pay increases that the new government of the Spanish Republic had decreed. 

The lead story in the Daily Worker of 26 May 1936 was that the crews of the six Spanish ships in Cumberland (now part of Cumbria) and Cardiff were engaged in a ‘dramatic strike struggle’ to force shipowners to implement ‘the sweeping improvements in the conditions of the men which was made legally obligatory by the new Spanish government immediately following the victory of the People’s Front at the elections of 16 February’. 

At Workington, men on four ships were in close touch with Maryport dockers and seafarers, according to the newspaper. A fifth ship had been blockaded from the port and was held up off St Bees Head.

At Cardiff, 61 sailors, including the officers on the ‘4,000-ton steamer Armuoro and the 6,000-ton Conde di Abafol’, were solidly on strike. They had all first learnt that they had the support of their comrades on ships at the Cumberland port through the Daily Worker.

The offending firm from Bilbao had another ship due in the port. Its crew were expected to join the strike, unless their demands were met. The crew of the Duero had already set sail from Cardiff after they had secured the pay rises due to them. 

Crew members working in engine rooms should have received a 53 per cent rise to 230 pestas a month, sailors a rise of two-thirds and chief engineers 50 per cent. As one peseta was worth seven British shillings, this would put Spanish seafarers only on little more than half what British workers got, the Daily Worker reported.

But this act, one of the first of the ‘People’s Front’ government, constituted a massive challenge to the employers. New rights for workers were resisted by bosses throughout Spain in a sign that many would also defy the authority of the government by supporting the coup on 18 July 1936 that marked the start of the Spanish Civil War.

Another ship involved in the stoppages was the Eola, which sailed into Aberdeen when the Republican government approved the increase in wages. The Captain of the ship withheld this information from the seamen and they went on strike for 15 weeks. During this time the workers of Aberdeen forged friendships, provided to and learned from the Spanish crew.

These friendships would later lead to 19 Aberdonians, strongly motivated by discussions with the seamen, to volunteer to fight for democracy and against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

John Londragan (left) photographed in Spain 1937 with American Brigader Peter Frye and Juan’s two daughters. The photo is the basis of a mural in Aberdeen’s Union Square.


One of the Aberdonian volunteers, John Londragan, served in the Anti-Tank battery during the Battle of Brunete and sustained severe wounds. Restless during his recuperation, he walked to the village of Albares where, by amazing coincidence, it transpired that a local shop owner was the father of his friend – Juan Attaro, one of the crew from the Eola.


Posted on 6 May 2021.

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