Police surround the church of San Francisco, in Zaramaga, and open fire onto the walls and windows on this tragic day of March 3rd, 1976. Armed Police shot into the crowd and claimed the lives of 5 workers. The bullet holes, the audio recordings and the testimony of the witnesses help us to understand the terror unleashed by the Franco regime in the capital of Alava on those fateful days. We remember them 44 years later.
During January 1976, some six thousand workers initiated a strike against the decree to limit wage increases and in defence of better working conditions. Two months later they called for the third time for a general strike that was massively followed on 3 March. This same day the armed police entered the Church of San Francisco in Vitoria – Gasteiz here the workers were gathering and asked them to leave despite the opposition of the priest and the agreement signed by the Catholic Church and the Spanish Government stating that the police were not to enter any churches by force. Just a few seconds later, the police used tear gas inside the church, which was crowded. As suffocating workers tried to escape they were beaten up and shot by the Spanish police.
Pedro María Martínez Ocio, 27, Francisco Aznar Clemente, 17, Romualdo Barroso Chaparro, 19, and José Castillo, 32, were shot dead. Bienvenido Pereda died later on. Hundreds more were injured, many with gunshot wounds.
A police recording released many years later shows very clearly how the police were very much aware of what was going on and in fact planned the shooting of workers.
“¿Que tal esta el asunto ahora por ahí?, cambio. Te puedes figurar, después de tirar igual mil tiros y romper toda la iglesia de San Francisco, ya me contarás como está toda la calle, cambio. Muchas gracias, buen servicio, cambio”.”
“How are things looking there now? Over. You can imagine, after shooting around 1000 times and breaking all the glass of the church of San Francisco, you tell me how the street is looking. Over. Thanks a lot, great work. Over.“
The response and acts of solidarity of other regions was swift. In the north, solidarity strikes such as those in Vizcaya developed with 150,000 unemployed workers and 150,000 more in Guipúzcoa and in Navarra – especially in Pamplona – for four days with strong confrontations with the police.
The events also unmask the lie of Spain’s official narrative of the transition from the Franco dictatorship to “democracy”. The violent suppression of protests, strikes, revolutionary eruptions (the repression of the Vitoria general strike is but one example, though the most dramatic, of such State violence at the time).
We cannot fail to remember the facts of Vitoria as part of a larger and deeper process of the workers movement. The enormous and intense conflict reveals the true character of the “transition”, which was far from being peaceful.