The «Universidades Laborales» (UU. LL.), or Labour Universities as we would call them in English, were created in Spain in the first part of the dictator Francisco Franco’s regime and have occupied twenty three years of Spanish history. They were founded in the early years of the second part of the twentieth century (1955 to be exact) and did not dissappear until nearly the end of Franco’s regime in 1978, when the Spanish people opted for the way of the Carta Magna Constitution. A few weeks later the UU.LL doors were shut forever.
The blueprint for the project of this institution took place in an autarchic Spain, just after the fraticidal civil war (1936-39) within an authoritarian political order. Their conception corresponds to Jose Antonio Giron de Velasco, in charge of the powerful «Misterio de Trabajo» (Ministry of Employment) which at the time was carrying out all the the socio-policies of the Regime, in Seville in the autumn of 1950.
The first four Labour Universities (the only ones created by a Rule with range of Law), were created in Gijon in 1955; Seville, Cordoba and Tarragona in 1956 later being consolidated oficially together with the «Plan de Estabilización Económica» in 1959 by means of the Law 40 of 11th May 1959.
The development of the UU.LL. took place during the sixties and seventies reaching its peak with a total of twenty-one institutions in 1976. José Solís Ruiz elected Minister of Employment just after Franco’s death, in the government of Arias Navarro, was to open the last of the UU.LL centre in Vigo in October 1976.
The first expansion took place in the sixties within the «desarrollismo» period. The second one took place in the early seventies, when a great number of these so called universities were built without taking into consideration «Foundation Law number 40», thus breaching the law of «University Student Ordination» of 1943 and its own «Foundation Law of Labour Universities» of 11th May 1959.
The philosophy of the UU.LL. was to give all workers and their children a chance of receiving qualifications in the industry sector. At this point in Spain’s history we must consider that five million Spanish workers -known as «producers» in the Franco’s regime to avoid the term «worker», «working classes» or «proletarian»with Marxist connotations- were illiterate and could not imagine their children ever reaching university degrees.Thier pretenses, therefore, did not go any further than getting a technical specialization in the industry for their offspring.
In short, the final aim was to try and feed the incipient Spanish industry with qualified labour force as it had happened in Belgium at the beginning of the century with the «Work University» of Charleroi, which was precisely the model used in the construction of the first UU. LL. of Gijón. So, in fact the term «Universidad Laboral» was a euphemism for what in fact was a Technical College.
The UU.LL. were conceived within a context of political totalitarism, rhetorical and praise-giving, with an enormous ideological load in which the banner is the «nacional-sindicalista» revolution, headed by the charismatic falangist leader Girón de Velasco. The aim was to avoid new social revolts by means of carrying the culture to the labuor masses since the lack of such would generate the hatred of masses. Which is more, these educational centres were thought to be the future providers of managers for the country, who would have been educated in this ideology.
It is a political context in which, even in the regular state universities, the culture is directed by the political and ideological falangist apparatus, being the falangist professors together with a very carefully-chosen dean the rulers of the goverment body of each university.
The charismatic ideology of the Dictatorship: Falange, the National-Catholicism, the National-Sindicalism, the National Movement, etc., had their own influence in the exalting initial stages, as we can see reflected in the first UU.LL., those of Seville, Gijón, Zamora and Córdoba. The control was left to the Church through its religious orders: The Jesuits were in charge of Gijón, the Saletians of Seville, and Zamora and the Dominicans of Córdoba.
The educational model of the UU.LL. was based in the plan of studies of the «Institutos Laborales» and the «Escuelas de Formación Profesional» (both systems dedicated to Secundary Technical Education) to which the «Plan de Formación Humana» (Plan of Human Formation) was added and it would turn to be one of the innovative mechanisms characteristic of the UU.LL. The boarding student would find himself exposed to the the ideology of the Spanish Regime.
The so called «Plan de Formación Humana» was disigned, initially, like a tool of indoctrination in the falangist doctrine, because is through this subject where the principles of the «nacional- sindicalismo» of Franco’s ideology were included.
Taking it all in all, the «Plan de Formación Humana» was more a pragmatic project than a formative rationalized one, as each centre was given total freedom to put it into practice, so in a few years this plan derived into the preparation of «extra-curricular» activities. Thus, one can say with rotundity that the indoctrination of the labour classes never took place, that it was more a myth than a reality.
So then, the ideology was orthodox in the first ten years of existence of the system -when it had only six centres-, since 1966 the militia concept of the time, with its paramilitary groups, as well as ideological proselitism was abandoned and all the falangist apparatus was dismantled, as a result of the «technocrats» influence, despite the fact that all the Ministers of Employment in Franco’s regime were of a firm falangist ideology. Anyhow, any activity against the regime was always severely prosecuted.
According to its «Foundation Law», the UU.LL. had attributed personal jurisdiction, personal patrimony and consideration as non-state public institutions. Also, according to art. 6 of the Law 40 /1959, 11th May (BOE of 12th May), the UU.LL. were educational centres legally authorized to teach.
The educational purpuse (art. 1 of its Foundation Law ) was extended to the ordinary and intensive teaching of workers and their children by means of an educational action in all human orders: social, cultural, professional and technological. In fact, the creators of these new centres did not make but follow the orientations of the pedagogy of those years so full of limitations.
Their inner structure, upon providing a series of mechanisms that broke the traditional scholarship system, completely insufficient in those days to grant an authentic majority promotion, represented the most genuine ground to two very important social principles: equal rights and opportunities.
These educational institutions also presented another characteristic, the flexibility of the scholarship system based in one priciple: their wholistic character, everything was paid including transpotatation home and back, and all the courses were included from the first to the last.
That is to say, the scholarship included everything absolutely necessary for the school activity, besides the residential life and the expenses of transport from the centres to their homes (something totally avant-garde, that years later would be established in the system of scholarships of the Ministry of Education). This paternal system of scholarships gives as a result the most expensive public school system, as the cost of scholarships rebounded in the maintenance cost of the UU.LL. as a whole, including the staff payrolls.
The personnel of these centres, classified in several scales and groups, was carefully selected and, by order of their founder, could not have any other job, evidence that can be deduced from the speeches of Girón at the opening of the first UU.LL. in Seville, Córdoba and Tarragona in November 1956: «The teachers will devote themself to their tasks and won’t even think of making their job compatible with any other».
Reality was once again far from the aims, and a decade after this speech, it was frequent to find any member of the staff holding different posts, some of them in the state payroll, specially amongst the higher -ranked members. It would be later on, with the publication of the «Estatuto de Personal de las Universidades Laborales» by order of the Ministry of Employment on the 6th of July 1966, that this ministry put to work a programme for the UU.LL. which did not allow anybody to teach unless previously passed certain official entry tests called «oposiciones». The idea was to give the teachers an educational background on teaching tecniques based on religious, patriotic and humanistic ideals.
The educational staff was from the very beginning mixed, that is to say, there were religious and lay members, only the lowest- ranked members, the «educadores», were chosen among the religious community alone. The UU.LL. of Tarragona and all the centres built after 1964 can be considered «non-confessional» and the educational decisions were taken by the current minister of Education, except for the election of the «educadores», who were chosen by the «Delegación Nacional de Juventudes» (National Delegation of the Youth) a section belonging to the National Movement (Falangist Party) during the first ten years of existence of the UU.LL.
Their financing also was, without any doubt, somehow peculiar. In their origins, they received, basically, the contributions of the «Mutualidades Laborales», the «Caja de Compensación», the «Seguridad Social» (Social Security) and the «Impuestos Generales» (General Taxes). Subsequently, the contributions of the «Cajas de Ahorro Popular» (Saving Popular Banks), «Fondo Nacional de Protección al Trabajo»(the National Fund of Work Protectio). This system had been created in 1960 as a means of controlling the payment of taxes,one of the main problems that would later be linked to the UU.LL. system, trying to have a better and more just distribution of the taxes.
To sum up, the funding of these educatonal institutions was easy using the funds of the «Mutualismo Laboral», this institution being a mere collector of money, without any political or pedagogical implication. Its participation is limited to financing the 90% of the expenses of maintenenance of the UU.LL.
Paradoxically, the «mutual fund» structure was not democratic, because it was compulsory for the workers to belong to it, taking part on it through the Franco’s Trade Unions, with a great number of non-eligible members of the boards and with a faithful docility to its leaders. Later many side effects appeared like the iniquity among the different «mutualidades», some of them wealthy enough to provide for the comfort of its members, giving better grants and more help to many more of their affiliate students than the poorer ones, which gave way to the lost of capable students, who were not able to carry on studying for the lack of means.This problem was dealt with in an attempt to correct it by the «Caja de Compensación Mutualista».
Consequently, the patrimony of the Labour Universities did not belong to the State but to the Trade Unions , which is the same as saying, to the Spanish workers in their quality of basic creditors, which makes at least surprising that in the moment of their extinction, the Trade Unions’ forces practically resigned to this patrimony.
The generosity in the funding of the UU.LL. led to investments in infrastructure and in didactic and human resources, therefore these institutions were very much ahead of the rest of the educational institutions of their time in Spain. Very avant-garde were their assessment methods by means of Assessment Committees, more than twenty years ahead of their implementation by the «Ministerio de Educación» in the rest of the educational centres.As well as the existence of a department of Psychology with the application of the latest techniques, the rest of the schools had to wait for forty years to have one, with the development of the new education law called LOGSE.
Other advantages were a ratio of twenty students per class (half the number in the regular Secundary Schools); excellent sports facilities, special purposes classes like music, drawing, audiovisual means,etc.
One the the main causes of the destruction of the UU.LL.’s was the parallel competition being carried out between the UU.LL.’s and the Ministry of Education which made the Spanish tax payers pay both for the UU.LL.’s and for the other regular educational system.
Another reason for their disappearance was the fact that Spain was changing as a result of the political turmoil and the rapid transformation of the political spectrum owing to the democratic transition.The system was becoming obsolete and the UU.LL. constanly jumped from one ministry department to another, until they ended up in the Ministry of Education.
The scarcity of studies referred to the UU.LL., both as national or regional research, together with the generalized ignorance of them -few times analyzed and, usually from a very biased political point of view, giving them either an injust slander or an undeserved praise- has moved me to try and write the history of these educational institutions in the belief that, even if the their life span was short, their significant as a model of falangist educational project for the working classes makes the effort worthwhile.
This paperwork is structured in four chapters in which the development of these centres is analyzed, since their foundation in 1955 with their antecedents, both national and foreign, to the moment they were dismantled in 1978, carrying out a journey through their institutional development and also discribing the features that constituted the essence and singularity of these centres, an educational project that through the time has proved to contain some peculiar characterics on its organized structures, for example: their finance system, their jurisdiction (sometimes quite irregular), and their very original inner composition, the scholarship system in which they were based, without forgetting their historical significance within a very peculiar historical period.
In conclusion, this thesis is a contribution to the knowledge of a part of the History of Contemporary Spain and contributes to the history of Franco’s Regime; the description of the origin, development and extintion of the Labour Universities, as educational institutions that constituted in their initial stage, and along their development, a system specially designed to attend the lower social strata, therefore, they fulfilled with an educational coverage the old aspiration of the working classes to education, even though this special educational model was developed under totalitarial idealogical principles rooted in the pseudosocial doctrine of Falange, in which their founder Girón de Velasco believed, leaving, because of their colossal proportions, an indelible architectural print in the Spanish geography.