Behind the Falangist plates that populate Spain: this is how Francoism tried to perpetuate itself through housing

The yoke and the arrows still remain in the streets of Spain in the form of thousands of plates stamped on the facades. They are the famous inscriptions with the symbol of the Falange that the Franco regime took pains to place in the social housing that it built. Although city councils such as Barcelona or Seville have begun to withdraw them, It is estimated that they are still at least 4,200 that symbolize the propaganda machinery with which the dictatorship promoted its housing policy and the deep ideological roots it hid.

The regime built thousands of houses for low rents based on different legislation that changed over time. The plaques, in different forms, remind us of this: there are those that cite the 1954 law on "limited income housing" while the majority point out that the building had been built "under the protection of the Official Protection housing regime", since in the mid-1960s. It was in those years that more social housing was built, reaching more than 200,000 houses in 1965, according to data from the INE documentary collection.

Social housing has remained in popular memory as one of the great myths of the dictatorship, used by those nostalgic for the regime to claim it, but ignoring the motivations that went through it. The Falange symbol on the plates is just one of its more visible sequels. And to understand them, you have to understand how the regime's social policies were, historian Gloria Román Ruiz believes, author of a study on the subject. "In practice, they played a key role as tools for seeking consensus among the population, that is, they sought to seduce it, improve its image and broaden the bases of the dictatorship beyond its usual pool of support, contributing to its survival over time. ".

The recipe of the Franco regime "was not alien to that of other dictatorial systems", says the professor of Contemporary History at the University of Granada. Attempting to "promote the popularity of the regime and seek adhesions" were at the center of the social policies, which emphasized the material shortages suffered by the population, which was experiencing enormous economic and housing difficulties at that time. The Franco regime sought with this display to "convince people of its benefits" with an overwhelming triumphalist speech while with the other hand it violated the fundamental rights of the population and repressed and murdered those who opposed it.

In the background, the construction of cheap houses was also affected by ideological issues. On the one hand, the objective of increasing the birth rate with the intention of "enlarging the Homeland" that impregnated its ideology and for which "a decent and Christian home" was needed; also "the role in the private and domestic sphere" to which the dictatorship relegated women and "for a matter of morality", since the "overcrowded conditions in which thousands of people lived at that time were not viewed favorably ". On the other hand, the aims of "improving the image" of the slums and even "controlling the population" and avoiding hypothetical social revolts emerged, Román lists.

"If we want to make a country, we have to make homes," the Falangist architect José Luis de Arrese once said, whom Franco would place in 1957 at the head of the newly created Ministry of Housing.

The regime founded the National Housing Institute in 1939 with the aim of promoting the construction of social houses, but the one who ended up having almost all the protagonism was the Obra Sindical del Hogar (OSH), dependent on the Falange unions and which acted as auxiliary entity. It was the single party and its national-syndicalist discourse that inspired the housing policy of the dictatorship, which experts usually divide into two stages.

At first, the public discourse was focused on "national reconstruction" after the Civil War and "construction activity was at an astonishing distance from the housing needs that existed in Spain", explains the historian from the University of Santiago de Compostela, Daniel Lanero.

There was a "huge problem of substandard housing, overcrowding and unhealthiness" that worsened in the 1950s with the rural exodus and gave rise to "concentrations of shacks and barracks" in large and medium-sized cities. At that moment the regime "cannot postpone it any longer", promotes new legislative instruments and "intensifies its activity" of construction.

This second phase, characterized by greater economic openness, would be accompanied by the landing of companies in social housing, converted into a profitable business. "The most modest housing will continue in the hands of the OSH, but for the subsidized one there will be a whole series of tax exemptions and privileges that will stimulate real estate developers and construction companies," says Lanero. In addition, the potential beneficiaries differed, as Román has documented: if in the 40s it was emphasized that "they should have good moral conduct" and the houses ended up with "clear support from the regime", in the 50s and 60s it would be "a much more cross-cutting issue" reaching broad social groups.

"At this moment, the objective that the regime had of improving its image and convincing the population in search of that long-term consent and tolerant attitudes takes on special relevance," explains the historian. To do this, she deployed all her propaganda machinery.

"The acts of handing over the keys were authentic pompous demonstrations with the presence of local and state authorities and extolling the attitudes of gratitude of the beneficiaries to Franco," explains Lanero. The press and the NO-DO were also clearly instrumentalized for this purpose, according to documents this study published in the journal History and Social Communication.

Everything then served to sell the magnanimity of the regime, from the denominations given to the groups of houses built (some were called 'Caudillo Franco' or 'XXV years of peace') to the dates chosen to carry out the acts of delivery of the houses, loaded with symbolism for the dictatorship. Many were convened on July 18, the day of the coup.

This intense propaganda activity "aimed at disseminating the virtues of the 'new Spain', as Román defines it, had one of its most tangible effects in the plaques, responsible for reminding its inhabitants, neighbors and those who passed by "who had made these homes possible." "With them, the regime was present in people's lives. We must bear in mind that it was very important that they were material things, it was a long-term guarantee that would be extended to the following generations", points out the historian, who names "the will to build public and collective memory" on the part of the Franco regime as another of the objectives of the installation of the inscriptions.

For Román, the housing policy of the Franco regime did achieve its fundamental objective: to create attitudes of tolerance among part of the population. "He managed to improve and sweeten the image of the dictatorship and, of course, made people focus more on material issues and even talked about prosperity and not so much on political or ideological issues," says the expert.

Fundamentally in the so-called years of developmentalism, in the 1960s, which left behind the economic isolation of the country. "The dictatorship tries to build a new legitimacy that no longer has so much to do with the Civil War, but with economic progress," says Román.

There "that culture of property in relation to housing begins to take off" that still remains in Spain and that is partially explained by the intentional impulse that the dictatorship made of it. To this we must add that "it started from a terrible point", in which the regime itself recognized that up to 33% of the houses were "uninhabitable", so that "any improvement, no matter how small, was viewed with good eyes and even enthusiastically", says the expert. However, "they did not live up to the expectations generated by the promise of dictatorial rhetoric," she adds.

"In part yes, but it is very significant that the housing problems were not completely resolved at all and in the short and medium term the houses themselves generated discontent," Lanero replies to the question of whether the policy was useful for the beneficiaries.

The historian explains that in some cases there were "very poor" quality conditions and "problems of social and community facilities" in the form of large housing neighborhoods "without transport, without really urbanizing the environment, without services or green areas and sometimes with poor sanitation systems. "It was an accelerated and hasty solution, but even so, the attitudes of the people were not black or white, they were mostly grateful for having a house and at the same time they came to protest about these issues."

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