Thousands of university students spent the summer months as miners, workers, bricklayers, farmers and fishermen, sharing time and labor with the working classes of the 50s and 60s of Franco’s Spain. That was the main activity of the SUT (University Labor Service), to which literacy campaigns and what they called “Sunday work” in marginal urban peripheries would later be added. The idea of creating an activity for university students that would bring young people closer to the working class was from Father Llanos, a peculiar Jesuit very close to the Falangist movement, chaplain of the regime, and who years later was a member of the Communist Party. The main objective of the University Labor Service was to eliminate the class struggle, which the Falangist ideology dreamed of making disappear.
He began to walk in the last years of post-war Spain, in 1950. In his almost twenty years of activity, he was integrated into the Falangist SEU union, survived its disappearance and had more than 13,000 university students from all over the country. . He sought to give way to the social concerns of Franco’s university students, following presumably Catholic social values, but he ended up becoming a progressive hotbed where, in his final years, members of clandestine parties had one foot inside.
From two work camps in Almería, with more than thirty students involved, to around thirty summer campaigns each year spread across industries, coal mines and agricultural activities throughout the country. In addition to becoming cheap labor, the “sutistas” also lived with families where they had been assigned. From the exchange of free time between students and workers, literacy campaigns arose, which sought to offer workers and farmers a basic education through university students. The theater and the teleclubes completed cultural activities promoted around the labor camps and education campaigns. “The theater connected perfectly with what the Pedagogical Missions of the Republic did,” says Álvaro González, from the Friends of the SUT Association.
The values of workerism were practically felt from the beginning. The Civil War and the fight for prohibited movements and rights, such as the eight-hour day, were present in the memory of the workers. Lawyer Cristina Almeida, a deputy in Congress in the 90s and one of the founders of Izquierda Unida, was part of the SUT: “It allowed me to learn how the hiring of workers was done. Every day in the square the businessman handpicked and loaded the workers onto a truck. Whoever did not go up that day did not eat. ”
In the final years of the Service, the politicization of the university was more than evident and the students took advantage of these activities to convey to workers and lower classes their political concerns against Francoism, making them aware of their injustices and reaching out to union movements. “This phenomenon of contact caused many of us to move into political life,” says Emilio Criado, a retired researcher at the CSIC and a member of the CCOO, who spent several summers working as a miner. All this added to the outbreak of the French May 68 and the change in the perception of the university students. “We went from being good children, who come to dedicate their time, to being a source of conflict.”
The official archives disappeared with the closure and suspension of the last campaigns in 1969. Today it is the Friends of the SUT Association who carries out the collection and archiving of documents, testimonies and collective memory of those years of progressive awareness. This summer marks the seventy year anniversary of the first campaign in two fields in Almería. Manuela Carmena, the journalist Jaime Peñafiel, the socialists Gregorio Peces-Barba and Pasqual Maragall, the lawyers Cristina Almeida and Nicolás Sartorius, the actor Mario Gas, the former Ombudsman Francisco Fernández Marugán, and the one who was rector of the Complutense University Carlos Berzosa are some of the countless relevant names that were part of the University Labor Service along with thousands of other unknown young people at the time. Today we know that the SUT was decisive for the implantation of the clandestine parties in late Francoism and, in part, decisive for the development of the Transition.