JOAN PEIRÓ BELIS
The following brief biography was originally published at the website of the CNT of Puerto Real in Spanish. The original Spanish version can be found there under their 'Biografias' section.
Joan Peiró, glass worker, anarcho-syndicalist intellectual, and Minister of Industry during the second Spanish republic, was executed by firing squad on July 24, 1942 at Paterna (Huerta Oeste, Valencia). He was born on February 18 in the working class district of Sants in Barcelona. He began work in a Barcelona glass factory at the age of 8 an d didn't learn to read and write until he was 22. He continued to work in the glass sector and along with other compañeros founded the Glass Cooperative of Mataró, a thing he never abandoned.
In 1907 he married Mercedes Olives, a textile worker, with whom he had three sons (Juan, José, Llibert) and four daughters (Aurora, Aurelia, Guillermina, Merced). As he explained his union militancy began in 1906, and he began to hold positions of responsibility from 1915 to 1920 as Secretary General of the Spanish Federation of Glaziers and Crystal Workers and director of La Colmena Obrero (organ of the unions of Badalona) and El Vidrio (publication of the federation of glassworkers).
Because of his intellectual acuity he later became editor of the newspaper Solidaridad Obrero (1930) and the daily Catalonia (1937). Very influenced by French revolutionary unionism he began taking on positions of responsibility in the CNT after the Sants (1918) Catalan Regional Congress. Thanks to his capacity for work, organizing skills and prestige he held the highest offices in this organization.
At the Congreso de La Comedia (1919) he defended industrial union federations which were rejected at the time (in favour of geographical federations...mm). During the 1920s he suffered the repression unleased by the state and the employers and was arrested and imprisoned inSoria and Vicoria. In 1922 he was elected General Secretary of the CNT. During his term the Conference of Zaragossa was held where the resignation of the CNT from the Red Internation Federation of Unions was approved and membership in the reconstituted AIT/IWA was accepted.
At this same Congress, along with Salvador Segui, Angel Pestaña, and José Viadiu, Peiró defended the "political motion" which was widely criticized by the more orthodox sections of the organization. He settled in Mataró in in 1922, and in 1925 he guided the establishment of the glass workers' cooperative that he had previously intended to organize. Under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera the CNT was outlawed, their offices closed and their press suspended. Many militants were arrested and Pieró was imprisoned in 1925, 1927 and 1928. In the last year he was again elected Secretary General of the CNT.
He criticized the UGT for their advocacy of "mixed commissions" during the dictatorship and also Pestaña with whom, however, he agreed on other matters. He also criticized the more anarchist union sector, and despite the fact that he joined the FAI he was never militant in it. On the contrary he defended a more syndicalist mass organization and opposed the action groups that a minority of militants controlled. In 1930 he signed the "Republican Intelligencia" manifesto and received much interal criticism which led him to withdraw his signature. He defended industrial federations up to the 1931 CNT Congress in Madrid where he won mass support against the FAI theses.
At this Congress he supported the presentation of the "Position of the CNT Towards the Constituent Cortez" proposal which defended the idea that the proclamation of a republic could mean an advance for the working class. The proposal was adopted with some modifications despite the opposition of some FAI sectors who saw it as support for bourgeois political machinations. Also in 1931, along with 29 other prominant CNTistas among them Angel Pestaña, he signed the Treintista Manifesto which analyzed the social and economic situation of Spain and criticized both the republican government and the more radical sectors of the CNT.
The reaction to this led to the expulsion of Pestaña from his position on the national committee of the norganization and the schism of the Sabadell unions. These later gathered others who formed a bloc called the "Opposition Unions". Although Peiró participated in this split he had no outstanding responsibility, and he tried to build bridges to avoid the final rupture.
Reunification occured in 1936. After the fascist military rising Peiró served as vicepresident of the Antifascist Committee of Mataró, sending his sons to the front. He defended the entry of the CNT into the governments of Catalonia and Spain and proposed a state form of a federal social republic when the war ended. Along with Garcia Oliver, Federica Monteny and Juan Lopez he was one of the four "anarchist" (my emphasis-mm) ministers in the government of Largo Caballero where he was Minister of Industry.
In this position he drafted the decree of expropriation and intervention in industry and designed an Industrial Credit Bank. Many of these projects were annuled or diluted by Negrin. With the fall of the Caballero government he returned to Mataró and the Glass Cooperative. He also dedicated himself to giving lectures on his steps in government and publishing hard articles against the PCE for its actions against the POUM.
In 1938 he re-entered the government now headed by Negrin although not with the rank of Minister but rather as Comissioner of Electric Energy. He upheld an "anti-defeatist" attitude and proposed a certain revision of anarchosyndicalism in light of the development of the revolution and the war. He crossed the French border on February 5, 1939, and was briefly held in Perpignon from where he went to Narbonne to reunite withy his family. Later he moved to Paris to represent the CNT on the Coalition for Spanish Refugees with a mission to free Spanish CNTistas fromFrench concentration camps and facilitate their transfer to México.
He tried to flee after the Nazi invasion but was arrested when he went to Narbonne. e was returned to Paris where the French authorities issued a deportation order so as to remove him from Gestapo action and thereby go to the unoccupied zone and from there to México. He was, however, arrested again by nazi troops and taken to Trier (Germany). In January of 1941 the Francoist Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested his extradition. This happened on February 19 of the same year in Irún, violating French and international law. He was transfered to the custody of the Security General in Madrid where he was interrogated and suffered maltreatment (he lost some teeth).
The start of the trial was exceptionally delayed, and he was transfered to Valencia in April 1941. In December of that year a summary trial opened at which Peiró had statements in his favour from institutions and people of the new regime (military, falangists, clergy, judges, prison officials, businesmen, rightists and even a future minister under Franco, Francisco Ruiz Jarabo).
Even so his repeated refusal of the government proposal to be head of the Francoist unions determined his sentence. In May of 1942 the prosecuter presented his charges. A month later Peiró was assigned a defence lawyer by the military. On July 21 the death sentence was pronounced. On July 24, 1942 he was shot along with six other CNTistas at the firing range of Paterna. Some of his published works include The Path of the National Confederation of Labour (1925), Ideas About Syndicalism and Anarchism (1930), Danger in the Rearguard (1936) and From The Glass Factory of Mataró To The Minister Of Industry (1937) and Problemas y Cintarazos (1938).