The Francoist purge of Barcelona’s municipal civil servants

13 April, 2018 | Barcelona People, Unknown City, Your City Council

After the civil war finished in 1939, the new Francoist authorities carried out a thorough and far-reaching shakedown of civil servants and others who had worked for the administration, in order to assume complete control. Not only did they weed out anyone who would have identified with the republican flag, but also anyone offering any degree of opposition, whether through action or omission, to the uprisings of 18 July 1936.

As they advanced through Catalonia, at each town they entered, military officers themselves from Franco’s army would generally choose the new municipal management from people who showed the greatest affinity with the new regime. After that it was the mayor who would take their pick from those same municipal civil servants and assemble a tribunal to weed out the personnel that had previously worked for the council. In Barcelona, the process differed slightly. As the capital, the City Council was an exceptional case.

The decision over who would manage the city, once conquered, was different to the rest of the Catalan towns and cities. Marc Gil Garrusta explains in the book Barcelona al servei del Nuevo Estado: “The group of officials who would manage the local Francoist administration in Barcelona was designated to Burgos by the two main figures in the Francoist regime: Francisco Franco and Ramon Serrano Suñer”. It was clearly important for the new regime to have control of the Catalan capital.

The man chosen to be the first Francoist mayor of Barcelona was Miquel Mateu i Pla, described in the book by Marc Gil as: “An outstanding member of the Catalan bourgeoisie, son of Damià Mateu, the owner of Hispano-Suiza, with extraordinary anti-republican credentials. He fled Barcelona when the Civil War broke out, he was the nephew of Pla i Daniel (primate archbishop of Toledo) and an active collaborator with Franco’s secretariat in Burgos since the start of the Civil War”.

The process to purge Barcelona was also different. It was the head of the auditing unit for the 4th Military Region who personally named the members of the cleansing tribunal, choosing them from members of the military legal body. This meant workers from Barcelona City Council were the only ones to be ousted by an exclusively military tribunal, in a drawn out process lasting nearly two years, from March 1939 to December 1940.

The exact number of people working for the City Council in January 1939, when the city was occupied by Francoist troops, is not known. Some data suggest that in 1936 there were nearly 6,500 civil servants, a figure which swelled to nearly 9,000 by the end of the war. It’s worth bearing in mind that in those days, the City Council would have had to take on staff to cover the absences of those at the front. The figures are not reliable, but in any event the Municipal Contemporary Archive holds 7,100 debugging records. This is not the full amount, as there are known cases of missing records, but the volume is large enough to stand as a significant indication of how the debugging process affected a high percentage of municipal workers. Of these 7,100 cases, 2,500 ended up with criminal proceedings.

In terms of the number of municipal workers, it’s worth noting that Barcelona City Council reached the point where it was the second most important institution after the central government, given the high level of powers and responsibilities it had. Historically, the City Council has taken on a fair number of responsibilities over and above those normally corresponding to municipal corporations.

In general, three types of cases occurred, according to the personal situation of each persona at a certain point in the armed conflict. Civil servants who had started working for the administration after 18 July 1936 were sacked directly. Those who had worked there prior to 18 July, and who hadn’t been fired in the republican era, had cases opened against them and had to go through a screening process. In contrast, anyone who had been sacked by the republican administration after July 1936 was immediately taken on again. Gil Garrusta explains why: “The immediate reinstatement of civil servants sacked by the republican City Council not only sought to delegitimise the decisions of the former regime, but also flex the muscle of their own side. It wasn’t just about fixing a situation, perceived as unfair or spurious, but also about gaining loyalty, where it didn’t already exist, among those benefitting from the shakedown”.

The purge started with a couple of forms which the person had to answer and which were considered a “legal declaration”, meaning there might be consequences if the tribunal understood them not to be completely truthful. The questions on the forms sought to prove their honesty and to what extent the individual subscribed to the regime, as well as trying to build up a personal profile and deduce people’s political and moral ideology. The forms also included questions about people’s possible participation in military or paramilitary bodies on the republican side or about where they were from, in order to check whether people came from areas which had been republican-controlled. Other questions sought information about third parties, in an attempt to prompt tip-offs.

Marc Gil states in the book that: “Accusations brought often derived from half-truths, rumours, damning statements seeking revenge and even contradictions, with inconsistencies in the investigation process itself”. The author adds: “The mere appearance of a punishable element in any of the various reports issued was reason enough to initiate proceedings, even if the rest of the reports judged the civil servant positively or neutrally, or if the very same report offered ambiguous information about that same person”. Criminal proceedings against civil servants working for Barcelona City Council led to penalisations of varying degrees in 696 cases and 928 sackings.

Photo captions: Confirmation party. Religious act held in July 1939 in Plaça de Sant Jaume. | Francoist troops parading in Avinguda Diagonal, 22 February 1939. | Ramon Serrano Suñer, Minister of Governance, in the centre of the photo, on a visit to the City Council on 14 June 1939. On the right, also at the front, the Mayor, Miquel Mateu. | Municipal officials and the cast from an extraordinary function at the Teatre Novetats in aid of the “Rius i Taulet” Municipal Workers Association on 16 March 1936. | The Mayor, Miquel Mateu, at the front in a dark suit, at the inauguration of the Institute of Medicine, 17 November 1941. | Anti-fascist militia from civil servants at Barcelona City Council, 31 October 1936.| Children belonging to the “Flechas navales” –a section of the Falange party- parading in Plaça de Sant Jaume in November 1939. | Performance by the women’s choir from the Frente de Juventudes, October 1939. | Coming out from a mass at the chapel in Montjuïc cemetery in memory of councillors killed during the Spanish Civil War. November 1939. All photos from the Pérez de Rozas archive at the Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona.