During the First Spanish Republic, Alcoy was one of the few Spanish cities where the Industrial Revolution had taken root. The city was occupied by the paper, textile, and metallurgic industries, which had engendred a great upswing in population and the implementation of a capitalist system of production, as well as introducing mechanisation as a substitute for much former manual labour. This provoked the appearance of Luddite movements, which began to destroy the machinery in vindication and defense of the working class.
This situation placed the city of Alcoy at the frontlines of the social conflicts of this era, due to the poor situation of the workers, who organised themselves and were pioneers in the establishment of the First Workers' International (AIT) in Spain. Other proletarian revolutions arose in Spain, but the most significant was Petroleum Revolution. In that event, the workers seized control of the city for days in July 1873, in the course of a general strike which eventually became a riot against the republican mayor Agustí Albors (better known as Pelletes). During the revolt, Albors gave the order to fire on demonstrators, who defended themselves by assaulting the town hall and executing the mayor and trapping the rest of the municipal leadership in the building.
The city declared itself independent, and was governed from 9–13 July 1873 by the Committee of Public Health, presided over by Severino Albarracín. The demonstrators declared a series of pay raises and reducing the work day. Finally, the revolt ended with the intervention of the federal army and the military occupation of the city, hefty repression against the revolutionaries, and practically no improvements for the labouring class. More than 600 workers were put on trial, including minors between 12 and 17 years of age. Many of the accused were condemned to death.
Those events broke the collaboration agreements between the republicans and anarchists, and gave the Marxists room to criticise the anarchists directing the workers' movement. Friedrich Engels himself put grim criticism in his 1873 mémoir on the bakunists' role in the Spanish uprising. After that point, the working class began to self-organise, aided by certain factors of the Catholic Church. They created various organisations and institutions: professional Catholic schools known as Salesianos, Catholic workers' clubs, and savings funds like the Monte de Piedad (1875).
The event is called the Petroleum Revolution since the workers, desperate due to living conditions, carried as their standard petroleum-soaked torches. During those days, according to chroniclers, the city stank of petroleum.
In popular culture
The writer Isabel-Clara Simó in her novel Julia (1983) narrates the history of Julia, a girl obliged to work in a fabric mill in Alcoy after her father's death in prison as a result of participating in the Petroleum Revolution.
- Friedrich Engels: The Bakunists at Work. An account of the Spanish revolt in the summer of 1873. K. Marx, F. Engels, Revolution in Spain, Lawrence & Wishart, International Publishers, 1939;
Bibliography and references
- Fondo documental de la Biblioteca Arús
- Pere Gabriel. Socialisme, lliurepensament i cientifisme (1860–1890). Edic. 62, Barcelona.