The Guasp 17th century press are at the museum in the Charterhouse, Valldemossa.

The Guasp 17th century press are at the museum in the Charterhouse, Valldemossa.

28-01-2006T. AYUGA

In August 1900, the Balearic Typographic Union - La Unío Tipogràfica Balear - went on strike. Printing came to a halt, the employers' association given little alternative other than to cease operations temporarily.

Unionism was in its infancy. The UGT Unión General de Trabajadores, the Union of General Workers, had been founded in 1888 by Pablo Iglesias Posse. Regarded as the father of socialism in Spain, he had previously founded (in 1879) the Partido Socialista Obrero Español - PSOE, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party. The Pablo Iglesias of Podemos, who is currently Spain's second deputy prime minister, was named Pablo after him.

With this new unionism came industrial action, and the Balearic Typographic Union wasn't averse to joining in with this action - on what was seemingly a regular basis. Nine years after that 1900 strike, the union sent a message to its members. This was in May of 1909. There had been another strike, and it was evident that the workers were struggling because of the regularity with which they were called on to take industrial action.

The union's message read: "Comrades, today we return to our burden, but we will not give up until we can rid you of your timidity. Comrades, the abandonment of your interests cannot be explained. It is despairing to see you plunged into so much resignation and meekness instead of showing the spirit of struggle and rebellion that you should nurture.

"Have your energies been so drained by the last strike to the point where you have no breath left to continue the fight against capital? Is it that you have given up on any idea of improvement and that you are satisfied that your tyrants let you live if only by their grace and so that you can die of anaemia?

"Are you not tired of suffering so much exploitation and misery? Do you not want to break into a thousand pieces the chains that oppress you? It is time that you shook off this brutalising scepticism. You should return to the society (the union) that you have abandoned at a bad time. You should see that the mere announcement of our union will make our exploiters tremble with fear like a child.

"You, as workers at the printing presses, are the ones who should march at the head of the workers' army of Palma. Typographers are like the apostles of redemptive ideas. Today, all over the world there is a fight for the worker. Are we to be like a herd of lamb?

"It is urgent that we reorganise ourselves in order to improve working conditions in which we remained after the last strike - life without hope is like death. With such negligence we perpetuate our misery and slavery. We are a kind of automaton. Let us breathe in the air of the modern life of freedom and emancipation and cease being something to be exploited."

What had happened, therefore, was that print workers, worn out by constant industrial action, had decided to leave the union. Hence there was this astonishing appeal to them to return to the fold. One says astonishing, but this was over one hundred years ago, when workers' rights were negligible to the point of non-existent. In addition, and the union went on to make this point, there was the advance of technology - "compositor machines are becoming widespread"; they could "destroy us".

That first decade of the century did in fact mark a turning-point for printing, and technology was responsible. In Majorca, as elsewhere in Spain, this was almost exclusively German technology, which was how it had been more than four hundred years earlier.

Nicolas Calafat was the first printer in Majorca. His press was at Miramar in Valldemossa. In 1487, Calafat printed works by the poet Francisco Prats. The title of this book was "Devota contemplación y meditaciones de la Via-Sacra"; Via Sacra referring to the main street of Ancient Rome. It isn't known how Calafat came to have his presses or indeed how he had learned to print. Machines available at the time were on the mainland, and the presses were run by Germans.

Calafat was curious in that he was apparently way ahead of his time. There wasn't another press in Majorca until 1540. This belonged to one Fernando de Cansoles y Villarroel. He was to use it until 1573 but the "Villarroel printing press" was to later be used by Gabriel Guasp, who in 1579 established a printing firm which remained in existence until 1958. By the start of the eighteenth century, Guasp was the premier name for print in Majorca. Brochures, calendars, grammar books, the company was also by appointment to the Viceroy of Majorca and to the Inquisition. At the turn of the twentieth century, one guesses, Guasp was part of the print employers' association and so a target for the Balearic Typographic Union.

* Artefacts from the Guasp printing company, including woodcuts and a 17th century press are at the museum in the Charterhouse, Valldemossa.

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