Industrialization and Social Changes in Basque Country

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Industrialization in Basque Country

Industrialization in Basque Country would not have happened without concert's economic support. The Industrial Revolution slowly developed and began in the mid-19th century in Biscay. Industrialization in Basque country had huge social consequences. The most important was that instead of exporting men as before, the region began to exhibit an increase in demand for a labor force in its new factories. Industrialization process changed demographic terms, with substantial social, cultural, and political implications for the future.

1Following the last Carlist War, the preservation of Fueros persisted until 1876, when Cánovas del Castillo mandated provinces to contribute to the Treasury. Foral Councils were replaced by Provincial Councils in 1877, and an agreement with these councils led to the creation of the Economic Concert in 1878, enabling specified tax collection. The Economic Concert, displaying flexibility in renewals (1886, 1894, 1906, and 1926), allowed the National Treasury immediate resources while maintaining tax autonomy for Diputaciones. Economic growth in Bizkaia, particularly in mining along the Nervión estuary, spurred infrastructure development, including the Triano Mining Railroad. World War I's economic gains during Spain's neutrality impacted sectors like shipping and steel. Challenges in Biscayan industries prompted Concert renewal, exceeding quotas, and contributing to educational and cultural institutions. In 1926, efforts to alter collection methods reflected the intricate relationship between economic shifts and taxation within the evolving Economic Concert system.

2.In the mid-19th century, industrialization gained traction in the Basque Country following the Carlist Civil Wars. Biscay, with mines owned by Bilbao bourgeoisie families, saw significant profits directed to English interests controlling concessions and ore shipping. From 1876 to 1900, iron ore exports to Britain thrived. Concurrently, a modern steel industry emerged in Biscay, strategically located near coal mines. The synergy of iron manufacturing expertise, skilled workers, and cost-effective coal transportation contributed to a technologically advanced steel sector. Companies like Santa Ana de Bolueta and Altos Hornos de Vizcaya rose in the 1880s, bolstering a powerful bourgeoisie. However, 19th-century global recession prompted European protectionism. The Basque bourgeoisie, advocating import restrictions, gained a virtual monopoly in Spain's steel production. Vizcaya became a major player, producing two-thirds of Spain's steel bars during the Restoration. Gipuzkoa industrialized in the 20th century, focusing on light industries with an iron manufacturing tradition. Sectors like tools, bicycles, and sewing machines thrived, with companies like La Papelera Española and Alfa established. Araba and Navarre experienced slowed industrialization until the mid-20th century, with government financing pivotal for their economic development.

3.Industrialization in the Basque Country brought about significant demographic and social changes:

  • Population Growth: During the Restoration, Vizcaya saw a 30% increase in population, while Navarra and Alava experienced stagnation or decline. Between 1887-1900, Vizcaya received around 60,000 immigrants, concentrating growth in Bilbao and the industrial zone.
  • New Cities: Over 90% of the population growth occurred in cities, particularly in Bilbao, San Sebastian, and scattered municipalities in Gipuzkoa.
  • Shift in Economic Sectors: In 1887, 50% of Vizcaya and Gipuzkoa's workforce was in agriculture, shifting to 50% in industry by 1920.
  • Immigration: The Basque Country attracted labor from rural areas, initially from neighboring provinces and later from more distant regions. Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, a major steel company, had over half its employees from within 150 km, with immigrants from various Spanish provinces.
  • Language Shift: Basque emigration and Spanish immigration led to a decline in Basque speakers. The influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants impacted Euskera negatively.
  • Ecological Damage and Health Issues: Burning quality ores caused ecological damage and health problems. Miners lacked healthcare, lived in crowded, unsanitary conditions, resulting in a life expectancy of around 28 years, poverty, and hunger.

The Bourbon Restoration began when the Bourbon dynasty returned to the Spanish throne. Alfonso XII was crowned king in 1874, ending the First Republic and restoring the monarchy. This political system was in force until 1923 although lasted up to 1931 when Spain proclaimed the Second Republic.

1.During the Restoration period in Spain (1876-1931), stability relied on the Constitution of 1876 and Turnism. The constitution, blending moderate and democratic liberal elements, granted sovereignty to the king and parliament, featuring congress and the senate. Initially using censitary suffrage, it shifted to universal manhood suffrage by 1890. Despite gradual declarations of freedoms, like expression and association, they were often restricted, and Catholicism remained the official religion. Turnism, introduced by Cánovas del Castillo, aimed to prevent uprisings by alternating conservatives and liberals in power, fostering a crisis as corruption allowed the king's chosen party to govern, marginalizing the middle and working classes. Restoration also saw the rise of caciquismo, where influential landowners controlled politics, and the labor movement gave birth to associations like the Spanish Workingmen's Association, (PSOE), and the anarchist trade union CNT. Despite nationalist movements and election manipulation, parties advocating regional sovereignty faced challenges in governing during this period.

2.Three reigns developed during the Restoration: reign of Alfonso XII (1874-1885), regency of Mª Cristina (1885-1902) and reign of Alfonso XIII (1902-1931)2.1In 1874, The First Spanish Republic ended with a military uprising led by the General Martínez Campos and Alfonso XII´s proclamation as king of Spain. With it, Spain became a parliamentary monarchy leading to a period of stability based on the Constitution and Turnism. During Alfonso XII´s reign, firstly, the end of the third Carlist War in 1876 with the victory of Alfonso XII and his troops (liberals). Secondly, republican opposition to the government. Thirdly, regionalist movements developed in Andalucía, Cataluña, Galicia and The País Vasco. And finally, peace was signed with Cuba.

2.2Following the death of Alfonso XII in November 1885, his wife María Cristina assumed the regency while pregnant with the future king, Alfonso XIII. The regency (1885-1902) revealed significant challenges: 1. Popular Representation: Despite the introduction of universal manhood suffrage in 1890, electoral fraud persisted, widening the gap between official Spain and the unrepresented citizens. 2. Regionalism to Nationalism: Cultural movements in Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Galicia, which initially sought regional expression, evolved into nationalism after 1890, demanding political and economic recognition. 3. Colonial Issues: Cuba's quest for autonomy led to the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898), resulting in Spain's defeat. The Treaty of Paris in 1898 saw Spain ceding Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The Disaster of '98, the Spanish-American War, triggered a national crisis and loss of colonies. 4. Regenerationism: Post-1898, Spain pursued regenerationism to modernize political, economic, and cultural aspects, influenced by figures like Joaquín Costa. The slogan 'school and larder' encapsulated its priorities, aiming to align Spain with European models after the credibility loss following the colonial disaster.

2.3Alfonso XIII assumed the Spanish throne in 1902, initiating the second phase of the Restoration (1902-1931). Regenerationist efforts aimed to reform inherited 19th-century issues, including electoral fraud and nationalist concerns. Despite reform attempts by both conservative and liberal governments, corruption, party divisions, and social unrest persisted. The Tragic Week of 1909 exemplified this turmoil, with protests against troops in Morocco escalating into a general strike and government crackdown. Amid World War I, Spain's neutrality sparked social tensions, and the 1917 crisis involved strikes, military discontent, and dissolved political assemblies. Autonomy demands from Catalan and Basque nationalists, the Moroccan challenge, and the 1921 Disaster of Annual increased conflicts. In 1923, Primo de Rivera's dictatorship emerged, promising order but accumulating debts. The Great Depression worsened economic issues, leading to the dictatorship's 1930 resignation. Failed governance attempts paved the way for the April 1931 republican victory, prompting Alfonso XIII's abdication and the establishment of the Second Republic.


According to Thomson “class is a result of common experiences, feel and identity of their interests against other men whose interests are different”, this is the working-class definition in Bilbao in the late 19th century.

In a few years, the left bank of the Nervión became a home for in-migrants from the poorest areas from Araba, Gipuzkoa, Burgos, Santander… Their working and living conditions were hard. The shock of this transformation was tremendous. The majority were peasants. During the first in-migration wave, the class consciousness was initiated.

In 1888, the Socialist Party, clandestinely since 1879, acquired legal status (together with UGT). In 1890, UGT held its second congress in Bilbao. That year, socialists were elected for the first time in Bilbao and San Salvador de el Valle.

Socialism in Cantabria started with the 1890 general strike, its leaders were fired from a mine in La Arboleda for organizing the May Day protest. Between 1890 and 1911, there were 5 general strikes and 169 protests in Bizkaia by socialists. These strikes were put down by the army, coming to a head in the strike of 1917, which left deaths and wounded in Bilbao.

Socialists had their own newspaper, La Lucha de Clases and youth movement, by Tomás Meabe. Its leader was Facundo Perezagua (founded the socialist group in Bilbao). Indalecio Prieto (more moderate), rejected Basque difference and national differentiation. Basque socialism was hostile to the Church in 1911. Prieto characterized himself as “non-Catholic and anticlerical”.

In 1921, Perezagua lost influence and founded the communist party, he coincided with a companion of Gallarta, Dolores Ibarruri, the passionflower, most famous figure of Basque communism. Some workers joined the communist party and called for social revolution. However, Most workers joined the Socialist party and UGT demanding rights and representation in government.

The nationalist bourgeoisie formed an interclass alliance that would appeal to the working class. Sabino Arana formulated the establishment of Basque trade union. Solidaridad de Trabajadores Vascos gained importance during the 1920s and 1930s in industries although they could never challenge the UGT.


During the 19th century and in the early 20th century, there were important changes in the Basque country. The beginning of industrialization, Capitalism, and nationalism.

In the late 19th century appeared new ideologies and political movements such as socialism, nationalism, and labor unions. Basque nationalism was founded by Sabino Arana and socialism by Facundo Perezagua.


The restoration had a complex social structure. The Bilbao industrialists, Donostian bourgeoisie, and rural oligarchs supported the restoration. However, the working classes and progressive bourgeoisie supported socialism. The rural peasantry retained Carlism, but it became Nationalism. This ideology appealed to the lower classes.

During the restoration, Catalunya and the Basque country were prospering. However, working classes still had hard living conditions. This led to industrial protests during the 1890s by anarchists in Barcelona and Socialists in Bilbao.

The restoration was a social transformation. In 1876, Hegoalde was still rural, agricultural, and its society was governed by a liberal elite who lived in the Bizkaian and Gipuzkoan coasts. This bourgeoisie was consolidated thanks to the economic concerts that guaranteed fiscal autonomy, assuring benefits and economic growth. By 1923, there was a shift, Hegoalde became urban, Spanish-speaking, and plural. Liberalism still dominated politics, but its rivals were socialism and nationalism.

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