At the outbreak of the revolution Barcelona had a population of 1.5 million. The tramways were the mainstay of the transportation system serving Barcelona and the suburbs with 69 routes. Out of the 7,000 workers on the tramways at the time of the Revolution, some 6,500 were members of the CNT.
Because of the street battles the system had been severely damaged and all transport had been brought to a halt. A special commission with delegates from all the key areas of the system (drivers, electric cable operators, rolling stocks, general operatives’ etc) was quickly elected. This was charged with estimating the damages and specifying repairs, and getting these done. Five days after fighting had ended the tramway system was fully up and running again with 700 trams on the roll. This was a regarded as a great achievement at the time and was put down to the fact that the new form of organisation instituted by the revolution gave actual practical power to those that knew and operated the system. In the past under private ownership, changes or decisions on stock improvements had to be approved by the owner’s management. Invariably the owners were careful not to let work and improvements eat into profits, with the result that a lot of good ideas were either ignored or abandoned. With the profit motive gone and workers in control, problems and needs in the system were more easily identified; as important the resources needed to address problems were also at hand.
The first objective had been to get the Tramway back up and running. But soon other longer-term improvements were made. The system carried over 183 million passengers in1936 and nearly 233 million in 1937. Fares came down over the period of operation, as did the number of accidents and disruptions to the service. Again much of this has less to do with the atmosphere of revolution and a lot more to do with the rational nature of how workplaces were now organised. Not only were workers more involved and more empowered by the fact that had a direct say in the running of their place of work, but also the were working alongside the very technicians and engineers whose job it was to design and introduce improvements. The new form of democratic organisation allowed for a lot of cross-fertilisation of jobs and ideas, whereas in the past any liaison of this sort had been frowned upon (if not outrightly opposed by the employer!)
Another important benefit of course was that money that was previously lost to the system as profits was now ploughed back in giving both workers and customers a better service.
Excerpt from The Revolution in Spain by Kevin Doyle.
There’s plenty of better works out there, but one of my favourite anecdotal pieces primed for the “yeah but anarchism would never work lol” accusations that float around.