The Labor union of the Draftsmen Professionals of Barcelona (SDP - UGT)

At the beginning of 1936, a series of pamphlets hung on on trees lining Ramblas of Barcelona convenes the draftsmen to constitute a labor union. About fifty artists answer the appeal and meet in a Popular Athenaeum. They elect an executive committee chaired by Helios Gomez there. The communist fervour of this one influences to choose between the most important both associations of labor unions then: the UGT and the CNT. The majority vote for the membership in the UGT although some draftsmen are more favorable to join the CNT or to create an autonomous labor union. In fact, the creation of the labor union answers above all a need for the draftsmen to forbid itself against the unfair practices of the managers of advertising and the bosses of company and in a will to protect their work. The SDP really begins its revolutionary activity that with the explosion of the Civil war.

After the victory of the inhabitants of Barcelona at the time of military profession, the SDP also takes advantage of social changes impulsed by the proletarian revolution. It abandons the small place situated on Ramblas (at the level of Plaza Real) to settle down in requisitioned marquess's palace ( 9 del Portal de l' Àngel). Once master of the place, it forms a revolutionary committee, made up of about fifteen artists. Moved by the desire to support the companions who fight for the victory, the draftsmen quickly put themselves in the spot. Carles Fontserè, Francisco Riba Rovira and Jaume Solà (1912-1979) realize the first three posters of the Spanish revolution. If these are printed with the initials of the UGT and the PSUC, it is more by a combination of circumstances than by a real political conviction of the poster designers. Indeed, it is Rafael Tona, another artist of the labor union, who takes the initiative to carry them to the socialist power plant (UGT). The route between the palace of the marquesses and the center of the PSUC becomes more and more regular as the collaboration of the other draftsmen becomes intensified. The success of posters brings the SDP to create, within the palace, a collective workshop open to all those who wish to work on it. Every artist can have the material supplied by the labor union and paint freely without giving of explanations or justifications to anybody. In August, 1936, Helios Gomez proposes in committee members revolutionary that the labor union is incorporated into Militias, as section propaganda. As every militiaman, they receive two pesetas every day. The creation of the collective workshop allows to impulse the production of posters and of all kinds of graphic propaganda for the antifascist organizations (posters will be signed SDP). The SDP fills the function of which is loaded the Commissionership in the Propaganda of Generalitat created later, in October, 1936.

Every day, more and more artists appear at the SDP: some because they want to put their art in the service of the revolution, others because they found themselves “in the street” after the closure of numerous art circles accused of being monarchic, reactionary or were bound in the Church. The staff of the labor union pass from 150 to 1 800 members in October, 1936. The influx is such as committee members see each other inescapable to set up a system to restrict and check the memberships : from now on, two members have to give consent for the membership of an unknown artist. So, Sim (Rey Vila), who appears at the palace with the complete iconography of the insurrectionary days of May, 1936 under the arm, is not accepted: Tona considers that its work does not correspond to the militant activity of the SDP (this work is finally published by the CNT-AIT under the title 19 julio 1936: Estampas of the revolución Española). But, the political convictions not being a determining selection criterion, the SDP consists of artists of all the tendencies: communists, socialists, libertarians, Trotskyists, conservatives called ironically “men of the coffee with milk” (drink of the bourgeois Catalans) and even an artist, Paco Ribera, connected before to the Falangist movement. However, the majority of the draftsmen, the simple “catalanistes” of left, are not affiliated to a precise political party. This eclecticism left a graphic imprint on the first posters, even if represent there the initials of the PSUC.

The SDP, the only collective organ capable of producing a big quantity of posters, becomes a major propaganda center in the service of the revolution. Although the largest part of its graphic production is intended for the UGT and for the PSUC, it also works for the CNT, the FAI, the POUM and the other anti-fascist organizations. It thus plays a fundamental role in the development of the propaganda by means of posters. These have a strong visual impact that the radio or the newspapers, where the graphic dimension is only little developed, are not capable of creating. They also perform a social function by feeding the revolutionary climate and by establishing a dialogue between the people and the antifascist organizations. Furthermore, they become a symbol of the revolution that the worker can expose in the factory, the workshop, the public places. Moreover, the success of the exhibition of antifascist posters organized by the SDP in October, 1936 proves their popularity and their political importance.

From the first months of the war, the draftsmen participate actively in the propaganda campaigns and in the popular demonstrations. Then the individual activity fades for the benefit of the teamwork to paint signs and banners for meetings. But the SDP is also touched by the increasing tensions between communists and anarchists. A group of artists, led by Tona, plunders the place of the SDP and takes the material just because it is supplied by the “Party”. Annoyed by such an act, the other draftsmen require the return of the material and summon an extraordinary assembly to judge this act of vandalism. The assembly decides to expel the vandals of the SDP: Rafael Tona, José Alloza, Jacint Bofarull, Germà Viader and Marti Bas.

This act marks the end of the self-managed system of the collective workshop of the SDP.

The propaganda schedules continuous till the end of the war, but the artists are more and more supervised and controlled by the political and labor-union organizations. The Commissionership of the Propaganda of Generalitat takes back largely the function of the SDP.

Chloé Rosell in : Les affiches des Combattabt-e-s de la Liberté (Vol 1) Editions Libertaires