MEMBERS of the International Brigade Association, trade unionists and other anti-fascists assembled in the evening on Tuesday 28th October at TUC Congress Centre to celebrate the memory of La Pasionaria and other women who took part in the 1936-38 Spanish war against fascism. The event was organised by Philosophy Football to take place exactly 70 years after La Pasionaria made her most famous speech on 28th October 1938 to the parade of the International Brigades on their withdrawal from Spain.
She told them: “Today many are departing. Thousands remain, shrouded in Spanish earth, profoundly remembered by all Spaniards. Comrades of the International Brigades: Political reasons, reasons of state, the welfare of that very cause for which you offered your blood with boundless generosity, are sending you back, some to your own countries and some to forced exile.
“You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk.
“We shall not forget you; and when the olive tree of peace is in flower, entwined with the victory of laurels of the Republic of Spain – Return!”
Many of those attending Congress House last Tuesday had indeed recently returned from a short visit to Spain to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of that war where they had visited historic battle sites, graveyards and memorials. welcomed
And they had been warmly welcomed by the local Spanish people.
Few were International Brigade members, there are not many of them left now. But the relatives and close friends – members of the IBA – and other anti-fascists are carrying on the tradition, making sure the events of that war will never be forgotten.
And they continue to remind the world that if western governments had stood by the democratically elected Spanish Republican government in its fight against the fascist forces of Franco – heavily and actively backed by Hitler and Mussolini – European fascism could have been defeated in 1936 and the Second World War prevented.
Two veterans attended last Tuesday’s event at Congress House: Jack Jones, former general secretary of the TGWU and pensioners’ leader and Penny Feiwell (nee Phelps) who, in 1936, was a young nurse who went as a volunteer to help tend the Republican wounded. She worked in makeshift hospitals just three km behind the front lines.
There were speeches from Marlene Sidaway, secretary of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady, Sally Alexander, co-editor of Women’s Voices from the Spanish Civil War, Unison’s head of health Karen Jennings and national Union of Students Black Students officer Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy. There was music from Rhoda Dakar and Nick Welsh, folk violinist and singer Eliza Carthy accompanied by Saul Rose. And there was a humorous poetry reading from Jackie Kay. There was also Spanish food and wine.