The Basques

When flying into Bilbao the verdant hills seem to be out of place for Spanish countryside. That is the least of how the region differs from the rest of Spain. On the Iberian peninsula the Basques are the only people that were not conquered during the seven-hundred-years occupation by the Moors, probably because they excel at getting mad.


I recall one Basque who, in July 1990, was the manager of Balenciaga Shipyard that is located in a beautiful small bay on the north coast of Spain just a few miles from France. I visited there as part of a survey organized by Gerencia del Sector Naval, a government organization having responsibilities similar to those assigned to the Maritime Administration in the United States. José Luis Cerezo Preysler, the organization’s secretario técnico, prompted the manager to tell me why the yard was closed for three years before Generalissimo Franco died in 1975. The manager got angry as he spoke.

He told me that the yard existed for over one-hundred years without an interruption when an artist who was attracted by the region’s scenic beauty rented a house nearby. The artist complained to his patron, Mrs. Franco, that the shipyard’s noise disturbed his concentration. The dictator summarily ordered the yard to close. The yard manager was manifestly reliving his suppressed rage as he recalled how the yard’s work force suddenly became unemployed.

I was also impressed with a story told to me by Rafael Gutierrez Fraile, a Basque from Vitoria and at that time one of the specialists assigned to bring modern technology into the eight shipyards operated by Astilleros Españoles S.A. (AESA).

In 1989 the AESA Chairman ordered a drastic reduction in force commensurate with rules imposed by the European Economic Commission. All workers over fifty-two were to be involuntarily retired on full pay until they reached sixty-five. Thereafter they would receive reduced pay at the usual retirement rate.

The Basques in AESA’s Sestao Shipyard who were older than fifty two wanted to continue to build ships. On the morning of their last workday, they demonstrated how mad Basques can get. They tore down the shipyard fence, spilled onto the railway alongside, and caused a rush-hour commuter train to stop.

With all of the passengers still inside, the furious Basques welded the cars to the tracks!


Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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