Pablo Iglesias founded the present day Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and also the trade union, the General Union of Workers (UGT)
He was one of two sons born into a desperately poor family in La Coruña in the North West of Spain. When his father died he walked with his mother to Madrid to stay with an uncle, but when they arrived they found that he had recently died. For a while they were reduced to begging on the streets and lived into a small attic room. Shortly afterwards Pablo was taken in by a religious school for poor children where he learned strict discipline and the printing trade. From time to time he would escape to visit his mother but was severely punished on his return. Eventually he escaped for good and started working in printing presses around Madrid, supporting his family on his meagre earnings.
During this period Pablo furthered his education as best he could, attending lectures and classes with the small resources of time and money available to him. At the same time he started to become politically aware and at the age of 20 produced his first article on the subject of pacifism. .
Over the following years Pablo Iglesias became involved in the birth of International Socialism in Spain, suffering violent persecution from the authorities. He was a delegate for the Printers Union and eventually became its president. On 2nd May 1879 he founded the PSOE in a Madrid at a famous inaugural meeting in the Casa Labra Tavern in Calle Tetuan. There were 25 people at the inaugural meeting – 16 printers, 4 doctors, 1 academic, 2 jewellers, 1 marble cutter and 1 cobbler.
Pablo Iglesias was the main thinker and communicator for the party, editing and printing a weekly publication called “El Socialista”. He had an austere way of life, identifying himself completely with the poor working class of the day. In 1888 he founded the UGT and two years later led the first May Day demonstration in Spain, demanding an 8 hour working day and an end to the employment of children. In 1905 he was elected a councillor in Madrid and in 1910 was the first PSOE member of parliament. He died in 1925 and his funeral was attended by 150,000 people.
There is a curious story behind a bust of Pablo Iglesias which is now in the PSOE headquarters. It was originally erected in the Retiro Park but was dynamited by Franco’s forces in 1939. The pieces were secretly buried and a map drawn marking its location. In 1979, after Franco’s death, the map reappeared and the bust was disinterred and repaired.
Another curious coincidence is the existence of another Pablo Iglesias (second surname Turrión) on today’s political scene: the European deputy representing the new movement “Podemos” voted in the 2014 European elections.