Luis Arrieta was born in Bilbao on 7 March 1920 but lived most of his life in the La Arboleda-Trapaga mining area. At the age of 13 he joined the newly formed Libertarian Youth group in the area and became its first ever secretary.
When the civil war broke out, Luis, although only 16 years old, enlisted with the CNT’s Sacco and Vanzetti Battalion, from which his parents reclaimed him as he was under age. Even so, he helped out with organisational business in the rearguard and even represented his union at the odd plenum. Shortly after the fascists’ final offensive (April 1937) Arrieta joined No 3 Company of the Bakunin Battalion, once again lying about his real age.
Come the retreat from La Arboleda, Arrieta set about hiding and otherwise disposing of documents and other materials that might compromise his comrades. He shared in his battalion’s fortunes during the retreat and its eventual surrender in Santander in June 1937. He then became one of many prisoners in the Orduña concentration camp where he witnessed his comrades being taken away in batches and endured hunger and many other privations. He was then moved to El Carmelo in Vitoria and to Los Escolapios in Bilbao (both were religious seminaries and schools used as prisons).
Arrieta was brought before a court martial on charges on having been the secretary of the Libertarian Youth in La Arboleda and having commandeered a radio during the civil war - an item vital to resistance to the rebels - a crime carrying the death penalty. Luckily for Arrieta he had an understanding judge who set the charge aside on the basis that it had been prompted by jealousy.
From Los Escolapios he was moved to the University of Deusto (used as a concentration and classification camp) and later was assigned to a Labour Battalion where he served for 26 months. In the San Pedro de Cardeña camp (Burgos) he suffered the rigours of a freezing winter, with barely enough to clothe him. However, worse than the inclement weather were the arbitrariness and abuses of the officers and NCOs - the beatings, abuse and bullying.
Being on the losing side he was then reassigned to another Labour Battalion, the 123rd, and posted to San Juan de Mozarrifar (Zaragoza), Sariñena and other villages … where, in company of other prisoners, he faced still further trials in terms of the cold, inadequate rations and long working hours.
Later he was sent to the Ebro front (the war was still on) where he worked on the reconstruction of destroyed bridge and on the collecting of the wounded beyond the barbed wire (by day and by night).
From the Ebro front they moved him to the provinces of Gerona and Castellon where he was tempted - in fact it was a temptation that never left him - to slip through the lines but knew the bitter taste of being unable to help those fighting Franco. Thus he watched as Catalonia and the Centre region (they posted him to Toledo) were little by little being mopped up. In Daimiel he witnessed the summary trial and shooting of those villagers accused of being Reds. By the time the civil war ended he was in Ajofrin (Toledo).
But the ending of the war did not mean that he - or thousands of other POWs - were immediately released and he was drafted for the building of the road to Fuerte de Guadalupe (Guipúzcoa) between Lezos and Pasajes de San Juan. Then came the word that the Second World War had broken out. Shortly after that, once the Labour Battalions were disbanded, Luis Arrieta had to do his military service with No 6 Sappers in Burgos. There, because of the bad reports provided about him by the Falangists of La Arboleda, he was given the dirtiest jobs and was denied family visits for six months. The usual practice at the time was for servicemen to get a fortnight at home for every month served in barracks. In the end he took “direct action”. showing up at his captain’s home without leave and in breach of military practice. In this way he ensured that he received equal treatment in regard to furlough and a better assignment. He was demobbed on 30 June 1942.
When Arrieta arrived home in La Arboleda, the CNT was active but underground. The comrades were already organised, especially in the defence groups. In those days such things carried the death penalty and lots of them had just been discharged from prison and the labour battalions. He was not able to make much of a contribution because he was mobilised again after four months because of the Second World War and sent to the Loyola barracks (San Sebastian) where he stayed until 1944.
Arrieta was known to the underground and to exiles as Lagun (‘Chum’) and scarcely a year passed when he was not arrested at least once. On one occasion he was arrested in the bullring, following an argument in which Arrieta, being ill, had not been involved. He was rearrested (the regime caring little for his health). In all he was arrested twenty times and on every occasion was classified as a “communist”, something he did not bother to deny as he reckoned that that was the wisest course for the CNT and because it took some of the heat off his CNT comrades.
Being a “compromised” comrade, he recommended that the CNT allow him to take a back seat. Not that this stopped him from carrying on with his essential trade union and anti-Franco work, for he represented the CNT at secret gatherings held with other political and trade union denominations. He also visited San Sebastian and Bayonne (the seat of the Basque CNT in exile), as on the occasion in 1963/64 when it fell to him to spell out the Basque CNT’s views of Cincopuntismo: it was utterly opposed to any accommodation between the CNT and Franco’s vertical Syndicates. Arrieta was actively involved in clandestine debates on the issue.
As evidence of his courage in championing anarcho-syndicalist principles, we need only recall that in 1957, with the dictatorship in its heyday, he made no bones about rebutting the mistakes and falsehoods retailed by the speaker at a talk given on trade unionism at the Catholic Leo XIII Association in La Arboleda. The - unusual for its day - talk had been organised by Perico Salobarría, a recent graduate from the seminary who was the priest of the village at the time. Salobarría went on shortly thereafter to become one of the worker priests wedded to the workers’ cause and of course the influence of militants of the calibre of Arrieta was not unconnected with that.
In 1964 Luis Arrieta was one of the CNT trade unionists arrested on charges of propaganda and unlawful demonstration. Their trial captured the attention of trade unionists around the globe and of all of the European media and helped highlight the denial of trade union rights in Franco’s Spain.
In the 1970s he spearheaded the attempts to resurrect the CNT in La Arboleda and Euskadi.
After the dictatorship ended, his advice was much sought after and he was invited to write for many commercial newspapers as well as the CNT press. In signing his articles in the CNT mouthpiece cnt, he resorted to his old nickname from the underground days, Lagun, through which he was able to retreat into the natural modesty which had always been a feature of his as well as to avoid the spotlight which he hated.
Later Arrieta remained active in the Left Bank Comarcal Federation (Barakaldo), an example to the comrades who helped with trade union business.
The death of Lagun (a real comrade and friend in every sense of the word) on 19 June 1997 deprived the Basque Country CNT and the Labour Movement generally not merely of yet another unionist but also of an essential connection between historical and contemporary anarcho-syndicalism.
Nor should we overlook his partner Anastaria Aparicio, known to her friends simply as Ane. They had been together since 1944 and she was an exceptional support to Luis in clandestine times as well as since. They had three sons, Evelio, Oscar and José Luis.
CNT Northern Regional Committee
From: CNT July 1997.