"Milk for Spain"
Repository: Working Class Movement Library, Salford, UK
Creator: National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief
Fond or Collection
Spanish Civil War Collection
Date Created: 1937
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: London, England
The 35,000 members of the International Brigades from more than 50 countries who went to fight in defence of the Republic are the most famous example of the global resonance of the Spanish Civil War. The conflict also mobilized civil society in nations around the world, a response that, in many ways, was a precursor to the humanitarian movements of our own times.
This professionally produced poster for the “Milk for Spain” campaign is a powerful illustration. The first is a professionally produced poster. Here shoppers at the Co-operative Society, the group of consumer co-operatives that began in 1844, could support the campaign by buying one of the milk tokens shown on the poster.
“Milk for Spain'' was one component of a wide-ranging Aid Spain movement that included at least twelve major campaigns and a large number of smaller ones. There was no overall coordination, although the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief was the umbrella for some 180 campaigns of varying size. Aid Spain was a highly decentralized movement that included more than one thousand local committees, not counting those created by union and religious organizations, that engaged many thousands of people, especially women. It had what Jim Fyrth describes as “a common culture of meetings, leaflets and pamphlets, of writing, poetry, plays, films, exhibitions and concerts” that mobilized “hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people”.
These humanitarian efforts were not immune from the tensions between elements of the left that were present in most countries, including Republican Spain itself. In the British case, this meant the refusal of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to participate in any Popular Front style cooperation with the Communist Party. The TUC even refused to participate in the evacuation of Basque children until a committee that did not include any Communists was created.
The Spanish conflict also mobilized civil society in many other countries around the world, usually in defiance of the position of their governments. People in every democratic country in Europe organized to raise funds for food, medical supplies, support for children, and refugee relief. Labour organizations across Scandinavia, for example, raised considerable amounts of money. The Swedish committee alone provided almost ten percent of all funds that went to the Republic.
The United States saw a diverse group of initiatives that ranged from formal organizations like North America Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy and the American Medical Bureau to such grass roots activities as charity drives, basketball games, film screenings, and ambulance tours, including one directed at African Americans. They engaged people with a variety of political beliefs and from the most diverse backgrounds, from African American dockworkers to Hollywood celebrities to the social elite of Chicago.
Much further away, a number of Australian cities had Spanish Relief Committees that raised funds for food and medicine for refugees and sponsored ambulances and medical teams. In New Zealand, the Spanish Medical Aid Committee sent a team of three nurses as well as a field laundry truck and ambulance and medical supplies for refugees in camps in France.
Not all humanitarian responses to the Civil War were pro-Republican. Organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Save the Children Union, the Quakers’ American Friends Service Committee, and the Swiss Aid Committee for the Children of Spain were politically neutral. A small number of organizations that included the British Committee for the Relief of Distress in Spain and Belgium’s Action et Civilisation provided assistance to the rebels.