Cooperate to live better, by Xavier Carmaniu Mainadé

Even the most discreet place can tell part of our story. This is the case of the Unió de Cooperadors de Gavà building, which has just been selected for the FAD Architecture and Interior Design Awards to highlight the remodeling carried out by Meritxell Inaraja. The architect has adapted the building to current needs and, at the same time, has recovered its original structure, the work of Josep Torres García.

The headquarters of the UC Gavà, located on the boulevard of Maria Casas, it finished in 1936 after two years of works. The entity had been founded in 1929 at the initiative of a group of workers from the Roca Radiadores company, who joined together to create a consumer cooperative. This is possibly the first time you have heard of this institution. Barcelona is such a huge giant that with its shadow leaves in the shadows the history of the surrounding towns, whose past is almost never told.

Until not too many decades ago, what is now called the metropolitan area It was an agrarian area that was radically transformed with the industrialization process. With the appearance of factories, those small towns became cities. The new neighbors were working-class people who had to get by on the meager wages they earned, and a good way to stretch the money was by associating to buy groceries. This was one of the reasons for the success of cooperativism, which reached its maximum splendor during the Second Republic. It was then that, for the first time, the laws that would allow its full development without obstacles were approved. According to data from the Museu d’Història de Catalunya, in 1936 there were 241 societies with 84,300 members.

That splendor was possible because since the 19th century entities emerged to offer self-managed alternatives in many sectors, because apart from consumer cooperatives, many were also set up in the agricultural and industrial spheres. The first arose in the mid-1860s in Palafrugell and Canet de Mar, towns in areas where republicanism and the most advanced social ideas had more followers; as was the case in the Barcelona area. Associations were founded there in the Camp de l’Arpa, Poblenou, Sant Andreu, Gràcia and Badalona, where in 1898 the first assembly of Catalan cooperatives was held. The following year, in the Palacio de Bellas Artes de la Ciutadella, the Regional Chamber of Catalano-Balearic Cooperatives was set up, within the framework of a congress of entities that was key to the definitive impulse of the movement. His reason for being was as simple as it was ambitious. After that consumers organize themselves to make purchases together, The aim was also to coordinate the action of the various entities so that they not only acquired what they needed, but also produced what was convenient for them.

The more the industrial economy and urban society grew, the more cooperatives were created. For this reason, in August 1920 the Regional Federation of Cooperatives of Catalonia was founded. Scattered throughout the territory there were around 400 associations. And although the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera slowed down its growth, the phenomenon did not stop.

When, with the Republic, the most progressive sectors reached positions of power, the climate was favorable to this type of economic organization. Proof of this is that already in the summer of 1931 the state law was drafted to regulate them and, in Catalonia, the powers over the sector were incorporated into the Statute of autonomy of 1932. In addition, in 1934, the Parliament approved the law that served to found the Consell Superior de la Cooperació.

It was just at that moment when the UC de Gavà began the works of the new headquarters, but it could never be officially inaugurated due to the outbreak of the Civil War. However, he was lucky, because during the Franco regime the partners who survived and were not reprisals were able to resume activity and maintain ownership of the building; something that did not happen with other cooperatives to which the dictatorship snatched their patrimony and it was not returned to them.

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history of a building

Despite trying to get ahead, political and economic circumstances ended up making the continuity of the UC de Gavà unfeasible, which was liquidated in 1953. The city council bought the building, which was intended for different uses until in 2016, through a participatory process, it decided to become a new facility dedicated to the social economy.

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