OEPB – standing up for dockworkers’ rights


The origins of the work of dockers go back to the Middle Ages. In the past, these men (it was hard work and at that time only for male workers) were called “bastaixos”. This is shown in certain works in the Basilica of Santa Maria de Mar and can be seen in books such as “La catedral del mar” (The Cathedral of the Sea).

Birth of the OEPB

It was not until the 70s and 80s that the name “dockers” was introduced, before that they were called “port workers”.

It was then that the workers’ union was modernised and adopted the current name of the OEPB – Organització d’Estibadors Portuari de Barcelona (Barcelona Dockers’ Organisation).

The organisation was born in 1977, after the early days of democracy and the big strikes of 1976, when the “dockers” found themselves abandoned by the big unions of the time (UGT, CNT and, in particular, CCOO) and because all decisions were taken from Madrid. It was the time when the young workers, supported by veterans of the profession, decided to set up the OEPB Coordinating Committee. An entity of its own and sufficiently knowledgeable about the specific world and work of port stevedoring.

The OEPB was created in the spirit of assembly that the CNT already had, on which they modulated and defined their own statutes.

Figures to remember at that decisive moment are: Félix Cerezo, Julián García, Manolo Conde, Juan Madrid, Paco Aroca (El Cura), Josep Puig and Antonio Espejo.

They were the heart and the 1st Board of the Coordinators and the ones who gathered the proposals of all the comrades to draft the first statutes.

The fact of having unity and collective strength meant that during the period 1977-1986 they began to have representation before companies and administrations as a trade union force to be heard and to take part in the decisions to define the working conditions of the stevedoring sector in the Port of Barcelona.

From the Port of Barcelona to the whole of Spain

So much so that in 1978 they were a reference point for the creation of the Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadoras del Mar (originally only with dockers and in the future extending to more roles within the ports), where the leading voice came from Barcelona and the Canary Islands, and where 5 areas were defined for the whole of Spain: Canary Islands, Catalonian-Balearic Islands, North, Andalusia and Levante.

Their main demands were:

UNITY: everyone at the same level.

ROTATION: equality in the distribution of work in an equitable manner.

PROFESSIONALISM: guaranteed continuous training for everyone and for every task.

PREVENTION: improvement in safety at work, going from 1 death/year to 1/every 5 years and aiming for zero.

3 historic moments of the workers’ struggle in the Port

1976-77: 21 days of continuous strike to reclaim conditions and get 7 colleagues reinstated who were sacked in the claims. With a hard confrontation with the CCOO union. A very hard episode in which the neighbourhood turned out in support of the families of the workers in struggle and the remembered lockout of the workers and later of the women and their families in the Church of Sant Miquel del Port.

1980-81: 1 year and a half of constant struggle and achieving the socialisation of wages (no worker without pay and distribution of guarantees). The Coordinating Committee gives cover to workers without work as a reprisal for the struggles (more than 200 dismissed).

1986: Fierce struggle for almost 1 year against CONTENEMAR.


It should be explained that at that time there was only one state company of workers in Els Ports (OTP. Organización de Trabajos Portuarios).

ESTIBARNA was created in 1987, initially with 51% public and 49% private capital. Until 2007, it became 100% private as a result of being a cluster of companies (“company of stevedoring companies”).

This fact had a mirror effect in the rest of the ports of Spain and when the dockers of Barcelona began to be a reference point beyond their borders and contacts were initiated with international dockers’ organizations that counted on the EOPB as a point of consultation and support in projects to dignify the work of stevedoring in their countries (both in Europe and America).

So much so that in 2000 the International Union was created with a great role of the EOPB in support and internationalization of the union struggle. Union that until 2020 had its headquarters in the premises of the OEPB in La Barceloneta and currently continues its work under the acronym EDC (European Dockworkers Council).

Mechanization of the Port

The big change in the definition of work was when the transport of sacks with hooks, bulls and the first cranes was changed thanks to the appearance of containers, during the 70s.

Recalling the most representative tool (which was part of the first corporate images of the stevedores), the hooks: there were 5 different types depending on the goods to be moved from the ships to the ground and from there to the land transports.

The appearance of cranes and different types of vehicles to move goods led to the emergence of new professional categories in stevedoring. With new training and new working and safety conditions.

With containers and the appearance of large transport ships that could carry not 300 containers but more than 5,000 from all over the world or to any port.

The slogan of the OEPB is: “we are not against modernization, but if a new job (task) is created, it must be for the dockers’ collective”. Guarantee that no jobs will be transferred to other subsidiary companies or outsourcing of tasks.

All this has meant that the dockers’ collective (and for some years now also stevedores) has a group of workers of about 1,200 people in active employment.

Another change was that back in the days almost all staff lived in La Barceloneta. At present, only 15-20% are still resident in our neighborhood.

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