To speak of José Netto is to refer to a crucial period in the recent history of Gibraltar, because it was he who led the trade union struggle to obtain equal pay for workers on the Rock, bringing them into line with those from the UK. Likewise, he defended the rights of those who were considered third-class citizens in Gibraltar, i.e. Spanish, Moroccans, Indians… From the Gibraltar dockyard, under his union leadership, he started a general strike, the first ever to take place on the Rock, and it shook the foundations of the colonial society imposed by the United Kingdom. His attachment to the cause of equality and social justice did not cease, until he succeeded in uniting the working class in the defence of the interests and rights of the most disadvantaged.
Another aspect of his life was his constant involvement in helping the inhabitants of the nearby region, who were repressed under Franco’s dictatorship. He always defended democracy and freedoms, becoming a point of reference for those in exile and for those experiencing problems in that grey Spain which closed the border and isolated the Gibraltarian population. However, far from blaming the whole country for these events, as many people did, he always differentiated the victims from the perpetrators. Due to this, he was able to maintain contacts and friendships on the Spanish side and to keep books, propaganda, writings, etc. that were banned in Spain and which he treasured.
He donated a large part of this legacy to the University of Gibraltar, but he also made an important donation to the Casa de la Memoria La Sauceda, at an emotionally charged event which was also attended by his sons and grandchildren. Books censored by the dictatorship, videos, documentaries and a large number of documents are available in the archive and library at the Casa Memoria for analysis and study, thanks to José Netto’s empathy and extraordinary concept of human beings, beyond borders and arbitrary classifications of States.
With him we lose an example of lucidity, an activist in the challenge for progress and a leader in the commitment for a better society. A charismatic and inspirational figure and a cross-border militant, he refused to be a recluse in territories limited by the blindness of the lines drawn on maps and nationalities that confine free and brave human beings to the reduced space determined by a passport.
Rest in peace, José Netto, in memoriam.
The Casa de la Memoria Association and the Forum for the Memory of the Campo de Gibraltar mourn the loss of this friend and supporter, and join his family and friends in remembering a great fighter and someone committed to truth, justice and reparation for those repressed by Francoism.