Tomàs Orts Martin was born in Barcelona on 5 December 1908 A Catalan speaker, he worked for two years in Jesús García’s umbrella factory at 7 Calle Villaroel before moving on to Bartolomé Español at 7 Calle Salvador where he joined the CNT union on 1 February 1930, and subsequently held various posts with the Local Federation of Trade Unions.
During the street-fighting of 19-20 July 1936 Tomàs fought on the Paralelo, the University, Atarazanas barracks and elsewhere alongside Manuel Hernández (president of the Timberworkers’ Union), Eugenio Vallejo (the metalworker who spearheaded the conversion of Catalonia’s industry into war industries) and Liberto Minue (brother-in-law to Manuel Escorza, secretary of the CNT-FAI Investigation and Information Service).
The Pueblo Seco revolutionary committee put him in charge of the district’s cleansing and health service, serving in that post until August, when the Timberworkers’ Union appointed him its union delegate on the CNT’s Regional Committee (comarcals branch).
He served on the Defence Committee of the Centre alongside Gallifa, Aranda, Ungría, Martinez, Ruiz, Trapote and others, and was involved in the CNT takeover of Barcelona’s Central Criminal Court (Palau de Justícia) on 11 August 1936, and the setting-up of the CNT-FAI Revolutionary Justice Committee under Ángel Samblancat with CNT lawyers Villarodona, Medina, Merino and Fernández Ros plus Prisoners’ Aid Committee members Batlle and Devesa. He was involved in locating and redacting police and judicial files of anarcho-syndicalist activists, loading up lorries with the files and legal papers indicated by Barriobero, Batlle, Devesa and Fernandez Ros, and driving them to the Godo paper-mill to be pulped. The bonfires outside and inside the courthouse were more for show and propaganda.
From mid-August until late September 1936, the Defence Committee of the Centre barrio raised a CNT Control Patrol to guarantee the existence, authority and smooth operation of the Law Office which was, simply, a Revolutionary Justice Committee, formally acknowledged by the decree of 17 August as published in the Official Bulletin of the Generalitat of Catalonia on 20 August 1936. Barriobero soon took over from Samblancat as Law Office chief. In a preamble to the Decree, the Law Office explained it had been set up as a result of the successful insurrection of 19 July , to “repair the injustices done and sponsored by the Monarchy and Dictatorships suffered by our country. Thus there is a need to carry out a review of all social cases […] and, furthermore, the court authorities must facilitate this effort to make reparations.”
In the wake of 19 July, the bourgeois courts were at a standstill in the face of spontaneous manifestations of popular justice which released prisoners from the Modelo Prison (with the exception of prisoners such as Ramón Sales, the leader of the Sindicato Libre’s gunmen) and ordered the return of items held in pawn (especially bedding, household items and work tools), jailed many of those involved in the fascist coup attempt, confiscated weapons, arrested looters and thwarted opportunistic tobberies and burglaries. They raidied the tram company offices — hated on account of its fascistic practices during the urban transport strike and because it had never lost an accident case — and re-examined all claims by workers injured in such accidents, whether the book had been closed on these or not.
It was a matter of institutionalising popular justice, averting clashes between it and the emphatically class character of the traditional courts and accelerating resolution rates. The Law Office focused too on money-lending cases, leases and accident claims against the tram company.
At all times the Law Office came down on the side of worker applicants, imposing heavy fines on money-lenders and landlords found to be in the wrong. Such fines were turned into donations to a range of CNT bodies. Its justice was swift, efficient and direct, and it delivered at public sittings, implementing the principle (laid out in the preamble to the decree) of making adjustments to the legal norms that do not reflect the people’s feelings about the courts.
The Catalan bourgeoisie felt threatened inasmuch as the reopening of social cases sometimes lifted the lid on connections between the employers and the Sindicato Libre, or connivance with the failed fascist coup d’etat.
From October 1936 through to May 1937, Tomás Orts Martin was a member of the Investigation Branch of the Control Patrols of the Generalitat of Catalonia’s Security Junta, as indicated by its December 1936 payroll list.
He was also in charge of Pueblo Seco action group working with Dionisio Eroles, carrying out raids and arrests ordered by the Police Service secretariat of Police HQ Services. Dionisio Eroles had every confidence in Tomás Orts’ action group; so much so that he called upon it to sort out the most delicate clashes in different towns (Granollers, La Garriga, etc.), given its reputation for handling things well, without a shot being fired.
Tomás Orts was tried for his actions during the May Events, most likely for the armed clashes that took place around the Los Escolapios building, when companies of the Republican National Guard (formerly the Civil Guard) from the Casarramona barracks marched on the city centre to seize the radio stations. The Civil Guard was dispersed and broken up into a number of fleeing groups, some of whom fled for the Paralelo, taking refuge inside the America cinema where they were pounded by cannons brought in from Sitges by that city’s defence committee.
After the May Events, Tomás worked for the Regional Committee of the Timber, Construction and Decorators’ Union, earning a weekly wage of 105 pesetas.
He held a position of responsibility on the Los Escolapios Committee which ran the building of that name (a former school) in the Ronda de Sant Pau which, in 1936-1937, was the headquarters of many anarchist groupsbsuch as the Foodstuffs Union and the Defence Committee of the Centre barrio. He was Dionisio Eroles’s representative in Los Escolapios.
Alerted by Josep Batlle to an imminent attack on Josep Andreu Abelló, president of the Barcelona High Court, by a group based at Los Escolapios, Aurelio Fernández and Dionisio Eroles promptly sought out Tomás Orts, trusting in his remarkable influence and his knowledge of the various groups in the area, he being their last and only hope of preventing the action group carrying out their attack. Within hours of the murder bid (on the morning of 2 August 1937) a meeting was called at the Casa CNT-FAI to discuss its repercussions was attended by the CNT Regional Committee, the Peninsular and Regional Committees of the FAI and some leading militants – Valerio Mas, Manuel Escorza, Juan García Oliver, Jose Juan Domènech, Francisco Isgleas, Germinal Esgeas, Aurelio Fernández, Dionisio Eroles and Josep Batlle. After a long and heated argument, they eventually determined, as suggested by Dioniso Eroles, that Josep Batlle would take full responsibility for the failed attempt on the life of Josep Andreu Abelló, when in fact Batlle was the man who had made a last ditch attempt to deter the action group (lying in wait in two cars parked beside the courthouse) from going through with its mission.
On 21 August 1937 Tomás Orts was arrested at home at 139 Calle Sepúlveda, principal bis, where he lived with his mother and sister. The arrest was a complicated and unlikely affair due to Tomás Orts’ resistance whlo believed he was to be taken to a communist cheka to be tortured and, maybe, disappeared. After a lengthy tug of war with the policeman trying to arrest him, Tomás and the policeman set off at a walk, each in danger of being shot by the other. Tomás had no gun but with a hand thrust inside his pocket, he pretended to be armed. On reaching the Plaza de la Universidad the police officer called upon a couple of police colleagues for assistance. Even so, Tomás Orts declined to get into a police vehicle believing they intended to murder him. Finally he was taken the short distance to Police HQ, where he was handed over to the custody sergeant. The reason for the arrest was that he was a witness, rather than an accused, in the trial for the attempt on the life of Josep Andreu Abello.
Because of the statement he made to the judge on 22 and 23 August, we know that the Centre barrio’s Defence Committee comprised of some seven hundred men, organized into 67 defence cadres. The concierge of the block where he lived pointed out that Tomás Orts and Lucio Ruano had been neighbours and friends. During his short stay in the Modelo prison (under preventive detention — prisión gubernativa) he treated his fellow inmates to a political lecture. He was freed on 28 August 1937.
On 20 September 1937, public order and PSUC forces stormed the Escolapios building, using machine-guns, bombs, tanks and artillery. The CNT resistance however caved in to the demands of the Regional Committee, having been promised no one would face charges. The more compromised or mistrustful of them, however, escaped from the premises to avoid arrest. Some 25 CNT personnel surrendered to the police and were arrested and, in December 1937, faced the death penalty.
On 10 December 1937 Tomás Orts received wages of 100 pesetas, paid by the Secretariat of the Barcelona Local Federation of Anarchist Groups.
On 1 April 1938m he was appointed infantry captain at the suggestion of the commander of the 26th Division (former Durruti Column) and was assigned to the 121st Mixed Brigade, 483rd Battalion, Machine-gun Company, with which unit he served up until July 1938, when he was reassigned to the 482nd Battalion of the 121st Mixed Brigade, No 2 Company.
On 4 December 1938 he joined the ‘Els Quatre’ anarchist group, his application form recording him as a CNT member of the furniture-making section of the Woodworkers’ Union.
On 18 April 1939, the Paris prefect of police reported to the Interior minister that a number of ant-Francoists were gathering in locations around the French capital. Earlier, on 13 April, he had arrested seven anarchists “who help their compatriots to escape from the concentration camps”. The seven anarchists were: Tomás Orts Martin (b. Barcelona 5 December 1908), undocumented and of no fixed abode; Carlos Infante Ungría (b Santiago, Chile, 3 March 1914) a Chilean national issued with a residence permit on 27 March 1939; Eduard Cerveró (b. Barcelona, 14 April 1893) undocumented (and who had been active in the Fiends of Durruti Grouping); Ramón Liarte (b. Almudévar , 29 August 1919), a former member of the Libertarian Youth, recipient of a temporary pass issued in Sète; José Mavilla Vila (b. 27 August 1907 in Huesca), bearer of a temporary pass issued in Sète; José Bienvenido (b. Murcia, 23 March 1897), bearer of a regular pass issued in Paris; and Pedro Sánchez (b. Oran, 20 June 1910 to French parents and a French national). Orts. Infante and Cerveró were imprisoned for breaching the decree of 1 May 1938, Liarte and Mavilla were shipped back to Sète by train while Bienvenido and Sánchez were released once their identities were confirmed.
On 2 May 1939, the Paris police placed Tomás Orts on the 20.15 train leaving Paris for Perpignan, having issued him with a 24-hour pass.
Orts’s name features on the list of the first group of Spanish exiles bound for the Dominican Republic on the liner ‘Flandre’, which docked in America on 7 November 1939. He was passenger No 202 and was 30 years of age.
His subsequent career, like that of so many others, was swallowed up during twenty years of protracted exile inflicted by the Francoist dictatorship upon the vanquished.
In Guatemala City in September 1961, Tomás Orts Martin started a plumbing firm called Acumuladores Ibéria S.A., which also traded in batteries. In 1964 he became the sole owner when he bought out the shares of his Mexican partner. The firm subsequently grew into a Central American multinational.
In 1970, 1977 and 1978 he served as the Worshipful Master of Guatemala’s Daniel Aguirre Masonic Lodge, No 7.