Paid workers in the CNT in the 1930s

41 posts / 0 new
Last post
Wobbly Preacher's picture
Wobbly Preacher
Joined: 6-11-06
Jun 7 2007 15:07

Well, that's the thing. It seems like pretty much all of the information available is essentially conjecture. And then there's the fact that people like Durruti and Asaco existed for much of the 20s and 30s off money they stole in bank robberies. Whether the union was paying them or not they were essentially, in my opinion, acting as paid organizers. The major difference was that the workers weren't paying them and that they weren't elected by, and therefore directly accountable to, anyone.

Joined: 31-10-03
Jun 7 2007 15:46

Abel Paz, in "Durruti in the spanish revolution" AK Press, 2007 (p.393):

"The CNT had no paid staff, other than the general secretary of the National Committee and the income it brought in from dues went entirely to prisoners, propaganda and unemployed workers"

(800 page book and the index is practically useless on this topic - CNT indexed as just "CNT" - no subdivisions at all, just a long list of page numbers. Has indicies for people, places and organisations but no index for publications. )

this from tom wetzel:

No sindicato unico in the CNT had any paid officials. Workers liked the anarchist idea that the common struggle should not become an avenue of personal careerism. Anarchists believed that paid officials encouraged workers to look to those leaders to solve their problems, and led to domination of unions by chiefs. In 1936 there were only a few paid officials in the CNT federation — the national secretary, the regional secretary of Catalonia, and the secretary of the national industrial union in the commercial fishing industry. These officials, and the staff of the CNT daily newspapers in Madrid and Barcelona, were paid an average worker’s wage. Paid officials were also rotated from office after one year.

syndicalistcat's picture
Joined: 2-11-06
Jun 7 2007 16:29

the CNT in the '30s had at least two local daily papers: Castilla Libre in Madrid and Solidaridad Obrera in Barcelona. Eduardo de Guzman was the managing editor of Castilla Libre. You can't produce a big circulation daily newspaper without a paid staff. The CNT in Catalonia owned an entire city block in central Barcelona that contained the printing plant and editorial offices of Solidaridad Obrera. The paid staff included I think something like half a dozen writers, plus the printing staff. The paper was run as a commercial operation. It was hawked in the streets by newsboys.

Martha Ackelsburg's book "Free Women of Spain" notes that the Barcelona metal workers union paid Soledad Estorach a stipend to organize women workers. So it seems that CNT unions were not opposed to having some staff organizers. But I've never heard of any local executive committee member being paid. I think they would have really been opposed to that...and so am I.

The national secretary and the regional secretary of Catalonia were both paid officials. In his memoirs Garcia Oliver notes that the pay of the regional secretary in Catalonia was so low it was hard to get good people to take the job. Marcos Alcon, a well-know revolutionary, got the majority of votes for regional secretary in 1936 but he refused to take the job because he would have had to take a cut in least that is what Garcia Oliver implies. that's how Mariano Vazquez ended up with the job. That was really not a good thing because I suspect Alcon was less likely to be favorable towards popular front collaboration in July of 1936 than Vazquez, who was a part of the political circle of Federica Montseny.

The CNT had three national unions -- "national industrial federations" -- that I know of. One of these was in the commercial fishing industry. The secretary of that national union was a paid official. I beieve this is mentioned by Gaston Leval. I suspect that the national secretaries of the other two national industrial federations (in railways and telephone) may have been paid officers as well.

syndicalistcat's picture
Joined: 2-11-06
Jun 7 2007 16:35

on this thing of the CNT of Catalonia owning an entire city block for its newspaper operation, I remember mentioning this to "Libertaria," a Catalan anarchist exile living in Canada back in the late '70s, and I think she responded "Yes, that's right." Someone from Spain might chime in if this is correct. Solidaridad Obrera's plant was given to a fascist newspaper in 1939. i'm not sure if this was ever an issue in the whole fight over the "historic patrimony" after the fall of Francoism.

Joined: 2-10-04
Jun 8 2007 21:37

No, you can't produce a big circulation daily without paid staff. My point has been the union should not actually be employing them, the paper certainly should if it has a big circulation and is sold as a 'commercial operatrion' - from the sales of the paper not the dues of members of the union/s that make up the confederation.

syndicalistcat's picture
Joined: 2-11-06
Jun 8 2007 22:15

actually i agree with you. what i've advocated for is that this function, of producing a labor paper for a particular community, should be done through a worker coop that is supported by unions, rank and file groups, tenant organizations and so on. the union would still be able to exert influence on it. the union might provide them a grant or something. the problem is, when a large organization pays a paper to support its struggles and perspectives, it usually wants to control the paper directly, by use of hiring and firing. if it is an alliance of mass organizations, then the alliance wants to control directly. it seems to me there ought to be a mid-way position where the paper coop negotiates some understanding with the larger mass organizations, in terms of priorities, in exchange for financial support.

in the case of Solidaridad Obrera in 1936, you can see why the regional committee wanted control. In Nov 1936 when the CNT joined the Popular Front, the managing editor and most of the writers at Solidaridad Obrera balked at going along with the new line. The regional committee then fired them.

bastos2008's picture
Joined: 12-02-08
Feb 12 2008 21:44

I know this topic is kindda dead right now but i would like to say something about one argument i didn't heard of ... I do believe that having paid union members can be a problem because of what it was said already : mainly beacause many non-militant members who are mostly afraid of doing the organisation job and they will just delegate the work to the paid dude. I think that if you have a problem with some admin job, you must have to split it in many parts. If someone who has kids cannot attempt to organise on a daily basis with the comrades he could maybe do some secretary job at home on his comp ...
But the real problem is the position of the union being an employer is not a simple thing for a revolutionary union ! And my question is as a syndicalist : what do you think about the fact that a member of your union who was paid for a year goes back to a shitty situation of unemployement ? Does the union has so much power that it can find a job to this person in a reasonable time ? Such sacrifices can be done only by hyper-militant.
And even if you have a class war super-hero doing 80 hours of efficient work per week for the union is that really a good thing ? One of my friend just lived the union to become a member of a bigger union where he can find some way to be paid for his union work (he's one of this crazy syndicalist spending all his fucking time on organising) ... We talked a lot about this issue ... And frankly, The limit between being a more efficient militant and a professional militant is thin. I'm not sure it's good for internal democraty, in fact what do we call a bureaucrat ? It's not only a person who doesn't take place in real struggle, he's in fact in a professional position and disconnected from the real working place situation.
Oh and I will finish with this : who cares about the cnt members getting paid 70 years ago, sure we share the same ideal but we are really far from the situation they knew ... imo ...

Joined: 2-01-07
Feb 13 2008 10:39

the cnt in its heyday could find jobs for its members due to its immense industrial muscle and mass base see chris eltham's essay on the cnt in the book "The Republic Besieged" - the point is to pursue the long range strategic organising at the base of established unions to achieve this strength and general raised morale on the job- focusing on key industries most importantly transport , and drop simplistic notions of syndicalist unions growing via organising increasing numbers small/marginal workplaces - of course in the case of so called "micro revolutionary unions" such as the iww, etc today which often would be merely more democratic versions of the orthodox bureaucratic unions in many cases and often signing no strike contracts as discussed on libcom elsewhere - you would have the strong likelihood of paid officials becoming not much different than their counter parts in the orthodox unions

OliverTwister's picture
Joined: 10-10-05
Feb 13 2008 22:24
And even if you have a class war super-hero doing 80 hours of efficient work per week for the union is that really a good thing ? One of my friend just lived the union to become a member of a bigger union where he can find some way to be paid for his union work (he's one of this crazy syndicalist spending all his fucking time on organising) ...

This happens a lot it seems.