Debate in the CNT

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Mark.
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Dec 27 2007 22:57
Debate in the CNT

This is a translation of an article dealing with some of the internal arguments in the CNT. I started translating it earlier in the year but never got round to finishing it or tidying it up - so there are probably some mistakes and bad phrasing. Given some of the discussion on the boards at the moment I thought it might be worth posting anyway.

Quote:
Beltrán Roca Martínez
CNT no. 331 February 2007
Anarcho-syndicalism is not dead - Notes for a confederal debate

At the beginning of 2006 I published an article in an academic journal about the CNT [1] that has brought some criticism [2]. In it I defended, basically, the appropriateness of anarcho-syndicalism in the current Spanish labour situation, showing some examples of confederal struggle involving unions in Seville and Madrid. The reason why it gave rise to these reactions is simple: I mentioned the internal division into which the CNT is currently plunged, and stated that one of these tendencies was more “adaptive” than the other. In the paragraphs that follow I aim to clarify what I wrote, confirm some assertions and (why not?) correct others. The aim of this text is to promote an internal debate which, far from dividing us, helps us work better on the basis of what unites all those who take part in the CNT, despite the heterogeneity of our beliefs and convictions, respecting some “rules of the game”.

Before continuing I want to make clear that, despite the claims or insinuations of some, I do not believe that taking part in union elections is the route the CNT should follow. Nor is merging with the CGT or giving unions the freedom to choose as in Solidaridad Obrera. As I will try to show in the length of this text, I firmly believe that the revolutionary potential of the CNT is in its capacity for working as a union outside the processes of representative democracy and delegation to works committees. Anyone who reads the organic documentation, or assiduously visits our internet pages, will discover that in the last four years micro-conflicts have been multiplying in companies with a certain profile. Something new is happening around us.

One of the basic principles of systems theory and the ecology of organisations is that the organisations have to adapt to their environment to survive. I am conscious that the rhetoric of adaptability and adaptation brings out hives in many older militants, and I understand that given the precedents. The more veteran militants have lived through a split that has marked them for life. But I must make it clear that in sociological analysis they are key concepts for understanding the function of organisations. Again I stress that defending adaptability to the environment is not the same as proposing that we insert ourselves in the system or take part in union elections. I celebrate the fact that many comrades are on guard against the dangers of integrating the CNT in the system. But it worries me that despite making it clear in my article that the merit of the CNT is in working as a union outside the works committees, they insist that I form part of a conspiracy for the CNT to take part in union elections. There is something profoundly insane in all this, because almost all the hate which emerges from their writings is based on this accusation, and it is an accusation with no basis whatsoever. And it is the cornerstone of the conflict that diminishes the forces of some regions.

It also has to be made clear that I am not trying to “adapt the CNT to the wishes of the state”. I am not proposing this, nor do I want it, and it is outside my reach, because the CNT will always be outside the wishes of the State. What I am doing is calling attention to some questions (such as changes in the labour market, the appearance of mass immigration and the spread of deprivation) in which I believe it is necessary to have an influence because we have open ground to act, as the unions of the State do not arrive there. I am not saying that the notion of the working class no longer has meaning, but that its composition has changed, that it has fragmented (on the basis of sex, ethnicity, profession, types of contract, etc.), and that requires different methods of intervention. The better we can describe the reality that surrounds us, the better we can act in it. That is my modest and humble intention.

Perhaps most controversially I have argued that some unions have known how to take advantage of this situation better than others, and I have put forward the examples of Seville and Madrid to get to know them better. The conflicts of Mercadona, CODEX, the caretakers of urban properties in Cantabria, etc. had not yet arrived when I wrote the article at the start of 2005. And other struggles such as those of the comrades of Astilleros seemed more distant and our role in those companies in recent times had been more reduced. It has not been my intention to underestimate anyone and those who have felt hurt can be reassured that I wish to document all the conflicts in which they find themselves immersed.

Power and currents in the CNT

As I see it classical anarchism has not known how to adequately conceptualise power. Worse still militants often deal with it at a stroke saying that power is repression or that power corrupts. But power is extremely complex. There are philosophers such as Foucault who dedicated their entire life to studying it (and experiencing it in their personal lives) and even still there are many gaps. I am not going to write a treatise here about power, but I will say that from the moment that there are struggles to occupy positions in the CNT, it becomes evident that within the union there is “power”.

It does not please me to deal with internal issues of the CNT publicly. But I understand, following the line marked by some political scientists descendants of Max Weber, that to understand the internal dynamics of organisations it is essential to understand their external conduct. In any case the central theme of my article was not that division, but rather the CNT in the new post-fordian labour panorama (it is another thing if my critics are not interested in anything but discussing internal issues). In the article I made the error of extrapolating the total polarisation that we lived through in Andalusia starting from 2002 to the whole country, also I was mistaken in defining the internal conflict as a struggle between factions. I would like to make clear what I understand by a “faction” in that article. A faction is a group of people who lack formal ties, and who identify with ideas, forms of action or with people who embody those ideas. When I talk of a “heterodox faction” I am referring to a group of militants who often do not know each other, but who are doing the same things: they focus more on union issues, they carry out the decisions of CNT congresses to the letter, they don’t concern themselves with criticising other organisations, they try not to enter into internal conflicts, they try to develop conflicts in companies and go to look for them where they come. It is these people who act in tune in a spontaneous way that I have called the heterodox faction. They can also be considered as people with a certain “conduct”, “sensibility”, “leaning” or “character”.

Equally, when I state that the heterodox faction is taking power, I am referring to the fact that they are growing in affiliation, in activity, in support… Their “way of doing things” soaks through and spreads into a militancy which is tired of a stagnation which has lasted for years. The “heterodox” are making themselves felt a lot, and that image is multiplying and is projecting itself to other people who turn to them as a model and try to imitate them. That “power”, understood as “ability”, is that which is being taken by an enthusiastic militancy. It is not the power to oblige, but the power to do, within the reach of anyone. For that reason the victories achieved in one locality are victories that are spread immediately to the whole organisation through the activists who have contributed money, presence, encouragement, hope… And without whom the result would probably be different. Perhaps my terminology has been a little (or very) shocking or inappropriate: I offer my apologies for being misleading. But there is no intention in it of stating that an organised group of the heterodox are trying to take over the positions of the organisation, struggling against another faction.

I also spoke of an “orthodox faction”. By this term I referred to the group of militants more focused on terminology, on theory, on the internal issues of the local/branch, on bureaucracy, on the control of positions… They also stress the development of decisions, but are incapable of projecting them to the exterior. The emphasis on theory produces incapacity to arrive at the centre of work, when they leave the safe confederal circle the results are usually disappointing (it is common to hear excuses such as: “I am in the right, but the workers do not understand me”, “the working class is bourgeoisified”, “they are alienated”), and they go back to projecting themselves on the interior. There is a group of people, unions and regions that don’t stop kicking off, and that usually open internal fronts of conflict, as they are suspicious – in summary – of the “reformism” of the others, obstructing the organisation on many occasions.

Why have I called these kinds of militants the “orthodox faction”? Curiously the people who I have described in the previous paragraph appear to themselves as the most faithful to the principles, tactics and aims of the CNT. They state that they have a correct vision of anarchism and they consider themselves under an obligation to defend the trajectory of the CNT from any kind of diversion from the “correct road”. In more than one conversation with these people I have heard them say that it is necessary to defend the “confederal orthodoxy”. For that reason they themselves gave me the idea of baptising them as the orthodox faction. And from there comes, by way of comparison, “the heterodox faction”. The term is perhaps not the most apt, because although the orthodox usually consider themselves as such, the heterodox do not like that label.

What has happened with my article is a clear example of how fronts of internal conflict open up seeing “reformism” where it does not exist. Instead of focusing the debate around how we can perform better in the post-fordian age, they have put their effort into discrediting and insulting comrades. It has really annoyed them that I say that they take part in situations “out of place”. But they do no more than confirm my hypothesis with their writings: insulting me, creating rumours about me, launching false accusations, insinuating…

Despite everything, as David Graeber has said: the 21st century will be the century of anarchism. It is getting more and more evident that we cannot change the world through the conquest of political power or through hierarchical organisations. Popular movements based on direct democracy are proliferating in all parts of the planet: from peasants without land like the MST, native americans such as the EZLN and APPO, students, takeovers of factories and piqueteros in Argentina, deep ecology, squats, autonomists and a long etcetera. In the academic-scientific field there are more and more researchers, centres of research and publications about anarchism (especially outside Spain). At the same time, neo-liberalism is bringing together the conditions for the resurgence of revolutionary unionism. The IWW, for example is experiencing a process of growth in the United States very similar to that of the CNT here. It is not the time to withdraw into ourselves, it is the time to make the leap from the affinity group to the union. That is, knowing and practicing that “we are more than just a union”.

Mark.
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Dec 27 2007 23:25
Quote:
Footnotes:

[1] Beltrán Roca Martinez: Movilizando a los precarios - El anarcosindicalismo español contemporáneo ante el "capitalismo flexible"
http://www.ucm.es/info/nomadas/13/brmartinez.html

[2] See, for example, issues 4 and 5 of La Protesta in which José Luís García Rúa and others reply to my article. Or an intervention in the January issue of CNT.

A pdf of the February 2007 issue of CNT with the original Spanish version of this article can be downloaded at http://www.periodicocnt.org/331feb2007/

rata
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Dec 27 2007 23:44
JH wrote:
[2] See, for example, issues 4 and 5 of La Protesta in which José Luís García Rúa and others reply to my article. Or an intervention in the January issue of CNT.

Mark.
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Dec 28 2007 00:25
revol68 wrote:
i'm seeing very little in the way of detail in this, just some vague waffle about orthodox and heterdox with no discussion about how the specific differences play out. What are the heterodox pushing that the orthodox are bickering against?

Here's a quote from the original article (footnote [1]) though I'm not sure it adds all that much:

Quote:
Like every organisation the CNT suffers internal power struggles, although many anarcho-syndicalists have dificulty in recognising this. There is a strong polarisation in the organisation between two factions. On the one hand there are a number of local unions whose members defend postures which could be called "orthodox". They consider, basically, that the conditions in which anarcho-syndicalism was created have hardly changed, so that the discourse and practice should remain unaltered. They denounce the opposing faction as wanting to integrate the CNT within the system, principally merging with the CGT and accepting union elections [i.e. to the comités de empresa]. On the other hand the "heterodox" are those who believe the system has changed considerably and that strategies should be transformed. They don't have problems in creating networks and establishing alliances with other organisations (including the CGT). They argue that the CNT is above all a union and as such should focus on union work. They criticise the "orthodox" sector as confusing the CNT with an ideological or cultural association.

martinh
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Dec 28 2007 23:46

I've met the author of this piece and I think I can summarise what he's saying:

In terms of the two unconscious factions he talks about, he is in the first (heterodox) one, and Garcia Rua who criticises this approach is in the "orthodox" one. Neither of these are actually organised factions in the way that marxists would think of them.

The heterodox approach is basically one of orienting the CNT to workers struggles. With the exception of the Puerto Real dispute in the late 80s, early 90s, the CNT have been distant from active industrial struggles since the split with the CGT. Since about 2000 this has changed and the CNT has been involved in (and won) a number of strikes on a local or regional level.

This new orientation has spread through certain cities, such as Barcelona and Seville, and the author is quite open about the split with the CGT costing the CNT nearly all of its workplace presence. The CNT in those cities now briefs its militants on the law, has an active solidarity fund and runs training in labour and contract law and negotiations. They also have the confidence to approach workers in struggle and work with them, explaining how they operate. After the dispute is won, the workers often join. Several of the strikes that the CNT has been waging in the last few years that people on here will be aware of (AUSSA in Seville, Mercadona in Barcelona, and the most recent occupation in Barca) come from this approach.

Regards,

Martin

jack white
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Dec 29 2007 13:29

Hi Martin,

was this chap at the bookfair in London this year? There was a guy hanging out with you, who I thought was from Saragossa, who was talking about the development of his local along these lines. Sounded interesting - if I remember correctly (and since I was drinking thats a big if) he also said that it was due to generational shifts in some of the locals?

rata
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Dec 29 2007 13:49
martinh wrote:
The heterodox approach is basically one of orienting the CNT to workers struggles.

While the "orthodox" faction within CNT is orientated towards... what? This is such a bullshit.

These are very shallow oversimplifications and/or just blunt idiocies which are directed against the people who were engaged in saving anarcho-syndicalism, on local and international level, from retards who were trying to turn it into social-democratic movement of the imbeciles.

rata
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Dec 29 2007 14:44
revol68 wrote:
and the article is some vague shit that looks like an undergrad thesis on New Socal Movements

Exactly.

martinh
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Dec 29 2007 22:00

Hi Jack White,

Yes, he was around at the bookfair. He is from Seville local. They are doing a lot of good work around struggles in their region.

Rata,
As the writer was once in the local dominated by Garcia Rua, I would tend to take his view that when he was in Granada, CNT activity involved a lot of talking about history. Since he joined Seville, it has involved directly supporting workers in struggle. While both are important, I know which I think is more important.

Regards,

Martin

Mark.
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Dec 29 2007 22:12
martinh wrote:
I've met the author of this piece and I think I can summarise what he's saying:

In terms of the two unconscious factions he talks about, he is in the first (heterodox) one, and Garcia Rua who criticises this approach is in the "orthodox" one. Neither of these are actually organised factions in the way that marxists would think of them.

The heterodox approach is basically one of orienting the CNT to workers struggles. With the exception of the Puerto Real dispute in the late 80s, early 90s, the CNT have been distant from active industrial struggles since the split with the CGT. Since about 2000 this has changed and the CNT has been involved in (and won) a number of strikes on a local or regional level.

This new orientation has spread through certain cities, such as Barcelona and Seville, and the author is quite open about the split with the CGT costing the CNT nearly all of its workplace presence. The CNT in those cities now briefs its militants on the law, has an active solidarity fund and runs training in labour and contract law and negotiations. They also have the confidence to approach workers in struggle and work with them, explaining how they operate. After the dispute is won, the workers often join. Several of the strikes that the CNT has been waging in the last few years that people on here will be aware of (AUSSA in Seville, Mercadona in Barcelona, and the most recent occupation in Barca) come from this approach.

Regards,

Martin

Yes, that was more or less my understanding of what he was saying. There's an article about the Puerto Real dispute here.
Reading the discussion on alasbarricadas people seem quite upbeat about the current situation in the CNT. Here's a fairly representative comment from a thread asking whether the CNT is growing or in decline:

Quote:
As a militant, in my opinion the CNT is going through one of its best moments since the split in 1983 […] In the 90s it didn’t manage to overcome the internal crisis, again the unions experienced a generation gap which got in the way of forgetting old quarrels […] a terrible error which towards the end of the 90s seemed to have been overcome. This, together with quite a large new batch of new militants between the ages of 17 and 35 meant, not without having to overcome massive obstacles, that the CNT in 2007 is a union organisation with an average age of between 22 and 40, combining youth and hope with experience in the union field.

The elimination of old internal habits that did no more than get in the way of union branches, the development of a public life which makes it be present and have an opinion on what happens in the current situation and, why not say it, leaves inferiority complexes on one side, make the CNT, today an organisation with a presence in nearly all sectors, in nearly every province of the Spanish state, the unstoppable creation of solid and supported union branches […] the leap to the calling of strikes and the negotiation of conflicts, thus leaving behind a sectarianism which in my opinion gave the CNT very bad years.

Some estimates of membership from another thread:

Quote:
… The CNT will have about 6,000 members – but as has been said not all of them anarchists – the CGT 60,000 (or perhaps more), although the number of libertarians or sympathisers within the CGT will be much lower, perhaps 10,000 (?). There are other unions such as the CNT-Joaquim Costa, Solidaridad Obrera and other “controversial” libertarian unions (UTL) which between them won’t have more than 1,000 members.
rata
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Dec 29 2007 23:25
martinh wrote:
As the writer was once in the local dominated by Garcia Rua, I would tend to take his view that when he was in Granada, CNT activity involved a lot of talking about history.

rotten hearsay.

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altemark
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Dec 29 2007 23:27

Thanks for the clarifying post Martinh, it was interesting read, together with other sources on the situation in Spain.

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 30 2007 00:24

smaller groups: CNT of Catalonia dis-affiliated (split from CNT-AIT), Solidaridad Obrera (split from CGT), Union of Libertarian Workers (UTL) (split from CGT in Vitoria, Basque country, which appears to organize more as an informal network).

Jason Cortez
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Dec 30 2007 00:31

double post

Jason Cortez
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Dec 30 2007 00:31

Yes Rata we Must preserve the Truth of Garcia Rua, all else is revisionism. Down with the Social- Democrats! Long live the real CNT!!!

rata
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Dec 30 2007 00:52
Jason Cortez wrote:
Yes Rata we Must preserve the Truth of Garcia Rua, all else is revisionism. Down with the Social- Democrats! Long live the real CNT!!!

Why are you getting upset?

syndicalist
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Dec 30 2007 05:25

Pendejo.

Sin mas comentarios.

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circleamatt
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Dec 30 2007 07:28

The way Beltran, the author, described it to me was that the FAI constitutes the "orthodox" faction in the CNT, and plays a very authoritarian role. This is exaserbated by the fact that the FAI is not a public organization, and so its conduct in the CNT is unaccountable to anyone.

syndicalist
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Dec 30 2007 14:02

circleamatt:

Quote:
The way Beltran, the author, described it to me was that the FAI constitutes the "orthodox" faction in the CNT, and plays a very authoritarian role. This is exaserbated by the fact that the FAI is not a public organization, and so its conduct in the CNT is unaccountable to anyone.

Funny, this is the same critcism of the FAI I heard in the years after the CNT re-emerged in post-Franco Spain.

What makes me curious, is what lesson can be learned in terms of anarchist political organization? How does the alleged methods of the FAI reflect any problems with, say, the concept of organizational duality? For me, I think this is a very fundemental and current isssue.

Mark.
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Dec 30 2007 14:18
Beltrán Roca Martínez wrote:
At the beginning of 2006 I published an article in an academic journal about the CNT [1] that has brought some criticism [2] …

[2] See, for example, issues 4 and 5 of La Protesta in which José Luís García Rúa and others reply to my article. Or an intervention in the January issue of CNT.

I thought it might be worth looking at the article criticising Beltrán in the January issue of CNT (issue 330) and seeing if there was anything worth translating. All the recent issues of CNT can be downloaded at http://www.periodicocnt.org/principal/todoslosnumeros.htm - except that the January issue isn't there. I'm not sure what this means - if anything. [ Edit: the article is on-line at http://www.periodicocnt.org/330ene2007/24/ ]

There's a response to Beltrán's article by García Rúa at http://ultimabarricada.blogspot.com/2007/10/heterodoxos-nueva-versin-del-reformismo.html (in Spanish - the title means "the heterodox, the new version of reformism"). I think it's the same or an updated version of the article in La Protesta issue 4. It's a bit long-winded but if anyone feels like translating it...

rata
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Dec 30 2007 16:04
circleamatt wrote:
The way Beltran, the author, described it to me was that the FAI constitutes the "orthodox" faction in the CNT, and plays a very authoritarian role. This is exaserbated by the fact that the FAI is not a public organization, and so its conduct in the CNT is unaccountable to anyone.

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blia blia blia
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Dec 30 2007 16:05

In my opinion, as Spanish cnt member, the Beltran's article and the posterior debate have no sense.

I belong to a different region than Beltran (Andalucía, where are Sevilla and Granada cities) but I can't find orthodox and heterodox factions, or on local [...] level, [... (people)] who were [are?] trying to turn it into social-democratic movement of the imbeciles.

There are differences in how doing some things, but we agree en principles, tactics and finalities.

In this forum
http://www.alasbarricadas.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=22869&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0
Beltran recognizes that has written a lot of errors in his original article.

rata
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Dec 30 2007 16:35
blia blia blia wrote:
on local [...] level, [... (people)] who were [are?] trying to turn it into social-democratic movement of the imbeciles.

I was referring to CNT/CGT split on the local level, and to IWA/Vignoles split on the international level.

Mark.
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Dec 30 2007 18:59
blia blia blia wrote:
In my opinion, as Spanish cnt member, the Beltran's article and the posterior debate have no sense.

I belong to a different region than Beltran (Andalucía, where are Sevilla and Granada cities) but I can't find orthodox and heterodox factions, or on local [...] level, [... (people)] who were [are?] trying to turn it into social-democratic movement of the imbeciles.

There are differences in how doing some things, but we agree en principles, tactics and finalities.

In this forum
http://www.alasbarricadas.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=22869&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0
Beltran recognizes that has written a lot of errors in his original article.

Thanks for the link - I hadn't seen that thread before and it clarifies things a lot.

Mark.
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Aug 30 2008 11:05

This came up on another thread -

Quote:
Anarchism, anthropology and Andalucia, An Analysis of the CNT and the ‘New Capitalism’, by BELTRÁN ROCA MARTÍNEZ (2006)
http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/anarchiststudies/articles/Mart%EDnez.pdf

ABSTRACT
Systems theory can show us how organizations develop, allowing them to survive changes in their environments. Such analyses also demonstrate why the CNT is passing through such a profound crisis: it is a trade union which is completely excluded from the world of work. The CNT began in a society very different from today. Despite the many significant changes which have occurred since 1910, its organizational structures and ideological assumptions have remained practically unchanged.
The need for change has not met with a common response from its militants.
The CNT is currently split between two tendencies, which we will term ‘anarchist’ and ‘syndicalist’. Despite a general consensus around the principle of non-participation in trade union representation structures, both tendencies compete for control of the CNT. We end this paper by presenting some examples from the Seville CNT, which can be classified as following the ‘syndicalist’ tendency: it has had some success in the context of the ‘new capitalism’.

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Aug 31 2008 23:32

JH - thanks for posting that. I'm very interested in showing it to IWWs.

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Dec 13 2010 05:13

Just wondering if anyone knows of any English language CNT or FAI stuff out there that's not on libcom. Particularly contemporary (1960s-2010) stuff. Perhaps things translated but not put in the library?

I'm on my yearly Spanish anarchism obsession and unemployed currently so this is one of my projects I wanna do!

Mark.
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Dec 13 2010 09:28

I'm sure I've seen more about the CNT etc that isn't on libcom, though most of what's interesting just doesn't get translated. Anyway it sounds a good idea to put what there is in the library.

The decisions of last week's CNT congress haven't been published yet but should be of interest and I'd imagine they'll relate to the issues discussed in Beltran's articles.

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Dec 13 2010 10:30
Juan Conatz wrote:
Just wondering if anyone knows of any English language CNT or FAI stuff out there that's not on libcom. Particularly contemporary (1960s-2010) stuff. Perhaps things translated but not put in the library?

Have you seen the English section on the CNT website?

akai
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Dec 13 2010 12:38

I have some of the decisions here but I don't think it is a complete list. I won't translate it all now and better to wait for something official - some of it not 100% clear and probably not the official wording of decision. But a few things can be mentioned:

- the proposal not to allow students into Education unions was not accepted and students can join SOVs or education unions, if those unions decide to allow them

- new unions only have one vote for the first six months of existance, regardless of number of members

- proportional voting system changed: 5 to 10 members = 1 vote
11 to 20 = 2 votes, 21 to 30 = 3 ... using the same system up to 100 .... then from 101-150 11 votes, 151- 250 12 votes, 251- 500 members = 13 votes 501- 1000 = 14 votes, above 1000 = 15

- Each of the CNT union is free to interact with other organizations, if it sees fit.

- There should be the promotion of self-production and consumer
initiatives (cooperatives)

- They will promote some libertarian education initiatives

- There will be some special group (task group?) related to women workers and there will be some efforts to fight stereotypes in the union and beyond

Some things are quite specific to CNT internal structure or division of finances, so it is not clear what can be written here, but a few:

- Committee members may not make proposals at meetings of the organization, except the meeting of their union or when they attend something on behalf of their Union or Regional.

(in other words, the committee members themselves have to go through their unions)

The name of the National Committe is changed to the Committee of the Confederation

- The treasurer is responsible that no CNT assets fall into any kind of speculative funds.

syndicalist
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Dec 13 2010 15:58

We've got hardcopy printed stuff only. "New from Libertarian Spain" (post-Franco) and a bulletin or two of a "libertarian communist"newsletter (AWA, I think).

But I really don't have the resources or time to make photocopies at the moment.

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