Solidaridad Obrera 1976-2006: A look back at the history of CNT journalism over the last 30 years

Carles Sanz

The reconstruction of the CNT in Catalonia following the death of the dictator Franco began on 29 February 1976 in the parish church of Sant Medir in the Sants barrio of Barcelona. That gathering attracted groups of every persuasion: anarcho-syndicalists, anarchists, syndicalists, councilists, libertarian marxists, Trotskyists, etc., and in the long run it showed, as tensions and strife erupted between them, which had a powerful impact on the prospects of the CNT and of the CNT’s newspaper to boot. The first CNT regional committee, among other things, decided to refloat, albeit clandestinely, the legendary and historic Solidaridad Obrera. Since then, that newspaper has unrelentingly kept workers informed in spite of the difficulties placed in its path. A hundred years of labour journalism has now passed since Solidaridad Obrera‘s launch back in 1907 and the paper has been composed wholly and exclusively by workers, which of itself is reason enough for it to claim to be the doyen of Barcelona journalism, a title that officialdom has denied it in spite of the facts. Allow me now to analyse its course over the past thirty years.

Different phases

Soli, as it is colloquially referred to, resurfaced on 1 May 1976 as a broadsheet and, for the first 15 issues (up until July 1977 to be precise), as a monthly. Initially, publication was irregular, but from No. 19 (May 1978) on, it embarked upon a phase of more rigorous news reportage and regularity; by No. 4 the print run already stood at 10,000 copies. During the two earlier phases in 1976 and 1977, we have no knowledge of who was the director and the Press and Propaganda secretariat of the Regional Committee claimed responsibility, followed by a collective of militants from the Barcelona Printing Trades union. The first administrator was Matías from Badalona and Cipriano Damiano, and the editorial offices were located in Barcelona’s Calle Méndez Núñez.

Phase three was the first properly significant phase and the director was Ramón Barnils (May 1978-May 1979) who faced internal criticism for trying to turn Soli into a bourgeois newspaper, this triggering his dismissal. Barnils had surrounded himself with a team made up of, among others, Juanjo Fernández, Santi Soler (an ex-member of the MIL) and J. L. Marugan-Coca; these too were criticised for writings that strayed from anarcho-syndicalist orthodoxy. The fact is that Soli‘s sales were never higher, Soli was well put together and was being distributed in kiosks throughout the city. Throughout this period the administrator was Toni Batalla. And during the same period Soli switched from monthly to fortnightly publication and attained a print run of 15,000 copies. Its offices were at 56 Calle Princesa, Barcelona.

During phase 4, when it was a fortnightly, Soli‘s director was Severino Campos (May 1979-December 1980) and the editorial team included Gerard Jacas, Ferrán Aisa and Josep Alemany. Those were tough times, with the Fifth Congress (and the split in the CNT) in the offing, although the issue was not reflected in the columns of the paper. To its credit, it should be pointed out that a daily edition Soli appeared throughout the six days of the ‘Scala Case’ trial.

Phase 5 was when Ramón Liarte took over the direction (February 1981-February 1982), with Lucas Moreno as administrator, For the first time (No. 79) there was a full editorial line-up: F. Aisa and G. Jacas were still there, joined now by E. Alonso, J. March, C. Díaz Mayo, E. Recuero, J. Carrasco and L. Correal. Later some of these dropped away and in came Sentis Biarnau and J. Mateu. Publishing standards fell and some issues were lacking in substance, another spin-off from the split within the CNT which was preoccupied with internal business and what news there was on the work front was neglected. The fact is that Liarte surrounded himself with people from the exile community (Sentis, Muñoz Congost, Tomás Andrés, Antonio Costa, José España, P. Flores, Cosme Paules, Vicente Soler and Villar Sánchez) who brought nothing new except for a reaffirmation of anarchist thinking and morality, but the current affairs coverage that readers were looking for at the time were all but ignored.

Phase 6 saw Carmen Díaz as director (May 1982-July 1984), with Pere Farriol joining a few months later as administrator. Although the exiles group still contributed, it was gradually being edged out as the paper returned to coverage of the labour affairs that had all but faded away and there was a breath of fresh air added in the form of interviews with personalities from outside the libertarian fold. The editorial staff was joined first by Severino Campos and later by Rafael Henares and Carles Sanz, as well as by the ‘Tinta Negra’ (Black Ink) collective which handled all of the photography.

Francisco Posa was director during phase 7 (September 1984-July 1985) and administration was handled by José Hernández Muntaner. The editorial staff included Carmen Díaz, Josep Alemany, Esteban Alonso, Lluis Correal, Correas, B. Gisbert, Adrián, R. Henares, J. Mateu, Carles Sanz and Ramón Sentís, a wide-ranging team but one that failed to live up to its promise. Once again there was a decline in coverage of the work scene and a rise in coverage of cultural matters, with special supplements being produced, among them a joint Solidaridad Obrera-CNT edition marking the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the CNT.

Lluis Andrés Edo served as director during phase 8 (September 1985-February 1987), with José Hernández staying on as administrator. During this phase the exile team left the scene completely and this phase of publication was marked by more specific coverage of international affairs, police repression and the situation in the prisons, as well as a controversial, back page survey into the situation of the CNT, drawing contributions from, among others, Marcos Alcón, Pep Castells, J. Muñoz Congost, F. Álvarez Farreras, etc.

Phase 9 belongs to Josep Alemany (March 1987-May 1986) with Lluis Correal stepping in as administrator. The previous policy was upheld with columns opening up to contemporary issues.

Phase 10 saw the return of Carmen Díaz (June 1986-September 1990) as director, with Correal staying on as administrator and Carles Sanz on the editorial team. A feature of this phase of Soli‘s life was the emphasis on articles relating to labour news and with health and safety in the workplace. An innovation were the ‘Soli Supplements’ covering cultural topics. It was during this time that the paper switched premises to 6, Plaça Duc de Medinaceli in Barcelona.

In phase 11 (October 1990-December 1992) Adrià Sotés was appointed director, with Jordi Ballester as administrator. Under the name ‘Team Soli‘, a number of comrades took charge of assembly, design and the photography of the paper. Supplements were also produced under the designation ‘Cultura libertaria‘ and during this time the editorial offices moved again to 13, Ronda de Sant Antoni, Barcelona.

Phase 12 was under the directorship of Albert Sabadell (January 1993-December 1994), the second professional journalist (after Barnils) to serve as director of the CNT’s flagship. Once again, administration fell to Correal and Jordi Mascarell took charge of design and photography. As this phase was drawing to an end the CNT de Catalunya entered its current period of decline, with many of its unions de-federating. As a result of which two papers were issued, using the same title and with each of them retaining the same numbering system. On which basis I shall, from here on (Soli No. 250), deal with each of the factions separately.

The de-federated faction which at the time accounted for 80% of the unions, was known as ‘CNT-Joaquim Costa’. Initially the regional committee took up the post of director and Guti would be the administrator. Publication resumed in September 1995, but only until December. Later, Salvador Gurucharri was appointed director (January 1996-January 1999) with Jordi Vélez covering the administration, only to be replaced later (June 1997) by Miguel Ángel López. Two changes of address took place during this stage, the first to 115, Calle Hospital in Barcelona. The editorial team was made up of Juan José Velilla, Jordi Vélez, Manuel Castro, Pako Millán, Salvador Gurucharri and Nono Kadáver; joined later by Manolito Rastamán and Mateo Rello. As for the photography, the ‘Tinta Negra’ collective returned to help out. At this point Soli got a second wind by turning to the illustration and comic strip tradition, with artists who designed striking covers. Here, Gurucharri was able to connect with and surround himself with collaborators and support from outside the CNT fold in the revamping of the paper’s contents. In 1997 came the second and, so far, final removal of the editorial offices to the current Barcelona CNT headquarters at 34, Calle Joaquim Costa. After January 1999, for the first time (and even to this day) the CNT organ coped without a director, that task being covered by an ‘Editorial assembly’. This initially featured M. Castro, P. Millán, M. Rello, Kristina, Chilango and Pierre (the last two as artists, although later they quit the editorial team whereas Rosendo joined it). As a result of de-federation, the coverage of labour disputes plummeted and there was a considerable rise in the space given over to cultural topics, with the publication of a number of cultural supplements, of which more anon. And a web-based Soli digital was launched.

The ‘official’ faction is referred to as CNT-Medinaceli or CNT-Badalona. The first edition of Soli it produced (March 1995) was produced by the regional committee of Catalunya and it was bereft of any news about the organisationally improper de-federation that had taken place. With No. 251 (April 1995) Nuria Galdón became director and there was a board of management made up of Antonio Blanco, Antonio Costa, Isabel Gracia, Rafael Henares, José Ros, Ramón Liarte and José Antonio Suárez. Later, J. S. Serrallonga joined as clerk, Caharo, Juanma and Pau as archivists and Carles and Nadia on ‘retouching’. Some time later, Marta, Rubén, Rocío, David Jordi and Chuck joined as collaborators. Broadly, during this first phase, issues tended to be very lightweight in terms of contents. From No. 269 (February 1997) onwards, there was no named director and no named editors. However, in No. 271, the director was named as Josep-Suno Navarro and in No. 273, Xavi Muñoz joined as administrator. Illustrations were credited to Hugo de Lima and ‘Team Soli‘ was named as the editors. From No. 296 on, the director was Martí Ferré Carreras with Muñoz staying on as administrator. The editorial offices switched to Villafranca del Penedés and during this phase there was improved coverage of international news and ecological issues. From No. 301 (February 2000) on, the director was David Becerra Rigart and the editorial offices moved to Olot. During this stage there was a re-design and quite a bit of labour news in the shape of short notices. From No. 311 (November 2001) on, there was no named director or administrator and the address switched back to Badalona.

Content

Over the past thirty years, Solidaridad Obrera had offered a motley selection of themes and its variation has changed to reflect the internal and external developments through which the CNT has passed, as well as changes in society itself, especially with regard to the world of work and the trade unions. The paper has always enjoyed a great measure of freedom even though it is the organ of the CNT-Catalunya. not that that freedom itself has not been at the source of the occasional additional clash. However, with the exception of the dismissal in 1978 of the journalist Barnils – as referred to above – the various editorial teams have always operated free of pressure or imposition from the committees of trade unions and only someone who has served on those teams knows how hard it can be to remain impartial and plough an independent furrow.

Our analysis of the contents of the paper is going to be in two parts. Part one covers the period up to 1995, so as to separate that period from the later one during which two rival papers using the same name were being produced.

Beginning with organisational matters proper, the first point to be stressed is that the paper has always refused to become an internal bulletin and so has set its sights on reaching out to a readership beyond the circles of the CNT. This being why there has been scarcely any coverage of accords passed by plenums or plenaries, although there has been coverage of the odd National Union Conference or indeed the controversy over the use of the initials (See Nos. 188 and 205).

Congresses are quite another matter; we find these being reported at length. Thus, several editions (Nos. 52, 55, 57 and 58) were given over to the controversial Fifth Congress in Madrid, but there was little or no coverage of what happened at it. There were a few ‘specials’ (Nos. 113, 123, 124, 125, 126 and 128, the latter being an ‘extra’) on the Sixth Congress in Barcelona. The same is true of the Extraordinary Single Issue Torrejón Congress (No. 131) and of subsequent splits (Nos. 145, 147, 148, 149 and 150). The paper dispatched a number of editors to the Seventh Congress in Bilbao, producing a 19-page extra filled with reportage and interviews.

One of the ‘star’ themes, year after year, was the turn-out every 1 May, an iconic date in the libertarian movement since 1890. During this period, Soli even devoted a number of ‘specials’ to this. By contrast, one topic that provoked no debate was nationalism, about which we have found (except for Nos. 2 and 100) scarcely any articles.

When it comes to trade union matters, we have to bear in mind that there were some significant debates, like the one about collective bargaining which tested some anarcho-syndicalist sectors and currents on their tactics: there was even an ‘extra’ produced on the subject (No. 131). Although the trade union elections were the main – but not the only – arena for clashes and subsequent splits, this debate was not triggered by Soli. However, we find articles there about the enterprise committees and boycotting the elections. On the other hand, there was always reference to direct action or self-management, not forgetting the trade union platforms. The anti-union laws and anti-worker laws are well represented, so we find lots about the Worker’s Statute, opposition to the Trade Union Law, the Strike Law or Social Action.

In the trade union-work context, company disputes, notably Roca, Telefónica, the filling stations, Macosa, the dockers, SEAT and Carrefour are well represented. We find detailed monitoring of the strikes that erupted in these sectors as well as others such as metalworking, printing trades or health. Similarly, CNT personnel; have always been intrigued by work safety matters, in which we have been the pioneers, sometimes running ahead of the legislation. So there have been pieces on contaminants, the regulation or prevention of work risks and even, over a few issues, these took up the back page of the paper.

Recovery of historical assets has been a demand that has been reflected in the pages of Soli, beginning with the restoration of the newspaper assets (including an inventory of everything commandeered by the dictatorship in 1939), sit-ins in premises, lock-ins in Amsterdam or the take-over of the Columbus monument in Barcelona (No. 166), not forgetting evictions such as the Puertaferrisa eviction in Barcelona (No. 151). Similarly, the education issue has also been fundamental to the moulding of the society of the future and so, during this phase, there has been plenty about libertarian pedagogy along with texts about Ferrer y Guardia and the Modern School.

And there have been historical or cultural topics aplenty. There have been commemorations of the revolution of 19 July 1936, classics like Bakunin or Malatesta, or pieces by Peiró and Peirats. However, there were not usually any reprints of texts by historic anarchists or reprinted pieces from other publications.

As regards the political scene, if one had to follow developments in the country, reading Soli would certainly not afford any insights. However, on account of its anti-political line or rejection of it, there are exceptions. Among other things, there were articles referring to the Moncloa Pact. On the other hand, there was plenty of international news and new about the situation elsewhere. Other matter worth pointing to include texts about the ateneos libertarios, free radio, guerrillas such as Quico Sabaté or revolutionaries like Salvador Puig Antich.

Finally, the subject of repression and support for prisoners – standard in any newspaper styling itself anarchist or libertarian – was to the fore. This was given abundant coverage in Soli, especially reports from the Prisoners’ Aid Committees (an essential part of the CNT), or reports on the COPEL, the murder of Agustín Rueda, those arrested in connection with the Scala Affair, the political amnesty, the abolition of prisons or opposition to the Anti-Terror Laws, to cite only the most important issues.

The ‘Joaquím Costa Sector’ from 1995 on put together a Soli quite well structured by sections – work-related, social affairs, international news, opinion and culture. Easy reading in terms of design and font. There was a reduced variety of opinion pieces, in contrast to what had been the tradition in previous years. However, there was a focus on cultural reporting in the form, say, of book reviews (history, philosophy, poetry, etc.). However, consistent with the changes under way in the world of work and within the CNT itself, there was a reduction in trade union news and reports on disputes at company level.

Topics tended to be a lot more current and closer to the alternative of anti-globalisation movements, although still tackled from a libertarian angle. International news was also dealt with well, as was the historical memory issue.

The cultural supplements deserve separate mention. The first such supplement was El Solidarín, of which three editions appeared. Filled with sketches and cartoons, it harked back to a century-long tradition in workers’ publications of this sort. Its creators were the Barcelona Artists’ Assembly and it carried the telling subtitle ‘Harmful, malicious and above all, anti-monarchical supplement’.

Another focus of the current editorial team has been the monographs of Artarquía and the Cuadernos de Pensamiento. Ten issues of Artarquía have seen publication and these have focused on Antonio García Lamolla, Miguel García Vivancos, Andrés Carrnque de Ríos, ‘Three shadowy poets’, Remedios Varo, Margaret Michaelis, the ‘Asamblea de Quijotes Libertarios’, Ramón Acín, ‘Against Agustín García Calvo’ and texts from the ‘Madrid Surrealist Group’. As for the Cuadernos de Pensamiento, they have dealt with matters like the post-modern media, Situationism, the MIL revolutionary group, libertarian naturism or genetics.

As for the ‘Medinaceli Sector’, there has been a greater emphasis on CNT matters and international news, although it has also carried current affairs coverage. From the very start, no reference was made at any time to the question of the unions affiliated to the CNT de Catalunya. In more recent issues, we should highlight the drive to put out a publication for distribution absolutely free of charge to workers, the costs being borne – and this is a big difference with the ‘Joaquim Costa Sector’ paper – entirely by the organisation.

Other Solidaridad Obreras

Because of the fracturing and subsequent splitting of the CNT during the Fifth Congress in 1979, the breakaway faction – known these days as the CGT – published a Solidaridad Obrera of its own from 1980 to 1981. In all, 13 editions were put out from Valencia as the organ of the ‘Standing Secretariat of the CNT’s Confederal Committee’. Its very appearance came as the result of the determination by a regional plenum that Soli should be the CNT’s national organ. The very first issue carried a different masthead but subsequent editions aped the classical one. It also adopted the same format and masthead, as a result of which it can be hard to tell them apart. As for the contents, we should highlight the plentiful international coverage, internal reports on the breakways’ plenums and congresses, canvassing for the trade union elections and, towards the end, several articles about possible reunification when the CNT was holding its Sixth Congress in Barcelona.

In 1985-1986 there was a second attempt to refloat Soli as a national organ. Although no place of publication is given, it was most likely based in Madrid and it was published by the Press and Propaganda Secretariat of the then CNT-Unificada. Five issues were printed plus two ‘extras’. As to the contents, it is worth remarking on the great floods of trade union-work news it carried and especially the coverage of the trade union elections, the focus of two ‘extras’ complete with lists of CNT delegates returned in the larger firms. The masthead was the same as during the Valencian venture.

Finally, I should mention two new titles which appeared under the designation Solidaridad Obrera; one was published by the San Fernando (Cádiz) CNT in 1987 and we are aware of just one edition of this; the other was published by the Amalgamated Trades Union of Orense in 1993 and only issue No. 1 ever saw the light of day.

From: www.soliobrera.org. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.