1997: CGT conference in Spain

A reportback by Guy Cheverton of a conference of the Spanish syndicalist union, the CGT. We do not necessarily agree with some of the points made, but reproduce for reference.

Since Franco's death, congresses of the CNT/CGT have always been times of stress and tension. Will our volatile Spanish comrades split? Will the sickening spiral in membership experienced from 1979-84 begin again, or will the slow (very slow) but steady growth enjoyed by the re-unified CNT (now CGT) continue as it has done since the mid-80s? Despite the fears of my anarcho-syndicalist friends from Malaga, this was a congress that everyone from pragmatic syndicalists to anarcho-syndicalists wanted to succeed.

Since l989 the majority section of the CNT has had (much to their chagrin) to go under the initials CGT as the CNT-AIT were granted sole use of the holy initials by the Spanish state in the shape of the supreme court. The latter is now down to some three to five thousand members and are still battling for the return of the millions of pesetas due the initials in union patrimony. The Spanish state has surrendered some of the money and property, but my guess is that in 25 years time the CNT will still be campaigning for the return of the property than the two-million member CNT held in 1936.

What of the CGT, the ordinary working anarcho-syndicalists who made up the bulk of the work-place union sections of the CNT before the ruptures of 1979 and 1984? The CGT, Spain's third union force, has 35,000 members, that' s 10,000 more than the Madrid-based Confederal Committee realised it had until recently when it issued a snazzy new membership card which all the members wanted thereby betraying the fact that the local federations had been 'underestimating' their membership so as to avoid paying part of the dues to Madrid. The CGT is organised throughout Spain, though a third of its membership is in Catalonia. Its largest unions are in the public sector, banking, metal and rail industries. Its monthly newspaper Rojoy Negro (Red and Black) shows a union in the thick of economic and social struggle. In December it called an important rail strike on its own and convoked a demonstration against the Europe of Maastricht and unemployment which attracted 10,000 people in Madrid.

Recently many members and organised currents of CCOO (workers' commissions), the Communist union, have come over to the CGT, attracted by the latter's radicalism and democratic practice. One of the two contentious questions treated in the congress was that of those down-playing anarcho-syndicalism to gain more and more members and those that favour slow and steady growth combined with more libertarian education of new members. This debate is likely to continue to run.

The congress began with the lights dimming and images of 1936 and modern CGT demos and picket lines being beamed onto the conference platform while the 392 delegates representing l82 of the CGT's unions sang the anarchist 'hymn' A Las Barricadas whilst giving the two-handed CNT clenched-fist salute. With this the congress began.

THE LIVERPOOL DOCKERS & THE CONGRESS

As international secretary of the Hull Trades Council, my time was taken up with arrangements for the two Liverpool dockers who were guests of the CGT in Madrid. They had just come from Barcelona where they had met with CGT and Coordinadora dockers and CGT rail-workers. They had addressed dawn assemblies of dockers in Barcelona and Tarragona. At the congress they had a very fruitful meeting with Eladio Villanueva, the 29 year old secretary of the CGT's federal rail workers union. Eladio's nickname is the rapper of the station - 'I love Massive Attack' - and rapping is his extra confederal hobby. It was agreed that the CGT rail-workers would back containers being moved by rail from Bilbao to Barcelona, a pledge also undertaken by the observer from LAB, the Basque nationalist union, who have rail-workers at the other end of the line.

On the second day of congress Terry Sothers, the dockers shop steward, addressed the hall telling the story of the sixteen month dock dispute. A collection made in the hall raised f800, some delegates giving 5,000 peseta rates (=A325). After the congress the dockers went on to Valencia as guests of the CGT who are the largest dockers' union there. They gained more promises of financial and industrial support, and flew for Manchester well pleased with the Spanish visit, which was organised by Hull Trades Council and Mick Parkin and paid for by union comrades in Hull and syndicalists nationally.

INTERNATIONAL

Hull Trades Council and the Liverpool dockers were not the only organisations invited from outside the CGT. From Spain came the SOC, the Andalucian land workers' union, who have been edging towards unification with the CGT for the last seven years. Also present were LAB, the Basque nationalist union, an independent union and a local union from Huelca, the Sindicato Unico. From Sweden- came the 10,500-member syndicalist union SAC. From Italy came the 25,000- member ARCA with its observers. Ihis is a co-ordinating body for the Confederazione Italiana di Base (UNICOBAS), national workers confederation, Sindicato di Base and USI, the Italian syndicalist union, all of whom were present.

From France were the French CNT represented by Paco Munoz who was recently expelled from the AIT. It can now work with the majority sector of anarcho-syndicalism and it has 4,000 members while the sector which the Spanish CNT recognises has 120 affiliates. Also from France were SUD (Solidarity, Unity, Democracy), rail and post unions, a product of rank and file anger with the leadership of the Socialist CGPT which led to the birth of this new federation, and also that last bastion of syndicalism in the CGT of France, the proof-readers' union.

Most of the Saturday was take up by a parallel international meeting which discussed the question of co-ordination between rank and file unions and the European march against unemployment in Amsterdam on 14th June to coincide with the European leaders summit. The delegates wanted to vocalise this demonstration and will form a large syndicalist bloc with the Dutch OUB at its head.

With regards to co-ordination, a manifesto was drawn up by all the unions present, including the Liverpool dockers, to be brought back for discussion in the constituent unions. What people felt they needed was a network, but formally constituted rather than some new bureaucratic 'international'. The CGT will improve its international communications by constituting an international committee, a task being co-ordinated by Chris Robinson and Paco Marcellan of the education union.

Our first practical test of international solidarity is what support we actually raise for the Juvel bakery workers of the SAC in Stockholm.

What impressed me with this congress was the seriousness of comrades willing to work until 11.30pm. It was not just the red and black heraldry, the 'Circle A' badges and anarchist literature which put beyond question the CGT's libertarian credentials, it was the whole culture of the congress: no suits and mobile telephones, just ordinary men and women ready to chip in with their own opinions. It was their congress. dozens of delegates I chatted with all came across as sincere, warm and committed anarcho-syndicalists.

The workers CNT of the '30s is alive and well and kicking in the battles of the '90s: that union is the CGT.

Originally appeared in Freedom (March 17, 1997)

Comments

akai
Oct 20 2014 08:01

These things are always interesting, like the part about the CNTF who were expelled from the IWA. Their faction used to be in the IWA, so we know that in 1996, they had 156 paid members. But here in 1997, they claim 4000. Even more interestingly, that's many times more than they currently have.

I find this all to be a sickening game of number inflation to convince the world you are more powerful than you really are. Quite amazing how they claim to have gained over 3800 members in one year.