Anarcho-syndicalism in the UK

Ahead of the International Workers Association congress in Manchester, Rob Ray interviewed Rolf Petter-Larssen, Secretary of the International...

The International Workers’ Association (IWA) is coming to Manchester in December, as UK affiliate SolFed host the world conference. The IWA is an anarcho-syndicalist international, advocating the use of directly democratic and autonomous organising in federations of ‘Locals’. It is comprised of several national unions and groups, including the largest branches of CNT-E (Spain), CNT-AIT (France) and USI-AIT (Italy).

Freedom spoke to General Secretary Rolf Petter Larsen ahead of the conference about the union body. This next conference will see major votes go through on both external and internal politics, he said: “It has been two years since the last Congress in Granada and besides a lot of organisational matters the IWA will discuss campaigns against the war, temporary work and how to expand to new countries.”

In the last year the international has seen some major conflicts engage its larger sections, including the Spanish Mercadona Strike, which saw solidarity from across Europe when employees of the supermarket launched a strike against the unfair abuse and sacking of workers.

Rolf said of the effort: “There have been a lot of urgent actions, not only the Mercadona strike, but it has been and is supported actively by all the Sections and Friends by spreading information, appealing for a boycott, demonstrations in front of Spanish Embassies and Consulates, and for example FORA in Argentina had an action against the Mercadona boss Roig when he attended a Conference there.”

“Financial aid is very important in strikes, and the Sections and Friends have collected money, while the Secretariat have sent 10,000 Euros from IWA`s fund.”
Both the solidarity shown to Mercadona and the IWA’s expansion plans are positive steps for the international, which has hemorrhaged members over the last two decades after bitter splits in France, Spain and Italy saw the loss of tens of thousands of people from its ranks.

In France and Spain, what loomed largest in the splits (which saw the CNT split into the CNT-E vrs the CGT, and in France the CNT-AIT vrs CNT-Vignoles) was the issue of participation in union elections for state-sanctioned works councils.
In both cases, the IWA chose to support the CNT branches which rejected such participation, calling it a move towards reformism. In the case of CNT-Vignoles, this move was seen as at least partially justified when the group renounced anarcho-syndicalism altogether, proclaiming itself simply a ‘revolutionary union’.

Since these expulsions, the Spanish CGT and CNT-Vignoles have joined the European Federation of Alternative Syndicalism, which also houses the SAC, an ex-IWA Swedish union.
In the conference two moves on the future of current sections are also to be voted on, involving the FAU in Germany, and USI-AIT, an Italian anarcho-syndicalist union.
The FAU are looking at possible expulsion after largely cutting links with IWA branches while maintaining them with others which have already been expelled, including CNT-Vignoles. USI’s involvement with RSUs - the Italian equivalent of works councils – has also seen them come under scrutiny.

Rolf said: “There will be further discussions about USI and RSUs about whether the RSU system is a strategic break with the IWA Principles (as the Spanish and French Union Elections are) or not. A lot of analyses, information and debates have been passed.”
But despite such troubles the IWA has also seen signs of major new possible areas of growth, with both Eastern Europe and Nigeria having added their own sections recently. ‘Friends’ groups, (often the precursor to full affiliation) can be found in Chile, Columbia and Australia while cordial contacts are kept with the International of Anarchist Federations (IAF), of which the Anarchist Federation in the UK is a member.

Author's Note: Following the Congress, USI was cleared with a request to pull out of participation from RSUs coming from some sections. FAU was still part of the IWA but remained in a precarious position regarding its links with 'enemy' organisations.