On the Class Situation in Spain - Charles Reeve

Chares Reeve writes on the class situation in Spain for Issue 7 of the US libertarian marxist journal.
Undated but published late 1978/early 1979.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on March 3, 2022

The balance of power between the unions and the ranks of workers in Spain is clearly shifting to the advantage of the former at the expense of every extra-union form of organization, especially the general assemblies. The recent practices of the Socialist (UGT) and Communist (CCOO) unions indicate a modification of their strategy toward the assemblies, whose status as a recognized and privileged form of the workers' movement appears to be waning. This at any rate is the conclusion of an analysis of two recent strikes by the comrades of the Barcelona collective publishing the journal, Bicicleta.

Although the transport maintenance workers had controlled their strike through daily assemblies and had fought to the point where 400 were arrested, the UGT and CCOO managed to end the struggle by a mere decision of the negotiating committee. The rank-and-file opposition to this was so great that the bureaucrats had to appeal to the police for protection during the last general assembly; nevertheless, the unions succeeded : the majority returned to work. Then, in a strike in graphics arts, the UGT and CCOO left the strike committee and again negotiated a back-to-work. As Bicicleta put it :

These experiences have been useful to the UGT and the CCOO. Finding it impossible to control the assemblies, they hastened to change the decision-making machinery before the metal-, construction-, and textile-workers' contract talks began. Decisions will no longer be made by general assemblies of the workers, but by assemblies of union stewards, either directly designated by the CCOO and the UGT or elected during the last union elections, which were held when acceptance of the State's version of union liberty set strict limits on things. Now the CCOO and the UGT criticize the general assemblies as manipulative and "anti-democratic" because they don't represent "the totality of the workers of each sector". (As if this totality had voted during the union elections !). These familiar arguments of the bosses under Franco are now used to run down every strike not controlled by the CCOO and the UGT.

What is "correct" tor the unions is the "legal way", a way that increasingly resembles the old [fascist] vertical unions.

But transferring the decision-making power from the general assemblies to the representatives hasn't been enough. Because not all representatives are controlled by these unions, the latter press harder whenever they can. Thus, for the national chemical contracts the UGT and the CCOO were the sole negotiators. As justification they claimed that an agreement with the employers had given negotiating rights to only those unions with more than ten percent of the votes.

The truth is that the movimento assambleario, the CNT, and the organizations of the working-class left—perhaps as a result of their limited influence in the factories—have not been able to respond effectively to this control of the situation by integrative unionism and the parliamentary left.

In this connection may it be said that to explain this predicament as the result of manipulation of the masses by the unions seems simplistic and insufficient. We are witnessing today the establishment of a balance of forces within capitalist Spain that favors the normalization of struggles and frustrates radical minorities of workers. The majority of workers accept and follow the line of the reformist unions. Some comrades (for example, those of Emancipacion) attribute this state of affairs to the revolutionaries failure to act in a clear way on the union question. This criticism is to a degree true, when addressed to the CNT militants who, despite their revolutionary spirit find themselves reduced more and more to just keeping a purely trade-unionist project alive. But, on the other hand, this explanation is too colored by a subjectivist and voluntarist image of the class struggle. The power of ideology does not explain everything : it is necessary to analyze the material conditions behind the support that Spanish proletarians render to the UGT and the CCOO. The strength of these unions is rooted in their capacity to respond successfully to the immediate needs, reformist but real, of wage-earners. As the economic crisis lays bare the inadequacy of the social infrastructure necessary to reproduce the labor force (education, housing, health, transportation etc.), the unions can present themselves as the managers of services indispensable to Spanish proletarians. Since they command significant funds (stemming partially from the massive financial aid received from the German Social Democrats), the UGT for example, can support such projects in the field of housing and food coops as were recently reported by Triunfo. These displays are aimed at convincing workers that unions, rather than direct action, offer the least risky means to ameliorate their immediation condition.

Charles Reeve