2004: Granada coffee house strike

The history of a small strike at coffee shop in Spain, with the involvement of two different groups of anarchists, and ended largely in failure, albeit with some very minor concessions won.

In Spain the CNT – National Confederation of Labour, part of the International Workers’ Association - was established in 1910. By 1936 it had determined itself as an anarcho-syndicalist organisation with the goal of establishing libertarian communism. After the Civil War and Revolution it went underground and was marginalised by the corporate vertical structure imposed by Franco. Other unions, socialists, communist, radical catholic, covertly participated in the vertical unions and got people into positions within them.

After the death of Franco in 1975 there was the return to bourgeois democracy and the CNT re-emerged. It established union federations in various sectors and also had a strong presence on the streets.

There was a split at the end of the 70s over the question of participation in workplace councils with a minority wanting to enter them. This was another form of corporatism that took decision making away from the workers and so was opposed. Those who wanted to use them worked as a parallel organisation within the CNT with meetings and assemblies of their own. They then broke away and called themselves the CNT as well. The Spanish state was able to use this to withhold the historic patrimony (the money and buildings etc seized after the civil war) from the CNT. After a long dispute the CNT won the right to the name and the patrimony and the breakaway union called itself the CGT.

In the 1990s as the split became clear, and militancy in general dropped, many drifted into the CGT as gaining influence. The CGT though although strong on paper had no real workplace and street presence and was in this way similar to the other reformist trade union federations. This was reflected in Granada CNT. There are three unions in Granada CNT, education, public service and a general union for members who have not got the numbers to form a viable union in their industry. The record the Granada CNT is impressive and nearly all the disputes that they have been involved in have been won. This has come about by a particularly aggressive attitude to direct action and has made employers wary of taking them on. Sometime just the threat of action is enough to win concessions.

Conflict last year
This didn’t go as well as previous ones and although there were some gains there were losses as well. Granada’s economy depends on three areas, agriculture, tourism and the university. The dispute was centred on the tourist industry. There has been a history of dispute in this sector and in common with all tourist jobs there is a high turnover of staff. One or two streets have recently been converted from derelict house into ‘Arab style’ coffee houses. A couple of years ago the CNT was involved in a dispute and won. The bosses wanted to stop the CNT organising in the area.

Last year there was a collective dismissal of five women from one coffee house. They had been trying to get the local Health and Safety official to visit the shop to look at the dangerous working conditions. Although not members of the CNT they approached them for help. The general assembly of the Granada CNT agreed to help and organised a boycott of the Coffee House. The women were also seeking redress through the courts.

At every stage there was discussion between the women and the CNT as to what course of action to take. Leaflets were distributed outside, a picket was organised, tourist were leafleted (in Spanish and English) and other sections were involved, education and public service. The Coffee House and the whole street were practically closed down. A strike fund was established and benefits organised. The place was occupied. At every stage as the strike dragged on discussion were held about all tactics and actions with the women themselves and the Granada CNT general assembly involved together.

Police harassment increased as they worked together with the owners and the local council to try to break the strike. Pickets were constantly harassed over minor issue, their identity cards checked and they were arrested on minor things. Minor complaints were made against the women and, as Spanish law says you have to appear in court for every one, they had to go to court over 500 times.

Up to this point all decisions had been made by the assembly. Then there was an attack on the picket line by bouncers and other hired by the owners. One picket was hospitalised and injured quite badly. The only arrests made by the police were of CNT members. Some local anarchists who were not members of the CNT then decided to take direct action on their own without any consultation and attacked the property of the owner, breaking windows. The result was that the owners, the media, the council and the police, could use this against the CNT and paint them as a violent, mafia style organisation. A local community association who had been supportive changed sides. The women’s lawyer resigned the case.

The end result was that two women got a small amount of compensation but three got nothing. All the negative aspects of the dispute occurred when the decision-making left the general assembly and the women, and action was taken by those outside the dispute who did not understand the need for collective decisions and collective action. Furthermore, for about a year the number of people coming to the CNT for help sharply declined as it also generated a lot of mistrust in the Granada CNT with the accusations made by the media etc.

The positive aspects were that although the dispute dragged on gains were made while control was kept by the women and the assembly of the dispute.

After the event it was decided by the Granada CNT that it needed some protocol for dealing with situation when workers who are not CNT members come to them to ask for help. This dispute had cost a lot of time and effort so it was decided that for a conflict to go beyond a certain stage the workers in question had to have been a member of the CNT for at least a year before the dispute arose. There may be lessons from this for anarchosyndicalists in the UK in the future. Some groups in Britain offer surgeries to help people but how far they can provide practical support is another matter.

Edited by libcom from a talk by Richard from the Solidarity Federation

Posted By

Sep 10 2006 21:53


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