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(en) THE SPANISH CGT - The New Anarcho-syndicalism by Larry Gambone

From Chuck0 <chuck@mutualaid.org>
Date Thu, 11 Nov 2004 22:23:34 +0100 (CET)

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I was well received by the International Relations representative of the
CGT, (Confederacion General de Trabajo) Angel Bosqued. At first he
thought I might be a member of NEFAC as they had recently done a tour of
Europe, but I explained that I was only representing myself. We talked
for about an hour and I learned a great deal about the history and
practices of the CGT. I told him that people in the English-speaking
world know almost nothing about contemporary Spanish anarcho-syndicalism
and I, in my small way, would do what ever was possible to change that
situation. He gave me a pile of CGT literature and took me on a tour of
the Barcelona CGT headquarters.

The headquarters was very impressive, consisting of the top floors of a
ten or eleven story building. Each of the individual industrial unions,
such as teachers, metal workers or communications workers, has its own
office. There are several larger meeting rooms, offices of the Salvador
Segui Foundation (a CGT cultural grouping) and a bar-cafeteria with a
tiled outdoor lounging area. This has a wonderful view of Barcelona as
it is on the ninth floor. Next we went to the archives and library that
comprised much of the tenth floor. The library alone consists of some
10,000 volumes on anarchism, syndicalism and related topics.

Now the CGT is not some tiny anarchist sect with a dozen members, but is
the representative of some one million workers. The Confederation is
found in every corner of Spain, and is in fact, the third largest trade
union grouping, only exceeded by the Socialist UGT and the Communist
CCOO. The CGT is strong among bank workers, television, postal and hotel
workers, but also has support among teachers, chemical workers, graphic
artists, and cleaning workers.

The Confederation is composed of two basic structures, geographical and
industrial. At the base lies the local union which is autonomous. Where
there are 75 or more members in a vicinity they can form a union local
which is open to all trades. Locals federate together at the city level,
or where the city is very large, at the district level. These in turn,
federate at the provincial level. The provincial federations confederate
at the territorial level, Spain being made up of Catalunia, Euskadi,
Astrurias, Castile, etc. All of these form the national confederation.

When enough members are organized in an industry they can form an
industrial branch. These industrial branches federate, for example bank
workers have a federation for each of the major banks. The next level,
is like a regular industrial union. For example, bank workers belong to
the Federation of Bank, Credit and Office Workers. The territorial
confederation and the industrial union federations form a Confederal
Commitee. There is an annual general meeting of the CGT as well. It must
be emphasized that the union operates from the bottom-up and members are
not controlled by the confederal level.

How does the CGT differ from the usual far-left groupings and regular
trade unions? First of all, they do not think they have all the answers,
or the answers they do have are written in stone for all eternity. As
they state in their Agenda Confederal 2004, "Anarchism is not a closed
or final doctrine, it expresses ideas that could appear contradictory;
radical pacifism, or the justification of violent acts as social
protest, extreme individualism and membership in syndicalist unions,
absolute rejection of institutions and limited participation in them.
Anarchism is characterized by its confidence in individual liberty and
in the capacity to judge and act..."

Rather than forcing dogmas down people's throats they actually listen to
working people and the union gives workers what they want, not what
intellectuals think they ought to want. I think much of the CGT's
success is to be found here. Their direct-democratic structure allows
the membership and not bureaucrats to control the union. While not
pushing dogmas, they promote a vision of society, an anarchist ethical
encompassing individual liberty, autonomy, direct action,
self-management and federalism. The union attempts as much as possible
in daily life to live by this vision.

While highly critical of all forms of authoritarianism, they do not
spend their energy attacking other radical groups. The CGT is a militant
union, but you never see the sort of rhetorical radicalism - violent
images or shouting about class war - in their press. They eagerly work
with other unions which in some manner share their attitudes, attempting
to create a global movement of "alternative unionism" and have strong
relations with other anarcho-syndicalists such as the Italian USI, the
Swedish SAC, and the French CNT-F.

The CGT does not regard itself, or even the working class, as the whole
struggle, seeing their union as one part of a broad movement comprising
peasant unions, ecologists, cooperatives, women's and community groups.
They have good relations with the Zapatistas in Mexico and consider
their union to be a member of the Anti-globalisation Movement. "The CGT
is an anarcho-syndicalist organization... which acts in the working
world. But not all the problems are just in this area, nor are workers
unaware of this fact. Thus, syndicalists, anti-authoritarians,
pacifists, immigrants, ecologists, movements against sexism and the
Anti-Globalisation Movement are in the end one movement, one without
`professional revolutionaries' in charge and with the consciousness that
the transformation will involve all groups."

The CGT spends much time attacking the wave of so-called privatizations
going on in Spain and everywhere else. Many union members are government
or social service workers. However, while defending social services and
public workers, they do not defend the state or merely tail the statist
left. The state is clearly seen as the enemy along with corporate
capitalism and the vision of self-management and decentralization is
offered as an alternative. Once again in the Agenda Confederal,
"Self-management combined with direct democracy, mutual aid and
solidarity present the complete and total alternative to the pyramidal,
hierarchical, authoritarian and exploitative model of capitalist society
incarnated in neoliberal ideology."

A narrow anti-political ideology they consider divisive. Many union
members belong to, or vote for political parties, yet in practice are
good syndicalists. But at the same time, the CGT never fails to point
out the problems inherent in parliamentary politics and parties. Nor
does the union have any time for nationalism but the autonomy of union
branches and decentralization allows historically oppressed peoples such
as the Basques and Catalonians to have their own language publications
and federations.

The CGT's success will hopefully rub off on other syndicalists. Already
in France the CNT-F has experienced a surge in support, with some 5000
members, compared with a few hundred a decade ago. Syndicalist groups
have appeared in the former Stalinist countries, and although small, may
experience growth. Orthodox unionism has crumbled in the face of
neoconservatism and maybe workers are open to the ideas of autonomous
direct action. And since nothing exists in isolation, a rebirth of
anarcho-syndicalism will only benefit anarchists of all varieties.

Link: http://www.cgt.es
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