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(en) The role of the CGT in Spain

From Platform Anarchist News Distribution <platform@geocities.com>
Date Mon, 11 May 1998 10:50:55 +0100
Organization http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/inter.html

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E


On Franco's death in 1976 there was a political
vacuum in industrial organisation in Spain. Workers
flocked to join the CNT anarcho-syndicalist union
which had managed to maintain a minimum
underground structure in Spain as well as the
official exiled structure in France throughout the
years of dictatorship. This reemergence of
anarchism caused the Spanish Minister for the
Interior, Martin Villa to, remark, when questioned
about ETA, that his biggest concern was in fact the
CNT. Soon however, doctrinal differences became
apparent (as always with the CNT) and at the
Congress of Madrid in 1979 the union split into two
factions which in due time became known as the
CNT/AIT and the CNT/U. In the early '80s motivated
by the chance of having confiscated property
returned by the state, the CNT/AIT took the CNT/U
to court for 'usurpation'. After three court cases the
CNT/AIT finally won the rights to historical
patrimony of the CNT name and property. In 1989
the CNT/U were forced to change their name to

 F R E E D O M   P R E S S
                       I N T E R N A T I O N A L
                           Volume 2 Number 6

In March 1998 Christopher Robinson, a Canadian
who has lived seventeen years in Barcelona and
Madrid, attended a conference of syndicalists in
Bradford as an official observer for the CGT. John
Lawrence took the opportunity to interview Chris on
the role of the CGT in Spain. The following is the
substance of their conversation.

JL: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. I am
particularly interested in your views on the
CNT-CGT split, how it came about and what the
present situation is.

CR: First of all I'd like to stress that anything I say
here is my own personal opinion and not offered as
on official CGT position. I have been highly critical
of the CGT myself and it can be difficult to be
always objective. People are so used to hearing
affirmations of principle from both parties, while
honesty can tend to dwell on the negative, and so
help to re-affirm dogmatic views. People don't
realise that you're touching nerves - in this country
(UK) people seem to take sides like choosing a
football team.

JL: Are you saying that people here identify too
closely with what should be seen only as internal

CR: Partly. Though there are important theoretical
differences. History will probably record that the
split was caused by the issue of whether or not to
participate in Workers' Committees, as the CGT
does. But personally I think the main reason was
personal differences.

JL: What is the CNT's objection to Workers'
Committees ?

CR: The Workers' Committees are an opportunity to
work together with other unions. Elections are
invoked by the workers and the delegates deal with
management. Some people might interpret this as a
compromise with the state and I suppose it is a
clear invitation to bureaucracy, too. One problem is
with the horas sindicales - fifteen to twenty hours
away from normal work in factories, given to the
elected members of the Workers' Committees and
paid for by the companies. CGT delegates do this,
but some unions go further, like the UGT
(socialists) and CCOO (communists) who survive
largely with pay-offs from companies in return for
sell-outs on the committees. The CGT strongly
opposes this. Having said that, it wouldn' t surprise
me if someone somewhere said "Yes but the CGT in
such and such a place signed something to the
effect that . . ." and so on. The thing is, we are a
union based on libertarian principles and we don't
have an internal doctrinal police force. In short, the
CNT view the Workers' Committees as indirect
non-action whereas the CGT feel that, if used
carefully, they can be an effective form of direct

JL: Can you tell me something about the CGT's
work and organisation?

CR: We currently number about 35,000 members,
mostly in cities and small towns working in a
mixture of industries, for example car factories .
Actually we're strongest in big factories, and in
banks, telephone companies, RENFE and other rail
companies in which we have received 10% or more
of the delegates in the Workers' Committees. We
also have isolated strongholds like cinema workers
in Barcelona, health workers in Malaga, teachers in
Granada and even forest firefighters in Valencia!
This is a reflection of the work of our militants. If we
are not strong in, say, cinema workers in Madrid, it
is because we don't have any active members in
that sector. We have the same organic structure as
the CNT; the nucleus is in local trade unions
organised around a trade, for example education of
transport. These local trade unions also have
secciones - univesity professors in education of
Metro Workers in transport, for example. Each
trade union joins the others in their municipality in a
federation and the several federations join a
regional confederation. On a parallel level, each
trade union forms part of a national federation of
that particular trade.

JL: Do you have full-time paid officials ?

CR: In the national permanent secretariat there tend
to be one or two full or part-time paid officials, paid
a worker's salary, invariably below what they were
making before. Also different federations and
confederations have full and part-time paid officials
according to their needs. And then there's the
liberados on the factory committees, as I mentioned

JL: Given that there are two high profile
anarcho-syndicalist organisations, how would, say,
a young person attracted to anarchism decide who
to join?

CR: Both have members who are students,
unemployed or retired. People who consider
themselves libertarian and want to join something
libertarian are often attracted to the name 'CNT'.
Obviously the CGT are more prominent in terms of
numbers - I last heard the CNT/AIT have around two
thousand members. In my experience in Madrid,
young people will often join an organisation al azar
(by chance), but they often find the CNT/AIT too
rigid and dogmatic while the CGT is too pragmatic
and 'uncool', so they end up joining the Autonomos
with the circled A, hammer and sickle, and star!

JL: You have touched on the pragmatism of the
CGT. Is there a danger that this can lead to a loss of
anarchist principles? For example, is there any
truth in the allegation that the CGT has a police
trade union?

CR: I can only speak for the post-Franco years,
when the CGT have never allowed police to join. It
was clarified in a congress around 1980 that no
member of military, repressive or armed forces like
the police, including Guardia Civil, Policia National,
Policia Autonoma, Policia Municipal, Guardias
Jurados (sworn security guards) can join the CGT
and that's how it is in the statutes. This particular
story originates in a small town in Catalunya when a
small group of municipal police set up a Sindicato
de Policia and applied to join the local federation of
the CGT. Entrance was refused. Since then they
have imitated our logo (clenched fists) and added
their own initials. These people have no bilateral
contacts at any level with the CGT. On their web
page on the Internet they call themselves
anarchosyndicalists, admit that they were refused
entry into the CGT because of our statutes, but
declare that they have nevertheless based their
model of organisation on the CGT. This is
upsetting, of course, but what do you expect us to
do? Take them to court? Set them on fire? I don't
think we should waste our time on such things.

JL: What struggles is the CGT involved in at the

CR: Obviously we're opposing the privatisation of
RENFE and we' re also trying to reduce overtime
and reduce the working week in all sections of the
economy. In Spain in major companies ninety
million hours of overtime are worked yearly. In
banks workers do twenty million hours of unpaid
overtime, and in small companies there are
uncountable hours of overtime worked, both paid
and unpaid. Many workers do want to work
overtime, but our stand on the issue has gained us
respect. Other unions respond with all talk and no
action, while the CGT has taken legal action and
won several cases. It is said that the CGT is el
Syndicato del 'no!'. Much of our work on Workers'
Committees is to reject sell-outs by the CCOO and
the UGT and wherever possible mobilise workers,
often successfully, against them.

JL: Can you tell me something about the situation
in your home city of Madrid ?

CR: Madrid has always been problematic. We seem
to live more intensely any strife in the CGT
throughout the country - it's very exaggerated
between us. However in the last couple of years I
have seen a detente as people put their goals in
order. At the same time that Madrid never had a
strong anarchosyndicalist tradition, it has grown
tremendously in the last five years, from 1,000 to
1,500 members. This is worrying because at times
members have joined en masse, such as
disenchanted members of the CCOO. They of
course have to follow our libertarian statutes, but I
suppose it's not always easy. Recently six hundred
printers were virtually forced to leave their CCOO
union and they joined us en masse. We are aware
of the dangers of growing too fast, but I think this
diversity of opinions within a libertarian framework
is a faithful reflectior of the CNT in the '30s. No one
really think, there were millions of anarchists
singing their babies to sleep with 'a las barricadas'

JL: Is there anywhere where the CGT has working
relationship with the CNT?

CR: In some specific areas where the CNT organise
we work together, for example Cadiz Docks and in
Madrid postal workers and airport workers.
Unfortunately I don't see full co-operation
happening soon because both unions have
members with extreme personal differences. There
shouldn't exist two anarcho-syndicalist federations
in the same country, in my opinion. People outside
Spain might not realise that people like myself who
are members of the CGT are at the same time
perfectly capable of praising any action by the
CNT/AIT who are very active in promoting
anarchism, if in a non-syndicalist way.

JL: A letter to Freedom from the Manchester
Solidarity Federation alleges that the CGT is
"conducting high level secret negotiations with the
CCOO (former Stalinists) and the UGT (socialists) of
PSOE unions with a view to amalgamation. " What
do you say to that?

CR: That's completely laughable. It's written by
someone who doesn't know what they're talking
about. CCOO and UGT leaders would never dream
of amalgamating with the CGT. On a national level,
and at most local levels, our relations with them are
bad, virtually non-existent. Our goals and strategies
are radically different. Their leaders are trying to
maintain the status quo and their cushy jobs while
we want to create a new society. Although in
membership the CGT is comparatively small, in
militancy we are relatively strong, so a hypothetical
amalgamation would be like injecting a libertarian
virus into an authoritarian structure. It would make
it easier for us to spread our views and actions and
would shake its foundations.

JL: Has the CGT got any presence in rural areas ?

CR: If you're asking about organising peasant
farmers, the answer is 'very little'. Peasant farmers
are an endangered species in this country.
Historically it is true that the original CNT had
different trends, with industrial workers in the north
interpreting anarcho-syndicalism differently from
farm workers in the south. And I suppose that
nowadays there might be sympathy from farm
workers, once again showing that Marx was wrong
in expecting a revolution to come only from
industrial city workers. But social conditions in the
countryside have changed drastically in Spain
since the turn of the century. Whereas
unemployment is still high in the south, social
exclusion and extreme poverty exist in both
northern cities and southern farming villages and is
often worse in the former. Farm workers still
maintain specific demands like the reforma agraria,
but they and their children now read the same
papers, watch the same TV programmes and follow
the same education systems as people in the cities.
Perhaps you could say that economic globalisation
is bringing about a single thinking process in the
worker's psyche.

JL: What do you think of the slogan 'no
compromise with the state in any shape or form ' ?

CR: Beautiful words which had meaning, have
meaning, and will have meaning with different
interpretations at each historical point of time.

JL: Thank you, Chris.

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