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(en) Spaine, LISA, EMBAT: Of revolutionary unionism as a unitary tendency of the labor movement. By MIGUEL G. (ca, de, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Mon, 1 Apr 2024 10:13:55 +0300


The appearance of anarcho-syndicalism in the Spanish state dates back to 1902. In this year a general strike took place, launched according to the methods of revolutionary anarchism of the 19th century. The strike was a failure and this made the anarchist militancy look for other references. At the same time, the Catalan proletariat began to assume that for its demands to be successful it would have to organize on a large scale and bring together a larger number of workers. At that time, trade societies predominated and at most these were grouped into branch federations, without being articulated beyond that.

The evolution of anarchist militancy towards anarcho-syndicalism, therefore, can be read as an attempt to adapt anarchism to a new context of class struggle. By connecting with French unionism, they imported their paradigm of revolutionary unionism. In France, the CGT oriented itself in this direction by combining two pre-existing organizations, unions and labor exchanges. In the latter the proletariat grouped together to form themselves. This training was not only technical but also political. Therefore, they became a factor of radicalization of the working class and the place of action of certain anarchist militants such as Pelloutier, who was chosen general secretary of the National Federation of Labor Exchanges.

Revolutionary unionism proposed a process by which a working class unified under a central union could take over all the functions that the state carried out at that time. Unionism was no longer a simple tool to achieve better wages and working conditions, but could serve to replace the state itself. That is why anarchist militancy saw it as a valid strategy.

In Spain, the new French unionism was adopted very easily since it was linked to the previous workerism of the Spanish section of the First International. In Spain, the Bakunist sector predominated, and with this, among the militancy there was great confidence in mass revolutionary action and in the autonomous organizations of the working class: mutual societies, societies, cooperatives and unions. As revolutionaries, they understood the need to have large solidarity organizations and federations articulated by trade and by territory. Finally, the resistance societies had a double function: first as a fight against capital and then as builders of the new society.[1]

Furthermore, since since the mid-19th century the labor movement was strongly influenced by federal republicanism, the federal and confederal organization proposed by the anarchists was taken naturally. In fact, anarchism itself could be understood as the heir of that federalism. That working class was very suspicious of any centralist impulse that tended to the hegemony of any political or ideological force.

During the first years of the century, anarchists entered workers' societies en masse. And later, in 1907, with the founding of Solidaridad Obrera and the celebration of the International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam, this tendency towards participation in unions was almost absolute. It is not that anarchist militancy was very numerous, but it was decisive enough to prevail within the labor movement for years. They were the key to moving from societarianism to unionism. At a political level, they understood that unions should be plural and places where all workers had a place, regardless of their philosophical positions, keeping the union outside of ideological and political disputes:

Consequently, with regard to individuals, Congress affirms the complete freedom for the trade unionist to participate, outside the corporate group, in the forms of struggle that correspond to his philosophical or political conception, limiting himself to asking, in reciprocity, , not to introduce into the union the opinions that he professes outside.

As for the organizations, Congress decides that for unionism to achieve its maximum effect, economic action must be exercised directly against the bosses, and confederated organizations, such as union groups, should not worry about parties and sects that, outside and alongside , can freely pursue social transformation.[Final fragment of the Amiens Letter, 1906]

The truth is that, as the political route was annulled, the way was opened for anarchist predominance in the unions. It cannot be said that they co-opted the labor movement, given that anarchism had been linked to the labor movement since its beginnings and had been one of the driving and articulating currents of Spanish workerism. Therefore, it enjoyed good popular acceptance. And it cannot be said that anyone felt co-opted, since the general interest was to build a unitary union organization, and not a union based on an ideology or certain political positions, as happened decades later.

We must also value the context of class struggle that took place in the first decade of the 20th century. Workers' demands always collided with the impossibility and reluctance of employers to implement substantial improvements in working and living conditions. Therefore, the combative methods of anarchism were highly valued and its militants achieved positions on union boards and committees almost by popular acclaim. In this sense, the anarchists defended these immediate material demands, but they understood that the union, in order not to fall into reformism, would have to have a revolutionary intention; in his case Anarchy.

Despite everything, in that Workers Solidarity and CNT of the early days, a "pure unionist" current was predominating that focused on achieving immediate improvements. This current coexisted with the currents that made up the anarchists, on the one hand, and the anarcho-syndicalists on the other. The former had influence in the unions, since they were always active in them. However, the latter would gradually take over the leadership of the organization after the general strike of 1909, the so-called Tragic or Glorious Week, for the workers. That strike radicalized the working class. Furthermore, state repression against the labor movement focused on its leaders, supporters of pure unionism, who were eventually replaced by anarcho-syndicalist militants.

After the Tragic Week, the need for the Catalan working class to have an organization that brought together the largest possible number of workers was imposed. To achieve this, the newcomers could not be required to have specific ideological positions. Of course, they were required to focus on combating capital from the organization and that it remain outside of political adventures. What characterizes the anarchism of the time is its unitary vocation, very much in line with the tactics of French revolutionary syndicalism. Its obsession was always to achieve a labor organization that brought together the entire working class, while other currents resorted to factionalism to achieve a core of support in the working class.

For this reason, both the Republicans - and at that time there were many people who claimed to be such - and the Socialists were blocked in the CNT. And the context of the class struggle did the rest. Political struggle was seen as insufficient to improve the material conditions of the class. Therefore, it was the economic struggle that was decisive and the one that was chosen by the working class as the proletariat's own commitment, as it took place after the Sants Congress of 1918.

And it's not that the socialists were frowned upon in Catalonia. Many of its militants had a very good reputation. In Catalonia they used to support or promote strikes, unlike socialists elsewhere. What made them lose ground to the anarchists was their excessive legalism. His interest in faithfully following the statutes and regulations of working-class society contrasted with the spontaneism of the anarcho-communist sectors. In this they shared their ways of doing things with certain anarcho-collectivists, such as Llunas, and it was the criticism that was previously leveled at the FTRE of the 1880s.

By being governed by the same bureaucratic criteria as the previous ones, both the UGT and the socialists remained distant from a working class that lived under a regime of violence and constant coercion by the capitalist class. This is why strikes driven by anarchists were more likely to be won, given their rejection of legalism.

Let us emphasize again that the anarcho-syndicalism of the 1910s defended unity over the different tactics that working-class societies could have among themselves. There were legalists, and there were those that promoted direct action as the engine of progress. What mattered was having a mass organization that could challenge capitalism.

And this does not mean that there were also cases of coercion against those workers and worker societies that did not want unity. It was also the result of the context of the class struggle. When there is a strike, those workers who propose it and take risks threaten the scabs or potential scabs. Workers' power also manifests itself by disciplining the class itself. And this did not need to be imposed by anarchists at gunpoint.

After all, the civil guard and the somatén used to shoot at most demonstrations, the foremen were famous for mistreating the workers, and frame-ups to incriminate union members were the order of the day. Pistols existed throughout that period from 1890 to 1940. But they were general to the entire labor movement and occurred above all in the context of the economic struggle, rather than in the political struggle.

The new times And now what?

Since the pacification of the labor movement, which occurred in the West in the 1990s, capitalism was able to breathe as it had never done before. In those years, with the world of work in decline, the centrality of Work was lost. For this reason, other social subjects became relevant like never before. They could also be reflections of the class struggle, true, but above all they were a reflection of the fight against domination.

Capitalism was dedicated to the accumulation of capital, and achieved record profits thanks to being based on speculation in essential goods and services. In this sense, the issue of housing appeared after the 2008 crisis. Housing understood as assets to invest, of course. In this context of continuous setbacks, the working class almost has to fight for its own survival, in the face of the neoliberal steamroller.

We, the popular classes, are united by our condition of dispossessed. This takes shape, in our current day-to-day life, in living conditions that define and determine us: degrading, unstable and intermittent jobs, or the constant threat of losing a stable job as blackmail to assume constant reductions in working conditions. This weakness in the world of work, or the direct exclusion from it, is combined in a brutal clamp with a series of discomforts, uncertainties and violence linked to problems with housing: having our rent raised, having our stairs destroyed. block of flats to force us to leave, have our electricity or water cut off, suffer the torture of eviction or have to live among the humidity and cold of windows that do not close properly. It goes without saying that because we are already precarious groups, women and the migrant population are the ones who suffer the most.[2]

Given this situation, the housing movement appeared, as an attempt to stop this process. Due to the struggle, some laws favorable to the people were passed, however, the advance of the wildest capitalism has continued. The housing movement emerged very atomized, with the PAHs constituting nothing more than a network or coordination of autonomous groups. Over time, other subjects emerged, such as neighborhood unions, tenant unions, or housing unions. The panorama became more complex.

One of the intentions of the First Housing Congress of Catalonia, held in 2019, was to unite all this mass of entities and groups and turn it into a plural but unified movement. To do this, each person's tactics would be respected as long as they were autonomous from the parliamentary parties. The inspiration was the Sants Workers' Congress of 1918, which had celebrated 100 years shortly before.

The lack of common tools and effective coordination is a problem, it makes it difficult for us to collectively rise to the situation and give impetus to our fight. In accordance with the strategic bets that have been proposed within the framework of the congress, we need to equip ourselves with a series of tools to make them possible and overcome the current situation.

The groups that are not part of the PAH or the Sindicat de Llogateres coordinate informally, that is, with the risk of ending up generating power roles not only between groups, but also within the groups themselves. These roles distance us from assembly horizontality, drain our energy and make involvement difficult. It is an urgent need for us to organize ourselves in a more formal way.[3]

This proposal did not come to fruition, and the housing movement has generally remained fragmented. There are currents that propose having their own housing movement, linked to their particular political positions and strategies. Now a second Congress is being planned, and we will see what effect it will have. Furthermore, it should be noted that the Congress was only held in the territory of Catalonia, while the rest of the state has barely moved in this direction of articulating itself in a powerful way. Where was what we learned from Sants[4]?

In any case, returning to what was said above, the main contradiction of capitalism is the one between Capital and Work: production. Capitalism cannot exist without the surplus value it takes from us in each salary. Without this surplus value, capitalism is not profitable. Fighting to not be kicked out of the apartment implies that the labor issue is very screwed up and everything has been setbacks.

Housing is understood as a commodity that is bought and sold or rented. Therefore, in our world, being able to access housing will depend on purchasing power and that implies, for the working class, having a decent salary. Therefore, we should consider the wage struggle as a priority front, if we want to defeat capitalism. The labor struggle and the housing struggle can feed off each other since they are two aspects of the class struggle, as people from before understood it. But what is central is to be able to improve our purchasing power as a class to have access to decent housing. And that involves controlling the labor market. And this must be the main function of the labor unions of our time.

Finally, what did the Sants Congress say about single unions?

The struggles that we must necessarily sustain against the bourgeoisie, organized in branches and industries, and in some parts in Single Unions of all production, are the issues that have fundamentally forced us to adopt that our organization is based on branches and industries. similar, annexed and derived. Thus, it is necessary to agree that the regional Congress in making such a transcendental agreement did not do so out of the simple desire to change things, but rather out of a necessity of the times in which we live. The Single Union means, therefore, the grouping of all the forces, intelligences and wills of the workers, not only of a specific trade or profession, but of all the components of a branch or industry, and the like
. Through the Single Union it will be possible to fight advantageously against the employers' associations, since when a section of the same is forced to resort to strike, it will be able to count on the prompt and effective support of all the sister sections.

Furthermore, we believe that this form of organization is futuristic, since due to its simplicity it will allow, if necessary, to be able to carry out complete statistics of the total production and also carry out the distribution of that same production. It is understood, therefore, that the Single Unions are the most faithful expression of the constructive, offensive and defensive order that we producers pursue.[5]

[1]All this can be read in greater depth in Antonio Bar, The CNT in the red years . Akal, 1981

[2]From the First Presentation of the First Congress of the Habitat of Catalonia, 2019

[3]From the fourth presentation of the First Congress of Habitatge of Catalonia, 2019

[4]It is likely that without intending to, the housing movement did follow the Sants Congress on the issue of popular structures and popular schools. I say "without intending to" because, in reality, its promoters in 2016-18 had other historical references quite far from the Catalan labor movement of 1918, such as the Black Panthers or Eduardo Freire.

[5]See The Single Unions, from the minutes of the Congress of Sants, 1918:
https://alasbarricadas.org/noticias/node/53997

Miguel G. Gómez (@BlackSpartak)

https://www.regeneracionlibertaria.org/2024/03/19/del-sindicalismo-revolucionario-como-tendencia-unitaria-del-movimiento-obrero/
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