International Labor

Interview with a Spanish Unionist

By Deric Shannon

Over the summer I had the pleasure of staying in Madrid with my brother. Most of my time was spent relaxing and recovering from work, but I did take some time to meet up with local comrades while I was there.

The second time I got together with the CNT folks there, they were doing roving pickets of Hotel Vincci. As a result of an unfair firing (Is there ever a “fair” one?), they were exerting pressure on the hotel by paying a visit to its Madrid locations. My compa, Abbey, and I tagged along for three of the locations where we stood outside the hotel and fliered, informed patrons and prospective patrons about the hotel’s bad labor practices, stickered the outside of the hotels, and got the cops called on us once (they never showed).

The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (“National Confederation of Labour”) is a confederation of labor unions in Spain (there is a French CNT as well) with a lot of significance for anarchists. Founded in 1910 (and only taking a year to be declared illegal in 1911!), the anarcho-syndicalist union played a major role organizing workers and developing a sense of solidarity among them prior to, and during, the Spanish Civil War. Contemporarily, in Spain, the CNT has thousands of workers, but still lags behind the mainstream unions in numbers within the country (which are funded by the state–the CNT is not). It is a proud, fighting organization of workers committed to direct action strategies and self-management rather than capitulating to the demands of politicians or bosses.

When I asked our comrades about common CNT strategies, our hosts told us that often, when workers needed solidarity work due to firings or unfair labor practices, the union would wage campaigns like the Hotel Vincci pickets that we took part in. The union, however, also involves itself in other social struggles and participates in workers’ struggles outside of the workplace as well. I sent some interview questions over to our comrades in Madrid and, what follows, are their responses. I do think some of the questions didn’t “translate” very well (for example, when we talk of “political organizations” in the Anglo world, we mean anarchist organizations that DO NOT participate in state politics in which we develop theory and practice collectively while also organizing in mass organizations with workers as militant minorities in social movements—we call this dual organizationalism), but I feel the interview carries with it some important insights (and differences) for discussion among anglo comrades.

1. First, can you tell us a little about the CNT, its structure, and some of the things the organization does?

The CNT is an anarchosyndicalist union. The organization aims to be a tool to channel and support workers’ day to day struggles. We try to reflect how we would like a future society to look in the way we organize and struggle. That future society would be (and this union now is) horizontally governed, decisions are made through direct democracy, and actions are carried out by self-management. We accept no subsidies from the government and do not believe in hierarchical structures. Everyone in the CNT is a “volunteer”, the arm of his or her own struggle, and our strength comes from each and every person’s awareness and willingness to help their comrades.

The CNT is a federation of independent, autonomous unions scattered throughout Spain. These unions make their own decisions in their general assemblies and do not depend on national permissions or oks. To coordinate the different unions and to be able to make CNT-wide decisions, we hold plenary sessions and Congresses where delegates given decision-making authority by their local unions agree on more far-reaching actions and problems.

The CNT organizes in workplaces, creating union sections (“secciones sindicales”), minding health and security issues and progressively building up a social conscience, focused on the struggle. When conflict arises, all comrades, unions and International sections help in solidarity with actions that go from phone calling, faxing, sending mailings, picketing in front of the company, leafleting, graffiti, going inside the company and increasing pressure as the conflict escalates, going to the boss’s house or family business, where ever direct action is more effective.

2. What campaigns are the CNT focusing on in Spain right now?

On the ground, we have campaigns open against Ferroser in Madrid, Giraud in Valladolid, NuevoFuturo in Sevilla, STV Gestión in Pilar de la Horadada, Lavanderías Azul in Ciudad Real, Mercadona in Puçol and in San Sebastián de los Reyes, Eulen and Satein in Córdoba and a few more. We have International campaigns against StartPeople, Hotel Vincci and the publishing house Editorial Oceano.

At a national level we are working against the crisis, as a failure of international capitalism, the government’s response (as expected) bailing out banks with public funds and then immediately afterwards cutting workers wages like some sort of inverse solidarity measure. This occurred, of course, when a plethora of national media published recently that there are 16,000 “new wealthy” members of this society. The four million currently registered as on unemployment should not be forgotten.

Our work is not only against these governmental measures but, perhaps more importantly, to raise workers’ awareness about the complete injustice of these draconian methods, the danger in terms of future attacks, and the turncoat nature of “socialist” governments who are completely unable to withstand international monetary pressure and act as autonomous entities—much less “represent” their voters. The big name unions (UGT and CCOO), supposedly working in the workers’ interest, repeatedly sell out the workers for the people paying for their fancy cars and their summer houses until, at this point, they are openly on their knees.

3. In what ways can comrades in the US contribute to your struggles?

You can take action against Hotel Vincci in New York and Editorial Océano, Inc. in Florida. We’ll try to keep you informed about these conflicts. When you have any conflicts where we can help please do send us information. It’s also important to raise awareness about the whiplash affect throughout all of Europe where 100 years of labor struggle is being given a military haircut, in general with the passive acceptance of the major unions. Anarchosyndicalist organizing has an opportunity to be an incredibly valid alternative, and a strong way to combat this affront.

4. Can you talk a little bit about the CNTs organizational “identity”?
There seems to be some disagreement in the IWW and the SAC, for example,
over whether they should be unions (mass organizations), political
organizations, or both. Are there similar disagreements within the CNT?

CNT wants to be a mass organization; there is no disagreement on this. It is in our principles; we want to be a tool for workers to fight, to win, to learn and to join us. We need to be a mass organization to be able to create a social revolution. If “political organization” means working within the state we cannot be for it. We would be tacitly accepting the validity of the state (and its dinner table partner, capitalism) by working with it.

Mass organization is the aim but we cannot lose our principles of horizontality, direct action and self-management. Accepting subsidizes from the state and playing in the Spanish workers council framework like CGT does is a sure way to losing these principles.

5. What role, if any, do you see for anarchist political groups (like the FAI) within the CNT?

FAI has no role in the CNT. FAI is a sister organization and many FAI anarchists are in the CNT, but FAI as an organization has no special role.

6. What developments have you seen within anarchism and the Left in Spain in the last decade or so? What ideas and events have inspired Leftists and anti-authoritarians there?

The anti-authoritarian and anarchosyndicalist movement has stayed much the same for the last 10 years, growing slowly. Spanish society is, as a whole, less and less radical, and the working class less and less combative. The mainstream unions are totally discredited and the working class does not have any clear reference to subverting this situation. At the same time, squatting, animal rights, environmentalism, vegetarianism, so-called “anti-system” movements, immigrant rights, antinuclear power and antiwar have all gained momentum in the last ten years. The 2002 general strike and massive 2003 antiwar demonstrations were the big events of the 2000’s.

7. What does the CNT do in terms of member education, both around theory and organizing?

We don’t do much member education in the traditional sense of the word, seated in a classroom. Much of the “education” members can receive comes from participating in the struggles of their comrades and in their own struggles, at the assemblies, in the street, in protests, etc. Then we have our newspaper and all the unions have many books for any comrade to take as they please

8. How does the CNT relate to the anarchist movement in Spain?

The CNT is, and has been for 100 years, part of the anarchist movement. The union aspires to be the practical end of a more theoretical, private, anarchist ideology by materializing those beliefs in open conflict with late capitalism, the ever more cumbersome state structure and suppression of workers struggles in open (police) and insidious (laws, legislation, policy, media) ways. Our natural habitat is the street and the workplace, our natural forum is combat.

9. How has the economic crisis affected the CNT? Has it grown, stayed the same, decreased in membership?

It is growing steadily but it should be growing a hell of a lot more with the current situation!

10. Can you tell us a bit about how you organize? In what ways does the CNT organize for worker’s power on the shopfloor and in your communities?

The main CNT unit is the union assembly: all decisions are made there. In the union there are many union sections. A union section is a group of workers in a company. No union elections are needed, just one or more workers get together, create a union section and inform the company. This is our main weapon. This union section figure is in the Spanish legislation together with the “workers council delegate” figure. The union section enables us to fight horizontally and with the workers in the companies. Community work is done through “athenaeums” or specific causes create committees, like the recent committee against CCTV in our neighborhoods.

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