The CNT, the CGT and the IWA-AIT

iwa-ait-banner

My previous posts on the splits within the Spanish CNT and the split between the CNT and the IWA-AIT (International Workers’ Association) have been generating a lot of traffic in the wake of the CNT organized “Bilbao” conference (November 26 – 27, 2016, which ended up being held in Barakaldo), and the recent IWA-AIT congress in Poland (December 2 – 4, 2016). Reports regarding the Barakaldo conference have so far been very sketchy. Delegates from the CNT National federation and its current affiliates met with delegates from the German FAU, the Italian USI and other syndicalist organizations, with observers from groups like the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). While it does not appear that they have yet created their own version of the IWA-AIT, as was their stated intention, at the IWA-AIT Congress it was decided to expel the CNT national organization and affiliates, while allowing CNT groups that have split with the CNT National organization, or which themselves have been “disaffiliated” by the CNT, to remain part of the IWA-AIT. The FAU and USI were also expelled.

cnt-ait-banner

One of the most difficult things to decipher in this debacle is what is actually generating this split in what remains of the international anarcho-syndicalist movement. The CNT complains that the IWA-AIT’s current structure gives tiny affiliates that are not even functioning trade unions equal votes with much larger groups that continue to act as revolutionary trade unions. The IWA-AIT suggests that the CNT and the other groups are moving away from an anarcho-syndicalist approach towards a more reformist form of revolutionary syndicalism, which is not even necessarily committed to the abolition of the state. Given these competing claims, it is unclear regarding what distinguishes the CNT from the Spanish CGT, which split (or was expelled from) the CNT in the early 1980s because of its willingness to adapt to current labour relations regimes, including participation in the state-regulated “works councils” in Spain, which results in the receipt of some state funding. The following is a statement from the CNT regarding the differences between the CNT and the CGT, which predates the split between the CNT and the IWA-AIT. This article was originally published on the website of the Valencia federation of the CNT: http://valencia.cnt.es/que-es-la-cnt/diferencias-entre-cnt-y-cgt/. It has been translated into English by Jeffrey Swartz, whom I thank for making this available.

cnt_contra_la_represion_1

Differences between the CNT and the CGT

With the goal of addressing a series of doubts frequently raised by sympathizers and others interested in our principles, tactics and goals, we believe it would be helpful to briefly lay out some of the differences in working methods and union strategy between the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT). Quite often workers come to join our union with the mistaken idea that the CNT had disappeared and had been transformed into the CGT. We have also met members of the CGT who are convinced that the CNT no longer exists. Then there are other workers who believe that the two union organizations share the same anarcho-syndicalist strategy.

The first thing we should do before analyzing the basic differences between the two organizations is study their history and how they were founded. In this regard we offer this link to our Web – a key reading source – where the period when the schism that emerged in the CNT is described in detail: 1979-1989: the process of the schism; Funded unionism and the crisis of the worker’s movement

vota-cgt-250x300

UNION ELECTIONS AND WORKS COUNCILS

The union branches constituted by the affiliated workers of the CGT run for union elections and elected delegates can become members of the works council corresponding to the company in question. The union delegate enjoys the advantage of immunity from being fired, as granted by Spain’s Organic Law of Union Freedom (the Ley Orgánica de Libertad Sindical, or LOLS), framed within the model of unitary representation. These privileges are not enjoyed by their fellow workers. They also include maintaining workers who have been “freed up”, that is, workers who are not required to work when the majority of votes and the accumulation of union hours make such a circumstance possible. This means that they are no longer found at their full-time job posts, as they dedicate their time to “strictly union” tasks.

In contrast, the union branch (or section) comprised of workers of the CNT, establishes its own representation in the relevant enterprise and does not run for union elections or take part in works councils. The delegates in the section are elected in the Assembly and their responsibilities can be revoked at any time. Furthermore, they do not have privileges in relation to their fellow workers and do not live from their union activity. The entire body of workers affiliated to the CNT protect themselves mutually and together with the rest of the workers they defend pertinent workplace improvements and the strategy to be followed for each situation. In this way workers feel part and parcel of their own demands and participate actively in advancing them, avoiding delegation and acting directly against the company bosses. Direct action without intermediaries is the premise to be followed, given that an attempt is always made to prioritize union action over any sort of legal option, which is resorted to only for those cases where it is strictly necessary. The respective CNT union committee has a direct connection with the broader activity of the union, with its agreements and union strategy.

boicot-elecciones-139x300

STATE GRANTS

Each year the CGT receives an important sum of money from the State. These funds come from grants given in proportion to union representation in those companies where it is active. This quantity is determined by the number of delegates obtained in union elections, that is, of the percentage of “representation” achieved. To give an example, in 2011 the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) received a sum of €218,684.29 (see the Official State Bulletin, BOE-A-2011-3079), while in 2012 it received €223,490.65 (see BOE-A-2012-10936).

The CNT, because it does not participate in union elections, totally rejects these grants, wherever they may come from, as is clearly expressed in its Statutes. Financing of the union branches of the CNT is based on self-management and is drawn from membership fees and other sources, as agreed upon by the union Assembly (voluntary and disinterested contributions from members and sympathizers, as well as from dinners, other events and various sources). It does not receive any sum at all from training courses, while all employment training is the responsibility of the CNT Union branch in question. In this way the union is fully autonomous in its decision-making and in the development of its syndicalist activity within any given company.

HIRED SALARIED WORKERS

The CGT has the possibility of hiring salaried workers in its Unions. The federated unions of the CGT have full autonomy for hiring salaried workers in order to fulfill union tasks. The unions of the CGT have on staff various Secretaries hired with contracts that could resemble that of any company. A recent example is that of the Secretary for Social Action serving the Territorial Confederation of the CGT in Madrid, Castile-La Mancha and Estremadura, who was fired by the CGT because his work interfered with his responsibilities as a clerk in the Sanitation Union, which also pertained to the CGT.

The CNT does not have paid posts in its organization. None of the Secretaries of the various Councils has a paid position. The Councils of the CNT are only coordinating organisms, offering external representation and implementing accords agreed upon in the Assemblies of the various branches of the confederation. They do not have decision-making power, but are elected by the members; their posts can be revoked at any time. Members of religious sects and those who have run for positions in any political organization cannot occupy posts in the CNT. This is a way of keeping decision-making capacity inside the Assemblies of the federated unions and ensuring syndicalism is not politicized. The fact of not having salaried workers eliminates internal “power” struggles, as seen in other organizations, so that militant labour as determined by membership manages and develops the union’s own activity.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Apart from the most important differences described above, there are other considerations that make the CNT and the CGT quite different organizations. The CGT, in its Statutes, continues to make a claim for the economic patrimony of the CNT that might correspond to it (Section XI, Art.74), as if that organization could proclaim itself the rightful heir of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). In contrast, the CNT has spent many years making claims to the economic patrimony that had benefited its affiliated workers before it was plundered by the Franco dictatorship. In economic terms the CNT has recovered less than a third of the sum of the confederation’s rightful patrimony.

The CNT is affiliated with the Asociación Internacional de Trabajadores (AIT), which is made up of different organizations active in revolutionary syndicalism throughout the world. There can only be a single affiliate per country, and thus the CGT is not a part of the AIT. This is one of the reasons, as well as the fact that it is not considered a revolutionary organization, given that it receives state funding and participates in the model of corporative delegation made evident by the works councils. The CGT is part of a kind of parallel “International” called the “Red-Black Coordination”, made up of a few reformist unions in Europe whose functionality and union practice is very similar to the CGT.

NOTE:

In this article we have cited a few of the most significant differences found between the two union organizations. We wish to comment that with these clarifications we simply seek to respond to many of the doubts and questions frequently arising amongst sympathizers and others interested in these questions. For this reason we wish to insist that it is not the intention of the CNT to attack or discredit the CGT, and even less so its affiliated members. This information should be read as an analysis, a reminder that our union model fully rejects participation in union elections, works councils and state funding.

A demonstration of what we are insisting upon here can be seen on the overall level of the confederation (throughout the territory of the Spanish State). We collaborate closely with the CGT in various mass campaigns fighting against cutbacks and in favour of social solidarity, understanding that this is the only way to put a halt to attacks against the working class. Even so, each union federation of the CNT, within its respective autonomy, decides in Assembly what organizations and collectives it will work with, and to what degree.

AGREEMENTS OF THE X CNT CONGRESS ON ORGANIZATIONAL NORMS

cnt-logo

Cyrille Gallion: Towards a New Anarcho-Syndicalism (2006)

The Anarcho-Syndicalist Revolution

Cyrille Gallion is a member of the French anarcho-syndicalist trade union, the Confederation Nationale du Travail (CNT-F). In the following excerpts, translated by Paul Sharkey, Gallion argues that contemporary anarcho-syndicalists must focus on popular self-organization and put their trust in direct or participatory democracy, a common theme in many of the selections I have included in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. I will be discussing these issues, together with Dimitri Rousopoulos and Davide Turcato, on November 20, 2012 at the downtown Central Public Library branch in Vancouver, at the book launch for Volume Three.

Occupy Wall Street General Assembly

Direct Democracy is Revolutionary

One does not sit around and wait for the revolution to arrive; one builds towards it!

In its current form (representative democracy), or in some other guise, capitalism  may collapse in a few years or linger for centuries. What comes next may be a system that humanity has already sampled or indeed something quite new. History has no meaning, no harm to those who prattle otherwise. Nothing is written, nothing is inevitable.

There have been many systems throughout history (feudalism, for one) that have teetered for one or two centuries before entrenching for a lasting period (a millennium).

Signing up for the duration without knowing what the future holds leads us to be voluntarists. So it is not a matter of preparing the “workers’ party” while we wait for capitalism to collapse, but rather of laying the groundwork for a different society within and without capitalism, regardless of whether the capitalist mode of production should endure or crumble. Should it endure, we have to rebuild from below the society that allowed it to gain a foothold. Should it crumble, it would be better if we were to lay the groundwork for a new society in advance. For spontaneity in the absence of a grassroots political culture and organization might bring with it the risk of our following an authoritarian route…

The righteous demand for justice now should go hand in hand with the construction of an enduring, underlying movement. Here again we must move beyond the tensions between revolutionary spontaneists for whom all things are achievable at once (spontaneists who forget that they have been or are such with decades of the workers’ movement behind them) and the Stalinist movements which reckon that we should all wait for our orders to arrive.

Representative “Democracy” is the Counter-Revolution

Supporters of a revolution, which is to say of a society freed of capitalism, are jaded at present. Especially those who were around for the past few decades. A time when, for many workers, the issue was not knowing whether a revolution needed making but when and how to go about making one…

Paradoxically, signing up for the long haul is the surest and fastest route. We have to take everything back to the start and ponder a body of actions and ideas that might build up to a genuine revolutionary movement. Besides the classic tools of trade unionism, there is a chance to build up a reservoir of thought that may crystallize a response to capitalism. We shouldn’t feel any sort of a complex when dealing with intellectuals, left or right. The federalist mode of operating magnifies our strength, for the networking of our ideas multiplies their strength. We reject the gulf between intellectuals and people, between party and trade union. We are all one and theory and practice are forever cross-fertilizing one another.

Anarcho-syndicalism should be profoundly popular and we must equip ourselves for this. Equipping ourselves means sparing a thought for the actual circulation of our publications, which seems obvious enough, but it applies also to searching for other ways of making propaganda.

Most of our propaganda originates with militants and is intelligible only to other militants. It is not enough for a tract to be distributed; it needs to be read as well. Our movement is still too focused upon the world of the militant and too heedful of what the militants from other organizations (or without organizations) are thinking, and not sufficiently alive to ways of genuinely communicating our ideas to the masses. The important point is to break out of the militant universe that has been arguing over the sex of angels ever since the siege of Constantinople.

True, this calls for effort of quite a different sort. Rather than disquisition about the finer points of the [anarchist] Synthesis and the Platform [of Libertarian Communists] for the consumption of anarchists, or about Trotsky’s part in Kronstadt for the benefit of Lutte Ouvrière members, or about the dangers posed by the National Front or indeed the treachery of the socialists, we must, as a matter of urgency, make ourselves intelligible to the majority of the population. The written word is extremely important and trade unionism must remain a schoolroom encouraging us all to read. But confining ourselves to the intellectual practice of the written word is elitist: acting as if everybody had ready access to the world of the written word equally so. The priority for the anarcho-syndicalist movement… is to target others for our ideas and actions by other means, starting with audio and video…

Among the classical formats of the revolutionary movement, there is this one: a small but ‘attuned’ number of people organize themselves into a group founded upon moral and ideological attitudes and then try to influence more broadly based movements or organizations. This is the outlook that spawned Stalinism and all its horrors. Moral beings end up sacrificing themselves or in countenancing everything in the name of efficacy. Efficacy: the word has been an excuse for all manner of criminality! True, efficacy is to be wished for, but one step at a time.

Alternatively, people organize on the basis of interests. Misconstrued short term interests lead to a corporatist trade unionism… But there is also such a thing as long-term self-interest.

We should not reject self-interest: it is a more peaceable course than the moralistic route. The moralistic route cannot be squared with libertarian thinking since it consists of seeking what is good for others, in spite of them.

This is how trade unionism should be, a congregation of individuals driven by their respective self-interest. We must have done with these notions of vanguards and active minorities who look upon themselves as the sole repositories of class consciousness. Anarcho-syndicalism, if we have to use big words, is the very opposite of this: it sees itself as a popular movement of regular people, not some clique of militants, not some “elite trade unionism”.

Anarcho-Syndicalism

On the other hand this is a trade unionism which is a vehicle for values that are part and parcel of it, values such as anti-clericalism, anti-militarism, feminism, these being the values of trade unionism rather than political values injected into trade unionism. Engagement with anti-militarism or ecology is a logical consequence of trade unionism.

The confusion arises from the fact that the political parties have made such activities their own and, above all, have sought to restrict the unions’ sphere of operations to straightforward wage claims. The political parties (whether they run for election or not) cannot countenance the existence of an organization that rejects the dividing line between individuals driven by a moral craving and those who band together on the basis of their interests. The fact remains that the best long term means of raising class consciousness, to use some grandiose terms, is actually for these two approaches, the moral and the interest-based, to be married.

The party political approach designed to cream off “the best elements” of the trade unions, or whatever movements and collectives, for the “nobler” organization is the most absurd, in that it belittles the political maturity (logos) of the “people”. A change of society is not achievable by violence from above and mind-sets cannot be altered by decree. An idea has to be widespread throughout society.

Awarding the party exclusive title to do the thinking renders the entire set-up precarious.  It is made up of normal people with their good points and shortcomings. One does not join a trade union on the basis of taking an exam on its thinking, but because it has something to offer us. Then again, a trade union is more than just a fight for wages; it is a culture, a collective school, embodying values which are held in esteem.

Democracy within the organization is a risk that has to be taken. An genuinely democratic organization has no taboos, no immutable rules. Certain revolutionaries (actually most of them), including the anti-authoritarians, libertarians and others among them, are democrats only up to a point. They aim to put “strait-jackets” on the organizations they build, failing to see that they are smuggling in a fundamental contradiction threatening the entire edifice right from the outset.

In a genuinely democratic trade union, every wage earner is free to join and partake in the life of his or her trade union, including tinkering with the means of the union and diverting it away from the initial goal the earliest members of the union set themselves.  Unless one takes this risk of democracy by, say, building immutable values into the union, then those values go unchampioned and are no longer pertinent but dead. Which is precisely what Simone Weil meant when she wrote that the trade unions were dead organizations!

The values that strike us as important, simply because they are imposed by the statutes of the trade union, require no further explanation and are in no danger of spreading. This is a paradox in which many revolutionary organizations (including – indeed, especially – the anarchist ones) are trapped.

Direct Action Against Capitalism

By contrast, in a free society there is no such imposition; these things are thrashed out. It is always an issue whether the values we champion ought to be defended in a democratic organization. Those values, which some would describe in a non-democratic context as ideology… are communist and anarchist values; in short, the values of the revolutionary movement. They have one meaning in the context of a democratic organization wherein they are up for argument and rebuttal, whereas they become ridiculous or dangerous if they are confined within a political party or trade union that lays down inflexible rules in order to defend them.

To conclude on this point, if some would rather stay inside a pure organization with specific rules, we ourselves would rather run the risk of having one day to leave the organization we are building. Freedom cannot be imposed, which is why a genuinely functioning democracy is rickety and risky, but it could hardly be otherwise.

Trade unionism in the proper sense is revolutionary… But it is the structure which is revolutionary, rather than its component members. Regular people are the ones who join trade unions and they are revolutionaries because of their self-organization, rather than being revolutionaries in the militant and personal sense of the term.

So let us roll up our sleeves and reflect upon the mistakes of the past, especially as they relate to revolutionary syndicalism, without thereby being prevented from experimenting, and let us leave it  to the union membership to deal with the logic of whatever needs they may encounter.

Cyrille Gallion