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The Spanish CGT - The New Anarcho-syndicalism

News ArchiveSubmitted by Larry Gambone:

THE SPANISH CGT - The New Anarcho-syndicalism

by Larry Gambone

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.
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The Spanish CGT - The New Anarcho-syndicalism | 14 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
comment by NINE
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 02:41 PM CST
\"At first he thought I might be a member of NEFAC\"
They love us over there. they even sent an observer to our last federation congress. We must be doing something right.
comment by Irving da Naile
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 02:53 PM CST
I\'ve following developments within Spanish anarcho-syndcalism for years and Larry\'s claim that the CGT \"represents\" more than a million workers is severely misleading. The last figure I saw for CGT MEMBERSHIP a coupld of years ago was around 50,000. But CGT does run candidates in the elections to the so-called enterprise committees (committees elected by workers in a company that allegedly represent the workers in labor-management relations) and they have gotten delegates elected to committees in a number of enterprises ( I don\'t know the figure ). The total number of workers in these companies could conceivably add up to more that a million or perhaps Larry is talking about the number of votes received by CGT candidates in the last round of elections?

I should also point out that the Spanish CNT, which is the continuation of the historic CNT, is much smaller in membership, which is in part due to their refusal to run candidates in the elections for the enterprise committees, which they see as a class collaborationist institution that introduces the game of electoral politics into the arena of work. The prefer to organize workers directly into the union where they can act for themselves rather than urge workers to vote for a representative that may or may not represent their interests.

Aside from the issue of the enterprise committees there is virtually no difference between the CNT and the CGT.
comment by Rovin' Workman
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 03:42 PM CST
This article gave some decent info.:
comment by Klinton
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 05:26 PM CST
I\'ve following developments within Spanish anarcho-syndcalism for years and Larry\'s claim that the CGT \"represents\" more than a million workers is severely misleading. The last figure I saw for CGT MEMBERSHIP a coupld of years ago was around 50,000.

Both figures are true. CGT membership is around 50,000 and as a result of running candidates in the elections to the enterprise committees they represent around 1 million workers.

However this growth is dangerous as they are increasingly seen by the Left as an alternative to the ultra-beaurocratic CC.OO. (ex-commie and now reformist as shit). There are many commies in CGT trying to take over the committees.

CNT, of course, still hate them.
comment by Pat Murtagh
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 06:51 PM CST
CGT Membership and Representatives:
I have been in contact with Larry on this matter, and he is fully aware of the difference between membership and \"representation\". I was in Spain in the fall of 2002, as was a comrade from the Greek ESE whom I recently talked to. At that time we both found that the \"best guess\" membership for the CGT was about 70,000. As of 2003 the CGT had 100,000 members as per \'Eiroline\', the \'European Industrial Relations Observatory Online\' , an EU quango (I can give complicated directions for reaching their link on union membership in the EU if you wish).
As of 2003 the CCOO had 958,000 members, and the UGT had 944,000 members. The USO, a vaguely leftist union had 106,000 members. The four significant inions in Spain at the time had a total of only 2,108,000 members BUT about 7 and a half million spaniards were \"represented\" in union elections for collective agreements. ALL OF THE SPANISH UNIONS, AND NOT JUST THE CGT \"REPRESENT\" MANY MORE PEOPLE THAN THEY HAVE AS \"MEMBERS\".
The unique position of the CGT is that it is seen by non-members as an honest representative to a far greater extent than other unions are.
As to the \"commies\", there have always been trots who have tried to infiltrate the CGT, and they continue to fail. The CGT is now out of the lefty ghetto where such sects are a concern. The 100,000 members of the CGT and the million who vote for it are vastly ordinary people who have little time for or interest in the silliness of the standard \"hard left\".
What the CGT faces now is NOT any great concern about infiltration from Leninist sect A to Z but rather its ability to present itself as an alternative to \"soft left\" social democracy. That\'s their challenge for the years ahead.
comment by mario
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 09:17 PM CST

Anarchists don\'t \"represent\" people.

comment by Peligro
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 09:44 PM CST
Hmm, Well when I was in Spain a couple years ago the anarcho-synidicalists were represented by 3 groups (if i remember right) The traditonal CNT, a split off of the CNT, and the CGT. The CGT is seriously fucking big, and probably the most active union in Spain. I remember walking down a street into a dream of thousands of immigrants demonstration led by the red and black flags. I saw white organizers yelling at the MEN (all men) in the crowd to chant certain things, these were the CGT organizers which ultimately felt kindof funny. At a big demo in sevilla teyh CGT was the big supporter. Even though I\'d probly agree more with the CNT I think the CGT is better than nothing. I\'m inpsired by work they\'re doing. About teh time I got deported from Spain they were starting to have marches with the opther anarcho-syndicalists which seemed to be bridging the horeible feuds they had.
comment by Adam Welch, IWW
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 12 2004 @ 05:19 AM CST
From what I remember hearing at the I-99 conference in SF of revolutionary syndicalist group, is that while CGT is about 60-70,000, the CNT is about 5,000. While CNT still has some small workplace presense, it is mostly an ideological group now.

Thanks for the article by the way, I wish we could have more in depth writings about the regrowth of the syndicalist movements in Europe and (I think) Latin America too.
comment by Stirner
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 12 2004 @ 08:36 AM CST
A couple of weeks ago, on the ILS list serve, Angel Bosque said that the due paying membership of the CGT was larger then 50 000 but smaller then 60 000.
comment by espee
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 12 2004 @ 01:26 PM CST
someone once told me that the cnt was initiated in a legal battle with the state of spain to regain lost properties from franco, does anyone know if there is any truth to this?
comment by
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 12 2004 @ 02:23 PM CST
Yeah. They won. I don\'t remember exactly how much they received, but it was alot. Like hundreds of thousands of dollars, or possibly the low millions.
comment by Stirner
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 12 2004 @ 02:53 PM CST
Actually there was a split in the CNT. The CGT was first called the CNT-r (\'r\' for renovated). But then a law was passed by the socialists of the PSOE to help finance the UGT at the expense of the CC.OO. They voted a law to reimburse the victims of Franco. The UGT was able to recover a lot of money but the CC.OO got nothing since they did not exist in 1936... But then, there was a dispute as to who exactly where the heirs of the historic CNT. There was a legal battle between the two CNT. The CNT-r lost because there was more \'historical\' members and family in the other CNT. They where forced to change their name to the CGT. Some say that the spanish state felt safer to give a lot of money to some anarchist purists then to what was already a stronger and more active syndicalist alternative.
comment by laure
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, November 14 2004 @ 05:29 AM CST
I don\'t think that you can judge the merits of any group based on their size. particularly given the fact that groups that tend to get to the size of the CGT tend to do so by sacrificing principles. Some people call this \"being practical\", some people \"reformism\".

There are numerous criticisms to be made of CGT and other similar unions, for example:
- fossilized bureaucratic structure
- de-facto leaders
- some instances of inaccountability
- focus on representative decision making and acceptance of the idea of pasive membership
- organizational model which excludes some workers in small enterprises or in isolation
-instances of bargaining or trying to calm strike actions

Here, from what I understand, the Spanish CGT is one of the better reformist unions and there is some cooperation between CNT and CGT. That said, there have been some incidents.

People who do not want to take the CGT (or other unions\') way have many differing reasons but one of the most serious criticisms is against the idea of \"representing\" people, even if they do some good sometimes. (Which I don\'t doubt.) People from these type of union start off which the idea that the fight for workers rights is dominant, not the fight to overturn the hierarchical model of leader and follower.

Another problem is whether or not the traditional strategies of industrial unionism ultimately stand a chance in the new era of Europe. Here I believe that more radical international action is more promising but, wherever you go, you find proponents of reformism trying to support reformist rather than revolutionary strategies. So you have in some parts of the world emerging movements and then interventions (different tyeps of support, financial and otherwise) by reformist unions from Western Europe that ultimately steer people into the reformist camps. Usually they then write glowing recommendations of the reformists and forget to mention things like how they\'ve run in elections, how they became bureaucrats and chased out dissenters, how they support various reformist goals, etc.. I don\'t live in Spain so I only hear things through the grapevine and I won\'t pretend to know everything that goes on there (although I spent some time in Spain during the 80s when the split was hot news) but I know what goes on in the region where I live with bastards who have the same ideas and I see how somebody can say \"look we have 500 members\" and somebody from outside who knows nothing about how things really work can be very impressed by this \"success\" even if it was achieved by shitting on all anarchist principles in reality.

How to reach the public without compromising too much is another issue and whether or not the CNT is successful or not is also another issue.

I\'d be more interested in hearing why people think that the CGT is \"better\" than the CNT, other than the fact that more people accept the CGT\'s model of large-scale representative unionism.

comment by CNT-Madrid member
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 15 2004 @ 08:57 AM CST
\"Some say that the spanish state felt safer to give a lot of money to some anarchist purists then to what was already a stronger and more active syndicalist alternative\"

At the time the trial took place CGT was very very small, it wasn