This was a text, produced for the Spanish dockers’ “Co-ordinadora” for one of their congresses in the early 1980s in Spanish which I translated and produced in March 1984 just as the UK miners strike was beginning. I reproduced some of it, and distributed it to some UK miners, in April ’84 as part of the leaflet “The Misery Of Unions” (see chapter 11, March – April 1984, of “so near so far”: a history of the british miners”). It’s not a very good translation but it’s accurate. My Spanish wasn’t great ( though, like a muscle you don’t exercise, it’s totally gone to flab now) and the translation’s a bit stilted (“translatese”, as the aloof Stuart Wise put it). But it’s very clear and not at all as bad as I remember it. I had some misgivings about some of its content, which is here at the end of the text – in the last paragraph.
The following, from the above chapter in “so near, so far…”, clarifies some of these misgivings, which in fact later became clear obstacles to the resistance in Spain:
“It should be pointed out that assemblies by no means automatically imply that people determine their own struggle. The dockers assembly ended up eventually – in the late 80s or early 90s – as a kind of base union, negotiating redundancies, but even before that it had become too much a reference point – a friend of mine went to the assembly in the mid-80s and asked a woman there some questions about the struggle, what was going on – and she had nothing to say but, “go to the assembly – ask them”, rather like some people on strike will refer you to the the local shop steward because they don’t have an opinion or because they’re suspicious of outsiders. Nevertheless, towards the end of the miners strike, the dockers assembly in Barcelona put out a call to all dockers throughout the world to refuse to handle any coal for Britain. If the strike had continued beyond a year, this international support might very well have been significant. But unfortunately it came too late in the strike. Should some situation reminiscent of the miners strike ever arise again in this world, people internationally are going to have to move quicker, recognise what they can do and spread the struggle to their own terrain, but quickly. Though the internet provides a technological base for such a project, the internet is a double-edged sword, and States throughout the world are watching how it could be used against them and planning counter-attacks (particularly in the form of simple shutdowns of particular sites – which they tried to do with a section of the Indymedia – but also viruses etc.). Plus at the same time, people have so got used to isolation and sitting in front of a computer that merely informing people of what is happening in XYZ country on the internet doesn’t mean people will recognise what they have in common with such people and what they could do to struggle with them outside of just putting something else on the internet.
The text itself was written by a non-docker involved in the revolutionary Spanish group “etcetera” working closely with the Barcelona dockers and was accepted by the assembly and published by it.
For more information on this period in Spain see the 1984 text “Workers of the world – tonight!”
The union practice in our country was totally annihilated after ‘the fascist victory in our civil war (1939). The systematic persecution of the militants of the traditional unions, and of those men within the working class who demonstrated their combat~ ivity, wrecked all possibility of organised struggle.
All the workers who were left imprisoned in the State, centrally controlled, union (the CNS) were dominated by the old ranks of the Falange (a vital section of the fascists) – the outstanding personalities amongst our victorious enemies. Workers’ representatives in the factories and centres of work were elected by the bosses and the entrepreneurs. The CNS, with its blacklists, was an organ of control and a way of purging the more rebellious workers.
During the 60s the first struggles began to bubble up: strikes and social movements. These were put into motion by the class itself by means of clandestine organisations created by the workers in their centres of work – with the aim of struggling without influence from or dependence on any political party. Co-ordinating its struggles and each section of the factory was the beginning of the re-birth of an independent and unitary form of organisation: Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO).
In its first period it was an absolutely democratic organisation consisting of assemblies formed by delegates from the factory, district or whatever. After some years of political opportunism, the Communist Party ended up taking over the power of this organisation, turning the CC.OO. into a means of transmitting the political platform of the C.P.s’ mass organisation, of its’ militants and leaders. Their slogans and manipulations fucked over its’ unitary and councilist character. This provoked a splitting up into large groups, beginning to re-form different kinds of organisation and different unions. These splits came from the left of the C.P. and each new party which formed itself gave birth to its’ mass, or union, organisation. The great workers’ struggles that took place in the last epoch of Francoism were nevertheless fragemented and marked by the weight imposed on them by the political groups who took them over or who pushed them along.
In any case, the anti-Francoist character of the whole of the movement was forced to make some basic alternatives. On the trade union level, the principle of these alternatives was the destruction of the fascist union, the CNS, and trade union freedom. But there also appeared two well-differentiated forms of practice:
(a) That of the majority unions which, though illegal, were already expanding and taking shape (CC.OO – already totally dominated by the CP.; the UGT, traditional union of the socialists of the Socialist Workers Party of Spain; USO – Union Sindical Obrera).
Their alternative was to occupy the positions within the CNS. They stood in the elections of mediators and civil lawyers in the factories, by which means they had a legal covering and, from their official position, could direct the struggle in the firm, believing that by this method they would avoid the repression of their militants and could enjoy a bigger audience amongst the masses. Looking clearly at the political alternative they would inherit in the near future (the crumbling of Francoism) they developed the kind of structure where they had the possiblity of capitalising, for themselves, on the militant union struggle.
(b) The little class organisations of the leftist parties; groups of independent militants who were beginning to define the self-organisation of the class, its’ autonomy; and the groups of anarchists organised in their union, the CNT. They defined themselves as being for a direct struggle against the CNS, for the destruction of this vertical, hierarchically organised, union.
The struggle was brought to a head when there was a successful boycott of the elections for mediators and civil lawyers in the enterprises, at the same time demanding the sacking and isolation of those that existed. At the same time, there developed an alternative organisation totally on the margins of the CNS, which, by its ability to struggle, had to be permitted by the employers as the only negotiating organ. Basically, the form of organisation generated by this group was the Assembly as maximum organ of decision and a Committee of Delegates elected by the assembly in order to realise the agreements made and whose members were revocable at any moment. These organisations of delegates from the factories co-ordinated themselves by areas or branches of work.
Up to that point in time, the struggle in the Spanish ports, as in the rest of the branches of production, had followed this dynamic; in the docks a series of comrades had come to be installed in the managerial positions of the CNS – positions of surrender. The system had succeeded in attaining a relative peace in the docks, its personal management towards the administration and the enterprises having weakened those conflicts which could have taken on a more general and radicalised aspect. Only the combativity of the workers in their work-groups, on ships that presented problems, were confronting and resolving in their own way the thousands of questions that the specific organisation of work in the docks presented.
The organisation problem in the docks began to be posed when, because of the wear and tear of the system and the increasing discredit of the representatives, the CNS was already an out-dated organism. There had been docks where the positions of mediators and negotiators/civil lawyers had already been occupied by the militants of the CC.OO and other unions (Corun, Vigo. Sevilla), supporting some struggles which cost them the sacking of their leaders.
Concretely, in Barcelona., although there existed spontaneous sparks of struggle which exploded into strikes, the representatives of the CNS succeeded in recuperating the movement. In the elections of 1975, the CC.OO won a victory for its candidate, winning also the expulsion of the traditional representatives (amongst whom one could probably find honest men of a combatative spirit which the vertical system had recuperated in order to make them useless, very, much despite themselves, within its’ bureaucratic immobility).
It was because of the strike convened by the central unions – the COS (in the docks, the CC.OO) on the 12th of November, 1976, when 7 comrade-representatives were sacked, that the dockers collective came out on an indefinite strike (with the opposition of the CC.OO) which lasted 21 days. The strike demanded the daily gathering of the Assembly to keep people informed and to directly control the extent of our action. We were forced to be the authentic protagonists of our decisions. The assembly demanded of our comrades that they give up their position as mediators of the vertical union, which, once again, appeared to be allied with capital in order to repress us. The Assembly elected a strike committee; delegates who had no power of decision, nor of negotiation, beyond that decided by the assembly, and who were revocable at any moment,
With this form of organisation the most difficult period of Barcelona’s dock struggle in the Francoist epoch evolved.
The lesson then was not in vain. The committee of delegates had to be accepted by the bosses and the administration as the sole organ of the assembly’s representation, having to tolerate the assembly as a fact even after the strike. There was a total unity and strength with which the collective was prepared to defend the tools of its daily struggle, which is why they had demonstrated their efficiency.
Once the strike was over the committee of delegates presented themselves for dissolution because the object of their election was also over. But the Assembly gave them the task of elaborating on an organisational proposal which, based on their estimation of the way the strike had functioned, could assure the struggle in the future.
At this,point in time, there began a great polemic between the different options of the moment, a polemic which. was already being debated in the general context of the working class throughout the whole of Spain (Franco had died and with him there began to die many of the Francoist structures, amongst them the vertical union). The unions were beginning to understand that it was up to them to assure the compartmentalisation of the workers. Each union, as one may guess, proposed themselves as the sole solution. Our unity was being threatened by the sectarian struggles which were being asserted by the central unions.
The unity maintained during our difficult strike had taught us that this unity was too precious to be destroyed now by endless slogans, membership cards, sectarianisms, etc. We understood that our decisions could not be delegated to union bureaucrats. This experience had a decisive influence on the consciousness of our struggle. In handing over proletarian responsibility to representatives the necessity of participating in the social transformation which we need as a class could be evaded. We understood that the large organisations which are not continually inspired and animated by their base end up bureaucratising themselves, serving their own structural interests, defending themselves as an entity and thereby forgetting their authentic objectives.
We understood that our organisation did not have to have as its sole aim that of entering the job market in order to fix the price of our forced labour. Negotiating the terms of this selling, thus perpetuating it, this is the role reserved for the unions within the capitalist organisation of society. It is for this reason that they are reinforced by the State. by the bosses’ organisations and by all of powers’ Estates. They concede to the unions their roles as moderators, as walls of containment of the energies which the working class can develop in order to radically transform their environment. In order to question selling in itself, which is to say, the organisatiofl of society, it has to be questioned, in the end, as a class,
We understand that we cannot fall into the trap which capital has prepared for us to divide our life, our behaviour, into different spheres – political, trade union, cultural, etc. Our social life is one, everything is inter-related. The sole object of this division is to reduce to ündialectical categories for discussion that which, for us, is a real. global problem which demands a solution in practice and which cannot be without a transformation that implicates every aspect of social life.
Confronted by the previously described conjuncture and based in the preceding points of analysis (without claiming these as the only ones) the decision of the Assembly of the dockers of Barcelona was to create an organisation where all the power of decision remained always in the hands of the Assembly: Unitary, of the Class, Autonomous, frrde pendant, Democratic, and Self-organised.
Unitary: because it tends to unite all of the dockers of the port of Barcelona, inpendent from their political, religious, cultural, etc. opinions.
Of the Class: because all its members have to be wage-earners, and for this reason belong to the working class and consequently antagonistic to capital. Their demands won’t remain reduced to the economic level, without also being social in the widest sense, up to the elimination of exploitation of man by man, and the alienation of work for capital –
Autonomous: because it will be the workers themselves who will decide the aims to pursue, which means to consider and employ the methods needed to regain possession of their lives.
Independent: because it is not, nor will not be, subordinated to any political party, nor to any union or ecclesiastic organisation, nor to any other kind – neither to the Public Administration, nor to the State. it will be allowed to contact union groups that are representative of the working class, always given that they show mutual respect for the principles of Liberty, Autonomy, internal Democracy and Independence.
Democratically Self-Organised: because it will be the workers themselves who determine the organisation and organs it has to have, in the same way, their representatives will be elected amongst and by its members, necessarily dockers, who will also be freely revoked whenever the majority of those they represent consider it necessary. In accordance with the forementioned, we will take care to avoid all bureaucracy, not being able to allow those who occupy bureaucratic positions without being a docker, to vote on any question, decision or problem. Our way of functioning during these three years has been a struggle for loyalty to these principles. As an organic form of functioning we have maintained: a General Assembly every two months; an assembly of the 24 delegates at least every week; two elections to the committee of delegates; absolute lack of bureaucracy between the delegates and distribution of the functions necessary to accomplish the administering of tasks; continual information to the Assembly of the measures taken; a bulletin of information for the free expression of all the dockers.
We were confronted with serious problems in our practice:
(a) The lack of class consciousness. The degree of integration into the present-day society of consumption that had been reached. The ideological vacuum which. we suffered from and the internalisation of bourgeois legality.
(b) The problem of facing a difficult epoch of crisis and political change where all the forces of the Left showed themselves interested in helping Capital overcome its’ difficult situation.
(c) Constant attacks by the bosses of the docks in order to obtain a change in our organisation of work such as to ptrmit: a superior ks-el oC manipulation which. would realise their profits; a greater authority over manual workers; art extension of privatisation, favouring the installations and trade of the docks
(d) There were hardly any organisations like ours which would give us better support and mutual encouragement. By means of the democratic illusion we have in some ways suffered the surrender and desire for pacification which developed the large unions and has put the workers struggle into retreat. This reduces the possibilities of co-ordination and the inter-change and solidarity of the struggle,
(e) The continual attack on the part of the State and the bosses towards all the minority, assemblyist, autonomous organisations. This attack we have also shared with the CNT (the anarchist union), which, nevertheless, did not stop them from being seduced by the siren-songs of the Grand Negotiations, the offers of participation, the promises which come from on high.
(f) And that which has been the gravest of all – the continuous attack launched principally by the central unions – the CC,00 (communists) and the UCIT (socialists). They have not grasped the decomposition suffered by such an important sector as are the ports for the economy of the country. Let’s not forget that the ports could play an important function of pressure within the political-economic framework of the country in relation to the internal repercussions and the international response that the actions within them could have, it is for this reason that the political realists understand that it’s a sector which should not he left in the hands of anybody and which they are interested in dominating to support their politics.
Their efforts have been continually directed at hindering all success in the struggle and all collective negotiation in the ports. Questioning the validity of representation directed from the base by committees of delegates, they proposed themselves as the sole. valid expression and representation of the whole of the working class of the country by the fact of being majority central unions, even though the extent of their presence. in the docks is minimal, a fact that has led them to be constantly defeated in their intentions: The systematic use of the means of publicity, which in this epoch, that calls itself democratic, already dominates to a vast extent, boycotted all our information and attacked us mercilessly as if we were to be treated as enemies of the class.
Without doubt, the principal theme of their attack has been to define us as cowards and craftsmen. Without wanting here to enter into our defence it is worth us simply stating that it is in our constant struggles, in the radicality of our methods, of our achievements in struggle and difficulties we’ve met against the pacts and surrenders to the bosses, in the supportive solidarity of other comrades and sectors of the class to the extent that that was possible for us in each situation, in the critical capacity of our analysis of the capitalist organisation of society, etc. – it is in these which, in truth, we are: our definition and defence is in our movement, in our actions, in our daily practice. And this is public and daily and in the service of the whole of the working class – and it js from them that we await the verdict, and not from the politicos with opinions and ideological systems mediated by external interests.
We have to make ourselves clear here of the radically different positions held by our comrades in the (CNT (anarchist union), whose position as an organisation has been very different. From already the beginning they did not have any difficulty in accepting the will of the Assembly, putting themselves at its service, participating actively in the struggle and understanding that this was the form to save the unity within the dockers’ collective. They supported the assembly organization, including their militants within it, without, of course, stopping being a union.
Reality in the rest of the dockers’ collectives in the country was being discussed in terms of the efforts to leave the dictatorial epoch and to discover their direction in freedom for the unions. Each port was, without doubt, being subjected to different influences. The former history of struggle, the socio-economic nuances which surrounded each port, etc., were not the same. Therefore, the solutions to the question of organisation were different.
Judging above all, by the results of the first free union elections, we can delineate three organisational tendencies, taking into account, of course, that, although we lump them together, each port has its own peculiarities: we hope that their contributions to this congress will define them with greater accuracy:
1. Those who opt for a massive or majority affiliation to the large central unions existing throughout the country: principally, the CC.OO and the UGT. With implantation in the large ports and with a minority of all the national dockers collectives, it comes to 13,500 dockers. On top of this there are those dispersed in unions of a national character in some of the villages of the country (principally, Basque).
2. The docks which chose to create a local union which was exclusively for the docks and had the clear structure, principles and goals of traditional unions. With implantation in the large ports and many of the small ones, they amounted to a good part of the collective.
3. Those which chose to support our self-organised Assembly experience, giving it an organic form and a legal front. With implantation in the large ports, they amounted to another large part of the collective in a number of docks.
One must make clear that a lot of the time there were two of these in the same port, with the consequence of internal struggles until one obtained predominance; in reality there were docks which still divided themselves into different alternatives, with many possible difficulties of understanding.
Despite the differences, a living desire united us: the necessity of having a nationwide unity which confronted the common enemy (the central administration and the national organisations of enterprises, ANESCO) and which struggled for the unification of the systems of work, wage differentials between the docks, etc.
Here there arose the difficulty of moving towards a national organisation of the dockers’ organisations.
Basically, we all understood that this co-ordination had to be based on absolute respect for the organisation or alternative which each collective had made in their port.
Only the UGT and the. CC.OO understood that unity passed through their union since they are a national central organisation. For this reason they were excluded from the co-ordination and thus went onto the attack with typical accusations, It was necessary to make here the valid exceptions of docks with massive affiliation to these central organisations and which, without abandoning them, chose to continue with the CO-ORDINATING ORGAN1SATION (Cartagena, Ahicante, Motril). The CO-ORDINATING ORGANISATION continued to understand that only solidarity in the daily struggle, continual non-sectarian discussion, the taking of common positions vis-a-vis common problems, could yield the fruit of a total unity at every level – ideological, organisational and in terms of action.
In the meantime, we continue considering a plural, democratic, assembly CO-ORDINATING ORGANISATION in terms of the reality of the base which inspires it.
The guarantee of this co-ordination is equally in its practice of absolute information.
assembly decision imposed from below and, above all, in the common actions carried out unitarily in all the docks up till today.
The CO-ORDINATING ORGANISATION ultimately came to constitute itself with some statutes and some systems for functioning, that we also proposed as a contribution and instrument of work to this congress. In order to make some remarks about this purpose, we shall say that we want it to be an organisation of unity, of struggle, which can escape bureaucratisation and bosses, which gives the power of discussion to the assembly, where it is not obligated to anybody other than the ports’ dockers,
Finally, and in conclusion, we want to express that we want this report to be simply an instrument, without any other objective than to provoke discussion at this congress. We don’t propose this as an exhaustive and conclusive study; we are conscious of its multiple pitfalls, of the speed with which it contemplates a reality that lasted a long time and encompassed a large number of nuances, circumstances and multiple occurrences which at times could demand shades, of implications to certain affirmations.
By a logical imperative it is based in our experience, in our history reflecting on that which surrounds us. We don’t, therefore, want anybody to feel hurt by having been excluded or for us having fixed their experience.
We don’t want to demonstrate that our process has been the best, nor the richest, nor that it has arrived at the most correct conclusions. Simply that it is the nearest and thus the most familiar to us. We only want to propose it as one more contribution to the debate for the consideration of everybody.
We believe that it is only from this point, from our struggle, from our movement, from our contribution to the transformation of our social relations, from our own context of the exploitation of man by man, from the systematic destruction of nature, from where we can extract the conclusions necessary to continue the action. We also expound those desires which impel us to pursue an international unity which becomes vital not only for the desire to establish a brotherhood without frontiers but also because of the multi-national nature of exploitation, of domination.
Workers’ unity, to be real so as not to be insulted by pretensions, is to be understood as a necessary process – but without beguiling ourselves in stages which have already demonstrated their inefficiency in the historical experiences which we have inherited from out class comrades.
Finally, one must understand that the emancipation of the workers will be the task of the workers themselves or will not be.
This text was written by revocable delegates, mandated by the mass assembly of docks in Barcelona, as a summary of their analysis of the struggles in Spain over the previous few years. It was presented for debate at a congress of assemblies and their delegates in 1979. Copies of it were also sent to dockers in Rotterdam and in Liverpool, though in Spanish, not in Dutch or English.
More recently, Barcelona dockers have been in contact with wildcat strikers in the docks of Denmark, as well as, it seems, the dockworkers here, though the precise details of this struggle I have no information on. Nevertheless, it seems that even if the marginals are largely isolated. the workers, at least, are starting to confront the power of the international commodity economy internationally.
The class struggle in Britain, despite its ferocity particularly up until 1981, has so far not produced any similar theoretical clarity from the insurgents which could help to extend and communicate the critique the masses of individuals have so often. and so well expressed in acts (particularly in the riots of ‘81 and, to a lesser extent, the Winter Of Discontent). So far, there have been no instances of a genuinely collective theoretical creation that can stand comparison with this text. The text developed out of a popular assembly where people from outside, including foreigners, were given the right to enter and speak (more recently in Spain, there have been joint assemblies of the employed and unemployed). The only comparable example, at least on the level of practice, though not on the level of its explicit consciousness have been the occupations of Plesseys’ in South West Scotland and the Fisher Bendix factory in Liverpool in ‘72. Following the example of Plesseys’, the workers of Fisher Bendix created an open assembly (“our struggle is your struggle”) where wives, children, brothers, slsters, aunts, uncles, cats, dogs and lovers could come along and have their say. But it also remained a Liverpool family affair, and ifs hard to know whether foreign revolutionaries distributing anti-capitalist ideas would have been welcome or not. Certainly none of them produced their own written theoretical reflections unlike in Barcelona. Since lack of clarity could mean the destruction of the planet, and certainly means the living death of us all, it seems useful to produce this text as a minor contribution to the struggle for a daily life liberated from the. constraints of hierarchical power. The strike from which it emerged came after several years of wildcat strikes, riots, occupations and mass popular assemblies in various parts of Spain in the period after Francos’ death. For more information and analysis of this period see “Wildcat Spain Encounters Democracy”, available from B.M.Blob, London W.CJ.N 3XX
Translating this text does not imply total agreement with all of its positions, many of which were superseded by events anyway (e.g. limiting membership to wage-earners only). Before the extension of the struggle beyond the Barcelona docks, the assembly often became an end-in-itself, where the democracy of the assembly became the only reference point, where people used the critique of hierarchy as a way of asserting ‘democracy’, ‘the assembly’, not as an extension of individual and class initiative, but as an excuse for its absence. Printing this does not imply a complete agreement with the idealist short-cut to the proletarian heaven – “Popular Assemblies Now!”. There are no magical solutions. And no example of class struggle in other parts of the world can become a substitute for a conscious attack on the present here. Nevertheless, when the repressed returns the history of mass poplar assemblies, of permanently revocable mandated delegates, of riots, of the attack on the commodity economy, will be re-discovered like some long lost treasure, buried deep in the brains and bodies of the living. Until then, this can serve as a rough map .