Andrés Nin

Turning Point in Spanish Labor Movement

(26 April 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 34 [16], 26 April 1923, pp. 294–295.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The brutal oppression under which the Spanish proletariat suffered for, three years had the effect of almost completely destroying the trade union organizations affiliated to the “National Labor Confederation”. (C.N.T.) At the moment of the restoration of constitutional rights, the revolutionary trade unions had practically ceased to exist in Catalonia, the region in which the C.N.T. was formerly most strongly represented. Their organization was much shaken in other parts of Spain as well. After the constitutional system had been restored for about two months, the revolutionary unions began slowly to recover. The workers are emancipating themselves gradually from the moral depression, and are joining their old fighting organizations again. The acute economic crisis gives reasons for anticipating that the National Labor Federation will be restored within a short time. A recent strike of the workers on the underground railway in Barcelona ended successfully, and greatly contributed to impart courage to the working masses there, who for more than two years, had attempted no economic struggle at all. But will the Spanish working class be in a position to peacefully re-organize its trade union forces? It is not very probable. For the bourgeoisie is not in the least inclined to look on calmly while a powerful labor organization is being formed.

The economic capitalist offensive has been most clearly shown in the action taken against the miners in Asturia, and against the miners and metal workers in Biscaya. The workers of these two provinces have fought heroically to improve their position. This position is desperate. The cost of living has risen by 130% since 1914, while the wages have risen by scarcely 50%. Even in districts where the wages have not been reduced, they are still at most 100% higher than in 1914. Up to now, the industrial area of East Catalonia has experienced no economic capitalist offensive. Industrial undertakings were given a certain support by the increased customs duties imposed at the beginning of 1922. But even here indications are to be felt of a general capitalist offensive against wages, and against the eight hour day.

But as already stated, the Spanish proletariat is faced with another threat. It is to be feared that the White Terror will re-appear on the scene, this time in the form of Fascism. On the 18th December of last year the former chairman of the employers’ federation of Barcelona, Oraupero, made a speech at a meeting of industrial magnates of the timber trade, in which he called upon the employers to follow the example of Italy. “If we tread this path” he declared, “then we shall have no lack of leaders”. At the same time the Italian Fascist General Novalli appeared in Barcelona, and the praises of the Fascisti were chanted everywhere. On the other hand the military committees (Juntas) still continue to exist, although dissolved by law. These committees are dissatisfied with the policy pursued by the government, and openly express the opinion that the example of the Italian Fascist should be followed: “Fascism, reaction, dictatorship, revolution—we attach no importance to the designation, so long as the movement corresponds to the aim!” Thus the utterance of the Spanish military. And the article goes on to ask: “Will our venging hand reach into the uttermost comers of the country, and punish the cowards and traitors?”

We do not believe that it is possible for a Fascist movement to become so strong in Spain as in Italy. But a fresh period of Terror, whether of long or short duration, is quite possible. It must not be forgotten that a White Guard already exists in Spain, the organization of the Somatenes, composed of over 12,000 armed citizens; and the employers maintain bands already well practised in murdering workers.

What is the attitude taken by the Spanish trade unions in the face of this danger? The General Labor Union, a reformist central affiliated to Amsterdam, finds nothing better to do at present than to undertake mass expulsions of revolutionists from its unions. Thus, the metal workers and miners of Asturia and Biscaya have been expelled, just at the moment when they were fighting against the employers. The reformist trade union federation recently expelled the following local groups: Bilbao: navvies, book printers, masons, miners, hairdressers, coopers, building workers, marble workers; Oviedo: transport workers, dock workers, commercial employees; Madrid: free professions, provision trade, commercial employees; Pontevedra: commercial employees, dock workers, cabinet makers, fishers, masons, painters; Nevelda: “Unions of various trades”; Grevillente: shoemakers; Vicalvaro: navvies and masons. All these expulsions were based on the circumstance that these groups had not disapproved of the attitude taken by their delegates at the eventful Madrid congress!

Thus the reformists weaken the labor organizations at the moment when the proletariat is threatened . with the greatest danger! They perform their duty as servants of the bourgeoisie. But the leaders of the National Labor Union whose duty it was to prepare for this danger have laid down no lines of action for the working-class. Concrete slogans are required. The utmost exertion should be made to set the labor movement going again. But the anarchist trade union leaders content themselves with drawing up general formulas which tell the proletariat nothing. When wages are threatened, when the eight hour day is in danger, when an armed attack on the part of the bourgeoisie is impending, then they recommend furtherance of education as the sole remedy, and consider increased hygiene in dwelling houses to be the most burning question of the day.

In Spain as everywhere else the followers of the Red International of Labor Unions are the sole elements clearly comprehending the situation. Thus La Batalha, the organ of the revolutionary trade union committee, writes: “The present moment is an extremely serious one. The industrial bourgeoisie is preparing for a dictatorship of the unchained forces of reaction, such as we have seen in Italy. In this case it will find it easy to reduce wages and lengthen working hours. The sword of Damocles hangs over the heads of the working class. Are we today to be as lacking in insight as to causes and effects as we were yesterday?” The Spanish members of the R.I.L.U. are devoting their main activity to the formation of the united front. They recommend the amalgamation of the General Labor Union, the National Labor Union, and of the autonomous unions, in one single central organization, comprising the whole organized proletariat of our country. The Spanish proletariat is not lacking in courage and fighting spirit. But lack of organization and lack of proper methods prevent the full utilization of these qualities. The formation of a firm organization, and the pursuance of concrete aims, these are the objects being energetically striven for by the Spanish followers of the Red International of Labor Unions.

Last updated on 14 October 2021