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The 28th Congress of the International Workers' Association

The 28th IWA Congress took place from December 9-11 in Alcoy Spain. A group of delegates and observers from the ZSP took part in the work of the Congress, Below is one account of this event, which commemorates 100 years of the International Workers' Association.

The IWA Congresses occur every three years: the last one took place in 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. There we decided that the Centennary Congress should be held in Spain, hosted by our Section, the CNT-AIT. The comrades in Spain chose the city Alcoy to host the celebration. This choice was significant, as we will explain later and proved to be an excellent place to hold our Congress.

Delegations arrived from most of the IWA Sections (although a few delegates were not allowed to travel to the Schengen area). We were met with the greatest comaraderie and hospitality by our hosts in Spain who had also prepared a number of events to accompany the Congress.

Prior to the Congress there were concerts, book presentations and a tour with historical information about the Petroleum Revolution. For those who may not know about this, it was a very significant event in workers' history in 1873 when workers from the Spanish Regional Federation of the International Workingmen's Association led a revolt and, for a time, took over the town before being brutally repressed. Such events were part of the rich legacy of the libertarian workers' movement in Spain which eventually led to the foundation of the CNT in 1910.

As usual, the Congress agenda was quite extensive and contained many points relating to issues such as improving the internal functioning of the International, welcoming new members into the Federation, creating and or presenting the work of working groups and practical projects, discussion, rotation of the functions and more.

One of the first points of the Agenda related to affiliation so we are pleased to announce that our comrades from Ireland,from„Organize” have joined as Friends of the IWA. We look forward to fruitful cooperation!

As far as the internal matters, some are very technical and not really interesting for outside readers. However, we can note a few interesting points.

The participation of Sections and Friends of the IWA from outside Europe is particularly worth mentioning. For the last few years, especially after internal shifts in the IWA a few years back, we have been able to increase membership in Asia and South America and make many valuable new contacts in these regions. Keeping this is mind, there was overwhelming support for holding our next Congress in Indonesia where hopefully more people from this region can attend. This is a very welcome change in the IWA and we look forward to our expansion in these directions. It was particularly valuable to hear their perspectives during the Congress.

One of the more interesting discussions revolved around the work of the working group on Climate Change and discussion of practical work in this area. As it turned out, our comrades from Pakistan, Indonesia and Colombia really had a lot to say about this. We were all particularly fascinated with the description of WSF's work after massive floods in Pakistan and how workers turned to self-organization in the face of the crisis and lack of an adequate response (or even any response at all) from the government. We also learned about how comrades from PPAS made a project to have a self-sustainable, ecological farm. These stories were very inspiring for all that heard them!

Another important working group was dedicated to helping newer and smaller organizations with conducting their first workplace conflicts with a lot of advice from some unions that have experience with this. Various projects to help our organizations with workplace organizer training and increasing their workplace activity have been approved by our last two Congresses and finally the working group produced something like a booklet with advice. This work was also presented to the Congress.

Speaking of working groups, a new one was formed in order to revive the IWA External Bulletin which, unfortunately, has not been published in some time. It had previously been edited by the IWA Secretariat which as we see, has too many tasks. The working group thus will decentralize some of the work and hopefully improve international cooperation.

The work of the Congress itself was relatively smooth and managed to come to agreements on all the agenda points. Despite the large number of delegates present and the inevitable differences of opinion on some points, there was also a high level of agreement on some other important matters.

We also had an interesting experience with one technological solution we are employing at the conference as it was video streamed for both the large number of observers present and for comrade delegates who were not able to attend due to travel restrictions, health issues or other reasons. At least they were able to attend virtually.

However, those who attended virtually were not able to see the hundreds of books, magazines and other items displayed at the Congress. It was a good chance to see publications from around the world. Also they missed the performances presented in the evening such as the one by the infamous „Puppeteers from Below” or the rousing play performed by „We without a Name”.

One other thing worth mentioning is our upcoming campaign in defense of the comrades from the CNT-AIT. The Congress decided that an international campaign is in order due to the outrageous lawsuits which the people from the union that split from the CNT-AIT (now self-denominated as CNT-CIT or ICL in English) brought against and comrades and which has already lasted several years. (We further refer to them as the Spanish Section of CIT (ICL) as certainly we cannot see such people as continuing the legacy of a libertarian organization.)

Those who are in the Spanish Section of CIT (ICL) had tried unsuccessfully to take control of the International Workers' Association, partially by conducting purges inside the former CNT. Having been unsuccessul, they formed a new international organization and the CNT-AIT remained in the IWA. Even prior to these events, those in the Spanish Section of CIT (ICL) had tried to take over the property and name of the CNT-AIT unions, often acting as liquidators and evictors of unions. Those which they did not manage to liquidate by violence were subjected to many lawsuits amounting to over 1 million euros and the threatened liquidation of many premises. The IWA stands firmly in its opposition to these scandalous attempts to weaken the CNT-AIT and wipe out the anarcho-syndicalist legacy of this organization in many cities throughout Spain. In addition, a number of comrades could face prison sentences due to these legal actions, some of which specifically call for incarceration.
The Sections of the IWA will be campaigning internationally against both the Spanish Section of the CIT (ICL) and its cohorts who have decided to turn a blind eye to these events while still pretending to adhere to libertarian principles.

A great example of the gross immorality of this situation is exactly the situation of the union in Alcoy. When the new leaders of the Spanish Section of CIT (ICL) understood that in this region the unions would like to act in a Confederation of comradely unions and not be subjugated to more vertical structures from much larger urban areas, that these unions are predisposed to the Principles of the International Workers' Association and that it would be more profitable for them to liquidate these functioning unions and sell their premises, purges took place in the region with the aim of concentrating both voting power and capital in Valencia, a service-oriented union. The union of Alcoy at that time had about 40 members; some had been active for 50 years or more, even through the whole time of Francoism, for which some went to prison.

The former premises of the Alcoy union was actually the Headquarters of the Spanish Section of the First International. This property predated the IWA by almost half a century. When the building was in such a bad state that it had to be torn down, local comrades made sure that the CNT-AIT could secure a new place. The old building predated the patrimony of the CNT and the new one only became part of the CNT „property” because the people who had spent most of their lives active in the organization considered it to be their collective project. They never imagined that people in the Confederation would seek to kick them out and sell off their property to get more power and money. However, this is what they tried to do. When the comrades from Alcoy refused to abandon the place that they themselves had organized and managed for years, they were threatened with physical violence and eviction by leaders of the Spanish Section of CIT (ICL). When that also didn't work, they were hit with lawsuits that certainly nobody can afford.

In short, many comrades in Spain have survived Francoism and various attempts by the state to weaken anarcho-syndicalism in Spain and have passionately kept these ideas alive only to find that their work is now threatened by people working hand-in-hand with the repressive state apparatus and pretending to be acting as a continuation of the libertarian legacy. We wonder how many people actually beleive that liquidation of premises around Spain, the transfer of capital through huge financial penalties and throwing a few dedicated comrades in jail is something which is in line with any libertarian principles.

So, the choice of Alcoy was symbolic – not only because of the role that city played in history and the development of anarcho-syndicalism in Spain but to show that we support all those who have dedicated their lives to maintaining these traditions, even in the smaller urban and rural centers in Spain and who are threatened by these awful attempts to eradicate them and erase the fruits of all their efforts.

In addition to a resolute agreement to conduct this campaign in defense of the CNT-AIT, we also decided to take more resolute action against the FAL (The Anselmo Lorenzo Foundation). This organization, which legally was part of the CNT-AIT, also received more archives from the International Workers' Association a decade ago and, since that time, they have refused access to it to people from the IWA and they repeatedly have ignored calls to return in. Again, this is simply an attack on our Federation for the „crime” of not letting the Spanish Section of CIT(ICL) and it's cohorts take control of the IWA. This is the second attack on the IWA archives – the first having been committed by the government of Nazi Germany.

Expect to see more information about these situations in the New Year.

When the New Year comes we will also transfer the seat of the IWA and, for the first time ever, the responsibilities will be shared across continents by the comrades of the ZSP and the ASF in Australia. Hopefully this will engage more people over a larger territorial space in the work of the functioning of the IWA and preparation for such events as the next Plenary and Congress.

We think that despite the very serious situation that our comrades in Spain find themselves in, the Congress was generally positive and we hope that the delegates have returned home with positive impressions. We are looking forward to hearing more good news and seeing the new comrades (and old) develop.