Workers Shift. The Work of Spanish Communists to Organise the Working Class

Armiche Carrillo Secretary of Ideological Work Central Committee of the PCTE

The Working Class as Revolutionary Subject

The dominance at planet level of capitalism as ruling mode of production imposes its rules of functioning to every country in the world. Thus the capital-labour contradiction remains the essential piece over which the capitalist system of domination and the basic gear which makes it work rest on. And, as a result, class struggle still constitutes the anatomy of contemporary capitalist societies.

As Marx proved more than one century ago, the goal of the capitalist mode of production “is not just the production of commodities, but essentially the production of surplus value”.

The conversion of capitalism to its imperialist stage just emphasises this reality. Regularly the sharpening of the own inner contradictions of the mode of production itself shakes to such point the ensemble of the system that it temporarily hinders or makes impossible to complete the cycle of enlarged reproduction, affecting as a result the collection of surplus value by the bourgeoisie. Then we are facing a crisis of capitalist overproduction. The strategy of the bourgeoisie is always the same one: One general assault on the working class.

On this key, to devalue the role of the working class in the mode of production, to hide its revolutionary nature or even to undercut its role in society is the perfect alibi the bourgeoisie needs to justify its assault. To promote its division by countries of origin or even to deny its existence as a class complete the virtuous circle of ideological manipulation.

Naturally, in order to make one manipulation strategy worthy of such name must be presented as the natural result of the current researches. On this task, the assistance of post-modernism is the essential theoretical support. Post-modernism which promises to give the so-called “new subjects” an accurate theoretical frame, as they say Marxism-Leninism is outdated and does not answer to the new reality.

The struggle against capitalism has no place in the agenda of “social activists” and instead one ocean of partial struggles, which share the denial of the working class as revolutionary subject (or even its existence); the aim to narrow reforms that “make capitalism human”; the location in the moral field – and not in the basis of the mode of production itself – of the “weaknesses” in the system (“bad businessmen”, “dishonest politicians”); and, of course, the pointing of the Communist Party as something useless and unnecessary emerge.

One of the realest practical expressions in the political sphere of post-modernism is the new social-democracy, raised as the true representative of that pleiad of “new social movements” which promise to change it all without risking anything.

In the case of Spain, the party PODEMOS has capitalised better than any other political actor the dissatisfaction and fear to proletarianisation of the petty-bourgeoisie and the middle strata (coming from the intellectuality and liberal professions), that thought their social position would be permanent after the last upward cycle of Spanish capitalism.

Its ability to generate false illusions within the working class and the popular strata influenced, like few could, in the dismantling of the workers' struggles, which had known high moments just until the emerge of the 15-M Movement and, afterwards, Podemos.

In this backflow situation in the labour movement and of weakness of the subjective factor of class struggle, the tasks of the Party have a critical importance.

The key elements over which our current tasks rest on are three: centralisation, bolshevisation and workers shift constitute the fundamental tools which the membership of the PCPE must strengthen the Party with.

Centralisation means to put democratic centralism back as the main axis of Party life and to retake the correct path, the guarantee for a unified direction of class struggle.

We understand bolshevisation as “one relentless planned attack to all the weaknesses”. Training and specialisation of cadres, strengthening of the political-ideological level of the membership, the methodical planning of Party work at all levels and the correction of organisational weaknesses are main pieces of the bolshevisation of the PCPE.

Finally, workers shift means the practical implementation of one strategy of political work which prioritises the work with the working class. The workers shift demands the presence not only in the struggles our class leads, but also in trade unions; as well as unveiling the class-oriented nature of all of the measures our class enemy puts on the table, assuming there is no room for ideological neutrality in class struggle.

Revolutionary project, leadership skill and class composition define, therefore, the class nature of our Communist Party

Eurocommunism and workers movement

The defeat in the National-Revolutionary War (1936-1939) placed the Spanish labour movement in one context of really strong repression against the working class and its organisational expressions. The leadership of the PCE understood the organisation of the labour movement was essential to guarantee the survival of the Party itself. One resolution of the Political Bureau on July 1939 already drew attention on the danger of isolating the party from the masses if “fascism” succeeded in “shackling the toiling and peasant masses and the youth to its own organisations (trade unions and other formations of Falange)”.

All along this period, the PCE presented, basically, two tactics: the so-called Working Class Union Opposition (Oposición Sindical Obrera, OSO) and the reinforcement of the workers' commissions (the later CC.OO.). OSO, built up since the end of 1950's, although its public presentation would take place in the strikes in Asturias in 1962, had its raison-d'être in the attempt of organising permanent structures which tied up the different works councils through their union stewards and juries, which were not always elected by workers from the workplace. The specific claims of each workplace had to play the hook pennant for the toiling mass.

In practical effects, OSO did not have a big hype in the labour movement because it was unable to tie workers from workplaces up to the organisational structure itself.

Under a similar strategy, to organise the labour movement, but with a different practical implementation, the workers' commissions were shaped. In the first moment, the commissions were nothing more than one group of workers elected by their fellows as circumstantial representatives for bargaining with the employers' union on issues regarding labour conditions (wages, working time...), leaving the Vertical Labour Union of Franquism out of them.

The fundamental difference between the commissions and OSO rooted in its own composition. While OSO rested on union stewards and juries, the workers' commissions were born from direct election of the own workers in the factory. That immediate tie automatically granted a moral and political authority before the factory assembly which frequently stewards and juries lacked of.

From this premise, the tactical orientation of the PCE would be very clear in the following ten years: to promote the participation and election of the communist membership in those workers' commissions, to grant them with a permanent character, leaving its circumstantial origin behind, to take advantage from the really narrow legal limit of the existing labour laws whenever possible and to make them, finally, a tool of political struggle in which the mere economic claims would come along with another ones of a political nature.

During the 60's the workers' commissions overgrew all over the country, verifying, along the track of practice, how right was this proposal, to the point of endowing a clear hegemony in the labour movement to the PCE and the CCOO.

This favourable situation would change as long as the eurocommunist current is getting stronger in the leadership of the PCE. In light of the 20 th Congress of the CPSU, the PCE approves in 1956 the so-called National Reconciliation Policy (PRN) which, essentially, meant to shape one democratic front in which not only several organisations which claimed to be workers' ones (like catholic organisations for instance) had an accommodation, but also that sector of the bourgeoisie opposed to franquism, or even giving accommodation to the monarchical opposition. In one resolution of the Central Committee on September 1957, the so-called National Reconciliation Days are conceived “as the coincidence of catholics, Christian democrats of different trends, monarchists, liberals, republicans, nationalists, socialists, cenetists and communists”.

Therefore, the affiliation of the PCE to eurocommunism meant the completion of a long process where the revolutionary proposal of Spanish communism was settled for the sake of a reformist opportunism which only sought a better accommodation the death of Franco would open. Naturally, the breakdown of the revolutionary model would have practical effects in the militant work in the workers movement both in the PCE and the CCOO.

Since the beginning of the so-called Transition, the PCE explicitly renounced to the cause of the struggle for the seizure of political power if a revolutionary situation would be created in Spain. In one document of the PCE on November 1975 (Franco disappeared. The tasks of the labour movement so franquism also disappears) it is said: “We still do not raise the battle against the capitalist class as such. And that must be very clear if we do not want to isolate us, if we do not want to break that democratic front which is carrying out; if we do not want to skip stages, if we do not want to “Portugalise” the Spanish process”. One stagist strategy was concreted like that, which in practice meant an inter-classist engagement far from and opposed to the struggle for power, so socialism-communism disappeared from the Party agenda.

The abandon of the revolutionary position in favour of the stale opportunism, the subsequent loss of hegemony within the labour movement or the oblivion of the trade union's unity were the cover letter of the PCE in the Moncloa Pacts, signed on October 1977 between UCD, PSOE, and PCE itself, which had as a ultimate goal to guarantee the stabilisation of capitalism in Spain through a favourable labour law for employers, the stagnation or decrease of wages and the deactivation of a workers' mobilisation which would have been able to question the new accommodation of bourgeoisie in the exercise of its dictatorship. In exchange for its work, the PCE received a kind of legitimacy by the bourgeoisie.

Since the moment PCE shifts towards a revisionist position provided by eurocommunism, it was inevitable the CCOO, whose leadership belonged or was closely related to eurocommunism, will end up polluted by the same revisionism.

In this context, the decade of the 80's meant within the trade union the emergence of hard ideological discussions, which would have an inevitable translation to the field of trade union practice. Just to make it a bit more simple due to space, the ideological discussion among the union boards lied in which should be the nature of the trade union.

After a deaf controversy in whichseveral union leaders participated, CCOO will give in the agreement presented by the UCD Government of Adolfo Suárez, guiding its trade union practice towards the so-called “consolidation of democracy”.

The negation of the class nature of bourgeois democracy and its characterisation as one more form of dictatorship of capital meant, on practical purposes, to permanently put the trade union on the defensive against the employers, to decrease the aspirations of the working class and to assume the new capitalist accommodation which would open in Spain during those years as a neutral political framework.

Thus, the trust in a social contract with the bourgeoisie mutated the horizon of the socialist revolution in favour of the faith in the tools of bourgeois democracy. One extra consequence was the ideological disarming of huge sections of the working class, who were educated about respect to the really existing capitalist framework as something natural and desirable.

Those tensions would increasingly sharpen since the 1 st Congress of CCOO in 1978 and specially since the 2 nd one (1981), when the predictable consequences of the Moncloa Pacts shook the union structures, crowned by a rough decrease of affiliation. Effectively, from 1.8 millions of affiliates in 1978, there were 700.000 affiliates three years later, when the working class verified in its own experience the results of the treason the agreements with the employers union meant.

In 1983, the sign of the Interconfederal Agreement approved the social pacts with the bourgeoisie as one more acceptable strategy, which ensured the 3 rd Congress, held in 1984, was going to be specially tough. As it happened, the conclave of 1984 resulted in a CCOO divided in several ideological tendencies. On one side, a numerical majority still linked to the PCE, one second group which still held high the banners of Marxism-Leninism, linked to the emerging Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain, and other groups with a Trotskyist orientation and related ones, more or less close to the Revolutionary Communist League, the Workers' Party of Spain and so on.

Counter-revolution and Spanish union movement

Naturally, the ideological discussions within CCOO, which we have barely pointed in the previous section, also affected its outer relationships. That is why, as soon as 1973, CCOO probed the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), with a mainly social-democrat orientation, about a possible admission. That admission eventually took place in 1991, at the same time CCOO withdrew the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).

The withdrawal from the WFTU meant the public staging of the abandon of the revolutionary project by CCOO, the “oblivion” of the socialist society as a social-political project of emancipation and its full insertion in the new accommodation of capitalism in Spain.

The new stage will be marked since then by the definite assumption of the social pact – controlled mobilisation dialectics, which systematically will be translated into a progressive worsening of labour conditions for the working class in favour of the interests of bourgeoisie.

In 1997, the Workers' Commissions and the General Union of Workers (UGT) sign a new agreement, supported by the Government, with the employers' union, due to which allowances of corporate tax rates to Social Security are increased. In 2006 one new agreement between the government, employers and trade unions is reached which makes to decrease the type corporate contribution for unemployment.

All over the years, the subsequent capitalist crisis have been translated into a clear worsening of labour conditions for the working class being the unions, which were prisoners of their pact-based dynamics, unable to slow down the assaults of the bourgeoisie nor, even less, to raise a continued front of struggle able to place the seizure of political power within its political agenda.

Within this framework, the discredit of trade unions created the perfect breeding ground for the decrease of affiliation, fragmentation and scattering of the working class in an unacceptable large amount of trade union acronyms, none of which is able to unite around it the ensemble of the workers movement.

Current situation of the labour and union movement in Spain

In this situation of weakness in the labour movement, the capitalist crisis of 2008 shakes us. The bourgeoisie soon understood the deep significance the recent crisis was going to reach and feared it could become a political crisis which questioned the capitalist system of domination itself in Spain.

Their answer was undertaken immediately. On one side, it promoted a series of economic measures aiming to offset the results of the crisis and which were withstood by the working class and the ensemble of the working people. On the other side, it launched a vicious and ruthless offensive both against unionism and the key role of the workers movement, by insisting to highlight the role of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, whose goals were perfectly embeddable within the coordinates of capitalist domination. Finally, regarding the political system, the change of the king was forced as a strategy to refresh the image of a very devalued monarchy, at the same time one part of the claims of the new social-democracy, harmless for the system of domination, were directly assumed by the traditionally representative parties of the bourgeoisie.

From the Government of the People's Party (PP) the privatisation of public services (like health care or education) were promoted, unemployment benefits were cut and wages and pensions were frozen.

The 2012 Labour Reform was specially harmful as it meant, among other measures, the conversion of Temporary Employment Agencies in “placement agencies”, the promotion of waste contracts for training and apprenticeship, the implementation of labour flexibility and mobility or the cheapening of dismissals, which deepened the guidelines approved by the previous 2010 Labour Reform, approved by the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero Goverment.

Nonetheless the main goal of the reform was undoubtedly to end up with collective bargaining, which was one of the essential bargaining weapons of the working class with the bourgeoisie. The modification of article 84 of the Statute of Workers bestowed, since then, the application priority of company covenant over sector, autonomous community or state covenant on issues like extra hours, schedule and distribution of working hours... Equally, the so-called “ultra-activity” of covenants was finished.

The answer of the labour movement was undertaken immediately. A huge amount of rallies, different kinds of struggles and mobilisations all around the State raised the workers' outcry for a general strike, which would be finally made on March 29.

Nevertheless, in spite of the success in the summoning of the General Strike, demobilisation quickly took place. Beyond the permanent manipulation campaign by the bourgeoisie, the prevail of opportunism and social-democracy in union boards as well as the very limited communist influence in the workers movement undeniably prevented the struggle to reach higher levels of organisation, spread and intensity, and it will be in the end driven to the harmless parliamentary way with the only goal of reforming bourgeois democracy.

During the last months of the Rajoy Government mobilisations which promised to be the spearhead of the recovery of the union movement in a rising trend grew up again, with three dominant chapters: the struggle of the collective of pensioners, which made a number of rallies and struggle actions with significant extension and intensity all over the State; the Working Women's Day meant, in turn, a capital success of summoning, by reaching levels probably never seen in the Spanish geography. The third characteristic note was the increasingly demand for a General Strike.

In one scene oscillating between the possibility of calling anticipated elections or a particularly complex burnout of the term by the PP, the Motion of No Confidence which raised Pedro Sánchez, the new leader of PSOE, as Prime Minister of the Government, was approved.

The entrance of classical social-democracy in Government origins the predictable results. One “politics of gestures” (accommodation of the Aquarius or the exhumation of Franco, for instance) that seeks a double goal: to accumulate voting intention for PSOE before the next elections and, to ward off the new social-democracy represented by Podemos, as the budget agreement for 2019 signed by both political forces has proved.

Again, the rising trend of the workers mobilisation is steered towards parliamentarism, the reform of the bourgeois democracy and the aesthetic changes which do not challenge the system of domination.

The Workers Shift Policy

The “workers shift” policy is sustained in two fundamental prerequisites, common to any communist party: on one side, the Communist Party is a proletarian party, whose class nature comesfrom its ideological stance, the goals it pursues, its class composition and its ability to take on the practical leadership of the working class; and second, without an organised presence and a huge influence of the Party within the working class, the revolutionary task turns out impossible.

We concluded in our Congress debates that where a Communist Party has carried out a relentless and direct work with the working class, the labour movement of that country has gained a bigger strength and, eventually, the Party itself has come out strengthened, by incorporating new revolutionary forces to its ranks and by spreading its influence and direction skills.

From that starting point, the primary task for any communist party is the direct work with the working class because it is there where the labour-capital contradiction, the foundation on which the capitalist mode of productions rests. Indeed, if the process of extraction of surplus value is the raison-d'être of capitalism, it must be thus in that place where we focus the militant effort.

For years, the communist movement in Spain, including the PCPE, burdened by ideological insights of several kinds, has been unable to carry out a consistent political work towards the working class, opting instead to make efforts to interclassist struggles which, even though they were important, do not carry with them the revolutionary seed, as they do not question the capitalist system of domination itself, placing the working class de facto in a subordinated position regarding other classes or social sections. By working under those keys, it is impossible the revolutionary subjective development, as mass struggle remains isolated of its objective class basis.

The workers shift is translated into three aspects: in the ideological sphere, to extend among the working class the principles and insights of scientific socialism, with the declared goal of guaranteeing the ideological independence of our class; in the political sphere, to unveil the class- based nature of each government measure and the proposals of the other political and social forces, depriving them of its false disguise of objectivity, as well as the elaboration of our political proposals which defend the interests of the working class; and third the organisational sphere seeks to guarantee our presence in workplaces and particularly in the strategic production sectors through a rigorous work planning of all the Party bodies, from the Central Committee to cells.

Work on trade unions is an inherent part of the workers shift. But naturally it is not limited to affiliation; it rather consists in the work of raising class conscience, the effort for the unification of partial struggles and, therefore, the unity of the working class.

That change in the spotlight means to focus in workplaces and in the working class neighbourhoods, it will lead to a different organisational party structure, consistent with the class basis of capitalism and the class nature of the Party: the step from one territory-based structure to another one whose principle is the founding of creation of cells in workplaces, companies and industrial parks, which is already starting to produce outcomes with the organisation of cells in strategic places, like Madrid-Barajas Airport; sections of huge workers' concentration, like call centers, the increasing the militant action in sections with a big influence within the ensemble of the working class, like miners or sidero-metallurgical sectors.

The Party, by assuming the centrality of the contradiction between capital and labour, must be able to organise in a Leninist key the own army of the working class, conscious of the need to cut across the merely reformist struggles. The resolute intervention of the communist militancy in the workers struggles, like the recent case in the strike of Amazon – which end up with the police arrest of one of our comrades –, or the action of the Party in defence of jobs in the company ALCOA constitute new steps that strengthen the class nature of the Party and its links with the working class, that advance class conscience and increase the perspective the challenge to capitalism and its required revolutionary overcome.

As we stated in our last Congress, we struggle for one country for the working class. In practical effects that means to prepare the conditions which allow the seizure of political power, to implement the dictatorship of proletariat and to build socialism in Spain. This task is inconceivable without the workers shift we want to put in practice in the Party.

As a conclusion

All along this article we have tried to present several seminar ideas which justify, in our judgement, the strategical commitment we have called workers shift.

We state the main contradiction in the capitalist mode of production remains the contradiction between labour and capital. Accordingly, the working class plays the role of revolutionary subject, which do not exclude the possibility of social alliances with other sections or strata of society exploited by capitalism, by accumulating labour and popular forces under the revolutionary perspective of the overcoming.

Second, the analysis from the experience of the communist movement in Spain, and from other fraternal parties, teaches us the strategy of directly linking the Party with the working class through the workers' commissions was what allowed not only to prevent the isolation of the Party in the harsh course of the franquist dictatorship, but also to turn the PCE (and the CCOO) to the hegemonic force within the workers movement.

Third, we also checked the withdrawal of Marxist-Leninist positions in favour of revisionism meant the loss of class nature of the PCE and the breakdown of hegemony gained in factories. That ideological withdrawal would be inevitably translated into CCOO. The hard ideological discussions which took place in the trade union in the 80's were balanced with the definite adoption of the social pact – controlled mobilisation dialectics which, until today, holds the working class on a defensive position against the bourgeoisie.

Finally, in the context of weakness of the labour movement and loss of class identity, the main task of the PCPE consists in the links to the working class through our presence not only in workers conflicts or in trade unions, but also with creation of cells in workplaces and factories all over the country.

The step from a territory-based cell structure to a production one will let us create the necessary conditions to create the own army of the working class which allows our class to make Spain one country for the working class.