Between 9th and 11th December the 28th regular IWA Congress took place in Alcoi, Spain. For delegations, it was undoubtedly exhausting since the agenda was long and demanding. Nevertheless, the Congress was exceptional. This was mainly because of the number of delegations and the program prepared by the Congress Committee of the CNT-AIT in Alcoi. It was really a dignified commemoration of 100 years since the founding of IWA in December 1922.
Practical agenda points
We will start with two points proposed by our union. The first was dedicated to the climate crisis and the anarcho-syndicalist approach. We had already raised this topic at the Melbourne Congress in 2019, we subsequently elaborated on it in the working group on the climate crisis agreed at the Extraordinary Congress in Bratislava in 2021, and we also raised new questions and proposals at the Congress in Alcoi.
We were interested to know which organisations are discussing this topic, if they are involved in any activities (and opportunities and obstacles they see), how they view the topic in general and if they are interested in participating further in the activities of the working group. We also addressed a question related to the vision of an ecological libertarian-communist society.
The discussion positively surprised us and was one of the longest at the Congress. While in 2019 this topic was approached in a way that we did not quite like, now the situation was completely different. It turned out that many groups are or would like to be active around this topic. For example, comrades from WSF in Pakistan talked about how, thanks to the support of other IWA unions, they were able to respond almost immediately to the disaster caused by the summer floods. Based on the principle of mutual aid, they challenged the role of the state in society and spread anarchist ideas among thousands of people, resulting in the formation of new local WSF groups in Pakistan. WSF has also become an important organisation in the country speaking out against the climate crisis. We also learned valuable information from other organisations in Asia and the Pacific and South America, which are already suffering much more from the effects of the climate crisis than many of us in Europe. We hope to work on this topic further within the working group and present outputs for the next IWA Plenary.
Our second practical point on the agenda was also related to the work of the working group that our union had originally proposed and which we were part of (together with other unions). The working group developed a strategy for workplace struggles for small and starting organisations. The document was very well received and the working group, extended by another section, will further discuss its refinement and use.
Solidarity with the CNT-AIT in Spain was a point that was put to the agenda as a result of the situation in the country. There is Spanish section of the ICL-CIT (International Confederation of Labour, which presents itself as anarcho-syndicalist but has authoritarian and reformist characteristics) which uses name CNT-CIT. A number of CNT-CIT unions have (by their practices) devaluated anarcho-syndicalist principles which is illustrated by the fact that these unions are pursuing several lawsuits against our comrades in the CNT-AIT who are not only threatened to pay huge financial damages (exceeded 1 million euros in total), but also face prison sentences. The lawsuits concern, for example, the use of the CNT`s name and claims the property (buildings that CNT-CIT would eventually most likely sell). This situation is a result of a split that occurred several years ago in CNT-AIT and later affected IWA as well. Coordinated international solidarity actions in support of CNT-AIT have been planned for next year. On the split in the IWA, we recommend reading the following interview from 2018 with the then Secretary Generary of IWA (https://iwa-ait.org/content/fighting-anarcho-syndicalism).
Formal-organisational agenda points
We were particularly pleased to hear that the Congress decided to revive the regular publication of the IWA External Bulletins. From 2023, a separate working group composed of people from various IWA organisations will take care of this task, which will relieve the burden on the IWA Secretariat that published them in the past. The bulletins have been an important means of communicating the activities of IWA groups and were published between 2012-2015 (https://libcom.org/article/international-workers-association-iwa-external-bulletin). The IWA website should also be adjusted to fulfil a similar purpose as the bulletins.
After a long time, the way in which IWA communications are stored and historical documents archived will be updated, using newer and more efficient technological tools. A number of conclusions have also been reached with regard to the physical archive of the IWA. There is a problem with the Anselmo Lorenzo Foundation (FAL), where the IWA archives are stored. Despite repeated requests, FAL refuses to return the archives and does not communicate with the IWA. This is yet another example of the dishonest behaviour of the CNT-CIT people who control FAL.
The agenda of congresses often includes points related to changes in the statutes. This time, as usually, it was basically about small things related to, for example, terminology. Updated version will be published in the next few weeks here: https://iwa-ait.org/content/statutes.
There were also three more points from our union aimed at making some of the processes in the IWA easier including the work of the IWA Secretariat.
IWA membership and diversity
IWA consists of 21 organisations from Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and South and North America. Congress officially confirmed the dissolution of ARS (Bulgaria), which had the status of Friends of IWA, and the entry of Organise! (Ireland).
IWA has expanded to countries outside Europe in recent years and we are happy about it. The Congress in Alcoi fully demonstrated the diversity that this brings. Organisations in Asia in particular face enormous threats when spreading anarcho-syndicalist ideas and practice. Some of these are linked, for example, to the prominent role of religion in these countries or to the activities of terrorist organisations. The approaches to which we have become accustomed in Europe do not apply in these countries. It has been valuable and important for us to listen to our comrades because thus we are better able to find our way to each other. The Congress also welcomed the proposal of the Indonesian section of IWA to hold the next Congress in this country. It was also decided that the new IWA Secretariat will be shared by ZSP from Poland and ASF from Australia.
Organisation of the Congress
A total of 13 out of 15 IWA sections participated in the voting on Congress agenda points and 3 more groups with Friends of the IWA status spoke during discussions. Congress sessions could be watched online via live streaming, which was a good option for observers from various IWA groups and a few delegations in different parts of the world.
The sessions were in official languages of the IWA, which are English and Spanish.
International congress is a challenging event. In IWA, people are not paid for their work, they do it voluntarily and in their free time, in accordance with the principles of equality, solidarity and mutual aid. All the shortcomings (mainly of a technical nature) that emerged were nevertheless (or perhaps we could say because of this) resolved collectively. It was also great that, although some topics quite understandably aroused emotions, at the end of the day there was a friendly mood among the delegations.
Another positive aspect was that most organisations came up with concrete agreements on almost all agenda items, which has not always been the case.
The congress and most of the accompanying program took place in spacious premises of the CNT-AIT in Alcoi located in the Autonomous Community of Valencia. The Spanish section prepared thoroughly for the event. Delicious vegan food and refreshments were prepared three times a day for the delegations and other people. Such hospitality and friendly atmosphere helped the delegations to overcome the tiredness and stress of daily, several hours long discussions.
The evenings were filled with extensive educational and artistic program already from 5th December. See CNT-AIT Spain website for a complete schedule: https://www.cnt-ait.org/centenario-de-la-ait-iwa-calendario-de-actividades/.
Due to our duties as delegates, unfortunately, it was not possible to attend all the events. We would like to point out the two that were truly memorable. On Friday, December 9, the puppetry group Títeres Desde Abajo performed their play The Witch and Don Cristóbal (you may remember solidarity actions IWA made when the comrades were repressed in 2016: https://iwa-ait.org/content/solidarity-puppeteers-below-state-biggest-terrorist). It was a great experience to see this humorous and touching performance, which was easy to understand even without knowing Spanish language. The play dealt with the oppression and persecution that the anarchist movement in Spain faced from the state (the performance in Spanish can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXUdL8BFBlE).
On the evening of December 10, the non-profit theatre group Atirohecho from Valencia performed We Without a Name. The stage belonged to 7 actors and actresses whose words and songs were accompanied by subtitles in English. The performance caused strong emotions of joy, combativeness, sadness... The theatre group succeeded in creating a truly sensitive work with wider context. The most intensive part of the performance was dedicated to the militant women`s movement of the Mujeres Libres of the 1930`s in Spain. The play highlighted the challenging role of women in today`s society, reminding us of the need to fight for women`s liberation and how even the greatest obstacles can be overcome through solidarity and combativeness.
The 28th IWA Congress in Alcoi was the epitome of hospitality and caring. It is hard to find words to express gratitude to the entire organizing team and other comrades involved in this event.
We salute all the IWA delegations and organisations from all corners of the planet and wish them successful struggles. See you at the next IWA events.
Delegation of Priama Akcia
About IWA and its Congresses
The International Workers` Association is an anarcho-syndicalist international founded in Berlin in 1922. Its roots go back to 1864 to the organisation known as the First International.
IWA Congresses are held every 3 years, with Plenary sessions in between. The organisation is always taken on by one of the IWA group and rotates. The decision to hold a congress in Spain was taken at the Extraordinary Congress organised by Priama Akcia in 2021, which was held online due to the pandemic.
Each IWA Section can send points to both the Plenary and Congress agendas. The Sections then have several months to meet and make agreements on each point. Delegations present the mandates they have received from their organisations at their meetings (mandates are usually obtained at their congresses or conferences, or through referenda). This federative principle of organising and decision-making is a means of ensuring that it is not the views of individuals that are presented but the views of organisations.