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Editorial Last Updated: Nov 10, 2017 - 8:44:15 AM


The Hidden Background To The Catalan Crisis
By Dr. Gary K. Busch 9/11/17
Nov 10, 2017 - 8:42:48 AM

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The unilateral declaration of Independence by the Generalitat of Catalonia and the invocation of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution rejecting the Catalan independence by the government in Madrid has caused a major crisis for Spain and for the European Union. The media is full of stories of the legacy of the Spanish Civil War on the move towards Catalan independence, the revolutionary ardour of the independent Catalans and the heroic struggles of the Catalan people against the forces of Fascism and domination. There are frequent references to George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” which clearly sets out the betrayal of the revolutionary Catalan cause by the wartime takeover of the control of the Republic by the forces supplied, directed and controlled by the Soviet Union, even though the Spanish Republicans were fighting on the same side as the Soviets in the battle against fascism.

Despite the supposed justification for triggering Article 155,  the Spanish Constitution also enshrines and guarantees the autonomy of Catalonia in Section 143 of the Constitution “In the exercise of the right to self-government recognized in section 2 of the Constitution, ordering provinces with common historic, cultural and economic characteristics, insular territories and provinces with a historic regional status may accede to self-government and form Self-governing Communities (Comunidades Autónomas) in conformity with the provisions contained in this Part and in the respective Statutes. (2) The right to initiate the process towards self-government lies with all the Provincial councils concerned or with the corresponding inter-island body and with two thirds of the municipalities whose population represents at least the majority of the electorate of each province or island.”[i] This does not mean the separate independence of Catalonia but autonomy; an autonomy violated by the Spanish government when the PP-led government of Rajoy tried to remove some aspects of Catalan autonomy in 2010.

For centuries, the Kingdom of Catalonia had prospered on its own, until it succumbed to Spain during the War of Spanish Succession in 1714. Subsequent kings tried to impose the Spanish language on the region and Spanish institutions. Catalan nationalism was emboldened in 1932 with the onset of the Spanish Republic, when it restored the Catalan government and gave it autonomous power. The rise of Spanish Fascism under Franco led to a brutal civil war and the repression of Catalonia when Franco and his Falange took over all power in Spain under a despotic, and violent, rule. Now, Catalan autonomy is banned. Many of its leaders are in jail for treason and sedition and European arrest warrants have been issued for the President and his colleagues.

Unfortunately for the Catalans, achieving independence from Spain was an impossible task. There are, and were, too many hurdles in the path towards independence; hurdles which are not always reflected in the international media coverage of the process. There is an important, hidden background to the struggle for an independent Catalonia which has shaped the current situation. Understanding these hidden forces leads to an understanding of why independence failed. The major forces controlling the destiny of an independent Catalonia have been driven by the legacy of the Cold War and its effect on the Spanish labour movements, its political parties, and the competition inside the Vatican between the Popes, the Curia and the Opus Dei.

The Development of a Catalan people

Since the fall of Franco and the creation of a new constitution in 1978 the Catalans have been able to maintain their autonomy inside Spain; including having their own, elected, Catalan Parliament. Because Catalonia has been the engine of economic growth in Spain it has attracted immigrants from across the nation. Catalonia has a long history of immigration. In 2017 four out of five people living in Catalonia have roots in other parts of Spain or the world. During the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, when Catalonia flourished as an industrial hub, the region received an influx of working-class immigrants — mostly from Andalusia, a province in the south of Spain — in search of better jobs and lives. Almost half of the two million Andalusians that fled poverty and unemployment in the latter half of the 20th century ended up in Catalonia. As those immigrants settled down and built new lives in Catalonia, their children — born in Catalonia — took on the nickname of xarnego by the Catalans around them. It was a pejorative term used to differentiate the Catalans with Spanish ancestry from the Catalans with “true” Catalan blood.[ii] Spain has not escaped globalization. In Spain, from 2000 to 2011, the number of foreign residents rose from 900,000 to almost 6 million, or 12 per cent of the population, a large part of whom settled in Catalonia. The biggest migrant groups are from Romania, Morocco, Ecuador and England. Despite the fact that their schools, public institutions and even movie theatres are in Catalan, most Catalans retain close ties to Spain and Spanish culture. Unfortunately for the Catalans they also retain some strong memories of the legacy of the brutal years of Franco’s Fascist rule and the unsuccessful efforts to curtail Fascist remnants in the post-Franco Spain.

Fascism and Franco

In current usage, the term “Fascist” describes a brutal dictatorship of the far Right, characterised by the likes of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. This is a convenient pejorative term which portrays the ideology of these Fascist movements as wholly beyond the intellectual pale of right-thinking democrats, socialists and anarchists. This is a confusion and conflation of the excesses and despotic militaristic practices of these leaders with the ideology of Fascism. In many ways, the political extremes of Right and Left had many things in common. They both espoused a common appeal to the “masses”, “reform” and a collectivist ideology that glorifies abstractions such as "The Nation," "The People," "The Throne" or "The Working Class.”. The ideology of the Fascist, but anti-monarchist, forces of the Falange Española was founded by the extremely popular Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera; the son of the dictator who ruled the country following World War I. Jose Antonio wanted to create a republic, modelled after Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, and claimed to be the hero of Spain’s poor and dispossessed. He appealed to the working class and stressed that they had his full sympathy and understanding of the oppressive role played by the monarchy, the landed aristocracy and the Church which stood against them all. Many conservative supporters of the church, military and monarchy were frightened as much by the leader of the Falange, Jose Antonio, as by the Marxists and their myriad anarchist and socialist parties. The moderate conservative right, monarchist and centrist political parties that opposed the Leftist “Popular Front” in the elections in 1936 refused to enter an electoral alliance with the Falange which stood isolated.[iii]

The Falange was highly critical of the scandals and corruption among all the parties of the Republic. Jose Antonio called for social justice for the Spanish working class, small farmers and agricultural workers. He was opposed by the Catholic and conservative Right Wing Press , calling him a “Bolshevik”;  to which he responded that all those wealthy Spaniards who valued luxuries and their petty whims more than the hunger of the people were the real Bolsheviks –“the Bolshevism of the Privileged” and added oil to the fire by proclaiming "In the depths of our souls there vibrates a sympathy toward many people of the Left who have arrived at hatred by the same path which has led us to love – criticism of a sad mediocre, miserable and melancholy Spain.”[iv] Mussolini started off as a Socialist before he turned to Fascism and Italian Fascism was opposed to the Catholic Church until the Lateran Treaty of 1929 which recognized the Vatican City State as independent state; agreeing to give the Church financial compensation for the loss of the Papal States. Mussolini’s Fascism consisted of uniting business and labour together in a corporate state which exalted nation and often ‘race’ above the individual and that stood for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictator, producing severe economic and social regimentation with the forcible suppression of any opposition. Spanish Fascism adopted an organic vision of society in which the masses had to be fully organised and mobilised. The Francoist regime organised Spain through the National Movement (MN – “Movimento”), effectively the country’s only legal political ‘party’, and the Vertical Syndicate (SV), the sole legal trade union. After Franco’s death, Spain opened to political and trade union pluralism, but without fundamentally changing its definition of the functions of parties and unions. Spanish elections are conducted by voting for parties, which then choose their representatives from a closed list, filling a number of seats allocated in proportion to their overall share of the vote. Power is with the parties not the individuals. Candidates owe their allegiance to those who compile the lists of candidates.

In the wake of the economic and political disasters which befell Europe in the wake of the First World War, Fascism was one siren call to “Making Italy, Germany, Hungary, et al Great Again”. Numerous Socialist and Communist parties competed for the support of the working class. Fascism was one of those parties. Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. The espousal of the ideology of so called “Right Wing” authoritarian regimes of the conservative, traditional, national and religious type in Ethiopia (Emperor Haile Selassie), Austria (the “Clerical-Fascist” regime of Engelbert Dollfus and Kurt Schuschnigg), Poland (General Jozef Pilsudski and his successors), Yugoslavia (General Simovic and his supporters in the armed forces) and Greece (Ionnas Metaxas), did not mean that they automatically identified with Hitler or Mussolini. They occupied the Far Right of the political spectrum but they all stood up and opposed Hitler and the Axis forces that threatened to blackmail, intimidate and subjugate their nations while advocating Fascist domestic policies which opposed socialists, communists and anarchists.

It is this ultra-nationalism, corporatism and anti-clericalism which undelay the rise of Fascism in Europe which made the rise of worker’s organisations so important to the development of economic, political and social policies in these nations. Along with socialists, anarchists, communists and Christian unionists, the fascist corporate labour structures became the battlefield for the control of national policies and the working class. This was particularly true in the cockpit of Spain when Franco won the Spanish Civil War against the Republican unionists in 1939 and imposed strict sanctions on the independent regions of Spain and the non-Fascist unions and labour structures with whom he battled during his military campaigns. One of Franco’s main goals was to destroy and dismember the labour coalitions of the Spanish Republic and to annihilate Catalan and Basque aspirations for independence. He achieved this by maintaining the Fascist Vertical Syndicates and by restricting the Catalan language and banning Catalan institutions and its unions. The Francoist dictatorship lasted until his death in 1975.

The Labour Background

The Spanish Civil War took place from 1936 to 1939. The Republicans were loyal to the socialist, democratic, left-leaning and relatively urban Second Spanish Republic; they were in an alliance with the Anarchists. The Popular Front (‘Frente Popular’) in the Second Republic was an electoral coalition and pact signed in January 1936 by various left-wing political organisations, instigated by Manuel Azaña for contesting that year's election. In Catalonia the coalition was known as the Front of the Left (‘Front d'Esquerres’). The Popular Front included the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), Communist Party of Spain (PCE), the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM, independent communist) and the two Republican parties. This pact was supported by Galician (PG) and Catalan nationalists (ERC), the Socialist Union Workers' General Union (UGT), and the anarchist trade union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT-FAI).

The anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) was formed as a labour union October 1910 and immediately called for a general strike, which was suppressed by the military. Further strikes followed in 1917 and 1919 amidst growing violence between the police and trade unions. When the government banned the CNT, they formed the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) in 1927 as a clandestine alliance of affinity groups during the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera. Its radical members, who were also part of the CNT, took over the FAI and the CNT-FAI alliance was completed. During the Spanish coup of July 1936, anarchist and socialist militias, along with Republican forces including the Assault and Civil Guards, defeated the forces controlled by Nationalist army officers in Catalonia and parts of eastern Aragon. The CNT-FAI became the most powerful organization in Barcelona, seizing many arms and strategic buildings such as the telephone exchange and post offices. Through the various factory and transport committees, they dominated the economy of Catalonia. Despite their militant anti-statism, they decided not to overthrow the Catalan government. The president of the Generalitat of Catalonia and head of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), Lluís Companys, worked together with the CNT-FAI to set up the Central Anti-Fascist Militia Committee, which became the main governing body in the region.

The Spanish socialists (PSOE) had a long history of involvement in national government in Spain. Since its origins in 1879 the PSOE had been a workers' party which drew its support almost entirely from the ranks of the powerful General Workers' Union (UGT) and the intellectual community. In the elections for the Popular Front government in 1936 the PSOE won just under 20 percent of the seats. The Spanish communist party (PCE), formed from a split in the PSOE in response to the formation of the Comintern in 1920, was much weaker nationally and its tiny trades union base, the United General Workers' Confederation (CGTU), was forced to merge itself into the UGT after attempting a futile revolutionary strike in 1934. In the Popular Front elections in 1936 the PCE won less than 3 per cent of the seats. The UGT of the PSOE was formed in 1888 and remains one of the two most important unions in Spain.

Throughout Catalonia many sectors of the economy fell under the control of the anarchist CNT and the socialist UGT trade unions, where workers' self-management was implemented. These included railways, streetcars, buses, taxicabs, shipping, electric light and power companies, gasworks and waterworks, engineering and automobile assembly plants, mines, mills, factories, food-processing plants, theatres, newspapers, bars, hotels, restaurants, department stores, and thousands of dwellings previously owned by the upper classes. While the CNT was the leading organization in Catalonia, it often shared power with the UGT. For example, control of the Spanish National telephone company, was put under a joint CNT-UGT committee.

Trade union control also spread to small businesses of the middle-class handicraft men and tradesmen. In Barcelona, the CNT collectivized the sale of fish and eggs, slaughterhouses, milk processing and the fruit and vegetable markets, suppressing all dealers and sellers that were not part of the collective. Just as in the cities, peasant revolutionaries seized land in the countryside and organized collective farms; between half and two-thirds of all cultivated land in Republican Spain was seized. The targets were mainly small and medium landholders, since most of the large landholdings had fallen to the Nationalists who cast their lot with Franco. Collectivization in the countryside generally began with the establishment of CNT-FAI committees. These committees collectivized the land-holdings of the rich and, in some cases, the small plots of the poor as well. Farm buildings, machinery, transport and livestock were also collectivized. Food reserves and other amenities were stored in a communal depot under committee control.

During the Second Spanish Republic, anarchists continued to lead uprisings such as the Casas Viejas revolt in 1933 and the Asturian miners' strike of 1934 which was brutally put down by Francisco Franco with the aid of Moorish troops. The Anarchists held the balance of power on the Left in Catalonia; although the various Socialist and Marxists were in the fore in much of the rest of the Republic. The Left in the Popular Fronts was notionally led by political parties and federations, but the real power was in the trade union movements. The search for a stable Spanish government within a system of democratic pluralism has been influenced to a very high degree by the fight for the control of the Spanish trades union movement by the opposing anarchist, socialist and communist forces.

The end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 left the socialists and the anarchists in total disarray. The communists, although the victims of the Franco purges of the vestiges of the Republic, tended to fare better than their allies largely because of the Hitler—Stalin Pact of August 23, 1939 which won a grudging toleration of the communists by even such staunch Fascists as Franco.

During the civil war by Franco against the Republic, which followed the creation of a Popular Front, the socialists were deprived of resources and support in their war effort against Franco's armies by the nations of the West which demanded a ‘hands-off’ policy towards Spain; especially the Republic. On the other hand, the Soviet Union threw its support to the PCE after the socialist and anarchist unions and military forces had been largely shattered fighting the Fascists. The Soviets became almost the only major supplier of weapons to the Republic and sent thousands of volunteers to Spain from across Europe and North America to fight in international brigades; led by political commissars from the Soviet Union.  The Soviet consul, Vladimir A. Antonov-Ovseenko, threated to cut off all military support to the Republican forces if they opposed the PCE and Moscow. The Spanish Republican army and the International Brigades were placed in the hands of communist political commissars who gradually took over the controls of all levels of Republican administration. Interestingly, they undertook to follow a far more moderate policy than the PSOE and its anarchist allies, especially in reversing the process of collectivisation begun by the PSOE --CGT leader, Largo Caballero, The PCE and their foreign communist advisors became locked in a battle with the Spanish Left for the control of the Republic in a struggle which almost matched in intensity its battle raging with Franco.

The PCE fought its own civil war against its former allies of the CNT-FAI and the POUM (as well as the rural Spanish peasant movements). By 1938 it had become crystal clear that the Soviets (who supplied the weapons, ammunition and military organisers of the Republican side) had the power and the will to turn their guns on their allies, killing and jailing them, or leaving them for the Fascists to kill. As a result, the two sections of the Spanish left split into a socialist—anarchist group and a communist group. When the Soviets signed the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939 the Spanish Fascists turned to the Spanish PCE communists to help them take control of the Spanish trade unions and used them to create Fascist union structures on Fascist lines. This co-operation lasted until Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 when the worldwide communist movement decided that Fascists did not make congenial allies.

The PCE re-established itself in Paris and Toulouse after the Second World War under the tight control of the Soviet communist party It was a staunchly Stalinist party under the leadership of Dolores Ibarruri who had survived the war, as had most of the PCE leaders, by fleeing to Moscow; unlike the socialists and anarchists who chose to flight on underground in Spain against the Fascists through trades union militancy. The PCE decided that its interests would be best served in the long run in Spain by infiltrating the corporate union structures which Franco and his Falange had created within Spanish industry. These so-called Workers' Commissions (CCOO) were successfully infiltrated by the PCE and, after the 1957 trades union elections, became the PCE base inside Spain,

With the severe repression of the Left in the 1940s and 1950s the only presence within Spain of these two groups remained in their trades union organisations. The socialists in the underground UGT attempted a general strike in 1947 which failed, and in similar strikes in 1951, 1953 and 1956, These strikes by the clandestine UGT were severely dealt with by Franco. In 1951 the strike leaders were executed; in 1953 the UGT's general secretary died from torture which he underwent in police custody.

The PCE recognised that at some time in the future it would have to try to attract the support of the socialists and anarchists to win effective national power, but as long as Franco lived there. was no hurry. The PCE began to shift away from its Stalinist ideology gradually, following the takeover of the PCE by Santiago Carrillo in 1960. This shift was due partly to the ideological attractions of Eurocommunism, but more directly to the conflicts which arose within the PCE over the heavy hand of the Soviet Union in internal Spanish affairs. In October 1961 the PCE embarked upon a major campaign to remove the US bases in Spain and to prevent Spain's association with the EEC. The socialists and anarchists supported Spain's bid to join the EEC in the hope that real political concessions would be the price of Spain's entry. The PCE was isolated on this issue. Similarly, the party suffered when one of its clandestine central committee members, Julian Grimau, was arrested by Franco and executed. Many in the party felt that Grimau had been betrayed to the police by Santiago Carrillo to create a martyr on the orders of the Soviets who wanted a 'cause celebre' to ensure that Western revulsion at Grimau's execution would block Spain's accession to NATO and the EEC.

The PCE shifted its line in 1964. After expelling Fernando Claudia and Jorge Semprun for revisionism, Carrillo adopted their ideas and became a devoted Eurocommunist. In 1968 the PCE supported the Dubcek government in Czechoslovakia and publicly allied itself with Italian Eurocommunism. The PCE then allied itself with the Spanish efforts to join the EEC and tried to use its Eurocommunist stance to win it allies within the Spanish Left. It was less than totally successful as the socialists, anarchists and Christian democrats sought to maintain their under­ground strength in the trades unions. These attacked the communists for their collaboration with the Francoists in the state syndicates and refused to participate in elections to these vertical unions.

Like their Italian counterparts the PCE drew upon the lessons of the fate of Salvador Allende in Chile and decided that power could be won only through a 'historic compromise' with the existing powers of the state. They rejected the 'Left alternative' and sought to win acceptance from the government rather than from the parties of the left. Following the unexpected admission of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) into the government after the fall of Caetano, the PCE euphorically announced the formation of a Democratic Junta for Spain. Ostensibly it joined some small social democratic patties and some businessmen in an alliance with the communists, but most felt it was basically a front for the political aspirations of the PCE.

The key point in this exegesis on Spanish unionism and the role of the PCE is that the legacy of the death of the Republic, the rise of Franco and his Fascists was the eternal hostility of two major international forces dedicated to suppressing Communism in any form in Spain; the U.S. government which was committed to a militant anti-Communist policy in Spain, including threats to its important military bases there,  and the Catholic Church which had retained its lands, wealth and privilege under Francoism. This conflict shaped much of what developed politically in Spain in Franco’s later years and after his death.

This Democratic Junta cobbled together by the PCE was opposed by the PSOE and the Christian democrats within Spain. Their opposition was supported by a major international coalition of political forces dedicated to preventing Spain from going the way of Portugal when Franco died. The means by which support was channelled into Spain was through the European Socialist and Social-Democratic trades union movements. The DGB, the Swedish LO and many other socialist and social democratic unions made available to the PSOE large sums of money to assist them in organising strong unions within Spanish industry. Benefiting from the presence of large numbers of expatriate Spanish workers in their nations and their trades unions the German unions, among others, began to prepare the way for a socialist presence in Spanish unionism when Franco died. The Christian unions of Europe also sent aid and assistance to the Christian trades union centre operating clandestinely inside Spain. Felipe Gonzalez, a young lawyer who had won recognition for his spirited defence of Spanish unionists, was elected head of the PSOE. This bridged the generation gap which had plagued the PSOE and the conflict between the exiled and internal wings of Spanish socialism. On the other hand, the PCE was aided by the Italian communist party and many of the other Eurocommunist parties and unions. After the death of Franco, the communist unions in France, Italy, Great Britain and the left factions of other European national centres sent down funds and organisers to Spain to assist the PCE and its CCOO unions. There were many multinational companies whose key shop stewards in France, Italy and Britain took their holidays in Spain as guests of the CCOO organisations. With the death of Franco in November 1975 and the installation of a new government under Juan Carlos, the competition between the two groups was intense. Although the raid on the communist unionist meeting in June 1972 had captured the top leadership of the CCOO (including Marcelino Camacho, Francisco Garcia Salve and Nicolas Sartorius) the communist strength in the CCOO remained strong.

The hostile relations between the Democratic Junta and the Plataforrna de Convergence coalition led by the PSOE were made even more difficult by the struggles which broke out over the control of the labour movement. In December 1975 the PCE instructed its labour allies in the CCOO to undertake a series of journadas de lucha (days of struggle), a euphemism for mass mobilisations of workers by the party; particularly in the metalworking, transport and construction industries. At the height of this campaign in January and February 1976 these days of struggle involved well over a quarter of a million workers in Madrid alone and brought Madrid, Barcelona and other cities to a virtual standstill. The troops were called out to restore order in the public sector (mail, underground transport and municipal employees). Even though the Spanish government tried to exploit the differences between the Democratic Junta and the Plataforma (which had united under the common banner of the 'Coordinacion Democratica' in mid-1976), the right-wing intransigence of the Arias regime played into the hands of the PCE by making an alliance between the right and the moderates virtually impossible. Once again, these problems focused on the labour movement.

Throughout Spain the communists were active in winning control of local factory assemblies. As early as December 1975 Marcellino Camacho had pressed for general trades union unity within the structure of the CCOOs but the UGT, the Christian USO, the Basque STV and the remnants of the anarchist Confederaclon Nacional de Trabajadores (CNT) refused. Competition among them, fuelled by support from outside Spain, kept them apart. In July 1976 a clandestine conference in Barcelona created a Coordination of Syndical Organisations (COS) with Marcellino Camacho as its head. Twenty of the twenty-seven members of the COS officials were PCE members. An indiscreet interview with Camacho on Radio Moscow raised questions about the COS"s autonomy. Despite the strength of the PCE within the CCOOs and the legalisation of the PCE, it was unable to muster more than twenty seats in the 1977 General Election (as compared to the 165 seats of the Christian Democrats or the 118 seats of the PSOE). With the PSOE as the main opposition party the PCE was effectively locked out of a major role in the determination of government policy. It tried to win power through the unions. The PCE, through the COS, tried to get the workers' commissions recognised as the sole union body, but Felipe Gonzalez threatened to pull out of the Coordinacion and the PCE was forced to dissolve the COS. Nonetheless the PCE remained strong within the trades unions. This battle for control of the Spanish unions has absorbed an enormous amount of manpower and resources of the international trades union movement as well as spurring on the nationalist independence movements of the Basque and Catalan regions.

The Political Role of International Trades Unions

There is probably no area of international affairs so neglected as the study of international trades unions. It is rarely taught in schools or universities; still less is it a matter of concern to much of the world’s media, despite its importance. However, it has been and continues to be a vital concern of many of the world’s security and intelligence services.

The principal reason behind the importance of the trades union movement in the political process has been the weakness of political parties. For most nations around the world, political parties are not strong. They frequently lack funds, manpower and organisation. They are capable of generating interest and support from their constituencies during the electoral campaigns but soon after, their continuity and direction is left in the hands of their parliamentary parties. The maintenance of their continued interaction with their membership is most often left to the activities of the voluntary organisations with whom they are associated. These voluntary organisations (trades unions, corporate groups, civic associations or religious groups) maintain the continuity of contact at national level between the members and the parties between elections. Most often the trades unions have been linked with Labour, Socialist, Social Democratic, Communist or Christian Democratic parties. Indeed, for many years, membership in most of the parties of the left was based on affiliation to the party through the trades union or co-operative movement. These parties only rarely permitted direct personal affiliation. The trades union movement acted as a surrogate for a national party structure between elections.

Because of this close relationship between the political parties and the trades union movement, the work of the national labour centres has been almost exclusively political. Trades union leadership at the national level has been deeply involved in sustained interaction with the processes and offices of government. There has been a flow of trades union leaders away from-the national centres into high political posts, especially when their party has assumed the responsibility of office. It is precisely because the trades unionism practised by the national centres is so intimately involved with the political forces of the state that there has been such an interest in the growth of international trades unionism.

The strategic role of the trades union movement within the political and economic life of the nation has proved to be a tempting target for outside interests seeking to intervene in or influence the party and state with whom the national centre interacts. There are few nations which have not sought to influence the policies of their neighbours and still fewer which have not feared the effects of such intervention in their own affairs. The area of intervention in the domestic political and economic relations of nation states through the vehicle of the trades union movement is one of increasing concern and attention.

In addition to the political links which exist between trades and trades unions and parties, there are other compelling reasons for a nation to use the vehicle of trades union intervention as a method of extending its outreach. In most nations of the world there are trades unionists active, outside their trades union role, in the conduct of private and public business as workers or employees. There is probably no better source of commercial intelligence than the workers employed in the plants and offices of the company. The trades unions have a legitimate 'need to know' vital information such as sales, markets, suppliers, types of products, production processes and similar matters often regarded as confidential by management. With the growth of increased participation by the representatives of the workforce in the management of commercial enterprises, this problem has become more acute.

Access to this fund of critical knowledge by external powers can often be crucial in economic, political and military planning. Access to trades unionists at shop floor level, in industry and in governmental agencies, can often provide a form of insurance for those seeking to alter the system in which these unionists operate. Throughout the industries and government departments of the world there exist 'sleepers'; agents waiting to carry out vital tasks in the event of conflict. These sleepers and their contacts stand ready to disrupt war supplies, halt energy production, cut transport and communication links and generally assist in disrupting the defence apparatus.

It is hardly surprising then that the subject of international trades union activity-has been a matter of active concern for the intelligence and security arms of national governments. There is probably no area of concern, outside of military intelligence, which is more vital to the security of a nation than the activities within and through the international trades union movements. Importantly, the very obscurity in which this international union interchange takes place makes it more attractive to governments. A brief reflection on the impact of Solidarnosc in Poland, the Turkish resistance to Erdogan, the demonstrators of Euromaidan, the Russian union support for the striking British miners, the anti-austerity protests in Greece, inter alia, are all indicators of the importance of this interaction. Among the unwritten rules of international diplomacy, it is considered bad form for a foreign government to send money, aid and support to a political group in another country. However, the spontaneous gift of money, support and assistance from the unions of that country towards the unions of a foreign country is not banned. This has been a traditional method of aiding political forces abroad. It is an important factor in international relations.

The struggles to support various factions in the Spanish labour movement have provided a leitmotiv for the Cold War interventions in the Iberian peninsula and have had an important influence in the current Catalan problem.

The Battle for Spain and the Cold War

The Cold War battles to control the social forces in Spain were carried out by the two competing international organisations of world labour – the International Confederation of Free Trades Unions (ICFTU) and the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) There was a third international, the International Federation of Christian Unions (WCL) but they played only a minor role. At the end of the Second World War there was only the WFTU. It moved its base to Prague and was dominated by the labour centre of the Soviet Union (AUCCTU). The non-communist unions disaffiliated and formed the ICFTU in 1949.[v] The ICFTU was divided between the Socialists and Social Democrats of Western Europe and the militantly ant-communist U.S. labour movement of the AFL-CIO. The AUCCTU ran the WFTU and was more monolithic. The initial clashes between the two came with the introduction of the Marshall Plan in Europe which the WFTU opposed. The Communist national centre of France (CGT) organised the dockworkers in Marseille to block all Marshall Plan aid so the AFL-CIO organised, in co-operation with the Union Corse, to hire thugs to beat up the Communist unionists to get the aid in. They called it the Mediterranean Committee. It then split the French national union between Communists and the Socialists of the Force Ouvriere. The Italian Communist CGIL was split into several rival confederations. This policy was paid for by the U.S. Government through the CIA and used the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO as its delivery vehicle. The International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO was run by Jay Lovestone, the former General Secretary of the U.S. Communist Party (‘CPUSA’) who, as a Bukharin supporter, was purged from the party and became a rabid anti-communist along with his main operative, Irving Brown. They, and Dubinsky of the ILGWU, had formed the Free Trade Union Committee during the war to assist the OSS (the precursor of the CIA) to build anti-communist unions in Europe at the end of the war. The OSS Labour Office was on Grosvenor Street in London, run by Arthur Goldberg; later a Supreme Court Justice; the Latin American Office was run by Nelson Rockefeller.[vi] The AFL-CIO and the U.S. government formed a marriage of convenience and the U.S. funded the labour movements using unionists from the AFL-CIO to support selected factions in the European countries, often in competition with many of the democratic unions, which were equally anti-communist, but independent of U.S. cash and ‘guidance’. At one time in the CIA there were over sixty employees assigned to Cord Meyer’s shop doing labour. The State Department agreed with George Meany, the head of the AFL-CIO, to install G. Phillip Delaney inside State to administer U.S. labour projects funded by the U.S. government. These later developed into joint union-business-government programs like the American Institute for Free Labor Development, and similar programs in Asia and Africa. Several major U.S. unions opposed this government-union nexus, especially the United Autoworkers Union. The UAW opposed this as it was convinced that allying unions with some of the most exploitative employers in Latin America was a foolish idea; and that the U.S. government had no business funding it.

While this Cold War battle was going on in U.S. labour (the UAW disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO on July 1, 1968) there were other players emerging on the labour scene. One of the most powerful and active was Father Felix Morlion, founder of a European Catholic intelligence service known as Pro Deo. When the Germans overran western Europe, the head of the OSS, “Wild Bill” Donovan helped Morlion move his base of operations from Lisbon to New York. From then on, Pro Deo was financed by Donovan. In 1944, Morlion re-established his spy network in the Vatican; from there he helped the OSS obtain confidential reports provided by apostolic delegates in the Far East, which included information about strategic bombing targets in Japan. Father Morlion was supported by Donovan initially but the liaison with Vatican intelligence was taken over by James Jesus Angleton, the head of CIA Counterintelligence. Angleton personally ran the Vatican account as well as the Israel account from Langley. Morlion became, among other things, the Vatican’s man on labour. The Vatican’s tone was set as extremely anti-communist by the involvement in Vatican Intelligence of Bishop Alois Hudal, a friend and supporter of Hitler and the Nazis., After World War II, Bishop Hudal helped establish the ratlines, which allowed prominent Nazi German and other European former Axis officers and political leaders, among them accused war criminals, to escape Allied trials and denazification. He brought with him to Rome his colleague, Monsignor Karl Bayer, a priest who was as a high member of Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr (the German military intelligence service). He came to the Vatican to run Caritas, a part of Vatican intelligence charged with international aid and assistance. One of Beyer’s most famous acts of assistance was the bankrolling of the rebel state of Biafra in its independence struggle with Nigeria. Many of the other survivors of the Abwehr were gathered together by the CIA under Gehlen in Pullach, where they set up the BND. They played an active role in directing the electoral results in Italian and French elections and maintained a close link between James Angleton and the Catholic nuncios in Eastern Europe who sent regular reports to the Vatican of Pope Paul XII and passed funds to dissident Eastern European unionists. One of the liaison organisations was Catholic Action, an Italian lay organization headed by Luigi Gedda, a prominent right-wing ideologue. It was funded by the Rome station in an effort undertaken by the CIA and the Vatican to “barricade the Reds” in the 1948 Italian election and split the Italian labour movement. During the 1950s and the early 1960s, relations between the U.S. and the Vatican were conducted largely through Francis Cardinal Spellman, an ultra-conservative ideologue who served as the right arm of Pope Pius XII and was a vocal supporter of U. S. military involvement in Vietnam

At the same time the Soviets were also active in manipulating the international labour movement, both by the delegates to the WFTU and by the AUCCTU directly. The most active in the European labour movements was Mischa Wolf’s team at the East German Stasi. In 1978 Viktor Bukrayev and Gregoriy Miaagkov were fired from the International Labour Organisation when their KGB ties were exposed. The Soviet labour attaché, Berdennikov, was expelled from the UK for spying as was Josef Frolik from Czechoslovakia. Hans Faltermayer and Gunther Guillaume held high positions in West German labour and Socialist Party circles before it was known that they were working for Mischa Wolf. There is no shortage of cases involving the penetration and subversion of labour movements by both sides of the conflict.

This relationship changed in the early 1960s. when the new Pope, John XXIII took major steps to liberalize the church and to open a dialogue with the East. By doing so, he tried to move Vatican policy away from the strictly anti-Communist line of his predecessor, Pius XII.  John XXIII felt that the Vatican had to adopt a more flexible posture to allow the Church to endure as a relevant institution. His attempts at rapprochement with the Soviet Union caught everybody by surprise and disturbed the Vatican desk in D.C. In May 1963, John McCone, director of the CIA, received a memorandum from Italy about the new Pope’s policies, “Change the Church”. The Church was asked to adopt a new approach toward Italian politics which was permissive rather than positive. This was seen as dangerous with the Left’s success in the 1963 Italian election. They said it was attributable to Pope John’s conciliatory attitude toward the Communists. This was the first election in which the Christian Democrats were not officially endorsed by the Italian Bishops’ Conference.

The pope had insisted upon maintaining a neutral stance so as not to jeopardize his Soviet initiative. There was great concern in the CIA over the liberal turn of the Pope, especially among the members of the Roman aristocracy and the papal nobility who had lost many of their traditional privileges when Pius XII died. The CIA station chief in Rome, Thomas Kalamasinas, was charged with opening a line of contact with Cardinal Montini in Milan when the Pope died in 1963 and Montini became Pope. The biggest challenge for the Cold Warriors was the Papal approval of the new “liberation theology” which put the Church as a supporter of economic and political reform, especially in Latin America.  With the distancing of the U.S. from the Vatican’s support of liberation theology it looked for support elsewhere. It found it in the rising ultraconservative Spanish lay religious group, the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei (“God’s Work”).  The Opus Dei was founded in 1928 by Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, a young Spanish priest and lawyer. Escriva demanded complete obedience to church dogma. As of 2016, there were 94,776 members of the Prelature, 92,667 lay persons and 2,109 priests of the order in 87 countries. Only a small percentage are priests. The rest are mostly middle- and upper-class businessmen, professionals, military personnel and government officials.  The members contribute regularly to the group’s financial coffers and are encouraged to practice “holy shrewdness” and “holy coercion” in an effort to win converts. In Spain, they represent some of the highest levels of government officials, civil servants and captains of industry. They have substantial investments in banks and holding companies which control several important industries. They are a major, if unsung, force in Spanish politics. When Opus came to prominence in the late 1960s it was found that Franco's cabinet contained a remarkably large number of Opusdeistas   It was the Opus Dei’s top leaders, including Opus's founder St Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer and Marqués de Peralta who were involved in negotiating the handover of power after Franco’s death. to the then Prince Juan Carlos, rather than to his father, Don Juan. This move towards the restoration of the monarchy was supported by the U.S. and its allies in Vatican intelligence without the blessing of the Pope. The restoration of the monarchy was opposed by the socialists, anarchists and democratic forces in Spain, (and the majority of Western European governments) but the power of the Opus Dei, supported by the U.S. won the day. The Carlists of the Basque country supported the father, but the Opus Dei supported the son. A major campaign was waged on behalf of the restoration of the Spanish monarchy in the U.S. with the support of leading political figures.

There were many in the U.S. and Europe who thought that recreating a monarchy in Spain was absurd and anti-democratic, but when Franco died, the U.S. was worried about the possibility of the new Spanish government blocking the U.S. naval base at Rota.  It’s influence among the PSOE and the other democratic Spanish national parties was limited as they were engaged in European pursuits. The U.S. joined up with the Opus Dei to lobby for the monarchy. They had the support of the AFL-CIO but not the support of the UAW and other unions in America. They sent Father Morlion (of Pro Deo) to meet with the UAW to try to gain its support.

When I met with Morlion he told me that the U.S. had decided that the best solution for Spain was to restore the monarchy in Spain when Franco died to fight against the PCE and its control of the CCOO.. He specified that the AFL-CIO had agreed, and, despite our differences, he expected our support. He said that there was a public meeting scheduled for the University of Maryland and he would like me to be on the panel. At the University of Maryland, the head of the meeting was Allard Lowenstein. I knew of Al as an activist friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. He later became a Congressman before he was shot and killed. He was a civil rights and anti-war activist, but there was another dimension to him. Al, while president of the National Student Association in the early 1960's set up a direct connection with the NSA for the CIA; he reported suspected Communists in the civil-rights movement in Mississippi; he received financial support from Harry Oppenheimer, the white South African mining magnate, and he consulted for the C.I.A. in southern Africa, Spain and Portugal, reporting to Frank C. Carlucci, a C.I.A. deputy director from 1978 to 1981.[vii] Later, when the UAW sent Esteban Torres to the Dominican Republic to assist Juan Bosch, Lowenstein arrived, held a press conference and destroyed all the work that had been done to help Bosch restore order. At the conference in Maryland, Lowenstein recited his impeccable liberal credentials and asserted that the only solution to promote order in Spain would be to restore the monarchy under Juan Carlos. When it was my turn to speak I said that it was not the business of a democracy to insist on the restoration of any monarchy and that the socialist, democrats and anti-Fascists in Spain deserved the right to self-determination. It was wrong for labour and wrong for the independent regions of Catalonia and Asturias whose miners had fought so long against fascism that they should have to decide to go backwards to have a king. We, and most of the American labour movement, could not reasonably call for a monarchy when we would never accept that for the US. It was a bit embarrassing as I had to drive Al back to D.C. after the meeting. It was interesting for me that the next week we had a visit from Sr. Beitia of Santander, a local Basque politician who represented the Basque country (and ETA) who assured me that the royal family was supported by the Carlists of the Basque country who were further to the Right than Charlemagne and that there would be an ETA uprising if a Carlist was put back on the throne of Spain.

As expected, the Opus Dei had its wish and Juan Carlos became King and the tie-up between the U.S. and Opus Dei became even stronger, despite major financial scandals in Spain with the order. Opus Dei controls a wide range of media assets (600 newspapers, 52 radio and TV stations, 12 film companies and 38 news agencies) and sponsors educational and social programs in various countries. Opus Dei has emerged internationally as one of the most powerful and politically committed of the Catholic lay groups. Detractors have likened the organization to a “saintly Mafia,” for its members control many banks and financial institutions, including Rumasa, the largest conglomerate in Spain’s private sector. In the latter stages of the Franco regime, ten out of nineteen cabinet officers belonged to or were closely allied with Opus Dei. [viii] This closeness of purpose between Opus Dei and the U.S. was augmented when Karol Wojtyla became pope. The Polish pope was sufficiently anti-Communist to pass muster at Langley and was strongly opposed to the liberation theology of the prior popes. The economic and political power of the Opus Dei was the source of support for many of the right and centre-right parties in Spain. It reached a high level of influence under the Prime Minister José María Aznar of the Partido Popular (‘PP’) from 1996 to 2004 and, after the defeat of the PSOE in 2011, it retained its influence under the Prime Ministership of Mariano Rajoy when the PP returned to power. The PP has always campaigned against Catalan and Basque autonomy and has been supported by the Opus Dei in this policy. The PP represents the right wing of Spanish politics and the Opus Dei represents, inter alia, the Catholic Church which collects vast subsidies from the European Union for its land holdings in Spain, supported by the PP.

The Catalan Crisis

In many ways the search for the independence of Catalonia was a chimera. Catalonia had enough problems maintaining its autonomy, especially after the vote in 2006, when the Catalan people approved the New Statute of Autonomy, a document that provocatively referred to Catalonia as “a nation” and called for extended powers of autonomy for the region. In particular, this New Statute called for a new fiscal relationship with Madrid that would give the Catalan regional government a bigger say over how to spend the taxes collected in Catalonia. This document was also backed by then-Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose PSOE has traditionally supported more autonomy for the regions from the central administration. The main opposition party in the Spanish parliament at the time, the PP, challenged the document in court, believing that its key provisions were unconstitutional. In 2010, after a protracted legal battle that lasted four years, the Constitutional Tribunal, Spain’s highest court on constitutional matters, struck down 14 of the statute’s 223 articles and curtailed another 27. A massive wave of protests across Catalonia greeted the ruling by the Tribunal.

In the 2015 Catalan regional elections the moderate Catalan parties did not gain enough seats to form a government, forcing them to strike an alliance with the Popular Unity Candidacy, or CUP, a small, leaderless far-left party that defined itself as anti-capitalist and anti-globalization and opposes Spain’s membership in NATO and the European Union. The CUP’s ten parliamentary seats were enough to allow Puigdemont to form a governing coalition in Barcelona. The CUP represented a very radical wing of Catalan nationalism. During his swearing-in ceremony, in January 2016, Puigdemont declined to pledge loyalty to the Spanish Constitution and promised that he would hold a referendum on Catalan independence. The Catalan movement had always resisted any move towards independence from Spain before the CUP victory; happy with its autonomy. There is no clear pro-independence majority in Catalonia; in the 2015 regional elections, the separatist forces garnered only 48 percent of the vote. The results of the referendum on Oct. 1 also failed to show a clear pro-independence majority[ix]. According to Catalan electoral officials, 92 percent of participants supported independence, but turnout was just over 40 percent of eligible voters. The cause was massively aided by the violence of the Guardia Civil and troops against the Catalan electors whose brutality reminded everyone of the fascist origins of the PP.

The problems are not only political. Spain has had a dismal economic climate for many years and a continuing crisis in employment:

Over the past year (from August), unemployment has averaged 18 percent, more than four times the level of the United States. And it would be a lot higher if not for about 1.7 million foreign nationals having left the country.

  • For 2016, about 43 percent of the unemployed were out of work for more than a year. In terms of finding employment, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently concluded that “prospects for this group are particularly grim.”
  • The number of people deemed to be at risk for poverty and social exclusion is at 27.9 percent.
  • Inequality has risen dramatically since 2008; the income of the top 20 percent is now 7.5 times that of the bottom 20 percent, the third worst in the European Union. As the IMF has noted, this is mainly because employment fell by 20 percent from 2008 to 2013, and lower-income groups were disproportionately among the victims of this collapse.
  • Furthermore, the majority of new jobs are temporary labour contracts, heightening insecurity even for those who are lucky enough to find a new job.[x]

The declaration of independence was doomed from the start. It was not backed by the majority of the Catalan people. The major trade union body, the UGT, and its parent political party are national parties in Spain. They have been in power for years and aspire to regain control of the nation. They cannot and will not support the independence of Catalonia although they have been supportive of is autonomy. They are integrated into the labour and political apparatuses of the European Union and its committees and have no desire for Spain to leave the EU. They support Spain’s role in NATO and the UGT has no wish to split the forces of the democratic left in the labour movement to leave the way clear for the Stalinists of the CCOO or the radicals of the United We Can (Unidos Podemos, UP). The Opus Dei has regained its support from the U.S. in the light of Pope Francis’ apparent adoption of the liberation theology of John XXIII and this search for workers’ rights.

However, romantic it may seem to support the call for Catalan independence, especially after the violence in the election, independence has too many hidden obstacles for this to take place in the near future.



[ii] Lucia Benavides,," In a new Catalonia, who would be Catalan?", Open Canada, 1/11/17

[iii] Norman Berdichevsky, "Franco, Fascism and the Falange - Not One and the Same Thing", New English Review, September 2008

[iv] ibid

[v] For greater detail see G.K. Busch, Political Currents in the International Trade Union Movement, vol. 1, Economist Intelligence Unit Special Report 75, January 1980

[vi] For greater detail see G.K.Busch, The Political Role of International Trade Unions, Macmillan 1983

[vii] Richard Cunmmings, The Pied Piper: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream,'' Grove Press 1985

[viii] Martin A. Lee ,"The CIA and the Vatican’s Intelligence Apparatus", Mother Jones, July/August 1983 I

[ix] Omar G. Encarnación "Catalonia’s Push for Independence Stokes Divisions Across Spain, and Among Catalans", World Political Review,, Oct. 31, 2017

[x] Mark Weisbrot,"The Current Conflict In Spain Has A Lot to Do With Economic Failure"  Alternet, November 5, 2017


Source:Ocnus.net 2017

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