|International Workers' Association|
|Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores|
|Office location||Boks 1977, Vika, 0121 Oslo, Norway|
he International Workers' Association (IWA) (Spanish: AIT - Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores, German: IAA-Internationale ArbeiterInnen Assoziation) is an international anarcho-syndicalist federation of various labour unions from different countries. It was founded in 1922, at a Berlin congress of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions.
From its first congress the IWA has rejected centralism, political parties, parliamentarism and the state, including the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It also rejects the concept of economic determinism from some Marxists that liberation would come about; "by virtue of some inevitable fatalism of rigid natural laws which admit no deviation; its realisation will depend above all on the conscious will and the use of revolutionary action of the workers and will be determined by them.
The IWA programme aims to unite all workers in their capacity as wealth creators, through combative economic organizations dedicated to bringing about the reorganisation of society into a global system of economic communes and administrative groups based within a system of federated free councils at local, regional, national and global levels. This would form the basis of a self-managed society based on pre-planning and mutual aid — the establishment of anarchist communism.
The international's Principles, Goals and Statutes argue that in the pursuit of this goal it should take on a two-fold function: "To carry on the day-to-day revolutionary struggle for the economic, social and intellectual advancement of the working class within the limits of present-day society, and to educate the masses so that they will be ready to independently manage the processes of production and distribution when the time comes to take possession of all the elements of social life.
The international is also strongly anti-religious, rejects all political and national frontiers and calls for radical changes to the means of production to lessen humanity's environmental impact.
From an early stage, the international has taken a strong anti-militarist stance, reflecting the overwhelming anarchist attitude of the First World War that the working class should not engage with the power struggles of the ruling class - and certainly should not die for them. It included a commitment to anti-militarism in its core principles and in 1926 it founded an International Anti-Militarist Coalition to promote disarmament and gather information on war production.
However while regarding industrial acts such as strikes, boycotts, etc. as the primary means of struggle, the founding document of the IWA also states that syndicalists recognise "as valid that violence that may be used as a means of defense against the violent methods used by the ruling classes during the struggles that lead up to the revolutionary populace expropiating the lands and means of production." It is stressed that this should occur through the formation of a democratic popular militia rather than through a traditional military hierarchy. This has been posited as an alternative to the Dictatorship of the proletariat model.
The IWA admits organizations which are in full agreement with its Aims and Principles in countries where there is not already an affiliated group in existence, requiring them to pay affiliation fees to help maintain the IWA's structure.
Member groups are then able to participate in and benefit from the global community the IWA provides and can vote in its highest decision-making event, the International Congress, which is currently held once every two years. Proposals are submitted at national level at least six months before congress, to allow other national groups to consult and mandate members to vote.
The agreements and resolutions adopted by the International Congresses are binding for all affiliated groups.
Administration of the IWA's functions is carried out by the Secretariat consisting of at least three people residing in the country nominated by the international to take on the role. The IWA also elects a Secretary General, who acts as a liaison and representative for the international but does not wield any direct powers over policy. The secretariat may only hold office for two terms concurrently. For specific tasks, such as financial audits, separate commissions are set up.
Internal communications are maintained through each member group's International Secretaries, and through wide circulation of members' own internal publications.
Collapse of the First InternationalEdit
Previously known as the International Workingmen's Association, the same name was originally used to refer to the unitary socialist international organization founded in 1864, also known as the First International. The earlier International however was not able to withstand the differences between anarchist and Marxist currents, with the anarchists largely withdrawing after the Hague Congress of 1872 which saw the expulsion of leading libertarians Mikhail Bakunin and James Guillaume.
The First International had wound down entirely by 1876, leading to several attempts to start specifically anarchist Internationals, notably the Anarchist St. Imier International. However the collapse of the Paris Commune in 1871 proved a major setback for the movement, and the rise of Propaganda of the deed meant that serious moves to establish an anarcho-syndicalist international would not begin until the early 20th century.
In 1913 there was an international syndicalist congress held in London which aimed at building stronger ties between the existing syndicalist unions and propaganda groups. Present at the congress were delegates from the FVdG (Germany), NAS (Holland), SAC (Sweden), USI (Italy), and ISEL (Britain). Observers attended from the Industrial Workers of the World (US), CNT (Spain), and FORA (Argentina).
Unfortunately the Congress' outcome was inconclusive, beyond drawing up a declaration of principles and setting up a short-lived information bureau. Within a year Europe was plunged into the First World War and communications between the syndicalists became impossible.
After the end of the war however, with the workers' movement resurgent following the Russian Revolution, what was to become the modern IWA was formed, billing itself as the "true heir" of the original international.
Founding of the IWAEdit
Signatories to the founding statement of the 1922 International Workingmen's Association included groups from around the world. The single largest anarcho-syndicalist union at the time, the CNT in Spain, were unable to attend when their delegates were arrested on the way to the conference - though they did join the following year. Despite the CNT's absence, the international represented well over 1 million workers at its inauguration:
The Italian Syndicalist Union: 500,000 members,
The Argentine Workers Regional Organization (FORA): 200,000,
The General Confederation of Workers in Portugal: 150,000,
The Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD): 120,000,
The Committee for the Defense of Revolutionary Syndicalism in France: 100,000,
The Federation du Combattant from Paris: 32,000,
The Swedish Workers Central Organization (SAC):32,000,
National Labor Secretariat of the Netherlands: 22,500,
The Industrial Workers of the World in Chile: 20,000,
The Union for Syndicalist Propaganda in Denmark: 600.
The first secretaries of the international included the famed writer and activist Rudolph Rocker, along with Augustin Souchy and Alexander Schapiro.
Following the first congress, other groups affiliated from France, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. Later, a bloc of unions in the USA, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba, Costa Rica and El Salvador also shared the IWA's statutes.
The biggest syndicalist union in the USA, the Industrial Workers of the World, considered joining but eventually ruled out affiliation in 1936, citing the IWA's policies on religious and political affiliation.
1930s decline and repressionEdit
Many of the largest members of the IWA were broken, driven underground or wiped out in the 1930s and 40s as Fascists came to power in states across Europe and workers switched away from anarchism towards the seeming success of the Bolshevik model of socialism.
In Argentina, the FORA had already begun a process of decline by the time it joined the IWA, having split in 1915 into pro and anti-Bolshevik factions. From 1922, the anarchist movement lost most of its membership, exacerbated by further splits, most notably around the Severino Di Giovanni affair. The union had ceased to exist by 1930.
Germany's FAUD declined throughout the late 20s and early 30s as the brownshirts took control of the streets. Its last national congress in Erfurt in March 1932 saw the union attempt to form an underground bureau to combat Hitler's fascists, a measure which was never put into practice as mass arrests decimated the conspirators' ranks .
Italian IWA union the USI, which had expanded in the 1920s and eventually claimed a membership of up to 600,000 people  was destroyed after Mussolini came to power.
Perhaps the greatest blow was struck in the Spanish Civil War which saw the CNT, then claiming a membership of 1.58 million, driven underground with the defeat of the Spanish Republic by Francisco Franco.
The sixth IWA congress took place in 1936, shortly after the Spanish Revolution had begun, but it was not to meet again until after the war had finished, in 1951. During the war, only one member of the IWA had been able to continue to function as a revolutionary union, the SAC in Sweden.
After the war, much of the Spanish CNT's active membership, now operating informally under Franco's dictatorship, remained split with some in exile in France and Britain, the rest driven underground. In every other country previously active members of the International had to start over.
Relaunch of the International Workers AssociationEdit
At the seventh congress in 1951 a much smaller IWA was relaunched, again without the CNT, which would not be strong enough to reclaim membership until 1958. Delegates attended, though mostly representing very small organizations, from Cuba, Argentina, Spain, Sweden, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Britain, Bulgaria and Portugal. A message of support was received from Uruguay. In Eastern Europe the new Stalinist regimes banned all strikes and free trade unions.
The IWA fell into decline again in the 1960s, following the withdrawal at the tenth congress in 1958 of the SAC after its failure to amend the international's statutes to allow it to stand in municipal elections and amid concerns over its integration with the state over distribution of unemployment benefits.
This left the IWA with no functioning unions.
In 1976, at the 15th congress, the IWA was not functioning as an international union body, with only five member groups, two of which (the Spanish and Bulgarian members) were still operating in exile (though following Franco's death in 1975, the CNT was already approaching a membership of 200,000) . However in 1979 a massive split over the merits of representative unionism saw the CNT divided into two sections, the CNT as it is today and the CGT.
The 1980 congress showed much improvement, with ten sections and a reorganization of the CNT, which was able to send delegates from Spain (as opposed to exiles) for the first time since the 1930s. The reformed USI and Norwegian sections, along with others from the UK, US, Germany and Australia, also joined.
The IWA grew throughout the 1980s and saw two new groups join from Japan and Brazil, and further growth was recorded in the 1990s, although the Workers Solidarity Alliance in the US along with the Japanese and Australian sections ceased to be a members. However the 1996 Congress saw two sections split over the question of participation in trade union elections, with the French section divided into the CNT-F (also known as CNT Vignoles) and CNT-AIT sections (the latter becoming the official IWA affiliate) while the Italian USI's "Roman tendency" was expelled. Czech, Slovak and Russian sections were added at the same event. Four years later, the Serbian and Brazilian sections joined.
Throughout the modern period significant differences in approach have forced many of the largest syndicalist unions to operate outside the IWA — the Spanish CGT, Swedish SAC and the CNT-F are regarded by the international as syndicalist (i.e. economic but not political) unions. These groups often work together and until recently were federated within the alternative ILS international which admitted anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist, revolutionary syndicalist, and clearly anti-Statist, non-party aligned social organizations.
Recent events have put pressure on several IWA branches. On 3 September 2009, six members of the ASI-MUR, including IWA General Secretary Ratibor Trivunac, were arrested on suspicion of international terrorism, a charge which is heavily disputed by the international and other anarchist groups.
Shortly after their arrest, an open letter was circulated by Serbian academics criticising the charges and the attitude of Serbian police. The six were formally indicted on December 7.
On 10 December 2009, the FAU local in Berlin was effectively banned as a union following a public industrial dispute at the city's Babylon cinema.
At the XXIV annual congress of the IWA, which was held in Brazil in December 2009, the first time the congress had been held outside Europe, motions of support were passed for the "Belgrade Six" and FAU while members of the Solidarity Federation temporarily took over duties as Secretariat.
Trivunac, along with other 5 anarchists, was freed on February 17, 2010.
Country Name Acronym Publications Status
Argentina Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina FORA Organizacion Obrera Member
Australia Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation ASF Friend*
Brazil Confederação Operária Brasileira COB A Voz do Trabalhador, A Plebe Member
Chile Germinal Friend
Colombia Amigos de la AIT Friend
France Confédération nationale du travail CNT-AIT [Le Combat Sydicaliste] Member
Germany Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter-Union FAU Direkte Aktion Member
Italy Unione Sindacale Italiana USI-AIT Lotta di Classe Member
Norway Norsk Syndikalistisk Forbund NSF-IAA Member
Poland Związek Syndykalistów Polski ZSP "Zapłata" "Walkę o Edukację" Member
Portugal AIT-Secção Portuguesa AIT-SP Anarcho Sindicalista Member
Russia Konfederatsiya Revolyutsionnikh Anarkho-Sindikalistov KRAS Либертарная мысль (Direct Action) Member
Serbia Anarho-sindikalistička inicijativa ASI-MUR Direktna akcija Member
Slovakia Priama Akcia Member
Spain Confederación Nacional del Trabajo CNT-E CeNiT, Periodico CNT Member
United Kingdom Solidarity Federation SF Direct Action, Catalyst Member
Friends of the IWA are regarded as semi-official fellow travellers politically but have not formally joined and do not have voting rights at Congress. They are often invited to send observers to Congress.