Formed from an ideological split between members of the First International, the Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores (AIT), more commonly known to the English speaking world as the International Workers’ Association (IWA) was founded in December of 1922. The First International was an organization aimed at uniting left-wing socialist, communist, and anarchist labor unions and political organizations worldwide but after the Hague Congress in 1872 saw the expulsion of Mikhail Bakunin and James Guillaume over their libertarian criticisms against Karl Marx’s strategy of party politics, several attempts at an anarchist International were attempted before the IWA was founded. And despite many challenges, the IWA still exists today, albeit not without its own issues.
The anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) addressed the current problems in an announcement earlier this year:
We insist, so that it can be clear, that this is not an issue of the size of the sections. All of us are far smaller than we would like to be and than we should be. But there is an enormous difference between the sections that dedicate their efforts to increase their presence or relevance in their regions, experiment with new strategies, initiate and develop labor conflicts, and have an impact, small as it may be, in their immediate context, and those that go for years without union activities yet inquisitorially monitor and criticize the activities of others, lest in their eagerness to build a viable anarcho-syndicalist alternative commit some sin against the purity of the IWA.
For some time, due to these contradictions, the IWA has experienced a considerable internal crisis that erupted with the expulsion of the German section, the FAU. This decision, made unilaterally by the current general secretary on completely unjustifiable motives, was ratified later in a special Congress in Oporto in 2014. At this congress it became clear that due to the peculiar structure of the decision-making within the IWA, a small group of sections, despite their scant presence in their own territories and total lack of orientation towards union activity, could impose their criteria upon the rest of the international. Since this congress, all attempts to address the situation have failed, due to the unwillingness of the current secretary to engage in dialogue (a basic duty of the office) and the complicity of a number of sections that only exist on the internet.
It is therefore evident that this IWA is unable to progress beyond offering the most basic kind of solidarity in the occasional labor conflict. As valuable as this form of international solidarity can be, and as much as we can appreciate it, the truth is that it is ultimately always organized (as there is really no other way) at the local level. Thus the current structure of the IWA is rendered effectively redundant. The contrast between this reality of the IWA and its bureaucracy and infrastructure has reinforced the internal conflicts and attempts at ideological control which we referred to previously. This is far from the objectives we should aspire for in an international coordinating body. As a result of these factors, we have reached the point where the internal situation prevents any attempts to correct this drift, which makes it urgent that we reconsider both the internal operation and the working program of the IWA.
It is with that in mind that the CNT has announced that it has stopped paying dues to the current IWA and is instead planning a series of conferences with current IWA branches and other allied groups who wish to participate in the creation of a brand new International Workers’ Association consisting of groups engaged in on-the-ground labor organizing and anarcho-syndicalist praxis.
Within the text of this historic announcement, the CNT lays out their proposed rules for membership, voting rules, dues, and conduct for the new group and plans on how to move forward, including plans to exchange organizer trainings between various labor groups involved and to develop training materials of their own.
In the aftermath of this announcement, various labor organizations around the world are voting on whether to send delegates to these conferences, including the Industrial Workers of the World. Historically the IWW has attended such conferences in the past but has never officially joined. Maybe this time we will see such an alliance formed. Either way this refounding is an historical moment for supporters of anarchist labor.