Independence ideas in Catalonia have reached all social sectors, including trade union organizations. However, its impact has not been able to influence the background discourse of historical leaders of the Catalan labor movement, which played an important role in defending the rights of Spanish workers. The current reflections of some of these former leaders of CC OO and UGT offer a perspective that helps to better understand the tensions that Catalan society is experiencing.
In September 2017, a significant manifesto of prominent trade unionists was signed and rejected the illegal independence referendum called for October 1. It proclaimed that “the independence of Catalonia would severely weaken the cohesion and strength of the working class at a decisive historical moment.” The document was promoted by José Luis López Bulla, Josep Maria Rañé and Isidor Boix, among others.
One of the most charismatic personalities to analyze the current situation is José Luis López Bulla, general secretary of CC OO in Catalonia between 1976 and 1995. From Granada, he maintains a very self-critical attitude of union activity in the face of the global and political crisis. “I understand,” he explains, “that the big problem that unions and the political left have is the dislocation with respect to today’s labor reality,” he says. He deeply regrets “having assumed wrong concepts as a class and national union” in the past.
In his opinion, “it is an exaggeration to say that UGT [in Catalonia] is an independentist union. What happens is that part of its leaders come from ERC [former Minister Dolors Bassa, sentenced to prison for her participation in the process was general secretary of the headquarters in Girona]. The case of CC OO is different because there are no independentists in any management body ”.
He believes that “the great confusion created by the relationship between the national issue and the social issue has been aggravated by the dislocation in which the union finds itself having no response to globalization and technological changes”, a position of weakness that was aggravated by the labor reform, which gives the employer greater power.
Josep María Rañé, with a long career as a UGT leader, former Minister of Labor of the Generalitat and former president of the Labor, Economic and Social Council of Catalonia also reflects on the origins of the combination of the idea of national struggle and social struggle . “This comes from the transition in favor of unifying the forces of work and culture, and the struggle for knowledge of the two languages to prevent the segregation of immigrants.” “In those years,” he explains, “the national rights of Catalonia were considered compatible with the unity of Spain.” Rañé points out that those origins “have prostituted themselves” and the national demands have become more and more influenced. “It must be recognized that in some cases the influence of independence dragged people and when these ideas appeared they were not fought from trade unionism.”
The former counselor argues that “independence is a bad business for the labor and union world. It would mean an increase in tariffs of up to 20%. Multinationals would demand a reduction in taxes or wages, or both. ”
Rañé believes that “unions begin to become aware that the national struggle does not interest them and they want to maintain their own profile.” Relations with the confederal bodies are not bad and conform to the resolutions agreed upon. “Anyone who wanted a break would fail.” Although he admits that in the public service, UGT and CC OO have lost influence for the benefit of the independence unions, mainly Intersindical-CSC, which called the general strike on October 18 in Catalonia.
Working class neighborhoods
The historian Javier Tébar, professor at the University of Barcelona, affirms that the working world lives quite backwards to the independence process. “Perhaps where they live most is in public administration,” he says. He insists that in the working-class neighborhoods, independence has not taken hold because precarization has been so intense that the main concern is “to survive”.
Francesc Castellana, historical leader of CC OO in the Baix Llobregat in the decisive years of the workers’ struggles, is president of the Utopia Foundation Joan N. García Nieto. Castellana recalls that “during the Transition, the unions were mainly concerned with labor issues, agreements, the cost of living, the right to strike. And all this led them to identify with the struggle for democratic rights. But they always had the priority of their own affairs. ” “The unions have been dragged into conflicts in which they are not the main actors and they have to defend interests that are not theirs,” he says.