Union elections

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R Totale's picture
R Totale
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Oct 21 2020 20:31
Union elections

Just realised that I don't really know what I think about voting in union elections. On one hand, obviously anarchists (or leftcoms or whoever) don't have a principled objection to choosing officeholders in voluntary bodies and it'd be a bit ridiculous to boycott voting for the IWW GEB or whatever, and similarly no matter how anti-union you are I don't think many people would object to voting in a strike ballot, even one run through the GMB or Unite or whoever. On the other hand, union general secretary roles feel a bit more like MPs than the above in some ways - our objection isn't to the person filling the role as much as the role itself, and I certainly wouldn't expect a rev org to be running candidates for such a role, so the idea of them endorsing one would seem a bit weird as well.
Do people have different attitudes to different positions, so that they'd vote for like their branch secretary (in the fairly unlikely event of a contested election for a local branch position) but not for national leadership officials? Or what? I appreciate that people have different attitudes to these things, so a boring-from-within-style platformist might have a slightly different take to the CWO or whatever, but am open to hearing what anyone thinks.
Relatedly, does anyone have much in the way of opinions about either the upcoming Unite or Unison elections?

asn
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Oct 22 2020 10:45

Totale are you totally naive? Ever heard of 'ballot rigging'? We are talking about 'corporate' union today - at the top levels they are interwoven by a myriad threads with the state, political establishment eg in UK Labour Party, in Australia ALP(Australian Labor Party) etc and the corporate set up. Part of all this set up would be rigging of elections for important positions by the State and/or the union bosses to get their people elected so as not to rock the neo-liberal/political racket boat. Who runs and supervises these so called elections? In the Australian context the actual elections for key positions are more of a smoke and mirrors performance like occurs with enterprise bargaining(a sort of contract). The ALP aligned union bosses spend a fortune on massive mail outs and so called campaigning on the hustings. Its just to divert grass roots attention away from the likely ballot rigging. In reality the outcome is already determined with likely State ballot rigging and deep state/bosses help as required. However the ALP/union bosses can make some deal with a rival candidate who is "allowed" to get elected but has rolled over their way. Some 'genuine voting/elections' does occur - at back room meetings of the ALP godfathers and their union official stooges! According to info from an ALP contact.
See NSW Railways News p3 in RW Vol.34 No.1(222) Mar.-April 2015 and See 'Were RTBU 2018 Elections rigged? P4 in RW Dec 2018-Jan 2019 Vol.36 No.3(223) on web site www.rebelworker.org
Some genuine militants do run in elections for important positions as they don't understand the nature of today's corporate unions - they need to be enlightened and drawn into militant networks - looking at getting syndicalist oriented major breakaways going in the context of strike wave movements. In regard to low level affairs eg union reps and relative small scale membership numbers in workplaces - the union bosses/state have to be careful re the ballot rigging as they may give the game away - however with power highly centralised in the corporate unions and dirty tricks of the union bosses to co-opt people - say get them to sign off on dodgie accounts,etc - the reps have little power and grass roots morale is low so - so they may 'allow' on occasion non-stooges to get elected. Interestingly in Sydney 2018 where a certain union rep was elected who was not co-opted into the ALP/union bosses' machine - a wildcat strike occurred following the election outcome involving a mass sickie which got some good results - and the bosses/govt just gave the workers a rap on the knuckles with the Fair Work Court rather than imposing massive fines on them as they could. A very 'tough' sector where the ASN has been active for many years. At the top level some militant getting elected to a key position - like at the above example would raise morale of the grass roots and open the door to major direct action - and the ALP Godfathers/State/Bosses won't allow that! We need to look at things through the eyes of the grass roots.
The above discussion looks at the Australian situation - but I think you will find - this sort of thing goes on throughout the Anglo World and elsewhere particularly with the phenomena of the yellow corporate unions and the Neo-Liberal Push.

Dyjbas
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Oct 22 2020 12:42

For the CWO, union membership is a tactical matter. But taking any position within the unions, even when encouraged to by fellow workers (as sometimes happens), is out of the question - it compromises your role as a communist militant. And because we don't share the illusions of the left of capital that unions can be "pushed to the left" or made to "work" for the class struggle, voting in union elections or encouraging others to vote would be either a waste of time or a case of politically misleading your fellow workers.

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Fozzie
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Oct 22 2020 12:59

As a thoroughly compromised and not very militant communist I would get involved in discussions about branch and workplace reps.

As R Totale has suggested I wouldn’t generally vote in national or regional ballots as there is little opportunity to influence people once elected, they are not recallable etc and so are more like MPs.

Nobody in the union at my workplace has shown the slightest bit of interest in any of this, ever.

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Oct 22 2020 13:20
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Totale are you totally naive? Ever heard of 'ballot rigging'? We are talking about 'corporate' union today - at the top levels they are interwoven by a myriad threads with the state, political establishment eg in UK Labour Party, in Australia ALP(Australian Labor Party) etc and the corporate set up. Part of all this set up would be rigging of elections for important positions by the State and/or the union bosses to get their people elected so as not to rock the neo-liberal/political racket boat. Who runs and supervises these so called elections?

I mean, ballot rigging seems like a bit of an over-simplistic explanation to me. To take one obvious parallel, looking at the UK Labour Party, the establishment of the party was very much against Corbyn winning in the 2015 and 2017 leadership elections, but that didn't stop him winning. In a case like that, "he can't win, it's fixed" would be a very weak critique, "he may or may not win but the structural role of the Labour Party will put really important limits on what he can do" would be a much stronger one (and I say that with the benefit of hindsight, having spent most of 2015 saying "obviously he can't win, why are people wasting their time on this stupidity?")
Now, I'm not a member of the Labour Party so it's not really any of my business who their leader is, but I am a member of a corporate union and am likely to carry on being one in the absence of any major syndicalist breakaway occuring in the near future, so I do have a bit more of an interest in who runs it. Like I say, I'm not convinced that things are necessarily so rigged that it'd be impossible for a relatively militant trot or left-corbynist type candidate to get elected, more that as Dyjbas says there's not that much hope for them to be able to do much once in office.
Fozzie's point sounds very sensible, although as I have absolutely no intention of setting foot inside a physical workplace any time in the near future I suppose I'm not really in a position to judge whether or not there'd be much in the way of thrilling watercooler discussions about the upcoming gen sec elections.

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Oct 22 2020 19:55
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For the CWO, union membership is a tactical matter. But taking any position within the unions, even when encouraged to by fellow workers (as sometimes happens), is out of the question - it compromises your role as a communist militant. And because we don't share the illusions of the left of capital that unions can be "pushed to the left" or made to "work" for the class struggle, voting in union elections or encouraging others to vote would be either a waste of time or a case of politically misleading your fellow workers.

Lenin once berated Bordiga for being a weakling in front of the working-class; sarcastically saying "fellow workers, we are so weak that we cannot form a party disciplined enough to compel its members of parliament to submit to it". This same argument I think goes for the approach to trade union work. One maybe shouldn't aim to get top-positions or full-time functionary roles but one should dare to become a shop-steward without fearing that you might compromise yourself as a "communist". The revolutionary organisation especially should be able to also hold you accountable.

Historically though I also think its worth noting that in countries where communists held positions in key unions and key sections of those unions they were able to counter the employers' offensive under periods like the great depression. Sweden for example had the most strikes relative to population at the time and many of them were heavily influenced by trade union cadre from the Socialist Party, especially in paper production and sailors, while the Comintern-section was fully isolated after having accepted the "third-period"-strategy.

AngryWorkersWorld
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Oct 23 2020 06:11

I think the parallel 'voting in trade unions and voting in/for parliamentary parties' is misleading - the process of voting might be the same, but there is still a difference between workers as individual citizens (parliamentary party) and workers as individual members of an association that still relates to workers as a collective workforce (trade unions). Even Bordiga was aware of this smile

During my time as an USDAW shop steward, the Socialist Party managed to take over presidency of that trade union - which made little to no difference - as you are able to read in 'Class Power'. From a workers militant point of view I would not spend too much time on the question of union leadership, so rather than merely suggesting to vote for this or that leader I would raise concrete demands on a branch level that increase the direct control over resources, communication, decisions - and communicate these demands within the union - in particular during times of dispute.

Again, this union work is only a small part of workers' activity. The best outcome is that your co-workers can clearly see the structural constraints of legal trade unions and have no illusions in what they can do, but at the same time get as much out of them as possible, without neglecting to build independent structures. This requires quite a bit of collective analysis - as it is not as 'clear cut' a line as "conquer the union leadership", "strengthen the rank-and-file against the burocracy" or "disregard the union completely".

asn
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Oct 23 2020 11:06

"I'm not convinced that things are necessarily so rigged that it'd be impossible for a relatively militant trot or left-corbynist type candidate to get elected, more that as Dyjbas says there's not that much hope for them to be able to do much once in office."

I don't see any parallel with parliamentary politics. Also Corbyn's old style social democratic aspects steadily melted away in the lead up to the UK elections particularly after a retired general (voice of the ruling class) threatened a military coup if Jeremy got carried away with things in his campaign and if elected. My impression is that these trots/left corbynists - would not be committed to openly defying the current UK IR set up and seriously push grass roots control measures in the union in their platforms and on the job militancy? They would probably be just up to some militant/fake socialist rhetoric and business as usual - if elected. Not seriously inspiring the grass roots. So no serious threat to the bosses/Govt. - They would have been okayed prior to the elections by the Labour Party Godfathers and deep state, etc. No need for ballot rigging. You have this sort of thing with the CFMMEU and other so called unions and Labor Left faction candidates in certain unions controlled by this faction - heavily into smoke and mirrors and fake militant talk and support participation in enterprise bargaining, etc.

"For the CWO, union membership is a tactical matter. But taking any position within the unions, even when encouraged to by fellow workers (as sometimes happens), is out of the question - it compromises your role as a communist militant. And because we don't share the illusions of the left of capital that unions can be "pushed to the left" or made to "work" for the class struggle, voting in union elections or encouraging others to vote would be either a waste of time or a case of politically misleading your fellow workers."

This is a completely abstract view - many years back the ASN assisted a certain militant to get elected to a largely honorary position - no executive powers - due to centralisation of these powers in the hands of the State Sec. As a result the ALP Godfathers didn't consider any need for ballot rigging. However he got elected and provided some very important info and had wide influence amongst the grass roots due to his union work - and so we were able to foil in its very initial stage a new push in the railways which would open the flood gates to privatisation and of course create a new spearhead of the employer offensive. It particularly involved the union bosses not giving the okay to the Govt in one of their secret weekly meetings which occur as part of the corporate union phenomena to this opening move. So the Govt.,management and higher union bosses were outmanoeuvred. There was not industrial action. However there was this behind the scenes struggle of sorts. This successful move was definitely not in the interests of the corporate setup and its neo-liberal agenda.

Dyjbas
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Oct 23 2020 22:20

It's not an abstract view, it's based on our experience, and that of comrades before us. As a shop steward, no matter how good your intentions, you're ultimately responsible to and part of the union machine. At worst, you end up selling out under pressure, at best you just give a radical veneer to an organisation whose aim is to negotiate the sale of our labour power. Communist militants are better off remaining where they should be: with the rank and file.

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Oct 24 2020 03:35

It feels needless to just limit yourself that much, I don't even think that shop stewards are that far away from the broad rank-and-file, for which you should be first and foremost responsible and accountable to. This article from Labor Action comes to mind.

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Oct 24 2020 10:14
comradeEmma wrote:
Lenin once berated Bordiga for being a weakling in front of the working-class; sarcastically saying "fellow workers, we are so weak that we cannot form a party disciplined enough to compel its members of parliament to submit to it".

Good thing there's no historical examples of elected parliamentary representatives of working class parties acting in anti-working class ways then, because if there were then Lenin's epic clapback might look a wee bit silly in retrospect.

comradeEmma wrote:
Historically though I also think its worth noting that in countries where communists held positions in key unions and key sections of those unions they were able to counter the employers' offensive under periods like the great depression. Sweden for example had the most strikes relative to population at the time and many of them were heavily influenced by trade union cadre from the Socialist Party, especially in paper production and sailors, while the Comintern-section was fully isolated after having accepted the "third-period"-strategy.

This is a bit more interesting, since it touches on the eternal chicken-and-egg question of the relationship between workers' ideas and activity and their formal organisations, official positions and so on - like, I would imagine you could equally well express that observation as "Swedish workers had a high level of confidence and militancy, especially in paper production and sailors, and their willingness to elect socialist union leaders was one way that was expressed"?
Idk, I think there are some crude anarchist and leftcom approaches that tend to argue as if it's "all egg" - so workers' activity, ideas and confidence are always already fully sorted and formal organisations like the unions are only ever a constraint on them - and a lot of leftists who tend to be "all chicken" in terms of wanting to recruit to the union or elect left-wing leaders first, seeing the unions as only good and so on. I'm interested in trying to find more nuanced analysis of that problem.

AngryWorkersWorld wrote:
During my time as an USDAW shop steward, the Socialist Party managed to take over presidency of that trade union - which made little to no difference - as you are able to read in 'Class Power'. From a workers militant point of view I would not spend too much time on the question of union leadership, so rather than merely suggesting to vote for this or that leader I would raise concrete demands on a branch level that increase the direct control over resources, communication, decisions - and communicate these demands within the union - in particular during times of dispute.

Again, this union work is only a small part of workers' activity. The best outcome is that your co-workers can clearly see the structural constraints of legal trade unions and have no illusions in what they can do, but at the same time get as much out of them as possible, without neglecting to build independent structures. This requires quite a bit of collective analysis - as it is not as 'clear cut' a line as "conquer the union leadership", "strengthen the rank-and-file against the burocracy" or "disregard the union completely".

Yeah, thinking about Class Power raises an interesting point, in that it shows both very much the limitations of working within the official union forms, but also how it can make some difference - like, in terms of the GMB bit, I don't think that you would say that there was no difference between having "Connolly" there and the GMB organiser who came before him. Although I think organiser roles tend to be appointed not elected anyway.
I suppose the conclusion I'm coming to is that, in the absence of an organised rank-and-file network or similar, what I do as an individual doesn't make too much difference either way, but it'd definitely be a bad idea for a rank-and-file network to get focused on trying to capture union positions. Looking at the construction rank-and-file would probably be worthwhile here, as they seem like one of the only sectors where that kind of organisation still exists in a meaningful way (and, fwiw, they just got two people elected to Unite's Exec Council).

asn wrote:
I don't see any parallel with parliamentary politics.

Oh, to be clear, I wasn't making a comparison with Corbyn's performance in the general parliamentary elections, just in the internal Labour leadership contests, which seems a bit more relevant given how intertwined the Labour/union bureaucracies are. Thinking about it, I suppose that example shows that it's not just "the bureaucracy" acting as a single beast with a clearly defined will, but more that there are different competing factions within the bureaucracy, whose competition with each other may or may not give us more room to manoeuvre, so the vast majority of the Labour bureaucracy were opposed to Corbynism but Len McCluskey's equally bureaucratic and objectionable section were supportive of it.

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My impression is that these trots/left corbynists - would not be committed to openly defying the current UK IR set up and seriously push grass roots control measures in the union in their platforms and on the job militancy? They would probably be just up to some militant/fake socialist rhetoric and business as usual - if elected. Not seriously inspiring the grass roots.

Yeah, I don't think there's much hope of union leaders from any direction committing to openly breaking with the legal framework, more just me wondering if it's worth the effort of supporting officials who might be slightly less bad against ones who'd definitely be worse.

asn
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Oct 24 2020 11:01

Another aspect of this thing of Trots/Left Corbynists running and getting elected to positions in UK union elections - is that they may in reality be MI5 Trots/Left Corbynists. As these groups/faction would be definitely be infiltrated by the deep state/MI5 - and so these infiltrators would gain lefty/fake militant camouflage for running in these elections as part of preserving the Great Game of the Corporate unions and assisting the employer offensive. Avoids the need for the ballot rigging which eventually will be exposed and you can have the circus of fake electoral contests. So those running for these high up positions in the corporate unions are not just opportunist/careerist/left politicos but Deep State agents. In Australia we have uncovered something like this quite a few years back in regard to some officials in the NSW Fire Brigade Union and NSW Nurses Union. They came from same Trot group, were mates and became union officials connected with the Rightwing ALP machine which is closely connected with the Deep State. The health industry is a top priority for privatisation by the NSW Govt. and the CIA plays a key role in facilitating international privatisation which is a US foreign policy objective.

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comradeEmma
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Oct 24 2020 14:40
Quote:
This is a bit more interesting, since it touches on the eternal chicken-and-egg question of the relationship between workers' ideas and activity and their formal organisations, official positions and so on - like, I would imagine you could equally well express that observation as "Swedish workers had a high level of confidence and militancy, especially in paper production and sailors, and their willingness to elect socialist union leaders was one way that was expressed"?
Idk, I think there are some crude anarchist and leftcom approaches that tend to argue as if it's "all egg" - so workers' activity, ideas and confidence are always already fully sorted and formal organisations like the unions are only ever a constraint on them - and a lot of leftists who tend to be "all chicken" in terms of wanting to recruit to the union or elect left-wing leaders first, seeing the unions as only good and so on. I'm interested in trying to find more nuanced analysis of that problem.

I think a proper trade union strategy is based on both "from below" and "from above". There is value in communists trying to create a platform within the wider labor movement for dissident workers, regardless of political stripes, to counter the labor bureaucracy. This was how Swedish communists initially worked within the unions too coordinate their elected union officials and rank-and-file members for common goals. I think an issue with a anarchists and socialists who take a very hands-off vulgar "rank-and-file" approach is that they ignore that even if they don't take any fight for leadership there will still be a leadership, but that it will be solely in the hands reformists(or worse) and that they will have a monopoly on influence over the rank-and-file. The working-class in Sweden at that time probably had a militant tendency already, nobody likes having wages-cut or being locked-out, but having leaders that were accountable to the rank-and-file and willing to fight also helped a lot.

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sherbu-kteer
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Oct 24 2020 15:21

I've enjoyed reading the responses so far and hope there's more to come. I don't actually have a firm position on this and have much the same questions as R Totale.

I think it would be a mistake to reject participation a priori. The CWO's position in particular seems odd, about not wanting to "politically mislead" workers. Are you teachers, and the workers your schoolchildren? They're presumably not morons who are going to suddenly develop illusions about the capitalist system because the CWO told them to vote in a union election. This is silly.

I agree with Emma that shop steward positions should not be forbidden, but part of the problem is that the revolutionary organisations will not be compelled "hold their members to account" if they take official positions in unions. Political groups have a tremendous amount of self-interest in ensuring that their members get high-ranking positions in the union bureaucracy, and whatever scrupules they have about the actions of particular members will inevitably get put to the side. Which is exactly what happens to political groups with parliamentary elections.

The Leninist solution to this problem seems to just be something along the lines of "more willpower against opportunism!" or greater democratic centralism or something but this is obviously weak. The key problem is not about whether the political sect is controlling its cadre. It's about whether the union members are controlling their officials, and whether the union is functioning in the interests of the class instead of the bosses or a political party. Solving the former problem doesn't mean anything in terms of solving the latter.

As has been suggested before, this isn't a question that can be answered in the abstract, it requires consideration of particular circumstances and proper analysis (something more than "CIA Trotskyists and the ALP have rigged the ballots")

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Oct 24 2020 17:35
sherbu-kteer wrote:
I agree with Emma that shop steward positions should not be forbidden, but part of the problem is that the revolutionary organisations will not be compelled "hold their members to account" if they take official positions in unions. Political groups have a tremendous amount of self-interest in ensuring that their members get high-ranking positions in the union bureaucracy, and whatever scrupules they have about the actions of particular members will inevitably get put to the side. Which is exactly what happens to political groups with parliamentary elections.

The Leninist solution to this problem seems to just be something along the lines of "more willpower against opportunism!" or greater democratic centralism or something but this is obviously weak. The key problem is not about whether the political sect is controlling its cadre. It's about whether the union members are controlling their officials, and whether the union is functioning in the interests of the class instead of the bosses or a political party. Solving the former problem doesn't mean anything in terms of solving the latter.

On that point, there's a few examples worth thinking about, but I think one of the classic relatively recent-ish ones is Jane Loftus: the SWP actually managed to get one of their members elected as head of the CWU, she then voted to call off a strike and accepted a deal that the party was arguing against, they told her she'd have to reconsider this because it wasn't compatible with being a party member and so she left. Which shows the limits of democratic centralism and "holding your members to account" and so on pretty clearly, the bosses and right-wing elements in the union can exert pretty massive pressures on officials and ultimately the strongest counter-pressure a political organisation can offer is "if you carry on doing this we won't let you be a member of the SWP (or whoever) anymore."
The other example that sticks in my head is at the end of the public sector pensions dispute, when the pressure worked in the other direction and Socialist Party members in the PCS leadership went along with the PCS calling off strikes that the membership had voted for, leading to the SP using their supposedly revolutionary newspaper to print a series of articles justifying the union leadership's decision to demobilise the membership.
As above, I'm not sure that exactly the same pressures apply to shop stewards though.

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Oct 24 2020 21:05
sherbu-kteer wrote:
I think it would be a mistake to reject participation a priori. The CWO's position in particular seems odd, about not wanting to "politically mislead" workers. Are you teachers, and the workers your schoolchildren? They're presumably not morons who are going to suddenly develop illusions about the capitalist system because the CWO told them to vote in a union election. This is silly.

Well you seem to believe the union can be made to function "in the interests of the class". That's the fundamental difference here. But, if like us, you had no illusions about the unions and their role in capitalist society, if you didn't think they can be "pushed to the left" or whatever, why would you encourage anyone to vote in union elections? Seems quite simple to me.

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sherbu-kteer
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Oct 24 2020 23:02

You haven't responded to the point I made. It's a bizzare overestimation of your own following to say that you don't encourage voting in union elections because you don't want to mislead workers; this view point is kind of elitist, even.

Dyjbas
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Oct 25 2020 01:16

I'm not under any illusion about having a mass following. Even if just in the context of the places we work at, why would we encourage co-workers to vote for something we don't believe in ourselves. It would be misleading.

zugzwang
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Oct 25 2020 01:32
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I think it would be a mistake to reject participation a priori. The CWO's position in particular seems odd, about not wanting to "politically mislead" workers. Are you teachers, and the workers your schoolchildren? They're presumably not morons who are going to suddenly develop illusions about the capitalist system because the CWO told them to vote in a union election. This is silly.

That's kind of what participation in unions and fighting for some "union movement" does, i.e. creates the illusion that a "fairer" or "reformed" capitalism is possible, with little consideration given to the world outside a worker's own particular employee-employer relation. Workers, unionised or not, always have to hope that their particular employer staves off competition from other businesses producing the same commodities (internationally or within the same country), so there's already the potential for conflict (versus solidarity) between workers within the same industry, which has its origins in the nature of capitalism itself. It's also not as if corporations can't move their factories and stores to non-unionised areas if they want to exploit lower wages or less unionised workers (giving rise to racist sentiments if that happens to be places like Mexico for example), like Walmart did in Canada in 2005, and more recently like Schneider Electric did when they re-located their unionised plant in Indiana to Mexico and elsewhere. I'm more interested in developing an understanding of capitalism and the world rather than nourishing the idea that socially useless work like producing Teslas and Twinkies is meaningful and something worth defending, which is the ideology behind conventional unions. It's work that would never exist under other social arrangements where producing is directed at people's needs rather than exchange and profit. There are also the environmental issues attached to certain socially useless work, which again butts heads with "defending workers' jobs." Participation in dead-ends like unions, which are not even necessary to win concessions, just affirms wage-labour and all the unsavory things latent in capitalism mentioned above.

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Oct 25 2020 02:53

I don't think there's any necessary contradiction between pointing out the limitations of unions whilst at the same time encouraging workers to squeeze the most out of them that they can. In the majority of cases voting for major positions in elections won't do much, but there are instances where it may, so no point ruling it out simply for ideological reasons.

There's potential for conflict between any and all sectors of the working class, but the job of socialists is to try and overcome this practically. "Developing an understanding" is all well and good but if there's no resulting action that comes from that understanding then it's not of great use.

asn
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Oct 25 2020 09:28

"the SWP actually managed to get one of their members elected as head of the CWU, she then voted to call off a strike and accepted a deal that the party was arguing against, they told her she'd have to reconsider this because it wasn't compatible with being a party member and so she left. Which shows the limits of democratic centralism and "holding your members to account" and so on pretty clearly, the bosses and right-wing elements in the union can exert pretty massive pressures on officials and ultimately the strongest counter-pressure a political organisation can offer is "if you carry on doing this we won't let you be a member of the SWP (or whoever) anymore."

But Totale you and others are falling for the con. What you are not seeing is that this woman was 'allowed' to be elected - one option: there was some backroom meeting with the Labour Party godfathers etc and a deal was made - or alternatively a case of the MI5 trot phenomena so also no need for the ballot rigging. There was a case perhaps similar here - in a certain union in the public service - a rank and file group got its people elected to key positions but as with the corporate unions most/all power was centralised in the hands of the state sec. - on taking office the one 'allowed' to be elected to this position rolled over to the ALP fold/enterprise bargaining etc set up and militant action etc got thrown under the bus and demoralisation occurred amongst others in the group (foolishly they had been holding some meetings in a place owned by a certain Leftist group entangled with the Rightwing ALP machine/deep state... perhaps some bugging) - they didn't understand the nature of the corporate unionism phenomena and the 'Great Game'. There was also something similar some years back in the MUA now merged with the CFMEU in one of its branches.
This 'Great Game' must also been seen in the context of the absolute predominance of the corporate media and behind the deals with the political establishment and many Trot and leftist groups - they help with cover-ups which is a part of the Great Game. All this points to the importance of developing an alternative mass circulation revolutionary media associated with transitional steps to establish a new mass syndicalist union movement. Also groups like the SWP in the UK have been in severe decline and in no way have the control of unions/financing from Moscow Gold etc which the UK CP had in its heyday see Ken Weller's article about 1956 on Libcom.
Another interesting aspect of the deep state and unions/elections is this info: some years back info was received from a NSW nurses union rep and former union full time official with an excellent network of contacts - that undercover cops were becoming nurses in NSW hospitals. Presumably about helping maintaining ALP Rightwing machine control of the NSW nurses union which it currently 'owns' via heavy financing of the union bosses but maybe darker agendas? Something like this probably goes on in the NSW Fire Brigade union but may be much more widespread - as yet we don't know the full story.

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Oct 25 2020 14:25
Dyjbas wrote:
Well you seem to believe the union can be made to function "in the interests of the class". That's the fundamental difference here. But, if like us, you had no illusions about the unions and their role in capitalist society, if you didn't think they can be "pushed to the left" or whatever, why would you encourage anyone to vote in union elections? Seems quite simple to me.

OK, I don't think that it's inherently elitist or vanguardist or whatever to say you don't want to mislead people - like, I suppose if you were a political organisation and you accepted you had no influence over anyone whatsoever it would be time to disband, we all have some measure of influence over other people even if it's just your two mates you talk to at work or whatever, and that influence can be positive or negative, so I understand not wanting to argue for things you don't support yourself.
However, I think that, if your viewpoint is more complex than just "unions bad" then it should also be possible to communicate that to other people - so, for instance, if you think it's necessary to go beyond the union form, but recognise we're collectively a long way from the point of that mass break, and in the meantime think that there's some tactical advantages to taking a rep position, I don't know why it'd be impossible to explain that to people without just "fostering illusions in the unions" or whatever.
As to whether unions can be "pushed to the left" or whatever, again, that's an example of why it's good to have some nuance. I don't think unions can resolve the contradictory nature of their own role, break with the legal framework and become revolutionary organisations that consistently act in workers' interests and never serve as a constraint on them. However, I also think that there's a lot of situations where, for instance, the RMT might act differently to like the GMB or USDAW. Or the UDM, even.
Can we at least agree that there are some unions that are relatively more effective in securing concessions for their members, and some that are noticeably less effective? And if that's the case, that it's possible for a less militant union to become more effective over time, within the inherent constraints of the union form?
I mean, I'm not even really wanting to endorse specific candidates for office here, because I don't think that changing the individuals in certain roles is the most effective way to make that kind of change, I think we can hopefully all agree that nothing makes a union sharpen up more than the outbreak of some kind of militancy that it's scared of losing control of. But I don't think that having a critique of the unions means arguing as though the NUM and UDM were exactly the same, or like Bob Crow and Eric Hammond would always make the same decisions in any given situation, I think a really sharp and effective critique should be able to recognise and incorporate those differences.

zugzwang wrote:
That's kind of what participation in unions and fighting for some "union movement" does, i.e. creates the illusion that a "fairer" or "reformed" capitalism is possible, with little consideration given to the world outside a worker's own particular employee-employer relation... I'm more interested in developing an understanding of capitalism and the world rather than nourishing the idea that socially useless work like producing Teslas and Twinkies is meaningful and something worth defending, which is the ideology behind conventional unions. It's work that would never exist under other social arrangements where producing is directed at people's needs rather than exchange and profit. There are also the environmental issues attached to certain socially useless work, which again butts heads with "defending workers' jobs." Participation in dead-ends like unions, which are not even necessary to win concessions, just affirms wage-labour and all the unsavory things latent in capitalism mentioned above.

OK, but like: the Lucas Plan. The BLF and the green bans. The Scottish Rolls-Royce workers who grounded Pinochet's planes. I kind of want to add here CNT builders refusing to build prisons, which I'm sure is a thing I've heard but can't remember a source for, would be grateful if anyone could confirm that.
Anyway, what do all these things have in common? They're all examples of a partial critiquing of work, and rejection of the harmful aspects of it, coming from a well-organised and unionised workforce. Can anyone think of many examples of a workforce making a collective practical critique of their own work without first passing through the stage of forming some kind of organisation to negotiate over collective demands? Because if not, I'm going to continue thinking that participation in a union movement can still be a useful step precisely for people who want to see those kinds of developments.

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Oct 25 2020 22:43

I think it is worth noting that discipline of revolutionary organization members that are active in mass-organisations(like unions, tenant unions, single-issue type networks, etc) should not be solely based on repressive measures like purges or losing support from other members. Ideally members should feel like there is a purpose in fighting for a socialist program, this purpose also hopefully comes from feeling like they are an active part of their organisation and that decisions are made in a common and democratic manner. These organisations mentioned all have, from my non-UK understanding, a very bad reputation.

asn
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Oct 26 2020 11:01

"OK, but like: the Lucas Plan. The BLF and the green bans. The Scottish Rolls-Royce workers who grounded Pinochet's planes. I kind of want to add here CNT builders refusing to build prisons, which I'm sure is a thing I've heard but can't remember a source for, would be grateful if anyone could confirm that.
Anyway, what do all these things have in common? They're all examples of a partial critiquing of work, and rejection of the harmful aspects of it, coming from a well-organised and unionised workforce. Can anyone think of many examples of a workforce making a collective practical critique of their own work without first passing through the stage of forming some kind of organisation to negotiate over collective demands? Because if not, I'm going to continue thinking that participation in a union movement can still be a useful step precisely for people who want to see those kinds of developments."

In the case of the BLF and green bans -- all this occurred before the ALP/ACTU Accord 83' - 96' and subsequent 'unofficial Accords' with Lib and ALP Govts and the development of corporate unionism. The rank and file movement in the BLF was very much a creation of the CPA (Communist Party of Australia) - creating a nucleus - from CP members who they brought together such as Jack Mundey etc. Very intensive 'outside the job' organisation helping 'on-the-job' organisation for no doubt Stalinist agendas but also helping out the grass roots organising.
In those days therefore there wasn't this state union ballot rigging going on which was a 'secret' component of the Accord to draw in the union bosses and help ALP pollies - it would involve primarily the union bosses and ALP stooges on the job etc doing the rigging. After all the rank and file group ticket got 'elected' in the early 60's and some how avoided union bosses ballot rigging and no state or not so much ballot rigging from this sector. Direct action such as sabotage, site occupations etc supported by the new union leadership and CP militants and other radicals eg a few anarcho-syndicalists and trots etc resulting in winning the margins dispute - which raised morale of grass roots created the prelude to the green bans - not much to do with so called negotiations by union bosses as we have today with the corporate unions and in the BLF before the rank and file group elected. During the heyday of the rank and file group leadership with Mundey and Owens, it had very much ultra democratic processes rubber stamped by officials eg decision making at mass stop work meetings.
Today corporate unionism reigns in the building industry so called well 'organised' and collaboration with bosses is rife and of course the 'con' of enterprise bargaining/negotiations - a lot of building accidents and a big scandal re shoddy work - and well set up black listing of militants involving bosses and likely corporate union bosses. So militant network has to or does lie low. There has been some green ban recently in Sydney but looks like token stunt - as part of smoke mirrors to drawn in leftist activoids for smoke and mirrors performances at Enterprise Agreement etc times. With state ballot rigging I don't see rank and file group getting elected like in 60's and gaining key positions or if 'allowed' due to secret deal cut with ALP godfathers or deep state infiltration and so roll over to ALP fold and business and usual. Needs major syndicalist oriented breakaway union going. So I think Totale things are a bit more complex.
See review of Green Bans: Red Union on archive section of www.rebelworker.org

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Oct 28 2020 21:55

I don't really trust any union, except SUD, but I have met some excellent shop stewards. Having access to union resources isn't a bad thing and for some workers electing a militant rep might be the first step towards more. Even if it is the limit to what they will do it will still probbaly be more positive than not.

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Nov 3 2020 15:00

In a probably-not-actually-ironic coincidence, my ballot paper to vote in the Unison General Secretary election arrived today, I feel like there's probably a good joke to be made about this - or if not a good joke, at least a convoluted one, which is normally the best I can do tbh - and it bothers me slightly I can't quite think of it.

asn
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Nov 4 2020 09:54

You should check the ballot envelope - you may notice a 'mysterious' code - that would be part of the ballot rigging - linked to an individual computer file - showing your voting over the years - if you do vote - and so prior to the 'official' ballot count - which would probably have scrutineers from the various candidates - but there would be a prior secret 'unofficial' count meeting probably with the authority officials and incumbent union officials as part of the rigging. You should inquire about this code - why is it there ? Here a certain candidate in an important election the ASN was assisting so as to expose the ballot rigging - was intrigued by this mysterious code and was told by the authority regarding its exact meaning with reference to the running the of the election - it was confidential information- a secret!

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Fozzie
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Nov 5 2020 18:44

In the UK the code is there to ensure that votes received by post are valid and singular. The electoral commission uses them for all sorts.

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Nov 5 2020 18:46

Apparently Liz Snape of Unison described voting against the Spycops bill as “student politics” today. So she can fuck off. Not had my papers yet though.

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R Totale
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Nov 5 2020 19:54

It can't be easy going through life with the name of a Harry Potter villain (or does he turn out to be a goodie in the end? Can't remember.) Anyway, she wasn't on the ballot paper I got either way.
Would be interested if anyone knows much about current goings-on inside the RMT - here's the blog of a "Campaign for a fighting democratic union" inside it, which people are free to take with as many pinches of salt as they like.

ajjohnstone
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Nov 6 2020 05:22

Just to give an example of voting.

In the contest for General Secretary of the CWU between Bill Hayes and John Keggie, the voting number was IIRC 13,000 out of a membership of about 150, 000.

Hayes got 7,000 votes and Keggie 6,000. Hayes mandate to talk for postal workers was then a mere 7,000 out of 150,000 members.