Libcom's introduction to the unions discussion

139 posts / 0 new
Last post
Ed's picture
Ed
Offline
Joined: 1-10-03
Feb 21 2012 12:18
Steven. wrote:
cantdocartwheels wrote:
b) they are working for £6 an hour in asda, and thus your article is nice but largely irrelevant to their daily lives

TBH I think this is a bit patronising to low paid supermarket workers. In terms of it being relevant to their daily lives, well it is as they work in an industry where unions have had a significant impact on their working conditions. Not to mention the type of society as a whole we live in.

I think the point that cantdo is making is that the article as it is written at the moment is too directed at people who work in unionised industries (all the examples are from stuff like post, car industry, refuse collection etc).. it says little about how the workforce/labour market has changed since the 1980s and how unions haven't been up to the challenge of adapting to it.. its a combination of factors (increased precariousness, temp/agency work, move from manufacturing to service-based economy) but the unions haven't been up to organising in it for structural reasons i.e. workers very often don't stay long enough in one job to build a stable membership branch, which is what traditional TUism is based on..

Another thing (unrelated, but I'm just kicking these ideas around at the minute) would be how trade unions are tied to national capital, but in an international labour market.. so yeah, instead of organising seriously across national boundaries they work with bosses to hold down wages to keep 'their workers' competitive..

So yeah, those are just a few thoughts that I'm trying to straighten out, like..

posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
Feb 21 2012 13:02
Quote:
However, representative unions, or even things like strike committees, do take the struggle out of the hands of workers themselves and do mean that we can't make these decisions ourselves. Do you see what I'm saying?

Yep, with the caveat that it's sometimes unclear how "representative unions" are different from whatever the best possible participatory form would be. I mean, I'm not aware of any level of struggle in which the basic, shop-floor level of organisation isn't supplemented by at least one, normally more, layers of delegate committees. This is true of factory committees, soviets, and even strikes run 'outside and against' the union. From my limited knowledge of soviets and factory committees in Russia, many weren't even based on very frequent mass assemblies, and when they were, they were often called by the delegate committees themselves.

The question is then, what is the relation between the delegate committee(s) and the masses? In the example I gave, the Minneapolis Teamsters strike, my memory is that all decisions had to be approved by the assembly, and the main tasks of the upper committees was the implementation of decisions from, and the formulation of proposals for, the lower bodies. Some people might say it was "really" therefore not a union struggle. I think it was, personally.

I think also, btw, to make it a purely formal question - e.g. does the assembly or the committee initiate or merely ratify the proposal?, for example - again misses the main emphasis, which should be about workers' subjectivity and confidence. That doesn't mean just political confidence (confidence in the cause and power of the class), or even confidence in their ability as a sub-section of the class to force certain sorts of concessions (though those things are certainly important). I think it's also a matter of confidence that individuals have to make judgements, trust the judgements they make, and speak up for them. Perhaps we don't think about these things that much, but should do?

It's confidence on these three levels (particularly the second) which was important for the end of the Tower Hamlets College strike. It would be wrong to think (on my understanding) that most workers later believed they had been duped by the union. On the contrary, weeks/months later, many workers still felt they had won a good victory, and felt proud of the union. The Commune printed an interview with two libertarian-inclined workers which was critical of the deal: http://thecommune.co.uk/2009/10/08/lessons-of-the-tower-hamlets-esol-strike/ - several of the more militant workers were critical of this, and I think one even described it as a 'disgrace'.

Also btw, I think by putting things that way you're perhaps tacitly agreeing that there are sometimes constraints of the material context - e.g. national guard - which might merit workers deciding to limit the terms of their struggle at a particular time. If that is the case, I'm not necessarily saying it merits a place in the brief intro article in question, but I think that lib-com type analyses generally fail to acknowledge that.

Ed wrote:
Another thing (unrelated, but I'm just kicking these ideas around at the minute) would be how trade unions are tied to national capital, but in an international labour market.. so yeah, instead of organising seriously across national boundaries they work with bosses to hold down wages to keep 'their workers' competitive..

I dunno about this, but they're fairly explicit that this is one of their reasons for supporting union learn type initiatives.

Ed's picture
Ed
Offline
Joined: 1-10-03
Feb 21 2012 14:13

I'm not sure you understood my point there posi.. I'm talking about stuff like when Fiat were explicitly telling their workers in Italy to accept the new contracts (which they did) or they'll move the jobs to Poland.. meanwhile, Fiat workers in Poland were going on strike and sabotaging cars in their factories.

Now perhaps I'm being simple and I'm still kicking this idea around but its not that hard to pick up a phone and call a union leader in another country to have a chat about this sort of stuff.. its even easier to just release a press statement saying you think its a good idea. But they don't do it, not even the press statement.

Now again, possibly I'm just being slow but it seems there's a structural reason for this (that unions are tied to national capital - in the sense that they want a healthy British capitalism to provide jobs so they can unionise them and represent.. essentially dreaming of a time when the TUC, CBI and Labour Party can sit around and negotiate everything together again). But this seems like a massive weakness in the modern labour market where migrant workers can be employed by employment agencies in foreign countries or where companies can move work from one country to another very easily or just where the main industries in the country you operate in are those that traditionally have never been very militant/organised..

Baderneiro Miseravel
Offline
Joined: 11-12-09
Feb 21 2012 14:33
Ed wrote:
Another thing (unrelated, but I'm just kicking these ideas around at the minute) would be how trade unions are tied to national capital, but in an international labour market.. so yeah, instead of organising seriously across national boundaries they work with bosses to hold down wages to keep 'their workers' competitive..

How unions are tied up to capital is the fundamental question for a coherente critique. (Some incoherent thoughts for now)

I can think of a few manners in which unions are tied up to capital in a way that makes the union secretariat capitalist managers.

First are the private pension funds, if they are managed by the Unions (part or full time managed). They are a source of capital which requires being invested profitably in order to fullfill it's purposes - which makes those who direct and control the flow of investments, effectively, capitalists. They (union secretariat) do not necessarily need to be direct bosses of their "represented", but I can see why they would have an "interest" in controling the struggles enough that they'll manage to remain in control of the Union and the flow of capitals that come from that.

It is interesting to see how the Union sustains itself economically. After all it does have a staff that needs to be paid, stuff that needs to be produced, pamphlets, transportation, advertisements, etc. These all come from somewhere. Here in Brazil, there is an "Union Tax" which takes 3% off the wage of all workers of a certain segment and gives it to the Union that certified by the Labor Ministry. I am not sure how it works in the UK, but that is something that may be of interest.

More directly related to the quote, there are cases of interest where a company is threatening to close doors, so a deal is made with the workers - via the Unions, generally - so that they'll keep their jobs by: a) receiving part of their wages by stock of the company, rendering them investors and "participating in profit" ; b) stopping all strikes and wage rise demands for a number of X years. A) and B) usually also have as a price putting a number of X workers (how are they selected? by the official channel of negotiation, of course) in the place of managament of capital so they can "ensure the workers' interests are preserved". That effectively places those workers on the capitalist's position on top management.

Acknowleding, of course, that there are differences inside the Unions and all of that.

So basically: Where do the Unions get their money from? What do they do with that money? What is their relation (case by case) with the company? Do they have investments to make, if so, where and who directs the investments? Do they hold seats in the management?

posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
Feb 21 2012 14:36

I think - perhaps I'm wrong - that I got your point, i.e. the fact that (most really existing, at least) unions are tied to national capital means that there's a certain logic toward them having an interest in the competitiveness of the workforce of e.g. "UK PLC". I was saying that the way that some senior union people talk about union learning is in line with this logic, e.g. 'we've got to make the UK's workforce more highly skilled and attractive to investors', etc. I understand that's not the main thrust of what you were saying, but I think it reflects something of the same logic.

Ed's picture
Ed
Offline
Joined: 1-10-03
Feb 21 2012 14:44

Ah, so it was me that completely missed your point, sorry.. embarrassed

rat's picture
rat
Offline
Joined: 16-10-03
Feb 21 2012 16:14

In the text Goodbye to the Unions, Cajo Brendel responded to some of Dave Douglass’s criticisms of the council communist perspective on unions.
Perhaps I’m taking a bit of a liberty in quoting an over long passage. But it maybe of interest.

“…you try to present some cases of what you seem to regard as major achievements of the trade union movement - taking up the unfair dismissal case, questioning the lack of adequate breaks, attending the inquest of the dead miner or the compensation case for the builder with a split skull or the factory worker with an amputated leg or the canteen worker with the scalded arm etc. etc.
Let us just take the compensation case as an example: Do you really want me (or anybody else) to believe that anyone could possibly be interested in compensation? Parents whose child has been run over by a car could be interested in "compensation"? The family of a miner who has been killed in a mine accident could be interested in "compensation"?
If I lost a finger or a hand because of unsafe machinery I could be interested in "compensation"? You must be joking ... or you must be one of these many union officials completely out of touch with reality to sincerely believe in such nonsense. Everybody will surely take "compensation" because it would be stupid not to do so once it is available, and because a few dirty bucks for the life of a human being or for a lost hand are better than nothing at all.
But if it comes to the question of what people are interested in, then it is definitely not "compensation". I want all my ten fingers and both hands, I want to be perfectly healthy as well, and if I am in danger of being hurt or mutilated by any unsafe machinery, then I want this machinery not to be used until it is completely safe (can you imagine what would happen in the coal mining industry of today if you made this a rule?).”

rat's picture
rat
Offline
Joined: 16-10-03
Feb 21 2012 18:48

Perhaps the Libcom introductory article could be furnished with a few illustrative quotes?
Here’s some that Cajo Brendel points out:

[unions don’t] 'represent the whole class of workers as working men but rather are charged with the office of keeping the human part of the capitalists' machinery in good working order and freeing it from any grit of discontent'. William Morris, 1885.

‘the biggest, richest and best organized trade unions contributed a lot to decrease the number of social conflicts’. William Lecky.

‘Before the trade unions became a recognised institution and a normal phenomenon there was more labour unrest in Britain as after that.’ The Webbs.

Nate's picture
Nate
Offline
Joined: 16-12-05
Feb 21 2012 19:24
Steven. wrote:
Nate, interesting post, thanks.

On this point though:

Quote:
And I think that some of the time, in some times and places unions have been quite effective in workers improving their lives under capitalism -- this is precisely what made unions an effective component of capitalist rule.

I think we disagree.

Where do you think this is the case? The ICC argument is the unions were progressive up until World War I. But this flies in the face of the facts. Where even before the legalisation and legitimisation of unions, they still acted in substantially the same way - see Brecher's Strike!, for example.

Our argument, based on our reading of and our experiences of struggles, is that workers' direct action has improved our lives, but the overwhelming pattern is that unions have acted as a brake on the action. If you could point out some examples of what you are talking about here that would be useful for us.

This may sound like a loaded comment, I don't intend it that, it's an honest question is all - have any of you ever been part of organizing a union for the first time in a shop? If not, then I think part of the issue here is a difference of experience. I've been part of that a few times in various ways (staff, volunteer outsider/supporter, and in my own workplace). In those cases, in new organizing, some of the time in the US unions instigate struggles and win improvements. (My impression is that y'all are writing exclusively from the experience of being members of a union that already exists in a shop. I've never done that myself.) If I'm wrong, I apologize and I retract the remark and again not meant as a loaded question. I say that because I feel like we're having some kind of disconnect here and I think it may be tied to us having different experiences.

In terms of examples of unions being tied up with improving workers lives, one example is Republic Windows in the US. That action was quite militant for US standards and it won the workers their demand. And it was basically orchestrated by staff and officers. Another example, when I used to work as organizing staff, as part of a larger campaign to unionize hospitals I mostly built a committee of hospital janitors and helped them learn how to run an effective march on the boss which they then used to drive out an abusive supervisor. I don't know what happened to the campaign after that as I quite soon after. Some quick googling for the phrase "first contract" and the word union turns up a fair bit of hits. This will sound disrespectful online but it isn't my intent - the idea that unions are incapable of ever getting economic gains in a workplace because of some inherent quality to unions is so counter-intuitive to me that it sounds absurd and I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to respond. One other thing here - in your work as a union rep, Steven, are you hurting the people you work with? Or are you failing to accomplish anything at all (ie, totally wasting your time and the time of the union members you work with)? Or are you accomplishing something? If you are, well, then that's my point. Unions accomplish something sometimes. And that's part of makes them useful for capitalists. I think some of Phinneas's stories of struggles by CUPW members are good examples of unions as vehicles for delivering the goods.

I also think this conversation seems to sometimes have a sort of flat or neat idea of what a union is. Like there's the union, and then there's the workers. It seems to me that unions are often made up of workers - that's what gives them their force/efficacy. Unions aren't made up entirely of workers, but workers are a large part of unions and a lot of the animating force of the union (I'd say the same of capitalist businesses). I think of unions as one the ways (one of the more prevalent ones) that working class people institutionalize reformist politics. I also think that "workers get more if they struggle outside the union form" -- ie, direct action gets the goods -- is empirically questionable if we're talking about nonunionized workplaces. Someone already said this in a comment - it's notable that the examples that people lay out of wildcat strikes largely happen in unionized workplaces. That aside, there's an issue here about struggles for working class people to get more. I feel like I'm not being clear here but this is the best I can do - it seems to me that as communists our concerns are different from "how effective is the union as a means for workers to get a larger share of the surplus value pumped out of our class?" because we're interested in seeing something different from just reallocation of surplus value. Know what I mean?

cantdocartwheels's picture
cantdocartwheels
Offline
Joined: 15-03-04
Feb 22 2012 21:15
Steven. wrote:

well thanks for answering, TBH it's not clear to me that that sort of thing would be "the usual" for an analysis of the functioning of unions under capitalism. We have thousands of articles here about workplaces, but very little clearly written about the function of unions. On a more general note, I don't believe that "being shat on from a great height at work" is why people join unions. Especially if you take a global perspective. A big majority of people who are "shat on at work" in the West don't join unions. Globally, most people who join unions do so because they are either forced to, or because a majority of people in their workplace are in it already, and it is standard practice in their workplace. In this country I reckon that most members of unions are in workplaces where membership is recommended by their employer (such as most of the public sector and big private sector employers, especially in transport/utilities/manufacturing)

People pay x amount per month because they are aware that not being a union member can often give your boss a chance to screw you over more. Sure its often general practice, but its general practice for underlyng class reasons.
Even in the schools i've worked i, a lot of people joined the union whei was there as the strikes happened or in the TA's case because we can guess we're up for the cuts chopping board at some point.
In non-uionised worplaces people don't join unions, eithher because they don't see the point, aren't planning to stay in the job long, because in a lot of cases they'd get sacked/victimised or they think they would. or they know the union bureaucracy doesn'tcare about them

Sorry if it seems like i'm stating the obvious, but your statement that people just fall into unions is overthe top and seems to remove any real critical agency from people.

Quote:
I disagree with this, I've written a bunch of articles about unison and have never mentioned contracts or amalgamation. Contracts aren't even that big a deal in UK workplaces.

I mean the way i which contracts for what were public sector jobs are handed out to private companies and agencies. (eg cleaning, lots of maual work etc) And yeah thats pretty important. Part of the reason unison is so quick to back down today, and that there's less fight within the union is because it was de-teethed in part when all those people were sold down the river, i mean the sort of autobureaucracy your alluding to is a response to class relations.

Quote:
so in terms of your practical suggestions here, i.e. saying we should add yet another paragraph about unions doing individual representations in grievances/disciplinaries etc?

Definitely, as nate says you need to at least say that unions do x,y ad z which is good.
Likewise you could at least link to ways in which we could win the pensions dispute eg france, rank and file pressure.So that the article seems more constructive.

Quote:
In terms of offering "alternative to trade unionism", what do you think we should offer?! I don't think any of us are in a position to offer the proletariat an alternative.

Well quite, thats the point isn't it. Why write a article ''bashing'' unions, not mentioning a single positive then offer zero alternative? Though tbf that kind of slightly negative attitude is pretty prevalent throughout anarchism. It'd be like knocking the recent actions of the electricians for the limits of trade unionist rank and filism, when you have never organised on a building site. Perhaps you might say its semantics but when it comes to discussing struggles I'd generally rather see people start from the point of ''thats good but...'' than ''this is all bad because'' but maybe thats just me.

Quote:
TBH I think this is a bit patronising to low paid supermarket workers. In terms of it being relevant to their daily lives, well it is as they work in an industry where unions have had a significant impact on their working conditions. Not to mention the type of society as a whole we live in. .

Patronising? Perhaps, i've done worse than work in supermarkets mind. However, at least i bothered to mention un-unionised work, your article on the other hand unfortuantely veres towards echoes of the left, which says virtually nothing on the subject.
I generally don't understand why you'd write ''the introduction to the unions'' and not mention the way in which un-unionised work often (though not always obviously) has worse pay and conditions, but conversely unions have been unable to adapt to changing conditions in the workplace. And now more than was the case a few decades back the union bureaucracy, logically from the vantage of their own interests, sees swathes of jobs as being ''unwinnable campaigns'' or simply a poor source of union dues.

I chose asda because its generally a very anti-union business (beingthe uk subsidiary of walmart), likewise i could have chosen numerous other firms and industries where unions are non-existent or virtually so because joining one will land you in shit from day one in practical terms.

Quote:
Quote:
Er the subheading is entitled ''Acting: with or without our unions''

do you see the word "with" in that sentence? Not to mention that having one word in a subheading (especially alongside its opposite) doesn't mean that that word describes every action referred to in subsequent paragraphs. You might equally have said that we describe all of those actions as acting "with the unions".

Ah i see i always came from the school of thought where sub-headings related to the text....

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Feb 22 2012 12:13

So I haven't worked my way through all the discussion yet, but from the article:

Quote:
or as the militant US Union of Auto Workers (UAW) did in World War II, signing a no strike pledge.

It might be worth noting the UAW never recovered from this no-strike agreement. It's still in the contract; they never got rid of it.

And if you're going to talk about the no-strike clause, at least in the American context, the trade off was quite explicit: Unions get steady dues in return for a promise not to strike. Thus demonstrating, again, how the institutional interests of the unions differ from those of the membership.

Jeremy Brecher, not surprisingly, has written about this particular issue (the "maintenance of membership"/no strike clause trade off) in some detail here:

http://libcom.org/history/world-war-ii-post-war-strike-wave

EDIT: Ah, I see you've already referenced that particular article in the piece.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Feb 22 2012 10:06

I'm always worried about using terms like sabotage without explaining them. Just my two cents.

Also, call me a pedant, but I think if you're going to offer Zerzan as further reading, it needs a disclaimer that he turned his back on his earlier writings and now just writes absolute garbage, rubbish, and bollocks.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Feb 22 2012 11:17
Nate wrote:
Openly deal with that to make clear what the differences are. And make clear that this isn't meant as an immediately anti-union piece (as in, the piece doesn't call for decertifying unions or sabotaging unionization drives etc)....

In terms of national differences, most U.S. workers can not "join unions freely." If there's a union already in place, then most of the time yes, but that's only about 12% of the population and 6 or 7% of private sector workers (and this is majorly age stratified as well). In nonunion shops, unionization almost only happens with really serious dedication and fighting and usually at major costs to some of the involved people (firings etc).

So I think there might be a slight national difference here.

In the UK, and especially in certain industries, union membership is just accepted. And since UK has a more entrenched social democracy the kinds of rights that you only get in the US with a union contract are a given in the UK (grievances and disciplinaries, right to representation/accompaniment, not to mentions the NHS). Trades unions can sell themselves on that basis and folks do join as individuals in workplaces that don't have a recognized union. That would be very rare in the US.

In the US, workers do typically gain when a shop goes union. Even through the NLRB, securing union recognition does bring benefits in terms of pay, conditions, and workplace rights (a la D&Gs, representation, job security, health benefits).

Now none of this fundamentally undermines the role of trade unions as mediators and how they discipline labour, but there are particular national dynamics that we should keep in mind.

Nate wrote:
I think accounting for employers' anti-unionism would strengthen the piece ...When social crises have risen then states have tended to try to discipline employers into accepting unionism as part of disciplining employers into the long-term interests of the capitalist system.

This is really important too, although I think that it's not always states that push trade unionism at point of high class struggle, but employers themselves, too. Or, if trade unionism is already entrenched, than a trade union solution to social conflict.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Feb 22 2012 11:17
BirthdayPony wrote:
When I saw, "but it is definitely far from the whole story," I was expecting the next part to be about what more radical and militant unions did. How unions are the way the workers in a shop have any chance at fighting the boss, how unions can represent each other outside of the workplace, or how they're a blueprint for democratic workplaces, etc.,etc. whatever. And then I expected the criticism of mainstream unions to be in contrast to that. I think the intro sets the tone against the idea of unions rather than unions as such. So if this is written for the 'unconverted' (because I can't think of a better term), then I would set the precedent by which you're criticizing unions early on in the article.

This is actually a pretty good point. Maybe call it "Introduction to the Trade Unions" instead of just "unions"?

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Feb 22 2012 11:18
Syndicalistcat wrote:
Again, when we first tried to organize a TAs local at UCLA in 1970, AFT gave us a charter for a local. Had maybe 50 people...a large organizing committee in a bargaining unit of 1000. We quit AFT due to bureaucratic manipulation and reorganized the local as an independent. At its height we had 350 members but never obtained a collective bargaining agreement, altho we carried out a successful 1 week strike. Official recognition wasn't the aim of the strike.

Syndicalistcat, have you done any more writing on this? I'd be very keen to read it.

I also agree (I'm on page two of the discussion at the moment...) that the article should be focus on the fact that's it's not labour legislation the drives trade unions to act in a certain way. The law only enshrines the fundamental characteristics of mediation and bureacratisation that are inherent to any labour organisation which is recognised by the boss and represents workers (either as individuals or collectively).

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Feb 22 2012 12:12

Phew! Just finished reading the discussion and I apologize for posting, what, as series of six or seven comments in a row...

So I think this article should be focused on why the trade unions are shit and should appeal to militants. These could be militants who've become frustrated with the union they belong to or people who are militants in non-union workplaces but who think a union is the only/best way to improve their life at work. As such, it should focus on the unions--that should be the point

However, it should link prominently to articles on alternative forms of workplace organisation, successful examples of extra-union activity, and practical, nuts and bolts strategies for organising at work. But, as an one part of a series of introductory text, the focus should remain on the unions and unionized workplaces.

Perhaps there could also be another critique of social democracy which could touch on the power and roles of the unions in wider society outside of specifically unionised workplaces. (Nothing like volunteering other people for work wink )

Oh, and I like Zero's suggestions in post 101, but I always love using the boss class' words to prove our point.

Nate's picture
Nate
Offline
Joined: 16-12-05
Feb 23 2012 01:38
Chilli Sauce wrote:
In the US, workers do typically gain when a shop goes union. Even through the NLRB, securing union recognition does bring benefits in terms of pay, conditions, and workplace rights (a la D&Gs, representation, job security, health benefits).

Now none of this fundamentally undermines the role of trade unions as mediators and how they discipline labour

Agreed. I'd say its the ability to deliver some gains that makes unions most effective in governing workers in the US and to some extent that's what US policymakers planned in the 30s.

Jason Cortez
Offline
Joined: 14-11-04
Feb 23 2012 11:00
Steven wrote:
The article is about the role unions playing capitalist society, so going into how many members they have isn't particularly key. And of course it varies from country to country. In China for example all workers have to be in the union.

And you have the cheek to call can'tdo disingenuous.

i think the article conflates two issues, one being why trade unions can't end exploitation and the other being why the 'union' doesn't deliver the goods much these days. Whilst interelated they are actually separate questions. The former can be dealt with in an ' ideal abstract model' manner
but the latter is far more complex and needs more concrete and therefore more specific examples (which may make it less universal) a good example being the Visteon pamphlet 'red' quoting from. the weakness of the former approach is that the map can be mistake for the terrain and the real life unresolved tensions simply vanish.

Jason Cortez
Offline
Joined: 14-11-04
Feb 28 2012 09:39

Also it is important to appreciate the space for organising opened up by previous struggle even if it has now become institutionalised, remain fertile places of future possibilities. Never completely colonised by bureaucracy, these spaces can operate as cover, concentration and co-ordinating hubs. Yes the tension exists, the pull of the 'union' as the formalised ritual of recuperation, collapsing the creative class content of the struggle into the sterile repetition of 'negotiation'. But the 'union' as workers collectively resisting 'management' and attempting to impose their needs may yet at times burst through the limits of 'legalism'.

Workers Playtime wrote:
Inside large industries, it’s the degree of relative job protection provided by formal negotiating and grievance structures which allows the growth of rank and file groups/ factory groups organised around a political platform/ even party cells. Whether these are loyal oppositions to unionism or ‘anti-union’ they exist in the space opened by the existence of unionism, and can concentrate on being a militant ‘political’ opposition to the official negotiations over wages and conditions.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2012 23:29

Bump, as we have now updated this following people's feedback:
http://libcom.org/library/unions-introduction

let us know what you think

fingers malone's picture
fingers malone
Offline
Joined: 4-05-08
Mar 13 2012 11:16

I think it deals with the contradictions and ambiguities more and the links to actual struggles are useful. In terms of the tone, it doesn't come across as sneery or dismissive now.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 13 2012 16:36
fingers malone wrote:
I think it deals with the contradictions and ambiguities more and the links to actual struggles are useful. In terms of the tone, it doesn't come across as sneery or dismissive now.

glad you think it's an improvement.

Maybe part of the problem initially was that we are writing from the perspective of mostly people who have been union members/reps so new that we weren't having a go at them but that may not have been so obvious to the readers.

plasmatelly's picture
plasmatelly
Offline
Joined: 16-05-11
Mar 13 2012 17:42

Much better, well done!

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Mar 13 2012 17:54

From a quick read I think this is a real improvement and whilst it is unlikely to get full marks from the leftcoms it still leaves some wriggleroom for those of us wanting to continue argueing about some of the finer details.

A couple of areas could still do with expansion I think:

-giving a couple of examples about the differences as well as similarities with unions outside the UK in say Europe and China
- perhaps a bit more about the limitations on what even a much more democratic, non-bureaucratic union can achieve in the context of modern capitalism.

Couldn't you get that link in to the Visteon pamphlet mentioned by Red Marriot as well?

Stephan's picture
Stephan
Offline
Joined: 29-09-11
Mar 13 2012 23:43

How about a critique of wage labor and wage labor identity? Link? The unions reinforces and builds on this ideology. In Sweden, the left radical use the expression "udenomsfagligt" (non-union class struggle). It is important to show there are several ways to organize workers and to organize in relation to a trade union critical.

EdmontonWobbly's picture
EdmontonWobbly
Offline
Joined: 25-03-06
Mar 14 2012 15:37

I think some of this is guilty of taking unions on at their worst. I think what has been most insidious about work in CUPW has been how democratic and open much of the union really is. Our contracts are not backroom deals, they are negotiated with mandated communication with the floor the whole way through and cannot be ratified except by referendum on the floor. The stewards are all either elected or it is a position open to anyone who wants it and the vast majority of positions in the union are elected instead of appointed. It is still a very effective mediator between the bosses and the workers at time precisely because it is democratic but still trapped by the legal processes that govern unions in Canada. Too much of this characterises our opponents as bad, or dumb and I don't think it does us any favours to underestimate the pull of the conventional "trade union form", unfortunately struggles don't play out in the world of "forms" they play out in a much messier more ambiguous way and we don't do ourselves any favours by being less nuanced.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 14 2012 19:48

Edmonton wobbly, I'm not really sure what you're saying.

We don't say anywhere that all deals are done in back rooms. And most unions have all elected stewards/lay reps and mostly elected other posts. However we do say that we don't think who is elected to these posts makes much difference.

And you seem to agree with us when you said: "It is still a very effective mediator between the bosses and the workers at time precisely because it is democratic but still trapped by the legal processes that govern unions in Canada."

So I'm not really sure what the disagreement is? As for your bit about our opponents being "bad, or dumb", and we talking about here?

And your last bit about "forms" I'm afraid I don't really understand, could you elaborate?

Android
Offline
Joined: 7-07-08
Mar 14 2012 20:13
Steven. wrote:
And your last bit about "forms" I'm afraid I don't really understand, could you elaborate?

Steven, I read EWob's concluding statement on "forms" as essentially saying that the conceptualisation of struggles into forms such as 'union' and 'extra-union' is a generalisation and as such omits a lot what fails between both in the real world.

I could be wrong in interpreting in that way, although I don't see any alternative way to interpret it. I am sure either way EWob will clarify.

Birthday Pony's picture
Birthday Pony
Offline
Joined: 11-12-11
Mar 16 2012 04:26

I hope EWob does, because I quite liked both Aud's and Wob's posts.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 16 2012 09:51

Do we, anywhere in the text, "conceptualise struggles into forms such as union and extra-union"? If so, could you point out from where you infer this?