Are the unions against the working class?

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wld_rvn
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Jun 5 2005 00:26
Are the unions against the working class?

Hi,

The discussion on council communism touched on an interesting question: the nature of the trade unions today. According to the Libcom article on Council Communism,

Quote:
It’s sometimes been thought that council communists have maintained an ‘outside and against’ position on bureaucratic reformist trade unions, seeing them as a break on workers’ militancy and believing that the leadership, who’s role is seen as little more than ‘cops with flat caps’, will always eventually sell out the membership. It is true that, historically at least, council communists have been anti-trade union. However, this has largely been due to the context in which council communists were writing. For instance, German council communists of the 1920s were fully aware of the German trade unions’ role in betraying the attempted workers’ revolution in 1918. However, in modern times, though keeping a very critical view of trade unions and their undemocratic nature, council communists generally believe that having a union is better for workers than not having one.

We would argue that 'in modern times' nothing has changed: the capitalist mode of production is still decadent and therefore the unions - whether reformist or radical, bureaucratic or democratic - are still against the working class.

In the the 1800s capitalism was still progressive, expanding, and thus capable of granting real reforms and making concessions. The form the workers' organisations took corresponded to these conditions: permanent organisations (co-ops, unions) and mass parties (social-democracy). However, the First World War was an expression of the fact that capitalism had exhausted the non-capitalist areas of the planet and nations could only expand at the expense of other nations. Capitalist socialist relations - the nation state - had become a fetter upon the further development of the productive forces - a global economy.

The conditions in which the working class struggled had fundamentally changed: the unions became integrated into the state-capitalist war machine and likewise the social-democratic parties became integrated into the political apparatus of the ruling class - where they remain today. This explains why in the Russian revolutions of 1905/1917 and Germany 1918 the working class began to adopt new forms of struggle: non-permanent organs (soviets/councils) and smaller, more centralised proletarian political organisations (Bolsheviks, KAPD).

The distinction between Revolutionary-syndicalism (IWW/British Syndicalism) and Anarcho-syndicalism (CGT/CNT) is largely due to the former's acceptance that the conditions under which the proletariat was fighting were beginning to change, whereas the later remained wedded to the conceptions of the 19th century.

So the question remains: today, is it better for workers to have a union than not?

Fraternally,

World Revolution.

PS. Our pamphlet Unions Against the Working Class is now available free online, as are a collection of articles on the question What is Syndicalism?

Steve
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Jun 5 2005 00:37

So I take it you won't join a union then?

wld_rvn
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Jun 5 2005 01:11

Steve,

Our membership rules (statutes - which we voluntarily accept) preclude militants of the International Communist Current from union membership, except where it is necessary for militants to keep their jobs (a 'closed shop' - which is pretty rare these days).

This does not mean that we 'stand aside' from the class struggle. Instead, we see that the arena of the class struggle is not limited to union meetings. Communists can intervene in their workplaces in canteens, staffrooms, smoking rooms, picket lines and mass meetings. In a wider sense, we see our intervention towards the working class in a collective framework: via the organisation's press, website, public meetings, books, pamphlets, and interventions towards demonstrations, meetings of other groups, and now internet discussion forums. This is one of the advantages of an international organisation!

The unions are dead for the working class: a veritable prison that they must smash.

Do you think the unions can be a forum in which revolutionaries can militate?

WR.

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Rob Ray
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Jun 5 2005 07:57

Yes.

Steve
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Jun 5 2005 09:47
wld_rvn wrote:
This does not mean that we 'stand aside' from the class struggle. Instead, we see that the arena of the class struggle is not limited to union meetings. Communists can intervene in their workplaces in canteens, staffrooms, smoking rooms, picket lines and mass meetings. In a wider sense, we see our intervention towards the working class in a collective framework: via the organisation's press, website, public meetings, books, pamphlets, and interventions towards demonstrations, meetings of other groups, and now internet discussion forums. This is one of the advantages of an international organisation!

Just another bunch of parasites on the back of the working class then. Basically you are quite happy for workers to take action to the point of putting their jobs at risk only for you to come along with your intellectual bollocks trying to impress us all with your ability to quote political theorists. I’ve met your sort before. The weirdo in the corner with his books sat next to the religious nutter.

redyred
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Jun 5 2005 10:42

Unions are like trains. They may be unreliable and run by arseholes, but they're the only way to get where you're going.

(Unless you have a car or something. Stupid imperfect metaphors)

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Spartacus
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Jun 5 2005 10:54

clearly as a car is more flexible and entirely under you control and not limited by train track, and if it's four wheel drive neither by roads, and if it's a james bond car nor by water, it represents the anarcho-syndicalist unions.

redyred
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Jun 5 2005 10:57

The cars represent the bourgeoisie, achieving their goals with ruthless individualism. The kids in the back are symbolic of nepotism.

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Volin
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Jun 5 2005 20:57

Are unions against the working class?

Yes, duh! They're nothing but peace-breakers between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, either allowing limited compromises for the workers or selling out completely. They exist to keep the workers working -for the capitalists. That's in the interests of the profiteers and thus necessarily against those whom they exploit for their profit.

Should anarchists and left communists stay out of the unions?

No. If you do that you might as well stay at home and hope that happy thoughts will change society. Trade unions are, at present, the only organisation trying to represent workers and, theoretically, affect change for their interests. We must work within these unions or make organisations that run counter to them -the latter being completely unlikely. #~# The difference is, that participation in unions must be seen as only a small part of political struggle, and never as an end it itself.

And, yeah, the IWW and "British Syndicalism" are not wedded to 19th century conceptions, whereas the CNT etc. -whose greatest achievements have been in the 20th century- are? By the way, what the fuck does the ICC do?

wld_rvn
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Jun 6 2005 13:13

Hi,

Volin, the unions are part of the capitalist state, they are the policemen of the shop floor. Millions of workers do belong to unions but that is precisely their role now: to imprison the class, in the jail of unionism. It seems odd for those who profess to be against the state to support membership of state organs. (But then the given the experience of the CNT maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise wink)

To come towards a clear position on the nature of the trade unions it is necessary to first understand how deeply the entry of capitalism into its period of decadence changed the character of the conditions in which the class struggle took place. The trade union form of struggle was surpassed by the council/soviet form. It is plain to see that the unions seek to control and sabotage struggles, and this is clearly seen when workers take unofficial action – wildcat strikes – outside and against the unions. Indeed, it is only when workers begin to break out of the union straightjacket that the bosses consider backing down. The Postal workers’ and Heathrow strikes in 2003 were good examples of these. There is also the less recent of the mass strike in Poland 1980.

So Steve, do you think workers are wrong to break the law and take unofficial action outside the union framework?

This brings us on to the question of the content of workers struggles. Given the capitalist system’s drive for self-preservation, either the working class must accept the containment of its struggles within a purely economic terrain, thereby condemning its struggles to a total impasse since capitalism can no longer grant any meaningful economic reforms, or the working class must assert itself resolutely as a political power in its own right, to pose the creation of a communist society. But how to get from A to Z?

The proletariat is led to destroy the ruling system only because its defence of its immediate interests objectively forces it to do so. Its struggle for an improvement in its economic situation becomes a struggle for the destruction of the system itself. Nevertheless, the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat is not the negation of the economic nature of its struggle but the result of its total understanding of the reality of that struggle. In consciously embracing the political nature of its daily economic struggle, in deepening it to the point of finally destroying the bourgeois state and establishing communist society, the proletariat never abandons its defence of its economic interests. Rather the proletariat takes upon itself all the meaning and all the consequences of that struggle.

This brings us to Steve’s comment that the ICC are:

Steve wrote:
Just another bunch of parasites on the back of the working class then. Basically you are quite happy for workers to take action to the point of putting their jobs at risk only for you to come along with your intellectual bollocks...

and Volin’s question:

Volin wrote:
By the way, what the fuck does the ICC do?

In fact, both pose the question: what is the role of revolutionaries? What can be done if you’re outside the union. We share Marx’s vision of the role of communists, “to point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality… [to] always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole” (Communist Manifesto). We have already made clear our wider activity (press, meetings, website etc.).

It may come as a surprise to some but the vast majority of the ICC’s militants actually have jobs, and participate in struggles, ‘putting their jobs at risk’. In the movement against the pension reforms in France in the Spring of 2003 we intervened with this leaflet and spoke out in the general assemblies. We also intervened into the struggles at Opel/Bochum in Germany. In all our interventions we denounce the sabotage of the unions and stress the vital need for workers to take control of their own struggles, extend them to other sectors etc. But also to stress the historic perspectives: of capitalism as the common cause of all the ills facing the working class and the rest of society and the need to overthrow capitalism. The role of the revolutionary organisation is to be a catalyst, to accelerate the already existing tendencies. This is what we seek to do in our intervention: to point to the need for a ‘total understanding of the reality of that struggle’.

There is much more that could be said, and much of it is in our online pamphlet Unions Against the Working Class. We’d appreciate some comments on it.

Jack also raised the question of the difference between revolutionary and anarcho-syndicalism. The analysis is given in the article What is Revolutionary Syndicalism? We can come back to this question in another post…

Fraternally,

World Revolution.

Steve
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Jun 6 2005 13:26
wld_rvn wrote:
So Steve, do you think workers are wrong to break the law and take unofficial action outside the union framework?

No of course not. confused confused

wld_rvn
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Jun 6 2005 13:36
Steve wrote:
wld_rvn wrote:
So Steve, do you think workers are wrong to break the law and take unofficial action outside the union framework?

No of course not. confused confused

OK. So what's wrong with not being in a union? Don't you think if you encourage workers to join unions then you're just tailending the leftists? How does an anarcho-syndicalist union differ from a trade union?

WR.

Steve
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Jun 6 2005 13:53

I was just about to reply but really revol just said it anyway. Funny how those who seek to lead us poor bloody workers really haven't a clue.

gustave
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Jun 6 2005 22:31

[if you don't understand the difference between a trade union and an anarhco syndicalist union you should think twice before writing leaflets on either]

Steve, the ICC is asking you to explain what you see the difference between 'offecial' and anarcho-syndicalist unions to be. Its understanding of the question is made explicit in the linked article and pamphlet mentioned. Could you explain what you think the difference is?

As for the unions giving legel protection, you can get that with house insurance policies and bank accounts. And even if they do other some legel protection that does not change their role as policeman of the shopfloor. Nor does the fact that shop stewards are usually some of the most militant and determined workers.

Given many workers are in unions means that their struggles do breakout in the union framework. However, this means that the struggles are hamstrung from the beginning. It is only by breaking out of the union prison that struggles can be effective. The fear seen amongst the managers at Heathrow faced with the unoffical walk out there, by a few hundred workers, shows how much the rest of the ruling class depend upon the unions to keep order in the factories, officies etc.

[If your position is that because anarcho syndicalists struggle for short term gains within capitalist parameters (ie the wage relationship) then you are really a ultra leftist in the most absurd meaning of the term]

At no point does the ICC say in its replies that workers should not struggle to defend their working and living conditions. As it says above, such a defence is an essential part of the development of the revolutionary process. The question is how? Mass assemblies, revocable strike committess and spreading the struggle is the most powerful form of struggle and terrify the ruling class, which is why they have made such struggles ilegel. On the other hand, anarcho-syndicalism keeps the workers confined within the union framework; dividing up the workers' between anarcho-syndicalist unions and 'official' unions, perpetuating the illusion that some how the capitalist states most effective weapon against the working class can really made into a workers' weapon again, etc. Anything but calling on workers to struggle in the most effective way possible: a form of struggle that exposes even the most radical anarcho-syndicalist union as an obstacle that has to be cast down in order for workers to unite their struggles.

Anarchoneilist
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Jun 7 2005 10:14

Have to say I'm confused by that last statement,

but what do I know eh?

Isn't the issue of joining an "official" capitalist trade

union the same as voting or not voting? Basically do

you regulate capitalism or try to destroy it?

Steve
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Jun 7 2005 11:39

gustave, you want an explanation but at the same time you tell us that anarcho-syndicalist unions are useless anyway. If you don't know the difference how can you comment? Wok it out for yourselves, you are supposed to be the vanguard after all.

p.s. it was revol who you quoted anyway.

Beltov
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Jun 8 2005 10:21
Anarchoneilist wrote:
Have to say I'm confused by that last statement, but what do I know eh?

Which bit do you find confusing?

Anarchoneilist wrote:

Isn't the issue of joining an "official" capitalist trade union the same as voting or not voting? Basically do you regulate capitalism or try to destroy it?

Another analogy can be made with the police. In times of 'social peace' they direct the traffic, steward football matches etc. etc But the class nature of an organisation is not determined by its attitudes in moments of social calm, when the proletariat remains passive, subordinated economically and ideologically to the power of the bourgeoisie. It is when the classes openly confront each other that you must judge the class nature of an organisation. The role of the unions becomes clear when during any generalised workers’ struggle, they are seen preventing contacts between workers in different factories, falsifying the demands of the workers, using lies and slander to get the workers back to work, telling them that in the other factories in struggle ‘the workers have gone back’ and that they ‘can’t carry on alone’. Quite simply the unions’ role becomes clear when they act as strike-breakers. That is when their class nature appears in broad daylight.

The defensive comedy that they daily play in periods of social calm, putting themselves forward as defenders of the class in masquerades of collective bargaining, scrupulous applications for the right to work, and the whole set of rules which govern the exploitation of labour, does not make them representatives of the class against capital, but makes them functionaries of capital responsible for facilitating the normal and daily functioning of exploitation within the working class. The crocodile tears the unions shed over the most flag­rant abuses of capital (‘hour long protest strikes’, preoccup­ation with problems of individual workers in the factory, all the ‘petty tasks’) is the base on which the official myth identifying the unions with the interests of the working class rests. This myth the leftists take up in their ‘critical’ way, but it is actually a necessary pre-condition for union contain­ment of any real outbreak of class struggle.

Just as the police must save drowning people and direct traffic on the roads so as to justify their existence when the time comes to repress workers’ struggles in the name of ‘the public interest’, so the unions must fulfil ‘social welfare’ functions for the workers and act as a safety valve within the class so that at a time of real struggle they will be that much better placed to play their role of containment and repression in the name of the workers’ interests. Sabotage of workers’ struggle and official representation of workers within the framework of capitalist exploitation are not two differing - still less contradictory - functions of the trade unions under decadent capitalism. Both are but two aspects of one and the same anti-proletarian function.

Beltov.

Beltov
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Jun 8 2005 10:45
Volin wrote:
By the way, what the fuck does the ICC do?

Well, what does an anarcho-syndicalist do?. Given that in Britain there are no anarcho-syndicalist unions worth mentioning, then presumably the only activity is going along to the existing unions and doing "union stuff" - ie taking part, becoming a shop steward, etc. If they're not doing that then they're all mouth; and if they are, then perhaps they could explain what precisely is the difference between what they do and what the Trots do?

Also, what does an @-communist do? According to the Workers' Solidarity Movement's Trade Union position:

Quote:

2.4 Central to our politics is the position that the working class will lead the fight for anarchism. It is only the self-activity of masses of workers that is capable of mounting an effective challenge to the bosses and their state. The trade union movement is the most important mass movement the working class has built and no matter how progressive or reactionary the attitudes of its members, no matter how conservative they can become, it does not alter the fact that they are the most important mass organisations of the working class. For the WSM, as anarchists, activity within them is our most important ongoing activity. (emphasis added, Bv)

WSM ACTIVITY IN THE UNIONS

7.1 Our perspectives for activity within the unions are centred on encouraging workers themselves to take up the fight against the bosses, state interference and the TU bureaucracy. Our most important area of activity is on the shopfloor.

7.2 We encourage 100% union membership and all WSM members are members of their appropriate trade union.

7.3 No WSM member will accept any unelected position that entails having power over the membership.

7.4 Members elected as shop stewards consider their position as that of a delegate rather than that of a 'representative' who can act over the heads of the members.

7.5 When going forward for elective positions we make it clear that we are not accepting the structure as it now exists. We will fight for more accountability, mandation, information for members, etc.

7.6 The following points serve as guidelines for our day-to-day activity and link it to our goal of anarchism, because of the method that lies behind them.

...

And then follows the list of demands... Truly dreadful... roll eyes

Beltov.

yozzee
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Jun 8 2005 11:59
Volin wrote:
By the way, what the fuck does the ICC do?

From the ICC Platform statement, The Organisation of Revolutionaries (http://en.internationalism.org/node/622):

"All that can exist at such times are organisations of a much smaller size whose function is no longer to influence the immediate movement, but to resist it, which means struggling against the current while the class is being disarmed and mobilised by the bourgeoisie (through class collaboration, ‘Sacred Union’, ‘the Resistance’, ‘anti-fascism’, etc). Their essential task then is to draw the lessons of previous experience and so prepare the theoretical and programmatic framework for the future proletarian party which must necessarily emerge in the next upsurge of the class. These groups and fractions who, when the class struggle is on the ebb, have detached themselves from the degenerating party or have survived its demise, have the task of constituting a political and organisational bridge until the re-emergence of the party."

And you were doing so well Beltov.

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the button
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Jun 8 2005 12:04
Quote:
(through class collaboration, ‘Sacred Union’, ‘the Resistance’, ‘anti-fascism’, etc).

eek What? All antifascism?

Beltov
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Jun 8 2005 13:08
yozzee wrote:
Volin wrote:
By the way, what the fuck does the ICC do?

From the ICC Platform statement, The Organisation of Revolutionaries (http://en.internationalism.org/node/622):

"...These groups and fractions who, when the class struggle is on the ebb, have detached themselves from the degenerating party or have survived its demise, have the task of constituting a political and organisational bridge until the re-emergence of the party."

And you were doing so well Beltov.

Yes, the working class will arm itself with a world communist party and the ICC is working to build the foundations of it. What's this got to do with a discussion about the unions? confused

Beltov.

nastyned
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Jun 8 2005 13:16
Beltov wrote:
Well, what does an anarcho-syndicalist do?. Given that in Britain there are no anarcho-syndicalist unions worth mentioning, then presumably the only activity is going along to the existing unions and doing "union stuff" - ie taking part, becoming a shop steward, etc. If they're not doing that then they're all mouth; and if they are, then perhaps they could explain what precisely is the difference between what they do and what the Trots do?

Beltov.

So you presume what anarcho-syndicalists do and then slag them off for it! Nice technique - did you learn it at cadre school? From what i've seen the way you think it's Stalinism, not Bolshevism itself that's a problem it's you that is looking indistinguishable from a Trot. In fact come to think of it isn't it the ICC's position that Trotsky never betrayed the working class?

Steve
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Jun 8 2005 13:21
Beltov wrote:
Yes, the working class will arm itself with a world communist party and the ICC is working to build the foundations of it. What's this got to do with a discussion about the unions? confused

Beltov.

And there’ll be pie in the sky when you die – Joe Hill

Beltov
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Jun 8 2005 13:28
the button wrote:
Quote:
(through class collaboration, ‘Sacred Union’, ‘the Resistance’, ‘anti-fascism’, etc).

eek What? All antifascism?

Yep. Check out the section of the ICC's platform on Frontism and the collection of articles here on the 'united front', especially 'Anti-fascism: a formula for confusion'.

Beltov.

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the button
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Jun 8 2005 13:32

Right, OK. Now I haven't read it yet, but I'm guessing that the way to combat fascism is to build the revolutionary party, right?

roll eyes

Beltov
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Jun 8 2005 13:43
nastyned wrote:

So you presume what anarcho-syndicalists do and then slag them off for it!

Well, the @-syndicalists on this forum seem to have been a bit quiet and haven't explained what they do. We're all ears! At least the ones in Spain have a go http://www.alasbarricadas.org/forums/

Beltov.

Steve
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Jun 8 2005 15:14
Beltov wrote:
nastyned wrote:

So you presume what anarcho-syndicalists do and then slag them off for it!

Well, the @-syndicalists on this forum seem to have been a bit quiet and haven't explained what they do. We're all ears! At least the ones in Spain have a go http://www.alasbarricadas.org/forums/

Beltov.

To fucking busy mate for chit chat with the middle classes.

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the button
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Jun 8 2005 15:15

Yeah, mate. You're a "professional revolutionary." Haven't you got work to be doing? wink

Beltov
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Jun 8 2005 19:59
the button wrote:
Yeah, mate. You're a "professional revolutionary." Haven't you got work to be doing? :wink:

I wish! Just passionate about what we believe in and do. Got a problem with that? Actually it was my day off, and we were on strike a couple of weeks ago so grin

Beltov.

Steve
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Jun 8 2005 20:09

Is it true you have to pass a test to join the ICC?

Beltov
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Jun 8 2005 20:12
Steve wrote:
Is it true you have to pass a test to join the ICC?

No. Maybe you're thinking of the SPGB?

Beltov.