Should communists be union reps?

214 posts / 0 new
Last post
Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 26 2006 22:25
Should communists be union reps?

Admin - split from Tips for being a union rep thread here

knightrose wrote:
How about "don't do it"

If you have some good reasons why people shouldn't please say so, we can include them if they're any good...

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 26 2006 23:28

Because whatever your good intentions may be, you end up selling the union line to the 'members' and acting as a barrier to workers organising themselves. This may not be apparent in times of apathy when the 'activists' are the only ones involved in keeping the union going, but it will become clear when the struggle breaks out of the daily routine and workers dare to take things into their own hands. Then you're faced with the choice go with the union and oppose the struggle, which will necessarily break the union rules, or give up being a union rep and go with the workers. So why put yourself in that position in the first place?

EdmontonWobbly's picture
EdmontonWobbly
Offline
Joined: 25-03-06
Jun 27 2006 04:15

Don't you think the workers might take you a bit more seriously when you do break with the union line if you are actually seen as someone who has actually tried to do something?

Oh, one other thing, what is a union 'rep' are we talking shop steward or something higher?

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 09:00
Alf wrote:
Because whatever your good intentions may be, you end up selling the union line to the 'members' and acting as a barrier to workers organising themselves. This may not be apparent in times of apathy when the 'activists' are the only ones involved in keeping the union going, but it will become clear when the struggle breaks out of the daily routine and workers dare to take things into their own hands. Then you're faced with the choice: go with the union and oppose the struggle, which will necessarily break the union rules, or give up being a union rep and go with the workers. So why put yourself in that position in the first place?

Or sit on the sidelines and explain why it all went wrong afterwards (Giving a link to a website of course)

You don't have to play by the union rules (we're talking shop steward level here not a paid post). Anarcho-syndicalists always argue for workplace meetings to make decisions anyway and would encourage fellow workers to take control of actions. My experience though was that many workers were reluctant to take the first steps.

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 27 2006 10:13

NO you explain in advance why it's all going to go wrong, based on decades of bitter experience. And not from the sidelines. Sitting or standing depends on the circumstances.

Shop stewards are agents of the union, paid or not.

Jef Costello, if you're reading this, I believe you asked me somewhere where on libcom were people advocating working in the unions. Look no further.

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 10:29
Alf wrote:
NO: you explain in advance why it's all going to go wrong, based on decades of bitter experience. And not from the sidelines. Sitting or standing depends on the circumstances.

If you're not prepared to take part you are on the sidelines sitting (or standing) reading you little red books. Bit like religious fanatics.

Alf wrote:
Shop stewards are agents of the union, paid or not.

And unions are anti-working class. So you are saying I'm an agent of state? Twat.

Alf wrote:
Jef Costello, if you're reading this, I believe you asked me somewhere where on libcom were people advocating working in the unions. Look no further.

I advocate working within but beyond the unions, I’ve never said anything else. I’d rather organise alongside my fellow workers and fight than be a purist smug little fucker like you mate.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 10:39
Steve wrote:
I’d rather organise alongside my fellow workers and fight than be a purist smug little fucker like you mate.

Steve, just to remind you this is a no flaming forum.

magnifico
Offline
Joined: 29-11-05
Jun 27 2006 10:48
Alf wrote:
Then you're faced with the choice: go with the union and oppose the struggle, which will necessarily break the union rules, or give up being a union rep and go with the workers.

But noone here is going to have any doubts about who to 'go with' if this situation were to occur, so what is the problem?

Alf wrote:
So why put yourself in that position in the first place?

Why not, if it seems the best way to stimulate self-organisation in your workplace?

I do agree with the point that being a very active/militant member of an inactive/undemocratic/in bed with the bosses union can give people a false faith that 'the union is doing something' and act as a barrier to self organisation. It's something I think I've been guilty of myself recently, and I'm having a good think about it.....

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 10:50
John. wrote:
Steve, just to remind you this is a no flaming forum.

OK, but bosses are bosses no matter what guise they take.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Jun 27 2006 11:20

I was a militant steward and then convenor for over a decade and being a communist and union rep is a contradiction that one can't live with. Alf says in times of apathy you keep the unions going. That's a point, but, by necessity of the trade union role, you are also involved in management discipline procedures, work rates, manning levels, so-called safety committees, etc., etc.,. Once you step back and look at the picture overall it is easy to see you are part of the management structure. We, the stewards committees, came into our own when there was a struggle (not initially, it was a wildcat of non-union members that set the unions up - management couldn't get them in fast enough). Here was where the credibility was given to the unions. We put ourselves about, organised meetings, votes, democracy, walk-outs, pickets, blacking (national company, drivers, packers, electricians, fitters, production, and so on). But always, always, we had to return to that union framework and the inevitable "sell-out", the "bureaucrats" and all the other pointless excuses.

The "good faith" of the militant union member, ie, to be seen acting miliantly and unselfishly on behalf of the workers, is the best weapon of the unions and the best weapon of management. It gives credibility to something that is not just an empty shell (unions were weapons of the working class in the 19th c.) but an integral part of the capitalist state.

Vaneigemappreci...
Offline
Joined: 23-01-04
Jun 27 2006 11:26

i'd say that communists shouldnt be union reps as a) surely this works against the direct action and autonomy of the workers at the base, we should be working towards self management not representaion and b) we dont want to be the mediators between the employers and the employed we want to abolish the employers. How far is it a step from a rep to a fully paid official? Serious question not a snipe.

However as these criticisms are all based upon theory and i have no experience of such positions in practice then i may be talking purist crap.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 11:31

Okay how about this (good post btw baboon, I know I may disagree with you on some stuff, but it is unfair the way some people try to slag off left communists as being "do-nothings"):

The people who have been stewards, was there anything you think you were able to in the position of steward that you wouldn't've been able to do as a regular worker?

Rob Ray's picture
Rob Ray
Offline
Joined: 6-11-03
Jun 27 2006 11:52
Quote:
How far is it a step from a rep to a fully paid official?

A large number of courses in everything from negotiation to management, followed by application to the position, an interview with (a good mate who you've met through attending all the meetings) and a semi-masonic handshake, usually.

Difference between the two posts is potentially huge (though in practice, depends on the individual and their motives for doing it) because at work, you are dependent on your membership to retain your post, and don't get paid by a union whose main role for you is to mitigate any losses they might incur from bolshie grass roots types, so have no fiscal incentive to be a prick. Course, if you are aiming for a union post, or in some cases, a promotion at work, as an individual you'll still be compromised. Tbh I think the ICC model seems far too unwieldy to take this into account, at least as explained on Libcom.

Quote:
was there anything you think you were able to in the position of steward that you wouldn't've been able to do as a regular worker?

Well still waiting for my vice-steward position to be confirmed atm, but from first impressions, it does mean you tend to find out more about what's going on cos people come up and tell you as 'the rep', and you can send out round robin emails to the membership, suggest things that should be done etc and not get bollocked for being a 'change the record' busybody (as that's what you're supposed to be doing) wink.

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 12:01

All I'm hearing is how we shouldn't organise in the workplace or that we shouldn't organise at all. I don't see any alternatives being put forward by 'communists'. As far as I'm concerned anyone who is against workplace organisation is 'objectively' tongue pro-bosses and anti-working class.

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 12:03
baboon wrote:
The "good faith" of the militant union member, ie, to be seen acting miliantly and unselfishly on behalf of the workers, is the best weapon of the unions and the best weapon of management. It gives credibility to something that is not just an empty shell (unions were weapons of the working class in the 19th c.) but an integral part of the capitalist state.

So when did this change occur? At what precise point did unions stop being a weapon of the working class and an integral part of the state?

Vaneigemappreci...
Offline
Joined: 23-01-04
Jun 27 2006 12:09

1926

no i dont know, there is a very dry but informative book by Allen Hutt, A short History of British Trade Unions which was written in the late 30s which suggested that by the late 20s early 30 the unions (apart from perhaps the miners) had been pretty much assimilated into the state apparatus as a tool of regimenting and conatining workers struggles and more recalcitrant tendencies. I really couldnt offer an exact date though.

Peter Good
Offline
Joined: 18-04-05
Jun 27 2006 12:12

For some everyday experiences of Anarchists as Trade Union officials try:

Martin Gilbert's " Known to the Authorities"

www.anarchistsinsocialwork.org.uk

Peter Good (TCA)

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 12:13
Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
1926

no i dont know, there is a very dry but informative book by Allen Hutt, A short History of British Trade Unions which was written in the late 30s which suggested that by the late 20s early 30 the unions (apart from perhaps the miners) had been pretty much assimilated into the state apparatus as a tool of regimenting and conatining workers struggles and more recalcitrant tendencies. I really couldnt offer an exact date though.

See I thought it was a quarter-past-six on July 15th 1899 myself. wink

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Jun 27 2006 12:51
Steve wrote:
Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
1926

no i dont know, there is a very dry but informative book by Allen Hutt, A short History of British Trade Unions which was written in the late 30s which suggested that by the late 20s early 30 the unions (apart from perhaps the miners) had been pretty much assimilated into the state apparatus as a tool of regimenting and conatining workers struggles and more recalcitrant tendencies. I really couldnt offer an exact date though.

See I thought it was a quarter-past-six on July 15th 1899 myself. :wink:

Actually the correct answer (according the the ICC anyway wink ) is 1914. As to the date I'm not certain but I suspect July 28th, though it might be as late as August 4th.

the button's picture
the button
Offline
Joined: 7-07-04
Jun 27 2006 12:55

So what happened in the miners' strike is that the full weight of the state & the security services was brought to bear against the National Union of Mineworkers. And the reason that it happened is that there was nothing on the telly, and Margaret Thatcher just did it for a laugh. neutral

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 12:58
nastyned wrote:
Steve wrote:
Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
1926

no i dont know, there is a very dry but informative book by Allen Hutt, A short History of British Trade Unions which was written in the late 30s which suggested that by the late 20s early 30 the unions (apart from perhaps the miners) had been pretty much assimilated into the state apparatus as a tool of regimenting and conatining workers struggles and more recalcitrant tendencies. I really couldnt offer an exact date though.

See I thought it was a quarter-past-six on July 15th 1899 myself. :wink:

Actually the correct answer (according the the ICC anyway wink ) is 1914. As to the date I'm not certain but I suspect July 28th, though it might be as late as August 4th.

Ah you see before 1914 anarcho-syndicalists, active in the wave of industrial unrest, argued that the unions couldn't be reformed but their (apparent) mistake was in trying to form revolutionary unions.

Volin's picture
Volin
Offline
Joined: 24-01-05
Jun 27 2006 14:12

^

I think that's more or less correct, you can't form revolutionary unions - it's impossible, and those that held this view, from the moderate to the more radical cenetistas for example, were more-often-than-not going down the wrong path when it came to developing a revolutionary situation and in giving their particular union the central role and far-reaching role it apparently had. However, outside of other more independent working class organisations I don't see any other option they had. The revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist unions did not achieve what they set out to do, but they remain the greatest examples of radical, libertarian mass action in our history -and through it all, 'revolutionary periods' and repression. We cannot constantly refer to the soviets (etc.), because, as amazing as they were, they do not hold specific relevency to present attempts in organisation (but an unceasing importance in what we aim for).

And yeah, I'd agree that being constantly, constructively, critical is an important thing but you shouldn't lose yourself in that convenient cynicism - we have to have something to work with in the real world. The sad fact is, whilst the criticisms of syndicalism, 'self-management' etc. are nearly all correct (they exist within capital etc.) many of those who continue to repeat them do not have any alternative. They cannot possibly accept that whilst these formations aren't perfect, they're better to be in existence that not, they contain many radical elements and could be a step forward if they're not to be clung to as 'the answer'.

When you live and try to fight inside the current social system, of course anything we try'll come up short, we'll be knocked down and our efforts will be diluted and fitted in with the present hegemony. The point is to try limit this as far as possible whilst still aiming for mass organisation and empowerment.

So anyway,

Of course I've got real problems with union organisation but I'm more inclined to communists being radical stewards (in this case) than 'propagandising' their asses off. I don't have any experience in it, I'm sure it's got its problems that we should watch - but I have a suspicion that it might be more worthwhile than we'd expect.

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 27 2006 14:15

The very fact that anarcho-sydicalism developed at the end of the 19th century was a sign that the existing trade unions were already becoming incorporated into the system. Syndicalism was an attempt to solve the problem, even if it was an inadequate one from the left communist viewpoint, the problem was solved in practise through the development of the soviet form.

1914 was the culmination of a process which had been going on for a long time, something the ICC has always maintained. These jokes about how everything changed at teatime on August 4 1914 are a bit tired, really.

Lazy Riser's picture
Lazy Riser
Offline
Joined: 6-05-05
Jun 27 2006 14:22

Hi

So should communists be union reps or not? I don't see why not.

Love

LR

Lazy Riser's picture
Lazy Riser
Offline
Joined: 6-05-05
Jun 27 2006 14:25

Hi

Quote:
Because whatever your good intentions may be, you end up selling the union line to the 'members' and acting as a barrier to workers organising themselves.

I doubt whether selling the union line is a barrier to workers organising themselves, certainly no more than selling the company line.

Should communists be managers?

Love

LR

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 14:27
Lazy Riser wrote:
Hi

So should communists become union reps or not? I don't see why not.

Love

LR

No they should form soviets!

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 14:28
Volin wrote:
^

I think that's more or less correct, you can't form revolutionary unions -

I was being sarcastic.

the button's picture
the button
Offline
Joined: 7-07-04
Jun 27 2006 14:29
Volin wrote:
When you live and try to fight inside the current social system, of course anything we try'll come up short, we'll be knocked down and our efforts will be diluted and fitted in with the present hegemony. The point is to try limit this as far as possible whilst still aiming for mass organisation and empowerment.

So anyway,

Of course I've got real problems with union organisation but I'm more inclined to communists being radical stewards (in this case) than 'propagandising' their asses off. I don't have any experience in it, I'm sure it's got its problems that we should watch - but I have a suspicion that it might be more worthwhile than we'd expect.

Good post & good attitude -- particularly the last paragraph.

As for the bit I've put in bold, there are concrete ways of trying to do this, some of which are in that "tips for reps" thing in the other thread. Remember that? wink

Lazy Riser's picture
Lazy Riser
Offline
Joined: 6-05-05
Jun 27 2006 14:29

Hi

Quote:
No they should form soviets!

No they should abolish individual private property. Seriously, I don't see why communists shouldn't be allowed to do anything they like.

Can communists be ice-cream sellers?

Love

LR

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jun 27 2006 14:32
Lazy Riser wrote:
Can communists be ice-cream sellers?

Love

LR

Only if it's the correct line of ice cream

the button's picture
the button
Offline
Joined: 7-07-04
Jun 27 2006 14:34
revol68 wrote:
If no one gives me fucking credit for my amazing football analogy/fusion i'm flouncing! angry