Following on from the article about 'partnership working'. Here is a brief look at the trade unions, issues around competing class forces, and their lack of spine, and inability to side with the workers.
As I have discussed before, the government and the trade unions use words such as, ‘negotiation’ and ‘compromise’. These words only mean anything, if you have, and (or) are prepared to use what you have. If the government make a threat, they will generally carry it out. The unions make threats that they never, or very rarely carry out.
This means that there can be no such thing as a negotiation. Any discussion between the government and the unions becomes a ‘begging’ exercise on the part of the unions. You can only negotiate if you are prepared to ‘do something’ or ‘withhold something’. I have seen this countless times, both on a national level, and also over relatively small issues within the workplace.
The union bureaucrats enjoy the position they occupy between competing class forces. They are sandwiched between the workers and the ruling class, and spend their time trying to balance the needs and wishes of both parties. They generally fail to please either party completely, but both parties feel they need to stick with the unions, regardless of their failings, albeit for different reasons.
The ruling class need to unions in order to bypass the rank and file, and to use them as a way of ‘rubber stamping’, the decisions, and the shit that they hand down to the workers.
Conversely, the workers think they need the unions to fight their corner, and to stop the government and employers from running roughshod over them. However much the union bureaucrats fail, or lie, or side with the ruling class, the workers always stick with them. They believe that like the Labour Party, they can be reclaimed from right wing, and we can go back to the ‘good old days’. When the truth is, there never was any ‘good old days’, or at best, there was slightly better days.
The union bureaucrats enjoy the position they occupy. They are only too aware of the purpose they serve to the competing class forces. The reality is, they do not want anything to change. They want to protect their bureaucracy, their perks, their full time jobs, their massive salaries, big pensions, peerages, and their nice cosy relationships with Labour careerists.
They do not want change at all, never mind revolutionary change. They want, and need to maintain the status quo. They fear the rise of a militant working class, more than they do the ruling classes, because a militant working class would sweep away the complicit and reformist bureaucrats, whereas the ruling class will always keep them onside, and in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.
Do we have to live another century of lies, broken promises, and treachery, before we send the likes of the TUC into the dustbin of history where they belong. Or in a similar way to the Labour party, do we constantly hark back to the ‘glory days’, and call for the movement to be reclaimed? Not that I am claiming to know the answer.
Tony Cliff is not a man I quote very often, but on this occasion I feel he hits the nail on the head:
“The union bureaucracy is both reformist and cowardly. Hence it’s ridiculously impotent and wretched position. It dreams of reforms but fears to settle accounts in real earnest with the state, which not only refuses to grant reforms but even withdraws those already granted. It also fears the rank and file struggle which alone can deliver reforms. The union bureaucrats are afraid of losing their own privileges vis-à-vis the rank and file. Their fear of the mass struggle is much greater than their abhorrence of state control of the unions. At all decisive moments, the union bureaucracy is bound to side with the state, but in the meantime it vacillates”.