libcom.org's reading guide around trade or labour unions and the role they play in modern society.
- Unions - an introduction - libcom.org's clear and concise guide to unions, their function and how we think workers should relate to them.
- Red flags torn: a brief sketch of some problems with unions - Ed Goddard - article briefly explaining some of the problems inherent in the official trade unions and the need for workers to take control of their actions out of the hands union bureaucrats.
- Unions: a revolutionary critique - Red and Black Notes - brief text advancing a communist anti-union position, looking at the way unions serve to nullify dissent and channel struggle in "acceptable" directions.
- Fighting for ourselves: anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle - Solidarity Federation - excellent short book, which includes a useful critique of the unions in chapter 1 and proposes a revolutionary alternative.
- The origins of the union shop - Tom Wetzel - article about the limitations of union closed shops and how they helped unions act as a tool of discipline of workers instead of a tool for defending their interests.
- Organized labour versus "the revolt against work" - John Zerzan - excellent article examining how unions often participate in the exploitation of workers, focussing in particular on the US car manufacturing industry from the 1930s to 1970s (the author much later on in his life wrote a lot of terrible stuff, but we promise this is good).
- Institutionalization from below: The unions and social movements in 1970s Italy - Robert Lumley - chapter of Robert Lumley's excellent book on the mass struggles in Italy in the 1960s-70s detailing how the unions re-gained control of the social movements and channelled them into "representative" politics.
- "The fight of our lives": an analysis of the UK pensions dispute - Steven Johns - a detailed look at the struggles in 2011-12 in the UK over pensions, and the role the unions played in this.
- 1970-1972: The Lordstown struggle and the real crisis in production - Ken Weller - highly interesting pamphlet on workers' struggles against the frenetic pace of work at a General Motors plant, and the co-optation of the struggle by the auto workers union.
- Wildcat: Dodge Truck June 1974 - detailed article by participants and eyewitnesses about the wildcat strike at the Chrysler truck plant in Michigan, 1974, and the roles of the workers, the union and the left.
- Anatomy of an industrial struggle: Chrysler factory at Tonsley Park in Adelaide 1976-1978 - detailed account by one of the workers of two years of struggle at a plant and the role the union played in it.
Other recommended texts
- Between a rock and a hard place: thoughts on militant workers as reps - Phil Dickens - Interesting article by a shop steward evaluating the difficulties in being a radical union activist.
- On rank-and-file action, trade union representation and building confidence - Phil Dickens - A brief note on why forms of action taken at the behest of trade union structures cannot be equated with rank-and-file led organisation and direct action.
- “Just and peaceful labor relations”: Why the U.S. government supported collective bargaining - Nate Hawthorn - brief account of some of the history of the capitalist state’s sponsorship of contracts for unions in the United States, with an emphasis on the reasoning that politicians and judges gave for their support of collective bargaining.
- Thinking about unions: association and representation - Joseph Kay - Interesting article looking at the tensions inside unions between their ability to bring workers together in struggle and their role as representatives/mediators of that struggle.
- Better than we know ourselves: a ruling class view of the trade unions - Article adapted from the May 2012 article of Black Flag magazine which examines the trade unions from the perspective of the bourgeoisie.
- Trade unions: pillars of capitalism - Internationalist Perspective - Interesting series of articles debating the nature of unions and how we should relate to them.
- Unions and political struggle - Mouvement Communiste - French libertarian communist group Mouvement Communiste's analysis and critique of the trade unions.
- Unions archive - libcom.org's unions tag containing all our content about the nature of unions and trade unionism.
A more balanced listing of
A more balanced listing of key texts given the continuing arguments on this site around the issue of the trade unions might include some of the following:
One of my favourites:
'Trade Unions Pillars of Capitalism' at http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-archive/ip_41_trade-unions.html
Unions Against Revolution by G.Munis.
Organised Labour versus 'The Revolt Against Work' by J.Zerzan.
Unions and Political Struggle by Mouvement Communiste.
Unions Against the Working Class by the ICC.
and of course some of the old Subversion and Wildcat short texts.
Some similar themes in these of course but not entirely consistent by any means.
If I could offer a bit of
If I could offer a bit of flagrant self-promotion:
Don't forget the
Don't forget the communisation critique to
during the 1970ies, there was
during the 1970ies, there was a lively discussion in Germany about the "double character of unions": one the one hand being an elementary expression of the self-organization of the working-class and therefore inherently in a state of confrontation with the ruling class, on the other hand also inherently integrated into capitalism by being the body which negotiates the price of the commodity of labour power with the ruling class and therefor automatically subject to integration (which also applies to revolutionary unions in non-revolutionary-times) ... Marx wrote some stuff about the Janus-headed task of unions inside/against the wage system but I don't know exactly where (probably in The Poverty of Philosophy?)
Quote: Marx wrote some stuff
I'd be interested to read that if anyone can find an excerpt....?
If we're doing
If we're doing self-promotion, I've done a few pieces not only on the role unions play, but also on their own narratives about the role they play:
[/shameless plug] :D
I've not had time to read
I've not had time to read through all of the above yet but I do have a question: does anyone have a suggested texts for anarchists working within the mainstream unions? I get the impression many anarchists (at least here) are part of whatever the recognised union is where they work, so would be interesting to know what sort of lessons people have learned and whether there's any potential for wider co-ordination (e.g. if a given union has a sizeable enough number of anarchos would it be worthwhile producing some common material?).
I guess a related question would be about the IWW's encouragement of "dual carding"; The Role of the Dual Carder in the IWW (pdf) might be of interest in this regard?
A basic pro union
A basic pro union text: