To ‘the movement’: on work and unions in an age of austerity - Tom Denning

In an age of austerity, at a time in which industrial struggle seems to be on the agenda in a way in which it hasn’t been for years, activists are asking questions about unions. What can we expect from them? How should we relate to them? Why are they as they are? Originally published in May 2011.

Submitted by Django on May 27, 2011

We begin with who we are

Movements tend to reproduce their own social base and subjectivity according to the tactical repertoire which constitutes them. The things they do determine who takes part, and who takes part determines what they do. Thus, a movement based around students, unemployed people, NGO workers, and those with jobs that allow them a high degree of personal flexibility, tends to reproduce itself based on a set array of actions: camping, occupying or blockading commercial property, street-theatre, banner drops, etc. – with an apparent diversity, but all a characteristic response to the lack of a mass social base rooted in contexts of everyday experience in which non-activists can be mobilised for . . . action.

The ecological anti-capitalist movement has largely been constituted outside, and to an extent, against, work. It has not therefore, often, found itself with plurality of militants at a single workplace, or in a given industry, who need to, or who could, struggle within that context. Where the movement has had such a plurality; there is quite probably little or no collective awareness of that fact, and there has been little or no effort to bring them together, or support them. Their social position has not been seen as a potential tactical lever by the movement as a whole, and perhaps not even by the workers themselves.

Therefore, the movement tends to relate to workers’ struggle, and therefore to unions, as something outside itself. When activists need to get normal jobs in large workplaces – and they show enormous creativity in not doing so – they often leave the movement; particularly if they also need to put time into a family. So – as in the case of debates over open cast mining, or coal-fired power stations, unions appear as an external ally or adversary: not something we’re part of.

Just as there is, in general, no useful revolutionary theory not based on revolutionary practice, there is no useful critique of trade unionism which does not rely on, or imply, a practical project to supercede unions in practice. That is: cheering or denouncing unions, whether from inside or outside, is wholly sterile. Even a nuanced critique, which understands the countervailing dynamics of the union form (how they express class struggle; how they hold it back) is somewhat sterile, unless it is linked to practice. Such a nuanced critique is nonetheless necessary.

The unions: what they are

Unions, in Britain today, seek to bargain with employers over workers’ terms and conditions and are based on a mass worker-membership. They are stable institutions, persisting through occasional disputes, and rather longer periods which see little conflict at all. From these facts, a number of dynamics follow.

Firstly, unions appear as an expression of workers’ self-organisation, and reflect, to an extent, workers’ opinions and perceptions. However, they are also better adapted to compromise – which is what they spend most of their time doing – than they are to struggle. As permanent institutions based on a fairly passive membership, they acquire a permanent administrative staff and a leadership to run them – what is often called ‘the bureaucracy’. In the absence of permanent industrial warfare or revolution, they need to be able to compromise with the employer. And therefore they also need to compromise with the state, which seeks to regulate industrial relations through a legal framework which appears to offer a proper procedure for industrial action, but without making it too easy. Thus, over time, unions develop an institutional interest in capitalism, and a symbiotic relationship with the state. In the UK, this relationship is expressed partly, but not wholly, through the unions’ support for the Labour Party.

However, this process is not something entirely apart from workers. The mass of workers themselves accept capitalism and the state, and it is their lack of willingness to engage in relentless anti-capitalist struggle which provides the basis on which unions are founded. So, all is well between workers and unions? Not at all. Typically, the leadership of the union has a greater interest in compromise than the base; a fact which is often exposed when workers decide to struggle. They probably weren’t all that interested in the union when it wasn’t organising struggle, but when they do engage, are confronted with an organisation which has become more suited – in terms of its form and leading personnel – to compromise than the sort of action they want, or need, to win. Just as workers seek to organise through their union, they also discover a conflict with the official leaders, structures, and rule-book.

These dynamics also affect the nature of trade union demands. Not only are the demands not revolutionary, they very rarely move beyond wages and redundancies, to question the content and nature of work, and the place of the worker within society as a whole.

Unions are therefore best understood as the expressions of two countervailing dynamics.

On the one hand, unions are a basic form of workers’ self organisation against the day to day predations of capital; they express – albeit in a very staid manner – the class struggle. On the other, unions are institutions which seek to control and limit that very self-organisation, limit the militancy of its members in pursuit of that aim, and limit the scope of demands they raise. These tendencies are both so strong, and so integral, to unions that it is rare that one entirely wins out. The extent to which one prevails over the other differs from time to time, and place to place, depending on the circumstances.

Ideas about trade unions

Most Trotskyists identify the struggle over work precisely with the trade union struggle; and attributes the failings of unions in large part to a ‘crisis of leadership’, which can be solved by themselves being in charge. They are probably also officially in favour of democratising the unions, and will generally support unofficial action. Trotskyists generally accept that unions are ‘not revolutionary’ (the remnants of a critique of trade unions which was common in early 20th Century Marxism), but rarely have a general structural analysis, such as the above. They do not, typically, prominently raise the possibility of struggle beyond the unions.

The orthodox ‘ultra-left’ position adopts the opposing view. Rather than seeing unions as institutions ripe to be captured and redirected by revolutionaries (and implicitly free of a structural relation to capital and the state), they see unions solely in their aspect of a limit to the class struggle. This, at its worst, results in a total disengagement from trade unions, and a tendency to denounce every defeat of the working class as evidence of ‘union sabotage’. There is little acknowledgement that workers organise class struggle through unions, still less that workers often choose to end disputes themselves. Blaming ‘the union’ posits a bogeyman, wholly external to the workers’ movement – and prevents serious engagement with the subjective and material sources of workers’ interest in compromise with capital. It also lets us off the hook: given that we have failed to build support for our ideas – direct action, participatory democracy, anti-capitalism – don’t we have cause to take a hard look at ourselves?

A third position, which is often held implicitly but very rarely expressed, is that of critical routineism. Many libertarian activists who are formally critical of both perspectives are involved in their union because they want to do what they can to oppose day to day injustice. They don’t necessarily want to take over the union, and are aware of the limits of trade unions, but neither do they have a clear idea of how to go beyond it. Often, the union will take up alot of their energy, not leaving much time for extra-union-routine politics. Whilst individually critical of unions, their day to day activity doesn’t move beyond trade unionism.

Critique beyond theory: the need for an independent practice

Earlier in this article, I argued that the lack of an independent libertarian revolutionary practice in relation to work was not only a product of our movement’s sociological isolation, but a cause of it. We’ve seen that unions are the crucible of countervailing dynamics, which express class struggle, just as they stifle it. We’ve seen that trying to take over trade unions is likely, in the end, to be as futile as denouncing them from the sidelines; and as unlikely to develop an anti-capitalist dynamic as individualised routine. What does that leave? Loren Goldner calls it ‘extra-unionism’: “be in the union, be outside the union, but your perspective is beyond the union”. But how?

There are no easy answers. But it’s possible to suggest a few different approaches.

Industrial networks. At present, our movement makes no serious attempt to ensure that militants working in the same job or sector get together to organise collective work. A first step would be to make it part of our regular practice that health workers and education workers, for instance, meet in fora such as the Anarchist Bookfair. Discussing perspectives for organising solidarity and agitation could form part of this.

Solidarity unionism. In the US, the IWW has developed a workplace organiser training which has been taken up and adapted by the Solidarity Federation here in the UK. The purpose is to train workers how to build collective confidence and power on the job, without relying on official structures or mediation. In the US, the Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers’ unions have been two important consequences of this approach. We need to stop thinking of ‘direct action training’ as based on a discrete series of skills, such as lock-on and tripods, but instead about we involve non-politicos in direct action. Contact SolFed if you’re interested.

Base groups and bulletins. In the 1970s, libertarian socialists in Big Flame and the early International Socialists adopted an effective organising model. It was particularly well suited to large factories, but there may be a way to apply it today. Militants based inside and outside the workplace would work together to produce a regular workers’ bulletin, designed to reflect the experience of work and struggle, and help workers communicate with each other. Rather than laying down ‘the line’, at their best they’d show the radical implications of being honest about our working lives, and provide a way to organise politically at work, without relying on the union. The support of outsiders was often necessary due to the pressure of work, family-life, and union activity.

Workers and service users: in and against the state. Cuts are attacks on service users and workers. In the late ‘70s, another period of public sector cuts, workers and service users found ways to organise to support each other, in a way that cut against the capitalist logic of the state sector which divides the working class against itself. These attempts are documented in chapter 6 of the book In and Against the State.

We live in an economic and political reality very different from the high points of class struggle, characterised by mass expressions of workers’ autonomy. But, once again, workers are in the front line. Where will we be? To find a way to answer this in practice will require ingenuity and experimentation. But unless we learn to speak with our own voice, we will never be heard. And if we are never heard, we might as well be mute.

Some of Tom Denning’s previous articles discussing the movement against cuts can be found on the Red Pepper and New Left Project websites, as well as for the May Day International project

Originally published in Shift Magazine

Spikymike

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

The author makes some common sense points here, has taken some easy pot shots at the trots and there are some worthwhile practical pointers at the end of this short text, but it also contains a number of unsubstantiated generalisations.

Thus it dismisses the whole of the 'ultra-left' in one swoop with an accusation that they (whoever 'they' might be?) only see the limits which unions place on class struggle and avoid any analysis with routine accusations of union sabotage, but provides no evidence for this and no actual refutation of the many more nuanced analysis available on this site alone. Loren Goldner is mentioned but it is not clear if he is regarded here as 'ultra-left'?

Where is the evidence or logical argument that 'unions appear as expressions of workers self-organisation' or that they 'are basic forms of workers self organisation'. This may have been historically valid but is it still true today and [i]everywhere? That is not self evident.

The author says that a 'nuanced critique is necessary' but there is no evidence of that here. It adds nothing either to the library texts which do attempt a critical analysis of the unions or the various texts and debates on workplace strategies, so it's unclear why it has been posted here (even if it had some introductory function for the readership of SHIFT magazine).

As an aside I would suggest that in terms of industrial bulletins the old british 'Solidarity' Group has more to commend it than either IS or Big Flame in roughly the same period.

posi

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Thus it dismisses the whole of the 'ultra-left' in one swoop. . .

It doesn't. It refers to the orthodox ultra-left. By that, I meant, roughly, the positions of the ICT and ICC. Loren Goldner is on the ultra-left, but - judged by that standard - his position on unions is not orthodox.

Where is the evidence or logical argument that 'unions appear as expressions of workers self-organisation' or that they 'are basic forms of workers self organisation'. This may have been historically valid but is it still true today and [i]everywhere? That is not self evident.

To be honest, it pretty much is self-evident to all those who aren't on the orthodox ultra-left. The creativity displayed by that political tendency in ignoring the fact is, of itself, no evidence that it isn't the case. Edited to add: also, I refer to unions "in Britain today": widening the analysis to "everywhere" would bring in some more negative examples, but also some in which unions do have a more active pro-class struggle role than here.

The author says that a 'nuanced critique is necessary' but there is no evidence of that here.

By the standards of the positions I mention, one of which is very popular on these boards, it certainly is nuanced.

As an aside I would suggest that in terms of industrial bulletins the old british 'Solidarity' Group has more to commend it than either IS or Big Flame in roughly the same period.

You may well be right, but I've never seen any of them myself. Are any online somewhere?

For the record, the piece was already one third over the word limit I was given. In that space I had to explain the disengagement of the movement in question from unions and labour militancy, give a structural overview of unions, evaluate popular political positions and strategies in relation to them, and propose some practical steps. Of course, it doesn't properly back everything it says up with a host of historical examples. Gradually, I am trying to find time to produce something which does so: but that will be a pamphlet, and a long one at that, not a magazine article.

Android

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I read the piece after reading Spikymike's and posi's comments. I think the strongest part of the text was the stressing the importance of linking theory with a political practice and it is also a useful contribution from a different angle to the ongoing discussions around class struggle theory and practice that has centered so far on SolFed's contributions.

I do not think the "orthodox" critique of the unions is as orthodox as is being suggested:
Tom Denning / posi

The orthodox ‘ultra-left’ position adopts the opposing view. Rather than seeing unions as institutions ripe to be captured and redirected by revolutionaries (and implicitly free of a structural relation to capital and the state), they see unions solely in their aspect of a limit to the class struggle. This, at its worst, results in a total disengagement from trade unions, and a tendency to denounce every defeat of the working class as evidence of ‘union sabotage’. There is little acknowledgement that workers organise class struggle through unions, still less that workers often choose to end disputes themselves. Blaming ‘the union’ posits a bogeyman, wholly external to the workers’ movement – and prevents serious engagement with the subjective and material sources of workers’ interest in compromise with capital. It also lets us off the hook: given that we have failed to build support for our ideas – direct action, participatory democracy, anti-capitalism – don’t we have cause to take a hard look at ourselves?

I think I know what posi's means by the term 'orthodox ultra-left'. The common denominator being that a critique of the unions features prominently in analysis of the class struggle and a rejection of a political practice that is geared toward reforming / democratising the unions and a rejection of building official union oriented rank-and-file groups to achieve the former inside the union framework / structures. Also, the constituent parts of the 'orthodox ultra-left' differ on theory as well as practice regarding the unions. The only group within this camp that you could say approaches a moralistic and sectarian rejection of the unions (i.e. members do not join unions unless they have to) is the ICC, which they explained on here before was a tactical position, not a principle. The other elements of this camp posi is critiquing do have some engagement with the unions - in that there members have been and are union members depending on the opportunities for political work and articulating their politics and furthering their objective of independent class action. So, on the whole the orthdos do not have objection to never being in a union or never attending a union meeting as you seemed to be setting up with your 'total disengagement' comment. I think there focus is more that they will contribute where ever they can to moving past the unions and workers acting for themselves. So in that sense I do not see the position as all that different between CWO and the old Subversion group that Spikymike was in. I am not going to go into the theoretical differences here between the different ortho groups which ranges from the ICC, ICT, IP through to the old Wildcat and Subversion groups.

I may comment on some of the other elements of the text later that are worth discussing.

Also, I have just posted Paul Mattick Jr.'s piece on WI which looks at the unions and contains an implicit critique that probably falls under the ortho banner using posi's schema.

posi

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Hey Android, thanks for that. I do appreciate that there are differences within what I identify as the 'orthodox ultra left' (I'm not trying to invent a term of art here, I just had to call it something for the purposes of the article). I appreciate the CWO are somewhat less crude than the ICC, but in my experience of conversations with members, and their interventions in meetings (I haven't read any major texts), I find many of the same features, for example:
- denying that trade unionism wins anything worthwhile for its members (then, eclectically, acknowledging specific counter-examples, even general statistical trends, before going back to saying the same thing again)
- making the denunciation of unions the main feature of any intervention, but without (generally) anything useful to say, positively, about means to transcend the unions, and without acknowledging explicitly that there is a massive problem at the level of workers' current subjectivity (or, admitting that "of course, workers are not straining at the leash..." but then totally failing to integrate the significance of that fact on the level of the general analysis),
- An inconsistent account of what 'the union' is... e,g. when a shop steward organises unofficial action they are a worker, acting independently of the union, when a shop steward fucks over a member they are providing just another example of the union's perfidy.

However, I acknowledge that the CWO are not against being members of unions, and arguing their case at union meetings: good for them. That is why I said total disengagement is something that happens "at worst". I have also never heard anyone from the CWO claim that action organised by a union was "really" organised (independently) "by workers", but that the union had cunningly taken credit (which could conceivably happen, but isn't what has characterised recent strikes in the UK). I guess that CWO members wouldn't be stewards or branch officers, but although I disagree with that (and think the SolFed case by case position makes more sense), that is a relatively less important tactical call.

Android

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

posi

I just had to call it something for the purposes of the article). I appreciate the CWO are somewhat less crude than the ICC, but in my experience of conversations with members, and their interventions in meetings (I haven't read any major texts), I find many of the same features, for example:
- denying that trade unionism wins anything worthwhile for its members (then, eclectically, acknowledging specific counter-examples, even general statistical trends, before going back to saying the same thing again)
- making the denunciation of unions the main feature of any intervention, but without (generally) anything useful to say, positively, about means to transcend the unions, and without acknowledging explicitly that there is a massive problem at the level of workers' current subjectivity (or, admitting that "of course, workers are not straining at the leash..." but then totally failing to integrate the significance of that fact on the level of the general analysis),
- An inconsistent account of what 'the union' is... e,g. when a shop steward organises unofficial action they are a worker, acting independently of the union, when a shop steward fucks over a member they are providing just another example of the union's perfidy.

Having read a good bit of the ultra-lefts material on the union question, particularly from the 70s and 80s which for the most part is not online. Just to comment quickly on your bullet points so I can get back to the football.

While the role of the unions in class struggle may appear to focussed solely on denunciations and maybe there members you spoke to lapsed into defending an analysis and drifting into dogmatism. I do not know I am just going on what have you said. But for instance IIRC the differing analysis of the defeated class struggles in the 80s was aimed at the unions, but also took internal weaknesses such as the question consciousness or subjectivity as you seem to be calling it.

I am just going on reading material of there's alone, having not asked them directly. But they do not deny that the unions can achieve reforms / concessions since 1914 a la the ICC. But that the ability to do so is linked to the position of the accumulation cycle (e.g. post-war Britain) and worker militancy.

'Cleishbotham' (who is the only CWOer who reads this afaik) can clarify if I have misrepresented the CWO's analysis.

Although I think it is important to be factual accurate and historically grounded*, not alleging anything in the former. Although I did think Paul Mattick Jr.'s approach is superior to the one outlined in the text above, even if there is a difference in focus they are comparable.

*which I do appreciate was hampered by the limitation on word count etc, look forward to your more extensive text on this question.

Cleishbotham

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Android has done the CWO a good service by highlighting our specific analysis as part of the communist left. I don't blame Posi for lumping us withe the ICc since the latter have taken teh privilege of referring to themsleves as "the Communist Left" (even to the extent of putting their own logo on the group of that name on revleft). We too are complicit in this as my comrades don't think posting on forums like this is a real priority for communist work.

I actually thought the original article was quite thoughtful and made some points which we could all agree on. In repy to Spikymike I don't think the old Soildarity group (to which I belonged 1970-73) was very good on the unions (but it might hav ebene beter than Big Flame). I did not realise this when I joined it (and I was only forming my ideas anyway) but the title of Ken Weller's pamphlet "GMBU - Scab Union" eventually struck me as wrong - as today all the unions are scabs from the poijnt of view of real independent class struggle. Before that has Posi reaching for the I told you so button can I say this si not based on mere analysis but on actual concrete experience.

Our positon is based onthe view that the problem is not so much the unions as the lack of class consciousness and class identity today. We don't go into struggle making the unions the issue - the issue is the struggle itself. The union apparatus though will always reveal themselves at some point as an obstacle to real unity or a real fight. I mysefl have organised a struggle which involved uniting members of 6 unions (and I had to rejoin hastily my own union to do so). Naturally we won as long as we stayed together but finally folded when union sectionalism kicked in.

We have also had people coming to us as shop stewards telling us that they were doing the real work because they were inside the union and acting only for the members only to find that the union apparatus manoeuvred them out of office when they became a nusiance to them. (The alternative for shop stewards seems to be to accept a quasi managerial role and go on TUC courses where they are told how to negotiate and manipulate the membership (leavened by beer, meetings with celeb TUC leaders and teh rpomise of a shinign career away from the dreary world of real work).

I don't know where Posi has met CWO members but his anecdotal evidence suggest they must have been involved in lengthy discussions or else he has read too much into a few scattered comments.

What his article though lacks is a historical perspective. We built the unions of the C19th but they were controlled by the members more directly and they disubursed strike funds when needed. Today most of us only find out we are in aunion when they move into action to negotiate away our jobs or tell us to simmer down whilst they negotiate for us. This is because the unions in the corporate state capitalist model we have today exist to negotiate the price of wage labour FOR capital. If the union "wins anything worthwhile for its members" it tends to be of short term duration and of minimal value.

It is true many of the most class conscious workers in the UK are in unions (this is not the case in France or Spain I am told). Ergo we don't start by denouncing the unions (this is another difference we seem to have with the ICC who have tried to translate the French perception into UK conditions) but by seeking to promote the collective struggle. We also have a strategy based on our Itlaian comrades experiecnc of attemtping to create workplace groups of anti-capitalist workes who are union members but hwo see the need to go beyond trades unionism (but that is another subject). Our bottom line is that we certainly don't adopt any strategy or tactics which separates us from the mass of the class whilst at the same as recognising that the unions are not neutral bodies when it comes to class struggle.

Spikymike

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

OK so I appreciate the circumstances now in which posi's article was written and it does make some valid points, as I think I acknowledged.

But having read some of 'The Communes' articles on the Unions and posi's further comments I still consider that there is a lack of understanding of the significant changes that have taken place in the historical development of capitalism, working class composition and the capitalist state. As a result this severly underestimates the degree of integration of unions within capitalism, meaning that we cannot maintain a pro-revolutionary strategy orientated towards the trades unions, even if that moves beyond traditional trotskyist inflenced leftwing politics.( which is not however a defense of the activist politics of 'the movement' addressed in the article as any alternative).

I take references in the article by posi to 'workers' to mean 'working class' and that 'workers self-organisation' means 'class self-organisation'. This is the critical point, since our experience of the everyday activity of trades unions in this country, and most others in varying degrees, is of an organisation which is perceived by most workers as an 'outside body' because it is, in reality, an 'outside body'. At best viewed as having some kind of insurance function for individual workers and at worst little more than an extension of the companies human resources department. Trades unions will of necessity seek to present themselves as genuine representatives of 'workers' (both to workers and to employers) rather than 'the working class' and will from time to time have to justify that by 'organising' sections of workers to do battle with the employers. There is therefor always the possibillity of action starting within the union framework going outside and against that framework in the right circumstances and with the right encouragement. The problem cannot of course be reduced to a question of trade union 'betrayal' since they are functioning under modern capitalism in their normal and accepted way towards workers who's consciousness is most of the time limited, at best, to a 'trade union consciousness'. (which is not to say that the working class cannot achieve a positive class consciousness through their/our own efforts under some circumstances). The 'encouragement' I refer to does need organising and that will mean in most cases at present, in the British context at least ( though a pro-revolutionary analysis can hardly be limited to the British experience), that pro-revolutionary 'militants' will be members of existing unions whilst seeking to organise through independent networks that cut accross traditional trades/professions/employers etc. Beyond that the level and nature of involvement with existing unions is open to discussion, but it is clear that trying to maintain an independent pro-revolutionary class stand whilst also holding any kind of official representative union position will be unsustainable.

Understanding the nature and function of trades/industrial/general unions in modern world capitalism and the necessity to go 'outside and against', at some point, in struggles of any significance, derives from both an analysis of the evolution of the capitalist economy and capitalist states and the everyday experience of our class.

As regards the Solidarity industrial bulletins, only a few of these are on line thanks to Marky B's efforts, but he might be pursuaded to scan some more from my collection including the interesting series of 'Motor Bulletins'. My recomendation was primarily in relation to the period mentioned in posi's article. As someone who eventually split with other comrades from the Solidarity (for Social Revolution) group (in part) over their analysis of trades unions in relation to the experience of Polish Solidarity, I am of course not recomending that groups whole practice around this issue.

I'm sure all of that marks me out as an 'ultra-left' in posi's terminology but maybe not 'orthodox'.

AIW

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Looks like a very useful article. I haven't read the longer responses which I guess are about debating semantics. It would be more useful if you could hyper link it, particularly your most practical proposal "contact Solfed". Is it the SF External Relations Officer who should be contacted or your closest local?

Joseph Kay

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

external relations is probably your best bet, some locals are better with emails than others but they're mandated to put you in touch with the right people and follow up to make sure it gets through.

Alf

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I appreciate that this article does represent an attempt to present a more 'structural' approach to understanding the role of the unions. It is based on a real concern to play an active role in the class struggle. But I don't think it can offer a real way forward.

I think I need to respond to some of the caricatures of the ICC that have been drawn here. Back in the 80s, when the ICC was seriously involved in workers' struggles for the first time, sometimes in movements that achieved a significant level of self-organisation, we began a discussion about how do we fight against the obstacle represented by the unions. We agreed, with some the exception of some comrades who went in a different direction, that it was not a question of abstractly denouncing the unions and presenting ourselves as 'outside' the movement. We agreed that our role, above all in directly agitational activity, was to offer a concrete way forward for the struggle. You can argue that we have massively failed to do this (although a serious argument would first establish what we have actually done in the class struggle, which might involve asking us some questions). But there is no point in arguing that we are actually, consciously in favour of getting up in workers' meetings and saying "the unions are bad, we really hate the unions, they are so bad. Since 1914 they've been this bad". Or some such.

Regarding the issue of the nature of trade unions:

"Unions are therefore best understood as the expressions of two countervailing dynamics.

On the one hand, unions are a basic form of workers’ self organisation against the day to day predations of capital; they express – albeit in a very staid manner – the class struggle. On the other, unions are institutions which seek to control and limit that very self-organisation, limit the militancy of its members in pursuit of that aim, and limit the scope of demands they raise. These tendencies are both so strong, and so integral, to unions that it is rare that one entirely wins out. The extent to which one prevails over the other differs from time to time, and place to place, depending on the circumstances".

Perhaps I will come back later to this idea of the "dual class nature" of the unions, which is not new: Pouvoir Ouvriere in France in the 60s and 70s was putting forward a very similar argument. But if, as Tom says, the unions are still "basic forms of workers' self-organisation", then anyone who takes the organisation of the working class seriously would have to devote a considerable part of their energies to the task of actively defending the unions, to strengthening them and spreading their presence. The unions were certainly built up over many years of workers' struggles and through huge sacrifices by working people, and communists have never lightly jettisoned genuine "expressions of the class struggle", however limited. The leftists do at least take this task seriously: in many ways, without their tireless work, the unions really would be dead. If unions really were forms of basic proletarian self-organisation, why would you not positively and enthusiastically be in favour of taking on union responsibilities at every level - not least to combat the negative influences within them?

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Alf

But if, as Tom says, the unions are still "basic forms of workers' self-organisation", then anyone who takes the organisation of the working class seriously would have to devote a considerable part of their energies to the task of actively defending the unions, to strengthening them and spreading their presence.

this doesn't follow imho. you could think unions are sometimes a "basic form of workers' self-organisation" (e.g. the wildcat-prone brighton GMB binmen branch), but still think there are better strategies to pursue than 'building the unions', and yet still recognise an attempt to e.g. fire a militant rep is an attack on self-organisation and the unions at the same time (since bosses don't necessarily draw that distinction, even if communists think they'd be smarter if they used the union against self-organisation rather than opposing both).

Alf

If unions really were forms of basic proletarian self-organisation, why would you not positively and enthusiastically be in favour of taking on union responsibilities at every level

i also think this is a false deduction. it's like saying 'if the capitalist state isn't collapsing, you must be positively and enthusiastically be in favour of taking on state positions at every level' - it simply doesn't follow from the premise. I mean street gangs can be a form of proletarians self-organising, it doesn't mean we should be salting the local gang kids for communism!

posi

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I agree with JK's first point, although I'd make a bigger claim on the second: I think there is more to be said, from a class POV, for unions than street gangs.

My answer would be that Alf is able to make this deduction only because, by the end of the paragraph, he has apparently forgotten that the perspective under discussion is precisely a dual one, and that inferring anything from either side of the contradiction in isolation will produce error for precisely this reason.

As I said on the other thread, Alf is quite correct that this approach is not new. I hadn't heard of Pouvoir Ouvriere, but it's obvious enough that plenty of academics have picked it up, as well as elements within operaismo and dissident Marxism more generally. I don't know about the anarchist tradition.

btw:

STRUGGLE IN, WITH OR AGAINST THE UNIONS?
One of the unusual features of the Swedish labour market is its high level of union organisation (80% of workers in 2005) in comparison to England or Ireland. This of course raises the question of how the ideas of Faceless Resistance relate to union organisation; do they oppose it, complement it or ignore it? The presence in Sweden of the SAC, a large syndicalist union, throws this question into sharper relief. Kämpa Tillsammans tend to remain ambiguous on the question of union organisation, stating that they are neither for or against union organisation; unions are a fact of life for workers in capital, and so long as people have to sell their labour, unions will be there to handle the deal.

For Kämpa Tillsammans focusing on the question of union organisation is a mistake, the real power in a conflict comes from workplace militancy, regardless of whether this is expressed through a union or not, arguing that ”regardless of the view on the role of the trade unions, every successful struggle at workplaces came from the solidarity between workmates; a strong workers’ collective.” Thus the role of revolutionaries should be to build the workers’ collective, rather than building the union organisation. The union framework for disputes can be used by the workers when it is appropriate and discarded when it is not, but the foundation for struggle must always be the solidarity and organisation of the workers.

http://www.wsm.ie/content/faceless-resistance?page=434

Though I would say that "building the workers' collective" isn't necessarily counterposed to "building the union organisation". I would say there are time when the latter could encourage the former - e.g. encouraging people to come to a union meeting to vote for a strike ballot.

Would we prefer the masses were consistently up for doing things another way? We would! Is this necessarily the point? No! So is there a need to search, in practice, for ways to practically build support for other ways, whilst recognising the hold of the current ones, and the necessity to mobilise in that context? Yes!

Alf

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Joseph K wrote: 'if the capitalist state isn't collapsing, you must be positively and enthusiastically be in favour of taking on state positions at every level' - it simply doesn't follow from the premise. I mean street gangs can be a form of proletarians self-organising, it doesn't mean we should be salting the local gang kids for communism'

I don't follow this . My argument is posited on the notion of unions as part of ourselves, unlike the capitalist state. It's irrelevant whether it's collapsing or not. I think it does follow logically from the premise that if unions are proletarian, we should be defending them and building them. But there are differences of approach behind our premises: I don't think a street gang, by definition, can ever be considered a proletarian form of self-organisation. I recall Aufheben arguing this about the Crips and the Bloods. Those gangs were already part of the mafia (in the general sense) - capitalist enterprises if not a shadow state. Not the main issue here, but I think it does point to a different understanding of what we mean by the workers' movement, and what it means to see youself as part of it.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I think it does follow logically from the premise that if unions are proletarian, we should be defending them and building them.

but this is precisely what's at issue: they're either the goodies or the baddies, we must bulid and defend them or expose and surpass them. Posi's argument is precisely that it isn't so clear-cut.

posi

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

exactly.

LBird

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Alf

I think it does follow logically from the premise that if unions are proletarian, we should be defending them and building them. But there are differences of approach behind our premises: I don't think a street gang, by definition, can ever be considered a proletarian form of self-organisation.

Alf, I think you are making the same mistake that Alexander Roxwell made in our discussons about 'National Liberation' movements.

That is, to regard any political activity by workers as to be worthy of our support, just because these actions are taken by politically active workers.

But isn't this a problem? Surely we must categorise workers' activity by its class content (or lack thereof) from our proletarian, Communist perspective?

As I asked of Alexander, without receiving an adequate reply, 'would we support workers joining the SS?', just because they are clearly politically active workers.

The problem is, the activity is inimical to our politics.

So, if we categorise 'SS membership', 'street-gang membership' and 'collaborative union membership' as non-proletarian, non-Communist, non-class-conscious, from our perspective, why should we 'defend and build the unions'?

I'm aware that you'll say that being in a union is not similar at all to the SS or street gangs, and on some level you're correct, but if we see the mainstream unions as part of an erroneous attempt by workers to square the circle of being a member of a nation and of being a worker, then we should not 'defend and build' them.

Union members might be 'politically active workers', but isn't joining unions a step in the wrong political direction, as far as 'defending and building' Communism goes?

Perhaps you'll argue that becoming 'active' is in itself a step in the right direction, and that the contradictions of 'union membership' and 'proletarian self-activity' will become apparent to workers in the future, and they'll learn to reject the 'union', but I'm yet to be convinced. I'm more inclined to believe that joining a union actually disarms workers for the future, making them more passive and dependent upon hierarchies, rather than it provides a basis for class-conscious advancement in the direction of Communism.

I suppose I'm saying that to join a union, a worker is usually moving away from Communism, not towards it.

Steven.

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

LBird, you have completely misinterpreted Alf's position

posi

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

In LBird's latest post, the ultra-ultra-left has finally achieved its telos: total detachment from base reality, and the really existing working class. It will, henceforth, spin frictionless, pure and true, bathed in the light of the eternal communist idea. Congratulations comrades! Down with the opportunism of the ICC, just another part of capital's left wing!

By the way, I found this especially inimical to our politics - http://libcom.org/news/london-underground-strike-threat-wins-reinstatement-unfairly-sacked-driver-24062011 I read it, and just thought: "bastards!" Didn't you?

LBird

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Steven

LBird, you have completely misinterpreted Alf's position

It would be really helpful, Steven, if you could add a bit more detail.

posi

By the way, I found this especially inimical to our politics - http://libcom.org/news/london-underground-strike-threat-wins-reinstatement-unfairly-sacked-driver-24062011 I read it, and just thought: "bastards!" Didn't you?

Giving a small example of a union action that benefits workers isn't much of an argument, is it? The point is, how do we make a balanced judgement between both the good and the bad consequences of union actions?

Your example is similar to me giving an example of the SS shooting Jewish bosses and Stalinist commissars, and claiming, because we Communists want to get rid of bosses and Stalinists, that we should support the SS. Surely the problem is that, on balance, the SS is not in favour of Communism, even if some of its actions can be seen as in some way helpful?

posi

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

On balance, the working class is not in favour of communism. So, we don't see any latent communist content in the working class, any more than we do in the SS, right?

Also, the SS shooting Jewish bosses and Stalinists was not good for communism, not in context, and not even as isolated incidents. Who does something, and why, matters. Because of this, making an analogy between union and the SS begs the question.

LBird

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

posi

Who does something, and why, matters.

That's exactly my point, mate.

You gave a good example of a 'win' for workers, following union action. But is it correct to say constant small victories by unions will lead to complete victory for workers?

Perhaps another analogy might help.

If the hunter wishes to capture a bird, they lay a trail of birdseed which ends under a propped-up box.

The bird eats each morsel and thinks 'A win!', because it has had some food. With each seed, it grows more sure of itself - a succession of 'wins' leads to a full stomach, no?

Well, 'no', in fact. It leads to the hunter's dinner table. Well, in fact, it does lead to a full stomach. But not the bird's.

If the union leadership wishes to capture a class...

posi

Who does something, and why, matters.

Who? Something? Why?

As you correctly say, it 'matters' to discuss these issues. Perhaps I'm wrong, or just using shit analogies, but it's worthwhile for Communists to discuss it.

Lurch

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Quote: (Spikymike)

"[i]Where is the evidence or logical argument that 'unions appear as expressions of workers self-organisation' or that they 'are basic forms of workers self organisation'. This may have been historically valid but is it still true today and everywhere? That is not self evident.

Reply (Posi) To be honest, it pretty much is self-evident to all those who aren't on the orthodox ultra-left.

I don’t think this is an adequate response to Spikymike’s question. If it’s so self-evident, we wouldn’t be (continually) having this debate. There wouldn’t be the world-wide phenomenon of ‘wildcat’ strikes, outside of the ‘official’ union framework. And given the evident failure of this alleged ‘basic form of worker’s self organisation’ to preserve either living standards or jobs (let alone forward an alternative to this shit that is capitalism, as Tom’s article happily admits it doesn’t and never has) it’s little wonder the debate won’t go away, however exasperated or rude Posi becomes.

I find Tom’s approach in the article (allowing for word-count constraints) really weird.
Quote: “The mass of workers themselves accept capitalism and the state, and it is their lack of willingness to engage in relentless anti-capitalist struggle which provides the basis on which unions are founded.”

Leaving aside the ‘mass of workers’ in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, France, China, Spain, etc, who in recent months (and largely without or even against the Trade Unions) have displayed their opposition to the capitalist status quo (albeit with illusions about attenuating its effects), this is like saying that ‘actually existing capitalism’ is the ‘fault’ of the wage slaves who refuse to overthrow it! Stupid workers! Clever Posi.

This approach ‘forgets’ that unlike previous revolutionary classes, the modern proletariat has no possibility of building up within this society an ‘alternative’ way of organising things, let alone the fact that it’s subject to the dominant ideology which insists there’s ‘no alternative’, and which also rams down our throat that unions are workers’ organisations, be you for them or against them.

This approach ‘forgets’ that it’s not what this or that worker thinks but ‘what the class as a whole is forced to do (or attempt to do). It’s an economist, localist and immediate view which only sees ‘right here, right now’ and wants to forget both the previous experience of workers (“We start from where we are”), or the guiding light of the future, the perspective, the ‘general line of march’ – a different society. Tom’s view is British pragmatism at its ‘finest’.

With his disdain for theory, with his (correct) concern to be practical, Tom/Posi ‘forgets’ that a 'practice' divorced from any political foundations, orientations, or framework of principles is nothing but a practice suspended in mid-air, a narrow-mined immediatism, which can never be a truly revolutionary activity. Any separation between theory and practice that opts, either for theory without practice, or for practice without theory, destroys the unity of the immediate struggle and historical goals.

All this, no doubt, in so much theoretical bollocks to Posi/Tom. For him, the unions are a ‘barometer’ of class relations. They are ‘neutral’, swaying this way or that, according to the momentary ability of the lazy workers to get their act into gear. They’re neither good guys nor bad guys – it’s ‘more complicated than that’. When the workers struggle, the unions respond to their demands (not very well, admittedly, according to Posi). When the workers are quiet (and they’re so quiet, so often), then the unions safeguard ‘what is’ (increasing capitalist exploitation).

For Posi, maybe. For others (and there’s no need to differentiate between the different left communists – here I agree with Tom: they all say the same thing in essence), unions are the weapons of the state within the working class.

Posi would like us to celebrate the recent re-instatement of one union official on the London Underground after strike action: “I found this especially inimical to our politics.”

Me too! The reinstatement of one militant through the union mobilisation of thousands of workers to strike masks the defeat of the union campaign to resist 800 lay-offs. Couldn’t have illustrated it better.

posi

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Lurch

If it’s so self-evident, we wouldn’t be (continually) having this debate.

Unless some of us were really dogmatic and stuck in a theoretical rut.

There wouldn’t be the world-wide phenomenon of ‘wildcat’ strikes, outside of the ‘official’ union framework.

Unless the perspective under discussion was a dual one, which was also able to explain the strong tendencies toward trade union integration.

Leaving aside the ‘mass of workers’ in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, France, China, Spain, etc, who in recent months (and largely without or even against the Trade Unions) have displayed their opposition to the capitalist status quo . . .

It's good we're leaving them aside, because my point was that "workers themselves accept capitalism and the state" - which is true in all these countries. That's not to say they accept its present form or policy, but they self-evidently don't subjectively want to do away with either institution entirely. Which is precisely the point.

this is like saying that ‘actually existing capitalism’ is the ‘fault’ of the wage slaves who refuse to overthrow it!

That's an odd way to put it. I prefer "The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself".

With his disdain for theory . . .

Actually, I like theory. I like it so much, I like it to be at least half-decent.

The reinstatement of one militant through the union mobilisation of thousands of workers to strike masks the defeat of the union campaign to resist 800 lay-offs.

How does it "mask" it? "Mask" in this sentence plays no clear role at all. What does it mask from who, and where's the evidence? What is the relation between the alleged "masking" and the thing happening in the first place? What is the relative success of unionised and un-unionised workplaces in resisting lay-offs in Britain in the last decade? Why?

LBird

But is it correct to say constant small victories by unions will lead to complete victory for workers?

But nobody says that, do they?

What LBird and Lurch cannot grasp, apparently, is that workers organise a proportion of their activity through unions, including some with real class content. There are not two wholly separate monads: unions are made up of workers, and often a full time staff, a series of regulations, rules, procedures, norms, and a dose of ideological glue. These things, when articulated together, are "the union". "The union" includes a number of "the workers", or at least a proportion of the activity of a number of the workers.

Lurch and LBird's entire politics on this question amount to complaining that workers are not communist, and denouncing their non-communistic activity, in the hope that the masses will eventually see the light they have brought, and take up the true path. In contrast, I see any "true path" as a development of the real movement which begins from the real practice of the working class today.

baboon

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

We don't have to start from the real practice of the working class today to see that the major role of the unions for many moons now is to divide the working class one from the othe whether it is engaging in struggle or not.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

'How can you say this coin has two sides? I see only heads. Not only do I see no evidence for this 'tails' of yours, even if you produce it, the historic role of coins is clearly heads, displaying the sovereign...'

Lurch

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Fine picture Joseph: nice coin. Unfortunately we’re discussing trade unions. And their two sides consist, on the one hand, enforcement of capitalist relations of exploitation and, on the other, the encapsulation of workers’ revolt against these relations into manageable, ‘legal’ and, eventually, harmless (to the staus quo) expressions. That’s their currency.

Posie wrote:

“Lurch and LBird's entire politics on this question amount to complaining that workers are not communist, and denouncing their non-communistic activity, in the hope that the masses will eventually see the light they have brought, and take up the true path.”

What demonstrable crap, a complete wriggling, dissembling and avoidance of what you, yourself have written in black and white: “The mass of workers themselves accept capitalism and the state, and it is their lack of willingness to engage in relentless anti-capitalist struggle which provides the basis on which unions are founded.”

It’s not me who’s complaining, asserting that “workers are not communist”. That would be you. Clearly. That’s why you’re desperately searching for short cuts, some 'practical' solution to very real and historical problems confronting the proletariat and its political minorities.

Personally, I’ve no doubt that the proletariat, the international, exploited class of collective, associated labour, is the only sector of our society that contains within it the seeds of a new epoch, that it is – whether it succeeds or fails – it is a truly communistic class. I’ve no problem with a discussion about how to make the work of ‘pro-revolutionaries’ ( to use Spikymike’s phrase) more effective, 'unless some of us were really dogmatic and stuck in a theoretical rut” like yourself, so determined to jettison the past lessons of the workers movement, in search of the ‘critique beyond theory’ which, on examination, is just a re-hash of the old, reformist refrain: ‘we must be where the workers are’.

Your tired old idea that trade unions merely reflect the state of the class struggle (maintaining capitalist normalcy in times of ‘quiet’; positive organs of defensive struggle when things hot up) makes even the tired old rejoinder sound fresh: just because a policeman helps an old lady across the road doesn’t mean he’s not part of the repressive apparatus.

What, apparently, I (and others) don’t get is that “workers organise a proportion of their activity through unions, including some with real class content. There are not two wholly separate monads: unions are made up of workers, and often a full time staff, a series of regulations, rules, procedures, norms, and a dose of ideological glue. These things, when articulated together, are "the union". "The union" includes a number of "the workers", or at least a proportion of the activity of a number of the workers.

Errr, and? Like some sociologist you’re telling me that workers organise part of their activity into this or that organisation (which, apparently, gives it class content). Which gives a church, Manchester United Football Club, my local allotment or even local Lydl’s a ‘class content’? Please.

Look, if I’m misunderstanding you here, or inadvertently distorting what you’re saying, then point it out. Unlike you, with your alleged ‘puritans’ standing on the sidelines’, I’ve no need or desire to distort the praxis of others.

Finally, for the moment, we’ll return to your citation of the recent re-instatement of one LU worker as the result of union strike ‘threats’ as “especially inimical to our politics.”
I take this to mean that you think this confirms your case that union struggle can pay off for the working class (even if the actual words you used tend in the opposite direction – perhaps you meant ‘illustrative of’). Well it’s not me who argues that unions can’t appear to ‘win’ this or that for the working class.

But really, are you denying that everywhere (you, the AF statement on Libcom, the major bourgeois media) have presented this ‘one man re-instated’ as an example of ‘unions winning for the workers’, (or maybe unions bullying to get what they want) whereas, in fact, 800 jobs have disappeared? Has not the coverage (including your own modest contribution) served to nudge our attention away from the 800 dissapeared posts, and towards a 'victory', however modest (or loathesome, if you're the Daily Mail), for the unions? Find another word if you don't like mask.

(PS: Haven’t a couple (or maybe just one) of Posi’s wilder posts been ‘disappeared’ by the admins without mention or trace? I merely ask.)

LBird

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

posi

What LBird and Lurch cannot grasp, apparently, is that workers organise a proportion of their activity through unions, including some with real class content.

Posi, I presume that Lurch would agree with me that your latter statement is correct.

The real issue is, not that we 'cannot grasp' this point, but that we need to decide what weight 'a proportion' and 'some' have in our weighing of 'real class content'.

Evidently you agree that not all workers' activity is through unions, only 'a proportion', and you agree that even of that 'proportion' only 'some' is class-based.

'Some' of 'a proportion' doesn't sound too impressive.

Why paint these issues as black and white?

Lurch

Finally, for the moment, we’ll return to your citation of the recent re-instatement of one LU worker as the result of union strike ‘threats’ as “especially inimical to our politics.”
I take this to mean that you think this confirms your case that union struggle can pay off for the working class (even if the actual words you used tend in the opposite direction...

Lurch, our comrade posi was being sarcastic about a line I used, that, regarding union activity, 'The problem is, the activity is inimical to our politics'.

Lurch

Errr, and? Like some sociologist you’re telling me that workers organise part of their activity into this or that organisation (which, apparently, gives it class content). Which gives a church, Manchester United Football Club, my local allotment or even local Lydl’s a ‘class content’? Please.

Yeah, I wish someone would answer our question about how do we weigh the 'class content' of workers' activity.

As I've said, with a purposefully extreme example to help illustrate the problem, 'activity' alone would lead one to see workers joining the SS as a positive political step.

And I'm surprised that those who are opposed to 'support for national liberation' can't see that this issue is an extension of that one. After all, if workers join a national liberation movement, why shouldn't we also see that as positive, if we see union membership as positive? Surely both are actually a step in the wrong direction for Communism?

National unions and national liberation - are they the two sides of Joseph's political coin?

posi

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Lurch

It’s not me who’s complaining, asserting that “workers are not communist”. That would be you.

I'm not complaining about it, I'm stating it as a fact. Which it is. Isn't it? What separates us, as I've said, is that your politics amount to denouncing activity which is not fully communist, I'm looking for real expressions of class struggle activity. In Britain, unfortunately, there's not much anywhere, relative to alot of other places. But in any such survey, the real organisation of much of it through unions is an important fact.

(PS: Haven’t a couple (or maybe just one) of Posi’s wilder posts been ‘disappeared’ by the admins without mention or trace? I merely ask.)

Yeah, capital, the unions, the PLO and the libcom admins are in league to disrupt the discussion forums of the communist left, the only real threat to the existing productive relations.

LBird

Evidently you agree that not all workers' activity is through unions, only 'a proportion', and you agree that even of that 'proportion' only 'some' is class-based.

Well, yes. But for me, the question is not only how much of workers' union activity is class based (I think it's quite alot, even in Britain at the moment, albeit at a very timid level - e.g. basic sticking up for each other at work, a higher price for our labour power and all that). It's also how much of workers' class based activity happens through unions. So it's also important to me that, in Britain at the moment, quite alot does. If there was a massive, militant, extra-union workers' movement in Britain, then the question wouldn't be posed in the same way. Are you guys living in Britain, btw?

Just to repeat something I've said on another thread, I'd like to explain my reasons for objecting so strongly to the orthodox ultra-left (as I call it) on this question. My reason is that I think it's a political language which shows total disdain for, and is completely alienating to, the layer of class concious trade union activists who, for perfectly good and rational reasons considering the situation they are in, are choosing to organise a portion of their activity through unions. And I think it is totally disastrous if revolutionaries alienate this layer. Which, as long as people go around talking like Lurch and LBird, is what will happen.

LBird

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

posi

... for me, the question is not only how much of workers' union activity is class based ...

Yeah, but how do we define 'class based activity', as opposed to mere 'union activity', by workers?

Some (much? most?) 'union activity' is not related to class issues in any conceivable way - passive members wanting and being offered loans, holidays, cheap insurance, etc.; individuals volunteering to be stewards for their own selfish reasons, the thrill of power, to keep themselves 'in the know' about future events (and their workmates 'in the dark'), or as a back route to a supervisor's job, or as a step on the road to becoming a union fulltimer with a more secure job; I'm sure we can all think of lots of reasons which would define forms of 'workers' union activity' as non-class based.

But even when we move to activity that can be seen as in some way as 'class-based', there are various levels.

Take fighting for better pensions - clearly 'class-based' in some way.

Workers can fight for their own pension, and not really give a hoot that younger workmates are on lower pensions. When their own is secure, they stop fighting.

Or, though better, they can fight for all members of their own workforce to receive better pensions, and not really give a hoot about other workers in their industry. When their own is secure, they stop fighting.

Or they can fight for their own public sector pensions, but not private sector.

What all these examples have in common is that they are based upon the worker's own interests in their pension - it's just the pool of support gets wider.

While these are 'class-based' in some way, I wouldn't see them as 'class-conscious'.

For me, that would involve workers fighting for someone else's pension rights, even though their own are already secure. That is, fighting for their class interests, not just their own.

Of course, this is all on a spectrum, and has the potential to develop from the lower to the higher activity.

The real question is, 'is that potential more likely to be realised within the union, or outside of it?'.

This is a judgement, not an obvious answer. Especially given earlier my 'bird and seed' analogy. An apparent move 'up the spectrum' might be a trap, actually 'up the garden path'.

posi

It's also how much of workers' class based activity happens through unions. So it's also important to me that, in Britain at the moment, quite alot does.

Is this true? Isn't it possible to argue that most (much? 'quite alot'?) class based activity actually happens outside the unions? Does it depend on how and what we define as 'class based'?

posi

If there was a massive, militant, extra-union workers' movement in Britain, then the question wouldn't be posed in the same way.

Oh, for the question to be posed in that way! Our disagreements would dissolve then, too.

posi

Are you guys living in Britain, btw?

Well, I am, but I can't answer for Lurch, who I don't know.

posi

I'd like to explain my reasons for objecting so strongly to the orthodox ultra-left (as I call it) on this question.

Who are the 'orthodox ultra-left'? I'm not in any organisation anymore, and I'm open to new ideas, which is why I constantly ask questions. And I've been persuaded and educated by other posters on this site. One of the times my questions weren't answered, and I was met instead with accusations of belonging to a tendency I didn't recognise, was when I was in the SWP and was castigated as an 'RDGer' (?).

posi

My reason is that I think it's a political language which shows total disdain for, and is completely alienating to, the layer of class concious trade union activists who, for perfectly good and rational reasons considering the situation they are in, are choosing to organise a portion of their activity through unions. And I think it is totally disastrous if revolutionaries alienate this layer.

This begs the question though, doesn't it, posi? Is there a 'layer of class conscious trade union activists' who are in danger of being 'alienated' by us pointing out some home truths? Or are they merely a 'layer of trade union activists', who need to have become 'alienated' from the capitalist system before they'll even listen to a word we Communists will say?

All these issues need to be judged. And discussion can only help us to do that.

posi

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Workers can fight for their own pension, and not really give a hoot that younger workmates are on lower pensions. When their own is secure, they stop fighting.

Or, though better, they can fight for all members of their own workforce to receive better pensions, and not really give a hoot about other workers in their industry. When their own is secure, they stop fighting.

Or they can fight for their own public sector pensions, but not private sector.

What all these examples have in common is that they are based upon the worker's own interests in their pension - it's just the pool of support gets wider.

While these are 'class-based' in some way, I wouldn't see them as 'class-conscious'.

For me, that would involve workers fighting for someone else's pension rights, even though their own are already secure. That is, fighting for their class interests, not just their own.

Of course, this is all on a spectrum, and has the potential to develop from the lower to the higher activity.

The real question is, 'is that potential more likely to be realised within the union, or outside of it?'.

This is a judgement, not an obvious answer. Especially given earlier my 'bird and seed' analogy. An apparent move 'up the spectrum' might be a trap, actually 'up the garden path'.

OK -

a) I think your analogy about birds and seeds is a pretty patronising view of workers. It's also the sort of argument which doesn't differentiate your perspective from total disinterest in actual, really existing workers' victories in the short term. If any short-term victory can be dismissed as bait, why care about any victories at all? In fact, why not just scab on the next union organised strike at your work?

After all, workers sometimes start within a union framework, and then move outside it. So there's not just one trail to be followed. If you don't accept that there have been any revolutionary scenarios at any point in history before, then you're just speculating without evidence. But if there have been, which were they?

b) You use pensions as an analogy, but we could also look at workers striking over redundancies. In Britain today, that often involves striking for other workers (in the same company) who are at risk of redundancy, not for one's self.

You ask: 'is that potential more likely to be realised within the union, or outside of it?'

Statistically, as a matter of fact, today, it is more likely to be realised within unions. You give me a few examples of workers outside unions striking in defence of other people's jobs or pensions, and you might be talking about something real (we're talking about contemporary Britain, remember). As it is, you're not.

There are currently no strikes which aim at the welfare of the whole working class, except insofar as, for example, cuts will hurt services. This is a function of the demoralisation of the workers' movement. I agree that mass strikes (which won't happen any time soon, but anyway) will not be organised by "the unions" as such, though I suspect they will rely on union people at the grassroots, rather than a wholly alternative layer.

Who are the 'orthodox ultra-left'?

See above.

This begs the question though, doesn't it, posi?

No. Because my motivation for repeating the argument is not, itself, the conclusion of the argument: it is just a reason for repeating that conclusion. And that workers' perform an appreciable amount of class based activity in unions is a premise of my argument above, but not a conclusion of it.

baboon

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Why would any "pro-revolutionaries", whose primary task must be to support the unity of the working class, want to support or stand up for organisations whose main task is to keep the working class divided amongst itself?

The "tendencies and counter-tendencies" argument is a diversion since the main tendency overwhelmingly outweighs and overpowers any sort of counter-tendency.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

baboon

The "tendencies and counter-tendencies" argument is a diversion since the main tendency overwhelmingly outweighs and overpowers any sort of counter-tendency.

'a materialist, dialectical approach is a diversion since i'd rather restate my position without argument.'

baboon

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I don't think that one can use the dialectic to bring the dead back to life. There's volumes of stuff on here trying to prove that there's some sort of life, something, anything to be supported in various national liberation struggles. One recent one was how the murderous Vietnamese regime was "better" than the murderous Cambodian one - there's always a lesser evil, always something to justify working class support - it's what leftism feeds on.
In 1919 in Russia, the unions came to the aid of the state in helping to crush the factory committees, the last and only hope of the revolution. The unions continued with this work into the early 20s. Even in revolutionary Russia the unions defended the interests of the state against working class organisation. And since, the unions everywhere, have the fundamental role of being against the working class and defending the national interest and no amount of dialectical spin will alter that.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

i'm not talking about national liberation, although i suppose it is easier to have the same analysis of everything regardless of its concrete content: goodie or baddie?

baboon

In 1919 in Russia, the unions (...) fundamental role

so 'the unions' are an abstraction across time and space? the idealism thickens! this is straight out of Plato, in the name of Marxism.

Lurch

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Well since you put it like that, we'd better get rid of that abstract call to 'smash the state'.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Do you just not follow the argument? Because if this is an honest misunderstanding I'm happy to explain it in simpler terms.

Lurch

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Do you just not follow the argument?

Certainly not just 'follow it' - I've tried to participate in it. You try not to be so supercillious.
But by all means, please explain the central thesis of Tom's arguement about the movement and trade unions in 'simpler terms'.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Well as i understand it the argument is, distilled as much as possible:

1) millions of workers are members of trade unions (uncontroversial)
2) most industrial action is organised through trade unions (i assume this is also uncontroversial)
3) trade unions have institutional interests apart from and in opposition to working class self-organisation (uncontroversial)
4) struggles which begin as union-initiated can go beyond this, like the LOR wildcats, the Royal Mail wildcats after CWU stitch-ups or the Brighton Cityclean GMB branch's willingness to wildcat (presumably uncontroversial?)
5) therefore, there are counterveiling forces at work in the trade unions, one the one hand an institutional interest in collaborating with capital and the state, on the other hand a limited expression of workers struggles, and possible point of departure for more self-organised direct action

It seems like only the conclusion (5) is in dispute.

[end plain english/begin philiosophy]

Possibly also point (4) is in dispute, which is what seems to be being dismissed by the platonic idealism: 'you can give examples of successful union struggles, but these are irrelevant to the true historic role of the unions' (i.e. it doesn't matter what examples are produced, the theory has been deduced already and, as the essence of 'the unions' is known - their historic role - no mere concrete example can contradict it).

Lurch

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Thank you. Pause (on my part) for reflection.

baboon

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I'm not used to university type discussions JK so I appreciate your concern to cut the sarcasm and keep it simple.

I know you wasn't talking about national liberation - I was. I was talking about it because the same fundamental anti-working class position as that of the unions is defended in saying, yes there's something, however small in defending these structures - in this case, say, Vietnam's government against Cambodia's regime, because one has killed less people than the other. Or you could support the former because it's given one more grain of rice to a worker than the latter - in that case there is something positive to it. Forget the fundamental counter-revolutionary nature of the nation state, this state in relation to that state, by dint of a grain of rice to one worker has to be better for the working class. Down with the state JK, down with the national state and long live internationalism!

The role of the unions is even more clearer to me than that of the nation state - indeed they are part of the same nation state. Trade unions haven't always existed as you probably know. They have a history in a similar way to the nation state. They have developed from organisations of the working class to their integration into the needs of the nation state and its defence both economic and imperialist. That a worker gets a grain of rice from the trade unions makes not whit a difference to their function as statist organisations, dividers of the working class and funeral directors of the class struggle.

Are you surprised that the unions in the major countries are involved in workers' struggles sometimes initiating them. Why would that contradict anything about the unions being against the working class? What do you think that their role is?. Look at the unions in China who have opposed the class struggle - what good are they for the Chinese state?
Of course the unions initiate struggle that, among many other things, is part of their role. Unions like those in the People's Republic wouldn't be any good for the British, French and so ruling classes.

For you, on the one hand the unions have a statist role and on the other are an expression of the workers' struggle. For me the overwhelming evidence of the last hundred years of the trade unions is one of integration into the capitalist state and the defence of that state's national interest against the working class.

LBird

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

baboon

I know you wasn't talking about national liberation - I was.

Yeah, it wasn't JK who introduced the juxtaposition of 'national liberation movements' with 'unions', it was me. I did this because it was JK who, with others, convinced me of the anti-NLM argument, and I wanted to test the argument that the two types of organisation which contain workers had similarities.

So for example, to amend JK's point 5, above,

Joseph Kay (amended by LBird)

5) therefore, there are counterveiling forces at work in the trade unions and National Liberation movements, one the one hand an institutional interest in collaborating with capital and the state, on the other hand a limited expression of workers struggles, and possible point of departure for more self-organised direct action

Could the amended quote be just as valid as the original?

I (and I presume baboon and Lurch) would answer 'Yes, it's valid to align the two together, and conclude that the statement is wrong in its conclusion'.

Whereas JK would see it as invalid, but still hold the original statement is correct.

Joseph Kay

Possibly also point (4) is in dispute, which is what seems to be being dismissed by the platonic idealism: 'you can give examples of successful union struggles, but these are irrelevant to the true historic role of the unions' (i.e. it doesn't matter what examples are produced, the theory has been deduced already and, as the essence of 'the unions' is known - their historic role - no mere concrete example can contradict it).

I'm sure you know enough philosophy of science, JK, to reflect that your hasty criticism that "it doesn't matter what examples are produced, the theory has been deduced already and, as the essence of 'the unions' is known - their historic role - no mere concrete example can contradict it" is an incorrect criticism, and it is an entirely scientific approach, according to Lakatos, for example, and is not an example of 'platonic idealism'.

FWIW, I entirely agree with baboon,

baboon

For me the overwhelming evidence of the last hundred years of the trade unions is one of integration into the capitalist state and the defence of that state's national interest against the working class.

You're right, JK, all the 'concrete examples' of 'union wins' in the world can't contradict the theory. But then, the theory is also based on some countervailing empirical evidence, like the General Strike.

As I've said all along, it's a judgement. And your outlining of the anti-NLM argument, which helped convince me, has also helped me to form this judgement.

baboon

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

LBird, I’ve been back and read your references to likening the union question to the national liberation question and generally agree with your line of march; ie, “positives” can be taken from both in national contexts but an internationalist position can only be against both.

I’m taking a bit of a liberty and want to reproduce (pre-publish rather than unpublish) a quote from the second part of text on class struggle in Africa that I’m translating for the ICC (the first part is on its website) made by a historian who has studied the subject. It’s just one point and no doubt there will be those that say that this is just another example of listing what’s deficient in the unions; that it’s another example of intransigence and vulgar proletarian obstinacy – which is exactly what it is.

Just a couple of points first:
In the 50s, 60s and 70s, in the labour camps of Russia, East Germany and other Soviet bloc satellites, all the workers were in unions and from this basis extremely important class struggles broke out. That doesn’t mean that labour camps have “counterveiling” tendencies within them (though this may be more difficult to see with the democratic trade unions).

Dialectic materialism has been mentioned above with someone kind enough to show a picture of a coin so that us dimwits can see what’s meant by two sides. This presumably means that a dialectical approach to the unions understands that it’s not one thing or the other but a “dialectical” mixture of both. I think that this shows a misunderstanding of dialectics and an even bigger misunderstanding of dialectical materialism (for me the real essence of marxism). There is no need at all for revolutionaries to trap or make excuses for workers in a trade union consciousness or of trade union consciousness being a possible stepping stone to wider and deeper struggle. To talk of “alienating” the working class by taking positions against the unions is to contribute to the enforcement of a trade union consciousness. But what, from the point of view of dialectics, the workers believe in at a particular moment is not the point. Whether the working class is aware of it or not there is a necessity for a different order and, dialectically, the state of things will inevitably break apart. For marxism the most profound expression of dialectics is not something as trivial as two sides of a trade union coin but the negation of the existing order and the proletariat as a revolutionary class and the bearer of communism. Where do the trade unions, with their structurally divisive activity and constant defence of the national interest stand in relation to that? I see no substantial difference between the opposing tendencies in trade unions’ position and that of the “critical” position of the SWP.

Anyway, I’ve got sidetracked and the quote is from Iba Der Thiam and his “Histoire du Movement syndical africain 1790-1929” and concerns a mass strike involving the Dakar region that broke out against the colonial power France in early 1914: “It was an economic strike certainly, but also political, a strike of protest, a strike of sanction, of reprisals, decided upon and put into effect by all the population of Cape Verde... The strike had a clearly political character and the reaction of the authorities was something else... The administration was both surprised and disarmed because it had nothing like the classic union organisation with offices and rules on the ground. This was a general movement taken in hand by all the population and whose leadership was invisible”. How can there be any doubt nearly a hundred years on, with one “betrayal” succeeding another, and the daily work of division and their function as state organisations that the trade unions are against the working class?

posi

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Is there a direct analogy between "national liberation movements" and "the unions" for the purposes of this argument?

First of all, although I've agreed with everything JK has said on this thread so far, I think we may disagree on this. I think, for example, that there is some real, positive and important content to, for example, mass struggles in Palestine against the separation wall, and against the occupation. On that level, I think JK may agree - but we might not describe it theoretically in the same way.

In general, I don't think that "national liberation movement" is a particularly helpful term for analysis, insofar its not clear whether it includes mass struggles such as I describe as well as Hamas, etc. I would prefer starting with a more specific analysis: talking about the role and structural significance of the mass anti-colonial struggle, the post-colonial pseudo-socialist or Islamist militia, etc. (I don't think we have to end up endorsing any of these to make it worthwhile disaggregating them.) But anyway, leaving that aside for now . . . we can continue that discussion on the thread below the review of Against Nationalism if people want to.

But let's take a specific example. Why is Hamas disanalogous to the RMT? Because:

1 - participating in Hamas is (to polarise) political, whereas participating in the RMT is to participate in a diverse organisation with political plurlity and freedom to organise for one's views without expulsion. Gorter says something like "every union . . . is a party, for or against the revolution". And, true, we are polarising: every organisation lies somewhere on the line between politically restrictive on the one hand, and pluralist and based on mass participation on the other - and at times of revolution, such as Gorter was talking about, the political role of the union may become extremely important and sharply posed, overwhelming its pluralist mass basis. The general difference in quantity, however, amounts to a difference in quality (thx Engels) in this case. In those countries where union are organised more politically (France, Italy, Spain), this is less true, but still true enough to be important. It would be less true again of a mass informal anti-colonial struggle . . . but again, still true enough to be important.

2 - The RMT is based on meeting the material, immediate class needs of its members through struggle, and its day to day activity reflects that, Hamas is not. It is a class-based need to protect jobs by threatening strike action, it is not a class need to escalate ethnic tension by detonating bombs on Israeli buses. It is a class based need not to have to be shot as you walk to work, or have freedom of movement in one's town, but these things are not addressed as immediate needs by Hamas, only in the abstract remote sense in which they would be solved by national independence. They are addressed as immediate needs by various local committees in the West Bank, so the differences are smaller there again...

3 - The extent to which Hamas fucks people, and the class struggle, over massively exceeds that of the RMT. Suicide bombings and beating demonstrations off the streets are not analogous to not, I dunno, not calling for an indefinite political strike for communism, or failing to absolutely win every economic battle outright, or whatever you want them to do.

There are other differences. The level of open democracy, the fact that the RMT's weaknesses are in part expressions of the weakness of the class, etc. etc. These differences are not incidental to the particular example in question, which I have chosen because it is easy to illustrate: they are structural reflections of the different roles which unions in the old industrial bastions of the core and national liberation movements in the oil-producing periphery play in world capitalism today.

baboon

Look at the unions in China who have opposed the class struggle

Forgive me, but aren't you in favour of a communist party?

baboon

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I forgive you Posi, but I don't know what you're talking about.

If you're suggesting that in some way I support the CCP then you haven't understood a word I've said.

The dialectic is used above to demonstrate that, because there are two sides to a coin, unions can have a proletarian context. My problem with such a methodoligical approach is that such a "theory" can apply to anything where workers are involved: national liberation, imperialist war, popular fronts, united fronts, socialist paradises, anything becomes anything in this abuse of the dialectical materialism.

LBird

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

baboon

My problem with such a methodological approach is that such a "theory" can apply to anything where workers are involved:...

Yeah, this was my key question to Alexander Roxwell in our debate about National Liberation Movements, and it's my key question now, regarding the unions.

That is: 'Why should the mere presence of workers in an organisation in itself give sufficient reason for Communists to support that organisation?'

Perhaps there is a satisfactory answer which differentiates NLMs from unions, but if there is, I'm yet to hear it.

As I've said, the argument against NLMs seems to me to be completely applicable to the argument against unions.

posi

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

LBird - Well if it's the key question, then the key answer is above. Why don't you engage with the differences I set out?

Baboon - my point is that it's ridiculous to use the experience of a state labour front like the official unions in China to denounce every other union in the world. Just because something is described using the word 'union' or 'party' doesn't make it identical to every other thing described by the same word.

LBird

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

posi

LBird - Well if it's the key question, then the key answer is above.

Why not give me the 'one-line answer' then, to a 'one-line question', rather than spend your 'line' telling me to look amongst your 'several paragraph' post?

Do you think this is a game? You don't seem to want to engage seriously, and would rather play childish tricks.

I'll do it for you, eh?

posi

[A union, unlike an NLM,] is based on meeting the material, immediate class needs of its members through struggle...

This assertion, though, is at the heart of our disagreement. And even if it is true (fully or in part), does it go far enough to justify Communists supporting unions?

Lurch

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

The essential point about 'overtly' state unions in China today (or in the old Eastern bloc) is that they are useless for controlling struggles, which is why the ruling class elsewhere expends so much energy in trying to persuade such states (usually under the guise of 'human rights' campaigns) to adopt western-style 'free' trade unions, along with other 'democratic' safety valves. That's why the UK bosses paper the Financial Times in a June 2010 editorial (at the height of last year's strikes in factories like Honda) argued that what was required in China was 'free' trade unions which could prevent such struggles from reaching the point where production was halted, quality wrecked and continuity of supply threatened (western firms haven't invested squillions in 'low wage' economies just to see their production fucked up). That's why, since 2004, a TUC delegation has visited China twice (and hosted one return visit) in a bid to push this process along - all facilitated by the same British ambasadorial team that arranged Cameron's sales junket earlier this year. That's why the US, when re-writting the constitutions of defeated Germany and Japan in 1945/46, insisted on strong trade unions (and co-opted a top US union official to oversee this process). That's why so much western support was given to Solidarnosc in Poland, the movement which took over the workers mass strikes and assemblies in 1980/81, and eventually, after the fall of the Wall, provided much of the first 'free' Polish government.

posi

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Why not give me the 'one-line answer' then, to a 'one-line question', rather than spend your 'line' telling me to look amongst your 'several paragraph' post?

Because it takes more than 'one line' to answer 'the' question, and I 'already answered' it. Are 'you' serious?

Do you think this is a game?

I'm not sure. But if it is, it's not much fun.

This assertion, though, is at the heart of our disagreement. And even if it is true (fully or in part), does it go far enough to justify Communists supporting unions?

It is true, definitely. I was referring specifically to the RMT, just because it's an easy case study. It is simply not credible to say that the higher wages and job security of RMT members on the tube, for example, compared to others, is nothing to do with the strike action which has been organised through the RMT. That would be nonsense. Sorry.

In general, if you google 'union wage premium' then you can see statistical estimates for the impact which union membership has on earnings, which tends to be between 10% and 25% in the US and UK.

"Communists supporting unions" is a totally meaningless phrase. Communists participating in unions, certainly.

http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/19987/1/The_Union_Wage_Premium_in_the_US_and_the_UK.pdf

LBird

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

posi

It is true, definitely.

Well, that's the assertion. Let's look at the evidence.

posi

I was referring specifically to the RMT, just because it's an easy case study. It is simply not credible to say that the higher wages and job security of RMT members on the tube, for example, compared to others, is nothing to do with the strike action which has been organised through the RMT. That would be nonsense. Sorry.

Well, I'm not (and I don't think the others are, either) saying that "higher wages and job security...[are] nothing to do with the strike action...".

In fact, I agree with you: they are the result of strike action by a union.

The real issue, which seems to be being missed, is:

"can 'higher wages and job security achieved through union struggles' in themselves be categorised as either 'class conscious' or 'leading to Communism'?".

It seems to be an 'open and shut' case. Yes, workers are 'better off', through struggles in which they have taken at least some part, so we conclude that 'unions' are of some use to workers.

But, can't the same argument be used about National Liberation Movements? It seems to me that at least some NLMs have lead to workers of the 'liberated nation' being materially 'better off' than before the struggle. I'm sure that this would be the line of argument which would be taken by Alexander Roxwell, in his support for NLMs.

I suppose what I'm asking about is, how do we define 'class consciousness' and 'leading to Communism'.

Surely there has to be more evidence than just 'workers being better off', because that can be achieved within the capitalist system.

And even if the system starts to break down, the mere fact that improvements have been achieved in the past by their peaceful union-based struggles within the system, could lead workers to defend that 'proven' system, rather than launch into the unknown of 'class struggle' and 'Communism'.

So, the question remains, still undecided by the 'evidence'.

Are the 'unions' a valid tool for workers to develop 'class consciousness', or are they a 'bait' (like the birdseed analogy), which lead to uncertain tactical victory, but certain strategic loss?

Once again, I say 'It's not clear, it's a judgement'. Let's discuss it like Communists.

Joseph Kay

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

posi

In general, if you google 'union wage premium' then you can see statistical estimates for the impact which union membership has on earnings, which tends to be between 10% and 25% in the US and UK.

although you can argue that there's a counfounding variable behind the correlation: workers' willingness to take collective action which tends to lead to higher union membership and better pay. it would be interesting to see a breakdown by threatened or actual industrial action vs pay premium; i'd imagine non-striking unions come out bottom, the RMT near the top. so it's not union membership per se that's causal, but willingness to take collective action. of course most of that action is organised by or through trade unions.