Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Unions , Revolutionary Unions and Socialists

In relation to the IWW and WSM membership the official position as far as i'm aware is that as long as the IWW behaves and acts as a workers union then its up to individual WSM members to decide whether or not it is in their interests to join .

Previously in the past , during the formative years of both organisations , the IWW was seen as more of an anti-political ie an anarchist organisation , promoting Industrial Unionism , which the SPGB disavowed as sectional and undemocratic , since it was about industries controlling the means of production and distribution and not society as a whole ie also those outside the work-place . The SPGB now accepts that in recent years the IWW has changed and can be more accurately described as an a-political organisation , if you get the difference of emphasis since it itself has changed its approach to the class struggle and for all practical purposes now acts as a democratic and progressive , inspirational and educational union that is to be recommended for membership when it is to the workers advantage , which is the majority of the time and situations .No longer is it being divisive with outright opposition to the pure and simple reformist unions by now adopting the dual -card policy which has been another change that differentiates the present from the early IWW that the SPGB criticised .

The SPGB have always insisted that there will be a separation and that no political party should , or can successfully use , unions as an economic wing , until a time very much closer to the Revolution when there are substantial and sufficient numbers of socialist conscious workers . And for the foreseeable thats far off in the future . Therefore we do share one thing in common with the IWW in the sense that unions should not be used as a vehicle for political parties and have their control fought over as took place in the IWW history between SLP ,SPA and anarchists The IWW is and was in reality a militant general union with a revolutionary ideology and , like all unions , (as they must to be effective , of course) recruited members on an open-house principle, i.e. workers of all political views and not just revolutionaries

The Canadian One Big Union did accept the importance of the political struggle more than the IWW and i think some in the WSM probably agree with James Connolly when asked about the 1908 schism meant he was against the workers taking political action to establish Socialism , he replied that when the time actully came “it would be impossible to prevent the workers taking it”

In regard to trade unionism , in general , I think most members of the WSM would accept the following with perhaps a few caveats of their own :-

We recognise that, under capitalism, workers depend on the wage or salary they get for the sale of their labour-power and that it is in their interest to get the highest possible price for this; collective organisation and action, as via trade unions, can help obtain this. In other words, we're talking about haggling over the workers' commodity. Clearly, necessary though it is, this has no anti-capitalist content. This doesn't mean that the wages struggle isn't part of the class struggle. It is, but as an economic, defensive struggle within capitalism to get the best deal under it.

Trade unions arise out of the wage-relation that is at the basis of capitalism.When we say that labour-power has the commodity nature , it must express its value through a struggle in the labour market. Combining together in trade unions to exert collective pressure on employers is a way workers can prevent their wages falling below the value of their Iabour-power. It is a way of ensuring that they are paid the full value of what they have to sell. This is the usefulness of trade unions to the working class but they can do no more than this. The competition of individual workers for jobs enabled employers to take full advantage of their strengthened position. If, however, the workers unite and agree not to sell their labour-power below a certain price, the effect of individual competition for jobs can be, at least in part, overcome. Organised workers can ensure that the wage they get is the current value of their labour-power and, at times when the demand for labour-power exceeds the supply, they can temporarily push wages above the current value of labour power or even, in the longer term, raise its value. This was, and still is, the economic logic for the working class of trade union organisation. Trade Unions can - and do - enable workers to get the full value of their labour-power, but they cannot stop the exploitation of the working class.

In our view trade-union action is necessary under capitalism, but is limited by being of an essentially defensive nature. To overcome this limitation the workers need to organise themselves into a socialist political party aiming solely at the capture of political power to establish socialism It would be wrong to write off the unions as anti-working-class organisations. The union has indeed tended to become an institution apart from its members; but the policy of a union is still influenced by the views of its members. It may be a truism but a union is only as strong as its members.Most unions have formal democratic constitutions which provide for a wide degree of membership participation and democratic control. In practice however, these provisions are sometimes ineffective and actual control of many unions is in the hands of a well-entrenched full-time leadership.It is these leaders who frequently collaborate with the State and employers in the administration of capitalism; who get involved in supporting political parties and governments which act against the interest of the working class.

We, therefore, accept trade unions as they are, and, realising that all their grave and undeniable faults are but the reflection of the mental shortcomings of their members.[ ahh , blaming the workers again , i can hear some complain ] The Socialist Party is not antagonistic to the trade unions under present conditions, even though they have not a revolutionary basis but we are hostile to the misleading by the trade union leaders and the ignorance of the rank and file which make such misleading possible. Workers must come to see through the illusion that all that is needed in the class war are good generals. Sloganising leaders making militant noises are impotent in the face of a system which still has majority support – or at least the acquiescence – of the working class.
The Socialist Party urges that the existing unions provide the medium through which the workers should continue their efforts to obtain the best conditions they can get from the master class in the sale of their labour-power.We do not criticise the unions for not being revolutionary, but we do severely criticise them when they depart from the principle of an antagonism of interests between workers and employers; when they collaborate with employers, the state or political parties; when they put the corporate interests of a particular section of workers above that of the general interest of the working class as a whole.
Trade unions , in general , have languished in a role which provides little scope for action beyond preparing for the next self-repeating battle with employers. They tended to be bogged down in bureaucracy and run by careerists and timeserving officials for whom the future means little more than their pensions and peerage . It has to be admitted that this does present itself as a sterile accommodation with the capitalist system.

Under present conditions, trade unions are non-revolutionary but as far as the socialist thinks them necessary to his personal economic welfare and as far as economic pressure forces him to, he is right and justified in using them. The class struggle has to be carried on by socialists and non-socialists alike and because of the very nature of the workers' economic struggle under capitalism it compels socialists to associate in a common cause with the non-socialists during strikes, lock-outs and all the other activities on the economic side of the class struggle.

We also bear in mind the possible potential of the existing trade unions that they can bring a great deal of experience to bear on the question of how a new society could be organised democratically in the interests of the whole community. Certainly in the developed countries they have organisation in the most important parts of production. They have rulebooks that allow them to be run locally and nationally in a generally democratic manner and they also enjoy links across the globe and many research facilities . All this is already in place , ready to be applied . Without being accused of syndicalism or council communism , they could so easily become part of the democratic administration of industry with that would replace the corporate bosses and their managers


The priority of workers organising at the workplace should not have the politics of ideologies interfering in that organising

As the trade union movement stands to-day it is still craft and sectarian in
outlook, still mainly pro-capitalist, even where the workers are organised on
the basis of industry.The struggle on the economic held under capitalism has to
be, and is, carried on by Socialists and non-Socialists alike. The small number
of workers who really understand the meaning of Socialism is such that any
attempt to form a separate Socialist economic organisation at present would be
practically futile, for the very nature of the workers' economic struggle under
capitalism would compel such an organisation to associate in a common cause with
the non-Socialist unions during strikes and all the other activities on the
economic side of the class struggle. The Socialist Party, therefore, urges
that the existing unions provide the medium through which the workers should
continue their efforts to obtain the best conditions they can get from the
master class in the sale of their labour-power.

The ideal trade-union, from a socialist point of view, would be one that
recognised the irreconcilable conflict of interest between workers and
employers, that had no leaders but was organised democratically and controlled
by its members, that sought to organise all workers irrespective of nationality,
colour, religious or political views, first by industry then into One Big Union,
and which struggled not just for higher wages but also for the abolition of the
wages system.
The trouble is that this cannot become a full reality till large numbers of
workers are socialists. In other words, you can't have a union organised on
entirely socialist principles without a socialist membership. This was
recognised in the big discussion on the trade union question that took
place in the Socialist Party in Britain shortly after we were founded in 1904.
The idea of forming a separate socialist union was rejected in favour of working
within the existing unions and trying to get them to act on as sound lines as
the consciousness of their membership permitted. The logic behind this position
was that, to be effective, a union has to organise as many workers as possible
employed by the same employer or in the same industry, but a socialist union
would not have many more members than there were members of a socialist party.
In a non-revolutionary situation most union members would inevitably not be
socialists but would not need to be.
A union can be effective even without a socialist membership if it adheres to
some at least of the features of the ideal socialist union already outlined ,
and will be the more effective the more of those principles it applies.

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