The time for the trade union movement to break out of this narrow defensive role is long overdue. An organisation like the TUC, with its research departments, is well placed to conduct discussions with socialists on how production and the work place could be democratically organised. For many years now the TUC and the 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 tend to be bogged down in bureaucracy and run by careerists and timeserving officials for whom the future means little more than their pensions. It has to be said that this does present itself as a sterile accommodation with the capitalist system. But in fact the unions could 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 fraternal links across the world. All this is already in place. By setting their sights beyond the next wage claim and by becoming part of the socialist movement, once a majority is achieved, they could so easily become part of the democratic administration of industry that would replace the corporate bosses and their managers who now organise production for profit.
Italian steel workers refused to allow the owners to close steel factories during 1949 and 1950, and instead continued at their work without wages and without professional management, electing temporary managers from their own ranks. While the workers ran the factories themselves, they built ships, aeroplanes, furnaces; they improved efficiently; and by introducing new processes, they economised considerably on production costs-for example, at the Ilva-Bolzaneto works at Genoa, they reduced the price of a kilogram of metal, and in order to economise on oil, they invented a process which saved 500 kilograms of oil in every eight hours of work.This episode in Italy proved that workers can run the factories by themselves; and that they can not only maintain but improve efficiency.So many other cases and examples can be cited .
The essence of the trade union is workers uniting to protect their interests in the workplace, and ultimately the union and the workers are one and the same thing. If these workers have reformist outlook on life, i.e. believe that capitalism can be made to run in the interests of all, the unions must therefore have the same outlook; on the other hand if there were more revolutionary workers in the unions—and in society generally—then the unions would have a more revolutionary outlook, no longer harbouring any illusions about 'common national interests' or other such rubbish. That would not in any way alter the essential nature and role of the trade unions as the defensive organisations of the working class; but it would make them far more effective fulfilling that role.
Our advice to workers is threefold:-
1 ) Try to push wages and salaries as high as they are allowed to go by the owners and management
2 ) Organise democratically to achieve your aims, without reliance on leaders, who will sell you down the river
3 ) Recognise that any union struggle is necessarily a defensive one as there can be no real and lasting victory within the profit system.
We endorse the statement of fellow socialists :-
"In countries like India workers have the legal right to form trade unions. But there, too, unlike Europe and America, most of the big trade unions have been organised from above as fund-raising, vote-catching political subsidiaries of self-seeking "leaders" than as spontaneous, grass-root, independent and autonomous organisations of the working class to defend their economic interests. Moreover in the absence of factory-wide free election of trade union functionaries, there are as many unions as there are political parties, most of them operating with their hired gangsters and peculiar flags having very little regard to class-unity. Actually these trade unions are not genuine trade unions.Still workers' organised resistance against exploitation is a must; and for that matter, their resistance struggles must have to be freed from the infamy of remaining divided and subservient to various capitalist political parties. This they can achieve by organising themselves in fully integrated and independent trade unions of their own, by throwing away all kinds of blind faith and submissiveness regarding the wretched hierarchy of subscription-squeezer and flag-hoister "leaders". The working class movement is a movement of equals-organised by the workers and in the interest of the workers. No "leader", supposedly having some unknown "god"-given or "intrinsic" trick-finding qualities given is necessary to lead the working-class movement. For a "trick" cannot throw profit overboard. Simply because private property lives to levy its tribute on labour. All workers are able, rather abler than the "leaders", to understand their own class-interests only if they are fully informed of their circumstances from local to global. And to be informed of what is happening around, and what has happened earlier, what they require is to meet in regular general assemblies, discuss and debate all that matters keeping ears and minds open and decide to take such steps as deemed useful. In case a strike is to be declared, they would need a strike committee to be formed of recallable delegates elected and mandated in the general assembly-thus retaining the ultimate control in their own hands.Where there are many rival trade union shops in a single factory or workplace operated by many capitalist political parties, a socialist worker can neither keep on supporting the one he is in, nor go on seeking membership of one after another or all at the same time, nor can he open his own "socialist" trade union instead. What he can, and should, do as an immediate perspective, is to try to form a "political group" with like-minded fellow workers and campaign for a class-wide democratic unity as stated above. Whenever an opportunity arrives the group must use the assemblies as a forum for political propaganda to expose the uselessness of "leaders" and show that the trade union movement is unable to solve the problems of crises, insecurity, poverty, unemployment, hunger and wars" Manifesto of the World Socialist Party (India), March 1995
Trade unions are essentially fighting over the crumbs. Socialists long ago raised our sights beyond the crumbs (necessary though that fight is within the system) to fight not for control of the whole bakery but the wheat-fields , too. That way we will not be perpetually doomed to repeat the battles of the past.