Friday, December 17, 2010

The Union Fight

Socialists would disagree with the proposition that labour and management have a common interest that can be jointly and intelligently settle over the bargaining table. Fundamentally, the interests of management must be to operate profitably. They are not in business for love or for the benefit of the employees (albeit some employers may be benevolent because it means harmonious industrial relations and therefore good business). Labour, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with wages, hours, and working conditions. Without their unions, labour would be in a sorry plight, for capital is in the stronger position, economically. Unions are the only weapons workers have. There exists ample experience and plenty of evidence to realise where labour would be if they had not resisted and fought.

It is badly mistaken to imagine that anyone can serve both the bosses and the work-force and their conflicting interests. There is a basic conflict of economic interests. Employers must be concerned with lowering labour costs; employees must be concerned, at the minimum, with a sufficient wage to support their families. It is as simple as that. This fact of life is what gave rise to unionism in the first place. Some have argued that the labour movement was created for the comfort, not the distress of the working man. This reveals an ignorance of the history of unionism. The labour movement was not created by philanthropists. It arose because of the solidarity of unionists in their common interests.( This very solidarity gave rise to its democratic procedures. Within trade unionism no action should be taken without the approval of the membership.The members must be watchdogs, constantly on the alert for abuses of sound unionism. The union is controlled by its members and not by any officialdom. We advocate unionism — the economic phase of the class struggle, but we certainly do not support all aspects of trade union activity such as its growing bureaucracy and endorsement of capitalist political parties. )

Without resistance by workers in their unions, the tendency of capital is to reduce labour costs to the very bone in the interests of their profits. Invariably, capital will always cry “poverty,” despite what the real facts might be.There is a conflict of interests between capital and labour because, in the final analysis, a reduction in wages results in an increase in profits. Conversely, an increase in wages results in a decrease in profits. Inexorably, wages are determined by the cost of existence of the workers. It is the rise in living costs that compels the fight for higher wages.The superstition that a rise in wages causes a rise in prices is nothing but brainwashing propaganda on the part of capital.

When scholars really come to grips with scientific problems and search for objective answers, they reach Marxian conclusions. No longer is it possible to get meaningful answers without recognizing the physical-material nature of existence, which is the heart and core of Marxism. Nothing has taken place in recent developments that has even remotely repudiated the wage-labor and capital basis of present-day capitalism. This also applies to the following: the prime object of production is the production of commodities to be sold on the market with a view to profit; that the accumulation of capital is accompanied by and concomitant with the production of surplus values; that there does take place a class struggle both economically and politically; that the transformation of ownership from entrepreneurs to gigantic combines and state ownership still finds a class whose members are the “eaters of surplus value,” even though they may be government bond holders, bureaucracy or a party. The general analyses of Marxian economics even on problems of inflation, money, gold, etc., have not been found invalid. But, we have seen, time and time again, new fads in modern economics come and go, popular today and forgotten tomorrow. Keynes is a good example. The consistent refrain of the bourgeois economists from Marx’s time to date: "You were correct yesterday but you are wrong today." Both in the “simple” capitalism of Marx and the complex “monopoly” capitalism of today, prices cannot be arbitrarily fixed for any length of time, not even by national capitals. In spite of iron controls and legislative actions and executive edicts, the competition of new processes, new sources of power, new synthetic materials are at work intensifying international competition on a gigantic scale, even leading to war. It is easy — but false — to ignore that the only thing that matters is the accumulation of capital itself. Fluid capital is ever seeking new avenues of investment. Capitalism remains capitalism, with its economic laws of motion, despite Keynes and the rest.

Workers are divorced from the means of production. Unions function to offer workers some protection within the limits of this divorcement. Therefore unions do not and cannot give workers an opportunity to have a real say in the vital processes of our society; unions, like the workers who compose them, are cut off from the roots of social processes.

The point of production is not a social relationship of production but a basic facet of this social relationship. The pitfall lies in “economic determinism” answers, i.e., equating behaviors with the means of production. Social relations among humans are not limited to the point of production, even though the only source of surplus value production is to be found at the point of production. That said, however, many evidences of solidarity and militancy can be observed in times of stress, in wildcat strikes, etc., at the point of production. The real key to “human relations at the point of production” lies in the examination of the class struggle.

It is suffice to say that the workers do not have “economic power” as long as they are wage slaves. Economic power has no meaning when it is confined to just withholding your labor power from production, which still leaves economic power in the hands of the masters. Economic power flows from having political control of the state machinery. Remember: in spite of all their growing economic influence, prestige, and advantages, the rising bourgeoisie were choked by the control of the state by the feudal aristocracy. The success of the bourgeois revolution (capture of the state) transferred economic power into the hands of the new rising bourgeois class. The class struggle is one of scientific socialism’s three great contributions to knowledge. Unions deal with the economic phase of the class struggle, not its political phase. The realisation of the class struggle leads to the understanding that the politically awakened working class will vote for socialism.

Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick were very close to WSM views on most matters, except on Workers Councils and on the ballot. Theie views on the ballot arose from the Workers Councils concepts. To them the road to socialism was via the economic organization of the workers. They stressed that the State was an organ of the ruling class. It could only function as the central organ of power. The ballot was a deception, merely a democratic form and not democratic essence. However, both overlooked that it is not the economic phase that is the highest expression of the class struggle, but the political phase. In the factories, co-ops, unions, we are fragmented, sectionalised and tied to our interests, but on the political field, we can make our numbers tell in a way win which they cannot use the state to strangle. The economic phase by its very nature is limited to working within the frame work of capitalism. It is the fact that State power is in the hands of the ruling class that stymies workers from revolutionary changes. Titles and deeds, the military forces, etc., are in the hands of the ruling class through its control of the State. The essence of Marx’s writing (from the Communist Manifesto on) was consistent in stressing the need for political action; and this view has stood the acid test of unfolding events. Just because the state is the central organ of power, it requires the political action of a resolute, determined class conscious majority to accomplish the transfer of the means of living from the hands of the parasites to the possession of society, as a whole. That is revolutionary socialist political action. What confuses the question is the activities of social democrats and the Bolsheviks, who call themselves “communists.” Their political activities are confined to administering the capitalist state, and instituting reforms for the smoother operation of capitalism.

The class struggle is one of scientific socialism’s three great contributions to knowledge. Unions deal with the economic phase of the class struggle, not its political phase. The realisation of the class struggle leads to the understanding that the “politically awakened working class will vote for” socialism.We advocate unionism — the economic phase of the class struggle, but we certainly do not support all aspects of union activity such as its endorsement of capitalist political parties

A number of organisations are fond of describing socialism as a society in which the worker gets the “full product of his toil.” This is an erroneous concept. “Full product” is only another expression of the bourgeois “equality and justice.” There is no class of workers in a socialist society. There are only citizens, members of society, who receive according to their need. If everyone got the full product what would be left for the common administration of the affairs of the whole community? For a superb annihilation of the Lasallean “full product” concept, Marx’s refutation of the Eisenachers in the Gotha Program is a gem of analysis

The complaints of the many splinter groups of the Left, both new and old varieties, arise from disappointments and discouragements at their lack of results, despite their sincere and dedicated “activism.” One important factor is their feeling of being “leaders” and “professional revolutionaries,” even if this is not stated overtly. In the great stirring in the depression days of the Thirties, especially in Detroit, the workers in the auto industries — without leaders or agitators — spontaneously wanted to organise into unions. The ambitious careerists and the Communist cadres were taking credit for organising the workers into unions, through their efforts. (Naturally there were ample squabbles among these “heroes” for that self-claimed credit.) It was as though they were taking credit for the rising of the sun. To paraphrase Marx’s comment in the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy (paraphrased): It is not ideas that make material conditions but material conditions that give rise to ideas. Supplement this with Victor Hugo’s famous quip: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea come of age; it is stronger than the strongest armies.

And to add yet another cliché: “He who only waits does not serve the cause of socialism"

Based on the writings of Rab , late WSPUS member

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