Monday, January 18, 2010

Industrial Unionism

The SPGB case against socialist industrial unions :-

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 SPGB 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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