1920s >> 1923 >> no-228-august-1923

Industrial organisation


Evidence is continually forthcoming that the subject of industrial organisation, while of considerable interest to many workers, is also one upon which a large amount of ignorance and confusion exists. The reasons for the existence of any form of organisation among those engaged in industry, the power of the workers so organised, and the ultimate object of such organisation, are misconceived alike by the avowed reactionary and the alleged reformer, together with many a so-called revolutionist.

Why do Trades Unions exist? The reactionary, if he allows that they should exist at all, considers their sole legitimate function should be the prevention of disputes between the workers and their masters. In his view the workers should maintain expensive officials, with unlimited authority, for the purpose of pursuing a peace-at-any-price policy. The reformer regards the Trades Unions as a convenient basis for the formation of a political party of place-hunters. He considers the sufferings of the workers and their struggles on the industrial field as the driving force behind the careers of the leaders. He forcibly condemns any activity which comes into conflict with this supreme aim.

Outside the Socialist Party there is not a single political party which does not subordinate the immediate interests of the working-class to those of the master-class and their lackeys. But even among those who frankly reject all political parties (the Socialist Party included) confused ideas are current. While some exaggerate the Trades Unions into the sole conceivable agent of working-class emancipation (or, alternatively, some other form of industrial organisation), we have on the other hand those who pretend that any form of organisation is unnecessary. We are told that the workers will so improve their conditions of life by economic action that the capitalist-class will automatically lose control of the means of life and disappear. The workers are thus tempted to neglect their essential task of organising to secure political control of the forces, military and industrial, which at present determine their condition.

The Socialist observes that there are to-day two social classes; the working-class, by far the great majority of the population, has no share in the ownership and control of the means of life, and consequently exists by the sale of the only commodity it possesses (i.e., the power to labour) to the master class; the few who do own the means of life, who, by the use of this power in the process of production, secure possession of all other commodities. From the sale of these commodities the master-class draws the means to support its luxurious existence. The relationship between the masters and the workers centres immediately round the sale of labour-power, and, ultimately, round the ownership of the means of life. The relationship is essentially one of struggle, and it is of this struggle that the organisations of the classes, industrial and political, are born. The industrial organisations arise from the immediate struggle over the price of labour-power. The masters organise to obtain it as cheaply as possible ; the workers organise to sell it as dearly as possible. The struggle results in the workers getting on an average sufficient for the maintenance of their class, as such, that is as a slave-class doomed to minimum rations in return for an ever-increasing maximum output.

The development of industry by means of inventions and improved methods of production results, not only in yielding an increasing share of the product to the mas¬ters, but in the concentration of capital and consequently in the greater bargaining power of the masters. Yet in the face of the worsening of their economic position, the workers’ organisation lags far behind that of the masters in efficiency. The cause lies in the ignorance of the workers. To combat this ignorance is an essential function of the Socialist Party.

We point out to the workers that their interests as vendors of the commodity labour-power are opposed to those of the masters. This knowledge is essential to any improvement of the industrial organisation of the working-class; but, further, we show that even with the most perfect form of industrial organisation conceivable under Capitalism the price of labour-power cannot rise for any length of time above the subsistence level of the slave. If the workers wish to enjoy to the full the fruits of their labour they must abolish their commodity status. They must obtain possession of the means of life. This can only be done by means of political organisation.

The economic organisations of the master-class do not secure to that class their property. Without the machinery of government at their back title-deeds, bonds and share-vouchers would be so much paper. That and nothing more. Behind the letter of the law the armed forces of the State are ready to execute swift judgment on the law-breakers of the working-class, it is not in industrial organisation, then, that the hope of the workers lies. Necessary it undoubtedly is as an essential feature of capitalism, and the very existence of the working-class itself, but more than that, under capitalism, it cannot be. It is a weapon of defence covering an unavoidable retirement in the face of economic development.

What the workers need is to turn industrial defeat into political victory, with the sole object of establishing Socialism, i.e., a form of social organisation owning in common, controlling democratically, and administering the means of life in the interests of all.

E. B.

(Socialist Standard, August 1923)

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