Letter: The Socialist Attitude to Trade Unions

A correspondent sends us the following letter of criticism:

Dear Sir,
In dealing with the question of “Trade Unionism” in the July issue of the S.S., you state that the S.P.G.B. supports T.U. action, whilst pointing out that such action can only be defensive in character.
I take it that you are opposed to reformist activity on the ground that reforms cannot achieve Socialism.
There seems to be something faulty in your reasoning here.
If your support of Trade Unionism is for the reason you give, why not support reformist activity for precisely the same reason? On the other hand your statement implies that you would oppose T.U. action if such action were offensive in character. This is of course absurd.
Again, are not Trade Unions reformist? If so, why not oppose them as you apparently oppose reformist action?
It seems that you have placed yourself in an impossible position. Is there a way out of the dilemma?
Or could it be that T.U.s are after all not reformist bodies? And that your support of them is upon grounds other than those stated by you. If so I would like to know what these grounds are.
Yours sincerely,
D. Smith.


The statement to which the above letter refers was on page 110 of the July issue:—

“We support trade union activity that is genuinely in the interest of the working class. But we recognise that such action can only be defensive. It is only organisation on the political field that will enable the class system to be abolished.”

We support the efforts of the workers through trade union organisation to defend and improve their wages and conditions of work. If they did not struggle they would be worse off. As Marx phrased it in “Value, Price and Profit,” if the workers abandon the struggle “they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. . . . By cowardly giving way in their every-day conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any large movement.”

But trade union action is action against the effects of the capitalist system. It cannot achieve the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. Trade unions have to take the workers as they are and most of them are not socialists and therefore are not in favour of establishing Socialism.

The establishment of Socialism requires political action, but not just any political action. Political organisation to secure reform of Capitalism can no more achieve Socialism than can strikes for higher wages.

What is required is political organisation and action by socialists, to gain control of the machinery of government for the purpose of introducing Socialism.

Some reforms of Capitalism may be of limited use to the working class or sections of the working class, though most reforms are not, but organisations that advocate reforming Capitalism are of no use whatever for the task of establishing Socialism. Such organisations can only maintain themselves by encouraging the delusion that the basic evils of Capitalism can be reformed, out of existence. Such an organisation must attract reformists and seek the support and votes of reformists, and when its support among the non-socialist electorate becomes big enough it has to take on the task of forming a government and carrying on Capitalism and waging its wars.

Organisation and propaganda for Socialism can only be carried on by a party whose members are socialists. If a party aiming at Socialism were to diverge from that aim by advocating reforms it would likewise attract non-socialists. It would be submerged by them and the socialist message would be lost.

That is why the Socialist Party does not advocate reforms, and why it tells the working class that trade union struggles against the employers are useful, but the creation of reformist political organisations which just serve to perpetuate Capitalism is useless.


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