Trade Unions (1/3)

The Bitter Truth

 It has always been popular in the media to denounce totalitarian regimes under which trade unions are regulated appendages of the State and strikes are forbidden.  The Tories persistently present their assault upon unions, with all its contradictions, as being in defence of the rights of the individual and customers.The process is one of continual removal of any real control by the working class over their own economic lives.

Yet the present UK government see its economic salvation in restricting the purpose of trade unions on the industrial field. The Conservative government’s union-bashing proposed changes on how strikes are to be conducted can only successfully be enforced if trade unionists are compliant and docile which remains to be seen. As the government cannot stop striving at the workplace from occurring, they endeavour to stop people spreading the idea of union solidarity from spreading.

The World Socialist Movement points out first that the working class are poor and a subjugated class because the capitalists have political power and own and control production and distribution. The cause of working people’s poverty is not due to defects in how capitalism is administered. Therefore, no political reform (proportional representation, for example), and no social reform (universal basic income) will remedy the problem. If all the possible reforms advocated by all the reformist parties, from Conservative to Communist, were passed into law, the working class would still be a subject class and still poor. Therefore, the World Socialist Movement seeks to organise the working class on a socialist basis.  The only method of achieving socialism is for a socialist working class to gain political control. Anyone who urges the working class to put political power into the hands of persons and parties seeking election on a non-socialist programme, and therefore unable, even if willing, to use their power for any other purpose than the administration of capitalism, is acting directly contrary to the interests of the working class. All reformists have in this way acted contrary to working-class interests.  The World Socialist Movement opposes the parties which preach reform because there is no way of achieving socialism except through the making of socialists and their organisation into a political party which will gain political power for the purpose of introducing socialism.  Political parties of reform, elected by non-socialist votes to run capitalism, are blocking the way to socialism. Therefore we oppose them. 

However, the economic organisations of the workers through trade unions are chiefly concerned with the defence of the workers in their direct relations with the employers. They can bring pressure to bear on the employers to secure an increase in wages or resist detrimental changes to employment conditions. This is a definite, albeit limited, gain for the workers concerned. Therefore, we support workers in their efforts in this direction, yet, nevertheless, pointing out that no industrial action, no matter how well organised, can permanently solve working-class problems and that the employing class always have it in their power to starve striking or locked-out workers into submission if they deem it worthwhile to do so. In the economic field, the masters are in a far stronger position than the workers and can beat them any time they decide to fight to a finish.  Although trade unions are necessary and vital organs of working-class resistance, they cannot emancipate the working class from the capitalist system. Only by social revolution can the working class escape from the ills which they seek to alleviate through trade union action.

As long as capitalism stays, there will be a class struggle. Strikes are unavoidable if workers are to defend their standard of living and raise them where possible. The World Socialist Movement advises fellow workers to be “militant” in the sense that they should press for the highest wages and the best conditions they can get, and should not relax this struggle because the government says there is a crisis. Workers should take no heed of any special pleading regards the “national interest” or “inflationary spirals.”

Strikes are necessary for our defence, but the economic laws of capitalism severely curtail even this. The general level of wages is negotiable only within relatively narrow limits.

One of the immediate consequences of the growth of a mass Socialist movement will be a more effective trade union movement, which will take no notice of hallucinations like “the national interest” or “inflationary spirals.”

The World Socialist Movement also claims that the people best qualified to decide the tactics of a particular strike are those directly involved, who have to live with the consequences. It is not the function of any political party to lay down a detailed trade union strategy. There are importantly two caveats, however, which socialists pursue: working-class democracy and unity. We socialists are concerned with giving the members more power over their unions subordinating parochial craft or regional interests to the interests of all the workers.

The Conservative government’s union-bashing proposed changes on how strikes should be conducted can be hampered workers find scapegoats for their problems. Union-bashing wins working-class votes. Enforcing the Act is another matter. Whether the mass of workers will remain so docile then remains to be seen. In any case, we see here an example of the trade union struggle being hampered by the lack of a solid Socialist movement, based on widespread Socialist understanding.

The next step for trade unionists is recognition of the position in which they stand and turn from sectional aims to the shared interests of the working class as a whole. In a resolution Marx  drafted for the International Workingmen’s Association in 1866, he wrote:

“By considering themselves champions and representatives of the whole working class, and acting accordingly, the trade unions must succeed in rallying around themselves all workers still outside their ranks. They must carefully safeguard the interests of the workers in the poorest-paid trades, such as, for example, the farm labourers, who due to especially unfavourable circumstances have been deprived of their power of resistance. They must convince the whole world that their efforts are far from narrow and egoistic, but on the contrary, are directed towards the emancipation of the downtrodden masses.”

We call upon our fellow wage-slaves to unite as a class, to throw off their entangling “agreements” and “alliances” with the masters, both in the industrial and the political field and to fight the class war to a victorious finish through the establishment of socialism.