Saturday, September 12, 2015

Socialists and Trade Unions

The annual gathering of the trade unionists takes place in Brighton from the 13th to 16th, the 147th congress and the blog would like to pass a few comments on trade unions.

The Trades Union Congress was founded in 1868. What has happened to the trade unions, to the T.U.C.? Where now is the trade union army that fought the general strike in 1926? How are we to account for the fact that workers—to whom the T.U.C. is supposed to give guidance and inspiration— have gained little but gloom, austerity, wage-freezes, and appeals to work harder; while the financial circles are congratulating themselves upon a booming economy from their point of view. Those who have eyes to see will realise that it is not the T.U.C. that have changed capitalism, but capitalism which changed the trade union movement from an organ of working class struggle into little better than an instrument to aid the smooth running of capitalism. The great need in the trade union movement is for straight thinking and plain speaking. The Socialist Party has always held that the working class cannot achieve socialism until a majority have gained the understanding and will for Socialism.

Throughout the years our "union leaders" continue to place themselves in a position of trying to influence the powers that be that, by tinkering with a social system which continues to put profits before people, all will be sweetness and light.  However, the reality is whenever workers endeavour to gain a few extra crumbs from the cake they themselves bake the capitalist class and its apologists remind them of the need to be realistic. By which they do not mean that workers should acquaint themselves with Marxian economics and the workings of the class struggle, but rather that the employee class should accept less today in exchange for a share in Utopia tomorrow. In the meantime, the working class have to endure the deprivation of their inferior social position, while the capitalist class can continue to enjoy their parasitic privileges derived from profit, interest and rent.

Production under capitalism is anarchic, as the profit requirement must be placed before the needs of the majority. This basic contradiction has remained despite reformist attempts to eradicate working class social problems. They have failed as they address effects rather than the cause: commodity production. The great task which confronts the working class is to organise consciously, politically and democratically throughout the globe so that a speedy end may be wrought to the system.

In every action of resistance by the workers against their exploitation the Socialist Party is on the side of the workers but we as socialists have a lot more to say than that. We hold, with Karl Marx:-
"At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing the direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought therefore not to be exclusively absorbed in those unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market."

If trade unionists desire the TUC to become useful, they must drop their apathy, take an interest in its actions and, above all, send representatives from their own ranks instead of the jobs-worth officials with their tricks and ambitions. It is useless for the workers either to "trust" leaders or to "change" them. The entire institution of leadership must be swept by the board. Only by so selecting men and women from their own ranks, who have no "official" interests to support, and over whom the membership have complete control, can the organised workers ever get these problems of organisation settled in their own interests, and achieve the unity vital to the successful struggle on the industrial field. Experience has repeatedly shown that the old sectional mode of industrial warfare is obsolete. The one thing necessary is a full recognition by the workers themselves of the hostility of interests between themselves and their masters. 

Socialists, who reject capitalism, follow the same pattern as the others, struggling for a small improvement in conditions they know can be lost overnight. But to stop struggling would only make the worker worse off than he now is. A union is not a socialist organisation but has to struggle within the society of which it is an institution - capitalism. As soon as union membership starts to take a class attitude to social problems then the days of capitalism will numbered. Meanwhile, socialists work for an improvement in working class understanding, and a consequent improvement in the quality of trade union membership.


No comments: