The ICC's stance on Trade Unions

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Communist
The ICC's stance on Trade Unions
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As I understand it, the ICC's position on Trade Unions is that they can only exist within in the logic of wage labour but were originally proletarian organisations in ascendent capitalism, winning important reforms even if they weren't revolutionary. However once Capitalist globalisation was complete Capitalism is deemed decadent, thus the task of the proletariat was to abolish wage labour rather than reform it. I largely agree with this argument. I also recognise that the established unions tend to be heavily bureaucratised and are closely linked to Capitalist parties, and that they tend to divide workers according to sectoral interests, however it might be possible to overcome this by creating 'One Big Union'.

However, I'm not sure if I agree with the ICC's position to reject ALL union organisation outright, even if the Unions are inherently reformist. Would it not be possible to create 'Red Unions' dedicated not to mere concessions but with the slogan 'Abolition of Wage Labour'? What other forms of organisation do the ICC advocate for the protection of workers immediate interests? The position of the ICC kind of reminds me of those Council Communists who think the party-form is inherently bourgeois...

Demogorgon
The core of our position on

The core of our position on the unions is not so much the reactionary nature of fighting within the wage labour category. After all, many of the radical forms of self-organisation seen in the 80s were adopted in struggles for higher wages, etc.

The problem confronting the working class is the difficulty of forming permanent class organs in decadent capitalism. Because class consciousness is limited outside of a revolutionary situation, any organ that tries to regroup workers on a class basis can only do so on the basis of a bourgeois consciousness and is thus integrated into the bourgeoisie's structures for managing the class struggle.

Outside of situations of open struggle, the only organs that can resist these pressures are ones that regroup around the basis of consciousness i.e. political organisations. (Which is not to say that these are immune to such pressure, naturally!)

The most successful struggles even for limited aims tend to take on the same forms of organisation as revolutionary struggles in this epoch: mass assemblies, revocables delegates, etc. In other words, they are the embryonic form of the workers councils that emerge in revolutionary situations.

The councils, however, because they emerge as part of a revolutionary struggle and thus require a certain level of class consciousness, can become permanent - but only as long as the revolutionary struggle itself lasts. As the Russian revolution so painfully demonstrated, class organs can quickly become empty shells as the class moves into retreat.

Similarly, organs formed spontaneously during struggles that try to preserve themselves after those struggles have subsided tend to diminish and become political organs and discussion circles regrouping the conscious elements that emerged and try to draw the lessons - or they essentially become new unions integrated into the system.

For us, there are only two forms of regroupment possible in this era: a class organ that regroups workers on the basis of their class; and political organs that regroup on the basis of political criteria. An organisation that tries to fulfill both functions will inevitably be forced to go down one direction or the other or fail at both.

Hope that helps.

KT
More of the same on unions

Demogorgon replied while I was writing the stuff below, and I agree with what he says. But since I've done it....

Hi Communist, good to hear from you again. Big subject you’ve raised with many different aspects. I’m not an ICC member, but just a few elements to get the ball rolling as your post was delayed. No doubt others will respond.

One additional part of the ICC’s analysis of the unions in decadence you mention above needs to be brought out: their integration into the state apparatus. Something very evident at moments of social crisis like war: in the UK, US, etc, they are the overseers of production for the war economy, disciplining workers for the needs of war production. The same can be seen clearly in times of reconstruction (ie 1945-55): the ‘extra’ exploitation requires strong unions to organise production and ,maximise the extraction of surplus value. The US was very quick to re-establish trade unions in Germany and Japan after WW2 for this purpose. Thus the unions are not merely ‘not revolutionary’ or ‘reformist’ at a time when lasting reforms aren’t possible, they are one of the main instruments of capitalist exploitation. The imposition of the Solidarnosc union on the mass strike of the Polish workers in 1980-82 and its subsequent transformation into a Polish government is another example of this process.

Of course we should be careful how we use words: workers need to combine, to self-organise, in order to resist the attacks of capital – a process that Marx at one point describes as the ‘ever-increasing union of the workers’. What’s important here is not the name but the dynamic of the struggle and the organisations workers create to achieve their aims. One need is to extend the struggle to as many workers as possible – beyond geographic and certainly beyond trade boundaries. As you mention, the very notion of a trades union with its corporatist limitations is a barrier against the latter. But another need of the struggle is the active participation of the workers in their own fight – not to let the direction and organisation of the struggle slip from their hands. Trade unions appear to offer an ‘instant’ solution to the ways and means of struggle, but they are the wide-end of a funnel leading to dispersion, apathy and defeat.

It’s not that the workers can’t organise for struggle in decadence or even that they can’t win reforms or victories: it’s just that once, for whatever reason, the struggle dies down, the structures that the workers create tend to be incorporated into the state, and the victories the workers win quickly eroded. The real victory lies in the confidence the workers gain through struggle about their own, autonomous power, and their ability of creating a balance of forces favourable to first push back capitalist attacks, and then to eradicate them at root: to make a revolution.

As for the workers' own organs, well we’ve seen the creation of strike committees, of factory committees, of neighbourhood committees; of workers councils centralised at the level of nation states. We’ve also seen discussion circles, the formation of political minorities. We’ve seen street assemblies with widespread discussions about the causes of the workers discontent and the means to resolve them, etc, etc. And, very often, the workers push to further their aims within the existing trade union framework: that doesn’t mean their struggle isn’t notable or worthy: just at some point, the dynamic of extension and self-organisation will clash with the union structure and function.

As for one big union: well if the workers are that advanced and organised, that combative and feisty: why form a ‘union’: why not simply organise to take power?

 

 

 

 

jk1921
Is the arugement that the

Is the arugement that the unions are useless because they do not challenge the wage relationship different from the argument that the unions are incorporated into the state? Or perhaps better put, are their different implications from these two positions? Both of them reject unions, but they seem to have different emphases. I am wondering if they lead to different conclusions?

mhou
It should be a possibility

It should be a possibility that instead of different paths to the same conclusion, it's all one coherent (integrated?) critique of trade unionism. If decadence is a given starting point for each critique, and they both end in the conclusion that trade unionism is bankrupt today, it sounds like each view conditions the other. Edit- though if the only critique was that unions do not challenge waged labor, apart from anything else, it could mean a red union (syndicalist, anarchist, etc.), which explicitly aims to abolish capitalism is a possibility. One of the Bordigist groups promotes a vague 'class trade union', one of the communisation publications sees a rise in 'radical unionism/base unionism' as a good possibility in the immediate future. Maybe you're right that there is a difference in the implications.

Communist
Unions etc...

Sorry to all who responded to this thread that I haven't responded, I had been writing up the report on the public meeting and thought it'd be best if I got that done first before appearing here.

Demogorgan-''After all, many of the radical forms of self-organisation seen in the 80s were adopted in struggles for higher wages, etc.

The problem confronting the working class is the difficulty of forming permanent class organs in decadent capitalism. Because class consciousness is limited outside of a revolutionary situation, any organ that tries to regroup workers on a class basis can only do so on the basis of a bourgeois consciousness and is thus integrated into the bourgeoisie's structures for managing the class struggle...

 The most successful struggles even for limited aims tend to take on the same forms of organisation as revolutionary struggles in this epoch: mass assemblies, revocables delegates, etc. In other words, they are the embryonic form of the workers councils that emerge in revolutionary situations.''

What is it that makes these other more radical forms of self-organisation more class conscious? If they are fighting only for limited aims, then are they not also operating on a bourgeois consciousness?

Also it might well be true that class organs are integrated into the bourgeoisie's structure for managing the class struggle but how does this happen?

Also what examples can you give to demonstrate that the most successful struggles are the ones that break with the unions?

I think part of the problem is I don't fully understand the concept of class consciousness.

An organisation that tries to fulfill both functions will inevitably be forced to go down one direction or the other or fail at both - Is it neccesarily inevitable? If so, why?

 

KT:One additional part of the ICC’s analysis of the unions in decadence you mention above needs to be brought out: their integration into the state apparatus. Something very evident at moments of social crisis like war: in the UK, US, etc, they are the overseers of production for the war economy, disciplining workers for the needs of war production. The same can be seen clearly in times of reconstruction (ie 1945-55): the ‘extra’ exploitation requires strong unions to organise production and ,maximise the extraction of surplus value. The US was very quick to re-establish trade unions in Germany and Japan after WW2 for this purpose. Thus the unions are not merely ‘not revolutionary’ or ‘reformist’ at a time when lasting reforms aren’t possible, they are one of the main instruments of capitalist exploitation. The imposition of the Solidarnosc union on the mass strike of the Polish workers in 1980-82 and its subsequent transformation into a Polish government is another example of this process... It’s not that the workers can’t organise for struggle in decadence or even that they can’t win reforms or victories: it’s just that once, for whatever reason, the struggle dies down, the structures that the workers create tend to be incorporated into the state, and the victories the workers win quickly eroded.

 

How and why do the Unions always become integrated into the state? In the UK perhaps it is via their links with Labour, but even that bond seems to be over now. When they do become integrated into the state is it because this in inherent to the union form, or is it down to a failure of the leadership?

mhou: Edit- though if the only critique was that unions do not challenge waged labor, apart from anything else, it could mean a red union (syndicalist, anarchist, etc.), which explicitly aims to abolish capitalism is a possibility.

This is the point I'm getting at...

ernie
The unions played a crucial

The unions played a crucial role in the development of the proletariat's confidence in itself as a class. They provided the organisational means for the working class to come togehter not only to organise struggle, but also to discuss and to deepen solidarity. In the early years of the formation of  unions this mean acting illegelly and having to face brutal represion. The early history of the unions in Britian is a very good example of this. For example, tens of thousands of workers took to the streets of London to welcome back some of the Tolpuddle martyers in the 1840s. There was also a flow of ideas and activity between the unions and the Chartists. However, the British ruling class realized that the most effective means for undermining the unions ability to help develop the class's confidence in itself was by drawing them into bourgeoisie politics and not excluding them. Everything was done to separate union activity from political activity. It was in response to the political nuturing of the unions and thus the class that the German and Russian Socialist Parties fought for political unions. However, the union form of organisation reached its culminnation with  the  formation of the national economies: the class was not faced with individual employers or even those of one industry but a united capitalist class. This is why from the beginning of the 20th century there were important movements towards struggling as a class, and not as members of unions. The classic example being 1905 and the formation of soviets. The union form of activity for the class became a form of bondage to the state, because the division between unions directly worked against the development of the class confidence in itself.

From being expressions of the workers' efforts to develop their class strength, solidarity and confidence ove the course of the 19th century unions became increasingly the means for maintaining capitalist domination of the work place and the class as a whole. This integration culminated in the total integration of the unions into the state apparatus during the First World War. In the unions were crucial to mobilizing the proletariat for the  war, both on the fronts and in the factories.

 

mhou
Quote:How and why do the

Quote:
How and why do the Unions always become integrated into the state? In the UK perhaps it is via their links with Labour, but even that bond seems to be over now. When they do become integrated into the state is it because this in inherent to the union form, or is it down to a failure of the leadership?
 I think it has more to do with the role the unions play in the relationship between the state and the working-class. In the public sector, the unions are one of the first 'stops' to organize and then implement necessary cuts/austerity, reorganization of the work process and terms of labor and maintain control over all potential forms of class resistance through well defined legal channels and promote the 'correct' relationship between workers and the state (rallying forces for electoral campaigns, elections themselves, 'change' through democratic reformism- things like repeal or recall campaigns, referendums, etc.). In the US, public sector unions were among the first to negotiate austerity and implement the changes demanded by the state (wage and hiring freezes, changes to health care plans and pensions, furloughs and early retirements, new tiers); in the private sector and 'productive' industry, the unions have been directly involved in organizing new production and management techniques (Six Sigma/Lean/Toyotaism; one union, GMP, recently published an article in their union paper on successfully implementing Lean at one represented factory), changes in work processes and terms of labor (new tiers, union introduced cost-saving measures to maintain profitability, negotiating cuts to health care and pensions)- all the while channeling discontent through legislative and electoral routes (such as protests against right-to-work laws, recall campaigns against anti-union legislators, diverting attention to groups like ALEC and 'vulture capitalism' of Romney and Bain, etc.).  

Even 'red' unions or those with strong legacies of militancy (IWW, UE, ILWU) participate in the negotiation of terms of labor and all that comes with it. ILWU was directly involved in punishing some of their membership (Longview/EGT grain elevator) to undercut 'outside troublemakers' in Occupy; UE has published in its paper regularly how it helps reorganize production and work processes to maintain or boost profitability; the IWW has in the past negotiated contracts with no-strike clauses (a difficult subject given the angry debates this has spawned) and routinely takes its issues to the Labor Relations Board to be settled by the state (based on its press, it has several cases pending right now). All of this suggests a structural or institutional trend toward, not conciliation or just the choices of leaders, wholesale integration of trade unionism into the state and bourgeois apparatus.

A.Simpleton
Yes

As Ernie concisely formulates:

'However, the union form of organisation reached its culminnation with the formation of the national economies: the class was not faced with individual employers or even those of one industry but a united capitalist class. This is why from the beginning of the 20th century there were important movements towards struggling as a class, and not as members of unions. The classic example being 1905 and the formation of soviets. The union form of activity for the class became a form of bondage to the state, because the division between unions directly worked against the development of the class confidence in itself. (my emphasis AS)

Following on with just a few 'examples' re communist's fair questions:

'How and why do the Unions always become integrated into the state? In the UK perhaps it is via their links with Labour, but even that bond seems to be over now. When they do become integrated into the state is it because this in inherent to the union form, or is it down to a failure of the leadership?'

40 years ago it could still 'appear' that 'The Unions' had 'power' to stop business as usual temporarily: it could still 'appear' that if the leaders orchestrated union 'solidarity' it represented class conscious solidarity. In the 1970s it could still 'appear' to be the case that 'they' could bring down 'a government' : but 'a government' i.e. one particular party of Parliamentary clowns is not 'the united capitalist class': the next state capitalist machine still got 'elected'. This only added to the mystification of the Class, mystifying real solidarity and allowing bourgeois propaganda to gain advantage by exaggerating the 'non-threat' and instituting further restrictions and control.

Exemplified by the still outstanding and obscene 'law' in England against 'secondary picketing': i.e. you cannot take a bowl of soup to your brother or son on a striking picket line unless you are in the same industry union: nor can comrades reach even the strikers ( whether 'union' or 'unofficial') as directly experienced in 1984/5 Miners Strike when ICC members were turned away by the police. 

So even the 'non-revolutionary' threat of Union solidarity was weakened.

The ISTC (Iron and Steel Trade Confederation) for example was formed on Jan 1st 1917 amalgamating separate Steel Corporations : it's first General Secretary was Arthur Pugh eventually enobled: Sir Arthur Pugh. Capitalism does not 'enoble' revolutionaries.

Its third General Secretary was Dai Davis from Ebbw Vale: he became General Secretary of this Trade Union after holding offices in the Labour Party: Chairman of Labour Party 1963-65 : Treasurer of Labour Party : 1965-67

And just to show that the complete integration of Trade Unionism and State Capitalism is still intact and active;

In 2004 : the ISTC 'amalgalmated' with KFAT (the National Union of Knitwear, Footwear and Apparel Trades - I'm not making this up) and it was 'arranged' that the first member of this new 'Union' called 'Community' should be Gordon Brown: already in governmental office as the Chancellor of The Exchequer.

Not only divide and rule : but also 'amalgamate' 'unionize' and rule.

AS