|“abolition of the wages system.”|
There is a post-mortem taking place amongst the labour movement and the Left parties about the developments at Grangemouth. The Trotskyist group Socialist Party of England and Wales/Socialist Party Scotland have followed their usual party line. The UNITE leadership were at fault for not staging an occupation and calling for nationalisation. The old leaders should be substituted by them as new leaders who would defy the law and go down fighting rather than capitulation without a fight. Bantam-weights should square up to heavy-weights. It is all about the perfidy of union bureaucrats. Others accuse the unions of being the enforcers and the agents of capital.
The point is that the context of the struggle at Grangemouth was not shaped by Unite but they were instead simply reacting and responding to factors beyond their control i.e. victims of the ebb and flow of the demand for world fuel and how corporations finance themselves under global capitalism.
The union itself is an inadequate form when the entire working class has to be mobilised because the employers are already fully mobilised. A union - even an industrial union - only acts for its members interests. It is the reason for the socialist part. A socialist political party exists for the class. It's about how to advance a class struggle from the industrial field to the political battle. The trade unions can bargain with the capitalists over wages and conditions, but they cannot bargain away the wages system. A socialist's task is not to fight for better terms in the sale of labour-power - we rightly leave that to those better positioned ie the employees and their representatives themselves, but it is to fight for the abolition of the capitalist system.
We live in times of mass de-politicisation when class consciousness is arguably at an all time low and any level of work-place organising is minimal and undeveloped. The trade union movement has contributed to this current situation and should take responsibility, as the first step towards fixing it. Yet while the unions are indeed weak and often compromise with employers, the idea that unions are some kind of class enemy, out to hoodwink the workers, is wide of the mark. Yes, trade unionism has an mediation role within capitalism but our priority has to be how we organise in the workplace at this point in time. It is necessary to still work within unions until we are in a position to replace them with something better (workers councils?). How we get from where we are now to how we'd like it to be, especially given the current levels of organisation and class consciousness, is important and there are no easy answers.
"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 applying palliatives, not curing the malady." - Marx