Monday, February 03, 2020

Are Unions Useless? (1978)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1978 issue
From time to time through the columns of the S.S. you have made the following points:-
  1. You warn workers to beware of reforms and illusions.
  2. You acknowledge the importance of trade union organisation for the defence of wages and working conditions.
  3. You state that taxes is not a working class issue.

Here are my views; would you please comment on them.
  1. I agree that workers must become aware of the uselessness of reformist action, which leads me to
  2. I believe that the trade unions are as much a part of the state as the DHSS or the Housing Department. Like them they are reformist in as much as they can only secure for the worker that which capitalism will allow. The unions are also a hindrance to the workers’ material advancement and political awareness due to their allegiance to the Labour Party and the concessions they give this capitalist party, on behalf of the workers, by agreeing to and helping the workers to swallow pay restraint etc. They also foster among the workers the notion that people can be led to socialism (the leaders being the TUC and the Labour Party). They would have us believe that the only barrier to socialism is the Conservative party and Idi Amin.
  3. You hold the view that wages are a working class issue (hence your support of the unions on this); then how is a tax cut any less a wage rise than say the equivalent amount on your hourly rate?
George McCabe
We agree entirely with much of what you say; for example about trade union support given to the Labour Party and Labour government, and the workers’ belief in leadership, but not withstanding all the erroneous policies of trade unions it is not true that union organization cannot serve a purpose useful to the workers.
While it is true, as you say, that trade union action is limited by the conditions of capitalism, that does not mean that the wages and conditions resulting from the struggle are simply what the capitalists would like them to be. If workers gave up organization and struggle entirely their standard of living would certainly be worsened. In Marx’s colourful words ’’they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation”.
When you equate a wage increase with a tax cut you overlook the fact that the worker’s standard of living (the purchasing power of his take-home pay) is the result of the struggle; again quoting Marx, “the respective powers of the combatants”.
This was dealt with in the Reply Taxes and Labour in the January issue.


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