Exploring Trade Unions (Part 1)

The nature of capitalist society is such that the employer always tries to minimise the cost of production and maximise his profits. This can only be done at the worker’s expense, the worker that finds himself constantly the victim of attempts by management to lengthen the working day, or speeding up production and reducing wages. The workers and capitalist do constant battle over the level of wages, the price of “labour”. The trade unions see their struggle as one fought primarily inside the capitalist system for the improvement of the worker’s condition. The trade unions fight around contracts, and using contracts to improve the worker’s condition, the unions,  “negotiate” like people at a trading fair, like businessmen at an auction. But even a ”good contract” still simply means the worker has only won a better deal for the selling of his or her labour power, the fundamental causes of this problem still exists – the capitalist system. There are no solutions within the capitalist system.

Trade unions first arose out of the spontaneous battles of working people to defend themselves from the abuses and oppressive conditions imposed by the system of wage labour. Stripped of any means of survival other than the sale of their labor power; workers were forced to compete against each other, thereby enabling profit-hungry capitalists to drive down wages and force long hours and inhuman conditions on the people. In this situation of virtual enslavement, workers were bound to resist. In drawing together workers and teaching them through struggle the need for solidarity and unity against the onslaught of the capitalists, unions served as centers for organizing the working class as a whole.The capitalist class has taken increasing steps to try to ensure that workers remain reliable and loyal wage slaves. Revolutionaries point out that the historic task of the trade unions is to fight for the complete emancipation of labour from capital. Reformists, on the other hand, advances a programme designed to keep workers shackled as wage slaves, but simply better-paid wage slaves. More>


In every country capitalism has produced a highly developed trade union movement. Workers have struggled to build trade unions and long before there was a political party of the workers there were trade unions. Their history is a record of  workers who fought the laws which prohibited the existence of the unions, who dared imprisonment, deportation, victimisation and persecution in order that their unions could become strong and powerful. One generation succeeded another in continuous effort, in great strikes, massive demonstrations, political struggles, until to-day millions of workers are organised in trade unions.

Have you ever stopped to ask why and for what these organisations have been built? Trade unions were not formed to fight for socialism. They defend the wages and conditions of the workers, their wages, their hours of labour and so on. This is clearly revealed by the way in which the trade unions have grown.

 Labour  is a commodity and those who sell their labour power, the members of the working class, manual and brain-worker alike, also compete like other commodities. Unions represent in one sense an attempt to organise monopolies of labour power in order to break down the competition between the workers who in the labour market are commodities for sale and to establish monopoly prices for labour. More>


Unions were the first means of defence developed by the working class in its struggle against capitalist exploitation. They were the result of concerted efforts by workers to organise and fight collectively for better working conditions, wage increases and a shorter working day. The establishment and growth of unions was no gift from the capitalist class, but the result of workers’ struggles against their exploiters.

Working conditions were intolerable before unions were organised. The working day in factories had no limit other than the physical exhaustion of the workers, and would often exceed 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Children were frequently employed, deprived of any education, they did the same job as adults, but for barely one-half or one-quarter of the pay. Women fared no better, overworked and underpaid in the sweatshops of the time. Employers could pay workers when they pleased and cut wages whenever they wanted to.

For many years workers fought back in a sporadic, random manner, in an unorganised way. With the development of unions, the working class took a major step forward. The isolated conflicts between individual workers and capitalists now took on the character of conflicts between two classes. Now, not only were the capitalists organised with their industrial associations and the governments at their service, but the workers also had their own collective organisations – the trade unions. Strikes broke out and many were successful. Thus, the establishment of unions, a major step forward in uniting workers into a class, was the result of struggle against the capitalists, particularly political action against their state and its anti-worker laws. Instead of leaving workers isolated to face their bosses alone, labour unions do everything possible to strengthen and broaden the struggles. The main problem was that trade unionism accepts the capitalist system and tries only to get a bigger piece of the pie for themselves.  More>


Some of those who founded the Socialist Party in regard to trade unionism had a leaning towards industrial unionism, whilst others were inclined to view the trade unions unsympathetically as only another facet of capitalism. 

  The private and state ownership of the means whereby the people live produces in industry an unceasing conflict between the propertied parasite class and the property-less working class, a conflict manifesting itself in the form of strikes, work-to-rule go-slows and lock-outs. Workers in their endeavour to resist the encroachments of the exploiting class, and to secure higher wages, shorter hours, better conditions of labour, have largely organised themselves into Trade Unions. The capitalist class in its desire to wring more profits, rent, and interest out off the labour of the workers, has for years been organised into cabals, combines, and trusts with the object of controlling markets, raising prices, limiting production, reducing wages and intensifying labour. 
The Socialist Party realising that this social conflict of hostile classes in society is preparing the way for the transformation of capitalist property into common ownership by limiting competition among the workers on the one hand and by combining and concentrating capital on the other, recommends its members to join the unions in their respective trades in order that by the spread of socialist enlightenment the members of the working class organised in trade unions may be enabled to carry out the class struggle with the efficiency which results alone from clearly defined class-conscious action and taught to translate the industrial conflict into the field of politics.

The Socialist Party urges upon the trade unionists and all other wage-workers to join the Socialist Party in order that they may proceed to the conquest of the powers of government as the indispensable preliminary to the overthrow and dispossession of the capitalist class and the establishment of a society in which the means and instruments for producing the necessaries, comforts and luxuries of life will be the common and democratically controlled property of the whole people.

The Socialist Party recognises that the working class must be organised both politically and economically for the safe-guarding of working class interests and the overthrow of capitalism, declares nevertheless the ultimate futility of any economic organisation not based on the principle of working-class solidarity and recognition of the class-struggle.

The Socialist Party seeing that the trade unions of this country are sectional in character and unconscious of the historic mission of the working-class, cannot give unreserved support to these organisations, which have been frequently manipulated to suit capitalist interests. Members of the Socialist Party are advised to form socialist groups inside their unions for the purpose of common counsel and joint action to counteract any abandonment of working-class interests and to educate their fellow members in the principles of the class-struggle.  More>


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