The function of a trade union is to eliminate competition among workers on the labour market. But if the trade union, as an organization of living human beings, is to attain its goal, it can do so only through the will of its members. The transient personal interests of the individual worker often clash with the interests of the class as a whole. The organisation requires certain sacrifices: dues, expenditure of time, readiness to engage in struggle. Anyone who remains outside the union earns the good will of his employer and avoids conflicts, unemployment, or demotion. The stronger the trade unions become the more the entrepreneur strives to keep his workers out of them. He substitutes his own social security arrangements for those of the trade union, and deliberately exploits the conflict between personal and class interests. The trade union struggle is a struggle over the labour contract.
The capitalist is opposed by the individual worker while the individual employer is engaged in conflict with an organisation of workers, and organisations of workers are locked in battle with employers' organisations. The existence of employers' organisations involves a change in the balance of power between capital and labour. As long as the isolated employer confronted an organized workforce the trade union had a great many measures available to it which the development of employers' organisations has now rendered ineffective. The more fragmented an industry is, and the smaller the average size of the firms, the greater, in general, is the power of the trade union.
As long as trade unions confront individual employers their position is a favourable one. They can bring their concentrated power to bear upon the isolated employer. The wage struggle is thus a series of individual strikes. The workers of the employer concerned are supported by the whole financial strength of the trade union, which does not diminish during the struggle because the members who are still working continue to pay their dues, and perhaps special levies. The employer has to fear that his customers will be taken from him by employers who continue to produce, and that his sales will be considerably reduced even after the strike has ended. He has to make concessions, and from that moment it is in his interest that the terms to which he has agreed should become general throughout the industry, that all the other employers, whether voluntarily or under duress, should concede the same terms of employment. The isolation of the employers enables the trade unions to compel them to come to terms one after the other, through systematically conducted individual strikes, without these strikes putting too great a strain upon the resources of the unions themselves. Their successes increase their power by increasing membership and income from dues, and they emerge from the struggle stronger than before.
It is clear that these tactics can be employed all the more successfully, the more tenuous the co-operation between employers, the keener the competition among them, the greater the number of employers involved, and the smaller the power of resistance of each individual employer. It is here that the influence and power of the unions is greatest. Large-scale industry resists such individual strikes much more strongly. In this case a strike can only be successful if it is general throughout the industry. An individual strike encounters much greater resistance which is far more difficult to overcome because the power of even a single large employer is far more considerable, and an understanding among a relatively small number of employers can be achieved more rapidly. The combination of workers is now confronted by the combined power of the employers which makes it more difficult for a trade union to achieve success in an isolated struggle, since the individual employer is now backed by his organisation, which compensates him for losses, ensures that the striking workers do not find other jobs, and makes every effort to fill the firm's most pressing orders itself. If necessary it resorts to the offensive by extending the struggle and declaring a lockout in order to weaken the union and force it to capitulate. In such a struggle between the combined employers and the trade unions, the employers' organization is quite often the stronger of the two.
As long as labour organisations are in conflict with individual employers the choice of timing rests with the workers, and timing is a decisive factor in determining the outcome of a struggle. A work stoppage is most damaging during a boom, when the rate of profit is at its highest and the opportunities for extra profit are greatest, and in order not to lose his whole profit even a major employer would try to avoid a conflict at such a time, for the opportunity to earn that profit will not recur, at least not until the next boom. From the standpoint of the union's chances of success, a strike should be called at a time when production is at its maximum, and it is one of the difficult tasks of trade union educational work to persuade the members of the wisdom of these tactics. For it is precisely at this time that workers' incomes are highest, as a result of regular employment and overtime, and the psychological incentive to go on strike is consequently weakest. This also explains why most strikes occur during a period of prosperity before the peak of the boom is reached.
This choice of timing, however, ceases to be the prerogative of the trade unions once the employers' organisation becomes well established, for the latter can now determine the time of the conflict. For them the lockout is a form of preventive war, which can best be waged during a depression when overproduction makes it quite useful to halt production, and the workers' power of resistance is at its lowest because of the excessive supply of labour on the market and the financial weakening of their organizations as a result of the large demand for financial aid and the decline in membership. This ability to postpone the occurrence of a conflict, which results from the development of an employers' organisation, in itself represents a massive transfer of power. The employers' associations attempt, by a process of careful selection, to retain unorganized workers, rather than those who are organised, in employment, the most dangerous among the latter are proscribed by the use of blacklists. By organising company unions - institutions for breeding class traitors - the employers try to divide the workers with the aid of bribes and the granting of special privileges, and to ensure the availability of a strike-breaking squad. By refusing to negotiate with the union leaders they seek to undermine their moral influence. But they are fighting a vain battle, for in the final analysis the class interests of the workers are identical with their personal interests, and the trade union organization has become a matter of life and death for them. But the battle does retard the progress of the trade union movement and restrict its influence.
The guerrilla war of the trade unions against individual employers has given way to mass struggles which affect whole branches of industry, and if they grip the most vital sectors of production, which have become interdependent through the division of labour, they threaten to bring all social production to a standstill. The trade union struggle thus expands beyond its own sphere, ceases to be the concern only of the employers and workers directly affected, and becomes a general concern of society as a whole, that is to say, political. There is growing pressure from those who are not directly involved to end the original wage conflict, and since there is no other means available for this purpose they call for intervention by the state. The question of ending the strike is thus transformed from a trade union question into one of political power. The balance of power is tilted in favour of the employers by their de facto control of government.
The very scale and intensity of the unions struggles gives them a political character and demonstrates to workers how trade union activity is necessarily complemented by political action. Hence a point is inevitably reached in trade union development when the formation of an independent political labour party becomes a requirement of the trade union struggle itself. Once an independent political party of the workers exists its policy is not confined for long to those issues which led to its creation, but becomes a policy which seeks to represent the class interests of workers as a whole, thus moving beyond the struggle within capitalism into a struggle against capitalism - the struggle for socialism
Taken from here