Showing posts with label trade unions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trade unions. Show all posts

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Socialist and the Trade Unionist

It’s a great pity to have to admit that things have been so bad for the union movement for such a long time. So torpid and uninspiring has been its response to the austerity cuts, particularly the TUC symbolic protest marches. Membership continues to dwindle, workers’ power continues to be eroded, and employers continue to find new ways of out-maneuvering the unions. There were exceptions such as the fast food and Walmart workers strike actions in the US.

One generation after another in continuous effort, in great strikes, massive demonstrations, and political struggles, have fought to build the trade union movement. Long before there was a political party of the workers there were the trade unions. Their history is an amazing record of valiant workers who fought the law, who dared imprisonment, deportation, victimisation and persecution in order that their unions could become strong and powerful. Have you ever stopped to ask why and for what these organisations have been built? You know they defend the wages and conditions of the workers. But why was it necessary to fight for these? The answer to this question is important because it goes to the foundations of unions and socialism.  

The working class in society holds has no property. It is a propertyless class—dependent upon the class which owns property—the land, the factories, mills, mines, railways, transport. But the land cannot give forth its fullness unless workers plough and sow and reap. The earth cannot deliver its mineral wealth unless workers dig it. Factories, mills, mines, railways, etc., cannot work unless workers are employed to make them serve their purpose in the transformation of nature’s wealth into social wealth. It is this fact which compels the owners of the means of producing wealth to employ labour. They need that labour or their ownership ceases to be of value. That is why the withdrawal of labour by the workers can be so powerful a weapon when used on a large scale. Unions were formed by the workers because they possessed no means of production of their own, i.e. they were propertyless and their labour power which is inseparable from them could only be withdrawn from production in sufficient strength when it was organised.
Now we know why trade unions were formed, in what consists their power, and why the fight continues in a society where there is a class owning the means of production and a working class owning nothing but its power to labour. The roots of socialism lie in precisely those conditions which give rise to trade unions.

Socialism is the name given to that form of society in which there is no such thing as a propertyless class, but in which the whole community has become a working community owning the means of production—the land, factories, mills, mines, transport and all the means whereby wealth is created and distributed to the community. Socialism is also the name given to a body of scientific and philosophic thought which explains why the socialist form of society is now a necessity, the forces upon which its achievement depends, the conditions under which and the methods whereby it can be achieved.

 It will be obvious at once that the basic principles of Socialist society are diametrically opposite to those of capitalist society in which we live. Socialism stands for social or community property. Capitalism stands for private property. Socialism is a society without classes. Capitalism is divided into classes—the class owning property and the propertyless working class. We can easily understand, therefore, why the great majority of landlords, employers, financiers and the like are opposed to socialist ideas. Their very existence as the recipients of rent, interest and profit is at stake. They do not merely reject the theory of socialism, but actively and bitterly fight every movement which is in any way associated with the struggle for socialism. It is to the individual and social interest of the propertyless class to fight against the private property system and for socialism. They do it every day, though as yet only a minority do it consciously for socialism. When trade unionists fight the employers on wages questions and the conditions of labour they are really fighting against consequences of the private property system. The existence of the private ownership of the means of production means also the private ownership of the things produced and their sale as commodities in competition one with another. Labour also 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.

Trade unionism really represents 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. The more trade unionism advances in this direction the more difficult it becomes for the capitalists to make profit. Hence the everlasting cry of the capitalists for “lower production costs” and their opposition to the workers’ struggle for higher wages and improved conditions. This is the fundamental contradiction of capitalist economy—a struggle between the two classes, the propertied and the propertyless—which is inevitable so long as the private ownership of the means of production exists.

From this the socialist draws the conclusion, therefore, that the class primarily interested in the change from private property to social property is the working class. The goal of socialism as the classless society has its starting point in the propertyless condition of the working class which is also precisely the starting point of trade unionism. The unions represent the first weapons of the working class in the struggle against employers’ interests; the socialist’s goal represents the consummation of the struggle of the working class—its emancipation from the system which gives rise to that struggle. Trade unionists and socialists have thus a common origin and the aim of socialism is only possible of achievement by the working class becoming victorious in the struggle against capitalism. Why then is it that trade unionists are not always socialists?

People do not start their lives with fully developed theories about systems of society. Nor were trade unions formed to fight for socialism. The workers formed them to defend and improve their immediate conditions of employment, their wages, their hours of labour and so on. This is clearly revealed by the way in which the unions have grown. An important hindrance to this development springs, however, from the limited character of the trade nions’ activities in relation to the occupations of the workers. The fact that the labour unions limited their industrial activities to measures on behalf of particular sections of workers meant that they adopted the method of striking bargains with particular groups of employers. To this has been given the name collective bargaining, the setting up of agreements between employers’ associations and groups of trade unions for limited objectives. There can, of course, be no complaint against such a procedure providing it does not become an end in itself but is regarded by the workers as a part of a continuous process in the developing of sufficient power and will to conquer the capitalists when the time is ripe. When, however, collective bargaining is accepted as a permanent procedure and becomes the first principle of action for the working class movement, then it involves the acceptance of capitalism as a permanent form of society; and the unions will have to take just what the capitalists can afford to give them.

The socialist declares that such a policy, especially in the present period, is disastrous for the unions and the workers. The socialist is not anti-trade union. On the contrary, he is the most ardent of trade unionists. Socialists want their fellow trade unionists to recognise the cause of the struggle their trade unions are compelled to wage. Recognising the cause as rooted in the private ownership of the means of production and the propertyless conditions of the working class, Socialists want all the struggles of the unions to be co-ordinated, so that behind every national or industry conflict there will be available the appropriate power of the working class. Socialists want sectionalism to be superseded by a united working class army of the unions led by a general staff which directs the struggles of the workers to one end—the securing of the victory of the working class over the capitalists. This means that the trade unions should recognise that all the efforts of the working class must be directed to the goal of the conquest of political power. Their fight in the industrial field must be linked with the fight to capture the state machine which, backed by the might of the working class, would transfer the ownership of the means of production and distribution from private hands to social ownership. It represents the merging of the many sectional interests into the common interests of all and the formation of the mass socialist party reflecting the growing consciousness of the working class of its independent interests and aims—in short, its approach to the socialist conclusions arising from a recognition of the class divisions in society and the conflict arising therefrom. What was in its first stage an unconscious class struggle of the workers becomes increasingly a conscious class struggle.

This is the path of working class emancipation and a society that will become a working community, owning and controlling the means of production, with no class conflict, no rival interests to divide and impede. As socialists, we need to articulate our distinctive vision now, not sometime in the vague, distant future.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Union Smear Dismissed

In case it perhaps have gone un-noticed considering the initial publicity (and the Scotsman has deemed it not worthy of a follow up story)  but the police investigation of thousands of e-mails released to the Sunday Times by INEOS in its smear campaign against Steve Deans, a trade union official,  were found  “there is no evidence of any criminality." in the words of Police Scotland.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The function of a trade union

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

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Which Way Forward For The Unions?

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.

 The more trade unionism advances in this direction the more difficult it becomes for the capitalists to make profit. Hence the everlasting cry of the capitalists for “lower production costs” and its opposite the workers’ struggle for higher wages and improved conditions. Unions are the movement of wage-workers. All its problems are based upon the fact that the members of the unions are wage-workers who, to live, must sell their labour power to the owners of the means of production.

 They are parts of a competitive system, the motive of which is that of production for profit. The labour it uses is a commodity subject to all the laws of commodity production. The fundamental purpose of the trade unions, therefore, must be the pursuit of the interests of the wage-workers.  The unions regulate wages, hours of labour, etc., by means of collective agreements with the employers. In some industries, where the workers are well organized, the unions have agreements covering the employment of labour, the regulation of overtime, protective safety regulations, etc.

Unions have many agreements governing allocations of work schedules, decasualization schemes for workers, etc. Probably the largest field of influence is that of the unwritten rules and customs. These extend in many directions, such as the distribution of work, overtime regulations, starting and stopping times for meals, the introduction of new machinery, the transfer of labour, limitations and training of apprentices, etc.

During the last few years the trade union movement has experienced changes of the most deep-going nature which have affected vitally its whole structure and altered its outlook in many important respects.

The trade union movement is conditioned in its development by the economic and political framework within which it exists. The problems of the trade union movement can never be separated or isolated from the general political situation. Its internal dynamics do not operate independently of these conditions. The  working class as a whole is not yet politically conscious. It does not yet act as an independent class. It goes without saying that reformist illusions among the masses have been developed.

 Nevertheless, workers have demonstrated a remarkable tenacity in clinging to their unions. Whatever may happen to this or that union or any number of unions, the workers do not wish to abandon the union movement but to broaden it, increase its militancy, etc. So long as capitalism endures, organisation of some kind on the job to deal with the boss is indispensable.

Generally speaking, we cannot conceive of an advance of the working class to a point where it can enter upon a struggle for power, without an advance in the economic organisations in the direction of industrial unionism. The unions have become repositories of an immense amount of information about the operations of industry – technical, engineering, administrative, etc.

 This also makes them exceedingly important agencies in the process by which the control of the workers over industrial operations is made actual. Workers possess an  organisation, through which they have been accustomed to carry on their struggles, would make use of this  ready-made machinery for communication. Is it not likely that the unions as a whole will become the workers’ councils, the instruments of workers’ power?

 Theoretically this possibility cannot be excluded.  It is also save to say that they may not be ready or entirely fitted to conduct the process of administration of production. The union organisation is after all primarily sectional, representing the interests of its own members and may not be  equipped to deal with the larger  issues.

The labour movement currently lacks social vision. It has not yet raised the inspiring banner of working class emancipation. It is still timidly and blindly trying to patch up wage slavery and make it endurable. It has still to learn that the only solution of the labour struggle is by the abolition of capitalism. It is time for all workers to look upon capitalism as an obsolete social system which must be eliminated and look forward to the establishment of a new society in which parasitical capitalists will be no more.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Reformers and betrayers

Capitalism has brought the technology and the organisation of production to a point where the potential to adequately feed, clothe and house the entire world population is reachable. But the creation of abundance would end exploitation and destroy profits, so the capitalists themselves stand as a barrier to a society fit for human beings. Socialist revolution is the only solution. The very elements of socialism, however, are being forgotten by many people in the workers movement to-day. At the moment the idea is being widely spread that by an improvement in the efficiency of capitalism the workers will be able to obtain a continuous improvement in their standard of life. The idea behind this is that the more capitalism produces wealth the better off everyone will become. This is not the case.

 At the present moment the difficulties of capitalism are increasing in every country. One of the sharpest divisions of opinion existing in the Labour movement to-day is that concerning the attitude which ought to be adopted towards this capitalist attack on the wages and conditions of the working class. The reformist leaders of the Labour Party hold that capitalism is not in a “normal” condition. If wage reductions will help in getting capitalism back to “normal,” then they hold that these wage reductions ought to be agreed to by the working class. We see that this policy of calling upon the workers to make sacrifices in order to help capitalism back to normal, runs through the whole policy of the Labour Party.

Socialists contend, on the other hand, that the recessions of the capitalist system is not due to some abnormal accident which has befallen capitalism. The Socialist Party call upon the workers to resist all attempts to lower their standard of life, to unite their forces industrially and to make their resistance as widespread and as united as possible, and to go forward from that to an attack on the capitalist system itself. The more the workers unite their forces and commence to struggle against the capitalist offensive, the more the struggle becomes a political struggle, not between the workers and any group of capitalists, but between the workers and the capitalist state representing the capitalist class as a whole. If the  working-class desire to beat off the capitalist attacks on their present standards and carry out a resolute struggle to achieve their emancipation through the overflow of capitalism, they must fight more and more against any reformist policy of co-operating with capitalism. All workers who are tired of the half-heartedness and compromise of the Left, their co-operation with the capitalist class, should join the Socialist Party and help forward the struggle for complete working class emancipation.

Too many times we have had men who serve the ruling class and who get a good living keeping the working class divided. They start out with good intentions often as not. They really want to do something to serve their fellows. They leave the factory-floor as a common worker, elected to be officers of a union and they change their clothes from overalls and dungarees to a tie, white shirt and suit. They change their habits and their methods. After they have been elevated to official position, as if by magic, they are recognised by those who previously scorned them and held them in contempt. They find that some of the doors that were previously barred against them now open, and they can actually get their feet under the desk of the company chairman.  Our common worker is now a union leader and the employer pats him on the back and tells him that he knew long ago that he was a coming man, that it was a fortunate thing for the workers of the world that he had been born, that in fact they had been long waiting for just such a wise and cautious general secretary. And this has a certain effect upon our new-made leader, and unconsciously, perhaps, he begins to change. Thus goes the transformation. All his dislikes disappear and all feeling of antagonism vanishes. He concludes that they are really most excellent people and, now that he has seen and knows them, he agrees with them that there is no necessary conflict between employer and employee. And he proceeds to betray the class that trusted him and lifted him as high above themselves. Newspapers write editorials about him and praise him as a wise leader; and the CBI and Chambers of Commerce emphasise  that if all union leaders were such as he there would be no objection to labour organising.  The trade unionist who is held in high favour by management is pronounced safe, reliable and honest, and the workers are appealed to to look to him for advice, for guidance and leadership. And the union leader feels himself flattered. And when he is charged with having deserted the class he was supposed to serve, he cries out that the indictment is brought to discredit him but it is those who brings the charge who are most likely to be defamed. By whom? By the capitalist class, of course; and its press and “public” opinion.

A trade union leader who is not attacked  by the capitalist class is not true to the working class. If he be loyal to the working class he will not be on friendly terms with the bosses. He cannot serve both. When he really serves one he serves that one against the other.

The only way in which Trade Union leaders can cooperate with the capitalists is restoring “prosperity” (i.e., increasing production) is to induce the workers to forgo their customs and restrictions, allow the capitalists a freer hand in utilising the labour-power which is available to them in order that an increased product may result. The Trade Union leaders will, of course, point out to the capitalists that this increased production requires to be marketed, and that the employers ought to ensure a stable home market by increasing the workers’ wages as fast, if not faster, than the increased production. They forget the employing class is anxious to introduce those new methods because of a desire for a greater profit, and is not concerned with ensuring a market for his goods through the increase of wages and the reduction of his own profits, and therefore he looks not to a home market made prosperous by the increase in workers’ wages, but to the foreign market where he can rely on a maximum possible profit. Union leaders will, of course, point out to the capitalists that this increased production requires to be marketed, and that the employers ought to ensure a stable home market by increasing the workers’ wages as fast, if not faster, than the increased production. They forget the employing class is anxious to introduce those new methods because of a desire for a greater profit, and is not concerned with ensuring a market for his goods through the increase of wages and the reduction of his own profits, and therefore he looks not to a home market made prosperous by the increase in workers’ wages, but to the foreign market where he can rely on a maximum possible profit.  Union leaders who are leading the workers to believe that a far-reaching improvement in the workers’ wages and conditions of life can be got not by overthrowing capitalism, but by co-operating with the capitalists to make their system more efficient, are simply surrendering to the capitalist class, misleading the workers, and creating conditions which will inevitably make the rich richer and the workers poorer.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Against the General Strike

“Solidarity for ever,
  For the Union makes us strong.”

The union movement has proven itself to be a powerful instrument of a defensive character and as a force that poses the possibility of a transformation  from wage labour to a free association of workers and common ownership. The labour movement has won through battles on the picket lines but has often been lost, due, to counter attacks by the representatives of the employers as a class in control of parliament, and the state in its totality. The employers, through their agents in control of parliament and the entire state apparatus, have erected a whole network of laws and regulations designed to hamstring the labour movement. Organised labour is weak in relation to the power of the ruling class. Large numbers of workers, poorly paid and helpless before the onslaughts and insecurities that are products of capitalist society, have fallen prey to the capitalist- inspired propaganda that the union movement is a narrow, a sectional power bloc, insensitive to their needs and concerned only with its own welfare. Wage increases, hard fought wage increases to meet the rising cost of living, are being wiped out time and again. Big Business attempts to narrow the area of collective bargaining, the trade union militants must fight to widen it and to open up the entire process of capitalist production and distribution to their scrutiny. The workers have the right to know the secrets of a factory, of  the multi-national corporations, of an entire industry, of the whole economy, built by their labor. For the workers, independent labour political action is the beginning of their intervention into affairs that determine every single aspect of their lives and the future of their children.

It is easy to criticise parliamentarism and to criticise it justly, but criticism does not prevent it from existing. Those who strive to keep the working people out of the field of political action do not suspect that they are thus playing the game of the ruling class. By shouting, “No politics!” they are merely echoing the rallying cry that the capitalists has always given to the working-class. The property qualification for the suffrage and the absence of remuneration for office-holders, such as members of the Parliament, were nothing but means to keep workers out of politics. Even though that failed, we now have those “socialists” eager to accomplish what the ruling class could not.

Some socialists suggest the political struggle is insufficient and in its stead propose  the “general strike.” We must be clear, we are not talking about strikes that are the  inevitable product of a class struggle based on antagonistic interests. Even if  it  wish to, socialists cannot disarm the working class of the strike weapon.  It is the workers only means of defense or attack which it has for the protection of its immediate material interests, the strike is a right which the working people are right in jealously guarding. But while socialists should fully support this right for for all the workers, it is not their business to incite them to make use of it. It is not for them to urge or discourage strikes. It is for those immediately interested, those who will have to endure the consequences of their decision, to decide, without pressure of any kind from the non-interested. When those workers whose interests are at stake have decided upon a strike, we ought to aid them to gain every possible advantage from the situation in which they have placed themselves. That is, generally speaking, what is and what should be the conduct of socialists so far as concerns strikes. We acknowledge the strike as a weapon, but recognise its effectiveness should not to be exaggerated, it possesses limited power. Under the favourable circumstances it may  compel some employers to yield to union demands but it has never been able to produce any  radical change in the capitalist system. Here or there, there have been obtained some ameliorations but they have not been incompatible with the increasing prosperity of capital.

Many left militants think that a general strike of the most important trades would be enough to bring on the social revolution, that is, the fall of the whole capitalist system and the establishment of  socialism. Those militants who still cherish illusions and laud strikes as a panacea should understand that on the economic battle-field, the struggle is too unequal for the working-class despite tremendous strikes carried out with enormous resources and prepared with an incomparable talent of organisers and regardless of the great sacrifices, the self-denial and  energy of strikers, they lose the battle more often than win it, and when there is victory, the advantages that it reaps do not alter the fact that the gains proved very expensive and remain precarious.

Yet still a faction wishes to generalise the strike – a weapon good, at the most, only in particular cases – and to make the general strike the goal for the working class. It is time for such activists to take a reality check. On the political ground the working-class are more numerous than the employing class so it enjoys a real advantage and only a mere matter of propaganda and time for the socialist to convince his or her fellow workers to use their ballot in the right manner. Instead the militants rather confront the military power of the state, facing the provocations and arrests by the police, and risking the genuine threat of a massacre of the workers. But even if all these dangers and difficulties were avoided or overcome, the labour movement would inevitably be overwhelmed for success must be at the first attempt.  A conquered strike would result in an impotent, emasculate union movement. A defeat at the election polls is one thing, but the failure of a general strike is one of real sufferings and discouraged and disconsolate, defeated strikers withdraws from the movement into passivity and apathy.  A general strike is “All or nothing!” Workers should think twice about supporting such a gamble.

The political expropriation of the capitalist class today, is its economic expropriation tomorrow.  The state  in the hands of the working class the instrument of its liberation and transformation. Whether or not a revolutionary situation is destined to arise, the duty of socialists consists in educating his or her fellow workers, in rendering them conscious of their condition, their task and their responsibility, of organising them in readiness for the day when the political power shall fall into their hands. To win for socialism the greatest possible number of partisans, that is the task to which socialist parties must consecrate their efforts. What is necessary is to make socialists, to make the masses conscious of the economic movement in progress, to bring their wills into harmony with that movement, and thus to lead to the election of more and more socialists to our various elective assemblies.  In ordinary times, such as those in which we live today, any sort of action, except peaceful and legal action with a view to the instruction and organization of the masses, is sure, whether so intended or not, to have a deterrent and reactionary influence, and to interfere with the spread of socialist ideas. But this depends, not upon opinions, but on actual situations and circumstances. What is the use of talking of anything but socialism and to waste time talking about a contingent event that circumstances may force upon us in the future, but the time or character of which no man can define or describe to-day?

Instead of allowing ourselves to be led astray by romantic notions of the general strike, let us  examine the facts and see what conclusions they impose upon us. Socialism flows from the facts, it follows them and does not precede them. Socialism means the socialization of the means of labour and the abolition of classes. Its means, the transference to the political battlefield of the class struggle. Socialists are not worshippers of violence. Above all do we try to guard against the sporadic, meaningless and inevitably self-defeating violence that suffering and resentment are so likely to prompt. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fair and Balanced?

Cameron has ordered an investigation into union tactics in the wake of the threatened closure of the Grangemouth oil refinery, that saw Unite members picketing the homes of INEOS directors.

The review will be led by QC Bruce Carr, who acted for  British Airways against the trade unions in court when it blocked plans for a Christmas strike by Unite members in 2009.

TUC head of employment rights Sarah Veale said the investigation was clearly “politically driven”.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Lesson from INEOS

 “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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Workers United

The class struggle is not over, the battle of the working class is not finished, the fight to achieve socialism, is not redundant nor ‘old-fashioned.’ But it is not taking place. Only a handful of revolutionary socialists appreciated the tremendous opportunities now opening up and are talking in terms of a total social revolution. They are challenging the view that the class struggle can continue to  remain confined to improvements within the system. The various Trotskyist groups fail to see the tremendous potentialities of the situation because they are mainly preoccuped to establish their leadership over the workers movement. They all say that what is missing is the correct party-line (which they all interpret as their own party’s). None of them have confidence in the ability of the workers to solve their problems without their kind of leadership, steering  the workers’ movement down a blind alley of reformism and nationalism. Concentrating upon building up one’s own party  fiefdom and paying attention to only the narrow interests of one’s own organisation is detrimental to the growth and development of the revolutionary movement. At the same time, however, to advocate unity with all and sundry, at all cost,  is reckless and suicidal. We must not jeopardise our identity as socialists by joining broad blocs that include non-socialists and even anti-socialists that inevitably accept the continued existence of capitalism.

Despite the cliche misrepresentations,  the Socialist Party promotes the principled unity within the trade unions. The principle of trade unionism has been to organise all the workers, in every trade or service. This principle over-rode all distinctions of religion or politics. Whatever a man or woman might think on matters of religion, whatever views he or she might hold in politics, he or she is just as entitled as the next man to join his or her union—and, once joined, to enjoy the same rights and receive the same benefits as everybody else.  Socialists are utterly against any division because their chief desire is to strengthen the working class. Working class unity is not utopian. It exists and always has existed to some degree, nevertheless we can say that the working class is presently disunited. There are no united struggles of the entire working class, and the employers have been able to split the working class into as many sections, trades and crafts as possible. As a result, there are struggles being fought of a trade, craft or section of the working class in isolation from the entire working class, but against the entire united capitalist class protected by their state machine and news media. The capitalist class deploy everything available to them against a particular section of the workers leaving the other members of the working class  to helplessly watch from the side-lines the struggles of their fellow workers, being fought in isolation from one another and ending in defeat. The unity of the entire working class is an absolute necessity.  It is most urgent  to organise the un-organised workers. Without organising the non-unionised workers, to talk about uniting the working class is merely a pipe-dream.

However, the labour movement must begin to address social and political questions as the representative of all the workers. It must challenge and defeat the tradition of top-down initiatives and complacent reliance on politicians. The workers themselves must take the initiative in uniting their forces. Unity must be built from the bottom. The Socialist Party defends the trade unions’ struggle for the democratization and  right to free expression, association and complete independence with regard to the State to the best of its ability.  The Socialist Party’s  objective is not substituting and commandeering of the unions, but the aim of winning over the working class in these unions, convincing them of the correctness of the socialist revolution  and the necessity of fully involving themselves.

The basic struggle of the workers is two fold: 1) the political struggle against the capitalist system, and 2) the struggle at the place of work for better decent wages and working conditions.
Trade unions cannot and never could lead the struggle of the working class for the conquest of political power. This task can only be accomplished by a political party. When it comes to building this party, there can be no question of it emerging from the defensive struggles waged by the unions against the capitalists, no matter how important these struggles may be. The influence of socialist ideas in the unions is still minimal.

Too often, those on the Left view not as one of the exploitation of labour by capital but as a problem of “unequal distribution of wealth” and therefore centre around “equalising” the distribution of wealth, usually by taxing the rich.  For the even more reformist the problem at the place of work is not the heartless exploitation of labour by capital but the problem of a “misunderstanding” between workers and management that can be solved by improving industrial relations. Both subordinate the political mission of the working class  of overthrowing the capitalist system to one of reforming the capitalist system. So long as the workers are divided, economically and politically, they will remain in subjection, exploited of what they produce, and treated with contempt by the parasites who live out of their labour.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The SPGB and the Unions

The object of the Socialist Party is to achieve socialism. The purpose of a trade union is to make the best terms for its members with employers.

There are those who hold that the working class are in a constant state of latent revolt, seething to go forward to revolution and these people imagine it is only the timidity or corruption of leaders, or perhaps the defects of organisation that keeps them subdued. The truth is the opposite, of course. The working class may be discontented but they are far from the next step of making a change to their existence. How absurd to suppose that they are in a state of incipient revolt, and would fight, much less go on general strike for, if they will not even vote for their principles! Even more absurd is  to suggest that the indifference of the workers, their apathy and their reluctance to do anything for their emancipation, would all be removed simply by disbanding the existing trade union organisation and forming others with new names. A thing is not changed simply by giving it a new name. Existing trade unions are the outcome of existing economic conditions; they have survived because they have been the fittest to survive, the organisations best adapted to their conditions. These new workers’ organisations  would only have the same material to work with, and nothing but the same conditions to work in. Dual unionism saps the strength of the trade unions.

Syndicalists tell us political action of itself, no matter how revolutionary it may be, can accomplish but little if not backed by real economic power. But we say syndicalist unions by themselves cannot accomplish the “miracle” of overthrowing capitalism and must be assisted by the Socialist Party.

Nevertheless, trade unionism is steadily progressing towards the realisation of that One Big Union industrial organisation. For sure, the progress is slow; and can easily be understood, and excused. But let us not fall into the error, through impatience at the slowness of progress, of casting them aside. Suffice it to say here that the trade union movement is on right lines. The trade unions have their defects, undoubtedly, and it would be wrong to ignore them or not to try to remedy them. Socialists within the unions cannot and must not be servants of the bureaucracy.  and  a socialist party should not interfere in the internal affairs of the trade unions. But socialists working in the same union to can organise themselves together and strive to make of the union more democratic, but we’ll do that as trade unionists.

 It is for socialists to sympathise with and support trade unionists in every struggle in which the class war involves them until they recognise that their work is futile unless its object is emancipation.  The transition from one system to another is by no means a mechanical process. However “inevitable” the change may be, the time necessary to effect it can never be measured. Nor can the amount of human suffering and conflict involved before the change is carried through be estimated. So uncertain is the “inevitability” that there the  possibility of the disintegration of civilisation which cannot be ruled out.

Everything depends upon the development of the socialist ideas in people and the growth of the will-power on the part of the workers for the purpose of socialism. Such changes can come only with the change in ownership of the means of production and that means going beyond the immediate “bread and butter” questions which occupy the continual attention of trade unions. Many “practical” trade unionists criticise  socialism as visionary, unattainable, and without any immediate social value yet within trade unionism there is no change in the wage-slave position of the workers. They fail to perceive that socialism is the only  political force of modern times. Rosa Luxemburg said that “only the working class, by itself actively, can bring about socialism . . .” The primary organisations of the working class, the unions, have re-started the fight. Union members need to take control of their unions to make them into democratic, accountable organisations which will back the activities of the working class and win the struggles.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Falkirk - Labour Party Attacking the Unions

After all the headlines about the Falkirk MP-selection rigging by the Unite union have  Radio Scotland described the row as “much ado about nothing”, reflecting the view of the police who said they would not investigate the allegations due to lack of evidence.

Investigative reporter Hannah Barnes said: “There was, as far as we can see, no major vote rigging scandal in Falkirk. And there will be no police prosecutions. The selection debacle there was much ado about nothing. But it was the catalyst – some might say excuse – for a historic shift in Labour’s financial relationship with the unions. The battle for Falkirk will soon be forgotten but the consequences for Labour will be felt for many years to come.”

Apart from Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman (and a handful of senior party staff), almost no-one involved in the key decisions about Falkirk, have been allowed to read the full report of the party’s secret investigation that was conducted by one member of the party compliance unit and one “young Labour activist based in Scotland.”

Some of those who it was claimed did not know they were members are quoted as having “said they had been asked whether they wanted to join and said they did.” They were in any case not members of Unite, and their membership fees were not paid by Unite.

 Ed Miliband and his advisers specifically led an attack on Unite and Len McCluskey himself telling him to face up to “malpractice” and insisting the union should not be defending “machine politics“.

 Socialist Courier can only say that sooner the unions and the working class ditch their misplaced and misguided allegiance to the Labour Party, the better for us all. The Labour Party (and their leaders) have shown their loyalty is to the ruling class over and over again throughout its miserable existence and it is now time for every trade unionist to cease their political levy and call upon their union to dis-affiliate from the Labour Party forthwith..

Monday, June 10, 2013

We need more than the union

Marx highlighted the weak spot of all trade unionism. What every worker must realise is that through trade union struggle we are not fighting the causes which is capitalism but only its symptoms. We are fighting against the effects of the system as Marx points out, and not against the system itself. What trade union struggles really do is to fight to improve the conditions of the working class within the framework of the capitalist system. They do not challenge capitalism itself. What all workers must understand is that their misery is due to exploitation carried on by the capitalist class. Trade unionism merely attempts to lessen this exploitation. It does not fight to end exploitation i.e. to end the capitalist system and replace it by socialism. This is the fatal limitation of trade union struggles.

The Socialist Party does not oppose trade union struggles nor do its members refuse to participate in them. 

As Marx wrote in 1881:
“ is through the action of Trades Unions that the law of wages is enforced as against the employers, and that the workpeople of any well-organised trade are enabled to obtain, at least approximately, the full value of the working power which they hire to their employer; and that, with the help of State laws, the hours of labour are made at least not to exceed too much that maximum length beyond which the working power is prematurely exhausted. This, however, is the utmost Trades Unions, as at present organised, can hope to obtain...”

So trade unions are vitally essential to organise workers and help them to fight for their day to day demands. As long as the capitalist system exists, employers will always try to take back what they have been forced to concede. They will continually try to step up the exploitation of the working class in order to boost their profits. Until the workers get rid of the capitalist system itself, the cause of all the injustices they face, they will constantly have to take up their struggles over and over again.

Marx’s advice to the workers was:
“Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work,’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wages system’.” (Value, Price and Profit.)

For socialists this is a guide to action, to present the socialist solution, to raise the issue of socialism, to speak and act in terms of socialism and to fight for the socialist transformation of the economic, social and political system. The Socialist Party does not wish to “capture” the trade unions, nor to exploit them for the support of principles in which they do not believe or of men with whom they do not agree. Neither do we suggest that we should “fight” the unions as some Left Communists argue should happen. Nor do we adhere to the idea that we should create rival “socialist” trade union organisations to them as have the old Communist Party and Socialist Labour Party once did. Such efforts proved futile and only further weakened the power of existing unions. The Socialist Party has no interest in opposing, antagonising, or disrupting the trade unions.

What we wish to do is to inspire its members with a consciousness of the reality and magnitude of the class struggle in which, whether they will it or not, they are engaged. The fact is that unions are mass organisations which bring together workers of all political tendencies, including workers who are still under the domination of the prevalent status quo ideology and still have faith in the political parties of the capitalists. Despite this, unions have everything to gain from remaining united. Otherwise their battles will end up in defeat. 

Another name that Marx and Engels often used for a socialist society was “free association of producers”.  Simply describing a world without private property or wages system, however important these might be, misses the point. Marx’s basic conceptions was of universal human emancipation, of a way of living which he called "truly human". Communist society is based on the free association of all individuals who work together to produce the goods necessary for their collective well-being. All will work according to their capacities and their needs will be fully satisfied. Thus, individuals will no longer be governed by the division of labour and the divisions between city and countryside will disappear. The expropriation of the capitalists and the socialisation of the means of production will lead directly to the abolition of society based on class division . The abolition of classes will in turn lead to the withering away of the State, and its extinction, for the State is not, and can never be, anything other than the instrument of dictatorship of one class over others.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

We need the union

You cannot be a union man, 
No matter how you try,
Unless you think in terms of “we”
Instead of terms of “I”

Faced with austerity and wage cuts workers, more than ever, need unions that are prepared to fight to defend living standards. The boss doesn’t give up his profits, interests and dividends or bonuses in a recession.  He only demands that the workers give up their wages so that his profits, interests and dividends will be bigger. This is what is known as everyone sacrificing for the “national interest.” Workers soon learns that if they are by themselves , not in an organisation, they will be utterly helpless victims of capitalist greed. If the employer, especially the more powerful employer in the big industries, is able to deal with each worker separately, he can set almost any wage and working standard he pleases. If each worker offers himself singly on the labor market, he soon finds that other workers, especially when there is a large surplus of unemployed, will “underbid” him in an effort to get the job. To defend themselves from the efforts of the employer to lower wage and working standards, the workers find themselves forced to organize together, to represent themselves to the employers as a group and to bargain collectively. The formation of  unions is therefore the first step naturally taken by the workers to organise themselves as a class.

No one can say with certainty how various sections of the working class in Britain will react to the recession, which is slashing real living standards of those with jobs for the first time for generations, alongside a deep disillusionment with the Labour Party. The possibility of an explosion of anger exists, of which we see flashes of militancy. But political consciousness does not follow as a mechanical process nor does it depend solely on the external circumstances.

 The theory that the workers are not capable of governing themselves is false to the core. Every worker who has participated in trade union life knows that the working class has a tremendous capacity for efficient administration.

In general the employers are much better prepared than the workers in industrial conflicts. The reasons do not lie in any inherent weakness in the working class. Actually the workers are much more powerful than the bosses. The weakness of the workers lies in the failure to recognize the class struggle in its real significance and to prepare the fight accordingly. A union should unite workers instead of divide them; it should be run by workers and not run them; it should fight employers instead of fighting other workers. The most modest victory of the workers in one plant or industry depends upon the organised strength of the workers all over the country, in all the important plants and industries. In other words, the progress of any group of workers depends upon the strength and organisation of their class, upon its ability to combat the capitalists as a class. Those who argue against independent political action by the workers, against a socialist  party, are tied in body and mind to capitalist politics.

The only real answer lies in a world system, a system without classes, an challenge which goes beyond the ‘fair wage’ to challenge the wage system itself. Capital is interested in production for profit, labour in production for use. Capital is based upon a constantly increasing exploitation of labor, in order to maintain its profit; labor constantly resists this exploitation. There is and can be no such thing as a “legitimate profit,” inasmuch as all profit is derived from paying workers less than the value they add to the product. There is and can be no such thing as a “fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” inasmuch as wages are the payment for only one part of the day’s work, the other part of which the worker is compelled to contribute to the employer in the form of surplus-value, or profit. Capital always seeks to increase its profits, which can be done only by exploiting labour; labour always seeks to resist exploitation, which can be done only at the expense of profits. Capital always seeks to intensify the exploitation of labour by reducing wages, increasing the work-day, or speeding-up production, or by all three at once; and labour always seeks to raise its wage and working standards. Capital always seeks to increase its profits, which can be done only by exploiting labour; labour always seeks to resist exploitation, which can be done only at the expense of profits. These are fundamental economic facts. Under capitalism, nothing that all the capitalists, or the whole government, or all the union leaders, or all the workers, or a combination of all these, will ever do, can succeed in wiping out these facts.

 Capitalists hammer into the heads of the workers they are entitled to a profit. They hammer into the heads of the workers that capitalism always did exist and always will. Maybe it can and should be improved a little, patched up here and painted up there , but not eliminated. They hammer into the heads of the workers that there always have been people working for wages and there always will and must be such people; that it is so decreed by “human nature”; and that the best to be hoped for is the rule of a “fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work." They work hard at hammering  these ideas into the heads of the people. If these ideas did not prevail, they could not retain their power for a week.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Unions and Political Parties

The Socialist Party claims that the wealth of society is created by the workers. The working class alone does the world’s work, has created its wealth, constructed its mills and factories, made its roads, laid its rails, spanned the rivers with bridges and tunnelled through mountains. The workers alone by the labour of their brawn or the effort of their brains are essential to society.

The Socialist Party claims that the workers, through their work-place committees, industrial unions, and federated communes or whatever other means of decision-making and administration society chooses to use, will organise and control all the processes of wealth production. The Socialist Party carry the struggle to achieve this on the political field in order to challenge the power which the present ruling class wields through its domination of the State which it wins at the ballot box. By its victory at the ballot box, and its consequent political domination, the capitalists are able to subjugate labour. We cannot leave political control in the hands of the ruling class. We have seen what power the conquest of the State gives to the capitalist in its struggleagainst the working class. It is through its political strength that the capitalists can deprive us of civil liberties the loss of which can make the peaceful advocation for the revolution impossible. The maintenance of civil liberty is part of the political struggle. The ruling class can resort to the use of the armed forces and other violent methods of suppression. The control of these forces flow directly from the capitalist’s control of the State which it secures at the ballot box. Socialism will not come through force. Therefore, in order to achieve a peaceful revolution workers must capture the powers of the State at the ballot box and prevent the capitalist class from using the nation’s military against the emerging socialist movement.

At the ballot box the employer can only counts as one against his many workers’ votes. The capitalists are few in number, while the workers number in our millions. The electoral strength of the working class could, if properly used, ensure the triumph of labour in contrast to industrial action where the power of the boss’s bank balance against the meagre savings of his employees will nearly always prevail. The capitalists are men of financial means and resources, and can buy the best brains and command the highest order of ability the market affords. They own the factories, the mills and mines and locomotives and ships and stores and the jobs that are attached to them, and this not only gives them tremendous advantage in the struggle, but makes them for the time the absolute masters of the situation. The workers, on the other hand, are poor as a rule, and ignorant as a class, but they are in an overwhelming majority. In a word, they have the power, but are not conscious of it. This then is the supreme demand; to make them conscious of the power of their class, or class-conscious workingmen. Workers instead choose to fight the employers with strikes but at the ballot box they elect the lackeys of the capitalists to rule them and it is they who make the laws that govern and restrict the ways the workers can fight back. The courts and their legal injunctions have left workers defenceless and at the mercy of its exploiter. When will workers learn from their masters who, not content with their tremendous economic power, unceasingly strive to secure political power in order to entrench their class in its position of supremacy. Shouldn’t we be waking up to the fact that it has not been using its political arm in the struggle and that the ballot which it can wield is strong enough not only to disarm the enemy, but to drive that enemy entirely from the field of battle in the class war.

The trades-union is not and cannot become a political machine, nor can it be used for political purposes. Those such as ourselves who insist upon working class political action not only have no intention to convert the trades-union into a political party, but they would oppose any such attempt on the part of others. The trades-union is an economic organisation with distinct economic functions and as such is a part, a necessary part, but a part only of the labour movement; it has its own sphere of activity, its own programme and is its own master within its economic limitations. It is not by trying to commit socialism to trade-unionism, nor trade unionism to socialism, will the socialist end be accomplished. It is not by seeking to commit trade-union bodies to the principles of socialism. Resolution or commitments of this sort accomplish little good. Nor is it by meddling with the details or the machinery of the trade-unions. A socialist party does not interfere in the internal affairs of the trade unions, nor do socialists seek to have them become distinctively political bodies in themselves. It is best to leave the trade-unions to get on with their distinctive work, as the workers’ defence against the encroachments of capitalism and offer them unqualified support and sympathy to their struggles. It may be true that the trades-union movement has in some respects proved a disappointment, but it may not be repudiated as a failure. The trades-union movement of the present day has enemies within and without, and on all sides, some attacking it openly and others insidiously, but all bent either upon destroying it or reducing it to unresisting impotency.

The trades-union expresses the economic power but it is a socialist party that expresses the political power of the labour movement. It is vital to keep in mind the difference between the two so that neither shall hinder the other. The workers uses both economic and political power in the interest of their class in the struggle against capitalism. The difference between them is that while the trades-union is confined to the trade or occupation, a genuine socialist party embraces the entire working class, and while the union is limited to bettering conditions under the wage system, socialists are organised to conquer the political power , abolish the wage system and make the workers themselves the masters of the Earth. The unions and the socialist party should not only not be in conflict, but act in harmony in every struggle whether it be on the one field or the other, in the strike or at the ballot box. The main thing is that in every struggle the workers shall be united. A trade unionist should no more think of voting a capitalist party than they would turning the union over to the employer and have it run in the interest of management.

Until the workers become a clearly defined socialist movement, standing for and moving toward the unqualified co-operative commonwealth, while at the same time understanding and proclaiming their immediate interests, they will only play into the hands of their exploiters and be led by their betrayers. The Socialist Party takes issue with the left-wing attitude towards elections as being useless and at best unimportant weapons in the class struggle. The Socialist Party uses elections to place before the workers the demand for socialism. It takes advantage of a greater readiness to read political literature, to attend political meetings and take part in political discussions to familiarise workers with the socialist case. Election gives the Socialist Party the opportunity to reach more people when their receptiveness to political ideas are at a higher level and it serves to measure the political shifts and tendencies caused by changes on the economic and political scene.

The Socialist Party is convinced that the present political State, with most of its institutions, must be captured first to then be swepted away. The political State is not and cannot be a true democracy. The Socialist Party is not a parliamentary party. To think that Parliament can be used as the means of permanently improving the conditions of the working class by passing a series of legislative reform acts is to believe in parliamentarism. The Socialist Party believes in entering Parliament only as a means of doing away with what stands in the way of workers controlling the means of production. It urges the workers to use their ballots to capture political power—not to play at politicians and seek political office but to use the power of their votes to uproot the political State to permit the the constructive task of creating the decision making and administration processes of socialist society. Election affords the workers the opportunity to overthrow the political institutions obstructing and hindering their emancipation. The vote is a weapon to be used in the conquest of the State and it is a safer weapon than the rifle.

Parliamentary action is but a part of socialist activity. More important than success in elections is the progress of socialist consciousness in the masses, and success or failure at the polls are only of interest in so far as they permit us to judge the scale and degree of socialist consciousness. Success of a genuine socialist party on the political field and success on the economic field will be multiplied. And vice versa.

Monday, May 20, 2013

UCS - A Brave Defence

“We don't only build ships on the Clyde, we build men. They have taken on the wrong people and we will fight." - Jimmy Reid

Occupations and sit-ins in Britain have been primarily used as a defensive method in union struggles as a means to oppose redundancies in a more determined manner. Occupying work-places are seen as a tactical improvement on conventional striking. After all, It’s warmer sitting-in, rather than standing outside picketing .

The Upper Clyde Shipyards Shipyards (UCS) work-in of 1971–72 posed, implicitly if not explicitly, the question of workers’ control of industry. Sit-in strikes challenges property rights and no matter how temporary, it does represent a seizure of ‘company property’ which is held ransom until the workers’ demands are hopefully met. No employer likes the idea of having their property seized, or having their plant used as bargaining power. But if the occupation is peaceful and unlikely to spread, why risk confrontation by management instigated evictions? In Glasgow, Chief Constable David McNee warned he would need 5000 additional policemen to keep control of the city if the yards closed

“The problem facing the leaders of the UCS workers was to devise a new technique of struggle which would achieve their objective, to prevent redundancies and closures, in what was bound to be a tough struggle. A strike could play into the hands of the employers when they were set on closure anyway. A sit-in would have been difficult to maintain for long enough. It would have also given the employers a good excuse to attack the workers by arguing that the sit-in made it impossible to fulfil any contract and aggravated the bankrupt situation. This could have helped the Tories to alienate public opinion from support of the UCS workers.” - UCS – The Fight for the Right to Work by A. Murray, Communist Party.

Strike action is inappropriate so instead overtime bans, go-slows were the order of the day. Trade Union officials, far from leading any fight against redundancies, often actively involved themselves in negotiations of phased sackings. The demands ‘last in, first out’, ‘voluntary retirement’, ‘natural wastage’ reflected the defensive nature of trade unions.

The UCS workers wanted to complete the partly-built ships and launch them (and even start on new ships already designed and commissioned). The employers and the state wanted to close down the yards.

The support for the UCS work-in was high within the working class, particularly in Scotland, expressed in two regional general strikes. The work-in also generated wide support beyond the organised labour movement. John Foster and Charles Woolfson in British Trade Unions and Industrial Politics, Vol 2 wrote:
“The ploy of ‘working-in’, which forced the government to accept the continuance of the yards as a going concern, immediately ranged behind the workers the 700 creditor firms which stood to lose all they were owed as well as the custom they depended on for the future. It forced local authorities, even the Conservative controlled Glasgow Council to confront the dilemma of supporting ‘their communities’ or the government. It took leadership of the dispute out of the hands of the official movement and temporarily neutralised a Scottish press which tended towards the Conservative Party (Herald and Scottish Daily Express) or right-wing Labour (Record) This response, of seeking to work upon and include the specific interests of local business and the professions in the regional economy, was based precisely on what [Jimmy] Reid reported to the C[ommunist]P[arty] national executive; an analysis of the specific contradictions of monopoly capitalism."

Despite all this, the movement came nowhere near bringing about a social overturn. But the work-in did force major concessions out of the government. In July 1971, the 8,000 took possession of the shipyards and held them for 15 months. As the authors point out:
“By October 1972 when the sit-in ended they had forced the Conservative government to abandon almost all its original objectives. Most of the 8000 jobs remained. Four yards were in operation. Worse still for the government, it had been pushed into a much wider reversal of regional policy. Its original intention in ending credits to the publicly-owned Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) had been to demonstrate its determination to stop support for all ailing industries. Now it had to reverse its entire regional policy and pay for a massive refloatment on the Clyde."

The UCS struggle continued for 16 months until October 1972. In the end the Tory government was forced into a U-turn and had to come up with £35 million in public money, plus millions more in credit, to maintain 8,000 jobs at UCS, in conjunction with a US company.

“Not a yard will close - Not a man down the road". Sadly, Socialist Courier has to note that years later the jobs and the yards saved no longer exist. But nevertheless 8,000 workers were kept in employment for longer than they would have been.

Trotskyist critics attacked the Communist Party leadership of the work-in for selling out and betrayal because they limited the struggle. They did not press for the extension of work-ins and workers’ control. These criticisms were unjustified. Reid and Fairlie cannot be criticised for settling for what was possible, given the relationship of forces and the general level of consciousness and organisation of the labour movement at the time, instead of indulging in ‘revolutionary’ gestures doomed to failure.

The UCS work-in demonstrated that closures and redundancy need not be passively accepted and that alternatives existed. The UCS work-in raised the expectations of thousands and captured the imagination of many more. A solidarity march from George Square to Glasgow Green saw 80,000 strong protest. 200,000 took part in what was effectively a partial general strike.

In the months and years that followed the commencement of the work-in, the idea of resistance spread. Workers at Plesseys of Alexandria, at the Scottish Daily Express with the publication of the Scottish Daily News and later Henry Robbs of Leith tried the same tactics. Capitalism in the end always prevailed.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Real Union Question

Have no illusions about the role of governments, the police or the law - the defence of capitalism and exploitation is the main function of the capitalist state.

Both Marx and Engels advised the workers to unite in trade unions and fight for improved wages and shorter hours. In these struggles, victories would be won. The workers could wring concessions out of the capitalists. “Now and then”, the Communist Manifesto explained “the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers.”

The hand-to-mouth existence of the workers has never made it easy to strike for higher wages and better working conditions. The employers can recuperate lost profits, the workers’ lost wages cannot. As long as the capitalist system exists, the bosses will always try to take back what they have been forced to concede. They will continually try to step up the exploitation of the working class in order to boost their profits.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Transcending the trade union struggle

The working class are as our Chartist forefathers were not afraid to call it, a class of wages slaves. Yet today we are less preoccupied with the abolition of the wages system than ever. Reformists attempt to mollify inhuman social relations whilst preserving them intact. The old cry for a fair day’s pay echoes repeatedly time and time again. The essence of working-class enslavement is not impoverishment. Whether a worker’s wages be high or low his existence is imposed. It is necessary to abolish the basic condition of modern exploitation, wage slavery.

The old conceptions in the labour movement have become faulty and inadequate and working class organisations offer indecision and confusion, and are reduced to impotence.

Karl Marx counseled the working class many years ago that “they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘abolition of the wages system.’ ”

When we fight for a demand like a wage increase, we are merely fighting against the effects of capitalism. Not merely that. We are demanding it from the capitalists. In other words, we envisage the continuation of the capitalist system. What trade union struggles really do is to fight to improve the conditions of the working class within the framework of the capitalist system. They do not challenge capitalism itself. That is why they degenerate to pure and simple reformism and, in the end, bolster up capitalism.

Every wage increase that is won by the workers is eventually offset by the employers by more intensive work. So, usually, the workers are back to from where they started.

What all workers should understand is that their misery is due to exploitation carried on by the capitalist class. Trade unionism merely restricts their struggle to attempts at lessening this exploitation. It does not fight to end exploitation i.e. to end the capitalist system and replace it by socialism. This is the limitation of trade union struggles. However, we should not oppose trade union struggles. It is essential to organise workers and help them to realise the value of their labour power in the fight for their day to day demands. And it is also in the course of these fights, that the workers can learn about the system of capitalist exploitation and the need to abolish it. They will not only discover how to fight for wage increases but also how to abolish the wage system itself.
The objective of the Socialist Party is nothing less than the socialist reconstruction of society, the abolition of the wages system. We press the workers to transform the economic struggle into a political struggle for the seizure of power by the working class. Otherwise we will sink into the morass of never-ending reformism.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The class struggle

The strike has long been labour's most powerful weapon. Strikes put pressure on the employer - which needs the employees' labour to run the business - to agree to employees' demands for fair wages and working conditions. Strikes are also a public form of expression. Seeing picket lines in front of a workplace sends a message to the employer, to the public and to the workers themselves. It says that the workers stand together to fight for decent working conditions and that their dispute with the employer is so important that they are willing to lose pay to fight for a fair workplace. It tells the public and other workers that they might not want to patronise, or work for, the employer unless changes are made. Strikes build solidarity among the workers and help them maintain their resolve under the severe pressure of losing income while on strike. Strikes are also an expression of control by the workers, who may feel that the employer treats them as if they were nothing more than a live form of raw materials - human resource.

But against the power of capitalism, strikes by the trades unions are no longer the potent weapon they once were and the political futility of the Labour Party is obvious to all. It could not act (and cannot act) otherwise as a representative of capitalism. The result is that during the last decades the condition of workers has grown steadily worse.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Workers United

Scab is the number one worst thing one we can call a fellow worker, and we need to be very careful how we use it. It is the worst thing that can be said about a fellow worker, akin to "traitor." It does not mean non-union worker.

Poor workers from other countries are not scabs, they are our fellow workers. Only when they actually cross a picket line are they scabs. And when the strike is over, they stop being scabs and we need to get back to trying to organise them.

Migrant workers are our fellow workers, exploited by capitalists in both multinational corporations and in domestically-owned businesses. They are not crossing picket lines and we never can fall into divide and rule arguments advanced by those whose interests are served when we are divided by colour, by gender, by ability, by sexual preference, by country of birth. United we fight, divided we crawl!

Our enemies are not our fellow workers that are being exploited, our enemies are the ones that are destroying our incomes, endangering our lives through the elimination of health and safety legislation, those that insist that "we" cannot compete against workers who are being grossly exploited due to low wages and bad working conditions. It is not workers overseas that are responsible for the destruction of jobs and cuts in incomes and benefits. That is those who are in power both economically and those that serve their interests politically and mainstream economists who sole role is to provide the justifications for the destruction of the social welfare state and workers conditions of work and income standards. Do not fall for divide and rule!

One of the reasons why the labour movement collapsed was because workers decided that they were "partners" with their employers and the "foreign workers" were their enemy. As a result, the company "negotiated" one give-back after another, stuffed it all into their pockets--then moved all the factories anyway.

The unions should have remembered what the word "solidarity" means. The entire idea of a nation-based labor movement is now outmoded, ineffective and obsolete. In a corporate world, we must instead become company-based rather than geographically-based. In a world made up of multi-national companies who owe loyalty to no government and have no nation, there simply is no such thing anymore as an “American worker” or a “Chinese worker” or a “Somali worker”. There are only “Ford workers” or “Honda workers” or “British Petroleum workers”—and they all do the same work for the same employer and have the same interests, whether their factory happens to be located in Tennessee, Tibet or Timbuktu. And if a Ford worker in Detroit gets X dollars an hour to do a job, then a Ford worker in China or Thailand had better be getting the same X dollars an hour for doing the same job—because if he's not, then guess where the factory will be going?

It’s an lesson that the unions ignored. Instead of organizing all Ford or steel workers across the world to face their common employer, the unions have ignored foreign employees completely or even treated them as enemies; instead of raising the foreign wages to match ours. What the labour movement must do is to follow the companies wherever they go, to any country, and organize all the workers there. One company, one union, one contract, one wage scale—no matter where you are. That cannot happen until workers give up their attachment to outdated nationalism. The only way the corporate bosses can be beaten is if all their workers stick together, organise together, and fight together, no matter what country they happen to be located in. That is what “solidarity” means.

It used to be that “workers of the world, unite!” was just an aspirational political slogan. Today, it is our survival strategy.