Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts with the label trade unions

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 …

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.

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 i…

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, t…

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 atti…

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 po…

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”.


The Lesson from INEOS

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 f…

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…

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…

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 a…

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: “..it is through the action of Trades Unions that the la…

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 …

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 lab…

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 instiga…

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 orde…

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 capitali…

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 mor…

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 …