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

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

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Folded Arms

The old “folded arms” theory of  syndicalism is the belief workers could topple capitalism without violence and merely by folding their arms and stopping work. This theory sprung forth in the period just after the Paris Commune when the workers were still  recuperating from the slaughter. It was also a response to the growing accommodation that the workers parties developed with the status quo. Syndicalism represented an extreme reaction against reformist, parliamentary socialism which can be viewed as the father of syndicalism.The restiveness of the working class is constantly working out new forms of struggle under changing circumstances that invariably lead towards the question of some sort of workers control over production.

 Those who call for a politicalised socialist trade union should understand that a union needs to recruit all workers to be able to put up resistance to the bosses. Can it possibly wait for all the workers to become socialists before inviting them to organise themselves or before admitting them into the organisation.   Any fusion  between the socialist  and union movement ends either by rendering the union helpless and  powerless to obtain improvements or result in the socialist party committing its socialist principles to empty paper promises of reform.  Socialists must work  for socialist ends and not engage in the horse-trading of the labour market although, naturally, socialists within the unions will strive to ensure that they remain open to all workers of whatever opinion or party on the sole condition that there is solidarity in the struggle against the employers. They will argue against the unions becoming the tools of the politicians. Socialists are minded that the workers’ organisation is not the end but just one of the means, however important, of preparing the way for the achievement of socialism. It is the system and not our remuneration or  the “boss” which must be changed.  Socialism is not achieved  through public (state) ownership or workshop committees or trade union representation on this or that management board, but through a fundamental change in class relations. It is necessary to have a clear understanding as to what differentiates syndicalist theory from the orthodox socialist doctrine.

The essence of syndicalism is social revolution by means of the trade unions while the essence of socialism is the revolution by voting.  The syndicalists recognises but one “field” of working class activity — the economic; only one kind of social question — the economic. To solve these economic questions it uses, in all cases, direct action tactics alone. It forces the state to pass laws in the same manner as it forces a private employer to raise wages, or to better working conditions — by strikes and other forms of industrial action. And not only does syndicalism feel perfectly sure of its ability to force the state and private employers to grant concessions by its direct action tactics, but it also intends to overthrow the whole capitalist edifice by the supreme, ultimate application of direct action, i.e., the general strike. It makes absolutely no provision for the conquest of the political power by the political party via the ballot box. Syndicalism bases the whole workers movement upon economic action, not political actions. It sees in the immediate struggle of the unions a preparation for the revolutionary strike that will overthrow capitalism; and it organises the working class in a way that provides the means of assuming control of society by building in its organisation the structure that will function as the administration of the new society on the day of the revolution. Even the Left SPD Marxist Karl Kautsky, in an article in the International Socialist Review, April 1901, said:
“The trade unions...will constitute the most energetic factors in surmounting the present mode of production and they will be pillars on which the edifice of the socialist commonwealth will be erected.”

Some in the history of the socialist movement such as the De Leonists have sought a hybrid theory of syndicalism insisting it needs a guardian and helper — a political “shield.” and tries to force the guardianship on the unwilling syndicalists  but in doing so creates a situation where two movements cannot exist in harmony as they are intent upon trying to absorb each other.  The two movements become competitors for the undivided support of the working class.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Against the "Realists"

Thinking capitalism is good for you is like thinking a Big Mac is good for you because it has lettuce and a pickle.  In 2008, 1.9 million Portuguese workers in the private sector were covered by collective bargaining agreements. Last year, the number was down to 300,000. Spain has eased restrictions on collective layoffs and unfair dismissal, and relaxed limits on extending temporary work, allowing workers to be kept on fixed-term contracts for up to four years. Andrew Watt, an economist who heads the Macroeconomic Policy Institute in Germany, worries that the push for labor market deregulation will cascade from one weak country to the next, as all engage in a futile race to create jobs by gaining market share from one another in a world of insufficient demand. “Whichever country is weakest at the time is forced into major cutbacks. First Germany, now Spain, next France,” he said.

Inequality across much of Europe has widened. In 1991, the richest 10 percent of Germans took in 26 percent of the nation’s income before taxes and transfers. By 2010 they took in 31 percent. Over the same period, the slice of the nation’s income taken by the bottom half of the population fell to 17 percent, from 22 percent.

Too often union leaders have prided themselves on their hard-headed "realism”, their tough “practicality”, their "pragmatic" approach of looking at each problem concretely with no “abstract theories” to block their view. They want only a “fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” Their “reasonableness" cover their ignorance and refusal to face the facts of life. They are indeed not idealists but firm supporters of the present capitalist system. For over two hundred years capitalism has proceeded in a jerky fashion of cyclical prosperity and depression.

The essential basic feature of the capitalist mode of production is profit; the driving motivation of capitalist society must be the relentless pursuit of an ever greater rate and mass of profit. This profit is the surplus over and above what the costs of production are, the costs of the means of production and the cost of labor power. This profit is placed in the hands of the capitalist. Part of it is spent for his enjoyment; another part is divided among different groups of society or is paid in taxes. But an essential part of the profit must be reinvested in the productive process itself on an ever increasing scale. Capital must be accumulated or it will die.

The drive to increase or maintain profit or prevent their decline means that every effort must be made to reduce the costs of production, the costs of the means of production and the cost of labour power. To do this science, engineering, technology and techniques are developed as much and as speedily as possible so that mankind can produce the goods for the needs and wants of society with the least cost possible.

Every capitalist, therefore, must throw into the market all he possibly can over and above the amount he took out of the market. This surplus must grow in ever increasing and rapid amounts. If the markets do not expand accordingly, and they do not, there must come a time when the surplus cannot be marketed and a depression occurs with consequent unemployment and suffering.

The depression, however, tends to have this historic result. The less efficient methods of production are wiped out, the more efficient prevail; and when the depression ends, there is production on a far more efficient and better scale than ever. Competition and depression have forcibly destroyed what had been allowed economically to remain too long. Depressions result in intensification of both the suffering of the people and economic progress. The capitalist is no more to blame for this situation than the worker. Both are products of the same mode of production.

In all this long cyclical history of capitalism some people have arisen in the past who have tried to see whether depressions could be prevented and yet capitalism saved. Nevertheless depressions are still with us and grow ever more intense and enduring. A far greater number of noble people, especially from the ranks of the sufferers, have clamored for some relief and academics suggest all manner of policies so that the recessions can be made more gradual and not so severe, made shorter and not so prolonged, have less fearsome effects. Perhaps the suffering could be alleviated to a degree. Certainly it is an anomaly to have lines at food banks in the midst of great piles of useful commodities lying ready to be consumed or to be produced. Indeed, advanced capitalist countries have done something along this if only to prevent riots and revolutions from the suffering victims. But for the moment, taking advantage of the weaknesses in the union movement and the lack of effective resistance, the cuts and onslaught against workers will continue unabated until that union fight-back grows in strength.

Today in the Autumn Statement the Chancellor will be setting out new cuts that will see social welfare budgets curtailed even more. 

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.

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.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Tyranny of Work

The mental health of Scottish workers is being put at risk thanks to the "relentless pressure" of management systems meant to increase their productivity. Unions and researchers claim workers have suffered extreme stress, depression and in a few cases threatened suicide.  Austerity has allowed some firms to use management techniques to make their staff's lives a misery.

The impact on the mental health of employees was highlighted in the report Performance Management And The New Workplace Tyranny. Phil Taylor, professor of work and employment studies at the university in Glasgow, carried out the research.  He said performance management had evolved into a "continuous, all-encompassing" process of "tight monitoring and strict target compliance".

Taylor said: "Many who have been in the workplace for 10, 15, 20 years, talk with great pain about how the workplace they joined has been transformed beyond all recognition over those decades and the aspects of work that gave them a degree of happiness or satisfaction – such as talking to colleagues, satisfying customers or doing a good job – have been subordinated to the pressure of targets. That is a genuine degradation: people shouldn't have to work like this. You are only as good as your last score, and you can have people who have been utterly loyal and committed to an organisation and excellent performers, then being thrust into the underperformance camp. That can exacerbate feelings of pressure and can lead to stress, which compounds the difficulties of actually doing the work and makes it difficult to get out of that category."

Mary Alexander, deputy regional secretary of Unite in Scotland, said an example from the financial industry showed it could take as little as six weeks from being put on a performance improvement process to being fired. She said, sales targets which were being set were often "not achievable and unrealistic".

Dr Andrew Fraser, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland said: "We know that a tough and unsupportive working environment, and specifically workplace bullying and harassment can have a negative impact on a person's mental health and that, as a result of sustained bullying, some people may experience stress and anxiety. If that experience is sustained and not addressed by management at all levels, workplace stress may lead to depression which is a major risk factor for suicide." 

Meanwhile another report  reveals than more than 500 Scottish construction workers were blacklisted for jobs because of union activity. Personal details about 3213 workers were discovered at a Worcestershire-based firm called The Consulting Association. The files were used by more than 40 firms including Balfour Beatty, Robert McAlpine, Laing O'Rourke and Costain to check the backgrounds of potential workers. On the list are 142 workers from Glasgow, Clydebank and Dumbarton, 53 from Ayrshire, 51 from Edinburgh, and 28 from Aberdeen.

 The Consulting Association had links with police and security services. Construction industry directors were addressed by a "key officer" from the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (Netcu), a Huntingdon-based police organisation set up to counter "extremist" protest groups.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Jeanie Spence (Jute and Flax workers, Dundee), Lamont (National Federation of Women Workers), Agnes Brown (National Federation of Women Workers), Mary McArthur (national leader and general secretary of the National Federation of Women Workers) and Rachel Devine (Jute and Flax Workers, Dundee).
 In 1900 Dundee was associated with one product: jute. Jute was the cheapest of fibres, but it was tough. As such it was the ideal packing material. Jute bagging and jute sacks were used to carry cotton from the American South, grain from the Great Plains and Argentina, coffee from the East Indies and Brazil, wool from Australia, sugar from the Caribbean and nitrates from Chile. Dundee was ‘Juteopolis’ – synonymous with its main industry. This association of place and product was not unusual. We still link Clydebank with ships, Sheffield with steel, Stoke-on-Trent with pottery. Throughout the late nineteenth century, over half of Dundee's workforce worked in the textile sector, which, from the 1860s on, was dominated by jute. Migrant workers arrived in Dundee in thousands. By the end of the 19th century, the city had quadrupled in size. Many of the immigrants were from Ireland, poor and Catholic. Many Catholic Irish immigrants faced discrimination and bigotry in Presbyterian Scotland. They were attacked from the pulpit and in the street. The Irish women working in the jute mills of Dundee were an exception – they were widely accepted.

Raw jute was produced in significant quantities in only one region of the world: the deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bengal in India. And for a short period – long finished by 1900 – Dundee and the surrounding district had a near monopoly on its manufacture. The Dundee jute industry was composed of many firms, most of them carrying out only one part of the process of buying, transporting, manufacturing and selling jute. Big profits were made in jute, but these were invested overseas rather than in the local economy. From the 1870s on, investment trusts launched by Dundee businessmen, channelled enormous sums into foreign investments and particularly into American railway, land and cattle companies. Dundee's ‘jute barons’ preferred to invest in American stocks rather than in developing new industries in Dundee. The result left Dundee dangerously dependent on the jute industry.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

How Clydebank stitched up Singers

The 1911 Clydebank Singers strike is considered the first battle between labour and international capital in Scotland if not in the UK. It was also the biggest single firm strike in Scotland up to 1914. The strike lasted three weeks.

In 1867/8 the American company Singer Sewing Machine Co. expanded into Scotland. It first opened a small sewing machine factory in Glasgow near John St. However growing demand forced the company to expand to a larger factory in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow. In 1882 they moved again, to a greenfield site at Kilbowie in Clydebank. It was a very anti-union company. Tom Bell, an activist during the 1911 strike, in his book “Pioneering Days” states; “The firm refuses to recognise any union, and those union men that were employed had to keep it quiet.”

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The real union struggle

Since the Industrial Revolution there has been a Us versus Them.  Lined up on one side are the men and women who do the actual work, who toil long, tedious hours for a defined wage, and lined up on the other are employers who, while grudgingly recognizing the necessity of workers, are committed to not paying them any more than is absolutely necessary. It’s an economic law. You charge for your product as much as that the market will bear, and you pay your employees as little as you can get away with. Adhering to the principle that there is “strength in numbers,” workers have joined together to form trade unions. And without those strong, militant labour unions acting as buffers, there is no other force capable of resisting the bosses muscle. Unless working people have some form of organisation to represent their interests, they will be subject to any draconian measures the capitalist wishes to enact. Without the capability to fight back—without the means to offer genuine resistance— workers are not only vulnerable, they’re virtually defenseless. Workers need to take care of themselves rather than rely on politicians to do it for them. And taking care of themselves means banding together collectively. Until they band together and have strength in unity, no one is going to take them seriously.

 It is only through such an organised fight-back and the use of the greatest working class weapon - the strike - can the employers attack on worker's pay and conditions be repulsed. It’s a fight that must be engaged; a fight that must be won. Workers’ only real bargaining power is their ability to stop production. And to do this, workers must fight as a class. These two unavoidable facts gave birth to solidarity pickets, secondary strikes and boycotts that involved whole communities, regions and ultimately the nation. Class solidarity means halting scabs crossing picket lines, and blacking struck goods. We can and must lay the foundation for renewed struggle in the here and now. Without unions maintaining decent wages and benefits, we’re all subject to the inevitable downward pull of market forces, which, given our surplus of labour in this time of high unemployment, means that many of us will slide inexorably toward the minimum wage.

Capitalism cannot function unless it subordinates workers, so the employers close ranks and build their own class solidarity backed by the power of the government. Almost every political pundit has written about the decline and forthcoming death of the labour movement. The populist mantra is to pander to the wallet. Cut the inflated pay and pensions of public workers is the best way to help those who are suffering in a depressed economy. Curtail the corrupt power of unions is the solution. Not only have the rich succeeded in convincing workers to cheer on their campaign against labour unions — the one and only institution dedicated to their welfare —  but they’ve convinced them to support the interests of the wealthy rather than the interests of their own class. Some working people actually refer to other workers as privileged — to people who, by virtue of a union contract, have managed to stay above water, who’ve managed to retain an element of decent wages and benefits, and haven’t fallen totally victim to the recession. Instead of a union contract serving as a model — something to raise all our standard of living — they see it as being above the rest of us! With the poor now jeering at union members, the rich have had their wettest dream come true. The traditional union principle that capital can create nothing without workers – that labour creates all wealth – has been turned on its head, so that capital is now revered as the source of jobs and prosperity.

In the class war, workers may be struggling but they are far from dead. In any war there are only two options: fight to win, or surrender. Both options produce casualties. There is no “safe” option for workers under attack, no place in the trenches to hide in the hope of protecting one’s individual job, dignity and life.

There can be no common interest between bosses and workers, only war. Workers will always lose if they play by the boss’s rules. The power of workers lies in their ability to stop production. If they don’t use this power, they have nothing with which to bargain. Workers can stop production only if they unite as a class, disregarding the boundaries of job description, workplace and industry. Now that production is international, class solidarity must also be international. In order to fight effectively, workers must break the laws laid down by the employers and their State when they are able. When workers challenge the employers’ right to dictate what happens in the workplace, they challenge the essence of capitalism itself. The question of political power over economic power must lie at the core of any union strategy.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The class struggle

Members the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Scotland's largest teachers union, yesterday voted in favour of fighting austerity measures in a renewed campaign which could lead to industrial action in the autumn. The union backed motions calling for action to protect the profession from public sector cuts and oppose changes to their pensions being made by the UK government. While pension reform is reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government has said it must implement the changes or face losing £100 million a year it receives from the UK government. Last November, Scots teachers took part in a UK-wide strike over pension changes – the first nationwide walkout by the profession in Scotland since 1986.

In a scathing attack the newly-elected EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said  “We understand that it is the UK government, the coalition, that has been the driving force behind the attempt to make teachers pay more, to work longer and to get less. We know who the guilty are in this great cash robbery. But we have a clear message also for the Scottish Government and for Mike Russell, the cabinet secretary for education, in particular. You cannot hide behind the coat-tails of some Eton toffs and say, ‘It wisnae me’. Scottish teachers expect the Scottish Government to stand up for Scotland on this issue and if they fail to do so, if they fail to deliver a fair settlement on pensions here in Scotland, we are prepared to fight them every bit as hard as we will fight the UK coalition government on this issue...There is a simple choice: fight the cuts or fight us, because we are not minded to pay the price for the greed of others.”

Mr Flanagan said Westminster’s austerity measures had been “firmly rejected” by voters. Local elections in May made it clear “not only in Scotland but across Britain, that the UK government’s austerity programme has been decisively rejected”. Mr Flanagan said: “It is clear that what the electorate wants is for elected politicians to fight back against austerity and not to simply administer a cuts programme." Teaching was a stressful profession, he said, adding: “The suggestion that teachers should stay in the classroom till they are 68 or even longer is not a credible notion and it is one we will resist: 68 is way too late.”

Charlotte Ahmed, a union member from Glasgow, said: “This is theft. It’s a smash-and-grab. They’re taking money out of our pockets and putting it where exactly? The autumn is the time to turn the screw and commit ourselves to action.”

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Red Union

"We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them" - Clyde Workers' Committee

The United Mineworkers of Scotland - The Red Union

The United Mineworkers of Scotland (UMS), functioned for some six years in the few areas in which the Communist Party had a credible industrial presence. None the less, the UMS never recruited more than 4000 members and this had  fallen to 2000 by 1932, of which 65% were in Fife. Once again, as so often in Scottish labour history, religion had an influence. The UMS was strong in the pits with a history of more militancy but also with a higher level of Irish workers. Protestant Harthill was weak in Communist Party membership, whereas Catholic Blantyre support for CPGB ran high. Abe Moffat, the UMS leader, recalled that during a strike in the Shotts coalfield in 1930 that Catholic miners didn't want to offend the local priest by marching in front of his house. The "Red Union" was dependant upon the strength of Communist Party support and flourished in Fife and Lanarkshire, rather than Ayrshire and the Lothians. Its office was initially in Glasgow but very soon moved to Dunfermline.

Wullie Adamson, the Fife miners' leader ruled with an iron rod, but his post-war trade union position became increasingly beleaguered. During the First World War, a critical left-wing current had developed within the Fife miners' union. These radicals were critical of Adamson's flexibility to coal owners' demands and the lack of democracy within the union. Following the miners' defeat in the 1921 lock-out, criticism focused on the democracy issue. The culmination was a split at the end of 1922 with the formation of a separate Reform Union among the Fife miners under Philip Hodge of the Independent Labour Party. When a general election was called late in 1923, the Reform Union decided to run Hodge as a parliamentary candidate against Adamson, also a Labour MP, in the West Fife constituency. Hodge ran as a Reform candidate and in a straight fight he polled 6459 votes (over 34 per cent), an indication of many miners' disillusion with Adamson. The enmities meant that reunification of the two unions was achieved only in 1927. Several influential members of the Fife Left-wing were now in the Communist Party and that body favoured reunion. The lengthy dispute of 1926 placed a premium on solidarity, but the reunited union had to deal with the consequences of a thorough defeat. Reunification meant new elections both for posts in Fife and for the coalfield's representatives on the Scottish executive. The Left made a significant advance and Adamson and his allies endeavoured by creative use of the rule-book to evade the consequences. The Mining unions in Fife, and Lanarkshire, descended into chaos. The Fife county board suspended Adamson as secretary on the ground that he had broken his mandate, whereupon he resigned and set up a new union, the Fife, Clackmannan, and Kinross Miners' Union. Significantly this new body became the official Fife union within the National Union of Scottish Mineworkers and therefore within the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. The lack of constitutional procedure involved in creating the new union counted for little against a broad agreement among miners' union officials that communist growth must be blocked at all costs. The Communists moved towards their "Class Against Class" policy, which was to produce yet another union, the United Mineworkers of Scotland. But to the radicals in Fife, the creation of a  separate ‘red’ miners' union was seen as the only credible response to Adamson's contempt for union decisions and his new union. The historian John Saville wrote; “The history of the Scottish miner's after the General Strike is a grim record of crooked dealing by the Right Wing officials who, voted out of office by their members, refused to give up their positions to the Left Wing which had triumphed. Whether the Left was correct in allowing itself to be provoked into the formation of an independent union is quite another question...” Perhaps, in retrospect, it was something of a mistake but participants at the time felt that legitimacy was on their side and it did not feel wrong. The creation of the United Mineworkers of Scotland in mid-1929 was not so much a result of the left-turn in the Comintern  but a natural development to local circumstances. In short, the UMS was as reaction to election fraud, exacerbated by the unhealed frictions over attitudes to taking strike action. It had grown out of an initially successful but, in the medium term failed attempt to reform corrupt union districts in the earlier Reform Union. Several villages were now Communist strongholds. A twelve-week dispute at the Valleyfield colliery saw members of Adamson's own union ignoring his pleas to return to work; instead his members co-operated with the ‘red’ United Mineworkers of Scotland.

What was happening in these years in many industrial localities all over Britain was a general challenge to the local hierarchy—not just the extraction of wage increases, the reduction of hours, nor even the emergence of Labour in local government and at Westminster. The wave of local and partial struggles that have broken out throughout the minefields was symptomatic of the revulsion of the working class against the policy of the Labour Government and the sabotage of the trade union bureaucracy. The success of the Communist Party in such areas could be explained by two intersecting causes. The first is the prior existence of a sense of solidarity serving to knit the inhabitants of these working class localities together. The second is the capacity of the local Communist leadership to maintain that solidarity and transform it by giving it a more precise political definition. Unlike most other sections of the working class, these "Little Moscows", as the historian Stuart McIntyre labels such communities, were able to fight for and win improvements in unemployment relief, housing and public health; they doggedly defended work-customs that were destroyed elsewhere and they maintained a fight against wage cuts. They were not always successful but they did sustain a sense of morale in defeat amongst the working class and a belief in its own capabilities when such qualities were in short supply.

In Scotland, under the leadership of the United Mineworkers of Scotland, these feelings  found expression in the number of struggles that have been conducted successfully by that union against the reactionary union officials. In Lumphinnans the miners' lodge was pivotal, and here again an initial coalition of young Communists and ILPers had assumed control. Such was their success in Lumphinnans that most of the miners were carried into the new Reform Union of the Fife miners set up as an alternative to the undemocratic old union. The militants roots had grown deep in Fife, largely as a result of the role of those Communist Party members in the mining industry. The Scottish miners' unions, which were county based, were largely in the hands of Labour's right wing and Adamson but such a leadership was severely challenged by the Left. The Labour-led executive of the Fife miners' union refused to support the popularly supported strikes between 1919 and 1921 and, a 'Reform Union' had been formed in 1923. This was not largely a consequence of action by Communists but arose from a personality conflict between senior officials of the union. In 1926, Fife miners held out longer than the rest of Britain. The split was overcome during the General Strike and the nine months lockout of miners. The two unions reunited briefly in 1927 but at the end of the 1920s a new union, the United Mineworkers of Scotland, was set up when Adamson and the right in other Scottish mining areas refused to accept the result of union ballots. The continued tensions arising from bureaucratic repression of Left forces and the manoeuvring of the right led to yet another split. Nor should sectarian excesses be thought of as all on one side. If the militants sometimes advocated policies that were too far ahead of popular opinion, their opponents on the right of the labour movement went much further in actually seeking to destroy any united front. It was Adamson's union in Fife that refused to accept majority decisions

Once again Lumphinnans took an active role and became a leading branch of the UMS. Abe Moffat was born in Lumphinnans on 24th September 1896. He and his brothers, notably Alex, and Dave, were leaders of the Scottish miners and life-long Communists. They came from a strong tradition of mining unionism; their grandfather had been a pioneer of mining trades unionism in the Lothians during the 1860s but had been forced to move to Fife due to victimisation. Abe Moffat worked in the pits from 1910 until he was victimised in 1926 and was active in all the miners' strike actions from the moment he joined the industry. By late 1922, or early 1923, he had joined the Communist Party. He was involved in the publication of the `Buzzer', a bulletin for militant miners at the Glencraig Colliery, Lochgelly. This was a Communist Party publication, produced on a typewriter and duplicator and costing a penny. Within two years of joining the Party he was elected as a Communist councillor on Ballingry Parish Council. Parish councils had up to then proved to be a useful form of entry by Communists into the elective arena where the main challenger was Labour, by virtue of their small sized and concentrated electorates. They were abolished as a form of local government in 1929. Whilst there were UMS members elsewhere in Scotland it was based mainly in Fife. Just before the formation of the UMS both Alex and Abe were elected checkweighmen (a position of some importance to miners since it encompassed a legal role in overseeing the amount of coal cut and hence the value of earnings). Abe and Alex Moffat in Fife, achieved their leading trade union positions through the support of the members in the traditional trade unions. The leading Communist miners justifiably felt uncomfortable about carrying out the Comintern instruction, which went against the grain of traditional trade unionism, and could not be realised as an effective force in the conditions at the time. Nor was Abe Moffat, contrary to some claims, a key force in the creation of the UMS. He was, at the time of its foundation, a pit delegate - an important but not leading position; however, he was UMS secretary from 1931 to 1935. His leadership of the UMS was primarily devoted to finding a way to achieve organisational unity amongst miners once again. In 1933 attempts to merge with the official union were rebuffed and, in 1935, arising from a proposition by Abe Moffat himself, UMS members balloted to apply for membership of the official Fife union, to maximise the possibilities for unity. Their overtures were rejected and the UMS went into voluntary liquidation.

Davie Proudfoot Proudfoot, like all Communist miners, found himself in the United Mineworkers of Scotland. He was a local miners’ leader in Buckhaven & Methil an activist during the 1926 strike and lock-out. So much so that, when elections for the miners’ union in the Fife coalfield were held, Proudfoot was one of the Communists who won positions. Proudfoot’s father had been a member of the SDF and BSP. He became a Communist a short while after foundation and had been influenced by the Fife Communist League, which set up a bookshop in Cowdenbeath in 1916. He was the main force behind the establishment of `Spark’, the highly influential pit paper produced by the Methil Communist Pit Group, both Party and YCL. Its first issue in 1925 sold 240 copies and a year later it was up to a thousand copies. Initially a fortnightly and then a weekly publication from 1927, it ended its days with the last issue in December 1931. The increasingly vitriolic nature of the publication after 1926, in common with most Communist pit papers of the time, seems to have become an issue for Proudfoot. The bitter internal divisions were, of course, associated with the period of Class Against Class  with the Communists denounced their former allies as "social fascists". Some idea of the scale of such problems is provided by a letter written by David Proudfoot to Allen Hutt at the end of 1928. The Cowdenbeath comrades used their pit-paper to denounce some local miners as hypocrites and traitors solely because they had not supported Communists in a recent ballot. Proudfoot appears to have thought that it all needed toning down. When challenged by Proudfoot, the Cowdenbeath "hundred per centers" claimed that "no personal reflection is being cast on" such traitors, and that the sole purpose of this language was to bring its recipients closer to the Party. Proudfoot's critical position is in some respects close to that of Arthur Horner, the leading Mardy Communist, who also ran afoul of Party purists during the same period because of his refusal to carry out the policy of establishing an alternative miners union in Souh Wales. Proudfoot became the General Secretary of the UMS in early 1931 but only lasted seven months. He did not prove either popular or successful. He then withdrew from activity and Abe Moffat took over, making much more of a success of events and, in 1935 helping to lead the way back towards unity of Scottish miners by the dissolution of the UMS.

Other participants to mention in the passing are CPer Willie Allan also served as general secretary for the UMS as well as with Minority Movement. John McArthur was another miner active in the United Mineworkers of Scotland. McArthur was elected as a Communist councillor for Buckhaven on Fife County Council in the 1930s. Jimmy Shields was born in January 1900 in Greenock, Scotland, of Irish parents and joined the Communist Party in 1921. In 1925,  in search of work, Jimmy moved to South Africa, where he soon became Chairman of the South African Communist Party until 1927 when he moved back to Scotland. He  played an active part in supporting the United Mineworkers of Scotland before moving to become editor of the Daily Worker and on to spy for the Soviet Union!

According to one commentator the UMS leaders in Lanarkshire had a tendency to inflate their successes and became notorious for recklessly placing "far too much emphasis...on getting a pit idle...[using] any kind of issue, real or get the men to walk home, so that they could report that a strike had taken place." During one strike in late 1930, they invited strikers to "demand the death penalty for the 'Industrial Party plotters' then on trial in the Soviet Union."

 The United Mineworkers of Scotland were, in the words of one delegate to the 400,000 strong  Miners Federation of Great Britain conference in 1930, "loud speakers and very few listeners in".

In 1938, Abe Moffat was  elected a County Councillor, making the Communist Group of councillors five strong. He remained unbeaten as a councillor until 1944, when he left public elective office to become a full-time official for the miners  union. His brother, Alex Moffat also became an elected Communist Fife County Councillor, serving for 19 years in a seat that was held by the Party for 40 years. In 1938, with the discreet connivance of a full-time union official, both Alex and Abe were able to obtain work at a small private mine, not part of the county owners' association, largely due to their reputation for hard work. Fortunately, the union was then structured on localities not pits, so, in 1939, Abe Moffat was elected delegate for Lumphinnans, amicably replacing another brother, David, who had kept the seat warm for him! The following year he was elected to the EC of the Scottish miners' federation. He was elected President of the Scottish miners in 1942, and then proceeded to lead the campaign for a single Scottish miners' union to be created out of the county associations. After the formation of the National Union of Miners (NUM) in 1944, across the whole of Britain, he was elected the Scottish President, a position he held until his retirement in September 1961. By that time, he served on the Scottish Communist Party District Committee for at least 25 years and the Party's national Executive Committee for 30 years.

Proudfoot appears to have stayed with the Communist Party for the next decade or so. Nonetheless, his eventual break with the Communist Party became very public when he supported Labour Party candidate Tom Hubbard in a by-election in February 1944 for the Kircaldy parliamentary seat. David Proudfoot was himself elected in 1945 as a Labour Party councillor in Buckhaven & Methil and was prominent in the post-war planning and development matters; he died in 1958.

See SOYMB for history of the Communist Party Third Period and the creation of the United Clothing Workers Union

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

workers defy management

Workers at Scottish Water have rejected a pay freeze. The GMB union said there were fears the ground was being laid for a wage freeze which could last for five years.

“Members resent the fact that five directors will share a bonus pot of £90,000 each while they are being asked to accept a pay freeze.” Richard Leonard, the GMB organiser for Scottish Water said.

The union's membership had rejected the pay freeze offer, which came with a one-off payment of £250 for employees earning less than £21,000, by a margin of 62 to 38 per cent. Strike action could see key employees such as emergency call-out staff and water sewage treatments workers staying away from work during the winter.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lazy greedy workers ??

Teachers are working an extra 10 weeks a year without pay, according to new research by a major teaching union.A workload survey carried out by the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association has revealed that nearly 54% of teachers work 400 extra hours for their employers each year. The union uncovered that one in 10 teachers works more than 55 hours a week.Two out of every five secondary teachers said they were stressed during the working week.

Collected during December, February and March, the workload survey revealed that more than a quarter of teachers worked between 45 and 50 hours a week, 16% worked between 50 and 55 hours, and 10% regularly worked in excess of 55 hours.

The union also overwhelmingly voted to oppose the establishment of trust schools, which would see schools run by communities at arms-length from local authorities.The SSTA said trust schools are “about saving money, not about improving education”.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Sweet Pickings

David Leslie Fruits , a Perthshire fruit farm , has been ordered to pay more than £26,000 to two fruit pickers. During their time at the farm they lived among 200 workers in cramped metal cabins with no running water or lockers for personal belongings. Workers were also expected to drag a sledge half a mile, unpaid, before spending between 10-11 hours a day in fields picking fruit.

After working for the firm for a month, Mr Kowal and Mr Obieglo asked Mr Leslie to clarify what their rate of pay was after some workers received between £1 and £5 per hour.As a result, the men were threatened then sacked but were later reinstated when other workers, who relied on their translation abilities, said they would go on strike. When the pair presented a 145-name petition calling on Mr Leslie to pay fair wages and to give them the minimum wage, they were accused of stealing fruit, told to collect their belongings and escorted from the farm by police. Eventually the pair were taken to Perth bus station by officers and told to board buses for either Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Judge Hosie said "They were treated appallingly, without any common decency or respect, and left frightened and humiliated."

Socialist Courier notes the farmer was fined , but we await details of the discipline taken by so called the upholders of law and order who ordered those exploited workers out of town and protected the interests of the bosses .

Monday, May 26, 2008

A new International

Even in the 19th Century it w2as recognised that capitalism was a world wide system and that the working class required an international workers association to effectively resist the bosses .

Once again trade unions are recognising the global effects of the employers and are re-organising appropriately .

The Finiancial Times reports a historic alliance between Unite, Britain's biggest trade union, and the almost 1m-strong United Steelworkers union in North America is about to create the first transatlantic union, with more than 2.5m working members.

The move is designed to provide greater protection for workers whose jobs are threatened by the spread of global capitalism. The UK and US partners hope unions from other countries will join the alliance, increasing its strength.

Amicus had previously signed co-operation deals with USW and the International Association of Machinists in the US, and the IG Metall union in Germany, while the T&G had forged working relationships in the US with the Teamsters and SEIU, the services sector union.

Previous examples of cross-border union co-operation include T&G's support for the Teamsters' campaign against FirstGroup, the UK-based bus and train operator accused of frustrating attempts by unions to organise workers at its expanding US business.

"One of the main reasons for the merger between Amicus and the T&G was our desire to create an international trade union that would be able to deal with multinational companies on an equal footing and organise working people in even greater numbers," said Derek Simpson, Unite's joint general secretary last year."Multinational companies are pushing down wages and conditions for workers the world over by playing one national workforce off against another. The only beneficiaries of globalisation are the exploiters of working people and the only way working people can resist this is to organise and band together."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Being Taken to the Cleaners

Goldman Sachs is to pay its staff more than £8bn in salaries, benefits and Christmas bonuses this year. The handout follows another bumper year of profits for the US investment bank. Staff worldwide could expect to receive an average of £320,000 this year . Not bad at all for some .

But for the others - It's not too good .

Some 120 cleaners - who clean the Goldman Sachs London offices - campaign for Justice for Cleaners , to give every cleaner in the City of London a decent wage , sick pay, a pension, 20 days' holiday and bank holidays, as well as collective bargaining through the union.

The 120 cleaners employed by Mitie , a contractor, say their numbers have been cut but their workload has not. They are asking for a rise to a London living wage of £7.05 an hour from the presnt wage-rate of about £5.35 .