Sunday, March 7, 2010

The inherent flaws in the trade union movement

I found this enlightening essay by Ulrich Rippert a day or so back:

The rightward evolution of the trade unions arises out of fundamental
features of this form of organisation. In his lecture “Marxism and the Trade
Unions,” the chairman of the World Socialist Web Site international
editorial board, David North, stated: “Standing on the basis of capitalist
production relations, the trade unions are, by their very nature, compelled to
adopt an essentially hostile attitude toward the class struggle. Directing their
efforts toward securing agreements with employers that fix the price of labour
power and determine the general conditions in which surplus value will be pumped
out of the workers, the trade unions are obliged to guarantee that their members
supply their labour power in accordance with the terms of the negotiated
contracts. As Gramsci noted, ‘The union represents legality, and must aim to
make its members respect that legality.’

“The defence of legality means the suppression of the class struggle,
which, in the very nature of things, means that the trade unions ultimately
undermine their ability to achieve even the limited aims to which they are
officially dedicated. Herein lies the contradiction upon which trade unionism


Red Frog said...

Trade unions negotiate a better price for your slave labor. In doing this they support the wage-labor system, so, yes, they are not revolutionary organizations.

However, this is not news, to David North or others. The question is how to involve oneself in a trade union, while trying to take it beyond its limits. That is the connundrum.

I think the answer only resides in what is happening outside the trade union.

AA said...

"Trying to take it beyond its limits" does not work in practice. The unions are an inherent part of the system of capitalist exploitation, perhaps mitigating some on the worst features of predatory capitalism for the union members (though even this can now be debated). Yet at the same time there is a bit of a conundrum as to what will work and even what the ends are. What kind of radically new society can we envisage? If we can't, no matter what we do, we'll end up with the same thing again as it's the default state. That's the saving grace of predatory capitalism, and global militarism: it's the default state when you have a small number of intelligent psychopaths and a large number of dull and apathetic sheep.