Theses on the Union Question

Introduction

If one observes the draft points of unity for our Fraction, they will notice a point that is glaringly absent from it: the union-question. The union-question was a significant point of contention among the members of our Fraction; some having strong unionist-sympathies, others identifying with the historical positions of the Dutch-German Left on unions, and the rest being neutral on the issue. Those members who carried unionist-sympathies were dues-paying members of the Industrial Workers of the World for a little more than a few years, though never part of an official general membership branch. For these reasons, the union-form was not dealt with in our points of unity. It wasn’t until correspondence and coordination with Workers Offensive (based in Miami) that we further developed and solidified a position that was cleared of any unionist illusions.[1] We owe it to our discussions with Workers Offensive in formulating our theses.

Theses

  1. A union is not simply a collection of workers united for a common goal; unions are a particular form of organization with a particular end—negotiation and enforcement of labor contracts.
  2. By virtue of the properties inherent to the union-form itself, unionism can neither break with the capital-labor relationship in theory nor practice. Even the end-goal of “revolutionary” unionism—the total organization of the One Big Union—is totally limited by the presupposition of this relationship.
  3. There isn’t a meaningful distinction between “business” unionism and “rank and file” unionism. The division between the bureaucracy (those who negotiate/enforce contracts) and rank-and-file (those whom the contract is enforced upon) is an inevitable result of the labor contract as the defining feature of the union-form. As contracts continue to be won, “rank-and-file” unions will tend to produce a strata separate from the class itself assigned the task of negotiating/enforcing labor contracts.
  4. Unions were initially a defensive form of organization during the rising phase of capitalism, but in its declining phase, the unions function as an instrument of capital regulating the price of labor-power. The few gains that could be possible within existing capitalist society are achieved by the direct confrontation of the class with the wage-labor relation, effectively expressing the negation of wage-labor, which the union-form is incapable of performing.
  5. Even in terms of reformist ends, it has become increasingly apparent that the union-form is unsuitable for organizing workers in fighting for short-term demands, especially in the service sector. With the casualization of work and intensifying precarity, unions are incapable of protecting the interests of labor even as a mere factor of capital.
  6. Communists should focus on organizing workplace cells that don’t bind themselves to contracts with the employer as an alternative defensive organ of the class.
  7. In cases of workplaces that are already unionized, it would be foolish for communists to abstain from participating in the unions of their own workplaces, as such a policy would leave the rank-and-file to the unchecked assaults of the leadership, thus ruining the possibility of a revolutionary minority having a presence in the workplace.
  8. In cases where the majority of workers in a given workplace have decided to unionize, it would, again, be foolish for communists to abstain from this process in their own workplaces.
  9. Though communists should join the rank-and-file in many cases, they should always refrain from becoming a part of the leadership.
  10. Whether inside or outside of the unions, concomitant with the increasing self-organization of the class, the overall task for communists is to struggle against the unions as an instrument of capital.
  11. The IWW is not an adequate counter-example to the Marxist critiques of unionism. On the national level, the contemporary IWW is not a union, it is, for the most part, a counter-cultural civic association.
  12. In the majority of the GMBs, the IWW does not function as a union, but more as a general leftist political group that utilizes an eclectic form of organization. The Burgerville Workers Union is one of the few IWW branches that does function as a union, and the critique of unionism applies to it just as much as “business” unions.
  13. The Burgerville Workers Union doesn’t prove that widespread unionization of the service sector is possible, but demonstrates how unionization, in a specific context, can function as a public relations niche akin to “fair trade”.
  14. We affirm the thesis that the downfall of the old IWW was due to its failure to recognize itself as a political party, which has implications for today.[2] If anything, the contemporary IWW is limiting itself by positing industrial unionism as its end-goal, whereas we would encourage it to continue refocusing itself on solidarity networks and overt political struggle.
  15. Depending on the particular GMB, limited coordination with the IWW in certain struggles is not out of the question for us.

Chad Armchair and Leigh O’Rourke

References

  1. workersoffensive.org
  2. http://en.internationalism.org/ir/125-iww
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s