How to transform unions

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Jacob Richter
How to transform unions

In the late 19th-century and early 20th-century, trade unions:

1) Were in fact alliances of the employed and unemployed (unemployed former workers and retired workers, not to be confused with the lumpen);

2) Provided social services;

3) Showed a lot less hesitance towards calling strikes; and

4) sometimes posed political questions.

Out of all these came the "One Big Union" and "socialist industrial union" concepts, which didn't unite workers on merely a sectional basis.

Today, a tred-iunion (I'm using Russian here to describe "yellow" unions, "business unions," etc.) caters only to its particular section of the working class, doesn't provide social services (except perhaps entertainment for bureaucrats :rolleyes: ), pays lip service to the very concept of strikes (signing no-strike deals, for example), never poses political questions, and even organizes sometimes on the basis of craft and not trade.

Heck, a tred-iunion doesn't perform the functions of "[URL=http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm]wor...' statistical commissions[/URL]" to check on the business figures of the capitalists.

Back in the 1920s, Trotsky had a very interesting proposal to save the Russian economy (including the enhancement of the statistical function): incorporate the unions into the state structure (similar to what Chavez is trying to do right now in Venezuela).  In Germany, the ultra-left KAPD stated that "the unions are thus, alongside the bourgeois substructure, one of the principal pillars of the capitalist state."  A generalization would be wrong, of course, since proper trade unions should remain independent of the bourgeois state.

However, in today's context, since a modern tred-iunion resorts to negotiation and mediation (between the bosses and the union rank-and-file, not "on behalf of the employees"), should that kind of organization be incorporated into the bourgeois state apparatus and compliment, say, labour courts?

Basically, this means that collective bargaining should become a bourgeois state function, a "free" legal service.

Unionist

You'd think, from reading that ahistorical and somewhat incoherent account, that the capitalists actually like to have unions around their workplace to do "negotiation and mediation" "between the bosses and the union rank-and-file".

Only someone who has never set foot near a real industrial workplace or worker or union could pontificate in this fashion.

Sorry, Jacob, but an opening post which requires prior acceptance of spurious axioms in order to begin discussion just doesn't cut it.

Maybe you could start more simply by giving some real-life examples of the dramatic thread title that you've chosen.

 

genstrike

 

Jacob Richter wrote:
Heck, a tred-iunion doesn't perform the functions of "[URL=http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm]wor...' statistical commissions[/URL]" to check on the business figures of the capitalists.

You know, just the other day I was talking to a guy at the bar who was telling me that he hates unions because they don't perform the function of a workers statistical commission

Jacob Richter

Unionist wrote:
You'd think, from reading that ahistorical and somewhat incoherent account

Care to elaborate upon this?

Quote:
that the capitalists actually like to have unions around their workplace to do "negotiation and mediation" "between the bosses and the union rank-and-file".

Of course they don't.  Neither do they like caps to the workweek, minimum wage laws, unlawful termination penalties, etc.  Then again, they don't like lawyers ("free legal services" or otherwise), either.

Quote:
Only someone who has never set foot near a real industrial workplace or worker or union could pontificate in this fashion.

I've been a member of a union for a brief time, and I'm quite near workers.  They're just not "industrial" workers if you mean just factory workers, mining workers, and other manual workers.

Quote:
Maybe you could start more simply by giving some real-life examples of the dramatic thread title that you've chosen.

On other boards I chose less bombastic titles.

genstrike wrote:
Jacob Richter wrote:
Heck, a tred-iunion doesn't perform the functions of "[URL=http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm]wor...' statistical commissions[/URL]" to check on the business figures of the capitalists.

You know, just the other day I was talking to a guy at the bar who was telling me that he hates unions because they don't perform the function of a workers statistical commission

Again, I chose a bombastic title.  The point about the inherently class-collaborationist nature of collective bargaining (as opposed to the five or so aforementioned functions of a genuinely pro-worker trade union) still stands.

triciamarie

Jacob Richter, I'm not insensitive to the issues you raise. However the thread title that you call bombastic, I call offensive, and it has no place in the babble labour forum. This issue has already been addressed by the moderator in the previous thread that purported to be about the reasons why people hate unions.

kathleen

Jacob Richter wrote:

In the late 19th-century and early 20th-century, trade unions:

1) Were in fact alliances of the employed and unemployed (unemployed former workers and retired workers, not to be confused with the lumpen);

2) Provided social services;

3) Showed a lot less hesitance towards calling strikes; and

4) sometimes posed political questions.

Out of all these came the "One Big Union" and "socialist industrial union" concepts, which didn't unite workers on merely a sectional basis.

 

I'm game for "One Big Union". Better than what passes for labour standards in NS. Maybe more like universal health care?

Jacob Richter

I suppose a moderator can change the thread title. Smile

Michelle

Okay, I'll change it, then.  I'll just change it to, "How to transform unions".

radiorahim radiorahim's picture

I can see some early efforts at transforming the way unions are doing things.   For example in Toronto, the Steelworkers have created a new organization called "Voice of Workers Without Jobs".   It's an effort to keep workers who've lost their jobs active in the union.

The Toronto & York Region Labour Council has been working with community organizations to create the "Good Jobs Coalition".  They were active in pushing the $10 Minimum Wage Campaign which resulted in the McGuinty government raising the minimum wage much faster than they otherwise would have.   More recently, they've been organizing a "Fix EI Campaign".

The TYLC also now allows student unions to affiliate.

These are small things, but moves in the right direction.

 

yarg

Im not sure we need to transform unions, we need more legistlation to protect the rights of workers to form unions and to strike when needed, ultimately it's the only power you have, and believe me when you lose that you have nothing at all.  Employers generally don't care about you, they say different, they will lie to you and embrace you as brothers until they have an excuse to downsize you, if you can't make them pay for that you're just a peasant on the lord's land.

munroe

I do get frustrated that organised labour is sometimes not all that well "organised".  I have seen several initiatives by individual unions that deserve to be broadly analysed and considered by the movement.  Stealing good ideas is not theft, methinks.

I am impressed by the concept of Stewards' conference that I believe was pioneered in Toronto.  I like the idea of the Grey-Bruce Labour Council in pushing to incorporate music and a good website.  My former employer, the BCGEU, has created "associate memberships" for child care workers to enhance the drive for universal daycare.  The GEU also sponsors a campaign, "Cool Communities", to press for real environmental solutions.  It has also developed programmes for young workers with real authority and offers a significant and decentralised education programme for members.  The GEU is hardly a leftwing organisation, but has invited those of us from the left to participate and speak in their programmes.

Yes, much much more must be done.  There are ideas out there that need to be spread.  I remeber reading historical files from the movement in Prince Rupert and was impressed with materials from a "labour school" offered in the 1930s and 1940s. 

All is not lost...

Unionist

Hey munroe - good post - but in your ample spare time Smile, could you take a peek at [url=this">http://www.rabble.ca/babble/labour-and-consumption/shrinking-workforce-w... thread also[/url] and see if you can help with my questions?

You too please, triciamarie!

Likewise to any other women (especially) who may have opinions or information on that matter...

Sorry for the drift.

 

Jacob Richter

kathleen wrote:
Jacob Richter wrote:
Out of all these came the "One Big Union" and "socialist industrial union" concepts, which didn't unite workers on merely a sectional basis.

I'm game for "One Big Union". Better than what passes for labour standards in NS. Maybe more like universal health care?

Yes, the "one big union" concept unites workers across all industries, unemployed former workers, and retired workers.  BTW, what does UHC have to do with the topic, other than the suggested provision of collective bargaining being similar to fully public-based UHC?

triciamarie

Unionist, you are asking for input on improving women's status in society relative to men.

In my union, OPSEU, the majority of front-line stewards are women. To a certain extent this reflects the composition of our membership, but I also see it as an outgrowth of the traditional feminine caretaking role, since stewards in OPSEU typically do a lot of hand-holding and exercise very little formal authority.

Particularly for OPSEU members who work directly for the government (the Ontario Public Service), bargaining and organizational structures are highly centralized. The same also extends to the grievance procedure, paradoxically due to the OPSEU constitution which allows individual members to decide for themselves whether or not to pursue any grievance, effectively transferring ownership and control of grievances and settlements to remote unelected head office staff. The situation is greatly exacerbated by the almost complete lack of control over hiring and promotion practices, in part due to legislation and centrally-negotiated agreements that mean government workers can almost never contest their own or anyone else's classification, rate of pay, or the work they are assigned to perform, over the short or long term.

A transformative improvement for OPSEU then would be to consolidate and cede some real authority to front-line local activists, to give them a more visible and productive leadership role amongst their peers.

Jacob Richter

radiorahim wrote:
These are small things, but moves in the right direction.

Indeed, but as I have learned over the past week or two, this "self help" in the "state aid vs. self help" debate can go only so far (like the other extreme, of course).

triciamarie

I have no idea what that means. Smile

Jacob Richter

What he described is workers' self-initiative within the unions: "working with community organizations to create the 'Good Jobs Coalition'; allowing student unions to affiliate; etc.

 

I would also add things like capping the pay within union bureaucracies to the compensation level of the average worker in those unions.

 

However, what I proposed above is "state aid" in accelerating the process by means of legislation.

Tommy_Paine

 

Collective Bargaining is one function of the Union that gets the most attention from the media, from the public and the membership.

However, that's hardly the entire picture.  The fact that I have layers of skilled expertise in employment law, worker's compensation, E.I., and health and safety is something just as valuable but rarely discussed.

And these are things that could be brought to today's youth and others, without a workplace having to be organized in the traditional way.

A non profit organization of paralegals that would represent workers on those fronts and others is something I see a real practicle need for.  Particularly if there was attention paid to education, which would include the idea of what a similar organization could do for them if they were allowed to bargain for them collectively, also.

 

Jacob Richter

Unionist wrote:
The average worker? Why not the lowest-paid member? Or why have fulltime union reps at all? Let them put it a shift in the plant, then fight the capitalists in their spare time? I like your ideas, brother. - Sam Walton

What does that uber-capitalist Sam Walton have to do with average workers' wages?  This is merely applying one of the lessons of the Paris Commune (compensation levels for all public officials as we know them today) to unions.

Jacob Richter

Tommy, you're a labour lawyer?

Tommy_Paine

 

Took me a moment to figure out why you'd ask such a thing.  That was very poor writting on my part.  Looking back, I think I mentally edited half way through the sentence, rendering a false impression.

I should have said,  I have access to layers of expertise, as a union member.

Sorry for missleading you.

Jacob Richter

Thanks for clarifying, but what role do you see for the state, as I have?

triciamarie

I see no direct role for the state acting for workers in collective bargaining and that is informed by my experience with the government as my employer.

However I do think your idea is very interesting, Tommy_Paine. As it stands currently there is a web of agencies that deal with some of the issues you enumerate, and more, but each of them has its own areas of expertise. There is very little overlap between for example those who know about Disability Support Program and Canada Pension Plan entitlement, and those who offer assistance with immigration status. There are also clinics that deal exclusively with occupational health, and others like mine which provide representation for workers' compensation appeals. Injured workers' groups advocate for improvements in the compensation system. As noted above, a few agencies are working with unions on improving legislation to benefit the poor. Some law firms do a lot of pro bono cases for specific disadvantaged client groups. There are some limited government services to assist EI recipients. Unions do work in several of these areas with an additional focus on employment law. There is a big dark hole around employment issues including wrongful termination for non-union members, as well as other civil litigation issues, for everyone. Some criminal matters are dealt with through legal aid.

Only the unions are dealing with collective bargaining.

Competence would be a problem in any legal clinic that tried to deal with all of these issues, or even all of the employment issues, since the law is very specific for each one of these silos, and there are many different application and appeal processes in multiple forums (though not as much in Quebec). On the other hand, union activists know that it is indeed possible to develop working knowledge in all of the different areas you mention. If direct advocacy in all these areas by a free-standing clinic was impractical (or prohibited under the Ontario Law Society's paralegal regulations), the least that such an agency could do would be to serve as a clearinghouse for reliable information and referrals to specialized clinics. They could keep on top of the deadlines for filing applications, and help people meet those time limits on their own. They could give them some idea of the range of alternatives that might be available, including the benefits of collective bargaining.

What is needed to start is a working group across all these different areas to share information and come up with ideas for putting this in practice.

Could such a service be run out of a union or labour federation? Possibly, possibly not.

KenS

Just curiousity: what did the thread title used to be?

Don't want to dig up anything contentious, just too [purely] curious not to ask.

triciamarie

I hear you.

Unionist

KenS wrote:

Just curiousity: what did the thread title used to be?

Don't want to dig up anything contentious, just too [purely] curious not to ask.

From memory, I believe it read:

"Don't tell Ken about this thread!"

Laughing

Actually, it was something like "Why workers hate unions and what to do about it" - at least the first part was like that.

 

Jacob Richter

The second part was "and how to transform them."

triciamarie wrote:
I see no direct role for the state acting for workers in collective bargaining and that is informed by my experience with the government as my employer.

I must say that my perspective is that of a Marxist, non-unionized worker in the private sector who's frustrated by the myopia of today's tred-iunions.  Such organizations in the private sector are more hesitant to mobilize worker actions (not just strikes).

Jacob Richter

As I am writing the appropriate commentary for this policy proposal, I must add the obvious difficulties in unionizing otherwise receptive private-sector service workers.

triciamarie

???

Unionist

The average worker? Why not the lowest-paid member? Or why have fulltime union reps at all? Let them put in a shift in the plant, then fight the capitalists in their spare time? I like your ideas, brother. - Sam Walton

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

When I was involved in advocacy for the poor, through an anti-poverty organization, we faced the deliberate strategy of government of (successfully) prying apart the advocacy/political component of our activities from all of our other activities. One of the ways that government did this was to use funding, and so-called "charitable" status, to politically neutralize the organization. (Rich people are terrified of the poor becoming organized and, in my view, they still are.) Anyway, there were traitors (to the poor) in the organization who liked this and who found a way to promote themselves in the anti-poverty organization at the expense of those, like me, who were more activist-oriented.

This is a common strategy of government. It is sometimes called co-optation. The activists are turned into bureaucrats. Their very natural concern for their own well being is turned into a lever by which their activism is subverted, by helping those who are against activism.

Anyway, the very idea of prying apart the administrative aspect of a union from the more political activities sounds like the same idea.

NO THANKS.

Jacob Richter

Um, collective bargaining isn't political, and most strikes aren't (i.e., strikes for universal suffrage, strikes against imperialist war, etc.).

Quote:
Anyway, there were traitors (to the poor) in the organization who liked this and who found a way to promote themselves in the anti-poverty organization at the expense of those, like me, who were more activist-oriented.

Isn't that analoguous to the division between today's trade union militants and the tred-iunionisty at the top?  Co-optation has already occurred in the form of business unionism, Western European government-business-union corporatism, and so on.

Unless you really think that collective bargaining as a function is the same as striking.

I am merely suggesting a way to hasten the promotion of red unions at the expense of yellow ones.  If you're referring to collective bargaining as being administrative, keep in mind that there other other administrative functions that red unions do and can do.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Red unions? More "reds" maybe, but I don't see it.

Collective bargaining is the process of preparing for the next strike (or lockout). Any trade union militant - who, often, couldn't give a shit about capitalism, socialism, or any OTHER "ism" - could and would tell you that. They understand very well that nothing comes without a fight, and in order to win the next fight one must prepare for it as soon as the last fight has ended. But this isn't anything more than very militant trade union consciousness. It isn't a higher form of class consciousness.

And that's why we have political parties. Another reason we have political parties is that the compromise that is the foundation of current labour law - trade unions bargain collective agreements, during the course of which they are not allowed to strike (and the boss isn't allowed to lock them out) - constrains trade unions from going beyond their structurally defined role. Sure, there is such thing as political strikes, even general strikes, but these aren't really positive programs of policy and so on.

Perhaps the question needs to be posed in a completely different manner. From another direction. What organizational form would encourage the raising of (various forms of ) class consciousness among working people? Political parties, yes, but also various movements can do this. And let the trade unions be. They still have an important role to play. Just not the leading role in social life.

 

Jacob Richter

Comrade, I posted the above commentary as a staunch advocate of the 19th-century party-movement model, which is far beyond what you call "political parties" and "various movements" (hence the answer to your question).  Also, my proposal is based on sympathies with left-communist ("ultra-left") hostilities towards trade unions (the apparatuses of which propelled the SPD to betray the German workers in 1914 after being recognized by the party as equals); the program of the Communist Workers Party of Germany called for the smashing of trade unions along with "all power to the soviets."  They just went about it the wrong way, ignoring the other functions that 19th-century trade unions performed:

http://libcom.org/library/programme-of-the-communist-workers-party-of-germany-kapd-may-1920

Quote:
the compromise that is the foundation of current labour law - trade unions bargain collective agreements, during the course of which they are not allowed to strike (and the boss isn't allowed to lock them out) - constrains trade unions from going beyond their structurally defined role

In my proposal, a similar pause might occur, at least for one side: while the "independent government agency" apparatus negotiates a new deal, the employers can't lock out the employees.  The employees themselves can still reject the proposals of the IGA and go on strike.

Again, my question deals with which organizational form enables workers to carry out their usual struggles against their direct employers.  It isn't the modern tred-iunion.

welder welder's picture

Transforming unions...

One problem I've always thought about alot of private sector trade unions is that they are far too "provincial" and quasi-elitist.

Here's why...

Alot of trade unions claim to be "international",and to some degree,they are correct.The USW,International Brotherhood of Boilermakers,IBEW,Pipefitters,Ironworkers,etc.are all international and locals are affiliated(USW excepted).But they're only "international" in North America ,and they might affiliate with likeminded unions in Europe.That's great,as far as a base of operations go,but does'nt get to the heart of why the union movement and its relevence,is waning.

The fact of the matter is that neo-liberal economic policies over the last 30 years have allowed companies to move productive manufactiring and skilled trade jobs to lower wage jurisdictions overseas.Most unions rightfully claim this is a HUGE problem,but only fight that problem in the industrialized West.The real fight for labour is the same fight that was fought 50 to 70 years ago in the West...It's just that it now needs to be fought in Central and South America,Africa,the Asian sub-continent,and,the Far East.The only way to keep our standard of living here,is to raise it there!!The same bloody fight that happened here years ago MUST be taken to these crypto-fascist corporate regimes by these "international" unions,in (most likely and unfortunately) the same violent and bloody fashion.

Those with the money and power never want to give it up without a fight.Everything the labour movement has fought and won for in North American and Europe was paid for in violence and blood.It's that same direct confrontation that is necessary in areas of the world where unions are either extortion arms of the government,or illegal alltogether.The provinciality must stop and the "us against them" must stop.

That's internationally with repect to the 3rd world.As afr as North America goes,a serious confrontation with the corporate forces behind RTW/Open Shop policies has to take place.RTW/Open Shop is nothing short of union busting through the back door under the guise of freedom of choice.

That's my 2 cents worth.....

Unionist

You hit the spot, welder!

 

welder welder's picture

I think I flashed myself...

 

I can't wait for the delayed effect 6 hours from now....

NorthReport

Welcome welder, and good post.

welder welder's picture

Thanks...I've lurked here for a little while..I fear some here are'nt going to like the fact that I'm not really a "leftist" or a died in the wool "Dipper".

I have my problems with the left and the right..Maybe I'm just confused?

 

Jacob Richter

I agree with welder's concerns, and I have written about the lack of full internationalism on the part of union struggles, but how can any big union have the time to address Third World concerns if the bulk of their time is spent performing the collective bargaining?

KenS

They can never adeuetly address those concerns.

[Back to Beltov's reply- why we have political parties.]

You didn't answer to that- which to my mind was, why should we NOT see them as seperate 'compartments': collective bargaining is a necessity, and by nature has certain consequences.

We know why the two different 'compartments' is not ideal. The alternative is ______, its weaknesses are ______ .... juggle the two [or many] and.....

Jacob Richter

OK, now I am confused about what you've said.  My commentary sees collective bargaining as being separate from strikes, themselves being separate from other separate union activity.  Were you saying that I should argue that the first function isn't a separate one?

As for your remarks in parentheses, I already mentioned above the 19th-century party-movement model as *the* model, as I have in previous threads.

triciamarie

It's bizarre to me to suggest hiving off collective bargaining from contract enforcement, health and safety and all the other functions that a union serves -- much less handing bargaining over to some government agency to perform. Frankly I can't think of a less democratic model than that. This is a good example of the prevailing problem of non-unionized academics and pundits pontificating on how unions run and what they should do.

Sineed

welder wrote:

The fact of the matter is that neo-liberal economic policies over the last 30 years have allowed companies to move productive manufactiring and skilled trade jobs to lower wage jurisdictions overseas.  Most unions rightfully claim this is a HUGE problem,but only fight that problem in the industrialized West.  The real fight for labour is the same fight that was fought 50 to 70 years ago in the West...It's just that it now needs to be fought in Central and South America,Africa, the Asian sub-continent,and,the Far East.  The only way to keep our standard of living here,is to raise it there!!  The same bloody fight that happened here years ago MUST be taken to these crypto-fascist corporate regimes by these "international" unions, in (most likely and unfortunately) the same violent and bloody fashion. (etc...)

Fabulous post!  Goes to the heart of what's wrong.

(back to lurking...)

triciamarie

Unions consist of union members, and believe me, it can be a tough row to hoe to get a majority of members onside with any plan that benefits workers in developing nations to the detriment of our own situation here.

In this unions are no different than any other kind of political organization.

Jacob Richter

triciamarie wrote:
It's bizarre to me to suggest hiving off collective bargaining from contract enforcement, health and safety and all the other functions that a union serves -- much less handing bargaining over to some government agency to perform. Frankly I can't think of a less democratic model than that. This is a good example of the prevailing problem of non-unionized academics and pundits pontificating on how unions run and what they should do.

I'm not an academic or pundit, but an actual worker in a non-unionized environment.  The big beneficiaries of this policy would be the currently non-unionized service workers, who would have free access to an IGA (independent government agency) apparatus that would do the collective bargaining for them.  WAL-MART, anyone?

If such workers are too reformist-minded, then they'll be content with the IGA proposals.  If they're more class-conscious, they may strike.

Something similar should occur in the Third World, too.  There the more radical unions would have even more time to organize strikes and such.

Sineed

triciamarie wrote:

Unions consist of union members, and believe me, it can be a tough row to hoe to get a majority of members onside with any plan that benefits workers in developing nations to the detriment of our own situation here.

In this unions are no different than any other kind of political organization.

True - however, as long as unions insist on occupying the moral high ground, claiming to promote progressive change in the wider community and not just represent the interests of the rank and file, they invite criticism for not following through.

welder welder's picture

Jacob Richter wrote:

triciamarie wrote:
It's bizarre to me to suggest hiving off collective bargaining from contract enforcement, health and safety and all the other functions that a union serves -- much less handing bargaining over to some government agency to perform. Frankly I can't think of a less democratic model than that. This is a good example of the prevailing problem of non-unionized academics and pundits pontificating on how unions run and what they should do.

I'm not an academic or pundit, but an actual worker in a non-unionized environment.  The big beneficiaries of this policy would be the currently non-unionized service workers, who would have free access to an IGA (independent government agency) apparatus that would do the collective bargaining for them.  WAL-MART, anyone?

If such workers are too reformist-minded, then they'll be content with the IGA proposals.  If they're more class-conscious, they may strike.

Something similar should occur in the Third World, too.  There the more radical unions would have even more time to organize strikes and such.

 

Just so you understand...A strike is not the goal.It's the nuclear bomb option that should only be used as a last resort.The goal is recognition and a respect for the process....

Jacob Richter

I know that strikes are means to an end.  However, the pre-WWI SPD conducted political strikes to get universal suffrage, so limited political strikes on key political issues (public officials on median skilled workers' wages, recall of all public officials, etc.) shouldn't be left off the table, either.

welder welder's picture

triciamarie wrote:

Unions consist of union members, and believe me, it can be a tough row to hoe to get a majority of members onside with any plan that benefits workers in developing nations to the detriment of our own situation here.

In this unions are no different than any other kind of political organization.

 

Totally agree...I hate to say this but alot of blue collar organized workforces are'nt very worldly.I'm not saying they are bigoted(although some are),but they just can't seem to see things beyond what's right in front of them.It's very hard to make the case that our lives will be bettered if the standard of living of a Chinese coal miner is bettered,as well.But it's that very thing that will force multinational corporations from going to low wage jurisdictions just to take advantage of cheap labour.

The fact of the matter is,our standard of living in the West will continue to plummett as long as labour in the 3rd world does not have the means to bargain collectively with independent unions...

Jacob Richter

Private-Sector Collective Bargaining as a Free Legal Service

"Free administration of justice and free legal assistance.  Administration of the law by judges elected by the people.  Appeal in criminal cases.  Compensation for individuals unjustly accused, imprisoned, or sentenced.  Abolition of capital punishment." (Eduard Bernstein)

In the late 19th-century and early 20th-century, trade unions were in fact alliances of employed workers and otherwise (unemployed workers, retired workers, and so on), provided social services, showed a lot less hesitance towards calling strikes, and sometimes posed political questions.  Out of these came the One Big Union and Socialist Industrial Union concepts, neither of which united workers on merely a sectional basis.

Contrast the above to a modern, "yellow" tred-iunion, which caters only to its particular section of the working class (such as public-sector workers), doesn't provide social services (except perhaps entertainment for the tred-iunionisty who control the union bureaucracy), pays lip service to the very concept of strikes to the point of signing no-strike deals, never poses political questions (as demonstrated clearly by United Steelworkers of America's approach to workers' cooperatives), and even organizes sometimes on the basis of craft and not trade (as is the case in the airline industry).  As mentioned earlier, the modern tred-iunion also does not perform the functions of "workers' statistical commissions" to audit the business figures of employers.

All in all, what is to be learned from these trends is that the collective bargaining function itself, except perhaps where there are no union representatives, goes against politico-ideological independence for the working class.  Amongst the various forms of dispute resolution in civil law - negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and litigation - tred-iunion careerists perform not just negotiation on the formal behalf of employees, but also (and in practice) mediation between employers and employees.  The old Western European corporatist model best exemplifies this, whereby representatives of government, businesses, and unions met together on a regular basis and jointly determined economic policy.

Looming over this lesson and the trends is the difficulty of mobilizing clerical workers (who are mistaken for the entire "service worker" population, which includes professional workers).  While the comprehensive reform outlined in the previous section - for living wages, non-deflationary cost-of-living adjustments based on reliable inflation figures, and similar application towards unemployment insurance and voluntary workface benefits - would indeed render collective bargaining for those wage increases for mere cost-of-living adjustments practically obsolete, the overall problem of collective bargaining would still remain, such as in the obvious topics of working conditions and wage increases well above mere cost-of-living adjustments.

The immediate solution once more lies in the Erfurt Program, this time in its demand for free legal assistance.  However, what should be pursued here is the wholesale absorption of all private-sector collective bargaining into free legal services by independent government agencies acting in good faith.  Significant parts of the administrative apparatus required for the complete provision of labour dispute resolution by such agencies and their plethora of lawyers are already in place in developed capitalist countries, and happen to be called "labour courts" or "labour relations boards."  Public-sector collective bargaining is not addressed, given the sensitivity of public-sector workers towards their government employers.

It should be noted that the collective bargaining function as a whole is different from the strike function, the latter of which should naturally remain the function of whatever unions remain, including "red" unions.  In terms of facilitating the issuance of intermediate or threshold demands, there would be emancipatory demands later on pertaining to potential restrictions on the activities of these unions, which should be able to perform all the class solidarity and statistical functions mentioned earlier.

In terms of this reform enabling the basic principles to be "kept consciously in view," politico-ideological independence for the working class, as well as exposition of the bourgeois-capitalist nature of the modern state (hence the cynicism behind "acting in good faith") and other aspects of class strugglism, is upheld by this radical departure from traditional views on collective bargaining.  This demand illustrates the false nature of the alleged dichotomy between building union-based labour parties on the one hand - a notoriously strong phenomenon on the British left-of-Labour scene, such as the left-nationalist No2EU project - and building cross-class, left-populist parties such as Respect on the other; neither option has the potential to mobilize private-sector clerical workers like this demand does.

Furthermore, this absorption, if not enacted by the bourgeoisie due to class-strugglist pressure from the workers, would have to be enacted by the latter during the early transitional period - before dissolving the businesses of the former.  Meanwhile, any "workers' statistical commission" functions arising from this reform could in fact play an important control function for social labour in this period.

 

REFERENCES:

 

Programme of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (Erfurt Programme) by Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein [[url=http://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1891/erfurt-program.htm[/url]]">http://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1891/erfu...

On Trade Unions [http://www.revleft.com/vb/trade-unions-t116838/index.html]

Steelworkers Form Collaboration with MONDRAGON, the World's Largest Worker-Owned Cooperative by the United Steelworkers of America [[url=http://www.usw.org/media_center/releases_advisories?id=0234[/url]]">http://www.usw.org/media_center/releases_advisories?id=0234]http://www.u...

No to coalition with "son of No2EU" by Mike Macnair [[url=http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/794/nocoalition.php[/url]]">http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/794/nocoalition.php]http://www.cpgb.org.uk...