I am speaking at a Communist Party meeting on Friday about Industrial organisation and the Union/Labour movement and beyond. About how we organise in Fife through the People’s Assembly, Fife Trades Union Council, Anti-Bedroom Tax, anti-Fracking etc.
What first springs to my mind is this, below, by Marx.
I know, I know, straight away I am quoting Marx. But not to make myself relevant or even knowledgeable, because I would completely fail on both counts. But because it really does fit in with my whole take on the subject. Until you have read this of course and my gibberish is meaningless. (or is still meaningless, possibly)
Karl Marx on Trades’ unions. Their past, present and future, August 1886
Capital is concentrated social force, while the workman has only to dispose of his working force. The contract between capital and labour can therefore never be struck on equitable terms, equitable even in the sense of a society which places the ownership of the material means of life and labour on one side and the vital productive energies on the opposite side. The only social power of the workmen is their number. The force of numbers, however is broken by disunion. The disunion of the workmen is created and perpetuated by their unavoidable competition among themselves.
Trades’ Unions originally sprang up from the spontaneous attempts of workmen at removing or at least checking that competition, in order to conquer such terms of contract as might raise them at least above the condition of mere slaves. The immediate object of Trades’ Unions was therefore confined to everyday necessities, to expedience’s for the obstruction of the incessant encroachments of capital, in one word, to questions of wages and time of labour.
This activity of the Trades’ Unions is not only legitimate, it is necessary. It cannot be dispensed with so long as the present system of production lasts. On the contrary, it must be generalised by the formation and the combination of Trades’ Unions throughout all countries. On the other hand, unconsciously to themselves, the Trades’ Unions were forming centres of organisation of the working class, as the mediaeval municipalities and communes did for the middle class. If the Trades’
Unions are required for the guerrilla fights between capital and labour, they are still more important as organised agencies for superseding the very system of wages labour and capital rule.
Too exclusively bent upon the local and immediate struggles with capital, the Trades’ Unions have not yet fully understood their power of acting against the system of wages slavery itself. They therefore kept too much aloof from general social and political movements. Of late, however, they seem to awaken to some sense of their great historical mission, as appears, for instance, from their participation, in England, in the recent political movement, from the enlarged views taken of their function in the United States, and from the following resolution passed at the recent great conference of Trades’ delegates at Sheffield:
“That this Conference, fully appreciating the efforts made by the International Association to unite in one common bond of brotherhood the working men of all countries, most earnestly recommend to the various societies here represented, the advisability of becoming affiliated to that body, believing that it is essential to the progress and prosperity of the entire working community.”
Apart from their original purposes, they must now learn to act deliberately as organising centres of the working class in the broad interest of its complete emancipation.
They must aid every social and political movement tending in that direction. Considering themselves and acting as the champions and representatives of the whole working class, they cannot fail to enlist the non-society men into their ranks. They must look carefully after the interests of the worst paid trades, such as the agricultural labourers, rendered powerless by exceptional circumstances. They must convince the broad masses of workers that their efforts, far from being narrow and selfish, aim at the emancipation of the downtrodden millions.
Now my gibberish:
The worst conclusion here is that the last 2 paragraphs are just as meaningful now as they were in 1886.
“Apart from their original purposes, they must now learn to act deliberately as organising centres of the working class in the broad interest of its complete emancipation.
They must aid every social and political movement tending in that direction. Considering themselves and acting as the champions and representatives of the whole working class”
Unite have taken this concept on board with their Community Membership scheme and the Fight for 5 Campaign. Even the STUC with massive support from Unite have launched the very successful Better than Zero Campaign here in Scotland.
These initiatives are moving the Unionised concept beyond the Industrial, workplace and branch inwardly looking organisation, to one that has begun to look out with its confines and to truly try and reach out to all workers. Not just those in traditional workplaces or within public services, but to those who are within the huge service industries, of zero hours and precarious contracts.
This is what I was looking for in a Union organisation, before I even read the Marx quote above. This was the ideal I sought that proved that Unions are not a sop to Capitalism, that they are capable of more than just “class collaboration”. That they can and will take up the struggles and fight for the betterment of the whole working class. Where narrow and inward looking industrial and branch concepts are widened to include the whole class war. A war that is waged on us all.
Too often in the past, from the complicit support of the War in 1914, to the betrayal of the 1926 General strike, to the Miners Strike in 1984, have our trade unions been found failing of collective action. Too many times have individual and then collectively, through the TUC and STUC, conceded to “class collaboration” and sold our souls to the devil. (I am working on a whole diatribe about the Unions and the TUC failures and class collaboration of the past)
So much for the past and near present. What is happening now?
In Fife we now have a vibrant Trades Council that organises one of the best International Women’s Day events in the country. Whose Workers Memorial Day is going from strength to strength every year, with this year’s being one of the best attended in the country. Who have introduced the first May Day march and rally in Fife. Who are organisers and supporters of Fife and the national People’s Assembly groups. Supporters of all anti-fascist/racist groups. Who support all trade union industrial activities. Who although small in the scheme of things punch way above their weight on activity.
We have Fife People’s Assembly Against Austerity, the first PA in Scotland. Who have the full support of Fife Trades Council and affiliations from individual Union branches from Unite and Unison. Who have waged campaigns in conjunction with all Union branches against the Council budget cuts, cuts to NHS Fife.
With support of our local unions we have produced leaflets to give to people outside job Centre’s and People’s Assembly counter propaganda.
We have waged successful campaigns against Benefit Sanctions, Workfare, TTiP/CETA/TISA, UGE, Sports Direct and next Amazon.
We have held many public meetings, street stalls and actions and all with the support of the local trades unions.
This is exactly what Marx advocated. Trade Unions and Communities combining to support each other. This is the only way forward. This is the only future we have collectively. Out with political constraints, but with a collective outlook and aims. We are making this a reality within Fife People’s Assembly.
We are in fact Marxists, even if we don’t realise it.