the politics of workplace trade unionism: recent tendencies and some problems for theory

Richard Hyman asks whether leadership and bureaucracy are synonymous, and looks at the meaning of rank-and-filism and structural limitations on union democracy. Although dating from 1979 this Capital and Class piece offers insights on themes raised in recent The Commune discussions on the nature of trade unionism.

The aim of this paper(1) is above all to stimulate discussion: firstly about the nature and significance of the changes which have occurred in British trade unionism (particularly at shop-floor level) since the 1960s; secondly about the implications of these changes for the analyses of union democracy and union leadership which are popular on the left.(2) Much of the argument is tentative or exploratory; constructive criticism will be very welcome. Continue reading “the politics of workplace trade unionism: recent tendencies and some problems for theory”

rank and file versus bureaucracy in the unions?

Barry (Sheffield) poses questions on the nature of trade unionism as part of the preparations for the discussion at our 12th December aggregate meeting.

This look at the platform followed some recent criticism that the platform did not have a communist understanding of the nature of trade unions. For these critics the platform suggested that a communist rank and file could win the fight against the bueaucracy in the unions and take them over or control them, to turn them into revolutionary organisations. Continue reading “rank and file versus bureaucracy in the unions?”

union sell-outs – disbelief and dialectics

by Adam Ford

Many postal workers and their supporters were left disgusted and disbelieving on Bonfire Night. Billy Hayes and his Communication Workers Union executive had unanimously voted to sabotage a series of strikes which enjoyed widespread support, and guaranteed there would be no strikes until after Christmas. What’s more, they had gained nothing concrete in return. When the new year comes around, Royal Mail will still be looking to make thousands of workers redundant, and attack the conditions of those that remain. In the meantime, posties are already facing a meagre festive period, having lost hundreds and even thousands of pounds in wages on the picket lines.

A message on the ‘I Support the Postal Workers!’ Facebook group summed up the thoughts and feelings of many:
“All the postal workers in Stevenage are furious at the strike being called off. They feel that Royal Mail have got what they wanted eg mail being delivered for Xmas. As soon as Xmas is out of the way Royal Mail will be pushing the changes through and not giving a stuff about the workers. Some feel that they have lost wages for nothing.” Continue reading “union sell-outs – disbelief and dialectics”

what is the union bureaucracy?

by Alberto Durango, a Colombian cleaner activist whose involvement in militant organising initiatives has earned him the wrath of sub-contractor cleaning companies and the Unite union bureaucracy alike. Leerlo en castellano.


There are very few means by which the working class can arm itself with a political tool which educates the class and helps it fight the crooks who, disguised as its defenders, betray it, sell it out and make deals over its interests with the bosses. With this tribune I want to contribute something, so that those workers who come across this information might use it as a starting point for directing a discussion about the trade union bureaucracy, this great enemy of the working class, so that they can organise to combat it. First of all therefore we have to understand what characterises the trade union bureaucracy. Continue reading “what is the union bureaucracy?”

meet the new boss: the united auto workers’ union

by Adam Ford

What do you call a ‘union’ where the people at the top will directly profit from increasing the exploitation of their ‘membership’? Well, if Barack Obama gets his way, you can call it the United Auto Workers.

Yes, in return for a government rescue package, Chrysler executives and UAW bureaucrats have agreed a deal which will has important implications for the class struggle worldwide, and marks a new stage in the liquidation of official trade unions.

In common with the other ‘big three’ American auto companies (the others being General Motors and Ford), and indeed competitors around the world, Chrysler has suffered from dramatically lower sales in recent years. This situation has been catastrophically worsened by the recession, causing Chrysler and General Motors to seek a bridging loan from the Obama administration. Following the recommendations of the Wall Street-led Presidential Task Force, Obama has given the UAW majority control of Chrysler and a 38% stake in GM, charging it with attacking jobs, wages and benefits. Continue reading “meet the new boss: the united auto workers’ union”

where next for the unions?

by Steve Ryan

Recent events covered by The Commune such as the wild cat strikes and Visteon would indicate a surge in militancy amongst workers. However, look a bit deeper and there are real problems emerging in the trade union movement.

Both the wild cats and Visteon took the unions by surprise, but more telling was the lack of concrete support given by the union leaders and general union movement.

Also, as we sink into the deepest recession since the 30s the reaction of the TUC was to produce a booklet on how to spread your debts and write CVs! Continue reading “where next for the unions?”

a workers’ guide to bureaucracy

…or anyone in a movement which should be fighting but isnt

By Joe Thorne

You might have noticed that though trade unions are supposed to be workers’ organisations, they don’t always act like it.  You’ve probably noticed this first in a contrast between the energy, bravery and camaraderie of a campaigning organisation of grassroots union members at your place of work, and the general apathy, cowardice, inertia, incompetence and paternalism of higher levels of the union.  The point of this guide is to explain why something that should be so good got messed up, and what to do about it. (Also available as as a PDF.)

Continue reading “a workers’ guide to bureaucracy”