capitalism, labourism and the ‘trade union party’

Chris Ford introduces a 1974 piece by Tony Lane

The question of the trade unions and their relationship to working class political organisation has been an ongoing debate in the labour movement for many many years; it has become especially prominent in the last decade.  In 1974 Tony Lane wrote the thought provoking book The Union Makes Us Strong: The British Working Class and the Politics of Trade Unionism. By considering the history of the labour movement Lane looked at the political consciousness of the rank and file, and the ways in which union leaders at all levels tend to become isolated from the worker on the shop floor. In particular he explodes the cherished myth that the failure of socialism can be laid at the doors of a succession of leaders who have ‘betrayed’ the movement.

He argues that trade unionism did not develop a ‘class consciousness’ in the full and proper sense of the term, which could grasp the total reality of capitalism. He considered the Labour Party as the parliamentary expression of the unions’ way of looking at the world as doomed from the start and concluded that the power to force much needed social change must be spearheaded by a new socialist party. Lane raised interesting questions for today in terms of the difference between a Labour Party mark II or an actual new workers’ party which would be something very different. Continue reading “capitalism, labourism and the ‘trade union party’”