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’”

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”

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.

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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?”

are we ready for a winter of discontent?

by Sheila Cohen, NUJ Book Branch

Rulers are often more afraid of the political implications of worker activity than workers are aware of them. To take an extreme example, when the police went on strike in 1919 Lloyd George famously intoned, “The country was nearer to Bolshevism that day than any time since”. How many of the high-helmeted bobbies packing Whitehall would have seen it like that?

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So, coming down to earth a bit, when the Financial Times once again evokes that tired old phrase “Winter of Discontent”, perhaps we should take it seriously. Continue reading “are we ready for a winter of discontent?”

issue 9 of the commune

The November issue of our monthly paper The Commune is now available. Click the image below to see the PDF, or see articles as they are posted online in the list below.

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To purchase a printed copy for £1 + 50p postage, use the ‘donate’ feature here. You can also subscribe (£12 a year UK/£16 EU/£20 international) or order 5 copies a month to sell (£4) online here. If you want to pay by cheque, contact uncaptiveminds@gmail.com.

are we ready for a winter of discontent? – by Sheila Cohen

post strike: this is no deal – by Joe Thorne

underground pay deadlock – by Vaughan Thomas

what is the union bureaucracy? – by Alberto Durango

occupation and state building in the new afghanistan – by Jessica Anderson

mixed reactions to cwu-royal mail deal – interview with a communist postman

manchester students build solidarity with post workers – by Mark Harrison

honduras: democracy has not been restored – by Socialismo o Barbarie

month long strike in france: ‘papers for all!’ – interview with Seni cleaners and piece from Où va la CGT?

communism twenty years after the berlin wall fell – interviews with eastern european activists

scottish ruling class: division over union – by Allan Armstrong

obituary of chris harman – by Andy Wilson

university occupations in austria – interview with vienna student activist

question time row: did the straw man really slay the griffin? – by Adam Ford

communist recomposition and workers’ representation – by Chris Ford

‘full and open debate’ on post-no2eu project: ok, when? – by David Broder

building from below: the work of paulo freire – by Dave Spencer

the global commune, january 16th

activities of the commune around britain

 

reading for 5th october london discussion group now online

The next of our London discussion meetings on workplace organising is to be held from 7pm on Monday October 5th at the Lucas Arms, near King’s Cross. We will be looking at the questions:

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– Are unions an expression of the self-organisation of the working class, or bodies which seek to win improvements on their behalf?

– What is the difference between ‘trade unionism’ and the revolutionary class struggle?

The recommended reading material and a map of the venue appear below. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com or phone 07595 245494 for more details. Continue reading “reading for 5th october london discussion group now online”

tuc: another wasted opportunity?

by Gregor Gall

This was by far the highest profile Congress of the TUC in many years, most of that being to do with the pre-general election period of more frenzied official politics. The Congress began with Brendan Barber suggesting that big public service cuts by any future government could not only create a ‘double dip’ recession but also bring about social disorder. But by Tuesday most of the affiliated unions had rolled over when Brown told them Labour’s cuts wouldn’t be as big, quick or bad as those of the Tories.

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Then there was a bit of attention over a motion which had the temerity to suggest that the mandatory wearing of high heeled shoes by women was not good for their health. But the biggest bang was over a motion on Israel/Palestine from the FBU. And on the last day the motion on the People’s Charter was passed. Continue reading “tuc: another wasted opportunity?”

5th october london reading group: two views of trade unionism

The next of our London discussion meetings on workplace organising is to be held from 7pm on Monday October 5th at the Lucas Arms, near King’s Cross. We will be looking at the questions:

– Are unions an expression of the self-organisation of the working class, or bodies which seek to win improvements on their behalf?

– What is the difference between ‘trade unionism’ and the revolutionary class struggle?

The recommended reading material and a map of the venue appear below. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com or phone 07595 245494 for more details. Continue reading “5th october london reading group: two views of trade unionism”

14th september reading group: why do workers form trade unions?

Monday 14th from 7pm at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street station, London

The Commune’s next course of reading groups is entitled ‘Schools for communism?’ and is on the subject of workplace organising and theories of trade unionism.

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Following a recent series on ‘communism from below’, this autumn we will look more closely at how the working class organises and the limitations of different means of struggle.

The first session will be on the themes:

– What relations underlie the exchange between capital and workers?

– What mechanisms do management use to try and get workers to produce more for less money?

– In what different ways have workers organised to resist this? Of what particular importance are trade unions as a means of organising? Continue reading “14th september reading group: why do workers form trade unions?”

the commune issue 7 – out now!

The September issue of our monthly paper The Commune is now available. Click the image below to see the PDF, or see articles as they are posted online in the list below.

To purchase a printed copy for £1 + 50p postage, use the ‘donate’ feature here. You can also subscribe (£12 a year UK/£16 EU/£20 international) or order 5 copies a month to sell (£4) online here. If you want to pay by cheque, contact uncaptiveminds@gmail.com.

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troops out of afghanistan! – editorial of The Commune

wildcats show how to fight royal mail bosses – by Paul Haste

government pressure on civil service: crunch time for pcs left – by Steve Ryan

wind turbine occupation ends, but struggle continues – by Gerry Emmett

purnell’s new ‘old labour’ is just new ‘new labour’ – by David Broder

resisting redundancy and recession: reappraising the tactic of occupation – by Gregor Gall

amey struggle: burn your bridges, save your dignity – by Mónica del Pilar Uribe Marin

latin american migrants: organising against racism and exploitation – by an Ecuadorian migrant worker

exposed: soas unison, rmt and unite cleaner activists in the pay of the bosses – by Chris Kane

update on the activities of the commune around britain

afghan women bear brunt of hypocritical ‘war on terror’ – by members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan

yes, chris ann, obama is punking us – by Ernie Haberkern

beyond props for capital – by Allan Armstrong

liberalism, citizenship and democracy – by Mark Ellingsen

the workers’ self-management alternative – by Chris Kane

review of the july/august left press – by Nathan Coombs

building from below: the case for working in residents’ groups – by Dave Spencer

latin america’s future is being played out in honduras – by Roberto Sáenz

‘schools for communism’? reading group on trade unionism and workplace organising

“The Trade union is not a predetermined phenomenon … ..it becomes a determinate institution , i.e. takes on definite historical form  to the extent that the strength and will of the workers who are its members impress a policy and propose an aim that defines it.” (Antonio Gramsci)

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The next of The Commune’s reading group series in London will be on the topic of workplace struggle and the theory of trade unionism. Following our recent series on ‘communism from below’, this series will look more closely at how the working class organises and the strengths and limitations of different means of struggle.

The autumn 2009 sessions’ details appear below – the appropriate texts will be uploaded shortly as well as venue details. We encourage free discussion and do not set down a ‘party line’ – the discussion is roughly based on the given questions and the reading material, but also its practical implications in the context of today. Indeed, the second part of the series, in early 2010, will look at the changed shape of the working class and such themes as casualisation, globalisation, migrant workers, gender division of the workforce and anti-union laws. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com for more details. Continue reading “‘schools for communism’? reading group on trade unionism and workplace organising”

the unions on new grounds: when the workmate becomes a client

The next of The Commune’s London reading group series is on the subject of “‘Schools for communism?’: workplace organising and theories of trade unionism”. We will be looking at different conceptions of how unions are formed, their role in the structures of capitalism and their limitations, and then studying  more concretely various aspects of organising in the 21st century. A full agenda will be published shortly. This piece from Prol Position is on the reading list, and takes an interesting view of the current brand of organising initiatives.

Militant Research, self-interviews, workers’ centres, campaigning and organizing: currently there is a part of the left that gets enthused by ‘undogmatic approaches’ which tackle the question of resistance within waged work. Study trips to the US, visits at workers’ centres and at organizing campaigns all give the impression that these new instruments of union struggle will shake up the rusty white-dominated union landscape in Germany because the target of these initiatives are principally young immigrant workers, women and employees in the service sector. Is a completely new and different union in the making? Or, to put the question differently: does the crisis of the institution “union” open up spaces for new forms of organising? Does the union apparatus provide help for opening new doors or do lefty activists let themselves be instrumentalised in order to provide the institution with a new and up-to-date outfit? Continue reading “the unions on new grounds: when the workmate becomes a client”

the commune’s pamphlets: reprints now available

More copies of our pamphlet series, many of which had sold out, are now available. The text of each of  the seven pamphlets is online (see the list of subjects below), but you can also order paper copies – £1 +50p postage per copy.

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Write to uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to place your order. We take payment by cheque (addressed to ‘The Commune’, at The Commune, 2nd Floor, 145-157 St. John Street, London EC1V 4PY) or by transfer to Co-op account S/C 089299, A/C 65317440. Continue reading “the commune’s pamphlets: reprints now available”

issue 5 of the commune – out now

The fifth issue of our paper The Commune (June 2009) is now available. The articles are listed below, and you can also read the PDF file of the paper online by clicking on the image below. Write to us at uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to request a printed copy of the 12-page issue (£1 + 50p postage) or to set up a subscription. A subscription form is printed on the back of the paper.

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it’s their parliament, not ours! – editorial of The Commune

meet the new boss: the united auto workers’ union – by Adam Ford

bolivia: the working class and the morales government – by Enrique Ormachea

lessons of the visteon struggle – by Joe Thorne

where next for the unions? – by Steve Ryan

organising our network – by Joe Thorne

update on the commune’s activities around britain

the eu elections and the bnp – by David Broder

esol teaching: in whose interests? – by Alice Robson

cleaner activist victimised

why pharma is sick – by Robert Kirby

thatcher’s children – by an east London teacher

the spectre of marx is back – by Clifford Biddulph

capitalism, keynes, socialism – by Nathan Coombs

revive flying pickets and spread the actions – by Chris Kane