What are contracts?

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Ugg's picture
Joined: 17-08-17
Nov 7 2018 23:52
What are contracts?

I'm reading some old libcom articles debating the use of "contracts" by the IWW. Can anyone explain to me what a contract actually is? I'm kind of confused.

Are contracts supposed to be documents that if for example an employer refuses to live up to them than the IWW (or the workplace or whatever) can then take that employer to court, or at least threaten them that they will go to court?

Someone in the comment section named Bastarx in the article from above mentioned that a revolutionary contract would be one in which the employer signs that they are going to pay us a certain amount. Is it possible to make a contract like that? For example "employers will pay workers $20 an hour, 40 hours a week with such and such benefits" while promising nothing in return from the workers (except maybe that they are promising to return to end the current strike without any guarantee that they just won't go back on strike the next day)?

If contracts aren't legally enforceable is their purpose just to give employers a written ultimatum that if they don't fulfill the terms of the contract then the workers are promising to go back on strike?

What alternative to contracts are there? For example do anti-contract people still support giving employers a list of demands that all workers are aware of and agree to? How do negotiations work?

Juan Conatz's picture
Juan Conatz
Joined: 29-04-08
Nov 8 2018 01:16

Hey ugg,

I don't know where you're from, but in the United States, contracts refer to collective bargaining agreements between an employer and a labor union. The agreements are basically legal documents that reflect what the employer and union came to a consensus on through give and take during negotiations. As they are legal documents, they are legally enforceable, although typical contracts contain provisions in them such as a grievance procedure to avoid the legal route as a first option.

You probably already came across them, but there are a number of articles reflecting a debate a few years ago in the IWW that have been collected on this site:

Mike Harman
Joined: 7-02-06
Nov 8 2018 13:46
Ugg wrote:
Are contracts supposed to be documents that if for example an employer refuses to live up to them than the IWW (or the workplace or whatever) can then take that employer to court, or at least threaten them that they will go to court?

The big thing in the US is 'no strike' causes.

i.e. the union and the employer agree to a contract (say two years), then for the duration of that contract, there will be no industrial action whatsoever including action short of strike. This doesn't have to be part of a contract, but it often is. During the '60s & '70s a lot of wildcat strikes were over 'local grievances' - i.e. issues with foremen or similar that weren't dealt with via the contract, and strikes which the union would not support.

Juan didn't post his own article, but here it is:

jef costello's picture
jef costello
Joined: 9-02-06
Nov 9 2018 21:17

A contract is an agreement by different people or groups to do specific things, usually in exchange fo the others doing things.

Work contracts are between employers and employees. Collective bargaining (when negotiations are on behalf of everyone) means that everyone has the same contract. In some workplaces everyone has an individual contract or the company imposes a standard contract. For example as a teacher I am on a standard contract, the same as everyone else, but we didn't really negotiate it, the government tells us what they are giving us and if we want anything else we have to fight for it (and have been doing so less and less. In real terms our pay has been dropping for some time, but that is not at all unusual, unfortunately and there hasn't been any effective pushback from us.)

R Totale's picture
R Totale
Joined: 15-02-18
Dec 1 2018 14:36

If you're still curious, and you do podcasts, there's a lengthy discussion of this stuff here:

Auld-bod's picture
Joined: 9-07-11
Dec 2 2018 11:31

Looking at ‘contracts’ from a different angle.
A few months ago there was a discussion on Radio 4 regarding trade with China. The point was made that the big problem to generating Chinese trade was not the U.S.A.’s present tariff trade war, rather the big stumbling block to inter-state trade, was the lack of a legal framework within China to enforce contracts and copyrights. Stress was given to the proposition that capitalism thrives best when contracts are ‘genuinely’ legally enforceable - thus dictatorships are not very reliable trading partners.

My main objection to this is idea is that the ruling class in any state pursues its own interests and when necessary will ignore legal obligations if they become ‘inappropriate’.