Communist critique of the unions - reading suggestions

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Steven.
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Oct 13 2009 12:28
Communist critique of the unions - reading suggestions

Hi all,

Anyone got any further reading suggestions for communist/anarchist/ultraleft criticism of trade unions?

Articles, books, pamphlets, it's all good.

Many thanks!

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Oct 13 2009 13:27

The original and best:

Unions Against the Working Class

Mr. T

Red Marriott's picture
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Oct 13 2009 13:36

Hardly the "original" or first critique of the unions (or "the best").

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Demogorgon303
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Oct 13 2009 13:39

[/humour]

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jef costello
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Oct 13 2009 13:49

out-humoured by an ICC sympathiser, poor ret sad

Red Marriott's picture
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Oct 13 2009 13:51

Many a true word spoken in jest - many more untrue ones, though...

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Oct 13 2009 14:16

We published 'Unions against revolution' by Grandizo Munis in an early edition of Internationalism and made some comments on it. Both parts of it can be found online here:
http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/munistoc.html

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Oct 13 2009 14:34

What was zerzan doing during those times? - I mean when he wrote the part added to the original pamphlet that munis wrtote.

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Oct 13 2009 15:55
Wikipedia wrote:
In the late 1960s he worked as a social worker for the city of San Francisco welfare department. He helped organize a social worker's union, the SSEU, and was elected vice president in 1968, and president in 1969.[17][16] The local Situationist group Contradiction denounced him as a "leftist bureaucrat".[18] He became progressively more radical as he dealt further with his and other unions. He was also a voracious reader of the Situationists, being particularly influenced by Guy Debord.[16]

In 1974, Black and Red Press published Unions Against Revolution by Spanish ultra-left theorist Grandizo Munis that included an essay by Zerzan which previously appeared in the journal Telos.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Zerzan

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Oct 13 2009 21:23

Ultra-Leftism logically leads to Primitivism. Perlman, Zerzan, Camatte... The trend is undeniable.

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Oct 13 2009 21:29

withdraw that remark or I will curse you with my ultra-left pointing bone

Boris Badenov
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Oct 13 2009 21:48

it's a bit strange that anyone would use "ultra-left" to refer to an actual, and legitimate, political position; I always thought it was a term of abuse (mainly directed by leftists and trots at anarchists).

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Oct 13 2009 22:23

I don't know, I kind of wear it as a badge of honor because well fuck 'em you know?

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Oct 14 2009 20:28
Quote:
Perlman, Zerzan, Camatte

Perfect examples, really. All "turned" to primitivism after-during 80's, when "post"modernist ideology was declaring that marxism is dead, working class is finished etc.

Why was that so? This is another debate...

What is interesting is all of these three people that are given as proof of underlying primitivism in "ultra-left" were invariancist, or simply, they did not show any sign of reference to any theory of historical development of capitalism -at least I think so. Their a-historical voluntarism fit very well to the "death of universal-historical subject" theme... Just as the ex-maoist post-structuralists who previously supporterd self appointed armed groups and thought "the power is on the edge of the gun"...

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Oct 13 2009 23:23

Yeah, the death of the world-historical subject is the crux of Camatte's argument. Also "post Ultra-Leftists" posit that "communism" is possible at any moment, that it doesn't require the full development of productive forces. That's what Perlman's "Against His-Story, Against Leviathan" illustrates.

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klas batalo
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Oct 14 2009 00:32

this is all very interesting!

Alaric Malgraith's picture
Alaric Malgraith
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Oct 14 2009 03:18

I think the real question is, how do we rewild the ICC?

JM
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Oct 14 2009 04:46

Unions: Some truths about the representation of the working class

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Oct 14 2009 07:27

Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution. (sort of)

Group of International Communists.1930.

Also both already on Libcom:

Outside and Against the Unions.
and
Goodbye to the Unions. in which Cajo Brendel quotes William Morris:

[unions don't] 'represent the whole class of workers as working men but rather are charged with the office of keeping the human part of the capitalists' machinery in good working order and freeing it from any grit of discontent'.

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Oct 14 2009 07:20

Alaric;

I think the whole problem is, when these post-structuralists sulked to the working class in the partial retreat atmosphere of the 80'ies, working class did not care it all. There is a turkish saying goes like this;

"Flea sulked to the camel. But camel did not even knew about that" smile

gypsy
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Oct 14 2009 08:58

The problem is that their is not many alternatives open for workers who are trying to defend their interests. Sure unions are usually negotiators with capitalists but what else can be done -the mainstream unions at times do seem to be the policeman of the capitalists and the state but in the UK anyway they do face pretty harsh rules governning what they can and cant do legally. Apart from anarcho syndicalism which I know many anarchists also dislike, I can't see any other alternatives? That is why the ICC and AF don't advise people to leave unions is that right? I know i am stating the obvious in most of this post but just want to make sure that I am clear on this.

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Oct 14 2009 09:12

ally: you are right that we (ICC) don't call on workers individually to leave unions, though we think it's clearer for communists to be outside them, depending on 'professional' constraints. The key issue is not an individual one but a collective one, for workers to develop collective forms of organisation that break out of the union framework, such as mass meetings which take their own decisions rather than allowing ballots or union reps to do it. Initially these mass meetings may be formally 'union' meetings but the dynamic is towards a break with union legality. To see this dynamic it's also important to look outside the UK where the move towards assemblies has been clearer precisely because the grip of the unions is weaker (eg, Spain, Italy, France)

vanilla.ice.baby
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Oct 14 2009 09:30

I don't see how mass meetings are any more democratic than having decisions made by elected, accountable and recallable reps in committee.

Mass meetings are rarely really democratic as time constraints make it difficult for everyone to have real input into decision making, and it can be difficult to argue against a hundred people swept away with excitement adopting motions by acclamation, and those motions can quite easily be submitted by a clique without any real discussion among wider workers.

While reps representing say not more than 25 people can go round their section, get ideas, find out what people want and then feed it back together to their fellow reps to come up with a plan that can actually be said to represent people's wishes more accurately - of course this often doesn't happen - but it can work like that, and it especially can in a workplace where there is a culture of proactive unionism by members who are invested in the relevant concepts.

Mass meetings are useful, but by their very nature are going to be rallies more than anything, so it makes sense to have decision making meetings that are as democratic as possible.

Of course there are all sorts of problems with the current mainstream unions, but at the very least if people with libertarian communist ideas are actively engaged in a union wherever possible we can push for our ideas in the space created - we can build a decent, militant, and democratic culture, and frankly I don't see what else we can do at the moment. Unless people think Solfed or the IWW have got much hope?

Yorkie Bar
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Oct 14 2009 09:43
Quote:
I don't see how mass meetings are any more democratic than having decisions made by elected, accountable and recallable reps in committee.

They're not "more" democratic - just directly democratic, as opposed to representative democracy.

To say that mass meetings function as "rallies more than anything" doesn't really square with the real history of workers in struggle. In reality mass assemblies have played a crucial part in every single major struggle for the last hundred years, not just as rallies but as a real organisational, decision-making tool.

~J.

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Oct 14 2009 10:09
vanilla.ice.baby wrote:
Mass meetings are rarely really democratic as time constraints make it difficult for everyone to have real input into decision making, and it can be difficult to argue against a hundred people swept away with excitement adopting motions by acclamation, and those motions can quite easily be submitted by a clique without any real discussion among wider workers.

right, that's an argument against fetishising the form of mass meetings regardless of content. i doubt anyone disagrees; certainly people here were critical of the way unite manipulated the mass meetings that voted to end the Visteon dispute.

vanilla.ice.baby wrote:
While reps representing say not more than 25 people can go round their section, get ideas, find out what people want and then feed it back together to their fellow reps to come up with a plan that can actually be said to represent people's wishes more accurately - of course this often doesn't happen - but it can work like that, and it especially can in a workplace where there is a culture of proactive unionism by members who are invested in the relevant concepts.

i'm certainly not against delegate councils. this was how Workmates on the London Underground operated; but the delegates were drawn from mass canteen meetings of all workers, many of whom were non-union casuals. restricting participation in the struggle to union members is (a) counter-productive and (b) a lapse into representative politics (join us and we will fight for you! vs 'by the workers themselves'). there's a great quote from SolFed's predeccesor DAM on this:

DAM wrote:
The unions offer stability in the workplace, they channel workers anger, shape and influence their demands and, if need be, act to police the workforce. Perhaps this is best summed up by a quote from the boss class themselves: a manager when asked by a reporter why his multi-national had recognised unions in South Africa replied "have you ever tried negotiating with a football field full of militant angry workers?"
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Oct 14 2009 10:31
vanilla.ice.baby wrote:
I don't see how mass meetings are any more democratic than having decisions made by elected, accountable and recallable reps in committee.

But everybody who argues for mass meetings also argues that eventually we will need to form councils of representitives of those mass meetings, which in the Russian revolution, were known as 'soviets'.

Quote:
Mass meetings are rarely really democratic as time constraints make it difficult for everyone to have real input into decision making, and it can be difficult to argue against a hundred people swept away with excitement adopting motions by acclamation, and those motions can quite easily be submitted by a clique without any real discussion among wider workers.

I am not sure that you understand what mass meeting means. It doesn't by definition mean a meeting of thusands of workers, but a meeting of all of the workers in a certain workplace, or workplaces. The vast majority of mass meetings that I took part in were in a place with 118 workers, and the attendence would be that minus the afternoon shift, minus those on holiday or on the sick, so possibly around 100 people. My experience of them was that everybody did get a chance to put forward their opinions.

I have also been to other mass meetings with thousands of workers in attendence. Some of them have been meetings where all sides of the argument were presented, and some of them haven't. I don't think that size is the determinig factor.

Quote:
While reps representing say not more than 25 people can go round their section, get ideas, find out what people want and then feed it back together to their fellow reps to come up with a plan that can actually be said to represent people's wishes more accurately - of course this often doesn't happen - but it can work like that, and it especially can in a workplace where there is a culture of proactive unionism by members who are invested in the relevant concepts.

I don't think that it is about perscribing formulas, and in any case this formula would hardly change things in a massive workplace. I went to UCW LDC meetings when I was a branch committee member in the London Post Office. At the time the LDC 'represented' 50,000 workers. With your formula, that would mean a delegate meeting of 2,000, which would be bigger than most mass meetings that I have attended.

Quote:
Mass meetings are useful, but by their very nature are going to be rallies more than anything, so it makes sense to have decision making meetings that are as democratic as possible.

I have never seen a mass meeting that was like a rally.

I agree completely with what J says.

Devrim

john
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Oct 14 2009 11:51
Alf wrote:
Initially these mass meetings may be formally 'union' meetings but the dynamic is towards a break with union legality. To see this dynamic it's also important to look outside the UK where the move towards assemblies has been clearer precisely because the grip of the unions is weaker (eg, Spain, Italy, France)

how will communists steer union meetings in the direction they want if they've already left the union years ago in order to adopt a more consistent approach?

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Oct 14 2009 13:13

On the thread on the Tower Hamlets strike (in news I think rather than forums) i explained how at the place where I work I argued (successfully) for the NUT meeting about the Tower Hamlets strike to be made open to all workers, regardless of union membership. Whether or not you pay union dues, it's important to argue that meetings should be open to all workers regardless of union. Where I work for example, if you belong to say UNISON you are normally excluded from an NUT meeting and vice versa, so the problem of exclusion applies to you whether you are a union member or not in many cases.

Yorkie Bar
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Oct 14 2009 13:37

Good post Devrim, while I agree with the points you make, I would just bring this up-

Devrim wrote:
everybody who argues for mass meetings also argues that eventually we will need to form councils of representitives of those mass meetings

I think a lot of those who argue for mass meetings would oppose this, arguing instead for councils of delegates. Or is that basically what you meant?

~J.

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Oct 14 2009 13:48

Basically yes, delegate are representatives.

Devrim

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Oct 14 2009 13:55
Devrim wrote:
Basically yes, delegate are representatives.

Devrim

this may be a difference between left communist and anarchist terminology, but generally delegates are mandated and recallable whereas representatives are elected for a term to act on behalf of those they represent. soviets/workers' councils/juntas should be made up of the former.