Sunday, January 28, 2007
For Democracy Within the Labour Movement
By Michael Kidron
TRADE UNION DEMOCRACY - WHERE?
The Labour Party Conference at Scarborough and the wave of strikes in the docks and in London Transport have raised the issue of democracy within our Movement. We must not let it be quietly buried.
The voting at Scarborough was a farce. The big union bosses, some of whom need fear nothing from the rank and file as they never stand for re-election, put their millions of votes at the disposal of the NEC - in support of German Rearmament, in support of SEATO, against every attempt of the rank and file of their own unions to tie their hands.
The crassest example of this insulting attitude to rank and file opinion was the case of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers’ vote on German Rearmament. The Society’s executive were explicitly mandated to oppose German Rearmament. In the event, the executive succumbed to NEC pressure and voted for it. This last-minute switch lost the vote on German Rearmament for the Left.
TRADE UNION DEMOCRACY - HOW?
How is it that the Constituency Labour Party delegates to Conference voice the opinion of the rank and file labour Party member, while the Union delegates generally do not? For one thing, the Constituency parties, being smaller, are much more amenable to rank and file pressure. But mainly, the reason lies in the fact that their delegates to Conference are elected, not selected from a permanent staff. The delegate if chosen because he holds views along the lines of those expressed in the local Party’s resolutions, not because he happens to express the views held by the Party machine.
A glimpse of the same type of democratic expression can sometimes be caught in the Trade Union world too. At the Trades Union Congress, the 300,000 textile workers vote according to their various sub-divisions; weavers, spinners, carders, etc. all vote separately. At the annual labour party Conference, the 300,000 votes are cast in one bloc. This year, for example, the textile workers were evenly split on the question of German Rearmament at the Brighton Congress - One month later, at Scarborough, all 300,000 were cast in the ballot box for German Rearmament.
What can happen at the Trades Union Congress can happen at the Labour Party Conference. Union delegates must be made responsible to the rank and file membership. Each delegate must represent only a certain number of members. They must be elected specifically for Conference on the basis of the views they hold publicly.
This applies not only to delegates to Conference but to all policy-making officers of the unions. They must stand for frequent election and be subject to instantaneous dismissal by the rank and file. Responsibility for the rank and file member of a union must rest with the rank and file - not with a small body of paid men who lose contact with their electors as soon as they meet the bosses.
THE BRIDLINGTON AGREEMENT
The responsibility of the rank and file grows tremendously during an industrial dispute. At such a time, sensitivity of union officials to the wishes of the membership is of paramount importance. Nothing must stand in the way of the conscious intervention of the rank and file in its own affairs.
At present, one of the weapons used by the TUC General Council to prevent such intervention is the Bridlington agreement, a ruling of the TUC which states that no union may enrol any members “claimed” by another union while that union is engaged in an industrial dispute. The Agreement is now being invoked by the Transport and general Workers Union to prevent the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers (the Blue Union) from enrolling dissatisfied T & G members. It is only one weapon in the arsenal used to smash the small, militant union, but it is of importance because of the principle involved.
Within the Capitalist system, the working class must constantly be on guard against attacks on their living standards. One of the means of defence is the unions. But the unions themselves are powerless without the weapon of last resort: the strike - first the industrial strike, then the political one. When a union bureaucracy virtually outlaws the strike weapon, condemns every strike as unofficial, tries t bully its members into returning to work as a preliminary to “conducting negotiations” and, in short, does every bit of dirty work for the bosses that the bosses cannot do for themselves, that union bureaucracy can do noting for its members. It holds no terror for the bosses. Such a bureaucratically run union is the TGWU.
The officials of the T&GWU are as skilful negotiators as any. But of what use are negotiations without the threat of force? If the T&GWU caves in when it comes to a strike, its members must have every right to withdraw from it and join any other union that shows fight. In the case of the dockers, it means joining the NASD.
But what about poaching? Won’t a giant like the T&GWU be able to “bribe” members of other unions to join them by offering lower membership fees etc? it certainly may, but the final test for its own members always remains: does the union obtain better conditions, or does it not? A union that spends all its resources on “poaching” members from the others will have very little time for fighting the bosses. It will find itself spending more and more time “poaching” back its own members that have left.
Whoever support a agreement for ”spheres of influence” within the Labour Movement, like the Bridlington agreement, shows little trust in the discretion of the workers. And as always when it comes to relying on the workers’ own initiative, Arthur Deakin and Harry Pollitt vie with one another in trying to escape the direct control of the rank and filer and work through the “machine:” Deakin shouts “Bridlington agreement” and Pollitt returns the chorus: “Let no poaching of one union’s members by another take place under any circumstances.” (Daily Worker, 15/10/54). We ask one question of the Deakin-Pollitt axis: Who should chose whom? Unions their members or members their unions? But the bureaucrats of both sides know where they stand - kill all independent rank and file action, kill an independent militant union like the NASD.
Rank and filers of the Labour Movement must press for free choice: For the election of all policy-making officials and delegates. For the direct responsibility of such representatives to their electors and the right of instantaneous dismissal. For the revoking of the Bridlington Agreement.
* M Kidron’s remarks on the Bridlington Agreement do not reflect the views of the editors of Socialist Review. Controversy on the subject will be welcomed. - Editor.
Socialist Review Vol 4 No 3, November 1954
Socialist Review Vol 4 No 3, November 1954
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
War Pigs discovered to be Ye Oldest English Folk Song!!!!!
Many of my devoted readers will know of the renowned traditional music group Black Sabbath but Neprimerimye blog can now exclusively reveal that one of their best known songs, War Pigs, is in fact a translation of an ancient English folk song. The song was discovered when Sir Ozzy, surely a knighthood cannot long be delayed, was supervising an archeaological excavation in downtown Birmingham late in 1968. That Sir Ozzy was prior to his entering the field of sacred music a promising young professor of archeaology has been concealed for years by the story that he was a grave digger by forces we cannot name here. What Sir Ozzy discovered was groundbreaking in its cultural significance the original Latin lyrics of War Pigs, which are to be found below, without doubt the oldest English folk song known dating from circa 666.
Centuriones convene runt,
Sicut magi sacris migris -
Mentes malae destructionis,
Artifices omnes mortis.
Campis corpera comburit
Belli machina laborans.
perturb runt mentes sanas.
Venefici se abstrudunt nunc,
Qui bellum incoherent.
Ipsi pugnam cur ineant?
Cogunt ire pauperes, vae!
Poena subit various,
Qui per jocum bellant.
Gentes tractant sicut pecudes,
Dum nigra venit hora, vae!
Nunc tenebrous mundus horret
Cum auditis: flammae torrent.
Verres non jam habent nervos.
Dei manus trudit fervens.
Hora nigra Dei advenit.
Supplicantes verres repunt,
Satan ridet, laetatur.
Victory to the Resistance
Alibi! Arms for Spain
Why Only the Working Classes can Defeat Imperialism and Fascism.
In 1939 as the Spanish Civil War drew to a close and as storm clouds darkened over Europe a small pamphlet, reproduced below, appeared over the signature of A. B. Elsbury. It was published by the Revolutionary Socialist League, an ephemeral grouping later renamed the Revolutionary Workers League, its circulation was tiny. Despite decades of obscurity it remains however an excellent critique of class collaborationism with considerable relevance to today’s much changed political scene.
Before proceeding to an examination of the pamphlet the reader should be aware that Elsbury had by 1939 a long and honourable record in the workers movement. If today, like his once more famous brother Sam, he is unknown to all but a tiny number of specialists in labour history then that is but a sad reflection of the degeneration of a movement that by forgetting its history surrenders its claim on the future too. Ben Elsburys part in the history of the labour movement in Britain may be reckoned a small one when measured against other better know figures but it was an honourable one as at all times he stood foursquare with his class. Which cannot be said of those many contemporaries who gave their allegiance to the Labour and Stalinist parties.
As early as 1909 Elsbury was noted by Tom Mann as one of the first heralds of the then new methods of organising the class along the lines of industry not craft in his role as author of the pamphlet Industrial Unionism. He was also one of that small minority of militants who in opposing the first imperialist world war from its outset saving the honour of the working class by their heroic actions. Following which he became a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain only leaving after his brother became one of the victims of the ultra left lunacy of the Third Period that saw Sam betrayed and pilloried by the Stalinist misleaders. Despite which Ben remained a revolutionist joining CLR James Marxist Group whilst a member of the Independent Labour Party from which he found his way into the Revolutionary Socialist League.
The main thrust of Elsbury’s pamphlet is to show that the slogan Arms for Spain was an alibi for the failure of the workers parties, in particular the so called communist parties, to fight fascism by using working class methods. His argument is that military methods alone cannot defeat fascism but will play into its hands by strengthening the bourgeois state. He goes on to make the point that fascism is better countered by the use of working class methods of struggle, that is to say by the use of the strike weapon up to and including the calling of a political general strike, by mass street demonstrations and ultimately by the overthrow of the bourgeois state by insurrection.
The same general point can be made in relation to the struggle against the on going rape of Iraq by imperialism. Only today it is groups which claim to stand in the Trotskyist tradition which provide an alibi for their failure to orientate on the working classes and to advocate working class methods of struggle when they raise the militant sounding slogan Victory to the Resistance! And in pursuit of this slogan rather than seek to mobilise the working class as the leading force in the fight against imperialisms despoiling of Iraq they resort instead to exactly the same tactics as did the Stalinists in the 1930’s.
In fact what we have seen from Britain’s official anti war movement, the Stop the War Coalition, has mirrored the old Stalinist peacenik campaigns of yesteryear to a remarkable degree. We have seen mass demonstrations that lead nowhere in particular but simply call for peace and we have seen conferences which allow leaders to posture and preen but lead to nothing but the next demo or the next conference. Yet as the size of the demonstrations fall the politics become ever more openly pacifist in tone with little being said about the role of the working classes either by the STWC or by its main organisational backer the Socialist Workers’ Party. No mistake then that a Stalinist can happily work with the SWP as part of the leadership of the STWC given that its populist and pacifist politics draw more from Stalinist Popular Frontism than from the revolutionary Leninism the SWP claims to adhere to.
Indeed in contrast to earlier single issue campaigns the SWP has not so much as suggested the formation of workplace or industry based groups. At best a conference, along the .lines of the Peoples Assembly gab fests must suffice. Meanwhile the more rooted, albeit in the lower ranks of the bureaucracies. Labour Against the War, is left untroubled by the SWP, so much for the United Front! Meanwhile the average size of the demonstrations fall, local activities are few and the calls for action from the leadership of the STWC become ever more hysterical as the next demonstration or the next conference are claimed to be more important than the last.
But not to matter the next demonstration or the next conference will mark a breakout of the left ghetto and the anti war movement will triumph. Although what a triumph might be is left vague and one can but guess that the desired triumph is the cessation of war in Iraq, as is the official policy of the STWC, but for the core activists belonging to the SWP and the other groups which raise the slogan Victory to the Resistance! A militant sounding slogan that has its antecedents in the cry once heard from wide sections of the far left, but not by the forerunners of the SWP the International Socialists, victory to the IRA! For the good reason that such a slogan both divides and derails the anti war movement.
Just as the slogan victory to the IRA repelled many who wanted the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland so too does the slogan Victory to the Resistance today. Not only do the terrorist methods of the IRA and that multi-headed hydra that is the resistance repel many enemies of imperialism but they are also inimical to the methods of working class struggle in that they substitute the armed bands of fighters to the mass democratic struggles of the organised working classes.
Would the military victory of the resistance signify a defeat of imperialism? No it would not it would at best mean the defeat of a particular group of imperialist powers. In fact I can say with absolute certainty that all of those groups involved with the resistance would happily seek a compromise with imperialism the very day the last British or American soldier leavers the soil of Iraq. Just as Sinn Fein has reached an agreement with British imperialism and the Vietnamese Stalinists have with American imperialism.
Worse the slogan Victory to the Resistance is more often than not interpreted to mean victory to the communally based militias and the terror gangs, although criticisms are always found in the small print of the more noxious fascist groups that form part of the resistance, almost to the exclusion of those forces which resist by other means. That those forces are in the first instance the trades unions and the socialist propaganda groups is passed over in silence and when it is noticed they are dismissed as quislings or worse. That the left has failed to convince the leading elements of the Iraqi left who were in exile during the Baathist tyranny speaks to their lack of any grasp of proletarian internationalism but does explain why much of that left has adopted a strategy that combines elements of leftist sectarianism with Popular Frontism.
The slogan Victory to the Resistance is not an anti-imperialist slogan but an alibi for the refusal of the far left to even attempt to place the working classes, in both Iraq and Britain, at the centre of their analysis. That only working class methods of struggle can defeat imperialism and not just a specific set of imperialist powers is evaded as forces opposed to the very idea of progress are lauded as anti-imperialists. Meanwhile the Iraqi working class is ignored and denied any independent class voice just as in Spain under the Popular Front and the capacity of the working class in Britain to resist imperialism is given lip service only.
Ironically in light of the claims by many that the slogan victory to the resistance is an expression of Revolutionary Defeatism it has served to defeat the anti war movement by preventing the working class from taking the centre stage which is its historic right. And this at a time when bourgeois defeatism is growing as a current in light of the role of the reactionary anti-imperialists of the resistance. On the morrow a new nightmare will be unleashed on Iraq and the far left in Britain will bear some small part of the responsibility for the renewed horrors that will follow.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Arms for Spain
By A B Elsbury
The slogan “Arms for Spain” has been an extremely popular one in all the democratic countries since the inception of the Spanish Civil War. It has been shouted with great enthusiasm, not only in working class demonstrations of the Labour, Socialist and Communist parties, but also in those of the liberal and other democratic parties. It has been publicised in the press of these parties, on the hoardings, on banners, in every possible form. It conveyed not only the sympathy of its users with the Spanish Popular Front Government in its war against Franco and his allies, but was represented as a programme for this government.
How does the fascist Franco maintain the fight against the legitimate Spanish Government?
“Obviously by means of his access to superior armaments from the hands of his fascist allies, combined with the deprivation of arms to the government forces resulting from the application of the non-intervention agreement on the part of the democratic countries. Such is the background of the slogan “Arms for Spain”, one of the most popular international slogans since the famous “War to End War”.
Is it a good slogan from the point of view of the workers, whether Spanish, British or International? Does it represent their attitude and objectives? Is it likely to further the interests of the workers in Spain or elsewhere? Did it furnish a means of attacking the fascist enemies of the workers in Spain and I other countries?
An answer to these questions is of vital importance to the working class movement in its fight for working class power and socialism. If the slogan is a fitting one judged by this criterion, it should be supported. If not, it should be mercilessly exposed. Let us examine it in this light.
Would a sufficiency of arms have brought victory to the Spanish government? This is the major question posed by the slogan “Arms for Spain”, and upon its answer depends the correctness or error of the movements which supported it. The question is one of the utmost seriousness and its answer is by no means as simple as has been assumed. Let us preface our reply by an extract from one of the master tacticians in revolutionary strategy in 1919 as follows:-
“How can we explain the miracle that the Soviet power has managed to maintain itself for two years in a backward, impoverished and war-weary country, in spite of the obstinate struggle waged against it, at first by German imperialism, which at that time was regarded as omnipotent, and then by the imperialism of the Entente… Regarded from the standpoint of a simple calculation of forces, of a calculation of military strength, that is indeed a miracle, for the Entente was, and is, immeasurably more powerful than we… We have deprived the Entente of its soldiers. We replied to its immense military and technical superiority, thanks to the solidarity of the toilers against the imperialist governments”.
(Lenin, Selected Works, Vol 1. VIII, pp. 51 and 54).
Lenin here, with his usual acuteness, brings an entirely different outlook to the problem. “Military and technical superiority” are by no means “things in themselves” to him, and with the overwhelming example of the Russian revolution to support his thesis, he proves what has been proved a thousand times in history in a practical manner.
From the days of the Spartacist revolt in ancient Rome up to the time of the French revolutionary wars and also in the Boer War and Irish struggle, innumerable examples are to be found of the definite superiority of unarmed and semi-armed masses over highly equipped mercenary forces, providing their morale is superior. Dependence on military superiority is a fetish of the brainless militarists and is, in fact, being abandoned by the most modern military statesmen - themselves taught their lesson most painfully and efficiently by Lenin and Trotsky, in the years 1918-1921. We declare categorically that the answer to the question we have posed is a decided negative. Franco is not winning by reason of his superiority of arms, and the reason must be sought elsewhere.
“Even the best arms are useless”, admits a Fascist military strategist, “if nobody is willing and able to use them”. (Maj. Gen. Franke, quoted in “Germany, Poland, World Empire or World Revolution” by G. Reimann).
A striking illustration of this point comes with the news of the fall of Barcelona that “100 modern American machine-guns were actually found by the fascists in their crates UNPACKED!” (Workers International News” Feb 1939). Of the vast stores of other equipment similarly found we shall not speak (the 10 million gallons of petrol, for example) the main point we wish to make here being that the Spanish Government, despite its undoubted deficiencies in war material, possessed a vast supremacy in man power, combined with equipment far in excess of the Bolsheviks of Russia during the years 1918-21.
We thus see that lack of arms is not the explanation for the Spanish debacle, nor the explanation for its major cause, the lack of morale, to which alone it can be attributed.
This was known before hand by most of the organisations responsible for, and participating in the “Arms for Spain” movement, and obviously by the Communist International, for whom the lessons of the Russian Revolution and the works of Lenin should have been a guide.
On the official communist parties of the world rests the heaviest responsibility for this pernicious slogan. These parties, trained in Leninism knew without question the menace which was involved in the specious and lying formula “Arms for Spain”.
They knew that the slogan took responsibility for the Spanish conflict away from the workers’ movement, Spanish and international, and placed it on the shoulders of their class enemies, the Chamberlains, Hitlers and Mussolinis, whose capitalist responsibility is implicit and inherent. To blame the tiger for acting as it must is almost the limit in idiocy.
They knew that “Arms for Spain” divorced the workers from real activity on behalf of the Spanish workers and forced them instead into empty parliamentary phrase-mongering against their political governments for futile demands for “recognition”.
They knew that “Arms for Spain” was mere claptrap which meant no solidarity with the workers of Spain, but did mean solidarity with the Liberals and other anti-Socialist enemies of the workers who took up the cry enthusiastically - precisely because it involved only polite, parliamentary “demands” which they themselves, when in power, would certainly refuse.
All this both the Communists and their allies have known. “Arms for Spain” provided a brilliant and resounding phrase which served as an attractive façade behind which they could act as a “Popular Front” towards the workers, exuding their sympathy - and even a few thousands of surplus cash, some of which has filtered into selected channels in Spain. Of working class action, a minimum, of sympathy, a surplus, of real explanation of the Spanish situation, a complete albescence.
Of the real facts of Spain, from a workers’ standpoint, we have space here for only an outline.
When Franco revolted against a Popular Front Government on June 17th 1936 that government for the space of 48 hours refused to arm the workers and even attempted to allay their alarm with lying communiqués.
The workers of Madrid and Catalonia, mainly syndicalist, took up arms and themselves drove out the fascists and along with them their big employers and landlords. A revolutionary situation developed. Factories were occupied , land was seized, the sole power was that of the workers and peasants. The morale of these workers and peasants was invincible. With bare hands, often, they faced the misled troops, fraternised with them, and enrolled them in the workers’ army. The “heroic” government came to Catalonia and pleaded for assistance from the triumphant workers’ organisations. Instead of booting them out as Kerensky was kicked out, the workers’ leaders, Anarchist, POUM, (equivalent to the British ILP) and Communist, agreed to collaborate with them and even to join them. Gradually the workers’ revolution was sabotaged, more and more power was relinquished to the government, mainly at the insistence of the Communists (whose revolutionary reputation based on the Russian Revolution was still effective). Gradually the period of “Dual Power” (Workers’ Government and state machine) ended in favour of the state. The workers learned gradually through the Government, Communist and even Anarchist press that they were fighting for a “democratic” Government and not for a Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic. All the leaders who had doubts about it were arrested, kidnapped or shot by the police who were now under Communist Party control. Durutti, Bernieri, Nin, Erwin Wolff, etc. the prisons were filled with Anarchists and Socialists, many of whom were foreigners who had come to fight for the Spanish revolution as so many fought for Russia in 1918-21. The voluntary army which had freed Catalonia completely from the fascist hordes and displayed the initiative which had produced the Russian “miracle” of which Lenin speaks was formalised, at Communist Party insistence, (!) into a capitalist military force with the usual accompaniments of well-paid officers and poorly paid privates, salutes, etc. The morale of the army slumped and the period of fascist triumphs commenced. The land and factories were taken back from the workers and peasants and restored to the returning landlords and owners who had been reassured by the government of their “democratic” rights of property. The Moors who had been the spearhead of the fascist attack, and who could have been converted into allies or at least neutralised by a declaration of Moroccan independence by the Government, were used as tools by Franco and almost eliminated in front line fighting. City after City fell without a shot into Franco’s hands, even the impregnable Bilbao. And now comes the fall of Barcelona in the first chapter of the “democratic” as opposed to the revolutionary fight against Franco.
Once again the bitter lesson is being learned that the alternative of “Fascism versus democracy”, the Stalinist and liberal slogan, is as false as its kindred slogan of “Arms to Spain“. It leads everywhere to defeat, outrage and slaughter of the workers. Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and now Spain give the irrevocable answers. The alternative is not between black slavery and pink slavery, between open fascism and disguised democratic fascism. The alternative is Fascism (in all its forms) versus Socialism.
Despite all the lies of renegade socialists and communists, the lessons of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky must be hammered home to the only class which can fight fascism, the working class. Not only theoretically but practically this is the finding of history. As Reimann proves, “A proletarian revolutionises military strategy and tactics, because the soldiers of a revolutionary army, who know how to handle modern machines and arms, know at the same time what they are fighting and dying for.
When the Workers fight for themselves instead of for capitalist myths then, and then only, are they irresistible. Socialism is the only hope. All else is illusion.
Revolutionary Booklets no. 1
Published by Revolutionary Socialist League, 20/2/39
Pioneer Bookshop, 268 Upper Street, Islington.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
IS Policy Statement on Industrial Work
The importance of the Policy Statement on Industrial Work adopted by the International Socialists in 1971 lies in that none of the established leaders of IS wrote it. There can be no doubt that had Jim Higgins, as the groups most authoritative trades unionist, or any of the leading theorists of IS written the document that it would have been superior in every way. Except it would not have represented, as it does, the collective experience of that small layer of industrial, primarily blue collar, militants who had been won to IS in the previous few years.
It represents the collective views of the most politically advanced militants with regard to internal union democracy and its relationship to the struggle against the employers. It represents a set of views that were not confined to IS, although best represented by the organisation, but were to be found throughout the entire workers movement at the height of post-war militancy from which time the document dates. The role of IS in the production of the document was that of a fraction of the class defined by its politics but not separate from the class, or the embryonic vanguard within it, as a whole.
This is in contrast to the role played by the ‘orthodox Trotskyists’ of the period who also had a small following within the class. They, namely the Socialist Labour League of Gerry Healy, saw their task as bringing knowledge of sacred scriptures (the Transitional Program, etc.) to the workers and thereby enlightening them. This policy, substitutionist by its very nature, was seen as being based on the idea of the revolutionary party bringing revolutionary class consciousness to the working class from outside its ranks, a parody of Kautskys views as quoted by Lenin in What Is To Be Done? and was often counter-posed to the supposed economism attributed to IS.
In fact the writing of the document bears witness to IS acting as a part of the class, of a party of its vanguard if you like, developing itself by developing roots within the class and its trade union organisations. Central to this effort was the development of rank and file bodies within the unions themselves but based on workplace or industrial location. Such a strategic conception being very different from the efforts of the orthodox whose entire efforts were to win ‘leadership’ in the class by counter-posing their own narrow party organisation to the reformist bureaucracy within the unions. In its concreteness having nothing abstract about it we may also legitimately contrast the rank and file strategy to the conception of a ‘class struggle left’ that the Mandelites touted at this time as they turned away from their infatuation with guerrilla warfare.
More importantly although the document could easily be subscribed to by the present day SWP it is arguable that its practice is very far from the IS conception of rank and fileism as represented in the Policy Statement. Despite its verbal genuflections to rank and fileism the practice of the SWP is reminiscent of nothing so much as the Mandelite idea of a class struggle left wing in its very amorphousness. Thus on the one hand the SWP claim to be producing rank and file papers, lacking any genuine basis of support from the union rank and file, while on the other hand their members on the executive of PCS vote to drop the ‘suspended strike’ on the pensions issue. This in contrast to the spirit of the Policy Statement which demanded negotiations with the bosses be subject to the ratification of mass meetings.
It should be noted just how much has changed in the field of trades unionism since the document was passed and how the context of 1971 shaped the document. Thus by demanding that negotiations be submitted to mass meetings the document reveals its roots as lying in the blue collar unions of the mass production industries of the time particularly engineering. Today even in that reduced industry mass meetings are rare and have always been less typical of white collar unionism. The Policy Statement is then marked by its origins from deep within a tradition of the British trade union movement which no longer exists on the same scale or in quite the same forms it did between the rise of the General Unions and the defeat of the Miners Strike.
Despite the restructuring of British capitalism since 1979 the efforts of IS to understand the lessons of earlier class struggles, as represented so well in the contents of the issue of the International Socialism journal in which the Policy Statement appeared (see here for a full list of contents), continues to yield results from which revolutionaries can benefit. For example the Policy Statement makes considerable efforts to develop a number of principles by which militants can struggle for workers’ democracy within the trades unions. One aspect of which struggle was the fight against bureaucratism and the co-option of militants into the bureaucracy itself.
Today, if anything, that anti-bureaucratic struggle is more important than it was in 1971. At that time in those plants where Joint Shop Steward Committees existed they were unofficial bodies outside the direct control of either the union bureaucracies or of the state. Today by contrast such committees are recognised and governed by both law and the union bureaucracies with the result that they have all too often become bureaucratised and incorporated into the machinery erected by the bosses to police the workers. Indeed despite the decrease in union density and absolute numbers of unionists there has been a proportionate increase in the size of the union bureaucracy parasitic on the dues paid by the rank and file membership.
It becomes even more important then for revolutionaries to emphasise the need to resist the union bureaucracies and their politics of class collaborationism. Given which it is critical to avoid the possibility of naïve revolutionaries becoming detached from their class base in the workplaces not only by virtue of accepting appointed positions in the union bureaucracy but also by becoming elected to leading committees when lacking support for class struggle policies. If anything the Policy Statement neglects these dual dangers as at the time it was written the number of serious activists of all political hues within the unions was far greater and the level of class struggle far higher so that such a likelihood was unlikely.
What may come as a shock to many young revolutionaries today is the stress placed on workplace organisation in the document. It is then worth contrasting it to those sections of the Transitional Program which discuss trades unionism marked as they are by the authors knowledge of the French working class scene and, to a lesser extent, by the then recent experiences of the American working class in forging the CIO. As such the Transitional Program points towards the absolute importance of workplace democracy in a fashion similar to the main drive of the Policy Statement although the specifics of this are obscured by the roots of the Transitional Program in a union tradition very different to those of Britain in 1971 a fact which the orthodox Trotskyists neglected to their cost.
What emerges from both the Policy Statement and the relevant sections of the Transitional Program is a commitment to workers’ democracy based on the workers own organs of struggle. Such organs, in the first instance strike committees and mass meetings, are however extremely unlikely to emerge if militants allow themselves to become enmeshed with the union bureaucracy when lacking support for their politics at grassroots level. The domination of say the PCS National Executive by members of various left groups is then meaningless when they cannot if so much as lift a finger to defend hard won pension rights. The same is true of the SWP members on the PCS executive who voted against strike action, not only were they betraying the interests of new entrants to the civil service for purely opportunist reasons, but they were also lining up against the need of the proletariat to learn from its own experiences of class struggle in favour of a conception of socialism that sees it as something which ‘leaders’ can deliver to the class through clever negotiations rather than something that must be fought for by the workers ourselves.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Policy Statement on Industrial Work
This policy statement was adopted at a conference of IS members active in industrial and trade union work, and endorsed by the National Committee. It gives the general guidelines for revolutionary socialists on the question. Of course a fight for ‘democracy’ in the abstract will not succeed. The democratic demands have to be linked, in every-case, with specific policy demands on wages, conditions, safety and so on. The formulation of realistic revolutionary policies in the various industries and unions is the task IS industrial militants are now tackling. The present statement is a common element in all of them.
Conference recognises that, under modern conditions, the trade union bureaucracy is a special social group which is used in the maintenance of capitalist class rule.
While the bureaucracy reflects in varying degrees at different times, the pressure of the membership, it also serves as an instrument through which the employers and the State try to discipline and control workers, to limit and often sabotage disputes, to check solidarity actions and to prevent the union of political and industrial struggles. This dual role does not depend mainly on the political outlook of the individual official, though this is of some importance. It depends on the actual position of the bureaucracy in capitalist society. The officials are a relatively privileged group organised in hierarchies enjoying better pay, conditions and, usually, job security than the rank and file militant. They are under very strong pressure to conform to the model of the ‘responsible’ trade union officer, responsible not to the membership, but to the standards of the employer and the state machine.
Under pressure from both the workers and the employers, the bureaucracies try all the time to become independent, to change their position from that of servant of the membership to that of master. To the extent that they succeed in this the unions become mainly organisations for controlling the workers and only secondarily organisations of the workers.
Even where this has already happened to a large extent, Conference rejects the idea that the unions can be bypassed or ignored or that breakaway unions should be promoted. The experience of the last sixty years shows that these views lead to a dangerous isolation of militants from the mass of their fellow workers and so to a strengthening of the bureaucracy. The struggle against the bureaucracy requires the needs a combination of rank and file activity and work in the union machine. Unofficial and official organisations must both be used.
In the longer term the struggle against the bureaucracy requires the development of a national rank and file organisation and a program of action which combines immediate and long term demands. Central to this program is the question of control by the membership.
Therefore Conference recognises the urgent need to campaign for rank and file control of the trade unions. We recognise the that no democratic constitution alone guarantees active democracy, that being dependent on the degree of participation by the membership at large. Where rank and file members draw up programmes of demands specific to their individual union, these should (a) be based on the principles outlined below and (b) be related to the immediate experience of trade unionists in struggle and not mere blueprints abstracted from the present level of class activity.
1. All officials should be elected and subject to constant recall.
2. All full-time officials should be paid the average wage in their industry.
3. Union policy-making bodies should be comprised of elected lay officials only.
4. Election addresses to be circulated unaltered for candidates for all elected positions in the union.
5. Any educational qualifications for union office should be abolished.
6. No member to be disqualified from holding office on political grounds.
7. Full minutes and voting records of policy making bodies should be circularised.
8. No political censorship of union journal.
1. National delegate conferences should be held annually.
2. Standing Orders committees should annually comprise of elected lay-officials.
3. No branch block voting.
1. Appeals Committees should be comprised of elected lay-officials.
1. While in principle we support industrial unions and any amalgamations contributing to that end, the priority remains for maximum rank and file unity, for joint shop stewards committees, factory and combine wide.
1. No secret negotiations.
2. Every stage of negotiations should be subject to rank and file ratifications at mass meetings.
3. Mass meetings should never be presented with package deals unless each part of the deal has been voted on separately beforehand.
1. All strikes in support of trade union principle, conditions or wages be made official.
2. Dispute benefit to be raised by levy of entire membership when necessary.
1. Support of 100 per cent trade unionism and the right of trade unionists to enforce closed shops.
2. Opposition to check-off system.
3. Opposition to employer policed ‘agency shops’.
4. Support of the right for trade unionists to discipline fellow workers who flout democratic decisions.
5. Access to job waiting lists by shop stewards committees. Waiting lists to be on the basis, first applied first employed.
1. Opposition to any ‘managerial policing’ by shop stewards. No participation on management committees intended to keep shop stewards off the shop floor for long periods.
2. Shop stewards to hold regular report back meetings: insistence on allocated time for such meetings; especially where there is shift working.
1. Right of members to criticise union policy
2. Right of members to meet unofficially and visit other branches.
3. Right of members to communicate with the press.
4. Right of members to write, circularise and/or sell political literature.
5. Right of appeal direct to Appeals court.
6. Right of all members, irrespective of sex or race, to pay equal contributions, to receive equal benefits and to have equal access to all union delegacies and offices.
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International Socialism Number 48 June/July 1971