On Trade Unionism


the bureaucracy and the rank and file


Trade Unions are among the earliest and longest lasting forms of working class organization. Trade unionism arises from workers need for mutual solidarity to deal with the twin pressure of a competitive “labour market” and “employer’s power in the work place”. Unions are recognized as being the front line in the battle with capitalist. But, they are also themselves arenas of internal contentions.

Alex Callinicos pointed out the fundamental limitation of unions; first, they are not usually organizations of the whole working class but of only a part of the class. They are trade unions and therefore mirror the divisions imposed on workers by the capitalist system – divisions between white and blue collar workers, between engineers and miners, between unemployed and employed, between formal and informal work.

Secondly the union devotes itself to improving workers’ conditions within the existing framework of the capitalist system, not to fighting for workers to overthrow the system and replace it with workers’ democratic management and control.

The problem with this is that, we will always be fighting against the battles in the objective class war between the workers and the bosses without aiming for defeating the bosses in the war.

Working class activists thus have to point out the relationship between particular battles and the general war against capitalism which working class-people must wage to its logical conclusion, to win our self-emancipation.

Most trade union leaders and for most of the time the majority of trade union members accept that there is a sharp division between politics and economics. For this belief in the division, the attitudes of unions’ struggle are concerned with economic struggle over wages, and conditions of work, pension and issues of Lay off workers etc. This is necessary but not sufficient to win a better world.

The German revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg once said “Revolutionaries are the best reformers”. In other words, reforms are not bad, and revolutionaries do not oppose reforms in themselves. However, the idea that we can change society through reforms and not revolution only helps to strengthen the bosses and their capitalist system.

Trade Union Bureaucracy are the paid professional’s functionaries of trade union organization also refers as FTOs. Fulltime Union official are a necessity, but also a problem. They are needed to maintain continuity organization through different phases and periods. However, it as engenders a degree of conservation. Unions are concerned within capitalism first and foremost with improving the terms on which workers are exploited, not with ending that exploitation.

Fundamentally, while FTO are neither employers nor workers, they occupy an official social position which is different from the bulk of the members. In this wise most ordinary members have a more discontinuous relationship to working class life travel to work, work frustration, managing on at best only just enough money, sheer tiredness-absorb much of their attention. Importantly trade union official also depend on money wage, this is something which is gained from union dues which comes from the sales of rank and file labour power to the capitalist.

Rank and File organization depends on a network of union activities with real roots in their work places, able to pose the question of practical independent action among their members. The greet attraction of trade union power and the reason why millions of workers join unions is that they provide the organization that can make this power effective.

As it said there are no fixed formulas, in all working class struggles, there is no iron line between politics and economics. A revival of rank and file organization is much needed at this time, but equally from political radicalization and Education (industrial Militancy). While it permanent to note that degree of interplay between Union Bureaucracy and Rank and file would shape how far their success is sustained.

Indeed, capitalist democracy permits the development of working class organization it also seeks to contain and to incorporate that organization. In this new era of capitalist globalization, trade unions should align with revolutionary forces such as the left wing of the labour movement.

Capitalism cannot be patched up to make it a fair system. Workers are often pushed to fight against specific injustice or for better wages and condition. This struggles can give worker more confidence and organization to fight for even more; to fight to break their chains and win the world.

by Adefolarin A. Olamilekan



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