Barry (Sheffield) poses questions on the nature of trade unionism as part of the preparations for the discussion at our 12th December aggregate meeting.
This look at the platform followed some recent criticism that the platform did not have a communist understanding of the nature of trade unions. For these critics the platform suggested that a communist rank and file could win the fight against the bueaucracy in the unions and take them over or control them, to turn them into revolutionary organisations.
Now, the platform has worked very well, but could it work better and provide more clarity on the trade union issue, an important question for communists?
1. Despite the arrogance of our critics, is there a single coherent Marxist theory of trade unions?
2. Was Marx indulging in wishful thinking when he urged the unions to “inscribe on their banners ‘the abolition of the wages system’”?
3. Was Gramsci exaggerating when he argued that trade unions functioned like capitalist organisations as the sellers of a commodity – the commodity labour power?
4. Did William Morris have a point when he said the purpose of trade unions was to keep the human part of capital in good working order?
5. In What is to be done? Lenin stated that revolutionary consciousness had to be introduced into the trade union struggle from the outside. Is this historically true?
6. What do we think of Trotsky’s 1924 view prior to the General Strike that pressure from the trade unions could help transform the Labour party into a revolutionary party with a new leadership?
7. How can we reconcile Trotsky’s later position that it is possible to have revolutionary unions with the aim of overthrowing capital in the period of imperialism,when he also put forward the view that trade unions were the backbone of capitalism and imperialism?
8. What did Steve Jeffreys of the SWP mean politically in 1979 when he said ‘at times our rank and file orientation has been viewed too exclusively as meaning rank and file verses trade union bureaucracy’?
9. Are trade unions today schools for communism and would it be a waste of time and energy to rebuild them?
10. Is the rationale of trade unions to improve the workers’ conditions within the framework of capitalism: to improve the terms of exploitation, not abolish that exploitation?