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Trade Unions

By hollybell Jun 05, 2009 2224 Words

Over the years a number of theorists have attempted to explain union action and behaviour. The trade unions were formed during the period of rise and growth in capitalism. Capitalism is characterised by exploitation of workers, low wages inequality, this ideology is seen as beneficial to the economy. The trade union as a revolutionary agency will be discussed. Different interpretations of Lenin and Trotsky will critically analyse trade unions as revolutionary agencies. To fully comprehend this essay you need to understand why trade unions developed. Unions developed as means of redressing the imbalance of power between workers and employers, whereas workers had virtually no power as individuals, through a collective organization their influence was considerably increased (Giddens: 2006,754). Trade unions occurred in the capitalist system because of the polarity of social classes and social stratification, which consisted of those whom own the means of production and the labours. All this exploitation resulted in social inequality which made people aware of social consciousness.

Aim of revolution
The aim of the revolution was to create socialism, which is a world wide classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing the distributing wealth (Ross:1998,175). For Marx the central feature of socialism is that work would no longer be monotonous drudgery (Kelly: 1988,10). Here the individual will only be recognized just as another tool in the production process. The bourgeoisie regard their system as eternal, not subject to fundamental change. This differs radically from Marxism, which teaches us that capitalism is a transitory social formation. Like feudalism and slavery, it will have to give way to a higher form of society. The bourgeoisie cannot be given an objective assessment of the real trends in capitalist society. Everything they do is calculated to serve self-interest for the most malicious type.

Emergence of trade unions
Trade unions did not instantaneously occur as a strong force but it was assisted by the First International. Like any other movement trying to convey a point or create change it needed guidance and coordination this is where the First International comes into play. According to Kelly " Under the guidance of Marx and Engles, it devoted much of its time and resources to assisting trade union economic and political struggles throughout Europe (1988,21).

Economic and political struggle
Many economist believed that trade union economic struggle would of itself develop revolutionary class consciousness and improve the condition of the working class (Kelly: 1988,29). Therefore economist believed that if trade unions strike and fight for things of monetary value e.g. wages that their conditions would increase. Lenin argued this, he insisted that economic struggle alone could not possible bring significant improvement in the working class. He argued that economic and political struggle cannot be separated. According to Kelly "The economic struggle develops the workers political consciousness and spurs the workers on to think of state political questions" (1988,29). This is because if the workers are constantly fighting with the capitalists this would bring them in conflict with the capitalist system and the workers could only be political and economically set free and achieve their goals only through exerting they influence in the political system. In a capitalist system the bourgeoisie who are the owners of the means of production determine the political system which is in their interests. It is important to note that even though the workers standards of living may slightly increase, economic improvement, their social position declines. Therefore an economic struggle was not sufficient to completely change the problems that the working class was experiencing. An example of this is South African trade unions due to their persistence of improving employees working conditions they have impacted the political system this is through laws and employee rights been incorporated in the legislation such as employment equity act.

Dynamics of class consciousness

Class consciousness was vital in achieving a counter- revolution in this case from a capitalist to a socialist system. Lenin argued that revolutionary class consciousness cannot develop out of spontaneous economic struggles of trade unions, but must be brought to the working class form outside the sphere of production relations, by intellectuals drawn mainly from the bourgeois intellengista (Kelly:1988,29). This indicates that Lenin had little regard for the workers, the consciousness had to be brought from outside, the workers were incapable of developing their own ideology. In spite of this Lenin saw a need for trade unions. According to Kelly "Lenin did in fact defend the necessity for independent trade union to protect workers against abuse and exploitation and opposed those who saw no role fro trade unions in a socialist society." (1988:30). Trade unions are necessary a prime example would be the numerous people in China who work in sweat shops for multi-national corporations. These people are being severely exploited. They work under poor working conditions and are used as cheap labour for companies such as Nike if trade unions were present this severity of exploitation would not occur. Engels disagreed with Lenin he saw trade unions as playing a potentially revolutionary role; no matter how limited their activities were, they attacked the very basis of capital accumulation.

As indicated previously that class consciousness needed to be directed by intellectuals, these are people who had a greater understanding of class consciousness, and socialist ideologies. This indicates only through proper leadership can a groups goals be achieved, this Is because people need to be directed, it is essential for any group especially a large group such as workers they need controlled leadership. Lenin states that the working class a spontaneous and they need help in form of education and guidance (Kelly:1988,30). Therefore the stable leaders are able to maintain continuity of the party since it their profession to be revolutionaries. An importantly the revolutionaries are professionally trained they will be more difficult to catch the organization. A prime an example of this is South Africa's democracy political leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Chris Hani fought for black liberation in the struggle against apartheid continuously until it democracy was achieved. Non whites where rioting but without these leaders continuous dedication and direction their efforts would have been insignificant. Another feature of a trade union Is "freeriding'. This is where people may gain the benefits of joining a union without joining it if they union already enjoys widespread support (Clarke&Clements:1978:20). Many join the union for the benefits but don not participate but if everybody decides to freeride the union will soon collapse. Therefore trade unions need leadership because of such things otherwise it will collapse.

Lenin ushered in something new not only into the Russian, but into the international labor movement as well. For Lenin the trade unions were a part of a mechanism. According to Kelly "for class consciousness a revolutionary party was necessary to educate the workers and instil in the a realisation of their true interests." (1988,34). In one of For him the trade unions were of value only if they were imbued with the Communist spirit. To saturate the unions with a Communist ideology, Lenin was an outstanding political thinker. He knew how to manoeuvre with millions, how to direct millions into the struggle, he correctly estimated the role and the tasks of the trade unions and was instrumental in making the Russian trade union movement play an exceptional role in the shaping of the trade union movement of all countries.

Epoch imperialism results in trade union organizations in the entire world drawing closely to and growing together with the state power. This process is equally characteristic of the neutral, the Social-Democratic, the Communist and "anarchist" trade unions. This fact alone shows that the tendency towards "growing together" is intrinsic not in this or that doctrine as such but derives from social conditions common for all unions. (). Therefore the trade unions are becoming semi-state institutions. There exists this false impression that the workers have an influence in the economic system therefore the state has more control over trade unions and it reinforces its ideology of capitalism.

Trade Union bureaucracy
Troksty placed great emphasis on the role of he bureaucracy in retarding revolutionary trade union struggle and consciousness. According to Trotsky " It is thanks to the trade union bureaucracy that the whole structure of capitalism now stands upright." (Kelly:1988,142). Bureaucracy is characterized by a hierarchical top down and depersonalized structure, it relies too much on written rules and does not allow for flexibility. Therefore the workers would have very little say. Weber believes that democratic representation are closely related to the rise of the bureaucracy (Clarke&Clemont:1978,23). Bureaucracy is important because if there are leaders in place individual accountability will be reduced. In becoming bureaucrats, leaders are distanced for the grassroots; because of their organizational power, they able to resist challenges to their leadership and become a semi permanent elite. Michels referred to this process as the "iron law of oligarchy". (Clarke & Clements:1978,24). Therefore what would develop is a clear distinct separation between the leaders and the trade union members.

Trotsky believed that the economy was ready for a revolution and the masses were politically active, conscious and unified or would become so under the impact of economic crisis and revolutionary propaganda. (Kelly:1988, 43). Trade unions should have realised by coming together as masses they have greater power and could create a counter revolution instead of being organs of the state. If all the trade unions decided to strike and stop work, production would stop since there are indispensible in the production process and they would be able to enforce their demands through this action. In imperialism capitalism can maintain itself only by lowering living standards of the working class. According to Trotsky under imperialism capitalism trade union can either transform into revolutionary organisation or become lieutenants of capital in the intensified exploitation of the workers and the trade union bureaucracy took the second path (Kelly:1988,45). Therefore trade unions cease being trade unions in imperialist epoch. In other words the trade union cannot be part of democracy, they can no longer remain politically neutral and they cannot adequately serve the needs of the working class with the influence of the state.

Transitional demands
Trotsky's most interesting contribution to the study of trade unionism was his theory of transitional demands as raising class consciousness. From the non achievement of the workers basic demands, workers were supposed to refrain if the system could not meet their demands, then let it perish (Kelly:1988, 47). Therefore workers would ask for unreasonable demands under the capitalism system such as a 15 percent wage when they are fully aware this is impossible therefore the industry would have to meet their demands or they would strike which would result in a halt in productivity. These demands, as we have seen, are designed not to be achievable under capitalism - their purpose is to effect a break with capitalism and provide a transition to socialist revolution. (Kelly:1988, 47). Transitional demands as Trotsky refers to them, basically act as a bridge between answering the immediate problems of working people and the socialist transformation of society, the ultimate solution to all the separate issues. This is because many workers would want their immediate problems addressed and would see the idea of socialism irrelevant if their immediate concerns weren't being addressed. For Trotsky it went without saying that an adequate class consciousness and an adequate level of organisation would emerge as soon as the economic levels of the working class grew

The first problem with Trotsky's idea that arises from transitional demands, it did not occur to him that the historical process and political-economic institutions in which this new working class was being formed and its practical experiences would be equally essential factors in a counter revolution. Secondly Lenin believed that politics were vital in the revolutionary process. His critic to Trotsky was eh forgotten that politics must take precedence over economics with a correct political approach the matter the given class will be unable to stay on top and consequently, will be incapable of solving its production problem either. (Ross:1998:192) Lenin overemphasized the importance and indispensability of the vanguard or party in working class circles.

Lenin's most controversial statement is probably his dictum that "class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, from outside the economic struggle". This constitutes a radical revision of the perspective advanced by Marx and Engels; it reflects Lenin's understanding that trade unions operate within the confines of the capitalist wages system and that their organisations and forms of struggle reflect that fact. He believed that trade unions are inherently a feature of the capitalist system unless guided by a vanguardist party. The strength of Lenin's theory of trade unionism obviously lay in its political rather than its social aspect.

Referencing list
Clark, T. and Clements, L. (ed). 1978. Trade union under capitalism. London: Harvester. Giddens, A. (5ed) 2006. Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press. Kelly, J. 1998. Trade unions and socialist politics. London: Verso Ross, J. 1998. Algebra of Revolution The Dialectic the Classical Marxist Tradition. London: Routledge.

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