(en) CAPITALIST CRISIS AND THE TASKS OF TRADE UNIONS

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Tue, 18 Mar 1997 22:44:06 GMT


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The following Resolution was adopted after discussion, by the ITUSC International Workers' Conference 18-21 January 1997:-

CAPITALIST CRISIS AND THE TASKS OF TRADE UNIONS The decision to hold this conference came from an earlier conference organised jointly by the International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign and the African Liberation Solidarity Campaign. This conference was a considerable success, bringing together 83 delegates from over 20 countries, many of whom met each other for the first time. It united trade unionists who found themselves to be fighting common problems; for the right of trades unions to exist independently of the state; for internal democracy in the unions; and against a mounting social crisis marked by, among other things, rising unemployment in the big capitalist countries; by the emergence of brutal, anti-working-lass dictatorships throughout the colonial and semi-colonial countries.

Conference met under conditions of a growing crisis within the unions. In some countries principally the colonial and semi-colonial countries, they are banned completely, with those attempting to build them persecuted, tortured, killed or driven abroad into political exile. In the metropolitan capitalist countries rising unemployment has brought severe falls in union membership, while at the same time the official trade union leaderships find themselves collaborating ever more openly with the employers and the state against their own members, refusing to take up a fight against the battery of anti-trade union laws the ruling class now has at its disposal against the trade union movement.

What is the source of this crisis in the trade union movement? It is the crisis of capital itself that lies behind the attempt by the ruling class to destroy any effective trade unionism. It is characteristic of the century as a whole, that ,as a general trend, the existing trade union movement is drawn ever-closer to the state, transformed into an instrument through which the capitalist class seeks to preserve its rule.

POST WAR

After the end of World War II, thanks to principally to the betrayals of the Stalinist Bureaucracy, capitalism was afforded a new, if temporary, lease of life. Under the hegemony of US imperialism, which had emerged, at the expense of its rivals in Europe ,as the dominant capitalist power, the ruling class, at least in the big capitalist countries, was able to come to a relative modus vivendi with the official leaderships of the working-class movement. This was an aspect of the "post-war settlement" that, under the pressure of the working class, saw a significant expansion of welfare and other forms of spending by the state in many countries of Europe as well as North America. Capital experienced a new period of extended reproduction which brought about a significant increase in the level of employment and in consequence trade union membership Indeed, for periods after the war employers in the big capitalist countries complained of "over-full employment" where "too few workers were chasing too few jobs". Under these conditions, trade unionism, controlled by a pro-capitalist bureaucracy, was tolerated."Tri-partisanship" -- with the trade union bureaucracy, the employers and the capitalist state coming together in joint bodies to consider "common social and economic problems" was in vogue.

KEYNESIAN

All this was reinforced and justified by an ideology which claimed that thanks to work of Keynes and the Keynesians economic and social crises were things of the past and in consequence the conflict between labour and capital had been overcome. We could look forward to the gradual improvement in working-class living standards as well as the steady economic and social development of what was euphemistically called the "underdeveloped world". One thing was for sure, Marxism, we were informed was dead and buried.

The worth of these "theories" is clear to see. It was in the 1970s that the open signs of a fundamental crisis for capital first became increasingly clear. The collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971 brought about a severe inflationary crisis combined with growing long-term and structural unemployment that proved immune to the Keynesian measures that had supposedly made mass unemployment a thing of the past.

PROPAGANDA

In the colonial and semi-colonial countries, despite all the claims of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, despite "development decades" and other cynical pieces of propaganda, there has in truth been no "development". Indeed it is the World Bank and the IMF with their so-called "stabilisation plans" that are the chief instruments for imposing the brutal rule of capital in these countries. It is a rule that has produced growing instability and unemployment, widespread squalor, and a grinding poverty and its attendant diseases which is now endemic, at least for all but a privileged few. In the last resort it is these international bodies of capitalism that control the colonial and semi-colonial countries, and not their governments, whatever might be their rhetoric.

BRUTALITY

The situation in these countries reveals in all its stark brutality that barbarism is not simply a thing in prospect but an actual and grim reality for countless millions. In the metropolitan capitalist countries the ruling class is now driven to take back all the gains that is was forced to yield to the strength of the working class after 1945. This involves no simple policy choice, is not the result of the chance appearance of a group of reactionary ideologists within the ruling class. "Thatcherism" - with its drive against the trades unions, its economic policy - was not the source of the mounting crisis for capital but was itself an expression of this very crisis.

COLLAPSE

Here was an indication of the fact that a new stage of capitalism's crisis had opened up, and thereby a new stage in the crisis facing the working class and its organisations, including its most basic organisations, the trade unions.

For the ruling class the collapse of the regimes throughout the former Soviet Union and the countries of eastern Europe was both an expression of this crisis, but at the same time a source of its considerable intensification. The implications for the collapse of these regimes for the situation facing trades unions and the working class in general in the colonial and semi-colonial countries are particularly important. For a crucial period throughout the 1950's and 1960's it was possible for a series of leaders in what are now nominally "independent" states in Africa and elsewhere to balance between the "Soviet bloc" on the one hand and imperialism on the other, to some extent playing one off against the other. Many such leaders presented themselves as "socialists," even as Marxists.

CHANGED

This situation has changed, dramatically so. Imperialism, as part of its "new world order" (in fact its a world of chaos) has increasingly to resort to the most brutal and naked forms of dictatorship throughout Africa and much of the rest of the colonial and semi-colonial world.

In the imperialist countries this new stage of the crisis means an intensification of the drive to subordinate completely the trades unions to the needs of the capitalist state, to suppress finally any vestiges of democracy within those organisations and in the bodies of the working- class movement generally.

Under these conditions there is no possibility of restoring the "old" trade unionism that characterised the period of capitalism's rise, nor of re-creating the sort of trade unionism that, on the basis of the post-war boom, existed in countries such as Britain for the three decades or so after the end of World War II. Despite the growth of its membership, even in this later period the unions were in the main confined to the more privileged layers in the working class. It was a trade unionism that made a rigid distinction between "political" and "industrial" issues.

PARLIAMENTARY

As far as the trade union bureaucracy was concerned, "politics" was to be confined to parliamentary activities. But the ruling class can no longer tolerate even this sort of trade unionism, even though it was quite inadequate to meet the needs of the working class, dominated as it was by a leadership that accepted completely the permanence of the capitalist system. Capital today demands a labour force that is at its complete mercy, stripped of all its means to defend wages, working conditions , safety, etc. It is this need that is behind the drive to casualisation, one of the main issues discussed at our earlier conference and the subject of a special session on the Tuesday of this one, as well as one that has been at the heart of the 15 month long strike of Liverpool dockers

UNEMPLOYMENT

At the same time capital consigns millions, even in the metropolitan countries, to permanent unemployment under conditions where it is increasingly unable to sustain the sort of welfare spending that in the post-war period made life for the unemployed at least semi-tolerable.

The building and rebuilding of the trade union movement is today possible only to the extent that the unions greatly broaden the scope and aims of their work.

MILLIONS

Millions of workers are today outside the unions, even in the big capitalist countries. Many are unemployed and with little or no prospect of finding work again. They are almost completely ignored by the present trade union leadership. The great majority of the most exploited workers, women and children in particular remain unorganised, their plight is of little concern to the trade union bureaucracy. At the same time millions from the colonial countries have been driven abroad and forced to try and survive under conditions of illegality, facing the constant fear of deportation thanks to racist and reactionary immigration laws. The trade union movement must be forced to take up the problems of these groups, to organise them and to draw them into the activities of the labour movement.

Nor can the trade union movement pretend any longer to remain "non-political". The economic struggle of the working class is today more than ever bound up completely with a political struggle against the capitalist class. The existence of anti-trade union laws, as well as the state banning of trades unions in many countries, alone makes this inevitable.

The aim of the unions must be to lead the struggle of the whole of the working class against the power of capital, as well as to take up questions such as that of the right of oppressed people to national self-determination.

Naturally, this is impossible without a fundamental change of relations within the trade union movement. This will involve a determined fight against the trade union bureaucracy that increasingly usurps power from the membership of the movement in order to subordinate the interests of the working class directly to the needs of capital.

POWERFUL

If these tasks are accomplished the trade unions will be transformed into a powerful weapon for the struggle against capital, a mighty instrument for the socialist revolution.

We put forward this analysis of the situation facing the trade union movement internationally as a basis for discussion.

____________________________________________________________________________ _________ This is from the International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign (ITUSC) at:- e-mail: itusc@gn.apc.org website: http://www.itusc.org.uk 'snail' mail: PO Box 18, Epsom, Britain, KT18 7YR Tel/Fax ++44 (0) 1372 817 778 The ITUSC is an international and internationalist association of organised workers and communities, dedicated to rebuilding the workers' movement and to overcoming sectarianism and division in working class organisations. It was founded in 1991 on the following principles: 1) trade unions independent of the state and employers; 2) democracy within trade unions, and; 3) workers' internationalism. Any individuals or organisations that accept these principles and are prepared to work for them, are regarded as comrades by the ITUSC. ____________________________________________________________________________ ________

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