Trade Union Bureaucracy

Adam Rose adam at
Tue Nov 28 06:37:44 MST 1995

Steve Wallis writes:
> Adam Rose <adam at> writes:
> > But whether a union has right of left leadership isn't the crucial issue.
> > eg in 1972 and 1974 the miners won with a right wing leadership, and in 1985
> > they lost with a left wing leadership.
> >
> > The difference in the 2 strikes was the confidence of the rank + file,
> > both inside + outide the mining industry.
> This is a rather one-sided and undialectical approach, IMO.  I don't disagree
> that a confident rank + file is vital, but if union leaderships keep selling
> out then it leads to a decrease in confidence (in general).

Bureaucrats, left or right, always vacillate. They cannot be relied on.
When this happens, the factor which determines how things turn out is
the ability of the workers themselves to act independently of the Bureaucracy.
This depends on a ( dialectical ! ) mixture of politics and organisation.
There needs to be a network of rank + file activists who have proved
themselves over the years, and along with this a set of ideas which
puts action from below as the key to change.
If the network isn't there, there is nothing to pull the action with.
If the politics at the core of this network are reformist politics,
there comes a time when these reformist politics hold back the struggle.

This pressure from below is the determining factor in whether Bureaucrats,
left or right, are able to sell out in the first place.

> And surely you don't think that "confidence of the rank + file" is the only
> reason why strikes succeed or fail.  Isn't strategy also important?

The recent postal workers strike is a good example. When a few workers in a
particular post office were effected by the changes, they had the confidence
not to muck around with a ballot, but walk out. They had the confidence to
spread the strike. They had they had the confidence to act illegally in this
way. They had the confidence to scream down the bureaucrat when he told them
to obey the law and go back to work, and the condfidence to spread it out
of the Central Belt of Scotland to Aberdeen.

This confidence is an organisational confidence but also a political one.
They're not going to wait for Labour. They're not going to obey the law.
They don't trust the union leadership.

I don't know the exact details, but it seems there was a bit of a fudge
at the end, since the union has agreed to talks over restructuring. In other
words, the rank + file didn't have the confidence to stay out even longer
to win a total capitulation from the management, but settled instead for
an excellent points victory, withdrawal of the proposals which sparked the
strike in the first place.

I don't believe anything would have been different if the CWU had had a
"left" union leadership. Do you ?

Adam Rose

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