[Marxism] RMT Open Debate on Working Class Representation

Jack Cade jack.cade at btinternet.com
Tue Jan 24 07:08:03 MST 2006

	I thought about Bob Crow's reported remarks about some
kind of national shop stewards movement rather than a party.

	The problem with that is that the kind of circumstances
that led to shop stewards movements (similar to those that
created revolutionary parties) in the past are not present today.
Around 1911-13 there was a rise of anarcho-syndicalism, led by
people like Jay Fox and William Z Foster in the USA and Tom Mann
and Guy Bowman in England. Through imperial links Tom Mann, an
engineer, spread this work to Australia, where the engineering
union (ASE later the AEU) had organisational ties with England.
The forces behind it were mainly engineers, railwaymen and
miners. A key demand was for industrial rather than craft

	The First World War pre-empted this movement, which was
coming to a head when it broke out. The first Shop Stewards
movement was created on the basis of the war mass production
industries. It was a factor in the foundation of the Communist
Party in Britain in 1920 and the upsurge of 1921. Likewise the
build up of war production in the Second World War led to a
second national shop stewards movement.

	Those kinds of conditions are not present now. The
Thatcherite assault and legal repression of unions has led to a
tendency, even among left-wing and well-meaning people, for a
growing bureaucracy in unions. The gap in union participation and
life is bridged with more full-time organisers. These are
efficient and naturally pro-union and anti-racist but otherwise
anti-political. Their aspirations are to become greater cogs in
the union machine, by becoming more senior officials, rather than
for socialist perspectives. Trade union education is also of a
poor standard these days. Working class and socialist ideas have
been replaced by things like 'Union Learning Reps', for which
unions get money from the government. These provide low-level
qualifications (NVQ level 2) which are basically for adult

	From what I have seen there were not many actual RMT
members at the conference. Likewise there don't seem to have been
many trade union representatives generally. Apart from John
McDonnell MP (part of the Socialist Campaign Group) there don't
seem to have been any Labour activists eager to urge the RMT back
into the fold (either from the Labour NEC or the Labour Left
Briefing or the Labour Representation Committee).

Jack Cade

> It has to be done through the Trade Union movement
> Bob Crow whom I know quite well, through London Transport, is 
> an honest man  
> and loyal to his members. But on this one he is terribly 
> wrong George Anthony

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