[Marxism] Unions Doing Things Wrong

dan d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Sat Sep 1 15:44:10 MDT 2012

 >>"The union let scabs cross the picket line and failed to
stop production, almost guaranteeing defeat.?

Academically correct, but without a hint as to how this program could be 

The American IWW, the most creative revolutionary syndicalist 
organization of the early 20th century had several strategies for 
dealing with lock-outs and scabs.

One of the most successful strategies was to call on currently 
unemployed union members to give a helping hand.

Remember the IWW actively unionized "hobos" and helped secure points 
along the railways where unemployed workers could "catch a train" 
without being racketereed by the railroads security agents. Indeed, 
armed railroads agents and local police would extort a "right of way" 
from migrant workers, those who did not pay would "grease the tracks" 
(be killed). The IWW thus organized regular "flying units" armed with 
pistols who would defend migrant workers and carve out the letters IWW 
on the foreheads of captured railroads security agents. This proved a 
powerful incentive for migrant workers to join the wobblies for protection.

Anyhow, migrant IWW workers would be asked to come from all over the US 
and apply as "scabs" in the factory that had fired the workforce who was 
demanding better pay and working conditions.

These "scabs" (actually IWW "sleeper agents") would typically be payed 
higher rates (to entice scabs), but would use their stay in the factory 
to sabotage the production process slowly but very effectively (feigning 
ignorance : "we're not used to this, employ people that are !"). This 
would go on until factory profits were down significantly from pre 
lock-out conditions, thus forcing capitalists to negotiate with striking 
workers and abandon the lock-out. Of course, expenses were shared 
between strikers and "mock scabs" and efforts were made to ensure that 
the IWW elements within the scabs got hired as part of the regular 
The whole idea was to strengthen proletarian solidarity.

This is a broad overview of this sabotage strategy, and an infinite 
number of local variations occured. As a response to this strategy, 
bosses began to use the police force and infamous Pinkertons to forcibly 
relocate stricking workers away from the factory, thus physically 
removing the striking workers from production (as the land surrounding 
the factory on which workers lived typically belonged to the bosses).

But the IWW was an organization based on working class solidarity, the 
likes of which we are now in the process of rediscovering since it has 
become clear that (as Occupy puts it) we are the 99%.

The fact that today's unions have forgotten many of the strategies the 
French CGT, Spanish CNT or American IWW, used between 1890 and 1925, 
simply  means that such strategies ("sabotage", "direct action", 
"solidarity") will be coming back with new, modern appellations. My 
friends in the current IWW tell me that they want to shame bosses by 
phoning the customers of a particulary exploitative boss and get said 
customers to boycott that particular boss. In my view, this is still a 
very primitive strategy that shows how weak proletarian solidarity is in 
2012. They point out to me that any effort to organize a workshop 
nowadays is met with a dozen radio-wielding and pepper-spray totting 
security agents that quickly force union organizers off the premisses 
when they approach workers during lunch breaks.

But the working class is nothing if not creative, and sabotage, as Emile 
Pouget put it, is an idea that is always present within the workforce. 
And as Pouget saw it, the idea of "sabotage" is ALWAYS decried and 
derided by socialist parties, who will do their utmost to curb such 
tendencies as they, despite their fiery speeches, are always appalled by 
workers taking matters into their own hands and causing havoc  without 
party guidance ("the working-class needs a vanguard to organize the 
complete overthrow of capitalism, the lack of a vanguard means the 
working class can merely produce riots and not a revolution" Lenin).

So join, or create, a truly revolutionary, a truly anti-capitalist union.

Such a union will of course fight for better pay and better working 
conditions for its members in the "here-and-now", but also slowly lay 
the foundations for the working class to seize power through workers' 
councils (in the long-term future). The two (short-term and long-term) 
strategies being dialectically linked through working-place democracy. 
This was known in the 1900-1910 as "revolutionary gymnastics"; i.e. each 
strike (though most of them failed) meant that workers would view bosses 
as illegitimate, thus enabling them to "exercise their muscles", to 
slowly learn that speaking one's mind is not "stupid" and fighting for 
one's rights not a crime, until one day they felt proud and confident 
enough to take over the running of the factory.

This view (known as "Anarcho-syndicalism" or "Revolutionary 
Syndicalism") is very much frowned upon by Leninist parties, although it 
is, as far as I can see, far more Marxist than Leninism and its 
obsession with building a disciplined party.

"The events in Egypt could have become revolutionary IF ONLY there was a 
Leninist vanguard party to organize a coherent strategy. The present 
cruel lack of a vanguard party means the proletariat will be defeated 
again and again, until such a party emerges." This is the stuff I have 
to put up with in my home-town from the Trotskyites and CPers that laugh 
at any suggestion of Anarcho-syndicalism.

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