[Marxism] Unions Doing Things Wrong
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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