Social-democratic ‘think tank’ the Fabian Society released a publication on 7 December by the name of ‘Raising Lazarus’, written by David Coates, an employment research consultant who used to run the Economic and Social Affairs department at the TUC and is also a member of the Labour Party. The main thrust of the pamphlet’s argument is that the trade unions risk becoming “irrelevant” and losing their Labour link (heaven forbid!) if they don’t stop being so “confrontational” and start being more cooperative with employers.
Trade unions do have falling membership problems and increasingly are seen by workers as irrelevant, but Mr Coates turns the truth on its head when he claims that militancy is the cause of this. On the contrary, the majority of the militant action over the last two decades has been rank and file led, with many union leaders either being pushed unwillingly into a position of support or actively working to undermine strikers. One only has to think of the Liverpool dockers, the Hillingdon Hospital workers and, most recently, the Gate Gourmet workers to see this truth. It is obvious to anyone who chooses to look that many trade union leaders are much more interested in playing the stock markets with pension funds and financial assets than in fighting for their members’ interests.
We live in a class society. The interests of the working class and those of the ruling class do not coincide, although enough is conceded by the ruling class (thanks to the superexploitation of the oppressed world by imperialism) to the top sections of the working class (the “labour aristocracy” or “labour lieutenants” of imperialism, as Lenin aptly named them) to buy them off and use them to step on rising militancy and political awareness within the workers’ ranks. So how can we cooperate better with our employers as Coates suggests we should? Simply by doing everything they want us to: by taking the wage cuts, accepting worsening conditions, handing over the rights that our predecessors fought to gain, and so on. In fact, ‘better cooperation with employers’ is simply another way of telling workers that they should accept absolutely their own role as so many pawns in the quest for maximum profit, to be set to work or thrown on the scrap heap as capital deems fit.
The only path to really improving the lot of the worker is the path of socialist revolution, which will replace exploitation with cooperation and abolish the contradiction between rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited. This cannot take place without a revolutionary party of the proletariat, raising the political awareness of workers and fighting against all those who lead the class down false paths. It is not for nothing that reformist trade union leaders, who wish to preserve imperialism and their own privileged position within it, tie their unions collectively, and as many members as possible individually, to the Labour Party. For proof, one has only to look at the Warwick Agreement, whereby Labour secured trade union silence on pensions and other important issues during the general election in return for a few vague promises from the government that it would ‘look into’ some of the more pressing issues that are currently affecting workers.
In fact, the Warwick Agreement not only bought trade union silence on important issues, but many union leaders declared it a great victory and called upon their members not only to vote Labour but to go out and work for a Labour victory at the polls. It is only when workers reject the idea that the Labour Party is their party that Mr Coates’ threat about losing the Labour link if they persist in militancy will cease to be a threat and become instead a cherished aim, in fact, a total necessity for the working class.
Trade Union militancy (which of necessity includes non-compliance with the plethora of anti-working class and anti-union laws), linked to a break with the opportunism of the imperialist Labour Party and its social-democratic, revisionist and Trotskyist hangers on and the recognition of the need for increased understanding of the ideology of Marxism Leninism are not impossible or utopian aims; they are both realistic and achievable.
Those workers who share our aims must redouble their efforts to resist the opportunism that sits at the top of the trade union movement and to raise the dual slogans of ‘Break the link with Labour’ and ‘Break the anti-union laws’!