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A Socialist Message for Trade Unions

A Socialist Message for Trade Unions

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, from our inception in 1904, has had many members who have held office and played an active part in Trade Unions. We recognise the importance of Trade Unions in the class struggle against employers. Trade Unions can successfully bargain wage and salary increases when trade conditions allow and endeavour to restrict or even halt wage reductions when trade conditions deteriorate. Unions can also improve the working conditions for their members. They are an essential feature of the capitalist system. In the S.P.G.B.’s study of capitalism we have made a number of important contributions to the role of Trade Unions in the class struggle. We assert that the Trade Unions can only act as a defensive weapon to the exploitation of our class in the productive process of social wealth.

The Conduct of Strikes, Democracy and Trade Unions

In the use of the strike weapon, workers must recognise that except on rare occasions, any Government will enforce the law, and in the final analysis if a strike threatens the “national interest”, that is the interest of the capitalist class; the armed forces will be used to protect the status quo. When employers consider the issue of sufficient importance to warrant all-out resistance, the trade union cannot hope to win – the disastrous strike by the miners in 1984 is a classic example. In all cases, strike action must be based on a majority decision of the membership and the decision to return to work should likewise be a majority decision. Socialists only support trade union action when it is in the interest of the working class as a whole. We do not support trade union action against another trade union just as we do not support “British jobs for British workers”.

Worker Directors

The danger of “worker directors” to the trade union is obvious. In times of “laying-off” workers or compulsory redundancies, trade union representatives involved at board meetings have to take decisions that can only lead to division within the trade union. “Worker directors” is a contradiction in terms. Directors can only work on behalf of the shareholders and not the workers.

Trade Unions and Capitalist Political Parties

It is not in the workers’ interest that their trade unions should affiliate or support the Labour Party, or any other political party which is committed to administering the capitalist system. They must learn that no matter which party is in power, its weight will be thrown in support of the employers in any struggle, as all past governments have demonstrated.

Trade unions and the minimum Wage

The S.P.G.B. has pointed out that the minimum wage legislation cannot be enforced and that many workers where the minimum wage is being breached would rather put up with low wages than lose their jobs. The call for a “living wage”, supported by some business as well as the Tory, Boris Johnson, suffers the same deficiencies and problems of realisation as the minimum wage. What constitutes a “living wage” is just as incoherent as to ask what a “fair wage” is. Socialists urge workers to struggle for higher wages through trade union action as and when they can but we counterpoise the political calls for a minimum and a living wage, with a call for the abolition of the system of private ownership of the means of production which gives rise to the exploitation of the wages system.

Trade Unions and Social Security

Trade unions have supported Family Allowances in the misguided belief that the principle cause of poverty for many workers is the possession of young families. Socialists who found themselves in a trade union which supported this social reform, rigorously fought against its formal adoption as trade union policy. We argue that no scheme for social reform can remove the poverty endured by the working class under capitalism. Family Allowances were considered by the bosses to be a contribution to workers’ wages, and were taken into account when engaged in settling wage claims, on the basis that the children of workers had been partially “provided for” by these allowances. And as a social reform, family allowances are, along with other “benefits”, periodically cut as part of the government’s determination to reduce the cost of social welfare in the interest of capitalism.

Trade Unions and the Labour Party

Workers erroneously believe the Labour Party, despite the failure of all past Labour administrations; can run society in their interests. Great hope was placed in the Blair-Brown government to end unemployment, poverty, insecurity and so on. It was a false hope. Politically, the Labour Party can only run capitalism in the interest of the capitalist class who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution. The former Labour Party Prime Minister, now an adviser to corrupt dictatorship and tyrants, gave a speech in the United States after shortly coming to power. He told the audience a truth about the Labour Party which the working class and trade unions should remember. He wanted to make the Labour government “a natural party of business…just as much the party of business as the Conservatives, if not more” DAILY TELEGRAPH 24 June 1997).

Trade Unions, Privatisation and Nationalisation

One of the unmitigated historical mistakes of the trade union movement was to believe they and their members had a stake in nationalisation. No sooner had the mines, railways and other industries been nationalised by the post Second World War Labour Government that workers were forced to strike for higher pay and working conditions. And so it went on until the Tory privatisation policies of the 1980’s. As far as workers and trade unions are concerned there is no difference between being employed by the State and being employed by a private company. Both forms of capitalism exploit the working class paying them less in wages and salaries than the social wealth the working class actually produce. Instead of the bogus nationalisation or privatisation debate pursued by trade union leaders and the capitalist Left; the political question should be capitalism or socialism; production for profit or production directly for social need.

Trade unions and the S.P.G.B.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain entered the political field not to run capitalism but to work for its abolition and its replacement with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life by all society. Our socialist message to all workers, regardless of race or sex, is laid down in our Object and Declaration of Principles. It is a call to all workers to stop giving support to capitalist politicians like Miliband, Cameron and Clegg. We again assert, Trade unions can only be defensive organisations. The answer for the working class is political, not industrial: it is the establishment of socialism where production for needs replaces production for profit, and where we are all freed from the servility of employment, class and the wages system. As Marx once remarked: Instead of the conservative motto: A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work… (workers) ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchwords…”Abolition of the wages system” (VALUE PRICE AND PROFIT)

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