A Response To The RCIT’s (Revolutionary Communist International Tendency) Thesis On The Trade Unions

03/02/2014 by socialistfight


The thesis and resolution on the Trade Unions by the RCIT is to be welcomed as a first step in analysing how Revolutionaries should orientate to Trade Unions in the present period. You correctly state at the beginning of your resolution. “To subordinating and winning workers to Communism” [1].  You trace the authority of the Transitional programme and the tasks of the Fourth International spelt out by Trotsky “The task of humanity can be reduced to the crisis of Proletarian Leadership” [2].

You analyse the role of Reformism and Workers parties and the attitude of Revolutionaries working inside the Trade Unions.   Trade Unions as you correctly state are only defensive organisations and in themselves cannot achieve communism, but your most important contribution is to identify the role of the Labour aristocracy inside trade unions and how this Labour aristocracy subverts the role of trade unions   “These forces are the biggest obstacle for the working class and the struggle for the expulsion of the Labour Bureaucracy and its agents” [3].labour-link

Lenin and Trotsky during the early 1920’s gave very good advice to the newly formed young Communist Party of Great Britain on its role towards the bureaucracy. Lenin in Left Wing Communism; an Infantile Disorder was quite explicit that the Bureaucracy must be expelled from the trade unions if the working class in Britain was to take power. Trotsky in his writings on Britain was also very clear on the role of the Bureaucracy, but the failure of sectarianism was to affect the early CPGB and it was to fall prey to the counter revolutionary tendency of Stalinism, a bureaucratic caste in which future bureaucrats were to follow in every detail. You correctly identify the proper role of communists working inside the trade unions  “But communists should state clearly that the trade unions can only became an authentic instrument of the working class if they are liberated from the bureaucracy and brought under workers control” [4].

You’re most important contribution is how the bureaucracy emerged and it firstly emerged in Britain. Engels and Marx commented that it was here in Britain that trade unions were built first and then a party of the working class the Reformist Labour party was formed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Philip and Beatrice Webb, Fabians in the early twentieth century traced the social roots of reformism and its twin the labour bureaucracy and its material basis. “Their own material interests as bureaucrats, a petit-bourgeoisie caste between labour and capital” [5].

Trade Unions in Britain do contain the upper strata of the better paid worker and this of course leads to the emergence of the Bureaucracy. The Bureaucracy as you state “is not a proletarian layer but a petit bourgeoisie caste with material roots” [6]. In fact this labour aristocracy are the bourgeoisie agents of capital in the working class movement and as such they must be opposed and defeated by communists working in Rank and File movements.   You further state the role of Rank and file movements  “Building a rank and file movement in opposition to the Bureaucracy campaigning for democratic rights , a militant union policy and the goal of liberating the union from the Bureaucracy”  [7].

In Britain where Trade Unionism first emerged. Lenin in Imperialism, the highest stage of Capitalism identifies the social roots of Reformism and this Labour aristocracy which emerged from skilled and craft workers from the super profits of imperialism. In Britain  The Trotskyist movement has been involved in many Rank and File movements during the 1940’s and 1950’s particularly around the Docks and the Engineering factories that  emerged  during the first Labour Government , of course Stalinists in the CBGB always worked might and main to prevent the development of the struggles of the working class and protect the bureaucracy. “They Knew why they fought” a book by Bill Hunter a leading British  Trotskyist  at the time has written an excellent history of the most important struggles in those years to build a Rank and File movement. You state that “Bolsheviks reject the concept that revolutionaries should attempt to split the Unions” [8]. In the 1950’s there was a unique situation where Dockers all members of the Transport and General Workers Union, always a heavily bureaucratic union and working hand and glove with the port employers operated to police the docks for a compliant and docile work force .In fact the opposite happens as Hunter retells “16,000 Dockers in the port of Merseyside, Manchester and Hull broke from the TGWU and joined the National association of Stevedores and Dockers- The Blue Union” [9]. This was not splitting the Union but where sections of workers joined a Rank and File Union with Recall of officials, democratic elections and full participation in all aspects of the NASD.It was truly a Rank and File Union with many Trotskyists active and publishing a newspaper for rank and file Dockers “The Port worker”. In the end the Blue Union was smashed through the combined weight of the TGWU Bureaucracy the State, the Police and the employers.

Socialist Fight comrades are active in a Rank and File movement in Britain in Unite Britain’s biggest trade Union. The Rank and file group is Grass Roots Left and Trotskyists are prominent in building opposition to the Bureaucracy. As yet Grass Roots left is a small rank and file group, it necessitates us working for a common goal with centrists like the SWP, Socialist Resistance and others who want to fight the Bureaucracy, but as you correctly point out Rank and File committees must be built in opposition to the Bureaucracy. Your point about unorganised strata of workers and others who are not in trade Unions must also be unionised. “The unionisation of the lower strata of the working class especially migrants, women, precarious workers should play a central role and should be proportionally represented in Trade union bodies” [10].

We are preparing our British perspectives for the founding Conference of Socialist Fight and Socialist Fight welcomes this important contribution from our comrades in the RCIT. It could be the opportunity as you indicated in your open letter for uniting Trotskyist forces worldwide. 

1. http://www.communists.net

2. http://www.marxist.org/transitionalprogramme/trotsky
3. http://www.communists.net
4. http://www.communists.net
5. http://www.communists.net
6. http://www.communists.net
7. http://www.communists.net
8. http://www.communists.net
9. Hunter. W: They Knew Why They Fought. Index Books
10. http://www.communists.netSocialist Fight

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