The Role of the Unions Part 3: Mac Intosh to IDN


WB read my post on the class struggles in Wisconsin as ignoring the beginnings of the struggle, and only dealing with what he designates as "phase three," which in his words "affirmed the subordination of the largest layer of public sector workers in Wisconsin to the union bureaucrats and the Democratic party." But my post was written in light of precisely that "outcome" -- though I don't think that the struggle is necessarily over or "lost." I should have situated the struggle in the context of the rage of the collective worker, in Wisconsin, in the US, in the EU, in the Arab world, against the decline in its living and working conditions, in the rising levels of unemployment, in the savage austerity that capital is imposing, but my post was written from the perspective of the provisional outcome of that particular struggle in Wisconsin, and not the great promise that it contained at its outset. That, and an exploration of the political bases for that outcome, was my primary concern. And the single most important reason for the subordination of the workers to capital are the unions. Not the "union bureaucrats," as WB has it, but the unions as organizations, whatever the leadership that they have at a given time, or whoever fills the bureaucratic posts. That conclusion arises precisely from the "real movement" of the working class over the past century, and not, as WB has it from categories merely "... taken over largely from indications in Marx...." The categories to which WB refers may have their origin in Marx, but their political significance arises from the actual experience of the working class, the history of its struggles and the lessons which they provide. If WB wants to discuss whether the defeats of the class arose from the actions of union bureaucrats (who can be changed) or from the very structure and role that unions as organizations play in modern capitalism, by all means let's discuss it, but my contention that unions are an integral part of the apparatus -- ideological, political and economic -- of capital is not a "formalist undertaking," but one rooted in the lived experience of the collective worker.

Much of WB's post is full of claims that HAD a general strike been called in late February, "Working class awareness would have tended to maximize itself, and worker action would have, potentially and nascently, tended toward the formation of a council." Perhaps, but that didn't happen, and my claim is that one of the most important reasons that it didn't was the power of the unions, and the whole mythology of unions, together with the legalism to which unions in modern capitalism are bound, and the vital role that unions play in the management of the labor force itself. Without a clear perspective on that role of unions, the intervention of revolutionaries within the working class would have accomplished nothing, playing out in calls for a new union leadership, for better bureaucrats, for changes in the law, etc.) Without the perspective that categories such as "the real domination of capital," the collective worker, an analysis of the changes in the composition of the working class, etc., about which WB scoffs or ignores, the "effective intervention" for which he calls in this post will not occur.

Mac Intosh

March 25, 2011

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