The Role of the Unions Part 5: Mac Intosh to IDN

The real issue here is not the concept of decadence or the obsolescence of capitalism as a civilization, or Marx's methodology, or metaphysics (pre-or post-Kantian). Those quesions may be theoretically interesting and important, but they were not the subject of my post, and your comments about them are hardly the preface to a serious discussion, or even a reasonable characterization of my views. So, let's talk about the unions, first, and then a bit about the concept of the collective worker which I do use.

I very deliberately did not refer to the unions as "part of the structure of the state" in the present epoch, as you claim. And the reason was my sense that you might indeed refer to legal or juridical categries and concepts in opposition to such an assertion. Obviously there is a difference between capitalist societies in which the unions are juridically a part of the state apparatus or legally tied to it (Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, China, etc.) and societies where that is not the case, (the US, Britain, France, Germany, etc.) But this is not a question of law. What I did say in my post was that unions in this epoch are "an integral part of the apparatus -- ideological, political and economic -- of capital," a formulation that prevents a counter argument that unions in the US are not formally part of the state, though the system of dues check-off and the financial and electoral links between the unions and the Democartic party in virtually every state of the US, and nationally, should make clear just what the nature of the union's incorporation into the political apparatus of capital is all about. In your response, you make clear just how much political distance there is between us on the union question. After listing all the reasons why the "flaw" in the unions today cannot be "remedied by a change in leadership," you go on to say that: "We start from the defense of those institutions nontheless...." And you go on to attribute to me that view that only the most crushing defeat of the working class by capital will propel it to fight back. There is nothing in my post that says anything remotely resembling such an absurd thesis. Quite the contrary, it is my contention that it is precisely the unions that will help "... make it possible to cut deeply into the work processes, rationalize them, casualize as many public sector workers as can be done, and to contract out those public services wherever possible to private firms," that vision of austerity that you point to in your response to my post as the future which capital has in store for us; an attack that is indeed coming. Where you appear to believe that action in defense of the unions or on the political terrain of the unions, can slow or halt that attack, it is my contention that the unions are a key element, a powerful weapon, in capital's project for draconian austerity. Details aside, the unions in Wisconsin had basiclly agreed with Scott Walker on all that, seeking only to retain their "collective bargaining rights." And it is again that same attack that we see in California and New York to take two example of states where the Democrats are in power, thanks in no small part to the unions; a project of capital in which the unions are an integral part. What can slow down that capitalist juggernaut? Surely not a "struggle" waged by the unions, and certinly not one based based on a prior acceptance of the need for austerity so long as the bargaining rights and political power of the unions are preserved. My point is that unless workers break with the unions, forge their own organs of struggle, and reach out to the whole of the collective worker (including those segments that were not represented in any great numbers in Madison), the specter of capitalist victory in this battle will be assured. Whatever the difficulties and obstacles there are to making such an argument, especially at rallies called by the unions, the political necessity for clearly drawing the class line here is overwhelming -- and that you did not do.

As to the "collective worker," Marx's concept, as articulated in "The Results of the Immediate Process of Production," for example, focused on the actual labor process in capitalism, a labor process that was then only emerging, and not on the no less vital question of consciousness and the praxis of class struggle. Nonetheless, that concept opened a door to an understanding of the capitalist labor process and the class that is exploited that takes us beyond the traditional understanding of the proletariat as consisting of industrial labor; the vision of the proletariat linked to the Fordist epoch of capital or to the industrial revolution that preceeded it. How that collective worker -- which is a real referent -- acts as a class, develops its consciousness and engages in a class praxis, is a critical question for Marxist theory today. But to wind back to the first point -- the unions -- it seems to me that explosions of class struggle immediately face the unions as their class enemy, and that it is just that perspective that revolutionaries must bring to any struggle.

Mac Intosh

March 27, 2011

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