The Role of the Unions Part 6: Will Barnes 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,

Why? Because you say so? Sure they are, for, despite your denial, your cyberspace “practice” in which you have put such enormous emphases on these issues for at least the last three years patently indicates otherwise.

or even a reasonable characterization of my views.

Well, unless you “reasonably” characterize them, the criticisms stand. But no matter, let’s move on as you wish.

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,"

This is obvious, and I say as much (though you may not care for the formulation) when stating, “We argue this is not a flaw that can be remedied by a change in leadership, but is rooted in the fundamental nature of unions themselves, as institutions that seeks to obtain the best deal for labor on the terrain of capital.” Moreover, this view do not impinge on that of the relation of unions to the state, i.e., whether one holds they are formally incorporated, they are not formally incorporated, or whether one holds such incorporation is not germane to the question of their status as an integral feature of capital’s ideological apparatus as you say.

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 where would you have me, anyone else or, for that matter, where would you start from, other than from the given situation? In a struggle that begins from a defense of those institutions, where else would you start from? Do you think that workers can be approached by detaching the question of unions from the concrete context in which it arises? That my entire approach is wrongheaded from the get-go because, perhaps, I shouldn’t be “intervening” in the self-activity of (other) workers in the first place? (As workers, as part of the class, we see this question quite differently than those whose existences are not immediately and directly determined by the wage relation.) Or is this an irrelevant methodological issue? If this is decisive, offer me a critique of my practice since I have already laid it out for you. How would you confront this situation?

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.

I didn’t attribute it to you, rather I stated, “it appears… I would like to think I am wrong, so tell me I am...”

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,

This is mere polemic, and sarcasm to boot. No one who has come this far with me believes such nonsense.

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 you say, but then, written on 20 February, there’s this:

Then there’s this:

So you see our assessments were made long before this ex post facto discussion, and in them your criticisms can be seen to fall by the wayside. So what is it really, Mac Intosh, that you object to, that I would sully myself by carrying a union card? That I would engage other workers starting from where they are at, even if this means starting from a union struggle? So, again, offer a critique of my practice.

Will Barnes

March 28, 2011

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