Sunday, 23 March 2014

For A Political Revolution At The Co-op - Part 18

The concept of the existence of a trade union and labour movement bureaucracy goes back more than 100 years, and, along with it, the idea that, in response, it was necessary to build rank and file movements, such as the Minority Movement. In the period since, revolutionaries have put considerable effort into the building of such rank and file organisations. But, there is a strong correlation between the basis on which these movements have been constructed, and the general outlook of those revolutionaries, about how Socialism is to be constructed.

In the 1950's and 60's, as the Long Wave Boom raised the demand for labour-power, which placed workers on firmer ground, as far as their economic and social position is concerned, one reflection of this was an increased level of confidence, which meant that workers were prepared to take matters directly into their own hands to resolve problems. In other words, a form of workers' self-government of the type that Marx describes. This was not manifest in the establishment of co-ops, but in a spontaneous development of shop-floor organisation, whose clearest representation was the growth of the shop stewards movement.

This shop-floor organisation was geared to workers taking direct action, usually via short duration, unofficial (wildcat) strikes. In the early 1970's, as a shop steward, I organised such action, and, because of the building of such workplace organisation, I was able, on one occasion, even to get non-union members to agree to join in, with the result that the management quickly conceded. The Bolsheviks placed considerable importance on such workplace organisation, via Factory Committees, which brought together union and non-union workers, and Trotsky also emphasises such organisation, for example, in his Action Programme for France. It is an illustration of the need to build appropriate structures of workers self-organisation and self-government.

But, there is an important difference between these kinds of rank and file organisations, and the kinds of “rank and file” and “broad left” organisations that the sects have devoted attention to. In the main, the latter have not been structures aimed at developing workers self-government, and self-activity, but instead have reflected the privileging of ideas over material conditions. The organisations that the sects have constructed – where they have not simply been fronts for an individual sect – have been little more than electoral vehicles, designed to get this or that slate elected, this or that resolution passed at conference. The ephemeral gains made by the Left in the Labour Party in the early 1980's, were based largely on the same weak foundation.

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