Marxism and the Sociology of Trade Unionism

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    Hyman, Marxism and Trade Unionism

    Richard Hyman,

    Marxism and the Sociology of Trade Unionism.

    London: Pluto Press, 1971

    Purpose:

    To critically outline the optimistic (revolutionary) and pessimistic (non- evolutionary) potential of trade unions, and to consider their dialectical

    elationship in a synthetic analysis.

    (see model in chart)

    ● I. Optimistic Tradition: Marx and Engels ● II. Later Reservations of Marx and Engels ● III. The Pessimistic Interpretation

    1. Integration (Lenin) 2. Iron Law of Oligarchy (Michels) 3. Incorporation (Trotsky) 4. Orthodoxy of Industrial Relations

    ● IV) Pessimistic One-Sidedness: A Critical Appraisal 1. Critique of Leninist Position of Integration 2. Critique of Michel's Iron Law of Oligarchy

    3. Critique of Trotsky's Incorporation 4. Critique of Industrial Relations Orthodoxy

    ● V) Conclusion: The Limits of Trade Union Consciousness ● VI) Some Implications ● VII) Implications for Dual Nature of Trade Unionism and Dual Systems Theory

    I. Optimistic Tradition: Marx and Engels

    (see chart)

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    ) laws of supply and demand determine wages; in the face of this, all trade unions can do is to low down the erosion of wages in the face of the onslaught of capital; this is a defensive position of nions. (p. 5).

    ) political activity of the trade union is directed in an attack on competition among workers which

    s the cornerstone of bourgeois dominance; this is accomplished through the combination of workers;he destruction of competittion among workers means the destruction of the rule of property. (6).

    ) Unions are a military school for class war, according to Engels.

    ) Marx: unions are ramparts for workers in their struggle for social revolution against employers. 6).

    ) industrial concentration brings about the combination of workers which runs counter to the ompetition among workers.

    ). Unions are one stage in the transition from a class in itself to a class for itself (6-7).

    ) Grave-diggers: bourgeoisie is its own grave diggers in the sense that capital accumulation brings bour industrial concentration, which in turn brings about the combination of workers with low

    wages, which struggles to overthrow private property to put an end to their enslavement. (8).

    II. Later Reservations of Marx and Engels

    A) Lack of revolutionary ardor on part of British trade unions after mid-19th century aused Marx and Engels to reassess their optimistic view, but did not cause them to drop it as a eneral theory of the relation between trade unions and revolutionary struggle. Instead, they saw the evelopments in the british trade union movement as an aberration or deviation in an historical trend; he deviation they felt could be explained by a combination of three factors:

    1. Labour Aristocracy: the conservatism of the British trade union movement is reflective ofthe fact that the entire working class was not organized, but only a part of it, the most priveleged, skilled part, which took a moderate position. This part was able to win material concessions not won by the less skilled and as yet unorganized. They saw this as a temporary

    phenomenon. 2. Corrupt Leaders: trade union movement was in the hands of leaders who were corrupt in a

    material and ideological sense. (9). 3. Embourgeoisment based on imperialism: ie, the British nation was passing through an

    imperialist stage in which the British working class benefitted from Britain's monopoly

    capitalist position in the world. This also would pass once British imperialism declined. (9- 10).

    B) Business Union Evidence: Some writings of Marx and Engels suggest that they were aware

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    f the restricted nature of trade unions, of their sectional nature, of their defensiveness, of their ttempt to cope with the effects rather than the causes of their problems. But they did not elevate hese concerns to the level of general theory.

    III. The Pessimistic Interpretation

    (see pessimistic model in chart)

    1. Integration (Lenin) 2. Oligarchy (Michels) 3. Incorporation (Trotsky) 4. Industrial Relations Orthodoxy which combines integration (# 1), oligarchy (#2),

    and incorporation (#3) in a 'maturation thesis'

    All four of above in pessimistic tradition inhibit the challenge by trade unions to apitalism

    Review and Critique: Hyman reviews each of these and later provides a critique.

    1) Integration (Lenin): (see integration model in chart)

    ntegration thesis states that trade unions, able to achieve their economic objectives within the tructures of capitalism, become integrated into its institutions. (Hyman, p. 14). This is not an ntentional on the part of anyone, but a product of the structures of trade unions and bourgeois ocieties; in contrast, Trotsky's incorporation thesis is a product partly of the intentional and eliberate actions of states and corporations which strive to coopt unions and their leaders in order to masculate them and bend them in the service of bourgeois aims. (on this difference, see Hyman, p. 7).

    ● Note: patriarchy: can one argue that integration is the unintentional coincidence of trade union patriarchy with patriarchal institutions in capitalist society, whereas incorporation is the attempt by dominant men in corporations and the state to forge alliances with the male leadership of the trade union movement in order to co-opt feminist positions in the labour movement and outside?

    ) Sectional nature of trade unions, organized along the lines of industry or occupation; or the tools f the trade. (also Gramsci argues this position).

    ) economism: that trade unions are narrowly concerned with immediate economic issues, such as

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    wages (the terms of the sale of labour power), working conditions, etc.

    ) ideology: a rigid dichotomy exists between trade union consciousness and social democractic (ie, evolutionary) consciousness; the latter cannot develop within the proletariat, but must be imported nto the proletariat from outside by bourgeois intellectuals. Trade union consciousness was " 'the onviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the overnment to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.' " (13) (from Lenin's What Is To Be Done , 902).

    ) politics : trade union politics is bourgeois politics, according to Lenin. (13). This contradicts Marx who thought that political action by trade unions was an indication of their political class struggle.

    2) Iron Law of Oligarchy (Michels)

    ) oligarchic tendencies of trade union leadership greater than in political parties; union leaders will attempt to perpetuate themselves in power, partly because of their manual origins; this means hat they have no means of economic subsistence after they leave their leadership posts, and feel too mbarrassed to return to their manual pursuits after having attained such relatively elevated positions f high esteem. (15).

    ) impossibility of direct democracy;

    ) bureaucratization of trade union structures, partly to cope with the technical requirements of

    ollective bargaining and negotiations.

    ) gap between leaders and mass rank and file: ideological differentiation between leaders and led.

    ) technical expertise and experience required; this perpetuates or at least justifies in the eyes of he masses the continuation of the 'experts' in office.

    ) apathy by rank and file perpetuates leadership.

    ) size of union: the larger the union, the greater its bureaucratization.

    ) conservatism: moderation and petty-bourgeois life style evidence by trade union leaders. Need for ublic approval also leads to a conservatism on the part of the leaders of unions.

    institutional needs: union, to survive, must pay attention to the opinions of the government and orporate employers. (17).

    3) Incorporation (Trotsky)

    (see incorporation model in chart)

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    ncorporation Thesis: "that union leaders, having acquired authority over their members, are use o assist capitalism in controlling the workers." (18).

    ) bourgeois, conservative ideology displayed by trade union bureaucrats (18).

    ) contributor to the survival of capitalism: trade union bureaucracy has helped capitalism survive

    y supporting its structures. (18). Trotsky even looked upon British trade unions as the "backbone of British imperialism" (p. 18).

    ) "lieutenants of capital" = trade union bureacurats = Trotsky's phrase (p. 18).

    ) "political police" = trade union leaders acting to discipline their members on behalf