EVOLUTION AND DYNAMIC OF THE UNION FORM
If linked: [French] [German] [Italian] [Spanish]
Evolution and dynamic of the union form
1848 - 1871. Liberal phase: prohibition
1871-1914. Period of expansion: subjugation
1914 - 1926. The arc of revolution: the transmission belt
Period of state totalitarianism: state unions
Evolution and dynamic of the union form
[top] [content] [next]
Within the successive great historical cycles that have following the victorious assertion of the bourgeoisie after the 1789 revolution, the proletariat's economic forms of association have undergone considerable vicissitudes, passing from their open negation on the part of the bourgeois state, to their legal recognition and the attempt to conquer them from the inside, and on to the one state union, restricted and compulsory.
The unfolding of this dynamic of union forms has led to diverse and sometimes contradictory results depending on the era, thus, the same organizations which in 1914 were utilized by the bourgeoisie to lead the proletariat to war, will afterwards serve the proletariat itself in its anti-capitalist mobilization, becoming in many cases veritable red citadels.
The history of the union movement must therefore be read in a dynamic and non-formalist way, because the succession of diverse forms of workers' organizations cannot be attributed to a 'spontaneous evolution' in any way whatsoever.
It is the outcome of class struggle, favourable or otherwise, which has caused one or another type of union framework to prevail, the latter being only one aspect of the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie in the period after the First World War, managed to impose its own forms of union organization linked to national solidarity, but only after the defeat of the revolutionary assault in the west, the destruction of the glorious worker's associations and the degeneration of the 3rd International .
According to our traditional scheme, we study the sucession in the great geopolitical areas, of historical cycles - which allow of no return to the past, in which the confrontation between classes translates itself into lines and tendencies which are determined by the productive forces, by the outcome of the preceding battles and of the force relations between the two classes.
1848 - 1871. Liberal phase: prohibition
[prev.] [content] [next]
With national wars completed in western Europe, the proletariat, formerly involved in the bourgeois anti-feudal front, shows itself for the first time as an autonomous class, distinct from both the bourgeoisie and the petit-bourgeoisie, with its own demands and its own organizations. It is the liberal epoque where the bourgeoisie, still divided between its diverse components - Landed proprietors. industrial and financial bourgeoisie - resolves its internal antagonisms in parliament, this still being the essential organ for the functioning of the state machine.
Strikes and worker's organizations are forbidden by law, and this gives to economic struggles an immediately political character, for it is impossible to defend one's bread without coming face to face with the apparatus of the bourgeois state. For the same reason, the rise of the worker's economic organisms
goes hand in hand with the development of the class party - the first International - with a thousand ties between one and the other. The end of this cycle is the repression of the Parisian proletariat, the work of both the French and Prussian Bourgeoisie, marking the end in Western Europe of national wars. After the Paris Commune, there will be also the definitive separation of the Anarchist tendency from the Marxist one the both of which, up until then, had coexisted in the 1st International, and also, the separation of the latter from the powerful English Trade Unions which already show a tendency towards a rigid corporatism and subordination to bourgeois conservative politics.
The cycle of events is completed with a definitively established result for the European proletariat: the economic movement and organization of the workers appears henceforth unavoidable even to the bourgeoisie itself, which tries henceforth not to destroy them, but to influence them and to separate them from their revolutionary aim.
1871-1914. Period of expansion: subjugation
[prev.] [content] [next]
This is the period of «peaceful» development of the bourgeoisie and of the extension of the capitalist mode of production on a world scale. The economic expansion involves the numerical growth, and the ever greater concentration of the proletariat, whose organizations extend and gather strength. The development of worker's organizations is accompanied by the growth of the class party - the Second International - which encourages and strengthens them . In Italy in particular, this process is retarded compared with other countries, and the birth of the proletarian leagues at the beginning of the 20th century is closely linked to the development of the Socialist Party with which they maintain ever closer ties .
The bourgeoisie cannot henceforth attempt to physically destroy proletarian organizations, and is constrained to admit their existence, thereby contradicting its own liberal doctrine. It creates nevertheless its own white and yellow unions in opposition to the red unions, which are linked to the party. At the same time it attempts to influence workers organizations from within through the subterfuge of reformist and revisionist tendencies.
These tendencies find their material base in the strata of the workers aristocracy which capitalism created thanks to the colonial conquests and the bestial exploitation of the proletariat and the peasants of Asia, Africa and Latin America. With a few scraps derived from the revenues of this exploitation, capital has been able to corrupt vast layers of the European proletariat, reinforcing pacifist, legalitarian and revisionist tendencies. A long period of increasing economic expansion appears to have postponed for ever the economic and social catastrophe, endorsing the theses of the revisers and negators of the Marxist doctrine.
In the midst of the unions, such tendencies become evident through the demand for union neutrality that is, independance in relation to the class party, and the socalled autonomy of union organizations - meaning nothing other than removing themselves from the influence of the party in order to yield to the orders of the bourgeoisie.
The revisionist and reformist tendencies - fought always by revolutionary Marxism - develop progressively, until they become finally, on the eve of the war, dominant in all the parties of the 2nd International.
The outbreak of the war precipitates the situation: all over Europe, the parties of the 2nd International - excepting the Socialist Party of Italy, which maintains the ambiguous formula of «neither support or sabotage» - pass directly into the bourgeois camp, and it is only thanks to their help that the bourgeoisie manages to draw the proletariat of all countries into massacring each other on the war fronts. With the total «guardianship» of the central unions by the respective national bourgeoisies, and with their utilization for the patriotic mobilization of the workers, things have now gone a full circle. It is a great victory for the bourgeoisie.
1914 - 1926. The arc of revolution: the transmission belt
[prev.] [content] [next]
Only tiny minorities inside the Socialist parties remain true to coherent revolutionary positions. In all countries, the first two years of the war are characterized by the absence of proletarian struggles. But the conditions of life created by the war, the suffering, the massacres and the privations, bring the proletariat back into the foreground. There are the first demonstrations against the war - behind the lines just as much as at the front - calling for peace and for bread. The pressure of economic conditions reunites with the energy of a recent tradition of class struggle, which the betrayal of Social-Democracy has been able only to tarnish but not obliterate.
Russia's 1917 reinforces and enormously stimulates the struggles of the proletariat in Western Europe, whilst giving new life to the revolutionary wings inside the old parties. At the end of the war and in its latter days, the impetus of the European proletariat is enormous, and the struggles are not restricted to economic defence, but arrive at a point which will culminate in organization and armed struggle against the state. After the October Revolution, the various bourgeoisies are forced to conclude a hasty peace to avoid the revolutionary wave extending and following the Russian example. In Germany, at the end of the war, the Soviet movement and the insurrections succeed one another, yet they fail to find a party with coherent revolutionary politics, and are crushed in January 1919 in a bloody defeat.
After the end of the war in 1919-20, the repression of the proletarian masses attains its maximum intensity throughout the whole of Europe. In the economic crisis which follows the war years in all countries, the workers respond immediately by struggle. Formidable strikes follow one after the other in all sectors. To conduct this struggle for the defence of material existence, the old unions show that they are still useful, even if their orientation is still in the hands of reformists. In Italy, the membership of the CGL grows considerably, increasing between 1918 and 1920 from 249,039 to 2,150,000, whilst at the same time, the factory councils are born out of the necessities of the immediate struggle. The entry of these enormous numbers into the old unions which still maintain a worker's perspective, give them a tremendous injection of classist enthusiasm, of healthy hatred against the bosses and their institutions, transforming them in many cases into real red citadels once again. The ever watchful bourgeoisie, relies on the work of the reformists whilst the petty-bourgeoisie is frightened and leans slightly in the direction of the proletariat: It is indicative that during the strikes, the shopkeepers bring the keys of their shops to the worker's associations and give unlimited credit to the strikers as long as the strikes last. Force is on the side of the workers and thus the «support of public opinion» is in abundance: it is a lesson that shouldn't be forgotten.
Meanwhile a fierce battle ensues inside the unions against their opportunist orientation and the opportunist leaders who try and find every means, to limit the possibilities open to the union organizations, and who break strikes so as to keep them within the limits of bourgeois order.
The Communists have their role in this battle; to the proletariat, they denounce as defeatist the work of the leaders of the confederation and mount an assault on the leadership of the unions in order to get rid of the traitorous chiefs.
In 1920, at the 2nd congress of the Communist International, the theses «On the unions and factory councils» are read, in which two distorted visions are combatted:
1) The Kaapedist negation of the union, according to which the revolutionary workers must detach themselves and organize separately from the great majority of the proletariat, and
2) Councilism, which sees in the factory councils, contingent instruments of struggle, the finally discovered form which is to substitute for the old unions.
The theses establish that Communists have the duty to go inside worker's organizations so as to be able to take over the leadership in order to demonstrate that the practical directives of the party are the most effective method of fighting for bread and becoming transmission belts between the party and the proletarian masses for revolutionary directives.
Throughout Western Europe, Marxist revolutionaries break forever from social democrats. Communist parties arise as sections of the 3rd International, often feeble and with deficiencies, but with a widespread influence on the proletariat. To the yellow union centrale of Amsterdam, is opposed the Red Unions International of Moscow, which declares war on the rich classes and calls the proletariat of all countries to an uncompromising class struggle.
To the revolutionary tide of the period after the let World War, the capitalisms of Italy and Germany reply with fascist reaction and betrayal by the reformist leaders, meanwhile fascist gangs and the regular forces of the state attack the Chambres du Travail and persecute the most determined proletarians, coming across effective resistance only in the worker's militias organized by the Communist Party of Italy; meanwhile the leaders of the PSI and the CGL disarm the proletarians preventing them from reacting by breaking strikes and trying to bring them onto the terrain of national solidarity and away from that of the class struggle. Without this act of betrayal by the Social-democrats, the fascist gangs would never have had the power to attack the red organizations and the workers, who even semi disarmed, rise up and inflict memorable lessons. The Communist Party alone put all its energies into the defence of the class organizations which, even if led by agents of the bourgeoisie, are still a valid instrument for the proletarian masses. The last episode of the class reaction takes place with the general strike of 1922, set in motion by the Allianse del Lavoro (the latter arisen thanks to the Communist initiative, would have to constitute a front of proletarian forces against the bourgeoisie). The strike was sabotaged by the reformist leaders, and the anarchist leaders of the USI (the anarchist union federation) who, at the height of the action, give the order to retreat. After this defeat, the bourgeois forces more or less have a clear road, and gain the upper hand, but not without being fought at all times by the forces of the Communist Party who would try and salvage the salvageable, not conceding an inch of terrain without a fight. However, there will be a chance for the traitors to deal the proletariat another blow: In 1926, the leaders of the CGL will declare its dissolution, demoralizing those proletarians who still fought within the red unions.
Meanwhile, in the International, following the defeat of the revolution in the West, it is the forces of the counter-revolution who gain the upperhand, i.e. stalinism. Starting with deviations on the tactical level (in the hope of reversing the henceforth unfavourable balance of forces), it procedes to cast doubt on the principles and the finality of the Vorld Communist party, which ends up as an instrument of the Russian state. Only the Italian Left and the Russian opposition guided by Trotsky will oppose the stalinist degeneration. The same process takes place in all countries, with all the so-called Communist parties linked to Moscow remaining apparently the same, but passing over to the enemy camp, abandoning the revolutionary programme to put themselves at the service of various national interests.
Period of state totalitarianism: state unions
a) 1926-1945: the fascist period
[prev.] [content] [next]
The crisis of 1929 takes place without the occurence of a revolutionary wave, and the bourgeoisie is able to resolve its contradictions with the Second World War, massacring millions of proletarians, who witness the glorious ex-soviet republic allying itself at first with German imperialism and then with American imperialism in the name of democracy.
The attitude of genuine Communists in the first world conflict had been entirely different: war on war, no to national solidarity, transformation of the imperialist war into a revolutionary class war!
With the passing of the revolutionary tide, and with the Communist Party destroyed, the bourgeoisie was able, unobstructed, to realise its scheme of a union framework for the workers: The latter no longer have their party, and no longer consider themselves as a class with international dimensions, opposed to all other classes, but as a 'factor of production', a constituent part of 'the people', of the nation, which, with capital, contributes to the well-being and prosperity of the country. In the fascist conception, wages should be defended but not if it is harmful to the national economy; conflicts can exist, but over and above them prevails the imperative of the national economy. Unified in its fascist party, the bourgeoisie will attempt to realise in deeds its reformist programme.
The entire proletariat sees itself compulsorily dragooned into unions which are all genuine state-organs: the bourgeoisie cannot tolerate the existence of free unions anymore, even under non-revolutionary leadership. The Chamber of Corporations reunites the representatives of the various «factors of production» (like ACAS in England. ed.]: with industrialists and so-called workers representatives settling potential disputes under the supervision of the state.
Parallel to this, the state imposes from on high a series of relief and providential measures, conceived in order to discipline the exploitation of the labourer, to guarantee production and to prevent class activity: these measures are nothing other than reforms - the Trojan horse of social-democracy.
At the same time, the state evolves in a totalitarian way. The bourgeoisie no longer requires parliament and eliminates the forms of elective democracy, perfecting its state machine which asserts itself ever more as a gigantic administrative/bureaucratic/military apparatus exerting its hold over all sectors of society, including the legislature and the judiciary: maximum centralization, one party, absolute domination of the executive, and attempted planning and regimentation of all areas of social and economic life.
This process corresponds to the evolution of the economy in a monopolist sense. The conflict between the various bourgeois factions has been resolved in a definitive way for a long time in favour of finance capital which, nowadays. dominates in an uncontested fashion. The whole economy is in the hands of huge financial holdings which, in all areas of production, work within the regime of monopoly. The state itself intervenes to a massive degree in the economy, and, in Italy in particular, is the strongest capitalist of all.
The iron-master of the nineteenth century progressively gives way to the bureaucratized president - employee de-luxe - to the financier, and to the anonymous joint stock company.
Monopolist capital needs a rigid control of the labour market, uniform conditions throughout the national territory, and national work contracts which are valid and respected everywhere. Why? Because it has to bury class unionism and organize the wage-earning labourers in state unions.
This process is brought about peacefully in some of the stronger capitalist countries like France, England, and the U.S.A. where there has never been a strong revolutionary party, and the bourgeoisie is able to keep the forms of elective democracy and unions with a formally free and voluntary membership. The same process therefore occurs: concentration of the state machine, and submission of the proletariat to national solidarity - without which it must have recourse to open dictatorship. All political forces submit themselves spontaneously to the state; the working class, corrupted by assistance measures of the American New Deal variety (revived again, from fascism) lets itself be led tranquilly to war, during which the tradition of a unionism that is disposed to sacrifice all to the defence of the regime's institutions proves itself, subscribing to an eternal peace between capital and labour as in Switzerland. It is masked fascist syndicalism which will assert itself in Italy, as in Germany, in the second postwar period and which our party will define as: «tricolore unionism» or «nationalist unionism».
b) 1945. Post fascist period: Nationalist unionism
[prev.] [content] [end]
The war won, the allies - after having enveigled the working class into massacring itself in the name of democracy and «liberty» against the fascist dictatorship - impose on defeated Italy and Germany the reestablishment of democratic forms, i.e. free elections and parliament. On a par with the unions, the parties, already united previously in the committee of national liberation, constitute from above a central union called the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL). But the tendencies which had induced the affirmation of fascism as a method of government of the bourgeois state machine not only persist. but become ever more accentuated, i.e, huge financial empires, massive interventions by the state and attempts to plan the economy, reinforcement of the apparatus of state repression, and absolute domination of the executive over the legislature. Parliament is henceforth reduced to being an elaborate booby-trap: it serves only in having the workers believe that the state is still their state as long as they are free to elect their own representatives. It is today's oppurtunists themselves who implicitly confirm these facts when they lament the almost exclusive resource to laws of decree, the permanence of the fascist laws, etc.
The so-called anti-fascist parties are in reality one party only, as long as they are all in submission to the state which, appropriately enough, finances them these days. The unions that are formally free, formed in the second post-war period are the continuation of the fascist state unions, and are «cut from the same cloth» as Mussolini's. Their function is in point of fact to keep the working class tied to national solidarity, to prevent them moving onto a class terrain, to make it such that the workers don't feel they are a separate class, but rather just a «component of the nation». This is the unionism which the party has called «nationalist», characterized by an ineluctable tendency towards being openly incorporated into the state apparatus. The law of the state provides de facto juridicial recognition of the unions, that is, for their institutionalization, and they have progressed a long way down this path, for instance: the institution of delegation, i.e. the method of stifling demands for money, by the intermediary of bosses and state services [again, ACAS -ed.] (the way of an organization which has carried the social peace into effect and has definitively renounced the class struggle) and practice increasingly governed by resolution of conflicts around the conference table under the exalted patronage of the state. setting out not from the demands of the workers but from those of the national economy. Thanks to the nationalist unions, the Italian bourgeoisie could reconstruct on the shoulders of the proletariat its productive apparatus that had been destroyed in the war, get itself back into the world market thereby realising immense profits, and enriching itself to an incredible degree through bestial exploitation of labour. What had the working class got out of it all? Ten years of crumbs, of ephemeral well-being, and - with the crisis - fresh unemployent, hunger and sacrifices.
The nationalist unions are forced into leading strikes under pressure from the workers, but they are of such a type that they manifest as simple demonstrations, of formalised protests and never as genuine classist battles. They sabotage every demand, every struggle which puts the capitalist order in danger. Like the fascist unions, they march along playing patriotic variations of the. national theme, their specific function being to «snatch from the future revolutionary movements of the class the solid foundation of a truely autonomous union framework».
In 1921, the General Confederation of Labour, even led by reformists was first and foremost, an anti-capitalist workers union that had emerged out of struggle and which the proletariat could use for its own defence against the employers and against the traitorous leaders themselves. In the statutes one can read:
«Art. 1: The General Confederation of Labour constitutes itself in Italy in order to organize and discipline the struggle of the labouring class against the capitalist regime of production and work (....)
Art. 2: The Confederation is constituted: a) of all the national federations of industries and trades which have a function of resistance, and which are on positions of class struggle (...); b) of all workers associations that conform to the general and unificatory duties that are positions of class struggle (....);«
Article 3 establishes the functions of the confederation:
«(....) the general direction of the proletarian movement, industrial and peasant, above all political distinction (....) so as to resolve all partial disagreement between capital and labour in the way most favourable to the labouring class, and in order that all general movements, determined by the sharpening of the class struggle, be directed towards practical results».
In the fascist «work charter» one can read:
«the welfare of the state has to be put before that of the isolated individuals or of the groups of individuals which make up the Italian state. This rule must govern not only the work charter, but all fascist politics (....).
The professional or union organization is free. But only a union which is legally recognized and in submission to the state has the right to egally represent the entire category of employers or workers for which it is constituted; to represent, opposite the state and other professional associations, its interests; to negotiate collective work, obligatory for all members of the category, to impose its prescriptions [ed. such as make them pay, by law, the fees duel and to exercise, towards them. the function of delegates of the public interest (....).
In the collective work contract, the solidarity between the various factors of production finds its concrete expression, thanks to the reconciliation of opposed interests between employers and workers, and thanks to their subordination to the higher interests of production. This disposition eliminates all reason for hatred between workers and owners, whom, in their relations, don't consider themselves as enemies anymore but as cordial collaborators with the common intention of improving production.»
Article 1. of the statutes of the Italian General Confederation of Labour affirms that:
«The Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) is a national organisation of workers. It organizes those workers who - independently of all political opinion, ideological conviction, or religious faith, and belonging to no matter what ethnic group - accept and put into practice the principles of the statutes, considering faithfulness to liberty and democracy as the permanent foundations of union activity (....).
The CGIL bases its programme and its action on the constitution of the Italian republic and works towards its complete application, particularly as regards the rights which are therein proclaimed and the economic and social reforms which are there dictated.»
And in the constitution one reads accordingly:
«39. The union organization is free. Obligations other than their registration together with local and central authorities in the standard legal way, cannot be imposed on unions. In order to be registered, the statutes of the unions must subscribe to an internal functioning that is ordered on a democratic basis. Unions so registered are legal entities. They can, represented unitarily by their members, negotiate collective work contracts with obligatory application for all members of the categories to which the contract refers.
40. The right to strike is to be exercised within the framework of the laws which govern this right.»
Thus, nationalist unionism and the politics of fascist unionism are indistinguishable.
The unions of the second post war period are not however organs of the state, whilst having an inevitable tendency to become so, and in this respect they have already made the first steps, namely the introduction of delegation.
In 1945, the reestablishment of formally free and voluntary membership in the unions, meant that the bourgeoisie, thanks to the PCI and the PSI, could bind the exploited masses without the necessity of having recourse to the restraints of the state union.
Drawing support from a usurped tradition and the corruption of a large worker's aristocracy, the opportunists succeeded in linking the exploited masses to the cart of the bourgeois economy, and today after ten 'boom' years, it is in the process of pushing them anew into the same misery as the period after the First World War.
But, in the same way that the tendency of the bourgeoisie is to imprison workers in state unions, similarly the crisis is irreversible which will result in the ruin of the capitalist economy, and along with it, all of the conquests which some thought eternal, of the democratic lies and pacifist illusions.
There will remain to the exploited masses nothing else but the struggle for the defence of their own conditions of existence. In this struggle, which will oppose itself to all the principal nationalist unions, to all parties, to the entire state apparatus, the class union is bound to rise again.
Nationalist union and class union are two antithetical terms; the one excludes the other, the workers must smash the apparatus that today links their conditions of existence to the smooth running of the economy of profit, in order to assert by force their right to live and to work, even when the profits of the businesses diminish.
This is why the rebirth of the class union will come into being opposed to the politics and the structure of present day unions, against national solidarity and for solidarity amongst all the exploited against the dominant classes.
Source: «Communist Left», No. 1, July - December, 1989 (from «Comunismo», No. 1, [January-April 1979] and translated in «La Gauche Communiste», No. 3, [January-June 1982])
[top] [content] [last] [home] [mail] [search] [webmaster]