The Trade Unions: Communist Theory and Practice of Trade Unionism, Lance Sharkey. 1961
According to the propaganda of the press barons, the “old fashioned radical” ideas of the labour movement are “out-dated” “obsolete,” because we now live in a “Welfare State” and are all “People’s Capitalists,” don’t you see! All we have, to do is work harder and “increase productivity” and we will soon be millionaire shareholders in G.M.H., B.H.P., C.S.R., etc.
Strikes, according to the press hirelings, belong to the past.
The working class, however, finds the reality somewhat different to this idealistic phantasmagoria.
At the time of writing 500,000 steelworkers are on strike in the U.S., the very heartland of “People’s Capitalism.” They have been joined by copper employees and other sections of the working class.
Amusing was the remark attributed to President Eisenhower when asked if he would try to end these strikes before N. S. Khrushchov visited the U.S. Oh, no, he said, these strikes would prove to the visitor just how “democratic” America is.
A strange concept of the much misused word democracy, indeed!
The right to struggle and sacrifice in order to obtain a meagre measure of economic justice, with all the powers of the State, police, laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, Courts, strikebreakers and the almost unlimited resources of the monopolies arrayed against the workers, whose chief weapon is to withhold their labour power!
Are strikes really outdated in the advanced capitalist countries?
Let us glance at the facts as related by the figures: In seven leading countries of the pseudo-free world – U.S.A., Britain, France, Japan, Canada, Belgium and Austria – according to official government statistics, in the ten years before the war the number of strikes recorded was 19,429,000, involving 191,233,000 work days.
In ten post-war years the corresponding figures were 72,324,000 and 630,276,000!
In the period of 10 years 1930-39 there were in Australia a total of 2,241 disputes involving a loss of 5,797,000 working days.
In the ten years 1948-1957 there were 13,127 disputes involving a loss of 11,812,000 working days.
For eight of these ten years the Menzies Government has been in office.
Despite the inclusion in Arbitration Acts of extensive penal powers, the ten post-war years referred to are marked by almost a 600 per cent. increase in the number of disputes. In only one of these ten years was the total number of disputes less than 1,100 and the average was 1,312 per year. In the ten pre-war years, the total disputes reached 400 in only one year and the average was 224 disputes per year.
Far from abating, the class struggle of the workers, it is clear, is reaching unheard-of proportions compared with previous periods.
As is the case of unemployment, the tempo of strike action rises and falls in accordance with the ups and downs of capitalist economy. There are relatively calm periods and times of intensified struggle. All sorts of confusionists seize on the “calm” periods to “prove” capitalism has changed.
In the socialist sector of the globe strike struggles are practically non-existent, not because the workers are bludgeoned, as the false propaganda of the ruling class paints it, but because, with the abolition of capitalism and the introduction of economic planning, the plans ensure a steady rise in the standard of living as production rises.
The Seven-Year Plan of the U.S.S.R. provides for a 40 per cent. increase in real wages and progressive reduction of the working week to 40, and then to 35 and 30 hours. It is impossible for capitalism to plan ahead; the fluctuations of the markets and the greed for profits bar the way.
The contrast between living standards under capitalism and under socialism can be seen in the official figures for real wages in Australia. According to the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures, real wages in 1957 were 46.9 per cent. higher than in 1911. (Commonwealth Year Book, 1958, p. 166)
That is an average rise of one per cent. each year whereas in socialist society the increase is six per cent. a year.
Another sure indicator is the immense growth of the trade union movement in the postwar world. World trade union membership is now about 150,000,000.
Some workers may think that because in the present period there have been no open wage-cuts such as those usual in the past, therefore wages will not be reduced.
Lord Keynes, the much boosted vulgar economist, pointed out that workers’ standards of living can be depressed by such means as inflation, taxes, and other means which also increase the rate of profit. He was correct on this point!
The Menzies Government came to office in 1949 largely on the slogan of putting “value in the pound.” Since then the pound has undergone a steep depreciation, some say it is only worth eight or nine shillings, others 6/11d.
Taxes, rates, interest rates on housing, hire-purchase and so on have increased enormously in many cases.
Rents, that is, landlords profits, have soared from, in Sydney, £1/17/- to £4/0/6 for an average cottage. Taxation paid by the average family has risen from £4/12/- in 1947-48 to £10/4/-, according to the N.S.W. Taxpayers’ Association.
Karl Marx pointed out that the national debts of capitalist countries were one of the big factors depressing living standards. The Australian national debt in 1956 was £3,388,000,000, of which £1,405,000,000 was for past wars while military expenditure is now £190,000,000 annually. All of this has to be paid for out of the surplus value produced by the working class. The interest on the enormous debt goes to the bondholders and the profits from armaments manufacture to the monopolies.
This great debt burden assures us that there won’t be any startling raises in wages in the coming period, to say the least of it.
The Marxist position that the tendency of capital is to depress wages, and if the working class did not resist such encroachments the workers would be degraded to one level mass of broken-down wretches, past salvation” (Value, Price and Profit) receives its greatest confirmation not in the 19th century as the reformists and revisionists and official propaganda would like us to believe, but precisely now, in the mid-twentieth century.
The working class has acted by and large in line with Marx’s view and struggled against the general tendency of capitalistic economic laws to depress living standards. They have organised themselves into powerful trade unions, on both a national and international scale, have waged an unceasing struggle by means of strikes, by organisation, unity and propaganda. They have developed their own political parties and gained representation in the Parliaments and made important political gains, and can no longer be ignored nor crushed.
Not only that, but this century has witnessed the greatest revolutions in all history, in Russia and China and the other socialist countries, as well as the vast anti-imperialist movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which has been led by the working class in a number of cases or in which the working class participated and provided a firm base.
All of this strikes fear into the hearts of the exploiters and causes them to give concessions more easily and try not to drive the working class “too far”. The “whiff of grape-shot” theory is very dangerous for them in the epoch of socialist revolutions.
It is in these conditions that the “theory” of the “Welfare State” grew up. This serves to somewhat camouflage the true nature of capitalism, along with the propaganda swindle of “People’s Capitalism” and the so-called ironing out of class distinctions.
The economic competition to which the socialist countries is now challenging capitalism means nothing else than which of the two social systems can provide the highest living standard and best social conditions for the whole of the people, not merely for a privileged few.
All of these factors, the power and the struggle of the international labour movement, the rise and the challenge of working class power in one-third of the world, is determining the relations between classes and not some “miraculous” change in the economic laws of capitalism. It can be said, correctly, that the struggle of the working class internationally has prevented it becoming “broken-down wretches past salvation”, has modified the impact of the economic laws of capitalism as Marx indicated, to a degree, but has not “changed” them, nor eliminated them, as the befuddled revisionists think. That is why the struggle continues around daily issues.
In the socialist countries, the laws of capitalist development of course have been abolished, along with the capitalist system itself.
That is the fundamental difference.
That is why militancy, struggle, unity, the continuous extension of the labour movement, is as imperative as ever in order to achieve: “the abolition of the wages system”, that is, the system of capitalist exploitation itself.
The Soviet Union uses a partial wages system for convenience, but 40 per cent. more of the real “wages” in practice comes from free medicine, education, low rents, cheap holidays, high pensions, etc. Lower paid categories receive full wages as pension on retirement and there is also a very liberal child endowment system. As there are no capitalist owners, there is no exploitation, the profits once accruing to them are used to raise standards and social benefits, in a word for the further growth of socialism.
It is an old trick to publish the amount Soviet workers receive in roubles but to suppress the fact that free social benefits account for almost half as much again. This percentage will rise considerably as a result of the Seven-Year Plan.
There has been a further development of the arbitration legislation since I penned the work “The Trade Unions”. These developments, to put it mildly, are most unfavourable to the trade union movement.
In fact, strikes are, for all practical purposes, illegal in Australia, at any rate unless sanctioned by one or other arbitration authority.
To date, these new developments have led to interference in the internal affairs of the trade unions and to heavy fines and penalties being inflicted on a number of trade unions when the members took strike action.
In Great Britain and many other capitalist countries, the right of the worker to withhold his labour power, the only commodity he has to sell in order to obtain a livelihood, is recognised either by law or as a democratic right. In Australia, in practice, that right is denied.
The limitation of trade union rights to independently conduct their affairs or take action to defend hard-won rights or improve conditions, commenced with the Chifley Labor Government’s legislation authorising Court-controlled ballots.
The Labor Party leaders bear great responsibility for the position that has now been reached. Although the arbitration laws were first introduced by capitalist politicians, the A.L.P. leadership has always been a pillar of arbitration, has fostered it, defended it, and promoted its development since its inception.
The Labor Party has, because of its very non-socialist character, as the alternative government, opposed anything of the character of class struggle, of militancy on the part of the rank and file. According to its top rightwing leaders throughout the Party’s chequered career, the role of the rank and file is to vote for the A.L.P.
The left, the communists and militants, have ceaselessly warned against the dangers of submitting to legislation imposing compulsory arbitration and have always demanded a policy of collective bargaining and negotiations backed by the organised strength of the trade unions.
History has demonstrated the correctness of this view.
The Federal Labor Government commenced the process of subordination of the trade unions to the bourgeois State, and the Menzies Government further developed to its climax, the “Court of Pains and Penalties”, as it was named in Parliament by Dr. Evatt.
The reformists today condemn and fight against the further extension of the arbitration system’s penal powers over the unions. Both the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Labor Party have condemned these new provisions of the various Acts of the Menzies Administration. That is very welcome to our class.
What were the conditions that facilitated the stringent legislation of the Menzies Government?
The role of the Labor Party in trying to abolish class action in favour of arbitration of course played a role. The second and a decisive factor was the disruptive and treacherous role of the so-called industrial groups which for long operated under an A.L.P. flag. The disruption and splitting tactics of these reactionaries weakened the labour movement to a sufficient extent to allow the ruling class to place shackles on working class action.
The groupers at that time were a powerful force in the A.L.P. and it was their influence, to a large extent, that led the A.L.P. to legalise court-controlled ballots and suppress the miners’ strike.
That the late Mr. Chifley regretted to a degree such actions seemed clear when in his last public speeches he warned against “the tame cat unionism” which the groupers were endeavouring to impose on the working class.
While the struggle against the grouper sabotage won important successes, nonetheless, the results of their evil influence are still with us in the shape of the “penal clauses”, court-controlled ballots and their control of a few important unions is still hampering the working class.
In addition to the penal power possessed under the Federal Arbitration Act, there is the punitive legislation under the N.S.W. State laws, which the Cahill Government, under pressure from the labour movements, has now promised to repeal, at least in part.
In addition to all this, there are the Amendment Clauses to the Federal Crimes Act which also prescribe heavy penalties, gaol and fines, for strikes involving more than one State and legalising the right of the Governor to proclaim “a State of Emergency”, which was done in the miners’ strike of 1949.
It was by means of these Federal laws that soldiers were used as strike-breakers, union funds “frozen” and union leaders were gaoled during the miners’ struggle.
All of this proves the contention that bourgeois democracy is a very formal thing that can be set aside whenever the rulers, the monopolies, think it desirable. As we have seen this occurs under Labor as well as “Liberal” Governments.
The trade union movement has condemned the amendments to the Federal Crimes Act, political as well as industrial, as far back as 1926 when these were promulgated by the then Attorney-General Latham of the Bruce Government.
Successive Labor Governments, Scullin, Curtin, and Chifley, have ignored the demands of the labour movement and failed to rescind the “Amendments to the Crimes Act”.
The struggle is now being waged for the repeal of the penal legislation directed against the working class both Federally and by the States.
(For a detailed description of how the laws referred to operate against the trade union movement see also the pamphlet “Penal Powers” by Jack McPhillips.)
The extent of accidents in industry and illnesses arising from employment is a matter of great concern to workers and a problem to which the unions should give ever greater attention.
Official figures on this question are very inadequate. In fact the only figures available are those referring to illnesses and accidents for which compensation has been paid. These, in varying degrees of adequacy, are kept separately by the States and Commonwealth bodies which administer the various Compensation Acts.
The inadequacy of such figures for the purpose of showing accident rates is revealed by the fact that they do not cover unsuccessful compensation claims and of course do not cover the multitude of “small” accidents which do not involve any loss of working time or accidents or illnesses for which workers do not seek compensation.
Apart from these figures only “estimates” are available.
Figures published with the Report of the N.S.W. Workmen’s Compensation Commission for the year ending June, 1958, reveal the following:
In the five years from 1954 to 1958 total accidents at work in N.S.W. were 453,403. Of these 803 were fatal accidents. Total accidents were greater in each of the other four Years than in 1954 and for 1958 showed an 11 per cent. increase over 1954.
Fifty per cent. of total accidents in 1957-58 occurred in five industry groups, i.e. building, construction and maintenance, metal, mining and quarrying, and transport.
In 1957-58, 1,134 male workers suffered loss of the whole or part of a finger, toe, arm, hand or leg.
For the five industry groups in which 50 per cent. of accidents occurred in 1957-58 the average duration of compensation payments was three weeks; average amounts paid for compensation for males in 1957-58 was less than £33. This shows the inadequacy of compensation payments.
Total paid in compensation in five years was £32,656,602, an increase of 75 per cent. in 1958 over 1954.
Fifty-four per cent. of total payments in 1957-58 were paid in five groups.
At a National Industrial Safety Convention held in Brisbane in July, 1959, the following estimates were submitted: “In Australia industrial accidents kill 500-600 workers a year, maim 3,500 and cause 350,000 to lose at least one day’s work. In the best Australian textile mills the accident frequency rate is from ten to 20 times higher than that of comparable American mills.”
The April, 1959, issue of “Safety”, a magazine issued by the N.S.W. Department of Labour and Industry, carried an article which, referring to the first introduction of machinery into industry, said:
“... as the machine gained in importance and as the avarice of the factory owner grew, the dignity of the people who tended the machine was taken away.”
This “avarice” has not been abolished and it is undoubtedly a basic cause for many accidents to workers.
It is merely curbed by the legislation concerning safety which the unions have been able to obtain from governments over, a period of many years and their vigilance in policing the observance of such legislation.
At the time of writing, the A.C.T.U. and the Building Unions Group had conducted a nation-wide “safety week”.
The N.S.W. Branch of the Metal Trades Federation had also named September, 1959, as “Safety Month” for the metal industry.
These actions were aimed at improving the observance of safe practices at work places and informing workers of safety “rights” included in legislation.
More of such work is needed. In addition to strictly policing observance of safety legislation, campaigns are necessary for the extension and improvement of this type of legislation, to protect workers from some of the effects of “speed-up” methods and the avarice associated with the chase of maximum profits.
Improvement of Acts covering Workers’ Compensation and wide publicity on workers’ rights under such legislation are also important parts of trade union work.
Intensification of labour by means of “speed-up” methods is shown in some figures provided by the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia.
These figures concern work in the holds of vessels and refer to the port of Sydney. In the period under consideration there was no significant change in the method of handling cargoes in the hold and no mechanisation.
The picture revealed by these figures shows that, as between the two years ending June, 1956, and the two years ending June, 1958, the increased average tons handled, per man hour, in the loading and discharging of six types of cargo, ranged from 3.7 per cent. on one type of cargo up to 56 per cent. on another type of cargo.
In the year ending June, 1951, 119,000 building workers constructed buildings worth £150,000,000.
In the year ending June, 1958, 109,000 building workers constructed buildings worth £425,000,000.
Allowing for changes in money values, the £425,000,000 was equal to £270,000,000 in terms of 1951 prices.
Thus with 10,000 fewer workers, the building employers got buildings worth nearly twice as much in “real” money terms.
Since the birth of capitalism the working class has had to wage an incessant struggle against the intensification of its exploitation, by means of new techniques, growth of mechanisation, various forms of speed-up and the like. Our own industrial history records the fact that a major general strike, that of 1917, commenced as a struggle against speedup.
It began when the “Taylor system” was introduced in the N.S.W. railways and elsewhere. This great struggle was remarkable also for the fact that it took place during the imperialist war, the First World War.
All the powers of the State, as usual, were used to smash the trade unions’ resistance. The “penal clauses” in the N.S.W. Arbitration Act, against which unionists are today waging a struggle in order to get the N.S.W. Labor Government to abolish them, were imposed to smash the 1917 strike.
The Taylor Card system was imported from the United States to speed-up the workers and thereby increase the rate of exploitation, the surplus value pocketed by the employing class.
Struggle against the intensity of labour is one of the main problems facing the trade union movement.
Piecework and bonus systems are an aspect of the never ending effort of the employers to increase their profits at the expense of the workers’ health and strength.
The capitalist class are striving all the time to introduce “scientific” methods to squeeze out the last ounce of energy from the workers. Time and motion studies, the so-called “methods engineering”, are being introduced in many factories.
These methods aim at speeding up the worker to keep up with the machine. The aim is to increase production and so swell profits. Time allowed for operation is under constant pressure, and bonus earnings become less.
A most substantial gain made by the trade union movement in the post-war years was victory in the prolonged struggle, agitation, strikes, pressure on governments, etc., for a shortening of the working week to 40 hours. Today, the menace presented by automation, mechanised processes and growing intensity of labour calls for a similar campaign to achieve the 35-30 hours week, to realise the aim of a six hours day.
It is necessary also to oppose excessive overtime, as many workers toil more than 40 hours a week, endangering their health and undermining their family and social life.
The workers and their shop committees and unions are opposing these methods, which speed up the workers and make a mockery of the capitalist claims to uphold the “dignity of the individual”. Many struggles have been fought against the introduction of “methods engineering”, which is resented bitterly by all workers.
The leading bodies of the trade union movement have rightly condemned speed-up in all its forms. It leads in the end to the weakening of the trade unions and, consequently, to a lessening of the workers’ share in production, to a fall in real wages.
Mechanisation, mass production, conveyor belts, production lines, and so on, have all led to the relative impoverishment of the working people. That is, the share of the workers in the national income continues to fall, while that of the capitalists continuously rises.
Today, alongside speed-up, arise the problems presented by automation and various electronic machines in industry.
Already, mechanisation has displaced almost one half of the Australian coalminers. Mechanisation of loading processes has heavily reduced the numbers employed on the waterfront. Diesel engines and other innovations are reducing the labour force in the railways. Electronic computors and “brains”, tape recorders and the like threaten the employment of clerical workers.
In the United States the impact of these innovations has already displaced great numbers of workers.
Here are two examples from the United States relating to production of durable and non-durable goods published by the Australian Financial Review, July 30, 1959:
Mechanisation’s Boost to U.S. Industry Shown by New Figures
Dramatic figures were released in New York this week to demonstrate the fast-growing mechanisation of American industry and its effect on jobs.
In the past eight years American production of durable goods has risen by 27 per cent. but the number of workers making them has dropped by 511,000.
In the same period production of non-durable goods has gained 35 per cent., with a 488,000 fall in the number of workers producing them.
Measured either by the Federal Reserve Board’s index of industrial production or the Department of Commerce’s figures on gross national product in constant dollars, the number of production workers needed for each unit of output has fallen by 25 per cent. in eight years.
This means a gain of 33 per cent. in factory efficiency through steadily growing mechanisation.
Counting non-production as well as production workers, the number of factory labour has changed little over the eight years.
Yet, in this same period, the employed working force has risen by 3,209,000.
Factory labour in the working force has fallen from 26.1 per cent. to 24.6 per cent.
The National Bureau of Economic Research is now conducting a study to measure not only the contribution of labour to the rising productivity, but also that of capital.
How much of the gain was attributed to better tools, how much to a better trained, better educated work force?
Using figures for the entire private economy and including the contribution of tangible capital – money turned into buildings and machines and inventories – the bureau measured the average rate of gain between 1889 and 1953 at 1.7 per cent. a year.
Tangible capital, the bureau finds, has risen at a rate of 0.9 per cent. a year, far more rapidly than the labour force.
“because the services of labour have become more expensive relative to those of capital, there has been a strong incentive for business firms and other producers to substitute capital for labour.”
The economic crisis of 1957-58 raised the unemployed figures in the United States to an official total of some 5,000,000 with a comparable number on part-time work.
In 1959, the official figures claim a return to a high rate of output, but the unemployed army largely remains.
Automation and mechanisation was extended in this period with the result that production levels rose to comparable levels, but the unemployed did not get back to work.
Automation therefore presents a new and growing menace to the working class.
Under a rational social system it would confer the greatest benefits on the people. But under the capitalist system, it serves the interests of profit-making, irrespective of the consequences to the toiling majority.
To meet this new challenge, the trade union movement is demanding the reduction of the working week to 35 and 30 hours. In the Soviet Union, where automation is also developing rapidly, the Seven-Year Plan provides for the changeover to the 35 and 30 hour week.
Besides wage increases to compensate for the increased skill which new scientific methods of production demand from the workers, the reduction of the working week is the logical answer.
The winning of the 40 hour week was the most substantial single gain of the post-war period of the Australian labour movement. Now the menace of automation underlies the need to press on to the goal of a six hour day.
There is nothing to be gained in the long range from a modern version of Luddism, that is, opposition to the machines and more up to date techniques of production. The ultimate answer is well-known, the abolition of capitalist ownership and its replacement by social ownership by the nation led by the working class.
The Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations (A.C.S.P.A.) is a body consisting of a number of organisations representing “white collar” workers.
Organisations which are affiliated to or otherwise actively associated with the A.C.S.P.A. represent approximately 200,000 members employed in salaried occupations. They are engaged almost entirely in non-productive occupations, for example, bank officers, architects, surveyors, insurance staffs, scientific .and technical workers, clerks and administrative officers of semi-government instrumentalities.
They constitute a large section of the total work-force and although more highly paid than the great bulk of industrial workers the economic position of the majority of them is difficult.
This is the principal factor which led to the unifying of their efforts through the A.C.S.P.A.
The “white collar” workers face a menace equal to, if not greater than, other workers, from mechanisation, represented in their case by the development of electronics, automatic computors, as well as tape recorders and similar devices. Already, one hears of reductions of 50 per cent. or more of clerical staffs in Britain, U.S.A., etc.
Important developments in recent times have been strikes by ships’ officers, airline pilots and the artists of the Murray School of Dancing.
Significant is the fact that these sections adopted the methods of the trade union movement in order to obtain justice. The airline pilots withdrew from Arbitration, finding it unsatisfactory.
Although only a few of the organisations associated with the A.C.S.P.A. are affiliated with the A.C.T.U., these two national union bodies have acted in co-operation. In the claim for increased margins they joined forces in the proceedings, which commenced before the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission in August, 1959.
Our Party’s Programme, “Australia’s Path to Socialism”, emphasises the importance of working class unity and the role of the trade unions in building and maintaining this, In this connection it points to “the professional and clerical workers, scientists, technicians and teachers” as allies of the workers in industry and agriculture.
THE trade union movement is growing at a fast pace on an international scale.
In the newly independent countries, India, Indonesia, etc., powerful union movements have developed.
In a number of Asian, African and Latin American countries, unionism is expanding in spite of fierce repressions and gaolings. In some cases, executions of trade union leaders, police terror against strikers and illegality are the order of the day.
In spite of all this, great progress is being made on an international scale.
After the war a single, all-embracing trade union international organisation, the World Federation of Trade Unions, was founded. It included the vast trade union organisations of the socialist world as well as the unions in the capitalist world.
This international unity represented a great leap forward for world unionism.
However, the reactionary top leaders in the United States, Great Britain and other countries fear unity as much as does the employing class.
These “labour lieutenants of capitalism,” in spite of protests from the workers, succeeded in splitting the international organisation.
To-day, there exists two internationals, the World Federation of Trade Unions which embraces 95,000,000 unionists, including those of the U.S.S.R., the big organisations in other socialist countries, the majority of organised workers in France, Italy, etc., S.O.B.S.l., the 3,000,000 strong Indonesian movement and the biggest Indian national centre, the All-India Trade Union Congress.
Important groups in many other countries are affiliated or have fraternal relations with the W.F.T.U.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions controls the majority of trade unionists in West Europe and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., with 13,000,000 members, in the U.S.A. It claims 54,000,000 members.
The top leaders of the I.C.F.T.U. are dedicated to capitalism, their stock in trade is anti-communism and support of the “cold war” and arms-race policies of the imperialists.
They are responsible for the split in international trade unionism, thereby seriously weakening the movement.
The reward they receive for this service to the monopolists is scant indeed.
At the time of writing, 500,000 American steelworkers are on strike because their modest demands for increased wages have been refused by the billionaire steel monopolies. The strike movement in the U.S. is an ever-widening one as figures quoted earlier indicate.
Clearly, “tame cat” unionism brings the workers very little reward. It is clear from this U.S. experience that militant struggle, unity and organisation is the only real weapon the working class possesses in the final analysis.
The W.F.T.U. pursues a class policy.
It is dedicated to working class internationalism, realising that “an injury to one is an injury to all” on the international, as well as the national field.
Low wages and sub-standard working conditions in one part of the world are a constant menace to the living standards of the workers of other countries.
Therefore, it proceeds under the historic watchword “workers of all lands, unite”.
The W.F.T.U. includes in its ranks the unionists of the socialist countries. The trade unions of these countries are in many respects in a vitally different position to workers in the countries subject to capitalist exploitation. In one-third of the world the production of surplus values for the profit of the private owners of industry was abolished when all industry was socialised.
Socialist planning each year covers increased wages, reduced prices, improved working conditions, free medical treatment, old age pensions, low rents, paid holidays, rest homes and sanatoriums and other benefits, which are controlled by the trade unions. In the Soviet Union, the social benefit system, running Into astronomical figures, is directed by the trade unions themselves. The Seven-Year Plan provides for a 40 per cent. increase in real wages and going over to a 40 hours week (in some industries they already enjoy this) and then on to a 35-30 hours week. Consequently, there is no need for strike action; who would want to strike, knowing that as production expands so does the living standard of the people? Neither are they plagued with the menace of unemployment.
In a short span of some ten years or less the Soviet working class will have the highest living standards in the world.
It is easy to see which working class is truly free and which are wage-slaves when basic conditions are evaluated correctly. Likewise it is clear why it is necessary to struggle against the capitalists in order to maintain existing conditions or gain some relatively minor concessions. Where the working class itself is the owner of the factories, the means of production, the ruling class, the extent to which standards rise with each passing year depends basically, on their own efficiency in raising productivity.
The workers in the socialist countries co-operate with their governments which are working class governments to increase production in order to realise, as speedily as possible, the goals set in the State plans.
The rightwing bureaucrats, who split the international unity of unionism and who acquiesce in capitalist ownership of the productive forces, and consequently exploitation of the working class, turn the world upside down, as it were, by calling themselves “free” while those working in socially-owned industries are supposed, by these reactionaries, to be “forced labourers”. No bigger lie ever was foisted on the working people than this. The proof – the Seven-Year Plan of the U.S.S.R. and similar plans of the other socialist countries – so eloquently proclaims this. “Facts speak louder than words” is an old and tried saying.
The major task facing the trade union movement, in the international sphere, is not an internal struggle which could but weaken the position of the working class, but united action for common aims, not only for wages and conditions, but to help the workers in under-developed countries to improve their lot, aid the struggle for national independence, and struggle against the threat of nuclear war.
The Australian trade union movement was able to render effective assistance to the Indonesian people in their noble struggle for emancipation from colonialism and to prevent the Dutch imperialists using our country as a base for military operations against the Indonesian Republic. That was a glorious page in the history of the trade union movement of this country.
In the field of international solidarity, 1959 saw our unionists, under direction from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, rendering valuable aid to the Italian seamen’s strike by their aid to Italian crews in Australian ports.
Assistance was also given to Indian seamen who suffered abuse and ill-treatment. This is proletarian internationalism in action!
Our trade union movement is taking an ever-growing part in the struggle for peace, for the banning of nuclear weapons, for peaceful co-existence between the two world social systems.
The vast majority of the workers in the I.C.F.T.U. share these aims and unity of action can and must be achieved. Mutual support can lead to reconciliation and eventual unification of the two internationals into one world-wide invincible fortress of the working class movement.
That is what must be striven for in the international trade union sphere.
The cardinal question facing the working class today is the struggle for peace. Immediate aims of the peace movement are such issues as the ending of nuclear tests, outlawing of nuclear weapons, destruction of all existing stockpiles of such weapons, the ending of the arms race and the cold war,
The application of Lenin’s thesis of peaceful coexistence of the two societies, socialism and capitalism, is a necessity if humanity is to be spared the unknown terrors of nuclear warfare.
Ultimately, as N. S. Khrushchov propounded to the United Nations, there must be total disarmament. The barbarism of warfare must be banished from human society.
If such noble goals cannot be achieved while imperialism exists, it most certainly will become a fact when the goal of labor – socialism – has become a reality.
The trade union movement has an enormous responsibility in the struggle to maintain peace. In two world wars we have witnessed the terrible destruction, not only of life, but of great cities and industries created by the toil and skill of the men of labor.
This destruction, caused by the greed of capitalists for greater profits from arms production and war and the insane ambitions of imperialism to rob and rule the whole world, undoubtedly has depressed, and continues to depress, the living standards of the working people. A new world war Would wipe out the gains made by the workers.
Millions of workers have died in the wars of the capitalist monopolies, militarists and fascists. Therefore, the question of peace, particularly in the conditions of “cold war” is a decisive one for the trade union movement.
It was indeed a big step forward when the Australian Council of Trade Unions was represented, at the Australian and New Zealand Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament held in November, 1959. This lead must be followed by far greater efforts by the trade union movement in the noble cause of preserving world peace, in which the trade union movement must in future play a leading role if the workers are to be safeguarded from the barbarism of new wars.
“Peace is trade union business.”
THE new material added to this edition of “Trade Unions” indicates the main experiences and changes that have taken place since its first publication.
These experiences show that older problems have been intensified and new problems have appeared, particularly those presented by automation and mechanisation, which can deal devastating blows to the economic and social position of the working people of our country.
The new data of the past ten years indicates the truth of Marxism-Leninism and its full applicability to Australian conditions in the industrial field as in all other spheres.
Those who oppose Marxism-Leninism often base themselves on the fact that Australia has a relatively high standard of living compared with many other capitalist countries.
Marx, of course, pointed out that differences in standards between countries are due to historical conditions of their development. Australia was formed by a small population occupying a huge territory and had a ready market for its primary products in the big industrial countries, particularly Great Britain, among others. Neither did it have hangovers from the feudal system, such as hampered growth in many countries.
This did not mean that capitalism was kinder or gave more concessions. On the contrary, this living standard was won only in the course of determined and often bitter struggles of our labour movement. This fact refutes the nonsense peddled by apologists for capitalism, including rightwing reformists and revisionists.
Unity, organisation, struggles these are at least as necessary in the present as in the past.
Marx’s postulate of the relative impoverishment of the working class, i.e. the ever growing share of the monopolies and declining share of the workers in the national income in face of the colossal profits of the monopolies today, is evidence enough of this.
The use of the State power, in its various forms, from the use of police and troops to break strikes to the “Court of Pains and Penalties,” is eloquent proof that we live under a class state, refuting all the balderdash about a pure “democracy” and a state “above classes.”
The increasing intensity of labour, speed-up, the re-appearance of an unemployed army after the brief period of full employment, the growth of crime, the crisis in education, industrial accidents, freezing of wages, the debt burden, the “cold war” and threat of a new war, recurring “recessions”, leading to a new economic crisis, all of these are the factors indicated by Marx’s teaching of the absolute impoverishment of the masses.
The decadence of capitalism in this period of its general crisis, in the epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism, is shown in its criminal efforts to pollute the minds of the people by means of the degraded mental fodder it purveys through the monopoly-controlled press, television and radio.
Alongside hatred, lies and slanders of the working class, peace, and socialism, are the horror “comics”, glorification of criminals, mass slaughters and stark brutalities in so-called “Westerns”, endless “cops and robbers”, “private eyes” and the monstrous horror films on the cinema.
Added to this, the perverted “music”, “dancing”, sex rubbish, “call girls” and gambling, which gives us a clear picture of the degradation of capitalist “culture” in the present time; a deliberate attempt to debase the masses and to keep them from understanding serious social and economic problems of today. This is doomed to failure and this “culture” will be rejected by the people.
In addition, about a million people are existing on inadequate pensions, some dying of malnutrition or committing suicide, as can be seen from reports in the daily press.
How true then is Marx’s description in Vol. 1 of Capital of “absolute impoverishment”:
“In proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse... Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation at the opposite pole.”
That is a clear picture of the real conditions in capitalist society everywhere today. That is why we need an ever stronger labour movement, whose mass base is the trade unions, to conduct a united struggle on the industrial, political and intellectual fronts with a clearly defined goal, to the system of exploitation by monopoly-capitalism, with its wars and economic crises, its enslavement of the masses, and to replace it with the socialist order of society.