From International Socialism, No.48, June/July 1971, p.34.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
This policy statement was adopted at a conference of IS members active in industrial and trade union work, and endorsed by the National Committee. It gives the general guidelines for revolutionary socialists on the question. Of course a fight for ‘democracy’ in the abstract will not succeed. The democratic demands have to be linked, in every case, with specific policy demands on wages, conditions, safety and so on. The formulation of realistic revolutionary policies in the various industries and unions is the task IS industrial militants are now tackling. The present statement is a common element in all of them.
Conference recognises that, under modern conditions, the trade union bureaucracy is a special social group which is used in the maintenance of capitalist class rule.
While the bureaucracy reflects in varying degrees at different times, the pressure of the membership, it also serves as an instrument through which the employers and the State try to discipline and control workers, to limit and often sabotage disputes, to check solidarity actions and to prevent the union of political and industrial struggles. This dual role does not depend mainly on the political outlook of the individual official, though this is of some importance. It depends on the actual position of the bureaucracy in capitalist society. The officials are a relatively privileged group organised in hierarchies enjoying better pay, conditions and, usually, job security than the rank and file militant. They are under very strong pressure to conform to the model of the ‘responsible’ trade union officer, responsible not to the membership, but to the standards of the employer and the state machine.
Under pressure from both the workers and the employers, the bureaucracies try all the time to become independent, to change their position from that of servant of the membership to that of master. To the extent that they succeed in this the unions become mainly organisations for controlling the workers and only secondarily organisations of the workers.
Even where this has already happened to a large extent, Conference rejects the idea that the unions can be bypassed or ignored or that breakaway unions should be promoted. The experience of the last sixty years shows that these views lead to a dangerous isolation of militants from the mass of their fellow workers and so to a strengthening of the bureaucracy. The struggle against the bureaucracy requires the needs a combination of rank and file activity and work in the union machine. Unofficial and official organisations must both be used.
In the longer term the struggle against the bureaucracy requires the development of a national rank and file organisation and a program of action which combines immediate and long term demands. Central to this program is the question of control by the membership.
Therefore Conference recognises the urgent need to campaign for rank and file control of the trade unions. We recognise the that no democratic constitution alone guarantees active democracy, that being dependent on the degree of participation by the membership at large. Where rank and file members draw up programmes of demands specific to their individual union, these should (a) be based on the principles outlined below and (b0 be related to the immediate experience of trade unionists in struggle and not mere blueprints abstracted from the present level of class activity.
Last updated on 6.2.2008