Rosa Luxemburg

The Two Methods of Trade-Union Policy


First Published: Die Neue Zeit, October 24, 1907 (vol.1, no.4).
Source: Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political Writings, edited and introduced by Robert Looker
Translated: (from the German) W.D. Graf
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins with special thanks to Robert Looker for help with permissions.
Copyright: Random House © 1972, ISBN/ISSN: 0224005960. Printed with the permission of Random House. Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2004.

The new wage agreement of the printers’ union outwardly appears not to be connected in any way with the deliberations of the Mannheim Party Conference, but following upon its heels it can be seen as a drastic commentary on it. The printers’ trade union has long been regarded in Germany as a prime example of the power and success that a proletarian organization can achieve in the economic sphere only if it remains in the ‘positive realm’ of the worker’s current interests and carefully closes its mind to ‘romantic-revolutionary’ enticements. Throughout its history – from its conscious acceptance of the provisions which the reaction imposed upon it through the anti-socialist laws, right up to its latest wage agreement – the German printers’ union has been the classical embodiment of that trade-union policy which prefers peace to struggle, settlement with capitalism to conflict, political neutrality to open support for the Social-Democratic Party, and which, filled with scorn for revolutionary ‘fanaticism’, sees its ideal in the English type of trade union. It has taken a long time, but now the fruits of such a policy have become obvious to even the most short-sighted of persons. For decades the splendid state of the treasury, the secure conditions of life, the relatively favourable working conditions and the long-lasting peace in the trade seemed to be the best testimony for the printers’ method. Today, because of the new wage agreement, the whole splendid edifice all at once appears to lie in ruins. Instead of achieving exceptional economic success, the printers, despite all their tenacity, perseverance, discretion, moderation, and despite the splendid state of the organization and its funds, have finally allowed capital to dictate such disgraceful conditions to them that a general wave of indignation is passing through the ranks of the normally cold-blooded society. However, if one wishes to assess correctly the fiasco of, let us say, the English methodof trade-union policy in all its significance, then one must compare the German printers’ most recent wage agreement with the Russian printers’ latest achievements – a comparison between the fruits of a decades-long work of peaceful organization and the results of one single year of revolutionary upheaval.

The printers’ trade union in Russia, like most Russian trade unions, is comparatively new. The memorable rising of the Petersburg proletariat on January 22nd, 1905, and the subsequent series of mass strikes which seized all the industrial cities and all the trades in each city, provided the impetus for a feverish trade-union struggle in all areas, and connected with this, for the formation, establishment and enlargement of the trade unions. The enlargement of the trade unions proceeded, and is proceeding, right in the midst of the political struggle, in the midst of street battles, under the relentless downpour of arrests, gaol sentences, trials, disciplinary punishments, amidst terrible unemployment, and despite the frequent butchery carried out by the licentious soldiery. The printers’ trade union was born in Petersburg on July 2nd, 1905, in Moscow on October 31st, and in other cities for the most part in the summer and autumn of the same year. The new trade union, like all others in Russia, clearly bore the mark of its revolutionary antecedents. In its whole nature and activity it remained faithful to its close spiritual relationship with the revolution and its political tasks, with Social Democracy and with its general proletarian class character. In Moscow the printers’ general strike in October 1905 was the starting-point of the huge, general mass strike which spread from Moscow across the whole Tsarist Empire, sweeping away the comedy of Bulygin’s Duma and forcibly obtaining the Tsarist Manifesto of October 30th. Thereupon it was the printers’ trade union in Petersburg that bore the actual costs of bringing about freedom of the press when, following the October Manifesto, it was a question of realizing by direct action, namely in a revolutionary manner, the constitutional freedoms which had been promised on paper. It was actually the printers’ union that, due to the completeness of its own power, did away in practice with the censorship in the Tsarist Empire, and in this way wrote an immortal page in the history of the revolution. Even apart from this, the printers’ trade union is mindful at every step of the overall tasks and interests of the revolution and the proletariat as a class, and always gives these priority over the narrower interests of their trade. Thus, by boycotting reactionary papers, the printers have frequently entered into the political struggles in an effective way, even at the cost of jeopardizing their own material position. And every general political rising of the proletariat, every revolutionary and demonstrative mass strike, is supported resolutely by the printers through general and local strikes. Like other active proletarians, but to an even greater extent, the printers in Russia were taken to task, imprisoned, and many fell victim in the street battles.

The trade-union policy of the Russian printers thus represents the direct opposite of that of the German union. The former is a classical example of bold ‘revolutionary romanticism’ in exactly the same way that the latter is a typical example of the English fanaticism for social peace. Now what is the situation with regard to the economic interests, the pure trade-union achievements of the revolutionary-romantic Russian printers? Already in the summer and autumn of 1905, following half a year of stormy trade-union struggles, the printers obtained a universal nine-hour working day, instead of the former customary twelve- or even thirteen-hour working day. Not satisfied with this, however, they continued the struggle under the slogans of the Social-Democratic programme and fought for the eight-hour day. In a number of cases they have achieved total victory. Not only have they done this without suffering a material loss in wages, but on the contrary they have obtained simultaneous wage increases. Let us take only a few examples. In the city of Samara the printers have brought about the eight-hour day in all privately owned printing works, and, together with this, a significant increase in wages for piece-work, improvement of the workshops, regular payment of wages, sickness insurance of half the normal wage for up to four months, and, finally, full payment of wages for the time lost due tothe strike that led to this settlement. In the city of Orel the printers obtained the eight-hour day, a wage increase of 20 per cent, a rise in the piece-wage by 100 per cent, and the creation of an arbitration arrangement in which they have equal representation. In Odessa in May and June of 1906, following a general strike, the printers achieved the eight-hour day, and, along with it, wage increases ranging from 10 to 40 per cent and the abolition of over-time. In Yekaterinoslav the printers’ trade union decided that, after the eight-hour day, the next task of the wage struggle would be the complete reorganization of the journeymen’s medical benefits system in such a way that the administration of the health insurance would be granted exclusively to the workers, but that the costs of it would fall exclusively to the bosses. In the summer of the current year the printers’ union in most cities of the Tsarist Empire made a new powerful thrust aimed at bringing about the eight-hour day by means of a general strike, and, together with it, the six-day week for news-paper printing-works in particular. Most of these general strikes proved to be either wholly or partially successful, with the result that today the six-day week has become virtually the norm in the trade and the eight-hour day is on the point of celebrating its triumph.

Not satisfied with this, the printers’ trade unions, like those in all other spheres in Russia, have made one of the main goals of their struggle the recognition of the workers’ representatives, namely the factory committees, in every place of work. These factory committees will break the bosses’ master-in-their-own-house attitude. The most stubborn and self-sacrificing battles – apart from those for the eight-hour day – have been fought for recognition of these delegates of the workers. And in this, too, the Russian printers have been successful in most cases. Just 10 present a sample, let us quote a few excerpts from the wage agreement between the Moscow printers and the bosses:

1. The question as to how the factory is to be subdivided for the election of the workers’ representatives shall be decided in the general assembly of the factory workers. The assembly for this purpose shall be convened upon the wish of one-tenth of the workers employed in the factory, and shall be held in the absence of the management and chaired by a freely elected chairman.

3. Every factory department shall elect its own representatives, one for each 50 workers (or fraction thereof).

4. All workers of eighteen years of age and over, without regard to sex or length of employment, shall be eligible to stand for election and to vote in the elections of delegates.

8. The factory management shall not have the right to discharge the elected representatives of the workers prior to the expiry of their term of office (one year). In the event that the factory management intends to discharge a delegate immediately upon the expiry of his term of office, it shall be obliged to communicate its intention to all the workers one month prior there-to.

9. The workers’ representatives must be gainfully employed. They shall be free to depart from the general working regulations in the event that the duties of their office so require. The factory management may not make any wage deductions for such activities.

10. The workers’ representatives shall attend all meetings between the workers and the factory management, except in such cases as the representatives permit the factory management to deal directly with the workers.

11. The workers’ representatives shall decide collectively on the question of hiring and firing each worker after the factory management has submitted to them the pertinent facts. Where the owners are not satisfied with the decision of the representative commission, they may appeal to the general assembly of factory workers.

12. The workers’ representatives shall determine the maximum number of apprentices permissible for each department and for the whole factory.

13. The workers’ representatives shall ensure the strict mutual adherence of the last agreement between the workers and the factory directorate.

16. The workers shall be obliged to support their representatives with all their power. In the event of a disciplinary punishment they must support the same wage demands, strikes, boycotts etc., as their representatives.

17. The delegates of the workers shall function as the factory’s representatives in relations with other labour organizations. They shall be obliged to remain in the closest contact with the latter, and shall inform all the workers of their factory on the state of the workers’ struggle in other enterprises.

This document bears the signature of the ‘Moscow Printers’ Trade Union’. And when one has looked at this document and has then considered the achievements of the Russian printers mentioned earlier, one might be permitted to ask: who has achieved the greater economic power – the attacking columns of the Russian ‘romantic revolutionaries’ or the German levies under the Rexhausen flag of social peace?

To be sure, revolutions and revolutionary struggles cannot be transplanted artificially, by means of ‘good intentions’, into a country. But the examples and lessons of a neighbouring revolutionary country can at least shake the belief that treading softly is the only method of achieving bliss. And well they should.

Last updated on: 1.12.2008