Editors, the Gauntlet
Re: "Big unions..." Sept. 9, 1999
Despite naming themselves the champions of working people, the vanguard we should blindly follow to "freedom" (as if anybody can ever give you freedom--you have to take it), Communists have repeatedly betrayed working people. Last week's column shows a self-proclaimed Communist promoting a perspective which would strip working people of what little dignity and control they may have over their lives.
Unions are the only form of defense working people have. The only power working people have vis-a-vis employers is to cease working, a meaningful act only if workers are able to stand together in solidarity. Solidarity is the only power of working people and unions are the institutions for this solidarity.
Some unions do abuse their power, but this abuse is not in the relation between union and capitalist. Rather it is internal, in the relation between the union and the worker. Business unions like UFCW or the Teamsters have a large, professional staff of bureaucrats who often have more in common with capitalists than workers. These unions are not a way for workers to gain control over their lives, but an ironic way that further control is taken from them.
Social unions are an alternative to business unions. These are more democratic and socially active in standing up for the rights of workers. There is also the avowedly revolutionary unionism of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which represents a radically rank and file orientation to unionism. The IWW stands for democracy in its most direct forms, with decision-making resting with the rank and file, and a conscientious avoidance of career union bureaucrats. Its revolutionary orientation springs largely from this democratic orientation, as they declare that democracy does not end when one enters a place of work--a viewpoint any boss would find threatening.
As to the horrifying statement that police and politicians should not let unions get away with illegal strikes, it is easy to answer. We must ask what makes strikes illegal, and whether an illegal strike is a bad thing. Earlier in our history, all strikes were illegal. Today an illegal strike is one in which workers act under their own initiative--as would be the norm in any true democracy--without going through the proper channels.
Proper channels are an intimidating maze of bureaucratic red tape and prohibitions upon workers acting independently--a significant way to take power away from workers. These channels are only preferable if one wishes to see power concentrated in the hands of bosses and bureaucrats and opposes workers standing up for their rights--remember the problem with business unions?
An attack on illegal strikes represents an attack on the exercise of the democratic rights of the worker. There is no freedom if not the freedom for workers to labor under conditions of their own choosing. This lack of control is what makes slavery so repugnant. Laws that make democratic strikes illegal strip the facade of free labor to reveal the reality of wage slavery.
So, Communist, do you truly believe the slogan, "All power to the people" or do you believe "All power to the person who claims to represent the people?" I ask this because the latter is really no change at all. Why would working people organize themselves to dump the bosses off their back only to replace them with new bosses (the Party, for example)? Nay, the struggle to dump the boss properly ends not in a new set of bosses, but freedom! Do you support working people or not?