Tuesday, March 29, 2011

G.E. and Ruling Class Tactics

I was among many who noted the perversity of the fact that G.E. got away without paying any taxes last year. That's right, zero. That's the company who Obama lauds as providing a viable way forward for America and the global economy.

Now it turns out that G.E. hasn't yet received enough concession from the majority of us. They want more. It turns out that they now want their workers to make serious concessions (via American Leftist) regarding their wages and health benefits. Richard over at AL explores the question of how unions fit into the picture of how we should resist this brutal class war from above. I myself think the "union question" is always a contextual one- in conjunctures in which the informal economy is quite large, it may turn out that traditional trade unions aren't the most effective immediate vehicle for resistance. But in the US, I think the position taken on unions associated with the Marxist (esp. the Trotskyist tradition) and class-struggle anarchist tradition basically should still stand. The position is that unions must be important sites of struggle, organization and resistance but they have limits. They constrict the horizon of possible political action to largely defensive struggles that respect the limits imposed by ruling class institutions. Also they can be parochial in their political aims- sometimes inclined to overlook struggles against oppression that may or may not have immediate impacts on the struggle for wages, contracts, and so on. This is why I'm convinced we need more than unions- we need a radical left organization capable of putting forward arguments within the labor movement for increased militancy and strike action, but also capable of keeping the long-term perspective in view (i.e. revolutionary transformation, anti-capitalism, etc.).

But in the present conjuncture, we should be doing everything we can to protect the meager labor organizations that exist. They are being placed on the chopping block- and it seems to me that organizing militant labor action in a right to work state is much more difficult than it is in a state with a history of unionization. The left has to orient itself toward the rank and file (as in past struggles, especially MN in 1934).


Richard said...

Your response raises something that I considered including in my post, but didn't, namely that the left among the rank and file of various unions in the US should consider organizing more militantly across the boundaries of their union affiliation. For example, imagine how the health care reform debate might have been affected by a substantial left group of members from diverse unions, challenging the position of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win. My sense is that left leaning union members may need to break free of the organizational structures of their unions more than they have done to date, although they may have tried this already and encountered some difficulty. It is an approach that will invariably generate conflict, because there are few institutions that are as hierarchically based than US labor unions.

t said...

I completely agree with you, and I think your example is poignant. I too wonder what the health care debate would've looked like if the "let's endorse whatever the dems put forward" approach of the leadership had been challenged from within the labor movement. I think encouraging unionized workers to participate in these kinds of efforts is a key task of the US Left at the moment.

Richard said...

another issue that I forgot to mention in my earlier comment is that a lot of the people that I addressed in my post over at American Leftist should be in unions, but aren't (or, actually were in unions 30 or 40 years ago), either because unions are incapable or uninterested in organizing them, hence my interest in alternatives like SEWA