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the question of unions

September 28, 2011

A friend of mine today wrote, “Unions are great until they show their dependence on and basic deference toward the employing-class & capital, their bargain partners.” I think it’s an excellent point that’s often neglected by the left, particularly socialists (including myself), in their tendency to promote anything slightly favouring the working class.

As just one of many historical examples, I think the close connection between the Social Democratic Party of Germany and trade unions in the late 1800s/early 1900s is one of the things that eventually helped deradicalize the SPD for this very reason, i.e., instead of being instruments of revolution, the unions increasingly played the role of mediator between the classes; and the SPD had to become less and less radical to maintain the support of the growing unions and their membership.

Union complacency as mediator between capital and labour is an issue I think the radical left has yet to solve in any practical sense, especially now that unions are about all that remains of the organized left in this country. It’s almost a stimulus-response to defend them at this point.

Even if unions manage to survive this latest economic downturn and onslaught of populism from the right, the question still remains of how to radicalize them and then, if possible, keep them from becoming complacent as mediators in a system where one class expropriates the wealth produced by another when what we really want is a different system altogether.her.

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