From a syndicalist point of view: Working class liberation lies in the development of three tendencies

From Tom Wetzel’s FB page and reposted with permission: 

“This is my brief initial introduction to syndicalism in my book (“Overcoming Capitalism: Strategy for the Working Class in the 21st Century” )

“From a syndicalist point of view, a potential for working class liberation lies in the development of three tendencies:

 A strategy based on disruptive direct action like strikes, work-to-rule, tenant rent strikes, and workplace occupations rather than relying on “professionals of representation” (paid union hierarchies, lawyers, professional politicians).

 Self-managed unionism: Workers taking direct control of struggles with the employers—and direct control of the mass organizations people use in such struggles. Syndicalists also advocate for self-managed mass organizations in other areas of struggle such as tenant unions.

 The emergence of a more active and wider solidarity among the oppressed and exploited majority—building a movement based on the principle “An Injury to One Is an Injury to All.” 

Class-wide solidarity and a coordinated movement are needed in order to maximize the potential power working class people have for making changes. The ultimate goal would be to bring the worker unions and grassroots social movements together into a common front or alliance to challenge the power of the dominating classes. 

These methods tie in with the idea of working class independence: Independence from professional politicians, political parties, and the paid hierarchies of top-down unions and bureaucratic non-profits. This is how working people can chart an independent course in struggles with the bosses and state authorities.

Syndicalism is thus a kind of self-organization strategy, based on direct self-activity of workers themselves and a participatory structure for member control—a kind of formally organized worker combat movement. 

Syndicalism was developed by self-educated worker militants, organizers and publicists between the late 1800s and the mid-1930s. Syndicalism wasn’t a frozen “doctrine” but an evolving practical approach to building a direct form of working class power. There were vigorous internal debates in those years. Both Marxist and anarchist ideas had an influence. During that era large mass union federations were built that combined a participatory, horizontal form of unionism with a commitment to libertarian socialism and “workers managing the industries.” Organizations of this sort emerged in various European countries, throughout Latin America, and in other parts of the world. “

I use the phrase “participatory, horizontal form of unionism” here but the official word for this was “federalism” back in the day. Not all of the radical unionists of the 1905 to 1920 period were federalists. Some tendencies in the radical unionism of that period (such as the “industrial socialists”) were advocates for “democratic centralism” — as was Monatte’s Vie Ourvrier network in the French CGT (the source of William Z Foster’s conception of syndicalism, from the time he spent in France in 1910) as well as Heywood and the “industrial socialists.” These tendencies were more likely to go over to the Communist movement after the Russian revolution. But they were a minority in the radical unionism of that period. The federalist tendency was more dominant because it derived from the worker militants who developed a critique of the role of the newly emergent paid bureaucracies in the unions in USA and Europe in that period. These militants understood that the paid officials, whose power was often based on the then new tendency to “collective bargaining” had interests separate from the rank and file and often were a barrier to advancing the struggle because of their concern for their own power and protection of the union institution’s solvency. This is why they developed various tactics to prevent domination of the movement by a paid bureaucratic layer — such as term limits, elected rank and file negotiating committees, focusing control  on the shop based organization such as shop delegate councils, and so on.

Overcoming Capitalism: Strategy for the Working Class in the 21st Century 

(400 pages) is slatted to come out on June 212022.  The book can be purchased from AK Press.

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