The majority of American Trade Unions accept capitalism as a viable, and even desirable, system of production and distribution. This would be perfectly logical if they were a union of business professionals or CEO’s or the local Chamber of Commerce. These latter entities are obviously concerned with the growth of business. However, Unions are supposed to represent the needs and desires of the working class. And despite the fact that history (especially the recent exodus over the last thirty years of manufacturing from America to third world countries where companies can pay far lower wages to poor workers) constantly affirms that the employing class and the working class have nothing in common trade unionism still holds to a bastardized theory that they do.
Unionism fails from a lack of understanding of the nature of capitalism. The patriotic ideas of “the American Dream” and “Rags to Riches” is hopelessly tied together with capitalism and to critique capitalism is synonymous with being “unpatriotic” and “unamerican”. As a result Unions have managed to operate without no overarching philosophy. They seek some kind of good hearted capitalism where bosses and corporations share a little more of the wealth they have robbed from the working class with the working class. This idea is thwarted by both theory and history. Let me explain.
The nature of capitalism is to expand. There is an ever present need to seek and accumulate new profits. This overarching law of capitalism leaves no “sacred” stone unturned. With the rise of globalization and lower costs of transportation corporations have done exactly what capitalism dictates: they have moved plants to third world countries where they can pay workers far less than they can in the United States. As a result, corporations can rake in more profit. No deep knowledge of the intricacies of Marxism is needed to understand this basic fact. Meanwhile trade unions have been powerless to stop this exodus of industry because they have signed away all worker power in their “management perogative clauses” that give corporations unilateral power to move or shut down plants. Unions stand bewildered, scratching their heads, unable to understand that this is simply the basic nature of capitalism. Labor has not been betrayed by the bosses and corporations. These entities have never been the friends of labor. Rather, labor has been betrayed by trade unions that don’t understand the basic nature of capitalism.
Unions, to be relevant and regain power, must divorce capitalism. The fear that this is “unamerican” must be overcome. There are other things, besides capitalism, that are “american” such as democracy and equality. Workers must reject top down unionism in favor of democracy. And, in turn, Unions must bring democracy into the work place. Nothing is more American than the rank and file standing up against unchecked tyranny. Well, tyranny is not found only in the thrones of Monarchs. Tryanny is found in the offices of managers and the penthouses of CEO’s. The working class and the community has full right to the means of production and the wealth that they create with their labor. It’s time that the Unions recognized this and make this the basis of their fight against capital. To Union officials little spats with companies have no great signficance. But to low payed workers it is a life and death issue.
The Unions must divorce capital. Workers must gain control of their unions in order to run them democratically according to the needs and desires of the workers. If the Union bueracracy won’t allow this, then workers must divorce these unions and form their own solidarity Unions. A New World is possible. Unfortunatly, the trade unions have not bequethed to us a vision of a new world. They have only given us the promise of a little better quality of life in this broken world. And as jobs flee, and nothing is left up low-paying retail and food service jobs, even this promise looks bleak.