Make capitalism history
WORKERS, JUNE 2007 ISSUE
Once-large and once-vibrant unions seem to want to crawl into a hole. The Iron & Steel Trades Confederation, with close to 300,000 members 30 years ago, now has a tenth of that number and has, in shame perhaps, now re-named itself "Community". Surely a matter for the Trades Descriptions Act.
Now that there are no communities left based on iron and steel manufacture, let's call ourselves Community. Still, at least Community is a name. Britain's largest union, the coming together of T&G with Amicus, has only just got one, Unite. A shop steward in the workshops at the London Ambulance Service now calls his union, once the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Tragicus. Perhaps it will stick.
Nothing wrong with merger and industry-wide re-organisation; Unison is the product of just such. But don't, as one of the general secretaries of Tragicus did, herald the new union as "the precursor of world-wide trade union organisation".
Instead of trying to re-invent the International Workers of the World, concentrate on doing what you can do; defend and extend workplace organisation, get more money in workers' pockets and hang on to jobs for the future.
Don't go flouncing off to Brussels, where you can do none of these things, to rent an office and a lobbying firm to beg for you.
But that's part of our problem. Instead of doing what can be done we try to do what can't. So rather than ensure that everyone where you work is a union member, let's change the climate of planet Earth. Instead of ensuring that employers don't import labour to reduce wages, let's solve world poverty.
Many millions declare themselves to be, even take part in activities which are, anti-capitalist. But what do they think capitalism is? Industry, threatening the planet's future through global warming? The use of animals in experiments? Many think it's all these things.
It's none of them. Capitalism is the extraction of surplus value from the labour power of workers to turn into profit for those who own the means to employ workers.
These owners we call capitalists and their profit-extraction system is called capitalism. Until and unless we destroy that system and uproot those people from ownership and therefore power we will have all the negative effects many millions of those who consider themselves anti-capitalist deplore.
If you want to make poverty history you'll have to make capitalism history.
This article is taken from a speech at the CPBML's May Day rally in London.