Tommorrow, 8th May, Nestles workers in Melbourne will consider a union (AMWU) recommendation to return to work, substantially on the company's terms. I'm informed they are likely to accept . If so, this will end a hard fought 6 week lockout in which workers resisted the company's attack on basic conditions like shift allowances. If they vote to fight on, as they may they will need massive support. (Stop Press: The AMWU recommendation was accepted by the workers and a return to work occurred.) Down in Geelong wool scourers at E.P. Robinson are on strike defending their right to join the Shearers Union, a union they believe will help them fight nasty working conditions and low pay. Meanwhile members of the AWU (their old union), the TWU and the AMWU are walzing daily across their picket line. And, in the AWU's case, doing their work.
Well we all know that the old trade union movement is on its death bed, the only question is what will replace it. It seems to me clear that the day is rapidly coming when no single group of workers can expect to win a major confrontation without the full power of the class behind them. In concrete terms the "full power of the class" means indefinite general strike or the credible threat of it. For many workers, such as manufacturing workers employed by large companies, that day is already here.
Take the Nestle lockout for example. Nestle is a mighty international concern able to transfer production offshore, to purchase influence with the government and ultimately it is backed up by the armed capitalist state. It is asking a lot of four or five hundred workers to defeat all that. Leftists often don't seem to much care if an industrial struggle is won or lost, as long its is "militant".and labour history is made. Workers tend to have less interest in making labour history and more interest in victory. In our time working for victory, and here I just mean wages and conditions, means working to build the infrastructure to support an indefinite general strike. You don't need to be an anarcho-syndicalist to see this, just to have a little common sense. But this infrastructure is itself nothing other than the syndicalist union.
The syndicalist union exists for the sole purpose of confronting capitalism and the state, which is why it can go on to make a revolution and advance the anarchist project, if it is powerful enough and if its members so will. The reformist trade unions were never designed for this purpose.
In these pages Mark McGuire has argued for new syndicalist unions to replace the existing reformist ones; and Dick Curlewis has argued that anarcho-syndicalists should concentrate on forming "suppport groups" to help workers in current struggles, but to take no initiative. It will be seen that my conception is somewhat counter posed to both of these views. I think that the reformist unions will continue to have their place, dealing with protecting such workers rights as exist within the capitalist framework. Part of the syndicalist union's work will be to make sure they stay in that place.
More discussion please!
Jeremy Dixon