The Role Of Trade Unionism

1187 Words5 Pages
Social and economic organization within the capitalist society have shaped power relationships between employees and their employers. Employers control the majority of economic power in society due to the ownership of the means of production along with workers reliance on their wages for subsistence. Unions are essential in regaining some of that lost economic power, and the strength of numbers has led to workers making advancements in wages and working conditions. However, unions success has been countered by capitalists through neoliberal policies that facilitate offshoring and increased competition for workers. The instability of job security has derailed unions mightily, and their dependence on their employers for survival has limited the…show more content…
Samuel Gompers, the founder, and former president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from 1886 to 1894 advocated for the priorities of the wage-worker. Gompers believed “first things must come first” (Gompers, [], p. 30), wherein the role of trade unions is to ensure wage-workers receive protection. Both by increasing his wages, as well as securing a reduction in the long workday, and other conditions about safety and sanitation of workshops (Gompers, [], p. 31). Bread and butter trade unionism, works with the lines of least resistance, attempting to improve conditions of working people “today and tomorrow, and each day making it a better day than the one that had gone before” (Gompers, [], p. 32). Trade unions can improve their conditions and wages through the organization of their workers to a collective group. Perlman comments on the nature of unionism being collectivistic and individualistic, due to individual workers sacrificing their interests for the preferred interests of the collectivity. However, unionism is individualistic in the sense of ensuring a decent livelihood, economic security, and protecting workers from tyranny from their bosses (Perlman, [], p. 167). With bread and butter unionism focusing on providing ‘bread and butter’ for families at the dinner table, efforts towards broader change have proven to be…show more content…
Engels saw unions as preparing workers for an onslaught onto capitalist class society (Hyman, [], p. 6). Already organizing workers into unions or other groups helps distinguish themselves between the working class and the bourgeoisie. Hence, Marx saw this power of organization amongst unions and believed they play an integral role in social revolution (Hyman, [], p. 6). The organization of workers into unions created class unity and converted workers from a class “‘in itself’ to a class ‘for itself’” (Hyman, [], p. 7). In instances where unions successes in securing economic gains are limited, workers look towards adopting political action, and Hyman believes that this can lead to workers challenging the capitalist structure of class domination (Hyman, [], p. 8). While some consider unions can benefit broader social change, Lenin believes unions embed themselves within capitalism because they are organized as wage-earners rather than producers and as sellers of their labour power (Hyman, [], p. 12). With the structure of unions becoming bureaucratic, Trotsky believed in the thesis of incorporation, wherein union leaders authority over their members assist in the organization and controlling of workers (Hyman, [], p. 18). Although the goal of unions is to acquire more economic power for their members, the characteristics of wage-labour and bureaucracy
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