The role of trade unions in politics [Part 2]

Staff Writer
In this four part series COMRADE MOOREE explores the role of unions in the larger struggle of the oppressed in this second installment he explores the ways and methods through which unions could find a more active political role to further the wider interests of the working class.

Experience in other parts of the world bears testimony to the fact that trade union involvement in broader struggles has a salutary or beneficial effect on the working class than being stuck in the narrow, parochial and economistic groove.The progressive trade union movement must fight to bring the marginalised into the mainstream, and the weakest into more advantageous positions in society. Trade unions which fail to collaborate with political parties which are clearly pro-labour are delaying the emancipation of workers and all other oppressed classes.   The first step to freedom in the labour movement is to abandon  false political neutrality and consciously  build strategic alliances with revolutionary parties  while safeguarding their relative autonomy as trade unions. The Third Congress of the Communist International (1921) provided very useful guidance on so-called trade union political neutrality;

 'The idea that trade unions should be neutral and apolitical has a long history. For decades the trade unions of Great Britain, Germany, America and other countries have believed in this idea. The priest-ridden Christian trade unions, the leaders of the bourgeois Hirsch Duncker trade unions, the respectable and peace-loving British trade unions, the members of the free trade unions of Germany and many syndicalists - all have come to accept it.Legien, Gompers, Jouhaux, etc. have been preaching neutrality for years. In reality the trade unions have never been and could never have been neutral, even had they tried. Not only is trade-union neutrality harmful to the working class, but it cannot possibly be maintained. In the struggle between capital and labour, no mass workers' organisation can remain neutral. The trade unions cannot remain uncommitted in their relations with the bourgeois parties and the parties of the proletariat. In order to maintain its rule and squeeze surplus value from the workers, the bourgeoisie needs not only the priest, the policeman, the general and the informer, but also the trade-union bureaucrat and the kind of 'workers" leader that teaches trade-unionists the virtues of neutrality and non-participation in political struggle.' At the Geneva Congress of the International Working Men's Association in 1866 Marx proposed the following strategy for trade unions: Trade unions should continue to defend the daily interests of the workers.

At the same time they must act as conscious centres working for the emancipation of the entire working class. For this purpose every social and political movement tending in that direction should be aided by the trade unions.Unions must be champions of the entire class and should not form themselves into corporate bodies only of their members, shutting out non members. It is their duty to help organise those who cannot organise themselves easily and protect the interests of the worst paid trades like agricultural workers.By their action they must demonstrate that they are not using their organised strength only to guard their interests, but for all the downtrodden masses.

Conservative trade-union leaders are agents of the bourgeoisie trying to hide behind the mask of trade-union neutrality in order to divert the workers from the path of revolution onto a path of objective support for the bourgeoisie. Economics and politics are inseparably linked. In practice trade union neutrality amounts to supporting the bourgeoisie. Experience in other parts of the world bears testimony to the fact that trade union involvement in broader struggles has a salutary or beneficial effect on the working class than being stuck in the narrow, parochial and economistic groove. The progressive trade union movement must fight to bring the marginalised into the mainstream, and the weakest into more advantageous positions in society. Trade unions which fail to collaborate with political parties which are clearly pro-labour are delaying the emancipation of workers and all other oppressed classes.

The constitution of the BNF 'allows progressive mass organisations such as working class organisations, trade unions, educational clubs, women's  groups, peasants' associations, student movement or progressive parties to join or affiliate to it as group members'. However, the united front may assume the form of an umbrella organisation e.g. UDC to which progressive parties and trade unions are free to affiliate. Our view is that while we value the support BOFEPUSU has pledged  to UDC a much stronger form of cooperation would result from BOFEPUSU's group membership of the UDC. Just as BOFEPUSU protects the independence and autonomy of its five constituent trade unions, UDC equally protects the independence and autonomy of its constituent political parties or  trade unions  that choose to joined it.

And if a political miracle were to happen resulting in the BCP abandoning its supposedly splendid isolation and also affiliate to the UDC we would be almost 100 percent certain that the days of the corrupt and increasingly dictatorial  BDP regime are well and truly numbered. It is only when all the organisations fighting against the BDP in various ways agree to collaborate that the emancipation of our people can be achievable within a shorter period of time in 2014. The BDP as a political party has long outlived its usefulness to society and is no longer growing, instead it thrives on the splitting of votes by opposition parties and failure of trade unions to unite and forge strategic partnerships with the opposition political parties.

It was during the public sector strike action or 'school of war' that workers took a major step towards becoming 'a class-for-itself' - they came up with the revolutionary slogan 'we need regime change' that struck terror into the hearts of the ruling class. However, the slogan, 'regime change' was coined by the ordinary workers in a conference and  trade unions bureaucrats in some of the unions are not comfortable with it. During two months of industrial action the opposition political parties were accorded the rare opportunity to address the workers in various parts of the country. Striking workers composed revolutionary songs that were indicative of the manner in which ideological consciousness grows very quickly during strike action. One of the songs goes; 'sebatana se mariri'.

In other words, had government acted quickly and diplomatically by negotiating some kind of compromise with the workers

and avoided the lengthy strike action that mass action would not have revolutionised the workers the way it did. Of course, we are aware of the fact that some workers are disgruntled over the undemocratic manner in which the strike was abruptly ended by some members of the trade union bureaucracy which is scared of challenging the capitalist status quo that has given them the material benefits they enjoy relative to the rank and file members of their unions. However, there can be no disputing the fact that the strike was a massive 'school of war' for the workers. And having passed the Rubicon of breaking over the barriers that have excluded from engaging in politics in their own right,  there can be no going back to the bygone era where workers as a 'class-in-itself' were outfoxed and lulled into deep slumber of 'leaving politics to the politicians' by the ruling class. Today working class consciousness has developed to a point where they are in the process of becoming 'a class for-itself' i.e. a class consciousness working class which enables them to see their real class enemy as capitalism.

For the workers to accomplish the emancipation of the oppressed people of Botswana the unity of all the workers is an absolute imperative. In our view, the drawing up of a Working-class Charter of all Botswana workers might be one step towards working as a single united working class. In that Working-class Charter of Botswana they would spell out in clear and categorical terms the demands of all the workers of Botswana.Ever since the dissolution of primitive communal society and the  advent of class society or the division of society into rich and poor classes rendering the history of all 'hitherto existing societies a history of class struggles' , there has never been a government of all classes functioning like a 'parent' or a fair and neutral referee to all classes in society.  While trade unions are by definition mass organisations with uneven political consciousness amongst them, it is clear that there is also uneven political consciousness among the unions that make up BOFEPUSU. For instance, while on the one hand the leadership of BTU leans to the right of the political pendulum and is apparently even hobnobbing with the BDP, according to some of their members, on the other hand,  the leadership of BLLAHWU is leaning to the left of the political spectrum.

Unlike peasants in a capitalist society the proletariat as the most exploited class divorced from the means of production and therefore condemned to live by selling the only commodity they are left with, their bare hands, or their labour power to the owners of capital. Therefore they are the most revolutionary class.   They are located in the most progressive sectors of the economy i.e. large-scale machine production in urban areas, and working together in large bodies under one roof. For that reason,   they are the most organised, the most disciplined and therefore the most revolutionary class in capitalist society.And as Karl Marx correctly observed, having lost their property to the capitalists they have nothing to lose in the struggle but their chains.  They see for themselves that they toil and live in deplorable conditions and yet they are the creators of the country's wealth which accumulates in the hands of a few rich people supported by the BDP regime. More than any other class, they are interested in the abolition of private property and exploitation of one person by another and the eventual collective ownership and management of the economy by workers' councils or soviets. This makes them the most revolutionary class once their class consciousness is awakened. Their class interests are irreconcilable with those of capitalism.

Hence the strategy of a worker-peasant alliance in the National Democratic Revolution with the former providing leadership is an imperative necessity in conditions of peripheral capitalism. Unions are important because of the centrality of the working class to the larger struggle for socialism. Karl Marx was the first socialist among his contemporaries to recognise this important role of the working-class and therefore trade unions, as the only leading force in the struggle for a socialist revolution. Utopian socialists before Marx had dismissed unions as irrelevant and some of them even opposed strike action. Marx understood the importance of starting where the workers are, rather than where he wanted them to be, hence the absolute importance at all times of organising this class to unite as a class against their capitalist enemy.

In a society of class antagonism there are basically two socially antipodal types of people - the capitalist exp-loiter and the exploited workingperson. This polarisation is sharper in advanced capitalist economies where the bourgeoisie regards the working class as an object for the extraction of  surplus value - the source of their profits. The workers are reduced to cogs in the machinery of capitalist production and denied of all rights. However, it is important to note that in a capitalist society the workers have actually accomplished a great deal. Due primarily to their efforts, nature has been conquered and massive productive forces have been  built up, which make it possible to create unprecedented  material and spiritual wealth for the benefit of all. Botswana is a middle income country thanks to the hard labour of the poverty-stricken workers.  The first condition, especially in advanced capitalist countries,  for building a society of equals in which the workers themselves become the aim and purpose of production has already been created.

What remains as a challenge is the second condition for the emancipation of the working class and all other exploited classes in society. Having conquered nature the working class must now conquer capitalism. And history has bestowed the role of conquering capitalist society squarely on the shoulders of the working class - they are the undisputed 'grave-diggers' of capitalism. It is therefore totally inconceivable that this class can be denied the right to intervene in politics to liberate themselves and society at large.



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