Does the Left need a resurgence of trade unionism to resuscitate itself? Richard at American Leftist says maybe so but then opines what for many lefties is unthinkable, that new ideas are needed. I agree.
For those schooled in the traditions of the left, whether it be Social Democracy, Communism or anarchism, the reinvigoration of trade unionism is an essential precondition to any prospect of a progressive, not to mention revolutionary, social transformation.
All of that may have been true in the past, but in our current wired world where capital and manufacturing can go anywhere it wants and where most jobs are in the service sector, the entire concept of trade unions being able to control much of anything seems, well, quaint and dated.
While there has been many points of disagreement between these leftist variations, there has been one constant. All three have emphasized the necessity of participating in unions as a means of educating and organizing workers in support of a radical, class based politics. None of them, with the exception of anarchists in the 1890s, believed that we could bring about a more just, more egalitarian society independent of the trade union movement. Furthermore, the unions served an essential purpose by providing a means whereby workers could learn how to manage their workplaces for themselves.
Unions have been declining in power for decades. Trade unions only have power if what their workers make can’t easily be moved elsewhere. Plus, they can be corrupt themselves with their leaders making big salaries, which is hardly a breeding ground for revolutionary change.
Yes, communists and socialists had huge marches in New York City in the 1930’s, and unions were a big part of that. But wheezing like an out-of-shape middle-aged man about his glory days in high school baseball won’t bring those days back, which is what lefties do too often about their now-ancient successes.
If the moribund trade union movement cannot be resuscitated, the consequences for the left are profound. An entirely new doctrinal approach will be required, one that reinterprets class and capitalism in such a way as to present the prospect of social change despite an immobilized union movement.
Absolutely. The Left hasn’t really had any new ideas in decades. It needs to toss out the dusty old tomes, stop asking What Would Marx Do, and reinvent itself.
It would require transcending nearly 200 years of modernist left thought that sanctifies the worker as given expression through trade unionism. It is hard to imagine, but it may be unavoidable.
It’s not only unavoidable, it’s essential.