Fighting for Ourselves - Chapter One - The mainstream workers' movement


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Can be read at​ This excellent book by Solfed aims to recover some of the lost history of the workers' movement, in order to set out a revolutionary strategy for the present conditions. In clear and accessible prose, the book sets out the anarcho-syndicalist criticisms of political parties and trade unions, engages with other radical traditions such as anarchism, syndicalism and dissident Marxisms, explains what anarcho-syndicalism was in the twentieth century, and how it's relevant - indeed, vital - for workers today. This chapter will introduce the mainstream currents in the workers’ movement, from their origins until today. This is done in three parts. First, we look at how trade unions began as a response by workers to the conditions of early capitalism. By forming associations, workers could get the strength in numbers to change the balance of power versus employers. But we will see how, alongside this, a representative function arose, where unions developed a life independent of their membership and began to operate over their heads, mediating and ultimately diminishing their power within the limits set down by capital and the state. We will also see how this led trade unions to see themselves as purely economic organisations, leaving ‘politics’ to separate party organisations. We will then look at the notionally ‘revolutionary workers’ parties’ originating in Marxism and Leninism, and set out a critique of their inherent statism. Finally, we will retrace the history of the British Labour Party, dispelling some of the rose tinted nostalgia for this ‘workers’ party’, which was always a party of the trade union bureaucrats and never of the workers themselves.