Towards the Formation of Social Unions

Towards the Formation of Social Unions

The transfer of all public provision into the hands of private capital is now an ongoing process; an unfolding reality which is impacting on the lives of millions in Britain and globally. The mediating driving force behind this appropriation is the worsening crisis of the global capital order itself. It is not indicative of its strength but, quite the contrary, is revealing with each passing day the absolute bankruptcy and outmodedness of this order. The latest phase of this unfolding structural crisis of capital is the deepening, debt-ridden problems of so-called ‘sovereign states’ which are being revealed to be not so ‘sovereign’ as they formerly assumed. It is only a matter of time before a new, higher stage of this crisis opens up.

These ‘sovereign’ problems are the surface expression of the historically intractable crisis of global finance capital itself as manifest in its banking system. This crisis of the capital order cannot be solved within the parameters of that order itself. Humanity will have to go beyond capital itself in order to end the worsening global crisis. And that must mean the break up and dissolution of the national and global state powers of capital which serve to defend that iniquitous order. What is at stake here is the very future of humanity. Either the rule of capital and its state powers must end or humanity will sink deeper into barbarism.

The response of Ed Milliband (leader of the Labour Party in Britain) to oppose strikes and struggles against this order was most clearly demonstrated by his reactionary outburst against the so-called ‘rioting’ youth (in the major urban centres in Britain in the summer of 2011) in which he stated unequivocally that this is “disgraceful criminal behaviour” requiring “the strongest possible police response”. The Labour Party has openly become a party of the capital order. The old adage that the labour leaders are the ‘labour lieutenants of capitalism’ (Daniel Deleon) is truer and more real today in the period of capital’s decline and break-up than it ever was. And the present leaders of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Britain fall readily into that brilliantly determined and concretely formulated description by Deleon. Need we recall the treacherous roles the TUC (Norman Willis was General Secretary at the time) played in the miners’ strike in 1984-85 and in the Liverpool dockers’ struggle? Bill Morris was the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU, the dockers’ union) at the time of their struggle which was supported by dockworkers around the world. Morris later became co-opted onto the governing board of the Bank of England. The state bank which guards the interests of finance capital in Britain. Is the role of the trade union leaders to be any different in the struggles of public service workers now and in the future? The TUC can take that struggle so far but no further. And that will inevitably mean betrayal if they maintain their hold on these struggles. The state power of capital will not give way to an organisation which it knows to be well and truly tamed to the interests of the capital order. The privileged position of the TUC bureaucracy is conditional on the existence of capitalism. This is why it acts as the proxy of capital in the workers’ movement.

Trade unionism in its current structures and forms of organisation is completely inadequate and utterly unprepared for the tsunami of history which is now heading towards us; to those with or without jobs, to those in and outside trade unions, to those living on state benefits or those productive workers whose labour (mostly in other parts of the world) creates the wealth for the benefits of welfare claimants or the salaries of service sector workers. 

Historically the trade unions were established under totally different conditions to what are developing today. They were and remain, in all essentials, ‘wages and conditions’ organisations born in a period when the capitalist order was still a growing, expanding system of commodity production and circulation and which still had the capabilities to concede the demands made on it by employed workers or at least maintain a degree of stability or equilibrium in its relations with labour.

Trade unionism was and remains reactive and defensive in character because it was formed under conditions where such a way of proceeding delivered the necessary advances and improvements in wages and working conditions. That period has gone forever and is not coming back. Contrary to the delusions of the Keynesian spendingmongers  in the Labour Party and elsewhere, global capital has now entered its period of terminal decline, its structural crisis [1], and only storms and not sunrises lie ahead for the capital order. New types of organised and offensive forms of struggle against the capital order and its state powers will be required as the crisis unfolds; the opening up of a broad offensive front against the capital order itself and against the state power that defends that order.
The first wave of anti-labour legislation was brought in by the Thatcher regime in Britain in the 1980s and maintained on the legal statute books by Blair’s & Brown’s New Labour Party.  We can expect – as the crisis unfolds –  this first wave to be followed by a second wave by whatever capitalist governments follow. Such governments are essentially the executive committees of the state power of capital, call them Tory, Labour, Liberal or Coalition. The maintenance of the capital order is the priority and the state power of capital with ‘its armed bodies of men’ (Engels) is the material means by which this order is kept entrenched and perpetuated.
The print and broadcasting media are merely the ideological arms of this state power. Although formally they may not be part of its superstructure, they are, nevertheless, an intrinsic and indispensable part of its domination and therefore of the socio-economic rule of capital as a whole. A cursory glance at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Independent Television News (ITN) news coverage of the strikes and ‘riots’ – in the summer of 2011 – clearly demonstrated this conception. Whatever happens, these ‘impartial’ mouthpieces will always be there to defend the capital order against any movement whose aim is to eradicate it and replace it with a socialist society.

One of the most insidious tactics deployed by the government and aped faithfully by the broadcasting media is to pit service users against service providers on strike as if their interests are opposed and irreconcilable. The implicit or explicit message sent out is that striking workers are ‘disruptive, wrecking, greedy’ and are ‘inconveniencing us, “their ” victims. This comes from an organisation (the BBC) which is funded by millions of people out of their own pockets through the levy of a legally-backed compulsory annual fee.

There is, however, a need to address the relations between service providers and users. The identity of interests between service users and providers needs to be articulated (in opposition to the prefabricated, antagonistic form in which it is set up by the government and its mouthpieces in the media) in practice through social and political organisation. However, trade unions are not the type of organisations through which such interests can be identified, consolidated and developed. Such an organisation which brings many together, workers in production and service sectors, providers and users, etc, on the basis of this identity of interests which is their common class interest will require a leap forward in both organisation and consciousness. It will be a social union and not a trade union.

A social union of producers and consumers whose antagonist is the whole capital order itself and the state power that defends that order. Such a type of organisation would therefore be of a fundamentally and qualitatively new typicality. It would constitute itself initially in response to the attacks taking place on the lives of millions by the state power but would soon start to become the representative organ and organisational spearhead in the struggle against capital and its state power. Fundamental to its role, as a institution of the proletariat, would be its organisation, mobilisation and struggle against the predation of capital on the social body. And this will necessitate the development of new forms of struggle, new strategies and tactics not deployed widely before in the past because now we are operating under qualitatively and historically different conditions of struggle.

This is not to say that strikes, etc, would be redundant. Quite the contrary. They would have a more important role but now within a totally different historical context where the intensity of struggle is heightening. There will be an increasing need to apply the strike weapon contingently and tactically when it is advantageous to the interests of the whole class. One of these new forms of struggle might be the occupation and communal appropriation of threatened services, etc, which the state power wants to transfer into the grasp of private capital. 

Such a new type of broad-based, mass organisation is becoming increasingly necessary with each passing day as the structural crisis of the capital order deepens. Trade unionism alone, in and by itself – and especially within its current bureaucratised structures and form of organisation – is not going to be adequate to deal with the maturing, oncoming crisis. A tsunami of history is approaching. If they don’t radically change, trade unions will be swept away in the flood waters. Capital and its state power demand that the trade unions become completely subservient to the capital order as its crisis unfolds. That order and its state power will not hesitate in pushing ahead with their dissolution if the conditions of its continued rule demand it. The trade union bureaucracy in Britain (TUC) would opt for a prostration to the needs of capital rather than face oblivion.

The recent events at the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland – where the leadership of the UNITE union totally conceded all the demands of capital – has revealed in practice the living truth of this conception. It has given the proletariat a harsh lesson in where its trade unions are going if they remain in their current bureaucratised structural form of organisation. The alternatives are becoming increasingly stark : fight or ‘live’ like a slave, like a de-unionised pauper.

Marx divided his monumental study, Capital, into different interconnected parts. Volume one, of the process of the production of capital, volume two, of the process of its circulation and volume three, of capitalist production as a whole which assimilates and develops the content of the two previous volumes. Marx’s study was left unfinished at his death. He planned further volumes on classes and the state, foreign trade and the world market, and crises of the capital order. The emergence, development and domination of capital is the foundation out of, and on which the class relations of capitalist society develop and the state power becomes that of capital. i.e. the state power becomes the organised political power of capital. The capital order expands out of its ‘homelands’, ‘out of this tiny little corner of the planet’ (Marx was referring to England as the first capitalist country) and becomes established as a global order; so-called ‘globalisation’. In the course of this process, foreign trade and the world market develop which leads necessarily onwards towards the structural crisis of the global capital order. We are now living through the unfolding and maturation of this structural crisis.

This crisis is not a displaceable, conjunctural crisis as we witnessed in the previous history of the capital order. It is intractably structural, enduring, broadening and deepening. The capital order now enters its period of breakdown and disintegration. The significance of this in terms of the way labour has traditionally organised is profound. It must sweep in – like a tropical hurricane – the deepest possible crisis for labour in regard to the form in which it has organised in the past. The old forms will have to be ‘thrown off’ and replaced with radically new, offensive forms of organisation in order to conduct the struggle against capital-in-crisis. It must be stressed that there is nothing inevitable about this ‘throwing off’ actually taking place. History does not unfold according to a providential plan. Humans make their own history. And if they do not make this necessary step as a part of the historical process, a catastrophe of historically unprecedented proportions and magnitude awaits humanity in the forthcoming century.

It is not simply a case of waiting for the apple to ripen and drop from the tree. By then it will be too late to pick it up. There will be neither tree nor apple. The tree must be shaken with all our might, determination, vigour, audacity and absolute ruthlessness. And then we will be able to collect the fruit.

The wishful thinking of the salaried ‘end of history’ ideologues of capital is revealed in reality to be the complete sham that it is in thought. History is reaching a fork in the road. One road leads to a continuing and intensifying barbarism and mass destruction of man and nature. The other to socialism. The condition of global communist human life becomes the historical transcendence of capital and its state powers. This is the historic task of the global proletariat itself. Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism’ (Junius Pamphlet, 1916) today, in the epoch of capital’s deepening structural crisis, truly comes into its own.

Our response must now be towards working for the formation of the necessary form of social and political agency which can actually commence the process of restructuring the socio-economic metabolism beyond the capital relation itself. That is, to commence the process of removing the capital relation itself from human society by making inroads into this domination by capital. But the commencement of this process will, indeed must, raise the opposition of the state power of capital itself. Implicit in this opposition is the dissolution of that state power in order for the social horizon to be fully opened up, fully unhindered, so that this process of restructuring of society’s landscape can be completed, fully consummated, by the necessary and evolving forms of revolutionary agency.

Completing the historic task of eliminating capital from the social metabolism as whole on a global scale means that world perspectives and strategies will have to be developed as the situation unfolds and demands their elaboration, i.e. the actual unfolding of the crisis-process itself will necessitate the initiation and development of these global perspectives and strategies. This is why international solidarity and fraternalism between the peoples of the globe against the common enemy is necessary. Supporting struggles against capital in other parts of the globe is vital for our own struggles in Britain and elsewhere and vice versa. A fraternal joining up of organisation globally will be required to defeat capital and its state powers. The failure and barbarities of the anti-socialist Stalinist Soviet system is a testament to this conception. The Soviet regime – like the TUC and trade union bureaucracies everywhere – was a self-serving bureaucracy whose interests were differentiated and demarcated from those of the so-called ‘socialist peoples’. And like the TUC, the last thing they wanted to realise was socialism.

Capital, its state power and their personifications insist on millions shouldering the burden of the structural crisis of their order. A clear message, a clarion call, needs to be sent out : We refuse absolutely to shoulder the burdens of the crisis of your system! Not now, not tomorrow, not ever, never! We need to act on this and not only restructure and reorganise our trade unions so that they are fit for purpose but, on the basis of this restructuring, also start to rally people to the need for a fundamentally new type of organisation : the social union against capital and its state powers nationally and globally. [2]

Shaun May

12th December 2013


[1] The Structural Crisis of Capital and the Question of Agency @

[2] Where is Trade Unionism Going? and Synopsis on Social Unions @

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