Posts Tagged ‘Grand Consolidated Trade Union’

My Unpublished Book Arguing for Worker’s Chamber in Parliament

November 21, 2017

I’ve begun compiling a list of articles on the various coups and other methods the US and the other western countries have used to overthrow, destabilise or remove awkward governments and politicians around the world, when those nations have been seen as obstructions to the goals of western, and particularly American, imperialism and corporate interests. ‘Florence’, one of the great commenters on this blog, suggested that I should write a book on the subject, to which she can point people. She’s worried that too few people now, including those on the left, are aware of the struggle against dictators like General Pinochet and the other butchers in the Developing World, who were set up by us and the Americans as part of the Cold War campaign against Communism. Many of the regimes they overthrew weren’t actually Communist or even necessarily socialist. But they were all reforming administrations, whose changes threatened the power and profits of the big American corporations. Or else they were otherwise considered too soft on the Communist threat. So, I’m compiling a list of the various articles I’ve written on this subject, ready to select some of the best or most pertinent and edit them into book form.

A year or so ago I got so sick of the way parliament was dominated by the very rich, who seem to pass legislation only to benefit themselves rather than the poor, that I wrote a pamphlet, For A Workers’ Chamber. This argued that what was needed to correct this, and really empower working people, was a separate chamber in parliament directly elected by working people themselves. I’ve tried submitting it to various publishers, but so far those I’ve approached have turned it down.

Here’s a brief summary of the pamphlet and its arguments.

For A Workers’ Chamber is a short work of 22, 551 words, arguing that a special representative chamber composed by representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries. These have pushed through legislation exclusively benefiting their class against the best interests of working people. It is only by placing working people back into parliament that this can be halted and reversed.

The pamphlet traces the idea of workers’ political autonomy from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, Anarchism, Syndicalism and Guild Socialism, the workers’, socialists and peasant councils in Revolutionary Russia, and Germany and Austria during the 1919 Raeterevolution. It also discusses the emergence corporatist systems of government from the Utopian Socialism Saint-Simon in the 19th century onwards. After Saint-Simon, corporativism next became a much vaunted element in the constitution of Fascist Italy in the 20th century. This merged trade unions into industrial corporations dominated by management and big business in order to control them. This destroyed workers autonomy and reduced them to the instruments of the Fascist state and business class. It also discusses the development of liberal forms of corporatism, which emerged in Britain during and after the First and Second World War. These also promised to give working people a voice in industrial management alongside government and management. However, it also resulted in the drafting of increasingly authoritarian legislation by both the Labour party and the Conservatives to curb trade union power and industrial discontent. It also examines the system of workers’ control and producers’ chambers, which formed the basis of the self-management system erected by Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It also recommends the part-nationalisation of those companies seeking to perform the functions of state agencies through government outsourcing, or which seek to influence government policy through the election of the directors and senior management to parliament as a way of curtailing their influence and subordinating them to the state and the wishes of the British electorate.

The book examines the class basis of parliamentary democracy as it emerged in Britain, and the Marxist critique of the state in the writings of Marx and Engels themselves and Lenin during the Russian Revolution, including those of non-Bolshevik, European Social Democrats, like Karl Kautsky, who rejected the need for institutional workers’ power in favour of universal suffrage. It also critically analyzes Tony Crosland’s arguments against nationalisation and workers’ control. The book does not argue that parliamentary democracy should be abandoned, but that a workers’ chamber should be added to it to make it more representative. The final chapter examines the possible advantages and disadvantages of such a system, and the problems that must be avoided in the creation of such a chamber.

I’m considering publishing the pamphlet myself in some form or other, possibly with Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone’s interested in reading a bit of it, please leave a comment below and I’ll send you a sample chapter.

Solving Unemployment through Trade Union-Run Cooperatives

April 2, 2016

The German-born anarcho-syndicalist, Rudolf Rocker, devotes a passage in his Anarcho-Syndicalism (London: Pluto Press 1989) to Robert Owen’s proposal in the early 1830s to set up a Grand Consolidated Trade Union which would include all the working people in every trade, its plans for supporting unemployed workers, and finally its gradual decline in the 1840s. See pages 57-66. The Grand National Consolidated Trade Union was intended to supersede the existing situation where the workers were divided into separate trade unions according to their different trades and industries. At the same time, the new, umbrella union would be organised into different divisions for the workers in specific branches of industry. The ultimate aim was for the workers themselves to take over production, which they would then market themselves through special shops, according to the cost of manufacturing the article. Instead of conventional currency, special labour notes, representing labour value, would be exchanged for these products. To support unemployed workers, the trade unions would also invest in land, which would be worked by unemployed workers, and co-operatives, which would also provide the unemployed with work, producing needed goods that would be purchased by the other members of the Union.

Rocker quotes the following passage from the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union’s statement of its aims.

As land is the source of the first necessaries of life, and as, without the possession of it, the producing classes were ever remain in a greater or less degree subservient to the money capitalists, and subsequent upon the fluctuations of trade and commerce, this committee advises that a great effort should now be made by the unions to secure such portions of it on lease as their funds will permit, in order that in all turn-outs the men may be employed in rearing the greater part, if not the whole, of their subsistence under the direction of practical agricultural superintendents, which arrangements would not have the effect of lowering the price of labour in any trade, but on the contrary would rather tend to in increase it by drawing off the at present superfluous supply to the manufacturers.

The committee would, nevertheless, earnestly recommend in all cases of strikes and turn-outs, where it is practicable, that the men be employed in the making or producing of all such commodities as would be in demand among their brother unionists; and that to effect this, each lodge should be provided with a workroom or shop in which those commodities may be manufactured on account of such lodge, which shall make proper arrangements for the supply of the necessary materials.

That in all cases where it is practicable, each district or branch should establish one or more depots of provisions and articles in general domestic use: by which means the working man may be supplied with the best commodities at little above wholesale prices. (Pp.61-2)

Rocker notes how this was greeted by the radical paper, The Poor Man’s Guardian

But far different from the paltry objects of all former combinations is that now aimed at by the congress of delegates. Their reports show that an entire change in society-a change amounting to a complete subversion of the existing order of the world-is contemplated by the working classes. They aspire to be at the top instead of the bottom of society-or rather that there should be no bottom or top at all. (p. 59).

Rocker then describes the mass agitation for a general strike to bring about a ten-hour working day, the denunciations and persecution of the union, trade unionists in general, and political agitators, and how the G.N.C. finally petered out. Many of its members left to join the Chartists, while the events on the Continent in the 1840s also worked against working class radicalism.

The G.N.C.’s supporters made it very clear in their debates with other radicals, who wanted the political reform of the franchise and the House of Commons, that after the G.N.C. took power parliament would be made totally redundant.

Rocker writes

If, for example, one reads The Pioneer, the organ of the G.N.C. managed by James Morrison, one frequently encounters arguments that sound thoroughly modern. This is revealed especially in the discussions with the political reformers, who had inscribed on their banner the democratic reconstruction of the House of Commons. They were told in reply that the workers had no interest whatever in efforts of that sort, since an economic transformation of society in the Socialist sense would render the House of Commons superfluous. Its place would be taken by the labour boards and the industrial federations, which would concern themselves merely with problems of production and consumption in the interest of the people. These organisations were destined to take over the functions of the present entrepreneurs; with common ownership of all social wealth there would no longer be any need for political institutions. The wealth of the nation would no longer be determined by the quantity of goods produced, but by the personal advantage that every individual derived from them. The House of Commons would in the future be merely a House of Trades. (pp. 62-3).

It’s a hopelessly utopian dream. Unfortunately the need for legislation and a democratic parliament isn’t removed by the almost complete socialisation of the land and industry, as the former USSR shows. The various shops set up to sell goods according to the labour theory of value collapsed because they didn’t take into account demand for the goods. Nevertheless, the system has been revived on a small scale by communities running various local currency schemes, in which vouchers are exchanged for so many hours of work, and these have had some success. As these schemes are locally based, they have stimulated the revival of local, small businesses.

As for the idea of the Union purchasing land, that’s very much part of the ‘back to the land’ movement of the early 19th century. It’s similar to Bronterre O’Brien’s demand at the Manchester Guardian of ’40 acres and a mule’. As many of the new urban workers either themselves had been, or were the children of migrants to the towns from the country, the idea of going back to the land to gain a livelihood, away from the horrors of urban life, was obviously attractive.

There are also links to the ideas of the French Utopian Socialist, Louis Blanc, during the Revolutions of 1848 for ‘National Workshops’. These would be stare run workshops for the unemployed, which would be managed as co-operatives. Any profits made would be put back into buying up other factories and workshops, until gradually the whole of French industry would be nationalised. Although these workshops were set up, they were deliberately run down and mismanaged so that the scheme eventually collapsed. It was given to a minister or civil servant who hated the idea, and the workers employed in them were given pointless tasks, such as digging ditches, only to fill them in again.

Despite this, I do like these ideas. And I do wonder now long workfare would last, if a trade union set up a genuine workers’ co-operative on the Owenite model, and then applied to join the government’s wretched scheme as a ‘workfare provider’. All workers receiving some form of reward for their labour beyond their jobseekers allowance, with the workshop aiming to buy out other factories, or at least, some of the other ‘workfare providers’.

Somehow, I can imagine that going down at all well with the Tories. They’d be utterly aghast, and try to find all kinds of reasons not to take it on. I sort of wish someone would try, if only to see the ‘welfare to work’ industry turned on its head to support unemployed workers, not the overpaid heads of outsourcing companies and big businesses like Sainsbury’s, Tescos, or various charities like the Salvation Army, who are just seeking to exploit an easy supply of cheap labour.