Base Unionism: Political Struggle or Struggle Against Politicians?

In continuing our analysis of "alternative" trade unionism(1), we take our latest cue from the open letter by SI Cobas addressed to the other base unions, aimed at organising united action on May Day.

Among other things, we read that they are: "against the warmongering, anti-proletarian, racist and repressive policies of the Meloni government". This suggests they need to decide whether they are fighting for power, or whether they are signing up to the not too remote prospect of becoming the left bourgeois barrier against the political demands, which, with the struggle for better living and working conditions, the working class carries with it, but without yet being able to express them.

The social relations of capital determine the particular interests of the ruling class (aka the bourgeoisie), made up of the bosses and their political representatives. They are just the personification of capital and no change within this economic regime, in the socialist sense, is and will ever be possible.

The much desired unity of base unions is thus confined to the struggle for power reduced to a strategy of opposition to all constitutional parties, without ever posing any real and viable social alternative, such as the revolutionary one of overthrowing the state and the conquest of power by the proletariat.

The failure to unite the struggles and strikes, the usual practice of the so-called base unions (not to mention the traditional unions ...), is evidence enough of this tendency of trade unionism to fragment the proletariat. For them the fight against the common class enemy takes second place to the a numerous manoeuvres to strengthen their own organisation, with a political perspective, therefore, which does not go beyond the now innate opportunism of the unionised form of class struggle.

Furthermore, the mention, contained in the SI Cobas "letter", of the predatory aims of the international bourgeoisie, reduces imperialism to a division between the oppressed and colonial-style oppressors, posing a possible alliance naturally in an anti-imperialist key, between "oppressed" peoples without distinction of class, as if they were societies and nations which, being oppressed, are somehow not capitalist. This is unacceptable! Lenin’s theory of imperialism is reduced here to an old and broken hulk useful for small cabotage manoeuvres disguised as internationalism.

Attributing the reasons for the system’s crisis, which can only be solved by the large-scale destruction of excess capital, in terms of both human beings and means of production, to the will of individual politicians ("the pension reform Macron wants") or of the whole parliamentary circus (“attacks on direct and indirect wages that the bosses and governments of every political colour have brought about…“) reduces the revolutionary potential of workers' struggles to mere reformism. It is true, of course, that the attacks are carried out by the bosses and their governments "of every colour". However, if we do not say that this is an expression of the historic crisis of capital – which, in order to survive, can only “take” from the proletariat – it implicitly conveys the idea that a more decisive union struggle could force the bosses and their political lackeys to change their economic and social policy, within the framework of a system grappling with a historic crisis. Hence, the apparent radical nature of the trade union demands (higher wage increases, higher wealth taxes), are completely illusory and unrealistic, because they presuppose a class aiming at the conquest of political power and not simply the translation of its "incazzatura" (anger - CWO) into trade union radicalism, which has no real response to the crisis.

They are stuck in the perennial expectation, or rather the illusion, of a better life, with the foreseeable effects of demoralisation and renunciation of the struggle, if there is no political purpose other than a struggle against this or that politician. And for this the bosses are really grateful!

Our perspective is based on uniting workers' struggles from below, beyond and outside the trade union labels, but the exact opposite occurs, i.e. the achievements of the working class – when we can speak of achievements – are passed off as union achievements, brought from on high whilst the consciousness of the real actor on the historical scene: the international proletariat, is ignored. Instead, trade unionism has always tended, with rare exceptions, to control workers' struggle and to keep it within the bounds of compatibility with capitalism.

It is not organisation, but, at this point in time, trade union disorganisation that has historically been confirmed.

It is not a question of not sharing the immediate and practical demands of workers who get to the end of the month only by jumping through hoops, if they get there at all, but to tear away that ideological veil that covers the reformist, opportunist or at most corporatist aspirations that the union bureaucracy’s logic pursues; to open up to the direct action of the working class the choices to be made in everyday life in order to improve one's living and working conditions, fighting directly against the class enemy, the boss, and not just their representatives, who endlessly take turns in the pulpit of bourgeois demagoguery. It is a struggle conducted in the workplace, through the strike and by breaking, however temporarily, the chain of profit and exploitation. What is the use of strikes announced months and months in advance or ritual marches without interrupting production? Let's tell it as it is: it is for the self-justification of the union.

Either the class struggle operates on a directly political terrain or the logic of delegation, within the framework of capitalist domination in its current form of imperialist decadence, will never produce any concrete gains either in terms of demands or, above all, class consciousness.

Instead, we are working to ensure that the most politically aware workers join the ranks of the revolutionary party, with the aim of disseminating militants and revolutionary weapons throughout the class that are irreconcilable with reformist demands, just as the class interests of the working class (understood in a broad sense) are irreconcilable with those of the bosses, with the current urgent objective of forming the revolutionary class "for itself".

Battaglia Comunista
15 April 2023


(1) For previous articles mentioning base unions in Italy see e.g. Class Solidarity with the Arrested Workers in Piacenza, Italy: The Capitalist Attacks Are Already Beginning, Italy: Class Solidarity with the FedEx and Texprint Workers, Demonstration and Strike of Peroni Workers at Tor Sapienza (Rome), Two Comments on Recent Events around SiCobas in Italy

Saturday, May 6, 2023