The Hell of Wage-Labour
What position does the worker – the employee – occupy in today’s society?
This is what we do not teach in state schools.
It is therefore up to those concerned to improve their education for themselves on this subject, deliberately neglected by bourgeois teachers. Besides, this does not require great knowledge or enormous brain power. You just need common sense.
Social questions are not difficult, abstruse and abstract matters. You do not need to be a genius to convince yourself that all human beings must have a secure existence and not be obliged to lead, from cradle to grave, the life of a slave.
Now, a little insight and reflection leads the worker to realise that this is far from being the case! His fate is at the mercy of the MASTER. Tomorrow’s bread is never secure. Today, if he finds a boss (for whose enrichment he works) who agrees to employ hm, he struggles to survive; but, if this boss, for whatever reason, sacks him, here is this worker facing misery… All the worries of unemployment grip him!
The Law (codified expression of the “great” principles of 1789) proclaimed – as a joke? – the Poor the equal of the Rich. And here is this Poor Man, in his capacity as a Free Man, hauling around his carcass in search of an exploiter who wants him as a voluntary slave. If he rebels, refusing to prostitute his muscles and his brain for the benefit of the Bourgeoisie, he only escapes wage-labour to doom himself to Penury.
Is such a fate exceptional?
Alas, no! It is the lot of all workers – this is the fate of the people of the 20th century!
Also, we are led to conclude that there is no essential difference between the precarious existence of the modern wage-worker and that of the Serfs of the Middle Ages.
Certainly, the modern wage-worker benefits (in a small proportion) from the scientific and industrial advances that change social living: he eats on plates that would have seemed luxurious to the ancient slave; he is illuminated by oil, candle, gas or electricity, all methods of lighting that are far removed from the smoky lamps or resin torches of the Middle Ages.
But these wonders of the human genius – and so many others that it is superfluous to list them – if they can be the condiments of well-being and happiness, do not constitute the essential elements. To be happy, it is not enough to enjoy the sight of – or even to have, as far as you can afford it –automobiles, railways, telegraphs, telephones, etc.,
Happiness – which is the sublimation of well-being – results from a normal balance between productive effort and the possibility of consuming – a balance that allows you to enjoy life without stresses or worries. Happiness consists in the serenity of mind resulting from the certainty of assured existence, in the present and the future; it consists in not being under the subordination of anyone – no more a boss than a leader – and knowing yourself, morally and materially, an autonomous being, freed from all the shackles and all the servitudes arising from human wills.
Science, however wonderful the progress it makes, does not alter the social relations which place the Worker under the control of the Capitalist. These relations are always those of Master and Slave. Obviously, over the ages, under the pressure of the spirit of revolt, they have lessened – at least in form.
Nominally, the Wage-worker is a Free Man, whereas the ancient Slave was a living commodity, which was trafficked, and the Serf of the Middle Ages was an impersonal thing, attached to the soil and suffering the vagaries of the domain upon which he vegetated. However, this liberation, completely notional and formal [toute fictive et légale], has not released the Wage-worker from his economic subjugation. In fact, he is at the complete mercy of the Capitalist. Nay, in some ways, his fate is more uncertain than that of the Ancient Slave; the latter’s monetary value made him appreciated by the owner who had an interest in keeping his “merchandise” in good condition, to avoid depreciation.
Today, the Capitalist no longer owns the Worker – he limits himself to renting him; in this way the exploiter’s liability is reduced to a minimum; he only has to answer for “rental risks” and again, in this case – that is to say, in the event of accidents, a sudden breach of contract, etc., – the hirer of workers finds in the law the means to avoid his responsibility. Then when the productive vigour of the wage-worker declines, the boss suffers no loss: he dismisses this worthless worker, despite the fact that this unfortunate man had for a long time helped build his fortune.
Thus, in today’s society, the Proletarian never has tomorrow’s loaf assured and his exhausting toil does not secure him from the miseries that he can see in his future: unemployment, illness, old age… And he has no illusions! He has no hope that with instruction, thrift, resignation – and other soothing “virtues” with which his educators have stuffed him – he will be able to avoid the back luck which, resulting from a defective Social Organisation, strikes indiscriminately and blindly. Indeed, his wage is so insufficient that he consumes it as he goes along, to make ends meet; on the other hand, his situation is always unstable, because he is at the absolute mercy of his boss who, without shame, can throw him into the street today or tomorrow.
How Capital is created
Contrasting with the fate – uncertain, precarious and joyless – that is the existence of the Worker, that of the Capitalist is crammed with leisure and excess.
However, the happy life of this privileged person is only in appearance the result either of his individual effort or of his personal merit: in reality, it derives from his cunning or his villainy in the monopolisation of Capital – unless the fortune came to him whilst he was sleeping, by chance of birth and by way of inheritance.
Individual effort, no more than personal merit, is not sufficient to explain the establishment of a sizeable fortune: the man who would limit himself to simply accumulating the direct product of his person labour, who would not increase the meagre wealth thus acquired by making it grow – that is to say, by employing it to exploit his fellows either by trade or by industry – such a person could save a small nest egg, but not become a Capitalist.
To become a Capitalist, it is absolutely necessary to amass the labour of others.
What then is Capital?
Accumulated Labour, crystallised Wealth.
But in order for the product of labour – wealth – to acquire the characteristic of Capital it is essential that its accumulation be carried out by others than its creators, a formidable iniquity.
The Workers, by undertaking and transforming the products of Nature according to the needs and desires of humans create Wealth.
If this Wealth remained unowned [impersonnelle] – social – it would constitute a common asset and, multiplied and enhanced indefinitely thanks to the efforts of all, it would be the source of general well-being.
Unfortunately, this is not yet the case!
Wealth – CREATED BY LABOUR – is, at its root, channelled, individualised and monopolised by the exploiters. It is thus transmuted by them, for their selfish benefit, into Capital.
Consequently, from its origin, Capital emerges as the product of Theft.
Here is the process: parasites – either because they are scoundrels or because they have a little “wealth” which they have saved from their personal production – accumulate “Labour” which they swindle from its real producers and, by this fraudulent transaction, Capital is formed. They carry out this “deduction” very simply; if they are industrialists, and supposing that they employ workers producing each and every day a value of fifteen francs, they will keep ten francs under the pretext of general expenses, the return on Capital, etc., and they will distribute the remaining hundred sous as wages to the worker; if they are traders they will sell for eight francs that which is worth three…
There are no nuances or distinctions to be drawn in the abusive and criminal deductions made by the parasitic minority, to the detriment of the productive mass. The social swindle is perpetrated with the same intensity in all branches of human activity: the landowner exploits the peasant who cultivates the soil, just as the factory boss exploits the worker and the myriad of merchants, traders, intermediaries, etc. are exploiters in the same way.
Equivalence of Authority and Property
Thus from a scrupulous examination of economic conditions, it follows that society is divided into two classes as distinct as they are hostile:
On one side, the ROBBERS: the Masters – Capitalists and Landowners;
On the others, the ROBBED: the enslaved – factory and workshop workers, employees, miners, peasants.
But Society does not appear with this schematic simplicity: here the Robber, the Robbed.
Compared to the mass of the Robbed, the Robbers are small in number. Thus, if they had relied for the perpetuation of their privileges only on physical strength or even individual prestige, their reign would not last long. So, to remedy their numerical inferiority, they utilised a ruse: in order to protect themselves against hints of revolt by their victims, the Robbers have secured their plunder with Principles: they proclaimed Property, Authority… Property, which is just Authority over things; Authority, which is just Property in human beings…
Brigands thus became the privileged and, thanks to the people’s lack of consciousness and ignorance, sanctified their crimes against Humanity.
Appropriately, the revelation of the PRINCIPLES involved intermediaries, a social layer of parasites – the Pimps – whose mission consisted in the proclamation, the justification, the defence of the Privileged.
The Pimps – privileged themselves – have, thanks to an imbroglio of poisonous institutions, collaborated in keeping the Robbed under the yoke.
Only in times of crass ignorance, when the People’s spirit of enquiry was not to be feared, was the imbroglio of parasitic institutions was uncomplicated; it has developed in parallel with the rise in the level of popular consciousness – and this is why, today, the number of social pimps is greater than ever before.
Moreover, in order to gain better acceptance, these parasites – priests, judges, military officers, etc. – have known how to give the institutions in whose heart they ensconced themselves an appearance of usefulness; this, in order to encourage the naïve to believe that social life in closely linked to the functioning of these superfluous and repressive cogs. In this way human servitude has been justified and legitimised: Property, Authority have become the Palladium of servitude.
But it would be pointless to claim to have established which appeared first amongst the two forms of human constraint symbolised by these two “principles”. One is not prior to the other; neither follows from the other: they are the same. In early times, they merged into each other and if, in the course of time, there has been a split, it was under the influence of the phenomena which led to the division of labour in Humanity. Just as the division of labour was expressed in the useful functioning of society, so it was undertaken in the institutions of servitude. This is why our negation of Property cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of Authority or, visa versa, the affirmation of Property with the negation of Authority.
Property! Authority!... are merely the manifestation and divergent expression of one and the same “principle” which results in the realisation and consecration of human servitude. There is therefore only a difference in how they are viewed: seen from one angle, slavery appears as a Crime of Property, while, from another angle, it is seen as a Crime of Authority.
In Life, these “principles” – muzzles for Peoples – have been expressed in oppressive institutions whose facade alone has changed over the ages. At present, in spite of all the transformations carried out in the regime of Property and the modifications made in the exercise of Authority – all superficial transformations and modifications – submission, constraint, forced labour, hunger, etc. are the lot of the working classes.
This is why the Hell of Wage-Labour is a dismal hell: the vast majority of human beings languish there, bereft of Well-Being and Liberty. And in this hell, despite the democratic trappings which cover it, misery and sorrow flourish in abundance.
How to break free?
Inevitably, a day comes when the above reflections vaguely preoccupy the Worker who, until then, emasculated by prejudices, led stray by bourgeois education, remained voluntarily harnessed to the capitalist yoke, with the indifferent apathy of a plough ox.
From that day onwards, the instinct of revolt – which is only the instinct for progress, made explosive by the oppression which hinders its logical progression – transforms the Worker: he acquires the sense of his weakness; he notes that it is the result of the isolation and selfishness advocated by the Bourgeoisie. From then on, the desire arises within him to enter into contact with his fellows in order to remedy his individual powerlessness, because he releases that his Weakness with become Strength through the action of the group and thanks to the practice of solidarity.
Moreover, the form of exploitation which he suffers encourages him to organise as a group. Industry has agglomerated him with his fellows in workshops, factories, mills. What could be more natural than to unite with one’s comrades? And this unconscious accord led to revolts, also unconscious, but whose relative success gave rise to the trade group.
Therefore, the Worker whose consciousness awakes, sees the need to group together and, quite naturally, he takes the path of the Union.
The Essential Grouping
The trade grouping is, in fact, the sole body which, in its constitution, satisfies the aspirations which drive the Wage-worker: it is the only agglomeration of human beings produced by the absolute identity of interests, since it has its reason for existing in the form of production, upon which it models itself and of which it is merely an extension.
What in fact is the union? An association of workers united by trade ties.
Depending on the situation, this trade combination can be expressed at times by the narrower link of craft or, in the massive industrialisation of the 20th century, embrace proletarians from several trades but whose efforts contribute towards a common task.
However, whatever the form preferred by its members or imposed by circumstances, whether the union agglomeration is limited to the “trade” or encompasses the “industry,” the same objective always emerges. Which is:
1. To constantly stand up to the exploiter: force him to abide by the improvements won; stop any attempt to backslide; then, also, to strive to lessen exploitation by demanding partial improvements such as: reduction of working hours, increased pay, better conditions, etc. – changes which, although they relate only to details, are nonetheless effective attacks on capitalist privileges as well as an attenuation of them.
2. The Union aims to cultivate increasing coordination of relations of solidarity, so as to make possible, sooner rather than later, the expropriation of the capitalist, the only basis that can serve as a starting point for a complete transformation of society. It is only after this legitimate social restitution that any possibility of parasitism can be destroyed. Only then – when no one is obliged to work for someone else, Wage-labour being abolished – will production become social in its outcome as it is onset: at that time, economic life being a genuine fusion of reciprocal efforts, all exploitation will not only be abolished but become impossible.
Thus, thanks to the Union, the Social Question expresses itself with such clarity and acuteness that its obviousness imposes itself upon the least perceptive; the trade grouping unambiguously draws the line between Wage-workers and Masters. Thanks to it, Society is exposed as it is: on one side, the Workers – the ROBBED; on the other, the Exploiters, the ROBBERS.
For this reason, because it is the only group which illuminates fully and constantly the antagonism of interests and shows Society divided into two distinct and irreconcilable classes, the Union reveals itself as being the essential grouping – the association par excellence. Therefore it must take precedence over all types of human agglomerates; all must be subordinate to it, for if there are very useful ones, it alone is indispensable.
To remain aloof of the Union, to be willing to ignore it, to steer clear of it, is tantamount for the Worker being disinterested in his own fate. It is therefore logical that all those who do not calmly accept human exploitation and who do not resign themselves to misery should join the trade association. Only there can they meet and work together, sure of not wasting effort. In the Union, in fact, there is no possibility of misunderstanding: given that there is a grouping based on the identity of interests, usefulness is complete.
This characteristic of absolute usefulness is not found in the other various forms of grouping; all of them can have useful aspects, whilst still permitting flaws and defects to develop which deprive them of the characteristic of necessity.
The Affinity Group
In this category of useful groupings, although inevitability it does not apply to all, can be placed the AFFINITY GROUPS that, for a long time, the various social and revolutionary schools have advocated as the basis for organising and which some have not hesitated to even proclaim superior to the Union.
The AFFINITY GROUP is a grouping of “ideas”, “opinions” and not “interests”; it is the Social Circle, the Study Group, the Popular University, etc.
There is, in these groupings, intellectual cohesion, moral communion, identity of aspirations, commonalities of hopes and visions of the future, etc., but they lack the material basis which can give these groupings lasting vitality; being only the result of intellectual postulations – and not of tangible interests – they risk breaking up when the aspirations they synthesise cease to be in complete harmony or when lack of success dampens enthusiasm.
It is to these symptoms of disintegration that the stagnation of affinity groupings must be attributed. They can, in periods of heightened social agitation, experience a considerable growth, but this is an artificial phenomenon because their recruiting being subordinated to the acceptance by the new supporters of the theories advocated, it follows that such recruitment is problematic. Then, by the very fact that in these groupings all material interest is lacking, there is a tendency to be selective, to satisfy oneself with abstractions and also to isolate oneself from the mass of the people.
To attend an affinity group, to continue to participate in it, it is necessary to have already undergone an intellectual evolution, to have understood all the horrendousness of current society and want its transformation. The unconscious worker who mistakenly visits runs the risk of feeling estranged by the discussions which take place there and which, furthermore, he does not understand the significance; there is therefore a chance that, lacking the impetus of a tangible benefit, he loses interest and does not return to this circle.
The evidence is there, showing the truth of the matter: the affinity groups which have proliferated for a quarter of a century have not grown steadily, in spite of the intense propaganda they have conducted; their development and vitality have been dependent on individual activities to the point that, when these have faltered or failed, the affinity group has vegetated.
Despite this, it cannot be denied that the work of these groupings was fruitful; in the past they have, in many areas, awakened popular consciousness and, by that very fact, facilitated the emergence of various kinds of groupings – starting with the Unions.
Therefore, this critique of affinity groups is a simple indication that their activity, however eminently good it may be, is not paramount; it cannot dispense with participating in union action which, because it has its roots in the economic terrain, is the only one qualified to change working conditions and prepare and carry out social transformation.
However superior the Union may be to every other form of grouping, it does not follow that it has an innate and independent existence from that imparted to it by its member. This is why, in order to act as conscious union members, they must participate in the work of the Union. And it would be, on their part, to have no conception of what constitutes the strength of this grouping were they to suppose that they have affirmed themselves perfect union members by doing their duty by the Union financially.
Of course, it is a good thing to pay dues regularly, but that is only the smallest part of what a convinced member owes to himself – and therefore to the Union: he must, in fact, be aware that the Union’s value is less a matter of its monetary contributions than the multiplication of its members’ coherent energy.
The Individual is the constituent cell of the Union. Except the union member is spared the depressing phenomenon which manifests itself in democratic circles where Universal Suffrage is venerated, the tendency to crush and diminish the human personality. In a democratic setting, the voter can use his will only for an act of abdication: he is called upon to “give” his “say” to the candidate whom he wishes to have as a “representative.”
Membership of the Union has no such implications and even the greatest nit-picker could not discover the slightest infringement on the human personality in it: after as before, the union member is what he used to be – afterwards, as before, autonomous he was and autonomous he remains.
In joining the union, the Worker merely enters into a contract, always revokable, with comrades who are his equals, in Will and Power, and at no time will the opinions he may be prompted to utter, the actions in which he may happen to participate, have the suspension or abdication of the personality which distinguish and characterise the ballot.
In the Union, for example, it is a question of appointing a Union Council to take charge of administrative matters. This “selection” is not to be compared with “election”; the method of voting usually employed in such circumstances is merely a procedure whereby labour can be divided and is not accompanied by any delegation of authority. The strictly defined functions of the Union Council are only administrative. The Council performs the task entrusted to it, without ever overriding the members, without substituting itself for them or acting in their place.
The same can be said of all decisions taken in the Union; all are restricted to a definite and specific act, whereas in the democratic domain, election implies that the elected candidate has received a blank cheque from his electors which allows him to decide and do as he pleases, on everything and for everything… , without even the hindrance of the possibly contrary wishes of his constituents whose opposition in such a case – however strong it may be – is of no consequence until such time as the elected representative’s mandate has run its course.
So there is no possible parallel – and even less confusion – between Union Action and participation in the disappointing chores of Politics.
In a well-functioning Union, the personality of the Union Member radiates without barriers. In addition to safeguarding his autonomy, it is only in this environment that he can reach his maximum potential.
Of course, it may be that in some current groupings this fullness of life is not attained. But this lack of development should never be for workers – whatever their mentality – a sufficient reason to stand outside the Union. On the contrary! It is incumbent on these who are aware of this deficiency in the trade body, of which they are a part, to contribute to its organisational evolution. If the Union were an institution with rigid structures, into which the working masses must perforce be fitted, a certain reluctance could be understandable. Except this is not the case, the Union is a living body; it is the constantly modifiable extension of the individualities that compose it and it is shaped by the mentality of its members. It is therefore incumbent on them not to allow it to stagnate, nor to become paralysed under the influence of democratic narcotism.
It would be a big mistake to trace the responsibility for the defects that may exist in certain groupings to the very principle of the Union. The opposite is true; if defects are noted in trade groupings, it is because the mass of union members, still imbued with Democratism, have implanted into union circles the political errors which it has been saturated for too long. Consequently, it is incumbent on astute members who see these defects not to use them as a pretext to become disinterested in the Union and to leave it, but to redouble their efforts to point out the danger in an amicable manner and to strive to destroy it.
Moreover, union activity remedies these defects, which are regressive tendencies, by an impetus which is specific to it: the elimination of the residues of democratism takes place spontaneously, by normal development.
It is inevitable that this is so, for these is no possibility of agreement between the two doctrines: Trade Unionism and Democratism are two opposite poles which exclude and neutralise each other. Examples abound, which everyone can recall: in all the economic groupings were Politics has infiltrated, disintegration and decline has been noted.
This is because Democratism is a social superfluity, a parasitic and foreign excrescence, while Trade Unionism is the logical expression of an expansion of Life; it is a rational cohesion of human beings and that is why, instead of restricting their individuality, it extends and develops it.
The Union, School for the Will
Socrates’s dictum “Know thyself!” is, in the Union, complemented by the maxim: “Act for yourself!”
Thus, the Union establishes itself as a school for the will: its prime function reflects the Will of its members and, if it is the highest form of association, it is because it is the concentration of the workers’ Strength, made effective by their DIRECT ACTION, an inspiring form of the conscious activity of the will of the proletarian class.
The Bourgeoisie has contrived to preach resignation and patience to the People by giving it hope that progress would be accomplished by a miracle, without effort on its part, thanks to the State’s intervention from without. This is nothing more than the continuation, in less inane form, of millenarian and religious beliefs. Now, while the leaders were trying to substitute this disappointing illusion for the no less disappointing religious mirage, the Workers created in the shadows, with an indomitable and unfailing tenacity the organism of liberation that is the Union.
This organism, a veritable School for the Will, was formed and developed during the 19th century. It is thanks to it, thanks to its economic character that Workers were able to resist inoculation by the virus of politics and defy every attempt to divide them.
It was in the first half of the 19th century that trade groupings were established, in spite of the interdicts aimed at them. The persecution of those who had the audacity to unionise was ruthless, so it took ingenuity to evade repression. So, in order to group together without too much risk, Workers disguised their resistance associations behind innocuous appearances – such as mutual societies.
The Bourgeoisie has never taken umbrage with charitable bodies, knowing very well that, being mere palliatives, they cannot in any way serve as a remedy for the evil of poverty. Hope in charity is a soporific poultice good only for preventing the exploited from reflecting upon their dismal lot and searching for a solution to it. This is why mutual associations have always been tolerated, if not encouraged by rulers.
Workers were able to take advantage of the tolerance granted to these groups: under the pretext of helping each another in the event of illness, of setting up retirement funds, etc., they got together, but in pursuit of a more virile objective: they were preoccupied with improving their living conditions and aimed to resist the employers’ demands. Their tactics were not always successful in deceiving the authorities which, alerted by the employers’ denunciations, often persecuted these suspect mutual help societies.
Later when the Workers, by dint of experience, of acting for themselves, felt strong enough to defy the law, they discarded the mutualist disguise and boldly called their groupings RESISTANCE SOCIETIES.
A splendid name! Expressive and clear. It is a programme of action in itself. It proves how much the Workers – even though trade groups were still embryonic – sensed the necessity not to follow politicians and also not merge their interests with those of the Bourgeoisie, but, on the contrary, to stand against and in opposition to it.
Instinctively, it was the beginning of the CLASS STRUGGLE, which the International Workers ‘Association was to provide the clear and definitive formulation, by proclaiming that “THE EMANCIPATION OF THE WORKERS MUST BE CARRIED OUT BY THE WORKERS THEMSELVES.”
This formula, a brilliant affirmation of Workers’ Strength, purged of all dross of democratism, was to serve as a guiding idea for the entire proletarian movement. It was, moreover, merely the open and categorical affirmation of tendencies germinating amongst the People. This is abundantly demonstrated by the theoretical and tactical agreement between the hitherto underground and imprecise “trade unionist” movement and the International’s initial Declaration.
After having posited as a principle that the Workers have to rely only upon their own forces, the International’s Declaration complemented the proclamation of the necessity of the Proletariat’s autonomy by indicating that it is only by DIRECT ACTION that it can achieve tangible results; it added:
That the economic subjection of the worker to the owners of the means of labour, which is to say, the sources of life, is the primary cause of his political, moral and material servitude;
That the economical emancipation of the workers is consequently the great end to which every political movement must be subordinate as a means;
Thus, the International did not confine itself to clearly proclaiming workers’ autonomy; it complemented its Declaration by affirming that political agitations, modifications to the governmental form, should not impress workers to the point of making them forget economic realities.
The current trade union movement is only the logical continuation of that of the International; the concordance is absolute and it is on the same footing that we continue the work of our predecessors.
However, when the International laid down its premises, the workers’ Will was still insufficiently clear-sighted, the proletariat’s class consciousness insufficiently developed for the economic approach to prevail without the possibility of deviation.
The working class had to endure the diverting influence of squalid politicians who, seeing the People merely as a stepping-stone, flatter it, hypnotise it and betray it. It also let itself be carried away by loyal, disinterested men who, imbued with democratism, placed too much importance to an excessive statism.
It is thanks to the double influence of these elements that, in the current period (which began with the slaughter of 1871) the trade union movement vegetated for a long time, pulled in various directions. On the one hand, sordid politicians strove to domesticate the unions and make them support the government: on the other, Socialists of various schools endeavoured to ensure that their faction would prevail. So both intended to transform the Unions from “interest groups” to “affinity groups.”
The trade union movement has too vigorous roots, it is too inevitable a necessity for these divergent efforts to be able to hinder its development. Today, it continues the work of the International, that of the pioneers of the “resistance societies” and of the initial groupings. Of course, tendencies have become clearer, theories are clarified, but there is an absolute concordance between the 19th century trade union movement and that of the 20th century: one flows from the other! There is a logical development, an ascent towards an ever more conscious Will and expression of the increasingly coordinated Strength of the Proletariat, which blossoms into a growing unity of aspiration and action.
Union work has a twofold purpose: it must pursue, with relentless tenacity, improvements in the current conditions of the working class. But, without letting themselves become obsessed with this transient work, workers must be concerned with making possible – and imminent – the essential act of complete emancipation: EXPROPRIATION OF THE CAPITALIST.
The superiority of the Union over other methods of uniting individuals lies in the fact that the work for partial improvements and that more decisive social transformation are carried out simultaneously and in parallel. And it is precisely because the Union reflects this twofold tendency and faces it without destroying any initiative, without stifling any aspiration, without sacrificing the present to the future any more than the future to the present… it is for all this that the Union establishes itself as the grouping par excellence.
At present, Union Action aims at the conquest of partial, gradual improvements which, far from being a goal, can only be considered as a means to demand more and wresting new improvements from Capitalism.
The bosses find in the Union a domain of resistance which is in geometric proportion to the resistance of its members: it curbs the appetites of the exploiter; it makes him maintain less draconian working conditions than those resulting from the individual contract inflicted upon the isolated wage-worker. For the one-sided contract between the boss armoured with Capital and the proletarian with nothing, it substitutes the collective contract.
Now, facing the employer stands the Union which mitigates the despicable “labour market”, the supply of hands, by stemming, to a certain extent, the dire consequences of a pool of unemployed workers: which imposes on capitalist respect for workers and also, in proportion to its strength, demands that he stop using perks as incentives [bribes de privilèges].
This question of partial improvements served as the pretext to try to sow discord in trade organisations. Politicians, who can only make a living out of the confusion of ideas and who are irritated by the unions’ growing revulsion for their personalities and their dangerous interference, have tried to carry into economic circles the semantic squabbling with which they deceive the voters. They strove to create divisions and to split the Unions into two camps, categorising workers as REFORMISTS and as REVOLUTIONARIES. To better discredit the latter, they have dubbed them “the advocates of all or nothing” and they have falsely claimed them opponents of improvements possible right now.
This nonsense has no superior than its stupidity. There is no worker, whatever his mentality or his aspirations, who, on principle or by tactics, would insist upon working ten hours for a boss instead of eight, while earning six francs instead of seven.
Yet it is by peddling this idiotic drivel that politicians hope to alienate the working class from economic organisation and dissuade it from acting for itself and from working itself to secure ever greater well-being and freedom. They are counting upon the poison of these calumnies to break up the Unions by reviving inside them the pointless and divisive squabbles which have disappeared since politics was banished from them.
What appears to afford some pretext to such chicanery is that the Unions, cured thanks to the cruel lessons of experience of hopes in government intervention, are justifiably mistrustful of it. They know that the State, whose function is to act as the gendarme of Capital, is by its nature inclined to tip the scales in favour of the bosses’ side. So, when a reform is brought about by legal means, they do not fall upon it with the relish of a frog devouring the red rag that hides the hook; they accept it with the caution it warrants – especially as this reform is made effective only if the workers are sufficiently organised to enforce its implementation.
The Unions are even more wary of gifts from the government because they have often been poisoned chalices. Thus, they have a very poor opinion of “gifts” such as the Superior Labour Council and Work Councils, institutions invented only to counterbalance and curb the work of the trade groupings. Similarly, they have no reason to be enthusiastic about mandatory arbitration and regulation of strikes, the clearest consequence of which would be to vex the workers’ capacity for resistance. Likewise the legal and commercial status granted to the workers’ organisations have nothing worthwhile to offer them, for they see in these the desire to make them abandon the terrain of social struggle, to lure them onto the capitalist terrain where the antagonism of the class struggle would give way to squabbling over money.
But, because that the Unions strongly distrust the government’s benevolence towards them, it does not follow they are reluctant to conquer partial improvements. Only they want them to be genuine. This is why, instead of waiting for Power is bestow them, they extract them by hard-fought struggle – by their DIRECT ACTION.
If, as happens, the improvement they seek is subject to the Law, the Unions strive to obtain it by external pressure upon the Public Powers and not by trying to return specially mandated deputies to Parliament – a puerile little game that could drag on for centuries before a majority appeared in favour of the dreamt-for reform.
When the desired improvement is to be wrested directly from the capitalist, it is again by vigorous pressure that the trade groupings express their will. Their methods vary – although always based on the principle of DIRECT ACTION: depending on the circumstances, they use the strike, sabotage, the boycott, the union label.
But, whatever the improvement conquered, it must always constitute a reduction in capitalist privileges – be a partial expropriation.
So, whenever you are not satisfied with the political bombast, whenever you analyse the methods and the value of Union Action, the subtle distinction between “reformist” and “revolutionary” disappears and you are led to the conclusion that the only really reformist workers are the Revolutionary Trade Unionists.
Building the Future
Alongside the day-to-day defence work, the Unions have the task of preparing for the future.
The producer group must be the cell of the New Society. It is impossible to conceive of a real social transformation on any other basis. Therefore, it is essential that the producers prepare for the task of taking possession and of reorganisation which must lie with them and which they ALONE are able to carry out.
It is a social revolution and not a political revolution that we want to make. They are two distinct phenomena and the tactics that lead to one divert from the other.
For the goal we are pursuing, any straying onto the political terrain is a piece of propaganda diverted from its useful purpose. Indeed, supposing that, thanks to parliamentary agitation, an electoral majority was achieved and that this resulted in the creation of a socialist government, what would happen? Could this government, by means of decrees and laws, carry out social transformation? That is extremely unlikely. What we saw during the Commune of 1871 would happen: when the Revolutionary Assembly had decreed that workers could take possession of the workshops abandoned by the bosses – as the economic education of the workers was unfortunately not done – this decree remained more or less a dead letter.
It may be objected that the hypothesis of the inability of a socialist government with regard to social transformation is very pessimistic. It is, however, only the logical deduction of the necessities of political agitation: on that terrain, the aim is not so much to get the voters to think as to train them to vote “well”. The proof of this lies in the fact that constituencies won by Socialists later give a majority to the bourgeoisie. Whatever the grubby means employed by the reactionaries to obtain this result, it must be recognised that it denotes amongst the votes, who have thereby changed, an underdeveloped socialist consciousness.
It is therefore absolutely necessary to familiarise yourself with the work of economic transformation. This can only be done in the Union. It is only there that you can examine under what conditions the workers of a trade will have proceed in order to: 1. remove the capitalists; 2. to reorganise production and ensure the distribution of products on a communist basis.
As long as their work of preliminary education is not sufficiently advanced so that it permeates an active and powerful enough minority to defeat the forces of the Bourgeoisie, all hope of complete emancipation will be not able to take shape.
As long as the workers have not familiarised themselves enough with the General Strike which, in the present circumstances, is the only means to overthrow the capitalist and governmental order, they will have to resign themselves to languishing in Wage-labour.
It is therefore important to understand the scope of this movement for the EXPROPRIATING GENERAL STRIKE; it must be realised it will mean changing the direction of Society, its outward organisation but also altering its foundations completely.
The great cogs of governmental excess, which today seem indispensable – the ministries, the administrations – will be discarded; life will withdraw from them, because new organism will have taken over those few [valid] functions of social co-ordination which created the illusion of their usefulness. The main organisms will be the large trade Federations, which will henceforth be responsible for regulating production and satisfying consumption demands.
In addition, in the centres of workers’ activity, the trades council [Bourse du Travail] will replace the municipality, and become a communist nexus which will get rid of the municipal centre, the Town Hall.
The dominant aspect of this new social aggregation will therefore be an economic decentralisation which will flourish upon the ruins of capitalism and of statist and municipal centralisation.
It is with the utmost urgency that the Union must study these problems of social reorganisation. For each one we must pose the question: “What would do in the event of a General Strike?” For each, depending upon the trade or industry, the answer may vary with regard to the methods of action… but for all will be affirmed the identity of the goal: to educate yourself and to prepare yourself so that the anticipated Revolution is fruitful.
And it would be wrong to abandon this work of gymnastics, which is both educational and speculative; it is necessary to pursue it with as much tenacity as the more down-to-earth task of transient improvements.
It is, in fact, from the perfect balance between these two aspects of Union work that the value of the trade grouping derives.
The Union, as we have just explored, is therefore not a grouping of stagnation but a grouping of transformation. If it were limited to works of mutualism, if had no other objective than to heal the injuries of life’s wounded – which is possible without undermining the capitalist order – its social impact would be null.
It is not that! Above all, and primarily, it is a grouping of struggle; its constant preoccupation is to seek the causes of social evil, to study them, to fight them, to destroy them.
This combative task implies inescapable necessities; as with the Union as with individuals; it cannot confine itself to an arrogant isolation and, to increase its Strength, it must come into contact with its fellows – establish relations with other Unions.
Moreover, the economic organisation of Society obliges the Union to this expansion of activity. A trade is not a walled town wherein it is possible to enclose yourself and ignore the rest of the world; it is open to all and if, out of narrow-mindedness, a privileged trade only cared about itself, the swift influx from outside would quickly remind it that Solidarity is an essential condition of Life.
This vital agreement between Unions is carried out in the Trades Councils [Bourses du Travail] and by the conduit of the Trade Federations. The condition and results of this coordination of efforts will be the subject of the next pamphlet: the PARTY OF LABOUR.
APPENDIX: Union Functioning
To the above theoretical notions, it is useful to add a few brief practical, necessarily concise, details:
How do you create a Union?
Nothing could be simpler. The comrades with initiative who meet for this purpose write statutes, as concise as possible, and register them at the town hall. In addition to this, a formality if required: file at the town hall the names of the administrators who must be of French nationality (one can reduce, if one wishes, the Administration to the bare minimum: a secretary and a treasurer; but, most of the time, these are complemented by a Union Council which can have as many members as you want).
The Union can also be created outside the [legal] Code, without worrying about the 1884 law on Unions. You only have to group and work together while neglecting to deposit the articles of association and the names of the administrators. Until the last few years, many Unions were averse to the law and, if their number has decreased, it is because the Unions feel strong enough not to be in any way hindered by the law.
THE METHOD OF ORGANISING – Depending on the situation, the Union is formed by a craft or by a specific industry. Usually, it groups the workers of a craft and those similar to it. Under the pretext that the law did not clearly stipulate that State or Municipal workers can unionise, obstacles have been placed on the organising of these comrades. Let these not be upset; let them ignore the law, let them unionise, let them be strong! And the authorities will respect their organisations.
In large companies, such as Le Creusot, or in a huge operation like the railways, the Union must unite all categories of workers; the method of organising is, here, indicated by the form of the employer. Indeed, it is obvious that the exploited of these large companies would have hardly any strength for resistance and demands if they established Unions fragmented by craft.
One question interests militants: that or organising by craft or by industry. The first of these two modes of organisation can be criticised for perpetuating a narrow perspective [esprit de corps]; but, whatever individual preferences, what must be avoided is that the Union slips into being a grouping of opinion. Unions in which “politics” dominate are of this kind as are those classified as “for general labour” [« d'irréguliers de travail »] and wherein converge workers of various trades. These groups, despite being called a union, are only social groups, where affinity prevails over interest. For too long, “politics” has been the stumbling block for Unions; members have to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
Regarding general Unions [Syndicats d'irréguliers], they group comrades according to their opinion and they open the door to all the dangers of the past; if all workers did the same, there would be no more Unions: there would only be social groups. Moreover, day-to-day action eludes them too much and, what is more, they can only speculate on the work of expropriation in a very abstract manner and not from a trade point of view.
DUES – For the Union to make propaganda, it needs men…and also money! A contribution is therefore necessary. Of how much? The least, 50 centimes; the best, 1 franc per month… It is a small expense, and one which is easy to cover by not having a few glasses at the bar.
You should not, however, be so deluded as to believe that a large union fund can get the better of capitalist ill-will. That is the exception! In most cases, partial strikes only succeed thanks to the support given by all the [other] Unions. So the best union fund is to practice solidarity, to help comrades in struggle… and those who give, will receive when needed. Consequently, the union fund must be constituted primarily for: 1. for propaganda; 2. for solidarity.
GENERAL ASSEMBLIES – The Union Council executes the decision of the general assembly of the Union which, for its part, is always sovereign. All union members must come to the assemblies; if they neglect to attend, they must acquiesce to the decisions made. It cannot be otherwise, without falling back into the dangers of democratism where those lacking in consciousness and the weak hider the energetic. The decisions of the general assembly must be final, regardless of the number present. The assembly may find it useful, on an important question, to consult by referendum all members, but that decision must be its. If it were the Union Council which, in order not to carry out the decisions made, organised a referendum on its own accord, then it would be nothing less than a small union Coup d’État; it would introduce into the union organism the political system which stifles conscious initiatives under the mass of majorities as compact as they are sheepish.
MUTUALISM – Tendencies from when necessities formerly led Unions to mask their economic action under mutualist appearances have persisted. There are Unions which provide mutual insurance, bestow sickness relief, have retirement funds, etc. There is a danger in this which comrades must be aware of; not that mutuality is bad in itself, but because it could distract the Unions from their work. The Union is an organism of struggle and it would be hoped all works of a mutualist character should not be welded to it and that they should be contributed to by specific payments. The same can be said of Consumer and especially Productive Cooperation. If you want to do it, then let it be alongside the Union. To do otherwise would be to risk narrowing the trade organisation, to make it deviate from its course and would diminish the character of an organism of the social struggle which is its reason for existing.