You Only Love Us When We Strike

Friday, July 29, 2011

The anarchist (broadly speaking) critique of mainstream trade unions is well known, and valid. Big unions are arbiters and enforcers of social peace, supporters of the Labour Party, which is part of the system of electoral liberal democracy, and as such a reinforcement of business as usual. They are a neo-liberal force, a partner to normalising the market, wage labour, money, and jobs.

Not only that but big unions are disempowering in their bureaucracy and hierarchy, relying on workers handing over power to remote officials in disputes who will ultimately sell them out. The message is clear; ‘You can’t win’, ‘unions are corrupt’, ‘don’t join a union’. And so the big unions continue to crumble. Great, we’ll build something better some might say – but who is the ‘we’ and where do we work and under what conditions and with who? It’s not going to be that simple.


Is there a structure and scale at which unions are no longer representative and participatory? Is it a question of keeping small and grassroots, as if this is the only way to be worker-lead and radical? A series of branches, conveners, reps, a wider regional council? Doesn’t this exist already? In many ways, the criticisms of big unions are self-contradictory.

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