International Communist Party The Union Question

On the Thread of Time
Marxism and the Trade Union Question

Battaglia Comunista, no.3 of 1949



When the so-called workers’ press of today claims that every attack on the right of trade union organization and of strike is an attack on the very principles of democracy and that the way of fighting it is by defending the constitutionality of the current parliamentary regimes, the approach to this vital question of class action is simply reversed, with the typical consequence of disorientation and defeatism of proletarian preparation.

The bourgeois parliamentary regimes, from the very beginning, opposed with all their energies the right of workers’ organization and the strikes, by means of ruthless criminal laws. It was only in 1871 that the English parliament, which by then had existed for centuries, did away with the laws that considered the establishment of workers’ unions, trade unions, a crime, without ceasing to be, as Marx says, a trade union of capitalists. The French revolution forbade and punished workers’ associations with a law in 1791. According to classical liberal thought, workers’ trade unions revived the feudal guilds eliminated by the bourgeois revolution.

The words “trade union” and “strike”, when faced with the words “freedom” and “democracy”, are on opposite sides of the barricades. In the perfect liberal-democratic State, as defined by bourgeois thought, every citizen is protected by the law and by the electoral system; every association for the defense of economic interests is useless, since the State is the common father of all, and they’re indeed to be condemned as detrimental to unlimited personal freedom, the most important of which, according to the bourgeoisie, is that of selling oneself under the conditions of the free labor market to the capitalist exploiter.

The methods of trade unionism and the weapon of the strike have, however, come a long way in the course of the capitalist epoch, after that first radical resistance.

The proletarian revolutionary movement has always rightly considered them to be in the forefront of the class struggle because they are the main way to lead the working class towards the necessity of a united struggle against the very foundation of the capitalist regime, which is the political struggle for power. It must be clear that the bourgeois governments and States which allow workers’ trade unionism do so for their own class purposes and are just as much to be fought and destroyed as those which forbid it.

Before the European war two interpretations of the trade union method prevailed. The one then considered leftist wanted to reduce all class action to the economic field, proclaimed direct action and the general strike as the entire content of the revolutionary struggle. Direct action, i.e. struggle without intermediaries between the industrial boss and his workers, was opposed to the abuse by the moderate and opportunist leaders of the workers’ movement of mediation by authorities, of the patronage of politicians and MPs by prefects and bourgeois governments. They had built a whole practice of reformist syndicalism which was based, on one hand, on parliamentarians, and on the other, on union officials, which also excluded the political party and any revolutionary program. They tended towards a social and political compromise with the capitalist regime, a compromise that was no longer based on tolerance, but on the constitutional recognition of trade unions and on compulsory arbitration that reduced open disputes between workers and employers to a minimum, building the mirage of a neutral State between them.

Revolutionary syndicalists were right in placing the union not under the patronage of the State but against it. They did not see, however, that for the destruction of State power economic action is not enough, a political program is required, as well as a party, the conquest and revolutionary exercise of power.

The method of the reformist syndicalists (in Italy Cabrini, Bonomi, Rigola and so on) was actually continued in the methods of fascism. If we look at the men, we seem to see a non-existent opposition, just as it is a false perspective to focus on the prohibition of strikes and lockouts by police laws, which is what every form of evolutionary and conciliatory socialist revisionism tends towards, including Stalinist national-communism, for both internal and external use.


As the workers’ organization becomes more and more involved in the affairs of the State, as is the general tendency in all countries today, either through forms of coercion or through all sorts of subordination of the union leaders to the bourgeois parties, the latter being evidently worse, the issue of carrying out economic struggles and strikes in a revolutionary sense becomes more complex and difficult. It is not enough that these struggles be supported and promoted by parties which are in opposition to the one in power, as is the case in Italy today in the present situation. They can even reach considerable dimensions, but not necessarily meeting the need to organize the proletariat against the capitalist regime and its basis, and without even leading to an improvement in the immediate working conditions.

When the party in charge of these movements sets as an objective the defense of alleged democratic and constitutional achievements which would supposedly benefit the working class, it fully and openly embraces the method of dealing with the intermediaries of the dominant political regime, and not only does not exclude participation in power under the bourgeois regime but makes it one of the postulates of the struggle, the class energies of the proletariat are diverted to the benefit of class collaboration and preservation of the regime.

There is talk today of a new method of workers’ struggle, non-collaboration. One could no better formally, although unfortunately also substantively, idealize the purpose of collaboration between bosses and workers.

We never knew that in industrial enterprises there was any collaboration. This was written by the economist apologists of the present regime. In the factories only proletarians work and the bosses exploit their labor. Naively we have always defined the matter in this way. Now it is considered a normal factory regime where the two factors of "production" work together. What’s more, they fight to defend the supreme capitalist objective, "production". Collaboration is suspended and the working masses are given a series of truly edifying objectives for its resumption which, not to mention the fundamental economic problem of State-fed industry, culminate in political and ministerial collaboration with the government of the parties that claim to represent those masses in struggle.

The direct action that frightened De Gasperi’s government so much is well and truly buried. It was no longer a matter of dealing directly with the industrialists, who are often the first to be interested in avoiding the "liquidation" of their company, but of acting through delegations of political intermediaries with the central government in order to put forward proposals that could not be clearly defined, the only consistency of which was a compromise between workers and industrialists, between opposition parties and government parties.

This same problem was posed by Fascism. But truthfully it was much more coherently posed, since it proclaimed an autarkic economy and an imperialist policy, even if the forces it boasted of were far weaker than what they really were.

Today we play the same game of being janissaries, but our political personnel is divided into three groups: janissaries already rented to the West, janissaries already rented to the East, and janissaries waiting to decide how to rent themselves.