The corruption of trade unionists – Social phenomenon
The FSM Chile organized on November 19th, 2011 in the capital city Santiago a seminar with the participation of 120 militant trade unionists. Main speaker was the General Secretary of FSM George Mavrikos. You may find below an extract from his speech:
”The long strong influence of reformism and opportunism in the labour trade union movement demands from the class-oriented movement the ability to search and precisely understand the social roots of this phenomenon, in order to effectively confront the forces that cultivate it.
Already, since the 19th century, Karl Marx underlined, in his critic towards the English trade unions, the possibility offered to the English bourgeoisie by the industrial monopoly in the international market to buy off and incorporate numerous layers of the working class, especially amongst the skilled workers.
During the first years of the 20th century, with the complete formation of the monopoly capitalism, Lenin observes the expansion of this phenomenon to other powerful imperialist states as well. The capitalists had the opportunity to buy off upper layers of the working class, thanks to huge super-profits which they manage to ensure from the export of the capital and generally from the activity of the large monopoly groups. He names this labour aristocracy as “agents of the bourgeoisie within the workers’ movement”, true trustees of the capitalists, conductors of reformism and chauvinism; Which means, he focuses both on the class position and the class consciousness of this layer and he emphasizes on the fact that if the economic root of this phenomenon, as well as, its political importance are not perceived as such, the labour movement can make no steps forward towards the solution of its practical duties.
A characteristic example is the government of Spain, which takes massive amounts of money from the workers’ yearly taxation and “returns” them to CCOO and UGT. In 2010, the highest amount these organizations have received from the central state budget of Spain reached the 10 million Euros. Part of which was transferred for “trade union investments” to Central and Latin America…
This way, the reality proves by itself, that the widening and the deepening of the capitalist relations of production in the era of imperialism multiplies the phenomenon of labour aristocracy and the division of the working class in the internals of a country, as well as, the intrusion of petty-bourgeois perceptions and positions in the trade union and political movement.
Giving prominence to this phenomenon timely brought in the forefront the necessity of an acute confrontation with the interests of these layers, the way they appeared in the labour trade union movement, and of the struggle in favor of the unity of the working class in class-oriented direction.
It is important to underline that the attempt to corrupt and incorporate layers of the working class is not limited to the direct materialistic part of the bribing (extremely high salaries, paychecks “under the table”, etc.). The bourgeoisie has taken special care and still does, so that the “well-behaved” reformist employers and workers will find warm profitable positions in the “bourgeois -submissive” trade unions, in various committees of the ministries, in International organizations such as the ILO, even in the parliaments. It is this trade union and political bureaucracy with a labour source and origin that plays the role of a battering ram for the strengthening and the preservation of corporatism and reformism in the labour trade union movement. The history and the role of the yellow trade unions over the last 100 years prove their exceptional utility for the capital, mainly due to their ability to appear as representatives of the workers, as part of the working class.
The existence of labour aristocracy cannot be statically perceived as a social phenomenon that is limited to developed capitalist economies or specific sectors of the economy or specific enterprises. While the development of capitalism expanded and deepened in the whole world, the labour aristocracy emerged and consolidated in countries it never existed before. For example in Greece, its expansion was connected with the dirty role of the institute of corruption “Friedrich Ebert” and the projects management mechanisms and funds of the EU, at the level of reformist trade unions amongst others. The setting of trade unionists with salaried positions in various committees of “social partnership” are substantial forms of creating a modern labour aristocracy.
During 1998-2000 in Austria, the Central Trade Union OGB was convicted from the courts for corruption at the BAWAG Bank because it presented 1.5 billion euro as expenses for “trade union investments” in the Caribbean… Today this role of the Austrian is played by the Spanish, the Belgian, the French, the Dutch.
It is becoming clear that the mechanisms of the bourgeois state work additionally to the mechanisms of the capital in order to stabilize and broaden the sold-out layers of the working class.
We have to be careful not to incorporate simplistically into the labour aristocracy any high-wage employee working in sectors with high labour productivity or any worker who undertakes the basic surveillance tasks of the modern process of capitalist production. Such kind of simplistic processes, obscure the issue, divide instead of unite the working class. For example a skilled high-wage worker who works under the unsanitary conditions of a mine or in the ship repair industry, with an executive role and under large labour intensification, cannot be classified as labour aristocracy.
The possibility that was provided to the capitalist forces by the rapid growth of capitalism, in much more countries than before, to buy off layers of the working class should not give the class-oriented trade union movement the impression that this social phenomenon can expand indefinitely. That is because the capitalist world as a whole, especially the old and the extremely developed one, works with a contradictory manner. On the one hand, each capitalist country tends to break every barrier which stands on the way of the motion of capital in the global market, in favor of its own monopolies, by using part of the superprofits for the buying off of working class layers. On the other hand, however, the intensification of the competitiveness in the global market, forces each bourgeoisie to reduce the price of the labour force in its country, in order to improve its place. Thus, the management policy of the capitalist system is obliged today, to take restructuring measures (flexible labor relations, privatizations of state-owned enterprises and services, reduction of wages and lay-offs of civil servants etc.) that objectively affect some layers of the labor aristocracy as well.
The latest developments, with the international capitalist crisis that strikes the lives and the rights of millions and millions of workers and employees all over the world, clearly highlight the timeless role of the reformist-yellow trade union leaderships in the promotion of the capitalist interests.
For years before the new round of the capitalist economic crisis, those trade unions used to play an insidious role undermining and weakening the massiveness of the labour trade union movement, by cultivating the perceptions of “social partnership” between the working class and the capitalist, by denying the participation in meaningful militant initiatives (strikes, rallies etc.), by transforming the trade unions in bureaucratic structures and mediating foundations between the capitalist state and the employees, by keeping pace with the employers in the striking of the combative calls of the privary level –in the factories, the enterprises, the workplaces.
They signed numerous collective agreements, not just below the contemporary needs of the working class but even below the inflation, thus contributing to the further intensification of the exploitation of the workers they are supposed to represent. In all these ways, they cultivated a spirit of fatalism, an acceptance of the “less harm done”, e.g. the reduction of wages or working hours instead of the job losses.
So it came so natural, that with the outburst of the capitalist economic crisis a remarkable part of the working people who used to follow out of habit or fear or even out of superstition, the sold-out trade union leaderships, would find itself with no provisions, unable to react to the sweeping attack of the capital against their rights.
From their side of the story, the yellow trade unions followed, as expected, during the years of the crisis the same way as before, the course of continuous retreat. They adopted the interpretations for the causes of the crisis of the various apologists of the capital, exculpating the capitalist system, they projected the need for more “sacrifices” by everyone if only they are “fairly shared”, they signed degrading collective agreements in the name of avoiding the “national economy’s bankruptcy”.
Once more, with the positions of various forces towards the capitalist economic crisis, it was proven, that the working class in national level can expect no progress, cannot draw its own independent course for the satisfaction of its needs, without the decisive collision and crush of the forces of compromise, of “social partnership” and of defeatism in the trade union movement.
There is no space for illusions today, that the yellow trade union leaderships can change path, can be pressured from the labour masses into positive course, can be put at the head of the class struggle. All the honest working people who still follow them need to be convinced to put aside those leaderships, to kick them away from the trade unions, for them to rally on the side and within the class-oriented trade unions in a unified front of the working class.”