Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Why are some union leaders not prepared to fight?

Trade union bosses see themselves as the mediators between bosses and workers within the capitalist system.
By Gary Duffy, Socialist Party SydneyBecause they have no clear cut ideology beyond this, their ideology becomes the ideology of the big bosses, the bourgeoisie. As Lenin once said ‘No politics in the union means bourgeois politics in the union’ . Underlying this ideological position ( and making them have more in common with and identifying more with business bosses) is the fact that many union bosses have it relatively well off. They have wages a lot larger than that of an average worker and they are effectively the bosses of their own organisation.

They want to make sure that they retain these positions and their perks and their power. Also of course is the possibility of a future safe labor parliamentary position or a job in the IRC. The safest way for them to hold on to these positions and the perks is to not rock the boat. This is especially the case with the ACTU bosses.

What union bosses should be doing is being union leaders, they should be representing the interests of their workers, in order to do this they have to have a working class ideology i.e. socialism. Unfortunately many so called union leaders are in fact just union bosses- looking after their own interests. This interest has long been served best (at least up until recently) by serving the interests of the big bourgeois by not stepping too far over the line.

This has meant in particular that they act to restrain the independent action of workers as they fear it will lead to their loss of control. That is why even with the current threat posed by Howard and the Liberals they will not call for strike action. They fear the workers getting a sense of their own power and getting out of their control far more than they are concerned about workers interests being denied. This era is may be rapidly drawing to a close.

Previously the big bosses could put up with union bosses from weak unions because their were strong unions around that they feared would come to their defence and because the weaker trade unions were easier to deal with- ‘responsible trade unions’. The big bosses are now planning to make sure that the strong trade unions are smashed or at least rendered harmless. If there are no more strong unions then the bosses will no longer need weaker unions or their leaders.

What the working class needs are union leaders not union bosses. Union leaders need to be:
1) democratically elected and subject to immediate recall if they are not doing their jobs.
2) limited tenure in official positions so an entrenched bureaucracy does not develop
3) on the same wages as the average worker whose interests they represent.
4) armed with the ideas of Socialism and be committed to making sure that all those workers whose interests that they represent are similarly armed.