By the end of the 19th Century, Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor were accepting American capitalism. This was a huge shift from the existing AFL model whose founding Preamble had been constructed around the reality of class consciousness. Prior to this shift from class consciousness to class collaboration, the organization had stood for abolishing wage slavery and preached that capitalism would inevitably create class conflict. After the shift, the organization began proclaiming that class harmony was possible under a benevolent form of capitalism. Under this "benevolent" form of capitalism, organized labor moved away from the horizontal member run model and began structuring itself after the corporate structure of the top-down hierarchy. This is when Labor moved away from class-consciousness and into trade-consciousness, and Business unionism was born!
Here we are 100 years later and the Business Union model has all but disappeared, primarily at the hands of those benevolent capitalists. Years ago Dave Neal did a piece concerning the future of organized labor. The article can be found at H.E.A.R.D.
, and also at IWW
. The piece was pertinent prior to the turn of the Century, and given the further demise of collective workers and the political attack on the public workforce, it's even more pertinent now. The future of the working people arrived at this crossroads years ago, and the devil sang such a sweet tune we were individually mesmerized and Lucifer received the better deal. He walked away with our soul of solidarity. This is what Neal has to say about Business Unionism and its future.
It is my belief that business unionism will eventually die out, and we'll be back to where we were at the turn of the century, where Capital dictates the conditions under which we work without consideration of the consequences -- which are invariably measured in the lives of working people everywhere.
Business unionism won out in the past struggles between Labor and Capital, but in the long run, their vision of worker/owner solidarity is a false one, which is unravelling as we speak, particularly in the wake of NAFTA, GATT, and now MAI. Increasingly, it is Capital who calls the shots, and Labor who takes the lumps -- which explains why hundreds of thousands of working people have been "downsized" for the sake of corporate profits.
What we do from this point forward is what will shape the terrain of the working people for a long time to come. It is time for those in authority to step up and help be the change that our working families so drastically need. Yes, we will all have to make some unwanted sacrifices, but if organized labor truly cares about the working people out here, now would be a good time to show it and carry the torch of social change that will benefit all working people, not just a chosen few. When it is all said and done, it's not the capitalists who are Labor's allies, it's the working people of our world.
I am not naive, I know a shift from craft-consciousness to class-consciousness will not be an easy transition. Any progressive social change will inevitably be a fight of will. Power never cedes power readily; it has to be fought for by the people -- and given the wealth disparity which is so apparent in our country -- as the people participating in the OWS Movement have so eloquently pointed out -- the time for change is ripe!
However, with the continued withering away of business unions, an opening has grown for renewed radical unionism. The challenges are enormous, but the opportunity is there. This has been made possible, conversely, by the greed and machinations of Capital itself -- as the bosses seek to reduce American workers' pay, increase their hours, and slash their benefits, they have themselves created a revolutionary situation.
Management is very aware of this situation, however -- which is why there has been a proliferation of "empowerment sessions" and "team-building" initiatives in companies, where they seek to buy off the workers they still retain with union-style benefits without the unions. In other words, the appearance of empowerment, versus actual workplace empowerment. This masterful PR effort by management reveals the extent to which they'll go to see unionism finally destroyed. Companies want workers to think they're on the same team as their bosses, the way business unions believe. But it's a lie, and always will be.
To all of Organized Labor, there are two questions that need to be asked, followed by sincere discussions of how we can help be the change our people so desperately need. — "If not now, when? If not us, who?"