Socialist Industrial Unionism : A Labor Union Program for the 'Post-Industrial' Age

The People
August 26, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 9

SOCIALIST INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM: A LABOR UNION PROGRAM FOR THE 'POST-INDUSTRIAL' AGE

During its entire publishing history of 105 years, THE PEOPLE has kept close watch on the development and application of science and technology to industry. This continual interest in all improvements in the means and methods of production has not been one of idle curiosity. It has been an essential factor in fulfilling our role of promoting the principles of scientific socialism and the Socialist Industrial Union program advocated by the Socialist Labor Party, and only by the SLP. It has also been necessary to keep up with these developments to assure ourselves that the SIU program remains relevant, and that it still holds the key to working-class emancipation from capitalist exploitation.

SOCIALISM AND TECHNOLOGY

THE PEOPLE and the SLP have had no choice but to concern themselves with the progress of science and its application to industry because the socialist movement is a reaction to the vast and profound industrial revolution set in motion by the rise of modern capitalism.

Socialism was born in response to the grave social problems generated by capitalism's uses of technology. Socialism grew out of the profound disruption of society capitalism caused. It was the pitiless and inhumane uses to which capitalism put the technology at its disposal to exploit human labor that made the socialist movement necessary. Socialism is not an idea that fell from the skies, but a natural response to the material conditions and social relations that took shape as the capitalist system of production developed.

At the same time, however, the socialist movement has always recognized the tremendous material possibilities technological advances offer for eliminating the poverty, misery and suffering it has engendered -- not of its own accord, but as a direct result of the capitalist system of private ownership of the productive forces created by human labor and ingenuity. The whole purpose of the socialist movement, therefore, is to solve the grave social problems resulting from the march of technology monopolized by a numerically insignificant capitalist class so that the magnificent possibilities modern advances in technology hold out may benefit all of humanity. Accordingly, the socialist movement also sees in so-called post-industrial technology the productive instrument for the attainment of its goal. However, as we pointed out on an earlier occasion:

"Whatever good there is in modern methods of production, whatever their potential for making the world a better place, for eliminating arduous toil, hunger and poverty, that potential is wiped out by a single, dominating fact. The one fact that overwhelms and nullifies the promise of all progress is private ownership of the means of production and distribution.

"Socialists don't deny that the world is changing. They were the first to point out that capitalism 'cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.' But the nature, pace and purpose of such changes are not determined by society: they are governed by the whims and needs of that tiny minority that owns and controls the means of producing and distributing wealth. That is one of the two constants in capitalist society, no matter how many changes come along. The other is that the majority -- the working class -- has no say in the process. Capitalists hire and fire to suit their needs. As long as that division exists class divisions will continue. As long as class divisions continue the class struggle will exist."

THE SOCIALIST GOAL

The goal of the SLP is to replace capitalism with the economic and social democracy of socialism. The means to achieve that goal is the Socialist Industrial Union program. Indeed, it is the only means of achieving the socialist goal because it is the only program that will enable the working class to organize the latent power of its vast numbers along the political and economic lines that are needed to accomplish a socialist reconstruction of society.

The working class is the only progressive force in modern society, if by progressive force we mean a force capable of transforming society into one in which economic freedom and material security will be the birthright of every human being. And by the working class we understand all those who must sell their abilities to perform useful mental or physical labor to live. We also mean all those who, because the capitalist owners of the economy have no further use for them, have been forcibly removed from the economy and have become dependent on welfare and other stingy crumbs doled out by the capitalist class and its political state.

But what relevance can a program for INDUSTRIAL democracy have in a "POST-INDUSTRIAL" age?

INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM STILL ALIVE

The first thing to note is that reports on the death of industrial capitalism have been greatly exaggerated. No one can deny that computers and other technological advances in the implements of production have swept through and profoundly transformed many industries. There is no question that these advances in the means and methods of production have wiped out millions of jobs. Many of the factories and production plants that once littered the country have disappeared. Some have been torn down or abandoned. Some have been replaced by new facilities equipped with the labor-displacing computers and robots that have left millions of workers unemployed and unlikely ever again to find work at their former trades.

At the same time, however, millions of workers are still employed in the manufacturing and extractive industries dedicated to the production of commodities, whether raw materials such as coal, oil and steel, or to finished products such as cars, aircraft and apparel. They continue to turn out commodities meant to be sold for a profit. While this may be the "age of information," virtually all of that information is gathered and applied to facilitate the production and disposal of finished goods on the domestic and world markets.

In short, while technological advances have brought and will continue to bring profound changes into the industrial process, they have not and will not be used to eliminate the production of industrial products. On the contrary, they are being used to increase the quantity of manufactured goods, but to do it by intensifying the exploitation of a dwindling number of workers.

CAPITALISM OR SOCIALISM?

It is absolutely certain that capitalism will continue to introduce new and increasingly sophisticated technology into industry. It is a certainty that millions more workers will be forcibly evicted from the economy -- and not only workers in the manufacturing and extractive industries, but millions who now hold service and so-called "white-collar" jobs. Indeed, that process is already well underway. Promises that "post- industrial" capitalism would create new and "high-paying" jobs to replace those that have been eliminated have proven hollow.

A capitalist future of profound social dislocation and human misery is an absolute certainty because of the economic laws on which capitalism is based -- laws which compel every capitalist concern to strive for the greatest possible profit at the lowest possible cost. That can only mean one thing. It can only mean that permanent joblessness is the only future that millions -- perhaps the majority -- of workers can look forward to as long as capitalism survives.

To put it another way: Unless the working class becomes conscious of what a capitalist future holds the time may well come when it will be reduced to the beggar state of the proletariat of ancient Rome. The labor of the Roman proletariat was rendered useless by captive slaves; that of today's proletariat is being displaced by computerized machines.

SIU PROGRAM STILL VALID

Even so, the Socialist Industrial Union program, which aims to organize the workers as a class, employed and unemployed, and which is entirely adaptable to changes in industrial techniques, remains valid. It is the only conceivable means whereby to accomplish the socialist revolution in America.

Indeed, the more advanced technology becomes the more logical and valid does the Socialist Industrial Union program become.

The Socialist Industrial Union program calls for the workers to organize politically and industrially -- politically under the banner of the SLP, to articulate the aims and tactics of socialism, and assert the working class' RIGHT to replace private capitalist ownership with social ownership, and industrially to back up this right with an irresistible MIGHT. The goal: a society in which the means of social production are owned socially and administered democratically by the workers through their own Socialist Industrial Union councils.

Note that the Socialist Industrial Union program doesn't call on the workers to take over this or that individual plant; it calls on them to take over the entire economy, which is to say, ALL the factories, mills, mines, railroads, stores, warehouses, etc. Now then, a particular industrial process may be totally automated. Human labor may be virtually eliminated from that process. But when the time comes for the workers to back up the revolutionary socialist ballot this will not stop them from taking over any of the nation's workplaces -- including its automated sectors.

Neither does the fact that whole segments of the economy may be completely automated deter THE ORGANIZED WORKING CLASS from taking over the entire economy.

A PROGRAM FOR ALL WORKERS

In this connection, it is important to establish the point that when we say the Socialist Industrial Union aims to organize the working class we mean just that. Today's unions, which are based on acceptance of capitalism, are not interested in organizing the unemployed; they are interested only in organizing workers who have jobs and can pay dues. But the Socialist Industrial Union, which aims for a society in which there will be no involuntary unemployment, will organize the unemployed as well as the employed. Thus it will recruit the unemployed steelworkers into the steelworkers' industrial union, the unemployed railroad workers into the transportation workers' industrial union, the unemployed textile workers into the textile workers' industrial union, etc.

At some stage in the mass displacement of workers by modern technology the fear that already touches millions of workers will mature into the realization that they must act in their own defense. The realization will grow that there is no solution to the problem within the capitalist system. Thought, discussion, enlightenment will produce action. The real question therefore is: At what stage will this occur? The answer will doubtless involve many other factors, not the least of which will be the economic distortions and political reaction resulting from capitalist economic anarchy.

It is, of course, possible that the workers may remain apathetic even while the ranks of chronically unemployed grow to massive proportions. We do not think that they will, and we shall do all in our power to insure that they won't. Nevertheless, it is possible. In this case, society would move into an era of industrial feudalism which, while it would not last forever, might keep the workers in a state of industrial serfdom for decades.

It is to avert such social retrogression that the SLP works so hard to spread the program of socialist industrial unionism, the organization of the workers in accord with their class interests, and the consolidation of their power as society's producers.