“Trade Unions for the 21st Century”: new issue of FIGHTBACK magazine out soon

The new issue of FIGHTBACK magazine will soon be sent out to our electronic and print subscribers. Please enjoy the Editorial from this issue. To order a print copy for $NZ10 + postage, or to subscribe in electronic or print format, see here.

“The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves” – this phrase has been a touchstone for the radical Left since it opened the Rules of the First International, 150 years ago. And yet, easier said than done.

Trade unions are the most basic form of working-class self-organization, and thus the embryonic form of the kind of consciousness and organization that the working class will need to conquer and rebuild the world. But it’s hard to see a straight line between this utopian vision and the unions that we know, belong to or work for in the here and now.

The necessities of mere survival through the vicious attacks of the neoliberal area have left only the strongest unions standing in the Western countries – “strongest” in the sense of the largest, after several rounds of mergers, and in the sense of being “professionalized”. Many newer unions such as UNITE in Aotearoa/New Zealand trumpet their return to an “organizing” model rather than a “service” model – thus bringing the threat of worker militancy back onto the scene after the long series defeats and “partnership” with the bosses which characterized the 1990s.

However, these new “organizing” unions are still firmly professional, in the sense that effective leadership and power remains with the full-time, well-educated and ideologically committed organizers, in addition to a small, self-selecting nucleus of “staunch” workers who are keen to carry out exemplary industrial actions rather than the traditional mass strike. Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts, reviewed in this issue, draws out this distinction very clearly in the US context.

The question is, of course, if “another unionism is possible” in the neoliberal, globalized era: what might it look like? Aside from McAlevey’s analysis, in this issue of Fightback we look at possibilities for organizing “difficult” groups of workers who are generally ignored by the “labour movement professionals” of the current era: freelance workers, migrant workers, hospitality workers. Each of these articles presents viewpoints from organizers or workers intimately involved in these struggles.

We close this issue with an article from the “Women’s Strike” movement in Britain which brings up other crucial issues on what the unions of the future will look like. McAlevey’s book – as well as the book Feminism for the 99%, reviewed in our last issue – have discussed how strike action is a powerful tool for 21st century workers’ struggle in the caring industries (health, education, social welfare) precisely because these areas of work are so important to the neoliberal economy, and because they can’t be easily “offshored”. The “Women’s Strike” article also neatly reprises themes we raised in our last issue on how modern socialist feminist requires uncompromising solidarity and common struggle with sex workers and trans and gender-queer people.

Thank you very much for supporting Fightback in 2019.

%d bloggers like this: