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Syndicalism and Social Movements

category brazil/guyana/suriname/fguiana | workplace struggles | opinion / analysis author Friday January 16, 2009 01:59author by Alexandre Samis - Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) Report this post to the editors

Between 7 and 10 August 2008 was held, in Rio Pomba-MG (Brazil), the 4th Seminário de Educação do Sindicato Nacional dos Servidores Federais da Educação Básica e Profissional (Education Seminar of the National Union of Federal Servants of Basic and Professional Education - SINASEFE). Organised by the Political Education workgroup of the union, the meeting had as its theme "Emancipatory Education."



Syndicalism and Social Movements

A Short History of Contemporary Syndicalism

At the start of 1980, even under the spectre of military dictatorship, Brazilian workers began a movement in favour of a new form of organisation. The kind of syndicalism inherited from the dictatorship was a strange symbiosis of old-style Varguist[1] corporatism and other forms of subjection to the militarist State, inaugurated in March/April 1964[2]. Coming together in regional meetings, the Encontros Nacionais da Classe Trabalhadora (National Meetings of the Working Class – ENCLATs), the workers published several documents that would be analysed at a national meeting. So, in the month of August 1981 in Praia Grande, São Paulo, a National Conference of the Working Class was held, known as the 1st CONCLAT. This event involved not only the old confederations and federations, but also a significant number of pre-union associations, represented by grassroots delegates, that foreshadowed, to a large extent, the renewal of the bases of syndicalism that were effective at the time.

The practical result of the Conference was a Commission for a Single Workers’ Central (Comissão Pró-Central Única dos Trabalhadores – CUT) and there was a clear, irreconcilable rupture between the most radical sectors and the old trade-union bureaucracy. In August 1983, under the name National Congress of the Working Class (again known as the 1st CONCLAT), the left-wing groups organised the basis for the creation of the CUT; instead, in November of that year the opposing bloc also in CONCLAT, inaugurated the National Coordination of the Working Class, keeping the name CONCLAT. This latter organisation would be responsible in 1986 for the birth of the General Central of the Workers, the CGT (Central Geral dos Trabalhadores).

However, already at the 1st CONCLAT, that of 1981, the theme of the general strike, the traditional banner of revolutionary syndicalism, appeared to cleave the distinction between the groups present. Many of the grassroots delegates grouped themselves, then, around the proposal that, in 1982, it would have to be split in practice as a way to announce the birth of the CUT and pressurise the government and bosses to concede in favour of a unified agenda. But the formation of antagonistic blocs within the CONCLAT - the “Bloco Combativo” (Combative Bloc), formed by a nebula of groups from the radical left, progressive sectors of the Catholic Church and independents, and the “Bloco da Reforma” (Reform Bloc), made up of activists that were not very involved politically, together with the supporters of both Communist Parties and the MR-8 (Revolutionary Movement 8th October) – ultimately delayed the schedule for the following year, thereby making a general strike impracticable, as the formation of the CUT was possible only for the “Bloco Combativo”.

Thus, the CUT was founded with a provisional statute which outlined its independence from employers, government, political parties and religious beliefs. Moreover, the same document included three firm points, which defined the organisation: the requirement of autonomy and union freedom, the organisation of branches according to productive activity, and to workplace organisation – the “grassroots committees”, so in vogue at the time. These positions drove away the group that formed the CUT even more than the other, very bureaucratised one (“Bloco da Reforma”), which, in 1986, created the CGT. Thus, the choice of the new trade union central put it in a direct line of succession from the revolutionary syndicalist tradition of the early years of the 20th century, not only in Brazil but in France, the USA and other countries at the time. According to Leôncio Martins Rodrigues: "These points of contact can be found in the re-discovery of the union as an instrument for social change, in the defence of its autonomy from the political parties, in the idea of developing a sort of aggressive, ‘grassroots’ unionism, without bureaucracy, despising party, political and parliamentary dealings and promoting direct action and conflict, viewing the general strike as the main weapon of the worker”.

Despite the programmatic affinities with early revolutionary syndicalism, a great many syndicalists remained part of the official bodies. This situation put them in flagrant contradiction with their revolutionary, autonomist aims since they enjoyed, at the same time, the benefits granted by current labour legislation. Thus, the syndicalists’ actions ultimately strengthened the official, corporative structure that they, paradoxically, wanted to destroy through the force of the strategies contained in their documents and statutes. The III CONCUT, in 1988, would seal “by the Right” the idiosyncrasy that was born with the CUT in 1983. At that meeting, which took place at the Mineirinho Stadium in Belo Horizonte in September, despite a series of policy points reaffirming the ethos of socialism, point No.10, presented by a faction called “Articulação” (Articulation - organically linked to the Workers Party, or PT), won a majority of votes at the plenary. The faction known generally as “CUT pela Base” (Grassroots CUT), which defended the positions of the 1983 provisional statute, was defeated and the union bureaucracy won, so to speak, the Single Workers’ Central for good.

Finally, with Lula’s electoral victory in 2002, the CUT, which had become the largest trade union federation in the country, began to bring its policies into line with those advocated by the new government. This was a clear continuation of the victorious position of 1988 which, due to the fateful association, became more didactic, and so more evident was the accelerated degree of bureaucratisation of the class organisation.

The Unions Today

Roughly speaking, we can characterise union identity in three main lines. The unions that now represent most clearly the interests of the government/employers are the collaborators or “chapa-branca”. They subordinate their policy to purely economic postulates, treating the government as a legitimate partner, a body that is essential and fundamental to addressing problems. As a rule, they try to make the grassroots understand that the function of the class organ is, in essence, to facilitate understanding between the “natural partners” – the government and employers on the one hand and the workers on the other – who, due to a flaw in the dynamics of dialogue, are only temporarily in opposing camps. Although invoking images traditionally used by the socialist camp in their rhetoric, what they are doing most of the time is to give new meaning to the content of the workers’ struggles in favour of class reconciliation. In this case, advantages for the category, whether obtained through union action or not, will be seen as an end in themselves, an accumulation of “rights” that reinforces subjection to the State’s macro-structural economic policies, precisely the ones responsible for the wage problems of the class. This sort of syndicalism therefore serves to mystify union action by establishing for the grassroots a coadjuvant role of supporting the whole range of government policies.

There are also trade unions that in certain circumstances have a certain degree of combativeness, without the pretension of making decisive the dialogue with the government. These class bodies understand the position they occupy within the class struggle and seek confrontation, but they do so from an almost exclusively economic line, taking advantage of crises and electoral agendas to wrest immediate improvements from the government. They are disposed to fight, more by instinct than by ideology - something that can be seen in times of organisational growth. But in an unfavourable situation, they can lose themselves with impressive speed. Their methods ultimately serve to strengthen greatly the field of union activism – important in fact, however insufficient – when they react solely to government measures. Thus, their action is stimulated by the electoral and political agendas of the State, even if it is in opposition to them. So despite the form, the content is guided by the immediate struggle, without clear references to the class, since what is accumulated is insufficiently used to formulate a project for workers’ autonomy and definitive emancipation. Anchored in what is only just visible, that is to say the immediate needs, they forget what is desirable, a radical change for [to] the benefit of all and not just one category. The unions who behave in this way can be described as corporatist.

The third type of union conduct can be identified by its action in association with its theoretical positions. In common with the others, it also claims to represent the class. It concerns itself with the immediate needs of the class and legitimises itself in certain rites and identity symbols of its collective work. But beyond these similarities, resistance syndicalism supports clearer and more effective confrontation with the bourgeois State. It uses classism not to highlight the singularity between the worker and the bosses/government, but to explain the chasm that separates the working class from those who exploit it. It considers syndicalism as an important means with which, day-by-day, the workers can fight the system that oppresses them and others like them. In economic demands, equally, they see a means to more didactically make out, by numeric evidence, those of the class and their real conditions of exploitation. And, since they do not limit themselves to the symptoms, they denounce capitalism and its clearest manifestations as the cause for the whole state of affairs. Thus, resistance syndicalism applies a revolutionary theory, that we can call socialism, with its political and social actions, establishing the former in accordance with the specific reality of the latter.

Syndicalist Conceptions and Orientations

One can, in schematic form, present three important stages for the development of a strategic class programme in trade unionism. Such stages, however, far from satisfying an evolutionary line, mutually combine and orient one another. They are like communicating vessels that form a single living and undivided body. The first part of a strategic programme has to concern the short-term gains. Those which will orient the day-to-day struggles, which must mobilise the vitality and which are binding on the equally pressing needs, unavoidable and common to all without distinction within the class. Circumstance that can count on campaigns of diverse natures, but preferably with a strong conjunctural appeal. Wage campaigns, accompanied by analysis of government policy, are substantially utilised forms and, almost always, bring some result. On the short-term issues, collaborationist, corporatist and even resistance syndicalism sometimes look much alike.

However, it is on the questions of the medium and long term that the syndical behaviours are exceedingly set apart. In fact, neither the collaborationists nor the corporatists possess the dimensions of medium and long term. They do not possess them, at least, in the autonomous sense of the word, because, once guided by pragmatism, it is difficult to go beyond what presents itself as immediate. In addition to this, they differentiate themselves more in form than in content, to turn to government, not going beyond collaboration declared for one and consented to another. By analogy, they end up adopting as reference for the struggle the strategies of the State, even in the inverse form for the corporatists, since their agendas are always determined by clashes with the government, against which they should be creating their own strategies but, once arrested by this, they do nothing but repeat, as inverted image, that which determines official policy. They suffer from the effects of a kind of tautology that always refers them to the same point, traversing the same trajectory, on comings and goings, in a zero-sum game that ultimately benefits the one who is always, in fact, the cause of the problem.

In another way, the unions of resistance always seek in their strategic programmes to emphasise the questions of the medium and long term. This concern must be due to the syndicalists already having had, tied to this concept, an understanding that for those entities fighting only for immediate issues, which in most cases they do, is to guarantee to the government a certain degree of legitimacy. If, on the one hand, the claims may seem contesting, and sometimes they are, they induce, on the other, subliminally, the collective of the category to believe that the resolution depends always on the acquiescence of the government. That which takes back a good part of the workers decision making principle and strengthens the reformist arguments. It is, therefore, in the most profound projections, those that will enable contact with a broader universe of exploited and, from there, consolidate the ideological struggle against capital, which is the real strategy for the dismantling of the entire structure which ensures the maintenance of the current system. Not only that, but also the elaboration of this programme helps in the accumulation of values that, because it is in fact the result of the experiences of struggle and the reflection extracted from them, constitutes itself in the essence of a dimension of a world genuinely of class. For the reinforcement of such reasoning, wrote E. P. Thompson: "By class, I understand a historical phenomenon, which unifies a series of disparate and seemingly disconnected events, both in the raw material of experience as in consciousness. The emphasis that it is a historical phenomenon. I do not see the class as a 'structure', neither as a 'category', but as something that occurs effectively (and whose occurrence can be demonstrated) in human relations." And still, according to Lúcia Bruno: "The working class is not a moral, but social reality. It does not have any reality beyond the way in which it is organised." Another issue is added, with equal importance, to discuss here. What kind of organisation or internal dynamics would allow for the full realisation of a syndicalism of resistance?

The universe of historical experience in favour of the organisation of the workers is generous, however, a good part of the records were divested of their diversity by virtue of hegemonic models which took their own triumph for revolutionary truth. Under such a perspective, the "Paris Commune" lost many of its nuances, "the soviets" became the expression of a single party and "workers’ councils", previous moments in historical situations that lacked a vanguard direction. Despite the authorised versions, another revolutionary literature, which appeared as marginal, even heretical, insisted on registering the nuances of a proletarian making of enormous organisational vigour. The axis insistently taken back by "marginal" organisational actions of the workers always found its "point of Archimedes" in autonomy. It was on that basis that diverse initiatives culminated in the Russian Revolution of 1917, and in the Spanish Revolution of 1936. The libertarian and autonomist current, the latter named from the derivation of the word-essence, secured its postulates, or rather did everything from this premise. It was not a panacea, but a methodology that would permit it to place, in the same historical circumstance, the entire class in the condition of protagonist. For L. Bruno: "A struggle is revolutionary when it creates social relationships that permit the union of workers. When it enables the association of free men that is, at the same time, a form of struggle and social transformation. When the workers create organisations where they can decide together the course of the struggle, to realise a new division of labour and community forms of existence, they are creating the terrain on which socialism can develop and spread." This is, in a few words, the logical principle of "workers’ councils". How then do you organise the workers’ councils?

The workers’ councils define their representation from the base. It is at the base, organised in commissions, that the class delegates are elected. But the representation is different to that extolled by capitalism. The differences are as follows: * 1st: Delegates do not decide for themselves. They are only the voice of the whole, those who elected them;
* 2nd: Delegates elected execute the tasks, they do not determine the lines of action, unless suggested by the collective that initiated it;
*3rd: Delegates stay in office until the end of the task, or, that is, enough time to execute it, because otherwise there could be some crystallisation of functions;
* 4th: Delegates can not abandon their workplaces for a long time for, near the base, their activities do not confer any privilege on them. Another important point is that delegates can be recalled by the base at any moment. The form suggested also ensures that the personal abilities of determined syndicalists serve everybody and not the actual individual who, as is the case today, once acting on behalf of the collective may, in reality, put their own party preferences ahead of the collective deliberations.

The method, whose centrality is in the autonomy of the workers, also calls for direct action with regard to political and economic interests. For the production and regulation of the nature of work of each category, it indicates the system of generalised self-management. And yet the stimulus to attitudes that unifies all the fronts of struggle: the economy, politics and ideology, having as an objective the building of the new society.

This organisational structure is fundamental to prevent the bureaucratisation of the unions, the distancing between the base and the leadership and the dichotomy between mass and vanguard. It is also a means in which are embedded the ends, once the worker learns and elaborates on the day-to-day work and on the clashes against capital, the elements vital for their emancipation. As the revolutionary syndicalists of the last century called it, it is "revolutionary gymnastics". A relationship that is forged in the making continues the confrontation and which, by being concurrently sensitive and theoretical experience, realised by those most in need of change, establishes new forms of unalienated organisation.

Medium-Term Tasks and Social Movements

Once resistance syndicalism establishes itself in the struggle, and without the contest of the class this conception is almost impossible to be achieved, it’s important to identify the tasks that are the responsibility of the workers involved in the revolutionary questions. The medium-term constructions today are of the utmost importance. In them you find the path through which the class will carry out the direction to be taken for the final liquidation of the capitalist order. In that sense, it’s relevant to make a small consideration on the separation that we see today between unions and social movements.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, exactly 100 years ago, the Confederação Operária Brasileira (Brazilian Workers Confederation - COB) was founded. With that entity was also born its organ of propaganda A Voz do Trabalhador (The Worker's Voice), in 1908. For many years, the COB gave support to and was an organising space of the workers against the bourgeoisie, using the methods of revolutionary syndicalism. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the COB was essential to the characterisation of the social physiognomy that, in public, showed the striking and insurrectionary workers. However, with the advent of corporatist unionism, elevated to state politics after the military-political movement of 1930, whose most salient concrete fact was the creation of the Ministério do Trabalho, Indústria e Comércio (Ministry of Labour, Industry and Commerce), the foundations of unionism were sufficiently changed. The reformist sector, already existing in prior periods, became paradigmatic and radical actions earned “forums”[3] of crimes against national security. This situation, reinforced by official measures to "the benefit of the workers," demobilised a good part of the salaried masses and established the state as arbiter of all disputes between capital and labour. These facts originate - inaugurating in this way a still present interpretative source of Brazilian history - from the perspective that it was under Getúlio Vargas government (1930-1945) that the rights of workers were, in fact, obtained. A phenomenon known as "ideology of the grant/concession."

The populism that marked the following decades, until the military coup of 1964, and even the syndicalism of subordination, practiced during the "Years of Lead", further altered the configuration of the syndical organisations. In later years, with the process of redemocratisation, after the frustration of hopes for the resumption of a revolutionary syndicalism, the harnessing of the CUT by the PT threw a good part of the expectations to the ground and drained the energy of important union bases. Taken together, these events contributed to the removal of the trade unions from what is today being called the social movements. The bureaucracy, sad emblem flaunted by the majority of entities, continues, despite the commendable efforts of a few, to represent serious limits to the development of medium and long term politics. The union changed to have a different physiognomy, now determined, and in that sense as in the past, by its social practice.

On the opposite path, however, are other organised sectors or sectors in the process of organisation. Those, involved in a large conceptual membrane which is given the name of social movements , are of diverse origin. Despite the plurality, this nebula of organisations has a certain identity. There are elements common to them, as with the specific demands. The axes, as in the past, in the International Workers Association, are always of economic bias. The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Desempregados (Unemployed Workers Movement), whose centrality is the generation of income; the Movimento Nacional dos Catadores (National Movement of Catadores), that collect household waste for their survival; the Movimento dos Sem-Teto (Homeless Movement), which chose the issue of housing; the numberless groups that are formed in the township communities, under the banner of culture or the complaint against violence, and, finally, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem-Terra (Landless Workers Movement), which sustains with more evidence the defence of Agrarian Reform, assumed in these days an important protagonism, whose results can not be ignored, not even by the mass media.

In common, and this is reflected in the communications and pamphlets, they possess radicalism. That disposition towards confrontation, typical of the medium and long term demands. This feature has been used by the government, including for the criminalisation of these movements that insist on the tactics of direct action and collective management of the means of production, ripping up the legal formality of the system. Innovations such as the "Communes" of the MST in Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo have obliged the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária – INCRA (National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform) to reinvent the existing legislation to adjust parameters to the general framework already established by the concrete practice of squatters and the settled. The social dynamic and the action of the militants have conceived mixed urban-rural experiences, creating another alternative for the worker of the periphery. In the large centers, the unemployed occupy abandoned factories, establish new production standards and try to institute another standard of living, even in the inverse direction of capital.

Despite the attempt to appropriate the movements by some parties, and also the clear action of militants of these at the bases or leadership, much of the working masses involved preserve a satisfactory degree of independence. At least enough to sketch, in moments of vacillation of the "party militants" involved, when they try to pass the policy of the party, forgetting the genuine demands of the class, a reaction of the most organised sectors. Either way, it is by virtue of how the social movements are organised that they have presented the features already well highlighted here. These are the expression without the finishing touches of the class struggle, the unity of action and of purposes, movements that manage in their banners, some very simple, to synthesise and unite the efforts and hopes of an entire sector of the excluded.

The phenomenon that is characterised by the growth in importance and visibility of the social movements is not exclusively Brazilian. With a larger number of examples we can observe, from the early 90s of the previous century, the rise of manifestations in this sense. In 1994, the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, revealed to the world an indigenous-military organisation with many demands. Among them, that which was most highlighted was autonomy. In the same country, other Indians and "minorities", coming together under the caption of Magonismo, referring to the revolutionary leader Ricardo Flores Magón, have already used the tactic of civil disobedience to confront the government. In other parts of "Our America", such as Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia, waving the banner of autonomy, Indians and peasants also rose up in uprisings and insurrections. Inaugurating the new millennium, the piqueteros in Argentina, also through direct action, achieved successes and managed to set the class as protagonist of history.

To strengthen what was exposed, we can briefly analyse the recent occurrences in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, in the year 2006. An education strike, promoted by the 22nd section union, ended by deciding on the occupation of the central plaza of the state capital. Oaxaca (the capital has the same name as the state), in May, appeared to be the stage of just one more of many other demonstrations. The differential, meanwhile, happened with the approximation of the union section of the social movements of the region. Around 16 indigenous ethnicities that are represented in the state, with an important tradition of struggle, besides the other popular organisations, formed the Assembléia Popular dos Povos de Oaxaca (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca), the APPO. In June, the public buildings were occupied and the popular government created, in substitution to the official government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. In practice, the capital began to be organised by the APPO. The principle demands such as democracy, freedom and autonomy, all have been summed up in the proposal of the deposition of the government. The strike of the union produced the fact, but the evolution of events and also the reaction of the Mexican federal government, which sent troops to repress the movement, only gave by force to the unity between the class entity and social movements.

The experience that stretched out until November of that year, contributed exceedingly to the revolutionary accumulation in the whole region. The so-called "Oaxaca commune" bequeathed to society the maintenance of the organisms of popular resistance. The community radios, the neighbourhood committees that were formed in the ambit of the APPO continued to live and function in the perspective of new clashes from the improvement of the organisation.

The social torment that affects Latin America represents, thinking in this way, nothing more than the reaction to another cycle of attacks from capital. The position that the popular organisations assumed before this reality is of transcendental importance for what it is to pursue. The setbacks are equally important, meanwhile, to assist the forces that have exploited the workers since forever. Syndicalism, for this, has to approximate itself to the social movements in order to once again reencounter, in this political symbiosis, revolutionary vocation.

The Paradigms of the Left and the Political Parties

A good part of what is discussed today in the strategic camp of the left is still a tribute from conceptions going back quite a lot in time. If, on the one hand, the literature and observations of the classics of socialism is fundamental, on the other, mechanical and dogmatic interpretation of these brings serious risks to the resulting analysis and, in this way, also to the general strategic lines. We can find a clear example, in order that we do not go far beyond, in the determination of certain social actors privileged to lead the revolutionary process. According to Marx, first in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, with the strengthening of Chapter 24 of Capital: "His [the bourgeoisie's] ruin and the triumph of the proletariat are equally inevitable... Between all the classes that today are confronted with the bourgeoisie, the only truly revolutionary one is the proletariat. The others decline and disappear with the expansion of big industry, while the proletariat is the most authentic product of this. All sectors of the middle class, the small industrialist, the small merchant, the artisan, the peasant (our emphasis), combat the bourgeoisie in order to ensure their existence as a middle class in the face of the extinction that which threatens them... They are reactionaries, as they seek to turn back the wheel of history”. For Marx there is a historical subject, one that, even without know it, has the mission of changing the social order. This subject is the urban proletariat, the mass that is exploited by industry.

If considering this premise the recent history of Latin America would be in contradiction with the theory. As the insurgent forces on the continent, and even the guerrilla who survives, have markedly peasant or indigenous character. The groups which, according to Marx, would be "reactionaries, as they seek to turn back the wheel of history", do much more for the revolution than the "industrial proletariat" which, in the Brazilian case, is joint participant in the management of institutions and the State itself. That is why corporate discussions, almost always within the limits of bourgeois legality, increasingly occupy the trade union agendas.

Another problem, which derives equally from the correlating source, is the idea that "the union is the transmission belt of the party." The first executes and the second thinks of the medium and long term policies. Such logic ends up by giving different status to those who think and to those who work, justifying, also, the removal of workers for a long time from the grassroots in tasks of leadership which, most of the time, become a door to bureaucratisation. Some, indeed, linked to political parties, as mentioned previously, end up not having clarity between the role of the party militant and union leadership.

But this practice does, indeed, encounter support in theory, given that most left-wing parties perceive in the union a means to push forward the programme of the party, the thought-action duality passes, within the scope of the class, to experience its corresponding practice. But, here exists a principle deleterious to the autonomy of the workers. Once the programme of the party can substitute that of the class, this programme can equally carry out the role of the state. Thus, a specific type of ideology replaces the government and opens the way for a new bureaucracy, a new decision-instance which will be similar, in content, to the order that it intends to overthrow. It is partially estranged from the class, as it was gestated outside of or before it, by a principle that accredits little to non-tutelaged experiences. Autonomy, for such a conception, may only be "spontaneity" or lack of ideological consistency.

The understanding that we have is that the workers organisation is, therefore, indivisible. You cannot separate the political, economic and social instances. The act of thought cannot be untied from the act of doing. The programme of the class has to begin with itself, from the accumulation of its experiences in the struggle for a free and socialist society. The social bodies cannot be fragmented, sectioned in watertight chambers, positioned for dialogue only articulated by "well intentioned" leaders, yet mistaken in the method. In this sense, it is fundamental to the creation of the grass-roots organisations and the definition of the role of those in contact with the collective of representatives of the entire unit of production.

The role of ideology, however, is fundamental. The debate of ideas within the union is necessary. But this debate must comply with the organisational forums and communicate with them permanently. The plurality of left-wing traditions, without which everything would become handbook knowledge, must be contemplated and the diversities must be looked at, all of them, as a collective inheritance to be appropriate by the class. Appropriated to the extent of necessity, of that which the collection of workers understands pertinent for the present time and place. Ideology must serve the class, and not the inverse. It is the workers which, in the ultimate instance, are going to change things. A syndicalism which makes tactical decisions by any left-wing ideology does not contribute to the autonomy of the workers; if it were, it would be playing the role of a party rather than that of class entity.

We can say that the separation that the union experiences today in relation to the social movements, beyond the fact of bureaucratisation, can be explained by its association with political parties, confirmed by the adhesion of many to the electoral campaigns. It is still good to say that, since the workers have different political positions, the electoral passions have ended by further fracturing the trade union body. A proper programme, which is not implicit in the use of institutional candidates, even under the tactical claim, would significantly reduce the division and would attribute to the medium and long term programmes the importance that they really possess.

Another fact that can be verified, every time more clearly, is that the association of trade unions to the parties brought, with the recent crisis of these, significant damage to the former. One associates freely, with the support of many examples, the trade unions to the failure of bourgeois representative democracy. The class entities figure in the same vehicles of complaint where only the parties should be. Syndicalism thus falls into the "common grave of crisis". For a reason that is alien to its natural area of expertise it reaps the bitter fruit of defamation together with the institutions that used it for a policy even more alien to the class.

Syndicalism, Bureaucracy and Social Movements

In general, what we have tackled since the beginning of the text until here is, to say it in this way, the problem of bureaucracy, of the closure and of the limits of the methods adopted by the unions. Limits that deflect the union from the revolutionary paradigm and from its virtual partners in the direction of the emancipation of the exploited. Built-in to the general appreciation are important elements to be considered for subsequent decision-making in relation to the paths to be trodden by the workers. The diagnostic, far from proving entirely the problem, invites, starting with the clue, in search of solutions. Always opting for the collective action of individuals inserted in their class and represented in their professional categories.

Socialism is the propositional axis and its executioner, as much as capitalism itself, the bureaucracy. According to Cornelius Castoriadis: "Socialism is the abolition of the division of society into directors and performers, which at the same time means workers’ management at all levels - the factory, the economy and society - and power of the mass organisms - soviets, factory committees or councils. Nor can socialism be, in any case, power to a party, whatever its ideology and its structure. The revolutionary organisation is not and cannot be an organ of government. The only organs of government in a socialist society are organisms of the soviet type, including the totality of workers. The bureaucratic nature of the current “workers” organisations is expressed not only in their final programme, which - under the cover of a mystified phraseology - is not intended to do more than modify the forms of exploitation in order to improve its content. It is equally expressed, at the same time, in its own structure and in the type of relations that it maintains with the working mass: whether they are parties or unions, these bodies are or try to form leaders separate from the masses, reducing it to a passive role and trying to dominate it, reproducing a profound division between directors and militants (or contributors) in its own midst".

The question of autonomy is therefore essential to maintain a class organ faithful to its emancipatory postulates, without departing from these for a political-partisan convenience, almost always irrelevant to the needs of the workers, the objectives of the medium and long term arising from the experience of the class. In this sense, the social movements of today can serve as a horizon for the strengthening of certain practices of autonomy; despite the involvement of militants with the double bond, partisan and class activist, the organisational dynamic as well as sectors hostile to party harnessing contribute considerably to hinder the process of bureaucratisation. Based on such reflections, and certainly they will not be the only considerations to be made on the subject, it is crucial for trade unions today to construct an agenda that can articulate the most immediate interests to the struggles of workers in general, not only those formally admitted to the labour market, but all those which are willing to fight and to organise in favour of a radical and effective transformation of society towards socialism.


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Bruno, Lúcia. What is Worker Autonomy. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1985.
Castoriadis, Cornelius. The Experience of the Labour Movement. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1985.
Colombo, Eduardo (org.). History of the Revolutionary Labour Movement. São Paulo: Imaginário, 2004.
Leval, Gaston. Bakunin, founder of Revolutionary Syndicalism. São Paulo: Imaginário, 2007.
Marx, Karl. Capital. São Paulo: Nova Cultural, 1985.
Rodrigues, Leôncio Martins. Cut: Militants and Ideology. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1990.
Thompson, E. P. Formation of the English Working Class. Vol. I. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1997.


[1] Related to Getúlio Vargas (1882-1954), two times Brazil’s president: 1930-1945 and 1951-1954.
[2] Date of the military stroke that started the period of dictatorship in Brazil and remained up to 1985.
[3] Court of Justice, law court.

* Alexandre Samis is a militant of the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro (Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro - FARJ).
Translated by Jonathan Payn (ZACF) for

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