Revolution or War n°11

(Biannual - February 2019)

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Debate on the Union Question

We briefly mentioned the group Gulf Coast Communist Fraction in the previous issue. It published its first text in March 2018 on its website ( In the second, The Need for Communist Fractions, the group established its historical filiation within the framework of "the Italian Fraction Abroad (1927-1939), the French Fraction of the Communist Left (1939-1943), and the French Communist Left (1943-1952)". In close collaboration with Workers Offensive (USA), under the active leadership of Nuevo Curso (Spain) and with the participation of the ICT and ourselves, the GCCF has since developed internal discussions so that its members can debate and define themselves more precisely on class positions and thus begin to claim the experience of the International Communist Left. In particular, the comrades published the basic positions of the group, Towards a Points of Unity (, that "all members of the fraction must agree on". We took position on this ’platform’ in a letter that the GCCF published on its website. In this letter, while welcoming the effort to position themselves politically as a method of clarification, we put forward some critical points and above all draw the attention of the comrades to the fact that it may be premature and artificial to require that ’all members [agree]’ on these points if these agreements do not result from a process of discussion, clarification and political definition to a minimum extent.

The GCCF Theses on the union question that we reproduce here are an illustration, through the political contradictions they contain, of this need for discussion, clarification and political definition within the group in connection with the whole proletarian camp. We make their publication followed by our own participation to the GCCF debate that we sent them. We are confident that the reflection on this fundamental issue will be of interest well beyond the comrades of the GCCF alone.

One clarification: the international discussion on the trade union issue is often made difficult, especially with comrades and groups in the Anglo-Saxon world, because of the closed-shop trade union system which does not exist, or only slightly, in other countries, particularly in continental Europe – especially in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, etc (with a few rare exceptions). The theses below often refer to this situation where workers are obliged to join a union in order to be hired and benefit from contracts signed by the union, whereas this is not the case in other union systems, neither for hiring nor for ’benefiting’ from company or branch agreements. As a result, it is often more difficult, especially for young comrades without direct experience of workers’ struggle, to grasp the difference between participating in any meeting aimed at, or bringing together all employees of a particular workplace, whether in the context of a general assembly or a formal trade union meeting whether both are called or not by the unions, with the participation to the life of the trade union apparatus as such, which aims to oppose and sabotage any general workers’ meeting. This difficulty is particularly apparent in these theses, especially since the discussion is obscured by the fact that some members of the GCCF were influenced, or even members, of an IWW local section... and whose local expressions are sometimes union and sometimes local leftist political groups.

Thesis on the Union Question (GCCF)


If one observes the draft points of unity for our Fraction, they will notice a point that is glaringly absent from it: the union-question. The union-question was a significant point of contention among the members of our Fraction; some having strong unionist-sympathies, others identifying with the historical positions of the Dutch-German Left on unions, and the rest being neutral on the issue. Those members who carried unionist-sympathies were dues-paying members of the Industrial Workers of the World for a little more than a few years, though never part of an official general membership branch. For these reasons, the union-form was not dealt with in our points of unity. It wasn’t until correspondence and coordination with Workers Offensive (based in Miami) that we further developed and solidified a position that was cleared of any unionist illusions.[1] We owe it to our discussions with Workers Offensive in formulating our theses.


  1. A union is not simply a collection of workers united for a common goal; unions are a particular form of organization with a particular end—negotiation and enforcement of labor contracts.
  2. By virtue of the properties inherent to the union-form itself, unionism can neither break with the capital-labor relationship in theory nor practice. Even the end-goal of “revolutionary” unionism—the total organization of the One Big Union—is totally limited by the presupposition of this relationship.
  3. There isn’t a meaningful distinction between “business” unionism and “rank and file” unionism. The division between the bureaucracy (those who negotiate/enforce contracts) and rank-and-file (those whom the contract is enforced upon) is an inevitable result of the labor contract as the defining feature of the union-form. As contracts continue to be won, “rank-and-file” unions will tend to produce a strata separate from the class itself assigned the task of negotiating/enforcing labor contracts.
  4. Unions were initially a defensive form of organization during the rising phase of capitalism, but in its declining phase, the unions function as an instrument of capital regulating the price of labor-power. The few gains that could be possible within existing capitalist society are achieved by the direct confrontation of the class with the wage-labor relation, effectively expressing the negation of wage-labor, which the union-form is incapable of performing.
  5. Even in terms of reformist ends, it has become increasingly apparent that the union-form is unsuitable for organizing workers in fighting for short-term demands, especially in the service sector. With the casualization of work and intensifying precarity, unions are incapable of protecting the interests of labor even as a mere factor of capital.
  6. Communists should focus on organizing workplace cells that don’t bind themselves to contracts with the employer as an alternative defensive organ of the class.
  7. In cases of workplaces that are already unionized, it would be foolish for communists to abstain from participating in the unions of their own workplaces, as such a policy would leave the rank-and-file to the unchecked assaults of the leadership, thus ruining the possibility of a revolutionary minority having a presence in the workplace.
  8. In cases where the majority of workers in a given workplace have decided to unionize, it would, again, be foolish for communists to abstain from this process in their own workplaces.
  9. Though communists should join the rank-and-file in many cases, they should always refrain from becoming a part of the leadership.
  10. Whether inside or outside of the unions, concomitant with the increasing self-organization of the class, the overall task for communists is to struggle against the unions as an instrument of capital.
  11. The IWW is not an adequate counter-example to the Marxist critiques of unionism. On the national level, the contemporary IWW is not a union, it is, for the most part, a counter-cultural civic association.
  12. In the majority of the GMBs, the IWW does not function as a union, but more as a general leftist political group that utilizes an eclectic form of organization. The Burgerville Workers Union is one of the few IWW branches that does function as a union, and the critique of unionism applies to it just as much as “business” unions.
  13. The Burgerville Workers Union doesn’t prove that widespread unionization of the service sector is possible, but demonstrates how unionization, in a specific context, can function as a public relations niche akin to “fair trade”.
  14. We affirm the thesis that the downfall of the old IWW was due to its failure to recognize itself as a political party, which has implications for today.[2] If anything, the contemporary IWW is limiting itself by positing industrial unionism as its end-goal, whereas we would encourage it to continue refocusing itself on solidarity networks and overt political struggle.
  15. Depending on the particular GMB, limited coordination with the IWW in certain struggles is not out of the question for us.
The GCCF, July 2018