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On the crucial issues in the discussion about Councils and Trade Unions

I) In analysing trade unions, there is an abstract understanding which affiliates trade union's characters to their attributes at the time of their formation in the last century. In this interpretation, trade unions are considered separate from the process of their evolution; they are seen only as worker's defensive tools for maintaining living standards, the economic situation and their working conditions. However, any analysis of trade unions must consider the following points:

  1. The historical evolution of unions into the workers' section of the bourgeois Social Democratic and reformist Parties.
  2. Evolution of a conservative bureaucracy in the trade unions and control of the workers through this bureaucracy.
  3. Placement of unions in the bourgeoisie's ruling structure in Europe as organs to control worker's protests, preventing worker's radicalization, imposing compromising collective bargaining on workers, subjecting workers to austerity measures, increase of unemployment and so on.
  4. At revolutionary junctures, unions confront worker's radical organisations like councils and factory committees, especially under the guise of being the exclusive representative of the class in an "independent" fashion regarding economic and welfare issues. Of all of the worker's organisations, during revolutionary periods, trade unions stand on the side of the conservative faction.
  5. The current inability of the unions during economic crisis, unemployment in its millions, reduction of spending power of workers, and a sharp drop in living conditions.
  6. The inability of unions to organise the majority of workers, despite the enforcement of Closed Shop (which rules that hiring of non union members is illegal), and the legality of union activities.

II) The points above prevent a revolutionary communist party, as a policy, to call upon the workers to join trade unions. The issue for today's revolutionary communist party is its approach towards the unions and the syndicalist tendency within the workers' and the reformist parties. Forming trade unions is not a 'natural' or 'spontaneous' tendency among the workers in struggle for unity, it is rather a developed form promoted by a certain tendency in the labour movement, i.e. the social democratic reformist tendency.

III) On the issue of unions, following points are added taking Iran's particular case into consideration:

  1. The working class in Iran has not had a strong trade union tradition with sufficient experiences to build a consistent trade union movement. (The absence of an ongoing reformist party, dictatorship, the land reform, the fast change in the composition of the workers, the increase of industrial workers within a short span of time, increase of oil revenue, full employment and speedy and haphazard wage hikes following the rule of supply and demand during 1975-1976 all contribute to this situation).
  2. Under normal bourgeois production in Iran (i.e. not during periods of political crisis) bourgeoisie does not tolerate an independent trade union movement (at least it hasn't so far. The dictatorial tendencies of Iranian capitalism have been discussed in our previous literature).
  3. Due to the political situation and also because there exists no official trade union to control the radicalization of the workers, the workers' movement in Iran quickly becomes political the moment it senses power. Workers' struggle in Iran does not stay at economic level or within the framework of current laws and system for long periods. This reduces the use value of trade unions for the workers and even if unions did exist, they would either quickly become obsolete or turn against the workers. The very existence of trade unions in Iran is in fact to negate their raison d'ĂȘtre, because the moment an (independent) workers' organisation is recognised at the economic level by the state, the workers' movement will put forward its political demands.
  4. Recently, the demand to build trade unions (as opposed to other mass organisations) has mainly been declared by the right wing and reformist factions of the left opposition in Iran. This demand has mainly been formulated by the "experts" of the populist intellectuals and has not been received well by the workers. In concrete terms, during the discussion of the revolutionary period, the "syndicate line" lost to the "council line" and could not have serious influence in the practice of workers.
  5. Taking up the policy of building trade unions by the Iranian left (Rah-e-kargar, Razmandegan) represents a political retreat in order to attract some more backward sections of workers' movement and not a realistic analysis of the capabilities and state of the worker's movement in Iran. The policy of building trade unions, in comparison with the policy of building councils and general assemblies (which has been our stance) seems a lot more unsuccessful and unrealistic.

IV) Bearing in mind the above, the formation of trade unions in Iran:

  1. As our policy on building mass organisations is not favourable. Trade union can not be our main slogan and main form of workers' mass organisation.
  2. Is not possible. Formation of trade unions, unless marginalised and temporary, is illusionary.

V) Councils and general assemblies (regular and organised) is the correct stance regarding workers' mass organisations in Iran, because:

  1. Politically, it is nearer to the needs of the workers in Iran (not being limited to economic and legal arenas).
  2. It is practically possible (general assembly is the natural form of most workers' struggles, it conceals the weakness of workers in Iran to form complicated hierarchal organisations, it relies on direct power of organised mass, and it is easy to defend).
  3. Its practical backbone is not reformism or social democracy; it is the Paris Commune and the October revolution. Its educational weight for workers is precious.
  4. With the development of the revolution and radicalization of the masses, it does not lose its capacity for struggle but rather it enhances it. General assemblies are workers' and councils' direct democratic basis.
  5. The workers' movement has already proven the practicality of this policy.

VI) Our stance towards the syndicalist line within the workers' movement is as follows:

  1. We, unless in certain situations, do not call upon workers to build trade unions, instead encourage the formation of councils, general assemblies and the movement of interlinking general assemblies.
  2. We support and assist the struggle of workers for building trade unions (just like their struggle for any other kind of organisation).
  3. We take part in independent workers' trade unions and endeavour to be in their leadership. We unite our own independent line within any trade union.
  4. We try to bring the unions closer to a form of a non-bureaucratic organisational structure especially to make them rely on workers' general assemblies at local level.

Mansoor Hekmat

This text was first written as an internal document of Communist Party of Iran in the winter of 1986 and was first published in the journal "Towards Socialism" number 3, September 1989.
Translated by Maryam Kousha - July 2009

English translation from Farsi: Maryam Kousha #2430en