Today I was talking to a man from Argentina who grew up during the military Junta. He told me that before the reestablishment of democracy, there was a massive organization campaign where trade unions and students played a large role in mobilizing and organizing the people. Then after the Falklands war and a few other domestic problems, the unions went on a mass strike, and the people all rioted in the streets, and a democratic government was established in the early 80s.
I do know that authoritarian regimes on both the left and the right either abolish trade unions, or they co-opt them so that they are submissive to and an arm of the government. Right wing governments seem to abolish them, but left wing governments seem to just co-opted them.
People talk about the role of a free press in bringing down authoritarian regimes, but people really don’t mention trade/labor unions and the role that they can play. Right now major trade unions in Honduras are using strikes to protest the military coup.
It seems like the power trade unions have to organize and inform the public as well as to bring the economy to a halt by a massive strike across various industries can and should play a pretty big role in bringing down authoritarian governments.
In world history has that been the case, or do trade unions usually get dismantled or co-opted in authoritarian governments to the point of being impotent for political purposes?
Or can unions and have unions played a role in establishing dictatorships?
It’s an interesting point which I have never really thought about. Solidarity in Poland would be another great example of a trade union which helped bring down an authoritarian government. And I believe South African trade unions played a role in ending apartheid as well.
Trade unions can be a form of independent self-organization of workers and they can present a sociopolitical threat to authoritarian governments. That’s a very powerful weapon. Which is why authoritarian governments, like the Soviet Union under and after Stalin, seek to either rein in that power or smash it.
Of course, this approach isn’t limited solely to authoritarian governments; the union movement in the United States has been largely co-opted by the Democratic Party and gravely weakened by the Republicans, to the point that independent reform movements within unions are often met with serious resistance from the bureaucrats at the top.
I cannot think of any examples where independent trade unions have helped to establish dictatorships. There were Nazi trade unions, of course, but they were built on the ashes of the independent German trade union movement and firmly under control of the Party from the get-go. Likewise the independently organized trade unions of revolutionary Russia were forcibly co-opted by Stalin, thus removing one big obstacle to the establishment of a state capitalist dictatorship.
I came in to say what my good friend Olentzero already said: trade unions are an organized group of people with common goals that exist independent of the government, and as such are at least a potential threat. How much of a threat depends on the size of the membership, their active involvement in the furtherance of those goals, and their ability to organize and mobilize their people effectively to that end.
I also could not think of any examples of independent trade unions ushering in dictatorships, and a quick perusal of various google hits showed none.
And, one only has to look and China and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (with 134,000,000 members, the largest umbrella trade organization in the world) to see how an authoritarian regime can co-opt a trade union, and use it to great effect to help control the populace.
Not accurately, though. Witness the supreme clusterfck of the EFCA, for example. Or the supreme clusterfck of a health care ‘debate’ currently in progress. Those go a longer way towards showing the close connections between the state and corporations than proving the independence of the latter.
Unionism has been beaten down pretty badly with Corporate power and their control of the news media. It has taken a while, but the job has been done. There will never be a neutral or postiive story about unions broadcast over our airwaves. Most newspapers destroyed their unions at approx. the same time. It was not a coincidence. Most young people have been taught unions are evil. They have let big business do their thinking for them.
Look I just hold the protest signs and Gus here just does the chants. If you want someone to throw bottles at cops that’s some otha guy in some otha department. You gotta call the Union rep if you wants that.
It seems to me that trade unions in the US since the 1940’s were often pretty conservative and regressive forces that were a lot more conservative than progressive and rife with corruption. The US trade unions have often (in the US) been best buddies philosphically with the more authoritarian elements of US politics.
Exactly. The corporations are an “organized group of people with common goals that exist independent of the government.” It does not necessarily hold in reverse, that the government is independent of the corporations.