From the July 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
Perhaps the number one source of confusion on the economics of capitalism, among capitalists and workers alike, is the fact that we live in a class society and that the needs of the capitalist class — as a class — are paramount. Since those needs are indissolubly wrapped up in the process by which labour is legally stripped of the enormous quantity of wealth it creates over and above what it gets in wages, for the perpetuation of capitalism as a system of society, any Government agency that purports to arbitrate the separate and distinct rights of labor and “management” can be neutral only within the framework of the capitalist philosophy, itself.
On the one hand, it must regulate and restrict labor in its attempts to organize while, on the other, it dictates to individual business the scope of its resistance and/or cooperation in such efforts. But the overall emphasis must be to keep capitalism operating as smoothly as is humanly possible. If, in the process, the agency tramps on the bunions of businesses by making decisions favorable to workers in labor disputes — or vice versa — what the hell! It’s all for the greater glory of capitalism. In the skirmishes between the owning and working class, each side wins some and loses some but the system, itself, always emerges the winner.
In the USA we have the National Labor Relations Board established as an “independent agency” of the Government by the National Labor Relations Act of July 5, 1935 (labor’s supposed “Bill of Rights”) during the first term of that widely recognized “champion of workers’ rights”, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and amended at various intervals since. The stated purpose:
The act affirms the right of employees to self organization and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing or to refrain from any or all such activities. To effectuate this policy, the act prohibits certain unfair labor practices and authorizes the Board to designate appropriate units for collective bargaining and to conduct secret ballots to determine the exclusive representative of employees. (United States Government Organization MANUAL 1967-68).
The assumption is, of course, that the interests of labor and those of capital are one: to maintain full production and, on the face of it, this would seem to be self-evident. Can there be any doubt that workers must, generally, have employment in order to survive? On the other hand, is it not plain that full production provides the greatest opportunity for a healthy economy? So why, then, is a “neutral” Government agency required to administer such obvious “apparentness?” To referee, so to speak, what is a continual slugfest between those “partners” in US capitalism? And is this not a strange sort of partnership, an odd common interest, when in the month of April, 1977:
Some 308,000 workers were involved in S50 strikes . . . when idleness attributed to labor turmoil rose for the third straight month. The Labor Department said 3 million work days were lost to strikes during April, about 1 million days more than the previous month.(Boston Globe, 28th May 1977.)
No. Governments and their agencies can never represent the real interests of the working class because their very existence implies a master-slave relationship and the consequent need to hide it with a facade of “freedom” and “neutrality.” But there is more to this proposition than meets the eye of most, including the typical militant and left-wing champion of workers’ “rights.” The emphasis is not one of a simple struggle between individual (or even collective) capitalist industries and their particular working people but, rather, a determination on the part both of capital and labor-union hierarchies to maintain the present mode of production — class ownership of the means and instruments of wealth production and the wages, prices, profits system that goes with it. And any “victories” won by workers are pyrrhic victories because slaves cannot win anything of significance in a slave society.
And that is why the “executive committee of the capitalist class” and its agencies could not care less if it maims individual capitalists — regardless of their size — in the process of serving the total national interests. In US history, especially since the creation of the NLRB, there have been many instances of individual and collective working-class “victories.” Yet the American working class remains — with its brothers and sisters everywhere — sunk in wage slavery. A general recognition of this truth will be the first step toward freedom.
Harry Morrison, WSP, Boston.