Marxism and the trade unions: the bureaucracy versus the rank and file debate revisited

Article


McIlroy, J. 2014. Marxism and the trade unions: the bureaucracy versus the rank and file debate revisited. Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory. 42 (4), pp. 497-526. https://doi.org/10.1080/03017605.2014.984493
TypeArticle
TitleMarxism and the trade unions: the bureaucracy versus the rank and file debate revisited
AuthorsMcIlroy, J.
Abstract

The conviction that trade unionism is characterised by an embedded conflict of interest between a conservative, privileged bureaucracy and a militant, radical rank and file has a long history. This article explores its provenance in classical Marxism and reviews contemporary debates. It argues that the dichotomy depends on an idealised, crudely
defined conception of the rank and file that downplays economism and trade union consciousness, reads the insurgency of crisis situations into periods of normality,
misunderstands the imbrication of leaders’ personal interests with organisational interests and exaggerates their monopoly of bureaucracy and powers of persuasion. Bureaucracy is inherent in trade unionism under capitalism. It pervades practice differentially but is not
the exclusive property of a leading stratum. In any critical Marxism, trade unionism, its reformist practice and the economistic consciousness it generates, constitutes the primary barrier to progress, although its leading functionaries remain a subordinate problem.

Research GroupCentre for Education Research and Scholarship (CERS)
PublisherTaylor and Francis
JournalCritique: Journal of Socialist Theory
ISSN0301-7605
Publication dates
Print22 Dec 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited27 Jan 2015
Output statusPublished
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1080/03017605.2014.984493
LanguageEnglish
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