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All That Is Left – Issue 001

Introduction to Syndicalism

By Una Ada, October 14, 2017

This post was published in All That Is Left Issue 001 as “Syndicalism.”

While a sentiment of anti-authoritarianism born of a distaste for corporatism and other modern manifestations of centralized capitalist governments lends itself quite cleanly to the ideas of anarchism, what is not immediately clear is how, in an anarchist system, the resources necessary for the survival of all people will be both produced and distributed, or how a society following this ideal could avoid ever being plagued by the rebirth of capital. Syndicalism is one of the economic systems theorized to handle those issues that may arise without a hierarchical structure of economy.

The major distinguishing factor of syndicalism as contrasted with traditional approaches to the cessation of labor exploitation is this lack of hierarchy. While hierarchy is not inherently corrupt, it sets forth a system that may allow exploitation if not given constant oversight, requiring both a trust in and an expenditure of resource for a committee to carry out such oversight. Trade unions, the unions seen in today’s industry, are an example of such a hierarchy, leading to their own internal corruption and dissociation from the will of the workers to a point where many make the argument to avoid joining unions to limit their exploitation to just that of their employer. In syndicalism, this hierarchy is replaced with federation: each workplace has assemblies (syndicates) of its workers to vote on decision, including the election of a delegate to serve at the district assembly which then elects such a delegate for the national assembly. These delegates would act per the delegate model of representative democracy, acting purely by the will of the workers to whom they are held accountable and able to be recalled at any time by the assembly that elected them. This federated system would then extend further to contain all these assemblies, just as the national federation contains the district federation, this general labor federation contains all industries’ national federations.

Wages and their concept of selling one’s labor to another are also nonexistent within the system of syndicalism. Labor commodification puts one’s livelihood on the market, their income reliant on the factors present therein. To not follow this idea is to put the profits of a company at risk, and as such no company owner would dare do so, this is an inherent property of the capitalist system. Similarly, the exploitation of labor is inherent as the products of one’s labor define its true value, and the company who has employed this labor stand to make no profit if they pay the laborer this full value. History has shown that these issues, as they are inherent, cannot be forgone with reforms to the system from which they come, rather they adapt and persist. As such, only the complete abolition of capitalism and the wage system can fully improve the conditions of the worker.

Capital and its systems of commodification of labor must cease to exist if society is to truly return the means of production to the workers. As a means of exchange, capital has moved much past its original intent, now it is used to value all things both concrete and abstract. Those who control the transactions of capital must take their share to incentivize their continued service, but from where does this excess value appear if both parties within the transaction agreed that the capital was of the same worth as the product? In the same manner, how can debt exist if capital has any bearing on commodity? It can then only be viewed as one party owing yet nonexistent labor to another, and so before the worker has even performed their labor they are stripped to all rights to its product.

The solution to how the matter of one’s labor should be handled in opposition to capitalism is the same as many other leftist ideologies: to each according to their need. As proven by the excess resources shipped directly to landfills within the capitalist economy, there is no lack of a great many resources that people may require, and those that may be found to be lacking could be produced by the labor that had in the past been used to produce those found in excess. Each person can typically accurately gauge their own need, consuming and taking only what they need with little beyond. This socialized form of redistribution and consumption disincentivizes the production of products that serve to artificially increase one’s perceived need, such as foods sweetened to create cravings. Issues with the overconsumption or lack of resources would be handled by the syndicate, as each federation finds themselves in the midst of a crisis they cannot handle, they pass the issue thru their delegate to the federation above them who will have a greater ability to find and redistribute the resources necessary to rectify the situation that any smaller community may face.

Syndicalism can exist without a hierarchical government beside it, with the syndicate working as a federation of the workers and handling all the necessary redistributions of resources for its constituents to survive. Accountability is key, each worker has a say in their workplace’s assembly, be it that of textile workers or computer programmers, only they can say what is necessary for their livelihood.