A French socialist and leading theoretician of the European Left blasted trade unionism yesterday and said that working class movements in the U.S. and Europe will fail "unless the masses in the very process of struggle have learned to place the system of production at the direct disposal of their own needs."
Andre Gorz, author of Strategy for Labor and a fellow of the Cambridge Institute, told an audience of 200 in Harvard Hall that "as an institution holding institutionalized power, union leadership has become a conservative force."
Union members, Gorz said, have been trapped by "the union's inability or reluctance to question the basic criteria of capitalist decision-making." Their leaders, he explained, have found it "wiser and more productive to make quantitative demands only" and to ignore the long-range cultural and psychological effects of modern industrial working conditions.
Gorz also claimed that the drive toward cost-cutting and profit maximization has stiffed the working man's potential creativity. "Why should the workers put their creativity at the disposal of the industrialists if the more efficient they become, the greater the chance they will become unemployed?" he said.
He cited as an exception to the pattern of union complacency the Italianlabor leadership, who, he said, recognize that "capitalist management will never take into account the physical, material, and psychic condition of workers unless forced to do so."
Gorz mentioned several instances of European labor insurrection as proof that "free discussion and exchange within the rank and file almost inevitably lead up to violent outbreaks and spontaneous strike action."
In the question-and-answer period that followed, Arthur MacEwan, assistant professor of Economics, said that Gorz's argument about workers' control "avoids the issue of whether the workers will choose to take it out in leisure." He mentioned Cuba as an example.
Gorz responded that MacEwan's claim was relevant in "the context of scarcity" of undeveloped nations, but that the problem of leisure did not pertain as much in the wealthier, more highly developed West.
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