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definitions - Syndicalism

syndicalism (n.)

1.a radical political movement that advocates bringing industry and government under the control of labor unions

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Merriam Webster

SyndicalismSyn"dic*al*ism (?), n. [F. syndicalisme.] The theory, plan, or practice of trade-union action (originally as advocated and practiced by the French Confédération Générale du Travail) which aims to abolish the present political and social system by means of the general strike (as distinguished from the local or sectional strike) and direct action of whatever kind (as distinguished from action which takes effect only through the medium of political action) -- direct action including any kind of action that is directly effective, whether it be a simple strike, a peaceful public demonstration, sabotage, or revolutionary violence. By the general strike and direct action syndicalism aims to establish a social system in which the means and processes of production are in the control of local organizations of workers, who are manage them for the common good.

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Syndicalism is a type of economic system proposed as a replacement for capitalism and an alternative to state socialism, which uses federations of collectivised trade unions or industrial unions. It is a form of socialist economic corporatism that advocates interest aggregation of multiple non-competitive categorised units to negotiate and manage an economy.[1]

For adherents, labour unions are the potential means of both overcoming economic aristocracy and running society fairly in the interest of the majority, through union democracy. Industry in a syndicalist system would be run through co-operative confederations and mutual aid. Local syndicates would communicate with other syndicates through the Bourse du Travail (labor exchange) which would manage and transfer commodities.

Syndicalism is also used to refer to the tactic of bringing about this social arrangement, typically expounded by anarcho-syndicalism and De Leonism, in which a general strike begins and workers seize their means of production and organise in a federation of trade unionism, such as the CNT.[2] Throughout its history, the reformist section of syndicalism has been overshadowed by its revolutionary section, typified by the IWW or the Federación Anarquista Ibérica section of the CNT.[3]



Syndicalisme/Sindicalismo is a French/Spanish word meaning "trade unionism". More moderate versions of syndicalism were overshadowed by revolutionary anarcho-syndicalism in the early 20th century, which advocated the abolition of the state in addition to capitalism, feeling that syndicalist economics would replace the need for one. Anarcho-syndicalism was most powerful in Spain in and around the time of the Spanish Civil War, but also appeared in other parts of the world, such as in the US-based Industrial Workers of the World and the Unione Sindacale Italiana - the Italian Syndicalist Union.

It was the outcome of the Industrial Revolution and Capitalism, as to solve the problems created by it. The earliest expressions of syndicalist structure and methods were formulated in the International Workingmen's Association or First International, particularly in the Jura federation. In 1895, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) in France expressed fully the organizational structure and methods of revolutionary syndicalism influencing labour movements the world over. The CGT was modelled on the development of the Bourse de Travail (labour exchange), a workers' central organization which would encourage self-education and mutual aid, and facilitate communication with local workers' syndicates. Through a general strike, workers would take control of industry and services and self-manage society and facilitate production and consumption through the labour exchanges. The Charter of Amiens, adopted by the CGT in 1906, represents a key text in the development of revolutionary syndicalism rejecting parliamentarianism and political action in favour of revolutionary class struggle. The Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden (SAC) (in Swedish the Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation), formed in 1910, are a notable example of an anarcho-syndicalist union influenced by the CGT. Today, the SAC is one the largest anarcho-syndicalist unions in the world in proportion to the population, with some strongholds in the public sector.

The International Workers Association, formed in 1922, is an international anarcho-syndicalist federation of various labour unions from different countries. At its peak, the International Workers Association represented millions of workers and competed directly for the hearts and minds of the working class with social democratic unions and parties. The Spanish Confederación Nacional del Trabajo a major role in the Spanish labour movement. It was also a decisive force in the Spanish Civil War, organizing worker militias and facilitating the collectivization of vast sections of the industrial, logistical, and communications infrastructure, principally in Catalonia. Another Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union, the Confederacion General del Trabajo de España, is now the third largest union in Spain and the largest anarchist union with tens of thousands of members.[4]

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), although not explicitly anarcho-syndicalist, were informed by developments in the broader revolutionary syndicalist milieu at the turn of the twentieth-century. At its founding congress in 1905, influential members with strong anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist sympathies like Thomas J. Haggerty, William Trautmann, and Lucy Parsons contributed to the union's overall revolutionary syndicalist orientation.[5] Lucy Parsons, in particular, was a veteran anarchist union organizer in Chicago from a previous generation, having participated in the struggle for the 8-hour day in Chicago and subsequent series of events which came to be known as the Haymarket Affair in 1886.

An emphasis on industrial organisation was a distinguishing feature of syndicalism when it began to be identified as a distinct current at the beginning of the 20th century. Due to a still-tangible faith in the viability of the state socialist system, most socialist groups of that period emphasised the importance of political action through party organisations as a means of bringing about socialism; in syndicalism, trade unions are thus seen as simply a stepping stone to common ownership. Although all syndicalists emphasise industrial organisation, not all reject political action altogether. For example, De Leonists and some other Industrial Unionists advocate parallel organisation both politically and industrially, while recognising that trade unions are at a comparable disadvantage due to the lobby of business groups on political leaders. Syndicalism would historically gain most of its support in Italy, France and particularly Spain, where the anarcho-syndicalist revolution during the Spanish civil war resulted in the widespread implementation of anarchist and more broadly socialist organizational principles throughout various portions of the country for two to three years, primarily Catalonia, Aragon, Andalusia, and parts of the Levante. Much of Spain's economy was put under worker control; in anarchist strongholds like Catalonia, the figure was as high as 75%. Their eventual defeat and World War II lead to the formerly prominent theory being repressed, as the three nations where it had the most power were now under fascist control. Support for Syndicalism never fully recovered to the height it enjoyed in the early 20th century.

A resurgence in anarchist and more broadly syndicalist thought has occurred since the 60's and more noticeably since the dissolution of the Soviet Union (see: Contemporary anarchism)

  Theory and practice

Syndicalism is one of the three most common currents of socialist economics, together with Market socialism and socialist planned economies. It holds, on an ethical basis, that all participants in an organised trade internally share equal ownership of its production. By contrast, socialism emphasises distributing output among trades as required by each trade, not necessarily considering how trades organise internally. Communism rejects government-sanctioned private ownership of the means of production in favor of ownership by the class of individuals who actually use such property (i.e., the workers or proletariat, who under most variants of communism would have control of the state as well, muddling the distinction between state and proletarian ownership). In syndicalism, unions exist independent of the state rather than needing the state's micromanagement and central planning. As with businesses in capitalism, labor unions in syndicalism would likely share a complicated relationship of co-operation and opposition with the state (with the obvious exception of anarcho-syndicalism, under which there would be no state).

Syndicalists state that society is to be organised bottom-up based on direct democracy, confederation, workplace democracy and decentralized socialism, and that to get to such a society they may either initiate a general strike through direct action and workplace occupation or - in the case of reformist syndicalists - develop the syndicalist economics alongside the state, in competition to it.

Syndicalists state that delegation - the use of proxy representation - will facilitate direct democracy and that each commune/region would be independent in the confederation. Syndicalists typically support homosexual rights and women's rights, prominent anarcho-syndicalist Emma Goldman was among one of the first to speak out for homosexual rights explicitly. see Anarcho-syndicalism for a more indepth look at syndicalism.

  Syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism

  Flag used by Anarcho-syndicalists, the red representing socialism and economic action, the black representing anarchism and political action.

Syndicalism can be accurately divided into the purely economic focused camp, exemplified by the Italian USI (Unione Sindacale Italiana, the largest Italian syndicalist union in 1920, taking part in Biennio rosso[6] ) and the anarcho syndicalism of the CNT (national confederation of labour), taking both political and economic action, wishing to take control of both workplace and political life, while syndicalism has traditionally focused on the economic sector alone.[7]

Although the terms anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism are often used interchangeably, the anarcho-syndicalist label was not widely used until the early 1920s (some credit Sam Mainwaring with coining the term[8]). “The term ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ only came into wide use in 1921-1922 when it was applied polemically as a pejorative term by communists to any syndicalists…who opposed increased control of syndicalism by the communist parties.”[9]

Traditionally the revolutionary political syndicalism of figures such as Rudolph Rocker (widely credited as the father of anarcho syndicalism) has overshadowed the more reformist or economically focused syndicalism.

Related theories include Anarchism, Socialism, Marxism(-Leninism) and Communism. A list of Prominent Syndicalists.

  See also


  1. ^ Wiarda, Howard J. Corporatism and comparative politics. M.E. Sharpe, 1996. pp. 65–66, 156.
  2. ^ Principles of Syndcicalism, Brown, Tom. Retrieved July 06, 2010: http://libcom.org/library/principles-of-syndicalism-tom-brown
  3. ^ info on the FAI http://www.iisg.nl/archives/en/files/f/10748453.php
  4. ^ syndicalism - an introduction http://libcom.org/library/syndicalism-introduction
  5. ^ Salvatore Salerno, Red November, Black November: Culture and Community in the Industrial Workers of the World (State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 69-90, ISBN 0-7914-0089-1
  6. ^ ) A page dealing with the Italian factory occupations in detail about the actions of the USI http://www.infoshop.org/page/AnarchistFAQSectionA5#seca55
  7. ^ describes anarcho syndicalism in detail, strongly referenced http://www.infoshop.org/page/AnarchistFAQSectionA3#seca32
  8. ^ Mainwaring, Sam, 1841-1907 | libcom.org
  9. ^ David Berry, A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917-1945, (Greenwood, 2002), p. 134. ISBN 0-313-32026-8

  External links

  Further reading

  • Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World, Quadrangle Books, 1969.
  • William Z. Foster, Syndicalism (with Earl Ford), Chicago, 1913.
  • Lenny Flank (ed), IWW: A Documentary History, St Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers, 2007.
  • Dan Jakopovich, Revolutionary Unionism: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, New Politics, vol. 11, no. 3 (2007).
  • James Joll, The Anarchists, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1980.
  • James Oneal, Sabotage, or, Socialism vs. Syndicalism. St. Louis, Missouri: National Rip-Saw, 1913.
  • David D. Robert, The Syndicalist Tradition and Italian Fascism, University of North Carolina Press, 1979.
  • Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice, London, 1938; AK Press, 2004.
  • J. Salwyn Schapiro, Liberalism and The Challenge of Fascism, Social Forces in England and France (1815–1870),New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1949.
  • Lucien van der Walt & Michael Schmidt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, AK Press, 2009.


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