Workers Vanguard No. 1006
3 August 2012
Lockouts and the Class Struggle
(Quote of the Week)
With the U.S. economy continuing to falter and the labor movement in an extended retreat, lockouts have increasingly been used by the capitalists in their drive to wrest ever-greater concessions from the unions, or destroy them altogether. V. I. Lenin, writing in a period of intense strikes in Russia on the eve of World War I, discussed workers’ resistance to lockouts. Despite the different contexts, the role of Marxists in advancing the class consciousness of the proletariat remains unchanged.
Lockouts, i.e., the mass discharge of workers by common agreement among employers, is as necessary and inevitable a phenomenon in capitalist society as strikes are. Capital, which throws the whole of its crushing weight upon the ruined small producers and the proletariat, constantly threatens to force the conditions of the workers down to starvation level and condemn them to death from starvation. And in all countries there have been cases, even whole periods in the life of nations, when the failure of the workers to fight back has led to their being reduced to incredible poverty and all the horrors of starvation.
The workers’ resistance springs from their very conditions of life—the sale of labour-power. Only as a result of this resistance, despite the tremendous sacrifices the workers have to make in the struggle, are they able to maintain anything like a tolerable standard of living. But capital is becoming more and more concentrated, manufacturers’ associations are growing, the number of destitute and unemployed people is increasing, and so also is want among the proletariat; consequently, it is becoming harder than ever to fight for a decent standard of living. The cost of living, which has been rising rapidly in recent years, often nullifies all the workers’ efforts.
By drawing larger and larger masses of the proletariat into the organised struggle, the workers’ organisations, and first and foremost the trade unions, make the workers’ resistance more planned and systematic. With the existence of mass trade unions of different types, strikes become more stubborn: they occur less often, but each conflict is of bigger dimensions.
Lockouts are caused by a sharpening of the struggle, and in their turn, sharpen that struggle. Rallying in the struggle and developing its class-consciousness, its organisation and experience in that struggle, the proletariat becomes more and more firmly convinced that the complete economic reconstruction of capitalist society is essential.
Marxist tactics consist in combining the different forms of struggle, in the skilful transition from one form to another, in steadily enhancing the consciousness of the masses and extending the area of their collective actions, each of which, taken separately, may be aggressive or defensive, and all of which, taken together, lead to a more intense and decisive conflict.
—V. I. Lenin, “Forms of the Working-Class Movement (The Lockout and Marxist Tactics)” (April 1914)