A Union of Class Struggle, a Tool for Ending Capitalist Exploitation
The following excerpts from the Social Statute of the Sindicato de Obreros y Empleados Ceramistas de Neuquén (SOECN - Ceramic Workers’ Union of Neuquén) demonstrate how to organize a democratic union for class struggle.
July 11, 2017
“The SOECN recognizes that the working class has no borders. We are the brothers and sisters of the workers, the poor and oppressed peoples of Latin America and the world. We struggle against the domination of the imperialist powers that plunder the world with their hunger and wars.”
Neuquén, Argentina. In July 2005, ceramics factory workers held an extraordinary general assembly of the four factories that make up the Sindicato de Obreros y Empleados Ceramistas de Neuquén (SOECN – Ceramic Workers’ Union of Neuquén). At that meeting, ceramic workers voted for an historic reform of their union statutes. These statues now clearly define the SOECN as a union of class struggle, of genuine rank and file democracy, and one that acts in the interests of the working class as a whole. The measures in these statutes, which are not found in any other union in Argentina today, stand as an example for militant workers everywhere.
Raúl Godoy, then General Secretary of the SOECN, emphasizes the central aspects of the new union statutes:
“There were two centrally important things–very straightforward–that are guides for revolutionaries in our participation in the unions: the fullest union democracy and independence from the bosses’ state, that is, class independence. These two questions lie behind all of the resolutions we adopted. Our union democracy makes the asamblea (workers’ assembly) the sovereign body that can dismiss or recall its leaders, ensuring that the ranks are in charge–unlike the verticalismo (top-down character) of today’s unions.
Delegate bodies have been established in every factory. There is also proportional representation in the elected comisión directiva (executive committee), giving minority opinions a voice, which would be very important for the struggle within most unions that are under bureaucratic control, where this democratic right does not exist. We have also implemented the freedom of tendencies (political affiliation) and freedom of opinion. And of course, the agreement that elected leaders do the same work and earn the same wage as other workers.
"The practice of the SOECN is to place the union at the service of the workers and not the other way around. In addition, we seek unity in the workers’ ranks: between employed and unemployed workers, permanent and contract labour, public and private sector workers, as well as coordination with other sectors. Our union is open and at the service of all workers and popular sectors.
These statutes clearly define our union as a union of class struggle, as a tool for the ending of capitalist exploitation, and serve as an example to put forward in all unions. They are a contribution for the new leaders who are emerging now. From Neuquén, we want to contribute in this way to a clasista (class struggle) unionism, with full class independence.”
Below are excerpts from the Social Statute of the Sindicato de Obreros y Empleados Ceramistas de Neuquén (SOECN - Ceramic Workers’ Union of Neuquén), adopted on July 16, 2005.
CHAPTER I: PREAMBLE
On the logical basis that workers in isolation cannot transform themselves into effective entities for the full defense of their rights and interests, nor obtain improvements worthy of their condition as the promoter of human progress, workers must search among their class compañeros (comrades) for the strength to resist, with full capacity and intelligence, all attempts at curtailing their legitimate rights.
For this reason, the SOECN is a union that upholds the workers’ asamblea (assembly / mass meeting) as a principle and working method. Factory and union assemblies are the maximum authority for debate, confrontation of ideas, and the democratic resolution of every decision taken by the workers.
The SOECN is an organization for the struggle and defense of the economic and social interests of ceramic workers in today’s capitalist society. In society, there is an increasingly small minority that enjoys all the advantages of economic, social and technological development; meanwhile, the rest are condemned to super-exploitation, unemployment and low incomes. Society develops in the context of the struggle of social classes.
The SOECN recognizes, is guided by, and bases its practice in the class struggle and on the principles of clasista (class struggle) unionism, maintaining full independence from the State and its institutions, the government, and all employer organizations.
The SOECN recognizes that the working class has no borders. We are the brothers and sisters of the workers, the poor and oppressed peoples of Latin America and the world. We struggle against the domination of the imperialist powers that plunder the world with their hunger and wars. The fraudulent foreign debt and imperialist meddling in the principal sources of national wealth, as is the case with oil and gas in our region, consolidate their domination over the instruments and means of production, preventing sovereign and independent national development. The SOECN engages in the consistent struggle for the legitimate interests of the working class and, in alliance with the popular sectors, seeks to raise the class consciousness of the workers and achieve a society without exploiters or exploited.
CHAPTER II: AIMS AND GENERAL OBJECTIVES
Article 2: The purpose and objectives of the association are the following:
A) To achieve, sustain and defend the moral, intellectual and/or cultural claims of its members, facilitating the unity and unionization of all the workers of the union.
B) To fight to bring an end to the exploitation of man by man, incorporating into the union, its men and women the historic mission that the organized working class must carry out for the construction of a more just and equal society.
C) To adopt the methods of struggle that the union believes appropriate and that such circumstances be advised by the defense of its purposes and objectives that fall within the principles of clasista unionism.
D) To promote and draw up collective labor agreements and propose the approval of laws and legal norms that offer improvements to members’ working, social, economic, technical and cultural conditions.
E) To develop the organization on the basis of the principles of unity, solidarity and effective union democracy, drawing on objective analysis, constructive criticism and the application in practice of clasista unionism. Union democracy presupposes the right to free expression of union and political positions and full freedom of tendencies that defend the interests of workers.
F) To promote the establishment of a medical and dental service; camps for vacations and recreation, collective insurance, subsidies for the sick, mutual services, cooperatives, libraries, etc.
G) To join union federations and confederations or disaffiliate from them when the assembly of members resolves to do so.
H) To defend the professional interests of the workers which it brings together and to represent them before their employers, the authorities and other such persons or entities before whom it is necessary to exercise such representation.
I) To allocate a percentage of funds from union membership fees for the implementation of a permanent strike fund.
J) To struggle for effective unity between employed and unemployed workers. To seek coordination with other workers’ organizations who are in struggle.
K) To maintain effective independence in the face of any attempt at interference on the part of the government and the institutions of the State and their bosses.
L) To promote class solidarity, the principle that allows us to practice mutual support among workers and members of the exploited and oppressed classes. This also implies international mutual support for the struggle of workers, peoples and nations against oppression and capitalist exploitation and for the full exercise of the right of the peoples to their sovereignty and national independence.
Article 3: The union will not:
A) Establish differences for reasons of ideology, politics, social, religious, nationality, race or sex, and must refrain from any discriminatory treatment of any of its members
B) Receive economic aid or donations from employer organizations or individual businesspersons, as well as any that comes from the State or other institution or organization and that has an aim contrary to the spirit and the letter of the law of these statutes. Any other type of economic aid must be accepted by a special assembly convened for that purpose.
CHAPTER III: MEMBERS
Article 11: The disciplinary sanctions that may be applied to members will be those strictly set in the following order: a) Caution, b) Suspension, c) Expulsion.
Article 12: Such sanctions will gradually increase in the following manner:
A) To have committed violations of the leading bodies or resolutions from the assemblies, whose importance justifies such a measure.
B) To collaborate with the employers in acts that, in matters of importance, have been judicially declared to be disloyal.
C) To receive direct or indirect subsidies from the employers with the aim of taking union office.
CHAPTER IV: GOVERNING BODIES
Article 13: The governing bodies of the union are: a) The general assembly of members, b) the plenary of factory delegates, c) the Comisión Directiva (Executive Committee), and d) the Comisión Revisora de Cuentas (Auditing Committee).
COMISION DIRECTIVA (EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE)
Article 16: The term of office for members of the Executive Committee is three (3) years. On the basis of the principle of rotation, where every leader must return to their jobs, members who have been seconded or who carry out political, union or administrative tasks outside of their jobs for more than half of the term of office may be re-elected. However, during their next term of office, they may not be seconded and may carry out political, union or administrative tasks outside of working hours.
Article 19: Executive Committee meetings will be open to all members, with the right to speak. The Executive Committee will have quorum in ordinary session on the first call with one half plus one of its office-bearer members as calculated to this effect by the General Secretary. On the second call, it will have quorum with six members, with the meeting being chaired by the member that occupies the highest position within the Executive Committee or whoever else is so designated. Resolutions will be taken by a simple majority of those present. The General Secretary or other member who chairs the meetings of the Executive Committee will lead the discussion and will have the casting vote in the case of a tie.
Article 21: The mandate of one or all members of the Executive Committee can be revoked with just cause by the vote of a special assembly convened for such a purpose, with a quorum of greater that 40 percent of the members and the approval by a simple majority of the members present. In the case of the recall of the entire Executive Committee, the assembly shall appoint five members from at least two factories in order to provide for the convening of elections within forty-five days, in accordance with the relevant chapter (of these statutes). In the case of an individual recall, a new special assembly will be convened to occupy the vacant positions. Replacements will be elected from among the members of the Executive Committee. The special assembly will be convened within a period of no more than fifteen (15) calendar days and shall be convened for that purpose.
CHAPTER V: COMISIÓN REVISORA DE CUENTAS (AUDITING COMMITTEE)
Article 35: Auditors will be elected by direct and anonymous vote of members at the same time as elections for the Executive Committee are held, and will remain in their role for three (3) years. Auditors may be re-elected only once. Members elected to the Auditing Committee will be those candidates whose lists exceed twenty percent of valid votes during the elections and will occupy the positions according to the D’Hondt proportional system.
Article 36: The duties and powers of the Auditing Committee are: a) To check a minimum of once a month all movements of union funds, along with any special account or outside credit. (...)
CHAPTER VI: ASSEMBLIES
Article 37: Ordinary and extraordinary (special) assemblies are the maximum authority of the union. Assemblies are either ordinary or extraordinary. Ordinary assemblies will be convened once a year, within one hundred days after the end of the year.
Article 38: The extraordinary assembly will meet when convened by a decision of the Executive Committee or at the request in writing of fifteen percent (15%) of the members of the union who are in good financial standing, and the basis for such a meeting must be accompanied by a clear agenda.
Article 39: Without prejudice to anything which may be included in such a call, it will be the exclusive responsibility of the extraordinary assembly to deal with the following:
A) To approve and modify the statutes (it is the obligation of the Executive Committee to inform members of any statute modifications no less than thirty days in advance).
B) To approve any fusion with other unions.
C) To approve the entry of other associations or arrange the disaffiliation or separation of the same.
D) The adoption of direct action measures that can be carried out in the following way: 1) By means of an extraordinary assembly convened for this purpose with two days advanced notice, being the same arranged or raised by such an assembly (in the case where these measures cannot be resolved – the meeting will be adjourned and finalized later on). 2) If these measures are to be carried out within the facilities, they are to be determined or abandoned without effect by an assembly convened by the union, in which 75 percent of workers must be present, and will be adopted with the approval of 51 percent of the same.
E) To determine the costs of affiliation and special contributions for its members.
F) To order the dissolution of the union.
G) To rule on the expulsions of any member and the recall of the mandate of members of the Executive Committee and the Auditing Committee and decide on the grade of an appeal, or other sanctions that will apply to the Executive Committee.
H) To consider draft collective labor agreements.
I) To hear and resolve any disciplinary sanctions, in conformity with the corresponding chapter (of these statutes) and in relation to the provisions, as well as field objections to any rejection of requests for membership.
J) To mandate the delegates to the congress of the Federación Obrera Ceramista de La República Argentina (FOCRA - Ceramic workers Federation of the Republic of Argentina) and to receive the report on their performance.
K) To elect the Junta Electoral (Electoral Board).
Article 43: At the assembly, agreements and resolutions will be taken by a simple majority of votes, with the exception of the member chairing the meeting, and voting will occur by a show of hands. A secret vote will only occur when the assembly resolves to do so and only for deciding on legitimate measures of union action. In the case of a tie the vote of the president decides. (…)
Article 44: The chairperson will not allow discussion in the assemblies of issues that are likely to affect order and harmony. Speakers must conduct themselves with all due respect and consideration.
Article 45: Each member may take the floor two times and the mover of the motion under debate can speak up to three times on the same issue, unless, at the express request of a member or if the question is deemed to be important, the assembly can authorize such an issue to be freely discussed; but in no case will the assembly be given to the reading of speeches: only the use of a memory aid will be allowed.
Article 46: The floor will be granted by the chairperson, according to the order in which it has been requested. Preference will be given to those who have not yet spoken ahead of those who have already spoken once, and ahead of those who have already spoken on the issue under debate.
Article 47: The members of the Executive and Auditing Committees cannot vote on the adoption of meeting minutes, balance sheets and general inventories and on issues directly relating to their responsibilities.
CHAPTER VII: EL CUERPO DE DELEGADOS (THE SHOP STEWARDS COMMITTEE)
Article 55: Delegates will be elected every two years by compañeros (comrades) from their work sector - whether they be members or non-members – and will be recallable by a simple majority of their sector or section. The sector must have a minimum of fifteen (15) workers and a maximum of forty (40), which, if exceeded, will see the addition of another delegate. If a sector fails to reach the minimum it will be merged into another sector. The meeting of the Shop Stewards Committee will be operative once the delegates have a mandate from the rank and file and can be convened when it has the mandate from the rank and file.
CHAPTER VIII: ELECTORAL REGIME
Article 56: The announcement to hold elections shall be determined by the Executive Committee and published no less than forty five (45) working days in advance of the date of the ballot. It must be fixed with to less than ninety (90) working days in advance of the date of the end of the term of office for the Executive Committee members that must be replaced. The announcement must specify the places and hours in which the elections will be carried out, which may not be later altered.
Article 57: The Junta Electoral (Electoral Board) shall be appointed at an extraordinary assembly convened for this purpose, no less than sixty (60) working days in advance of the elections. It is to be made up of three members who cannot be current Executive members or election candidates. It will be responsible for the organization and control of the election process, authorization of the lists and the notification of the election results. Two deputy Electoral Board members will also be elected at the same meeting. The Electoral Board shall adopt its own rules and provisions inherent to the best development of the election process, in accordance with the present statutes.
Article 58: The mandate of the Electoral Board will end when the new office bearers assume their posts. The Electoral Board will retain its powers with regards to the electoral process up until the declaration of the results, and once the result of the ballot is known the ending of the mandate of the Electoral Board will take immediate effect.
Article 59: With the purpose of guaranteeing democracy and union representation, where all workers are to be represented, the election will be carried out by secret vote of all members not affected by disqualifications established in law or this statute, who must have a minimum of three months membership before the date of the elections, and will be carried out under the D’Hondt proportional representation system with a tier of 20 percent of valid votes.
Article 73: The assembly cannot enact the dissolution of the Union so long as there are thirty members willing to maintain it.