chapter  6
Navigating a Chaotic Consciousness in the Trade Union Movement
ByAnn Cecilie Bergene
Pages 12

The question of leaders and led has a long history in both Marxist theories of mobilization and theories of trade union organization. As noted by Hyman (1975), Marxist theories on trade unions can for simplicity be divided into two camps; the optimists and the pessimists. The former argues that unions have a significant revolutionary potential, while the latter are more reserved in their assessment, with some even arguing that trade union activity might inhibit revolutionary transformation. Hyman argues that how unions have been regarded has varied over time, and even within, for instance, the writings of Marx and Engels. The issue of a particular trade union consciousness has, I would argue, been discussed on three levels. First, trade union activity and consciousness has been defined and discussed in relation to that of political parties, for instance by Lenin (1901-02). Second, the consciousness of union officials has been characterized as different to that of rank-and-file members (Luxemburg 1906, Callinicos 1995). Third, the question of the relation between leaders and led in any organization, but particularly the party, has been dealt with by among others Gramsci (Sassoon 1987). This chapter primarily discusses the latter two dimensions of trade union consciousness, and I will confine myself to the organization of workers into corporate agents in the form of trade unions and thus revisit the debate on trade union consciousness. I will let critical realism guide my approach to this theoretical discussion and will try to further develop it by introducing the concept of chaotic consciousness. Furthermore, I will draw on Freire and Gramsci in an attempt to theorize how to navigate this chaotic consciousness in the trade union movement. In line with Creaven (2000), I will define consciousness as the powers of abstraction, reflection and acting intentionally. Class consciousness would then mean understanding and reflecting upon the social world and conceive of vested interests in terms of the position in the class structure, and act intentionally and rationally on this basis. However, I will use the concept of consciousness in the same manner as those I am referring to unless I state otherwise. When it comes to the concept ideology it has, as pointed out by Eagleton (2007), been defined in numerous ways, some of which are incompatible. I will, in what follows, use the concept to refer to grand narratives which constitute renditions of social reality, resembling what Potter and

Wetherell (cited in Jørgensen and Phillips 1999) term ‘interpretative repertoires’. My use of the term does, in other words, concur with one of the senses in which Marx and Engels used it; the value-neutral sense, ‘in which ideology refers to any abstract, internally coherent system of belief or meaning’ (Jost et al. 2008: 127).