Marxists support, orient to, and give great importance to trade unions as basic organisations of the working class. But in most circumstances, in capitalist societies, trade unions are dominated by the better-off sections of the working class, and often follow a narrow sectionalist policy.
The British labour movement was like that for all the time that Marx was politically active in Britain, and broadened out only after Marx's death and when Engels, though still alive, was an old man.
None of the excerpts below is a straightforward "educational" explanation of the socialist and Marxist case for working-class unity and against craft, grade, and trade sectionalism in the working class. But all of them educate us by showing how Marx and Engels - and other Marxists, such as James Connolly - approached the issues.
The approach was also summed up well by Antonio Gramsci:
“The metalworkers, the joiners, the builders, etc., must not only think as proletarians and no longer as metalworkers, joiners, or builders, but they must take a step forward: they must think as members of a class which aims at leading the peasants and intellectuals, of a class which con conquer and can build socialism only if aided and followed by the great majority of these social strata. If it does not do this, the proletariat does not become a leading class, and these strata, which represent in Italy the majority of the population, remain under bourgeois leadership, and give the State the possibility of resisting and weakening the proletarian attack”.
- Notes on the trade unions written by Marx for the Geneva Congress of the First International, 1866
- Speech by Marx at a General Council meeting of the First International, 1871
- Letters from Marx and Engels
- James Connolly: Industrialism and the trade unions