For most of those 120 years the unions have failed to live up to their potential. Born from the struggle of workers against their bosses, they have adopted tactics and structures which hinder that struggle. The unions have tied themselves to political parties rather than relying on their own strength. They are handicapped by bureaucracy and top-down decision making. They squander our only effective weapons, the direct action and solidarity which express our economic power. The labour movement needs to be reclaimed by its members before it can even attempt to change the world for the better.
To do so, we need to recognise the importance of Direct Action and Solidarity. Electioneering has been a disaster for the labour movement, watering down socialist principles and producing the likes of Blair. We must rely on our own strength rather than putting crosses on a bit of paper every four years. Only direct action (strikes, occupations, boycotts, work to rules, etc.) and solidarity can win our battles. We gain a sense of their own power and abilities - and create the possibility of a better society.
We need industrial organisation. How many times have we seen our strikes undermined by members of other trade unions crossing the picket line? We have one boss, we should have one union. But one big union is not enough if it is run from the top-down by well-paid bureaucrats. We need to organise from the bottom-up, with the workplace assembly the fundamental decision making body. Instead of centralising power into the hands of a few leaders, the workplace meetings will federate by means of elected, mandated, recallable delegates.
As a step in this direction we need to organise assemblies of all strikers, regardless of union, and the election of strike committees which carry out the decisions of those assemblies - or are recalled and replaced by them. Only that will empower the rank and file and allow them to control their own struggles and organisations.
But such workers control is only the first step. Just as we don't need union bosses telling us when and how to fight, we don't need actual bosses telling us what to do during working hours either. We can manage our own work, making it more interesting, pleasant and safer as well as people and planet friendly. We must reject the false choice of privatisation versus nationalisation in favour of socialisation and co-operative production in the interests of the community. The abolition of wage labour is the only way to end capitalism once and for all. Only then will we have economic liberty.
Organising in the workplace is not enough. We need neighbourhood organisations, popular assemblies in which we can address what affects our communities. Like the anti-poll-tax unions which defeated Thatcher, they would provide a powerful means of combating the state. Federated with the industrial organisations, we have the means of resisting the powerful until we can get rid of them.
By organising in this way we create the framework of a new, libertarian, socialist, society without bosses, bureaucrats and politicians. A free society of free and equal individuals sharing the world will require a revolution. But not the kind of revolution which replaces one set of bosses with another.
Libertarian ends need liberation means. We must decentralise power into the hands of all, not concentrate it into the hands of a few party leaders. Real socialism, anarchism, will be created and run from below.
Only self-management today can ensure freedom and equality after the revolution. If we want to change the world, we must start by changing the way we organise and fight today.