If the organized workers become fully conscious of their combined power and learn to use it in their own interests, no power inside this country or outside could stand up against them. Instead of the bosses dictating terms to the workers, they could, as they should, dictate terms to the bosses. Even today, in scattered strike situations, detachments of workers demonstrate their invincibility. They sweep forward against the bosses, against administration “troubleshooters,” against military men, and even against their own top leaders, to win their demands. The employers feel the enormous power of the workers and often assess it more accurately than the workers or their leaders. The bosses know that, by themselves, they cannot curb labor nor deny its demands. From all sides now the employers are summoning allies to their aid: government officials, defense commissioners, arbitrators, preachers of patriotism, army officers and, most important of all today, their lieutenants in the ranks of labor itself: Green, Hillman, Murray, Tobin, Lewis, and their staffs. The function of these labor lieutenants and their policy of class collaboration is to lower the self-confidence of organized labor, to underestimate its strength, to keep it from independent class action, and to weaken its will to struggle and to win. — Fourth International, January 1941, American Labor and the War
One must accentuate especially the role which Jack London attributes to the labor bureaucracy and to the labor aristocracy in the further fate of mankind. Thanks to their support, the American plutocracy not only succeeds in defeating the workers’ insurrection but also in keeping its iron dictatorship during the following three centuries. We will not dispute with the poet the delay which can but seem to us too long. However, it is not a question of Jack London’s pessimism, but of his passionate effort to shake those who are lulled by routine, to force them to open their eyes and to see what is and what approaches. The artist is audaciously utilizing the methods of hyperbole. He is bringing the tendencies rooted in capitalism: of oppression, cruelty, bestiality, betrayal, to their extreme expression. He is operating with centuries in order to measure the tyrannical will of the exploiters and the treacherous rôle of the labor bureaucracy. But his most “romantic” hyperboles are finally much more realistic than the bookkeeper-like calculations of the so-called “sober politicians.” It is easy to imagine with what a condescending perplexity the official socialist thinking of that time met Jack London’s menacing prophecies. If one took the trouble to look over the reviews of The Iron Heel at that time in the German Neue Zeit and Vorwärts, in the Austrian Kampf and Arbeiterzeitung, as well as in the other socialist publications of Europe and America, he could easily convince himself that the thirty-year-old “romanticist” saw incomparably more clearly and farther than all the social-democratic leaders of that time taken together. But Jack London bears comparison in this domain not only with the reformists. One can say with assurance that in 1907 not one of the revolutionary Marxists, not excluding Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, imagined so fully the ominous perspective of the alliance between finance capital and labor aristocracy. This suffices in itself to determine the specific weight of the novel. The chapter, The Roaring Abysmal Beast, undoubtedly constitutes the focus of the book. At the time when the novel appeared this apocalyptical chapter must have seemed to be the boundary of hyperbolism. However, the consequent happenings have almost surpassed it. And the last word of class struggle has not yet been said by far! The “Abysmal Beast” is to the extreme degree oppressed, humiliated, and degenerated people. Who would now dare to speak for this reason about the artist’s pessimism? No, London is an optimist, only a penetrating and farsighted one. “Look into what kind of abyss the bourgeoisie will hurl you down, if you don’t finish with them!” This is his thought. Today it sounds incomparably more real and sharp than thirty years ago. But still more astonishing is the genuinely prophetic vision of the methods by which the Iron Heel will sustain its domination over crushed mankind. London manifests remarkable freedom from reformistic pacifist illusions. In this picture of the future there remains not a trace of democracy and peaceful progress. Over the mass of the deprived rise the castes of labor aristocracy, of praetorian army, of an all-penetrating police, with the financial oligarchy at the top. In reading it one does not believe his own eyes: it is precisely the picture of fascism, of its economy, of its governmental technique, its political psychology! The fact is incontestable: in 1907 Jack London already foresaw and described the fascist regime as the inevitable result of the defeat of the proletarian revolution. Whatever may be the single “errors” of the novel — and they exist — we cannot help inclining before the powerful intuition of the revolutionary artist. — Trotsky and the Iron Heel
Both the policy of ‘lessor evil ’ and the declared ‘‘partnership with the boss’ polices of the United States Trade Union Bureaucracy, and their counterparts in the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement , etc., have led to the recent quick economic decline of working people, and small businesses, in this country.
Being ‘partnership with the boss’ means:
That they cannot campaign for the taxation of the rich, but rather they support the ‘lessor evil’ Democratic Party, which has either proposed/voted for every ‘tax reform’, since Kennedy, to reduce the taxes of the rich at an expense of tax increases for the working class and small businesses — a ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ Program, which has brought forth the largest transfer of the national wealth in American/World history, from a majority of the population to a small percentage of the country’s wealthiest families.
To bail out the rich and hope for a few pennies to trickle down to the working class, the oppressed minorities and the poor. This happens in the context with an all out attack upon the social gains that were won by the working class Trade Union struggles in the 30s and 40s and the civil rights movement of the 60s.
That you cannot opposed the US wars and war spending abroad, to bring the money home to put people to work.
What has been the response of these bureaucracies to these ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ policies? They organized an October 2, 2010, demonstration, not to oppose this evils, but proposed that we vote for ‘Progressive’ Democrats, the political party that has been in the forefront of these bipartisan ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ policies to oppose the Republican Party in the November 2010 elections!?
Since the Trade Union Bureaucracy along with their counterparts in the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement , etc., defaulted, from their leadership responsibilities, and proposed no alternative to oppose these unjust ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ policies.
Even though the majority of the people fed up with the government being in partnership with the Banks and Wall Street. The rich, were able to seize this opportunity, by vacuum of leadership due to this default of leadership, to use this unjust taxation and their Media Monopoly for their plundering attacks on government spending for social security, social welfare, and education, etc..
Just as the rich created the illusion of a mass movement for Obama as a ‘change’ candidate in 2008, they created the illusion of a mass movement for the ‘change’ Tea Party.
In order to regain what has been lost and win equal rights for all, we must stop supporting those who are oppressing us — the US capitalist class and their Democratic and Republican political parties. And go back to what made all movements powerful — opposing all capitalist parties and relying upon ourselves to build our own economic and independent political power.
That means organizing in our own interests as the working class majority and the oppressed national minorities to unite the protectors of humanity’s habitat, anti-war fighters, all those opposed to the injustices of capitalism, to stop the unending ‘war on terrorism’.
For the good of the working class, it is time for the leadership of the social movements to resign or be replaced along with the ‘partnership with the boss’ and created a partnership with the oppress minorities — their natural allies! To begin anew the policies that won our basic rights in defense of our standard of living — through our own actions, independent of the tiny minority minority, that own this country and the Democratic and Republican Parties. To follow the example of France and take our opposition to the streets!
The labor movement could then use its wealth, not to support Democrats, but to start our own national newspaper and media formations, to counter the Media Monopoly and its lies, in defense of the the rich. We will then able to act in our own interests and build our own political party in opposition to oppression by the rich, as the Sons of liberty did at the original Boston Tea Party in opposition to British Capitalism.
The Fall of the Trade Union Movement
The US ruling class is skilled in flattering and cultivating leaders. It presses its own image on them and finally, from imitation of manners, dress and style of living, a deeper strain of corruption develops. This kind of union leader acquires the boss’s contempt for the ordinary worker. He is often more at home with the employers than he is among his own people. His language changes, his location changes, his income changes, and ultimately he changes from a workers’ representative to the boss into the employer’s representative to the workers. The tragedy has happened so often that these union leaders now acknowledge that they are in partnership with the boss/ruling class. — Paraphrase of Martin Luther King’s, The Black Power Defined
When I first wrote about my observations, as a union official, in the 2001 essay, The State of Today’s Trade Union Movement, I was hoping that I was wrong about the assumptions that I had made about the present State of the trade unions, at that time.
Unfortunately, what I had written, about the direction of the trends in the trade unions, have been confirmed by events since I first wrote the essay.
The last labor upsurge (Post World War II Labor Upsurge) in the United States occurred over 50 years ago in the late 1940s, The workers were victorious in their struggles to regaining their standard of living that was lost during the war and its ‘wage price freeze. (Which was supported by the Communist Party as part of their defense of Stalin’s policy of subordination of the class struggle to the Defense of the Soviet Union.)
The response of the ruling class was to amend the National Labor Relations Act, with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, (The Slave Labor Act) to give the employers a ‘level playing field’ in their relations with labor. The right wing of the labor bureaucracy, taking advantage of the class collaborationist policies of the Communist Party, used this law to expel any opposition, to their class collaboration policies, from the leadership of the trade union movement.
In the process, they consolidated their power, which has continued to the present time.
Trotsky in his essay, Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, (Which can be found at www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1940/1940-tu.htm) wrote that: “The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. He observed this trend when he stated: “In the United States the Department of Labor with its leftist bureaucracy has as its task the subordination of the trade union movement to the democratic state and it must be said that this task has up to now been solved with some success.”
In today’s world, every union has adopted and implemented the slogan of a ‘partnership with the boss’. (When I was working the worst epithet that one could say about a union official was that he/she was in bed with the boss. Now it is their slogan! And they are doing their best to stay in the boss’s bed as the boss threatens to toss them out to cut costs.)
In essence, today’s unions have adopted the slogan of what is good for the boss is good for the union, or as Charles E. Wilson, the former head of General Motors and Secretary of Defense under President Dwight Eisenhower infamously stated to a congress committee: What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what is good for General Motors is good for the country.”
To add insult to injury, this policy has gotten so bad, that “my” International Union President, of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT.com), has sent out a DVD to every member, at considerable expense, to inform my brothers and sisters, by their own admission, that the union will sound and act like a boss!
Union Painters, who may be late to work, abuse coffee break, take too much time for lunch, or (God Forbid!) leave work early, will face the wrath, not of the boss but of the Union’s Three Strikes and You’re Out Policy! If you are caught three times in violation of these rules, then these painters are not only out of a job but also out of the union!
The recent bipartisan changes in the bankruptcy laws and the accounting laws, under both President Clinton and President Bush, have allowed companies like United Airlines, Delphi, etc., to tear up and rewrite union contracts and cut pensions at will and with the support of this pathetic Trade Union Bureaucracy.
An example the Trade Union Bureaucracy’s bankruptcy are the “buyouts” at Delphi Corporation, under the threat of “bankruptcy” brokered by the United Auto Workers officialdom. The UAW bureaucrats are indicative of the current trend of the “leadership” of the trade union movement. This “leadership” is protected and encouraged by the government and has allowed Delphi to offshore 185,000 jobs to the detriment of the 50,000 Delphi jobs that had remained in the United States, prior to the buyouts. Now the workers that remain earn less as Delphi profits more
Out of the Delphi struggle, a new union formation was born — Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS) — to combat the treachery of the UAW officialdom. It is an example of how workers will form new organizations independent of the bureaucracy.
The following is something that I wrote several years ago, based on my experience as a union member for over forty years and my experience as an elected union official. I am retired Business Representative for Painters Local #4 in San Francisco. I was a working painter for 31 years, an elected union officer from 1979 to 1997 and a full-time elected official from 1994 to 1997. I am a socialist and a longtime social activist. Also below are two articles written at time about the Pittston UMWA Pittston miners strike.
The State of Today’s Trade Union Movement
Ten thousand times has the labor movement stumbled and bruised itself. We’ve been enjoined by the courts, assaulted by thugs, charged by the militia, traduced by the press, frowned upon in public opinion, and deceived by politicians. But notwithstanding all this and all these, labor is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission is as certain of ultimate realization as is the setting of the sun. — Eugene V. Debs (1894)
The defeat of the air traffic controllers (PATCO) strike in 1981 marked a new turning point in the history of the trade unions in the United States. During the course of that strike, the federal government, in a bipartisan effort, seized all of the union’s funds and successfully bankrupted and broke that union. The lack of solidarity on the picket line, with the International Association of Machinists crossing the lines and the federal government using military personnel as scabs to break the strike, demonstrated the weakness and total bankruptcy of the trade union leadership. The unflinching willingness of the government to break PATCO sent a fear of death down the spine of every union bureaucrat in the nation.
The AFL-CIO leadership at that time responded with the following course of action:
They called for demonstrations in the nation’s capital and in other cities against union busting. But they covered up the partnership of Democrats and Republicans with the nation’s employers to break unions, to make picketing illegal, etc.. They developed new theories to cover up their bankruptcy. The code words were: “We can’t win strikes anymore; we need new strategies — the old ways don’t work,” etc..
Out of these echoes of doom, a new strategy, the ‘Corporate Campaign’ and the concept of building a partnership between management and labor was born.
They developed the two-tier wage system where by lower wages and worse working conditions were negotiated for new workers entering the industry. In this manner, the AFL-CIO sold out the next generations of workers before they ever went to work. They also began developing other strategies to avoid strikes and risk the loss of their treasuries.
The so-called International Unions pledged to the government and their employers to police any local areas that did not follow their program of wage cuts and productivity increases (speedup). During this process, the International Unions consolidated their policies.
There were several turning points
In the 1980s there were many local areas, which fought back against these policies. The Bath, Maine, shipyard workers and San Francisco construction workers, for instance, resisted but failed to overcome the odds against them.
How UFCW leaders helped break the P-9 strike.
(1) One of the most famous of these struggles was the 1985-1986 P-9 meatpackers’ strike against the Hormel Company in Austin, Minnesota, against the two-tier wage system that their international union, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFC ( W), took credit for inventing.
Local P-9 was one of the first UFCW unions to have this system imposed on it. The P-9 rank and file revolted against it and elected a new leadership to oppose it. The problem with the Hormel strike was that its strategy contradicted its goals—the strikers used what was called the “Corporate Campaign” strategy.
This strategy was based on placing “moral pressure” (boycotts and threats of a boycott) on the company to get it to agree to the workers’ just demands. The corporate campaign worked fine until Hormel decided to open the plant with scabs.
Workers, at the time, were responsive to a class-struggle approach and a real battle was begun. The deciding factor in the P-9 defeat was the strikebreaking carried out by the UFCW leadership. That leadership, along with the Executive Board of the entire AFL-CIO, openly opposed any solidarity actions or support of any kind to Local P-9. They prevented any sympathy strikes by other Hormel local unions, and they worked with the company to organize the scabs. In the end, they organized a scab local P-10. This strike demonstrated that the international unions were more committed to their social contract with the government and the bosses than to the workers who paid the dues to fund the union.
(2) The next significant action was the United Mine Workers of America’s (UMWA) Pittston Strike in 1989. The UMWA put up a battle and closed other mines in solidarity with the strike. The miners union, during the course of the strike, got fined over $50 million for defying injunctions against picketing, etc.
Under pressure from the government and employers, UMWA President Richard Trumka brought the miners into the AFL-CIO under an agreement of support to the labor federation’s Corporate Campaign tactic and the cessation of sympathy strikes. After this strike got settled and the next national contract was in place with a negotiated labor-management ‘workers circles’ to increase productivity, prevent safety strikes, etc., the Supreme Court rewarded the UMWA by approving reduced fines against the UMWA.
(3) Then came the Southern California Chicano drywall workers’ wildcat strikes. These workers, almost all being Chicano carpenters excluded from the Carpenters Union organized themselves as an independent union. (Residential drywall work had gone non-union after the unions negotiated piecework and a dues system based on piecework in the early 1980s.)
In 1993, three thousand, out of a total of six thousand predominately Chicano drywall workers, went on strike using class-struggle methods. They adopted such militant tactics as organizing roving picket squads such as those that played a decisive role in many of the great strike victories of the 1930s. These militant strikes totally disrupted housing production in Southern California. (The employers cynically complained that there was no union with money to sue and no leaders to buy off.)
Understanding the plight of drywall workers and their need for material assistance, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) stepped in to organize’ these workers. The dry-wall workers, believing promises of equal treatment in the union gladly accepted membership in the Southern California District Council of Carpenters.
UBC District Council officials signed a contract with the employers and brought these workers into the jurisdiction of the Southern California District Council of Carpenters. The results were that class peace was established, work resumed, dues began to be collected, and over time, most of these drywall workers were laid off and replaced by other members of the UBC.
At that time, Douglas J. McCarron, now president of the UBC, was the chief official of that District Council. McCarron, who also sits on the board of Perini Corporation, ran a successful campaign — with the support of the country’s carpenter contractors — to become president of the Carpenters in 1996. The contractors liked what they saw in Southern California, and he is now doing their bidding nationwide.
This strike demonstrated two things: Workers will organize even after a union is broken. And Labor bureaucrats like the Carpenters serve the very useful purpose of policing the workforce and preventing work stoppages. . A “partnership” was formed between the employers and the Carpenters union.
(4) In the past, workers could go to other international unions like the UMWA, the Teamsters, or the ILWU on the West Coast if they had a problem with their International officials and affiliate with one of the other International Unions. Now all of them are in the AFL-CIO and following the official policy of developing partenerships between labor and management. Many of these internationals are now constructing, regional and multi-state councils as bargaining units. In this process they are making local unions powerless and beholden to these multi-local union councils who now control the finances of all its affiliated local unions as well as their local officers.
(5) The one positive example in this past period was the Teamsters’ strike victory over the United Parcel Service in 1997. Workers throughout the land supported the Teamster strike. Young people rallied to the demands of the young part-time workers for equality in wages and benefits. The battle cry was: “We are fighting for a better future for all working people. This call struck a responsive chord among the new generations of workers who had been sold out and betrayed before they ever went to work!
The leader of this strike was Ron Carey, who was elected president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) in December 1991.
A little background to Carey’s election will help make clear how the capitalist government took control over the Teamsters Union. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the federal government filed a RICOH Act lawsuit to take over the IBT to clean out its racketeering top union officials. A rank-and-file organization, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), supported the government’s direct intervention to give the government the right to oversee the day-to-day activities of the IBT in exchange for the direct election of International officers.
The illusion of a mob-free’ union controlled by its members’ appeared to become a reality when Carey got elected with a plurality since the entrenched IBT bureaucracy, or ‘Old Guard’, was split between two candidates. Even though the new Teamster president, who had a well-earned reputation of militant and democratic unionism, the government, in the last analysis, had final control over the union, including the right to oversee the union’s finances.
The Old Guard, however, retained control over the regional Joint Councils and had almost equal power with Carey at International conventions, since these delegated bodies were not based on “one person-one vote” proportional representation. Consequently, because the old mob-connected bureaucrats dominated large sections of the union, the average Teamster continued to suffer under their misleadership. Nevertheless, after the UPS strike was won, the hopes of the disenfranchised and betrayed young workers were raised throughout the country.
The government moved in very quickly to quash this rise in rank and file Teamster hopes for a better future after seeing the power of a strike led by a militant leadership. They removed Carey from office on trumped-up charges of alleged irregular spending of union funds, which court-appointed officials had the right to oversee, during his reelection campaign in 1996. This was done without a union trial and outside of membership control.
(Incidentally, direct national elections in a union with over 1.5 million members are not democratic. For example, it costs over $700,000 to put out one mailing to the membership. Consequently, even though the IBT constitution gives ‘equal access’ to each candidate, the employers can heavily influence such elections. Thus, as in city, state and federal elections, the candidates who raise the most money for their election campaigns tend to come out on top.)
In fact, at the same time that government election overseers investigated Carey’s 1996 campaign finances, they also investigated complaints, against campaign financial irregularities by his challenger, James Hoffa Jr. Though he had reported anonymous contributions from hundreds of thousands of small cash contributions from rank-and-file Teamsters — amounting to millions of dollars — he was nevertheless ‘cleared’ of any wrongdoing, while Carey who won the election was removed from office and expelled from the Teamsters Union.
Although Carey was an effective strike leader, he did not know how to fight the government, and he was also under the illusion that the government had intervened in the IBT for the good of the union and union democracy.
Instead of fighting his undemocratic removal from office and the union by appealing for a mobilization of the ranks, he decided to take his case to the courts instead of to the membership. Unfortunately, TDU did not oppose the government’s removal of Carey and has steadfastly continued to support government control over the IBT.
In its latest move to vilify Carey and punish him for the “crime” of representing and fighting for the membership, the federal government has arraigned Carey in federal court on charges that he lied to federal investigators and a grand jury when he denied that he knew of a scheme by some of his election campaign staff to launder union money into Carey’s election campaign coffers, and to line their own pockets.
But the jury found Carey innocent of all charges.
Meanwhile, the still mob-connected Old Guard is now back in power in the Teamsters Union with the support of the government and remains in office even though Carey won his court battle and was acquitted.
The capitalists, their government, and their lackeys in the trade union bureaucracy have learned the lessons of the past, whereby local struggles in 1934 by Teamsters in Minneapolis, Auto Workers in Toledo, and Longshore workers in San Francisco followed by the sit-down strikes of 1936–37, led to the rise of the CIO and the demise of many international union officials.
They are now directly intervening in local areas, with the assistance of the government, to maintain their “social contract” with capital, i.e., to prevent local struggles from developing. Today, the union membership is in the process of losing control over their union officials and contract negotiations.
This is the logic of all reformist bureaucracies in workers’ organizations. Although the trade union bureaucracy is dependent upon the membership, since the members are the material base on which the bureaucracy’s privileged existence rests, the present trade union leadership has proven itself unwilling and incapable of defending workers under constant attack from the employers and the government. They fear they will be hit with another PATCO if they do anything in the interests of their membership. They also fear that if they start to fight, the membership might elect new leaders, more capable of fighting, and kick them out. In this sense, the bureaucracy’s only hope for its continued existence is to continue their “partnership” with the capitalists and the government to transform the unions into state unions and to completely atomize the membership.
This is AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s stated program for the trade unions. The government is assisting the International Unions in this endeavor. In return for their “favors,” the bureaucrats get to continue to collect dues, not for services to the membership, but as payment for their services to government and business.
Part of this program is the concept of forced mergers to remove local centers of resistance to class collaboration. Previous to now, local unions or regional councils could only be put under control by the international union through trusteeships for specific charges of financial bankruptcy, financial malpractice, or corruption. Now trusteeships can be imposed for disobeying international presidents or when negotiations are at an impasse and the union is forced on strike.
But better than a trusteeship for removing elected local unions and district councils is something brand new — the “merging” or “consolidation” and of local unions and establishing undemocratic regional and district councils. The courts have consistently upheld this anti-democratic practice by top union officials in the past period. Rather than “trusteeships,” which can last no more than 18 months and are restricted by law, the Internationals have been instituting “mergers.” Mergers, whether “voluntary” or forced, last forever. Each merger separates the members further from control of their union and its affairs, and it increases the control held by the officers of the International Union.
Ironically, the top union officials are using the anti-union laws on the books to turn the unions into their opposite. Had they organized a real struggle against the Taft-Hartley law in 1947, the basis for their establishment of top-down union dictatorships could not have been possible.
In fact, the Carpenters union uses the Taft-Hartley law to raid other building trades unions. They are now preparing to split from the AFL-CIO in order to go about their raiding unfettered by any formalities of union solidarity. Since they do not recognize picket lines by other trades, and work side by side with non-union workers, they claim that if the other unions won’t organize these workers, then they will organize them and claim the jurisdiction! They then sign these workers up at a significantly lower wage scale.
For example, when I was a Business Representative for the Painters Union in San Francisco, I found a job in a high-rise building in downtown San Francisco that had both non-union carpenters and painters. I proposed to the Carpenters union officials that we do a joint picket line. They informed me that they were “too busy.” I then organized a job action and informed the building owner that the building would be closed the next day. A few hours later, the building management informed me that they had now hired a union contractor. When I went to the job site, I found that the same non-union workers were now in the Carpenters union, signed to a “modular agreement” with the pay scale more than $10 per hour below the wage scales of carpenters and painters! I informed the Carpenters union officials that they were, in effect, “nothing but scabs with a union label.”
At this point in history, it is important to make an accurate assessment of the trade unions. They are in the final stage of the institutionalization of the unions as organs of the state. The hope of the Teamster strike victory over UPS, as the antithesis to this process had been temporarily dashed by the removal of Carey by the government.
The whole process of stratification of the unions that was begun during World War II, delayed after the post-WWII upsurge (1945–46), then accelerated by the Cold War-based witch hunt of the late 1940s and the 1950s, including elimination of radicals and militants from leadership of the unions in compliance with the Taft-Hartley Law, is becoming complete or will be complete in the near future.
During the period of the witch-hunt, the concept of a partnership between capital and labor was solidified by the Democratic Party becoming the political party of the trade union leadership.
The United States is one of the few countries in the world where the leadership of the unions openly belongs to and has allegiance to a political party of the ruling class.
In the 1930s, the labor upsurge did not begin until workers started to go back to work. In this recent “boom” of the economy there has been no such upsurge of the working class. One example of such an upsurge was the UPS strike, which had a leadership that appealed to all workers to oppose the concessions of the previous 15 years. The UPS strike demonstrated the willingness of the class to fight in its own interests. It also demonstrated that in the other international unions the internal bureaucratic structure has degenerated to the point that the union bureaucracy no longer feels the pressure of or the need to respond to the membership.
The “social contract” that was first initiated by the UFCW leadership during the P-9 strike is being implemented more and more widely. Basically, with few exceptions, the rights of union workers have been atomized to the point that they are prevented, by labor-management and government policy, from organizing against the class collaborationism of the trade union bureaucracy.
The bureaucracy acts in place of the union as a whole. The membership just pays dues, through the dues check-off system, with no control over how the unions function. The union bureaucrats have been in the forefront of organizing the decline of the standard of living of the whole working class as part of their ‘partnership’ with capital, with the bureaucrats receiving regular payment through the dues check-off system.
This is the “partnership” that the trade union bureaucracy has been creating to police the working class. We have to understand that this has been done behind the backs of the working class and that the working class has suffered the consequences of the decline in its standard of living without a fight due to its systematic atomization.
The above graph demonstrates how effective this partnership has been in lowering the standard of living of the working class. The bottom 40 percent of the population had a drop of 76.3% in household net worth from 1983 to 1998! The only households that have kept up with inflation in net worth have been in the top 1 percent of the population! As older ‘first tier workers retire or leave the job market, these figures will become even more dramatic as these workers are replaced by part-time, lower-tier workers with fewer benefits. The prosperity of the 1990s is based more on these facts than the health of the capitalist economy.
When the younger workers begin to struggle for their rights and full equality, some of the key demands will be based on the following concepts:
Union independence from government control!
Membership control over union organizations!
Independent working class political action and organization based on support for class struggle and in opposition to all partnerships with capital and/or the government!
All these points are needed in order for workers to begin to regain what has been lost. They open up the possibility of democratic workers control over production and all economic decisions facing their lives, and the necessity for the construction of a socialist society.
Below are articles by me for Soacialsit Action:
Socialist Action July 1989: Coal Miners Expand Strike Against Bosses’ Offensive
NORTON, Va. — The class war between miners labor and capital is heating up in the coal fields of America. On June 12, over 43,000 members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) — more than half the unionized workforce — staged “wildcat” strikes in 11 states, including West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.
Rank-and-file mine workers organized the walkouts to express solidarity with 1700 UMWA members who have been on strike against the Pittston Coal Group in Virginia for nearly three months.
The bitter strike against Pittston is shaping up to be a decisive test for the UMWA. If the miners suffer a defeat here, the coal operators will undoubtedly intensify their campaign to wipe out the union completely. With that in mind, the UMWA ranks are linking their fate to the outcome of the Pittston strike.
The “wildcat” strikers’ anger is infecting other workers in the coal fields. At several factories in Pennsylvania, workers demonstrated their solidarity by refusing to go to the work after miners showed up and passed out flyers that explained the strike issues. At a Bethlehem Steel plant in Johnstown, Pa., only 37 out of a workforce of 600 went to work.
The catalyst for the miners’ inspiration is located in a seemingly obscure corner of the nation. As you fly over southwestern Virginia, you see green fields and soft, rolling bills; it looks like a peaceful, serene place. But once your feet touch the ground, you quickly realize there is a militant class battle taking place-with lines clearly drawn.
After 14 months of working without a contract, the 1700 UMWA miners based at Pittston, the nation’s largest coal exporter, were forced to go on strike on April 5. In their “best final offer,” Pittston had demanded the elimination of certain jobs, unlimited overtime (including running coal on Sundays), and cuts in healthcare and pension benefits.
The company was itching for a fight. When the previous contract expired on Feb. I, 1988, Pittston unilaterally cut off healthcare benefits to more than 1500 pensioners, surviving spouses, and disabled miners. The UMW A called the strike after a National Labor Relations Board ruling charged Pittston with “unfair labor practices.”
The strike came at a time when fortunes for the UMWA were not good. With the growth of nonunion mining and the closing down of union mines, coupled with increases in productivity through automation (longwalling and strip mining), the UMW A membership has dropped from 500,000 in 1950 to 65,000 members today.
It is in this context that the union was forced to take a stand and wage a battle at Pittston. Another defeat would directly pose the question of the continued existence of the UMW A, the most militant and democratic union in the country.
Pittston imports scabs
Pittston thought it could defeat the strike by hiring local unemployed workers as strikebreakers. The unemployment rate in the coal fields of Virginia and West Virginia is over 20 percent.
But the company wasn’t able to recruit a sizable force of strikebreakers from these depressed areas. Local working people consider “scabbing” the worst possible sin-to be dealt with accordingly. So Pittston imported scabs from other areas. Yet even these strikebreakers refused to work at night on swing and graveyard shifts.
From the beginning, the miners were faced with the intervention of the Commonwealth of Virginia on the side of the company. Democratic Party Gov. Gerald Baliles dispatched 300 state troopers to the coal fields to intimidate the strikers.
Despite the police presence, the miners have continued their mass picketing and civil disobedience. Pittston is now operating at less than 10 percent of its capacity. This is the result of the solid community support for the strikers, which has transformed the strike into a social movement. Thousands have been arrested—including high-school students, teachers, and religious leaders.
The state and federal courts in “right to work” Virginia have issued injunctions against the UMW A. The union now faces the possibility of being fined over $1.4 trillion plus prison terms for its leaders.
Yet the UMWA maintains that it has a First Amendment right to freedom of speech and assembly. The Pittston strikers are confident they can win.
One striking coal miner told me that employer always acts as if the miners are stupid. But then he proudly described how the miners have countered every move by the company and the government. He also felt that if it were not for the intervention of the government, they could have won the strike m three days.
State Democratic Party convention
The open collaboration of the state government and courts with Pittston’s strikebreaking has encouraged the UMWA to consider some polItical solutions to this battle.
On June 10, 1989, the UMWA organized a protest against Gov. Baliles at the State Democratic Party Convention. UMW A delegates, with the reluctant support of AFL-CIO delegates, staged a protest inside the convention hall when Baliles spoke. The union delegates tried to convince the state Democratic Party to support the miners, but they were blatantly rejected and not even allowed to speak on the issue.
To underscore the fact that the entire Democratic Party machine is lining up behind Pittston, their new candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Doug Wilder, has come out squarely in support of the actions carried out by Gov. Baliles.
Consequently, the UMWA is considering running its own workers’ solidarity election campaign— independent of the Democrats for the main statewide posts in Virginia. The campaign is being proposed as a protest against the anti-labor and pro-employer policies of the Democratic Party. The election campaign would also be a tactic to counter the antiunion propaganda generated by the press and the state government.
Rally In Charleston
I attended a June 11 solidarity rally in Charleston, W.Va. Speakers from many labor unions gave support to the Pittston strike and to the striking Eastern Airlines workers.
The speakers list included William Winpisinger, retiring president of the International Association of Machinists (lAM); Joyce Miller, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW); and a Chinese student from a West Virginia university, who sought solidarity with the struggle of China’s students and workers. .’
But it was the last speaker — Richard Trumka, president of the UMWA—who set the tone for the rally. He spoke about the Pittston strike and the attempt of the state and federal government to break the UMWA.
Trumka pointed out that the state refused to fine the company when seven miners died in a mine accident but, on the other hand, was fining and jailing striking miners. He declared that the UMWA was on strike not only against Pittson, but also against the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Trumka exposed the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it claimed to support workers in Poland and China who are fighting for democracy and justice. At the same time, he noted, government authorities physically assaulted, fined, and jailed striking miners in southwest Virginia.
Making a direct analogy with the civil rights movement, Trumka declared that the UMWA would defy all unjust injunctions and laws that Oppose the basic rights of working people to achieve justice. The day after Trumka’s militant speech, the “wildcat” strikes began.
Willingness to fight
These “wildcat” strikes demonstrate the willingness and capacity of the union ranks to fight. The UMW A has had a democratic tradition from the time of the Miners for Democracy in the early 1970s. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the government to co-opt the leadership in order to housebreak the membership—as in other international unions in the recent period.
The coal bosses and the government are faced with a situation they did not foresee. In order to defeat the miners, they now face the likelihood of a never-ending war in the coal fields. But, in fact, the coal operators have been conducting such a war for years.
Despite its small size, the UMWA is carrying on a fight that has the potential to win; it could signal the end of the recent spiral of capitulation, concessions, and betrayals that American trade unions have suffered since the PATCO strike in 19The Pittston strike, combined with the solidarity “wildcats” of the UMW A rank and file, could become a turning point for labor. It deserves the support of all working people. The UMWA membership has pointed the way forward by expanding the strike. They are teaching the American labor movement some very fundamental lessons.
Socialist Action August 1989: Virginia miners stand firm as wildcat strikes halted By Robert Peterson (I sometimes used this ‘pen name’)
On July 18, .1989, the United Mineworkers of America (UMW A) and the Pittston Coal Group agreed to resume negotiations after a month-long series of wildcat strikes in all of the union mines east of the Mississippi.
Along with the agreement to resume negotiations, Richard L. Trumka, president of the UMWA, urged the union membership to end the wildcat strikes. The rank-and-file union miners had been striking in solidarity with the 2000 miners who work for Pittston Coal.
In West Virginia, where the wildcats cut production by almost 90 percent, there was no let up in the strike until July 24, when all of the “wildcatters” reluctantly went back to work. It was estimated at that time that the walkout had already cost the state over $10 million.
The rank-and-file initiatives have brought national attention to the strike. They have also had the effect of solidifying the strike at the Pittston mines to the point where only limited amounts of coal are being produced. (The company lost $8 million during the strike’s fIrst month.) The wildcat strikers have demonstrated the capacity of the UMWA membership to carry out a fight.
The agreement to resume negotiations came after a federal judge, Glen M. Williams, called both the company and the union into court to respond to questions about the strike. Judge Williams is one the judges who earlier issued an injunction against the UMWA and and the miners’ right to picket. A federal mediator will be involved in the new negotiations.
The miners themselves have no confidence that federal mediators— or any government agency —will protect their union or their livelihood. The history of the strike has demonstrated that the government is on the side of the officials. (There have been over 2000 arrests and the UMWA faces fines with a potential cost of $1.4 trillion.)
Although the miners are now hurting Pittston Coal economically, the strike will most likely continue for some time. It will be a test of strength and determination.
Although the strike has now lasted three months, the moral of the strikers remains high. In order to organize the support necessary for victory, the UMWA leadership must demonstrate that it has the same fighting capacity as the membership.
Socialist Action January 1994: UMWA settles strike—signs 5 year agreement
After a six month-long selective strike by 18,000 coal miners against the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA), the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) bas agreed to a new five-year contract by a 60-65 percent approval vote.
The contract, which effects 60,000 working and laid off coal miners, was supported by Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich. He stated that the contract included “provisions that further strengthen workplace democracy and provide for miners to have a real say in the way work is performed.”
These provisions call for the establishment of UMWA—BCOA Labor Management Positive Change Process (LMPCP) committees. The committees would be put into effect in at least 10 percent of mines to make them more competitive, to reduce the number of job classifications, and to facilitate around-the-clock coal production.
Reich called the new arrangement a “neutral forum — an industrywide, labor-management cooperative committee,” which would allow miners and management to resolve problems “before they face the urgency of an expiring contract.”
In the name of “workplace democracy,” Reich has been advocating such committees in all union contracts with the object of turning all of the unions into instruments to increase productivity and keep U.S. businesses competitive. In general, these committees have powers that circumvent the union memberships’ democratic control over their contract and working conditions.
If the committees, as Reich describes them, are established, they would be a blow to the union democracy that was won by the Miners for Democracy (MFD) in the UMWA. The MFD was a mass movement of miners, their families, and their communities that transformed the UMWA into the most democratic union in the United States in the late 1960s and early 70s.
Districts 4 and 5 in western Pennsylvania, which were part of the stronghold of the MFD, rejected the contract.
The main demand of the UMWA was to stop “double breasting” by the coal employers. “Double breasting” is when the coal operators who are signed to a union agreement open up a new mine or buy a mine under a different name and operate it with nonunion miners. Under the last contract, the coal operators were supposed to hire at least 60 percent union miners at these work sites.
It was, however, difficult for the UMWA to enforce these provisions. Under the new contract, the same 60 percent rehiring provision is in effect, but the wording is clearer and more difficult for the employers to violate—although the enforcement is left up to a labor-management committee. It is unknown at this time whether the contract is applicable in mines previously opened up in violation of the last agreement.The employers also accepted the UMWA proposal—in reality, a concession—to have the option of keeping the present arrangement of eight-hour shifts for five days a week, or to implement 10 hour shifts for four days. The proposal includes a work schedule option was agreed to the creation of a weekend shift that includes 10 hours on Friday or Monday and 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday (34 hours) for 5O hours pay. According to the new contract, this proposal can only be implemented if the operators employ more miners with the addition of an extra shift. If a local union agrees, the employers can also implement other “alternative work schedules.” Thus, working conditions can vary from mine to mine.
These proposals by the UMWA for the 10 hour day and weekend work are a 180-degree shift in policy. The new agreement will allow the more productive mines to be opened seven days a week, with an increase in productivity due to the longer workday. In the long run, ‘more miners,overall, will be laid. off than hired as the less productive mines are forced to shut down. The longer workday also increases the danger of accidents in the mines and shortens the life span of the individual miners.
First Published in English: Fourth International [New York], Vol.2 No.2, February 1941, pp.40-43. Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2003.Transcribed/HTML Markup: David Walters in 2003. Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive www.marxists.org 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
(The manuscript of the following article was found in Trotsky’s desk. Obviously, it was by no means a completed article, but rather the rough notes for an article on the subject indicated by his title. He had been writing them shortly before his death. – The Editors of FI)
There is one common feature in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, of modern trade union organizations in the entire world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power. This process is equally characteristic of the neutral, the Social-Democratic, the Communist and “anarchist” trade unions. This fact alone shows that the tendency towards “growing together” is intrinsic not in this or that doctrine as such but derives from social conditions common for all unions.
Monopoly capitalism does not rest on competition and free private initiative but on centralized command. The capitalist cliques at the head of mighty trusts, syndicates, banking consortiums, etcetera, view economic life from the very same heights as does state power; and they require at every step the collaboration of the latter. In their turn the trade unions in the most important branches of industry find themselves deprived of the possibility of profiting by the competition between the different enterprises. They have to confront a centralized capitalist adversary, intimately bound up with state power. Hence flows the need of the trade unions – insofar as they remain on reformist positions, ie., on positions of adapting themselves to private property – to adapt themselves to the capitalist state and to contend for its cooperation. In the eyes of the bureaucracy of the trade union movement the chief task lies in “freeing” the state from the embrace of capitalism, in weakening its dependence on trusts, in pulling it over to their side. This position is in complete harmony with the social position of the labor aristocracy and the labor bureaucracy, who fight for a crumb in the share of superprofits of imperialist capitalism. The labor bureaucrats do their level best in words and deeds to demonstrate to the “democratic” state how reliable and indispensable they are in peace-time and especially in time of war. By transforming the trade unions into organs of the state, fascism invents nothing new; it merely draws to their ultimate conclusion the tendencies inherent in imperialism.
Colonial and semi-colonial countries are under the sway not of native capitalism but of foreign imperialism. However, this does not weaken but on the contrary, strengthens the need of direct, daily, practical ties between the magnates of capitalism and the governments which are in essence subject to them – the governments of colonial or semi-colonial countries. Inasmuch as imperialist capitalism creates both in colonies and semi-colonies a stratum of labor aristocracy and bureaucracy, the latter requires the support of colonial and semicolonial governments, as protectors, patrons and, sometimes, as arbitrators. This constitutes the most important social basis for the Bonapartist and semi-Bonapartist character of governments in the colonies and in backward countries generally. This likewise constitutes the basis for the dependence of reformist unions upon the state.
In Mexico the trade unions have been transformed by law into semi-state institutions and have, in the nature of things, assumed a semi-totalitarian character. The stateization of the trade unions was, according to the conception of the legislators, introduced in the interests of the workers in order to assure them an influence upon the governmental and economic life. But insofar as foreign imperialist capitalism dominates the national state and insofar as it is able, with the assistance of internal reactionary forces, to overthrow the unstable democracy and replace it with outright fascist dictatorship, to that extent the legislation relating to the trade unions can easily become a weapon in the hands of imperialist dictatorship.
Slogans for Freeing the Unions
From the foregoing it seems, at first sight, easy to draw the conclusion that the trade unions cease to be trade unions in the imperialist epoch. They leave almost no room at all for workers’ democracy which, in the good old days, when free trade ruled on the economic arena, constituted the content of the inner life of labor organizations. In the absence of workers’ democracy there cannot be any free struggle for the influence over the trade union membership. And because of this, the chief arena of work for revolutionists within the trade unions disappears. Such a position, however, would be false to the core. We cannot select the arena and the conditions for our activity to suit our own likes and dislikes. It is infinitely more difficult to fight in a totalitarian or a semitotalitarian state for influence over the working masses than in a democracy. The very same thing likewise applies to trade unions whose fate reflects the change in the destiny of capitalist states. We cannot renounce the struggle for influence over workers in Germany merely because the totalitarian regime makes such work extremely difficult there. We cannot, in precisely the same way, renounce the struggle within the compulsory labor organizations created by Fascism. All the less so can we renounce internal systematic work in trade unions of totalitarian and semi-totalitarian type merely because they depend directly or indirectly on the workers’ state or because the bureaucracy deprives the revolutionists of the possibility of working freely within these trade unions. It is necessary to conduct a struggle under all those concrete conditions which have been created by the preceding developments, including therein the mistakes of the working class and the crimes of its leaders. In the fascist and semi-fascist countries it is impossible to carry on revolutionary work that is not underground, illegal, conspiratorial. Within the totalitarian and semi-totalitarian unions it is impossible or well-nigh impossible to carry on any except conspiratorial work. It is necessary to adapt ourselves to the concrete conditions existing in the trade unions of every given country in order to mobilize the masses not only against the bourgeoisie but also against the totalitarian regime within the trade unions themselves and against the leaders enforcing this regime. The primary slogan for this struggle is: complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state. This means a struggle to turn the trade unions into the organs of the broad exploited masses and not the organs of a labor aristocracy.
* * *
The second slogan is: trade union democracy. This second slogan flows directly from the first and presupposes for its realization the complete freedom of the trade unions from the imperialist or colonial state.
In other words, the trade unions in the present epoch cannot simply be the organs of democracy as they were in the epoch of free capitalism and they cannot any longer remain politically neutral, that is, limit themselves to serving the daily needs of the working class. They cannot any longer be anarchistic, i.e. ignore the decisive influence of the state on the life of peoples and classes. They can no longer be reformist, because the objective conditions leave no room for any serious and lasting reforms. The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.
* * *
The neutrality of the trade unions is completely and irretrievably a thing of the past, gone together with the free bourgeois democracy.
* * *
From what has been said it follows quite clearly that, in spite of the progressive degeneration of trade unions and their growing together with the imperialist state, the work within the trade unions not only does not lose any of its importance but remains as before and becomes in a certain sense even more important work than ever for every revolutionary party. The matter at issue is essentially the struggle for influence over the working class. Every organization, every party, every faction which permits itself an ultimatistic position in relation to the trade union, i.e., in essence turns its back upon the working class, merely because of displeasure with its organizations, every such organization is destined to perish. And it must be said it deserves to perish.
* * *
Inasmuch as the chief role in backward countries is not played by national but by foreign capitalism, the national bourgeoisie occupies, in the sense of its social position, a much more minor position than corresponds with the development of industry. Inasmuch as foreign capital does not import workers but proletarianizes the native population, the national proletariat soon begins playing the most important role in the life of the country. In these conditions the national government, to the extent that it tries to show resistance to foreign capital, is compelled to a greater or lesser degree to lean on the proletariat. On the other hand, the governments of those backward countries which consider inescapable or more profitable for themselves to march shoulder to shoulder with foreign capital, destroy the labor organizations and institute a more or less totalitarian regime. Thus, the feebleness of the national bourgeoisie, the absence of traditions of municipal self-government, the pressure of foreign capitalism and the relatively rapid growth of the proletariat, cut the ground from under any kind of stable democratic regime. The governments of backward, i.e., colonial and semi-colonial countries, by and large assume a Bonapartist or semi-Bonapartist character; and differ from one another in this, that some try to orient in a democratic direction, seeking support among workers and peasants, while others install a form close to military-police dictatorship. This likewise determines the fate of the trade unions. They either stand under the special patronage of the state or they are subjected to cruel persecution. Patronage on the part of the state is dictated by two tasks which confront it.. First, to draw the working class closer thus gaining a support for resistance against excessive pretensions on the part of imperialism; and, at the same time, to discipline the workers themselves by placing them under the control of a bureaucracy.
* * *
Monopoly Capitalism and the Unions
Monopoly capitalism is less and less willing to reconcile itself to the independence of trade unions. It demands of the reformist bureaucracy and the labor aristocracy who pick the crumbs from its banquet table, that they become transformed into its political police before the eyes of the working class. If that is not achieved, the labor bureaucracy is driven away and replaced by the fascists. Incidentally, all the efforts of the labor aristocracy in the service of imperialism cannot in the long run save them from destruction.
The intensification of class contradictions within each country, the intensification of antagonisms between one country and another, produce a situation in which imperialist capitalism can tolerate (i.e., up to a certain time) a reformist bureaucracy only if the latter serves directly as a petty but active stockholder of its imperialist enterprises, of its plans and programs within the country as well as on the world arena. Social-reformism must become transformed into social-imperialism in order to prolong its existence, but only prolong it, and nothing more. Because along this road there is no way out in general.
Does this mean that in the epoch of imperialism independent trade unions are generally impossible? It would be fundamentally incorrect to pose the question this way. Impossible are the independent or semi-independent reformist trade unions. Wholly possible are revolutionary trade unions which not only are not stockholders of imperialist policy but which set as their task the direct overthrow of the rule of capitalism. In the epoch of imperialist decay the trade unions can be really independent only to the extent that they are conscious of being, in action, the organs of proletarian revolution. In this sense, the program of transitional demands adopted by the last congress of the Fourth International is not only the program for the activity of the party but in its fundamental features it is the program for the activity of the trade unions.
(Translator’s note: At this point Trotsky left room on the page, to expound further the connection between trade union activity and the Transitional Program of the Fourth International. It is obvious that implied here is a very powerful argument in favor of military training under trade union control. The following idea is implied: Either the trade unions serve as the obedient recruiting sergeants for the imperialist army and imperialist war or they train workers for self-defense and revolution.)
The development of backward countries is characterized by its combined character. In other words, the last word of imperialist technology, economics, and politics is combined in these countries with traditional backwardness and primitiveness. This law can be observed in the most diverse spheres of the development of colonial and semi-colonial countries, including the sphere of the trade union movement. Imperialist capitalism operates here in its most cynical and naked form. It transports to virgin soil the most perfected methods of its tyrannical rule.
* * *
In the trade union movement throughout the world there is to be observed in the last period a swing to the right and the suppression of internal democracy. In England, the Minority Movement in the trade unions has been crushed (not without the assistance of Moscow); the leaders of the trade union movement are today, especially in the field of foreign policy, the obedient agents of the Conservative party. In France there was no room for an independent existence for Stalinist trade unions; they united with the so-called anarcho-syndicalist trade unions under the leadership of Jouhaux and as a result of this unification there was a general shift of the trade union movement not to the left but to the right. The leadership of the CGT is the most direct and open agency of French imperialist capitalism.
In the United States the trade union movement has passed through the most stormy history in recent years. The rise of the CIO is incontrovertible evidence of the revolutionary tendencies within the working masses. Indicative and noteworthy in the highest degree, however, is the fact that the new “leftist” trade union organization was no sooner founded than it fell into the steel embrace of the imperialist state. The struggle among the tops between the old federation and the new is reducible in large measure to the struggle for the sympathy and support of Roosevelt and his cabinet.
No less graphic, although in a different sense, is the picture of the development or the degeneration of the trade union movement in Spain. In the socialist trade unions all those leading elements which to any degree represented the independence of the trade union movement were pushed out. As regards the anarcho-syndicalist unions, they were transformed into the instrument of the bourgeois republicans; the anarcho-syndicalist leaders became conservative bourgeois ministers. The fact that this metamorphosis took place in conditions of civil war does not weaken its significance. War is the continuation of the self-same policies. It speeds up processes, exposes their basic features, destroys all that is rotten, false, equivocal and lays bare all that is essential. The shift of the trade unions to the right was due to the sharpening of class and international contradictions. The leaders of the trade union movement sensed or understood, or were given to understand, that now was no time to play the game of opposition. Every oppositional movement within the trade union movement, especially among the tops, threatens to provoke a stormy movement of the masses and to create difficulties for national imperialism. Hence flows the swing of the trade unions to the right, and the suppression of workers’ democracy within the unions. The basic feature, the swing towards the totalitarian regime, passes through the labor movement of the whole world.
We should also recall Holland, where the reformist and the trade union movement was not only a reliable prop of imperialist capitalism, but where the so-called anarcho-syndicalist organization also was actually under the control of the imperialist government. The secretary of this organization, Sneevliet, in spite of his Platonic sympathies for the Fourth International was as deputy in the Dutch Parliament most concerned lest the wrath of the government descend upon his trade union organization.
* * *
In the United States the Department of Labor with its leftist bureaucracy has as its task the subordination of the trade union movement to the democratic state and it must be said that this task has up to now been solved with some success.
* * *
The nationalization of railways and oil fields in Mexico has of course nothing in common with socialism. It is a measure of state capitalism in a backward country which in this way seeks to defend itself on the one hand against foreign imperialism and on the other against its own proletariat. The management of railways, oil fields, etcetera, through labor organizations has nothing in common with workers’ control over industry, for in the essence of the matter the management is effected through the labor bureaucracy which is independent of the workers, but in return, completely dependent on the bourgeois state. This measure on the part of the ruling class pursues the aim of disciplining the working class, making it more industrious in the service of the common interests of the state, which appear on the surface to merge with the interests of the working class itself. As a matter of fact, the whole task of the bourgeoisie consists in liquidating the trade unions as organs of the class struggle and substituting in their place the trade union bureaucracy as the organ of the leadership over the workers by the bourgeois state. In these conditions, the task of the revolutionary vanguard is to conduct a struggle for the complete independence of the trade unions and for the introduction of actual workers’ control over the present union bureaucracy, which has been turned into the administration of railways, oil enterprises and so on.
* * *
Events of the last period (before the war) have revealed with especial clarity that anarchism, which in point of theory is always only liberalism drawn to its extremes, was, in practice, peaceful propaganda within the democratic republic, the protection of which it required. If we leave aside individual terrorist acts, etcetera, anarchism, as a system of mass movement and politics, presented only propaganda material under the peaceful protection of the laws. In conditions of crisis the anarchists always did just the opposite of what they taught in peace times. This was pointed out by Marx himself in connection with the Paris Commune. And it was repeated on a far more colossal scale in the experience of the Spanish revolution.
* * *
Democratic unions in the old sense of the term, bodies where in the framework of one and the same mass organization different tendencies struggled more or less freely, can no longer exist. Just as it is impossible to bring back the bourgeois-democratic state, so it is impossible to bring back the old workers’ democracy. The fate of the one reflects the fate of the other. As a matter of fact, the independence of trade unions in the class sense, in their relations to the bourgeois state can, in the present conditions, be assured only by a completely revolutionary leadership, that is, the leadership of the Fourth International. This leadership, naturally, must and can be rational and assure the unions the maximum of democracy conceivable under the present concrete conditions. But without the political leadership of the Fourth International the independence of the trade unions is impossible.