Written: June/July 1930.
Source: The Militant, Vol. III No. 24, 21 June 1930, p. 3, Vol. III No. 25, 28 June 1930, p. 6 & Vol. III No. 25, 12 July 1930, p. 3. Original bound volumes of The Militant and microfilm provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Andrew Pollack.
Proofreading: Einde O’Callaghan (October 2012).
The convention of the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union met at a critical period in the left-wing labor movement. Great and complicated questions of the struggle for a class union, directly affecting the welfare of the sweated and oppressed workers in the industry and bearing on the course of left-wing unionism in general, pressed insistently upon this convention for an answer. They pressed in vain. A false answer was given there to the basic questions of external policy as well as to those relating to the internal life of the union.
Errors which have accumulated into a system and brought about a crisis in the organization, weakening it in the face of its great tasks and responsibilities and supplying a corresponding strength to its enemies, were formally ratified and laid down as a guiding line for the future. The Stalin faction of the Communist Party, which held the convention in the steel vise of mechanical control, gave another demonstration there of its bankruptcy on the trade union question. Repercussions from the convention decisions will be sure and swift; they will fall upon the union, and consequently upon the workers whose fate is bound up with it, like heavy blows over the head.
The convention was a field day for party factionalism. It was consecrated primarily to a pogrom against the adherents of Lovestone – a disgusting exhibition of mob spirit, full of menace for the future of a union. Howls and boos and the caucus steamroller – these were the answers to all criticisms and proposals, regardless of their merit, which did not emanate from the party steering committee. Not even blows were spared in the “ideological” struggle.
The Lovestoneites, who were the first to employ these methods in the Communist and left-wing movement, got a double dose of their own medicine at the Needle Trades Workers convention. But it was not they who will be the losers by it. The Stalinists, who imagined that their mob and hooligan tactics were contributing to the struggle against Lovestoneism, were only demonstrating how well they have acquired some of its most abominable features. The left-wing movement and the Communist Party will pay a heavy price for every “victory” gained by these means.
Factional exclusion from the leading bodies of the union did not stop at the Lovestoneites, the excluders of yesterday. Members of the party who have ventured to exercise a mild “self-criticism” against the ruling bureaucrats were also eliminated from all positions. Everything was cut and dried in advance to the last detail. The “democracy” was simply window-dressing for the gullible. Johnstone, the party representative, bossed the convention like an arrogant drill-sergeant, the veritable symbol of triumphant ignorance. The leadership of the union, which had already been whittled down to party members, was still further narrowed to members of the Stalin faction of the party. Thus the Stalinists strengthen their position in the apparatus by weakening the base of the union among the masses. On the side of internal policy the union is worse off than before.
In the most important and decisive questions of external policy the convention also gave the wrong answers. By declaring formally against the organization of a left wing in the reactionary unions in the industry, the convention chopped away the bridge to the workers in these unions, and they are the overwhelming majority of the organized workers in the industry. This decision, and the theory which motivates it – that the right-wing unions are “company unions” – are both wrong and are bound to bring catastrophic results.
There may be some who go so far as to think that this decision has sealed the doom of the new union of the left wing. But in our judgment such an opinion is not well founded. The danger that the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union will degenerate into an impotent sect no doubt exists, and this danger has been increased by the unwise decisions of the convention, but there is yet time to correct the errors and to change the course.
It is to this task that the militants of the Left Opposition who are assembling in the union must devote themselves. The first prerequisite for success in this struggle for the salvation of the union is clarity in their own ranks on the question of a program for the union. This is the decisive question. The present relation of forces means little; it will be shattered by the impact of events, and soon enough. The correct program is the basis on which the Opposition Communists, triumphant forces of tomorrow, will secure their victory – and the victory of the left-wing workers.
Our policy must proceed from an analysis of the actual situation and the present relation of forces in the industry. Facts and not wishes are important here. The situation is approximately as follows:
Consider these figures for a moment. The right-wing unions contain about 40 percent of the workers in the entire industry; the left-wing union has about one percent. A further concretization shows that the membership of. the left-wing union has the bulk of its organized strength in the dress-making shops. Its hold on the cloak makers and furriers is very weak organizationally at the present time. In the men’s clothing field, the field dominated by the Amalgamated, the strongest union in the industry, it has nothing. In the millinery section it has little. These figures are very important as a point of departure, but they do not tell the whole story. There are other important factors more favorable to the left union.
The figures cited above are not a true representation of the actual strength of the rival organizations. The membership of the right-wing unions, and particularly of the International Ladies Garment Workers, is based on shop control, agreements with the bosses, and job compulsion. Thanks to the partnership of the union officials with the bosses, a partnership sealed by the capitalist state power, the workers are compelled to belong to the right-wing union in order to get work in the shops affected. Terrorism, hunger, and the demoralization of the left-wing forces were the whips with which the workers were driven into the rightwing ranks.
Sympathy for the left wing is very strong among large sections of these registered workers. All informed workers in the trade testify to this. “My heart is with you but I must make a living” is a common answer of the registered workers to the appeals of the left wing. There is no doubt that the left-wing influence has declined in the past two years, but it remains a powerful force in the masses. And the leadership of the Communist Party in the left-wing movement is indisputable. There is no other important power.
These facts are a remarkable testimony to the vitality of the left-wing movement among the needle trades workers and to their deep-seated hatred for the Socialist betrayers. Not all the compulsion and terrorism of the bosses, the reactionary labor leaders, and the police, and – what is equally noteworthy – not all the blunders of the party and left union leadership, have been able to change fundamentally the sentiments of the workers. The real strength of the left-wing union is much stronger in the sympathy of the masses than its organization, as that of the right-wing unions is weaker.
The five or six thousand members of the left-wing union are, for the most part, the battle-tried militants, the dynamic force in the industry. They constitute, and will constitute, the core of the future fighting movement which will smash the present alignment. A communist policy for the next stages of the struggle must be based on them, as in the past. There is the reserve power which is not shown by the membership figures of the rival unions.
The Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union is not an artificial creation. It was formed as the result of an unavoidable split forced by the traitorous leaders of the ILGWU and the furriers’ union. It had masses of workers behind it. The left union has a real base in sections of the industry and, as such, has every claim to support. The first point in communist policy must be: to organize the unorganized and build the new union.
But this is only part of the proper program, not the whole of it as the convention proclaimed. In next week’s article we will undertake to explain the necessity of organizing a broad left wing in the reactionary unions of the industry, the methods and slogans with which this task can be accomplished, and the falsity of the theory of “company unionism,” which has been invented to justify a suicidal policy.
The Militant invites left-wing needle trades workers to write for its columns on the situation in the union and to give their views on the problems of their movement. Articles written in any language will be translated into English and printed. The Daily Worker is the closed organ of the cynical bureaucrats – The Militant aims to become the voice of the militant rank and file.
One of the chief errors of the convention of the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union – an error, like all the others, forced upon it by the party leadership – was to regard the split in the furriers’ and ladies garment workers’ unions, and the formation of the new industrial union, as the final settlement of accounts with the reactionary leaders within the old organizations throughout the industry, including those unions which were not affected by the split.
This estimation of the situation is profoundly false. The issue is not yet settled even with the unions in which the split occurred, and will not be settled as long as these right-wing organizations control the majority of the organized workers in these trades. And in the field of the other unions, where there has been no split and where the new union has created no base in the shops, such an assumption is a sheer absurdity. A policy founded on this false assumption collides with facts which cannot be wished away.
The split and the formation of the new union in a section of the industry must rather be regarded as a stage in a long-drawn-out and complicated struggle. The first necessary stage was the formation of the left wing in the old unions and its consolidation in battle. Without that, the present existence of the new union would have been impossible. The left wing is still confronted with this preliminary task in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and in the Cap and Millinery Workers Union. It has yet to complete it in the ILGWU and the furriers’ union. It also has the problem of uniting this activity in a comprehensive strategy with the task of strengthening the new left union and organizing the unorganized. The goal of the left wing is to unite the masses of needle trades workers into a single organization of the class struggle.
The goal is still some distance away, as the membership figures demonstrate with merciless logic. Under what conditions can the left wing move in the direction of this goal? Only by demonstrating in practice that it is able to improve the material conditions of the workers in the shops. The most revolutionary program will not be accepted as a substitute for this. The workers want results in terms of bread and butter. If the left-wing union fails in this, it fails in everything.
The new union has the will to do this, but it is blocked by the right unions, which have the help of the bosses and the police and, besides, have the great bulk of the organized workers in their ranks. The existence of these right-wing unions under the control of the reactionaries and traitors is not only a barrier to the new union in the organized shops; it is also a powerful force for the sabotage and disruption of any serious organizing campaign of the new union among the unorganized. The left wing must cope with this problem. That is the key to its future development.
The question of the attitude of the revolutionaries toward the right-wing unions needs clarification. The convention of the new union, under the guidance of the party leadership, put the question on the simple basis of either/or; that is, for the new leftwing union and against the old right-wing unions throughout the entire industry. The convention program states: “The I.L.G.W.U., the A.C.W., the I.F.W.U., and the other so-called right wing organizations are company unions in the real sense of the word ... The company unions cannot be reformed, they must be destroyed.” It follows with the decision: “To abandon the maintenance of the T.U.U.L. groups within the company unions.” And to “call upon every needle trade worker, regardless of craft or occupation, to join the new union.”
This is a false approach to the problem as well as a false estimation of the old unions. What is needed is a two-sided policy of strengthening the new union and simultaneously working within the old unions, with a single objective: to unite the workers on a broader basis under the left-wing banner. Simple solutions – either/or – will not work out. To liquidate the new unions would mean to deprive the workers of the concentrated gains of their long struggle and paralyze their fighting power for a long time. To fail at the same time to build a strong left wing in the old unions would rob the new union of any possibilities of broad expansion and condemn it to sectarian impotence.
The Stalinist masterminds who can see only along a straight line, and that only as far as the end of their noses, will have none of this “complicated” strategy. And lacking reasons to justify their narrow and sectarian policy, they invent them. One of these inventions is the theory that the right-wing unions are company unions. Even if this were so, it would not free the revolutionaries from the necessity of working within them as long as they embrace masses of workers. Foster explained this some years ago in his writings on company unions, and Lenin explained it before him in his account of the work of the Bolsheviks in the tsarist police-controlled unions in Left-wing Communism. But, alas, we live in the “third period,” and the onetime wisdom of Foster, to say nothing of the wisdom of Lenin, is a forgotten song of long ago. Stalinist education requires that we forget today everything we learned yesterday.
The “company union” argument is a theoretical fraud invented to motivate a false policy. There is no doubt, however, that many of the left-wing workers are deluded by this schematic explanation of the matter; and this delusion stands in the way of a clear comprehension of the problems and tasks of the left wing. This circumstance justifies and necessitates a discussion of the formula which is designed to save thought and avoid a complicated struggle.
The history of the American and international labor movement shows two types of trade unions: those based on the idea of the partnership of labor and capital-class-collaboration unions – and those based on the class struggle. Even between these two main types the line of demarcation is not always clear. They frequently overlap each other. More than one “revolutionary” union has proved to be conservative, even reactionary, in practice. And many a militant strike has been conducted by unions officially committed to a policy of class collaboration. These contradictions between practice and program arise from the fact that the trade unions are not static bodies. They have their existence in the class struggle and are constantly under its pressure and influence.
The trade unions, which are the basic and elementary organizations of the workers, reflect in a general way the stage of class development of the workers in their ranks.
The corrupt and reactionary bureaucracy exerts a certain influence, of course, in holding back the development of the union on the path of the class struggle; just as the communists, at the other pole, are a force for its acceleration. Between these two factors of conscious pressure for opposing ends, the general level of class consciousness in the masses asserts itself and determines the character of the unions in practice regardless of their predetermined program. A revolutionization of the labor movement presupposes a revolutionization of the masses and has no serious meaning without it. On the other hand, with a real development of working-class radicalization, all the machinations of the bureaucrats cannot prevent the trade unions from reflecting and expressing it.
The fact that this organizational expression may, and most frequently will, be realized through deep splits in the old unions and the formation of new ones – a process that has begun in the needle trades – does not alter the fundamental proposition. The very existence of the new needle trades industrial union, which was first crystallized as a left wing in the old unions, is positive proof that these unions are susceptible to the pressure of the class struggle and the agitation of the revolutionaries. It is proof that, despite the despicable fakers at their head, they are actual organizations of the workers, the natural and legitimate field for revolutionary activity.
Company unionism is a different question altogether. Company unions are organizations formed directly by the bosses and directly controlled by them. Their officers are the bosses’ employees, foremen, stool-pigeons, etc. They have no independent life and no independent power to enforce decisions. They have no functions except those conferred on them by the bosses. History has never yet recorded a struggle of the workers conducted under the banner of a company union; although there have been a few instances where they served as the starting point for movements of revolt against the company unions, smashing through them and forming independent unions of the workers. No worker, even the most ignorant, ever mistook a company union for a real union.
Can the right-wing unions in the needle trades, with all the corruption and treachery of their leaders, properly be classified as company unions? Certainly not, if definitions mean anything. These are quite different organizations, and this fundamental difference is not abolished by the recent trend of the right-wing officials toward closer and more open partnership with the bosses.
The right-wing organizations are class-collaboration unions in all the accepted meaning and implication of that term. It is quite true that the right-wing officials have introduced a new efficiency and a higher technique into the business of betraying the workers under the old theory of a partnership between labor and capital. But at bottom there is nothing new in principle. The right-wing unions in practice are more or less typical examples of the doctrine of class collaboration.
What is there about the practice of the right-wing unions that distinguishes them from the standard type of reactionary American trade unions? Is it the agreement with the bosses to compel the workers in the shop to register in the right union? Almost every American trade union for years and even for decades has attempted to make such an agreement with the employers. Many of them are based on such contracts. The printing trades, building trades, and many other unions have such agreements.
The most conspicuous illustration is the United Mine Workers. For more than twenty years this organization maintained control of the organized coal fields, and froze out such rivals as the IWW and the One Big Union through the check-off-system – an arrangement whereby the mine operators collected the union dues by deducting them from the miners’ wages. The program of the left-wing convention cites the check-off as one of the “characteristics of company unions.” This is really laughable when it is recalled that the check-off was one of the left-wing demands in the miners’ union up till a short while ago; the surrender of the check-off by Lewis in the anthracite strike in 1926 was bitterly attacked by the Communist Party.
Is it cooperation of their officials with the bosses and the police to fight the militant workers which makes the right-wing unions company unions? This again is the established and traditional practice of reactionaries in the labor movement; it is such practices, among others, that stamp them as reactionaries and agents of the bosses. Lenin speaks of this in Left-wing Communism. The traitor leaders of the German trade unions were the saviors of capitalism and the butchers of the revolutionary workers. After that, Lenin wrote his pamphlet advising the German Communists to go into these unions in order to wrest the workers out of the control of these betrayers.
Is it, perhaps, the enforcement of “production standards” on the workers and the selling of the unions as agencies of efficiency, that “transforms” them into company unions? This again is nothing new. Such a policy is inherent in the very idea of class-collaboration unionism. The slogan of traditional trade unionism, “a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work,” which Marx polemicized against, is the germ of all such policies. The latter-day agents of the capitalists in the labor movement have only extended and modernized the basic ideas and practices of the conservative unionism of the past.
While in all essential and fundamental features the right-wing unions in the needle trades conform to the standard type of reactionary labor organization represented by the AFL, there is no ground for confusing them with company unions. The basic difference consists in this: The company union is a lifeless organization created by the bosses, in which no outside force is consulted and no agreement is required. The reactionary labor union, on the other hand, is based on an agreement of the bosses with an outside force – namely, the unions represented by the right-wing officialdom.
This relationship imparts to the union certain features never seen in a company union. These are: a formal independent life of the union organization and an independent apparatus not employed in the shop; a constitution and formal democratic procedure – business meetings, conventions, etc., without direct interference of the bosses; an independent treasury for the self-maintenance of the union; the settlement of disputes by agreement with an implied reserve weapon of compulsion on the part of the union. These are the essential features of a labor organization, a potential instrument in the class struggle and a natural field for revolutionary work.
It is quite obvious that company unions and reactionary trade unions are entirely different kinds of organizations. And this difference is not disposed of by the assertion that the right-wing unions, through their corrupt officials, also serve the bosses. This is true enough, and it must never be forgotten; but they serve the bosses in a different way than do the officials of the company unions, who are directly employed by the bosses and represent no independent power. This is what we have to understand before we can draw the correct inferences regarding revolutionary tactics.
To characterize the old unions in the needle trades as company unions means to play with catchwords. Those who want to think straight – and revolutionaries above all others must do this – must beware of catchwords. What we need are precise definitions of our problems and tasks. Intelligent thought requires that words have a definite meaning, although this elementary truth has not yet occurred to the phrasemongering leaders, who try to answer complicated problems with careless epithets.
If we compare the old unions in the needle trades with the standard AFL unions and such conservative independent bodies as the railroad brotherhoods, we see that they all have the same characteristic features. The differences and variations between them are incidental and peculiar to the particular situation surrounding them. The important thing to see – because it is an inescapable fact – is that they are of the same basic type. Consequently, a policy of withdrawal from the reactionary unions in the needle trades, of refusing to organize a left wing within them – on the ground that they are company unions – is, in reality, a decision to give up the fight in all the reactionary unions. Make no mistake about it. That is what the newly baked theory of “company unionism” means.
Such proposals have been made before. In 1920 and 1921 we fought the issue out in bitter conflicts in the party. The rise of the left wing in the needle trades and all its great historic accomplishments would have been impossible if we had not defeated the abstentionist policy at that time and steered the communist militants into the mass organizations controlled by the reactionaries – the same Schlesingers and Hillmans. In the early days of the Comintern a historic struggle on this question took place, the results of which were summed up at the Second World Congress of the Comintern and the First World Congress of the RILU. Thanks to the decisive leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the program of deserting the old mass unions, proposed by the German ultraleft opposition and sections of the British and American delegations, was rejected, and the Comintern directed its course toward the masses in the reactionary unions. Without this decision, the expansion of the Communist parties of Europe as great organizations of the masses could not have taken place.
It is high time to restate the fundamental tactics of Bolshevism on the trade union question and organize the struggle against their revision. The future of the left wing in the American labor movement – and the future of the Communist Party – hinges on this issue. The decision of the convention of the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union against the formation of a left wing inside the old unions of the industry strengthens the grip of the reactionary leaders on these unions and thus strengthens the grip of the bosses on the workers. The nucleus of the Communist Opposition which is taking shape in the union, has for its first and most insistent duty the organization of a struggle to change this decision. Life itself will smash the decision, but the communist militants must hasten the process in order that the least possible harm for the left-wing movement will result.
The building of the new industrial union and the organization of a fighting left wing in the old unions are not contradictory tasks. They are two sides of the same task and are indissolubly bound together. The slogans and methods for the conduct of this two-sided struggle require explanation and discussion. This is all the more necessary since the convention failed to give a proper lead, and the document issued by the Lovestoneites at the convention is a typical product of opportunist straddling and half measures.
The policy adopted at the convention of the industrial union deals a double blow against the left-wing movement in the needle trades. On the one hand it forcibly tears away the more advanced and revolutionary elements from organizational contact with the masses of workers in the old unions. On the other hand it brings about a split in the ranks of the left wing. In both of these consequences the policy runs counter to the basic line of Bolshevist tactics.
In the Amalgamated, which has a firm grip on the men’s clothing section of the industry and where membership in the union is tied up with the question of a job, the new policy encounters insurmountable difficulties from the start; and these difficulties will accumulate if any serious effort is made to enforce the policy. It will soon be demonstrated there that the workers who are willing to sacrifice their living in order to justify the stupidity of the party are few. In the Cap and Millinery Union the new policy has already hit the rocks. The attempt to enforce the decision of the convention has split the left wing of the New York blockers’ local of this union in the middle.
The developments in the blockers’ local are very instructive, and they are symptomatic of what is to follow on a broader scale. In this local of 1,500 workers, constituting about 50 percent of the workers in the trade in New York, the bloc of the left-wing and progressive forces has constituted a strong minority. The instructions to join the new industrial union have met with a categoric refusal on the part of all the left-wing and progressive elements except a handful of party members. Let the Communist workers take heed of this situation in the blockers’ local. It is a warning of what will happen everywhere.
Is it possible under the present conditions to organize a strong left wing in the old unions of the needle trades? Now more than ever. The program which the party leadership forced on the industrial union convention in arguing against it, cites the destruction of standards won in years of struggle and the failure of the right-wing officialdom to defend the interests of the workers at any point. The answer is: just because this is so, just because the conditions of the workers grow more and more intolerable and the treachery of the right-wing bureaucrats becomes more clearly manifest, the soil becomes more favorable for the organization and rapid development of a broad left-wing movement within the old unions.
The bureaucrats are powerless to prevent it. The only real obstacle is the policy of the party, which has been imposed on the present left-wing forces in the industry. And, so loudly do all the circumstances cry out for such an organized movement in the old unions, not even the party can hold it back for long. If not with the official party, then without it for the time. being, the movement must and will be organized. The nucleus of needle trades communists now crystallizing under our banner have the duty to take the lead in this struggle and show the way, regardless of the decisions of the party bureaucrats to the contrary.
The first and most important step in this direction is the formulation of a concrete program of economic demands and a vigorous agitation for them within the old unions. This is the Achilles’ heel of the right-wing regime; and there is nothing they can do to prevent a sympathetic response to such an agitation in the ranks of the membership. The more they join hands with the bosses against the workers, the more they collaborate with them in robbing the workers of their standards, the more do they create the conditions for a movement of revolt against them on the basis of our economic demands.
Every attempt on the part of the right-wing fakers to throttle this agitation will strengthen the position of the left wing for the advocacy of another powerful slogan – the slogan of democracy in the unions. In view of the narrow, bureaucratic, and arbitrary practices which have been smuggled into the administration of the new industrial union itself, it may be thought that this slogan is out of date. Nothing could be falser than such an assumption. Those who hold it reckon without the workers and their deep-rooted impulse for self-governing organizations, one of the truest impulses of the advanced elements of the class.
Not for nothing has been the long schooling of the needle trades workers in trade union organization; not in vain the historic struggles of the left wing for this slogan of the rank and file. The sentiment for trade union democracy, developed and strengthened in these long struggles, is not dead. Given a sensible policy and leadership, this sentiment will reassert itself and be a source of power for the new left-wing struggle in the old unions.
Does the policy of reopening the fight in the old unions imply any reconciliation with the traitorous and bribed officials of these unions, as the soft-headed experts of the “third period” say? Just the opposite. It means the elevation of the left-wing fight from phrasemongering futility into action which will animate the leftwing movement with a new vitality. We do not speak in favor of a tiptoe activity in the old unions by grace of the fakers, but an open, militant, and ruthless war to exterminate them and all their influence.
This means to expose and denounce them before the workers on the basis of every concrete act of betrayal which they commit from day to day. It means to explain, theoretically and practically, their role as agents of the bosses and to imbue the workers with a deathless hatred for them. The constitution of a new leftwing movement within the old unions, uniting its struggle with that of the militants in the new industrial union, means to enter on another stage in the fight to cleanse the needle trades movement of the reactionary lieutenants of the employing class.
The fourth important phase of left-wing strategy is the revival of the tactics of the united front and the slogan of trade union unity. The slogan of unity has power to move the masses. It corresponds to the necessities of their struggle and to their own inmost convictions, born of tragic experience in splits and defeats. The left wing must raise again the slogan of unity in the new union and in the old ones. It must explain to the workers over and over again that it is the right-wing reactionaries who bring division and split into the labor movement, and that it is the left wing which fights for unity.
The left wing must prove this in its daily policy because words alone are not enough; it is deeds which convince. The left wing in the needle trades took shape, grew, and became consolidated in battle under the slogan of unity. The abandonment of the slogan has been accompanied by a weakened organization and a dwindling influence. The revival of the slogan now is necessary to turn the helm and change the course toward new victories for the left wing and for the masses of the workers.
A general phrase about unity means nothing. What is required is a precise formulation for the concrete circumstances. The party’s talk about unity is good for nothing because it goes hand in hand with a policy of split. The workers are not as dumb as the bureaucrats think, and they are not so easily fooled by words which are contradicted by deeds.
The slogan put forth by the Lovestoneite faction – a typical production of opportunist generality and evasion – is no better. This shoddy crew, trying to capitalize on the sentiment for unity in the old unions and fearing to offend the sectarian patriotism of the members of the new union, has issued the slogan “Fight for one industrial union in the industry!” What does that mean? Like all the slogans of the opportunists, it means anything you like. As to how it is to be realized, how it is to be put concretely in the new union and in the old unions – this is left to guesswork and interpretation.
The Opposition Communists in the needle trades cannot trifle with double-meaning slogans. Their aim is to clarify the issues, not to attract the workers with catchwords. They are duty bound to act in the spirit of Lenin, who said: “Argue about tactics but give clear slogans!” Therefore they must formulate the slogan of unity with such precision that there can be no misunderstanding about it.
The Stalinists propose to achieve “unity” by having the 175,000 workers in the right-wing unions withdraw from them individually and join the six or seven thousand members in the new industrial union. This is absurd.
The Lovestoneites formulate the slogan so that it can be interpreted one way when they are under the attacks of the Stalinists in the new union, and the opposite way when they are under the attack of the officials in the old unions. This is misleading; this is playing with issues according to the time-honored practice of these unprincipled opportunists.
In our opinion the slogan of unity should be formulated as follows: “Unite the old unions with the new industrial union into a single organization for the entire industry!” The slogan, thus formulated, should be raised in direct connection with the other slogans mentioned above regarding the fight for economic demands, trade union democracy, and the elimination of the right-wing leaders. It should be issued by the new industrial union and by the organized left wing in the old unions in precisely the same way and would be the most important means of uniting their struggles into one, along the front of the entire industry. The two sections of the left wing, working in different fields of organization, would thereby be bound together into a single ideological force. From this, organizational coordination of the joint struggle would follow.
On this basis both sections of the left wing would bound forward in the confidence of the workers, and each section – the new union in the sphere of the unorganized and the organized left wing in the old unions – would expand its organization. There is no contradiction in such a perspective. The two lines of activity supplement and strengthen each other. The existence of the new union as a growing force would constitute a standing threat to the bureaucrats of the right-wing unions against mass expulsions. In fear of the new union they will be compelled to hesitate and temporize with a left wing in their own organization, and allow it a certain room for development.
On the other hand, a desperate fear of the movement within the right-wing unions, driving the officials to mass expulsions and splits again, would bring new forces to swell the ranks of the industrial union; not handfuls of Communists, as will be the case under the present policy, but masses of workers who would impart to the new union the character of a mass organization.
Against our proposals and perspective there remains a question of last resort for the Stalinist tacticians: “Is it possible to ‘reform’ the old unions and transform them into genuine organs of the class struggle?” The Stalinists have answered this question in the negative and thereby disposed of it as far as they are concerned. As for us, this schematic formulation has no meaning. We do not advise the left-wing workers to waste their time in speculation as to the possibilities of a “legal” conquest of the apparatus of the old unions. Experience in the needle trades struggle has already provided a certain answer on this point.
When we speak of a conquest of the old unions we do not think in terms of the offices, the buildings, and the banks. We think of the 175,000 workers in these unions, and we say they can and they will be won to the revolutionary banner. When we proclaim the slogan of uniting the old unions with the new industrial union in a single organization, we do not promise that this unity will be legally confirmed by the reactionary leaders with a voluntary abdication. But our slogan of unity is nevertheless a sincere one and it is put forward with confidence that it will be realized.
With a correct policy and a competent leadership, the left wing will win over the masses and unite them – if not all, then the great majority – into one union. Let the reactionaries think of the unions in terms of contracts with the bosses, offices, buildings, and banks. Let us think of the unions in terms of the workers within them. This conception will guide us toward the slogans and tactics of victory.
Last updated on: 13.10.2012