William Z. Foster

Published by the Trade Union Educational League



THE reactionary officialdom of the trade unions travels constantly to the right. In following out its policy of “co-operation” with the employers, through the B. & 0. plan, trade union capitalism, etc., it is rapidly casting aside even the last semblances of struggle against the employers. It rejects and condemns the strike as a weapon. Consequently, the masses of workers, abandoned and betrayed by their old leadership, are being compelled to turn more and more, to the left wing in the unions for leadership in their inevitable fight for better conditions.

A whole series of strikes (Passaic, Furriers, I. L. G. W. U., etc.,) and of opposition movements in the unions (Machinists, Miners, etc.) indicates this tendency. As a result, the left wing has an urgent need to acquaint itself with the principles and practices of strike strategy, of the science of effective struggle by the trade unions.

The general question of strike strategy has received very little concentrated attention until within the last few years, that is, since the formation of the Red International of Labor Unions. Prior to that time the reformist trade union leaders, whose attention was fastened, not on making an effective fight against the employers, but on coming to agreement with them, gave very little thought to the development of a scientific strike strategy. In fact, the first real discussion ever held on the matter in an international labor gathering took place in the 1924 congress of the R. I. L. U.

In the United States the principal phase of strike strategy emphasized by the left wing for many years was the superiority of the industrial union and industrial strike over the craft union and craft strike. The many other aspects of the subject were practically ignored. There has been no systematization of strike experiences into a definite strike strategy.

The question is highly complex. There is very little literature upon it in this or any other country. This pamphlet, which is a companion volume to my booklet entitled, “Organize the Unorganized,” is a modest beginning of such a literature in this country. It should be followed by more elaborate and detailed studies.

At the R. I. L. U. 1924 congress, Losovsky defined the three elements of policy, strategy and tactics as follows:

“Policy lays down within the limits of the program the basic direction which the class must follow in order that its fighting capacity may be enhanced and in order to prepare it for the overthrow of the other class. Strategy determines the direction of the operation and the choice of the point to be attacked as part of the achievement of the chosen aim. Tactics provide the answer as to how to direct the battle at definite sections of the front.”

In the present work this distinction is not made. The three elements of the subject are covered under the general head of strike strategy. The pamphlet is somewhat comprehensive, dealing with various aspects of the left wing trade union program, but all linked up with the central question of how to wage strikes successfully.

Strike strategy varies widely from country to country and period to period. Its specific character depends upon the degree of economic development and of the sharpness of the class struggle in a given situation. The strike strategy necessary in a country in a revolutionary crisis differs very materially from that required in one with a flourishing and expanding capitalism. The strike strategy herein sketched is that best calculated to defend and advance the interests of the working class under present-day conditions in the United States.

Today, capitalism in the United States is strong and growing. It is able to furnish work for the masses; it can concede such conditions to the upper layers of the working class, the skilled workers, as to keep them pretty well contented with the present capitalistic order of society. But this is a passing phase. Just as British capitalism, which. was also once powerful and able to still the demands of the skilled workers with concessions, is now on the decline, so will American capitalism, however strong it may be now, go the same way downward because of the contradictions inherent in capitalist production and distribution.

The industries will shut down, great masses of workers will become chronically unemployed, their standards of living will be reduced; the concessions won from or given by the employers in the present period will then prove illusory and be swept away. The workers will be compelled to turn against capitalism, to organize their forces to put an end to the capitalist system and to establish the new proletarian order of society.

In the bitter struggles of that inevitable era the strike strategy will have to be quite different from and will be based upon a far more militant offensive than that possible in the workers’ fight today. It is not within the province of this booklet to detail the strategy of those critical times, but to lay out practical lines for the conduct of our strike struggles now.

Chicago, October 20, 1926.