Max Shachtman

Workers Party Platform

Why Does Labor Need
a Program of Action?

(April 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 16, 17 April 1944, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of several articles on the platform of the Workers Party which the party “recommends ... for adoption as the fighting program of the trade union movement and of the national Independent Labor Party which it must form.”)


The number of workers organized into the CIO, AFL, the United Mine Workers, the Railroad Brotherhoods and other independent unions has reached the figure of about 13,000,000 men and women.

Labor’s Organized Power

This makes the organized labor movement numerically more powerful than it has ever been in the history the United States or any other country. At its highest point during and right after the First World War, the American Federation of Labor did not have half that number of workers in its ranks. Thirteen million is a figure barely surpassed by the totals of the organized labor movement of England, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy taken together at any one time.

The mere figures do not convey the full significance of the labor movement in this country. A clearer idea may be obtained by comparing it with the labor movement as it was during World War I. At that time, organized labor was constituted primarily and mainly by the “aristocracy of labor” and except for isolated cases like the mining and railroad transportation industries it did not cover the basic, mass production, key industries of the country.

Now, with the rise of the CIO and with the fact that even the AFL has been jolted out of its old preoccupation with skilled workers only, the organized labor movement embraces the bulk of the workers in the large, basic industries – iron and steel, mining, railroad and maritime transportation, auto and aircraft, textile and clothing, rubber, packinghouse, shipbuilding, etc., etc. Even though there is a long way to go before complete unionization is achieved, the heart of the working class is already in the labor movement.

This labor movement is the most powerful social force ih the land, the most democratic, the most representative. It has the might to organize and lead the nation in the great crisis in which it finds itself and in the even greater crisis that lies ahead. It has within it all the necessary ability for performing this task, once it becomes aware of the part it must play in society today, and organizes itself accordingly.

What is this crisis? What is the greater crisis to come? In essence, put in the simplest terms, it expresses the inability of the capitalist class, or of any government that serves it, to organize society so as to guarantee the security and welfare of the masses of the people.

Nature of Capitalist Failure

Strip the history of recent times of all its secondary, accidental, superficial and temporary features, and the fundamental nature of the crisis stands out in such stark clarity that no amount of argument can obscure it:

In the period of crisis and depression following 1929, the best efforts of capitalism failed to put the tremendous productive capacity of the United States into full operation in order to maintain and enrich the life of its 130,000,000 people. Capitalism could not be made to work for building up society and sustaining life. Then came the war. Capitalism came to life again. The productive powers of the United States astonished the entire world. Now capitalism proved that it could be made “to work” – but only for destroying society and destroying life.

No more crushing indictment could be made of a social system. When the cry went up, “People must be kept alive!” the system did not and could not respond. Then, when the cry was changed to “People must be killed, and killed fay the millions, and their homes and lands demolished,” the system promptly responded, with a loud “Present!”

The greater crisis to come consists in this:

The post-war period, the “peace” period, offers no assurance that there will be any more security of work and life, any higher standard of living, than prevailed before the war. All sorts of vague promises are made. All sorts of plans are worked out. Some of them are even impressive. But none of them answers the decisive questions: HOW will it be carried out? WHO will carry it out?

The Crisis Will Deepen

Why will the post-war period bring an even greater crisis?

A number of factors will contribute to bringing everything to a head, and in the most violent form. Right now, ALL the classes and social groups in the country are restrained, to one degree or another, by the war and by what is generally felt to be the “need of winning the war.” Once the conditions of war are no longer present, the bitterest kind of struggle will be precipitated here at home. The multitude of problems which are now forced into the background by the “need, of winning the war” will brook no further delay in their demand for speedy and thoroughgoing solution.

Who is to pay for the war and carry its burdens? What is to be done with the huge industrial machine that could not be made to work during peacetime but worked so actively during wartime? What is to happen to labor, to the rights and standards it won in the past, to the rights and standards it gave up during the war under the promise that they would be restored, plus a good deal more, once the war ended? What is to be done about the millions of people in the middle classes who were ruined, wiped out, during the war – and, equally important, what are these millions themselves going to do? What about the millions of returning veterans, who will not quietly accept mass unemployment, miserable relief allotments, who are tired of being ordered around?

Which Way to a Solution?

These are only a few of the burning problems that can no more be solved tomorrow than they could be yesterday – except at the expense of labor OR by labor. The one way leads down the road of reaction, barbarism, servitude. The other leads up the road of progress, freedom, security.

For example: If the big monopoly capitalists, taking one disguise or another, enlist the support of the desperate middle classes, of the returned veterans, and of some demoralized workers, the coming crisis CAN be solved the way fascism solved it – the monopolists were saved, the workers were enslaved, a new war was prepared.

If, however, the labor movement enlists the support of all the workers, of the lower sections of the agricultural population, of the middle classes, of the veterans, and mobilizes these elements in a common front against the real enemy of all the people, against the real root of the social crisis – monopoly capitalism and the monopolists – there will be no serious danger from fascism and reaction in this country. Moreover, labor can organize and lead the country to such security, such a durable peace, such abundance, such an extension of freedom as our ancestors could not even dream of.

Can the labor movement, as it is today, perform this great task? No! It cannot even begirt to do so. How can it be expected that the middle classes, for example, will follow the leadership of organized labor when the latter is not demonstrating its ability to defend adequately the interests of its own people, the workers? The same holds true, in different degrees and in different ways, of the workers who are not yet organized into the unions, and of the workers and farmers who make up the overwhelming bulk of the armed forces.

The masses of the people, who are rightly discontented with things as they were and things as they are and things as they appear likely to be, will reject the monopolists, will reject all the fascist and reactionary demagogues, and follow labor instead, on one condition:


If labor works out and fights to put into effect a specific, clear-cut, bold, thoroughgoing, fundamental program for organizing and reorganizing the economic and political machinery of the country so that it operates for the benefit of all the common people, so that there is work for all, security for all, a high standard of living for all, peace and freedom for all – a program not only for tomorrow but also for today.

The masses of the people will not support the labor movement, and for that matter, millions of workers will themselves leave the labor movement, if it continues, as it is doing now, to walk around on its knees, to beg and whine. The people will not support the labor movement; if it confines itself to some relatively minor demands for this trifling improvement or that, for this trifling right or that. The people will not support the labor movement merely because it is composed of honorable men and women who toil for a living.

They can be gotten to support labor and they will support it, if labor works out a comprehensive program that says: This is what is wrong, and this is what we propose to do to change it. This is where we stand. This is not only what we promise for tomorrow, but what we are fighting for NOW, what we are actually seeking to, achieve with deeds – and not empty words.

The labor movement has no such program today. Here and there, isolatedly and disjointedly, one or another element for such a program has been put forward. Labor must work out a rounded program, put it before the masses of the people, and launch a concerted fight to put it into practice. There is no more urgent task today.

What should such a program contain? What should it cover? How far should it go? Should it deal only with the post-war problem?

We shall begin to answer these questions in our next article.

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