First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 10, No. 1, August-September 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The main line of the Progressive Labor Party points out that the period we are living in is one of a ruling-class drive towards war and fascism to deal with the insoluble contradictions the bosses face. Without detailing those contradictions (see article in last PL magazine), it is sufficient to note here that they are trying to “solve” those contradictions at the expense of the working class, shifting the effects of their crisis onto our backs.
These effects include wage cuts, raging inflation, sharply increased racism (racist layoffs; deportation dragnets), mass unemployment (government estimates are that 25,000,000 workers will be out of work at one time or another during 1975), cut-backs in services, and union-busting, among other things. Finally, the ruling class attempts to deal with these contradictions by dragging U.S. workers into wars against workers in other countries, especially a world war against its chief rival, the Soviet Union’s ruling class.
Since U.S. bosses know from hard experience that the working class does not, and will not, take this stepped-up oppression lying down, it is attempting to crush the workers’ inevitable fight-back by imposing fascism on us. The liberals who lead this movement, as the main section of the ruling class, use the more openly right-wing forces (Hicks, Wallace, etc.) as their advance guard to attack whatever workers have won over the years.
It is the Party’s main task to lead the working class in defeating this ruling class “solution” of fascism and war, along with the effects mentioned.
While the Party declares that temporarily the main contradiction influencing events in the world is between Soviet and U.S. bosses (and between imperialists generally), over the long run we still believe the underlying contradiction to be between bosses and workers. This contradiction always exists. It is sharpest at the point of production where workers battle bosses over how much money (surplus value) the bosses will be able to steal from the workers, who produce all value.
Historically it is at the point of production where the workers have organized themselves most effectively against the bosses, having been drawn together into social production by the development of the capitalist system. It is out of the strength organized at the point of production that the working class has been able to mount even greater struggle elsewhere, up to and including socialist revolution, as well as such monumental achievements growing from socialism as the smashing of Hitlerite fascism.
Similarly, now in the U.S., the fight against war and fascism must be inter-woven with, and grow out of, the class struggle at the point of production, where the contradiction of bosses vs. workers is sharpest. If we communists in PLP are to lead the working class to revolution, the foundation stone at this stage of the struggle is leading workers in class struggle ON THE JOB, with communist ideas.
We cannot really fight fascism, repression and war–with all their effects–without an organized mass base for the Party’s ideas in the trade union movement. To fight fascism there, means to fight against strike-bans and the outlawing of unions, against wage cuts and racist layoffs, against mass unemployment, etc. To fight fascism elsewhere means to be able to draw on the organized strength developed by the rank and file in the trade union movement and direct it wherever workers feel the effects of fascism. (What would be the effect of unions organizing in Boston against Hicks, of marching through South Boston and opening up those virtually-closed union headquarters there, of mobilizing their members to defeat the racist anti-busing movement, of mobilizing their members to smash the fascist punks, using their experience as trade unionists who must smash scabs in strikes and organizing unions in the first place? Enough said.)
Unions are not moving in this direction because they are controlled by a right-wing, sellout leadership which collaborates as junior partners with the bosses. While the mass of workers in the Center have little faith in these finks, they still have not broken with them because they do not see any organized alternative leading in a Left direction. However, when workers are drawn into on-the-job struggle against the bosses, led by communists and communist ideas, the right-wing leadership is exposed and isolated; the mass of workers overcome their anti-communism, are won over to follow the Left in whom they now see an alternative in their fight for job and union security, as well as against all the other effects of the bosses’ economic crisis.
It is because we in PLP have not led enough on-the-job class struggle, with the content of our ideas, that the line-up of forces is still not clear to the mass of workers in the Center. It is from this on-the-job struggle that the role of the sellouts will become so clear on a day-to-day basis, that workers will join and follow communist-led caucuses and other formations, and that many will join the Party OUT OF THE NEEDS OF THE CLASS STRUGGLE. It is then that they will also follow communist leadership in other areas, whether it be in May Day marches, fighting fascism, fighting the drive to war, racist Hicks-type movements, etc.
We often wonder why workers at a union meeting string along with the sellout leadership or somehow “don’t see” their sellout nature. Actually this is a question of the lack of a real alternative to these finks. The existence of an alternative can only be based on militant, Left leadership at the point of production, ON THE JOB, which, in turn, will be reflected at union meetings and in all other union activities. Our ability to “deliver the goods” in the class struggle on the job will determine whether workers will follow us in all other areas of struggle. It is this kind of communist-led class struggle that will win workers away from the right-wing lackeys and will build a Left-Center leadership in life (it cannot be based on merely winning workers to a line verbally).
Without on-the-job struggle, there can be no thought of winning power in the unions. If there is one lesson to be learned from all our activity around union elections and from the Boston May Day march and the drive to fascism, it is that power in the union will NOT be won simply by electing a new union leadership. It will be won basically at the point of production, through communist-led on-the-job struggle, with workers’ violence and SEIZURE of that power, drawn from the workers’ control over their ability to shut production and defeat all violent boss attempts to stop them.
When we lead these kinds of struggles, they will be reflected in union elections, or else in the fact that workers will “vote” with their feet and muscle, guaranteeing they will determine who their leaders will be, regardless of bosses’ laws, corrupt union leaders, government mediators or the “Honest” Ballot Association. Without leadership on the job, we cannot expect workers to fight for rank-and-file power against the right-wing sellouts, and any election victory will be overturned by all the power that the enemy has to marshall against it. Power in the unions is determined by the confidence workers have in our leadership at the point of production, not by our putting forward a good program in a union election, important as that still is. The program should reflect on-the-job struggle.
To win a bloc of workers into a Left organization is not winning power in the union. That power is only won by the Party leading a bloc of workers on the job in class struggle–through organized forms such as caucuses, or whatever other Left forms the Party decides on, including winning certain key union committees–all leading to a rank-and-file take-over of the union itself.
Further, our ability to lead class struggle in areas away from the job is dependent on what we can produce on the job. We can’t be “for” things elsewhere but do nothing about the immediate problems at work. Workers won’t follow that kind of leadership in any mass way. Communist leadership in on-the-job struggle will lay the basis for workers to follow it against a fascist anti-busing movement or against a deportation dragnet.
The most glaring weakness in our trade union work is the lack of consistent on-the-job struggle led by the Party and its ideas 52 weeks a year. Where people carry out the line systematically, 52 weeks a year, the rest of the line also works. When on-the-job struggle is sporadic or nonexistent, very little of the rest of the line works. For instance, when the Canadian Party of Labor (CPL) engaged in real on-the-job struggle in the Toronto post office, about every issue that came up, a Postal Action Caucus resulted, 10 of 18 stewards were won into the caucus, 35 workers from the post office came to May Day, a number of postal workers joined CPL and a big ideological struggle was waged at the union meeting around endorsing May Day, which, while not winning the endorsement, was very instrumental in winning the bloc of 35 to go to May Day.
Moreover, on-the-job struggle led by communists changes the character of Party-building and recruiting. Although many workers and others have joined the Party in the recent recruiting campaign most have not been won out of mass class struggle, but rather from being met through public agitation or as casual acquaintances. Not that we shouldn’t recruit such workers; rather, that kind of growth rate will not be sufficient to meet the needs of the coming class struggle, in the face of war and fascism.
How we built for May Day largely reflects this. Most workers came from our personal ties and from ties with the ones we brought–our friends, and the friends of our friends. Others came from public agitation around May Day. A lesser number came from on-the-job struggle. Except for situations like the Toronto Postal Action Caucus (which endorsed May Day), and one or two hospitals in N.Y.C. where we led a strike, no big bloc of workers was brought to May Day from one shop or local, precisely because there has been no consistent, year-round, on-the-job class struggle with communist content to it. The same thing has been true for people coming to conventions, large demonstrations, etc.
While we were able to defeat the fascist punks who attacked us on May Day, we wouldn’t have been able to defeat a mass attack by the cops. We can only contemplate that kind of victory if we have large blocs of workers coming, with the confidence in us borne of fighting the boss every day in the shop, where a clear understanding of the role of the cops always comes out in sharp class struggle.
If we give communist leadership every day on the job, we will be able to move large numbers of workers in EVERY AREA OF LIFE in which capitalism oppresses the working class.
Communist-led on-the-job struggle means using the Party’s ideas to win the demands of the immediate struggle and, in the course of that, to win workers involved in that struggle into the Party. Both things are necessary. If we try to lead class struggle without the Party’s ideas and without building the Party, whose ideas are we using and what are we building? Only the bosses’ ideas, no matter how militant we may be. If we do not bring communist ideas into the struggle and convince workers to join the Party and fight for revolution, then, in effect, we are leading workers to think that you can win through reforming the system, that we don’t need a communist party, which is precisely what the boss tells us all the time. And, of course, if we try to build the Party by “talking” to workers about it without using the ideas to lead class struggle, we’ll never win very many workers to the Party, and certainly won’t win much class struggle.
But leading on-the-job struggle doesn’t mean doing something once a year or once a month. It doesn’t mean engaging in a strike over the contract and then going on “vacation from struggle” for six months. The job is there 52 weeks a year, the contradiction with the boss is there 52 weeks a year; therefore, the class struggle is there every single day, 52 weeks a year. There is something we can do virtually every day at work– especially if we have a plan– that contributes to the class struggle.
There are grievances which come up every day; workers being fired or threatened with being fired; workers robbed of money in their paychecks; workers not given their rightful classification or opportunity to advance to higher classifications; workers unfairly disciplined; workers victimized by racism in a myriad of forms; and on and on.
In addition to these daily injustices, there are the “larger” issues: wage cuts, mass layoffs, new contracts, etc., and all the preparation for struggle around those issues, as well as the union-related activity to them: rank-and-file participation in negotiations, organization for strikes, mass demonstrations against layoffs and cuts, activizing union committees that will organize these fight-backs, likewise for union meetings, and running in union elections around programs that reflect the activity in the class struggle on these issues.
On the one hand, with all that staring us in the face, some of us can find “no issues” to lead struggle around. On the other hand, some of us get very deeply involved in such struggles, but no sooner does that happen, then we forget all about the fact that we are communists, that there is a Party line, a Party to be built, and Party ideas to be put forward, both in the particular struggle and over-all. Right opportunism sets in with a vengeance and lays the basis for defeat, both in the immediate struggle (because, with the absence of the Party’s ideas, we and the workers fall prey to the bosses’ ideas), and in the long-run struggle, because the key to all struggle being built–the Party–is not being built at all. How should we actually operate?
For instance, suppose a worker is being fired. On the one hand, we must get all the facts in the case, the violations of the contract, etc. We must proceed from the point of view that the worker is always right, the boss always wrong. And we must explain precisely that point to all the workers; that is, we must fight the firing by injecting class consciousness into the struggle, not allow workers to feel that someone is being fired because some boss is nasty or “has it in for a worker.”
We can, through this issue, show the nature of the capitalism system, that built on profits and boss control, it is designed to screw workers, take their livelihood away from them, never allow a moment of real security. We must not allow the bosses’ idea of “this is only one worker,” or “he or she was wrong anyway,” or “don’t stick your neck out for someone else,” or “he never did anything for you when you needed it,” or a thousand other anti-worker ideas designed to split working-class unity. In fact, by the boss and his lackies putting forward any of these lies, it gives us the opportunity to put forward communist ideas, which are answers to every one of these things, especially if it involved racism by the boss.
Furthermore, we must organize a struggle against the firing by not only putting in a grievance, but by also organizing a demonstration on the job on behalf of the worker, by confronting the boss about it as soon as possible, by threatening a slowdown or even strike if necessary (and the forces can be marshalled), by publicizing the injustice far and wide, through leaflets, shop papers, press releases, etc., and attacking the boss sharply in all this, exposing company profits and all the conditions of work that led to the firing.
In doing this, the Party’s line becomes composed of two things: (1) the next most important thing to do in the struggle to win it, to raise it to a higher level, to actually beat the boss, answering everything they throw at us with pro-working class ideas; and (2) linking the particular struggle to the general Party line–the relation of the firing to general layoffs or cutbacks; to racism if that is involved; to the policies of liberal administrators; to the sellout policies of union “leaders,” to the need to build a movement, a caucus, a stronger union; to whatever larger movement the Party is building at the time (May Day, a jobs demonstration, a convention, a conference, a Party forum or social affair, etc.): to the need to build the Party–and join it–as the key organization putting forward the key ideas that are helping to win the struggle and carry it on in the first place.
No doubt more things can be put down here. Some of these ideas can become part of union or rank-and-file caucus leaflets, newspapers, etc. And some can be part of Party leaflets put out during the struggle, and after, to draw some lessons. Certainly there should be an article in CHALLENGE-DESAFIO about it, during the struggle if it lasts that long, but at least after it, both describing the struggle and putting forward the Party’s strategy in it. And CHALLENGE-DESAFIO should be SOLD to every worker there.
We should be trying to involve certain workers in the struggle who we think are winnable to the Party, or to a caucus, or any organization the Party is trying to build. We should make sure we see such workers off the job and have longer discussions with them, see them socially, etc.
Of course, if the person being fired is a Party member, this raises the Party line to an even higher level; why the boss hates communists and looks to get rid of them because of what communists stand for, in the immediate struggle and in the fight for socialism.
In the course of this struggle, it should be discussed in the club or in some Party collective. The whole strategy shouldn’t depend on what only one Party member thinks.
This is only some of what can be done in just the firing of one worker. A lot more can be organized if the struggle involves issues bigger than that–a contract, a mass layoff, etc. More of this is written up in the internal bulletin article printed before the last Party convention–“The Guts of Trade Union Work.”
The main point is that class struggle at the point of production is, and should be, taking place ALL THE TIME, and the Party’s ideas and building the Party should be discussed and put forward THROUGHOUT THE STRUGGLE. This is true no matter what the nature of the struggle. Many times we will put forward a militant strategy in relation to, say, opposing an injunction against a strike, organizing to defy it with mass picket lines, challenging the union sellouts’ giving in to the bosses’ law, etc., but all without linking up the use of the injunction to a class analysis of the state, why only workers are enjoined, what that all means to the necessity to have a revolution and therefore the necessity to build the Party that will lead the revolution.
In putting forward these ideas, it is not merely a question of putting out a leaflet saying, “I am a member of PLP, these are my ideas.” While that may very well be necessary and correct, the Party’s ideas don’t become part of the workers’ consciousness simply by “osmosis.” They have to be FOUGHT for–a political struggle must take place. Just because our ideas, and actions that represent those ideas, are put forward doesn’t mean they will be automatically accepted. The bosses will do all they can to distort them and lie about them. Much of what the bosses say will be accepted by the workers, or at least posed to us by workers to see if we can answer them and fight those ideas. And FIGHT we must; otherwise, our ideas and their resultant actions will not win out.
Of course, some points involve principled questions and some are merely tactical. Which is which depends on the particular situation, and this is why a collective Party discussion is needed, especially during peaks of struggle such as strikes (when the Party club or section involved should be meeting virtually daily in one form or another).
Obviously, we cannot go into every type of struggle in this report. Some on-the-job struggle is relatively short-lived. Others, such as organizing the rank and file for a successful strike, are more protracted. Some we can do right away; others will take longer, and will depend on how we organize the shorter-range struggles. But the main point is: we can, and should, organize on-the-job struggle every day we’re on the job, CONSTANTLY INJECTING COMMUNIST CONTENT INTO IT AND THEREBY BUILDING THE PARTY.
In organizing workers at the point of production, we know we must deal with the obstacle of a class collaborationist union officialdom. Since they control the union machinery, in fighting to make that machinery work for the rank and file, we must organize caucuses on the job, in a department, a shop, a local, and subsequently to higher levels of the union, on up to the International. These caucuses, composed of communists and non-communists, are the building block of the unity of Left and Center, the tool by which strategy and tactics can be hammered out by a group that, in effect, includes the Party and its base, and through the carrying out of militant, caucus-led struggle, achieves the goal of communist-led rank-and-file power in the unions. The role of caucuses and how to organize them is discussed in the pamphlet on “Caucuses and Rank-and-File Power in the Unions.” If we were active in struggle on the job every day, it would inevitably lead to caucuses spouting up by the dozen. The best and most effective caucuses are those that arise out of struggle. If one is built from an election slate, it will not exist long if it does not organize class struggle on the job. Otherwise, it is just seen–and rightfully so–as the “outs” trying to replace “ins” as union officials. Only the organization and leadership of class struggle will differentiate a militant, communist-led caucus from a sellout leadership. Action always speaks louder than words (and the piecards can always spout our line as long as we don’t DO anything about carrying it out).
First, let it be said that we would never be in a position to discuss the question of organizing on-the-job struggle if we had not pursued a strategy of turning towards the unions the last 3 to 4 years. Not so long ago we were content to try to organize outside the unions and away from the point of production (workers’ councils, unemployment councils, readers and sellers groups, etc.) However, by directing our main energies to building the Party in the trade union movement and at the point of production, we achieved a membership that has been through a considerable amount of class struggle, has led strikes and many smaller-scale struggles, and has recruited many workers and trade unionists to the Party. Certainly the majority of the Party are workers or members of working-class families and a large minority, probably 40%, actually belong to unions.
This is no small achievement, given the fact that our Party attempts to put forward the dictatorship of the proletariat in the mass, class struggle, something no other communist organization has really ever tried to do in U.S. labor history. However, given the drive to war and fascism, given the need for the Party to give mass leadership to the working class against that drive, what we have been doing and not doing, all our opportunism (written about in previous reports) will prevent us from giving that leadership, if we don’t change our ways, as outlined. No one ever said the class struggle is easy, is a cake-walk. But then again, neither is capitalism and its effect on our lives and the lives of the whole working class.
If communist leadership of on-the-job class struggle 52 weeks a year is absolutely necessary to defeating the ruling class and building the Party, why haven’t we approached that goal? The National Committee feels it is not some error in the Party’s line that explains this weakness, that the line of power in the unions, of protracted on-the-job struggle, of producing the guts of trade unionism as communists, is a sound line. If it lies in our not carrying out this line, why not?
The main reason is that the leadership of the Party, starting with the National Committee, has not won itself and the membership to overcoming the fear and isolation that hold back the Party from leading this kind of all-out class struggle.
1) We don’t guarantee that this struggle, in all its details, will take place. We mainly tell comrades to do it. We don’t keep after it on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, we are not really FIGHTING for the party line, but more paying lip-service to it.
2) We don’t do it in a real concentration way, picking out one place in which we might very well be successful (or at least would influence others far beyond the immediate struggle area) and move the whole Party behind it.
3) We tend to build for larger events (May Day, conventions, etc.) in a way that diverts members of the Party from carrying out on-the-job struggle. Instead of really seeing to it that struggles are carried out and then that May Day, etc., is linked to it and workers are drawn from these struggles to the events we’re building, we merely tell members to do that and then spend most of our time getting members to follow-up lists of friends and co-workers to bring them to the event. While this is important to do, and given our present base, probably necessary to insure that the event comes off, it certainly doesn’t reflect the event being built based on class struggle. We do not carry the necessity to organize on-the-job struggle with communist ideas uppermost in our minds.
If we guarantee these class struggles, then the “lists” will come right out of those struggles, but in a far more massive way than “ones” and “twos.” There’s nothing wrong with following up lists. It’s essential to organizing Party events. The problem is that our BASE does not come out of the class struggle, in sharpest conflict with the ruling class. That’s what has to be changed, and, in turn, will change the character of the activities and the Party that we’re building.
4) In speaking of the weakness of leadership in not guaranteeing the carrying out of the details of class struggle, we mean leadership on every level, but in the first place on a national level, in the National Committee (NC). From there, the weakness is carried to area, section and club leaders, reaching virtually every member of the Party. Therefore, the NC must take this problem head-on, and so must every leader and member of the Party with the group of Party members and Party base that he or she deals with or is responsible for.
No doubt there is much fear of class struggle, for exactly the same reasons that many workers fear struggle–we have to take on the bosses and struggle against their ideas with others. There is also a lot of isolation, again partly due to fear, and also due to a lack of fighting for the Party’s ideas. When we do fight for these ideas, rather than isolating ourselves, we draw more and more workers and others around us (as proven by the 6-month recruiting results and organizing over 4,000 people into May Day marches around the continent).
Fear and isolation will only be conquered by committing ourselves to the Party, to the collective, and by bolder leadership and initiative, coming in the first place from the NC, and from every leader and member of the Party.
To help overcome these leadership weaknesses in carrying out communist-led on-the-job struggle, we should do the following:
1) Every NC member responsible for an area of work and every area leadership should pick out one area of industrial concentration to develop communist-led, rank-and-file class struggle on the job, and move the whole Party behind it, to one degree or another. (If the concentration has already been chosen, then apply ourselves to that one.) The NC members and/or area leaders must give specific day-to-day leadership to this effort. It should affect the whole Party base and work on other issues in the area. Workers should be recruited out of this effort. Results should be evaluated two weeks before the next NC.
2) Every Party club should discuss and work out a plan for developing class struggle and for building the Party out of that struggle. Every member should be responsible to be a part of that club plan. Caucuses should be central to these plans.
If we do all this, as communists putting forward the Party’s line, we will transform the Party into a most serious working-class organization that organizes and leads the class struggle against the bosses, out of which a real mass base for socialism can develop.