First Published: In Struggle! No. 167, August 14, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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A reader sent us a letter on the subject of IN STRUGGLE!’s pamphlet Who is manipulating the unions?. She points out that the pamphlet is very readable and agitational, and that it is very positive that it deals mainly with a criticism of the “union bosses”. She also raises questions on the role of communists in unions.
“in the first paragraph on page 17 (in the French version – translator’s note), IN STRUGGLE! appears to condemn the activity of factions in the union movement. At the Montreal Labour Council (of the CNTU) convention, delegates approved the activity of factions in the union movement when they rejected part of the document Les pratiques syndicales (union practices)... the part which condemns factional activity. This was understood as meaning that militants who wish to group together before a general meeting in order to discuss subjects on the agenda, so as to better prepare themselves for the debate, have the right to do so.
“What does IN STRUGGLE! mean? Do you mean that Trotskyist form organizations which are parallel to labour organizations in order to shortcircuit them? I don’t have any concrete examples of that. Could you give me some, if that is your opinion? That would indeed be something to condemn...
“This subject should be discussed. Could it be that there is confusion in our minds between factionalism in the party and factionalism in the union movement, although the two are not the some thing? Maybe we are not clear on the understanding of what factionalism is?”
A delegate to the CNTU convention
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First of all, I would like to thank you for sending me your opinion on the pamphlet which we recently published.
What position should we hold on the question of communist fractions in unions? By the way, we should correct what was written on page 17 of the pamphlet. We should speak of “fractions” and not “factions” when we are referring to groups of communist militants within unions. The word “faction” does in fact have a pejorative sense, designating a group which defines itself in opposition to the majority of members in a union, organization or party, and whose aim is to divide. A “fraction”, on the other hand, is composed of workers whose aim is to win all of their comrades to the communist point of view through different means, while scrupulously respecting the democratic decisions of the majority.
Communists have advocated the establishment of union fractions since the beginning of the Comintern (Communist International) in the 1920s, and I believe that this is a correct position. I believe that it is the only way for us to work in unions, which, as our letter points out, must not be confused with the party, on this question. I will come back to this point further on in my letter.
The fact is that unions are mass organizations which bring together workers of all political tendencies, including workers who are still under the domination of bourgeois ideology and have faith in the political parties of the capitalists. Despite this, unions have everything to gain from remaining united.Otherwise their battles will end up in defeat. In all unions, and especially in unions which are in the midst of a struggle, the bosses and often even the State and the police, look for support in different ways, including corruption. We have only to think back to the recent story of a trade-unionist in Quebec’s Lac St. Jean area who was “approached” by Quebec Provincial Police and asked to provide information in exchange for favours and money. As well, the union bosses, those corrupt union officers who have sold out to the bourgeoisie, are constantly busy pushing class collaboration, and telling workers to be patient, to trust the courts, the police, the State, to avoid illegal walkouts (according to the rules fixed by the bourgeoisie, of course!), etc.
In this context, it is quite legitimate and very correct for communist workers to group together to counter the manoeuvres of the collaborators and reactionaries, and to serve the interests of all workers. When communist workers do group together like that within a union, a federation, or a union centre, we can say that they form a communist fraction within that union, federation or centre.
But a communist fraction is not just any group of workers. Communists who group together within a union do so under the leadership of the party. They do not try to form an outside clique, a clique of high-brow workers who develop contempt for the rest of the workers, as is often the case with opportunist groups. When communist workers do form a fraction, it is to serve the interests of all workers in the union, and not to defend a so-called vanguard policy, which, in point of fact, would only serve a small minority. To arrive at their aims, communist fractions must have as an objective keeping workers closely informed about their living and working conditions, their struggles and the activities of the bosses and the State.
During a struggle or a strike, communist workers are not satisfied with just providing information. They try to unite all the workers and to mobilize them around correct slogans, fighting slogans which defend the objectives of the struggle.
Their objective is to educate all the workers on their interests and on what is at stake in the struggle. This is all the more important, given that in our country at the current time, the large majority of unions do very little to inform workers even during the most important strikes. They are happy just to give orders without explaining their meaning or impact. Communist workers, grouped together in fractions, are not satisfied with just informing their comrades at work about their own struggles.
They are also concerned with informing them about the struggle of the entire working class and all the political questions which concern it. This is how communists demonstrate the correctness of their viewpoints and rally ever-increasing numbers of workers.
So we can see that com munist fractions have nothing in common with the opportunist cliques which have been established in unions by different organizations and political parties. Communist fractions are a far cry from what could be called the “parallel action” of the Trotskyists and other opportunists . In other words, if communists decide to group together in a given union, they always do so in order to assure that all the workers in the union are informed and mobilized, and to promote the unity and solidarity of the entire working class. They do not form small sects of isolated workers who are radical in words, but whose actions inevitably lead to division.
There, in short, is my opinion on communist fractions in unions. It is important to point out, as your letter suggests, that this cannot be transposed to life within the communist party or organization, because in that case, all the members fully share the same ideology and apply the same programme. If we were to recognize the existence of fractions within the party, this would imply that the same programme could be correctly applied in two, or even more, different ways. This would lead to continual division within the party and the working class, as the entire history of the Trotskyist movement clearly illustrates.
Charles Gagnon, Secretary-General of IN STRUGGLE!
 The work of the Trotskyists must be condemned not because Trotskyists form caucuses within unions, but because, as is pointed out in the pamphlet, they put forward ideas which lead to division. As proof of this, we can look at their activities within the Alliance des profossaurs du Montreal (Montreal teachers’, which led directly to the election of a reactionary executive which is still in control. We can also point out the opportunism which underlies their intervention in the entire Canadian working class movement where they put forward support for the NDP even though they describe it as a bourgeois parry. This is a way of deceiving the working class and is totally unacceptable.