Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

August 29th Movement

The Tasks of Communists in the Trade Unions


First Published: Revolutionary Cause, Vol. 1, No. 3, February 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Party must exert every effort to educate the workers who belong to trade unions in the spirit of a broad understanding of the, class struggle and the socialist aims of the proletariat. (Lenin)

As communists, what is our strategic objective and what are our tasks in working within the trade unions? It is to win the leadership of the mass of workers in the course of struggle, and develop the trade unions into strongholds of proletarian revolution under the leadership of the new Party. This objective can only be reached by understanding and implementing some basic principles and tasks of communist work within the trade unions.

In this article we will sum-up some of these principles and tasks. This is not to be seen as an all-embracing and in-depth analysis of Communist work within the trade unions, but is based on the study and practice of the August Twenty-Ninth Movement, and which we would like to share with other Marxist-Leninists and class conscious workers.

The method of work of Communists in the trade unions has two main aspects – legal work and illegal work. We must first begin by placing this work into the context of a bourgeois-“democratic” society.

Lenin reminded all communists:

In every single country in the world, even the most advanced and. “freest” of the bourgeois republics, bourgeois terror reigns, and there is no such thing as freedom to carry on propaganda and organizational work precisely in this sense. The Party that has not admitted this under the rule of the bourgeoisie and does not carry on systematic, all sided illegal work in spite of the laws of the bourgeoisie and of the bourgeois parliaments is a party of traitors and scoundrels who deceive the people by their recognition of revolution... (LCW, Vol. 29, p. 505)

In the capitalist world the U.S. is recognized as one of the freest of the bourgeois republics, yet this has not stopped the ruling class from using bourgeois terror; let’s not forget the physical elimination of many of the Black Panther Party leadership; the Red squads in many city police departments; the vicious attack by the state on the anti-war and national movements, etc. For these objective reasons we must carry on alongside of our legal work, our illegal activity – this is a tactical principle of Marxism-Leninism.

By legal work we mean simply this: the utilization of all legal possibilities to carry out our political work among the masses, including verbal and written agitation which links the immediate demands of the masses to the fundamental tasks of the revolution, the question of state power, private property, i.e., the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the seizure of state power by the proletariat, the expropriation of the means of production and the liberation of the oppressed peoples and nations.

When communists involve themselves in agitating and struggling around such issues as democracy within the union, exposing the labor aristocracy, leading strikes, etc., this is all in the realm of legal work. However, let us not equate our legal work to economism, that is, only to the economic struggle and economic demands, agitation and exposures.

For example, when conducting a political exposure, (which is the main form of political agitation), on the reformist trade union bureaucrats – say on their chauvinism or collaboration with the capitalists – we raise the question of bribery, their economic and political privileges. We link this to its material basis which is the superprofits stolen by imperialism from the oppressed nations and colonies. Thus when we carry out this form of political agitation we raise political questions to the workers so as to raise their level of political consciousness.

This agitation is carried out in all the legal forms of organization within the trade union apparatus – the various trade union committees, the shop steward councils, the various caucuses, strike committees, etc. Guided by our political line we struggle to win over the workers to a correct class stand and in the process direct our main blows at the reformist and revisionist agents in order to expose, isolate and expel them from positions of leadership.

As a result of this political agitation and struggle, the workers will come forward and unite around our views, and in particular the advanced and intermediate workers. With these workers begins the emphasis on the illegal aspect of political work, i.e., propaganda and training. Our propaganda goes much deeper and unfolds much more complex ideas on the questions of state power, the nature of imperialism, the Leninist party, revisionism, bribery etc.

Study groups are developed with these workers in order to study Marxism-Leninism and receive training in the understanding and implementation of the political line in practice. This work is all illegal work, the strictest security should be maintained for we must demonstrate to the workers that we are not bungling amateurs who will jeopardize their job security and expose them to the authorities.

As the ideological, political and organizational training continues in the study group, the trade union fraction and advanced and intermediate workers continue the legal work among the mass of workers within the union. Through the process of this study and practice, the intermediate workers are developed into advanced, and the advanced into communists who are ready for recruitment, thus becoming part of the trade union fraction.

The Fractional Method of Work

A fraction is an individual communist or group of communists from the same organization working within a mass organization such as a trade union. The fraction is not the basic unit of a communist organization. It does not determine the line or policy of an organization but is the organizational form by which the line and policies of the organization are carried out in the mass organization. The trade union fraction constitutes an integral part of the corresponding factory nuclei and is under its direct leadership.

The fractions, must demonstrate the greatest initiative. In their day to day work they are relatively independent and must often demonstrate creativity in the application of the line to their local conditions. The work of our fractions is inspired by the example of the fractional method of work of the Bolsheviks – “Prior to the October Revolution, and even immediately after it, when there were still mensheviks and socialist-revolutionaries in some of the non-party mass organizations, the Bolsheviks converted each newly gained position into a stronghold for the capture of the organization in the district, city, region, and nationally. They demonstrated their ability to work better than the others, prepare the questions, lead, and weld together and organize the masses of workers. That is why they succeeded in driving the mensheviks, socialist-revolutionaries and other ’socialist’ and populist parties out of the mass labor organizations.” (The Bolshevization of the Communist Parties of the Capitalist Countries by Means of Overcoming the Social-Democratic Traditions; Communist International, May, 1952)

We must take the lessons of the Bolsheviks to heart and turn trade union positions into strongholds for the capture of the entire organization. We must learn to utilize these positions to isolate the reformist and revisionist lines. This means to creatively demonstrate our ability to lead politically and organize the workers against the class collaborationist policies of the reformist bureaucrats. We must also learn to use these positions as forums to conduct political exposures on the burning issues of the day, raise the political consciousness of the mass of the workers, and win them to the leadership of the new party, its program, and socialism.

Comrades, based on our own experience and the experience of the communist movement in this country and internationally, we communists must implement the task of expanding our political agitation through the organization of all-sided political exposures so that we may train and raise the political consciousness of the proletariat in our everyday mass work.

To this point Lenin said, “In no other way except by means of such exposures can the masses be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity.” Note that Lenin says “activity” which means that we must learn how to raise these exposures in the course of struggle. Also we must guard against limiting our exposures to simply factory exposures and the struggle for the better sale of the workers’ labor power to the capitalists (economism).

On this point Lenin said, “Working class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected – unless they are trained moreover, to respond from a social-democratic (communist) point of view and no other.” (“What is to Be Done”, LSW, Vol. 1, p.174)

Now what does this all mean for communists in practice? Since our subject is “The Tasks of Communists in the Trade Unions” we will give you an example of what we mean by political exposures in the course of the class struggle.

One particular company whose workers are members of an AFL-CIO affiliated union, announced publicly that it would support efforts to deport so-called “illegal-aliens” because of high unemployment among U.S. workers. How did our fraction combat this chauvinist attempt to divide the proletariat? Using the vehicle of a caucus newsletter, the comrade wrote an agitational article which first linked unemployment to the capitalist system, that unemployment is a “regular and necessary part of capitalism.”

He pointed out corporations use unemployed workers to push wages down, (here he used an example of strike breaking). The comrade brought out the role of U.S. imperialism in Mexico, by explaining that the cause of Mexican immigration to the U.S. was U.S. corporate and banking control of the Mexican economy, (backed up by guns of course) which has led to low wages, high unemployment, misery, underdevelopment, etc. for the masses of Mexican people.

The comrade then again brings out the role of the state by exposing the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). By use of this example, it was shown how the government is a tool of the capitalist class. In times of economic upswing the INS receives little funding to effectively patrol the border (for cheap labor) is maintained. In time of crisis the INS is heavily funded so as to close the border and deport excess workers.

Next the Democratic Party liberals like Ted Kennedy and Peter Rodino were exposed by explaining how the Rodino Bill served the interests of the big corporations, and under the screen of “friends of working people” they were supporting racist and chauvinist immigration laws which divides the class.

Then the task of exposing the labor aristocracy on this question was taken on. The AFL-CIO supports the Rodino Bill and deportations. The comrade did not waste words by simply telling the workers that these people have “sold out”, but took on the task of explaining why these labor lieutenants collaborate with the bosses.

Thus this comrade’s article pointed to the material basis for the chauvinist and reformist policies of the top AFL-CIO leadership, i.e., the fat salaries which come from profits of joint union-company pension funds or health and welfare plans and the sops which these traitors receive from the superprofits of U.S. imperialism.

In the case of George Meany, it has come out that he has long been in the pay of the sinister CIA for the service of subverting trade union movements in Third World countries. We can see then that political exposures should aim at raising political questions in the minds of the workers and attempt to lead them to draw the correct political conclusions.

While we have made both right and “left” errors in our attempts, we consistently attempt to correct these errors until we get the desired results. Our political exposures strive for simple clarity, we try to include facts, dates, names, who said what at such and such meeting, etc. Only in this manner will we be listened to by the masses of workers.

The Labor Aristocracy

The reformist trade unions today in the U.S. are under the control of agents of the bourgeoisie, the labor aristocracy. It is this upper strata of the working class which is the social basis and channel for opportunism and the dissemination of bourgeois ideology among the workers.

Starting from the premise that the labor aristocracy includes other than the union bureaucrats, we attempt to make an analysis of the labor aristocracy by utilizing the following criteria: (1) actual members of the working class which must be determined by their relationship to the means of production – so they are part of or generally emerge from the working class; (2) they are bribed, that is, they receive some fat “crumbs” from the superprofits that the majority of workers do not receive; (3) that they in practice support and carry out the outlook and class stand and policies of the bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation.

Craft unions at one time were automatically considered part of this stratum, such as those in the building trades. However, since the beginning of the general capitalist crisis we must make a closer analysis. No longer can we automatically claim that the craft unions and skilled workers are part of the labor aristocracy.

The existence of an aristocracy of labor is dealt with first by Engels in his book The Condition of the Working Class In England, then later by Lenin in Collapse of the Second International, Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, arid A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism. Lenin developed the analysis in the era of imperialism. The analysis in these great works by Engels and Lenin clearly demonstrate the role of the labor aristocracy as servants of the bourgeoisie within the working class movement. Most importantly, the analysis brings out the material basis for the existence of these labor aristocrats; in his article Imperialism and the Split in Socialism Lenin writes, “Neither Marx nor Engels lived to see the imperialist epoch of world capitalism, which began not earlier than 1898-1900. But it has been a peculiar feature of England that even in the middle of the nineteenth century she already revealed at least two outstanding characteristics of imperialism: 1. vast colonies and 2. monopoly profits (due to her monopolistic position in the world market). In both respects, England at that time was an exception among capitalist countries, and Marx and Engels, analysing this exception, quite clearly and definitely indicate its connection with the (temporary) victory of opportunism in the English labor movement.”

From this we learn that opportunism in the form of reformism and revisionism within the labor movement of the U.S. cannot be separated from U.S. imperialist exploitation and the reaping of huge superprofits from the second and third world countries and the oppressed nationalities at home. These superprofits are the material basis for the existence of a labor aristocracy in this country.

The policies of the AFL-CIO, for instance their support of deportations and their past support of U.S. imperialism in the Viet Nam War, are a result of the bribery the leaders of the AFL-CIO receive.

The Albanian comrade Filip Kota in his pamphlet “Two Opposing Lines in the World Trade Union Movement” writes, “Trade Union bureaucracy has spread its roots not only within but also outside the trade union, becoming the zealous collaborator and tool of the capitalist state and monopolist. This type of trade union takes an active part in all organs set up by the capitalist state and the employers.”

It is therefore not strange to see Arthur Goldberg, a former representative of the AFL-CIO in Indonesia, being a permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations, or George Meany being a willing collaborator with the CIA. It’s all part of the business, and as an English capitalist once told the social imperialist named Hyndman in her appraisal of his and other bribed stooges’ work of training workers in bourgeois ideology – “You train ’em and we buy ’em.”

Along with exposing the labor aristocracy we must continue to combat the revisionists, in particular the “C”PUSA. The revisionist role as agents and social-fascists, who push bourgeois reformism onto the workers under the cover of “Marxism” objectively leaves the door open to the ideology of fascism and its most degenerate aspect, national chauvinism, to gain ground among the more backward workers.

Take for example the “C”PUSA’s idea of class struggle: “an essential part of the fight for a class struggle policy is a drive to remove all the legal and contractual road blocks to struggle which class collaborationism had built up over many years. It is necessary to change the entire character of union contracts, to end the web of legal entanglements in which the workers’ interests are ensnared.” (“Our Nation’s Crisis and How to Solve It”, main political resolution, CPUSA, 1972) So to the “C”PUSA class struggle means changing the character of contracts.

The RCP (revisionist) is, in essence, no different. Under the cover of militant trade unionist rhetoric they do nothing except tail behind the economic struggle. In the October 1975 issue of Revolution they carried an article summing up the struggle in the miner’s strike. This is how they “expose” the labor aristocracy: “from the beginning the union leadership worked to sabotage the strike. But with over 80,000 miners out solidly at the high point, severely hurting the coal operations and threatening what control the union misleaders have over the miners, union leadership was forced to change their tactics.”

The “Revolutionary” Communist Party has thus “exposed” to all the workers the class collaboration of the labor aristocracy. These revisionists have told the workers nothing! Any worker could have drawn the same conclusions. By refusing to raise the political level of the working class these revisionists and social-fascists are opening the doors to the fascist forces in this country. Comrades, this is why we say the main danger in the communist and working class movement is right opportunism in the form of revisionism and reformism.

Our Ongoing Tasks

We understand that for the fractions to carry out their tasks they must be armed with a clearly formulated political line, which it is their duty to test in practice, in the process of winning the advanced and intermediate workers to communism in the course of struggle. Another task of communists is to wage a ruthless struggle against the reformist labor bureaucrats and the revisionists and right opportunists within the trade unions. Our task is to intensify our work of educating, organizing and mobilizing the workers to break with reformism (in the form of trade unionism pure and simple), and to go beyond the bounds of narrow bourgeois legality.

We must expose the bureaucrats not only on the basis of what they say but also by what they do. Our third task is to link our propaganda and agitation to the course of the day-to-day struggle and to provide tactical leadership to this struggle. This means providing revolutionary leadership as to the forms of struggle and organization which best correspond to the objective situation, so that we lay the basis in the present period for carrying out our objective of bringing the unions under the influence and leadership of communists.

Comrades, the trade unions, as schools of communism, must become, in the course of revolutionary struggle, strongholds of proletarian revolution where the struggle is broadened, organization is strengthened, and joint action is raised to a revolutionary level. It is our task as communists to lead the workers in making this goal a reality.