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Marxist-Leninist Collective,/h4>

Lessons from the Moldmakers’ Strike

First Published: Workers’ Press, Vol. 3, No. 12, December 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Moldmakers’ (American Flint Class Workers Union – AFGWU) strike that began September l6 and lasted 6 weeks was a nationwide strike. It involved 3,000 glass moldmakers directly and got the support of 50,000 other glass workers. The Glass Packaging Institute represented the opposition of bottle-making capitalists who brought the strike on by forcing ’dual operations’ upon the moldmakers. The extension of the strike deadline by two weeks demoralized the moldmakers, allowed the companies to stockpile glassware, and gave the Teamster truckdrivers an opportunity to make deliveries 24 hours a day. This maneuver by the trade union bureaucrats and capitalists showed clearly their unity against the moldmakers from the start and constituted the main contradiction of the strike as a whole.

The Marxist-Leninist Collective (MLC) was directly involved in Local 155 (Oakland, Calif.) of the Glass Bottle Blowers Association (GBBA), whose members, in what was essentially a wildcat, militantly refused to cross picket lines. This showed their beginning understanding of working class solidarity, In response to bad conditions at the plant (rotating shifts, rampant favoritism, broken glass everywhere, speed-ups) and bankrupt union leadership, the GBBA workers, soon after the beginning of the strike, organized themselves into a Glassworkers Support Committee (GSC). This operated as a caucus within the union during the strike.

From the very beginning of the formation of the GSC, two opposing lines of the different ’communist’ organizations and individuals involved presented themselves and formed the main contradiction within the committee, i.e. right opportunism (sacrificing the basic interests of the working class for some temporary advantage) versus genuine Marxism-Leninism. This right opportunism was and remains the dominant aspect of the committee’s work, as economism (putting the main emphasis on ’bread and butter issues’ instead of a class analysis of them) characterizes most of the struggles.

The accomplishments of the committee must not be overlooked. One of the main ones which alarmed the company most was the new unity between the rank and file of the two unions. The history of the two leaderships had been marked by competition for the same workers and most recently the rank and file of the GBBA found themselves listening to telegrams and speeches from the international representative, Van Pool, urging them to scab on the grounds that the strike was not really ’theirs’. The GBBA presented a solid opposition, especially against the bureaucrats of local 155 who refused when urged by the workers to make public the union’s support of the moldmakers. The president of the GBBA local showed clearly his stand with the capitalists as he systematically opposed all progressive measures put forward by the workers during the strike.

The treatment and exposure of the union bureaucrats was one of the first places where differences arose between Marxist-Leninists and right opportunists. The latter felt that no communist agitation against the labor aristocracy should be done on a mass scale, i.e. within the union meetings, but instead on a one-to-one basis. The result was a very shallow analysis of the labor aristocracy, which includes the labor bureaucrats, and its connection with superprofits from imperialism. Any introduction of communist ideas within the committee meetings and in leaflets was quickly brushed aside or opposed as grounds for redbaiting, or ideas that would isolate us from the mass of workers. In spite of this blatant tailing tactic, advanced workers did come forward (often opposing the backward ideas of the opportunists!) and became active in organizing a benefit dance and rummage sale. But because of the lack of real communist leadership at that point, the advanced workers were held back with these busywork assignments. Very little attention was given to political development. Activities which promised ’palpable results’ were the main work of the committee during the strike. The fact that $1,100 was raised and partially distributed to the most needy strikers plus the contact and support from other GBBA locals and unions were other positive aspects of the committee’s work and a step toward building working class solidarity.

During the strike two committee newsletters were distributed to the workers and this in itself was a good aspect of the work. But once again, because of the dominance of the right opportunist line, the theme was only one of militant trade unionism. As the strike progressed, some organizational errors were made within the GSC, due to a lack of experience on the part of the members. These errors affected the efficient distribution of money raised by the GSC for the most needy strikers. A self-criticism to the rank and file was proposed within the GSC and immediately voted down by the opportunists, who implied that the GSC was leading the strikers (GBBA only) and because of this they felt the committee must present a strong united front, in spite of the many criticisms of its style of work, beginning to come in from the rank and file.

The near wildcat that the GBBA participated in presented excellent conditions for the use of communist propaganda and agitation. The spontaneous activity was high, advanced and intermediate workers gravitated towards the organization of the GSC, and yet time and time again Marxism-Leninism was denied them. The opportunists see the rank and file being frightened by communist agitation, see themselves being isolated from the masses. Their idea is to slowly break the workers in to hearing the ’complicated’ concepts; to ease the science of Marxism on to them, first through trade union agitation and gradually more advanced theory. This approach to uniting communism with the working class movement shows what little respect the opportunists have for the masses, It shows their disdain for the workers’ ability to learn and grasp the ideas. One opportunist summed up his stand quite clearly when he stated, ’I get my line directly from the shop floor’. Hence, their refusal to do an all-sided political exposure of the trade union bureaucrats and their role in supporting the capitalists. The opportunists think the trade union bureaucrats have already been exposed. The GSC still exists and continues to function as a standing committee within the union. A red-baiting campaign has recently begun against it. Genuine Marxist-Leninists and class conscious workers must unite to oppose the dominant opportunist line, and must expose and eventually expel the bureaucrats from cur ranks. This is one main lesson.