Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Collective

Proletarian Revolution and the Split in the Working Class


The following special issue of Workers’ Press, political organ of the Marxist-Leninist Collective, was published in April, 1976 during the strike of city crafts workers. We are reprinting it, with minor changes (mainly additions made for greater clarity), because we believe it is a good example of the effects of the split in the working class.

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What attitude should workers take toward the strike by San Francisco’s city crafts unions? In this issue of the Workers’ Press, we approach the strike from the point of view of Marxism-Leninism, and show why this strike is reactionary and must not be supported under the present conditions. We begin our analysis with the recognition that in the advanced capitalist countries–in particular, the United States–the working class is split between a highly bribed, upper stratum of workers, a “labor aristocracy”, and an unskilled and semi-skilled mass of workers who are most oppressed and exploited by the capitalists. In the last few decades, under the pressure of national liberation struggles and the general crisis of capitalism world-wide, the privileges, high wages, and crumbs tossed to the upper stratum by the ruling class are being eroded. The present strike, by SF city crafts workers is an attempt, to defend and maintain the privileges of the most bribed crafts workers–the plumbers, carpenters, electricians, upper stratum of laborers, etc.–in the face of the capitalist offensive. However, the struggle is being carried on in such a way as to protect these privileges at the expense of the masses of workers, who are suffering ever greater oppression at the hands of capital in SF, represented by the Board of Supervisors and the SF Chamber of Commerce. Our opposition to this strike under the present conditions is in no way connected with the vulgar propaganda of the local ruling class for attacking the strike. In a capitalist society, no working person makes ’too much’. We have only to look at the salaries and profits of the capitalists and their lap-dogs to see that the gap between the exploiters and the exploited is no small one. No class-conscious worker can support cuts in any worker’s wages. But at the same time, we cannot stand by silently while the relatively privileged section of workers demands we support their struggle, while ignoring the plight of the more oppressed city workers. As communists, basing our analysis on the rich experience of the class struggle of the working class historically and worldwide, we know that the immediate class struggle, the present strike in particular, and the ultimate struggle for socialism cannot move forward an inch in SF unless we wage a consistent battle to expose and break with such tactics of the labor aristocracy and their leaders, the agents of the bourgeoisie within the working class. Instead of helping to strengthen the organization and class-consciousness of workers in San Francisco, this strike, with its aims, tactics, and leadership, on the contrary, serves to further weaken a real labor movement based among the most exploited workers, further consolidate the treacherous so-called leadership of the union bureaucrats of the SF Labor Council, and gives greater ammunition to the Board of Supervisors in their attempts to shift the city’ I growing financial crisis onto the backs of the most oppressed workers. Because we, as communists, are struggling for the unity of the working class and the abolition of wage-slavery, we must expose and drive out of our ranks those forces that weaken and divide the class. We must make a solid break with the opportunism that limits the struggle to the narrow interests of the minority of workers, and says to hell with the rest and to hell with socialism.




The labor Council, made up of representatives of the AFL-CIO unions, has consistently acted to strengthen the contradiction between the lowest-paid workers in the so-called miscellaneous unions and the more privileged, highly bribed crafts workers. (This split is reflected in the Labor Council itself, with the leaders of the crafts unions calling the shots, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) leaders tacitly agreeing to step aside.) At a time when the most oppressed and exploited workers nationwide are being forced to shoulder the burden of capitalism’s economic crisis through lay-offs, wage cuts, speed-ups, etc., these lackeys in the San Francisco Labor Council have shown their true role as agents of the bourgeoisie within the labor movement by selling out the interests of the majority of workers in order to scramble for a few crumbs for the crafts workers.

Let’s look at the facts. On March 22, when it was clear to all that the Board of Supervisors was prepared to test its strength with a strike, a rally of city workers was called by the SF Labor Council. In front of thousands of city workers, the likes of Jack Crowley (head of the Labor Council), Joe O’Sullivan (Carpenters Union), Joe Mazzola (Plumbers), Stan Jensen (Machinists), George Evankovich (Laborers), etc. made promises they had no intention of keeping. “One for all, all for one”; “if even one union doesn’t settle, we all go out on our own demands”, “solidarity forever”–such were the honeyed phrases that dripped from their mouths. But actions are the real test. Just three days later, the four SEIU locals (CSA #400, #250, #66A, and #535), representing some of the city’s lowest-paid workers, held a so-called ’strike meeting’, at which Vince Courtney (acting Executive Secretary of Local 400) and Joan Dillon (President of Local 400) took the lead in shoving a rotten contract down the throats of the workers–a yet-to-be-written contract that the members didn’t see then and haven’t seen yet! (note: at the time of the printing of this pamphlet, the contract still had not been written). What they did see was a piece of paper with “tentative”, “language to be decided”, “subject to revision” written all over it. By bribing the ’professionals’ and other higher-paid members of these union with raises of 7-11%, these ’leaders’ were able to push through a no-strike contract that leaves hospital workers, clerks, telephone operators, cashiers, and many others with 3% raises (PAY CUTS, given the cost-of-living increase over the past year), says nothing against forthcoming lay-offs, and leaves intact the Civil Service Commission’s rotten, oppressive ’temporary’ category (some workers have been ’temporary’ for 10-15 years, with no benefits^). When angry union members demanded to know what had happened to the militant promises and pretty wards about labor solidarity, they were assured that if the remaining unions were unable to settle, the ’contract’ would be considered null and void, and the demands reopened for negotiation. But that’s not what happened. Instead, when the crafts unions struck, the SEIU locals were called together for another ’strike meeting; –and told they could choose between striking if the Board of Supervisors reneged on the contract, or voting to honor the crafts’ picket lines. Later it was discovered that the Labor Council had not only withdrawn strike sanction for the SEIU Joint Council, but Joe Mazzola of the Plumbers Union had told SEIU representatives: “We don’t want your people to go out”! Anyone aware of the activities of the SF Labor Council over the years knows that Mazzola’s statement is a confirmation, is a confession that a “deal” had been made between the leaders of the SEIU, principally Tim Twomey (head of #250, International SEIU Vice-President, and the son-in-law of George Hardy, International President of SEIU), and the crafts workers unions to prevent the masses of low-paid SEIU members from going out on strike in support of their demands. This was done to leave way for a ’possibly’ large settlement for the craft workers. These stinking deals were typical of the Alioto days. Therefore the masses of workers are not. only victims of the brutal oppression by the Board of Supervisors, but also the treachery and betrayal of both their ’own’ leaders and the union leaders representing the craft: workers. The strike was initiated on the basis of massive disunity and demoralization. The actions of these Labor Council traitors throughout the strike have continued to prove without a doubt that they are out to get what they can for the few craft workers they represent, and since they figure “there is only so much to go around”, to hell with the rest. Any appeals they make for ’labor solidarity’ must be seen in this context: they will welcome the support of other city workers only in so far as it is understood that any gains won must come at the expense of the majority.

In short, we must emphasize that the labor traitors broke the unity of the city workers by:

1) deceptively maneuvering tine mass of low-paid and unskilled workers (represented mainly by the SEIU locals) into accepting a “sweetheart contract”;
2) preventing these low-paid workers from waging a struggle for more militant demands alongside of the craft workers by denying, them strike sanction;
3) secretly conspiring to keep the lowest-paid workers and their demands out of the strike.


Over the past few years, the balance of forces in San Francisco has been shifting in favor of that section of the ruling class that tends to favor open reaction, open attacks on the working class. The “boom” period of the 1950’s and ’60s, when San Francisco was known as a “labor town” and abundant jobs, particularly for craft workers in the building trades, were available through redevelopment. and the “Manhattanization” of the city, is slowing down as San Francisco is hit by the present period of economic crisis. What is happening in San Francisco is a reflection of what is taking place throughout the US: as the economic crisis of capitalism deepens, the bourgeoisie is forced more and more to squeeze workers to maintain their profits. This means cut-backs, speed-ups, loss of city services, To prepare the groundwork for these increased attacks on workers and all oppressed people, in recent years the Board of Supervisors has stepped up its propaganda about how city workers and their ’high wages’ are to blame for the city’s budgetary crisis. The truth is that in San Francisco, just as in cities across the country, the ’city fathers’ have allowed the treasury to be milked by the downtown corporations, who pay little or no taxes. At the same time, the local bourgeoisie has dramatically increased the burden of taxation on small property owners, who pass these increases on to renters. The success of the various anti-labor propositions on the November, 1975 ballot gave the Board of Supervisors the signal to carry forward their open attack on city workers. It was proof that the local ruling class has temporarily managed to build a base of support around themselves among sections of San Francisco’s population, lot instead of throwing all their guns in the fire at once, the Board opted for the tried and tested method of divide and conquer. They stalled negotiations, made deals with Labor Council hacks, collaborated with them to force lousy settlements on the lowest-paid workers, many of whom are national minorities and women with families to support, and threatened pay cuts for craft, workers. The Board of Supervisors, in short, ’gambled’ and won. The union traitors took the bait; they agreed in their actions not to wage a fight on behalf of all city workers, but rather to focus on the minority, the craft workers. The Board is well aware that they only stand to gain from the narrow way in which the strike is being conducted, and this is why they are continuing to stall, allowing the union dogs to drag out this strike. The Supervisors, meanwhile, are taking advantage of every instance of real hardship and suffering caused by the strike to the poor and the elderly in San Francisco, to try and rally support around themselves, in preparation for the next stage of legislative attacks on city workers.

The June ballot in San Francisco will include a series of anti-labor propositions, including Proposition E – the immediate firing of any city worker who strikes! The Supervisors also intend to include a charter amendment changing the length of city workers’ contracts from one to two years, thereby giving the local bourgeoisie even more control over the unions. And finally, they intend to include an ordinance allowing San Francisco voters to decide the rate of pay for craft workers.


We disagree, however, with those who say that the board of Supervisors is by itself the main enemy, and that therefore workers should make a tactical alliance with the union leaders to win this strike. The actions of the San Francisco Labor Council in preparing for and leading the strike have demonstrated to all class-conscious workers – including the least bribed and most oppressed members of the crafts unions themselves – that the union rats are objectively carrying out the interests of their capitalist masters in San Francisco. Furthermore, by their actions they are in fact helping to prepare the groundwork for fascism by leaving the masses of workers unorganized and defenceless in the face of the onslaught of capital. We have no choice but to see the Board of Supervisors (fronting for the local bourgeoisie) and the labor traitors as they really are, as two sides of the same coin, together the main enemy of city workers! By failing to understand the role of the labor traitors – Mazzola, Crowley, Bridges, Twomey, Jensen, Smith, etc. – in this strike, we will end up objectively taking their side and going along with their betrayal of the interests of the masses of city workers! We cannot stop with the call to EXPOSE THE ATTACKS ON CITY WORKERS BY THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS; we must add the call to EXPOSE THE ATTACKS ON CITY WORKERS BY THE UNION TRAITORS, and build the movement to drive these parasites from the ranks of the workers!


These agents within the working class are not selling out the interests of the majority of city workers simply because they’re rotten individuals. No, their treachery goes deeper than that, and is a reflection of the split in the US working class that has been an objective fact since the early 1900’s. What do we mean by this? With the dawn of the era of imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, a handful of capitalist countries found it possible – and desirable to bribe sections of their own working classes with a part, of the superprofits extracted from the exploitation of oppressed nations and colonies at home and overseas. (Look at Taiwan, for example, where workers are paid 15-20c per hour! Obviously, the rate of profit is immense for the imperialists with capital invested in the colonies.) The higher-paid, more skilled, more organized crafts unions were among the first to be sucked into this imperialist web of petty privileges, sops, and crumbs. And, over the years, as the leaders of these unions have more and more merged with the bourgeoisie, this “labor aristocracy” has become a real base of support for imperialism within the working class. By this we mean that a stratum of the working class has chosen to accept wage-slavery on the condition that it, this section of workers, receives ’more and better’. Is it any wonder that most craft unions have become isolated from the masses of workers, and have learned to struggle only for their own, narrow, craft interests, to rest content with the scraps from the imperialist table?

It is this bribery of sections of the working class that has made it possible for the bourgeoisie to send their agents in as ’leaders’, to consolidate the split within the working class and provide a bulwark of reformism and opportunism within the working class itself! We must understand that the union bureaucrats have no interest, in fighting for the masses of workers. Their only aim is to maintain their bourgeois existence as parasites on the backs of the workers, and to do this they must confuse, and divide, and nourish the narrow interests of their main base, the craft workers.


This is the argument put forward by the revisionist, rotten Communist Party, USA., the labor bureaucrats, the CLP, various ’left’ and Trotskyite groups, as well as a number of honestly confused workers. But we ask: next in line for what? Pay cuts? What is a 3% settlement if not an actual pay cut for the thousands of already poverty-level hospital, clerical, and other unskilled and semi-skilled workers? A no-strike clause? The lower-paid workers got that, too! As for lay-offs, Moscone, the so-called ’friend of labor’ , has already pledged at least 1,000 in the coming months, which will most likely hit the lowest-paid, “temporary” workers, and yet we’ve seen no signs of struggle against these outrages on the part of the labor traitors and their allies! All the talk about who’s next in line means very little, and smacks of downright opportunism, to the most oppressed city workers, who’ve been getting sold out for years! The way to fight the present and future attacks against the labor movement in San Francisco is through exposure of the real nature of this strike, through beginning to build a united front from below, among the ranks of the most exploited workers, based on the demands of the masses of workers.


Given the split in the working class, between the highly bribed upper stratum and the masses of workers, there are two kinds of strikes: those that are fought in the interests of the masses of workers in their struggle against wage-slavery, that strengthen the organization and class-consciousness of workers, and those that actually serve to further divide and weaken the proletariat. The current strike must be seen as an example of the latter. “But”, it is argued, “shouldn’t we overlook the narrow scope of this strike, overlook the treacherous leadership behind it, overlook the lack of working class unity that the craft workers have displayed in the past, and unite in the interests of labor solidarity, in order to prevent further attacks on the workers of San Francisco?” Well, what is labor solidarity if not the unity of the working class against the common enemy? This kind of unity can only be built from below, in the ranks of real workers. It cannot be imposed ’from above’, on the basis of subordinating the interests of the masses of city workers to the narrow, selfish, craft interests of a few, by union ’leaders’ who share part and parcel in the spoils of imperialism. (Witness the various ’leaders’, Mazzola, Evankovich, Jensen, Crowley, and so on, who sit on various commissions of city government and survey the picket lines from the comfortable interiors of Lincoln Continentals!) Furthermore, labor solidarity cannot be built on the basis of support for one section of relatively bribed and privileged workers, when the masses of city workers have been sold out! To call for labor solidarity in the fact of this, is essentially to call for support of the capitalist lackeys and their bosses; it becomes an empty phrase and a farce! Do those who argue otherwise seriously believe that we can expect these union traitors to wage a fight on behalf of the most oppressed sections of the city workforce–the clerks, laundry and hospital workers, food service workers, aides, etc.–in the future, when they openly refuse to do so now? Actions speak louder than mere words! Do they really believe that the craft workers, who have been schooled in opportunism by their leaders for years, will suddenly and spontaneously develop a sense of class solidarity and take the lead in uniting the working class? We believe, and the history of the international working class movement proves, that in this era of imperialism, true organization and unity within the proletariat must develop from the ranks of the most oppressed and exploited workers, under the leadership of a genuine communist party, in the struggle to break completely with all narrow craft, bourgeois influence.


On the surface, this argument seems to be a legitimate reason for supporting this strike. But in reality, it’s just a smokescreen thrown up by the labor hacks to gather support for their craft interests. Who have been the most consistent union busters all along, if not the union ’leaders’ themselves? Any union member can testify to the fact that these parasites are well skilled at: preventing any movements that really fight in the interests of rank-and-file members; they are past masters at encouraging passivity, cynicism, and apathy among the ranks of most oppressed workers. As long as they remain in the leadership of the unions, we can be sure that they will continue their efforts to keep the masses of workers unorganized in fact, and they will continue to collaborate with the city government and the Ben Swigs, Fleishhackers, Zellerbachs, etc, in splitting the unions and selling out the lowest-paid. They are, after all, ’running a business’, and living off the dues of the workers. As long as they can continue to keep the most militant workers ’under control’, they will be serving both their own interests and the interests, of the capitalists, who rely on them to ’keep peace’ and serve as vehicles for bourgeois, reformist influence in the labor movement. The way to build the unions and protect them from attack by both the Board of Supervisors and their ’labor lieutenants’ is to strengthen the fighting capacity in the ranks of the most oppressed workers and drive the parasites, Crowley and his gang, from our ranks! Such actions will not bust but build our unions, and restore them to their proper role as organizations for the class struggle of the working class.


Clearly, it does. MUNI bus drivers have been outstanding in their support, for past strikes. Taking advantage of this, MUNI management, on the first night of the strike, proceeded to lock out the drivers on the midnight shift, when craft union pickets failed to arrive in time.

Many of the bus drivers are national minorities, and in consequence suffer a double oppression from the capitalists. Although their rate of pay is generally higher than that of most city workers, their working conditions are dangerous and oppressive. The MUNI rank-and-file have many just demands that they voted to strike for in the event of another strike of city workers. But their ’leaders’, in collaboration with the crafts ’leaders’, declined to insist on these demands as part of the strike settlement. Thus the rank-and-file bus drivers, have, at the time of this printing, sacrificed almost three weeks pay without any of their own demands on the table. But under the concrete conditions, the unfortunate, objective truth is that MUNI drivers are being used as pawns to perpetuate the narrow interests of the few, and are objectively acting against the long-range interests of class solidarity among city workers and workers as a whole in San Francisco. The Board of Supervisors is using MUNI consciously as pawns to prolong the strike and build public sentiment against the drivers, so that come November, a whole new set of propositions will appear on the ballot stripping MUNI drivers’ wages and benefits.


We emphasize in our analysis of this strike that the masses of workers must break with the “labor aristocracy” and its bourgeois leadership. At the same time, we recognize that contradictions do exist among the craft workers themselves--between the most bribed and skilled workers(the electricians, plumbers, carpenters) and the less privileged bulk of the Laborers Union, most of whom are Black and Latino national minorities, who have been the mainstay of the picket lines. (Similar contradictions exist within the “miscellaneous” unions–between the small number of professionals’ (architects, lawyers, librarians, nurses) and the thousands of unskilled and semiskilled clerks, laundry workers, food service employees, aides, etc.) The fact that the least bribed craft workers are pulling the weight of the strike, however, does not change the fact that they are objectively being used to carry out the reactionary aims and tactics of the liberal bourgeois labor agents.


It is not surprising that the revisionist ’Communist Party’ USA, along with a brigade of ’leftists’, have come out in support of the strike, and are acting as ’official optimists’ with regard to it. The ’CP’USA, in particular, is based among the most bribed stratum of workers, and speaks directly on their behalf. The following is quoted from their recent leaflet, calling on workers to support the strike: “Past activities of some in the trade union leadership and the lack of unity in previous city strikes are matters of great importance but they should not be allowed to become a hindrance to the much-needed labor unity in the face of this coordinated attack by labor’s enemies. Name calling attacks on trade union leaders at this time does not contribute to that unity.” (our emphasis) Nor, we would add, does the outright opportunism of the ’CP’USA! The CP has proven once again that it has nothing in common with the most oppressed sections of the proletariat, that its aim is to strengthen the bribe of its “constituents”, and draw them closer to its truly anti-communist policies of liberal bourgeois reformism. When we say that a break must be made with all traitors before unity can be built, we must include the ’Communist Party’ USA! The working class cannot rely on the bourgeoisie or their agents in the working class to lead them; it must have its own genuine communist party to lead it in the coming battles that will end in the final emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery! We in the Marxist-Leninist Collective are part of that movement to build such a party and we call on all advanced workers and progressive people to join with us. As Lenin, the great leader of the international proletariat, wrote:

“Marxism teaches...that only the political party of the working class, i.e., the Communist Party, is capable of uniting, training and organizing a vanguard of the proletariat and of the whole mass of the working people that alone will be capable of withstanding the inevitable petty-bourgeois vacillations of this mass and the inevitable traditions and relapses of narrow craft unionism or craft prejudices among the proletariat, and of guiding all the united activities of the whole of the proletariat, i.e., of leading it politically, and through it, the whole mass of the working people.” (March, 1921)


This strike has broken down any illusions the masses of workers have that the labor aristocracy and the union bureaucrats will fight in their interests–these bureaucrats have proven again they are not fit to lead!!

The strike has also broken down the illusion that Moscone or any of his democratic machine is a ’friend of labor’–for how can a representative of the capitalist class be expected to fight against the interests of capital?

No, the masses of workers will find nothing but bourgeois leadership from the ranks of the labor aristocrats and their bureaucrats. We must begin to build that leadership from the ranks of real workers who are not tied to capital by 1000 threads or $1 million. (In San Francisco, as throughout the country, this proletarian movement must be based first and foremost in the most exploited ranks of the large-scale, industrial proletariat. In city government it must be based in the most oppressed workers.)

Our immediate tasks are to wage a fight against the attacks coming down on workers in the form of threatened layoffs, legislative measures, actual cuts and deterioration in wages, benefits and working conditions as a result of the SEIU “sweetheart contract”. In the struggle we must expose and kick out the bourgeois leadership of the unions, But we must fight the immediate battles in a revolutionary way, based on the clear understanding that we will never be rid of the oppression and exploitation of capitalist society until we overthrow the rule of the exploiters and build a society run by and for workers. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat the masses of working and oppressed people will experience an immediate improvement in their lives. How could it be otherwise, for the capitalists, the exploiters of the working class will be expropriated–they will not be allowed to exploit the workers any longer.

Until that time we must pay careful attention to these words of Lenin:

“It is therefore our duty, if we wish to remain socialists, to go down lower and deeper to the real masses; this is the whole meaning and the whole purport of the struggle against opportunism. By exposing the fact that, the opportunists and social-chauvinists are in reality betraying and selling the interests of the masses, that they are defending the temporary privileges of a minority of the workers, that they are the vehicles of bourgeois ideas and influences, that they are really allies and agents of the bourgeoisie, we teach the masses to appreciate their true political interests, to fight for socialism and for the revolution through all the long and painful vicissitudes of imperialist wars and imperialist armistices.” (from “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”)