Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Milwaukee Socialist Union

Our Unions: Where we’re at, Where we’re going


Published: n.d. [1978].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The Milwaukee Socialist Union

Why, you may ask, has the Milwaukee Socialist Union, a communist organization, produced this pamphlet?

And what do communists have to do with the trade union movement, anyway?

Well, to answer the second question first, a lot. Trade Unions were originally formed by workers to protect workers’ interests in the face of their bosses’ greed. Socialists and communist have, throughout our history, been in the forefront of this battle–from the first struggle for the 8 hour day in the late 1800’s to the organizing of the CIO unions. Today communists are active in the growing rank and file movement – that ground swell of anger at the rip-off we face at work and disgust at our unions’ less than militant attitude toward the companies’ take-back efforts.

Communist workers have always been the backbone of the union movement. As one UAW members has put it, “You can tell a communist because they are always working the hardest.” This is a tradition we proudly carry on.

Now, back to why. We are told that Communists don’t believe in democracy. Then they must have something up their sleeve.

What we have up our sleeve is, in fact, democracy. But not “democracy” as we know it where the working class has the choice between two rich man’s parties. Instead, our goal is true democracy – where the class that works, rules for a change; where the class that produces the wealth of society does not live on the brink of poverty all its life; where the workers’ interests are what decide where the profits of our labor are spent – on schools, hospitals, parks and programs for the elderly – insead of the bosses budget – bombers, foreign investment in exploitation, corporate offices and executive wardrobes.

So what do the trade unions have to do with this – everything! The factories, fields, offices and hospitals where we work is where production begins and ends, and, likewise, where capitalist profiteering off our labor begins and can end.

Class struggle, that is the daily war that goes on between capitalists’ search for profit and workers’ search for a decent living, is sharpest at work. Our unions, instead of disguising this with speeches about the common interests of workers and employers;, should educate us and lead us toward winning this war.

We cannot, of course, make things right factory by factory or city by city because, after all, we are talking about changing the entire economic system which is the root of the capitalists’ drive for profit. But we can begin to build a movement that way using the ideas of Class Struggle Unionism.

As in other countries that have undergone socialist revolution, we will need a political party to coordinate and lead the struggle. Such a party would be based on the revolutionary ideas developed by Marx, and Lenin; and developed as leaders from the workers’ movement are won over to communist thinking and in doing so, assume their rightful position as leaders of their class.

The CPUSA claims to be such a party. While this was true at one time, we hold that this is no longer the case. Therefore, we need a new Communist Party.

Democratic and class struggle unionism is our program for the trade unions.

Socialism is our program for the working class.

And building a new communist party will arm us with our most powerful weapon for defeating capitalist rule.

The members of the Milwaukee Socialist Union are active in their unions and in the community. If you want to know more about us just write:

Milwaukee Socialist Union
P.O. Box 12184
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53212

* * *

To many people, big unions and big business seem the same. Our so-called leadership negotiates away our right to strike, sells out our jobs for “job security” for the few, spends our dues on Democratic Party promises to labor and speaks in our name to endorse government military spending because it will “create jobs.”

When we question our “leaders” we’re ignored, cal led out of order or worse.

When we go to the meetings, we’re bored. If we join a committee with good ambitions we soon find our hands tied.

When we go to the union hall, we wonder if we will get more help than when we go to the company personnel office. So why should we give a damn? Because we can’t afford not to.

we hear a grumbling...

The Nineteen Seventies have certainly become a long losing streak for American working people.

In 1978 we make more than we did in 1968, but our buying power is less than it was then, due to high inflation.

Our jobs are about as secure as the San Andreas fault–ready to fall out from under us at any time. Unemployment in terms of numbers of people either laid off or unable to find work is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. For black youth, the government figures run around 35% unemployed–Milwaukee leading the rest of the country with 50%.

American Motors is all but shutdown. Allen-Bradley is planning on leaving town and who knows what other “Milwaukee companies,” thinking they’ve paid union wages to Milwaukee workers for long enough, will leave 20 year workers behind in their southbound journey to cheaper labor and increased profits.

And, what’s our government doing about this?–nothing!

Why?–because high prices, low wages, high unemployment and increased productivity means higher profits and “that’s good for the Economy.”

What does that mean to American Motors?–profits up 58% in one year.

The pharmaceutical industry is at the top of the profit makers, while medical care is a luxury for most workers’ families.

Boeing Aircraft gets government “aid” while day care facilities are closed down as “too costly.”

The wealthy get tax breaks to educate their young while city schools are hardly teaching working class kids how to read a newspaper or figure a grocery bill.

No one needs to be told that things are getting pretty bad. Teenage drug addiction, suicide, crime and racial strife are the every day reminders of a society in hard times.

Are you fed up?–join the crowd. But don’t throw up your hands.

As individuals, they’ve got us over a barrel.

As workers, we’ve got our unions. And, as bad as they are sometimes, they are all that we’ve got. Workers built the unions with their sweat and blood as a defense against employer’s greed. Now, we too have got to set the unions straight by regaining control, and start fighting for what’s ours.

...and a rumbling

Feel alone?–you’re not.

There is a new type of unionist that is being born. A new leadership is slowly developing among those who realize that there is more to life than “30 and Out,” who lived through the civil rights movement, Viet Nam, and Watergate; watched unemployment rise and real wages decrease. They realize that we should not have to live in debt while the wealth we produce allows the greedy few to live well.

On the national scene we can point to Ed Sadlowski of the Steelworkers as an example of this new type of leadership. In almost every union in the country there are rank and file committees and caucuses that have sprung up in the last few years–Teamsters for a Democratic Union, the United National Caucus in the United Auto Workers (U.A.W.) union, Miners for Democracy.

We can also see the growing dissatisfaction with the present union leadership by the increase in rank and file rejection of contracts. The Miners and Milwaukee bus deivers are just two examples. And, even when the union’s proposals aren’t outright rejected, they may only pass ratification by a very slim margin. Locally we can point to Allis Chalmers and Briggs & Stratton.

Most rank and file movements are not well-organized at this time, however. What activity there is, flares up at election time or around contracts and then dies down. People are not organized around any particular program on any long term basis. This is our biggest weakness.

down the primrose path

Let’s look for a minute at these labor “misleaders.” We need to know who they are, where they are coming from, and what lies behind their belief that the American capitalist system is the best in the world; and that “labor harmony” is, therefore, the key to prosperity for all.

As long as we all work hard, respect management’s right to decide what and how to produce, then we will get our piece of the pie, the labor bosses argue.

What does this mean when it comes down to negotiations? “No strike” clauses and meaningless grievance procedures are a regular item in most contracts. Higher productivity is given labor’s blessing for a few pennies more.

Our bodies are ruined by the work we do while our unions only respond in token ways. Until now their solutions to Health and Safety grievances has been the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Now that OSHA has to have a search warrant to make inspections, we will need to develop our own muscle in order to fight for safe working conditions.

Unemployment is at an all time high and what has the AFL-CIO done? They’ve abandoined the idea of demonstrating for jobs since the 1975 march on Washington. They want no repeats of this rank and file outburst.

Now Meany is pushing the Humphrey-Hawkins bill. Even if its passage would mean a real decline in unemployment we have to wonder what success it will have getting passed. Look what happened to the Labor Law Reform Bill in spite of the tremendous effort the AFL-CIO poured into it.

On a larger scale, let’s look at the fact that both Leonard Woodcock of the UAW and Lane Kirkland of the AFL-CIO are members of the Trilateral Commission along with Jimmy Carter–a high level international think tank and policy study group that consists of top government, industry and financial powermen from the U.S.,W. Germany and Japan. The Trilateral Commission was established in 1973 mainly by the Rockefellers to protect the interests of profit among the three most powerful of the capitalist countries.

The labor bureaucrats give lip service to some of the injustices that we get thrown in our faces daily – unhealthy working conditions, an unlivable minimum wage, anti-labor courts, racial and sexual discrimination – but their plan is to “send the right people to Washington to represent labor.” They do not consider their own rank and file as a political force.

Everything is supposed to be settled behind closed doors in collective bargaining, through the courts, or by political lobbying. The mass rallies and picket lines and huge mass meetings that brought workers into the struggle for unionism, made them aware, and gave each a hand in the building of their common destiny. But these are seen as things of the past.

So, they collect our dues and for this cost, negotiate our contracts, make the decisions and provide us with a few although important services, such as a union pension plan.

In other words, our unions are run like businesses. The people at the top try to control everything that goes on in the union. They try to prevent us from organizing ourselves and even put up roadblocks to actively participating in the union.

This is why we call this type of unionism, “business unionism.”

the business of business unionism

To briefly sum-up “business unionism”:

1. sees labor and management as really having the same interests. “Higher profits, means more jobs.”
2. sees higher productivity as a cure for unemployment and a source for higher wages. An example of this is the Steelworkers leadership participating with the companies in the Joint Productivity Committees. The result of their planning is a tremendous loss of jobs and speed-up for those remaining.
3. has no faith in the rank and file worker to be able to organize themselves for their common good. The business unionist views the union member as being able to vote for him in union elections, but other than that should have little participation in the union other than paying dues and attending monthly meetings.
4. instead of organizing the rank and file of the union, puts faith in the legal system, government and grievance procedure. This is much more comfortable than having to deal with the workers themselves.
5. does not organize the rank and file for unity and strength at contract time. Instead, the business unionist negotiates behind closed doors and hopes to be able to reason with the employer. Most of the time the membership hardly knows what’s happening in the bargaining sessions.
6. use top-down methods of leadership, such as discouraging union members from taking an active role in solving their problems or participating in decision-making.
7. is very concerned with the position and career of the individual bureaucrat in the union.
8. is more concerned with the smooth running of the union bureaucracy than with the situation on the shop floor.

Any program for the rank and file must first come to terms with the two main misleading ideas behind labor’s business unionist misleadership.

First of all, there is no “community of interest” between the workers and management. The working class’ struggle for survival and an improved standard of living is a constant threat to the employer’s search for profits.

What we mean by someone’s class is how the person makes a living. The two main classes in our society are the owning class, which owns the factories, banks, stores, etc., and the working class which, of course, works for them. There are other less significant classes such as small owners who also work in their own shop and maybe employ one or two other workers; professionals such as doctors, lawyers and engineers; and non-workers including welfare recipients, and the hardcore unemployed.

The interests of the owners are individual profit based on ripping off the workers through the basic fact that all their profit comes from our labor.

The interests of the working people are social equality, a decent standard of living, full employment, safe working conditions, control over our job, and above all, unity that cuts across racial and sexual divisions in our class.

Secondly, it is this struggle for survival that built the unions, abolished child labor, won unemployment insurance and social security and rallied for racial equality in hiring.

As we work we create the wealth that Washington calls “The Economy” and that the owners call profits. We turn hills into coal, ore into steel, fields into crops, open land into railroads, cotton into cloth and empty buildings into schools and hospitals.

Yet we do not receive enough wages from our jobs to buy back the products we have made. We create a surplus which goes into the pocket of the owning class and gets recorded in the annual reports as profits.

In our numbers and in our hands lies the power to make our future.

These are the basic ideas that could change our unions into militant worker’s organizations.

The struggle between the working class and the owning class, are opposite interests, is a fact of life regardless of how the schools and media try to mask it. As workers our job is make sure that our class isn’t forever on the losing end of this class struggle.

class struggle unionism: a worker’s program

This program for the working class in the trade unions is called “Class Struggle Unionism.” Class Struggle Unionism stand for:


An organized rank and file can fight for its interests. Therefore, we; must bring democracy to our unions so the membership itself can pick its battles and organize to win them.


Working and poor people are all oppressed by the same class. The bosses, landlords and politicians are organized to get from us and keep us in place. Likewise, we must be united to defend our class.

This means:

(1) Supporting each other’s battles. Whether they be on the shop floor, picketline or in the community. In the face of companies’ runaway and union busting plans it will become harder and harder for a local to win a strike alone.

Union busting is coming from the same right wing forces that are attacking affirmative action, trying to play off organized labor and unemployed minorities, thereby weakening their opposition. W cannot afford to play into this divide and conquer scheme.

and (2) building unity that tights against all the racial and sexual prejudices that divide our unions and our class. For white workers, this means fighting alongside blacks, and other minorities, against the racial discrimination that comes down on them and keeps them down. For men, this means taking up the fight against sexism as their own.


Inflation is constantly eating away at the wage gains we’ve won while our employers don’t stop trying to get more production through speed-up and rate cutting. If this isn’t bad enough, we are threatened by loss of our jobs. Layoffs and runaway shops are like swords swinging above our heads.

In short, our standard of living is deteriorating while we are working harder. Our unions should be fighting for a say in how and what gets produced.


Through COPE and similar labor-political organizations we are told that a vote for the Democratic Party is a vote for labor. Our experience with this rhetoric tells us otherwise. We need a real labor party to fight for our political interests. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have one.


Anti-communism has always been used by the rich and powerful to isolate the most militant fighters of the working class. In fact, whenever someone stands up for working people’s rights and refuses to be bought off, they are likely to be called a “communist” – either by company or union officials.

While this label is applied to plenty of people who aren’t communists, it is a fact that some of working class’ finest leaders have been socialists or communists. Take, for example, Eugene Debs or Elizabeth Gurley Flynn or many of the builders of the UAW and the ClO.

racism: the central division

Before we go on, we want to stress the importance of racial unity. The capitalist class fears unity within our class more than anything else. A united class, clear on its goals, is unstoppable, and the capitalists realize this. This is why they constantly seek to promote divisions in our class. The old are pitted against the young, men against women.

But of all these divisions the one which is the most severe, and the most profitable for the capitalists, is racism. Racism is the practice by the capitalist class of reserving the most dangerous and low paying jobs for Black and other minority workers. In addition, minorities are denied the political and social rights granted to whites and suffer an extraordinary high unemployment rate. As a result, Blacks make up over 50 per cent of the nation’s poorly paid domestic workers, but only 5 per cent of the professional workforce (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 55 per cent of America’s Black families live below the poverty line compared to 28 per cent of all white families. Victor Perlo, author of Economics of Racism, estimates that in 1972 alone the capitalist class reaped 66 million dollars in extra profits from this wage differential alone. This makes racism the single most valuable source of super-profits available to the capitalist class.

Unfortunately, it is the racial prejudice of many white workers which allows the capitalist class to use this tool of division. Many white workers are convinced by the capitalists’ propaganda that Blacks and other minorities cause their own problems because they are ’lazy and don’t want to work,’ or, ’have too many children.’ White workers are encouraged to maintain segregated neighborhoods, send their children to segregated schools, and oppose affirmative action. And as our class fights among itself, the capitalists gather tremendous profits, and more importantly, maintain the stability of their system through division in our class.

The trade union movement pays dearly for society’s racism. If it doesn’t confront the problem of racism head on, if it doesn’t oppose racial prejudice among white workers, it will not be able to confront the capitalist class. Whenever the trade unions have ’forgotten’ about the reality of racism, the unions have stagnated and membership has declined.

The worst example of this is the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Historically the AFL had a policy of not ’interfering’ with affiliated unions which barred Blacks from membership through constitutional or unwritten agreement. This practice was what virtually eliminated Blacks from the skilled trades in the south. Forced by economic necessity, many Blacks came north looking for jobs, and when they had to, they replaced striking white workers. It was the AFL’s policy of segregation and exclusion that forced Blacks to strike-breaking, although the number of Black strikebreakers has never come close to the number of white strikebreakers. Thus racial prejudice within the AFL not only hurt Black workers, but set back the white workers’ ability to organize as well. When faced with this situation the AFL did not take the blame for its practices; instead they justified their policies and accused Blacks of not being ’ready’ to participate in the unions.

But the history of the trade unions is not entirely bleak. There are some bright spots, and one of them is the activity of the early CIO (Congress of Industrial Unions). When the CIO formed in 1935 it not only broke with the AFL’s craft unionism, it broke with its racism as well. Because of their negative experience with the AFL, many Black leaders urged Black workers to make sure the CIO meant what it said before they committed themselves totally. However, the CIO started by hiring Black organizers as well as white and went about proving that Black-white unity could be achieved.

One of the best examples of the ClO’s policies is to be found in this story from the National Maritime Union (NMU). About 10 per cent of the NMU’s membership was Black. Blacks not only participated in membership but participated in the leadership of the union as well. In 1942, the NMU was asked to send 140 workers to staff a ship used for transporting war materials. When they sent the workers, all but the 25 Black workers were accepted. The NMU immediately wrote to President Roosevelt claiming that this rejection was racial discrimination and was hurting the war effort. Roosevelt wrote back saying, “Questions of race, creed, and color have no place in determining who are to man our ships ...” Suddenly the ship’s masters found the Black seamen acceptable. At the end of their voyage the seamen unanimously adopted a resolution which read in part, “On this ship colored and white seamen have sailed together in perfect harmony. Therefore, be it resolved, that we go on record against any form of discrimination in our union or in any defense industry.” The progressive attitude of the NMU members cannot be solely attributed to the fact that their union was integrated. It was also due to the educational activities of its anti-discrimination committee.

The result of the ClO’s policies was overwhelming support from the entire Black community. The NAACP shifted from its original skepticism and in 1943 stated that, “The CIO has proved that it stands for our people within the unions and outside the unions.”

The policies of the CIO show that when the unions take up the fights against racism and racial prejudice they grow and flourish. Fighting racism is not a favor which the unions do for Black workers. It is necessary to increase the power of labor against the employers because it removes the tool of division from the employers’ hands.

When the unions actively fight racial discrimination, they not only find enthusiastic support among Black workers, they also win the support of the entire Black community. This is true because the Black community understands that it stands to gain from any group which will fight racism.

This point is best illustrated by events which occurred in 1968 in Charleston, South Carolina. 1199, a militant hospital workers union, decided to take on the Charleston hospitals ’whose! workers were among the lowest paid in the U.S. Most of the hospital workers were Black and before setting out, 1199 called upon the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a militant civil rights group, and proposed that they take on the battle together. SCLC agreed. 1199 taught SCLC tactics it had learned in union organizing, and SCLC shared lessons from the civil rights movement. A joint leadership body was formed and the hospital workers went on strike for union recognition and wage increases, with picket signs reading, “End Poverty: Our Own.” By the end of the first week over 100 were in jail for violating a law which allowed only ten picketers at a time. 20 yards apart.

By the end of the first month 600 state troopers and National Guardsmen had been called in. But Charleston’s Black community responded. Thousands marched nightly through the streets. Coretta Scott King flew in, and Ralph Abernathy went to jail with hundreds of other non–strikers in support of the cause. Donations of food and clothing poured in from the Black community. After battling for over three months, the strikers won and 1199’s newspaper jubilantly announced, “1199 Union Power Plus SCLC Soul Power Equals Victory in Charleston.”

1199’s victory would not have been possible without the active support of the entire Black community. The support of the Black community would not have been possible if 1199 hadn’t made it clear that they were opposed to discrimination and willing to ally themselves with representatives of the Civil Rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized this when he championed what he called the “Negro-Labor Alliance.” In referring to this he once stated, “Organized labor can be one of the most powerful instruments in putting an end to discrimination and segregation.”

The Civil Rights movement not only advanced the cause of Black people. Latino workers organized to improve their status. Out of this period the United Farmworkers Union was formed under the leadership of Cesar Chavez. In Texas, Chicana women successfully organized at the Farah (pants) company and on the East Coast Puerto Rican agricultural workers began bringing unions into the fields.

It should be clear by now that the unions must take up the fight against racism as their own fight. But in doing so they cannot restrict their efforts to the shop floor. Unity is a two way street and we cannot expect Black and other minority workers to develop full trust of white workers if they see that whites are willing to cooperate on the job but wish to maintain segregated schools and neighborhoods. If we allow inferior education in minority communities, we are opening up the doors for lowering of standards in all schools. If we allow landlords to provide substandard housing at high rents in minority neighborhoods, we are opening up the door to deterioration in all neighborhoods. If we allow the police to ride roughshod over minority neighborhoods, we are giving them that much more leeway to attack all people. And if we deceive ourselves into thinking that the problem is integration, then the capitalists maintain their most valuable weapon; division in our ranks.

a program for unity

In short the unions have a political obligation to social justice. Our job is to make sure that they come up with more than good sounding rhetoric. It will not do to have union leaders parading around in favor of anti-racism if they do not actively involve the rank and file worker in fighting racism. Proclamations in opposition to segregation will have little affect unless the unions actively explain to their entire memberships why racism and racial prejudice hurts all workers. Any program for class struggle unionism must include as a central focus, the struggle against racism. Such a program might include:

1) No discrimination on the company’s part in hiring
2) Equality in promotion
3) Support for affirmative action programs, which are necessary to combat years of discrimination in hiring and promotion
4) Adequate representation of minorities in all levels of union leadership
5) An aggressive program of education within the union which explains the harmful effects of racism and racial prejudice to all workers.
6) Support of all struggles against racism, including school and neighborhood desegregation, ’affirmative action, and opposition to police violence.

labor’s history shows strength

The American Labor Movement has been through a lot of changes since it began more than 100 years ago. For better and for worse, by their participation or non-participation, workers have shaped its history.

In the 1930’s, the entire CIO, and especially the UAW, were active and militant organizations.. They were the organized leadership of the largest mass movement the U.S. had ever experienced.

During this period UAW members seized plants (the most famous one being the Flint Sit-Down Strike, which lasted 44 days and involved 44,000 people directly and 110,000 indirectly), held mass rallies, marches and demonstrations. All of this was done in the face of vicious attacks by the police, goon squads and other forces of the owning class. Labor’s greatest advances were made during a time when the rank and file worker was actively involved in fighting for his or her union and future.

But, labor’s leaps and bounds were cut short as the working class went off to World War II. After the war, American soldiers came home from fighting fascism in Europe and Asia to go back to being American workers. They found that the tremendous economic growth enjoyed by the industrial bosses did not find its way down into the pockets of those who had fought the war that made the war-time profit possible. So, the working class went about the business of picking up where it had left off. They were sure of their ability to catch up with war-created inflation, and certain of their right to some of the benefits of their victory over fascism. By this time, the labor movement was so strong it couldn’t be dampened.

However, the owning class and the government that it controlled had other ideas, they were determined to regain the power that they had partly lost in the thirties. They decided to strike a deal with the unions. Legitimacy and a few crumbs were granted to those unions who were ready to adopt “business” perspective.

Depression and isolation was in store for those who would not go along with the official policies. For failing to support Truman and instead supporting a communist-backed candidate, Henry Wallace, the United Electrical Workers unions and 11 others were forced out of the AFL-CIO.

Because the U.S. came out of the war with the strongest nation in the world with the largest empire, it had the economic ability to give a small part of the working class a slightly higher wage than the rest. This was done with the hopes of influencing them away from communist thinking and toward becoming the preservers of the “American way.” This plan centered on mostly white men in the well-organized section of basic industry–the skilled trades.

Rather than fighting against the racism and sexism, that were not-so-silent partners in this plan, the union leaders, for the most part, adopted a policy of “don’t make waves.” This weakened the labor movement for many years.

The Democratic Party was put forward as the party for labor to follow. There would be no more talk of a ”labor party.” Labor was supposed to limit its role in politics to lobbying and working with the more progressive members of the owning class, but by no means was to be independent.

the cold war: scene of the great sell-out

The sell-out did not stop here. There were two more parts to the agreement.

First was unconditional support for the Cold War–the owning class’ campaign to exploit cheap labor in economically poor countries, parading it as a fight to save the world from communism which might have gotten in the way of this empire building scheme. Anyway, the sons of the working class would have to fight these wars (like Korea), so the “leaders” of the working class had better support them.

We were told that the super-profits made off of “cheap” labor abroad would trickle down into American workers wages. Twenty years later we find that our own jobs are being moved away altogether.

Second was the development of bureaucratic, top-down control of the unions. The companies did not want a repeat of the 1930’s. And maybe, some of them argued, a bureaucratic union was better than no union at all because at least the workers’ discontent could be channeled into the red tape of a grievance procedure instead of exploding on the shop floor and disrupting production.

Along with this, the unions tightened up on an international level with all real power being removed from the locals. This put all control of finances, including strike funds, at the unreachable top. With no real money of it’s own, locals that strayed from the International’s policies, could be cut off or put in trusteeship. This move also removed almost all control from the rank and file of the union. How many of us ever voted for the President of our International Union?

Since that post war time and especially in the last ten years there have been major social changes that have challenged the outlook of these labor misleaders and their business unionism.

times change; minds change

Starting in the early 1960’s there was the civil rights movement–the non-violent sit-ins, marches, protest demonstrations and mass rebellions in the cities. This movement has gone through twists and turns, but has continued on until today fighting for school desegregation and against the Bakke decision. This movement reawakened many people to the need for mass, militant struggle to achieve justice. It’s not surprising then that in 1978 black workers are at the heart of the growing rank and file movement. They learned how and why to fight in the60’s.

Then there was the first defeat of the U.S. corporate military empire at the hands of a small Asian country called Vietnam. The war in Vietnam and the Anti-war movement in this country helped to expose the true nature and aims of those who controlled the U.S. government to millions of Americans. It involved many young people in forms of mass protest for the first time in their lives. As young American working class men died in combat, the class injustices of U.S. society became obvious. And finally, it was a great lesson in possibilities of courageously struggling together, as the powerful U.S. was defeated by a peasant army.

The Women’s Movement made a lot of our thinking change. Women were no longer willing to accept what had always been their lot. Women began getting traditionally “male” jobs and, as they did, began to challenge the chauvinistic attitudes of many union leaders and members.

Rising unemployment, inflation and the economic recession of the early 1970’s exposed the real economic interests of the huge monopolies. The energy “shortages” did still more to show the American people just how far the profit-motivated companies would go in ripping us off.

For those who still had doubts about who the government serves, Watergate clinched it.

And, all this while a new generation of workers was entering the work place. Younger workers who were less content to take the sell-out and more eager to take on the company. Part of this attitude was just youthful rebellion but, as the realities of raising a family and paying the bills settled in this changed. Still, there is deep-seated unwillingness to suffer a life like their parents. After all, life should and could be more than just punching a clock and getting a pension.

new outlook + new leaders = change

So, now the majority of workers see through this business unionism, but a new perspective has not taken hold to replace it. Without this new perspective, people feel a tremendous sense of being trapped. “Sure, it’s a mess, but what can a person do?”

This lack of a new outlook to replace the old is the major thing holding back the growth of a broad rank and file movement in today’s unions. Only a new “Class Struggle Unionism” can provide the understanding and from that, the strategy for bring the rank and file back into action. Only this perspective can break through the hopelessness and create a labor movement that is controlled and directed by workers themselves. And, only a movement which we really control can improve our lives.

So, we’ve seen what’s wrong with the present leadership of our unions, we’ve got a new class struggle program, now we need new leadership to turn the words into action.

No matter Row well-meaning, no movement can survive without a strong, farsighted and respected leadership.

Leadership consists in understanding what our co-workers want, putting their ideas into a plan, then taking the plan back to the rank and file, correcting it and finally putting it into action. On top of all this, working class leadership means at all times looking after the interests of all workers.

Every workplace and every union is different in some specific ways. So, it’s up to the rank and file of every particular shop to develop its own leadership and program. However, at the same time, we can and should learn from our movement as a whole.

We start on the shop floor and eventually, guarantee it, there will be a confrontation with the local, district or International. And, as we continue to demand a decent life from our employers, as this happens in a scattered way throughout the plans, office buildings, mines and fields of our country we will see a new labor movement being born with a new leadership at its head talking about a new class struggle type of unionism.

Then, we’ll be on our way to better days.