Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Socialist Organizing Committee

Trade Union Work

First Published: Notes from Orange, No. 1, Fall 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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By trade union work we mean all the tasks of communists among workers at the point of production or the place of work. This includes organizational, political and ideological tasks, work to bring Marxism-Leninism to the working class and build a base for the communist organization, work to defend or extend gains made by the working class and work within existing unions as well as organizing the unorganized into unions. In short, it refers to communist participation in every form of struggle that occurs at the workplace.

In making our beginning analyses and drawing our tentative conclusions from practice, we are well aware of the limited extent of our experience. As we stated in the opening section of this document, Orange County has little heavy industry, little revolutionary tradition, and is today largely an “open shop” area with a weak trade union movement dominated by the conservative building trades unions.

Though a few of our members have longer histories of experience, we have worked as a group within the trade union movement here for only two years–and this work was largely the effort of individuals advised and analyzed by the group, rather than the work of concentrations of allied communists in one place of work. The nature of some of this work would undoubtedly have been quite different had we been able to develop concentrations sooner.

Nevertheless, we have always seen trade union work as a crucial part of our whole practice, and we believe there are lessons from our practice and our strategic perspective that are worth sharing with others.


What we are calling trade union work was often traditionally called “plant work” or “factory work” in the communist movement–the general expression for all communist participation in struggles at the place of work. We have rejected the older terms because they exclude government, clerical and health workers, who are not in factories.

By using this expression we do not mean to imply that all struggle must be directly related to trade unions. We make a differentiation later between simple trade union tasks at the workplace and political tasks.

I. Theoretical Perspective on Trade Union Work

A. The Nature of the Working Class

Like most Marxist-Leninists, we see participation in the working class movement as crucial because the working class is the one consistently revolutionary class under monopoly capitalism. It is true that the working class can win allies among the petty bourgeoisie and non-worker groups of oppressed national minorities, but only if the working class itself is politically and organizationally strong and capable of exercising leadership.

Over the long term, no communist movement can neglect the importance of the industrial sector of the working class. It is here that the class is the most socialized and concentrated, and has learned the most clearly the necessity of unity and organization. It is also within the industrial sector that the class is the most highly organized and disciplined, and the levers of production can be the most easily stilled by class action. On the other hand, it is important not to ignore other sectors of the working class, in particular the relatively unorganized light industrial workers, such as those in electronics, and the white collar, clerical and government workers. We believe that most clerical and government workers (excluding supervision and management) are socially and politically part of the working class. Even though their labor often does not produce surplus value for capitalists, this sector has grown with monopoly capitalism into a numerically significant sector, they are becoming highly socialized, they have little or no control over their own labor, and they are rapidly organizing into trade unions. (It would be ridiculous hairsplitting to say that nurses in a small private hospital are workers because their labor creates surplus value for the owner, while their counterparts in a large state hospital, doing precisely the same tasks in an even more socialized situation, are not workers.) Further, in the near and mid future, we believe clerical workers, and government workers in particular, will be an important focus of struggle as the crisis of declining profits forces “austerity” cutbacks in social service and government work.

Without a national Marxist-Leninist party–capable of testing policies across the whole society–we, like everyone else, are incapable of making a thorough strategic analysis of the class. Provisionally however we have done work in both light industry and clerical sectors–in existing unions and organizing the unorganized– and we have begun to test our strategic perspective.

B. The Nature of the Trade Union

Trade unions under capitalism are the elementary self-defense organizations of the working class, organizations in which workers combine to fight for their immediate interests at the point of production or the place of work. By their very nature the trade unions must include all workers at a given workplace, workers with all levels of consciousness, inevitably including people under the sway of divisive bourgeois ideologies such as sexism, racism and anti-communism, and people wholly given to illusions about bourgeois democracy. The trade union is not a revolutionary organization and cannot take the place of a communist party.

Nevertheless, communists must work in the trade unions. Even though the trade unions account for only 21% of the wage-earners in America, they include a majority of those in basic industry and they are the correct organizations to develop for the self-defense of other sectors. A communist party can only build a revolutionary movement in the United States by building a strong base in the basic industries and the trade union movement, and establishing its ability to give decisive leadership to the working class. This cannot be done by “outflanking” the top labor bureaucrats outside the trade union movement. They must be defeated within the labor movement where their influence over the workers lies.

Labor Bureaucrats

Holding a trade union office at local, middle or national level does not automatically make a person a class-collaborationist, though in fact virtually all middle and national level labor leaders today are class traitors. (Many even serve on ruling class bodies such as the Committee on Foreign Policy, or run CIA operations that smash militant trade unions overseas.) As John L. Lewis demonstrated by leading a militant strike during World War II, it is quite possible for even top leaders to refuse to abandon the class struggle and continue supporting the workers’ interests. Class-collaboration is an ideological and political category, determined by a person’s beliefs and actions, by the real role that leaders play, not an organizational category determined simply by the offices people hold.

Trade unions are not revolutionary organs, and inherently in struggles they must compromise again and again short of the “final” victory. Class militants, even communists, can participate in leadership as long as they maintain a class-struggle perspective and openly acknowledge that compromises are forced on them by the objective situation–not made voluntarily “for the good of all.”

The Question of Dual Unionism

Historically, there have been several attempts to outflank the trade union movement by building dual unions–wholly “pure” red or revolutionary unions. The Socialist Labor Party tried a number of times to set up pure revolutionary unions after being beaten inside the AFL in 1895, as did the IWW after 1905. And to some extent, the red trade unions that the Communist Party organized from 1928 to 1933 were dual unions (we recognize that to some extent there were also attempts to organize the unorganized sectors that the AFL ignored.) Dual unions inevitably did little more than isolate the revolutionaries and some advanced workers from the rest of the working class. When spontaneous organizing struggles erupted in 1933 and 1934, workers were drawn to the larger, more established AFL unions, not to the red unions. It was only because the Communist Party recognized this and moved quickly back into the mainstream of the labor movement that they were able to play such an important role in the CIO organizing drive.

The “New Dual Unionism”

No Marxist-Leninist party or group would openly admit today to the practice of dual unionism after the direct condemnation of this practice by Lenin and the Third International. Nevertheless, there are modern parallels in different form. Large rank-and-file groups, genuine mass movements of workers, have arisen in many unions to restore democracy and fight class-collaboration by struggling within the trade unions. Many Marxist-Leninist groups have worked within these movements, discovered they could not dominate them or take them over and then left to set up their own wholly dominated organizations outside the unions. Unable to contend for leadership of the trade unions, or even of the rank-and-file caucuses, these groups try to outflank not only the unions but the mass movement. “Dual caucuses,” such as the RCP’s new National Workers Organization, reveal an inability to put into practice a mass line in living struggle. At their best these dual organizations merely isolate a group of advanced workers from other advanced workers, as well as antagonizing the middle forces in the trade unions; at their worst, they are little more than sham organizations made| up wholly of party members.

At the root of this “new dual unionism” is a sectarian impatience for instant leadership of the working class, but also a callous disregard for the genuine interests of workers. The RCP, for instance, while building its own outside organizations carried on its “jam the unions” policy within the labor movement. In one case that we know, without any real analysis of the actual level of rank and file struggle, of the strengths and weaknesses of the union, or of the relationship of forces, an RCP cadre carried on mechanically “jamming”–even when the existence of the union itself was precarious and the elected leaders of the local were some of the strongest, most militant, most advanced workers in the plant, trying desperately to hold the union together. Impatient “jamming” and “outflanking” maneuvers simply reveal the inability of Marxist-Leninist groups to contend for real leadership of the class–as well as revealing a remarkable inability to make an analysis of the relationship of forces in a concrete situation.

Trade unions are the basic organizations of self-defense of the working class, and even under traitorous leadership, they have a potential to fulfill some of their necessary functions. Any one-sided attack on the unions or attempts to pull advanced workers out of the union struggles–particularly in an era of capitalist offensive–puts in jeopardy the real interests of a great many workers.

C. The Nature of Communist Work in the Trade Unions

Communists are not just good militant trade unionists. Our fundamental task within the working class is to raise the level of consciousness of the workers around us to an understanding of their true position in society in such a way that they will act upon that consciousness and ultimately revolutionize the society. Traditionally the role of communists in trade unions has been divided into this political-ideological task, which is primary, and the “simple” trade union tasks which relate to the self-defense nature of the trade unions and have been regarded as secondary. On the whole we agree, but some sectarian groups have made a total separation between the two–which ends up harming their work in both areas.

If the political tasks are seen simply as bringing abstract political ideas to the workers, unconnected to trade union issues and struggles, communists will miss many opportunities to help workers learn concrete political lessons in living struggle–ultimately undercutting their primary political task. If, on the other hand, the trade union tasks are not analyzed and presented in a political context, communists will end up tailing the narrow and immediate interests of workers. The two sorts of tasks are different, but they are related and must be carried on in conjunction.

We believe that the prerequisite to good political work is for communists to be the best trade unionists–in two important ways. First, communists must become the best trade unionists by developing a better political understanding than other trade unionists of the class position of workers, of the role of the state, of the role of class-collaborationist bureaucrats, and of the divisive role of various forms of bourgeois ideology. Most Marxist-Leninists would agree to the above, but where we differ with many sectarians is in our belief that communists must also become the best trade unionists in simpler and more direct ways. Communists must better understand the union structures, the grievance procedures, the contract and all the detailed mechanisms through which workers are forced to fight for their immediate needs. We do not approve of many of these bureaucratic channels, nor do we wish to be bogged down in them, but those who contemptuously dismiss this knowledge as “economism” in favor of rhetorical phrasemongering will not be able to win the workers’ respect and contend for the leadership of the class. Rank and file struggles arise around concrete trade union issues and communists must understand these issues to take part, (in one instance we know of, a Marxist-Leninist cadre had become a shop steward but did not know how to write up a grievance and refused to learn because this was “empty economism.”) There is a time for defiance, direct action and wildcatting, but to insist on it at all times is simply petty bourgeois “purist” radicalism. Labor laws reflect the past victories and defeats of the class in crystallized form, and though they have no value without the militant presence of workers behind them, communists should not treat this past heritage with contempt.

Sectarianism and Advanced Workers

One of the best examples of the difference between those who understand the relationship of political and trade union tasks and those who care only for sharp political work is on the question of advanced workers. Identifying which workers have the most advanced consciousness and winning them to communist struggle is a very important part of the political work of communists. Identifying advanced workers, however, is no simple matter. The sectarians tend to see only those who respond most readily to revolutionary ideas, often the youngest and newest workers in a workplace. We agree that these people show promise and should be worked with, but we do not agree that they will necessarily be the advanced workers in a particular workplace. In a period of relative working class quiescence such as today, and in the absence of a viable communist party–which has been the case for at least 20 years–many honest, militant, stable workers, even many at lower levels of trade union office, simply have never seen an alternative and are not ready to jeopardize their jobs and their families’ welfare by leaping at the first “single spark.” We do not believe that a simple verbal expression of revolutionary ideas necessarily identifies an advanced worker. Advanced workers will reveal themselves over time by coming forward to accept responsibility or offer leadership in struggle–and precisely struggle in the trade unions. They will be open to political change, to struggles against racism and sexism, and to working alongside communists. They will be respected by their fellow workers and, in turn, will respect the other workers and will not unnecessarily antagonize middle forces in the union. When these workers are won to a revolutionary movement, their commitment will not be momentary but a lifelong, serious undertaking. This is why trade union work and political work cannot be separated mechanically.

We believe we learned this lesson through concrete experience. In a successful organizing drive led by one of our comrades, two of the first militant recruits to the organizing committee we young workers who had been radicalized by their experience of the anti-war movement. They considered themselves socialists and we worked closely with them and even drew one into the SOC. At the height of the organizing drive, one of these workers quit and the other was unable to carry consistent work–in both cases because instability and personal problems. We still work with one of them, but we believe that the actual advanced workers will turn out to be among those who were in the organizing drive and also carried on doing the patient work of constructing the union. Identifying and winning advanced workers, like all communist work part of a long, dialectical struggle–not a lightning commando raid.

II. Communist Trade Union Tasks

While we do not make a sharp separation of the trade union and political tasks of communists, we have identified five major tasks which primarily relate to the self-defense of the class and could be called the main trade union tasks of the communist movement.


1. To assist in every way possible the organization of unorganized workers.
2. To defend trade unions from capitalist attack.
3. To democratize the trade unions.
4. To fight all forms of discrimination in the trade unions.
5. To free the trade unions from the death grip of the capitalist class and capitalist political parties.

1. To assist in every way possible the organization of unorganized workers into trade unions? While the creation of a trade union is only the first step of the workers toward emancipation, and does not by itself create the consciousness of the necessity for political struggle against capitalism, unorganized workers lack even the most elementary form of self-defense against exploitation and super-exploitation. Organizing struggles are a tremendous school of experience for cadres and an important way to gain the leadership of many workers in living struggle. Since women and minorities form a disproportionate share of the unorganized, this task means taking the struggle against sexism and racism seriously in practice.

2. To defend trade unions from capitalist attack. With the crisis of capitalism, the monopolies have made the 1970s a period of offensive against the trade unions in order to maintain their profit rates–an offensive that the labor bureaucrats are proving incapable of resisting. Since the Cold War, and particularly the great trade union purges of communists in the late l94Os, AFL-CIO membership has actually declined as a proportion of the working class. In addition, as demonstrated by pay increases that fall short of inflation rates, a large number of runaway shops, and outright attempts at union busting, portions of the trade union movement are on the defensive, particularly in an area like Orange County. In this period it is particularly important for communists to make concrete analyses of particular trade union struggles. They must identify the relation of forces confronting the union and within the union, the possibilities of struggle and the dangers. They must know who can be allied within the short run and the longer term-how strong the communist base is, and how to support the progressive tendencies of vacillating leaders or middle forces without surrendering independence. Even some of the well-established unions in basic industries such as textile have suffered serious defeats recently, and fighting conservative trade union leadership may well not be the immediate order of business.

As we have discussed above, onesided “jamming” and attempts to pull advanced workers out of trade union struggles can do real harm, especially to the weaker locals, as can the launching of struggles for which the workers are unprepared. In the last analysis, the only sure way to defend trade unions is to struggle for democracy and militance within, but these struggles must be carried on in such a way that possible allies are not treated as enemies–or made into enemies–and militant workers are not disoriented in the midst of a heavy attack from outside the union.

3. To democratize the unions. The two previous tasks, struggles to extend and defend the unions, will both be fruitless without a struggle to involve the workers themselves, for the trade unions only become strong when the broadest possible membership becomes militantly involved in fighting for their own interests.

For communists there are many principled political reasons to fight for trade union democracy–including its role in schooling the workers themselves in organizing and teaching the workers about the tremendous power they hold in their hands–but even on a simple self-defense level, a trade union without democracy cannot long resist the power of capital. Democratizing the unions will involve fights against no-strike contracts, fights for the rank-and-file’ s right to vote on all officers and contracts, fights to limit the pay and privileges of union leaders, and many other things. These struggles must be conducted within the mass movements that exist–the rank-and-file caucuses.

The Rank-and-File Caucus

The rank-and-file caucus is the particular organizational form of struggle that the workers at the point of production have resorted to over the last decade to express their real needs. It is a growing and healthy phenomenon in the labor movement today. Local caucuses have come about to fight for more militant local leaders, to reject rotten contracts and to fight specific shop conditions involving safety hazards that local leaders refuse to address. Caucuses have also arisen along racial lines, involving Blacks, Chicanos or others angry at the lack of response of union leadership to obvious discrimination. Women have also formed caucuses to fight for their specific demands ignored by the leadership. Caucuses around specific working conditions or the election of local leaders may have a short life, but others, particularly those of national minorities or women, have had longer life.

Rank-and-file caucuses have also arisen on the national level, but they have tended to be strongest only in periods leading up to the election of popular militant individuals or leading up to contract negotiations, and they have tended to decline and fragment afterward. This is understandable with the lack of a real national communist party to tie local struggles together and breathe long-term life into a caucus. Various left organizations have worked within the caucuses or built them on the local level, but no national caucus that we know of has been largely the creation or inspiration of a left organization (with the possible exception o the Teamster insurgency which owes a lot to the initiative of the International Socialists.) On the whole so far, the caucuses have been the creation of militant workers themselves.

We feel that communist cadres should definitely work within the rank-and-file caucuses–rather than trying to form their own wholly pure and wholly dominate “fightback” organizations outside the living struggle. Cadres should work to develop caucuses around concrete programs–advocating, for example, class struggle militance and democracy and opposing discrimination–and to make the caucuses as much as possible long-range, self-sustaining, democratic organizations and to minimize the focus on national “stars” and one-shop contract fights. Beyond this our limited experience in working with caucuses can only let us pose a number of questions, which could be answered only through further concrete experience.
• What is the role of cadres within the caucus?
• Should they assume leadership, one under what circumstances?
• Who should be included, excluded, and why?
• How should cadres maintain their independence, even within the caucus?
• How should cadres relate to the cadres of other organizations within the caucus?

4. To fight all forms of discrimination in the trade unions. Fighting discrimination is another of the direct links between political and trade union tasks. The ideological fight against racism and sexism is a principle that is part of the long-term strategy of all communist work, but it is also an immediate part of the concrete struggle against institutionalized discrimination, a struggle that is essential to defending and extending trade unions simply as self-defense organizations.

Discrimination against Women

Women make up more than 45% of the American workforce, but less than 12% of working women are organized as compared to 30% of working men. They are also concentrated in the most menial and lowest paid categories, and are hardly ever represented in higher trade union leadership. This is a pattern that trade unions must overcome if they are to be built in the clerical, service and electronic sectors where women predominate. Unions that display an open or covert contempt for women can hardly make much headway in these sectors. And any unions that refuse to address women’s needs and refuse to advance women to positions of leadership will lose the militant support of their women members.

Our trade union organizing work has taken place in workplaces were women were the majority, and attention to this task was a necessity, though we never carried it out as fully or consciously as we might have. In the simplest practical terms, we understood that women, particularly women caring for children, have special needs and special demands on their time. Organizing meetings were scheduled as much as possible during lunch breaks, and when it was necessary to hold longer meetings after work, child-care was provided. A number of women who took important leadership roles in struggle were urged to take part in the organizing committee and, later, in union leadership. Some have done so, but some declined, and women remain seriously under-represented at almost every level. We have certainly not solved this crucial problem.

We feel that in doing trade union work and building a genuine relationship between cadres and rank and file, it is important to bear in mind that women not only have particular demands–such as those on child care, health care questions, etc.–but they also have particular problems in relating to trade unions. The traditional media image of unions has been that of bodies of men dominated by cigar-chomping heavies (an image that unfortunately has a certain validity in America.) This image must be changed, and communist cadres must support and encourage militant, progressive women’s leadership within the unions and caucuses. Because they react to the media image, some women have felt that they could participate in leadership only by “leading” in that aggressive “macho” fashion that is so familiar, while many others simply find it impossible to free enough time for the meetings and other functions that current forms of leadership make necessary. In our work in the workplace, it is clear that the women with whom our cadres work take leadership seriously and will take leadership roles, given certain conditions that make their participation possible and given support in struggles against male chauvinism. The trade union movement (and the communist movement) must develop forms that facilitate the participation of people other than the “single, childless, professional and super-assertive” type that has so often dominated movements in this country. This will involve many experiments, including such things as consulting people at home on important questions, developing truly effective child care (as opposed to marginal babysitting), and supporting and defending women who take leadership in the working class movement and also struggle against male chauvinism.

Discrimination against Minorities

Discrimination, particularly against Blacks, but also against Latinos, Asians and other minorities, is historically one of the deepest and most destructive divisions in the working class. Though it has roots in the bourgeois ideology of racism and has been materially fostered by capitalists pitting groups against each other and creating differentials in wages and conditions, it is not sufficient simply to blame the ruling class. Class unity must be fought for and discrimination overcome within the working class in order to build strong trade unions.

Those unions which have discriminated have objectively weakened themselves. For example, resentment against United Auto Worker discrimination became so strong in 1969 and 1970 that there was a brief but powerful flurry of Black-led organizations like DRUM to fight both the corporations and the union hierarchy. These were virtual dual unions, and though the anger behind them was understandable and did result in some eventual gains, it would have been far more effective channeled into a rank-and-file movement that could struggle to win the support of all progressive workers. It is this sort of fight that communists must build. Consolidating and extending trade union strength in this country requires a militant fight against all forms of discrimination.

The SOC has not studied the national question to develop a strategic perspective on the question, and SOC cadres have not had a thorough programmatic direction to this aspect of their trade union work. We have no experience to offer and we are deeply self-critical of this weakness, which has both subjective and objective roots. We look forward to studying the question, developing the sort of workplace concentrations that will open up more possibilities for concrete practice, and to developing internal organizational forms that can stand watch over our practice and continually raise the struggle against racism, sexism and other forms of bourgeois ideology that impose themselves on communist practice.

5. To free the trade unions from the death grip of the capitalist class and the capitalist political parties. One of our first acts as a collective was to fight against an attempt to lead popular struggles into the Democratic Party (NAM participation in the Tom Kayden campaign.) We realize that fighting in the trade union for independent political action is no sin pie task, and that independence cannot be achieved “finally” and “completely” under the tremendous ideological and political dominance of monopoly capitalism, but it is only to the extent that the trade unions do fight independently that they can wring concessions from the ruling class.

The trade unions became tied to the Democratic Party in the late 1930s. Because the workers in the CIO had built tremendous mass struggles, the Democratic Party was forced to grant concessions and pose as a “friend”; the dominant sector of the ruling class feared this mass movement and hoped to co-opt it with the carrot, rather than enraging it further with the stick. By tailing after the New Deal the Communist Party and their CIO allies ultimately supported the illusion that these reforms had been “given” by the Democratic Party, when they should have continually reminded the workers (and themselves) that the crucial element in pushing the reforms was the militance of the organized workers. The truth of this observation was revealed after World War when the Communist Party and its CIO allies allowed working class militance to decline and the leaders of the Democratic Party-turned sharply against the workers and resorted to the stick, breaking strikes, restricting trade unions and initiating the Cold War at home and abroad.

Despite a deepening cynicism, it is true that the majority of workers in the trade unions in this country still vote for the Democratic Party, when they vote at all, and many contribute to COPE (a fund-raising front for the Democrats.) This is a result of the total ideological and political hegemony that the ruling class has maintained since the Communist Party collapsed in the late 1950s, and of the illusions about the Democratic Party perpetuated by class-collaborationist trade union bureaucrats. We must remind the workers that the Democratic Party is not and will not become a workers party; and, like all capitalist institutions, it sponsors reforms only when threatened by independent outside forces. Most of the workers know they are not “in” the Democratic Party at all; American parties do not even have the facade of worker participation maintained by European Social Democratic parties–large worker membership, constituency clubs, and yearly conferences to vote on policy. The only people actually in the Democratic Party are bureaucrats, political hacks and capitalist agents. If we are to make the trade unions strong and independent enough to wring concessions from the ruling class, we must break the class-collaborationist hold of these capitalist agents and fight the illusions they perpetuate.

However, the communist movement, with or without allies, can hardly hope to launch electoral campaigns without a strong base in the working class. The only possibilities that might arise in the near or mid future lie in initiatives, referenda and local (non-party) campaigns tied to rank-and-file or popular movements.

The Question of a Workers’ or People’s Party

Some communists have proposed that cadres advocate within the working class the creation of a workers’ or people’s party tied to the trade unions. Whether this is correct depends on a thorough analysis of the nature of electoral politics, the concrete nature of the American political system, and the concrete level of struggle–which we do not believe exists at the present.

On one hand, such a party initiated by mass working class leaders from within the trade unions could open up an important arena of struggle for communists and could raise working class issues for the first time in a long time in this country. On the other hand, there are concrete difficulties and dangers which must be considered–including the nature of the American political system, which is far more resistant to third parties than a parliamentary system, and the danger of creating a consolidated social democratic party, which could be more detrimental to the working class than the Democratic Party. We believe that whatever policy is chosen by a new communist party, the crucial factor will be the independent base of that party in the working class and this must be built first. Any attempt to “influence” a workers party by maneuvering with its top leaders in the absence of a rank-and-file base could only result in opportunist practice of the worst sort.

III. Communist Political Tasks

Communist trade union tasks largely involve the immediate needs of workers and the self-defense of the class through the trade unions. Communist political tasks, while related to these, go beyond the self-defense of the class and involve the fundamental tasks of communists at the place of work: raising the consciousness of the class, bringing Marxism-Leninism to the class and building a political and ideological base for the communist movement (not just a circle of allies based on personal loyalty and trade union militance.) We believe we have identified four major political tasks of communists within the unions at the workplace–all of which, of course, are interlinked.


1. To bring Marxism-Leninism to the working class.
2. To establish and develop a powerful base for the communist movement at the workplace and in the trade union movement.
3. To struggle actively for the unity of the working class and combat all forms of divisive bourgeois ideology and false capitalist consciousness.
4. To maintain the eventual revolutionary goals of communism within the working class so that in a pre-revolutionary situation, the trade unions can become organizing centers for revolution.

Political Tasks and the Question of Political Line

Crucial to the way these political tasks will be carried out (and the trade union tasks as well) is the general political line of the organization. If the general line is based on the premise that a pre-revolutionary situation exists and that workers are moving into direct struggle, when in fact it is a period of quiescence or gradual development, this political line will influence the work of the cadres toward adventurist actions. If this general line is incorrect, it will be impossible for the cadres to develop a correct mass line to understand where the workers are, what they believe and what the genuine possibilities of struggle are.

The SOC does not believe there is any evidence that we are in a pre-revolutionary situation, and all work in the trade unions should be conducted with this in mind. The work must be conducted with a patient long range plan. If errors are going to be made, then in this period let them be on the side of caution–not with the opportunist intention of “preserving” the individual cadre but with the intention of carefully nurturing our weak roots in the working class and avoiding the victimization of advance workers allied to us. Without careful an analysis, well-intentioned but impatient young communists can needlessly throw away all the base-building and education they have done.

1. To bring Marxism-Leninism to the working class. Although workers will spontaneously develop struggles against capitalist exploitation and oppression, communists must bring to these struggles the revolutionary theory and politics of Marxism-Leninism. Only in this way will the working class itself develop a full understanding of its class identity, its class position in society, the contradictions of monopoly capitalism, the role of the state, and the ability of the working class to overthrow this system and set out on the transition to socialism.

Marxism-Leninism is a science that must be studied in a conscious way, a fact which applies to workers on the job as it does to anyone else. Political exposures and long discussions and explanations concerning political events are day-to-day tasks on the Job and go on all the time if the cadres are doing their political work well, are integrated with their fellow workers and have a good style of work.

To develop a circle of workers on the job who are interested in studying Marxism-Leninism is the goal of every communist in trade union work. This cannot be done by wishing for it, but is the product of a long and complex process of the interrelationship between the cadres and workers around them. After workers have worked alongside cadres for some time, seen them offer leadership in struggles, discussed politics with them, learned to trust them and identify them with consistent militance, a certain number will reveal themselves as advanced workers by their actions and their openness to political ideas. It will then be possible to involve them in political study and bring them closer to a communist organization.

At what rate a communist organization will develop such work depends on its political line, the quality of its cadres and allies and to some extent the objective situation, not only within the workplace but the general level of the class struggle in the country.

2. To establish and develop a powerful base for the communist movement at the workplace and In the trade union movement. It is only with a strong base in the working class and the trade unions that the communist movement can raise broad political issues across the whole society and convince the workers and other sectors of their common interests in the fight against capitalism. In this way, the communist movement can link the struggles of the working class with anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-gay oppression and anti-police repression struggles, bringing the powerful support of the organized working class to its potential allies against the capitalist system. (It was the heritage of its base in the New York working class that allowed the Communist Party in 19^9 to draw thousands of workers into the labor guard that defended Paul Robeson from American Legion and thug attacks at Peekskill. New York workers formed a shoulder-to-shoulder human wall that stretched more than two miles around the concert grounds.)

Over time, through education, study, discussion and struggle, this working class base must become far more than simply an alliance based on respect for the cadres’ trade union militance and personal leadership; it must become a political and ideological base for Marxism-Leninism. Only in this way will more and more workers be drawn into political struggle against capitalism and into the defense and support of open communist work.

(It should be realized, however, that it is not always possible for all cadres and their allies at the workplace to undertake all political struggles at all times. The cadres and their allies should discuss in detail what political questions they are capable of taking up.)

To become a vanguard party, the actual leader of the working class, a revolutionary organization must develop a real relationship with the class over time by contesting for the leadership in the class struggle. Without contesting for the leadership and developing a political base to serve as the link between Party and class, isolated groups will remain incapable of formulating, applying and testing Marxist-Leninist theory in concrete practice. No revolutionary organization can begin to think of itself as the party of the working class until it is actually leading significant struggles of the class.

In America today there are a number of groups which think of themselves as the leader of the working class. Some believe this relationship is developing or has developed on the basis of self-appointment or the most consistent tailing of the weaknesses of the class–sexism, racism or anti-gay bigotry. Others believe the workers automatically follow those with the fiercest rhetoric or the most “ideological purity.” (And many feel this purity comes from shrill wars of quotations and counter-quotations, rather than offering concrete analyses of policies tested in their own practice.) A few groups even argue that practice should not interfere with “theoretical work.”

We do not pretend to have a total answer to all the problems of base-building and what lies at the root of every mistake the new communist groups are making. We do feel, however, that many of the errors come from a petty bourgeois contempt for the working class and an objective repudiation of the idea of a mass line, of learning from the people, of the root of all knowledge in social practice in the real world. None of these groups is or appears to have the potential to become the leader of the working class.


If the cadres cannot win workers at the workplace to Marxism-Leninism and to the revolutionary organization then serious doubts will arise about the line of the organization, its style of work or the type of cadres on the job. Our work is at a low level at present and we are not suggesting that we have any extensive experience as to how this process will develop in all its detail. We did succeed in winning workers from the Job into our Workplace Organizing Committee and one into 30C during an organizing drive, but we did not hold onto the one for any length of time. We were too hasty, and there was not a sufficient understanding on the part of the worker as to the real nature of a revolutionary organization. This was more than a year ago, when the 50C was at a very primitive level. There are no shortcuts to patient testing and retesting of individual workers, and of their political consolidation before they are ready to make the serious commitment to building a new communist party in this country.

Our own objective situation as a small and isolated collective has made recruiting very difficult. We look forward to the growth and development of a national anti-dogmatic and anti-sectarian center that can build links with other workers and particularly workers in other branches of industries in which we work.

Communist Organization at the Workplace

We believe all communists at a given workplace should be organized into a special organization–a fraction or nucleus–whose function is to conduct and analyze the practical day-to-day work in that place. This formation must be tied to a higher communist formation in order to avoid errors of a local nature and carry out the political line of the organization as a whole. As a small organization that is only beginning to develop concentrations, we have little direct experience as yet of this process. What experience we have of linking trade union cadres to the whole organization will be discussed under the Workplace Organizing Committee, below.

3. To struggle actively for the unity of the working class and combat all forms of divisive bourgeois ideology and false capitalist consciousness. The cadres must fight all backward and divisive ideologies, not in the abstract but directly in the working class (and the communist movement.) This includes fighting racism, sexism, all forms of national chauvinism, anti-communism and bigotry against gay people, by showing whose interests these ideas serve–the ruling class. This is a particularly important task, since the collapse of the Communist Party has left the working class prey to rampant forms of divisive ideology for two decades.

Some organizations, such as the RCP, have tended to tail behind backward ideology within the class, and within their organization, on the grounds that a head-on fight against racism or sexism would be “divisive to the class.” This reveals an underlying assumption that only white, non-gay males in the class “really matter.” We feel it is far more divisive to liquidate the ideological struggle against sexism, racism or anti-gay bigotry–in addition to being impermissible on grounds of principle for communists.


Racism is an extremely destructive form of bourgeois ideology. It is deeply ingrained in American culture, and it is an ideology that must be recognized and fought in ourselves, in all political work, in the working class and the trade unions, and in the communist movement, as well as fighting the more direct institutionalized forms of discrimination. No movement can hope to lead the American working class toward revolution without a correct understanding of racism. A prerequisite to this understanding is a thorough knowledge of the national question and how to promote the unity of the working class.

As we mentioned earlier, the SOC has not studied the national question and we have not made the struggle against racism a programmatic part of all our work. We are deeply self-critical of this, and are planning a study and the development of organizational forms that can help toward overcoming this weakness.


Women are almost half the American workforce, but most trade unions and some revolutionary groups continue to ignore this fact and ignore the crying necessity to oppose sexism as an ideology in the working class, as well as opposing the institutionalized forms of discrimination To lead the working class toward revolution, the communist movement must help the working class learn the integral role of sexist ideology and practice in maintaining monopoly capitalism. The America communist movement could learn from the recent Asian and African revolutionary movements which paid careful attention to women’s needs, to the forms of sexism in their own societies, and fought to integrate women into the revolutionary process. There are negative lessons, too, from places like Chile, where women were largely ignored by the Popular Unity movement, and the imperialists and capitalist clearly understood the necessity of maintaining sexist bourgeois ideology.

The SOC’s experience in drawing women into trade union struggles was discussed earlier in the section on opposing discrimination, but the full battle against sexist ideology has many ramifications which we have just begun to explore– including the role of the anti-sexist struggle as an avenue of struggle against elitist, bourgeois forms of leadership as well, which we will discuss in the Women’s Issues section, below.


Of all the imperialist countries in the world, only the U.S. monopoly capitalists face a working class that has almost no form of socialist consciousness. We feel that a certain amount of historical background is necessary to discussing the level of anti-communism in America, and the security measures this makes necessary.

Only twice in this century did U.S. workers begin to look for the socialist alternative to capitalism to any serious degree. At the turn of the century, when U.S. capitalism had developed into monopoly finance capitalism, there was the rise of a large reformist Socialist Party which did have a serious base in the working class and a revolutionary wing within it. In the 1930s and the Great Depression, which brought incredible misery and destitution to millions of workers, there was a tremendous desire on their part to fight back. This fighting spirit permitted the small but experienced and organizationally developed Communist Party to break out of its isolation and become a real force within the working class, helping lead the CIO and the unionization of industrial workers.

After World War II, the U.S. ruling class was facing a revolutionary tide in Europe where Communist Parties held absolute leadership of powerful French and Italian working class movements, and also in Asia with growing national liberation movements under the leadership of Communist Parties in China, Viet Nam, the Philippines, Malaya and Burma. The ruling class realized it could not fight its external Cold War against this revolutionary tide while there was a strong Communist Party in the U.S. An internal Cold War was necessary as well.

It is important to recognize that this internal Cold War against the Communist Party was not just a series of committee hearings in Hollywood and Washington led by a few “dangerous” but peripheral right-wingers like McCarthy. The internal Cold War was an all-out attack on the Communists, designed by the dominant sector of the capitalist class, begun in the working class and the CIO, and carried out by “good liberal Democrats.” The “liberal Americans for Democratic Action was the acknowledged ideological center of the anti-communist campaign, and drew in many “liberal” CIO leaders such as Walter Reuther as Cold War agents.

To see the Cold War simply as “McCarthyism” or a “fascist danger,” as the revisionist Communist Party still does, is to mystify utterly what occurred and conceal the Communist mistakes that helped make it possible. It also makes “heroes” of the liberals who eventually stopped McCarthy, which is a grotesque distortion of reality. The Cold War had achieved its main objective and driven the Communists out of the CIO even before McCarthy began his first hearings. His hearings were useful to the later phases of the campaign in raising the general level of terror, but this period included the much more important Smith Act prosecutions of the Party leaders and the spy hysteria which pictured all Communists as “foreign agents.” McCarthy got out of hand and actually began to attack the effective Cold War institutions like the State Department and the USIA, and when the ruling class decided he was no longer useful, he was put down easily. The liberal Democrats were the architects and agents of the main body of the real Cold War, not the saviors.


It is not the purpose of this document to analyze thoroughly the past errors of the Communist Party and what part these subjective factors played in its defeat. But the defeat did make possible the current level of anti-communism and we would like to suggest where we feel some of these subjective mistakes lay (we realize that there were also tremendous objective forces arrayed against them.)
1. In the 1930s, the tendency to rely on trade union leaders at the top, who were nominally center forces in the CIO, and sacrifice Party independence and visibility.
2. In the 1930s, the tendency to go along with a surge of working class support for the Democratic Party and FDR, and not struggle ideologically against the New Deal and ruling class hegemony.
3. Support during the war and immediately after for class-collaborationist “no-strike” pledges, and virulent attacks on the militant leaders like John L. Lewis who opposed them.
4. In the late 194Os, as attacks began, the tendency to retreat and hide, including sponsoring anti-communist resolutions themselves in the CIO as “protective cover.”

All these things weakened the Party’s political base in the working class. When the Cold War began in earnest, the Party was ideologically and politically unprepared, and they went down to a terrible defeat with so little open resistance that bourgeois media and scholars are now able to write them out of American history.

The 20-year lack of a communist movement in the U.S. destroyed almost all the revolutionary tradition that had been created in the working class. The ruling class was free to spread its own ideology and practice throughout society and the working class without reply–including racism, sexism, class-collaborationist business unionism, corruption, liberalism apologetics for imperialism, and especially anti-communism. Prosperity, which grew relatively in the American working class, at least until 1968, on the general position of U.S. Imperialism in the world, has supported this hegemony and anti-communism. This is the objective situation that we face, and we must not minimize the problem.


The struggle against anti-communism cannot be seen as separate from the general struggle of the working class for its elementary needs at the point of production. Communist cadres leading this fight of the workers and becoming known as communists over time will be one of the most important factors in fighting anti-communism and opening up possibilities for direct political work.

Communists should and must carry out education and propaganda about the real history of the organized labor movement and communist movement with advanced workers. Ways must also be found to carry out education and propaganda with middle groups of workers about labor history and the role of the revolutionaries in American working class history.

But even before we are capable of doing this on any scale, we must face questions of security. The state institutions set up to victimize communists are strong and dangerous, and their ability to have cadres fired and blacklisted must be respected, particularly before cadres have developed any sort of political base to resist the attacks.

Security on the Job

There is an obvious contradiction between the open political work of communists in the working class, including fighting anti-communism, and the need to protect cadres from victimization as communists. Because of this, there are no wholly safe rules to follow for self-protection in the class struggle. In the final analysis, only the workers on the job can protect cadres from victimization. If the totality of their work is correct, if they develop firm ties with the workers and show good leadership, the chance of victimization in particular situations is considerably reduced, SOC understands that there will be casualties in the class struggle, but we intend to keep them to a minimum. There are certain broad guidelines which can prevent needless victimization.

We believe the communist organization at the workplace should develop a long-range division of labor as to who will be the most identified cadre or cadres. At this stage of our development our workplace cadres lack the support of concentrations and therefore conduct little if any open propaganda work. As these individuals are reinforced, either by the entry of comrades or by recruitment, we can expand our propaganda work. At our level of development, without a party to recruit workers into, there is little reason to broadcast ourselves widely as members of an organization. Many of us can remain workers who believe in socialism. When we are sure the workers we contact are not agents, are stable and can be won to the organization, then we can discuss the necessity of joining a revolutionary organization. These guides are based on our concrete level of development, and will have to be reanalyzed as conditions change.

We realize there is also a danger in fetishizing security measures. The majority of workers still believe many of the promises of bourgeois democracy, and those cadres who today display a romantic obsession for extreme and inappropriate forms of security on the job–obvious codes and passwords, sudden silences, grave whispered conferences, self-important revelations to a few–run the risk of reinforcing many mistaken anti-communist prejudices: that communists are shamefaced foreign agents or dangerous manipulators. It is not difficult to explain to sympathetic workers the need for discretion and restraint, as long as it is done naturally and not self-importantly.

Security and the Question of Taking Local Trade Union Posts

As a general guideline–which, from our experience, we do not consider a hard-and-fast abstract principle–it is undesirable for a communist to assume a position of local union leadership unless there is a substantial base of support for a cadre who has been engaged in protracted struggle, as large as possible a number of workers is informed of the cadre’s politics and the cadre has run on an open political program of democracy, militance, anti-racism or similar demands.

The problems of violating this guideline are obvious. The cadre’s “secret” politics cannot remain secret very long in the present low level of security of the movement. Assuming there is a leak, the FBI or other security agencies will inform the company, who in turn will inform top union officials and company stool pigeons. At the most crucial moment of a strike situation or a developing struggle over working conditions, the cadre will be confronted with a red-baiting campaign. Workers unaware of the cadre’s politics will be thrown into disarray–the cadre will be placed in the disarming position of not having been “honest” with the workers–and the struggle will be confused and weakened.

Of course, the above is an abstraction. No cadre can engage in protracted struggle and have deep ties with fellow workers without serious discussions with many advanced workers about politics. Workers are not naive, and many are well aware that those who lead serious struggles may have radical politics. Nevertheless, it is a serious problem for someone with a trade union post and its consequences should be avoided as much as possible.

There are reasons why we do not consider this guideline a rigorous principle to be maintained on all occasions. Setting the question in a concrete context, rather than in the abstract, shows immediately that a comrade confronted with this problem would already have deep ties with fellow workers resulting from prolonged struggle on the Job, and some of the workers would undoubtedly already have urged the cadre to formalize a leadership role that he or she showed in practice. In these circumstances, refusal to run for a local post could well harm the cadre’s work. Workers are keenly aware of those who show devotion to the struggle and often ask respected co-workers to assume leadership. Continued refusal, without apparent grounds, could lead many workers to feel, rightly, that the cadre was afraid to assume responsibility and was only toying in the struggle.

(Continued approaches to a cadre in this manner are of course an excellent time to discuss the cadre’s politics, to raise the problems of anti-communism or to develop support for programmatic demands.)

The question must be approached with extreme caution and must be studied in the concrete, but if the decision is made to run for local office, it is indispensable for the cadre to maintain independence, to avoid the position of enforcing a rotten contract and acting as police for the trade union bureaucracy. The advantages of a local trade union position are obvious, in offering many opportunities for further leadership of the workers in struggle, and playing part in the long process of building a future political base for socialism within the working class. It is imperative, however, that the post assumed be of such a character that maximum independence can be maintained–posts such as shop steward or member of the executive committee.

It might well become necessary to retreat from union office on short notice if the cadre were forced into the position of putting down concrete struggle. This the cadre could explain to fellow workers and win additional respect by moving into opposition around a concrete issue.

Internal Security

Within the communist organization itself there is little need to discuss where people work or where they are planning to get jobs. Of course, most member of a small organization will know where the others work, but loose discussion can develop bad security habits. We have had experience of this in a few cases, in which members inadvertently discussed each other’s places of work in front of people who were not members and not yet close enough to us for us to judge the possible danger. We are all susceptible to these bad habits, and the SOC plans to set up organizational forms that can help us discipline and criticize ourselves. The single most dangerous type of “leak” at present is information that links cadres to the places where they work, and endangers them before they can build a base.

When conditions have changed tremendously and the new communist party has a firm political base within the working class, the self-defense role of the trade unions will be overshadowed by a new role as organizing centers for revolutionary activity. This occurred in pre-revolutionary situations in Russia, Italy, Germany and elsewhere, as revolutionaries who had played large and respected roles in the trade union movement used their political base to help develop red guards of active fighters, plus Soviets and workers councils.

Maintaining this long-term revolutionary perspective over decades of relative quiescence and patient base-building work may well be one of the most difficult of communist tasks–as the degeneration of most communist parties toward revisionism, social democracy and the illusions of “peaceful transition” has shown. We do not know of any secret keys to winning this long struggle, only protracted study of Marxism-Leninism and historical experience, and consistent championing of the interests of the whole working class, both at home and abroad. Our work is at far too low a level, and has been far too brief, to offer experience on this task.

IV. SOC Trade Union Work

We see the unorganized, “open shop” nature of the county not as a cause for despair, but as a challenge and an opportunity. Like the South and the Southwest, the area is a testing ground for organizers, and will one day–perhaps soon–become an arena of many organizing battles. Because many of the local plants are only of medium size, and some are notorious for repeated runaways one step ahead of union organizers, the workers of Orange County will never have the organizing advantages of the vastly concentrated industrial workers of the Midwest and East. While there have been setbacks in some areas of the county, there have been a few notable gains as well. Major victories probably await a nationally revitalized trade union movement–possible only with a new communist party to move it from within–and international trade union co-operation. Only these can address the problem of runaway shops. We have confidence in the ingenuity and determination of the American working class, once the stranglehold of class-collaborationist leaders is broken.

The working class has important lessons to learn in an area such as this, and we as communists and organizers have important lessons to learn as well. The SOC has cadres who have worked in the past in a great variety of workplaces. But since the SOC came into existence, we have worked in a systematic way in only two–a light industrial plant, with a weakened but existing union, and leading a clerical organizing drive, which was successful. We look forward to broadening and deepening this work by developing concentrations in a number of places. In order to facilitate this work, two years ago we set up the Workplace Organizing Committee.

The Workplace Organizing Committee

The WOC is a special organization that stands between the SOC and non-member cadres and allies who are willing to co-operate with us, exchange political ideas and information, and work within the general framework of communist work in the trade union movement. The precise nature of the WOC has changed somewhat with the concrete nature of its work. At one point about a year ago, just after an attempt to build a concentration had failed and an organizing drive seemed to be failing as well, the WOC had few members outside the SOC. At that point it was operating as little more than an internal “trade union commission” of the SOC, discussing the ongoing work of members and using the apparent quiescence to prepare a detailed study of past communist experience in the trade union movement. As the organizing drive turned around and then succeeded, however, and as we moved toward building other concentrations, we were able to draw a number of non-members into working with us and the organization resumed its initial function.

The present principles of unity of the WOC are:
1. Members believe in socialism and class-struggle trade unionism.
2. Members are employed at, or about to enter, socialized working class jobs where trade union work would be feasible.
3. Members accept the advice democratically arrived at within the WOC.
4. Members are not under the discipline of other communist organizations, specifically the national so-called communist parties or Trotskyist organizations.

Initially, the last principle was phrased to exclude those who “disrupted the work of WOC,” but we felt that it was better to make the conditions explicit. From our past experience in coalition with these organizations, we believe their cadres would enter the WOC only as a “fishing expedition” and would disrupt its own democratic practice with policies imposed from without, policies not subject to discussion or change. We are willing to carry on joint practice with these organizations at the workplace, or work with them in caucuses, but we do not believe it would be possible to work with them at present in the WOC.

Because of this last principle, SOC members realize that they have an obligation to work within the WOC in such a way that non-member cadres and friends feel that the SOC is not imposing its will in a dogmatic, rule-or-ruin way. We have been willing to exchange ideas, tactics, and even broad strategic views with all active and honest elements within WOC and arrive at decisions democratically. Nevertheless, we sought to remain the main guiding force within the WOC by demonstrating that SOC possessed the most tested, experienced and resourceful cadres.

It should be obvious from the structure of the WOC that it has a two-fold purpose for us. First, it is the vehicle for organizing and analyzing communist trade union work in the county, both within existing unions and organizing the unorganized. Second, it is a testing ground for future Marxist-Leninist cadres and a transmission vehicle for joint work and consolidation of new forces for SOC. We have not pressured WOC members to join SOC, but it is clear that our eventual goal is to recruit those who do good work.

In future, it may be necessary to rethink the principles of unity and the nature of the WOC-SOC relationship, as concrete conditions change or as a viable national movement develops. At this low level of development, there is no question of clinging rigidly to “our own” outward forms, when changes could benefit the entire movement or the entire working class.