Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers’ Viewpoint

Trade Union Educational League Founding Convention: Big Leap in Forging Leadership in the Trade Union Movement

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 3, No. 11, November 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.

**Richmond, California. Under bright lights, heat and clamor fill the room in the Teamsters Local 315 hall. Hundreds of workers concentrate on the debate which decides their livelihood. All voices come together, decided on rejecting Safeway’s contract. 15 weeks on strike is not too long to fight a killer speedup. Noise mounts again as questions are raised – what next? From among the strikers, a proposal is raised by the Trade Union Educational League. One by one, workers comment until they stand up to agree–they, their families and the TUEL are united to continue the fight.

**Early dawn. In the shadow of morning darkness, 2 yellow buses carrying scabs with police escorts crept cautiously past the strikers by the gate to Frances Schervier Nursing Home. Since July 27, Schervier workers have been walking the picket line. The Catholic Charities, owner of the homes, have refused to recognize the workers’ right to be represented by 1199, Health and Hospital Employees. Shortly after the strike started, TUEL got involved. TUEL and the Schervier workers were there at 6:00 am. shouting at the scab buses. They were there chanting at demonstrations in front of Catholic Charities and St. Patrick’s Church.

**Detroit. Tens of thousands of auto workers gather in plants to churn out cars for the Big Three. Amidst the heat and the sparks, the speeding line and the rickety overhead equipment, there is only the committeeman to stand between safety on the job and company harassment. But committeemen are rare. There is only one for over 500 workers. A lot of committeemen sit in their offices and drink coffee all day anyway. But in one auto plant, workers noticed a difference in their newly elected committee man. He walked the line everyday and talked with them. He picked up grievances and stood up to the foremen for the workers. It’s no accident that he is a member of TUEL.

On one brisk October weekend, members of the Trade Union Educational League and friends made their way to the Steel Capital, Pittsburgh. They joined 350 other workers in attending the founding convention of the TUEL.

For months beforehand, TUEL members had been preparing for this conference–from the New York/New Jersey chapter who wrote a pamphlet and helped propose the agenda and resolutions to give leadership to the conference, to the many struggles TUEL chapters were leading around the country.

For months beforehand, Pittsburgh TUEL members and friends had been planning and laying the groundwork. From organizing recreation fox adults and children, to raising funds through concessions, to setting the menus, they moved ahead, united around this aim. The Junior Revolutionary Youth League, a group of 9-12 year olds led by the Revolutionary Youth League, were a part of this convention. They got together to wash cars to raise money for their registration fee and their red berets. They helped with the daycare, including the planning, and then volunteered to sleep in a cold, unheated building to make more room for the “older people.”

Excited conversations are overheard; anticipation of an historical event fills the air. What struggles will we hear about, what lessons will we learn? For some, it is the first time away from their home cities. For others, it is their first time at a TUEL event. And for the members of 6 months at the most, the convention was a testimony to work well done. For it was over a year ago, on Labor Day weekend in 77, another conference was held. It was there, under the leadership of the Workers Viewpoint Organization that the foundation for this day was laid.

Fighting Campaigns Bring New Forces to the TUEL

In the past year, the TUEL has emerged as a hardworking, vigorous, and growing organization rooted in the thick of the working class struggles. 10 solid chapters and organizing committees in many other cities have been taking up the day to day fights in shops and communities across the country. Many new members and friends who joined the ranks through strikes, walkouts, union drives, contract battles and fights for rank and file democracy, and against discrimination and national oppression spoke in solidarity with the National Founding Convention. They included representatives from the Miners’ Widow Action Group and retired miners from western Pennsylvania, workers from the Safeway strike in northern California, Mexicano and Chicano workers from the Southwest, rank and file miners from the coal fields, workers from the recent wave of strikes in North Carolina, nursing home workers from New York City and Baltimore, and more. For many brothers and sisters, it was the first time that they spoke publicly to a large audience. In addition, some union officials and members from the African Liberation Support Committee, the Revolutionary Youth League, and Al Frente de Lucha gave their greetings and messages of solidarity.

Struggles Against National Oppression Strengthen the Trade Union Movement

Old members, new members, and friends saw for themselves the budding seed of an organization that can link the scattered struggles, unite the different trades, and build a powerful, sweeping trade union movement nationwide. Participants were eager to share their experiences and to learn from each other’s work. Struggles like that of the undocumented workers-in the Sbicca shoe factory and the Longmont Turkey plant in the Southwest, and that of the Rocky Mount sanitation workers in the Black Belt South, highlighted the need to fight against national oppression, and to appreciate the depth and scope of the working class movement beyond the trade union movement. In particular, the victory of the Sbicca workers (who forced La Migra to turn a busload of 50 Mexicano workers around at the border) was a milestone in the fight against deportations of undocumented workers. One worker who was deported from Longmont came back. At the convention he vowed to continue the fight to organize the plant despite constant harassment from La Migra.

TUEL Builds Trade Unions in the South

Another shining example of the role that the TUEL can play in organizing the unorganized is the breakthrough at the Granite textile mill in Haw River, North Carolina. The significance of that struggle was that even though there is a union there, only 12 of 600 workers were union members because of the “right-to-work” laws. When the workers walked out to fight a wage cut, there was no organization. While the union bureaucrat was vacationing with the bosses, a TUEL member took up the leadership of the strike. In the course of the struggle, 200 new union members were recruited and a fighting rank and file organization was forged. This showed sharply the strength of organization and conscious leadership in a state where only 6% of the workers are organized. It was also a sharp contrast to the do-nothing and conciliatory policy of the chauvinist trade union bureaucracy towards the workers in the Black Belt South.

Inspiring As Well as Sobering Lessons from Battles Fought

While there were many inspiring lessons from the advances that have been made, there were also the sober lessons of hard struggles and setbacks. A TUEL member from Greensboro, N.C. recounted the decertification of an automechanics local after a long strike over a contract. The comrade drew out the necessity to rely on the masses, learn from the mistakes and hardships, and persevere to carry on in the spirit of “fight, fail, fight again,. . .until victory.” One thing was crystal clear as the participants surveyed the auditorium on the campgrounds (only an hour away from the site of the historic Homestead Strike of 1892). Gathered in that hall were some of the most active, committed, experienced, and politically conscious class fighters. And the organization that we are building will represent that Best fighting chance that the trade union movement in this country will have in the years to come.

“All the People in this Room Are Leaders of the Working Class.”

The conference last year marked the end of the fourth period, meaning that Marxist-Leninists around the country were in the main united with the Workers Viewpoint Organization, the foundation of the Party. We were moving toward a protracted period of focusing on winning and training advanced workers to the Party. With this orientation of developing a more profound grasp of the practical movement through intensifying the immediate fight against the bourgeoisie, in the last year the Party has stressed that comrades bite into the struggle boldly and bite into the work, including the trade union superstructure. Since then, the Party’s trade union work, especially in kicking off the TUEL, has gone a long way. As one comrade correctly sized it up at the end of the first day of this year’s convention, “All the people in this room are leaders of the working class.”

The Party speech set the tone for much of the discussion on the first day. It started with a presentation on the economic and political situation in the U.S. today (see excerpt of speech) and why it is both favorable and crucial to develop conscious leadership in the working class movements. It summed up the breakthrough at the Party’s 1977 conference around three major resolutions: 1) that economic struggle (wages, working conditions, benefits, etc.) is the main form of struggle in the trade union movement today; 2) that we must work within the trade unions in order to lead the working class in the protracted struggle to take back the leadership; 3) that we build the TUEL.

The most significant point of the first two resolutions is that as communists and TUEL members, we must start from where our fellow workers are at, appreciate the actual struggles against exploitation, and to raise their level of consciousness from there. Part of this is to respect the basic organizations of the working class–the trade unions–and to work within them. This was why we summed up that–“With our feet firmly planted on the ground, the sky is the limit.”

Mass Line Starts From the Actual Consciousness and Struggles of the Masses

The more solidly our feet are planted, the higher we can reach for the sky in our work. The best way to get more grounded is to grasp deeply the mass line. The struggle around the mass line focused on the example of one chapter’s decision to concentrate on the Steam’s support work instead of a local strike that a TUEL member was leading. This is wrong because it does not proceed from the actual consciousness and struggles of the masses. For the striking workers at the plant, their main concern is to win a decent contract. They may sympathize with the Stearns miners, but they already have a big fight on then hands. This is a deepening of the line that economic struggle is the main form of struggle in the trade union movement today and that the proletariat in the U.S. is not yet a class for itself and does not see the need to unite as a class to fight the bourgeoisie. Only by being firmly grounded on this understanding can we in practice, one by one, step by step, together emancipate ourselves as a class.

While it is important to broaden and raise the level of the economic struggles, we must start from the actual struggles of the workers. The best way to draw the striking workers to support the Stearns miners is to unite with them on the fight for a good contract. The point is whether we appreciate the actual struggles of the workers which are, in the main, local and isolated, or do we only proceed from big campaigns and events, separate from the masses’ sentiments. We must appreciate the struggles of the masses whether they are small skirmishes or big bat-ties because the masses of people are the actual motive force and participants in the struggle against the bourgeoisie.

Another struggle related to the mass line came up on the second day. It unfolded around a proposed addition to the principles of unity to do political education about the system of capitalism. Although the struggle was not resolved at the conference, the two lines came out sharply. Many comrades supported the resolution in the spirit of fighting for the need to boldly do propaganda. This stand is correct, but the only way to do propaganda effectively is to start from the sentiments of the masses, organize around the day to day issues, and educate the masses in the midst of the skirmishes. Having principles of unity cannot substitute for the actual work of doing political education.

The main question is whether we unite with the sentiments, experiences, and consciousness of the masses as a starting point or do we erect obstacles in their path based on our own level of consciousness. Do workers who are anxious to fight with us side by side have to be against capitalism as a social system, first, or is being a TUEL member the best condition for them to learn about the necessity to overthrow the bourgeoisie? One member who is a textile worker from the Black Belt South said, “I believe in the overthrow of capitalism. But some of my friends who work with the TUEL will not join if they think it is a communist organization. That’s why I don’t think being against capitalism should be in the pou’s.” As long as the working class is engaged mainly in economic struggles, the majority of the most active and experienced fighters will not yet see the need to overthrow capitalism. As long as they are serious about organizing to fight the bosses, they can be members of the TUEL. And they should see the TUEL as their own.

Communist Education is Crucial to the Struggles of the Working Class

The actual work of doing political education is crucial to the struggles of the U.S. working class today. At all times, we must deepen and broaden our influence among the masses. The more we strengthen our capacity to pick up the immediate struggles and win the advanced and active workers over, the further we can broaden our work. The two must go on simultaneously and must serve to raise the class consciousness of the working class.

The working class has an objective interest to fight the bourgeoisie as a class. It is tempered in the actual struggles, trained in its ability to organize, and imbued with the spirit of selflessness and sacrifice, and it is the grave diggers of the bourgeoisie. The working class must and will emancipate itself. This is a fundamental Marxist tenet.

But workers need more than direct and immediate experiences to carry through this historic task. We need the experiences of generations before us and from all over the world. This is the role of the Party and the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought which serve as a guide to our struggle. Particularly in the U.S. today, where the level of class consciousness of the proletariat is relatively low, the role of the Party and of conscious communist leadership is very important.

The right line which belittles the need for doing communist propaganda in the course of the day to day skirmishes is deadly. As Lenin said,

It is our duty always to intensify and broaden our work and influence among the masses. A Social-Democrat (read Communist) who does not do this is no Social-Democrat. No branch, group, or circle can be considered a Social-Democratic organization if it does not work to this end steadily and regularly. To a great extent, the purpose of our strict separation as a distinct and independent party of the proletariat consists in the fact that we always and undeviatingly conduct this Marxist work of raising the whole working class, as far as possible, to the level of Social-Democratic consciousness, allowing no political gales, still less political changes of scenery, to turn us away from this most urgent task. Without this work, political activity will inevitably degenerate into a game, because this activity acquires real importance for the proletariat only when and insofar as it arouses the mass of a definite class, wins its interest, and mobilizes it to take on active, foremost part in events. (On Confounding Politics and Pedagogics, Vol. 8, Collected Works, p. 453)

Lack of Mass Line Also Leads to a Right Line

The attempt to put the need to understand the capitalist system into the principles of unity was a reaction against the existing right tendency which shys away from doing communist education. This revisionist right line also stems from the lack of mass line. It does not differentiate the consciousness of one worker from another and belittles the striving of many workers who are eager to learn about socialism as a revolutionary alternative to the rotten system of capitalism. Drawing from the conclusion that the level of the trade union movement today is, in the main, economic and trade unionist, this right tendency generalizes, incorrectly, that there are no workers who are conscious of the need for socialism. In reacting to this revisionist tendency that views the working class as a faceless mob, an ultra-left tendency developed. This was a classical example of what Chairman Mao spoke of as “one tendency covers another”.

Advances in Superstructure Bring Out Need for Greater Initiative

One of the major advances that was made last year, with long-term significances for the TUEL, was that many TUEL members have been elected as leaders in their shops, plants, and locals. A session was devoted to discussion on how to use these positions to serve the work in the base among the rank and file. Members at different levels of the trade union superstructure related their experiences with grievances, negotiations, elections, etc. Two points came out which were important lessons. The first is that it is very important to gain positions in the union superstructure, because genuine leadership can really unleash the initiative and energy of the rank and file, show the power of organization and give workers a fighting chance against the bosses. We must fight to take the leadership in the unions to serve as positive examples and expose the stifling and disorganizing effect of bureaucrats and misleaders. One member who is in the leadership of the biggest and most influential local in his city introduced himself as “a member of what will be the most democratic local in the country.”

The second lesson is that we must have initiative in doing work in the superstructure. Maintaining the correct ideological and political orientation is fundamental to ensure this initiative. Besides that, we must make sure that the day to day smaller skirmishes on the shop floor are part of and serve a larger struggle like a contract struggle or a campaign around a firing, etc. If we just react to grievances from day to day, without a plan, we will end up losing initiative in the larger battles ahead. We wfll be sidetracked, or fall into routinism, or get stuck at one point. Over a period of time, we will be swallowed up by the environment and lose sight of the interests of class brothers and sisters who look to us for leadership.

Brothers and Sisters United Also Through Recreation and Culture

“RYL, Fight like hell, Join in the struggle with TUEL,” an RYL member led this chant of solidarity. Revolutionary Youth League members from chapters all over the country participated in the conference discussions, and were the first to serve meals and lead daycare, which helped the conference move along in an organized way.

The Baltimore TUEL chapter, through their program of workers’ songs, had put the whole body in the right spirit to start off the conference. After concentrating on the lively discussion, brothers and sisters didn’t let a moment of the breaks go by, picking teams for a fast game of volleyball or football. At the end of the first day, even after no sleep the night before on the bus and a whole day of hearing about so many new struggles, everybody forgot to even think about being tired, as the TUEL Talent Night got underway. It seemed the founding convention inspired every chapter–the stage was packed with sing-alongs, a skit on undocumented workers fighting in the factories, a comedienne, and a poem “TUEL Train” which brought down the house. The May Day Singers brought the powerful night of workers’ culture to a close. People ended up standing on their chairs and cheering. The spirit was clear–we were more tightly united, ready for the next day.

Full Participation in Founding TUEL

The second day of the convention centered around the discussion of the principles of unity and the fighting program for the TUEL. Hands shot up with additions, changes, and new proposals. Each suggestion represented the fruits and the experiences of past and ongoing campaigns. The struggle around the need to strengthen the trade unions by fighting for more democracy affirmed the need to do protracted work within the existing unions. New Proposals, like the one on fighting for the rights of undocumented workers, showed the breakthroughs that have been made as well as the tremendous potential in the new fronts of struggle.

Although parts of the discussion could have been more focused, brothers and sisters from all over the country were able to share their valuable experiences with each other. As one older member who recently joined the TUEL said later, “It was so different from bureaucratic union meetings. I felt free to speak and free to disagree. But that was the biggest group of serious and committed people that I have seen under one roof. This group is going to go a long way.”

“I’m Going to Be Around You People for the Rest of My Life.”

The founding of the TUEL is like the first gust of a mounting storm sending a sharp chill through the spineless backs of bureaucrats, misleaders, and opportunists that stand in its way. With the first chapter of the TUEL (NY/NJ Chapter) barely six months old, the revisionist Communist Party, USA, is already choking. In Pittsburgh, they sent letters around to redbait one member of the chapter. Two presidents of nationwide unions and many local diehards have ranted and raved about being taken over by the TUEL. As we continue to forge ahead, learning from our mistakes, consolidating our gains, and breaking new paths in the struggles against the capitalists, more and more of their slimy servants will be sent scurrying off to their masters–the bourgeoisie. With every skirmish, big and small, we will deepen the mass line and sharpen our fighting ability, and win new class fighters into the ranks of the TUEL and to the Party. One new member who recently led a strike summed up the spirit, character, and bright future of the TUEL at the end of the convention when he said, “I’m going to be around you people for the rest of my life.”