Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Black Workers Congress

The Black Liberation Struggle, the Black Workers Congress, and Proletarian Revolution

The Trade Union Question

In this section we will briefly cover, in outline form, the following:

A. What are Trade Unions?
B. Trade Unions under imperialism
C. Super-exploitation, white chauvinism and racism in the trade union movement
D. Trade Unions in the declining stages of imperialism
E. Our task in the Trade Union movement and the Worker’s movement

A. What are Trade Unions?

The development of capitalism, particularly the industrial revolution, marked the entrance into history of the working class, a class that was totally propertyless, having no way to earn a living except to sell its ability to work for the capitalist or property-owning class. In return for selling its labor the working receives “wages” – only partial payment for the value it created, and barely enough to return back to work another day, to produce more value and profits for the capitalist.

The nature of capitalist society is such that the capitalist always tries to minimize the cost of production and maximize his profits. This can only be done at the worker’s expense, the worker that finds himself constantly the victim of attempts by the capitalist to lengthen the working day, or speeding up production and reducing wages.

Trade Unions arose in the era of modern industry:

The trade unions were a tremendous progressive step for the working class in the early days of capitalist development inasmuch as they represented a transition from disunity and helplessness of the workers to the rudiments of class organization. V.I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism

The workers and capitalist do constant battle over the level of wages, the price of “labor”. A long time ago, when the individual worker attempted to present his grievances to the capitalist, he was laughed at and crushed.

The emergence of modern, large-scale industry meant the increased socialization of the working class. A few workers scattered in many small shops because a mass of workers concentrated in a few large shops. Coupled with the practical experiences of day-to-day struggle against the employers, the working class had learned that in order to get their grievances met, they would need an organization that would represent their interest and would improve their chances of winning struggles. Thus developed the first form of mass working class organization, the Trade Union. The trade unions would fight over such issues as the intense exploitation of the working class, shorter working hours, better working conditions, speed-ups and increased wages, etc. But the trade unions had their limitations.


Trade Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of trying to use their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system. Marx, Wages, Prices & Profit

The trade unions see their struggle as one waged primarily inside the capitalist system for the improvement of the worker’s condition. The trade unions fight around contracts serves as an excellent example of the role and limitation of the unions. Instead of really using contracts to improve the worker’s condition, the unions, when they do “negotiate”, act like people at a trading fair, like businessmen at an auction, rather than as representatives who are supposed to “protect” the interest of their people. But even a ”good contract” still simply means the worker has only won a better deal for the selling of his labor power, the fundamental causes of this problem still exists – the capitalist system.

This is why it is important not to confuse the trade unions with the revolutionary Party of the proletariat the highest form of working class organization. The party not only fights for the day-to-day interest of the working class (low wages, speed-up, poor working conditions, etc.) it attacks the fundamental cause of these problems-the capitalist system itself. Frederick Engels in his series of articles on the British Labour Movement, sums up the relationship of the trade unions to the struggle to abolish the capitalist system in this way: “Trade-Unions should not be seen as an end in itself but only a means, a very necessary and effective means, but only one of several means towards a higher end: the abolition of the wage-slave system itself.” But trade unions are not what they used to be in Engels’ time.

B. Trade Unions Under Imperialism

The development of capitalism into monopoly capitalism, to imperialism, has also been felt within the worker’s movement. The super-profits obtained by the monopoly capitalist from their super-exploitation of oppressed peoples at home and abroad enabled them to bribe the upper sections of the working class in the capitalist countries, especially the trade union bureaucrats. The notorious Samuel Gompers and the AFL of the early 1900’s are the classic examples. Gompers was the one who coined the phrase: “What’s good for American business is good for the American worker”.

Today the trade union movement is controlled by these types of bureaucrats – labors lieutenants of the capitalist class within the worker’s movement. These people like George Meany and Leonard Woodcock, no more represent the worker’s interest than David Rockefeller or Richard Nixon if they were president of the AFL-CIO or the UAW. Almost to the man, these traitors and their lap dogs down the union scale, “bargain” the workers lives and security away at every contract time, refuse to deal with any of the concrete issues that workers on the line, in the pit, or on the road face, refuse to deal with the question of the unorganized worker in a serious way, refuse to fight racism and discrimination on the job or in the union, at the same time as they mumble rhetoric about “equality” and go around shaking the hands of “civil rights leaders”, and buffoons like Bayard Rustin who no more represent the interest of Black workers than they do white workers, or any worker for that matter. The unemployed worker is not a problem to them because he pays no dues. And they work overtime to make sure that whatever little democracy is left in the union is stamped out fast. The average salary for these criminals is $50-$100,000 a year, with “expense accounts” equal or past that sum! If anybody knows would you please tell us, what do these opportunist have in common with the average American worker, black or white, who barely makes enough to keep him and his family alive?

The more and more the rank-and-file has found itself up against the wall by the capitalist, the more it has found its “labor leaders” acting and talking more like ”management”. This situation has given rise to the militant struggle going on in almost every union in the country, between the rank-and-file and the bankrupt union leadership. This struggle is a key aspect of the overall struggle between capital and labor, between revolution and reaction. It is literally impossible for workers to struggle against a given contract and management without at the same time waging a militant struggle against the companies’ agents within their ranks-the class collaborationists union leadership.

If things are as you say, some may ask, “why then do you continue to work in these union?’

Communists work inside the unions controlled by these enemy agents in order to win the workers of these unions by mobilizing and building rank-and-file organizations, developing the consciousness and unity of the rank-in-file, and getting them to rely on their own strength to get things done. Communist work inside these unions not in order to “push the leadership to the left”, or into the struggle period, but in order to kick these traitors out of the workers movement! Communist work inside these unions only in order to win the workers to revolutionary struggle, and not to inspire the masses with the spirit of obedience and loyalty to the trade union bureaucracy like the CPUSA still does. Communist work inside unions to win the masses of the workers and not to “gain control” of the trade union machine, and the trade union officials like the CPUSA still does. Communist work inside these unions in order to learn to led day-to-day struggles of the proletariat so that they can link this struggle to the total revolutionary movement and raise it to its highest level to proletarian revolution and not to reformists campaigns like the CPUSA still does.

C. Super-exploitation, White Chauvinism and Racism in the Trade Union Movement

Because the U.S. is a multi-national imperialist state which oppresses people within its own borders as well, as outside, Black and Third World workers (Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Asians, etc.) find themselves excluded from some jobs altogether, at the same time, again because of racism and national discrimination, find themselves locked into the worst and hardest jobs at the lowest pay in the labor market. Not only are they the “last hired, first fired”, but are victims of discrimination and racism; in job placement, promotion, security, classification and retirement. By forcing Black and other Third World workers into a limited section of the job market, namely the bottom of the barrel and exclusion from some jobs altogether, namely the highly paid-highly skilled ones, the bourgeoisie wields a double weapon. On the hand it has a tremendous reserve of labor power willing and ready to work at any price whenever there is a labor shortage, thus driving down the wages of all workers. Over the years the U.S. ruling class has shown how skillfully it can use both whenever necessary. Additionally, Black and other Third World workers are forced to work for a smaller wage for the same work as white workers, thus enriching the bourgeoisie even more. In 1969 it was estimated that Black workers earned $3,000 less per year than white’ workers in the same job category. With at least 10,000 Black workers in the labor force, this means an extra $30,000,000,000 (30 billion) for the bourgeoisie. Who says discrimination doesn’t pay?

Union bureaucrats, because they receive the most from this bribery (which usually takes the form of the high salaries and “expense accounts” we talked about) have a material stake in keeping racism and the national oppression of Black and other Third World workers alive and well. For example, do they ever use the strength of the union to deal with the question of job discrimination? Of course not. Take the U.S. Steel workers union which has somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 Black workers, or about 30% of the total membership.

A study made of Black employment in basic steel, by the Pittsburgh Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1968 observed that “negroes” comprise 12.27% of laborers, 12.93% of the service workers and 10.86% of the semi-skilled operatives, while holding only 3.21% of the total work force while only 7% of the higher paid jobs within these industries are held by Blacks, while 25% of the lower paid jobs within these same industries are held by Blacks – this situation is not due to the fact that blacks are not unionized! In fact we find that 35% of Black males are unionized as compared to 30% white and within the female, workforce, we find 14% black women are unionized as compared with less than 13% white! The explanation and heart of the problem lies in the fact that racism and national discrimination are profitable and that the labor bureaucrats are loyal to the capitalist class, and are the enemies of all works.

These criminal labor bureaucrats who do the bidding of the bourgeoisie in the Trade Union movement, obviously also advance the policy and practice of racism and national discrimination within the unions themselves. Some unions in fact most of the craft unions, exclude blacks from membership or have only a handful of token members. Unions where Black workers are found in large numbers, notably those like UAW with 350,000 blacks and USSW with 250,000, blacks virtually hold token positions at best.

Moreover, Black and Third World workers are forced to provide he prime fodder for the increased extraction of surplus capital, the accelerated rate of exploitation which Nixon and his ruling class cronies currently plan for the American working class.

The Black workers have traditionally played the role of the most exploited brutally oppressed, and the most profitable source of labor, that was so cheap that they received no remuneration for their work, except that required for bare subsistence-minimum food, clothing and shelter. That source of cheap labor was so productive that it earned huge profits for the white overloads of yesterday and today. Basically, from the billions and billions of dollars ripped from the hides of our forebears the American capitalist class accumulated the necessary capital to build the American empire.

Since slavery, Black labor has continued to assume particular importance in the development of both domestic capital and international imperialism, primarily because Black female and male workers are the final prop, the ultimate mainstay, onto which capitalism shifts its weight in order to survive. Black workers have remained a source of the cheapest, most productive labor. First as agricultural labor, then as miners, merchant seamen, government, transportation, and service workers, dock and warehouse workers, etc. and finally as the most exploited section of the proletariat in light and heavy industry. Today Black and other Third World workers are still solidly entrenched at the base of production.

So we see that Black workers still are:

–the lowest paid sector of the working class
–Forced into the worst jobs in the labor market except when needed to suppress the wages of “higher-paid” whites
–Subjected to the most hazardous working conditions, higher mortality rate (2 and one-half percent more than whites) and higher rates of industrial disease
–Subjected to harsh regimentation and discipline on the job.
–In a position of having little or no control, influence or power in their unions.
–Leading the struggles of the working class against these as well as other conditions that affect the working class as a whole, by militant rank and file struggles inside the plants and factories as well as within the unions.

D. Trade Unions In the Declining Stage of Imperialism

With the sharpening general crisis of capitalism, Imperialism makes a last ditch effort to save itself. It moves more and more to open terroristic rule, discarding its own “bourgeois democracy”, in favor of fascism. Crucial to this development are the trade unions. In the declining stages of imperialism, the government moves to bring the trade unions more directly under its control, transforming them from organizations designed for struggle against the capitalist class, into organizations and agencies for the planning of production and for “industrial peace.”

Let’s look at what’s happening inside the trade unions today. In 1971 the United States Steel Worker’s Union under the class collaborationist leadership of I.W. Abel, “negotiated” a 3% wage increase over a three year period. In the same contract, the USSW leadership agreed to work with the steel industry in setting up “productivity committees” which would increase the “productivity of the worker”! The year 1973 will go down in history as the year the U.S. working class was caught with its pants down – wages frozen by the government, forced over-time, increased speed-up, “meat crisis”, “milk crisis”, “wheat crisis,“energy crisis”, etc., and a cost of living reaching the sky! 1973 caught the U.S. economy staggering with inflation, recessions, high unemployment, tax increases, funds cut for health and welfare services while corporate profits reach un-heard of records.

All the while this is happening the bourgeoisie is steadily tightening up its faithful, time-tested lackeys the labor bureaucrats, giving some of them cabinet posts with one hand and with the other, beating down the insurgent movement of the rank and file and trying to smash out of existence the few remaining “progressive unions”. The appointment of the racist, hard-hat supreme Peter Brenan former head of the N.Y. Building Trades Council to Secretary of Labor, and the other offers of the Nixon administration to appoint more union heads to official government posts, is part and parcel of the policy to use these traitors to do the work of the government and police in stopping the militant rank and file movement.

E. Our Task in the Trade Union Movement

Over the past ten years we have witnessed a great upsurge in the workers movement expressed among other things in the development of a militant rank and file workers organizations, and in particular in Black worker’s caucuses like DRUM (Detroit), the United Black Workers (Newark), Concerned Transit Workers (Chicago), HRUM (New York), Fight Back (N.Y.) etc., only to mention a few that have played a major role in this development. Not only have these worker’s organizations struggled around economic issues such as speed ups, discrimination in hiring, harassment of Black and Latin workers by racist foremen, low wages, etc., but have raised anti-imperialist demands like “U.S. out of Indochina”, “No chrome from Rhodesia”, “Stop police brutality of Black people in the community”, “End the oppression of women”, Support the struggle of the Palestinian people, fight Israeli aggression’, etc., etc.

Another type of caucus that has developed during this period and is based primarily on the discontent of the rank and file with much of its present class collaborationists leadership, are caucuses like ’United National Caucus (UAW)’, Youngstown Steel Workers Group (Ohio), and the ’Miners for Democracy (West Virginia)’. In the main these caucuses directed their struggles around the lack of union democracy and the corruption of the union leadership, like the Tony Boyle case. Through genuine rank and file organizations with good mass membership, these caucuses are led by reformists, and would-be union bureaucrats, or in the case of Miners for Democracy – by a bourgeois lawyer! These caucuses are usually national or industry-wide, but very seldom if at all, lead and develop local or for that matter, national mass struggles around issues facing the rank and file. At the end of every issue is the would-be union bureaucrat or reformist crying: “Elect me and I will get things done!” These caucuses are nevertheless progressive to the degree that they do challenge the class collaboration of the union leadership, but are weak in the sense that the reformist leadership and the basic programs have not and cannot make any essential changes in things or develop the worker’s consciousness to a higher level.

The third type of caucus found in almost every union are the “election coalitions”, which usually come to life around election time and usually have no life outside of the election period. These caucuses are merely more often than not, political machines for the local union politicians or would be politicians and are used by both black and white bureaucrats. However, many honest and sincere workers join these caucuses because they see nothing else around or because they are dissatisfied with the present leadership.

Our strategy in the Trade Unions and worker’s movement generally is simply to unite all those who can be united around the immediate political and economic issues of the workers. Our task is to raise the level of spontaneous consciousness of the workers to revolutionary working class consciousness by introducing socialist consciousness and taking the lead in the day-to-day struggles of the working class and by proving to them in practice that communists are their real leaders and the real fighters!

In approaching our work we start from the concrete, day-to-day issues, political and economic, facing the masses of workers; while at the same time raising this struggle to higher levels by pointing out to the workers how the immediate problems are related to the overall system of monopoly capital and the revolutionary movement as a whole. We do not lie to the workers like the opportunists in the CPUSA, or give them the illusion that their problems can be solved simply by improving an abuse of the capitalist system, like the CPUSA, does. But we prove this to them by participation in mass struggle and not just by handling out leaflets at the plant gates. Because only through the course of revolutionary mass struggle do the masses learn the necessity for revolution. Today at the present stage of the revolution our task is to win over the “vanguard (i.e., build up cadres, create a Communist Party, work out the programs, the principles of tactics). STALIN

We do this mainly by organizing propaganda, political exposures – introducing socialist ideology to the most advanced sectors of the working class, but also by participating in and building Black workers caucuses, multi-national rank and file caucuses in the plants and unions, anti-imperialist worker’s organization, organizing the unorganized (bringing in unions into an unorganized shop) as well as by experimenting with new forms of revolutionary struggle as they arise* As Black communists, interested in building a new Communist Party, we need to sink deep roots in the black sector of the class, as the best and most expedient means of building the revolutionary unity of the working class as a whole at this time. The defense of the day-to-day interest of the working class is just as much a job for communists as is the struggle for socialism. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote “that communists have no interests separate and apart from the proletariat as a whole, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the worker’s movement as a whole.”

In our work in the workers movement we must do four things:

–develop cadres from the ranks of the advanced workers for the BWC, and other genuine communist organizations, and the future Communist Party.
–raise the consciousness of the workers to revolutionary class consciousness
–struggle to defeat a given policy of the imperialists
–help merge the national and class struggle by holding to the right to political secession of Black people and equal rights for the other oppressed nationalities.

In the Trade Union movement our task is to win the ideological, political and practical leadership of the proletariat in the trade unions, the revolutionary proletariat.

Our political task in the trade unions today means first of all winning the advanced elements of this struggle to communism, and then developing the rank and file workers movement into a revolutionary class consciousness workers movement. We do this by persistently interjecting socialist consciousness into workers movement and by seriously involving ourselves in the day to day political and economic struggles of the working class, particularly the struggles of Black workers, in order to direct and lead these struggles to higher forms, and to merge the national and class struggles of oppressed and working people generally into one mighty fist directed against imperialism. This task can only be fulfilled by strengthening our ties with the masses of workers in the trade unions, especially the most advanced; by organizing them into anti-imperialist worker organizations in the plants and unions and those that may spring up in the future. These anti-imperialist worker’s groups, must be organized around a concrete political program, including a strong Marxist-Leninist study program. They must, in order t advance and link themselves with the masses of the workers, engage in mass revolutionary struggle; against wage cuts, racial and national discrimination, imperialist aggression abroad, police brutality, unemployment, compulsory overtime, inflation, organizing the unorganized, etc., etc. And they must especially conduct merciless and unremitting criticism and exposure of the traitorous trade union bureaucrats, revisionist, and Trotskyites, so that the workers can be able to distinguish genuine Marxism from sham Marxism.

While engaging in trade union work, we must be especially on guard for the errors of economism and right opportunism. Even within the anti-revisionist communist movement these tendencies are making themselves felt. Among communists generally, they are manifested in a tendency to “hide” our politics from the workers and shying away from political and ideological struggle in the union and plant. This is especially true in regards to struggles that take place outside of the workplace and do not have an obvious “economic character” – like police brutality, imperialist aggression, community struggles and so forth. The flip side of the coin is to raise these “other” struggles in an scholastic and abstract manner so that the workers can’t possibly get the connection. But the main tendency is not to raise them at all. For ’white’ communists in particular, right opportunism is expressed in a definite tendency not to raise the national question among white workers while acting in a paternalistic manner towards black workers. In this way, they wind up alienating themselves from both white and black workers who are in general not interested in revolutionary phrase-mongering, not backed up by revolutionary deeds. Since many do not know how to even raise the struggle against chauvinism and racism among the white workers, they end up not raising it at all, and thus fall into opportunism and “economism” (issues that white workers “can relate to”) They have to realize that they cannot shy away from this struggle against chauvinism and racism even if it means “going against the tide”, at present. “Going against the tide is a Marxist Leninist principle”. Otherwise, they fall into chauvinism themselves, even if this chauvinism takes the form of “Liberalism”, and wind up, in practice, following the CPUSA’s revisionist line.

For Black communists in the trade unions, there is a tendency not to understand and apply the proletarian line on the national question. They shy away from developing the leading role of Black workers in the trade union movement and the Black liberation struggle generally. They especially shy away from struggle around the relationship between Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse Tung Thought and the Black liberation movement, revolutionary nationalism and anti-imperialism and the struggle against Black bourgeois influences. Many black communists suffer from the disease of “black leftism,” and in their efforts to develop the “pure proletarian class struggle”, negate or don’t understand the revolutionary role and significance of the mass, anti imperialist struggle of Black people and the leading role of the Black proletariat. They must always keep in mind the prophetic words of Mao who said that the Black liberation movement was a clarion call to the entire working class and oppressed in America.

The struggle for the revolutionary unity of the working class in the trade unions is the job of all genuine communists in the U.S. But revolutionary unity can only be built from an understanding of the causes of dis-unity. The revolutionary unity of the working class in the U.S. is hampered by the splits in the U.S. labor movement, which are objective and real, and cannot be wished away. This split is due primarily to opportunism and white chauvinism. It has been compounded by the revisionist betrayal of the CPUSA and the strong traditions of “social-democracy” within the U.S. communist movement. Marxism-Leninism teaches that where the labor movement is split (and it is split in every capitalist country) a bitter and determined struggle for its UNIFICATION should be conducted. But, in order to do this, our work in the trade union in the present period must be linked to the necessity to build a genuine communist party. We say that NO CONCESSIONS can be made in regards to white chauvinism and opportunism, they have to be thoroughly rooted out and liquidated. This can only be done during the course of a long mass struggle, but it must be done steadily and systematically. Only then can the historic role of the great U.S. proletariat be fulfilled.