Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Union

May 1st Workers Movement Formed in Bay Area

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 10, November 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The May 1st Workers Movement (M1WM) is a newly formed political workers organization in the San Francisco Bay Area that seeks to unite all sections of the working class in struggle against the capitalists and their system.

In Red Papers 2, published in 1970, the RU puts forward the necessity of building intermediate workers organizations that can unite with active workers in day to day struggles and in broader political struggles and direct all of them against the imperialist system. As the October 1974 Revolution puts it, “We must unite with active and advanced workers to build a revolutionary workers’ movement and to develop on an intermediate level between the unions and the Communist Party (and not as a substitute for either), organizations of the working class that can build the mass activity of workers both in the day to day struggles and in the broader political struggle.”

In the Bay Area, partly through the work of the RU in the day to day struggles in the shops and unions, and partly through work around such issues as the Farah strike, government wage controls, and the energy freeze, a growing number of active workers have developed into class conscious fighters against all oppression. The May 1st Workers Movement has brought many of these workers together with communists to take this fight to the whole working class.

Grew Out of May Day

The organization grew out of the 1974 May Day events in the Bay Area. Early in March the RU called a meeting with workers from many different industries and struggles to begin planning for a May Day march and rally. About 60 people showed up, and throughout the meeting rank and file workers spoke out angrily about the many forms of oppression that the system brings down on our heads. It was clear throughout the meeting that the workers were concerned not only about bread and butter issues, but also about broader political questions like police murder of Black and Chicano people and the danger of imperialist aggression in the Middle East.

At this first meeting the RU proposed building May Day not only as an event in itself, but as a stepping stone toward the development of a political workers organization as part of a broader revolutionary workers’ movement that would take up and lead the fight against all oppression. This idea was received with great enthusiasm, and the May Day march and rally of about 1000 people became a living example of the developing revolutionary workers’ movement.

Speakers, songs, and skits hammered away at the capitalist class and the imperialist system as the common enemy of all oppressed and exploited people. A new song written for the event by the revolutionary singing group, Prairie Fire, best expressed the gut level feelings of the hundreds of workers who marched and rallied on May Day:

Your system is rotten to the core.
Hey mister, we’re not takin’ any more.
The working class is freedom bound.
Gonna’ lead the fight against all that keeps us down.
Hey! The workers are movin’,
We’re on the move!

This simple but powerful statement has become the rallying cry and one of the most basic political statements of the May 1st Workers Movement.

Soon after the May Day events, the RU pulled together a meeting with a number of auto and postal workers and with members of Wei Min She (an Asian-American anti-imperialist organization). From this solid core a much Broader group developed, including phone workers, leading activists from the Rucker electronics strike in “nearby Concord, other electronics workers, construction laborers, and ILGWU warehousemen, among others.

From its beginning the May 1st Workers Movement has been involved in a number of important struggles, including the militant organizing strike at Rucker Electronics. There are about 100,000 unorganized electronics workers the Bay Area, and the strike at Rucker has sent shock waves through the whole industry. The M1WM has developed close ties with a number of leading strikers and has attempted to build active support for the strike among workers all over the Bay Area.

This has included several mass mobilizations, one at the plant and another at the court house where a leading striker and an auto worker were going on trial after being arrested on the picket line. It has also included gate collections and food drives at a number of plants. But mainly it has meant taking the key political lessons of the strike to other workers and trying to build support through increasing their understanding of the grinding oppression faced by all workers, but especially by women and minority workers, in the electronics industry.

At Rucker there has been a sharp two-line struggle about the direction the strike should take, and the M1WM has played an active role in this struggle. From the beginning the company has used court injunctions and the police to run scabs through the picket lines and keep production going. The strikers, most of them women, have put up a heroic fight against the scabs and cops. As other electronics workers and staff members of the Bay Area Worker (an anti-imperialist workers’ paper) joined them on the picket lines, the strikers showed growing enthusiasm about getting help from other workers to build a mass fight against the scabs, cops, and injunctions.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers reluctantly went along with this for a while, but soon the leading bureaucrat began a counter-offensive. His main argument was that the strikers should cool it, cut out the mass picketing, let the scabs go in, and rely on the NLRB to resolve everything. (The workers had voted in the IBEW through an NLRB election more than a year ago.) When this didn’t get over, he tried red-baiting and straight-out defeatism, proposing that the strikers go back in without a contract!

At this point members of the RU and the M1WM set up a meeting with some of the most active strikers. These workers were completely opposed to the union’s sell-out scheme, but they were reluctant to openly oppose their own leadership. After a long and lively political discussion which included the drawing of many important lessons from other strike struggles, the active elements decided to rely on the masses of strikers to defeat the sell-out and build the strike.

The first part of the plan – rely on the masses to defeat the sell-out – was carried out so successfully that the leadership was forced to withdraw its back to work scheme. But then the union officials put forward a new trick, telling the strikers to do as the leadership said or the IBEW would simply “pull out.” The word came down that there were to be no more mass mobilizations. After another meeting with the M1WM, the most active strikers forced the leadership to go along with one more mass picket line, where hundreds of workers and other supporters joined the strikers on “Rank and File Day.”

But since then the union leadership’s threats and bluster have taken their toll, even among a few of the most active strikers, where the attitude has developed that “you can’t fight city hall.” The M1WM has continued to put forward the significance of the strike and its lessons to other workers, but as an external force it has not been in a position to play a decisive role in determining the strike’s course. For the moment, at least, the bureaucrats have gained the upper hand, and they’re doing their best to strangle the life out of the strike.

Another struggle with which the M1WM has developed close ties is the fight back of immigrant workers in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Since the early summer Chinese electronics and garment workers at Lee Mah and Jung Sai have been-fighting for union recognition and for the basic democratic rights which have been so long denied them. The M1WM has brought workers from all over the Bay Area to the Chinatown picket lines, and some of the Chinese workers have also walked the Rucker strikers’ picket lines.

The MIWM’s method in the Chinatown workers’ struggle has been to unite with Wei Min She and other forces in the Asian community to build the fight from two sides. On the one side, Asian-American communists and anti-imperialists have tried to link the Chinatown workers’ struggle with the growing fight of the whole working class against the capitalists and have tried to direct this fight against the imperialist system. On the other side, workers of other nationalities have tried to build support for the immigrant workers’ struggle by winning the whole working class to take up the fight against the special oppression of Chinese workers and the whole Chinatown community, with the goal of winning real multinational unity in the fight against the capitalists and their system.

In early September, the M1WM led a spirited march and rally of about 200 workers and supporters in San Francisco, helping to build and link together some of the workers’ struggles that have been developing in that city. Participating in the planning and the event itself were the M1WM, the RU, Wei Min She, and a number of rank and file phone workers, bus drivers, city workers, and Chinatown garment and electronics workers.

Around the general slogan “Workers Take the Offensive!” the event focused on smashing a ruling class-initiated charter amendment that would take away the right to strike from S.F. city workers, and combatting the special oppression of minority workers, especially the racist slanders being heaped on Black bus drivers and other Black workers by the San Francisco media. Other struggles that were highlighted during the event were the Chinatown workers’ fight and the militant campaign of rank and file phone workers against a sell-out contract.

The M1WM has also taken up the struggle against police murder of Black, Chicano, and other minority peoples, concentrating mainly on taking the fight into the shops and mobilizing workers of all nationalities to build the fight against national oppression. The organization has maintained close ties with the Oakland-based Postal Workers Committee against Police Repression and has tried to spread to other industries their example of boldly taking this issue into the work place.

The May 1st Workers Movement takes up all these various particular campaigns in order to build the leading role of the working class as a vanguard fighter against all oppression. By joining with and linking up these various struggles, the M1WM helps to turn many “fighters for one” into “fighters for all,” as increasingly workers learn through their own experience the necessity of building a revolutionary workers’ movement that can unite the working class and all oppressed people into one mighty fist.

Summing Up to Move Forward

In the course of building the May 1st Workers Movement, the RU comrades have fallen into a number of errors. Recognizing these errors and struggling to overcome them has helped to lay a firmer basis for building the M1WM as a real force among the workers. The first error the tendency to want to develop anti-imperialist ideas as some kind of third ideology between trade unionism and Marxism-Leninism. Because we were Building an anti-imperialist workers’ organization, we tended to want to develop a full-blown anti-imperialist ideology.

This sometimes took the form of trying to draw up elaborate principles of unity, with all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. It also led in practice to a very static conception of where the advanced workers are – or should be – at. If someone fell on either side of the anti-imperialist “boundary,” it threw the architects of the third ideology into confusion.

Through struggle we came to realize that the M1WM should be “open at both ends” – on the one hand, uniting in the struggle with active trade unionists who want to fight back around a particular issue, while working to bring them to seeing the imperialist system as the source of all oppression. And on the other hand, helping the advanced workers to move forward to become communists. This recognition helped us to steer away from the “left” error of demanding that everyone who comes around must agree that the imperialist system has to be overthrown, and the right error of liquidating the independent line and role of the RU within the M1WM – in the interest of maintaining a static anti-imperialist level of unity.

A second, closely related error was the tendency toward “meetingitis” – wanting to get down with workers and discuss, over and over, the importance of building a revolutionary workers’ movement, somewhat apart from the day to day experience and the concrete struggles these workers were already engaged in.

For a while the success of the M1WM was judged by how many workers showed up at a meeting, rather than by how well the organization was linking up with and helping to lead the struggles of the masses. Without belittling the tremendous importance of revolutionary theory, the communists within the M1WM came to realize that the organization will sink roots among the masses only if it is an active force that shows itself in practice to be a consistent fighter against all oppression.

There is still much to learn, but the development of the May First Workers Movement is a sure sign that, as the crisis of the imperialist system deepens, more and more class conscious workers are coming forward to unite with communists in building a revolutionary workers’ movement.