First Published: Forward to the Party! Struggle for the Party!, No. 1, [n.d.].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The draft programme put forward by our organization states: “The present struggle of the American workers is primarily against individual employers (or employers’ associations in different industries) around wages and benefits, working conditions, against speed-up and lay-offs, against discrimination...In these struggles, the workers begin to throw off the foot of the employer from their necks, to raise their heads. And in raising their heads they are able to see farther and more clearly. The face of the enemy and the forces fighting him begin to come into sharper focus. This gives rise to vigorous discussion among the workers not only about every question of the immediate struggle but also about events throughout society and the world. Through all this the workers begin to see themselves as more than mere individuals, but as members of a class, locked in warfare with the opposing class of employers.”
This paper shows how our work in a medium-sized manufacturing plant verifies this understanding. In applying the understanding that begins this paper, we have learned that communists must, at every turn, sum up the demands of the workers and, with the science of MLM, develop a fighting program.
In doing this, we unite with the demands that the workers put forward, sum them up and put them out in a concentrated, systematic form. In this way we can advance the unity around these demands by clearing away some of the fog surrounding the face of the real enemy.
When we have correctly summed up the demands of the workers in accordance with MLM and gone boldly into these battles, the struggle has advanced. When we have substituted our own consciousness and subjectivity for the understanding of the people we work with, the struggle has floundered and gone backwards.
Our latest contract struggle is a good example. The plant itself is multinational and the work is somewhat socialized (some production lines and some individual jobs). Our organization has been working there for a number of years and a caucus, that we lead, has built struggles there from early on. Some workers have come forward and many have participated in other struggles of the whole class.
For the most part we correctly summed up what were the main demands of the masses and led struggles around them. This included how the people viewed the union. Most people saw the union as being led by company-minded men that were not really fighting for the people. On the other hand, most people also felt that our union was what we had and that the “people should be in the union.”
This view comes out of years of experience of working in the unions in struggle against the company. The workers summed this up both from their own experience and those in other shops. This view has two sides: its negative aspect is the idea that the workers don’t have the collective strength or wisdom to carry on struggle against the wishes and without the leadership of the union officials. But mainly this sum-up is positive because it recognizes the need both for a solid front against the company and sees the bankruptcy of these union hacks.
We agree with the viewpoint of the programme that “Trade unions in the U.S. today are controlled at the very top by scabs and traitors (who are)...agents of the bourgeoisie within the workers movement.” In addition we believe that nearly all locals are in the hands of sellouts.
By recognizing this view among the workers and uniting with it, we were basically able to keep away from both left and right errors as well as struggle with and advance this understanding. We didn’t go off in a corner and with the more advanced workers take potshots at the union and make them the main enemy. Instead, our caucus tried to build actions aimed at the company and all the time put the union leaders up against the wall to go along with the people.
For example, the union heads were collaborating with the company in stalling negotiations to demoralize the people and defuse the mass sentiment that had built up for a strike. They were practically incommunicado and refused to hold a meeting to discuss the contract.
The foremen were stalking the aisles in pairs looking for saboteurs, spreading rumors, and the people were demanding action. We summed up the situation with the caucus and put out the call for mass meetings of the workers to make plans. In all, well over one quarter from both 1st and 2nd shift turned out. We reaffirmed the contract demands we had been putting forward and decided to confront the union heads to force them to have a union meeting and call the strike.
Besides ruining the sellouts’ lunch and giving them indigestion, many workers saw more how the union heads were supporting the company from their arguments with the bargaining committee chairman.
They also learned through their united action more about their collective strength and the need to rely on it. As one worker put it straight on the line, “We’ve put up with your bullshit long enough. This time the people will have their say.”
The demands for the contract itself were summed up finally in this manner also, i.e., through in-shop, lunch-time meetings.
Our mistakes came when we substituted our thoughts for those of the people. For instance, when we began to plan for the struggle we started to get in the bag of dividing up the working class in categories and rating them in the struggle. This led us to come up with special demands and roles for, let’s say, the Black workers or the younger workers.
For example, we felt that Black workers should fight for contract language that hit on the extra harassment they faced because of national oppression. This was too narrow and no one, including the Black workers, saw it as an issue for the contract.
Instead of trying to figure out how to unite the class in struggle we were treating it like it was made up of different special interest groups.
This happened partly because we failed to apply MLM–we failed to grasp the fact that the material basis of unity, the common exploitation by the same capitalist, was the main aspect. It was this material basis of unity which should have guided our formulation of the demands.
Another failure to correctly apply MLM came because we hadn’t yet fully carried out the struggle against Bundism and economism within our organization. It was Bundist to separate off the Black workers, with their special demands, from the overall workers’ struggle. The Bundism was part and parcel of the economist error of asserting that workers could only be mobilized around the narrowest kind of issues.
The second reason we fell into this dividing error was that we didn’t go to the people first for the demands. But when we put them out, the workers rejected this view out of hand. Through listening closely to what people were saying and using MLM to sum up, we corrected the errors, formulated demands that united the shop to win gains and strike a blow against the company. The work moved ahead.
This is not to say that we don’t raise special demands. In fact we did and were able to eliminate a discriminatory pay rate for women. But this was based on showing how the special job grades for women hurt not only women, but all of the workers in the shop, and showing how fighting for equality would strengthen us and weaken the company.
In the course of the contract campaign we tried to follow the principle of fighting the day to day struggle as hard as possible and showing its relationship to our final goal of proletarian revolution. To aid us in doing this we put out an organization leaflet.
While the leaflet was overall good and did help to show people the relationship between their fight and revolution, it had a tendency to set up the day to day fight in opposition to the goal of proletarian revolution. This also came out at times in our discussions when comrades would say, “This contract fight is OK, but really whatever we win they will take away. Really we need a working class revolution.”
This somewhat confused folks. On the one hand we were agitating, jamming the union leadership and building activity in the shop for a strike, and on the other hand we said it really wouldn’t help. This was brought up to us by some workers. In summing this up we were able to see very clearly that tendencies to pose the day to day struggle vs. revolution, as both right and “left” opportunists do, only confuses and demoralizes those who are active in the fight.
Instead we should have shown how such a fight actually strengthens the working class and weakens the enemy for our final victory over them.
Through the contract struggle, many workers learned about how to fight the company and its friends in the union. A number of workers also began seeing the need to jump into the broader struggle.
Our work around May Day, which took place just as the contract was finally sold out, was an example of how to link the day to day with the broader struggle.
Many of the most active workers in the contract struggle, because of the work done, saw our contract fight as part of the overall struggle. Even as early as International Women’s Day, a member of the caucus presented the struggle in the shop as part of the whole workers’ movement. When the union leadership, after months of struggle, jammed a lousy contract down our throats, the active people recognized it for what it was, a defeat, and summed up both mistakes made and the correct things we had done.
In the past the workers had summed up correctly that the union leadership was no good and that the workers had been sold out. But the new understanding gained was that we could, through patient work and hard struggle, unite the people to fight. They saw that we had no choice but to keep on fighting, and May Day, which was just coming up, was seen as another part of that struggle.
Instead of dropping back from demoralization, an active core came forward to help build May Day. A speaker for the caucus at the event talked about the contract sell-out and summed up, ’The bosses try to divide us every way they can. They try to make whites hate Blacks, men hate women and young people hate old people. But there’s only one group we have to hate–that’s the bourgeoisie.”
Most of the workers involved are presently in the revolutionary workers’ movement and are building struggle both inside and outside the shop.
Another important example of how people learned about the whole system through day to day struggle is our work around unemployment. Last year around the energy freeze we raised the broad general slogan “Stop the Layoffs!” without any other fighting demands. So the reaction we got from the people was, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea,” or “That was a real good leaflet.”
Our line in practice was that the most important thing we had to do was get out the broad political propaganda around the question of the crisis and unemployment rather than involve the masses in struggle around it. This sees these things in complete contradiction, rather than understanding that the masses learn through their struggles and that the broad propaganda becomes much more meaningful and important to people as they are involved in the struggle against their exploitation.
This “left” line goes dead in the face of the Marxist theory of knowledge. As a result people got a few good ideas from the leaflets and some participated in the TTBO marches but that’s where it was left.
Recognizing our past mistakes, this year the caucus developed a fighting program around the layoffs. There has been sharp struggle in the plant around questions relating to unemployment, such as seniority, harassment, as well as linking these fights to the overall UWOC demands.
This year, instead of just passing out leaflets, the masses have been mobilized. We formed an employed/ unemployed committee within the union to struggle against the company, in the fight against layoffs, and build unity with others like UWOC fighting around unemployment. The committee included members of our caucus as well as other workers who were coming forward to fight the unemployment.
The work of this committee was hampered by the union bureaucrats from the jump. Our first action was to put out a leaflet detailing our demands–no more overtime during layoffs and honor the seniority system in the layoffs.
The people were mobilized by the leaflet and the company and union bureaucrats went nuts. At the next union meeting they refused to allow discussion of our next plan, a mass informational picket line in front of the plant. At the same time they carried on an intensive red-baiting campaign. These actions sparked a storm of debate in the plant about our organization and communism, and the layoff struggle itself. Some workers who “didn’t want to know” from us before, actively participated in the discussion.
The employed/unemployed committee tried to set up a meeting with the head of personnel to push our demands. With the approval of the bargaining committee chairman, he refused to see us. The next day members of our committee, mostly laid off workers, went into the plant to force the sellout chairman to go to the company with us. He refused and a huge argument followed.
Workers, overhearing, came to join in jamming this hack. He was “saved” by the personnel director who came huffing down the aisle, threatening to fire everyone who came into the plant off their shift.
The next day we went in again to force a meeting. Some workers from the floor came in with us. The head of the company refused to come out of his office. We went in after him, jamming into his office. He was so scared he called the cops, who arrived within minutes, just after we left the office.
All this struggle provided perfect, living lessons of the role of the cops and union sellouts in supporting the company’s exploitation.
Before, people summed up that “you can’t fight city hall,” that the company was too strong. Now, all over the plant, discussion centered on how to fight. “Did you see how scared that personnel guy was?” said one worker. “I thought he was going to have a stroke.”
Instead of “what’s the use?” people were saying, “That’s the kind of action we need more of around here. It’s really clear who’s afraid of who.” The next week, the entire first shift stopped work when the company called a worker back from layoff out of seniority.
In the course of developing the struggle and class consciousness, the draft programme states, “members of the Revolutionary Communist Party put forward (in the caucuses) the policy of relying on the rank and file...They work to develop the life of these organizations and to continually recruit new workers to them ... through this whole process, active fighters for the class will continually come forward, and unite to lead struggle...and many of the most advanced among them will develop into communists and join the party.”
To do this we unite with the advanced workers to lead the intermediate. We feel that it’s crucial to have a firm grasp on who really is the “advanced worker” in order to carry out work correctly.
The concept of an “advanced worker” is not mechanical but means the workers who come forward to fight and lead others. Though these workers may not have a very developed understanding of the system when they first come forward, the core of our caucus has been made up of fighters who have seen the links between the struggles of our class and that the problem is the system. Some active workers who have not grasped these links are more on the fringes of the caucus and come forward in certain struggles.
This is not static, as some workers may come forward in a particular struggle and either continue to lead or drop back. Of course, the development of these advanced workers is not a spontaneous thing but will develop only by relying on the initiative of these advanced workers, fighting the day to day battles and by linking these struggles with the overall class struggle and the long-range fight for socialism.
A key part of this is to study MLM with these workers and thus arm them with the science that will light the way for revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The point here is not to artificially divide the class with our imaginations. This question of who to rely on –the workers with a heavy rap or the ones who will fight, or neither–has been a constant source of discussion in our caucus. The important point is to unite and rely on the initiative of the advanced in leading the Struggle and to consciously develop these fighters into fighters for the whole class.
In the overall struggle in the plant in the last years a number of things have come clear that we have summed up in the draft programme. The working class has been struggling against its exploitation ever since its existence. Workers have summed up and learned certain things in these struggles.
This fight continues and is intensifying today. As future members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, we understand these day to day struggles are the center of the working class struggle at this time. Our own experience and MLM has shown us that only by boldly going into these struggles and helping lead them will the revolutionary workers’ movement continue to grow and move forward.
These day to day struggles by our class against their exploitation, if led by our party in a correct manner, will only bring closer the fall of the bourgeoisie and the rule of the working class. The struggles are battles in our overall war with the ruling class. They can serve to weaken our enemy and build our movement.
Our job is not to sit on the sidelines and watch and criticize for being too narrow, or to criticize the workers for being too backward. Our job is not to put our subjective hangups on the workers and artificially divide the class or substitute what we think is important.
We say No! to this baggage. The working class learns through its day to day struggle. We will continue to go into these struggles, help lead them and give light to them by linking them up with the overall revolutionary workers’ movement and our fight for socialism.
As the draft programme states, “The party of the proletariat must bring to the workers, through all their struggles, the understanding of the antagonistic contradiction between themselves and the bourgeoisie, and consistently guide the struggle to its final aim.”