Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Boycott of major union elections called

Fighting Our Two Enemies – Bosses and Bureaucrats

First Published: The Call, Vol. 5, No. 23, December 13, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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As worker militancy grows stronger, a new line-up of more liberal and militant-sounding trade and auto workers (UAW), where ward, claiming to speak for the rank and file.

Presently they are competing for top positions in three major industrial unions, the steel workers (USWA), mine workers (UMW) and auto workers (UAW), where elections for top posts are scheduled to take place within the next six months.

Self-styled insurgents, like Ed Sadlowski in the USWA, along with reformist leaders in the other unions, are directing their campaign appeals at the more radicalized sections of the workers. They hope to turn rank-and-file anger away from its developing revolutionary direction. What stand should the workers take in these campaign battles as different sections of the trade union bureaucracy compete for control of the workers’ movement? Will support for one or another candidate in these elections advance or divert the working-class movement from the task of build-genuine unions of class struggle?

Part of the answer to this question has already been given by the rank and file. In the UAW contract negotiations this year, union chief Woodcock found it harder than ever before to shove a sell-out down the throats of workers. In the UMW, union president Arnold Miller could not stop a nine-week wildcat by the rank and file last summer despite massive pressure.

Protests of this type show the kind of response which workers have given to the bureaucrats’ appeals for support. Such protests will undoubtedly continue as the union election battles heat up.

But this outpouring of anger and opposition to the class collaborationism of the union bureaucrats needs to be transformed into rank-and-file organization. To carry out consistent exposures of the labor bureaucrats as agents of capitalism and to strengthen the independent fighting capacity of the workers, an organized center of struggle must be built inside each union.

As one step in this direction, the October League along with rank-and-file forces, will be organizing a boycott of the elections for president of the USWA and the UMW. A boycott can help dramatize the lack of alternative posed by any of the candidates.

Coupled with a boycott, workers’ demonstrations will be organized to demand the right to strike and to hit issues like increased layoffs, unsafe work conditions, discrimination faced by minorities and women, and union support for U.S. imperialism’s aggression internationally. On each of these issues, the trade union bureaucrats have consistently done the bidding of the capitalist bosses.

In the case of the auto industry, where union elections will be carried out at a convention in May, workers should fight to turn what is now planned as a gathering of the bureaucrats hope to be a rubber stamp into a center of class struggle. By electing militants and working-class fighters as delegates and by introducing resolutions hitting Woodcock’s betrayal of workers most basic interests, the meeting itself can become a tool in the battle to revolutionize the union.

Recognizing that the bureaucrats will do everything possible to stack the meeting against rank-and-file participation, workers are preparing to demonstrate outside the convention.

Because of the importance of auto, steel and mining to the whole labor movement, the capitalist class has come to rely more and more on phony militants and reformers in these unions to stifle the development of struggle throughout the workers’ movement. The Sadlowski campaign in steel exemplifies this ruling class method of trying to channel the revolutionary aspirations and strivings of the masses into reformism.

Ed Sadlowski, head of the USWA’s largest district, District 31, has proclaimed himself a “real alternative” to the Abel misleadership. His slick campaign talk is aimed at luring workers into his campaign not as an alternative to Abel however, but to the class struggle. Sadlowski bragged on a recent Chicago television show that “my ultimate philosophy and McBride’s ultimate philosophy are the same.” (McBride is Abel’s hand-picked successor opposing Sadlowski for the union presidency.)

This “ultimate unity” has been borne out by Sadlowski’s practice as chief of District 31. When massive layoffs hit the Chicago-Gary area mills, for example, neither Sadlowski nor Abel did anything for the 40,000 union members who lost their jobs.

One of the main battles inside the steel union in recent years has been the growing struggle of minority workers against discrimination. In words, Sadlowski tries to paint himself as “a fighter against discrimination,” but in practice he has carried out the policies of the Abel machine.


At a union meeting in District 31, for example, Sadlowski unleashed his goons against workers who were trying to speak out against Klan attacks on Black workers outside Republic Steel.

Sadlowski and his counterparts in the other unions are spokesmen and representatives of the labor aristocracy, a small upper stratum of workers wedded to the capitalist system through bribes and privileges. This is what ties Sadlowski to the system and why he consistently attacks the rank and file, promotes chauvinism and capitulates to the steel monopolies.

Despite these objective facts, Sadlowski has won praise and support from some forces who claim to be “communists.” The revisionist Communist Party has showered their affection on Sadlowski because through his campaign, they have been able to ride into office in District 31 as well as in other districts around the country.

The Daily World, mouthpiece of the CPUSA, says Sadlowski would provide “a new USWA leadership committed to democratic procedures and rank-and-file militancy,” and that this kind of leadership “can change the situation.”

The CP seeks out alliances with liberal and social-democratic trade union misleaders in order to expand their own base with the union bureaucracy. From this base, the revisionists lobby for the interests of Soviet social-imperialism, pushing trade with the USSR and “detente” as their program for jobs.

The Revolutionary Communist Party has also lauded Sadlowski to the skies. The December issue of their newspaper, Revolution, calls on workers to join the Sadlowski campaign, because it is “the only real opposition the Abel machine has faced in years.. .” “Fighting for the Sadlowski election,” these opportunists argue, “can itself help to advance the class struggle.”

The RCP has consistently ignored the revolutionary potential of the masses and the trade unions. Their economist approach has led them in their own words to make “the economic struggle the center of gravity.”

They split the trade union struggle from the struggle of the working class for political power. As a result, they preach nothing but reformism in the trade unions.

This is the real basis of unity with Sadlowski and why they so willingly turn the leadership over to trade unionists like him.

The task of the rank and file and, in particular, of the communists and class conscious fighters is to build the kind of organization that will wage an uncompromising fight in the unions against the capitalist system as a whole. To do this, they must aim the main blow against the capitalists’ labor lieutenants, isolating all forces who conciliate to the bosses or the bureaucrats and who strive to limit the workers’ struggles to trade union demands.

None of the main demands and basic interests of the working class can be defended apart from the struggle for political power and socialism. To wage the battle against this system and its agents, independent organization of the working class must be built, a vanguard communist party that will train and develop the leadership of the workers.

With independent organization and a program for promoting class struggle in the unions, the masses of workers in this country will be able to smash the class collaborationist misleadership in the labor movement.

Under the leadership of the party, workers will be able to promote their own class fighters in union elections and turn electoral campaigns and the trade unions themselves into centers of the class struggle.