First Published: The Call, Vol. 6, No. 5, February 7, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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As the February 8 elections for presidency of the United Steel Workers union (USW) approach, many steel workers are wondering if the campaign mounted by liberal Ed Sadlowski is any alternative to the Abel-McBride misleadership which now dominates the union.
The Sadlowski team has been busy trying to win the support of steel workers who have demonstrated strong anti-Abel sentiments. But the fact is that a Sadlowski victory would only represent a change of faces at the top, with no basic change in program for the union.
The October League has initiated a campaign of exposure of the Sadlowski “alternative,” urging workers to throw their ballots away and take up the fight against the steel bosses and their labor lieutenants in the USW.
At the mills around the country this week, an OL leaflet is going out, explaining why the rank and file should not pin their hopes on Sadlowski but should instead intensify the fight around basic demands and build their union into one of class struggle, not class collaboration.
“It is precisely because thousands are fed up with the leadership of the Abel-McBride ’team’” the leaflet points out, “that now capitalists are pulling out ‘insurgent’ Ed Sadlowski as an alternative. They would like to satisfy our anger by changing a few faces at the top while leaving the system intact and unchallenged.
“This ’face changing’ gimmick is nothing new,” the leaflet adds. “Twelve years ago, I.W. Abel came forward presenting himself as the ’spokesman for the rank and file’ when he ran against former USW president David MacDonald’s ’tuxedo unionism.’ We have seen how Abel turned out to be dressed in the same tuxedo. Now Sadlowski is trying the same routine.”
The leaflet details Sadlowski’s collaborationist record over the past two years as head of District 31, his inaction in the face of massive layoffs, and his scab plan for reducing the workforce even further, which he introduced in an ’infamous’ interview in Penthouse magazine.
On the question of job protection, the leaflet says, “The demand of steel workers is Stop the Layoffs! Shorter work week with no cut in pay! It is not the millions of unemployed who should shoulder the weight of the economic crisis. Let the steel bosses, who have manipulated a 12% price increase over the past year resulting in windfall profits, pay the cost of this crisis.”
The leaflet links Sadlowski’s sellout on the fight against layoffs, unsafe conditions as well as discrimination to his stand on the ENA-no-strike agreement. “Sadlowski has tried to paint himself as a champion of the ’right to strike,’” the leaflet explains. “But what kind of strike, what militant mass action did he organize when thousands of steelworkers in his district were thrown onto the unemployment lines?
“Now even his flabby opposition to the ENA has been reduced to complaining that there ought to have been a referendum on it before it was put into effect.” But the demand of the rank and file is: Smash the ENA! Defend the right to strike!
“On the issue of discrimination and the fight against racism, Sadlowski has shown again that he is no alternative to Abel.” Sadlowski has supported the racist Consent Decree, denying workers the right to sue over past discrimination. He recently put it into practice at Inland Steel. “His promotion of this racist agreement,” reads the leaflet, “is a clear, go-ahead for continued segregation, increased racist firings and deportations of foreign-born workers, especially Mexicans.
“Discrimination and national oppression is rooted in the capitalist system,” the leaflet stresses, “and are a source of immense profits for the capitalists. They are also a tool in the hands of the steel bosses and union misleaders to divide the workers by nationality.” weakening the fighting capacity of the class as a whole. “We demand Smash the racist Consent Decree? Fight discrimination against minorities and women!
“Throughout the labor movement, whenever workers have taken up the fight against the bosses,” the leaflet sums up, “bureaucrats like Sadlowski come forward as the main scabs and slickest defenders of the system. Whenever we want to fight, he says compromise!
“But we’ve had enough compromise,” the leaflet concludes. “These misleaders have turned the union into a tool for compromising on the demands and interests of steelworkers. They’ve set up a whole bureaucratic structure to promote collaboration with the bosses and stifle rank-and-file initiative.
“That’s why we have to drive these company agents from the leadership of the union and make the union a weapon for fighting the steel bosses—an organization of class struggle and not collaboration. To fight layoffs, unemployment and discrimination, we must rely on the rank-and-file steelworkers, and fight against the system that stands behind these attacks.
“The last six months of campaigning have brought home the fact that the real struggle is not between Sadlowski and McBride. It is between the bosses and bureaucrats on the one side and the rank and file on the other. For the thousands of angry steelworkers looking for a change, Sadlowski means more of the same.”