Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Steel Convention: A Blow to Rank and File

First Published: The Call, Vol. 5, No. 19, September 13, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Las Vegas–Last week’s steelworkers’ union convention here fully displayed the ruthlessness of the I.W. Abel leadership in crushing the interests of the rank and file and collaborating with the steel monopolies and the imperialist ruling class.

But the convention also provided an exposure of Ed Sadlowski, president of the union’s huge District 31, who has billed himself as the champion of the rank and file and is trying to unseat the Abel wing in next year’s elections.

Abel stacked the convention with his most loyal supporters, going so far as to launch goon attacks on at least one Sadlowski delegate. Abel’s speech praised the “free enterprise system” and claimed that “steelworkers have never worked under such good conditions. He further attacked all “dissidents” among the rank-and-file forces as trying to “disrupt the progress” of the union.

On the crucial issue of the Experimental Negotiating Agreement (ENA), Abel tried to hide his treachery. Through the ENA, Abel gave away the workers’ right to strike in basic steel, claiming it would provide job security. But in fact unemployment has risen dramatically.

To draw attention away from this sellout, Abel tried to paint himself as a great strike leader, saying, “In the last year I authorized 688 strikes.” He failed to mention, of course, that none of these strikes was in basic steel.

This heavy-handedness and treachery was not unexpected from the likes of Abel who regularly dines with the steel bosses and golfs with the judges responsible for the racist “Consent Decree” and other attacks on steelworkers. The convention showed, however, what union members in District 31 have learned over the last two years–that Sadlowski’s stand on the fundamental issues of worker concern is no different than Abel’s.

Sadlowski himself refused to speak on the issue of the ENA. In practice, he has supported it, trying to tie the rank-and-file movement which grew up in opposition to the ENA to the narrow confines of his election machine. His only criticism of this outrageous agreement is that it wasn’t voted on democratically.

On the issue of discrimination against minority and women workers, Sadlowski and Abel forces joined hands in hailing the “Consent Decree” as a great step. This decree, while reimbursing some workers with a few hundred dollars for past discriminatory practices, actually prohibits any future legal action against discrimination.

Sadlowski also fell right in line with Abel’s efforts to tie the steelworkers to the Democratic Party. Both men heartily endorsed Jimmy Carter and led the applause for Democratic vice-presidential candidate Walter Mondale who spoke at the convention. Sadlowski and Abel were also in full agreement on resolutions supporting Zionism and the Pak Jung Hi dictatorship in south Korea.

Sadlowski, whose main point of difference with Abel has boiled down to disagreement over dues increases, also went along with Abel’s plan to add a few more $55,000-a-year bureaucrats to the national leadership. It was expected that Sadlowski would challenge Abel on this point, since it was a maneuver designed to bring about unity of the Abel forces and prevent a split in the elections next year.


Even though Sadlowski continued to liquidate the demands of the rank-and-file workers, many of whom have supported him against Abel, these demands were heard from the floor nevertheless. One union local exposed the situation of its membership where over 300 workers are on layoff, while those still on the job are being forced to work overtime.

Health and safety conditions in the mills were also attacked from the floor, along with the union leaders who have done nothing about it. The convention itself was interrupted with an announcement of another death in the coke ovens.

This type of rank-and-file protest, coming at a convention that was almost completely stacked by bureaucrats, reflects only the tip of the iceberg of the broad rank-and-file movement that has existed in the steel industry for some time. It is this movement which Sadlowski has tried to latch on to, holding it back from pursuing the class struggle against capitalism. He is trying to water it down into a movement of patch-up reforms of both the union and the capitalist system itself.

Collaborating with Sadlowski in holding back the tide of class struggle is the revisionist Communist Party USA (CPUSA), which has actively joined Sadlowski’s election machine and his so-called “fightback committees.”

The Sadlowski campaign shows the close link between revisionism and reformism, because it is in this campaign that the CP has established some of its strongest footholds in the workers’ struggle. While glorifying Sadlowski as the “voice of the rank and file,” the CP is planning to ride his coat tails into more powerful positions in the union. From such positions, and by maintaining a bloc with Sadlowski-type reformists, the revisionists will be more capable of spreading the pro-“detente” interests of Soviet social-imperialism, and turning the revolutionary struggle of steelworkers into a reform struggle to preserve the system.

The basic conditions of steelworkers–whose wages are falling, whose lives are endangered on the jobs, who are faced with constant discrimination, speedup and layoffs contains a great potential for militant class struggle. The reformist and revisionist aristocrats of labor know this and are trying to stamp it out. They are wielding the club of the old Abel machine which tries to stamp out class struggle through goon squads and bureaucracy. But they are increasingly looking to the Sadlowski-type club to stamp out the class struggle through a militant disguise that claims to represent the rank and file.

The rank-and-file movement must break with the old Abel machine not by changing a face at the top, but by changing the basic class character of the unions. To advance the struggle towards victory, steelworkers must have a fighting union of class struggle against capitalism, not of collaboration with imperialism which both Abel and Sadlowski represent.