Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Rank & File Charts Course in Steel

First Published: The Call, Vol. 3, No. 2, November 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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What road for the trade unions? This was a main question raised by demonstrators at the Steelworkers’ Convention, held in Atlantic City last month.

Some other important questions were raised by ’these events. What is the role of communists working in the trade unions? What are the necessary conditions for winning the majority, middle forces, away from the bureaucrats and to revolutionary leadership?

On the Convention floor, Steel worker President I.W. Abel was in control. There was opposition on the floor to his policies of no-strike and of collaboration with the companies and the government in order to discriminate and rob minorities and women of their rights (through use of the so-called “Consent Decree”). Some of the minority caucuses and the Canadian delegates were most strongly opposed to these policies but were silenced on every issue by the Abel gang. On a dues increase and raising Abel’s pay, where opposition was broadest, he prevented a roll call vote in true bureaucrat style.

Outside, on the first day of the convention, two demonstrations took place. The first represented a fairly broad grouping of opposition forces, including District 31 Committee to Defend the Right to Strike, Ad Hoc Committee of Concerned Steelworkers, Rank and File Team (RAFT), and members of caucuses and locals from a number of cities including Baltimore, Youngstown, Chicago-Gary, St. Louis, Atlanta, and Tampa. The October League played an important role in organizing this demonstration. The demonstration was a serious effort to come to grips with the issues that confront our union. The demonstrators sought unity with the delegates and held a rally at lunch-time which attracted several hundred. The rally was addressed by Jim Davis, leader of the Ad Hoc Committee, Dennis Peskin of the District 31 Committee and the OL, and a Black member of the UFW from Florida. The speeches pointed out the wrecking role that Abel is playing in the union, the need for unity around the rights of minorities and women, and the need to defend the right to strike.

Ed Mann, a Local President and a leader of RAFT, was about to address the rally when it was disrupted by the second group of demonstrators. They arrived chanting, “Take your $150 and go to hell! The right to strike is not for sale.” This was the march organized by the Revolutionary Union. It was made up of mostly students and numbered about 125. Through its disruption of the steelworkers’ rally and its taunts and attacks towards the delegates going in and out of the convention; through the leaflet it handed out which essentially opposed the delegates to the demonstrators, the RU made clear that it had no intentions of uniting with anyone.

The main effect of the RU demonstration was to discredit the serious efforts of the first group, based on extensive work (that the RU had consistently opposed) over the last year or so, to unite the rank-and-file movement in opposition to the no-strike pact and the Consent Decree. This was a “left” version of the Communist Party’s opportunist line, which was to oppose the organizing outside the convention and focus the main opposition inside on the dues increase. The revisionist CP joined Abel in denouncing the “outside agitators” at the convention. In the September 26 issue of Daily World, the CP referred to the demonstrators as “ultra-left Maoists” lumping together everyone from RAFT and the Ad Hoc Committee to the United Farm Workers and communists who took part in the rally as “provocateurs.” Taking the heat off Abel, the CP revisionists put the blame on “Maoists” for the retention of the anti-communist clause in the USWA constitution.

In this fashion, the CP continues to be the loyal opposition to the fascist laborites, trying to make themselves look respectable to union bureaucrats.

Abel didn’t hesitate to take advantage of this. He spread the idea that there had been only one demonstration and that it was attacking the union.

The coalition of rank-and-file groupings which began to develop around the Steelworkers’ Convention is becoming an important insurgent force within the USWA. It is a combination of minorities and whites, of women and men, of young and old, of rank and file and elected officers, and of revolutionaries, communists and militant trade unionists. These forces must continue to unite all who can be united against Abel’s fascist front and to persevere in struggle. We must redouble our efforts to arouse the steelworkers, a million-and-a-half strong, in opposition to the fascist Abel gang and in support of revolutionary leadership.

Within the coalition, a critical discussion is getting under way, in the aftermath of the convention, about how this can best be done. The main task now is to strengthen local work and to build more firmly the multinational anti-imperialist core of advanced workers and to strengthen its leadership over the work.