Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Steel Rank & File Denounces E.N.A.

First Published: The Call, July 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In an overflowing meeting hall, nearly 200 rank-and-file steel workers and their supporters met in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend. With high spirits and near unanimity, they passed resolutions against the ENA (No Strike Pact) and the “Consent Decree” (a racist plan which pretends to fight discrimination in the mills) to be presented at the International Convention in September.

Unlike sell-out deals made in customary contract negotiations, the ENA and the “Consent Decree” between the USWA leadership, the major steel producers and the government are out and out fascist attacks on all working people, particularly minority workers and women. Widespread race and sex discrimination in the steel industry, and an undemocratic union, make steel a natural testing ground for these fascist policies. The steel workers are the largest industrial union in the U.S. and if the ruling class and their lieutenants are successful in steel, they plan to use it as a model for the rest of the working class.

The rank-and-file conference laid the groundwork for a strong fight against these policies. It was part of the continuing struggle against Nixon, the corporations, and reactionary, company-minded union leaders like USW’s president, I. W. Abel.


Major groups participating in the conference were RAFT (Rank and File Team, based in Youngstown, Ohio), Ad Hoc Committee of Concerned Steelworkers from Pittsburg and Steelworkers for Equality from Baltimore (both Black caucuses), and the District 31 Defend the Right to Strike Committee, which hosted the pre-convention conference. Steel workers came from many of the important steel centers, including Pittsburg, Youngstown, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Sparrows Point, Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago-Gary, Arizona, Tampa, and even Canada.

The conference received support from other sectors of the working class, who see the fight to smash the ENA and “Consent Decree” as key to their struggles. A letter of solidarity from the Minority Council, a caucus in the CAW at Lordstown, Ohio, was received with great enthusiasm, while the participants wholeheartedly supported a speech by a member of the United Farmworkers. Specific resolutions supporting the United Farmworkers and striking Dow Chemical workers were passed by the conference.

Other forces rallied around the struggles of the steelworkers. Members of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, National Lawyers Guild, and the National Organization Women were included as some of the active participants at the conference.

While fascist attacks like the ENA are on the rise, the workers’ movement to resist these attacks is growing, stronger. Of special significance in Chicago was the unity between white steelworkers and minorities. As Francis Brown, of Steel Workers for Equality, said to the participants in his address, “Never before in my whole life have I addressed so many white steelworkers.”

This development was reflected in the workshops held on discrimination. The conference passed resolutions dealing with sex and race discrimination, including resolutions that women’s committees be formed in every local, support for Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and the Equal Rights Amendment, a mandatory quota system be established in hiring, all contracts and agreements be printed in Spanish as well as English, and training programs for women and minority workers.

A significant number of leaders of the Black steel workers were present. They included Jim Davis of Ad Hoc Committee, a long-time fighter for Black representation in the USWA, Francis Brown, of Steel Workers for Equality, from Sparrows Point, Maryland, who participated in filing a discrimination suit against Bethlehem Steel Company, and Johnny Fair, a leader of the wildcat strike at Sparrows Point coke ovens earlier this year. It was the participation of these forces, as well as veteran fighters for union democracy such as Bill Litch, John Barbero and Ed Mann of RAFT, which gave the conference a firm grounding in the struggles of the rank and file. (RAFT has succeeded in taking their local out of the hands of the International hacks when their slate was elected).

A key to the success of the Memorial Day conference was the unity achieved between these forces and newer forces from the left and young communist movement who have also participated and led anti-discrimination struggles and the fight against the ENA. At the conference, communists, fought to link the anti-discrimination struggle with the fight for the right to strike. They played a leading role in raising the issues of sex discrimination in hiring, promotion and facilities on the job. They also raised the need to involve families of steel workers in the struggle. These issues were enthusiastically taken up by the conference participants.

The work of this section of the young communist movement clearly distinguished itself from the revisionist CPUSA. The revisionists opposed the conference from the outset, and tried to sabotage it as a threat to their control in the USWA left.

They dropped out of the District 31 “Defend the Right To Strike Committee” and organized a tiny conference in April of their own in opposition to the pre-convention conference. At the pre-convention conference they played a passive role, proposing no practical solutions to the problems] facing steel workers.


The conference also saw a small attempt at disruption from two ultra-“left” groups who tried to create splits and divisions in the ranks, but without success.

Despite the disruptive efforts of these forces, the conference achieved a high degree of unity around a fighting program. Conference participants will meet again in Chicago, August 17, after delegate elections, to plan a fight on the International Convention floor and a demonstration outside the convention hall.

This will surely be met with frantic opposition by the Abel machine which fears any criticism or opposition. It will be an important test for the anti-fascist movement and for the steelworkers who have a good beginning in fighting the fascist attacks in their industry and their union.

As Dennis Peskin, co-chairperson of the conference and member of the October League said in his closing speech, “the conference is a fine example to all people opposing the fascist offensive in the U.S. Today, we have taken a big step toward building rank and file unity across the country. This did not come easily. It came through hard work–fighting the ENA, fighting discrimination, fighting for health and safety and for our rights. The resistance of steel workers in one local or district has been an example and source of strength to those of us in other districts.

“Now more than ever we must take the lessons and unity of this conference back to the people we work with and live with. We can tell them the rank and file is uniting. Workers in other industries can say we are uniting. People who do not work in the mills or factories can say, we are uniting. We are uniting to defend our rights.

“If we are to be made an example, we will be an example of resistance. We will say to Richard Nixon. R. Heath Larry of U.S. Steel, and I.W. Abel, “We will not be crushed. We will make an example of you, by dumping you and your rotten policies.”

Those interested in attending the August 17 pre-convention conference in Chicago, can contact the “Defend The Right to Strike Committee,” (219-937-9171).