Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Terror Hits Abel Opponents – Union Reformer Shot

First Published: The Call, Vol. 5, No. 15, August 9, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Houston, Texas. On July 26 as the morning shift came into work at Hughes Tool Co., three men in cowboy hats pulled up in a Ford sedan and shot Ben Corum in the back of the neck.

Corum, a 52-year-old activist in the United Steelworkers Union, was passing out literature supporting the Steelworkers Fight Back headed by Ed Sadlowski, when the goon attack came. Sadlowski, director of USWA District 31, sent Corum and a team of supporters throughout the South to organize his opposition campaign against union president I.W. Abel.

For several years now in the Houston area, Abel’s opponents have met with strong resistance. Local union bureaucrats have used threats, red-baiting and violence against their opposition. Two years ago, goon squads broke up a meeting that was attempting to expose Abel’s no-strike deal with the steel industry. Union misleaders also beat up delegates to a regional USWA conference and worked hand-in-glove with the company in firing those trying to organize in this open-shop city.

The shooting of Corum followed an incident the morning before at Armco Steel, in which the supporters of the reformist Sadlowski were run off from the gates by local union officials. So far, no one representing the Abel machine has taken a public stand against the shooting. Instead, they have denied any relationship between the shooting and the fight for control of the international union. Local 1742 president W.W. Woods went so far as to say that the shooting was most likely a “mistake,” claiming the “communists” were probably the real target of the attack. By implication, Woods was justifying the shooting of communists.

Sadlowski’s opposition to Abel in no way promises any real significant changes in the USWA because it, like Abel’s, is based on reformism and big-business unionism rather than class struggle. The shooting of Corum is clearly an attack on the union, on democracy for the rank and file and is against the whole working class.

The Sadlowski forces themselves have turned tail and run in this and countless other union-busting attacks both here and nationally. Following the shooting, their strategy was to rely on the FBI to deal with the incident rather than to mobilize the workers who strongly opposed the fascist attack. They asked that the previous incidents at Armco Steel not even be raised and generally tried to keep talk of the shooting out of the union meeting. They feared the controversy would stall the defeat of several pro-Abel resolutions they were fighting. The resolutions were defeated, but when it came time to discuss the terror campaign, the union president adjourned the meeting without a word of protest from the Sadlowski backers.

The reformists have non-struggle so deeply ingrained in them that they won’t fight for fear of arousing the rank and file even when they themselves are being shot. Only the mobilization of the workers themselves can end these terror attacks.