Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

No “Labor Peace” in 1976

Strike Wave Shakes Union Sellouts

First Published: The Call, Vol. 5, No. 17, August 30, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The increased militancy shown by rank-and-file workers in these strikes, coupled with the worsening living conditions of all workers, has brought great turmoil to the labor movement. Large numbers of rank-and-file workers are challenging the sell-out policies of the reformist trade union leadership.

Nowhere was this turmoil more evident than in the massive miners’ wildcat which ended last week after a month of struggle against the federal courts, the coal barons and the reformist leadership of union president Arnold Miller.

More than 119,000 miners participated in this battle whose central issue was opposition to court attacks on union rights. But Miller, who came to power in the militant 1972 movement against the administration of gangster Tony Boyle, did everything in his power to break the strike. While miners were denouncing the court system for being an arm of the coal companies, Miller was pleading with them to go back to work and allow the very same courts to settle their grievances.

The wildcat provided a clear exposure of Miller–behind his militant talk, he is the servant of the coal companies and the capitalist class just as Tony Boyle before him.

The miners’ wildcat came to an end after four weeks of struggle, and the workers won some concessions from the courts. Fed up with the sabotage of the Miller leadership, miners went back to continue the struggle from inside the mines.

The strike demonstrated rank-and-file militancy and solidarity. Seizing the initiative in their own hands, the miners waged a highly political struggle, targeting the court system as a pawn of the bosses. The wildcat should provide a good basis for the renewed organization of the rank-and-file movement. It also creates favorable conditions for communists to step up the struggle against the reformist ideology of trade unionism that allows one union reformer after another to come to power but preserves capitalist exploitation intact.

Close parallels exist between the miners’ struggle and that inside the United Steel Workers (USW). Much like the 1972 battle between Miller and Boyle, two differing reformist wings are battling for control of the USW. At this week’s Las Vegas convention, I.W. Abel, head of the old guard reformists and architect of the union’s no-strike agreement, steps down from the union presidency.

Abel’s machine is being challenged by Ed Sadlowski, the director of District 31. Sadlowski has struck a militant pose in order to build a base among tens of thousands of steel workers fed up with Abel’s corruption and collaboration with the steel bosses. But in the last two years of Sadlowski’s rule in District 31, he has refused to fight against massive layoffs, abandoned the defense of the right to strike, supported the racist consent decree and,in short, proved himself to be no different than Abel except in word.

Most recently Sadlowski has formed “fightback committees” in locals all over the country designed to channel every rank-and-file grievance into his election campaign. In this effort, Sadlowski is being aided by the revisionist Communist Party. (CPUSA) which seeks to strengthen its foothold in the union and has thrown its forces into Sadlowski’s machine. In recent district-level elections, revisionist bureaucrats were elected along with Sadlowski’s men in several places.

Similar collaboration between the reformists and revisionists in two New York hospital strikes recently resulted in the forced arbitration of one and the total sellout of the other as the bureaucrats tried to quell rank-and-file militancy.

The emergence of the CPUSA in a more prominent position in the labor movement results from the same conditions that have brought the Sadlowski’s and the Millers into positions of union leadership. Rank-and-file workers in most unions have experienced the betrayal of the Tony Boyles and the I.W. Abels for years. Especially in these times of continuing economic crisis, workers are rejecting the leadership of the trade union movement’s old guard.

Playing on this, the revisionists and new-style reformists are coming forward and gaining some strength. The revisionists of the CPUSA are dangerous far beyond their small size because of their ability to pose as revolutionaries and because of the tremendous backing they receive from the Soviet superpower.

The present turmoil in the labor movement, with millions of workers ready to fight back while reformists and revisionists betray their struggles, is accelerating the necessary break with reformism and the advance towards revolutionary leadership of the unions.

Developments in the labor movement today are driving home the lesson that the capitalists cannot be fought with leaders like Miller and Sadlowski, who come from an aristocracy of labor bribed by the imperialists and try only to patch up some of the system’s sores instead of fighting for an end to the system itself.

It is not enough to simply expose reformism. To smash its influence, revolutionary leadership must be developed. The new communist party being built today must organize the drive to turn the unions into weapons for the liberation of the working class instead of for perpetuating its enslavement.