Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist Party

Sadlowski Election Battle – Steelworkers Shake Abel

First Published: The Worker for the Milwaukee Area and Wisconsin, Vol. 2, No. 3, December 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Union elections don’t usually draw much public notice, but the current race in the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) has been in the news a lot. The candidates, Ed Sadlowski, director of the Chicago-Gary District 31, and Lloyd McBride, handpicked heir to current president I.W. Abel, have even appeared in televised debates in steel producing cities. The story is different in the USWA this time because of the growing struggle of the rank and file against the companies and the union machine. This situation has given rise to an election battle which can lead to real advances for the struggle of the rank and file.

Abel Machine A Dictatorship

McBride is the candidate of the Abel machine, a corrupt and ruthless dictatorship, which has consistently sold out the interests of the workers to the steel companies in the name of “a company-union partnership.” The Sadlowski campaign has to a large extent drawn on and reflected the upsurge among steel workers in recent years. Many active rank and filers are supporting it as a way to break the Abel machine and build the struggle in steel.

Steel company productivity drives have resulted in layoffs, job combinations, short crews, deteriorating health and safety conditions. Abel and his crew have gone right along with this. In basic steel they got together with the companies to push through a no-strike deal called the Experimental Negotiating Agreement (ENA) which gave away steel workers’ right to strike, even over the national contract, through 1980. Similarly, Abel and Co. pushed through the notorious Consent Decree, which in the name of attacking discrimination, attacks the fight against discrimination and tries to shift the payment for it away from the companies onto the workers themselves.


This union leadership treachery combined with steel company attacks has been met with growing anger. Strikes in non-basic steel plants (not covered by the ENA), slowdowns and illegal walkouts in basic steel mills are on the rise. Rank and file steel workers from many of these individual struggles are moving to link them up; some of them have started a national newsletter, The Steelworker.

The Steelworker has played an active role in struggles in their own shops and departments. Through this newsletter, militant steelworkers have begun to take up battles with a nationwide scope – such as the recent USWA convention and the fight to free Ohio Local 3059. Now they are calling on their fellow steel workers to take part in the Sadlowski campaign as “a vehicle to bust up the Abel-McBride machine” and all that it stands for. For the rank and file now rising in struggle, McBride’s election would be a real slap in the face, reinforcing the line that the Abel-McBride machine has pushed all along–that you “can’t fight city hall.”

The Sadlowski campaign in contrast, has to a significant degree spoken to and reflected the sentiments and aspirations of the rank and file. A growing movement is hitting the companies, for a more unified and democratic union, and the right to strike.

It would be a big mistake to take up the Sadlowski campaign as a cure-all. Getting Sadlowski elected is not the only task now in steel, as some forces within the union have urged. Sadlowski’s election alone will not insure a better day for steel workers.

Why Support Sadlowski Campaign

Realizing this situation, many have reservations about voting for Sadlowski. They might have heard about his passive no-fight performance at the August union convention when he backed off in the face of Abel’s attacks. Others feel that his program isn’t clear enough. Much more commonly, many workers feel that they’ve seen professional union officials come and go, and none of them have made much difference. Abel himself ran as a “reform” candidate before he settled down into being an incumbent.

But the guys around The Steelworker and many others who are taking up the Sadlowski campaign don’t see supporting Sadlowski as simply a question of what stand he now has on the issues. They see mobilizing the rank and file in such a way as to raise the issues and unite the rank and file around a program base on their interests and demands. By fighting to elect Sadlowski and break up the Abel machine in a way that will build their organization and understanding, rank and file steel workers can come out of this election stronger and better able to fight all the battles they’ll have to fight no matter who’s in office.

To defeat the Abel machine will be real step forward for steel workers and lay the basis, for real gains in the struggle around the no-strike deal and the rest of the companies’ attacks.