Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Abel’s History of Treachery

First Published: Unite!, Vol. 3, No. 3, April 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On Tuesday, Feb. 8, over 700,000 steelworkers cast their ballots at union halls all over the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico to choose their next union president. Lloyd McBride, I.W. Abel’s hand-picked successor, has been declared the unofficial winner over reformist challenger Ed Sadlowski. In the course of the election struggle over the last year, the McBride campaign machine, with the full backing of the established union bureaucracy, had openly declared that a vote for McBride would be a vote for “more of the same” – more of the same of Abel’s brand of trade unionism. To see just what more of the same will actually be takes only a brief look over the past 12-years of the union’s history.


Many steelworkers remember Abel’s predecessor, David McDonald, who took over the presidency after Phillip Murray died in 1953. And they remember that McDonald’s presidency was nothing more than one long flying leap into the arms of the steel companies. After the establishment of the sell-out Human Relations Committee under the guiding light of “Mutual Friendship” between the companies and the union, and the sweetheart contract of 1962, there weren’t many steelworkers who didn’t think that things were ripe for a change. The rank-and-file wanted more democracy; they wanted fewer lay-offs and higher wages, and they wanted a lot more militant use of strikes to get them.

When the 1865 negotiations rolled around and McDonald flatly declared that the USWA would not even threaten a strike, nothing short of stealing the ballot box could have kept him in office after the election that same year.

These were the circumstances of Abel’s original bid for the presidency. He criticized McDonald’s “Tuxedo Unionism” and promised to “give the union back to the rank-and-file”, and he scored his victory.

But what union politicians are willing to promise in order to get themselves elected and what union members wind up getting are two different things. This is how Abel has honored the promises he made in 1965:


Steelworkers still have no right to ratify their own contracts and agreements. Instead, year after year they have seen an endless parade of secret negotiations by “special” committees of bureaucrats, closed-door agreements, and stacked conventions set up specifically for the purpose of stifling dissent and creating the illusion of harmony and unity in the union.

The most recent convention last August, stacked with over 800 loyal staffers and local union presidents making up the Steel Industry Conference, side-stepped all the real issues facing steelworkers and instead focused on empty resolutions, the red-baiting of progressive elements, and beating-up of Sadlowski supporters.


Under Abel, 450,000 steelworkers have been robbed of their right to strike. At the 1968 contract negotiations, less than three years after his election, I.W. A-bel gave the rank-and-file a slap in the face when he proposed that all issues unresolved by negotiations be subject to binding arbitration – a direct attack on the right of union members to strike in defense of their interests. In 1971 he pushed the same idea again but it was dropped for lack of support. In 1973, rallying the same body of bureaucrats which he has consistently used to stack conventions in his favor – the USWA’ s Steel Industry Conference – Abel unloaded his “revolutionary” Experimental Negotiating Agreement (ENA) without a vote or even a debate by the rank-and-file.

According to I.W. Abel, the only way to guarantee a healthy competitive steel industry, and therefore steady employment, was through the elimination of the possibility of a crippling strike at contract time. Reality has since exposed this as a lie and the most blatant class collaboration with the capitalist bourgeoisie.


Over 100,000 steelworkers have lost their jobs over the last 20 years. Over half of these have been lost in the four years since the introduction of Abel’s ENA. The main reason for this has been the steel companies’ push for higher profits through higher productivity. And the main purpose of the ENA has been to keep steelworkers defenseless against this push.

Between 1956 and 1974, steel production rose from 8.3 million tons to 110 million tons. In the same period, 116,000 steelworkers were permanently cut from the payrolls. The response of Abel and his bureaucratic yes-men to this mass sacrificing of steel workers was to introduce a productivity clause into the 1971 contract – another item which steelworkers had no voice in accepting or rejecting – which has set up plant committees with the direct purpose of cooperating with this drive for productivity. Supporters of Abel are proud of boasting that in the year following the introduction of these productivity committees, production in steel rose 10.8%, an increase of 100% over the year before. As a result, steel industry profits for 1974 rose to a record $2.4 billion.


The cost in worker health and safety has kept pace with the increases in productivity and profits. The disabling injury rate in steel nearly doubled between 1961 and 1969, while the present number of injuries in primary metals is among the highest in all the manufacturing industries at 6.2 disabling or time-lost injuries for e-very 100 full-time workers. In particular areas of production the rate is even higher:

– 8.6 in steel pipes and tubes
– 8.9 in steel wire production
– 9.2 in cold finishing
– 10.1 at iron and steel foundries.

The Abel bureaucracy, for the sake of underwriting company profits, has turned its back on workers in the coke industry. Coke workers, 80-90% of whom are Black or Latino, continue to risk a high rate of cancer 10 times higher than other steelworkers. While Abel has found many words, and in 1974 millions of dollars to pump in to “joint research” programs with two companies, when it has actually come down to doing something now, the record shows that things are different. Abel has combined national chauvinism with opportunism in sparing no effort to block the militant demands of white and minority coke workers out of concern for the prosperity of the industry A recent example in the Clairton works near Pittsburgh, where coke workers have been stuck with an agreement which gives U.S. Steel 12 years to make any changes toward meeting what are considered “safe” emission levels. The company, as part of this “joint” effort, has insisted it will close down before it does anything at all.


Abel’s collaboration with the exploitive and racist practices of the companies is not limited to the coke industry. Since the founding of the USWA, Black steelworkers and other national minority workers have suffered national oppression in spite of loud declarations of brotherhood and equality from union bureaucrats.

Discriminatory hiring, wage and promotion practices of the companies have gone hand-in-hand with do-nothing civil rights committees, toothless contract clauses, and lack of minority representation in the union.

In 1963, a National Ad Hoc Committee representing over 200,000 Black steelworkers was organized and presented three demands to David McDonald: 1) a Black representative on the Executive Board, 2) total integration of the union staff at all levels, 3) reorganization of the union’s Civil Rights Department and the appointment of a Black director. When McDonald refused to honor them, Black steelworkers took their demands to I.W. Abel, who as candidate for the presidency, added the demands to his platform. Except for a few token gestures, such as the appointment of Leon Lynch as part of the McBride slate, the Abel bureaucracy has since ignored these promises along with all the others he’s made.

At the 1968 constitutional convention, the Ad Hoc Committee gave Abel’s memory a little jolt but Abel declared with a straight face that “there is no discrimination in our union” and that to meet the demands of the caucus would constitute “special privilege” and “racism in reverse”. This in spite of the fact that in a union which is 20% Black, there were no Black district directors, no Black member of the Executive Board, and only 2 out of 14 departments which had any Black personnel at all.

In the same year, a government investigation at Bethlehem’s Sparrow Point plant showed that the racist practices of the company had kept Black workers stuck in “those departments, units, and jobs in which the working conditions were the least desirable, the pay lowest, and the opportunities for advancement the smallest” – maintenance laborers, refuse-disposal, blast furnace, and the coke ovens.

In 1974, the struggle of Black workers for democratic rights came to a head around the infamous Consent Decree. While appearing to grant broad concessions to women and minority workers, the Decree is actually tailored to the interest of the companies. This agreement, covering approximately 350,000 workers, of whom 70,000 are women, Black, or Latinos, has cancelled out Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act dealing with the right to file suit for job discrimination. Under the Decree, workers who have been discriminated against must give up their right to file future job bias suits in order to receive a back-pay award which is nothing more than a petty pay-off to placate militant minority groups in the union and to ensure the companies’ future immunity to discrimination charges. These awards average $500 to $750, the equivalent, on the average, of just one year’s loss of pay due to discrimination. Many have only received the minimum pay of $250.

On the question of seniority, the decree upholds plant-wide seniority but ignores the fact that many companies, especially in the South, maintain separate discriminatory seniority lists for white and minority workers.


Abel’s opportunism has not been limited to playing ball with the steel companies, but has embraced the bourgeoisie’s entire state machinery. Abel’s appointment as an alternate representative of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in 1967 was an open-handed recognition of Abel’s willingness and ability to represent the interests of US imperialism, even on the international level. As a member of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, Abel has played an integral role in the bourgeoisie’s apparatus for the suppression of mass rebellion against the exploitation and oppression of capitalism. In the capacity of appointee to the pay board of the National Stabilization Program in 1971, Abel again proved himself suited to the role of a well-rewarded flunky for the bourgeoisie.


During the entire 12 years of his presidency, I.W. Abel has carped on one main theme: that labor relations have entered a new phase of “joint labor-management collaboration for the greater gross productivity in which both share”. Only in this present phase, Abel has declared, has there been a “demand for labor leaders who are production conscious and who are ready and able to cooperate with management in furthering the common enterprise”. (“Our Future is at Stake”, address of I.W. Abel to the Joint Conference on Imports and Productivity, Dec. 14, 1972, p. 15-16)

There can be no idea more alien to the interests of the working class than that of collaboration and cooperation with the bourgeoisie. The results of this bankrupt course of wholesale abandonment of the stand of the working class against its exploiters is observable on a daily basis in steel. The treachery of I.W. Abel, enemy of the working class, has encouraged the spread of this opportunist poison to the lowest levels of the union hierarchy. In a recent incident at a plant in Pittsburgh, company representatives defiantly tore up their contract with the union, openly daring the union to resist its attempts to force a speed-up. The reaction of the local union president was, “They own the place; they can do anything they want”!

These are the goals and methods with which Lloyd McBride, president elect of the USWA, has openly identified. The rise of Sadlowski’s reform movement in the union has only been a reflection, and a minor one at that, of a growing struggle in response to the contradictions within the steelworkers union. For Lloyd McBride, “more of the same” means more sell-outs, more back-stabbing, and more butt-kissing. For class conscious steelworkers, more of the same means an even greater fight to kick these bureaucrats out of the union and place the USWA in the forefront of the class struggle against the bourgeoisie and for socialism.