Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist)

Trade Union Democracy and Our Tasks

First Published: The Communist, Vol. II, No. 11, August 28, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Workers Congress has correctly defined the central task of party building to build a genuine revolutionary communist party, to win the vanguard of the proletariat to communism. We also hold that accomplishing this task requires a complete ideological and political victory over opportunism, revisionism, economism, chauvinism, narrow-nationalism and all manifestations of bourgeois ideology. More recently the Workers Congress put forth the task of preparing for war (see THE COMMUNIST v. 2, #5).

Our analysis shows that we have put forward the slogan Raise the Banner of Civil War. Therefore, our task in an inter-imperialist war is to turn an imperialist war into a civil war against our own bourgeoisie.

But, to give genuine Bolshevik leadership to the masses, we must have a party based on a strong granite foundation with close ties with the masses, able to support and lead every outbreak and protest, having stability, energy and continuity of the political struggle, providing all-around comprehensive political exposure as the chief means in training ourselves and the masses in revolutionary activity.

In order to prepare for war, we must take tip the various struggles of the class as a whole. This means struggle for reforms and struggle for democracy in general. What is the relation between trade union work and the struggle for democracy? Lenin brings forth that imperialism is the negation of democracy in its home and foreign policy. Therefore, imperialism turns democracy into an illusion, though at the same time it engenders democratic aspirations among the masses. It is the duty of every communist to struggle for democracy, that is to utilize the struggle for democracy to struggle for socialism. This is an important aspect on seeing the relationship between capitalism and democracy, between socialism and democracy. It becomes obvious why in the bourgeoise’s effort in preparing for war in its arms build-up, there must be a corresponding effort to take away democratic rights of the masses of working people and to disarm them politically and ideologically as with the policy of “detente”.

This is vividly reflected in the trade union struggle. We can clearly see the connection between imperialism and the negation of democracy. In recent times, union members have been ousted out of unions for struggling against union officials; in certain hospital unions, workers have been brutally beaten up and thrown out of union meetings. In the United Steel Workers of America, we have witnessed the right to strike taken away. There are countless examples of sell-out union leaders who betray the working class.

The tighter the bourgeoisie come down on the working people, the more it is reflected in the role union mis-leaders play towards the working class. It is essential that communists and advanced workers take up the struggles for union democracy in an effort to play a leading role in the day to day struggles of the proletariat.


If we are to effectively prepare for war, we must take up the difficult and protracted task of work in all unions, including the reactionary trade unions, because the last two world wars show that the bourgeoisie would not have been able to influence the proletariat with bourgeois nationalism and “patriotism” without the support of the reformist trade union leaders and social democrats.

It will be impossible to win the vanguard to communism and prepare for war if we do not actively take up the difficult task of work in the trade unions and win the workers over to the side of communism and take the leadership of the trade unions in the course of our work. But, the question arises, what does trade union work entail? What are all the aspects of trade union work? How do we combine the economic struggle with the politics of socialism? We must take into account each aspect of trade union work, each industry, each field of production and work for the development of tactics in each phase of work. As Marx says, “Large scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance –combination. Combinations, at first isolated, constituting themselves into groups, and in face of always united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them (i.e., the workers) than that of wages. In this struggle–a vertitable civil war–all the elements necessary for a coming battle unite and develop. Once it has reached this point, association takes a political character.” (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. 1 page 54-55). By taking up these economic struggles, we are training the workers to act in their own interest and to distinguish the role of the sell-out trade union leadership. But, does it mean you are economist if you take up economic struggles of the working class? Lenin makes this clear. “Hence, it follows that social-democrats not only must not confine themselves entirely to the economic struggle; they must not even allow the organization of economic exposures to become the predominant part of their activities. We must actively take up the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness.” (WITBD?, page 70).

But what is some of the work that most workers and communists are involved in and how should they influence the situation. Communists must play a role in explaining the union contracts. Most trade unions will give a new union member a package of materials which includes the contract, upon joining the union, but they will not assist them in using this information to their benefit. Communists must play a leading role in strikes, communists should work to be shop stewards, committee men and hold all other posts in the union to provide influence in the proletarian struggle. This calls for diversified work in the form of propaganda and agitation. Organizationally, this calls for secret work, that is the need to develop cores and nuclei. We must see the vicious role of the union leaders and the bourgeoisie who have and will move on communists in the work place. There are many existing clauses in certain union constitutions preventing communists from holding positions in the union. This only shows that the bourgeoisie and the courts, etc., will stop at nothing in suppressing the workers, and especially communists and even preventing them from joining the unions. This is why we must combine legal and illegal methods in this work. That will facilitate our goal. Lenin says, “There need be no doubt that those gentlemen, the “leaders” of opportunism will resort to every trick of bourgois diplomacy, to the aid of bourgeois governments, the priests, the police, and the courts, to prevent communists joining the trade unions, to force them out by every means, to make their work in the trade unions as unpleasant as possible, to insult/bait and persecute them. We must be able to withstand all this, to agree to all and every sacrifice and even if need be, to resort to various stratagems, artifices, illegal methods, to evasions and subterfuges, only go as to get into the trade unions, to remain in them and to carry on communist work within them at all costs.” (LEFT-WING COMMUNISM, AN INFANTILE DISORDER pages 46-47)

There are many examples of collaboration of union leaders and company bosses that have isolated and kicked out communists from the work place. In many cases, this could have been prevented if the work would have been carried on in a secret or illegal method. This is imperative that we take up this kind of work, especially in light of war and reactionary measures like the S-l Bill.


We can give an example of working in one reactionary union in a company that is part of a large monopoly corporation. There have been frequent layoffs and attempts to “cut costs.” This has meant workers doing more than one man’s job. In spite of these conditions, the workers have to pay the price, earnings were $24.9 million in the first quarter of 1976. This represents a 3.1 percent increase over the first quarter earnings in 1975, which were $24.2 million, compared to 1974. First quarter earnings in 1976 showed a 12.1 percent increase. While workers are laid off, the company boasted about their profits. Speedup, has meant more workers injured. There was a reactionary rule the company implemented that if a worker were injured three times in a year, he would be subjected to dismissal, because the company doesn’t want to pay the increased insurance premiums, since this cuts into their profits. But there is a direct connection in the speed-up and injuries on the job. But, instead, the company would dismiss a worker as a result of these injuries„ Some workers have kept quiet about their injuries, fearing that it would go against their record. There is constant, harrassement by the foreman, and the company has fired workers for just speaking up to the foreman. While this situation has gone on for years, the union has done very little in this regard. The only time you would see the representatives was when he was collecting union dues. There have been many cases of discrimination against Black and Mexican workers, which the union refuses to deal with.

There was an effort to deal with this situation. There was not even a shop steward in the plant. So several of us workers went to the union and stated we needed a shop steward. They said that we had the union representative and that he is serving as a union steward and therefore we didn’t need one. We again made the motion at the union meeting in the form of a proposal in writing. We felt that we needed some union representation on the job, for the company bosses would fire workers and when the representative would come two or three days later to take up the matter;, the company would consolidate their position by distorting the charges against the worker and using “stool pigeons” to say that the worker was doing this or that. Moreover, when workers would be brought into the office for certain “warnings”, they would not be accompanied by a steward or someone to stand as witness in his behalf. This often meant workers would be intimidated or threatened with firing if they didn’t submit to the company. So, when the union was presented with this proposal on the floor, they said they would appoint one. But, first they would have to take it up with the executive board. Imagine something that the union should automatically consent to, it had to take it to a “higher body”. After stalling for a few weeks, they finally agreed to this. But, they were going to appoint them. We said we wanted an election. They rejected this because they said that some “stool pigeons” might get elected. This was a move to prevent the more militant and advanced workers from being elected. But, even considering that, if the union would appoint someone, wouldn’t it be logical to appoint the workers who consistently lead the struggles for the shop steward and who drew up and presented the proposal. But, by their standards, we were too unruly, we would be to vocal, too out-spoken. The union representative even tried to disuade us by saying whoever the steward would be-had “better know the contract.” The union finally picked two of the most backward elements with the collaboration of the company. We know this because the foremen were the ones who asked these workers to be the stewards. One steward didn’t even want the job, but the union and the company persuaded him to take the job. The union and the company both agreed on these selections. One steward didn’t even have a copy of the contract; it had to be furnished by one of us. Also, the union gave no booklets, no contracts, no constitution, no grievence reports or nothing to the stewards. They were simply just appointed. All see the true role of the union leadership and their collaboration with the company. Many workers saw the absence of union democracy, like not even being able to elect their own shop steward. All of this can be connected to the powerful influence of the bourgeoisie over the workers through their labor lieutenants and this is exactly why many workers do not attend the union meetings, because they have no role in participation, any discussion is suppressed. Workers do not feel they can play a role, so they are not stimulated to attend. This is where the advanced and communists must play a key, leading role. They must be able to find practical solutions to problems, they must use any and every example the workers face in the work place, and the world and the country, and provide political education, drawing the connection between the worker’s lack of rights in the unions and the role of imperialism, to show how the bourgeoisie is more concerned about waging a war than providing jobs for the working class and showing how the bourgeoisie is preparing for war at the expense of the workers and relying on their labor lieutenants.


Comrades, the work on the question of winning the advanced to communism has suffered in the past in regards to the work in the plants. Number one, it was a failure to take up the work on a day to day basis, and even when there were attempts, they were not consistent. While on a every day basis there was political education done among some workers, there were no practical tasks taken up in order to unite the workers around different questions. Also, there was a failure to identify the advanced, a failure to adhere to the Leninist method of leadership to unite with the advanced. At first we used the rationale that there were no “advanced” at the plant. There are two basic errors in this, one, it failed to see the principle laid down by Mao that in any group of people there will be the advanced, intermediate and backward. This is a fundamental teaching that must be adhered to at all times in every phase of our work. Secondly, it failed to realize that to win the advanced is no easy matter, it is not an overnight thing. It was this difficult task that we have often failed to work toward consistently. As a result of seeing this error, we began to concentrate on the advanced and were able to win them to a study group, reading THE COMMUNIST and working in the union with them. This showed the connection between our work and M-L theory. Also this effort confirmed the correctness of uniting with the advanced and relying on them in carrying out work to win the intermediate and backward elements. There is no other means to gain and build connections with the class without winning the vanguard to our side–it is through them that we will be able to unite the broader masses of workers.


In this period of party building and preparation for war, we must carry out the training of ourselves and the workers and masses to respond to their tasks to carry out work in the trade unions. The Leninist trend must work toward building factory nuclei.

The main tasks of factory nuclei must be to forge strong and close connections with workers in the factory. All workers must realize that the nuclei exist and react immediately to every event in the factory and country. Every manifestation of discontent, every grievance, every occasion for factory and political exposure must be utilized in order for the nuclei to gain leadership of the defense of the daily interests of the working class. To provide this leadership, the establishment of plant-wide nuclei and the widest variety of factory organizations is essential. Directing the work of fractions in the trade unions and other mass organizations is particularly important for establishment of close connections with the working masses.

The Leninist trend must work to gain hegemonism in the trade unions and win the proletariat to the side of communism and the immediate struggle for union democracy. This way we will be strengthening our influence in our class and preventing the union misleaders, revisionists and social-chauvinists from deceiving the proletariat and bring the proletariat up in the fighting position of civil war.