Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

Looking Back at 1977 – What Gains Did Labor Make?

First Published: The Call, Vol. 7, No. 2, January 16, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Looking back on the year just passed, one thing is certain. All the bosses’ predictions last January that 1977 would bring “peace” and “restraint” on the labor scene have proven false. By December, even the capitalists had to admit that their hopes for the year had fallen like a cement balloon.

The labor movement, in fact, took big strides forward last year in the fight against exploitation and oppression. These advances can be seen in three main areas:

1. Last year’s strike movement was the most powerful in recent years; 2. Minority and women workers stood up and won new victories against their special oppression; and 3. Rank-and-file consciousness and struggle against the labor misleaders grew markedly.

During the first 10 months of 1977 alone, nearly 2 million workers engaged in 4,999 recorded walkouts. Moreover, the strike movement this year was far more concentrated in basic industry and in key sectors of the economy than the year before.


Auto, steel, mining, aerospace, shipping, meat packing, shipbuilding, agriculture, and even government and education – all these were hit hard and repeatedly by big struggles. The bosses lost a total of 26.7 million workdays of production during the first 9 months of the year due to these strikes.

Another significant feature of the strike movement is that last year’s walk-outs lasted far longer than either the bosses or the union bureaucrats had hoped. 55% of all strikes during the first 9 months of 1977, for instance, lasted longer than 2 weeks. This is a significant jump over the 41% that lasted that long in 1976.

Several of these strikes were waged by unorganized workers demanding union rights, such as the bitter battles at Stearns mine and at the Justin mine, both in eastern Kentucky. This is part of the fight for unionization which has surged forward in many areas.

This upswing in strikes last year was in large part fueled by the worsening economic crisis, which took a heavy toll on the living standards of the people. Layoffs and total unemployment continued at record levels, especially for minority workers, and the buying power of workers’ incomes still hung below the 1973 level.

While the capitalist crisis affected workers across the board in 1977, it fell like a bomb upon the steel industry. Over 60,000 steelworkers were laid off last year as U.S. Steel, Bethlehem, Youngstown and the other giants attempted to shore up their profits through rationalization. This took the form of massive layoffs, speedup, and deteriorating working conditions and living standards.

Though rank-and-file steelworkers waged numerous struggles against the layoffs, the bureaucrats at the top of the USW worked overtime to divert the anger away from the bosses. The mis-leaders did this especially by chiming in with the bosses’ efforts to paint the crisis as one caused by “foreign imports” and not capitalism itself.

In the iron-ore ranges of northern Minnesota and upper Michigan, however, the bureaucrats’ “no-strike” ENA policies would not be swallowed by nearly 20,000 miners. They waged the first major steel strike in 18 years, and the longest ever in the history of the steelworkers union.

1977 also saw a number of important advances in the struggle of minority and women workers against oppression and discrimination.

In the South, mainly Black municipal workers in Atlanta fought in the streets when liberal Black Mayor Maynard Jackson fired more than 1,000 strikers. Through the course of this struggle, Jackson’s disguise as a “friend” of Black people was stripped away. Chicano and Mexican workers in the Southwest also waged sharp struggles against the capitalists. One highpoint of 1977 was the massive Arizona farmworkers’ strike, the first in that state in years. Also, workers at Davis Pleating in Los Angeles fought back repeatedly against fascist deportation raids.

Women workers and their struggles increasingly captured the attention and support of all working people in 1977.

“Women steelworkers demand maternity benefits” at U.S. Steel; “Demand grows for childcare” among Kaiser Hospital workers in Los Angeles; “Minority women fight discrimination at GM” in South Gate, Calif. – these were just a few of the headlines The Call featured on the labor scene in 1977.

They show the increasing scope of the struggle for equality for women workers. The strike of women UAW workers at Essex, who returned bullets for bullets in Elwood, Indiana, last summer shows the militant spirit women have brought to the labor movement.

Running throughout the labor struggles of 1977 was the sharply increased opposition to the sellout union leaders. In many of the major workers’ struggles of last year, the rank and file directed its fire as much at the labor lieutenants as at the bosses who pull these traitors’ strings.

The two-month-long dockworkers’ strike was a prime example. A chief feature of the walkout was rank-and-file resistance to the corrupt Gleason gang that controls the union. In several ports, dockworkers smashed the bureaucrats’ “selective strike” scheme and closed down the docks to all shipping. After Gleason finally rammed through a sellout, longshoremen in Baltimore and New Orleans wildcatted.

The same situation was seen in the continuing coal miners’ walkouts throughout the last year, as well as the nationwide coalfield strike that began in December. Miners again and again openly defied UMW President Arnold Miller, continuing to defend their right to full health benefits, mine safety, and especially the right to strike. A full quarter of all man-days lost due to strikes in 1977 was the result of mine-workers’ struggles.

Despite the heroic struggles of miners and other workers, the U.S. labor scene was not just a picture of victories and advances. A glaring indication of the weaknesses in the labor movement today was the fact that no nationwide fight against unemployment and layoffs could be mounted. And although strikes were generally longer and harder fought last year, many of them – like the dockworkers’ strike – ended in sellouts with few gains for the rank and file.

This is because the top union bureaucrats still have a stranglehold on the workers movement. Through a powerful bureaucratic apparatus, AFL-CIO boss George Meany and his kind attack every rank-and-file move to fight the capitalists. They promote policies of reformism and class collaboration rather than class struggle.

Take the steel industry, where USW President Lloyd McBride promised “lifetime security” in last year’s national contract. When the crisis hit the industry full force and workers found out they didn’t even have week-long security, McBride rose to the bosses’ defense and steadfastly refused to organize a fight against the layoffs.

The trade union misleaders have also tried to sidetrack rank-and-file demands to lead a fight against massive unemployment, especially the super-high unemployment hitting Blacks and other minority workers. Aside from their anti-import schemes, the bureaucrats have revealed their chauvinist collaboration with the capitalists in supporting the government’s widespread deportation of undocumented workers.

The misleaders were joined whole-heartedly in many of their attacks on the rank and file by the revisionists of the so-called Communist Party, U.S.A. Especially in steel, the revisionists last year made certain inroads by forming an alliance with the liberal misleaders and pushing “nationalization” and “detente” schemes. In this, they helped to cover up and prettify capitalist exploitation and the growing war danger.

While trying to ride the coattails of “militants” like Sadlowski into power, the revisionists also launched virulent anti-communist attacks in an effort to look “respectable” in the bosses’ eyes. In the coal miners’ strike, the CPUSA jumped on the bosses’ and bureaucrats’ red-baiting bandwagon and slandered genuine communists active in the strike.


The crass betrayal of the reformist and revisionist misleaders in last year’s labor struggles, however, brought home to many workers the necessity of ousting them from the workers’ ranks. In the communist-initiated Labor Campaign focused on auto, mining and steel in the early part of 1977, widespread revolutionary education was done to expose these misleaders as bribed agents of the capitalists.

Particular attention in the campaign was focused on the liberal leaders like Sadlowski and Miller. These “insurgents” try to appeal to the more militant sections of the workers, but only to keep them tied to trade unionism.

The high point of the Labor Campaign was a protest of 250 auto workers at the UAW convention May 15 in Los Angeles. This demonstration posed the path of building class struggle unions as the only alternative to the bureaucrats.

Since the Labor Campaign, and with the founding of the Communist Party (M-L), revolutionary activity has increased in the trade unions and communists have played an influential role in many labor battles. Communists have worked to organize the day-to-day fight on the shop floor, to build multinational unity of the workers, to do revolutionary education about capitalism and the need for socialist revolution, and to build the spirit of internationalism between the U.S. working class and oppressed people around the world.

Because of this work, 1977 witnessed the continued growth of revolutionary consciousness among the working people. Many more advanced workers were won to communism and the ranks of the new Party, and factory cells were strengthened, especially in basic industry. Many workers understood for the first time the limits of trade unionism, which fights only for better terms of exploitation, leaving capitalism intact.

These then are the highlights of struggle in the workers movement in 1977. While new developments will undoubtedly arise in the coming year, the same themes of class struggle against the capitalists, their labor lieutenants, and the system that stands behind them will surely continue and grow in 1978.