Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Trade Union Action League

The New Unionism and the Trade Union Action League (TUAL)


First Published: as a pamphlet, April 1979.
Reprinted: Unite!, Vol. 5, No. 6, May 1, 1979.
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.


Editor’s Introduction: On May Day 1979: Formation of TUAL Marks Step Forward or the Working Class

The recent publication of “The New Unionism and the Trade Union Action League” is an especially fitting way to celebrate May 1st, International Workers’ Day, this year. For many years, May Day celebrations in the U.S. have been marked by commemorating past victories of the labor movement, such as the 8-hour day. The publication of the Trade Union Action League pamphlet and the formation of League chapters means that May Day 1979 is marked by a first step to the future.

The CPUSA/ML is reprinting the accompanying statement by the Trade Union Action League (TUAL) because we think it represents a major step forward for the working class. In this year of major union negotiations, many reform groups are putting forward demands for contracts and calling on the rank and file to join. But it is only the principles of the TUAL that address the fact that the problem workers face is not simply one of an upcoming contract struggle, but of a general offensive against the working class. The TUAL principles further state that the present union structure is part of the problem, not part of the solution. While reformist groups remain silent on the subject, this principle enables the TUAL to tell the friends of the working class movement from its enemies. The pamphlet makes a clean break with reformist ideas. The TUAL principles challenge the “right” of the capitalists to exploit and oppress the working class. The CPUSA/ML believes that the working class is ready to challenge the wage system and is fed up with both the unions’ refusal to challenge that system and the reformist groups which offer no alternative.

The growth of the revolutionary trade union movement in the last fifteen years shows that the working class awaits only a program of principles and organization which attacks the source of their misery clearly and without hesitation.

We believe that with the correct leadership, millions will come to grasp the alternative of socialist society in the course of the struggle against wage slavery. Millions will take up this goal as their own. It is the job of the CPUSA/ML both to lead the struggle against wage slavery and to bring socialist ideas, to bring Marxism-Leninism, to the movement.

A look at the history of the U.S. labor movement shows the power of this kind of organization. In the late twenties, the American Federation of Labor stood as a frequent strike breaker, unwilling to confront the capitalist offensive. Such actions prompted tens of thousands of workers to leave the AFL unions and join the Trade Union Unity League, a revolutionary opposition based on the principle of ending wage slavery. This organization, supported by the CPUSA in its revolutionary period, achieved major successes in industrial unionism before it abandoned its principles, giving up the leadership to the up-and-coming reformist union bureaucrats of the CIO.

The CPUSA/ML calls on militant workers across the country to bring this pamphlet to the class, defend its principles, and build a real revolutionary workers opposition that will again turn the U.S. labor movement into the vital force of class struggle it once was.

* * *

The New Unionism and the Trade Union Action League (TUAL)

We the working men and women of the Trade Union Action League (TUAL), see a desperate situation growing in this country. Day after day, the capitalist corporations are squeezing us harder and harder to get their record profits. Inflation. Speed-ups. Layoffs. More and more injuries and deaths on the job. Crumbling cities. Union-busting.

At the same time, sparks of resistance flare up among the rank and file. But every time these flare-ups happen, the union leaders rush to drown them in oceans of red tape and raps about “cooperating with management”. The yellow unionism of these bureaucrats leaves a trail of lost grievances, broken and sabotaged strikes, a discouraged and cynical membership.

This Has Got to Stop

The union leaders of both the AFL-CIO and the big independent unions, from the Internationals to the locals, are the first obstacle to our ability to fight back against the capitalists’ attack on our paycheck and our jobs.

The TUAL calls on workers all across the nation to build an opposition to these class traitors in every mine, mill, field and factory. We call on all workers to go over, under, around and through these “misleaders” to build a real fighting and winning American labor union movement. We call on workers to join the TUAL, organize the rank-and-file struggle, and finally unite the working class: men and women, white and minority, organized and unorganized.

The unity we build will put a powerful weapon in our hands to stop the capitalist attacks, end the system of wage slavery, and win better lives for ourselves and our children.

Did You Know That...?

* 1% of the population possessed over one-fourth of the personal wealth in 1978.

* In 1965, it took $5,600 a year to barely support a family of four. Today, it takes $12,000. After taxes and inflation, our real take-home pay has actually gone down since 1965.

* Today, 280,000 steelworkers produce more steel than 380,000 did ten years ago.

* The average Black family income is 60% of that of a white family. Minority unemployment far outstrips white unemployment.

* Since 1970, the average annual wage gain negotiated by the union bureaucrats has fallen 30%. Less than one-fourth of the total workforce is organized in unions. Only one-half of these workers have cost-of-living clauses in their contracts. Last year, 231,000 workers lost this clause in their contract negotiations.

* The last ten years has seen the biggest strike movement since right after World War II. In the last decade, an average of 2.8 million workers struck every year. Part of this strike wave was the wildcat movement which involved 2.3 million workdays in 1977 alone.

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer – Class War in Our Country

There is a war raging in our country. Basically it comes down to the capitalist class and the working class. The capitalist class is easy to identify, even though they don’t live in our neighborhoods or ride the buses. They are the handful of millionaires who own or control the-milk, factories, mines, fields and banks of our country. They are the class that owns and sells the products that we make and often can’t even afford to buy. We sell our labor to this class for a living wage, and sometimes even short of that!

Like an aristocrat at a banquet table, the boss’s monstrous appetite for profits is looked after by two servants, the government and the union bureaucrats. The government is run by the capitalists for the purpose of maintaining the flow of profits. This is done in a lot of ways. Heavy taxes on the working class while the corporations receive tax breaks and subsidies. A system of courts and police protect the property and the profits of the capitalists from the struggling working class. Injunctions against picket lines and strikes. National Guard troops and state police escort scabs across picket lines. The government protects the boss’s right to practically dictate the terms of employment to us.

The union bureaucrats who maintain the giant union apparatus also take their turn serving us up on a silver platter. George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO, says that the days of class war are over. He says we should “cooperate” with the capitalists, and that binding arbitration and government mediation are the “civilized” way to fight the boss’s attempts to squeeze us harder and harder. Long and useless grievance procedures, giving away the right to strike, and destroying rank-and-file opposition are just some of the ways these traitors sabotage our struggle. They hand our weapons over to the enemy.

The recent upsurge of rank-and-file struggle has involved a war fought on three fronts. We have had to struggle against the capitalists, the government and the sabotaging union “mis-leaders” all at the same time. Those who fight on these three fronts make up the revolutionary trade union movement. Our movement includes those in shop caucuses and opposition groups fighting for union democracy and democratic rights. It includes those of us in the great strike wave. It includes unorganized workers fighting for a union like the shipyard workers in Newport News and the textile workers at J.P. Stevens. The movement includes those of us who are trying organize the whole working class under the banner of “An Injury to One is an Injury to All! The war between the capitalist class and the working class is due to the system of wage slavery. For the young workers, first looking for a job, the middle-aged workers with families feed, and the older workers who are just holding on until retirement, the capitalists have what we can’t live without. Jobs. We have to eat. To eat we have to work. To work we have to work for the capitalists. To work for the boss we have to accept his terms. We are slaves of the wage system.

Shrinking wages, soaring inflation, speed up, layoffs, and unemployment are the terms of our employment. The TUAL aims to organize the working class and challenge the capitalists “right” to squeeze us, to give the screw one more turn. We aim to challenge the system of wage slavery itself.

The Capitalists Jump for Our Throats – The Carter Offensive

This year has gone from bad to worse. Heavier taxes. Runaway inflation. Rising unemployment. But these are not accidents. They are part of the Carter government’s offensive to boost the profits of the corporations at the expense of our standard of living and our political rights. And expensive it is!

* Carter has ordered a Wage Cut for the working class. His 7% ceiling on wage gains in a year when inflation will run an expected 15% is, in fact, a wage cut. To the loud applause of the top union bureaucrats, the wage ceiling has been extended another year.

* Carter’s tax reform program was called “relief for the millionaires” by his own Secretary of the Treasury. This bill saved the capitalists millions by relaxing their taxes and increasing their subsidies. Again at our expense. Increased income tax, budget cuts on everything from social security to school milk programs, and a tax on unemployment compensation benefits arc ways we will pay.

* Health and safety standards are in the way of the boss’s “productivity push”. The Carter courts announced that all standards must be proven an “efficient” use of the employer’s money. One Federal District Court ruled that a worker has no right to refuse an unsafe job. They say, “Work the job. If you live, call OSHA.”

* Carter has not limited his attacks to our working conditions. The Federal courts have promoted a series of attacks on equal employment opportunity and affirmative action programs. The Weber and Bakke cases, along with attacks on the Consent Decree in Steel, are an attempt to destroy these programs. They are an attack on Blacks, other minority workers and women, who in addition to their exploitation as workers, suffer special oppression. These attacks are designed to provide a work force that can be kept in the worst jobs at the worst wages. But they are also an attack on the growing multinational unity of our class, a unity absolutely necessary to our efforts to combat the capitalist offensive.

* The right to strike and the right to organize are coming under special attack. A bill now in Congress, introduced by Senator Kennedy, will make a striker or union guilty of blackmail and extortion if a strikebound employer even “fears economic loss or property damage”. The union-busting “right to work” (right to starve) campaign goes on in various state houses.

Whether it’s a law attacking our right to strike, or the anti-strike SWAT team patrolling the roads of Kentucky, the situation is serious. Far from organizing to stop these attacks, the union bureaucrats are pushing them along. We cannot afford to rely on these traitors. We cannot afford to wait.

The experience of our struggle proves that we can only rely on the strength and unity of the rank and file, on the organization that we create to stop the capitalist offensive. An organization like the TUAL.

The New Unionism and the TUAL

Is the corruption of our union leadership simply a matter of a few individuals? Some people think that if more of the union bureaucrats were younger, or minorities, or better educated, things would be different. But this is not true.

The leaders of our union hold to a philosophy which is old, bureaucratic and spells hardship for the working class. These leaders decided that it was a better option to cooperate with the bosses than to struggle against them. These traitors aren’t even ashamed of it. They’re quite open about it. They tell us about “labor peace” and “seeing things from the employers’ point of view”. Our union leaders looked at the reality of class war, turned away and said, “We can’t beat ’em, so let’s join ’em.” And so they did. Today you can hardly distinguish the union bureaucrats from management bureaucrats.

For us, the working class, there is no joining the bosses. There is only class struggle and screws turned in on us year after year. Out of this oppression has grown a new unionism. The seeds of the new unionism can be seen in the revolutionary trade union movement of the last few years. It is a unionism which looks struggle right in the eye and says, “We won’t join ’em so let’s beat ’em”. This is the same unionism that brought the union movement its real gains in the thirties and forties, before the CIO surrendered to the corruption of the AFL.

The new unionism takes the position that our strength lies not in relying on the government or the union bureaucrats, but in an organized and united working class. ’Uniting the working class for struggle means uniting white and minority workers, and taking up the special demands of women and minorities. It means fighting for all the working class, not just for the selfish interests of the privileged few, the bureaucrats and highly-paid skilled workers, labor aristocrats, who support them. The new unionism means taking up all the struggles that affect our lives, political as well as economic struggles, fighting high taxation and budget cuts, political repression and the lack of union democracy.

The capitalist attack comes down on many fronts, and so it must be fought on many fronts. We don’t believe in fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. The way to beat the capitalists’ divide-and-conquer strategy is to build unity between the unions, unity between the employed and unemployed, unity between the organized and unorganized. Unity with all those who want a better life for themselves and their children.

At this point, the revolutionary trade union movement is too scattered and unorganized to successfully confront the capitalist attacks. The movement needs organization. The movement needs a program of clear principles. The movement needs the TUAL.

Principles of the Trade Union Action League

The Trade Union Action League fights for:

1) Our complete emancipation from wage slavery.
2) Trade union unity. Take up the struggles of workers in all unions. Fight all attempts to divide workers along craft or industrial lines.
3) Working class unity. Unite the struggles of the employed and unemployed. Organize the unorganized. Support struggles of the international working class.
4) Multi-national unity. Oppose white supremacy and national chauvinism. Stand up for the democratic rights of all workers.
5) Unity of men and women workers. Take up the special demands of women.
6) A “class struggle” position on every question. This means not supporting the capitalists’ puppets, whether they be politicians or union bureaucrats. It means relying on the democratic mass action of the working class, especially through strikes. It means not “cooperating” with the bosses.

A TUAL chapter will be built in every mine, mill, factory and field. A national organization built on the principles of the TUAL will change the face of the labor movement.

The principles and organization of the TUAL provide the tools for really fighting the problems of scabbing, runaway shops, wage restrictions, and speed-ups, all battles abandoned by the union bureaucrats. Strikes would be an entirely different matter with independent leadership coming from the rank and file of the TUAL. We will take the conduct of strikes and the pursuit of grievances out of the back rooms and high-rise offices. We will change the class war from a losing to a winning proposition for the working men and women of our country.

We’ve seen the lack of democracy in our unions. And we’ve seen how the union apparatus is solidly behind protecting its own privileges. Because of this, millions of workers have refused to become involved with their unions, staying as far from the union as they do from the company. But the TUAL is built on the principle of union democracy and rank and file control. Democratic election and the right to recall officers are fundamental principles of the TUAL. Millions of workers, organized and unorganized, will rally to a real workers’ organization that fights for their needs.

The TUAL is organizing to take control of the labor movement from the sold-out union bureaucracy and place it in the hands of the militant rank and file. We are building the TUAL both inside and outside the present unions. Inside the unions we are fighting for rank-and-file demands, working to organize union members into the TUAL, to expose, isolate and finally defeat the corrupt union bureaucracy. At the same time, we are working outside the existing unions to organize the unorganized and to take up the wider struggles that affect our lives. We will build new rank and file unions when they are needed.

Imagine a united American labor movement taken out of the control of the union bureaucrats and their masters, the capitalist class. The possibilities are enormous. Real working class political power. Real working class political strength. Going on the offensive against the capitalist class. A fight to end wage slavery. This is our future. We must build the TUAL.

TUAL Program of Reforms

The main reforms the Trade Union Action League fights for are:

1) Fight the employers’ productivity push. Oppose speed-ups, job combinations, incentives, and mandatory overtime.
2) Fight for the 6-hour day. Fight against layoffs and for more relief for the unemployed. Fight for jobs.
3) Oppose the Carter wage policy and fight for higher wages. Oppose other anti-worker measures such as increased taxes, higher prices, etc.
4) Abolish all repressive legislation with particular focus on the “right to work” law.
5) In the unions we fight for the right to strike, to vote on contracts and elect all officers. Fight for the abolition of anti-communist by-laws and other repressive measures. Fight for union democracy!
6) Fight for equal opportunity in hiring and promotion. Overturn the Weber Decision!