Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Dave Brand

The United Front of Labor: To Defeat Reformism and Unite Against Capital

First Published: Unite!, Vol. 6, No. 11, June 15, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Today the logic of the class struggle is brutally simple, A handful of capitalists and financier millionaires who are in control of the plants, the banks, the natural resources and the government, are steadily whittling away at the living standards and democratic rights of all the working millions. Hundreds of thousands are laid off, staring down the uncertain road of economic crisis and unemployment. Fascist activity is rising nationwide, to the point that a fascist is running for president. It is clear that the systematic nature of the capitalists’ attack is not meeting with the necessary opposition from the working class.

The recently held UAW convention in Los Angeles provides a clear example of where our weaknesses lie. While scattered opposition groups were able to organize a demonstration outside the convention, they were not able to organize in any significant way inside the convention proceedings. They were unable to bring resolutions to the floor. But even more important, they were unable to block a major step backward engineered by the union bureaucrats, the capitalists’ most useful tool in their offensive against our class. By resolution at the convention, locals are no longer required to hold meetings to discuss and explain a proposed national auto contract, opening the door for a deadly railroad in 1982.

This is just one example. Unemployment rambles up to over 20% in Detroit due to plant closings. Laid-off steelworkers occupy U.S. Steel’s abandoned offices in Youngstown. In Chicago, workers from the closed Wisconsin Steel works, still clutching bounced paychecks, are forced into vicious competition for the few remaining steelworker jobs in the area.

Where is the opposition required to beat back the capitalist offensive? The logical reason why a handful are able to dominate millions is that the millions are scattered, powerless, without unity and direction. A united front of labor must be organized to meet the capitalist offensive.

In addition to obvious splitting tactics to divide our class with racism, sexism or narrow craft unionism, the capitalists also divide our class with reformism. As a result of this reformism we find honest workers in caucuses and committees, strikes and walkouts, trying to made adjustments in their situation, trying to get capitalism off their backs by reforming it. These forces are honest, militant workers whose objective interests lie in uniting to face their class enemy. These workers who have not broken with reformism must and can be organized into a united front to resist the capitalist offensive currently taking the form of attacks on our jobs, our standards of living and our political rights.

The United Front: Defeating Reformism

The point of building a united front of labor is not to find a halfway point between revolution and reformism. Building the united front means winning the workers, the honest rank and file, away from reformism to a revolutionary struggle against capital. It is a tactic to increase the fighting capacity of the workers, enabling them to more effectively fight against plant closings, layoffs and union busting while learning the lessons of the class struggle, the lessons of the emptiness of reformist solutions. While we fight the capitalist offensive, revolutionary trade unionists take up four tasks to win the workers away from reformism:

1) Make the workers’ movement independent of the capitalist class and its mouthpieces.
2) Clearly establish the line of demarcation between the exploiters and exploited.
3) liberate the workers from all forms of bourgeois ideology.
4) Work for the cessation of ideas and practices of class collaboration.

Within this united front the revolutionary trade unionists must consistently go beyond the reformism of the apologists for the capitalist system. At the recent auto convention, one of the so-called “opposition” leaders stumped for the avowedly pro-capitalist Citizen’s Party, while falling strangely silent on questions of discrimination and the skilled trades’ domination of the union. Another “leader”, who last year had hoped to ride to fame on the old-age pension issue, did a daily tap dance to remain within the opposition, without offending capital too much. These are examples of the reformist line which must be struggled against inside the united front.

Reformism thinks only of how to solve problems within the framework allowed by capital. Reformism’s concern for the health and progress of capitalism, for productivity and industrial peace, provides a steady stream of union bureaucrats like USWA head Lloyd McBride, who warn against leaning on the capitalists too much, while steelworkers lose jobs by the thousand.

The reformist leadership of the unions is so tied up with the bourgeoisie that they will never give up their reformist ideology. They will finally be overwhelmed as a group when the bourgeoisie is overwhelmed. A quick look at their monumental salaries will show the material basis for their commitment to the capitalist system. But there is little basis for a marriage between capital and labor among the rank-and-file workers. That basis becomes even slimmer with each new slice taken out of our living standards. Yet reformism is still strong as a trend in our class. The masses of union men and women will not be won away from reformism overnight, but in the process of long struggle alongside the revolutionary trade unionists in the united front.

Fight Leftism to Build the United Front

The great majority of workers struggling to resist the capitalist offensive are still under the influence of reformism. For this reason, the most appropriate principles of unity of the united front, which will unite the broadest sectors of labor on the highest level, are the defense of living standards and defense of democratic, political and trade union rights.

But this does not mean that the revolutionary principles of the Trade Union Action League must be altered or watered down. The TUAL will be just one of many organizations building the united front, The activists of the TUAL will work inside this broad mass movement fighting for the goals of the united front, which are reforms, and winning the masses to revolutionary strategy and tactics.

This past year, the work of the TUAL activists has been influenced by the ’left’ sectarian errors of our Party, as criticized in the last two Plenums of our Central Committee. At times our revolutionary trade unionists have refused to work with the masses because they could not agree with a formal principle of unity. At other times, activists have hesitated to engage reformist leaders in battle for the masses, at the center of the class struggle, in caucus meetings, public rallies, and union meetings.

The work to correct these errors is central to building a united front in which the TUAL can effectively participate and lead. The Party’s responsibility is to lead in correcting sectarian errors on its own part, which prevent the unification of the working class on a revolutionary basis.

The Next Steps

Naturally, the forms and methods of the united front depend on the specific character of the movement and the degree of organization of the workers. Today, the revolutionary trade union movement and the TUAL need to step into the yawning vacuum left by the AFL-CIO central labor councils, and lake over the halfhearted attempts by the reformist “opposition” to build a united front of labor. All the major unions and many plants in our country have opposition groups which involve honest and militant class fighters, although they may be under the influence of reformism and reformist leaders. Building the united front will mean engaging these groups in discussion and common work, weeding out those groups that have no mass support and engaging in common struggle in defense of our living standards and political rights with those that do.

Many other workers have not yet organized into revolutionary trade union oppositions because they see the opportunism and inadequacy of the reformists’ solutions. These people need to be attracted by the TUAL’s visiting picket lines and publications. The TUAL needs to set up a workers’ center to provide material and informational services to workers, and a regular program of strike support and educational activities.

In addition, revolutionary activists must begin to win some of the allies of labor to the idea of the united front. Students who participate in labor studies programs at the universities are an example of this group.

The essence of the united front tactic is to give the labor movement unity and direction, to win the working class to support revolution through its own experience. To date, the reformist union leaders have made only half-hearted attempts at building unity. At the same time they have consciously misdirected united working class action into channels which do not challenge the capitalist system and as such can never win significant reforms.

The revolutionary trade unionists must show that reforms are won as a by-product of revolutionary struggle, never in themselves. It is the class struggle outlook rather than the class collaborationist outlook which will provide unity and direction to the struggle to defend living standards and political rights, and some day move us to the offensive against capitalist wage slavery. The consistent struggle for revolutionary principles at the very heart of the class struggle, will finally win the united masses away from reformism, to the support of revolution.

Build the United Front of Labor!