Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

TUAL Holds Successful Conference

First Published: Unite!, Vol. 6, No. 5, March 15, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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From February 31 through March 2 the first national organizers’ conference of the Trade Union Action League was held in Chicago. In the actual economic and political conditions today, with intensifying attacks on the living standards of working people, mounting class collaboration promoted by the trade union bureaucrats, and escalating union-busting efforts by the capitalist class, this first national meeting of the TUAL constituted an important advance for the revolutionary trade union movement in the United States and internationally. The CPUSA/ML gives its full support and congratulations to the meeting.

In this article we will both report on this conference and discuss its importance to the workers’ movement today.

First Steps of the TUAL

The call to form a Trade Union Action League was issued by the Founding Congress of the Party. The first efforts to build the TUAL began in early 1979 as both Party members and militant workers in several cities recognized the necessity to form a revolutionary trade union opposition, based upon both the actual conditions of the struggle in the workers’ movement today and based on the historical lessons, the hard won experience of the working class movement. Recognizing that the reformist trade unions have become integrated into the service of the capitalist class and its state, it is obvious that the revolutionary workers cannot limit their activity and organization to such reformist anions, let alone abandon the majority of workers in the U.S. who are not even organized into unions.

Therefore, studying the positive and negative experience of revolutionary trade union oppositions in our country, the Trade Union Education League in the 1920’s and the Trade Union Unity League in the 1930’s, as well as the present international experience of the workers in Germany, Spain and Japan, the purposes and tasks of the TUAL began to take shape in the form of efforts to build local chapters. This was correct, for the foundation of such an organization cannot be proclaimed, but must be built on a factory by factory level by the militant rank-and-file workers. However, two major obstacles to the development of the TUAL emerged last year. First, some former members of the CPUSA/ML, most notably Al Thrasher in Birmingham tried to capture control of the TUAL for his private opportunist ends and turn it away from being a revolutionary mass organization, as part of his effort to liquidate the Party and the TUAL. Thrasher’s clique was purged from the Party. Characteristic of such opportunists, they then maneuvered to isolate TUAL contacts in New Orleans and Birmingham from the movement as a whole, blocking their participation in the national organizers’ conference. In addition, Thrasher attempted to seize control of Advance!, the newspaper of the TUAL. This wrecking activity has resulted in some confusion nationally about the development of the TUAL, much of which has now been overcome.

The second obstacle to the development of the TUAL in 1979 was the crippling lack of national coordination and organization, needed to build the TUAL, to exchange experience, to train militant workers and to establish contact with other revolutionary trade union organizations around the world. The effort to overcome these obstacles was the foundation of the first national TUAL organizers’ conference.

The three days of meetings involved spirited discussions of the principles of revolutionary trade unionism, the necessity to link the struggle in this country to the struggles of the international revolutionary trade union movement against world imperialism, an analysis of the current economic situation in order to establish the tactical campaigns of the TUAL in the coming period, reports from the work of the local chapters and the adoption of a national organizational framework. TUAL members discussed the importance of a bold, active campaign to contact revolutionary-minded workers in many parts of the country and to involve them in the building of the TUAL. The participation of white, Black and Chicano workers, both men and women, affirmed the importance of multi-national composition and pointed out the need for still broader participation from workers of all nationalities. Already some plans were discussed for convening a larger organizers’ conference in the future.

For some attending the conference, this was the first time they had participated in such revolutionary discussion with workers from other parts of the country. On Saturday night a dinner was served, with toasts and entertainment. All attending left the meeting with a deeper understanding of the aims and objectives of the TUAL, a strong desire to forge ahead in the building of the TUAL and the beginning of an organizational plan toward this end.

The Relationship of the TUAL And the CPUSA/ML

One of the most pressing questions discussed at the conference was the relationship of the TUAL to other revolutionary organizations, and the CPUSA/ML in particular. The Party welcomes this discussion and believes that it was essential for this question to be clarified so that any ’left’ sectarian errors of the Party could be overcome. The open and honest participation of the Party in the TUAL assists the construction of a democratic and revolutionary mass workers’ organization.

It is no secret that the CPUSA/ML took the major initiative in encouraging and aiding the formation of the TUAL, as has often been discussed in UNITE! When the question of the relationship of the TUAL to the Party arose, Party members who are also members of the TUAL explained the position of the CPUSA/ML: that the TUAL must exist separate from the CPUSA/ML, as an independent revolutionary workers’ organization. It was exactly for this reason that the Party encouraged the call for a national organizers’ meeting. In the past, too much of the organization and development of the TUAL depended upon the Party, and to overcome this, it was important to establish a democratic, national framework for the TUAL.

Two opinions on this question were expressed by those attending the conference. One observer stated that he was confused by the strong support given to the TUAL by UNITE! and the CPUSA/ML and that he wanted to establish whether in fact the TUAL was independent of the Party or whether or not it was just a “front group.” But a delegate from a Ford plant in California expressed a very different view. He explained that he chose to work in the TUAL because of its principles, and precisely because the CPUSA/ML recommended the TUAL to him.

This discussion served to clarify and reaffirm the principles which guide the relationship of the TUAL to other organizations: the TUAL today is organizationally independent. Whatever the actual political affiliation of the workers, they do not represent other organizations within the TUAL, and represent only then-factory chapter or city-wide TUAL. The TUAL is not affiliated to any political party. However, as was pointed out at the conference the TUAL does not advocate trade union neutrality. There are no “neutral” positions in the class struggle. The TUAL does support and advocate all political movements which advance the interests of the working class, and opposes reliance of the workers on the Democratic or Republican parties. The TUAL conference affirmed its support for the struggles of revolutionary workers all over the world and adopted a resolution sending its support to the RGO in Germany, the AOA in Spain and the ATU in Albania. Such organizational ties to the international revolutionary workers’ movement were seen as a necessary part of the struggle against imperialism and war.

For all those attending the conference, the question was placed squarely on the table and clarified. This discussion at the conference assisted the Party in better grasping the Marxist-Leninist principles which guide its relationship to various mass organizations, and the actual problems which today exist in the wake of years of Right opportunism and ultra-’left’ sectarianism on such questions in the working class movement.

An Important Step Forward

Throughout the conference organizers spoke of the frustrations growing out of the lack of coordination and leadership of revolutionary workers in various parts of the country. In particular, workers spoke about the auto contract struggle in 1979 and the difficult ties of coordination between auto-workers in California and the Midwest. Examples ^were brought to light of the ease with which the opportunists and careerists could destroy any genuine democracy in the TUAL without a democratic national organization existing, and the ability of the trade union bureaucrats to weaken the revolutionary workers’ movement if it lacked national organization. Finally, after discussion about the revolutionary workers’ movement in several countries, it became clear how inefficient and fruitless it was to establish contact with these organizations without national organization here in the U.S.

The great importance of this first national TUAL organizers’ conference, in the view of the CPUSA/ML, was not in the number of chapters or the size of its membership today. The importance is in the seed that was planted for the future, and in the hope that it represents for the workers’ movement in the U.S. and internationally.

In the final speech of the conference the memory was invoked of the handful of organizers who met in Chicago in the early part of the twentieth century to form the TUEL, which finally grew to a movement of hundreds of thousands and served as the core of the CIO and the giant industrial unions of today.

This first conference was a start. But the heart of the development of the TUAL rests not with any national framework but with the correctness of its goals and militant character of its tactics, and in building local factory chapters to fight against wage slavery and the reformist trade union bureaucrats.

The political and economic conditions of the workers’ movement today and the strength of both the reformist trade union bureaucracies and various opportunist trends in the working class movement necessarily mean that the TUAL will grow slowly at first, and take some years to really consolidate its foundation. But what is also clear, as history confirms, is that each step the TUAL takes to establish itself, and consolidate its foundations deeper in the working class, will have a profound effect on the course of the class struggle in the U.S. and worldwide.

The CPUSA/ML will continue its full support and assistance to the growth and development of the TUAL, and is certain that it will become a-rallying center for workers in many parts of the U.S. The TUAL will lead the revolutionary union movement to fight, as Karl Marx pointed out, “to promote the abolition of the very system of wage slavery.”