Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Party

1980 Strikes–The Giant Can’t Awaken Without Breaking Labor Aristocrats Stranglehold

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 23, June 30, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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WHAT is the significance of labor strikes in the 80’s? The number of strikes alone is no barometer of the awakening of the working class. In the 60’s, the number of strikes was at a relatively high level. Today, the number is actually around the lowest in the last couple of decades. But this doesn’t mean the workers’ political consciousness is lower today–just the opposite. Today in the deepest capitalist crisis ever, there is an unprecedented openness and searching for alternatives to dying capitalism among the working class, the class which must lead the fight for socialism.

Labor Aristocrats Call Strikes To Teach Workers They Can’t Win

First, we have to differentiate between official strikes and wildcats. Wild-catting means the workers break through the stranglehold of the labor aristocrats, the union bureaucrats. But even then wildcats can be led by militant trade unionists, new bureaucrats, leading wildcats to build their own careers.

Also we have to look at how they run the strike–do they man the picket-line, shut the place down? Generally not, and that’s how strikes today often demoralize the workers. Strikes called by the labor aristocrats today are often for that purpose–the bureaucrats treat the workers like dogs, give them a little bait. Even more than an unpaid layoff, they pull the workers through the strike to try to teach the workers a lesson that they can’t win, so they shouldn’t fight.

Many workers today feel cynical about striking. Like last year’s United Auto Workers’ contract, who’s interested in another routine strike for 3% when the whole auto industry’s dying and hundreds of thousands are getting laid off forever?

Militancy Not Enough, Giant Won’t Awaken Without Breaking Through Trade Unionism

Most unions today are like empty shells. Most have the basis to be genuine fighting, democratic unions, but the labor aristocrats are holding them back. Other unions, like the ACTWU (Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union), are not even shells, having no organized steward/committeemen system through which the workers can be mobilized. Today the labor aristocrats are so hated and exposed they are losing control and the “new militants” like in the steelworkers’ union are also losing control. We have to get this excellent situation together with communist leadership. The awakening giant must bust open the stranglehold of the labor aristocrats. The giant cannot awaken without breaking through the bounds of trade unionism.

This was very clear in the New York City transit workers’ strike earlier this year. The main significance of this strike was not that it broke out in reaction to the economic crisis, but that no one dared to assume leadership and say, “no, we will not go back to work” when the union bureaucrats maneuvered a sellout contract agreement. With all the militant dissidents, there was still no clear leadership capable of smashing and replacing the hacks. That’s why no matter how many strikes there are, no matter how militant in character, these things are not enough. The U.S. working class has a very militant tradition. But due to the labor aristocrats’ hold over the unions and a lack of communist leadership, this militancy can include shooting down Chinese and other minority nationality scabs – not in the interest of working class unity which the Communist Workers Party fights for, but because of chauvinism and racism. Militancy alone will go nowhere without clear leadership to unite ail the workers against capitalism.

Self-Criticism for Article’s Economist Line, Fight for CWP’s Correct Line>

To build up the Communist Workers Party and continue to win the majority of the U.S. people to the Party’s influence we have to strengthen the communist character of our work in the trade unions, have forums every day – not just putting forward partial aspects of our communist stand, viewpoint and method, but explaining the capacity of the unions under clear leadership, developing fighting steward systems in the plants. So to say that the working class giant can awaken through strikes alone is an economist, vulgar workerism line that belittles the key question of political leadership of the workers movement. It would lead to defining the task tor communists and advanced fighters as getting immersed in the trade unionist politics of strikes in themselves, rather than the CWP’s comprehensive program of pushing out communist propaganda in hard-hitting ways (postering, in particular to serve notice to the politicians at the 1980 Democratic Convention, Kokomo struggle) and fighting to kick out the hacks and build communist leadership among the workers, as part of our preparation for workers’ rule in the 80’s.

We make a self-criticism for this incorrect, economist line in the article “1980 Strikes – The Giant is Awakening” in the last issue (June 23, 1980). This was a serious deviation from the CWP’s historical line on the trade unions. It reflects the struggle outside and inside the Party to grasp tightly and understand rationally the Party’s line that today giving people a comprehensive communist analysis of all aspects of their lives must be first and foremost in our work. This means that today under the conditions of rapid destabilization of capitalism, with the chickens coming home to roost for U.S. imperialism, the masses (not just the stratum of advanced but the broad majority of American people) are wide open as never before to communist leadership. Militant trade unionist line and leadership–even if they are honest–is not strong enough to shatter the labor aristocrats’ stranglehold, only the CWP can do this.

The trade unionist line is an antagonistic line, and especially deadly today when we have the opportunity to make the cause of the working class prevail. We have at this moment in history the opportunity to make this, the third time in modern history the working class has the opportunity to seize state power, the last time.