Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Party

Symbol of Masses’ Unprecedented Openness to Party Leadership: 900 Shipyard Workers Sick Out!

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 18, May 26, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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SAN DIEGO Ca. – On April 1, 900 shipyard workers called in sick to their jobs at National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. (Nassco) in San Diego. Led by Communist Workers Party supporters, and cutting through intimidation from the KKK and opposition from the pro-Soviet social-imperialist “Communist” Labor Party (“C”LP), the workers’ sickout put their words “NO, COLA, NO WORK” into action. The meaning of this job action guided by communists is more than a blow for COLA (cost of living adjustment) against inflation–like all workers across the country today, the shipyard workers bust out in anger around different issues because they are concrete manifestations of their deepest concerns–the conditions of their whole lives, the whole rotten system that’s eating people alive. With the Party’s leadership, this anger, deeper than ever before, is being organized and targeted into direct hits against the capitalist class, contributing to our preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 80’s.

In this city where the inflation rate is higher than almost any other city, workers at Nassco have no real cost of living adjustment clause in their contracts and have 12 months to go till the contract expires. The rank and file of all unions and most of the union leadership of Ironworkers Local 627 have been active trying to force the company to renegotiate the COLA clause to give some relief to the’ steady drop of the workers’ purchasing power.

On March 27, the front parking lot at Nassco shook as hundreds of steel-toed boots stomped out for a rally, hand-painted signs and banners reading “COLA NOW” and “COLA YES, CARTER NO” set the tone as union leaders from Local 627 started the rally off. Speakers pointed out how inflation has gutted workers’ paychecks while corporate profits soar. Militarization, their main cause of inflation, and the politicians playing election games were also hit. For example, San Diego Mayor Wilson, who likes to call workers greedy, recently voted himself a 25% pay hike.

During the rally, a chant arose–“NO COLA, NO WORK!” An “underground” leaflet surged through the crowd calling for a one-day sick-out April 1 to protest inflation and show the company that people mean business. Stickers had also gone up on the ships reading “Are you sick of inflation? NO Cola, No work, April 1”

Sickout Explodes Over KKK/“C”LP Sabotage Attempts

The day came and it was evident just by looking at the parking lot that people were staying out. At least 900 people called in sick, four times the usual number. The company definitely was worried and even put a vice-president on a local rock station to state the sick-out was a failure, trying to trick second shift into corning in. But much of second shift stayed out too.

Adding to the confusion and controversy over April 1 were the “Communist” Labor Party (“C”LP) and the fascist KKK who both spread the rumor that the sick-out was “an April Fool’s joke” backed only by the CWP. Then attitude was “you have a contract, now stick to it.” This shows the role played by “liberal” or “socialist” groups in the face of rising war and fascism here in America. By coming out against the work stoppage and in fact working to sabotage the entire COLA campaign, the “C”LP runs interference for their brothers the fascists like the KKK. This is no accident. In Germany, it was the “liberals” who allowed Hitler to come to power because they were so preoccupied with stopping the real leaders of the German working class – the communists. Meanwhile, workers’ resistance was weakened. The capitalist class that owns the factories and banks need the Klan to divide the workers up and to spearhead attacks on communists and other working class leaders as the Greensboro assassination of the CWP 5 shows. At the same time, the capitalists need the phony liberals and socialists to keep the people trapped within “proper, legal channels” and to blind them to the growing fascist danger with “democratic” illusions.

Workers’ Action on COLA Issue Symbolizes Concern Over Whole System

Today’s situation is very fluid with people’s lives put in crisis by unprecedented capitalist decline. It seems there’s a new attack against the workers everyday in the yards–from inadequate ventilation burning out their lungs, to speed-up harassment, to trying to force the workers to plaster their names on their hardhats so the foremen can tell who’s doing what from far away, to the suspensions of two stewards right after the sick-out.

People form strong opinions on a lot of things and change them rapidly, so someone who goes home instead of joining a militant rally one week may join the sick-out the next. Because each issue is only a manifestation of their real motivation and deeper concern with the whole system in crisis, workers may call in sick to protest inflation one week, beat up a foreman over harassment the next, and burn their tax forms the week after that.

What this means is organizing a campaign around an issue may seem to lose momentum very fast. But where a demonstration around one issue may fire up somebody, he may actually be burning deeper about something else–such a worker is like a volcano rumbling that spits fire here and there but is more seriously considering a massive eruption. So an issue may lose momentum, but the fire continues to burn deeper.

It is the view that confines organizing to a single issue (“issue orientation,” economism, or anti-communism like the “C”LP) that actually is not in tune with the real system-wide concerns of the majority of workers today, and deadens their political interest and ability. Communist organizing in the unions and plants still requires bold, hard-hitting pacesetting campaigns around economic issues (like a fight to decertify a union hated and abandoned by the masses) to concretize the Party’s propaganda and help provide conditions for workers to voluntarily accept the Party’s leadership.

The task for communists is to grasp more tightly than ever before propaganda as our chief form of activity to give coherent understanding, strategic class confidence and a clear target to the workers. We must explain to the masses why the 80’s economic crisis is deeper than the 30’s Depression and what this means for the immediate prospects for proletarian revolution. We must push this must push this communist propaganda/agitation in creative ways such as the political/military skirmish with the state/KKK last month in Kokomo, Indiana. The tasks ahead cannot be accomplished through individual campaigns, like the Nassco campaign around COLA, alone – the individual struggles must take place under the influence and in the larger context of the Party’s political and theoretical leadership. The moral authority for the 80’s will be shaped and can only be shaped under this line and this line alone.