Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The fight for affirmative action in labor

Part II – The struggle today

First Published: Unity, Vol. 2, No. 13, June 29-July 12, 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.

This is the second part of a two-part series on the history and struggle for affirmative action for minorities in labor.

Part I, printed in the June 1-14 issue of UNITY, dealt with the history of affirmative action as a product of the Civil Rights and Black liberation movements of the 1950’s and 1960’s, where the fight against job discrimination occupied an important place.

Part II focuses on the present struggle for affirmative action on the job. This struggle will undoubtedly continue beyond the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the Weber case.

Because the ruling was very limited, there is room for future court cases against affirmative action. Moreover, affirmative action is still a demand in many workplaces. Many companies have no affirmative action programs, and in other companies the programs exist only on paper or else they are extremely limited. For instance, many companies hire minorities or women to fill their quotas, but fire them before their probationary periods are up.

* * *

What is the best way to defend and expand affirmative action on the job? From the history of the struggles in the 1950’s and 1960’s which won affirmative action programs – to the more recent anti-Bakke struggle – we have learned the importance of building broad coalitions combined with rooting the work in day-to-day struggles.

Build broad united front coalitions

Recently, the Anti-Bakke Decision Coailition (ABDC) initiated a campaign against Sears Roebuck and Company’s affirmative action lawsuit. ABDC was quickly joined by various trade unions, churches, mass organizations like the United League of Mississippi, and mnany others. On June 2, close to 2,000 people attended demonstrations in several cities called by many coalitions as part of the Anti-Weber Mobilizing Committee.

These are beginning steps in uniting trade unions, religious and social groups, mass organizations and progressive individuals into a broad united front coalition which can become a real force in defending affirmative action.

Within this united front, there no doubt will be struggle over the direction and thrust of the work. We must wage this struggle correctly. We must patiently win over the majority of individuals and organizations and expose the chauvinist, sellout Communist Party USA (CPUSA) revisionists and various trotskyite groups which have managed to worm their way into this struggle.

We must carry out a combination of good independent agitation/propaganda work, and fight for correct principles and tactics which can lead the struggle for this reform in a revolutionary direction. It means being in the lead of the struggle to unite as broad a front of forces as possible and winning people over through our day-to-day work. Critical in this battle will be rooting the fight for affirmative action among rank and file workers.

Root the struggle in the work places

The anti-Bakke movement grew in strength because various organizations within ABDC had deep roots in the ongoing campus struggles for affirmative action and special admissions programs. The majority of organizations in the present anti-Weber fight do not yet have those kinds of roots among the workers.

The battle to defend and expand affirmative action on the job will ultimately have to be fought in the work places. The rank and file must make the struggle to defend and expand affirmative action a vital part of its activities.

Today, due to the decline in the U.S. economy, the whole working class – especially oppressed nationality workers – are faced with layoffs, attacks on wages and increasingly oppressive working conditions. In response, workers are increasingly fighting back against these attacks.

In the course of waging this struggle, the workers have had to take on their own “leaders” – the reactionary trade union bureaucrats. Thus the struggles for trade union democracy have increasingly become a major arena of concern for rank and file workers.

The struggle for affirmative action and against national oppression should not be pitted against the economic struggle of the working class for better wages, working conditions and job security, or against the struggle for union democracy. All these struggles must be taken up.

Utilize all available channels

The Fair Employment Practices, Civil Rights and other union committees should be utilized in the fight for affirmative action and against job discrimination. We must activate these union committees to organize workshops and educationals for the rank and file. These committees should take up actions around affirmative action and discrimination grievances on the shop floor.

Rank and file workers should get their unions to pass resolutions in support of affirmative action and to participate in such campaigns as those against Weber and Sears. Various rank and file caucuses can take similar actions. Rank and file caucuses should take up the demand for affirmative action and utilize all channels in this fight to unite the broadest number of workers.

Formulate concrete affirmative action demands

In order to unite the rank and file, it is critical that demands for affirmative action be formulated precisely and well – proceeding from a solid understanding of the concrete conditions and particular characteristics of each work place and industry. These demands should be formulated so as to strengthen the fighting unity of the working class against the capitalists. In plants where minorities have been systematically excluded, for example, we must support demands for preferential hiring and promotions to skilled jobs.

For example, in auto (as well as other industries), a demand has arisen for “superseniority.” Superseniority means minority workers would get “extra years” of seniority to place them ahead of other workers in case of layoffs. This is an attempt to make up for past years of discrimination.

What this demand does, however, is to require workers with greater seniority, usually white, to be laid off instead of lower seniority minority workers. This view requires that white workers must give up seniority – a benefit won for the entire class – in order to prove that they are the friends of oppressed nationalities. Demands such as these actually create greater obstacles to building unity.

We should not advocate such a demand, but should instead demand voluntary inverse seniority with full supplementary unemployment benefits and no loss in fringe benefits. This would give older workers time off without hurting their positions, and allow lower seniority workers to continue to work. This demand places the burden on the capitalists, not on white workers.

Fight national oppression, unite the class

Forging the unity of the working class requires a recognition of the gross inequalities that minorities face in the U.S. and requires taking up the struggle against it. Minority families still earn only 60% of what white families earn. Minority unemployment is twice that of whites. Oppressed nationalities constitute less than 10% of workers in the skilled trades. Infant mortality for minorities is nearly two times higher than for whites. The inequality between white people and oppressed nationality people is a fact.

This fact does not present insurmountable obstacles to unity of whites and oppressed nationalities. On the contrary, jointly taking up the struggle for equality will immeasurably strengthen the common fight for better conditions of life and against a common enemy. The revisionist CPUSA, however, liquidates the existence of national oppression and promotes the view that whites and minorities suffer equally from divisions in the working class. The Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy (TUAD), a group under the CPUSA’s leadership, states that companies “make millions in extra profits because when workers are divided, everybody’s wages are held down.”

While it is true that national oppression serves to drag down the level of the entire working class, the CPUSA completely ignores the fact that Black workers earn even less than white workers, and are further oppressed in a thousand and one ways. This is the source of the capitalists’ superprofits.

The CPUSA claims that the main focus of the Weber case is not national oppression, but an “attack against collective bargaining,” since the Weber case attacks the affirmative action program negotiated by the steel workers union. The CPUSA reduces the fight for affirmative action to a trade union or contract issue, and submerges the question of national oppression.

The CPUSA uses chauvinist arguments to appeal to white workers to support the struggle for affirmative action. A TUAD pamphlet says, “white men workers directly benefit from affirmative action because it creates new job rights and fresh training opportunities that didn’t exist before. Invariably, a just share of those new slots will be set aside for white men workers.”

Thus the CPUSA appeals to white workers to support affirmative action not because it is in the interest of the whole working class to fight national oppression, but because it gives a “just share” of new jobs to whites. White workers have to be won over on the basis that fighting national oppression will help to forge the unity of the whole class, and that white workers have no interests separate from the interests of the whole working class.

The CPUSA’s line must be defeated in order to forge the alliance between the working class and the movements of the oppressed nationalities against their common monopoly capitalist enemies.


The struggle for affirmative action on the campuses, in work places and communities will continue to be waged in the years to come. We must root this struggle among the masses and bring their full initiative into play.

The struggle for affirmative action is an important part of the broad fight against national oppression. The stronger the struggle against national oppression – and the greater the participation of the entire working class – the greater the unity of all oppressed people within the U.S.

This unity will make possible the final defeat of the oppressive rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalists.