Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The New Voice

Guidelines for Caucus-building

First Published: The New Voice, Vol. VII, No. 8, April 17, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Rank and file workers throughout the U.S. are seeing more clearly every day the unholy alliance of union mis-leaders and their bosses. Wildcats against the coal operators’ “no-strike” agreement with union mislead-ers involved more than 100,000 coal workers at a time. Workers in auto held walkouts against sellout contracts across the country. Workers spontaneously react to protest the partnership between the bosses and union officials.


Trade unions, the natural fighting organizations of workers, will play a crucial role in the unfolding fight-the-crisis movement. But there is a roadblock to unions performing this role. The major national unions in auto, steel, coal, postal, telephone, and so on, are run by bureaucrats and careerists who are not on the side of those who pay the dues. In fact, these union misleaders are on the side of big business and its government officials.

Bureaucrats like Meany of the AFL-CIO, Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers, and McBride of the United Steel Workers of America live high on union dues, bribes and profits from corporation investments. They hold down and purge militant union officials and locals. They work to crush strong actions like the recent miner’s strike. Self-proclaimed “progressives” like Miller of the United Mine Workers, swept to power on reform slates, call on the Federal courts to quell wildcat strikes. When push comes to shove, these “progressives” show where they stand.


These spontaneous rebellions of militant workers against the bosses and sellout union misleaders must be organized. Rank-and-file workers need their own centers of leadership. These centers of leadership are the trade union caucuses.

In the September 19, 1977 issue of The New Voice the fundamental purposes of caucuses were stated: “The trade union caucus is a method of organizing the union to serve the workers. It consists of a tightly-knit group of workers who plan actions at their workplace and what to do at their union meetings. They develop a specific program around issues at their plant and in their industry nationwide and draw other workers into the struggle. They expose the bureaucrats in their union, show how they are not leading and point to the right way to carry on.”

Every caucus needs a clear program that, contrasts sharply with the union misleaders and shows the workers where it stands. This program must be brought to workers issue by issue, struggle by struggle. We reiterate these general guides, proven successful in the past, to a program:

BUILD FIGHTING UNIONS! The whole purpose of a union is to unite workers in active battle against the employers’ endless attempts to drive down our conditions and wages. Active participation of the rank and file armed with a fighting outlook can rebuild the union, organizing from the bottom up.

FIGHT RACISM, SEXISM AND NATIONAL MINORITY OPPRESSION! These divide-and-conquer schemes make extra profits for the ruling class. They are used to divide workers against themselves and undermine united struggle against the bosses. As a result, conditions are worse for all workers. Those directly discriminated against lose the most. To close the gap in conditions between men and women, white and minority workers, special demands must be raised which hit the boss and unite the whole workforce, making the largest possible gains for all workers.

FOR MASS ACTION! A caucus needs to say loud and clear that the government is controlled by businessmen and that the only effective path of action is mass action. The real strength of workers lies in their ability to slow or stop production. It is job action, or its threat, that forces businessmen to the bargaining table. Legalism only strings along workers with endless meetings, paperwork and steps. Legalism breaks the momentum toward job actions and gradually demoralizes people as the legal angles are exhausted one by one.

RELY ON THE WORKERS! The program of a caucus is class struggle. The fundamental principle of good leadership is to rely on the workers. This means several things. It means that trade union militants must have faith in the ability of fellow-workers to understand their oppression and organize against both the bosses and union misleaders. But relying on the working class does not mean to sit back and cheer on their struggles. Our faith must be integrated with action. Trade union militants must raise the consciousness of fellow workers and mobilize them to fight as an army for our collective needs.

Through caucus literature, the rank and file will grasp the caucus program as it is applied to a whole range of issues. A clever attempt to steal seniority, a racist promotion, or a new speed-up plan can be exposed with timely leaflets or newsletters. A pamphlet can lay out the battle lines in a contract struggle and set forth a fighting strategy to beat the employers. Caucus literature also informs workers of struggles in other industries and urges active support across craft and industry lines using the principle “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

The caucus should move from exposures, analysis and raising demands to activity over specific issues. It should devise tactics and plans for struggle drawn from the experience and creativity of the workers. It is imperative that workers participate in the creation of these plans, throwing out the bad and keeping the good. Relying on the initiative and creativity of rank-and-file workers is critical to the success of every caucus.

Through struggle a trade union caucus expands its influence and gains respect from the workers. And through struggle the caucus deepens its own understanding of its program and learns how to wage battle with the employers.


When the caucus grows in influence, cases will arise where members can run for and win local union positions (usually steward or local president). These offices may or may not be advantageous. This depends on several things. First, the amount and content of the union work must be considered. The higher the union position, the more legalistic duties must be performed—seeing lawyers and Congressmen, shuffling grievances, lobbying, etc. Also, the more “benefits” or “privileges” received, the more tempted one may be to give up struggle.

The second concern is whether the union office will increase contacts with the rank and file and open up opportunities to organize. Trade union militants truly concerned about the rank and file always see union offices in closest contact with their fellow workers as most important.

Sometimes, answers to these questions indicate that it is good to run for union office; other times it is not. To mobilize workers behind the caucus program is the first concern. Whether or not to fill a union office hinges completely on that task.


When the capitalists make their attacks on the working class, and especially during times of crisis, workers flock to the trade unions to fight them. But trade union ideology is limited—it does not question the capitalist system itself.

Strong unions can win gains, sometimes major gains, but they can never alter the basic character of the capitalist system which exploits and oppresses us, nor can they guarantee that the gains won through struggle will not be subverted.

Communist workers, while helping to build the unions and caucuses into fighting organizations, explain the limitations of the reform movement and point out that permanent gains can only be won through a revolution for socialism which puts the working class into power.