(Reprinted from the Workers' Advocate Supplement, vol. 1, #2, March 15, 1985)
The Fight Against The Oppression of Black Workers
The Struggle at the Work Place
The Fight Against the Racist Murder Campaign in Buffalo
The Relationship of the Work at Roswell to the Work in the City-Wide Movement
Struggle Against the Bourgeois Nationalist Trend at Roswell Park
The Platform of the Unity Slate
Our Tactics in the Union Elections
The Union Election Itself
The Discussion of Possible Tactics If the Election Was Rerun
The Fight Against Short Staffing and Low Pay
. Roswell Park, where we have been concentrating our work for some five or six years, employs a significant number of black workers. In fact, the largest section of ordinary working people (that is, excluding the professional strata that a research hospital employs in large numbers) are black. These black workers are concentrated in the lowest-paid and hardest jobs, what are called the labor grades. And they make up roughly 80% of the membership of CSEA local #303, which is affiliated with AFSCME nationally. It's the state employees' union in New York. This makes Roswell Park one of the largest work places in our city [Buffalo] where black workers are concentrated. Thus, the struggle against the oppression of black people and the mobilization of the black workers for the revolutionary struggle has always been an essential and a day-to-day concern in our work at Roswell Park. And, in our concentration at Roswell Park, we have always had an invaluable base from which to address the city-wide and country-wide struggle against black oppression.
. Furthermore, black bourgeois politics has always had considerable influence among the workers at Roswell Park. Indeed, at Roswell Park there is currently an organized social-democratic trend, a trend with a definite nationalist tinge, which is headed up by a bourgeoisified section of semi-professional blacks. This trend has direct ties with the most influential black politicians in the Democratic Party in our area. Most notably the trend is connected with Arthur Eve who is a rather important state politician in the Democratic Party from Buffalo. For years Eve was the chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus in the State Assembly, and he's currently the chairman of the State Budget Committee. Thus we have had to contend directly with this social-democratic and bourgeois nationalist trend at Roswell over the years.
. As this aspect of our work is not so well known, it will be valuable for us to discuss some of our
experience in the struggle against national oppression and against this black bourgeois political
trend. I will divide my remarks, roughly, into two sections. First, some comments about how we
have approached the struggle against the oppression of black workers at the work place, and
particularly the relation of concentration work to the general political movement against black
oppression. The second half of my talk will be devoted to remarks about our approach and
experience in the contention with the social-democratic trend headed up by black bourgeois
politicians and petty-bourgeois elements.
The Fight Against The Oppression of Black Workers
. In the mid-70's, a social-democratic outfit named BUILD (Build Unity, Integrity, Leadership and Determination) had considerable influence among the black workers. BUILD was an organization established by Saul Alinsky in the mid-1960's. That is, it was essentially a social-democratic community organization engaged in the narrowest sort of reformist politics at best and poverty pimping at worst. But, in accordance with the times, it had a strong cultural nationalist appeal, and it associated itself with various "left" opportunists. BUILD maintained its cultural nationalist appeal in the 1970s. For example, it organized pickets at police precincts located in the black community and demanded an end to police brutality through the hiring of more minority police officers. Significantly, BUILD also operated as a sort of ombudsman for black workers, especially those from the unorganized work places, who would appeal to BUILD to take up their grievances through the local labor boards.
. This organization, as I noted, had strong influence at Roswell Park. One reason for BUILD's influence was the corruption of the local union. At that time at Roswell Park, the CSEA union was essentially a company union headed by right-wing labor bureaucrats. These bureaucrats all came from the professional strata at Roswell. The professional employees are organized into the same local as the labor grades. Indeed, numbers of the union hacks were actually supervisory personnel. In addition, they were and still are, although they're no longer in office, casehardened racists of the Reaganite stamp.
. Working in a place with such a "union," which never addressed the grievances of the white workers, leave alone the black ones, meant that the black workers inevitably turned to BUILD to assist them to fight the more oppressive measures of the administration. For example, they turned to BUILD to fight against arbitrary firings, which were a considerable problem in this period.
. Now, the effect of BUILD's influence was quite detrimental to the struggle of the workers at Roswell Park. It was detrimental to the struggle against national oppression, detrimental to the struggle against economic oppression, and detrimental to the fight against the corrupt labor bureaucrats.
. First, all the issues of national oppression facing the black workers at Roswell Park were turned over to this petty-bourgeois, social-democratic organization. BUILD pursued these matters in the most narrow, legalistic, and bourgeois manner by appealing to the administration, by channeling everything through labor boards, etc. Thus, the influence of the sold-out leadership of BUILD was a block to the development of a real struggle against the racist administration at Roswell and, also, to the fight against the racist labor bureaucracy.
. Second, the nationalist politics of BUILD and its ideological influence over the workers meant that every question of oppression of black workers was dealt with solely as a national or race question. Thus the issues of harassment and arbitrary firings, which affected all the workers (although certainly most especially the black workers), were dealt with strictly as cases of racial oppression. (And the specific oppression of black people was seen as something of concern only to blacks and not to the working class as a whole. ) Thus, the class question was negated, and everything was seen solely as an issue of race oppression to be pursued solely by blacks and by black workers headed up by petty-bourgeois elements at that.
. Overall, the effect of this black nationalist line was to split up and fragment the struggle of the workers against the administration. Instead of all the workers uniting for mass struggle against the racist oppression, as well as against economic exploitation, the black workers, that is, the most significant section of the labor grades, were channeled into individualist and legalist struggles against the administration. In this way, also, the bourgeois-nationalist line of BUILD nicely dovetailed with the racist line of the corrupt bureaucrats who controlled the local. The union hacks were left unscathed as the struggle from below was not developed among the masses of workers.
. However, in the later 1970's the influence of BUILD began to wane a great deal among the black workers.
. In part this was a result of the workers' direct experience with BUILD. Although perhaps several jobs were saved, and no doubt a few token promotions were finagled, the national oppression and economic exploitation of the black workers kept on increasing because no significant resistance by the masses was being organized.
. In addition, the difficulties of BUILD in the later 70's were a result of the drying up of the poverty pimp funds. Accordingly, greater internecine, unprincipled strife developed inside the organization and a number of factional splits took place. They were fighting over who would get the diminishing funds.
. Other factors also played a role. Notably there was the effect of the militant workers' movement in the period 1976, 1977, and 1978 both locally and across the country. Our Party's persistent agitation promoting this movement and promoting mass struggle began to establish among the black workers a definite consciousness of an alternative way to fight.
. The final factor which explains the significant waning of BUILD's influence in the latter 70's is that the Party intensified all-around political and ideological agitation at Roswell Park, and we began paying closer attention to the work there, although we had not yet decided to concentrate at the hospital.
. This then was the essential complexion of politics among the black workers at Roswell Park
when we began our concentrated work in 1979. I will now proceed to explain our tactics for
organizing the struggle against national oppression. First, I'll describe how we dealt with the
struggles that came up inside the work place and, secondly, how we organized at the work place
when an important city-wide struggle broke out against a racist murder campaign in the
following year, 1980.
The Struggle at the Work Place
. The main objective attack facing the Roswell Park workers in 1979 was overwork. For several years, the State's hiring freeze and policy of attrition of state workers had thinned out the ranks of the work force at Roswell Park while the actual work to be done had steadily increased. In order to force greater and greater work out of the workers, the administration conducted a systematic campaign of harassment, disciplinary measures and firings.
. This attack, of course, was first and foremost directed against the labor grades, and especially against the black workers, and more especially against the younger and more militant black workers who were bolder in resisting the increased workloads. In carrying out its attacks against the black workers, the administration resorted to the filthiest and vilest racial slurs and slanders against those workers it attacked. It labeled them as "lazy," "thieves," "drug users," etc. Not coincidentally, this also provided the corrupt union bureaucrats with a justification for never lifting a finger to protect the black workers' jobs and for leaving them entirely defenseless before these attacks.
. In this situation, we agitated and conducted the struggle of the workers along the following lines:
. First, we appealed to all the workers, both black and white, to themselves take up the struggle against economic exploitation and national oppression. Not any outside force, not the trade union, not as individuals, but the masses through their own struggle and organization. Together with our agitation, we developed various low-level methods of struggle, such as petitions, groups confronting the administration, slowdowns.
. Secondly, we strove to unite all the workers in the struggle against both economic exploitation and national oppression. Neither did we reduce the struggle in the work place to an economic struggle and fail to take into account the specific national oppression of black workers, nor did we attempt to transform every issue of attack against black workers into a racial and national question. As well, we always addressed the struggle in the work place -- whether the economic or the fight against national oppression or other struggles -- as part of the nationwide struggle of the working class against the capitalist class and state.
. Thirdly, we developed our agitation and struggle in such a way as to hit at the reactionary, corrupt, labor bureaucrats.
. The strength of the Party's line and work was such that, within a year of our initiation of vigorous agitation and organizing work at Roswell, the trend of individuals looking outside the work place to the black bourgeoisie, specifically to BUILD, to resolve their grievances was gone entirely. A clear new orientation to appeal to the masses of workers themselves to fight on these issues was established. The question of the masses of workers organizing themselves at the work place was established as the way to fight.
. The most important measure of our success in this period was our ability to build up a good-sized distribution network, with supporters in all of the labor grade departments. As a result of this, all of the struggles began to be channeled to us through this pro-party network.
. On an even broader scale, and as another measure of our success, the masses themselves enthusiastically proposed and supported that one of our comrades run for president of the local to kick the reactionary, racist bureaucrats out of office. It is important to note that the program upon which our comrade ran had two key planks: the first was struggle against economic oppression (overwork being the main form), and the second was struggle against racial discrimination. The committee we organized united a significant section of black and white workers for these demands.
[. The comrade won election as president of Local 303 in 1979. His activity sent the higher union bureaucrats into a frenzy, and they undemocratically removed him from office. But he stood firm against the bureaucrats and retained the support of the rank-and-file workers. (See the article "Mass Active Resistance Is The Correct Trade Union Policy" in The Workers' Advocate of Feb. 25, 1980. )
. Later, in the union elections of spring 1981, there was a new factor, the so-called "Unity Slate". This is gone into detail later in the speech. And the speech also refers to still another Local 303 election in 1983 which provided an additional confirmation of the correctness of the revolutionary tactics. -- Note by the Workers' Advocate Supplement]
. Among the masses generally, as a result of our work, a militant atmosphere and a definite trend to resist overwork developed. And we were able to stop the firing of four black dietary workers who did not pass a competency test that the administration had organized as a means to attack them.
. To anticipate somewhat later developments, it can also be mentioned that our agitation and
struggle against national oppression at Roswell forced the administration, together with Arthur
Eve, to "investigate" the problem of discrimination at Roswell Park in late 1979 or early 1980.
The investigation led to establishment of a new office for "equal opportunity," manned by a
flunkey of Eve. Within months of the creation of this office, a number of blacks were promoted
to supervisory posts in several departments including the most important labor grade department.
We'll have more to say about this tendency later.
The Fight Against the Racist Murder Campaign in Buffalo
. So now I want to go on and speak about the role of establishing a base among the black workers at Roswell in the city-wide struggle against the racist murder campaign in 1980.
. In the fall of 1980, when a strong movement emerged to struggle against the racist murder campaign in Buffalo, our concentration at Roswell Park provided a solid base for propelling us into the center of this city-wide movement. In turn our role in the city-wide struggle had important benefits for our concentration work at Roswell Park. Allow me first to briefly state the most important objective features of the situation.
. During the fall of 1980, in the midst of the presidential election campaign, and shortly following the mass black rebellions of that spring and summer in Miami, Chattanooga, and other places, a racist murder and terror campaign was launched against the black people in Buffalo. Between September 1980 and January 1981, six black men were murdered, and the corpses of two were mutilated. Three more were nearly killed by racist thugs. Numerous cross burnings took place. And the funeral of one of the victims was desecrated by the visit of a KKK "white" van.
. This racist murder campaign was far more than the results of the crazed activity of the single lunatic who was eventually found guilty of various of the murders. It was a coordinated political campaign, a part of the nation-wide, government-organized offensive against blacks. Comrades will recall the murder of anti-klan demonstrators at Greensboro during this period. In particular the local nazi party was active in it. This group has links that trace back to the police department and into the office of the Mayor himself. Nor was it accidental that the police failed to arrest a single suspect over months of so-called investigation or that they denied the existence, which was well known among the masses, of any organized racist or nazi groups in Buffalo.
. There was massive outrage throughout the black community in Buffalo against the racist campaign and against the foot dragging of the racist government. Extensive self-defense measures were taken by the masses. And the sentiment in favor of mass demonstrations, for organizing a political movement, against the government was very strong.
. The black bourgeoisie worked overtime to suppress the development of any mass struggle. The preachers preached themselves hoarse from the pulpits against violence. The black bourgeois politicians organized themselves into a "Leadership Forum" to prevent violence. Not the violence against the black people, mind you, but against any violent resistance to it. The Leadership Forum demanded that the Griffin administration and police department be more "responsive" to the concerns of the black community.
. They organized a Unity Day rally to unite black people behind the Griffin administration and even invited racist Griffin himself to speak at it. They had Jesse Jackson fly up, straight from trying to "cool off" the masses in Miami, to preach against violence and "negativity". Jackson reminded the masses that it was supposedly the violent struggle following the assassination of King in 1968 that contributed to the victory of "fascism," that is, the election of Nixon that year due to white backlash. The lesson: no mass struggle against the racist murder campaign, vote for Carter in 1980.
. In this situation we agitated along the following basic lines:
. ** We targeted the government, exposing its connections to the local racist gangs and its role as the instigator and leader of the racist campaign. We called upon the masses to develop their political struggle against the government. And we denounced the sell-out black leadership vigorously. We exposed them for calling on the masses to rely upon the very government that was organizing the racist campaign. We denounced them as firefighters against the mass movement. We denounced them for tying the black masses to the racist Democratic Party of Carter and Griffin.
. ** We vigorously participated in the city-wide political movement. We organized our own contingents for all the demonstrations. There were about half a dozen demonstrations in several months. Several of them involved thousands of people, which is a very large demonstration for our area. We organized our own meeting, and we attended the numerous meetings which were organized by others, throughout this period.
. ** In developing this work in the city-wide movement and on a city-wide basis, our
concentration at Roswell Park played an invaluable role.
The Relationship of the Work at Roswell
to the Work in the City-Wide Movement
. I'd just like to go through a number of features of this now.
. First of all, we made maximum use of our supporters, of our ties at Roswell, to assist us to broaden our ties in the black community and to participate in the general political movement. Expressed in another way, we made maximum effort to bring the workers out of the work place and into the political movement.
. Of course, we strove to mobilize workers from Roswell Park to attend our own political meetings and to participate in our contingents in demonstrations. In this work we met with definite success.
. But more than just this. To cite one example, a black worker from Roswell Park went with us to distribute leaflets at the local community college, a community college attended by a majority of young black students. She gave us valuable contacts with the students, she helped us to meet the president of the student association who was quite friendly to our politics, and she organized for us to speak before one of her classes. Soon, with very little effort really, we were embroiled in contradictions with the revisionist and reformist CPUSA at Erie Community College who were frantic at our developing work there. This work continued for some time afterward. Thus, overnight we found ourselves in the thick of things at this campus because of our ties at Roswell Park.
. Of course, in addition to this, we mobilized other workers from Roswell to do distribution and postering with us in the community -- work that they were eager to do and which greatly assisted us in strengthening our work in the black community.
. To cite another example, one of the pro-party workers lived in a housing project. He organized a meeting at his house which eight black youths attended. Two of our comrades went to this meeting and carried on extensive discussion with them about the racist murder campaign and how to fight it.
. Secondly, another very practical relation between our concentration work and our participation in the general movement was the intimate knowledge of events we had due to our deep ties with the Roswell Park workers. During periods such as this it is inevitable that the bourgeois press will distort, minimize, and outright suppress news of important developments. But if racist attacks or other incidents occurred, and if there was resistance to the attacks, we knew immediately because of our ties with the workers at Roswell. Or, in regards to more general developments, our ties at Roswell Park meant that we knew how extensive were such trends as the masses arming themselves and what form this was taking.
. Thirdly, our concentration at Roswell Park meant that we constantly had our fingers on the pulse of the masses, that we knew their mood intimately, and were in close contact with any changes in it. Thus, for instance, we knew the mood when Jesse Jackson came to cool out the movement.
. Shortly before Jackson's visit, the Black Leadership Forum had organized a token rally, Unity Day I, to press their demand that the Griffin government be more responsive to the concerns of the black community. They had invited Griffin himself to speak. Griffin showed just how responsive he was to the demands of the black community by, while begrudgingly accepting the invitation, declaring that he would rather be watching the football game. This rally was obviously organized to reconcile the black masses with the Griffin administration and to suppress the development of the movement. It was followed shortly by Jackson's visit, which had the same motive.
. Six hundred people attended the Jackson meeting. They were clearly aroused and expecting that he would provide impetus to their struggle. Of course, Jackson's whole effort deflated this sentiment. But how precisely did it affect the masses? We knew that it had not in fact succeeded very far. That's because of our ties at Roswell. Thus, we proceeded with confidence to call on the masses to participate in our contingent in a demonstration organized by opportunists shortly thereafter. As well, we proceeded with confidence to organize for our own meeting which was attended by three Roswell Park workers and other elements from the black community. And, finally, we knew that Jesse Jackson in this situation was eminently denounceable, that there was a definite opposition and even a certain disgust at his role, and we proceeded to denounce him in the sharpest terms in our leaflets.
. Let me give another similar example which is perhaps even a clearer illustration of this point of how concentration of Roswell meant that we had our fingers on the pulse of the masses and how this significantly assisted us in figuring out our tactics for participating in the general movement.
. In December the Griffin administration granted the local nazis a permit to demonstrate at City Hall on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's birthday. Remember, this is right in the middle of the racist murder campaign. The Workers World Party and other opportunists called a counter-demonstration. Griffin immediately outlawed the opportunist-called demonstration in order to "prevent violence".
. Griffin then proceeded, together with the Black Leadership Forum, to call for a counter-counter demonstration, Unity Day II, to be organized several blocks away from the anti-racist rally in Lafayette Square. This Unity Day II was clearly organized against the anti-nazi, anti-racist demonstration. The extensive agitation that was run for it, including frequent TV spots featuring the mayor arm in arm with our own local Jesse Jackson, the Reverend Bennett Smith, directly counterposed the mayor's demonstration to the anti-racist demonstration. This is how they talked: unity, not struggle or negativity. No opposition to the government. Be positive, peaceful, and legal. Don't be violent and illegal like the demonstration before City Hall. They weren't referring to the nazi demonstration, that was legal, but the anti-nazi demonstration.
. All of this propaganda created an extremely confusing situation, and a great deal of pressure was exerted on the masses not to participate in the anti-racist demonstration. In such a situation like this, it is difficult to figure out correct tactics. And even when this is done, it is extremely difficult to establish the right confidence and assurance in your tactics in order to oppose any tentativeness.
. It was our concentration at Roswell Park, and our close ties with the black workers there, which was the key link in assisting us to work out our tactics and have the utmost confidence in their correctness. Thus, even though Unity Day II was organized against the anti-racist demonstration, we knew that the masses did not see it that way. We knew that the majority of the masses would attend that rally, and that they would attend on an anti-racist basis.
. This was important for us in determining how to distribute our forces, to ensure that we agitated among those masses properly, and in making our decision to form a contingent among them. In fact, we were the only "left" group to do so.
. The WWP and the RCP either boycotted Unity Day II or adopted an openly hostile attitude toward the masses rallying in Lafayette Square. Now I'm not trying to say that the only reason they did that is because they don't have the same ties with the masses that we do. They also did that because they're rotten opportunists and we're Marxist-Leninists.
. On the other hand, even though this tremendous pressure was organized by the government against any mass participation in the anti-racist demonstration before City Hall that would confront the nazis, and even though the WWP was waffling incredibly in the face of the government's pressure, we knew that definite sections, and in fact the most militant and important sections of the masses of the workers, would attend that rally. We were able to confidently decide to place our main forces in this demonstration, to call on the workers to participate in our contingent in this demonstration, and together with black workers from Roswell Park and other work places, to directly confront the nazis.
. Fourthly, our concentration at Roswell Park provided us with a microcosm in which we were able to closely study the line of the black misleaders and its effect on the black masses, to closely work out the details of our line in opposition to that of the misleaders, and to measure its effect among the masses. This prepared us for what we would come up against elsewhere -- at Erie Community College, for example. And it allowed us to sharpen our agitation, to hit at the key questions that needed clarification among the masses, and to hit against key points in the social-democratic line.
. Finally, in concluding these remarks on the relationship between concentration and developing our work in the city-wide movement, let me just add several brief points about the positive effect which our work in the political movement had on the concentration work at Roswell Park.
. First of all, we won tremendous respect among the Roswell Park workers for our orientation toward the January 15 events. This helped us significantly in politicizing the broad trend that we had established around the Party in the work place.
. Second, by mobilizing our supporters using our ties from Roswell Park to assist us in the city-wide work, we strengthened the pro-party forces at Roswell.
. And third, the experience in such struggle, under the conscious, guiding role of the Party, is an invaluable education for the workers. The work place is inherently narrow. Developing our work in the broader political movement in closest connection to the work place concentration is invaluable in helping us overcome this narrowness.
. And I don't mean just in the sense that we have the workers participate in the political movement and gain experience in that. There is that, and it's very important. But, as well, from that experience the Party is able to more clearly correlate for the workers the relationship of the trends that they face in the work place to the broader political trends that exist in the political movement. The Party is better able to show the workers that various problems that come up are not just a matter of this or that individual but of a definite opportunist political trend.
. So, for example, as I'm shortly going to go on to discuss, the trade union election was held a few months later. In it the social-democratic trend at Roswell raised the slogan "Cool it" and attacked our line of mass active resistance as being "negative," etc. Because the workers had gained some experience in the political movement we were able to correlate the unionists' line at Roswell with the black bourgeois politicians' conciliation to the racist murder campaign. And we were able to make clearer that this was a definite political trend in opposition to the trend of mass active resistance represented by the Party.
. So, the first half is over, and the second half of my remarks is now going to be concentrating
specifically on the:
Struggle Against the Bourgeois Nationalist Trend at Roswell Park
. In fact, throughout the period we have just been discussing, which is roughly 1979-1980, there was a social-democratic, bourgeois nationalist trend at Roswell Park. But it remained fairly amorphous. While it existed, and it vied against us, it lacked organizational shape. It was in the spring of 1981, during the local union elections, that this trend congealed into what is known as the Unity Slate or unity trend.
. The social base of this trend is that section of black working people at Roswell who are most like the petty bourgeoisie, the professional and semi-professional blacks employed at Roswell, which includes some supervisory personnel. If it sounds awfully familiar to the racist bureaucrats who had previously dominated the union, that's not coincidental. These petty bourgeois and labor aristocrat elements are closely tied to the local bourgeois politicians, especially to Arthur Eve. Throughout the period we have just been discussing, they were the main conduit for the sellout politics among the black workers.
. But without organization, they had real difficulty in effectively contending with us. They were
faced with the prospect of a broad trend for proletarian politics becoming consolidated among the
black labor grade workers at Roswell. In fact, it was our success in the work which impelled
them to organize against us, to attempt to wipe out our influence among the black workers, to try
to split them from the broad trend around the Party, and to work to reestablish the hegemony of
the black bourgeoisie.
The Platform of the Unity Slate
. Let me make several remarks about their platform. Actually Unity has had no definite worked out program of any sort. But if I can sort of formulate what their platform was, it will help to clear up their basic politics.
. First of all, the Unity trend had no principled appeal against the corrupt labor bureaucrats who continued to monopolize the trade union posts at that time. At best, they could only come up with some vague suggestions for "democratic" changes in the union. In fact, the only specific change they ever recommended was holding more union meetings. Instead of two a year, we now have four.
. In reality, their basic line was: it is "our turn". By this slogan they tried to make the black workers believe that they, Unity, would better represent the black workers. But this slogan really meant that it was the turn of the black labor aristocrats, professionals, and supervisors to control the local union instead of the control by the white professionals and supervisors.
. That this was their true aim was hardly even concealed beneath their thin, nationalist appeal against the corrupt bureaucrats. Let me just quote from the Challenger. The Challenger is the black newspaper in Rochester and Buffalo, which was founded by none other than Arthur Eve. Up until several years ago Eve continued to edit the paper. During the union election campaign the Challenger published an article which was really the most programmatic statement ever made by the Unity Slate, or, I should say, made for Unity. So I'll just quote a few points from it.
. It gives the basic slogan, "Together we stand, divided we fall." And it mentions that there is an entire slate of black officers running in the upcoming union election at Roswell. It also has a picture here of just a certain section of Unity Slate. There was actually at least one, if not more, white workers running with them. But in the Challenger article it is presented as if the entire slate were all black. And the article says that this entire black slate, based on statistics, has an excellent chance of winning because 80% of the eligible voting membership in Local 303 is black. This is in the form of a quote from the leader of Unity Slate.
. So, in terms of what their program is, the leader of Unity Slate goes on to state, "We need more than two representatives." And the Challenger goes on and says, "which is clearly why she and others decided to run. Proper representation is the key." Inadequate union representation of the young blacks in particular is the problem which needs to be solved. And then the leader of the Unity Slate goes on to say, "Insensitive supervisors and insensitive union leadership -- that's the problem at Roswell Park which we have to solve." Of course, in her view, the whole solution to the problem of insensitive union leaderships and insensitive supervisory personnel, insensitive to the young black workers, is not to develop mass struggle against the company and its union bureaucrat lackeys, but to have some black supervisors and to have some black professionals among the union bureaucracy. So the black workers and young blacks are still to be left out in the cold; they are to entrust their fate to the upper strata and are advised to believe in cooperation with the ruling class.
. This is the crassest type of tokenism. It is an attempt, in the name of fighting national oppression, to rally the black workers to assist the black bourgeois elements into cushy union posts and supervisory positions.
. So the whole first point that I'm making about Unity Slate is that they had no principled appeal against the labor bureaucrats. In fact, in essence, they were the same thing.
. Secondly, Unity Slate wielded its nationalist appeal not against the racist white union bureaucrats but against the MLP. Neither did they have any principled difference with the labor bureaucrats, nor did they even on an unprincipled basis try to attack the labor bureaucrats and present themselves as being a genuine black alternative. They really just did not use the nationalist appeal against the bureaucrats.
. Their most basic approach was to appeal to nationalist sentiments. And that appeal was directed against us. They engaged in the most vicious, racist campaign against our comrade and against our Party as being supposedly "honkies pimping off the black people's struggle." And they attacked our supporters among the black workers as being supposedly "Uncle Toms."
. And finally, let us look at the Unity Slate's attitude towards the trade union struggle. We raised the question of mass active resistance, not class collaboration, as the correct trade union policy. The Unity Slate only addressed this question by way of the slogan "acceptability." That is, they presented themselves as "acceptable" negotiators with the administration because they were well versed in bourgeois methods of leadership and in dealing effectively in this type of politics. Along with this they raised, as I mentioned before, the slogan: "Cool it."
. Thus, once you peek beneath the nationalist facade, the rightist, social-democratic essence of
this Unity trend is clear as day. And the nationalist appeal, far from being directed against the
racist bureaucrats, was rather directed against the proletariat, against the Party, in order to bring
the black workers back into the black bourgeois fold.
Our Tactics in the Union Elections
. So now I'm going to pass on to discuss our basic tactics in this trade union election. And again,
I'll divide my remarks into two parts. First of all, there's the election itself in which three
groupings participated: the corrupt bureaucrats, the Unity Slate, and our slate, the Workers' Mass
Active Resistance slate. Then there's the question of the possibility of the rerunning of the
presidential election, after the elections were over, because of extensive voting fraud by the
corrupt bureaucrats. This possible election rerun led to an important discussion about what tactics
we might pursue in that situation.
The Union Election Itself
. We knew that with the organization of the Unity Slate we would suffer losses. By losses I do not primarily mean that we would get a lower vote turnout in the trade union election. That's only a measure of our strength. What we were most of all concerned about was that this social-democratic trend would make definite inroads into the broad section of workers who had come to support us over the past several years, and in particular among the black workers who were supporting us in the labor grades.
. Nevertheless, even though we knew we would have definite losses, we welcomed the congealing of this force into a definite, well-defined trend. For this process objectified a political tendency that existed among the masses. It organized the trend into a concrete shape that we could analyze for the masses and against which we could wage an objective struggle. The political education of the masses is the main thing, not whether we win a trade union post. At the same time, we were not about to hand over our trend to the social-democrats without a fight. We sought to maintain, as far as we could, the broad forces that we had gathered around the Party.
. Thus in the election campaign itself our tactics were centered on two points:
. First, we worked to strengthen the political-ideological struggle against social-democracy. This meant continuing to campaign on the slogan of mass active resistance, which we had raised in the first union election, and continuing to target the corrupt union bureaucrats as well as to expose the Unity trend. Now, the unit later summed up that, in practice, we did not place enough emphasis upon the struggle against the corrupt bureaucrats. Thus it would have been better to have kept the fight against the administration and the corrupt union hacks in the center of the agitation and then on that basis to work to expose the social democratic Unity trend. But we did succeed in raising the level of consciousness against social-democracy. We made use of Party leaflets during the campaign and a letter to the pro-party workers which analyzed the social-democratic nature of the Unity trend, its politics and its history.
. The second point of our tactics was that we organized a slate of candidates to run on our platform. This slate included white and black workers. It was an important means for, in an objective way, driving home among the masses that we are a trend and not just an individual. We organized a broad committee to support the "Mass Action Slate",and through it we developed agitation against the attacks of Unity Slate. This form was crucial for preserving the broad trend around the Party, even though we suffered some losses to the social-democrats in the election.
. The election campaign, and the results of the election itself, showed that while the Unity Slate did succeed in making definite inroads among the black workers in the labor grades, we fared well in preserving our broad trend.
. The total vote for our presidential candidate was 45. This was less than the 135 votes that we received in the first election in 1979. But in 1979 we were running against two reactionary union hacks who split their vote. In this election our candidate for president ran not only against a corrupt bureaucrat but also against the Unity Slate. And still he got 45 votes. What is more, the other candidates on our slate gathered, on the average, about 70 votes apiece.
. During the campaign, as I mentioned, great pressure was exerted against the black workers. This led to definite vacillation among a section of workers.
. On the other hand, the broad trend that we were able to hold together during this campaign
emerged from the struggle more consolidated than before. It was a good deal clearer ideologically
as to the real nature of bourgeois nationalism and social-democracy.
The Discussion of Possible Tactics If the Election Was Rerun
. As I mentioned briefly in the beginning, in this election there was extensive voting fraud carried out by the reactionary bureaucrats who still controlled the trade union apparatus. The Unity Slate candidate for president protested the election fraud to the regional level of the union. This protest was eventually denied at the regional level, and the Unity Slate didn't pursue it any further. But when we were faced with the prospect of a second running of the election for president, we had extensive discussion on what tactics we should pursue.
. Eventually the unit, in close consultation with the higher Party bodies, decided in favor of forming a united front with the Unity Slate. That is, we decided we would withdraw our candidate for president if there was a reholding of the election, and, if definite conditions were met, we would support the Unity Slate candidate for president.
. So the point is moot because this election was never held and we never got to even attempt these tactics. But it's valuable, I think, to explain what our thinking was on this question.
. Faced with this social-democratic, bourgeois nationalist trend, which was organized precisely in order to kill us, why did we decide in favor of attempting to conclude a united front? The essential reason was that, while we would not give up the struggle against the politics of this trend, we had to find a way to maintain our ties among the masses of workers and to, at the same time, find a way to influence the base of the Unity trend. That is to say, we were looking for a way to get the ear of the workers who were supporting the Unity trend so that we could develop an objective struggle against it.
. While it was clear to us that social-democracy, as represented by the Unity Slate, was the enemy, this was not at all clear to a broad enough section of the masses. The main thing the masses sought to achieve in the trade union elections was the ouster of the reactionary, racist, corrupt bureaucrats. This had been the issue for several years. The great majority of workers were united in this legitimate desire.
. Now, among the masses of the workers who were united on this question a division had arisen between those who, on the one hand, saw that only mass active resistance was a genuine alternative to the corrupt bureaucrats and that Unity represented no real alternative, and on the other hand, those who still had definite illusions that Unity Slate would make a difference. In this situation it was important that we should continue to act, and that the masses should clearly perceive us as acting, as the unifiers and organizers of their struggle to achieve the goal of ousting the reactionary bureaucrats. We had to make sure that we were not cast in the role of spoilers, disrupting the mass urge to achieve the ouster of the reactionary, corrupt bureaucrats.
. As well, it was important that we develop the struggle against the social-democratic Unity Slate in an objective way. We had to work in a way that would not isolate us from the base of the Unity Slate, which was, after all, among a significant section of the labor grade workers.
. Thus we decided to try to appeal for a united front with the Unity Slate. But this appeal had to be handled correctly. We did not want to corrupt or weaken the consciousness of our trend against social-democracy. Yet, at the same time, we wanted to penetrate into the base of the Unity trend and prepare the conditions for the exposure and isolation of its social-democratic leaders. In specific terms, what we decided to do was:
. First, we decided that we would withdraw our presidential candidate from the race. Our candidate had received far fewer votes than the Unity Slate candidate for president, approximately half or maybe even a third. It was clearly the view of the broad masses that it was our candidate who should withdraw so that the oppositional vote was not divided in half and so, therefore, the reactionary union hack could be defeated. Based on this situation we decided that withdrawing our candidate would be the correct step to take.
. But in taking this step, on no account would we stop our principled struggle against social-democracy. We were determined to promote no illusions to the effect that Unity Slate was, in principle, different from the reactionary bureaucrats.
. Secondly, we decided to demand that the Unity Slate agree to adopt, as part of their platform, certain measures that would be in the interest of the workers. Our support for their candidate would be conditional on whether or not they agreed to one or more of these measures. By withdrawing our candidate we hoped to show the masses our sincere desire for unity against the reactionaries. By making demands on the Unity Slate we hoped to show the masses that the Unity leaders were not really different than the reactionaries, that they were not really ready to fight for the demands of the rank and file. If the Unity leaders did not accept our demands, then the masses would find it easier to see the nature of the Unity Slate. If the Unity leaders did accept our demands, then we had further consolidated these as the unified stand of the workers and we had a lever with which to expose the Unity leaders later, because we fully expected that they would not carry through on these issues after they got into office.
. Thirdly, in terms of the method for arriving at any agreement with the Unity Slate, it was necessary to ensure that all negotiations and agreements were carried out in the open and under the supervision of the masses. No back room deals. No possibility for us to be compromised by the social-democrats' later betrayals.
. Finally, we reasoned that any agreement would either lead to the achievement of some measure of benefit to the masses and their struggle, or it would lead to the clearest and most powerful type of exposure of the social-democrats for betraying the workers. In either case we expected to gain closer contact with the rank and file in the Unity Slate.
. Again, let me emphasize, that the whole aim of this tactic was to ensure that, while we maintained our own trend distinct and independent from social-democracy, and while we carried out a principled struggle against social-democracy, we could take the most aggressive attitude to penetrating to the base of the Unity trend and to winning over their supporters through our positive efforts and through our exposure of the rotten nature of the leaders of the Unity Slate in the most objective manner.
. As I stated, this discussion of a possible united front with the Unity Slate in the election proved
to be moot. But it well illustrates our general orientation for dealing with this trend during the
next period. During the summer of 1981, which is a month or two after the elections were over,
an important struggle developed at Roswell which allowed us to apply this orientation and to
make further inroads against Unity trend.
The Fight Against Short Staffing and Low Pay
. In the summer a struggle developed against low wages and overwork, and it aroused the workers throughout the hospital. It led to the organization of two mass pickets by the workers, which is a significant form of struggle in a work place that has never been on strike. Eventually, it led to the convening of a special session of the State Budget Committee which was held at Roswell Park itself. This committee meeting was chaired by none other than Arthur Eve. It was attended by hundreds of workers, who used it as an opportunity to thoroughly denounce the Roswell administration.
. The fight against shortstaffing and low pay began in the nursing department. In fact, the nurses were, and still are, paid lower than the majority of nurses in our area. The Nurses Committee organized the fight. It was an official committee of Local 303, but it was composed of one of our firmest supporters, several activists in the Unity trend, and several Unity leaders. This committee maintained a certain independence from the corrupt bureaucrats. In fact, it co-opted the leader of the Unity Slate (who was an LPN) onto it right from the outset of the struggle. In its activity and line, despite the presence of our supporter and other genuine elements on it, the Nurses Committee clearly reflected the policy of the Unity trend.
. Now, we did not go into the Nurses Committee. We might have fought to be co-opted onto it, and we might have succeeded in getting a seat. But, instead, we decided to maintain our organizational separation and thus to maintain the simplest sort of demarcation between our Party and Unity Slate. We appealed to the base of the Unity Slate directly through the leaflets of the unit. Through our conduct in the struggle, we were able to demarcate our line most objectively from that of Unity Slate and to increase our influence among its base.
. The Nurses Committee sought to confine the fight against overwork and low wages to the nurses. It was our agitation and organizational work which ensured that the struggle was extended to other departments and, most importantly, to the labor grades.
. As well, the Nurses Committee never clearly formulated the specific demands of the fight. It was our agitation which initiated and concretized the demands for more hiring of workers and increased wages. These demands were taken up by all the workers.
. On top of this, the Nurses Committee was not in favor of mass actions. Again it was our agitation which initiated the call for mass pickets and aroused and mobilized the workers for them.
. As you would expect then, the Nurses Committee, while seeking to maintain its independence from the labor bureaucrats, never fought against them. Instead it capitulated to their pressure. It was only our Party which provided the struggle with its oppositional character directed against the trade union bureaucracy.
. Perhaps this can best be illustrated by the following incident. When the Nurses Committee actually got around to calling a mass picket, after we had initiated the move for it among the workers, the labor bureaucrats were at first furious and they demanded that it be called off. The Nurses Committee waffled, but given the strong sentiment of the workers, and our work, it was impossible to suppress the picket. The labor bureaucrats and the Nurses Committee were forced to concede that the picket would occur. They then tried to confine it to the nurses alone. And on the day of the picket, the bureaucrats, who had at first tried to squash the picket, showed up and muscled the Nurses Committee out of the practical leadership of it. The bureaucrats put their mugs before the cameras to be filmed and their mouths over the microphones to spew forth their line. And the Nurses Committee capitulated to the labor bureaucrats.
. But we organized the labor grades to show up to the picket en masse, together with placards proclaiming the demands of the workers. These were the only placards present with the demands of the workers. The bureaucrats attempted to suppress us, to force us to take down our placards, but the labor grade contingent was too strong and numerous. Only through the effort of our trend, therefore, was a militant and large picket organized which supported clear demands of the workers. And it was organized right in the teeth of the corrupt bureaucrats' attempts to suppress it and the Nurses Committee-Unity Slate capitulation before them.
. Now, it's important to note here that while the Nurses Committee-Unity Slate led this struggle, it was our work -- through a tacit united front -- which was alone responsible for mobilizing the labor grades into it, including the labor grade workers who supported the Unity trend. That is, we mobilized Unity's own supporters against the wishes of the leaders. The Nurses Committee sought to confine the struggle to the nurses and to keep the labor grades out of it, and in a moment I think we'll see more clearly what the significance of that was.
. We concentrated on mobilizing our trend and appealing to their base through our independent activity. Thus, we placed ourselves in the best position to criticize their capitulation to the labor bureaucrats, to attack their sellout when it eventually came, and for this to have the maximum effect upon their own supporters.
. So eventually, this struggle was liquidated, and by a significant means. Unity trend relied upon its intimate ties with the black bourgeois politician Arthur Eve, who came to Roswell Park to conduct a formal investigation into the situation. Such investigations have by now become standard operating procedure when any motion develops at Roswell. Unity Slate convinced the workers to abandon their struggle in favor of appealing to Eve to resolve their difficulties.
. This must remind comrades of the situation several years earlier. The exact same line of appealing to the black bourgeoisie, which then meant to BUILD, was now again being followed, but now the call was to rely on Eve. And it had the same effect of undermining the mass struggle. However, this time the form was slightly different and the sellout occurred on a higher level.
. Needless to say we fought against this liquidation of the struggle. We went to the Eve hearings, and we called on the workers to not rely on Democratic Party politicians but on their own struggle to win their demands. We agitated to continue the struggle. Unfortunately, however, the motion was effectively squashed.
. Within several months, the Eve committee produced a task force report, a report which was supposed to carry through with solving the grievances which the workers had raised to the Eve committee. Now this report ignored the demands of the labor grade workers. The only concrete steps it proposed were the creation of a whole new supervisory strata among the nurses, of a number of straw bosses whose pay scale was raised two steps, and a reorganization of the entire department in order to "solve" the problem of overwork. These steps were eagerly implemented by the Administration. Unity Slate crowed over this great victory which Arthur Eve and they had won for the workers. And they squabbled with the reactionary CSEA bureaucrats over who deserved the most credit for it.
. I think it should now be clearer what the class and social basis of this Unity Slate trend is and why they sought to confine the struggle to the nurses alone and to keep the labor grades out of it. The whole effort was designed to secure some token advances for their strata, and they simply never had any intent to secure the demands of the workers.
. So when this sellout occurred, we explained to the masses that both the labor bureaucrats and the Unity Slate, who are essentially the same thing, deserved credit for the sellout. We issued a leaflet which sharply exposed Arthur Eve's role as a betrayer of the struggle.
. The Unity Slaters went wild against us. They launched into a big argument in defense of Eve at the end of a union meeting, confronting our comrade amongst a large group of black workers. Mr. Eve himself roamed the halls of Roswell Park to demand an accounting from our comrade, which our comrade obligingly gave him. But despite this frenzied attack on us by Eve and the Unity Slate, the masses of workers in the labor grades, including the base of Unity trend, who have always supported Eve, agreed with us. Numbers of them pointedly endorsed our denunciation.
. Since Unity wanted to make such a big stink out of it, we followed up this contradiction with an open letter which we circulated among the most active and the more friendly Unity Slate supporters as well as among the pro-party workers. This letter went into greater detail, and summed up the whole history of the struggle, to drive home the exposure of the social-democrats and Eve. And the Unity Slate could come up with no answer and no response to what we had to say.
. Now I want to emphasize the significance of this denunciation of Eve. It was the view of the unit that at an earlier moment we could not have denounced Eve without isolating ourselves from the base of Unity trend. Unity and Eve would surely have been able to whip up nationalist sentiment to shut off their trend from us. But based on this objective exposure, developed through the mass struggle and the workers' direct experience, we have won the ability to openly criticize and attack Saint Arthur, and our criticism does not fall on deaf ears. It cannot be readily dismissed with nationalist appeals and anti-communism.
. I also want to point out that the fact that we did not polemicize against Eve or the Unity Slate before this did not mean that we weren't always fighting against social-democracy. We found other means to attack the trend. But objectively the tactical question of when we could come out and hit them really hard by name was something that we developed in this manner.
. Of course, there is a great reservoir of good will for Mr. Eve, and large illusions about the black bourgeoisie still exist among the broad masses of black workers at Roswell Park. But through the development of our work, in the struggle against national oppression, in the contention against the black bourgeois nationalist and social-democratic trend at Roswell Park, we have succeeded in maintaining a real trend around the Party, based mainly upon the black workers. And we have succeeded in maintaining excellent relations with the base of Unity trend. And we have the ability to influence them.
. Let me just give one example. In the last trade union election, which was held last year, our comrade ran for the office of first vice president. He ran directly against a Unity Slate candidate. He garnered 160 votes, the largest we've ever won, and he fell 12 short of matching the number which the Unity Slate candidate won.
. Or, take another example. This spring the state government announced its intention of merging Roswell Park and Buffalo General Hospital. This would mean a big loss of jobs for the Roswell Park workers. Against this attack the Party, independently and in the name of the Party, organized a picket outside Roswell Park. This picket was widely endorsed by the masses inside, and we succeeded in drawing out half a dozen workers despite all pressures against it.
. Thus, despite the situation that has prevailed in the past period, and despite the existence of an
antagonistic trend which has mass influence and which is determined to wipe us out, we have
succeeded in maintaining our broad trend at Roswell Park and we are able to influence a wide
section of black workers. <>
Notes -- August 2008
(WAS) The Workers' Advocate, and Workers' Advocate Supplement, which carried additional materials including many of the longer theoretical articles, were publications of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the US. The MLP, which was founded on Jan. 1, 1980 and dissolved in November 1993, stemmed from the anti-revisionist movement of activists who wanted to push forward the mass struggles and root them in the working class, saw Marxism as an essential guide for the revolutionary struggle, and rejected the sell-out reformism of the official pro-Soviet communist parties. It was opposed to both Soviet revisionism and Trotskyism. Its roots went back in the mass movements of the 1960s, such as the anti-racist, anti-war, student, women's, and workers' movements, and the WA itself was published from 1969 to 1993. The cause of anti-revisionist communism is upheld today by the Communist Voice Organization, and the Communist Voice is a theoretical journal which is a successor to the Workers' Advocate. (Return to text)
(Concentration work) Aside from carrying out work in the general left movement, and diverse activities of various types, including theoretical work, each MLP unit focused its work on a definite "material base", generally a workplace, but sometimes a school or a community. This was the "concentration work": through it, the party sought to achieve definite results by carrying out consistent, protracted work with a definite section of people, and to enhance the working class character of the Party.
. The Documents of the Second Congress of the MLP, Fall, 1983 put it as follows: "To carry out its work, Party members are organized into smaller working groups called basic units. . . . . It is a conscious body and maintains its own internal life. . . . . The basic units concentrate their work at factories or other material bases. . . . They form the main link of the Party with the proletariat and other masses." (p. 51 col. 2) And "Among its diverse fronts, the Party centers its attention on the permanent work of building up the organizations of the workers at the factories, mills and other work places. This work affects all others since through it the Party mobilizes and organizes the workers to take their proper place at the center of the various mass movements." (p. 50, col. 2).
. This applied to all basic units proper, comprising almost all basic units. Aside from basic units
proper, there were also one or more units that were either technical units or fractions. Their
number was kept strictly limited, and an MLP branch could not set up such a unit without the
approval of the Central Committee or National Executive Committee. A technical unit gave
priority to certain technical functions, such as helping the CC put out national publications such
as the Workers' Advocate, Workers' Advocate Supplement, and the internal publication called the
Information Bulletin. However, most technical work -- including most research and all work on
local (rather than national) party publications -- was spread over basic units proper, while even
the WA unit carried out concentrated work at certain workplaces. Fractions were basic units
which concentrated their work inside certain mass organizations, such as nationality organization
or trade unions. However, in almost all cases, MLP work done in these organizations was led by basic
units proper, not fractions. For example, basic units proper concentrating their work at a
workplace would carry out work with respect to the appropriate union or unions, and a basic unit
proper working at a school would carry out work with respect to anti-war organization there.
Modified: March 13, 2010.