Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Louie Scrapper

Against Opportunist Tactics in the Labor Movement


Published: Workers Herald, Vol. 1, No. 3, January 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In the struggle against the system of capitalism, there can be no united front with the bourgeoisie. A united front with the bourgeoisie will only lead to class collaboration and will prolong the existing system of wage slavery and intensify exploitation. This is a principle which is accepted by communists and advanced workers.

If we cannot unite or bloc with the bourgeoisie, how is it that some revisionists call for a united front with the bourgeois’ representatives in the workers’ movement, the trade union bureaucracy? In the struggle for socialist revolution and in the struggle against the capitalist offensive, the RPO(ML) will work and fight for a genuine united front of labor. We oppose opportunist tendencies in the workers’ movement which distort and revise the true meaning of the united front of labor.

Historically the communist parties and revolutionary trade union organizations have always fought for and led united fronts of labor. In 1922, Georgi Dimitrov, an outstanding leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party and the Communist International, said,

And it should be stated that in its capitalist offensive against the proletariat the international bourgeoisie acts quite unanimously...

... there is nothing more obvious than the necessity for the proletariat’s appearing fully unanimous and forging its own united front against the united front of the capitalist bourgeoisie for its own preservation above all.

That is precisely why the slogan of a united proletarian front against the offensive of capitalism, put forward by the Communist International is accepted more widely by the working masses in all countries, as the only way out of the present plight for the proletariat. [Dimitrov, The Capitalist Offensive]

Today and historically, there have been revisionist deviations on the united front of labor. These deviations center around an incorrect view of the nature of the trade union bureaucracy, and also how communists must function in a united front. It is an opportunist view which denies the fact that the trade union leadership and bureaucracy, from the international officers down to the local officers, is an extension of the bourgeois state apparatus. The trade unions in the U.S. today are bourgeois unions, with the leadership in the service of the bourgeoisie. This is not a “new” analysis. Dimitrov exposed the nature and character of the birth of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) under the opportunist leadership of Samuel Gompers in this country,

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) founded in 1881, comprising mainly the workers’ aristocracy under a mercenary clique of reactionary leaders, such as Gompers ... who Lenin compared to Zubatov.

Dimitrov further stated that due to

... the unprecedented betrayal of the international trade union movement by its leaders ... the communists and revolutionary trade union movement opposed Gompers and, what is more, considered it their duty to begin an all-out struggle against these flunkeys of the imperialist bourgeoisie.

The facts are that there is a split in the trade union movement in the U.S. Gompers represented the policy of class collaboration. He spread lies that the problems of the proletariat could be worked out “from within the framework of the capitalist system.” He was anti-communist and fought to expel communists and revolutionary trade unionists from the unions. Gompers affiliated the AFL with the opportunist Amsterdam Trade Union Federation. This consolidated the policy of collaborating with the bourgeoisie of one’s own country and opposed the revolutionary goals of the Red International of Trade Unions to abolish the system of capitalism and exploitation. Today, Gompers-type unionism is upheld in every international and local union in the U.S. It is extolled to the sky by those union bureaucrats who have become the watchdogs for capitalism.

Revisionists, such as the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), claim that they reject Gompers unionism and instead support a vague brand of “progressive” trade union leaders. The Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy (TUAD – a trade union opposition of the revisionist CPUSA) states in its newsletter, “Labor Today seeks to unite the labor movement from the top to the bottom, leaders and rank and file, in a struggle to defend our unions.”[1] The TUAD represents a most devious form of united front between trade union chieftains and militants based on class collaboration. Although many “leftists” have formally declared their opposition to the revisionist CPUSA and TUAD, in practice they fall right in behind it because of their ignorance on the question of the trade union bureaucracy and building the united front of labor. The TUAD’s principles result in out-right class collaboration because we cannot “unite the labor movement from top to bottom, leaders and rank and file.” The genuine united front of labor is built only on the basis of a united front from below, based on class struggle. The essence of TUAD’s line is that there are “progressive” bureaucrats in the trade union apparatus. This view is also held by the revisionist Communist Labor Party (CLP) and the Equal Rights Congress (ERC). Let us examine who these “progressive” leaders are who the revisionists are promoting: The TUAD paraded Richard Hatcher, the bourgeois mayor of Gary, Indiana, to greet their membership conference in June of this year. They support the “progressive” president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), Doug Fraser, who now sits on the Board of Directors of the Chrysler Corporation. Then there is William Winpisinger, president of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) who is leading a movement to stifle rank and file action inside the union movement.[2] The bureaucracy of the entire American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) is known to be anti-democratic, crushing debate and criticism internally, yet is labeled a “progressive” union by the revisionists.

These so-called “progressives” are in fact no different than the reactionary, fascist and gangster unionists who we commonly think of in the Teamsters (IBT) or Laborers International Union. The revisionists cling to these “progressives” and distinguish them from the reactionaries because of their demagoguery. They enslave and sabotage the workers’ movement with sugar-coated phraseology. The Communist International stated,

Only right opportunists could fail to see that the main feature in the tactics of the reformist trade union bureaucrats, when carrying out these “left” maneuvers, including the declaration of individual strikes, is to guarantee such a position for themselves as will enable them to strangle the militant actions of the masses. [Communist International, Vol. IX, No. 19]

These so-called progressives enjoy special privileges, higher pay, easy office jobs in the bureaucracy staff and in the plants. Socialist revolution would strip these bureaucrats of their privileges and therefore they fight ardently against communism. They have collaborated with the bourgeois class and are following the bourgeoisie’s exact instructions as to how to sabotage the rank and file fight against the capitalist offensive. These “progressive” bureaucrats have capitulated on every issue from wage restraints (i.e., signing the National Accord between the Carter Administration and the AFL-CIO); accepting massive layoffs and SUB pay cuts (USWA bureaucrats have claimed that this “is no big deal”[3]); job combinations and speed-ups; reducing the minimum wage and slashing CETA funds; accepting reactionary changes in labor law reform bills, such as gutting OSHA; supporting imperialist war preparations; and refusing to fight against national and sex discrimination. These labor bureaucrats will not fight for any economic or political demands which face the working class because they have called for a “partnership with industry.”[4]

If there were to be a united front with the trade union bureaucracy, it would have to be based on a class struggle position against the capitalist offensive. There could be no unity with the policies and program of the bourgeois. Because of the character of the trade union bureaucracy, such a united front is not possible under the present conditions.

A brief look at some of the workers’ struggles today shows how opportunist and bankrupt the “progressive” trade union leaders are, and reaffirms the need for the proletariat to take up independent class struggle under the leadership of the communists and revolutionary trade union opposition.


At U.S. Steel South Works plant in Chicago, Illinois, the revisionists rallied behind Alice Peraula who was elected president of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 65. Thinking that they could “control” Peraula, they formed a united front with her. Immediately upon her election victory, Peraula condemned the communists and revolutionaries that worked for her election and pursued a policy of “class peace.” Further, she called for “national planning” and “nationalization” of the steel industry under the bourgeois state which would only lead to further and more intense exploitation of the working class.[5] There can be no basis for united front work where the ultimate aims of the proletariat are compromised. Many revisionist parties still refer to Peraula as a “progressive!”


In Laurel, Mississippi, earlier this year, an unprincipled “united front” was formed to “aid” the Sanderson Farm strikers. A march for “dignity and justice,” was staged, allegedly in behalf of the Black and white women poultry workers who have been striking Sanderson Farms for two years now. The “progressive” union bureaucrats who orchestrated the Laurel march were the leadership of the International Chemical Workers Union (ICWU). The State AFL-CIO leadership refused to endorse the march. The revisionists used this fact as a major excuse for their blocs with these newly found “progressives.” The ICWU has continually restricted the correct motion of the striking poultry workers to shut down the plant, and instructed pickets to allow scabs to cross the picket lines. Further, they have refused to broaden the struggle to other plants, especially two other Sanderson Farms locations, one of which is already organized by the Amalgamated Meatcutters Union. The ICWU bureaucrats have sabotaged the strike efforts. In fact, it is the ICWU that waited fifteen months before it brought national attention to this most outrageous situation where poultry workers were not even allowed to use the bathroom on company time. However, the revisionist CPUSA, CLP, CP(ML), LRS, and opportunists such as the ERC joined solid ranks with these bureaucrats and followed and supported their lead. The revisionists have even gone so far as to staff the ICWU offices. The revisionists have called for complete collaboration with the reactionary ICWU leaders and not maintained their independence and communist duty to criticize the ICWU’s betrayal inside of this “united front.”

This is the result of uniting with the “leaders from the top to bottom.” A united front from below with the striking poultry workers themselves, led by real communists would have insured there would have been a militant strike based on sound tactics. The ICWU’s scheme for a national march was only to further the individual careers of these bureaucrats in the union, not the immediate or long term interests of the striking workers against Sanderson Farms.


Revisionists have similarly called for the support and united front with the “progressive leaders” of the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) in the J.P. Stevens organizing campaign in the textile mills of the South. The struggle of the J.P. Stevens textile workers has spanned several decades and has been restricted to legalism and boycotts at every step of the way by the ACTWU bureaucrats. They have stopped the rank and file from carrying out strikes and have told them to await the final decisions of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). On October 19, 1980, the ACTWU and J.P. Stevens signed a sweetheart contract which brings the wages of ten J.P. Stevens mills up to the level of the other non-union plants. The contract formally gives the ACTWU union recognition. Brazenly, J.P. Stevens vowed to fight the union at every turn and keep its other mills non-union. The ACTWU hailed this as a victory, informed its membership that it had “won,” and immediately ceased its milquetoast national “Boycott J.P. Stevens” campaign.[6] This was only a minor concession for the textile workers but the reactionary ACTWU leaders have forced the rank and file to accept this as the end of the struggle. During the course of this campaign, virtually all revisionist organizations flirted with the ACTWU bureaucracy and joined ranks with them, not the rank and file, in united front actions.


The USWA was sued by Brian Weber, a white steel-worker union member in Louisiana, under the racist premise of “reverse discrimination.” Many opportunists entered into united fronts with the USWA and completely lost their independence. The Trotskyist SWP and revisionist CPUSA advanced the slogan, “Support the struggle of the unions against racism and discrimination,” which promotes a reactionary lie because in fact there is systemic discrimination against national minorities and women inside the USWA. The USWA sabotaged the “Reverse Weber” movement and assisted Weber. Weber addressed the USWA national convention in Atlantic City, which was dominated by the USWA bureaucrats, and received a standing ovation. He still holds rank as a committeeman inside the union. The reactionary USWA bureaucrats never rallied the rank and file (white and Black) against the Weber suit, or bothered to inform Blacks at the Kaiser plant that they had a right to intervene and offer testimony against Kaiser’s discriminatory practices and Weber’s racist position. The fact is that had it not been for a small group of rank and file workers who intervened independent of the USWA bureaucrats, Weber may have won his suit, and anti-discrimination programs would have been slashed. Throughout the AFL-CIO bureaucracy and amongst the revisionists, the USWA has been applauded for “fighting against discrimination.” The facts prove otherwise.


The Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) is another “opposition” formation, mainly made up of local bureaucrats who are temporarily in struggle against the current tyrannical reign of IBT president Frank Fitzsimmons. While the bulk of the TDU membership clearly stands for democracy and the policy of class struggle, the leadership of the TDU has intentionally confined the struggle of the TDU to reformist class collaboration with the bourgeoisie.

Article 13 of the TDU Constitution states, “TDU shall remain independent of any particular organization,” while, in fact, the TDU is an arm of the bourgeois Democratic Party. As militant as TDU appears to be on some economic issues, they are equally militant when they attack other sections of the working class such as “casuals and parttimers,” who are “on the increase, robbing us of steady jobs.”[7] To attack the casuals and parttime workers takes the burden off of the capitalists who promote these lies to divide the workers and pit worker against worker. TDU leaders are renegade bureaucrats struggling for union power on a reformist ticket. Under the present conditions there are very few possibilities where any united front activity could be developed with TDU leaders which would further the aims of the proletarian class struggle.


William Winpisinger is the president of the IAM. He, along with Doug Fraser, UAW president, are the bulwarks of a new reformist movement for a new “Labor Party,” or “Left-Center Coalition.” Winpisinger led a “walkout” against Carter at the Democratic Convention this year. Any genuine communist or advanced worker knows that the bourgeoisie uses a combination of tactics to maintain its rule of exploitation over the proletariat. Outside of the union bureaucracy, the “Right-to-Work” movement reveals the capitalists’ real interest to crush the union movement. Frank Fitzsimmons’ and the IBT bureaucracy’s open endorsement of Reagan is another tactic to (mis)lead the workers down a path of fascist reaction. And the Winpisinger “Labor Party” is another tactic which has been developed under the guise of “class war” to douse the flames of discontent which are spreading in the workers’ movement. The liberal bourgeoisie promotes Winpisinger in the hopes that he can lead a decidely reformist movement of workers and contain the fight of the working class to struggle within the framework of the capitalist system. Which brings us right back to Gompers unionism. There can be no united front of labor with these social-democratic opportunists. Yet the revisionists have capitulated to this scheme and refused to build a genuine front of labor from below based on class struggle. They have aligned themselves with the liberals who use “progressive” phrase-mongering but in essence offer the same program as the openly reactionary bureaucrats.

Principles Of The United Front Of Labor

Under the present conditions, in order to fight against the capitalist offensive, there are several principles which all communists and revolutionary trade unionists must adhere to in order to build a genuine united front of labor:

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1. The united front of labor must be based on class struggle.

It must be based on a program and policy of fighting the bourgeois class enemy. A. Losovsky, leader of the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU) explains this in the RILL) Program of Action.

A united front is always desired by revolutionary workers, but it cannot be created on the grounds of class collaborationism. And as long as the union leaders persist in their views, unity cannot be achieved, since not a single revolutionary worker would agree to this type of unity. We are working towards a united front based only on class struggle, based upon resistance to the bourgeoisie.

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2. The united front of labor must be built from below by the rank and file of labor.

Under the present conditions, there can be no basis for a’ united front from above, blocing with the present leadership of the trade union bureaucracy. Rather, a genuine united front consists of workers of all views, communist and non-communist, who unite in joint struggle against the capitalist offensive. The Communist International stated that:

The ways and methods of surmounting this chief hindrance to the development of the struggle of the masses, are the organization of this struggle by the extensive and consistent operation of the tactic of the united front from below ... [Revolutionary united Front]

A. Losovsky further elaborates:

Before creating one workers’ front, before considering the fusion of all the organizations into a single fighting force, it is necessary to create a single united front of all the revolutionary forces. [Revolutionary United Front]

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3. The united front from below will split the working class movement ideologically, politically and organizationally from the reactionary union bureaucracy.

Until this split occurs, the revolutionary aspirations of the proletarian struggle for socialism will be retarded. The Communist International was very clear on this question:

The degree to which the illusions of the reformist workers are dispersed concerning bourgeois democracy, concerning the role of their leaders, depends, to a tremendous extent, onto which the leading role of the revolutionary organizations has been confirmed in these fights, and the firm line of principle carried out by them. An opportunist obliteration of differences of principle when operating the tactic of the united front (Resolution of the Plenum) can be of benefit only to the reformist trade union bureaucrats. [Revolutionary United Front]

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4. The united front of labor must carry out militant mass actions and protest against the capitalist offensive.

The main weapons are strikes and slowdowns against the capitalists. These mass actions must be based on the initiative of the rank and file independent of the leadership of the bureaucrats. These activities should include all-sided action on every front to further expose the class collaborationist policies of the reactionary trade union bureaucracy. All-sided action on every issue that affects the interests of the proletariat will strengthen the united front of labor. This independent action must be based on a class struggle position on all issues, defending the economic and political interests of the working class. The Communist International explained,

The development of the economic fight is of special importance at the present time, for the very reason that, as the experience of the recent period entirely shows, it ’brings the workers into conflicts’ with all the forces of the bourgeoisie and their state apparatus, with social-democracy and the reformist trade union bureaucracy, and makes it possible and necessary to revolutionize their struggle for everyday demands more than ever before, to raise them to higher and higher stages, to convert them into a direct political struggle against the capitalist system itself. [Revolutionary United Front]

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5. The united front of labor must be anti-capitalist and call for the abolition of the wage system.

The industrial unions were built upon this premise in this country. It is due to class collaboration that this political struggle has been reduced to one of reforms.

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6. The focus of agitation must be against the capitalist government (i.e., Federal Government, courts, police, Department of Labor, Unemployment Compensation and Social Security, etc.) primarily; agitation must focus against the capitalists themselves (i.e., employers, Industrial councils, Roundtables, Chambers of Commerce, credit unions, banking and finance institutions, etc.); agitation must be aimed at the trade union bureaucracy.

Real gains will never be made in the workers’ movement until we isolate and destroy the influence of the trade union bureaucracy. Any attempts to mince words with the bureaucrats or unite with them will only lead to confusion and present temporary illusions that somehow there is an easy or peaceful way out of the capitalist crisis. This will only prolong the ability of the reactionary bureaucrats to mislead the workers’ movement. The Communist International declared:

To prepare the masses for the decisive fight means above all, to tear them away from the influence of social-democracy and reformist trade union bureaucrats – the chief bulwark of the bourgeoisie. [Revolutionary United Front]

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7. The united front of labor must maintain the freedom and duty of communists to agitate and propagate for our full program.

The united front of labor is based upon joint work. It must have the conscious leadership of the communists. The Communist International stressed the importance and decisiveness of communist leadership:

The revolutionary operation of the tactic of the united front includes, as an inseparable part, the confirmation of the leading role of the Communist Parties and the evolutionary trade union movement in the course of the struggle. [Revolutionary United Front]

During the coming period, as the intensification of the economic crisis deepens, we will see that the trade union bureaucrats are taking up more sophisticated tactics to mislead the workers’ movement. As the economic crisis is getting worse, the trade union bureaucrats will be forced to lead strikes and wage struggles with an air of militancy in order to attempt to pacify the discontent of the rank and file. They will lead more strikes in order to gain more flexibility in their leadership over the masses. They will lead these strikes in order to further their own careers.

Their leadership will result in sabotage as sweetheart contracts and other concessions are made. The February, 1981 UMWA strike is a predictable situation where the bureaucrats will implement this tactic. The OCAW national strike earlier in 1980 is also a perfect example.[8] Communists must work out proper forms of struggle to unmask these treacherous maneuvers, or we will end up unprepared and tailing or siding with the bureaucrats in the long run. The Communist International sums this up perfectly:

In the face of the tremendous unrest, and the growth of the militant sentiments of the masses, the social-fascist leaders are adapting the most expert manoeuvres to keep the masses under their influence. They are not only increasing their ’Socialist’ phraseology, but they are leading given strikes, for the purpose of blunting their edge, which is directed against the whole capitalist system, and they even declare one day general strikes. The social-fascists clearly understand that they can only fulfill their role as the chief social-bulwark of the bourgeoisie, when they have considerable proletarian masses with them. This is the reason they now select those forms and methods of wrecking the struggle of the working class, which will hide the treachery of these leaders, as far as possible, from the masses. [Revolutionary United Front]


In building revolutionary opposition movements through the use of the united front of labor, communists and revolutionary trade unionists must have no illusions about the nature of the struggle. The bourgeoisie will unleash its goons, vigilantes and Klansmen from amongst the bureaucracy and labor aristocracy. The bureaucrats will obey their orders to attack any serious revolutionary opposition from the rank and file. Executions and assassinations have been a common form of struggle by the bureaucrats in the Teamsters and UMWA unions.[9] We must be clear that we will counter all fascist-reactionary terror with the revolutionary terror of the masses.

In our efforts to build the revolutionary trade union movement in this country we have come across many well-meaning comrades who say on the one hand they recognize the reactionary nature of the trade union bureaucracy as an extension of the state apparatus. Yet they continue to form united fronts with these bureaucrats, and enter into blocs where they lose their independence and fear criticizing the maneuvers of the bureaucrats. They objectively end up tailing the bureaucrats and add longevity to their treacherous rule over the working class movement. Other comrades say they agree with our written views on this question but find our practice to be “left sectarian” because we do in fact struggle ardently to expose these bureaucrats and isolate them from the workers’ movement. The RPO(ML) has entered into specific united fronts of labor to implement our line.[10]

It must be acknowledged that to continue to support these bureaucrats, to enter into unprincipled alliances and united fronts with them, and make excuses and apologies afterwards is only opportunism. This is the main danger of the work in the workers movement today. It is in the struggle against this form of right opportunism that the RPO(ML) and our work in the revolutionary trade union movement has been forged.


[1] Labor Today, Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy (TUAD), Vol. 17, No. 2, February, 1978, p. 2.

[2] In the petty bourgeois radical magazine Mother Jones (who are always easily deceived by the trade union bureaucrats), Winpisinger is quoted as responding to a rank and filers dissident members complaints about corruption and class collaboration inside the unions, “Why don’t you just quit?” August 1980, “Six Way to Take Over a Union,” by Ed Barnes and Bob Windrem.

[3] USWA local bureaucrat Davis, in response to why the USWA has not taken to the streets in protest as did one opposition group of unemployed steelworkers. Birmingham, Alabama, Local 1013, October, 1980.

[4] AFL-CIO News. September, 1980, p. 1.

[5] Local 65 News, USWA Local 65, “President’s Report,” by Alice Peurala, September, 1980, p. 3.

[6] Labor Unity. November, 1980.

[7] Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) Constitution, “A Cause Worth Truckin’ For!” Resolution 1, “Jobs and Casuals,” p. 4.

[8] After more than six months into the strike, a local OCAW leader in Chalmette, Louisiana took his little motor boat into the Mississippi River, as if he were trying to stop port deliveries at the Tenneco Oil Refinery. This resulted in his arrest, but did not vindicate the actions of the bureaucracy for sabotaging the entire strike effort.

[9] The home of TDU organizer was bombed in Detroit in 1980. The Yoblanski murders by the faction of the UMWA were committed in the 1970’s.

[10] We oppose any “left” sectarian views which oppose conducting any united front work at all. This “left” view holds that the trade unions are so reactionary that we must refrain from any mass actions inside the unions. By isolating the militant and advanced workers from the masses, this “Left” position plays right into the hands of the class collaborationists.


1. Communist International. “The End of the Stabilization of Capitalism and the Economic Struggles,” (On the results of the XII Plenum of the E.C.C.I.), Vol. IX, No. 19, p. 639.

2. Dimitrov, Georgi. “The United Workers Front,” p. 118; “Which Way,” p. 123; “The United Front and the Offensive of Capital,” p. 127; “The United Front and Bourgeois Reaction,” p. 131; “The United Front and the Political Crisis,” p. 135; “Fear of a United Front,” p. 138; “United Front or Class Collaboration,” p. 142; “United Front or Political Speculation,” p. 146; “The Capitalist Offensive,” p. 112; Selected Works, Volume I, Bulgaria: Sofia Press, 1972.

3. Kota, Filip. Two Opposing Lines in the World Trade Union Movement.

4. Losovsky, A. Program of Action of the Red International of Labor Unions. Quebec: Red Flag Publications, 1972, p. 68.