The Jung Sai strike of 135 workers, mainly women, took place in San Francisco’s Chinatown from July 15, 1974 to the Spring of 1975. It was a very significant struggle that attracted notice throughout the Bay Area and because of coverage in various left publications, has attracted even some national attention.
The strike is a heroic part of the evergrowing development of the workers’ and national movements in this country. While the demands originally raised by the Jung Sai workers were not won, the example of the determined and fighting workers of Jung Sai will never be forgotten. They faced great obstacles, not only from their vicious employer, but also from forces which were supposedly supporting them.
The following report is our attempt to summarize the strike and our participation and that of other political forces in it. In particular we hope this evaluation will add to the understanding of the R.U.’s unprincipledness and right opportunism.
The struggle of the Great Chinese American Sewing Co. (Jung Sai) workers for job security, better working conditions, higher wages and unionization is a struggle that the working class has waged since capitalism first developed. In that sense, the Jung Sai strike was part of the overall struggle of the working class against capitalist exploitation. In particular, the Jung Sai strike was part of the wave of Third World workers struggles that have takenplace recently in the U.S. These struggles, in addition to being part of the general working class struggle, are also part of the increasing struggles of Third World people against national oppression. It was in this context that we saw political significance of the Jung Sai strike – the strike was part of the struggle of the working class in general and particularly it was a part of the struggle against national oppression of Chinese laboring people in the U.S., and hit in particular at the super-exploitation of Chinese garment workers.
The garment industry in the U.S. has historically based itself on the cheap, non-union labor of immigrant and Third World women workers. In the Chinese community in San Francisco the garment industry takes the particular form of the contract shop. These are small shops run by petit-bourgeois Chinese who, because they must bid for work, are themselves oppressed by the large manufacturers (who look for the lowest bid with the fastest and highest quality work). This contract system enables the manufacturers to maximize their profits but the effect on Chinese garment workers is a highly unstable, oppressive situation: wages and working conditions rarely meet the federal standards, the work day is often 10-12 hours long, and the threat of layoff is constant. The instability of the contract shops helps keep the Chinatown work force isolated and dis-unified. In SF Chinatown, fewer than 60 of the 300 shops are unionized. Of those union shops many do not abide by the union contracts.
The denial of unionization to Chinese workers is one way in which national oppression is maintained. Without even the basic protection and benefits offered by union contracts, Chinese workers are even more super-exploited. Super-exploitation is an integral part of imperialist society and can be eliminated only with the overthrow of the imperialist system.
The garment manufacturers in San Francisco recognize the nonunion situation in Chinatown and have exploited Chinese garment workers for this reason. Esprit de Corp is one of these manufacturers.
Esprit de Corp is a medium sized garment company manufacturing young women oriented sportswear that sell from $20 to $40 per garment. Esprit de Corp is classified as a “jobber,” i.e. production is contracted out rather than sewn within the company itself. Esprit de Corp uses, besides Jung Sai, a subsidiary, over 20 contract shops in San Francisco Chinatown, another 25 odd shops in the Bay Area, (including Oakland Chinatown), and another “subsidiary” in the Mission district. The company also contracts work to Sacramento, New York, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and India. The company had projected $12 million in sales for the year 1974, and has an ’A’ credit rating (no debts or liabilities), in an industry where ’B’ is considered excellent and ’C’ good.
Esprit de Corp is owned by Doug Tompkins, a young (31) “hip” capitalist who designed his main plant with a greenhouse, piped in rock music, a trampoline, and blow-ups of the workers on the walls. The plant houses the company executives, the designers, and some office workers (mostly young with some Asian). The easy going atmosphere is in sharp contrast to the contract shops and to Jung Sai as well as to the conditions of the 50 or so Chinese cutters who work in the basement of the main plant.
Tompkins, who fancies himself a liberal (claiming support for the farmworkers) is a shrewd and successful capitalist who is interested solely in increasing his profits. His lawyer is a top union busting lawyer and Tompkins himself was to employ every standard measure known in an attempt to smash the unionization drive at Jung Sai.
Jung Sai was not a typical sewing factory in that it was not a contract shop; rather it was directly owned by the manufacturer, Esprit de Corp. Accordingly, Jung Sai was also a relatively large plant (125-150 workers depending on the season) and production was more highly socialized, i.e. rather than one seamstress sewing the entire garment, as is typical in the contract shops, each seamstress sewed only a particular part of the garment.
But while not typical in its relation to the manufacturer and in its method of production, the working conditions at Jung Sai were certainly typical of most contract shops in Chinatown. At the time of the strike the workers barely made $2 an hour, a wage level held by a constant lowering of the piece work rates. Workers were promised health insurance and sick leave but never received them. The work day was often 10 hours with no overtime pay; (women would punch out at the end of 8 hours and then return to their machines and work another hour or two). Pressure to produce was extremely intense: workers were only allowed to go to the bathroom during the two ten minute breaks; (the company “rationed” 2 rolls of toilet paper per day for 135 workers). The hated floor ladies kept the workers under constant harassment and surveillance. To the Jung Sai workers, the conditions at Jung Sai were not unlike those at other Chinatown sweatshops.
The direct relationship to the manufacturer and therefore the absence of the Chinese “middle” boss, the more highly socialized character of production, and the relatively large size of the plant led to a relatively quick development of the “trade” union consciousness among the Jung Sai workers. Their consciousness of the need to organize was both a trade union consciousness that arose spontaneously from their oppressive working conditions and a consciousness of the fact that they were oppressed as Chinese people.
Jung Sai was opened in 1971 and in 1972, almost 2 years prior to the strike, the workers first attempted to organize themselves into a union in order to better the terms of sale of their labor power and to improve their general working conditions.
This attempt failed when not enough pledge cards were signed. Another attempt was made and was more successful, but because it was done openly, the floor lady found out and told the manager who then threatened the workers into withdrawing their pledge cards. The workers learned from their mistake and the third time they succeeded in secretly getting 90 out of 135 workers to sign pledge cards. When the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) contacted the management to negotiate a contract, one of the workers who was instrumental in organizing the other workers was fired for “incompetence”; (this was after having done the same job for 2 years). It was obvious that he had been fired for his organizing activities and, on the union’s suggestion, the Jung Sai workers went On strike to protest these unfair management practices.
For most of the Jung Sai workers the Jung Sai strike was the first strike they had ever participated in. Their general inexperience in strike situations, coupled with the inexperience of the communist forces, was one of the key factors contributing to the inability of the workers to pull together and provide some leadership to the strike. Initially, they had little understanding of what going on strike would mean. Many, swept up in the militant spirit of the struggle, thought that the strike would last a few days, perhaps a few weeks before the management would settle. Some had illusions that the management would settle out of kindness. The active forces among the workers had little understanding of what it meant to provide leadership in the strike and were not able to work to rally the wide support of the rest of the workers. The inexperience of the workers in developing strategies and fighting a sustained battle against a capitalist boss with more resources left the Jung Sai workers open to the manipulation of opportunist forces such as the ILGWU leadership and the Revolutionary Union.
The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) AFL-CIO is the largest garment union in the U.S. Like most unions, it had a militant formation and early history, while today it stands as a particularly reactionary trade union. At one time all the socialists and communists were thrown out of the ILGWU. In recent years it has been most well known for its imperialist response to the problem of run-away shops, i.e., its “Buy America” campaign.
As stated earlier, only 60 out of 300 San Francisco Chinatown shops are unionized. The ILGWU’s stated strategy for unionization of the industry is to organize the manufacturers. It has no objection to the existence of the “Jobbers” and contract system, the main way in which the super-exploitation of the Chinese garment workers is institutionalized. At one point under influence by communists in the union the ILGWU had a Chinatown local and office (1930’s), at which time most of the Chinatown shops that are unionized were organized. The local no longer exists, and the ILGWU has made no apparent attempt since then to organize in Chinatown.
The S.F. branch of the ILGWU is a very small operation relative to the number of members it has (around 3,000). It is staffed only by a manager (Mattie Jackson), an assistant manager (Larry Migron), one organizer and a handful of business agents.
The union leadership apparently viewed the Jung Sai strike as .a possible means of organizing the other Chinatown shops. Since this would be in their interests (if only for more dues money), they initially put a lot of time and money into the struggle. Although there were differences among the different union leaders as to how they viewed carrying out the strike, the leadership overall was characterized by their vacillation and increasing compromising with the boss. Thus as the struggle became more complicated and it became clear that it would be a protracted strike, the union leadership began looking for an easy way out.
Another factor in the strike was the general political situation in Chinatown today.
The contemporary movement in Chinatown has grown and developed since the “serve the people” programs of the 1960’s. The Jung Sai strike was part of a growing number of Chinese workers’ struggles in Chinatown – struggles which mark a developing class consciousness within the mass movement in Chinatown. This consciousness has reached the level of understanding the need to struggle against the exploitation that Chinese people face often both as workers and as members of an oppressed nationality, and an understanding that unity is an important aspect of struggle. But in order to carry on the struggle and advance the movement, more than this spontaneously developed understanding is needed. The conscious leadership of Marxist-Leninists to direct the movement, has become essential if the movement is to advance beyond the present stage. For this reason, the struggle for a correct line which will advance the movement has sharpened among the left forces is Chinatown. This struggle was reflected throughout the Jung Sai strike in the struggle between the RU-WMS forces and ourselves. The outcome of the strike was also a reflection of the destructiveness of the incorrect right opportunist line of the RU-WMS.
The Revolutionary Union describes itself as a “multi-national communist organization” while Wei Min She is the RU’s Asian anti-imperialist organization. We describe the RU’s work as opportunist, for just as with the union, the RU-WMS placed its own narrow organizational interests above the task of developing the unity, fighting ability and consciousness of the workers Behind the mask of “communist” the RU actually was little different than the union and competed with it, both employing unprincipled and damaging tactics.
The “revolutionary” work of the RU within Jung Sai amounted to militant trade unionism. Their work consisted of taking the workers around to liberal politicians and placing primary emphasis on the bourgeois media to play up the issue. Also, they relied on themselves and their petit-bourgeois contacts to do all the legal work concerning the strike, getting the workers unemployment insurance and food stamps; and essentially all the work as a replacement for the workers struggling to deal with the political questions of the strike and engaging in the struggle with the union leadership to carry out different things.
The whole approach of the RU was to provide these services to the workers – using their resources and contacts to swamp the workers and basically carry on the struggle for the workers. The RU consistently saw themselves and their contacts as the key factor in the strike. Thus, for example, in the later months of the strike they distributed leaflets on the UC Berkeley campus which read:
The union, Esprit de Corp and Mike Kozak (new owner of Jung Sai) are stalling and collaborating with each other. Nothing is happening at this time. We’ve got to pick up the action.
By making this whole outlook their starting point, the RU stunted any initiative on the part of the workers, hurt their ability to struggle and created a situation of dependence on the RU.
What this amounted to was the perspective of a trade unionist. Never is it the role of the trade union, leadership to place the primary attention to building the strength and political consciousness of the workers. These leaders have other class interests and are not communists. Also, they always create a false dependence of the workers upon the union leadership to win a strike. Similarly, the RU sees themselves winning the strike, creating a false dependence on them and do not place their attention to the strengthening of the workers.
It is stemming from the RU’s trade unionist politics and approach to the strike that led them to set up a Support Committee to carry out this work, in opposition to and in competition with the ILGWU. By trying to get the workers to depend on the RU, they found it necessary to control and dominate the Support Committee (for example, packing the meetings with their own members and outvoting the workers).
The RU’s work was one of trade union activity which hurt and held back not only the strike itself, but also the development of the workers. Any unity the RU built with the workers was not political unity under communist leadership, but only trade union-type unity over bread and butter issues.
Communist leadership is not one of competing with the trade union leadership to provide services to the workers and winning the strike for them; but rather of uniting with the workers and planning a course of action, relying primarily on the initiative and strength of the workers. As communists our task is to do our work within the strike to build the political consciousness, unity and strength of the workers. To develop their political understanding beyond the economic struggle. To train communist fighters – that must be the main focus of our work.
In line with their trade union work in the strike was the RU-WMS liquidation of the national question. They, along with the trade union bureaucrats, in effect deserted the cause of the oppressed nationalities by negating the super-exploitation of the Jung Sai workers, which is part of a historic system of national oppression. Super-exploitation has been the economic basis for the huge super-profits of the monopoly capitalists and their lackeys.
The RU-WMS liquidation of the national question manifested itself in a variety of ways. Many of their leaflets, for example, omitted any explanation of the special oppression of Chinese arising out of years of super-exploitation and other forms of national oppression. Only after struggle with the RU did they even include in their literature the fact that the struggle concerned Chinese people. During the writing of a leaflet directed to Teamster drivers, the RU refused to raise the national question for fear of “alienating” the white drivers. They wrote about the Jung Sai strike only from a “common economic basis” – the Jung Sai strike was just another fight in the struggle against inflations, etc. To the RU, the fight against national oppression is not in the common interest of the working class.
Among the workers themselves, the RU struggled every step of the way to oppose the national sentiment on the part of the workers. The practical result was that the RU actually saw this consciousness as backwardness among the workers.
I’m not striking just for a few more dollars; that doesn’t matter so much to me. What I’m really fighting for is the rights of all Chinese in America; so our people can stand up, so my grandchildren will not have to suffer the same oppression and discrimination.
The above statement was made by one of the Jung Sai strikers early in the strike and is an example of the developing political consciousness among the workers arising out of both the national and class oppression which they faced.
For example, when picketting outside the Esprit deCorp plant which hires many Chinese workers, the Jung Sai workers wanted to win the support of the Chinese workers in the plant. They felt that the common bond of national oppression, and knowing that their struggle is the same, it was important to win their sympathy and support for the strike. Thus the Jung Sai workers began to chant in Chinese (the only language most of them knew) to the Chinese workers inside the plant: “Chinese people unite!” In the context of this situation the chant was obviously progressive and potentially effective. The RU, however, began to immediately counter-chant “Workers unite!”, trying to drown out the workers’ original chant. Obviously there is nothing wrong with the slogan “Workers unite!”, but to pit that slogan against the slogan “Chinese people unite!” is a reflection of the RU’s general error of pitting the national struggle against the labor struggle, which liquidates the national question as an extremely important part of the class struggle of the proletariat.
Because the RU would never acknowledge any progressive aspects of the national sentiment on the part of the workers (and in fact they saw it as backwards and something to be opposed), they could never understand how to unite with this sentiment and raise it to the level of comprehending the contradiction between the Chinese national minority and the monopoly capitalist class.
Thus because they did not recognize the importance of unionization in the struggle of Chinese people against national oppression, and because of their sectarian competition with the union, the RU-WMS fanned up anti-union sentiments among the workers. These sentiments were rooted in the historical exclusion of Chinese from American trade unions and in a narrow nationalist distrust of the non-Chinese union leaders and members.
Instead of struggling to bring out the progressive aspects of the workers* nationalism by placing unionization within the context of the struggle of the Chinese people against national oppression and as a necessary first step in the development of the organization of the working class, the RU-WMS fostered the workers’ anti-union feelings by nurturing their anti-union sentiment.
Another way in which the RU liquidated the national question was through the formulation of their theory that Jung Sai was a “struggle of immigrant workers”, separating the oppression of the Jung Sai workers from the national oppression suffered by Chinese workers of all backgrounds and generations. By formulating the question as one of “immigrant workers”, they perpetuate the myths of the ruling class that it is merely language and/or cultural barriers, not an historic system of national oppression that have kept the immigrant, segment of Chinese people from winning full equality. This attitude is dangerous, for it engenders splits among the Chinese national minority between immigrant and American-born to fight for full political equality.
The line of “immigrant workers” and how in fact it hurts the struggle of the Chinese people can be seen in their work in the support committee. They united with mainly Chinese petty-bourgeois elements on the basis of their jointly giving leadership to the struggle of these oppressed “immigrant workers”. Support was not built through the conscious understanding that the victory of the Jung Sai workers would mean a victory for the entire Chinese national minority in its common fight against national oppression. RU’s line perpetuated a chauvinist and patronizing attitude toward immigrants that many honest middle forces spontaneously uphold and their misconception that integration is the answer to national oppression.
The concrete actions of the RU-WMS in the strike also gave credibility to the bourgeoisie’s characterization of communists: they come into a struggle, manipulate people, and resort to slandering those who disagree. The RU-WMS did much to spread this anti-communism among the workers and in the Chinatown community.
For ourselves, we feel that we gained a great deal from our participation in the Jung Sai strike. We have deepened our understanding of the role of conscious elements in spontaneous struggles, of the importance of putting politics in command, and of the way to deal with opportunism in the working class movement. Although we were inexperienced in strike situations, we feel we were able to make positive contributions to the strike.
We participated in the day to day concrete work of picketing, rallies, leafletting, news releases, and articles, hut even the RU-WMS contributed in this area. The qualitative difference between our contribution and theirs was in the realm of politics.
Although we need to deepen our understanding of how to link up our work against national oppression to the struggle against workers’ oppression we did more than any other group to bring out and establish the political relevance of the national question to the Jung Sai strike.
We feel another important contribution we made throughout the strike was our consistent work to maintain, build and strengthen the unity and consciousness of the strikers. Even before the strike, there existed various contradictions among the workers (such as some being cultivated by the floor ladies and therefore getting the best work). As the strike wore on new contradictions arose. But none of the contradictions was of an unresolvable nature. Our approach towards resolving them was to constantly point out the non-antagonistic nature of the contradictions among the workers and to encourage the workers to resolve them through principled struggle.
We also encouraged the workers to meet regularly with the union representatives so that they could collectively struggle with the union leadership and force them to fight for the workers interests. In this way they could strengthen their ability to struggle against opportunism in the form of trade union misleadership. We felt that this was an important point because the struggle against the union leadership must take place both from within and from without. In particular the RU did much to discourage the workers from meeting with the union leadership (and even attacked the workers for doing so), but we felt that meeting with the union, leadership was one important way the workers could both more clearly understand the nature of the opportunists and how to struggle against them, while utilizing the form of organization of the union.
We worked hard to promote the highest possible degree of mass participation by the workers in all aspects of the strike. This was necessary not only for the working out of a good strike strategy, but also because it was only in this way that the workers could really learn the most from the strike. Their participation, coupled with correct communist leadership, would enable the strike to become what Lenin called a “school for war.”
Although we did not deepen our understanding of the RU’s line until late in the strike, we did understand their practice to be thoroughly wrecking and sectarian. Through struggle with them we were able to often expose their opportunism and sometimes even block it. Nothing probably exposed the RU more than their own actions and the line they put forth, but we feel we helped and thus contributed to the fight against opportunism within the communist and working class movement.
Perhaps the most important contribution we made was in the area of educating the workers about communism. Many workers saw the RU-WMS’ conduct throughout the strike as confirmation of all the worst stereotypes promoted by anti-communist propaganda.(Such activities included rumormongering, personal threats, clique building, etc) This, of course, made it all the harder for real communists to work in the strike. But through consistent work and discussion with the workers, we were able to convince them that what they disliked about the RU-WMS was not their “communism” but rather their blatant opportunism. This, combined with the positive example we set in our own principled relations with the workers, helped to overcome some of the fears and mistaken ideas they had about communists.
We realize that much more must be done around educating workers to communism. But at least, by giving the workers a clearer picture of real communists, by bringing them to other political events, we have established a firm basis for involving them further in progressive politics. (E.g.: We encouraged them to come to the October 1st celebrations and some of them did come to the Chinatown celebration. A few months later a group of Jung Sai workers came to a mass celebration commemorating Chairman Mao’s birthday and Chinese Progressive Association’s second anniversary.)
In summation, then, we feel that the Jung Sai strike has been a “school” for us too. We have learned much from the struggle and from the Jung Sai workers. We have still much to learn but we feel that overall our participation has been a positive contribution to the Jung Sai strike specifically, and to the communist movement in general. We have gained both in practical experience and in ideological clarity. But our gains were not made without errors. Because we see self criticisms also as a way of learning and a way of sharing our lessons so that others can avoid the same mistakes, we have included a summary of what we felt were the errors and weaknesses of our work in the strike. In this way we hope that others can also learn from our experience.
Our errors stemmed primarily from inexperience; inexperience in not knowing concretely how to deal with and organize a strike action, and inexperience in struggling with RU’s opportunism in a strike situation. This inexperience led us to make our basic and fundamental error throughout the strike–that of not always consistently putting politics in command.
Not putting politics in command resulted in our not raising our understanding of the RU-WMS’s practice in the strike to the level of understanding their line and how their practice was a manifestation of that line. Instead, we often reacted to the superficial appearance of the RU-WMS, (their infantile militancy on the picket line, and their sectarianism towards the workers, union leadership and other supporters). Thus, we tended to just expose the RU-WMS’s unprincipled methods of work without linking it up sharply enough to our line.
These, then, were the main errors we made and the weaknesses we had in our work in the strike. When we attribute these errors to stemming primarily from inexperience and immaturity, it is not in any way to excuse these errors. We feel they are serious errors and we have, within our organization, done serious struggle and rectification to go to the root of this error and to eradicate it thoroughly. At the same time we feel that errors of immaturity are different than errors of class stand and line, and the important thing is not whether or not errors are made, for errors are always made in revolution. The important thing is whether or not these are major mistakes and if they are learned from.
Our analysis and self criticism of our errors in the Jung Sai strike have been very valuable for us in that it has helped our organization root out the vestiges of our error of not always putting politics in command and have deepened our understanding of the importance of ideology and of developing the maximum possible level of political clarity on any issue.
Following is a summation of the actual Jung Sai strike – how it developed, the roles and interrelations of the different forces, and why it ended the way it did.
In order to draw maximum political lessons from our work, we analyzed the course of the strike itself. Applying Chairman Mao’s “On Contradiction,” we analyzed the strike as a process that developed primarily as a result of its internal contradictions. The strike was part of the general class struggle, its particularity being between the workers and Doug Tompkins. The fundamental contradiction which defined the nature of the strike was the struggle between Doug Tompkins and the workers over the question of unionization. In the process of the strike itself there were three stages, each marked by the principal contradiction that had to be resolved in that stage in order to resolve the fundamental contradiction.
Besides Doug Tompkins and the workers the other factors involved in the development of the fundamental contradictions in all three stages were the forces that supported the strike, the union leadership, and the secondary contradictions that developed between these forces.
July 15, 1974: the strike began
July 17: Doug Tompkins closes Jung Sai, claiming financial losses. The picket line moves to Esprit de Corp, Tompkins’ main plant.
July 19: First mass arrest of 38 workers and 2 supporters in front of Esprit de Corp. Charge was obstructing the sidewalk and interfering with the duties of a police officer. July 24 Second mass arrest of 3 workers and 12 supporters.
July 25: Court ordered injunction on picketing at Esprit de Corp.
July 26: Rally in front of Esprit de Corp. Several hundred people were present.
In this first stage, the principal contradiction coincided with the fundamental contradiction, i.e. the struggle between Doug Tompkins and the workers over the question of unionization. The principal aspect in the contradiction was the workers because of their leading role in initiating the the strike and deciding the course it would take. But, due to their inexperience in strikes and therefore their lack of leadership, this first stage was characterized by a general state of confusion.
The first two days of the strike were marked by the militant picketting of the workers in front of the Jung Sai plant. The workers withstood violent efforts of the company to crash through the picket line. After moving the picket line to Esprit de Corp, they were met by more violence and arrests. Although the workers were spirited and militant in this first stage they were inexperienced and had no strategy for carrying on the strike. They understood little of what going on strike meant or what it required.
Doug Tompkins on the other hand, a calculating capitalist, knew all the strike breaking tactics. He called a meeting between himself and the workers on the second day of the strike in an attempt to bribe them with a 25 cent an hour raise. When this failed, he closed the shop. When the picket line moved to Esprit de Corp, he used the police to harass and intimidate the picketers. He obtained a court injunction that prevented the pickets from blocking trucks that delivered and shipped the merchandise.
The workers’ inexperience in a strike situation also showed itself in the workers decision to not challenge the court injunction. The workers, having been arrested twice, were not willing to defy the law, though they knew being arrested was unjust. They didn’t fully understand the affect the injunction would have on the picket line’s ability to stop the trucks. So, since Doug Tompkins used his own company trucks and scab trucks to transport the goods, the injunction effectively kept the workers from hurting the company economically.
The supporting forces in the strike (IWK, CPA, RU, WMS, students, Chinatown community, social service agencies) and the union leadership in this first stage were engaged in one degree or another in investigating the situation.
The union leadership, wanting a quick settlement and recognizing that they would have to deal with the militancy of the workers, decided to go along with their militancy and even pushed for greater militancy. They called for mass arrests, storming Esprit de Corp, staging sit-ins. If these things worked, then, in their eyes, the strike would end quickly; if not, the workers would be demoralized and the union bureaucrats would be in the clear leadership of the strike and then the union bureaucrats would be able to proceed with their-usual method of dealing with strikes: i.e. going through the National Labor Relations Board.
Concretely, the union leadership did more in this stage to aid the workers struggle than they did in any of the other stages. After some struggle they gave the workers $30 a week in strike benefits, they filed two suits with the NLRB against Tompkins, they called a rally at Esprit de Corp on July 26 and the union lawyer represented the workers who were arrested. But because the union leadership is essentially opportunist and holds its own interests above those of the workers, it was not a reliable ally of the workers-in any stage of the strike.
In this first stage the RU-WMS poured their manpower, resources and time .into the strike in the hopes of using it to build their “revolutionary workers movement” to consolidate their contacts and build their organizations. The RU-WMS set up a support committee in opposition to the union; the work done in the committee (such as planning rallies, printing leaflets, fund raising and legal work) was no more than what a good trade union would do anyway. But because there were no meetings between the workers and the union representatives, the support committee became the main vehicle through which the workers kept abreast of what was happening in the strike overall. The RU-WMS, rather than encouraging the workers to struggle with the union leadership and force them to meet and report regularly to the workers and to take up some of the tasks that needed to be done, instead encouraged the workers to. go to the support committee and rely on the RU-WMS to do everything for them.
The RU-WMS in fact, not only denied the workers the process of building themselves as an organized, conscious force in the strike, but they also manipulated the workers in order to use the strike to build themselves. Thus, for example, they mistranslated and distorted what the union representatives said in order to win the workers away from the union leaders. Their anti-union sectarianism laid the basis for a Chinese ILGWU business agent (who functions as a translator) to come to a union meeting and also push an anti-union line in the interests of the Chinatown right-wing reactionaries to break the strike. He would mistranslate what the union leaders said; he discouraged meetings with the union leaders and bragged about how he wanted the strike to fail so that the union leaders would be exposed. When we approached someone in WMS about exposing this translator because he was hurting the strike, WM& replied that the business agent’s anti-unionism was a good thing and was more important than his attitude toward the strike. Thus the RU-WMS in their anti-union sectarianism objectively alligned with the Chinatown right-wing’s attempt to break the strike.
In this first stage, the RU-WMS also refused to bring out the importance of the national question in the strike. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that the denial of union membership to Chinese workers was a form of national oppression. To counter this they cited white unorganized clerical workers as an example of unorganized white workers. From the surface phenomena of being non-unionized, the RU-WMS concludes that the struggle of unorganized white women clerical workers is the same as that of the Jung Sai workers. In fact the non-unionization of clerical workers lies mainly in another kind of oppression, i.e. women’s oppression. The RU-WMS used the general oppression of all workers under capitalism to deny the particularities of concrete conditions and to obscure the essence of different contradictions.
For ourselves a large part of our work in the first stage of the strike consisted of investigating the situation by talking to the workers. We combined our practical work with study in order to deepen our understanding of the trade union question.
Throughout this stage we fought to expose the opportunism of the RU-WMS, to combat their anti-union sectarianism, to bring out the significance of the national question to the strike in the leaflets and agitational material, and to encourage the workers to struggle with the union leadership.
Our main weakness in this stage was our organizational inexperience in labor organizing. This led to our confusing our organizational capabilities (limited manpower and resources) with our role as conscious elements in the strike. We mistakenly felt that in order to provide leadership to the strike we would have to do a lot of concrete work and since we did not have the manpower to do it, we therefore thought we could not provide leadership to the workers. We did not grasp that political line determines our ability to provide leadership, and not the quantity of our work. However, we feel that we were always solid allies of the workers, and our work in the first stage strengthened the workers’ ability to struggle against national oppression and against the opportunist union leaders.
In this first stage of the strike, secondary contradiction arose among the different forces and affected the development of the fundamental contradiction. These contradictions were those between: the workers and the union leadership, the union leadership and RU-WMS, the workers and the RU-WMS, the RU-WMS and ourselves, and those among the workers themselves. These contradictions developed out of differences over how to carry on the struggle and some developed into principal contradictions.
The contradiction between the workers and the union leadership was essentially a struggle of the workers against opportunism. In the first stage this amounted to struggling with the union leaders to communicate to the workers what they were doing and to get them to follow-up on things they had promised to do (such as providing the workers with strike benefits, busfare and lunch). This contradiction sharpened as the vacillation of the union leaders increasingly dominated their approach to the strike (there were times when they actually wanted to win, even if only for their own interests).
The contradiction between the union leadership and the RU-WMS was a struggle for hegemony over the strike. As described earlier, the RU was in competition with the union leaders and tried to win the workers away from the union. The union leadership, in turn pressured the workers to choose between themselves and the RU-WMS.
The contradiction between the workers and the RU-WMS was also a struggle of the workers against opportunism. Although some of the workers were overwhelmed by the resources of the RU-WMS in the first stage of the strike, the RU-WMS’s dishonesty became increasingly apparent (some of the workers understood enough English to know that the RU-WMS was mistranslating).
Between the RU-WMS and ourselves, the contradiction was a continuation of the struggle that has existed between our organizations for years. In the Jung Sai strike the struggle was over how we saw the relevance of the national question to the strike, how we saw building the unity and consciousness of the workers and how we worked with the union.
The secondary contradictions among the workers were of a non-antagonistic nature. Some stemmed from contradictions that existed before the strike and new ones developed over how different workers saw moving the strike forward. The key contradiction was over how different workers viewed the union and membership in the union.
In this initial stage of the strike most of these secondary contradictions were just developing and the complexity of them added to the general state of confusion that characterized this stage. Although the workers had the initiative in determining the course the strike would take and therefore were the principal aspect of the principal contradiction, their inexperience and lack of organization increasingly hindered their ability to maintain their initiative. Thus when Doug Tompkins obtained an injunction against the picketting the workers began to lose their initiative by deciding not to violate the injunction without having an alternative method of pressuring Tompkins. Due to this lack of clearly defined leadership the secondary contradictions intensified and culminated in a struggle over what direction the strike would take and who would lead. One particular contradiction, that between the RU and the union leadership, became a sharp struggle between opportunists over who would lead the strike.
The focus of the strike shifted from pressuring Doug Tompkins to a struggle against opportunism among the strike forces. Thus in order to resolve the fundamental contradiction between Doug Tompkins and the workers, this struggle against the opportunism of the RU and the union leadership had to be resolved. This struggle marks the beginning of the second stage of the strike, where the principal contradiction became the struggle of the workers against the opportunists over the question of leadership and strategy for the strike.
August 6: All charges dropped against the 38 workers and 2 supporters arrested July 18
August 13: Charges dropped against the 15 workers and supporters arrested on July 24
August 17: Union-Strike Committee meetings start
September 8: Rally in Tompkins neighborhood
The second stage of the strike was characterized by the workers’ increasing loss of initiative and the increasing role of the opportunists in determining the course of the strike. By this time a core of about thirty-five workers remained active in the day to day struggle.
In this stage the role of the RU became increasingly destructive. Initially many of the workers were impressed by the RU-WMS’ show of force (the people they mobilized and their press contacts), and the RU-WMS arrogantly interpreted this initial favorable response of the workers to mean that they had succeeded in consolidating the advanced workers. This impression the workers had of the RU, however, did not last long. The RU-WMS’ actions in this stage did much to expose them to the workers.
Because they thought they had consolidated the advanced elements, the RU-WMS attempted to kick other forces that disagreed with them out of the support committee so that they could have complete dominance. This led to their attempt to red-bait a communist member of a mass organization who supported the strike.
The RU-WMS also insisted on “linking up” the Jung Sai, Lee Mah, and Ruckers struggles on the economic basis of everybody “fighting back.” The workers recognized the need for working class unity and mutual support of each others’ struggles, but they did not feel they had to do everything together with the Lee Mah and Ruckers strikers.
Because many workers questioned why the RU-WMS were so insistent on having the Jung Sai and Lee Mah workers do all their support work jointly, the RU-WMS called workers off the picket line in twos to secret meetings where the workers were confronted by ten RU-WMS cadre who demanded to know how the workers felt about “linking up” Jung Sai and Lee Mah. These tactics exposed the RU-WMS to more and more workers.
As a result of becoming more exposed among the workers, the RU-WMS had to restructure the Support Committee in order to maintain control. They packed a Support Committee meeting (60 supporters and 20 workers) and outvoted the workers to create a structure in which the leadership body was composed of three supporters (RU-WMS and their contacts) and three workers. But changing the structure was not enough for the RU to continue to control the strike because their actions continued to expose them to the workers to such an extent that the RU influence over the strike as a whole was rapidly eroding.
As a result the RU-WMS had to resort to more opportunist tactics such as clique building in order to maintain a base among some workers. Thus they actively fostered splits among the workers in order to keep themselves from becoming totally isolated (this being a traditional tactic used by the union misleaders to keep the rank and file from uniting against their opportunist leadership). The RU-WMS picked out a few of the more backward workers and played on their weaknesses in order to win them over. They then used these workers to intimidate the other workers. The RU-WMS also slandered individual workers by spreading vicious rumors about their relations with the boss. They succeeded in undermining the unity of the workers and therefore objectively they contributed to the ability of the union leadership to sell out the workers.
The strike in this stage looked less fruitful for the union leadership: in order to win they would have to fight the RU in addition to hurting Doug Tompkins economically. They chose to do nothing; scab drivers crossed the lines everyday.
Towards the end of this stage an RU-WMS leaflet to the rank and file ILGWU members gave the union leaders an excuse to kick supporters out of the strike. The leaflet was signed “rank and file ILGWU members, Locals 8, 213, and 101.” The union leadership used the leaflet as an excuse to attack supporters in union meetings and because the RU-WMS had no base among the rank and file, they were forced to accept union criticism for giving the illusion that all the rank and file members had produced the leaflet when in fact it was just themselves. The union leadership then demanded that the workers choose between the supporters or the union.
Since the union leadership refused to take any action while the RU-WMS was competing with them over control of the strike, the workers fell into the trap of making a false choice between the RU and the union leadership. Since the workers were striking for unionization and the RU-WMS could not get them union status, the majority of the workers of course “chose” the union leadership. Thus on the one hand, the opportunism of the RU-WMS pushed the workers into depending on the union leadership (rather than developing their own leadership), while on the other hand the opportunism of the union leadership pushed a few workers to side with the RU-WMS and their mechanical, non-dialectical and anti-union line. Thus by helping each other get a base among the workers, the RU-WMS and the union leadership had unity in their opportunism.
Although in the beginning of this stage the workers attempted to assert their leadership by issuing three principles to be followed by all supporters (the Strike Committee was the leadership of the strike; the strike was a strike for unionization; and the workers did not want to be caught in the middle of any polemics), they increasingly lost the initiative and became demoralized to the extent that they stopped struggling. The secondary contradiction among the workers intensified and, because of the RU’s splittist actions, became antagonistic contradictions. Workers began to subjectively blame each other for the state of the strike; there was sharp factionalism. The workers felt they were caught in a bind: they wanted support for the strike, but if the union pulled out because of supporters then what was the purpose of the strike. Instead of struggling to overcome this subjectivity towards- each other so as to become a unified force able to deal with the opportunism of the union leadership and the RU-WMS, the workers “chose” the union leadership.
Our work in this stage consisted mainly of exposing the opportunist actions of the RU-WMS, and struggling with the workers to struggle with the trade union leaders. For example, we urged them to regularly attend union meetings so that they could force the union leadership to deal with the day to day and long range goals of the strike and learn to struggle with the opportunist trade union misleaders. We also did consistent day to day work on the picket lines.
But as previously stated we made errors in not raising our understanding of the RU-WMS strategy to the level of their line on the workers movement, and in not having a good enough grasp of how to deal with the opportunism of the union leadership in practice.
Thus in this second stage of the strike, the workers increasingly lost the initiative and the opportunists (the RU-WMS and the union leadership) became the principal aspect in the struggle between the workers and the opportunists over the question of leadership and strategy for the strike.
RU-WMS, in trying to control the strike through the Support Committee and use it to build their “revolutionary workers movement”, created deep splits among the workers and pushed most of them to the side of the opportunist union leaders. These misleaders had chosen to do nothing in this stage of the struggle until the RU-WMS leaflet to the rank and file ILGWU appeared. The misleaders then began an active campaign to kick the supporters out of the strike. Although they were unable to use the supporters as an excuse to pull out of the strike, they were able to force the majority of the workers to make a false choice of the union bureaucrats over the RU-WMS., But because the RU-WMS had so successfully split the workers (a few had chosen the RU-WMS, who then used these workers to attack and intimidate the others), the workers did not have the unity or fighting ability to oppose the union leaders’ opportunism. Although we struggled hard to build the unity of the workers and to struggle against the RU-WMS and union leadership, our unclarity prevented us from being able to politically strengthen the workers in their struggle against opportunism. In effect, the workers’ “choice” of the union misleaders put the bureaucrats in control of the strike. Since these misleaders are in essence agents of the bourgeoisie, the resolution of the fundamental contradiction between the workers and Tompkins depended now on the outcome of the struggle between the workers and the union misleaders.
November-December: Negotiations between Mike Kozak and ILGWU
December 2: Workers ratify proposed contract between ILGWU and Mike Kozak (former manager of Jung Sai who had supposedly bought it).
December 9: Work supply agreement between Tompkins and Kozak unsatisfactory.
January 9: Tompkins and Kozak sign a work supply contract that is basically acceptable to the workers.
January 13: Contract between Kozak and ILGWU signed.
In mid-February, the union leaders announced that they had been fooled and that Jung Sai had not been sold to Mike Kozak. They stated that they would follow through with the NLRB suits.
The NLRB has still not made a ruling, and they claim to be investigating. Machines were taken out of Jung Sai in early February.
The contradiction between the workers and the union leaders became the principal contradiction that marked the third stage of the strike. The disunity of the workers meant that the union leadership was the principal aspect in the contradiction. It was in this stage that the union misleaders actually sold out the workers. The strike had come to a lull so that both the workers and the union misleaders jumped at the chance of negotiating a contract with Mike Kozak (who had supposedly bought Jung Sai). The negotiations began in late October, without an investigation of the sale of Jung Sai.
The union misleaders accepted Tompkins word that he had sold Jung Sai to Mike Kozak, when in fact he had not. In fact, they even pushed the workers to stop picketting as a sign of good faith.
There were a series of three negotiation attempts. The first time Mike Kozak failed to show up for the signing of a contract proposed by the union. The second time the union and Kozak agreed to a proposed contract, but before it could be signed, Tompkins had to sign an agreement with Kozak for a guarantee of work for the new factory. But the proposed agreement between them included a clause demanding “sample quality” work, i.e. near perfect workmanship on each garment. This type of work is considered to be the highest possible quality and is usually only expected of the garments to be used as salesmen’s samples.
The union fought against this clause, but nothing else. Their proposed contract with Kozak included a wage scale 3Q6 below union minimum. When the workers protested, the union misleaders threatened to walk out. They told the workers that the contract was the best they could expect and if they didn’t ratify it they could go back to the picket lines. Objectively the union leadership aided Tompkins in his fraudulent scheme. Because of their desire to rid themselves of the strike, they entered the negotiations without investigating the sale of Jung Sai. Their attitude throughout this stage was that they were doing the workers a favor by even negotiating with Kozak.
The workers, after seven months of struggle, were unable to pull together the factions that had developed in order to present some force in the negotiations. Although still maintaining the picket line, most were demoralized and had no hopes of resolving their differences. Their only desire was for the strike to end. Thus on December 2, the rank and file ratified the contract between Kozak and the ILGWU.
In a later meeting between the Strike Committee and the union leaders, the Strike Committee overturned the vote because of the wage scale, and vowed to carry on the picket line themselves. But because the Strike Committee had no experience in leadership, they had never developed a way to communicate with the rank and file strikers. Their overturning the ratification furthered this gap. The already deep antagonisms among the workers deepened. As time passed more and more workers stopped coming to the picket line. This further decreased the ability of the workers to struggle with the union leaders from a position of strength.
The RU-WMS in this stage of the strike were also demoralized. They all but stopped coming to the picket line. In one of the last Support Committee meetings (before the committee dissolved) , their demoralization was reflected in their attitude towards our proposed demands for the negotiations. In response to the demand for a guarantee of a percentage of Exprit de Corps work, the RU-WMS replied that this would divide the Chinatown garment workers since no other contract shop garment workers had this guarantee. We stated that this was a backward way of looking at the demand– it should serve as an example for the rest of the Chinatown garment workers as an inspiration to their struggle. If there were workers who did have a competitive attitude, then our role would be to struggle with them and win them to support the demand. In response to the demand for union wages and back pay, the RU-WMS said this was idealistic and that the boss would refuse. Of course, bosses will resist any demand not in their interests, but this does not mean we don’t raise the demand and struggle for it. In their demoralization, the RU-WMS was capitulating to Tompkins and further exposed their opportunistic “support” for the strike.
In a frantic attempt to save face since they had portrayed themselves to be leaders, the RU-WMS published a public letter to the Chinatown community which stated that there were splits among the workers, and that some were demoralized and “sitting back”, while the RU-WMS was “fighting back”. The RU-WMS hoped to use the letter to remove themselves from any responsibility for the loss of the strike. It was the most blatant evidence of their demoralization and self-serving approach to the strike.
In the letter they essentially blamed the state of the strike on the passiveness of the workers. They distorted the actual situation in the strike by creating a two-line struggle of “sit back” or “fight back”. This two-line struggle objectively did not exist since everyone wanted to move the strike forward; the question was how. But because of the splittist actions of the RU-WMS, unity could not be reached on how to carry the struggle forward. The two-line struggle was in reality a struggle of the workers against the opportunism of the RU-WMS (and the union misleaders) in the strike. Objectively this was an extremely difficult situation. The advanced elements among the workers recognized the need to pursue a course which would lead towards their membership in the union, which meant objectively that they had to work with the union leadership and within the union structure; at the same time they wanted to be able to struggle against what they knew was the opportunism of the leadership of the union. Because of the tremendous resources of both the ILGWU and the RU-WMS, and the fact that they were both clear about what they wanted out of the strike, and were always in there pushing for their incorrect lines, and due to our own unclarity, the workers were faced with a situation in which, although the union misleaders and the RU-WMS were seemingly at odds, they objectively played right into each others’ game and aided each other towards their respective ends.
But the RU-WMS distorted this struggle in order to create a false impression among many community residents and social workers. They thus got these people, many of whom honestly supported the strike, to sign the letter. Now, if the strike won, they could take the credit; if it lost they could blame it on the passive workers.
In this final stage of the strike, we continued to struggle with the workers to resolve their differences and unite to struggle against the union leadership. We analyzed the workers politically and tried to build a core of the most advanced, strongest and least subjective workers – those who we felt could unite the rest of the workers. But the splits and demoralization were too deep, and our efforts failed. We tried to put forward ideas for the negotiations and for stepping up pressure on Tompkins during the negotiations.
Given that we did not know that the contract was a fraud (we should have done more investigation), our position towards the signing of the contract was that we felt that it was correct at that time for the workers to sign it. While recognizing that the contract was not the best, we felt that in the absence of l) the unity and organization of the workers and their ability to move the 3trike forward; and 2) a concrete strategy for winning the strike, that the signing was the correct thing to do. However, we felt that the struggle of the Jung Sai workers would continue when the shop reopened and that we, as communists, would actively try to provide leadership to their continued struggle. This stage ended with the workers waiting for the shop to re-open under Mike Kozak. It was not for several weeks that anyone knew the contract was a fraud and that Jung Sai had never been sold.
Thus the third stage of the strike was dominated by the union mis-leaders. This was due to the inability of the workers to overcome their differences (which the RU-WMS continued to aggravate), and therefore their inability to struggle with the union leadership as a unified body. The dominance of an opportunist force in the strike meant that Tompkins became the principal aspect of the fundamental contradiction, which was resolved by the loss of the strike.
Objectively the strike has ended – there is no picket line, the machines have been removed from Jung Sai, and Tompkins is doing business as usual. The workers are too disunified, split and bitter towards each other to struggle any further. Some have found other jobs and others are waiting until their unemployment runs out.
The RU-WMS used the “Jung Sai Four” (four RU-WMS members who provoked their own arrest) court case to try to consolidate the clique they had built. They were using these workers to intimidate the other workers who were too demoralized to struggle with the clique. For example, in the last Strike Committee–union meeting, the RU-WMS clique demanded that the workers’ strike fund be given to the “Jung Sai Four” to pay for legal costs. The workers who opposed it did not want to be put through further bitter fights and so went along with the demand even though there were workers who were in need of the money themselves. Thus the RU-WMS opportunism clearly shows whose interests they fight for.
The union leadership wrote a press release that claimed the NLRB had ruled that the closing of Jung Sai was illegal (we later found this to be untrue), and that the ILGWU would proceed with their legal suits against Tompkins. The union leaders also stated that they had been “misled” into believing that Jung Sai had been sold. They have cut off strike benefits to the workers and have refused to give them union status. The ILGWU misleaders have essentially washed their hands of the strike.
We have continued to try to work with and talk to some of the workers, but many of the workers have been intimidated by the RU-WMS clique. When some of the workers went to a meeting of the Women’s Section of the Chinese Progressive Association (a progressive mass organization in Chinatown), the RU-WMS clique called these women and harassed them for going. Thus many of the workers are reluctant to do any type of progressive work in Chinatown because they don’t want to be harassed by the RU-WMS clique. Thus not only did the RU-WMS stunt the development of the workers in the strike itself, but they in fact are holding back their development outside the strike too.
While the Jung Sai strikers did not achieve the demands they desired, they established a fighting example for Chinese laboring people and all working people. They struggled for seven months against great odds and their fight will always be an inspiration.
While we made contributions to the strike, our own work had shortcomings and we hope that this summation describes some of our errors so that others can learn from them. As should be evident from the description of the strike, the polical struggle was quite intense – the union leadership increasingly played a treacherous role and the opportunist RU-WMS threw a tremendous amount of attention and resources into the struggle. All of this complicated the struggle.
The misleadership of the ILGWU had to be fought, and the opportunism of the RU needed to be exposed – all in the course of a unionization struggle against a notorious boss. Furthermore, we recognized all this had to be accomplished in the course of uniting with the workers to help achieve their immediate demands, while also ourselves avoiding falling into simple militant trade unionism. The struggle to raise the workers’ political consciousness around the experience of the Jung Sai strike must continue. Furthermore, the need to raise the workers’ general political consciousness should be of major concern of all communists. We are struggling to understand this process and we hope this summation has been a contribution to mastering this question. We look forward to summations of other struggles that address themselves to this question.