Mary Scully

Their Trade Union Policy and Ours

Written: 1991. Delivered during the 1991 internal debate over the proposal that the Fourth International Tendency fuse with Solidarity
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters

A sensitive issue confronting us collectively might be BIDOM’s commenting on or polemicizing with movement organizations or movements/campaigns with which Solidarity has a working collaborative relationship or in which we participate with an approach decided by Solidarity as a whole ... Article XIII of our constitution mandates the leadership to ensure that the group’s effectiveness is not substantively undermined in this way.

“Motion from the by the 1992 Solidarity Convention. Solidarity Political Committee on the Fourth Internationalist Tendency” adopted by the 1991 Solidarity Convention

The above provisions in Solidarity’s invitation to the FIT to join Solidarity should be critically examined and considered by revolutionists. It IS certain (and proper from Solidarity’s point of view) that individual FITers who join Solidarity would have the same restrictions place on them as on the magazine. Solidarity appears to be of two minds on this question of our differences. After all, at the plenum their representatives had argued that FIT members would not be required to repudiate our views in order to join. Or is there an operative distinction that eludes my grasp between not repudiating our views and not expressing them?

The provisions point out a crucial political fact: Solidarity afraid of our criticism because Solidarity — as in my case — is oriented toward our opponents in the trade unions and, as we have seen repeatedly in the past, toward our opponents in the mass movements as well. The provisions Solidarity has defined for us not only jeopardize our ability to independently criticize these opponents and their activities in the pages of the BIDOM. By requiring us to soft-pedal our criticisms, they also call into question our possibilities to formulate and carry out political work in keeping with our transitional approach that is fundamentally at odds with the strategies of such opponents.

Why, after all, should we expect Solidarity to find criticism of these allies by individual FIT members any less objectionable than criticism by the BIDOM? The fact of the matter is that this question of what to do with our differences only comes up because significant differences do exist and methods must be devised to broker them. The method the FIC adopted to deal with the problem was to suppress all debate that threatened the tranquility of the Solidarity project In their attempts to be discreet and not make nuisances of themselves, they ended up adapting and eventually rejecting a good share of their Trotskyist heritage.

For those of us involved in trade union work (and antiwar work and all other areas of work for that matter), this distinction between repudiating our ideas and putting a lid on them is a platonic one. The problems facing the working class are too critical and our responsibilities as revolutionists too important to be handled in this way.

Many comrades apparently favor unity with Solidarity in order to establish closer ties with the trade union movement. The question I want to raise is with whom in the trade union movement do we seek to establish these ties? And on the basis of what program?

I have heard comrades refer to Labor Notes conferences as a gathering of the class struggle left wing forces in the unions. This never jibed entirely with my impressions of the politics of many participants.

The figures in my union, for example who participate in Labor Notes conferences by speaking on panels, heading up workshops, etc, are the Business Agent, the Vice President, and some committee heads. They represent a strata in the unions of former radicals who have made their way into the lower levels of labor officialdom and make the necessary adaptations to the AFL-CIO bureaucracy in order to maintain their posts. The same applies to the rather sizeable Boston contingent that attends such conferences. Primarily former radicals — many of them union staff members as well as elected officials - they are in the process of “social democratizing.” We try to work with these people whenever possible, of course, but they should not be misidentified as the forces of the class-struggle left wing in the unions today. In fact: they often end up our opponents in the union, as my own experiences have shown.

Our policy is to promote the development of a class struggle left wing through the application of the transitional program for labor. The chief opponents of this perspective in my union, i.e., those who explicitly promote “cooperation between union and management” (in the parlance of the 90’s) or class collaboration (the language of Marxism) and spare no treachery in their opposition are precisely the allies of Solidarity.

If I had to abide by the provisions of Solidarity’s invitation i.e., to suppress criticism of those labor groups with which Solidarity has a collaborative relationship — I would be unable to advance the ideas of class solidarity and class struggle.

I ran for Vice President of my union against one of these Labor Notes supporters and received one-third of the vote. I also spearheaded two major campaigns. A key issue was whether the union should accept a contract amendment embodying the capitalists’ “team concept” strategy (that is, speed-up, layoffs, and union busting). I opposed this. My opponents, that is, Solidarity’s allies, supported it as an example of “union-management cooperation.” I have also collided with these same union officials on their attempts to hire non-union workers to repair the union hall and on the company’s attempt to extend this team concept strategy.

In all of this work, the issue has centered on class collaboration versus union solidarity. Although we directed our fire at the company, our chief adversaries were the union officials directly collaborating with the company against the worker and also, as I have said, having a collaborative relationship with Labor Notes.

Our present approach to Solidarity is based on nothing but unknowns and conjectures. We have taken a good solid foundation of guesses and surmises and adding in a few disputable and selective facts—have built a conjectural convergence.

This devil-may-care attitude toward the important theoretical and practical differences with Solidarity on the part of many in the FIT who are willing to support fusion is simply not possible for all of us.

I have heard comrades ask: “What is our program?” and specifically “What is our program in the unions?” Far from being dumb questions, these are the central questions in this dispute. In examining the differences between Solidarity and us on specific questions like the trade unions we can begin once again to grasp what the transitional program is, how we apply it, and why we remain so committed to it. I suggest some of the following questions needed to be addressed and answered:

I have received plenty of invaluable help from Labor Notes in my union work and would be the last person to dismiss the contribution this institution provides to labor activists. But my experience in the labor movement convinces me that Solidarity and Trotskyism/Marxism have incompatible strategies.

Those who promote this enterprise with Solidarity consider it a half-way house to a Leninist party. But there will be no revolutionary party if we cannot maintain our right to criticize when we see fit and the way we see fit and act accordingly. Moreover, genuine revolutionists are not the type of people who keep quiet about principles and adapt themselves to contradictory ones. As revolutionaries, our priorities and our policies are and should be guided by the needs of the working class and not by the expediencies of such a fusion as we are currently contemplating.

September 4, 1992