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International Socialist Review, Fall 1957


M. Snipper

As the Officials See the Unions


From International Socialist Review, Vol.18 No.4, Fall 1957, p.134.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


by Jack Barbash
Harper & Brothers, Publishers, New York. 1956. 465pp. $5.

This is the trade-union movement seen through the eyes of the trade-union bureaucrat. The author gives an accurate account of how and why unions are organized, their structure and how they are administered. He explains various techniques of collective bargaining, what causes strikes and how they are conducted.

On the question of political action he presents the facts in such a way as to justify the reactionary attitude of the trade-union officialdom who still support the Democrats and Republicans. After outlining Gompers’ policy of rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies he cites instances to show that it is still in force. To indicate why these officials reject the third-party alternative he quotes Reuther at the CIO convention in 1954. “A Labor Party is not only impractical at this time but historically incorrect for American Labor.”

Barbash claims the unions have become a big business and therefore require an increasing number of “technicians” – economists, journalists, engineers (specialists in production, techniques and time study), lawyers, educators, doctors, etc. The author underlines the weight of these technicians in the bureaucratic structure. To be sure the modern trade-union movement is a complex organization and requires such specialists. But their role, particularly that of the legal staff, is highly conservative.

Barbash views the problem of racketeering in the union as similar to that of communism.

If both racketeering and communism represent “foreign bodies in the content of unionism,” if “both serve the cupidity of outsiders or insiders for naked power or money or both,” if racketeer and communist domination in unions are necessarily a “tampering with the essential integrity of unions as we know unions in a free society,” then it would follow that any method the government or the top union officialdom uses against racketeers may also be used against communists.

The chapter Communists in Unions is loaded with half-truths, twisted quotations, and distortions of facts. The aim is to denigrate the positive role that Marxist parties have played in the rise of unonism.

While his assertion is correct that the trade-union program of the present Communist party reflects the tactical needs of Moscow, Barbash gives away the social-democratic source of his material by making Stalinism out to be the continuation of Leninism. Trusting to the ignorance of his readers, Barbash pictures Lenin as a kind of Stalin, then claims that Stalin followed in the doctrinal footsteps of Lenin. Hence the Stalinists are really Leninists; and the Leninists are really Stalinists.

After “proving” the identity of Stalinism and Leninism, the author accurately outlines the miserable role of Stalinism in the American labor movement for the past 30 years – its zig-zags, dual unionism in the late twenties and early thirties, support of the no-strike ple’dge in World War II, etc.

In the unions today where effective opposition has virtually ceased to exist it is a simple matter for a bureaucrat to smear radical-minded workers by such formulas and the record of the Stalinists. But when the working class begins to move in a leftward direction again, it will learn soon enough in the rough school of the class struggle that its enemy is not the radical who seeks to give the union better direction and leadership.

In the final parts of his book Barbash departs completely from reality. Talking about union leadership and its selection, he says:

“Union government is essentially democratic. Responsiveness to the membership is not only a matter of political expediency designed to strengthen the leader’s position, it is a right which democratic traditions of unionism give the membership. And it is a right implemented and reinforced by specific mechanisms.”

I can only suggest that instead of interviewing simply the top officials of the needle trades on “industrial government,” Walter Reuther on “planned bargaining,” and David McDonald on “mutual trusteeship,” Barbash would have presented a more accurate and possibly more honest picture had he interviewed typical rank and filers on speed-up, handling of grievances, negotiation of contracts, and the suppression of the democratic rights of the membership.

In its failure to deal with these and many other problems on the minds of the rank and file, the book falls far short of the publisher’s claim that it is a penetrating study and analysis of the American labor movement.

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