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Socialist Appeal, March 1937, Volume 3 No. 3, Page 40-42
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Problems of the Trade Union Movement

Appeal Institute Resolution

1. NEW IDEAS of trade union organization and activity are now being put to the test in the fire of action. At the same time important strikes indicate a perspective of new and more intense struggles. The magnificent scope of these events may well signify a decisive turning point in American labor history.

2. It is not the first time during the period of business revival, when the rising cost of living soars above the wage level while profits mount ever more rapidly, that mass discontent has been turned toward aggressive trade union organization. But it is the first time in many years that such developments have begun to take roots in the mass production industries. On the one hand the workers are devising new and ingenious methods to build the union by spontaneous direct action. Most notable are the various kinds of stay-in strikes, which tend to promote the general idea of strikers’ taking possession of the factories as a means of preventing scabbing. On the other hand, genuine unions begin to grow out of the very heart of company unionism. From both directions these efforts tend to converge into one general campaign of organization. Above all, however, stands the significant fact that the present strikes are introducing a new type of unionism, departing in many important respects from the traditionally recognized forms and methods.

3. This new type are the industrial unions embracing in the corkers in a given industry regardless of craft or skill. At the outset they are distinguished from the old me craft unions by their much broader mass basis, their more distinct proletarian character, greater militant qualities and by their methods of more genuine mass action. Both formally and in actuality they constitute the beginning of a new movement built around the Committee for Industrial Organization in the field of basic industry.

4. Gigantic corporations, such as exist in these industries, occupy a dominant position within the national economic structure. Consistent antagonists to the trade unions, they have broken up attempts of organization, promoted anti-labor policies and maintain either the open shop, or failing in that, they have created company unions. This stubborn resistance, instead of abating, will grow more relentless, as a result of which the struggle for organization tends to become much more uncompromising. On the other hand, the determination of the workers to organize and their impulse to fight has not diminished in the face of these obstacles; it has increased, and the unions, in the basic industries, will likewise occupy a dominant position and play a decisive role in the class struggle. The impact of these developments cannot, in the present period, be confined within the sphere of purely trade union questions. They carry the implications of conflict with the whole of the employing class and its executive state organs, which will bear profound social consequences.

5. It is imperative that the party give the greatest and most minute attention to these perspectives. In every sense it must orient itself decisively toward trade union work; The present situation lends itself favorably for Socialist activity and for the extension of Socialist influence within the trade unions. This we should accept as our main and most important job. Any notion that this can be considered to be separate and apart from the political tasks of the party is equally as false as is the practice of trailing behind the mass movement. The party must show the way and give leadership. And only when it attains deep roots in the trade union movement can it in actuality become a party of struggle and become the revolutionary party of the American working class.

6. But the present situation is also complicated by the split between the A.F. of L. and the C.I.O. The two are heading in opposite directions and have entered upon a struggle for supremacy. The A.F. of L. official family resists all manifestations of mass organization and confines its efforts almost exclusively to the skilled crafts, while the C.I.O. shifts the center of gravity of the movement to the basic industries. In this new; field mass struggle tends to become the axis of all collective bargaining; reliance on friendly collaboration with employers must therefore give way to reliance on the power evolved by the mass organizations, as a result of which the movement will tend to develop in a leftward direction. On the whole the traditional A.F. of L. basis facilitates the continuation of the stranglehold now maintained by the reactionary labor agents of capitalism, whereas the C.I.O. will afford the greatest possibility to foster genuinely progressive forces. The direction of the C.I.O. is the direction of advance for the labor movement just as the direction of the A.F. of L. leads to disintegration and decay.

Correct Approach to Unity

7. With the suspension of the C.I.O. an accomplished fact, as is now the case, the question of which of the two conflicting movements will prevail assumes the greatest importance. This question cannot and must not be subordinated to a mere abstract slogan of unity, as is being done by the Communist party, it is perfectly true that the maintenance of trade union unity offers an inestimable advantage to the working class. But it is also the concrete content of unity, and not unity as a mere abstraction, that is important. Unity cannot be posed as a question of the merger of the two bodies, for which a compromise basis is to be worked out mutually. It is presented at this stage under the form of a return of the C.I.O. to the A.F. of L. If, however, this return were accomplished on the terms of the A.F. of L. bureaucracy – namely complete capitulation on the part of the C.I.O. to the demands of the bureaucracy – this would involve a complete surrender of all progressive implications of the CIO. Such a surrender could only signify the destruction of the great possibilities that are now available, and drive the history of recent progressive developments into reverse. The demand for the unification of the trade union movement must, therefore, be put forward on the basis of, and only on the basis of the policies and tactics of progressive unionism in the present period. Revolutionary Socialists and militant workers generally must be prepared to maintain and carry through consistently this approach; and must resist every reactionary and capitulatory proposal which tries to masquerade under the slogan of “unity.”

8. It is no accident that the Stalinist “unity” slogan coincides with the position of the New York Old Guard; rather it represents a certain identity of political lines Both make amply clear that their slogan for unity within the American Federation of Labor framework implies the policy of surrender to the control of reactionary federation leaders. Thus at the Tampa convention, one delegate, who is a prominent member of the Old Guard, as well as the delegation from the Stalinist controlled Furriers Union, voted, in the name of unity, in favor of the resolution of suspension. Likewise the Stalinist insistence that unions organized in the heavy machinery industry be not carried away from the jurisdictional claims of the Machinist Union over into some of the industrial unions, where these workers would properly belong, was clearly a vote against industrial unionism. Their influence in the Maritime Federation of the Pacific Coast and at the convention of the Federation of Teachers, served, as in similar instances, to smother clear cut support for the C.I.O., militated against the struggle for its progressive development and lent direct aid to all the reactionary tendencies in the movement.

9. Stripped of its deceptive coating, the Stalinist “unity” slogan is the particular trade union phase of the strategy to achieve an American People’s Front, into which they intend to include forces outside and inside the two old parties. Thus in theory and in practice the Stalinist trade union policy proceeds entirely from this class collaboration policy, abandoning more and more the fight for economic demands, currying favor with the bureaucracy, disorienting the progressive struggle, attempting to subordinate the aims of the labor movement to the policies of bourgeoisie and maintain the status quo in the relationship of the existing class forces. 10. The conclusion that can possibly be drawn today in regard to the question of unity is that this depends essentially upon the firm establishment of the progressive direction as the dominant tendency in the movement. Once this is established, unity can become a practical question of merger and it is possible to fight for its realization on the basis of the progressive program, on the basis of an advance for the working class.

Neutrality Impermissible

11. For Socialists, neutrality in the conflict between the A.F. of L. and the C.I.O. is as impossible as neutrality in any other issue of the class struggle. The party must take its stand unequivocally on the progressive side, but this position, to be effective, must be linked with an implacable opposition to, and unrelenting struggle against the pernicious influence of class-collaborationism in general and Stalinism in particular. These two tasks go hand in hand, and in the trade union movement we shall meet the crucial test of our ability to combat this influence.

12. In taking our stand on the side of the C.I.O., we are motivated solely by considerations of the interests of the working class as a whole. Obviously, in the choice with which we are confronted, determined support of the C.I.O. and, together with this, the further development of its progressive implications, offer the greatest advantage to the working class. But this support should not remain platonic support. It needs to be carried into all spheres of active life of the movement, and it must include such tasks as winning over to the C.I.O. the independent unions such as exist in manufacturing industries and the public utilities. It should also promote the idea of inducing international unions now in the A.F. of L., such as the Brewery Workers and the Bakers Union, and others, to transform the sympathy they have already expressed into direct support of the C.I.O. It goes without saying that we should simultaneously advocate and support, wherever the possibility and necessity arises, all practical steps for amalgamation so that the C.I.O. unions may become industrial unions in fact as well as in name.

13. Support of the C.I.O. is not to be interpreted, however, as uncritical support. Neither the way in which it is at present constituted, nor its leadership is sufficient answer to the needs of the workers. No provisions exist in its structure for collaboration and mutual influence by the affiliated unions in decisions and execution of policy, except such action as can be had through a committee of union presidents. Questions of vital interest to the rank and file may be arbitrarily decided or simply brushed aside by this committee of presidents. As a matter of fact there is the greatest danger that such a committee will become essentially a highly centralized bureaucracy the main purpose of which is to check or to crush, if possible, the genuinely progressive forces. Support of the C.I.O. must, therefore, be linked with the continued advocacy of militant class struggle policies and trade union democracy; and practical efforts must be made to extend democratic control and participation in the C.I.O. and its affiliated unions. A prime requisite in guarding against these dangers and assuring these ends is, of course, the building of a militant and progressive movement under Socialist leadership in the unions.

14. Support of the C.I.O. is not to imply in any sense whatever support of the ideological and political position of its leadership. This leadership cannot be depended upon to carry out even its own avowed aims. Among those who make up the leading committee many have a distinctly reactionary past, many promote today openly arbitrary and bureaucratic methods, and all of them, regardless of the progressive position occupied by the movement as a whole, are fully committed to the policy of class collaboration. Individually, and through the C.I.O. as an organization, they are firm supporters of the Roosevelt administration seeking at every opportunity to tie up the fate of the unions with the labor relations machinery of the capitalist state, as a result of which their role must inevitably be a continuation of the class collaboration policy in every field of activity. Nevertheless a progressive movement may develop for a time under such a leadership pressed forward by the impulse of the masses. But the further progressive development of the movement depends decisively on a continually increasing influence exerted by the revolutionary forces.

15. Thus a serious duty rests upon the party, which it must take up in earnest. The task is to extend Socialist influence in the trade unions, both in the C.I.O. and in the A.F. of L. For this purpose a clear and unambiguous Socialist trade union policy is imperative – not only a policy in general, but also a policy for every important concrete issue that arises. It should be worked out in accordance with the general slogans: for industrial unionism, for organization of the basic industries, for a class struggle policy, for trade union democracy. The purpose of the party policy must be to serve as a guide to action for the party membership and for the genuinely progressive forces as well. We should not support any notion that our members, or progressives, leave the craft unions of the A.F. of L.. to which they now properly belong. On the contrary, the progressive struggle is equally necessary and important in all unions and our support of the C.I.O. should, in the A.F. of L. craft unions, take on the form of a fight for amalgamation in addition to the fight for the general slogans stated above.

16. A Socialist policy for the trade unions will draw a clear line of distinction between ourselves and opponent parties and groups. This does not mean, however, that we exclude the united front tactic from our trade union work. A united front in all practical instances of common agreement on specific, concrete and practical issues against reactionaries, is both correct and necessary; but this must not be emasculated by no-aggression pacts or proscription of discussion and action on issues of a political character in progressive groups participated in by various political tendencies, such as is now the case in some local New York unions. In such groups it is even more necessary that the party membership make clear and fight for the party’s independent position. Obviously this requires the organization and active work of Socialist Trade Union Leagues. In every union, in every workers’ organization, party members must function through Socialist Leagues, obligated to carry out the party policy at all times and observing, in the strictest sense of the word, the party’s discipline. Above all in our trade union work must party discipline be adhered to completely and fully.

Every party member a trade union member and an active worker in the Socialist League. This will constitute the beginning toward a genuinely progressive trade union movement in this country, and a beginning toward a revolutionary Socialist party.

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