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E.R. Frank

Trade Unions Under Capitalism

(13 September 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 37, 13 September 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In one of his last articles, Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, Trotsky wrote: “There is one common feature in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, Of modern trade union organizations in the entire world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power.” At the time of writing, this conclusion may have appeared premature for the American trade unions, particularly the ‘CIO, which in 1940–41 was experiencing a new wave of insurgency and conducting militant strike battles on a dozen fronts against the industrial giants. Scarcely a year later Trotsky’s thesis was fully confirmed.

After “Pearl Harbor,” the trade union bureaucracy of the AFL, CIO, Mine Workers and Railroad Brotherhoods – Stalinists included – lined up to align behind American imperialism and became the apologists and salesmen of its predatory war. The bureaucracy became the chief agency for integrating the trade unions with the war machine, restraining and disciplining workers, stamping out strikes, imposing the wage freeze, pushing the speed-up and initiating labor-management committees. In general, it sought to convert the trade unions into “labor battalion” appendages of the imperialist state.

The 1915–16 Strikes

The 1945–46 historic strike wave, Which saw four million workers manning the picket lines and American capitalism challenged on an imposingly all-national scale, refurbished the tarnished reputations of the. trade union bureaucracy, and made it appear as if the “no-strike pledge sellout of 1942–45 was a temporary phenomenon, due to the exceptional circumstances of the war.

The events that followed demonstrated that the bureaucrats’ betrayal of the war years and their attempt to integrate the unions with the imperialist State – was the north; and the relative independence of the trade union bureaucrats in the 1945–46 strike struggles – was the exceptional circumstance.

During the war years, the struggle of militants against the bureaucracy in the main CIO unions gradually built up mass support until the left wing Was able to swing 40% of the votes against the no-strike pledge at the 1944 convention of the auto union. At the same time, “wild cat” strikes became increasingly common in both the auto and steel industries and the authority of the leadership was waning. With the war’s end, the accumulated grievances and resentments of the workers, dammed up hitherto by the wartime no-strike pledge, burst forth in a great cataract of strikes.

The bureaucrats quickly placed themselves St the head of this strike movement to forestall the creation of a more militant rival leadership. But no sooner had the unions gained a victory and the strike wave subsided, than the bureaucracy rushed back into the arms of the capitalist state. It attempted to re-solidify its alliance in the vain hope of warding off the blows of the extreme forces of reaction and for protection against the militant sections of its own membership.

Growing Subservience

This basic, direct and growing subservience of the trade union bureaucracy to the capitalist state is illustrated by the following crucial facts:

The Murrays and Greens have been tub-thumping for the Truman Doctrine and shipped AFL and CIO Officials with the American Military Mission to Greece to help put over Wall Street’s program of military dictatorship and impart to it it labor and democratic veneer.

The bureaucracy enrolled as a direct agency of the State Department to sell the Marshall Plan as a “civilian rehabilitation job” and a prize package of “humanitarianism,” add lead within the world labor movement the counter-offensive against the Stalinist attacks on the Plan.

They emerged as direct flunkeys and time-servers of Washington, performing innumerable chores to facilitate the execution of Wall Street’s imperialist program and the intensification of its “cold war” against Russia. Among a few of the more notable achievements of the bureaucracy along this line are: Helping to split the Stalinist-dominated trade union federation in France and setting up a rival trade union body with a pro-American State Department orientation; intervening in the Italian elections and advising the Italian unionists to vote for the Christian Democratic Party – the capitalist party of Wall Street and the Vatican; splitting of the Stalinist-dominated Latin American trade union federation add setting up, under Washington’s aegis, a rival body.

The bureaucracy gave aid and comfort to the red-baiting campaign unloosed at home by the government and the capitalists, and they themselves actually flooded the union movement With this same anti-labor poison.

To all this is added their present desperate attempts to prop up the Democratic Party and prevent its disintegration, coupled with their attack on all third party adherents. The bureaucracy is determined to uphold and keep the unions tied to the two-party system of capitalist politics.

Thus, to properly appraise the trends and relations in the American trade union movement, we must start With the towering fact that the trade union bureaucracy has deliberately and consciously allied itself With the imperialist state, seeks to act as its “labor agency” both at home and abroad – and that this alliance determines all big questions in the trade union movement.

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