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David Coolidge

Mass Action

(8 January 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 2, 8 January 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Meaning of Labor Political Action

The Midwest Labor World (United Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Employees, CIO) for November 22 carried an editorial entitled Political Action Not Enough. The editorial was a comment on an article by Frank Marquart which had appeared in another paper. The editorial begins with the statement:

“Political action is necessary, but it cannot be a substitute for the daily struggle between management and labor.”

Then follow some quotations from the Marquart article.

“Workers are told that since labor must deal with the WLB and other government agencies, their hope lies in political action ... There is a feeling ... that the growing emphasis on the political fields tends to replace rather than reinforce labor’s struggle in the industrial field.”

Marquart comments on the fact that stewards have difficulty in getting grievances settled but “meanwhile the guy at the machine wants to know what’s happened to his grievance. He thinks his committee-man has gone back on him and begins to wonder what the hell he is paying dues for.”

Marquart, in the article quoted, says that he is for political action.

“Actually I go further than most union members on this score, for I’m in favor of a third party ... but the people in our union who have gone ga-ga over political action seem to think it’s the cure-all for everything that ails us ... Labor needs two arms – one political and the other economic. It will be just too bad for us if, while building up our political arm, we allow our economic arm to wither.”

The weakness of the Midwest Labor World’s editorial and with Marquart’s editorial is that they do not get to this heart of the question, as demonstrated by the concrete situation in capitalist society today and the experience of the labor movement in the recent PAC political campaign.

At present the struggle between management and labor is a political struggle. It is a struggle between two classes, the working class and the ruling class, the class of wage earners and the class of capitalist profit-snatchers. The capitalist class has called on its government at Washington to give special attention to and guarantees for the protection of the interests of the capitalist class during this period of the Second Imperialist World War and for the immediate post-war days. This is demonstrated conclusively in the oppressive and semi-totalitarian anti-labor laws and decrees of the government and the extra-legal measures of the employers.

The fact that the government has intervened with its various boards, laws and decrees has also a direct relationship to the work of union representatives in the “daily struggle between management and labor.” Labor faces the government, and all acts of government are political acts. Labor cannot respond effectively with pure and simple trade union organization or activity. Political action is the “cure-all” for the ills of labor. That is, class political organization and action is the way out for labor and the only way out. Furthermore, there. is not or should not be any separation between working class economic action and working class political action. This is a myth which the capitalist ruling class seeks to spread among the workers.

There is no contradiction between the demand for a strong union to carry on “the economic struggle” and the demand for a workers’ political party to carry on “the political struggle.” There is really only one struggle: the struggle of labor as a class against the capitalists as a class. And this is a political struggle: the struggle of the working class to displace the present ruling class and reorganize society for the benefit of the majority of the people.

For this, a political party is needed. Such a party must be based on the unions. They must do the job. Of course, the unions must be strong and militant. They have a job to do in the mines, mills, fields and factories. But the national Labor Party based on the unions will also do a job in the mines, mills, fields and factories. It would protect and elevate the standards of labor from its place as the government of the country. It could do this because the government then would be the same people who today attempt to carry on the “daily struggle between management and labor.” The difference would be that these men and women of labor would carry on from the vantage point of government authority and power.

Perhaps the Midwest Labor World and Brother Marquart are fed up with the kind of political activity they observed in the case of the PAC during the last election campaign. That is, perhaps they are in disagreement with those who hold that “labor won the election” and elected a pro-labor President.

The weakness of the PAC campaign was that it was not working class politics which labor was called upon to practice. For the PAC or any other political “arm” of labor to continue this sort of politics, of course would “allow our economic arm to wither.” Our economic arm cannot possibly develop the necessary strength if it is used by our “political arm” for the purpose of supporting capitalist political parties and for electing capitalist politicians to office.

If Brother Marquart and the editors of Midwest Labor World are for a “third party,” meaning by that a Labor Party, an independent, mass party of the working class, then they should stand up and wage an uncompromising battle for such a party. The militants in the labor movement have this duty and this responsibility today as never before. We invite them to join. the Workers Party, where they would be associated with a group of workers who do fight for a mass independent Labor Party of the working class in the United States. That is not all we fight for. We fight for a revolutionary party and for socialism. We fight for a workers’ government and against imperialist war. We fight for peace, freedom and plenty.

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