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E.R. McKinney

Dedicate May Day 1947 to a Real Labor Struggle!

(28 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 17, 28 April 1947, pp. 3 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

MAY DAY has been celebrated in the United States for 60 years in various ways. Celebrations took place under the leadership of the unions themselves, the Socialist Labor Party, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, smaller revolutionary organizations, or through some form of united front. The basic notion in these celebrations, however, was always that May Day be the occasion for an annual mass turn out of the working class. The roots of May Day were in the struggles of labor and it was well understood that this was a day on which labor massed its ranks and its banners for a demonstration before all the people.

The workers put down their tools, remained away from the factories, the mines and the mills and marched in the streets by the hundreds of thousands. This was a unique demonstration in that the participants were overwhelmingly wage earners who were engaged in the decisive sectors of capitalist production. They were the industrial workers, the proletarians; the vanguard of the toilers.

This was the general pattern. Despite the differing political content of the various celebrations, all participants agreed that May 1st was really labor’s day and that it was not that “Labor Day which comes the first Monday in September,” and which had been set aside to “pay tribute to labor.” On May Day the working class exhibited its potential might. Speakers came from the ranks of labor. There were no congressmen, cabinet officers and other “friends of labor.” There were no May Day sermons preached in the churches and no editorials in the capitalist press extolling labor. All of this was reserved for Labor Day, which was looked upon as a sort of labor Fourth of July.

The kind of May Day described above is not the rule today. May Day has become respectable. Before the Second Imperialist War, the Stalinist party in the U.S. went to great pains to prove to the working class that May Day was not a foreign importation, that it developed out of the struggles of the working class in this country. This party called the workers into the streets to demonstrate under its banner. Tens of thousands responded to its calls, during the war, however, after Russia entered the Anglo-American imperialist bloc, the Stalinists were busy teaching labor that May Day really wasn’t very important or significant. The workers were admonished to stay off the streets and to remain at their machines in the factories, to work the mines and the fields. Labor was told that that imperialist slaughter was a “sacred war.” This coincided with the war opinions of Stalin and Molotov who had come to, the conclusion that fascism was not really “a matter of taste.”

The “New” Period

Now that the war is over and German fascism defeated the Stalinist bureaucracy is once again calling on the workers to celebrate May Day.

Stalinist imperialism is in conflict with U.S. imperialism. The “beloved leader” Browder has been kicked out of the party and it has asserted its spurious claim to have “returned to Marxism-Leninism.” “Our line’s been changed again.” Thus, they are calling on the workers to parade again. But not in the name of the Communist Party. The advertisements for the celebration are anonymous and the reasons for the demonstration are very vague indeed. Undoubtedly there will be much talk about “defending labor’s rights,” “defeating the reactionaries in Congress,” “checking fascism in the U.S.,” “returning to the foreign policies of Roosevelt.” (The Roosevelt who, according to the Stalinists in 1940, was moving “for the overthrow of the republican form of government set up by Washington and Jefferson ...” Yes, the same Roosevelt who rejected “the peace proposals of Germany ...” in 1940.)

Aside from the Stalinists a “May Day” meeting is to be held by an assortment of social-democrats, liberals and conservative trade unionists. The war is over and they too will attempt to place themselves at the head of the masses for the celebration of the struggles of the working class. As is their custom the trade union leadership will do nothing. May Day to them is a little too “red” and radical. There would be too many workers milling around in the streets, marching and singing.

This then is a picture of May Day, 1947: the continuation of Stalinist treachery and social-democratic dribble and servility. Both groups led labor into support of the Second Imperialist World War. Now that the shooting is over, for a season; one group, the Stalinists, continues its support of Russian imperialism while the other, the social-democrats and liberals hold fast to U.S. imperialism.

More Than Speeches Are Needed

This May Day, however, it is necessary for labor to do something more than merely march, sing and listen to speeches. On past May Days the marching, speaking and singing had some real meaning and impact on the working class and. the capitalist ruling class. At least the cops turned out “to stop the revolution” which had been planned in secret and was to break out in all its fury on May Day. Now the cops know better and they only take their posts to control and direct traffic.

It is necessary to revive the spirit of May Day. Neither the Stalinist Darades nor the social-democratic indoor meetings will do this. The spirit of May Day means to remember the past struggles of labor and to prepare for future struggles. It means to reveal a fighting front to the capitalist ruling class through May Day working class solidarity.

May Day has been a day of inspiration to labor, a day to inspire labor to action. It was a one-day lull in the daily routine for the purpose of demonstrating working class solidarity. “Down Tools!” That was to exhibit gigantic potential power which resides in the working class. It was said over and over: “May Day Is Our Day.” That is, May Day was the day on which we gave an indication of our intention to break our chains and throw off the yoke of slavery. It was a warning of what was to come, a symbol of what might be. It was notification to our oppressors that we had not forgotten our martyrs and that we would one day avenge them.

But now May Day has fallen on evil days. The reason, in the main, is that labor in the U.S. and in the world has not succeeded in rising to the level of its real tasks, has not yet demonstrated its ability to take on the real job, the job of leading the nation, leading the world, becoming the head of the nation and of the world.

Labor in the U.S. was lulled into near-impotence by the New Deal. It was disoriented by the Second Imperialist World War into the belief that the war was primarily a crusade against fascism and that the working class had no class interests distinct from those of the capitalists. Labor was betrayed by its own leaders. It has been lead and cajoled into a blind alley.

Just thirty years ago labor all over the world was lifted to great heights by the victory of Russian workers and the Bolshevik Party. The inheritors and defenders of the program and traditions of bolshevism is the movement founded and led by Leon Trotsky. This Fourth Internationalist movement is a small group and its voice does not yet reach far. But it is the continuing tradition of socialist internationalism and working class solidarity.

Today, Stalinism, the very opposite of Bolshevism, is triumphant in Russia and, with the assistance of England and the U.S., has conquered a large part of Europe. The Stalinists exploit the aims of labor for the purpose of strengthening the Russian bureaucracy and Russian imperialism. This is the chief role of the Stalinist Party in the U.S., which acts as the agent of the Russian bureaucracy and of Russian imperialism.

Ideology of Labor Bureaucrats

The native labor bureaucracy is anti-Stalinist today. These bureaucrats always follow the lead of the capitalist ruling class and its government. They have been and are always anti-socialist and anti-communist. But they can also be anti-socialist and anti-communist and at the same time, pro-Stalinist. They can do this because they are’ fundamentally practitioners of class collaboration. In a very servile way they follow along the lead of the ruling class. This was abundantly clear during the war.

The trade union leaders were just as anti-communist and anti-socialist as ever but they came to terms with Stalinism because that was the program of the ruling class for that period. It meant nothing to these labor leaders that the U.S. ruling class could have its bloc with Russia and Stalinism, precisely for the reason that Stalinism itself is anti-socialist and anti-communist. Now that Stalinism is in conflict with U.S. imperialism and the government is preparing for war with Russia, these labor leaders become anti-Stalinist and begin the organization of a campaign against them in the labor movement. In all their cringing and crawling they attempt to drag the labor movement along.

On this May Day, the labor leadership in the U.S. reveals its bankruptcy. They have no program of their own for labor and they have no knowledge of what kind of program is needed. They are afraid of the capitalist class and just as afraid of the working class. They are afraid to cut loose from the ruling class, which gives this bureaucracy a small measure of protection and yet they need the protection of the working class as well. At important turns of the struggle they must turn to the masses upon whom they rest. To do this, however, it is necessary that they have a program for labor and that they consent to lead labor militantly in class struggle. At times they do this but always with, a fear of allowing their own rank and file to decide in a democratic manner any really important question of policy and tactics.

The top men in the labor bureaucracy, Green, Murray, Lewis, Reuther, were either too stupid and/or too enmeshed in the operations of capitalist society, to understand what they were doing when they harnessed labor to the Roosevelt administration and the imperialist war machine. The Stalinists did the same thing but they knew what they were doing. They were not and are not American patriots (even Murray understands this today). They were and are Russian patriots. During the war they became supporters of U.S. imperialism because this was their best means of giving support to the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia.

“What Can We Do?”

Green, Murray, Reuther, Lewis and others are U.S. patriots. But by support of the war they trapped themselves and the entire labor movement. Before and after the U.S. entered the war, under the leadership of Roosevelt, the capitalist class took steps toward the pacification of the labor movement. It laid plans to disarm the labor movement under the slogan of “national unity.” The labor leadership took up this slogan. Reuther was chirping all over the country: “we’ve got to win this war.” The fools and the innocents talked more fervently about winning the war than did the capitalist bosses. What they did not understand, however, is that the capitalist bosses and their government would never consent to labor getting out of “control” after the war was over. R.J. Thomas bellowed forth in á UAW convention: “I called more strikes before the war than any other international president. When the war is over, if they play with us I’ll call them again.” This was the attitude of all except the most conservative of trade union leaders and the Stalinist Harry Bridges.

These labor men do not know much. They believed that they could deliver labor to the ruling class only for the duration of the war. But the ruling class does not separate war completely from other periods. The attitude of the capitalist ruling class toward labor is determined by the demands of their class interests at all time. The capitalists believed that their interests demanded a no-strike pledge during the war. They got it. Now they believe that their class interests demand a “union control” bill. They will get it. A labor leadership, spineless enough and stupid enough to have given that no-strike pledge, is too spineless to organize a real struggle against the present anti-labor bills in Congress.

Today, under the leadership of Murray, Lewis, Green and Reuther, labor only marks time. Under this leadership we march up the hill and march right down again. Labor has gone from the NIRA to “union control” bills in a small span of fourteen years. All the sound and fury of Murray and Reuther, the raucus belligerency of Lewis and the pious incoherent bleatings of Green, who endorsed Rep. Hartley of New Jersey, will not wipe out the fact that the trade union bureaucracy has been pushed to the wall and that it refuses to employ the weapons it has to fight back. It fears to call on labor. It would rather beg crumbs of the capitalist bosses than to take any step which would unleash the power of the working class.

This is the real situation on this May Day. No advance over last May Day or the one before. Yet labor must prepare to advance. We will continue to celebrate the victories of the past but this is not enough. What of the present and the future? We do not honor the labor movement of the past or the heroes of the past if we merely praise their name and do nothing to add to their deeds and their accomplishments.

The present, labor leadership not only hangs on to the coattails of the capitalist bosses but to the coattails of the political representatives of the capitalist bosses. Like the capitalist bosses these labor leaders split themselves between the Republican and Democratic parties. They call on the ranks of labor to follow. They even try at times to capture one of the capitalist parties.

The CIO and Tobin go with the Democrats; Lewis and Hutchinson go with the Republicans. They organize their three-ring circuses for the capitalist parties and call on labor to come in and see the show. After all of these antics of the labor chiefs over the years, they are rewarded With denunciations like: “labor dictators,” who must be “curbed” along with the unions which they lead.

And now they don’t know what to do. It would not occur to them of course to break out of this morass into which they have been beguiled by the capitalist bosses. They are like the middle class during the depression sitting in a mortgaged home and hoping that the depression will soon be over. Unless some group rises in the ranks of labor and strikes out for independent working class political action before 1948 the present labor bureaucrats will be in there pitching blindly for Truman and Dewey or for whomever the capitalist bosses have selected to put through their “union control” bills.

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