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Hugo Oehler

Old and New Organization Forms

(May 1935)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 18, 5 May 1934, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The class struggle of the American workers has been known throughout the world for its militancy and its sudden flare-ups. Likewise, among the workers of he advanced capitalist countries, the American, workers have been known as the most politically backward. The expression of their political backwardness was not confined to the spheres of ideology and theory. It was expressed most glaringly in the sphere of organization.

The highest developed capitalist nation with the lowest percentage of organized workers in the elementary trade union form of organization, and with a Socialist and later a Stalinist party that were no more than caricatures of their European sections, clearly revealed this backward organization state of affairs. Beneath these outstanding organizational shortcomings there was concealed a more fundamental one that is now in the first stage of change – as a reflection of the fundamental economic and class relation changes taking place In the United States.

Remoulding Workers’ Organizations

The old organization forms used by the American workers for elementary industrial struggles up to the highest political struggles have existed so long that every one takes them as a matter of course. Now that the basis of the old forms is in the flux it is vital that the class conscious element help remould these organization forms into a higher type for our class struggles.

The old forms primarily revolve around the craft structure for the trade unions, language and territorial structures and local and national central bodies. Conferences and permanent bodies that were formed on a city-wide or national issue merely knitted together the existing forms, which meant merely heaping together a quantity of the same backward forms.

A class that is politically backward, with a low class ideological level, can tolerate such antiquated forms. But a rapidly developing class in motion, such as we find in America today, already shows signs of a struggle to grasp new and higher organization forms.

The higher forms we must work toward revolve around the shop meeting and the shop committees a the basic units of the industrial union. This form has been propagandized for years. Now it is within reach of fulfillment.

The shop committee and Industrial union call for a new centralizing and coordinating structure if we are to be effective in combating the centralization, the concentration and cartels developing through the aid of the NRA. If the shop committee and industrial union use the old vehicle, which successfully coordinated the old craft, language and territorial structures, the effectiveness of the new weapons are reduced tenfold.

Shop Delegate Bodies

Craft and territorial forms called for centralization through conferences and permanent bodies by heaping together as many of these organizations as possible. Shop units and the industrial form of organization call for centralization through shop delegate bodies and committees. If the object is to solve working class problems in one industry the centralization of these shop units takes on the form of the industrial union as its highest expression. If the object is to solve some broader problems on a local or national scale the shop units are brought together in a centralizing structure by delegates from all of the shops in the city, region, or nation. The councils of delegates in a city elect delegates to the next higher body, and so on up to the national conference.

A transition stage from the old organization forms to the new is now beginning. This calls for special attention and guidance on the part of the class conscious workers. The transition will result in a struggle between the old and the new forms. Both forms will be used but it should be our deliberate policy to replace the old with the new as rapidly as possible until the new forms dominate and overshadow the old ones.

New Forms to the Fore

The crisis has brought the new forms to the fore. In the past this form only cropped up in the propaganda of the advanced workers. It made its way in life only when the heat of the class struggle reached a stage where the old broke down and the workers picked’ up the new forms. But in this whole period the old forms dominated the situation.

The new organizational forms are now pushing forward. Already hybrid and distorted forms of the new organizations can be noted. The Federal Union is an attempt to “answer the demand” by sidestepping the issue. The employers, in turn, go the labor fakers one better and answer the demand for Federal Unions in the Auto Industry by establishing “Works Councils” (employee representation company unions). However, shop delegate meetings based upon shop meetings and industrial unions are becoming more than talk and propaganda among the American workers.

It is very difficult to organize shop delegate bodies in the cities dominated by the diversified and small industries and in wholesale distributing centers for farm areas. Such localities give birth to a cluster of retail establishments which when combined with the other factors, make up a tremendous petty bourgeois section which dominates or wields tremendous influence in shaping, the immediate course of the class relations.

On the other hand, the basic industries of the country are so located and concentrated that they lend themselves readily to the industrial form and to the shop delegate bodies. Such industries as steel, coal, auto, textile, etc. add weight to the new form of organization.

Utilize Federal Unions

The struggle within the Federal unions must be utilized by those who support the industrial union and shop committees as embryo organizations for industrial unions.

The key to the change does not rest with the shop unit and industrial unions, although they constitute the foundation. The key to the change is in the United Front of all existing workers’ organizations. By this force conferences and organizations of SHOP DELEGATE BODIES can be established, with ample provisions for the representation of workers’ political organizations, the unorganized hops, the organized unemployed workers, and with fraternal delegates from the other workers’ organizations, with no discrimination against race, nationality, religious or political opinion. These bodies to constitute the new organizational forms of the workers united front for their demands.

At the start such shop delegate bodies will only be able to take root in certain sections, cities and regions. But later they will be able to spread nationally as the heat of the class struggles remoulds the new and higher organizational forms for the workers struggles.

The shop delegate bodies shall be democratic bodies representing all shops in the given area, regardless of what union the workers are affiliated to. The unorganized shops shall also send representatives and place on the first order of business the organization of the shops into units of the industrial union of the country.

The Answer to the NRA

This organizational structure should be the workers’ answer to the NRA. This should be the answer to Green’s class collaboration NRA plan. These shop delegate bodies shall fulfill the needs of tie class and safeguard and extend its democratic rights. Such a structure must be separate and apart from the NRA or any other class collaboration machinery.

The completion of the transform ation from the old to the new forms cannot be carried through artificially by the radicals. However, proper propaganda and agitation to popularize the new forms, with their use wherever possible, taking into consideration, at the same time, the fact that the forces of the class struggle are working in our favor can enable these forms’ to develop quite rapidly.

There is no short-cut to working class results. Some argue that this process is too slow, that work in the NRA will be faster. Yes faster in strait-jacketting the working class. Inside the NRA apparatus the workers are harnessed into class collaboration. The NRA apparatus can be entered by the workers as visitors, with the understanding that only the organized might of the workers outside of the NRA can win the workers demands. Pressure upon the NRA and its “use” upon this basis will obtain results and also enable us to expose it as a capitalist structure against the working class.

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