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Discussion on Regeneration of the American Labor Movement

There is no genuine labor movement in America. The class-collaborationist unions, part and parcel of capitalism and the state, cannot (like capitalism itself) be reformed by "boring from within." The phony "leftist" Marxian parties were never really revolutionary. For opportunist reasons of their own, they actually function as the "labor front" for the "welfare state" or state "socialist" varieties of capitalism .

Since the decline of the IWW to a mere handful of dedicated militants, deplores Stanley Aronowitz, " .. . there is no significant force within the working class offering a radical alternative to business unionism . . . " (Worker's Control, p. 100). What are the possibilities for the regeneration of the labor movement? What are the possibilities for the re-emergence of a revolutionary minority capable of promoting, to an appreciable extent, the radicalization of such a movement? Our remarks are meant to stimulate fruitful discussion of these vital problems, not prescribe cure-all formulas.

Rebellion in the Ranks

The incorporation of the American labor movement into the "labor front" of the emerging American "welfare" capitalist state, plus the alarming extent to which bureaucracy and corruption--all the evils of capitalist society--infects the unions, has had a devastating effect upon the morale of the anti-totalitarian left. It has undermined the faith in the revolutionary capacity of the labor movement. Sincere militants, including many anarchists, reluctantly rejecting the labor movement as a force for social regeneration, are now searching for other alternatives.

In rightfully stressing the indisputable degeneration of the labor movement, the pessimists underestimate or ignore an equally, or more important development, namely, the spontaneous mass revolts of the rank-and-file "ordinary" members against the triple exploitation of the labor bureaucracy, the employers, and the regimentation of the state. The myth of the happy, uncomplaining, American worker, is not sustained by the facts.

The revival of militancy traces back to the revolutionary tradition of the labor movement and particularly to the revolts of the 1930s: a period marked by spontaneous "sit in" strikes of the unorganized against the employers and the organized workers against both the class-collaborationist unions and the capitalists. " . . . the country is full of spontaneous . . . wild-cat strikes . . . " [wrote an activist in December 1937] ... "wherever one goes, there are picket lines.... " The number of strikers in 1930 was 158,000; in 1933, 312,000; in 1934, 1,353,600. Serious assessments about the character of the American working class must take these facts into consideration.

. . . during the second world war, 6.7 million strikers participated in 14,471 strikes, far more than there were in the CIO's heyday from 1936 to 1939, and far more than in a comparable period in U.S. labor history. ... many of these strikes were unauthorized wildcats which implicitly challenged the leaders of the CIO and their pact with capital and the state.... (Radical America, July-August, 1975)

The AFL and the CIO, including the Communist Party led unions, after the Nazi invasion of Russia, patriotically opposed all strikes--often labor struggles altogether. Millions of AFL and CIO industrial workers refused to suspend the class-struggle during the second world war. The workers ignored high level agreements and conducted illegal strikes.

There were 1,843 strikes in 1950--more than in 1949, and more than the big year of the 1937 "sit-ins." More importantly, they were large national strikes involving not only wage increases, but also shorter hours, better working conditions, health and welfare benefits and quick correction of grievances. There were also unauthorized strikes r against speed-ups which prefigured the struggles of recent years.

In 1950, the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) signed a five year contract with General Motors outlawing strikes, ignoring the demand of the workers to stop speed-ups and insure quick settlement of complaints. to force the corporation to grant these demands the workers were forced to take action outside the union. Seventy percent of the workers repudiated the agreement and staged wild cat strikes.

The wild cat strike movements of 1953-1954 which spread to all the corporations and all sections of the nation, finally forced the union to restore the right to strike and shorten the duration of the contract.

The workers revolted against the betrayals of their officials by 0 throwing them out of national and local offices in the Steelworkers Union, Rubber Workers Union, Oil and Chemical Workers Union Textile Workers and Electrical Workers Unions, etc., and elected new leaders. Although the new leaders turned to be as bad as the old ones, it did manifest the extent of rank-and-file resentment. The leaders of the unions are afraid to oppose the rank-and-file directly. Having tried to thwart membership initiative, and failed, they have publicly supported strikes, while secretly sabotaging them by siding with the employers to impose labor peace on the rebellious members.

Coal Miners Revolt

One of the great achievements of the sweeping rank-and-file revolts in the trade unions is the victorious revolts of the coal miners which led to the ousting of the corrupt, entrenched, class-collaborationist, criminal regime of the United Mine Workers (UMW) despot, Tony Boyle. Boyle was convicted of plotting the murder of his rival, Jack Yablonski and members of his family. Boyle pledged that the UMW would not abridge the right of mine owners to run the mines. He did very little about safety in the mines, the fatal "black lung" disease, and the right of the miners to correct these, and other grievances by local strikes.

The miners resorted to wild cat strikes which the union could no longer control. Fortune magazine, in a long article declared that the miners " ... were no longer under union discipline.... " The wild cat strike involved 42,000 of West Virginia's 44,000 coal miners and thousands of miners in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and other high production areas. (For this and copious information on other wild cat strikes, see Jeremy Brecher's excellent STRIKE!)

The miners served notice on the new Miller administration that they would not tolerate the dictatorial procedures instituted by John L. Lewis and his hand picked successor, Boyle. They staged massive wild cat strikes involving over 100,000 miners for the right to settle local issues by local strike without permission of their national, district, or local bureaucrats. Efforts to end the strikes led to the "resignation" (allegedly for health reasons--actually, the ouster) of Miller.

Public Service Workers Strikes

There have been massive strikes even among public service workers who were traditionally the least militant and anti-union. Postal workers staged a nation-wide strike in 1970 not only in violation of federal anti-strike laws (an offense punishable by one and a half years in jail and a $1,000 fine for each striker), but also in defiance of their leaders.

Striking teachers in New York, Newark, and other cities, were not afraid to go to jail for violation of anti-strike injunctions. For example: The Detroit Federation of Teachers was ordered to pay one million dollars for their six week strike. The New York Teachers local was fined $245,000, and the Philadelphia Teachers Local $290,000 (N.Y. F Times).

The "New Breed of Workers"

The young workers (40% of UAW members are under thirty) are revolting against the authoritarian, centralized, bureaucratic structure of modern industry. The young workers feel that they have less and less to say about their own lives and interests in the workplace as the union officialdom, in league with the employers, determines the con-ditions under which they must labor. The workers demand individual freedom on the point of production, in the factories and workshops in which they spend the best part of their lives.

Douglas Fraser, a vice-president of the UAW (now its president) complains that:

these young workers have different values than people of our generation And Walter Reuther, deceased president of the UAW talked about . . . the new breed of worker in the plant who is less willing to accept the discipline of the workplace. he is unwilling to accept corporate decisions....

In the spring of 1970, at the Chrysler Detroit plant, young workers rebelled, refusing to work overtime after fifteen straight days on the job. Absenteeism in the plants on weekdays rose from two percent in 1950 to five percent in 1970. On Fridays and Saturdays the absentee rate soared to fifteen percent of the work force. An article written by a reporter who interviewed young workers finds that:

. . . the younger generation which has already shaken the campus, is showing signs of restlessness in the plants of industrial America . . They are better educated and want treatment as equals from the bosses on the plant floor They are not afraid of losing their jobs and often challenge the foremen's orders . . many young workers are calling for immediate changes in working conditions, they bypass their leaders and start wild cat strikes. . .

a steel worker recalled that young workers started several wild cat strikes over the way an employee was treated by a foreman . . they wanted to be ASKED what to do. Not TOLD to do it. Last month, young workers led a three day strike in a brick making plant after a foreman disciplined a worker for carelessness in operating a life truck. (quoted--Brecher, p. 265)

In 1971, a wild cat strike almost halted the operations of the General Motors Lordstown, Ohio plant, causing it to lose production of thousands of small Vega cars and Chevrolet trucks. Most of the workers were under twenty five years of age, wages were good. A variety of new types of power tools and other automatic devices, eliminated much of the heavy physical labor. Clearly, the rebellion stemmed from something deeper than the question of wages. It raised the question which promises to be the major issue in the labor movement, namely, workers' demand for a voice in how, and under what conditions a job is to be done--the issue of workers' control.

In the 1973 negotiations for a new contract, the union leadership was under considerable pressure from the UAW members and local leaders to limit the freedom of the employer to make decisions about the speed of production, layoffs, automation, etc. But the Vice-President of General Motors, adamantly insisted on management's uncontested right to make decisions in areas . . . vital to the success of the business.... " i.e., PROFITS.

Revolutionary Possibilities

Revolutionary unions cannot possible provide the conservative worker interested only in "What's in it for me?" with the benefits that a "legitimate" union is able to provide: strike benefits; annuities; health and life insurance; an adequate staff to administer the welfare programs; a capable legal staff to draw up contracts and defend the union in the courts; plenty of money to pay for all these and many other services; a "responsible" union, recognized and enjoying the respect of the employers with whom employers are willing to sign contracts; etc.

We must face up to the unpleasant fact that the conservative wage slave, afraid to defend his or her rights against the boss and his stooges, is not going to join a tiny, poverty stricken ' subversive" union whom he or she probably never heard of We have neither the resources, the personnel, nor the desire to imitate the class-collaborationist unions. We cannot do so without betraying our principles and losing our identity. Aside from practical considerations, making it impossible to compete with powerfully entrenched unions; attempts to induce conservative workers to leave their unions and join ours, by hypocritically diluting principles, is a suicidal policy which, to a great extent, led to the collapse of the European labor movement.

Those most likely to join radical unions are the unconscious rebels who are raising hell on the job. They are not afraid to lose their jobs. They challenge the authority of their foremen and supervisors They refuse to work overtime. To enforce their demands they start wild cat strikes in violation of union rules, contracts, and government regulations In the course of their struggles the rebellious workers improvised syndicalist tactics and grass-roots forms of organization similar to those worked out by the revolutionary labor movement during its development The demands of the wildcatters practically duplicate those made by the workers since the inception of industrial capitalism. They include :

  • the right of the workers on the job to call and settle strikes and grievances
  • all demands and ways of putting them into effect must also be decided by the rank-and-file.
  • slowdowns, 'sit ins" harassing employers, supervisors and foremen and other forms of passive resistance.
  • the battle for workers' control must be fought on the shop floor.
  • refusal to honor agreements made for them, when such agreements clash with the interests of the workers on the job.

Today's rebels are acting in accordance with the militant syndicalist traditions of the American labor movement. Because the syndicalist opposition is itself a wild cat movement in revolt against the system, it related best to their own experience. Today's wildcatters could be most receptive to revolutionary ideas. If the libertarian left, now almost extinct, is to become a real force challenging business unionism, it will have to go all out to reach them.

This is not to imply that we should, even if we can, foist our own ideas upon the workers. As Stanley Aronowitz puts it, " . . . the spontaneous revolt will have to develop its own collective forms of struggle and demands." But he believes that ' . the labor movements of the future . . will take a revolutionary syndicalist direction. . . " (see Workers ' Control, p . 105 )

Another capable observer, Stanley Weir, notes that the rebellious workers' groups " . . . scattered in thousands of industrial establishments across the country who have developed informal underground unions . " constitute a sort of guerrilla movement. He suggests that the coordination of such work-groups and plant committees united in city, regional and national councils " . . might be an alternative to bureaucracies elected every few years, far removed from the tribulations and the life of the workers in the factories.... (Workers' Control, p 46-47,105)

Deficiencies of Wild Cat Movement

Without discounting such possibilities, it seems that these speculations about the future of the wild cat movement are too optimistic. They do not sufficiently consider a number of formidable obstacles

Spontaneity--synonym for the spirit of revolt--is, of course, an indispensable prerequisite for social change. But spontaneity alone, is not enough Emotions are fickle. Popular enthusiasm comes and goes, flares up suddenly and subsides as quickly as it rises, leaving little behind

A most disturbing, even tragic, confirmation of this truth, is the way the miners (the most militant wildcatters in American labor history) after, in effect, ousting their reform" leader Arnold Miller, allowed his successor, Sam Church, to re-institute a dictatorship almost as absolute as that exercised by Boyle Church was allowed to appoint his own vice-president, double union dues, increase the organizing staff from thirty to one hundred and twenty appointees, loyal to Church For this, Church was lauded by such organs of big business as the Wall Street Journal and the mine owners.

There must be knowledge and organization. Spontaneity is not sufficient. Spontaneity is effective only when translated into a solid organization, which animated by the spirit of revolt, is guided by clear and consistent ideas. Bakunin and the revolutionary syndicalists in the First International, stressed the point that if spontaneity alone:

were sufficient to liberate peoples they would have freed themselves long ago since . spontaneity did not prevent them from accepting . all the religious, political and economic absurdities of which they are the eternal victims They are ineffectual because they lack two things--organization and knowledge

. . not even poverty and degradation are sufficient to generate the Social Revolution I hey may call forth sporadic local rebellions, but not great, widespread mass uprisings it is indispensable that the people be inspired by a universal ideal . that they have a general idea of their rights, and a deep passionate belief in the validity of these rights (Bakunin On Anarchy, p 14)

The militants are not social revolutionists, determined to overthrow capitalism and build the new society. Their attitude to capitalism and social problems in general, differs in no essential respect from the ultra-conservative or liberal bourgeois views of their leaders--men like George Meany or Walter Reuther (both deceased). They seek only gradual reforms within the unions and within the system. Thus, the rank-and-file miners of Kanaway County, West Virginia, virulently patriotic, demanded elimination of subversive" literature and teaching of "subversive" doctrines in the elementary and high schools

It is axiomatic that neither the rebellious mood of militants, nor the structure of an organization, however well conceived, make it REVOLUTIONARY A labor movement is REVOLUTIONARY only to the extent that the workers feel the need to organize themselves into revolutionary unions dedicated to the abolition of capitalism and the state, to take possession of the means of production and establish a society self managed by the workers. Lacking these revolutionary perspectives, rebellious movements gradually lose their dynamism and integrate themselves into the system. The chief function of a revolutionary minority is to "fan the flames of discontent" (IWW slogan).

Revolutionary ideas cannot be artificially planted. Workers become receptive when these concepts are confirmed and reflected through their own experience.

"Welfare" Unionism Invigorates "Business Unionism"

Sid Lens' contention that " . . . the labor movement won important new concessions from management . . health and welfare funds and auxiliary benefits to supplement social security . . . " is a dangerous illusion (Crisis of American Labor, p. 128). These are no "concessions." Welfare-pension benefits are paid by the workers in the form of "fringe" benefits deducted from wages. Federal social security benefits are likewise deducted from earnings of the workers in the form of income taxes.

Municipal, state and federal income taxes deducted from profits of individual business enterprises and corporations are eventually paid for by consumers--mostly workers--in the form of higher prices for goods and services. The same holds true for employer financed pension and welfare benefits.

The administration of pension-welfare funds, whether controlled exclusively by employers--in most cases jointly with the unions--or by local, state or federal governments, reached the staggering total of five hundred BILLION dollars! Investment of such colossal sums in stocks and bonds for business enterprises turns union trustees and administrators into full-fledged members of the business community.

As such they are more concerned with placing good investments than with the welfare of the workers. Thirty BILLION dollars are invested by unions in NON-UNION corporations!

Rifkin and Barber's expose of the pension racket gives startling examples of the extent and close connection between union investors and corporations:

. . . Lawrence Smedley of the AFL-CIO Social Security Department says, the traditional adversary relationship between capital and labor needs to be re-examined, since labor now owns capital (The North will Rise Again Pensions, Politics and Power in the 1980s, p 149)

. . . virtually acting as owners, unions are calling for representation on the Board of Directors in 1977, President Roger D Wenthold of local 81 International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers proposed that unions become members of the board of Directors in Corporations in which union funds are invested similar proposals are being made by auto workers and other unions . [Douglas Fraser, President of the UAW is now on the Chrysler Corporations board of Directors] (ibid. p 163)

But this is not all. We are informed that " . . almost all pension-welfare funds are handed over for investment . . . " to banks, insurance companies and brokers, who are paid a percentage of the funds for their advice and services. The 100 largest banks, ten big banks, insurance companies, etc., control the investment of three hundred BILLION dollars in pension-welfare funds! The money is invested in corporations in which the financiers own stock or are controlled by them A very lucrative business indeed!

. . . Joe Swire who teaches pension courses at the AFL-CIO Labor Study Center complains that bank investment people and insurance people, gambling with the workers money are losing billions of dollars with our funds (Rifkin and Barber--p 102-103)

Public workers pension funds are actually controlled by politicians and eighty per cent of public pension fund are invested in corporations controlled by the politicians, or have an interest in them The extent of this racket becomes even more scandalous when we learn that there are one hundred and twenty five BILLION dollars in local and state pension funds alone (see Rifkin and Barber, p. 129)

Rifkin and Barber document the charge that almost one out of every two workers qualified to receive pensions never collect a cent because:

. . . like insurance companies, pension plans work under the principle that, while everyone takes part, few will collect (p 126)

A few examples cited: After nine years and eleven months on the job, a Detroit welder is laid off DELIBERATELY only one month before he qualified for a pension.

A textile worker in Georgia, injured after years of faithful labor gets nothing.

John Daniel, a member of Chicago Teamster's Local 705, who worked more than the twenty years needed to qualify for his pension, was denied a pension because he was laid off for three and a half months thirteen years before (p. 125, 126, 132).

... many Alaskans, because of extreme unemployment in the post pipeline era, find it impossible to work the necessary hours needed to qualify for pensions All the moneys contributed in their behalf will be forfeited to the fund . . (Pioneer Alaska Weekly--Feb 15, 1980)

Welfare--Pension System Undermines Workers Militancy

Control of the welfare-pension system by labor and management for the joint expatiation of the workers, constitutes one of the mainstays of business unionism. It ties the worker to his job; makes it easier to impose discipline; curbs revolts and develops a servile attitude toward the union bureaucracy. Furthermore, investment of billions of dollars by the union in stocks and bonds of corporations, fosters the conviction that both the unions and the workers have a stake in the preservation of the capitalist system.

There is furthermore, an affinity between the common bourgeois life-style of the union administrators--almost all of them are nonworkers--and their employer counterparts. Management of such huge sums and the privileges derived therefrom, naturally spawns a new, parasitic class of bureaucrats, far removed from the workers: social workers, lawyers, economists, financial experts, ambitious executives and graduates of business schools seeking careers in the lucrative, expanding welfare-pension field.

The employers have been able to exert a measure of control over unions by threatening to withhold contributions to welfare-pension funds, without which the system would collapse. By threatening to stop collecting dues for the unions (the check-off") the employers pressured the unions to scale down their demands and discipline balking members.

Though written in the 1940s, labor historian Philip Taft's remarks on this subject, remain relevant:

. . . Iabor beneficiary activities was an effective means of developing discipline . . . a threat to take action against those indulging in un-authorized strikes has been supported by the ability to inflict considerable penalties control of union benefits to members has given the union officials added power over locals power that might be abused by unscrupulous officeholders (Economics and Problems of Labor--p 261)

It is for such solid reasons that the revolutionary syndicalists, including the Spanish National Confederation of Labor (CNT) and the IWW, have adamantly opposed the accumulation of vast sums in union treasuries

Workers Themselves Should Independently Control Their Own Pension-Welfare Plans

The problem of regenerating the labor movement is inseparable from achieving independent control by the workers of their own welfare programs Mutual aid and welfare arrangements are necessary, but such matters should be handled separate and apart from the union as such. We should demand that wages, siphoned off into fringe benefits" and welfare" funds, be paid to the workers in CASH As a feasible alternative, we should urge workers to finance the establishment of independent cooperative societies of all types, which will respond adequately to their needs.

Long before the labor movement was corrupted and the state stepped in, the workers organized a network of cooperative institutions of all kinds schools, summer camps for children and adults, homes for the aged, health and cultural centers, credit associations, fire, life, and health insurance, technical education, housing, etc. We should encourage the revival and expansion of such cooperatives as a realistic alternative to the "welfare" racket

A typical example is the Workmen's Sick and Death Benefit Fund, described as the "Oldest Progressive Fraternal Society in the (United States" with 60,000 members in 370 branches in 28 states (as of 1941) ' free of profit making motives, operated solely for its members, this society offers a variety of features designed to give maximum protection at a minimum cost" The Society provides sick benefits, medical benefits, children's insurance, life insurance, hospital aid, youth health insurance, death benefits, recreation farms, and a relief fund. There are literally tens of thousands of such organizations blanketing the country, providing every imaginable need Though financially limited, this movement could be enlarged and adequately financed to provide all, if not more, services now administered by the state and the bureaucratic unions. This could constitute a realistic alternative to the horrendous abuses of the establishment" at a fraction of the cost

In this connection Bakunin's ideas remain cogent. Although he was a strong advocate of revolutionary syndicalist principles, Bakunin did not deem it practical or desirable that society be controlled solely by unions or by any other single agency: the abuse of power is a perpetual temptation, almost impossible to resist. Bakunin maintained that a free society must be a pluralistic society in which the ever expanding needs of humanity will be reflected in an adequate variety of associations .

The decentralization of power and workers' control of their unions is impossible unless this problem is dealt with Our critique applies with equal force to employees of the biggest employer--the state It applies with even greater force to the social security system under which the bulk of the moneys extracted from the blood of the workers in the form of taxes, are criminally expended for weapons for war, threatening the extermination of humanity.

Long Term Contrasts and Industry-Wide Bargaining

Many keen students of the labor movement, like Stanley Aronowitz, have come to realize that:

... long term contracts, which have become standard practice in American industry, have robbed the rank-and-file of considerable power to deal with its problems within the framework of collective bargaining Workers have been forced to act outside of approved procedures because they know instinctively that the union has become an inadequate tool to conduct struggles even when they have not yet perceived the union as an outright opponent to their interests (Workers' Control, pp 63, 64)

Direct agreements, negotiations and settlements between workers and employers in each plant without the intercession of any intermediate body--union hierarchy, arbitration boards, government agencies, etc.--automatically excludes industry-wide bargaining Agreements must never restrict solidarity with other workers in strikes, boycotts and other forms of direct action. Direct action must be supported in spite of the fact that such manifestations are prohibited in industry-wide agreements.

Shorter Hours: A Priority Demand

Without in the least downgrading struggles for more pay (which is eventually passed on to the workers in the form of higher prices), the struggle for shorter working hours is even more important.

There has been ludicrously little progress in this direction since the great eight-hour-day movement in the 1880's. If the eight hour workday was feasible in the 1880's, a century ago, the four-hour day, four day-week is surely long overdue.

This demand, which is really a substantial, permanent gain, has not been seriously considered by the unions. Even the eight hour workday has not yet been attained in industries like auto, steel, transportation, etc., where millions working overtime actually labor ten and even twelve hours daily. Overtime work, except in real emergencies, must be prohibited. The four-hour-workday, four-day workweek, will alleviate the plight of the unemployed better than the nostrums concocted by legislators and union politicians.

In this connection, employed bakers (perhaps other trades?) shared work with their unemployed fellow workers, by taking a day or more off from their jobs and allowing the unemployed to replace them for that period. Thus, the unemployed worker could earn approximately the same wage by working in different shops. Another custom was rotation of employment. These temporary expedients would, of course, not even begin to solve the grave problem of mass unemployment. But it is precisely this noble spirit of mutual aid and solidarity, which is now so sorely needed to inspire the regeneration of the American labor movement.

Workers' Control

The 1960s witnessed the growth of a tremendous movement for workers' control of industry. The News Bulletin of the reformist International Union of Food and Allied Workers' Associations (July 1964) predicted that . . . the demand for workers' control . . . may well become the common ground for advanced sectors of the labor movement." There is an enormous literature on this subject.

In Western Europe, the movement arose with the failure of nationalization of industry to change the relationship between the worker and boss, of ruler and ruled. In Belgium, the General Federation of Workers called a special congress to consider workers' control. In France, the second largest union federation demanded democratic socialism and workers' self-management of industry. Similar demands were voiced in Italy, West Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries.

In England, the Institute for Workers' Control--in response to pressure from the ranks--was established in 1968, by a congress of rank and-file delegates from such powerful unions as the Transport and General Workers, and National Union of Public Employees.

Of this once promising movement, barely a trace remains. Their is no workers' self-management movement. The "Marxist-Leninists"; the Stalinists; the Trotskyites, who deify the architects of the Russian totalitarian state (the exterminators of the labor movement); the socialist politicians; the welfareists; all echo the slogan for workers' control.

Not one of them dares raise an irreverent finger against the Holy Ark of the State. Not one of them shows the slightest sign of grasping the obvious fact that elimination of the division of society between order givers and order takers, NOT ONLY IN THE STATE, BUT AT EVERY LEVEL, IS THE INDISPENSABLE CONDITION FOR THE REALIZATION OF WORKERS' SELF-MANAGEMENT: THE HEART AND SOUL OF SOCIALISM.

American Business Unionists Sabotage Workers' Control

The reactionary American unionists, like their allies, the employers and the state, are not interested in workers' control of industry--much less, workers' control of their unions. Any move in this direction by the leadership, was made only when they were forced to do so by pressure from below.

To insure labor peace, employers may, under pressure, make concessions in regard to increased wages and "fringe benefits" such as paid holidays, vacations, retirement, supplemental unemployment insurance and similar matters. But the settlement of issues which encroach upon the right of the employers to determine the conduct of production (curtailing the power of foremen and supervisors, punishing violations of plant discipline, elimination of unprofitable plants or transfer of facilities to low-wage areas, etc. ) is adamantly rejected. On such matters there is no compromise. The key provision of every contract is the unrestricted prerogative of management" to operate their enterprises as they alone see fit.

Like shorter working hours, widening the area of workers' control, is a priority demand We repeat: THE BATTLE FOR WORKERS' CONTROL WILL HAVE TO BE FOUGHT ON THE SHOP FLOOR.

Independence and Decentralization

The greatest possible decentralization and autonomy of the unions is the indispensable pre-condition for the independence of the workers' organizations.

Integrated National and International Federations--NOT CENTRALIZED BUREAUCRACIES--in production, distribution, air and surface transportation, communication, exchange, natural resources, science and technology and other innumerable economic functions are of course indispensable.

But millions, perhaps most, organized workers mostly service trades, serving only local areas--cities and suburbs, towns, villages, etc.--do not need to be organized nationally.

Retail, wholesale and department store workers, municipal, hospital, and other public service workers, teachers, laundry workers, building service and maintenance workers, construction and repair trades, and innumerable other workers serve only local areas. They don't have to be ruled by national bureaucracies-- miniature states--do not have to support hordes of parasites, drawing inflated salaries and "expense" accounts totaling millions of dollars.

Workers can achieve solidarity and coordinate operations through their own area federations on a local level, and on a national level, through direct contact and consultation via telephone and other modern high-speed communication and information technology; employing the same facilities used by national and international corporations .

Preventing Bureaucracy

It is for the sake of unions directly controlled by their membership that libertarian radicals fought to defend their independence against leaders and cliques bent on becoming dictators of the unions. It is for such reasons that they sought to halt the growth of bureaucracy and despotism, by insisting that wages of officials shall not exceed the average amount paid to the workers they represent; that no paid officials shall remain in office longer than two years, before returning to work; that officials and delegates, paid and unpaid, must at all times be subject to recall if they violate instructions of the membership. Bitter experience should convince the workers never to SURRENDER THEIR POWER to any of their leaders, no matter who these leaders may be; no matter how honest and selfless they may be--or pretend to be.

Libertarians working in union shops should resist all attempts of union bureaucrats to quell rank-and-file militancy. They should refuse to accept paid posts or become unpaid appointees of the union bureaucrats and obey their orders. They should serve the members of the union without pay by voluntarily undertaking obligations consistent with their principles. To illustrate how libertarian policies could be applied to actual situations, we quote the following excerpts from Black Cat, newsletter of the IWW Boston Branch, April 1980:

Last week the locked out employees of Eugene's Restaurant and Pub, against our advice, voted to affiliate with the Hotel, Restaurant, Institutional Employees, and Bartenders Union, AFL-CIO Unfortunately, it will not be long before they discover that this affiliation will yield them no benefits of any value but will result in their losing the control they formerly had over their own activities Hopefully, the next time they are in similar circumstances they will have learned some lessons from their own experience....

. . . the workers had no choice other than to apply direct action techniques rather than taking the NLRB route (which would probably have resulted in their case dying of old age two or three years later) They have badly hurt the owners in their pocketbooks where the sting is felt most sharply If they can keep their picket lines up and avoid having the Hotel, Restaurant, and Bartenders' piecards sell them out behind their backs, they have an excellent chance of winning....


On February 28 the 465 registered nurses who are now employed at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital voted on whether or not to be represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association Presumably, the union won a majority of the votes but it may take years before anyone ever finds out for sure Before the balloting the hospital administration asked the NLRB to broaden the bargaining unit to include all other professional employees at the hospital in addition to the nurses the Board then announced that the ballots would be impounded indefinitely....

. . This amounts to nothing less than union busting by the NLRB . . . if the nurses just sit back and hope that the Board will eventually count the ballots and certify the union, they will lose for sure. The hospital will use the intervening period to fire or harass union militants out of their jobs and replace them with hand-picked scissorbills. . .

. . . The nurses should say: "To hell with the election, to hell with Board certification, to hell with the whole NLRB union-busting trap." They should begin to act union on the job. If they have enough support to win a representation election, they have enough support to go ahead and make their demands to management and get them. This would require a different kind of unionism than the one that relies on the NLRB procedure. This would require direct action and solidarity.... But if the nurses were to choose this alternative, they would wind up with a much stronger and more vital union, one that would truly represent them, because it WOULD BE THEM....

Libertarian Organization

Bureaucratic unions will ultimately have to be dismantled and re-placed by close-knit federations of independent factory and workplace councils Unorganized workers, instead of joining the AFL-CIO or similar business unions, should also be encouraged to organize themselves into federations of independent councils. No single form of organization can possibly embrace the myriad needs of the workers This is but one of the many forms of organization that may be considered The self governing workers' associations must be flexible enough to experiment with new, creative forms of organization, adopting those best suited to their particular and collective needs.

No form of organization, however well conceived, can possibly be immune to abuse of power This is a built-in characteristic. The problem of abuse of power will probably never be fully resolved: but it MUST BE REDUCED TO A MINIMUM Therein, lies the vast contrast between libertarian and authoritarian forms of organization. Power will not flow from the bottom up or the top down, for the simple reason that there will be no top and there will be no bottom. Power will flow through the whole organism, like the circulation of the blood, constantly revitalizing and renewing its cells.

The tentative suggestions for the revival of the labor movement, outlined above, are by no means adequate There are doubtless more that can only be worked out by the workers in the course of their struggles We are primarily concerned with the orientation and general direction that should, in our opinion, radically alter the deplorable character of the American labor movement

The first step for the regeneration of the labor movement, is, as already noted, the formation of a revolutionary minority movement capable of promoting to an appreciable extent, the radicalization of the labor movement Our weak, scattered forces, must be reconstituted on the basis of a clear theoretical and practical program of action responsive to the needs and aspirations of the new generation of rebels, upon whose shoulders will rest the burden of reshaping the labor movement.

We must not be impatient We must be prepared to work within the context of a long-range perspective which may take years of dedicated effort before visible progress will show that our struggles have not been in vain

It is imperative that we launch a wide-ranging constructive discussion on better ways of promoting the regeneration of revolutionary unionism None of us have all the answers But together we can explore new possibilities and more effective methods than have thus far been advanced. It is hoped that the ideas here outlined will serve as the basis for such a discussion.