Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 209, 16 June 1978
One thousand members of the National Maritime Union (NMU) cast their ballots in the recent NMU elections for candidates of the Militant-Solidarity Caucus (M-SC) running for the union’s two top national positions. While the NMU bureaucracy pads its totals with the ballots of unrelated shoreside workers, the militant challengers to the reactionary Shannon Wall regime won fully 10 percent of the vote among deep sea, river and Great Lakes NMU sailors. Not only is maritime a strategic industry, but this impressive showing is the first time since the 1940’s that a genuine class-struggle opposition has won such significant support in a national union election. The results of the April-May balloting register the fact that the M-SC has become the generally recognized opposition in the NMU.
Caucus candidates Gene Herson and Jack Heyman won 995 and 1,067 votes respectively for the offices of NMU president and secretary-treasurer. Both came in second, well behind the incumbents but ahead of more traditional would-be bureaucratic “reformers.” Herson received more than twice as many ballots as Eli Wier, a former supporter of Jim Morrissey, the liberal dissident who garnered wide publicity in the late 1960’s for his court suits against long-time NMU president Joe Curran. Moreover, in key East Coast, Gulf and West Coast ports where the Caucus’ program and its ten-year record of consistent struggle are well-known, the M-SC candidates received a significantly higher percentage than the national average. Thus in the Port of New York, Herson won 316 votes for president against 1,485 for Shannon Wall — 16 percent of the port total for the M-SC against Wall’s 76 percent. In San Francisco, New Orleans, San Pedro (Los Angeles) and Port Arthur, Texas — ports where the M-SC publication, The Beacon, was distributed during the campaign — the Caucus candidates received up to 12–17 percent of the vote.
As a Beacon supplement dated 12 June noted, the M-SC’s strong vote — triple the total received by Herson when he ran for president against Wall five years ago — came “despite a sustained barrage of red-baiting directed at our Caucus throughout the union.” Even though a significant level of anti-communism persists in the union as a residue of the red purge of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, “one seaman in ten voted for candidates who were persistently labeled ‘communists and left-wingers’” by the NMU tops. The M-SC candidates did not pull their punches in the face of these McCarthyite smear tactics, running on a full class-struggle program including demands for an industry wide maritime strike, repudiation of protectionism in favor of international organizing, defense of busing, labor/black defense guards against Nazis and KKK, and “No support to Democrats, Republicans — for a workers party based on unions, and workers government.”
A further confirmation that the M-SC is now seen as the opposition in the union, by ranks and bureaucracy alike, came at a June meeting of the Port of New York where a tumultuous rank and file booed, shouted and voted down by almost a two-to-one margin the sellout contract which Wall&Co. are trying to claim was “approved” by the membership. This year’s settlement followed the same course as previous contracts, trading off a modest increase in wages against a failure to provide any defense against a massive company onslaught against jobs through automation and runaway shipping that has decimated the ranks of the union. A major complaint at the NY port meeting was the way the companies are cutting back on jobs by continually reducing manning scales, not just on the automated container vessels but even on many of the older boom ships, without a peep of resistance by the NMU officers.
A particularly unpopular item in the new contract was the pension clause. Only six years ago NMU seamen could retire at any age after 20 years service at $250 a month. But the precipitous decline in jobs has greatly weakened the union pension fund: some 14,000 pensioners are supported by 13,000 active seamen sharing 6,500 deep sea jobs. The result has been one cutback after another in pensions, so for anything over the minimal $250-a-month benefit, 25 years’ service is required; moreover, seamen cannot collect payments before age 55. The new contract was another slap in the face to the NMU membership (average age 51) for whom the pension is of prime importance. For each additional $20 monthly increase in pension benefits, seamen would be required to work an extra year. In effect the seamen, not the maritime companies, paid for even the minimal pension increases contained in this contract (“The Contract Stinks! Vote It Down! Tie ’Em Up!” M-SC leaflet, 5 June).
Prior to the June ratification meeting at the Port of New York the M-SC had undertaken a vigorous campaign for rejection of the new sellout deal. A caucus leaflet emphasized that there was an alternative:
“The contract of the SIU [Seafarers International Union], West Coast seamen, and West Coast longshoremen (ILWU) all expire next month. This provides a powerful opportunity to take a major step forward. Together, seamen and longshoremen can shut down the docks and win a major victory against our common enemy, the shipowners.”
— Beacon supplement, 22 May
By the time the meeting began the ranks in New York were furious. The Caucus mobilized supporters and active union members to defeat the sellout. Speaker after speaker rose to denounce the contract while the few members who attempted lamely to defend the agreement were angrily booed down. An M-SC leaflet described the scene:
“Caucus member Jack Heyman led off the discussion in the June 5 special meeting on the contract, pointing out that the proposed agreement offers no real gains and in fact keeps seamen far behind the rest of unionized labor. When another Caucus member, Bill Savery, got the mike he stressed that a joint strike of all maritime unions is the only way we can secure the things we need.
“The Caucus members received enthusiastic applause along with other members who rose to condemn the sellout pact Wall’s crew was pushing for the companies. The few flunkies of the officials who tried to speak in support of the contract could not conclude their remarks without being interrupted by loud booing and jeering from the rest of the membership. Having tested the waters, not one union official dared take the floor to discuss the contract — except for N.Y. Agent Rich, who had to make the report.
“After discussion was abruptly ended, one of the bureaucrats’ typical razzledazzle mayhem-type vote counts was taken, with patrolmen shouting out arbitrary numbers from non-specified ‘sections’ of the auditorium. This in itself simply provoked a din of angry protest from the membership as they watched the engineered confusion to swindle them out of jobs, hard cash, benefits and conditions. The vote, by a show of hands, was unquestionable: overwhelmingly opposed to the contract, by a margin of almost two to one.
“Agent Rich was noticeably nervous as he barely reduced some of the irate clamor to announce his phony tally: ‘136 in favor and 123 opposed’!! When the officials admit such a close vote it always means they were thoroughly defeated; but this vote was ridiculously absurd. An outcry exploded from the membership. Gene Herson, prepared for the officials’ tricks to try for a sudden adjournment, jumped to the microphone, holding it with one hand, while holding the plug in the outlet with the other hand, and called for ‘a division of the house,’ denouncing the false vote.
“The master-at-arms was right behind Herson yanking at his arm to unplug the mike while ‘recording secretary’/patrolman Zeidel prepared to kick Herson in the head. The Caucus and supporters leapt to Herson’s defense while demanding a recount. The national officers, including Vice President J.C. Hughes and Secretary-Treasurer Martinez, quickly moved into the fray, which in turn brought the rest of the membership and officers down the aisles as utter bedlam broke loose. As the shouting subsided the officers declared that the meeting was adjourned, while the Caucus and the overwhelming majority of members declared the contract was voted down.
“A petition for a special meeting for a full discussion and fair contract vote was circulated by the Caucus and other active members….;
“What is significant is that the membership demonstrated it has the capacity to fight. It is this potential for membership action that the Caucus seeks to lead along the lines of a class-struggle program to win lasting gains for NMU seamen.”
— Beacon supplement, 12 June
Since the hotly contested union election of 1973, the Militant-Solidarity Caucus has been the only organized opposition inside the NMU. Convinced that its chances of getting into office were nil, the much larger Morrissey grouping evaporated after that vote. With the brief spurt in shipping (prompted by the Vietnam War) winding down and thousands of additional jobs lost due to the lay-up of passenger ships, the beleaguered seamen faced massive unemployment with a reactionary union leadership unwilling to defend the seamen’s interests. Concerned only with his lawsuit against the NMU officers and treasury, Morrissey disappeared altogether after winning a settlement of more than $100,000 in 1977. Only the M-SC continued to fight against the betrayals of the leadership.
The M-SC did not merely seek to articulate the anger of the ranks but also put forward a fighting alternative to the defeatism of the Wall regime, whose program for jobs was limited to stealing them from other workers — raiding other unions and support for protectionism. The Caucus demanded jobs for all through a shorter work period at no cut in pay and organizing the runaway flag ships. In the current elections and contract period, the Caucus candidates demanded a real fight against the capitalists, calling for an industry wide strike of seamen and longshoremen against the bosses and pointing to the need to expropriate the parasitic shipowners with no compensation.
In contrast to the usual union “reform” caucus, which comes to life only at election time to fight over cushy jobs, the M-SC has fought to lead seaman in struggle, both on internal union issues and broader social questions. In the early 1970’s the Caucus led demonstrations of seamen against the lay-up of passenger ships and discrimination against lower-seniority (Group 2) seamen. It has intervened vigorously against racial discrimination, calling on the NMU (which has a high percentage of black and Spanish-speaking members) to initiate a labor/black defense to protect school children being bused in Boston. During the recent dramatic 110-day coal strike it exposed the bureaucracy’s willingness to allow coal to be carried on NMU contract vessels on the rivers and called for hot-cargoing of scab shipments. Stressing the need for international solidarity, it called for U.S. out of the Panama Canal and independence for Puerto Rico.
Caucus chairman Gene Herson, 35, who has been shipping NMU for 14 years, founded the Beacon in 1968 as an outgrowth of a dispute which erupted in Morrissey’s Committee for NMU Democracy. Morrissey had tried to censor articles on the Vietnam War, racism and the Democratic Party, thus producing the split. Morrissey’s entire campaign oriented to currying favor with the liberal bourgeois press, and pursuing the unprincipled practice of calling on the capitalist government to intervene in the NMU against the union bureaucracy, a la Arnold Miller in the Mine Workers. In fact, during the 1973 NMU presidential election campaign Miller came to New York to hold a press conference endorsing Morrissey; sitting like Edgar Bergen between the two competent “reformers” was Democratic Party bigwig lawyer Joe Rauh, who masterminded both operations and particularly their common reliance on the capitalist government.
While the Caucus has untiringly fought against the opportunist perspective that shipwrecked the large opposition movement in the NMU in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, the other “dissident” candidates who ran in the current elections were at best capable of nothing more than serving up warmed-over Morrisseyism. One such candidate was Roy Rydell who received over 1,000 votes in union-wide balloting for New York patrolman (equivalent to a business agent). Rydell was backed by Labor Today, published by Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy (TUAD) which is politically supported by the Communist Party (CP). The Communist Party itself has a long history in the NMU. At one time effectively the leadership of the union, its class-collaborationist policies — particularly during World War II when its support for the war led it to vigorously support the no-strike pledge and even turn in militants to the government in order to suppress any outbreak of struggle — paved the way for the demagogic Curran to launch a red purge which led to the expulsion of hundreds of leftists from the union. In the 1973 elections Rydell and TUAD backed Morrissey although Morrissey had earlier been a hatchet-man for the bureaucracy in the red purge and refused to oppose the union’s anti-red clause.
Rydell ran a thoroughly opportunist campaign in which he simply endorsed popular demands such as more vacation days and restoration of the 20-year no-age pension. He systematically ignored any controversial issues such as the union’s steady-man system, under which a minority of seamen “homestead” a ship for seven or eight months while the majority of seamen are mostly unemployed surviving on relief jobs. This system encourages sweetheart deals with management, leading to the erosion of union conditions and is justly resented by militants. Following in the footsteps of Morrissey (whom he has never repudiated), Rydell failed to oppose racism, demand support for busing and school integration, mention a word of criticism of the capitalist parties or oppose the bureaucracy’s vicious support for protectionism. To cap it all off, Rydell claimed to run as an “independent” yet confined his “criticisms” of Wall & Co. to such milquetoast verbiage as complaining that they took the “wrong approach.”
Although Rydell (a charter member of the NMU) is well aware that the maritime unions were built through militant struggles against the companies, he has consciously opposed any call for strike action against the bosses. During the contract negotiations Rydell pandered to widespread anti-strike sentiment in the ranks, many of whom are fearful that any militant action undertaken by the present corrupt leadership would end in disaster. The M-SC has answered this legitimate concern not by giving up but instead calling for democratic election of a contract/strike committee to prepare for an industry wide strike embracing all the maritime unions. Rydell’s answer to Wall’s sellout deal was to send it back for “renegotiation” — thus implying that the reactionary Wall regime is capable of “persuading” the companies to grant seamen what they need — without engaging in any struggle!
For the most part the American left has simply sought to ignore the decade of principled struggle by the Militant-Solidarity Caucus in the National Maritime Union. In the 1973 elections most of the left backed the liberal Morrissey against Wall, sneering that the M-SC was too small and insignificant to merit any support. In fact, what they really believe is that it is impossible to achieve any influence in the labor movement by building a principled, programmatically based opposition. Instead the fake lefts have consistently thrown in their lot with big-name reformist oppositionists like the Millers, Morrisseys and Sadlowskis.
The large vote for the Militant-Solidarity Caucus in the recent NMU elections demonstrates that you don’t have to be opportunist to win authority with the ranks. And yet, with the exception of WV, the left ignored the NMU election. This is not because the M-SC is “too small” to warrant the attention of outfits like the CP, the ex-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) or the social-democratic International Socialists (I.S.). It is because the M-SC’s principled struggle is directly counterposed to the reformists’ defeatist line — and exposes it — that the CP/SWP/I.S. et al. refused to support the caucus candidates.
The successful campaign of the Militant-Solidarity Caucus is a verification of the revolutionary program pursued uniquely by the Spartacist League: building a left-wing opposition in the unions which draws a hard programmatic dividing line between itself and all wings of the trade-union bureaucracy. In 1973 most of the left, reformists and centrists alike, whined that the M-SC was dooming itself to irrelevancy, isolating itself from the ranks of seamen by refusing to support the liberal union-suer Morrissey. In fact just the reverse was true. When Morrissey showed his true colors, the prestige and authority of the Caucus increased markedly. It won real respect for telling the truth and refusing to surrender principles.
It must be noted that because of the absence of social struggle in this section of maritime, hard-hit by demoralizing job losses, the Caucus has not yet had an opportunity to demonstrate in practice that its leadership and program are capable of winning real victories over the class enemy. It is also necessary to go beyond willingness to vote for a class-struggle candidate to actual demonstration of support for its program by active participation before it can be said that the M-SC has built a mass base in this union. But the successful campaign and the consistent course pursued in the NMU by the Militant- Solidarity Caucus point the way forward for all class-conscious workers, demonstrating, in a modest fashion, the possibility of winning support on the basis of a hard fight against all brands of trade-union reformism.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 43, 26 April 1974
CHICAGO, April 19 — More than any other U.S. union the United Auto Workers has the responsibility to provide leadership for a working-class response to the second Nixon recession and the phony “energy crisis.” Sharper hit than any other section of the industrial workforce by the wave of layoffs, auto workers are currently at center stage of the domestic class struggle. This situation sharply poses the question of what kind of leadership the UAW must have not only to defend its membership, but to point the way forward. With a convention coming up in June the UAW provides an opportunity for militant opposition groups to put forward their programs in elections for convention delegate.
In Local 6, representing International Harvester’s Melrose Park plant outside of Chicago, thirty-five candidates on five separate slates are running for eight convention delegate seats. The Local has a militant tradition as well as sharp internal political divisions. In the last Local elections Norman Roth, a supporter of “Labor for Peace” and the Communist Party-backed “Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy” (TUAD), defeated Dick Egan, the red-baiting, racist incumbent, with whose ex-supporters he now shares the Local leadership.
The right wing has now regrouped under the anti-communist shop chairman Bob Stack, leaving Egan out in the cold. While Stack’s “Defense Coalition” red-baits Roth, Egan eagerly splits the right-wing vote by denouncing Stack’s slate as “opportunist” and “vigilantes.” This might leave a clear field for the opportunist Roth and his Solidarity Caucus were it not for his leftwing competition!
Typical of the type of trade-union reformism the Stalinists support, Roth is the perfect liberal. He opposed the Vietnam war, favors impeachment of Nixon and eulogizes Martin Luther King in his column in the Local 6 paper. Roth has also come out for opening the books of the corporations, an end to wage controls and an end to labor participation on Nixon’s wage-controls boards. He presents nice-sounding lists of reform demands to the Local in the guise of general program and writes articles in Labor Today (the TUAD newspaper) advising militants on how to deal with bureaucratism in their union meetings.
But at the same time, Roth stays fully within the bounds outlined for him as a member of the tightly monitored Woodcock bureaucracy. How are UAW members to express their outrage over wage controls, for instance? Not through strike action. Roth suggests they write their congressmen! Furthermore, he calls for “genuine” price and profit controls (“like there were during World War II,” says Roth — has he forgotten the fraud of war-time controls, in which inflation soared ahead of frozen wages?).
Roth soft pedals his differences with Woodcock, as over the last contract, by restricting opposition to a few verbal gestures and presenting the International position as a fait accompli. Woodcock’s latest atrocity, “dealing” with layoffs through pleas for government handouts and quota limitations on imports, is characterized by Roth as “a start.”
Most importantly, Roth’s agreement with the CP’s “anti-monopoly coalition” (otherwise known as supporting “lesser-evil” Democrats) keeps him in the same capitalist political ball park as Woodcock. Once this political “principle” of picking and choosing among capitalist politicians is established, differences on trade-union policy necessarily become minor differences of emphasis — how much and when to apply “pressure” for crumbs from the ruling class. Roth, with an eye on ensuring his bureaucratic future, has already announced his intention to endorse Woodcock’s re-election at the convention!
A contradictory grouping to the left of Roth’s Solidarity Caucus, but existing in a symbiotic relationship with it, is the Workers Voice Committee, a syndicalist formation which has spawned the Workers Slate for the elections. The bulk of the WVC’s activity consists in enthusiastic support for the day-to-day struggles of the workers. This enthusing is interrupted from time to time, however, by the need to take positions on broader issues. Thus during last year’s Local elections, the WVC announced, “We are not running a slate. We think that the development of struggle by the workers on the shop floor is the key to solving our problems” (Workers Voice, Vol. IV, No. 5 ). Its leaders Mike Goldfield and Roger Stromberg issued a leaflet, however, which gave very obvious backhanded support to Roth.
In the present contest, the Workers Slate raises slogans which the WVC has never raised in the course of its work, including demands for a shorter workweek at no loss in pay and a labor party. The Slate leadership, however, puts out leaflets which don’t mention these demands. Furthermore, despite the inclinations of some of its more left-wing supporters, the WS fails to actually call for a break with the Democratic Party. The labor party demand is thus an empty abstraction. Reuther and Mazey were long-time supporters of such abstractions.
The WS also says nothing about government intervention in the labor movement and the use of courts against unions. The WVC has in the past supported suing the unions in the capitalist courts over unfair labor practices — a “tactic” which in this period of massive government intervention into the unions poses the threat of the final strangulation of the unions as independent workers’ organizations.
The “leftism” of the Workers Slate reflects only episodic desires on the part of a thinly-disguised reformist leadership around Goldfield to distinguish itself from the CP-supported bureaucratic reformism of Roth. At bottom they are the same. The WS is a contradictory swamp which cannot last long.
In contrast to this sorry opportunist spectacle, a Militant Action Slate of three candidates, Judson Jones, Marc Freedman and Chuck Marino, is running on the basis of a program calling for a reorientation of the labor movement toward a perspective of class struggle rather than class-collaborationist reformism.
The Militant Action Slate is a more recent grouping, composed of several individuals who have been attempting to raise class-struggle demands in Local 6. One of the militants who helped form MAS put forward a motion last fall in the Local calling for reinstatement of fired wildcat strikers in Detroit. More recently, it was one of the MAS candidates who introduced a motion calling for financial support to British miners and “hot-cargoing” of scab goods going to Britain during the British miners’ strike. Seeing no harm in adding this demand to his verbal stockpile, Roth supported the motion, and it passed. Naturally, Roth did nothing concrete to implement it.
These militants were not satisfied with the hypocritical verbal militancy of Roth’s Solidarity Caucus and the syndicalist Workers Voice Committee and sought to go further. The program of MAS specifically calls for a break with the Democratic Party, as well as calling for a labor party based on the trade unions. Unlike Roth or the WS, MAS calls for specific action instead of platitudes to deal with layoffs — a nationwide strike which would shut down all of auto (including plants the employers want to keep running) in order to reverse layoffs, through a shorter workweek at no loss in pay.
MAS also calls for impeachment, but without relying on Congress or Gerald Ford as do Roth, Woodcock and the CP. Instead, it calls for labor strikes to force new elections and “the running of a militant labor candidate for president to oppose the candidates of business.” MAS also calls for ending discrimination through union control of hiring on a first-come, first-served basis with no preferential treatment for any group. It calls for international workers’ solidarity, international strikes against international corporations and strike action against imperialist wars. The MAS program is clearly aimed at the very basis of the capitalist economic system; MAS urges auto workers to break with reformism by struggling for their demands without regard to the ability of capitalism to survive. MAS calls for the expropriation of industry under workers control and for a workers government “which can defeat the corporations once and for all.”
Prospects for victory in the election look best for Stack’s “Defense Coalition,” with its majority support of the Shop Committee, its incumbent position and straight pro-Woodcock line. This is all the more reason not to place any faith in fake lefts like the Solidarity Caucus or Workers Slate: their reformist illusions and false promises only feed Stack’s anti-communist business unionist fires.
The Spartacist League calls for support to the Militant Action Slate which, if it continues past the election, is bound to set an example for militants throughout the Chicago area and UAW nationally. Given its solid programmatic foundation, with the proper steadfastness in building and recruiting a base in the plant, the militants grouped together in the MAS can hope to participate fully in the construction of an alternate pole of class-struggle leadership in the labor movement. They can rest assured, however, that this is only the beginning of a difficult road, and the real content of their program and leadership must be tested in action before they can hope to win the support of the majority of the workers.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 67, 25 April 1975
CHICAGO, April 18 — C. B. Dennis, black UAW union member, has been trying to move into the white neighborhood of Broadview. His house was firebombed and stoned repeatedly. But tonight, like every night for the past week, the Dennis family home is being protected by an integrated defense guard of his union brothers. Local 6 of the United Auto Workers, International Harvester, voted unanimously at the membership meeting Sunday to set up the defense guard.
At a time when there is a dramatic increase in racist terror against blacks all across the country, the UAW local’s action is a powerful example of what can be done to stop the night riders. And it is the best possible answer to those who preach reliance on the bourgeois cops by hiding behind the despairing lament, “workers won’t defend blacks against racist attacks — there’s no solution except to call on the troops”!
The attacks, which have caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the house and prevented the family from moving in, are part of a pattern of terror against blacks in white areas here, where right-wingers have been trying to stir up race hatred. In another neighborhood on the Southwest Side, four black families have been forced to live under a virtual state of siege, with the National Socialist White People’s Party (Nazis) all but taking direct credit for the firebombings (see article in this issue).
The first volunteers from Local 6, including Local president Norman Roth, were at posts outside the damaged house within hours of the union meeting. C. B. Dennis, who is a repairman at the Melrose Park IH plant and has been working there for 15 years, was interviewed at the house by Workers Vanguard. He said he had been unable to get adequate police protection.
“They said they would come by 20 minutes out of the hour. But that’s no protection at all,” Dennis told WV, observing that patrols had been by only once in two hours that night. “This is the best thing we could do,” he said, referring to the volunteer guards, “I was really proud of the union today. I think it’s a good thing.” An older black worker who was listening agreed, saying he could recall no similar action by the Local in its history. He likened it to the defense activities of the anti-eviction campaigns in which he had participated in the 1930’s.
The UAW Local’s defense action received considerable attention in Chicago. Articles appeared in both daily papers on Monday, and Dennis and Local 6 officers were interviewed on two television stations Monday evening. At least three radio reports were also made.
On the second night, the union guards were heckled by passers-by in the area, and a neighbor two doors down shouted at them to “get the hell out” of there. Another white resident, however, had earlier come over to talk to Dennis for 20 minutes, expressing sympathy and pointing out that some of the rocks had hit his house as well.
It is clear that the racial polarization runs deep but the entire neighborhood has not been terrorized. Local 6 defense volunteers speak in terms of the need to prevent another Boston-type racist mobilization in Chicago. There have been no new attacks as the teams of union volunteers have been guarding the house daily. Members vow the guards will remain “as long as necessary” to ensure that the family is safely moved into the house.
The attacks on black families have mounted during an organizing offensive by fascist and racist groupings in Chicago. Besides the attacks on four black families on the Southwest Side, there were earlier attacks on other families in Broadview. The Nazi Party ran candidates for alderman in five wards in the last elections, and the Ku Klux Klan has also been actively organizing lately.
These scum thrive on the despair generated by heavy inflation and unemployment in the working class, and their efforts to divide the workers along race lines can only benefit the employers. Resolute action such as that undertaken by Local 6 could, if followed through and adopted by the rest of the labor movement, prevent future attacks and quickly lay the tiny but deadly dangerous fascist movement in the grave where it belongs.
The third attack on the Dennis house, which occurred two days prior to the union meeting, particularly incensed many members of the Local. The motion to set up the volunteer union defense guards was made by a member of the Labor Struggle Caucus, which had distributed a newsletter in the plant before the meeting calling for a militant response to the wave of racist terror. The Labor Struggle Caucus is a grouping in Local 6 with a class-struggle program which has recently been active in successful struggles against a company leafleting ban in the plant and against a move to extend terms for local union officers to three years. Its resolution at the Sunday meeting supported the “struggle for integration of blacks in housing, education, and jobs,” as “vital interests of the entire working class,” and denounced reliance on the police, who “serve the employers and cannot be depended upon to defend the rights of blacks or of the trade unions.” The motion also called for defense activities to be extended to the black families on the Southwest Side, as well as Broadview.
Following the meeting, the Local issued a special number of its newsletter. Although this was reportedly not very well distributed, a special meeting held Tuesday night for volunteers was attended by 25 members from all political groupings in the Local, as well as by a television crew, which filmed the entire proceedings. President Roth chaired and took a lot of criticism for the inefficient distribution of the special Local newsletter which, it was said, kept the meeting from being larger.
He also relented under pressure on his earlier objection to the formation of a special committee to organize the defense guards. A steering committee was then set up under the chairmanship of the by-laws committee chairman. It includes two members of the Labor Struggle Caucus, a member of the syndicalist Workers Voice group, and other Local members. Members of the steering committee immediately began signing up volunteers in the plant.
Support for the defense activity was forthcoming, at least verbally, from the UAW officialdom in the area, including regional director Robert Johnston. The special Local newsletter asserted, “These efforts are in accord with our UAW principles and policies.”
On the other hand, the UAW officials seemed primarily concerned to get government officials to intervene, thereby relieving the union of its responsibility. At the Dennis house on Sunday night, Roth told WV of his intention “to exert every political pressure possible to try to get the authorities to do something.” He further claimed that “In some instances, the police have given some protection.”
Roth, who is a prominent supporter of Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy, the trade-union group backed by the reformist Communist Party, not surprisingly places confidence in the bosses’ state. Yet neither courts, cops, troops nor National Guard will protect blacks against racist victimization. This can be clearly seen in the Boston situation, where the courts are conciliating the racists and have taken a giant step backward on the busing plan.
In Boston there have been two sharply counterposed lines on how to defend the endangered blacks from racist attack. On the one hand there are the liberals, joined by the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party, who have called for federal troops. Against this dead-end reliance on the armed forces of the capitalist state, the Spartacist League has called for integrated working class defense. Both in Chicago and Boston or elsewhere, labor/black defense guards could quickly eliminate racist terrorists, neutralize wavering elements in the white population and eventually defuse racist mobilizations.
The Local 6 action could be the start of a general initiation of militant, class-struggle response to racist terror in the Chicago area, but only if the whole Local, leadership included, works to undertake it seriously and spread the idea to other locals. If the Local 6 leadership instead spreads illusions in the state, the way will be left open for a worsening racial polarization. The guard must not be ended prematurely, on the advice or promise of the cops or city officials that defense will be provided by the state.
The recent action of the Local 6 members stands as an inspiring example for all trade unionists and black militants: black and white workers can unite and organize to fend off racist terror. It will take an all-sided fight for class struggle policies and leadership throughout the labor movement to turn this example into the rule. But an important beginning has been made.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 69, 23 May 1975
CHICAGO — Recent elections in UAW Local 6, at International Harvester’s important Melrose Park plant on Chicago’s West Side, produced a sweep for the right-wing, business-unionist pro-Woodcock slate. The results were a stern indictment of the reformists who hide their politics in unprincipled coalitions and disguise their opportunism with phony “militant” phraseology. But they also showed strong support for the one candidate who actively built the Local’s on-going labor/black defense guard as a main focus of his campaign.
A month ago the Local voted unanimously for a resolution presented by the Labor Struggle Caucus resulting in the formation of a defense guard to protect a black member’s house, which had been repeatedly attacked (including firebombing) in an attempt to prevent him from moving into the predominantly white neighborhood of Broadview. These attacks were part of a wave of terror against blacks in white areas of Chicago. On the Southwest Side, Nazis have all but taken direct responsibility for similar incidents.
Despite foot-dragging by the Local 6 leadership and silence from most of the candidates in the recent election, the defense guard continues to operate and has thwarted new attacks on the house. Support for the defense has reportedly been received from UAW Local 688 (Broadview Parts Depot), boilermakers Local 1257 and the Bulk Mail Center local of the Postal Workers Union. Resolutions of support have been raised in at least three other local unions, including Steelworkers Local 65, at U.S. Steel’s Southworks.
The across-the-board winners in the election were the candidates of the Positive Action Leadership (PAL) slate, consisting of the incumbent administration under retiring shop chairman Robert Stack. The PAL launched a no-holds-barred red-baiting attack on its main opponents grouped together in the Rank and File Coalition (RFC). Echoing a classic J. Edgar Hoover line, Stack wrote in his regular Local newsletter column inveighing against “anarchistic, revolutionary elements” who “used and exploited the plight of minority members of the union” (Union Voice, 25 April). The opposition, said PAL, was a “catch-all coalition of militant visionaries” who would “present their ‘dream-schemes’ for world revolution to the Company as your views.” PAL, in contrast, promised “responsible” unionism with “a team of experienced leaders.”
The opposition, which included Local 6 President Norm Roth running a losing battle for shop chairman, was indeed a catch-all coalition, but that was the only accurate point in Stack’s diatribe. The RFC grab-bag was no more capable of presenting a program for “world revolution” than PAL, but the few so-called “revolutionaries” within it opened themselves up to vicious red-baiting with their own well-practiced and incurable opportunism.
Roth, who has a long-standing individual following in the plant, is a leading member of Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy and helped found the short-lived Auto Workers Action Caucus (AWAC), both of which are supported in the press of the reformist Communist Party. AWAC was touted by the CP as the answer to the United National Caucus (UNC), which it considered too oppositional. CP-supported elements, including Roth, backed Woodcock for UAW president at the union’s last convention.
The RFC also included left social-democratic elements and received the support of the International Socialists. The IS, however, is a chief backer of the UNC — despite the latter’s support for protectionism and its attempts to exclude socialists at UNC demonstrations — and criticizes the CP’s support for Woodcock. Thus about all the RFC could agree on was a low-level program of shop-floor militancy. At a time when massive layoffs and racist violence are the main issues facing the membership, the RFC concentrated its campaign fire on speed-ups. While mentioning six hours’ work for eight hours’ pay in its program, the RFC also endorsed the current sellout contract whose bankruptcy in the face of layoffs is demonstrated by the collapse of GM and Chrysler SUB funds.
No effective answer to PAL’s sophisticated red-baiting could possibly be mounted by a group so divided on fundamentals that one half of it praises “détente” as the answer to unemployment (the plant happens to be operating largely on Soviet tractor orders) while the other half capitulates to anti-communist “Buy Americanism”! Since the RFC offered nothing beyond a slightly frenzied version of the same business unionism as PAL (one plank in the RFC program was a vague call for “total non-cooperation” as the answer to speed-up), the membership, logically enough, opted for the “experts.”
Meanwhile, the Labor Struggle Caucus, a group of Local 6 militants putting forward a class-struggle program, reduced its number of candidates from three (in the 1974 elections) to one this year, largely because of the LSC’s heavy involvement in building the Local defense guard. Its candidate for executive board member-at-large was Marc Freedman, who is also secretary of the Civil Rights Defense Committee.
A recent incident at the Dennis house drove home the need for the entire Local to strengthen this defense committee, a point which the LSC has been making for some time. Last week five whites drove up to the home, yelling racial epithets and making threatening moves toward a car in which two unionists on duty at the time were sitting. No violence resulted, but the failure of the union leadership to mobilize for the guard has heightened the danger of renewed racist violence.
One of the two campaign leaflets issued by the Labor Struggle Caucus attacked the other candidates for ignoring the guard and ran a “box score” showing who had served guard duty and who hadn’t. In a capitulation to racism in the plant, the entire PAL slate had not served once. While Roth and a few candidates for lesser office on the RFC slate had helped guard the house, these “militants” remained silent about the defense squad in all their campaign literature.
In addition to supporting labor/black defense as part of a militant, integrationist program to fight racism with united working-class action, the LSC was alone in proposing an effective response to the layoffs (of 200 to 250 workers) which were announced for the plant just prior to the election. On this key question, which is plaguing the auto union and the entire working class, Roth proposed “détente” and paid lip-service to the old UAW slogan of a shorter workweek at no loss in pay. The Labor Struggle Caucus made the issue quite concrete by proposing a resolution for a strike to stop the layoffs, “extended throughout the Harvester chain and backed up with the full power of the International union.”
The LSC also rejects class collaborationism and called for opposition to the parties of big business (Democratic and Republican), and for the building of a workers party which would “fight for a workers government to reorganize our society to do away with unemployment and racism.”
Unable to mount a serious challenge to the main slates with only one candidate, the LSC nevertheless scored a victory for the labor/black defense effort and its class-struggle program by winning 441 votes, or 17 percent of those voting, for its candidate. This is more than double the highest vote received by a candidate of the Militant Action Slate (which subsequently became the LSC) a year ago. The program and determined struggle of the LSC point the way forward to victory for a class-struggle leadership of the workers movement in the future.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 60, 17 January 1975
SAN FRANCISCO, January 11 — A demonstration was held yesterday in front of the Federal Building here against a lawsuit which seeks to give preferential treatment against layoffs to women (regardless of their seniority) at the Fremont General Motors assembly plant. The demonstration, which numbered about 30, included workers from the plant, coming to protest the suit. Among these were members of the Committee for a Militant UAW (CMUAW), which has been opposing the suit in the plant.
The protest was called by the Spartacist League to coincide with a hearing before Judge A.J. Zirpoli in federal district court for an immediate injunction to stop layoffs for women workers in the plant. The judge refused to grant an injunction.
Also yesterday, over 2,300 workers at Fremont worked their last day for an indefinite period. Given the depth of the layoff (going back 12 years in seniority) many will undoubtedly lose recall rights before GM restores the second shifts to auto and truck production lines at the plant.
The demonstrators demanded, “Drop the Suit, Save the Seniority System!” and “No Layoffs, Jobs for All!” An SL leaflet announcing the demonstration had called for the union to fight discrimination against women and minorities, and for a union fight against layoffs.
Other demands of the demonstration were, “No Government Interference in the Unions!” “No Lawsuits Against the Unions!” and “The Union Must Fight Racial and Sexual Discrimination!” A counterdemonstration, composed primarily of supporters of the Maoist October League and CLUW, defended the “women’s lawsuit.”
The SL demonstration was given more attention by the media than the hearing itself. Channel 7 broadcast a film clip of the SL speaker, while Channel 2 noted that the demonstration, as opposed to the counterdemonstration, was in favor of jobs for all, through a shorter workweek at no loss in pay and a union hiring hall to combat discrimination. Both television channels, as well as local papers, have been covering the events surrounding the Fremont layoffs, reflecting the nervousness of the bourgeoisie over the prospect of militant working-class response to the mass layoffs and mounting unemployment nationally.
While trade-union leaders both locally and nationally have been meekly accepting the layoff announcements and mouthing the capitalists’ own excuses for their “inevitability,” groups such as the CMUAW at Fremont have been indicating the direction a true class-struggle response to layoffs could take. “WE ARE NOT HELPLESS IN THE FACE OF LAYOFFS,” emphasized a recent (11 December) issue of the group’s paper, The UAW Militant: “One of the most powerful of labor’s weapons comes from the UAW’s own tradition: the sit-down strike.”
Counterposing union struggle against all layoffs and plant closures to impotent court “remedies” which protect some workers at the expense of the rest, the CWUAW advocates a sit-in demonstration in the plant “to set an example to other plants” and lay “the basis for a nationwide campaign for a shorter work week at full pay.” This campaign has stirred widespread interest in the plant and union (Local 1364), as has the group’s opposition to the “women’s lawsuit.”
At the court hearing, in addition to denying the request for a temporary restraining order preventing the company from laying off women, Judge Zirpoli postponed a hearing on the full suit to March 14. The suit was filed against General Motors last August by eight women assembly workers as their answer to large-scale layoffs at Fremont. The suit denounces the seniority system as the “vehicle” of GM’s discrimination against women, and calls for “population parity” for women in the plant.
According to spokesmen for the Committee for a Militant UAW, backers of the suit have been lying about its real aims to the workers in the plant. One leaflet distributed in the name of “the women who filed the suit and their supporters,” claims,
“We are not asking for 50 percent women in the plant within four years. Is it true that men will lose their jobs? In cases like this one, no court has ever ruled that men be bumped out of their jobs. Nothing in our lawsuit calls for this to happen.”
This is a clear and direct falsification. Although argumentation in the body of the suit disavows any desire to see men laid off, the main intention is made clear:
“such affirmative action plan shall have as its goal permanent population parity for female employees at GMAD Fremont…, that is population parity without regard to workforce size at any time.”
Lawyers present at yesterday’s hearing, not surprisingly, interpreted “population parity” to mean just what it says. that the plant must have as many women as in the surrounding population, i.e., about 50 percent. And one judge in a similar case has in fact ruled that workers may be laid off to make way for minorities with less seniority (see WV No. 59, 3 January 1974).
A victory for this suit could become part of a nationwide precedent doing nothing to stem layoffs or unemployment, but enabling employers to break the seniority principle in order to give special treatment to minorities. The seniority principle is a major gain of the labor movement. Although often implemented in a discriminatory fashion, seniority protects all workers from arbitrary victimization by the employers. The suit also hands the courts the right to rule on working conditions, a question central to all union contracts.
The danger of the suit is so great that even the UAW International has belatedly shipped an official delegation to the scene to block the remedies proposed in the suit. The International, however, expressed no interest in opposing the court’s power to rewrite the contract. Instead, it has entered the case with a “friend of the court” brief proposing an “alternative”: women who can “prove” they were discriminated against in hiring can get back pay but not super-seniority.
The judge ruled that the UAW could not enter the case as a neutral “friend of the court,” but only as a defendant, since it is a party to an agreement (the contract) upholding seniority, which is what the suit opposes. This should have come as an eye-opener to the suit’s backers, who have been vigorously insisting that the suit is aimed only against the company, not the union and seniority!
Commenting on the International’s court brief, a CMUAW press release (7 January) says:
“Our Committee is fighting to have the suit dropped, not changed or added to. We do not recognize the right of the courts to rule on whether our contract terms will stand or fall. Further, it is the height of hypocrisy for the International to come into the case at this late date. Not only has the International never taken up a fight against discrimination as it has been carried out by the auto companies, but it has never waged even a token struggle against massive layoffs now sweeping the industry….;”
Inside the plant over 650 workers (more than half of whom were women or minority men) signed a petition circulated by the CMUAW calling for the union-busting suit to be dropped because it will weaken the union and open the door to government intervention. Addressed to the union, the petition demanded “that the union fight all forms of discrimination, and mount a campaign to end layoffs….;”
The CMUAW’s principled and well-received opposition to the women’s suit has understandably caused intense frustration among Maoist backers of the suit. While the suit’s initiators and October League backers have resorted to lying, the left-posturing but equally right-Maoist Revolutionary Union (RU) fell back on its time-worn tactic of Stalinist gangsterism. At a small demonstration for “Jobs or Income Now” held by the Local’s Unemployed Committee and well-attended by RU supporters, one of the latter tried to steal stacks of leaflets being distributed by CMUAW members. When two supporters of the CMUAW sought to recover the leaflets, a bunch of these hooligans jumped them. The CMUAW supporters fought back and a brother from the plant floored one of the two-bit Maoist thugs. The CMUAW was outnumbered but TV cameras closing in on the fight discouraged the Maoist back-alley boys, who prefer to do their dirty work in secret. (This is not the first time members of Local 1364 have run into the RU’s policy of goon attacks. In October 1973 the union passed a motion upholding workers democracy and the right of various labor-socialist groups to distribute literature outside the plant. This was in response to attacks at Fremont GM on salesmen of Workers Vanguard and the Bulletin by RU supporters.)
Aside from continuing its history of attempted physical suppression of the left, the RU’s answer has been the “jobs or income” demand. This demand accepts the fact of layoffs and the capitalist business cycle and dissipates the struggle for jobs.
The stance of the Local 1364 officials in the face of the layoffs has been completely passive. At first they refused to support CMUAW’s position against the lawsuit, later tried to claim credit for the anti-suit petition and finally backed the International’s brief. On January 4 they held a half-hearted demonstration against layoffs with Local President Vern Dias and Shop Chairman Earlie Mays leading 150 marchers to an isolated park in Fremont, where Dias offered a few platitudes about how “we need jobs or income for American people” without presenting any strategy for a union fight for jobs. The International, meanwhile, limits itself to “moral persuasion” and plans for a march on Washington in February to pressure Congress.
Speaking at the rally, Joan Putnam of the CMUAW said that auto workers need jobs, not a dole. “GM wants us on the street, not in the plant,” she said. The answer is sit-down strikes in the factories, where the strength of organized labor lies. She denounced the “women’s court suit” as an attack on the union and the seniority system and criticized a banner calling for a shorter workweek but neglecting to add the demand for no loss in pay. Putnam ended with a call for workers control of the factories, expropriation of industry and a workers government.
When the present layoffs were announced, the Committee immediately began agitation, demanding that “The union must stage a sit-in demonstration inside the plant to protest the layoffs and force the Company to negotiate with us” (CMUAW leaflet, “Sit Down: The UAW’s Oldest Weapon,” 19 December). The Committee called on the Local leadership to hold a mass meeting inside the plant to adopt the sit-down tactic and democratically determine tactics regarding publicity, defense and negotiations.
Recognizing that layoffs cannot be reversed in just one plant, it put forward the following demands for local negotiations: “No reprisals — unlimited recall rights,” “Unlimited, unconditional unemployment benefits from Company assets for all laid-off workers — make the government take over SUB payments when the fund runs out.” Their stated aim was to use a local sit-in demonstration, attracting immediate nationwide and worldwide attention, as a launching pad for similar actions elsewhere which would lay the basis for a nationwide campaign against all layoffs and plant closures.
In late December it was rumored that the Shop Committee of Local 1364 had seriously considered the group’s proposal. The rumor was confirmed at the December 22 special membership meeting when President Dias, in an attempt to justify having ruled the CMUAW motion for a sit-in out of order, said that the leadership had conferred with union lawyers on the subject and were told that such an action would be “illegal” and therefore unfeasible. If Vern Dias had consulted “union lawyers” in the 1930’s, he would no doubt have been told that sit-down strikes were “illegal.” Had auto workers followed such advice then, there would be no UAW today!
Proponents of the “women’s lawsuit” cravenly capitulated to the cowardice of the Local leadership by opposing the sit-in and red-baiting the CMUAW. The Maoist supporters in Local 1364, having supported the present Brotherhood Caucus leadership when it came to power at Fremont in 1973, thus continued their role as water-boys for the reformist bureaucracy. They have been thoroughly discredited by their dishonest support to divisive and reactionary use of the courts against the labor movement.
Only the CMUAW, with its class-struggle program, pointed the way forward in the context of the massive layoffs which have now swamped the entire auto industry as a result of the deepening economic crisis. The soaring unemployment is already making employers bolder and more aggressive in their war against the unions.
The increased threat of scabbing and the labor bureaucracy’s complete passivity in the face of what they themselves call “depression” conditions can only have a demoralizing effect on the union ranks. The key to success is the question of leadership, that is, the need to oust the present sellout, defeatist union bureaucracy and replace it with a militant class-struggle leadership which can point the way forward. Caucuses like the CMUAW at Fremont which put forward a full class-struggle program, including the need for working-class political independence from the capitalist parties, are urgently needed throughout the UAW and the rest of industry.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 60, 17 January 1975
Two members of the Committee for a Militant UAW at the Fremont General Motors plant, Darlene Fujino and Ruth Ryan, were interviewed by the Fremont-Newark Argus (22 December) in a full-page feature article on the opposition to the “women’s lawsuit.” After listing the reasons why Fujino and Ryan (both of whom are being laid off) oppose this union-busting attack on seniority, the article gives the CMUAW’s alternative:
“They wouldn’t rely on seniority alone to protect workers. What they have in mind involves more than that: institution of 30 hours work for 40 hours of pay and nationalization of the auto and energy industries without compensation were two of the parts of the program they emphasized.
“Other goals of their program: no restrictions on political expression in the union; industry-wide strikes against layoffs, workers control of industry; change the union leadership; a workers party fighting for a workers government; keeping police, employers and courts out of the union; and elimination of discrimination by means of a union hiring hall.”
The interviewer asked “if unemployed workers wouldn’t prefer a more immediate solution,” to which Ryan replied, “There are no shortcuts.”
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 24, 6 July 1973
A vicious assault on union democracy, spearheaded by California local bureaucrats of the Communication Workers of America, was defeated by a close vote at the CWA convention in June. The local officials, headed by the “militant” Kirkpatrick of San Francisco, proposed to give Joe Beirne’s die-hard anti-communist International bureaucracy the constitutional power to persecute “reds” and “disrupters” in any local of the union, thereby greatly expanding the International’s disciplinary powers. The defeat of this red clause constitutional amendment was a victory for all union militants.
A crucial role in stopping this atrocity was played by the Militant Action Caucus (MAC) of Oakland Local 9415. MAC initiated a “No on 19-2C” Committee which was joined by other oppositional groupings and individuals, and attended the convention in order to muster support against the proposal.
While the red clause was drafted by Kirkpatrick, it was eagerly supported by the other California local bureaucrats. One of their chief targets was MAC, which had recently defeated a lame attempt by discredited bureaucrats in the Oakland local to bring some of its members up on phony charges of “bringing the union into disrepute” (see WV Nos. 16 and 17, February and March 1973). These elements and others like them wanted a new club with which to beat down oppositions which exposed their rotten role. So armed, they hoped to be able to cling to office no matter what. Most delegates correctly saw this as a threat to them, however, since it could be used by the International to stifle any opposition.
The posh Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach was the scene of CWA’s 35th annual convention — an appropriate setting for bureaucrats to ignore the pressing problems of the membership. While some of the 2,600 delegates had been elected by the membership of CWA, most attained delegate status merely by virtue of their positions in the local hierarchy. Thus the Militant Action Caucus waged a pre-convention struggle within Local 9415 for elected delegates, but bureaucratic manipulation prevented the issue from coming to the floor.
While profuse lip service was paid to democracy and freedom of expression for all points of view, the convention reeked of the vicious anti-communism of the CWA bureaucracy and its staunch support for the capitalist system in general and the cold-war liberals in particular. Telegrams from Senators McGovern and Humphrey, leading supporters of government wage controls and compulsory arbitration, as well as from other similar “friends of labor” were read from the rostrum, while awards were given to those CWA members who had raised the most money for the Democratic Party through the CWA’s Committee on Political Education (COPE).
In discussing Nixon’s wage freeze, a violation of every union contract in the United States and an attack on the union’s position as sole bargaining agent for its members, CWA President Joseph Beirne, who has publicly called for Nixon’s impeachment, commented only that the controls should be fair! The CWA bureaucracy has never taken up a struggle against the wage freeze and, in fact, the AFL-CIO executive board, of which Beirne is a Vice-President, actually called for wage controls even before Phase I was announced. Until the spring of 1972, Beirne also sat on the government’s Productivity Advisory Board, which concerned itself with devising new and more efficient ways to exploit workers, and it was not until February of this year that the C.W.A. News called for an end to the Economic Stabilization Act — Beirne and the rest of the labor bureaucracy helped to create this act and now Beirne asks that the controls be “fair”!
One of the gravest threats facing the membership of CWA at this time, as it is facing the working class as a whole, is increasing automation, which under capitalism, because of the widespread unemployment it engenders, must take the form of a curse instead of a blessing. Not one of the resolutions placed before the membership even touched upon this critical problem. The delegates were instead encouraged to discuss and vote on such issues as year-round daylight saving time, testimonials to the memory of Presidents Truman and Johnson and support for Radio Free Europe.
The politically most controversial convention discussion centered on the “anti-red” amendment, clause 19-2C of the International Constitution. According to the proposal originally put forward by Kirkpatrick, union members could be fined, suspended or expelled by trial set up by the International (most offenses are handled locally) for:
“Wilfully supporting or assisting any and all corrupting influences or the undermining effects of Communist agencies or others who are opposed to the basic principles of our democracy and free and Democratic Unionism.”
Known for his supposed “opposition” to Beirne, Kirkpatrick claimed he was the only president in his district who opposed the last contract settlement (1971), calling it a “sellout.” This “militant” wanted to hand Beirne a hatchet with which to chop any oppositionist whose ideas were considered subversive — such as the idea that Beirne’s contracts are sellouts! Beirne has split many locals and helped blacklist local leaders for just such ideas carried a bit too far for his liking.
The Constitution Committee found Kirkpatrick’s wording a little too reminiscent of the witchhunting of the 1950’s, however, so it proposed language of its own. In its version:
“Wilfully engaging in activities for the purpose of disrupting Local meetings; wilfully publishing untruths about any Local or its elected officers; or wilfully filing false charges under the Union Constitution or Local Bylaws against any member of the Union.”
That its intentions were identical to Kirkpatrick’s, despite the tidied-up language, was revealed in the Committee’s motivation for the amendment:
“There are, however, small groups of persons who have occasionally during the history of Labor convinced themselves that they know better than the membership itself, that because they contend the members are incapable of making proper decisions about their own lives, that the Democratic procedures must be vacated and that any means to their end are the proper ones. The result, when this kind of situation is permitted to continue, is a flaunting of the members’ desires, the destruction of Union Democracy, and the subversion of Local Unions to the private purposes of special interest groups.”
The Constitution Committee, moreover, printed both versions of the amendment in its report, making clear the purpose of the final wording, and objecting to the original version only on grounds that it was “far too broad in scope.”
But the fact is that it is not the militant oppositionists but precisely the bureaucrats who have been guilty of “flaunting the members’ desires, the destruction of union democracy, and the subversion of Local Unions to the private purposes of special interest groups.” In Local 9415, it is the bureaucrats who have adjourned meetings against the will (and vote) of the membership. It is the bureaucrats who refused to support a wildcat in 1971 despite its overwhelming support by the membership. It is the bureaucrats who published in the local’s Labor News a cowardly and vicious, red-baiting, sex-baiting, “anonymous” slander letter directed against members of the Militant Action Caucus. It is the bureaucrats who involved themselves in physical attacks on union members. And it is the bureaucrats who for months have prevented the election of shop stewards despite the fact that this was voted for by the vast majority of the membership last November!
In Kirkpatrick’s Local 9410, it was President Kirkpatrick himself — this splendid champion of union democracy — who declared at a meeting last month that only “over my dead body” will the members get the right to elect their own stewards.
Nothing could be more ludicrous than the claim of this rotten union leadership, which refuses to fight for even minimal contract demands and which has never shirked from violating any democratic procedure which stood in the way of its own appetites, that its concern is the preservation of union democracy and the protection of the membership from “corrupting influences.”
No! The real concerns of the bureaucrats are to keep the membership ignorant and quiet, unable to protest one betrayal after another by their “leaders.” Some elements of the bureaucracy wanted to begin laying the groundwork for the upcoming 1974 contract fight by getting rid of all the troublesome opposition within the union. As they gear up for another great sellout in the Beirne tradition, they are acutely aware that their ability to consummate a deal with the bourgeoisie and force it down the throats of the membership will depend on their ability to silence militancy in the ranks, preferably through physical expulsion. And the time to start is now.
The Militant Action Caucus, Yellow Pages (San Francisco), Bell Wringer (Oakland) and the United Action Caucus (New York) backed a “No on 19-2C” Committee in order to fight this amendment. The Committee circulated a petition against the amendment and raised money to send two representatives to the convention to leaflet, petition and persuade delegates to vote against the amendment. Members of the MAC initiated the Committee and carried the brunt of the work from the outset, while others in the Committee took a more or less passive attitude. Of the $125.00 which the Committee raised to help send representatives to Miami (both members of the MAC), Yellow Pages supporters contributed only $5.00. The United Action Caucus in New York refused to take part in the struggle at all, beyond a pro-forma endorsement. Another opposition group, the Traffic Jam caucus (San Francisco) showed up for one meeting of the “No on 19-2C” Committee and left after about a half hour with no explanation. Faced with direct attack on the very right to opposition, launched by the president of their own local, they do nothing at all. Nor have recent issues of the newspapers of the Revolutionary Union, Progressive Labor or the International Socialists, who support these caucuses, seen fit to campaign against this witchhunting attack.
The two representatives of “No on 19-2C” did find support at the convention, however, particularly from some CWA members from Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia. The Atlanta phone workers had, like the members of the MAC, been brought up on charges within their local for “bringing the union into disrepute” (i.e., criticizing the local leadership).
A leaflet was issued against 19-2C and all parties who wished to participate in the struggle were encouraged to distribute it and to contact potentially sympathetic delegates. By aggressively pushing the issue other CWA members were found to help distribute the leaflet and numerous delegates were contacted, several of whom later spoke on the floor against the amendment. Overall the Committee’s intervention had a noticeable impact. The failure of the amendment to win approval is due in large part to the efforts of this group and, even more, to the MAC, which had initiated the fight on the West Coast and had carried it through with persistence and determination. The final rejection of 19-2C was the act of a majority of CWA delegates. The delegates had been assured repeatedly — by Beirne (!) particularly — that the CWA was the most democratic union in the world. It was to this tradition that those opposing what was essentially a gag rule successfully appealed in their remarks during the debate (which took up most of one day). Local leaders had their own reasons to oppose the amendment, however. They were faced with certain contradictions: while it would have been nice to get rid of the militants, it would have given the International leadership an added handle to intervene in local affairs (since trial bodies under the amendment would be selected by the International).
Moreover, Beirne himself played a relatively passive role in the discussion. From his point of view there was no need to antagonize the local bureaucrats at this point by pushing the amendment through, there was the desire to project a liberal image and also a certain reluctance to deal with the flood of charges and counter-charges which would certainly engulf the International following adoption of the amendment. Much better to let the local leaders clean their own houses. Nevertheless, his concluding speech attempted to console those who had fought for the amendment and to gear them up for a fight against the militants (whom he called “commie bastards”) in the coming period.
The defeat of the amendment was an important victory for all militants in CWA. The Militant Action Caucus, which led the struggle against 19-2C, has continually pointed out the need for a full political program to fight the CWA bureaucracy. This is borne out by the current red-baiting and the 19-2C amendment. The union leadership is firmly wedded to the capitalist system and will do everything necessary to protect it, from supporting wage-freezes and expelling militants on trumped-up charges to sponsoring secret CIA funded operations (as Beirne did for years). To fight the bosses and their agents in the unions down the line the MAC calls for nationalization of the phone company under workers control, full union democracy, ousting the bureaucrats and building a labor party based on the trade unions to fight for a workers government. An integral part of this program is the need for a united-front defense of victimized militants and opposition to witchhunting in the unions. MAC put this section of its program into practice by initiating the “No on 19-2C” Committee and by taking the fight to the delegates at the CWA convention itself.
For MAC, the convention experience was important also because it exposed their program and strategy to other militants throughout the entire country and indicated the need for a national Militant Action Caucus within CWA. In the immediate future, the caucus is planning a series of forums to discuss the CWA convention, as well as MAC’s program and strategy for trade-union struggle in general. A regular newsletter is also planned. More information concerning these activities, as well as MAC literature, can be obtained by writing to: Militant Action Caucus, P.O. Box 462, El Cerrito, California 94530.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 46, 7 June 1974
The Militant Action Caucus (MAC) in Oakland CWA Local 9415 ran a candidate, Kathleen Burnham, in elections for convention delegate this spring, on the basis of its class-struggle opposition to Beirne’s bargaining plan and many other issues, including its call for expropriation of the phone companies and oil industry under workers control, for a general strike to oust Nixon and force new elections and for a workers party and a workers government.
The Caucus has a four-year history of struggle for its program in the Local. MAC fought last summer for a united labor defense for the Farm Workers against the Teamster/grower alliance, including demands clearly counterposed to the pacifism and liberalism of the Chavez leadership of the UFW: MAC called for “hot-cargoing” of struck goods by other unions and a California-wide general strike to defend the Farm Workers.
MAC has also been in the forefront of the struggle against racial and sexual discrimination. Its campaign program called for putting an end to discrimination through the struggle for a shorter workweek at no loss in pay to end unemployment and for equal access to all jobs and promotions through non-discriminatory, union-controlled hiring. MAC counterposed this program to divisive “Affirmative Action” quota systems, which do not make more jobs and invite government intervention to undermine unionism.
During the recent “Operation Zebra” program, in which San Francisco Mayor Alioto instituted a racist round-up of black males in the city, MAC raised a motion condemning this “vicious attack” which was “designed to fan racist hysteria.” The motion passed overwhelmingly in the Local.
MAC injected another issue into the campaign, which it alone has been raising in the union. The Beirne regime has been notorious as a major supporter of anti-communist union-busting operations by the AFL-CIO in foreign countries, particularly Europe and Latin America. A Caucus leaflet issued during the Local campaign points out:
“The American Institute for Free Labor Development is supposedly a private organization to support the development of ‘free unions’ in Latin America. Joe Beirne was the brains behind the idea of AIFLD and its treasurer. …George Meany is its president. Its Board of Directors, however, reads like an international investors list — representatives of ITT, Kennecott and Anaconda Copper, Chase Manhattan Bank — 22 corporations in all. With such a board of directors it should be apparent what kind of ‘free unions’ AIFLD wants — those free of workers control.”
The leaflet goes on to expose AIFLD’s activities in Chile. “Unions” affiliated to AIFLD in Chile include an organization of the same naval officers who were instrumental in leading the reactionary military coup that overthrew the Allende government, and a hodge-podge grouping including shopkeepers and professionals, some of the officers of which are leaders of “Patria y Libertad,” a Chilean fascist organization. MAC demands the immediate severing of all ties with this reactionary, CIA-backed organization.
During her campaign, Burnham pointed out that Beirne’s support to AIFLD and other schemes of Jay Lovestone’s AFL-CIO International Department is simply a reflection of the same class collaborationism which led to the “national bargaining” scheme: Beirne and his cronies are committed to defend capitalism, whatever the inevitable conflicts this position produces with the real interests of the workers.
During her campaign, MAC’s candidate for delegate debated three other candidates, most of whom had little or nothing to say in counterposition to MAC’s program. One of them was Manja Argue, whose views often reflect those of the reformist International Socialists. (For instance, she is for militant defense of the UFW — but within the confines of Chavez’ pacifist, defeatist policy and without any criticism of the latter.) Argue had more to say than others, but when pressed as to her differences with the MAC program, she said she had none. She objected instead that MAC supposedly refused to get involved in day-to-day problems and work of the union. At that point a MAC shop steward who was in the audience got up and exposed Argue’s phony objection. She added that Argue’s presence on the Local legislative committee without waging a constant fight for a break with all capitalist politicians was lending a left cover to the rabid supporters of the Democratic Party who ran the committee.
Burnham received 103 votes, or 15 percent of the total vote, for her class struggle program and MAC received support from many union members who hadn’t previously supported the Caucus. (The top vote-getter got 233, and the other winner for the two open posts got 192, out of 673 votes cast. Argue got 28.) Thus while the vote was not enough to elect Burnham to the convention, the campaign introduced the Caucus to new members of the union and made a strong impact in the Local. MAC represents the only kind of opposition capable of accomplishing the replacement of Beirne’s reactionary bureaucracy, by creating an alternative leadership based on a full class struggle program.
Spartacist League press release, reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 236, 20 July 1979
DETROIT, July 16 — in front of hundreds of stunned delegates, U.S. Secret Service agents this afternoon grabbed union official Jane Margolis, handcuffed her and dragged her protesting off the floor of the 41st Annual Convention of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Shortly before President Jimmy Carter was scheduled to speak before the body, agents surrounded Margolis, 32, an elected delegate and member of the executive board of CWA Local 9410 (San Francisco), as she was standing with her delegation. Without warning they rushed her from the hall and locked her in an adjoining room. When outraged delegates rushed to the speakers’ microphones to protest this criminal assault, the mikes were abruptly turned off.
White House officials at first denied that anyone had been detained, but changed the story after a CBS newsman reported accidentally finding Jane Margolis in a back room to which she had been abducted by the agents. This is the first known time that the Secret Service has invaded a union convention and seized a union officer. Margolis has announced that she intends to seek maximum legal redress for this outrage.
Out of sight of the convention delegates federal agents manhandled Jane, threatening to hold her incommunicado for days — on the basis of “reports” from unidentified “sources” — for suspicion of threatening the life of the president. While she was being subjected to interrogation and refused access to a lawyer, Detroit police told Margolis she was under arrest on unspecified charges. Thirty-five minutes later she was released, without explanation, but subjected to continued intensive surveillance by the Secret Service even after returning to the convention floor.
Jane Margolis is a spokesman for the Militant Action Caucus, an opposition group in the union which has repeatedly protested government interference in the labor movement, particularly by the CIA in Latin America. Earlier in the day she was prevented by the chair from presenting a motion that the union convention not allow itself to be used as a platform for the anti-labor strike-breaking policies of the Democrats. Clearly, a key purpose of the hamfisted, blatantly illegal action by the Secret Service was to keep union delegates from registering any dissent against Carter and his energy speech.
In New York, James Robertson, National Chairman of the Spartacist League/U.S., immediately issued a vehement protest upon learning of the seizure of Margolis, an SL supporter and long-time personal friend. “What the Secret Service did to Jane is an outrage against organized labor,” he said. “We don’t have kings here. According to the laws, every citizen is supposed to have equal rights. But Jimmy Carter’s personal goons simply march into a union convention and mug a woman who is an elected union official! Furthermore, Jane Margolis was in that meeting by right — Jimmy Carter was an invited guest.”
“We demand that Jane Margolis be released immediately,” said Robertson, so that she can resume her place with her delegation carrying out union business. And we demand that this Jimmy Carter apologize in his speech, both to Jane and to the entire CWA membership, for his unprecedented attack on the union. Jane Margolis never shut down any gas pumps!”
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 236, 20 July 1979
“I’m going to reach out,” said Jimmy Carter in his Sunday night sermon, and reach out he did. Through the long arm of his Secret Service goons, he “reached out” and mugged class-struggle militant Jane Margolis right on the floor of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Convention (see accompanying Spartacist League Press Release). The fact that Margolis was an elected delegate to the convention with the right and responsibility to present her views was obviously a matter of no concern to Carter. For the capitalist class which this peanut baron represents, the rights of working people and the integrity of their labor organizations can be violated at their whim. Carter himself, on the other hand, is protected by a host of lèse majesté laws which give his armed thugs the right, among other things, to grab all “suspicious” persons for preventive detention.
Jane Margolis was suspected of planning to do something which was absolutely intolerable to Carter — exercise her democratic right to speak out on the floor of the convention of her trade union and expose his little energy confidence game for the cheap hustle that it is. So, she was subjected to “preventive” gagging. But the only “weapon” that this trade-union militant had pointed at the heart of the president was the simple truth that the energy crisis is not a crisis of confidence or faith or prayer or the rest of Carter’s empty “born again” hokum, but a crisis of capitalism. And it is real; not in our hearts and minds but in the streets!
Carter had said, “I’m listening to the voices of Americans,” but, in the words of the San Francisco Examiner (July 18) headline, Jane Margolis was “One critic Carter didn’t hear.” Carter is so manifestly unpopular, his support so shallow and his program such an obvious con game that he can’t risk the slightest encounter with the truth. What if this trade unionist had punctured Carter’s hot air balloon?
Jane Margolis has the right to say what she went to the convention to say, and the working people have the right to hear it. WV asked her for the statement she would have made, and we publish it [below].
Brothers and Sisters,
Jimmy Carter came here today to get approval from the working people for his energy program — the program that blames us for the energy crisis because of our “greed,” our “gas guzzling” and our “self-indulgence.” While they hop around the country in their Lear jets and limousines, the capitalists would like to convince us that it is our duty to make sacrifices for the good of the country, to settle for the 7 percent guideline while the cost of living soars at 14 percent.
The present oil shortage is a well-known ripoff for Big Oil. The problem is that this rotten system delivers the profits to the peanut bosses, the oil magnates and the Ma Bells while we cannot even get enough gas for our cars.
The CWA convention must not be turned into a platform for the racist anti-labor Democratic Party of Jimmy Carter. I want to remind the delegates how in 1978 when the heroic miners shut down the coalfields for the right to strike and for adequate health and safety protection Carter invoked the slave-labor Taft-Hartley injunction to break their strike. Let’s remember how in the face of soaring black unemployment and desperate ghetto poverty, Carter’s callous response was simply that “life is unfair.” Nor have we forgotten how he threatened to break our own proposed CWA strike in 1977 and how he will undoubtedly try to again if we prepare for the solid coast-to-coast phone strike we need next year!
I came to this convention on the platform — “Not a dime, not a vote for the strikebreaking Democrats and Republicans!” This is the program I ran on. This is the program on which I was elected to my local Executive Board and on which I have twice in a row been elected a delegate to this convention. In Carter’s speech last night he told us to “stop cursing and start praying.” We say it’s time to start fighting! And our fight must be to break labor’s ties to the bosses’ parties and to form a powerful workers party to lead us as we struggle for a workers government.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 58, 6 December 1974
OAKLAND, November 25 — Bob Mandel, a seven-year militant in the ILWU, has been elected on a class struggle program to the executive board of Local 6 (warehouse division) from the East Bay. He got 636 votes (the top vote-getter received 691). Banned by undemocratic Local regulations from publishing any campaign literature except one short statement in a special official election bulletin, Mandel took his program to the membership by campaigning at warehouses and retail outlets throughout the Oakland area.
In his election statement, Mandel advocated industry-wide strikes against layoffs and a shorter work week at no loss in pay to meet spreading house closures and “runaways” in ILWU-organized warehouses as well as layoffs in the longshore and Hawaiian sections of the union. He also demanded that militant international labor solidarity be revived “through tactics like the recent boycott of cargo to Chile in defense of workers struggling against the junta.”
Mandel condemned the ILWU’s support for the “racist Alioto” as “a defeat for the movement of workers and oppressed,” and called for an independent workers party. He also called for workers control and for a workers government “to end the cycle of inflation, recession, racial and sexual discrimination” through the “nationaliz[ation of] all industry without compensation” to the present owners.
Finally, Mandel underlined the betrayals of the present union leadership, which include disarming the workers in the face of every kind of employer attack (layoffs, blacklisting of militants who fight company attacks, armed strike-breakers in the ILWU Borax strike, etc.). “An opposition caucus must be built throughout the union,” he declared, to fight for this class struggle program.
Mandel ran eighth in a field of 12 candidates for the 10 positions open on the executive board. He narrowly missed being elected delegate to the International convention as well, losing by only 30 votes (eighth out of 14 contenders for 6 positions).
Mandel established his reputation as a militant defender of hard-won union gains through his campaign for sympathy-strike support by ILWU warehousemen to the 1971 longshore strike and, more recently, through his initiation of struggle against blacklisting and for implementation of boycotts of Chilean ships and goods. He has also served on union committees and as steward.
It is significant that in a union with a strong Stalinist current in its background Mandel got more votes than many Communist Party-backed candidates despite vicious Stalinist denunciation of him and his program, particularly during the anti-blacklisting campaign earlier this year.
Mandel’s victory is a victory for a class-struggle program and the future class-struggle leadership of the labor movement. It is an answer to the many fake-left organizations which insist that it is necessary to support bureaucrats running on totally reformist programs (such as Arnold Miller), abandoning working-class principles in order to gain influence in the working class.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 60, 17 January 1975
OAKLAND, January 6 — A conference on “Building the Rank and File Movement” sponsored by the International Socialists (IS) ran into trouble with rank-and-file unionists here yesterday. The largest and most authoritative grouping of militant rank-and-file leaders at the conference denounced the sponsors’ reformist trade-union policies, especially IS’ support for Stanley Weir’s court case against ILWU Local 10.
In an interview with Workers Vanguard the militants, members of the West Coast longshore union, told of the shabby, bureaucratic treatment they received from the cynical “left” talkers who organized the conference. Howard Keylor, a member of the ILWU’s longshore division for over 20 years, most of that time as an active oppositionist, was invited to be on a panel during the morning session. Keylor had opposed the original deregistration of 59 lower-seniority B-men, the object of Weir’s court action against the union, and has actively defended their rights ever since. While opposing the lawsuit, he calls for action by the union ranks to force reinstatement of the victimized B-men with full rights.
Keylor is now a candidate for the Local 10 executive board on a program highlighting a call for six hours’ work at eight hours’ pay, and the need for a workers party and a workers government. On the panel he spoke about his experience battling the Bridges machine in the ILWU. He stressed that years as an oppositionist and trade unionist had taught him the deeply unprincipled character of appealing to the bosses’ courts against the union.
Further, he declared the necessity to build opposition around a full program of class struggle. In that way opposition to the incumbent union misleaders would not be sidetracked into campaigns for just another set of slicker bureaucrats to preside over the same old sellouts. Two recent cases of such out-bureaucrats’ running for office, both supported by the IS, were Arnold Miller of the United Mine Workers and James Morrissey in the National Maritime Union. According to Keylor a class-struggle program must include demands for a sliding scale of wages and hours, nationalization of industry without compensation, running industry under workers control and a workers party to fight for a workers government.
Keylor reportedly concluded his remarks by addressing two questions to the organizers of the conference: (1)Will the International Socialists continue to support Stan Weir’s lawsuit against the ILWU? and (2) How can the IS, which in its press claims to support at least some elements of a class-struggle program, justify its support for two out-bureaucrats like Miller and Morrissey, who both ran on programs of “democracy” enforced by the federal government?
In the lively and often heated discussion that followed, supporters of IS’ social-democratic policies became increasingly embarrassed. A rank-and-file Teamster and founding member of the IS-supported Fifth Wheel caucus asked what he should do about a suit in his local brought by a Chicano who had been the victim of gross discrimination. Should the suit against the union be dropped while the suit against the company continued? John Larson, member of Teamsters Local 70 and Fifth Wheel supporter, answered that there was no question of principle involved in suing the union; other IS supporters defended the Weir suit.
Supporters of IS policies did their bureaucratic best to avoid substantive political questions. But Stan Gow, a militant with 18 years in the ILWU, took the floor and pinned them down. Gow, a Local 10 executive board member, is running for re-election on a joint program with Keylor. He demanded to know why the IS refused to support Gene Herson, candidate of the Militant- Solidarity Caucus of the National Maritime Union, who in 1973 ran for president of that union on a class-struggle program calling for a workers government. Instead the IS supported Morrissey in that election.
Finally forced to reply, IS supporters said that the M-SC’s Herson ran on “only a paper program” while Morrissey had “real support” in the union. (In fact Morrissey has no organized support whatsoever in the union. His real support came from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor.) They said this despite the fact that Herson received more votes by far than the IS has members.
Then Bob Mandel, who was recently elected to the executive board of ILWU Local 6 on just such a “paper program,” attempted to take the floor. This was more than the IS could bear. Mandel was surrounded by four IS goons determined not to let him speak. They backed off, however, when Mandel’s union brothers stood up to make it clear that they would insist that the meeting continue in democratic fashion.
After some tense moments, the IS was obliged to grant an unscheduled second round of discussion. Mandel commented that he was used to fighting for the floor at meetings of his own union local, but that the IS behavior was even more bureaucratic than the usual behavior of the labor bureaucracy.
In the afternoon session Mike Parker confirmed the cravenly opportunist appetites which lay behind the IS’ reformist trade-union policies. He explained that although there had been a lot of talk at the conference about organizing in trade unions around a full class-struggle program, such a program was not needed. Rather, what was needed was “a program that points to a full program.” In clear contradiction to Lenin’s call for a vanguard party to bring socialist consciousness to the masses of the workers (expressed in What Is To Be Done?), Parker declared that “simple wage demands lead to socialist consciousness.” He then said what everybody already knew — that the IS was not the revolutionary party. The IS would await the rank-and-file upsurge which would create the revolutionary party. Then, presumably, a full program would be appropriate.
By the end of the conference the IS, unable to pass off its warmed-over New Left social-democratic reformism in the face of the class-struggle politics of the six ILWU militants (who together represented more than 70 years of trade-union experience), resorted to a bureaucratic exclusion. The militants were officially disinvited from a “mulled wine party” that was scheduled to conclude the conference. Genuine working-class militants are, it seems, too much for IS stomachs!
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 61, 31 January 1975
OAKLAND, January 28 — Mass picketing initiated by militants in the warehouse local of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union has stopped a union-busting drive which could have been the spark for a similar assault on all of Bay Area labor. The employer, KNC Glass Company in Union City, had sought to repeat the crushing blow delivered to ILWU Local 30 by U.S. Borax last fall.
In that strike, management used several hundred scabs to keep its mine in Boron, California, operating. Borax also sent a warning letter to its striking employees, threatening them with permanent replacement if they didn’t return to work immediately, without a contract. The threat worked because AFL-CIO craft unions crossed the picket lines and the ILWU International failed to organize solidarity actions, even within the union itself. Thus, ILWU longshoremen in Los Angeles were forced to ship scab borax. As a result, hundreds of workers were thrown out of their jobs and other union gains were sacrificed.
The Boron strike was held up as an example to all employers by a feature story in the December issue of Fortune magazine. The pattern is familiar — scabs, cops and the passivity of the trade-union bureaucracy — but this open union-busting is a sharply increased danger in the present period, as unemployment swells the pool of potential strikebreakers.
The KNC strike looked like it would become a Boron in the Bay Area, paving the way for a general anti-labor assault by the Distributors Association (the warehouse employers’ group) during contract negotiations approaching in the next few months. The company kept its offer low, hired notorious strikebreaking guards and sent a Boron-style ultimatum to the strikers: go back without a contract or be fired. The ILWU leadership under Local 6 president McLain also followed the pattern, by failing to respond with militant union action to stop the scabbing.
However, a class-struggle program raised by three warehouse militants, Bob Mandel (a member of the Local 6 executive board), John Dow and Pete Farrugio, pointed the way forward. Denouncing the do-nothing policy of the union leadership, they demanded mass picketing and a “hot-cargoing” labor boycott of material going to and from the plant. Response to their leaflet was impressive: hundreds of workers from surrounding ILWU shops joined the picket lines over a period of days. Local 6 and even International leaders were forced to show up.
Teamster officials — themselves feeling the pinch of employer union busting through increased owner-operator trucking — turned out despite their bureaucratic rivalry with ILWU officials over warehouse and longshore container jurisdictions. And militants from several other unions also appeared, including members of the Militant Action Caucus of the Communications Workers and the Committee for a Militant UAW from the Fremont GM assembly plant.
Mass picketing by 75–100 workers and union officials on January 9 stopped the scabs, but the company sought an injunction to put an end to picketing. This had been anticipated by Mandel and the other militants, who tried to get the Local 6 stewards council to defy the injunction. But members of the stewards council influenced by the Communist Party and Revolutionary Union helped the ILWU bureaucracy table Mandel’s motions.
Nevertheless , sentiment among the ranks for defying the injunction — and thus confronting the leadership’s class collaborationism head-on — mounted rapidly. ILWU members from the Local hiring hall, from the longshoremen’s local and from shops such as Associated Grocers and St. Regis Paper continued to man picket lines, keeping out scabs in defiance of the injunction. Emboldened by the court action the professional strikebreaker guards became increasingly vicious, waving guns and unleashing dogs. In response, members circulated petitions in a number of Local 6 houses demanding shop meetings with union officials to organize defense. At Associated Grocers workers voted to walk off their jobs if necessary to defend the strike.
The mass support for KNC strikers impressed both employers and the union leadership, neither of which had any desire to see it spread and influence upcoming disputes. The company backed off from its attempt to break the union while union leaders hastily accepted a slightly improved management offer. Despite a personal show of militancy on the picket line, and despite his complaints about the ILWU International’s failure to wage a militant defense of the Boron strike, when the chips were down in his own local McLain refused to further mobilize the members for the achievement of lasting gains in the KNC strike. Thus this plant is still saddled with a substandard contract which holds down the wages of other Local 6 members. Furthermore, it has no cost of living provision whatsoever and no attempt was made to give KNC a contract termination date together with the majority of Local 6 agreements.
Workers Vanguard interviews with KNC workers revealed the important lessons that were learned during the strike. It was the solidarity of other workers in the union, and of other locals and industries, which made the limited victory possible. A subsequent Local 6 meeting showed that the leadership had also learned something from the strike. While John Dow (one of the militants who had initiated the mass picketing) was criticizing the inadequate terms of the KNC settlement, the microphone was seized from him by a supporter of the leadership. In addition, according to a leaflet distributed at East Bay warehouses today, at the end of the meeting ILWU International secretary-treasurer Lou Goldblatt “warned” Mandel that a move was afoot to expel him from the union.
The class-collaborationist ILWU officialdom, like the rest of the union bureaucracy, is committed to the conception that management and labor must live in harmony. These defeatists and professional capitulators argue that if labor fails to make peace with the employers it will be crushed by them and their government. Not only must class-struggle oppositionists therefore be silenced, but the workers must be mobilized in support of the interests of the employers.
Thus Goldblatt spoke at length at the meeting on the theme that “foreign” money is “turning the U.S. into a colony.” This is a bald-faced attempt to whip up national chauvinism in preparation for inter-imperialist trade rivalries and wars in which all workers will be the losers. Moreover, the immediate effect of Goldblatt’s line is to drive a wedge within the Local 6 membership itself, portraying Spanish-speaking workers (such as the KNC strikers) as the “enemy within”!
Only the building of a new class-struggle leadership, counterposed to the class collaborationism of the Bridges, Goldblatts and McLains, can spread the militant methods of the KNC strike, in order to stop future “Borons” and strengthen international labor solidarity.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 61, 31 January 1975
SAN FRANCISCO, January 25 — While a major longshore contract betrayal loomed in the background, elections for officers and executive board members held recently in the Bay Area waterfront local of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union failed to provide a way out of the impasse facing the union. With about two thirds of Local 10’s 2,400 members voting, key offices were divided between supporters and opponents of ILWU president Harry Bridges.
Support for the anti-Bridges forces in the Local slipped somewhat from last year’s elections, in which an entire slate of oppositionists under Mills and Stout had been elected. In addition, questions were raised in the minds of some members over the handling of the election when a key Bridges supporter was elected by only one vote and an outspoken opponent of both wings of the Local leadership was maneuvered out of a seat on the executive board after having tied for last place.
Local 10 has been the center of resistance to the International leadership over the last four years as Bridges has allowed automation to drastically erode jobs and working conditions. Recently he has also attempted to force the sale of the Local’s hiring hall to commercial developers aligned with his friend, S.F. mayor Joe Alioto.
The Mills-Stout regime, although a nuisance to Bridges, was completely unable to lead the Local in a qualitatively different direction. It folded under pressure instead of mobilizing the ranks to defend a spreading boycott of work on automated LASH barges (owned by Alioto’s shipping company) which had been worked by non-longshore labor. It also capitulated to Bridges’ demands for an immediate contract settlement (six months ahead of schedule!) at the recent December meeting of the Coast Longshore Caucus. And it bowed to a new plan by the International to railroad hundreds of B-men (second-class members) out of the union, despite a contractual clause requiring their elevation to full membership this year.
Increasing support for a class-struggle alternative was revealed, however, in the votes for two militants, Stan Gow and Howard Keylor, for executive board. Gow and Keylor, who between them have 37 years on the West Coast docks, ran as a team counterposed to both the pro- and anti-Bridges wings in the Local leadership.
The two militants called for resistance to the impending contract sellout, a sliding scale of hours to make more jobs with no loss in pay and immediate full membership status for all B-men. They also denounced the leadership’s alliance with Alioto, calling for a break with the Democrats and Republicans and the building of a workers party to fight for a workers government. Gow, who was a member of the outgoing executive board, was re-elected with 239 votes, an increase over his vote last year. Keylor tied for last place, ahead of 19 other candidates, with 221 votes (also an increase in his showing in Local elections).
Keylor came into the union in Stockton in 1953. He helped lead opposition to the first purge of B-men in 1963. (Bridges at that time singled out 82 working longshoremen, who should have been full members, for firing because they had been critical of the union leadership.) Some of the victims subsequently took the union to court, a move that Gow and Keylor now point out was an error which will only hurt the union.
Gow came into the ILWU in 1959 in Local 10. Both he and Keylor were at one time supporters of Longshore Victory, a now-defunct opposition group, and initial backers of Mills and Stout. Experience has shown, they point out, that simple honesty and good intentions are not enough — it is program that is decisive.
Gow and Keylor campaigned on a program “to make the ILWU defend its members’ real interests and to put the working class in control of society.” They called for international working-class solidarity, including use of labor boycotts to support the struggles of Chilean workers, farm workers in the U.S., etc. They demanded nationalization of the longshore-transport industry, without compensation, and called for workers control.
Their joint program also called for a struggle to build a workers party based on the unions, a struggle directed at ousting — not simply pressuring — the present pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy. Finally, they denounced appeals to the courts against the union, such as the B-men suit and a Mills-Stout suit to stop Bridges’ hall-grabbing.
“The question of B-men and the hall has to be fought out within the union. To rely on the government to come in and do it for us is worse than futile….; Opening the door to the government is opening the door for it to smash us. The worst enemy of the ILWU and of all labor is the capitalist government.”
— “Defend the ILWU — Stop Bridges’ ’75 Contract Sellout,”
31 December 1974
The new officers quickly made a ruling which kept both Keylor and the other candidate tied for last place off the executive board. Formerly it had usually been the practice that the five full-time offices (president, secretary-treasurer, business agents, etc.) are filled by members who also run for executive board. Since officers sit on the executive board ex-officio, those that are elected to both positions have been replaced on the board by the five candidates who received the next highest votes.
Application of this principle has varied in the past, however, thereby creating an opportunity for bureaucratic abuse by the officials. In this case, instead of calling a run-off election to resolve the tie for last place, the new officers decided to leave the vice president on the board. Thus Local 10 officials were relieved of an opponent on the executive board, and the membership was deprived of the right to choose its representatives.
The new president of Local 10 is Larry Wing, a business agent in the previous administration. Wing was brutally beaten last September by a goon squad of Bridges supporters who were demanding that the leadership turn over its keys to the Local’s hiring hall. It was also Wing who first authorized and then called off the “hot cargo” boycott of LASH barges belonging to Alioto’s Pacific Far East Lines. The boycott by Local 10 members was in solidarity with the Stockton Local, which had been denied longshore work on the barges.
Perhaps because of his reputation as the most militant member of the Mills-Stout team,Wing received the highest vote — 850 — of any candidate in the election (his pro-Bridges opponent got 753).Wing’s lack of an alternative program for the union was shown, however, when he called off the boycott while it was still going strong. Moreover, he has done nothing to oppose the new move to deregister (and thus fire) those B-men with the least hours worked in 1973.
Besides Wing, the chief business agent is also an anti-Bridges member. The other three officers, however, are pro-Bridges. In the key race for secretary treasurer — who signs the checks for payments to the Local’s separate hiring hall ownership corporation — a Bridges man with a notoriously unreliable reputation was elected by a single vote, 761 to 760. The winner, Carl Smith, played a prominent role in the first purge of B-men in 1963. Smith may now be in a position to force sale of the hall by simply refusing to make payments necessary to meet hall expenses.
The executive board was divided between the various factions in the Local. Marshall, one of the International supporters accused of participating in the goon attack on Wing, was elected with 362 votes. Archie Brown, a well-known supporter of Communist Party positions, was elected by 416 votes and also returned to the Publicity Committee, where he runs the Local’s news sheet.
At the Local meeting following the election, in an apparent reference to rumors of irregularities, Brown made a token attempt to question the election committee’s report certifying the election as proper. However, he did not pursue the subject, thereby “making the record” while avoiding a serious attempt to track down rumors.
At the first meeting of the new executive board yesterday, the new leadership already revealed its bankruptcy in the face of mounting attacks jointly engineered by the International and the employers’ Pacific Maritime Association. In the face of the Coast Caucus’ capitulation to Bridges, who has already stated his willingness to arbitrate any differences in order to ram through a hurried-up contract, the PMA began openly provoking the union by ordering “steady men,” who are only supposed to do maintenance and other specified work, to work in the holds of ships. (Steady men, who work regularly for one employer rather than being assigned jobs through the hall, were first allowed by Bridges in the 1966 contract.) Instead of acting against this threat to the union hiring hall, the executive board voted, 20 to 7, to refer the question to the International.
Meanwhile, star chamber proceedings have been scheduled by a joint union-management labor relations committee to “hear” the cases of B-men threatened with deregistration. These men, who should be full members and who have met contractual requirements of availability for work, are now supposed to testify as to why they should not be fired!
Gow and Keylor had prepared motions for an immediate mobilization against this attack: for an immediate halt to deregistration proceedings, for granting full “A” hiring status to B-men immediately and for full union membership for B-men. However, their motions were shoved to the last place on the agenda, and consideration of them conveniently avoided through adjournment. An immediate fight must now be taken to the membership to stop this illegal and undemocratic railroading of working longshoremen and union members.
In their last leaflet issued before the election, Gow and Keylor made their position clear on the question of support, critical or otherwise, to the “militant, democratic” opposition to Bridges.
“Many brothers in Local 10 have asked us if we are supporting some of the anti-International candidates like Wing, George Kaye or Archie Brown. No. None of them offer any real alternative program to Bridges. We went through it once with Stout and particularly Herb Mills and learned that in relation to events like the goon squad and the monitorship [semi-receivership of the Local instituted by Bridges], being honest and democratic isn’t enough….;
“Those of us that have been around long enough remember that Archie Brown actively supported the deregistration of the B-men in ’63 and that he threw his full prestige behind the treacherous M&M contract….;Then, just before the 1973 contract, Brown retreated from his previous total opposition to 9.43 [a contract clause providing for “steady men”] and made a resolution for an equalization of hours formula.”
The leaflet called for the formation of a caucus on a class-struggle program, to construct a union leadership which will not capitulate to capitalist politicians like Alioto, to the bosses’ anti-labor laws, which outlaw militant actions such as labor boycotts, or to the employers’ drive to maximize profits. It is precisely the lack of a class-struggle program which causes immediate capitulation to the companies and the class-collaborationist policies of the union bureaucracy by even those militants who begin with honest intentions to fight for the rank and file’s interests.
Gow and Keylor made clear that they would base the struggle for such a program on the mobilization of the membership (as over the boycott of Alioto’s barges) rather than reliance on the bureaucracy of the International or on “militant democrats” (no better than Stout-Mills-Wing in Local 10) in power in other locals such as Los Angeles. They have thus begun to lay the basis for the building of an alternative, class-struggle leadership throughout the ILWU. This struggle within the unions is a vital support to the building of a revolutionary vanguard party which alone can lead the working class to victory over capitalism.
Reprinted from 1917 No. 4, Autumn 1987
On July 19 we interviewed Howard Keylor, a longtime trade-union militant on the waterfront in San Francisco. Brother Keylor is on the Executive Board of International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union Local 10 (longshore division) and is the editor of Militant Longshoreman. Keylor’s record of over three decades in the ILWU and his break from Stalinism to Trotskyism give him a unique perspective on the fight for a class-struggle leadership in the American labor movement.
In the 1970’s, as a supporter of the then-revolutionary Spartacist League, Keylor played an important role in organizing several small but successful actions on the waterfront in defense of the victims of South African apartheid and the Chilean junta. In the last several years, in addition to playing a leading role in several waterfront strikes, Keylor initiated two larger and more important actions in solidarity with heroic black workers battling the racist Botha regime. These actions provided a concrete alternative to the liberal moralism prevalent in the campus-based anti-apartheid movement and provide a model of how a communist opposition in the unions should act as the tribune of the oppressed.
1917: Let’s start with your history in the ILWU. How did you come into the union?
Keylor: The hard way. I started in 1953 as a casual. That means just picking up extra work by standing around in the dispatch office. It means no stable, registered or even recognized status. I was lucky enough to know a couple of older activists in the union — one of whom belonged to the CP, another was an old Wobblie — who were friends of mine and used a bit of influence and got me on a casual list. It wasn’t until 1959 that I got recognized status in the ILWU.
1917: But you were a member of other unions before?
Keylor: Yes, as a matter of fact in 1953 I had been fired from the job I worked for two years in a paper mill. I belonged to the papermakers’ local union. I was active in that union in a limited way.
1917: You were a supporter of the Stalinist Communist Party for over 25 years. How were you won to Trotskyism?
Keylor: I had always been something of a secret dissident, I guess you could have called me a left-Stalinist. I was quite unhappy most of the time during the McCarthy period with the Communist Party trying to hide what seemed its own limited, but at least formally revolutionary ideology. I was never too happy with the policy of primarily trying to form alliances with bourgeois or petty-bourgeois formations. I guess I was an unreconstructed Third Period Stalinist.
I had my own somewhat secret, actually very secret, theory about the Soviet Union as a workers state in which the bureaucracy had seized power from the working class and suppressed working class dissidents. I knew that was the case, but I’d never been able to generalize my political differences.
1917: So how did you come to Trotskyism? Did you read a book by Trotsky or did you meet people that called themselves Trotskyists?
Keylor: I never read anything by Trotsky or any of the main writings about Trotskyism or met a Trotskyist until the 1971–72 longshore strike when I came in contact with Asher Harer, a member of the union who was a well-known supporter of the Socialist Workers Party and is today with Socialist Action. I collaborated with him in writing a leaflet during the 143-day strike in 1971–72 and I wasn’t too happy with the collaboration because, while some of what we were asking for programmatically seemed to make sense, he was very adamant on not criticizing the international union bureaucracy and their conduct in the strike. He was the only ostensible Trotskyist I had ever had any contact with.
It wasn’t until about August 1974 that I ran into an old tattered copy of Deutscher’s The Prophet Armed [the first volume of a three-part political biography of Trotsky]. I took it home; stayed up all night reading it and then went to a library the next day and got the rest of the trilogy, read it and walked around in a daze for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t until I came in contact with the Spartacist League in the fall of 1974 that I began doing some consistent reading on Trotskyism and was won over painfully.
1917: You eventually became a supporter of the Spartacist League?
Keylor: Yes, I became a supporter of the Spartacist League, which as you know, at that time had a serious orientation to trade-union work — something which is no longer the case. Actually, initially I became a member of the SL-supported Longshore/Warehouse Militant Caucus, and in April of 1975 became an organized supporter of the Spartacist League.
1917: This is the thirteenth consecutive year you have been elected to the Executive Board of ILWU Local 10 on an openly socialist program. How have you managed to win a base for your politics in the union?
Keylor: There are really two separate questions. Getting elected to the Executive Board was initially rather difficult. There was a lot of competition for Executive Board posts in the earlier period. Having transferred from the small up-river port of Stockton to San Francisco in 1970, I was a relatively “new boy” on the block. Also, I was white and the San Francisco longshoremen were, and are still, about 70 percent black. Initially it was not easy to get elected and running on an explicitly socialist, transitional program made it even more difficult.
By December 1974, when I first ran on this program as a member of the Militant Caucus, socialists had mostly been identified with the Communist Party in Local 10. The Communist Party had to a large extent been discredited because of their support to the international union’s bureaucratic sellout of the workers interests. In the first period some of our support came from militants who thought we were uniquely honest in saying what we stood for, and because we were projecting a positive program and were not afraid to criticize all levels of the bureaucracy. That was rather unusual because almost all other figures, even minor ones in the Local at that time, were identified with either one of two main bureaucratic factions — the [ILWU President Harry] Bridges faction or the large, amorphous anti-Bridges faction.
We stood outside these formations and acted as a very small, hard left political pole, and nothing like that had been done for a long, long time. I particularly suffered some difficulty, because in moving toward an explicitly socialist program based on the Transitional Program, I had to break with the whole anti-Bridges bloc that I had worked with for almost four years — some of whom were my close friends.
1917: So in the union you ran on the Transitional Program. One of the criticisms which we often hear of this approach by groups like Workers Power in Britain is that raising a full socialist program amounts to “ultimatism.” Their idea is that demands like the call for workers defense guards or for a workers government are too advanced for the present consciousness of the class. How would you respond?
Keylor: I would respond that the failure to raise the whole Transitional Program as applied to the particular trade-union milieu or trade-union situation amounts to misleading the workers, because all points or aspects of that program sometime or other, sooner or later, relate to immediate questions facing the union. It is impossible to build a class-struggle opposition that can lead workers, even to defend themselves, without educating at least a section of the activist workers — the most advanced ones — about the social and political reality in which they are operating.
For example, in the mid to late fifties, the union started to get very deeply involved in Democratic Party politics in San Francisco. Actually earlier in Hawaii, the bulk of the union became intertwined with the Democratic Party to such an extent that the interests of the various coalitions they were backing ran directly counter to the interests of the workers. To oppose support to the Democrats you have to explain the class nature of the capitalist state, and that automatically raises the question of the workers government — just like any serious picket line situation poses in embryo the necessity for some kind of workers defense guards.
The bottom line is that you can’t build a pro-socialist wing in the unions by hiding your politics — that’s always a sign of adaptation to the present backwardness of the class. You’ve got to be upfront about what you stand for and try to apply your program in a creative way to address the concrete questions which arise. To pick out a few of the demands of the Transitional Program that might be more popular at a given moment, and just run on them, in effect destroys the whole purpose of the program — which is to connect the immediate, felt needs of the workers to the necessity of a political struggle for power.
1917: From time to time there have been oppositional formations in the ILWU that ran on a program of “more militancy” and “more democracy,” similar to Ed Sadlowski in steel or Arnold Miller in the coal miners union, or the Teamsters for a Democratic Union [TDU]. Many leftists see these campaigns as a step forward because they oppose the incumbent bureaucrats. How do you look at such a lesser-evil approach to union work?
Keylor: It’s not very practical. Even when they succeed in throwing out the existing bureaucrats the results are usually disastrous. Even assuming you’ve got honest, well-meaning elements leading these oppositional groups — and not just another gang of would-be bureaucrats — when they get into power, they find themselves up against the same opposition from the government, the same legalistic restrictions and the same nasty, brutal repression from the employers. And lacking an understanding — a political class understanding — of how to break out of those restrictions, those leaders will end up acting like Miller, Nixon’s candidate in the mineworkers. They will become brutal bureaucrats themselves and suppress the rank-and-file.
In longshore there was a big, broad oppositional grouping to the Bridges leadership in the late sixties, based in part on new people who had come into the union. When Bridges finally retired, various elements of this opposition came into power, especially in the major longshore locals. They didn’t do any better in defending the interests of the workers than the Bridges machine. The only real alternative is to pose class-struggle oppositional formations, which stand as a political alternative to all varieties of business unionism.
1917: What would distinguish such caucuses from formations like the TDU?
Keylor: They are distinguished primarily by their program. When they get elected in a given section of a union they are predictable in terms of what they will do. When oppositional groupings that are not programmatically based win leadership in a union, they usually don’t remain intact. The only glue that holds them together is the fight for power. Once they get in, they quite frequently split or dissolve into their components, fighting over crumbs; or they become cynically co-opted into the bureaucratic system. The very best of such formations will simply degenerate into nickel-and-dime economism or socialdemocratic maneuverism. An opposition based on a coherent program of class struggle can win workers to a political understanding and the necessity to fight for it. In learning to apply that program to all aspects of the union’s life, as well as in the whole of society, they become committed to that program. Individuals can betray or fall away but the betrayal will be quite conspicuous. One of the virtues of running on a clear class-struggle program is that the workers know where you stand on all major issues or can figure out which side you are going to come down on regarding the issues facing the union.
1917: When is it correct for Trotskyists in the unions to support other groups or individuals for union office? What should be the conditions of that support?
Keylor: Given the extremely degenerate condition of the American trade-union leadership, one has to be extremely careful about offering even critical support to individuals or groupings running for office. Even the smallest committee in the union will be dealing with questions that have to do with the power of the employers over the workers or questions of class-collaboration. So the criteria that one has to apply must be based on program.
While it will vary from time to time in practice, there are certain minimum positions we would generally want to see publicly taken by individuals running for office before we would think of voting for them. There are three interconnected questions that I can think of. One is no support for the top trade-union bureaucracy. There isn’t a single major union in this country in which all the components at the top have not been at least complicit in major betrayals of the workers interests. Only people that are prepared to openly break with all sections of the trade-union bureaucracy, and criticize it, can have sufficient independence to merit support.
Another absolutely minimal programmatic aspect is the defense of the independence of the workers movement, especially the unions, from the capitalist state. This usually comes up over the question of lawsuits against the unions or government intervention into the internal affairs of the unions.
1917: Or defying injunctions?
Keylor: Yes, that is another aspect of the same thing. Anyone who runs for office in a union and will not take a position on the necessity to defy injunctions or court orders emanating from the capitalist state, is simply not able to defend workers interests.
And then there is the question of a break with the Democratic and Republican parties, the twin bourgeois parties. While we always call for a break with the Democrats and Republicans and for a workers government that will expropriate industry without compensation, in some cases we have given critical support to candidates for office who simply called for breaking with the Democrats and Republicans and forming a workers party.
In general though, “critical support” in union elections is an application of the united front. Lenin compared it to that which a rope gives a hanged man. What he meant was that an important aspect of critical support is exposure, in practice, of the inadequacies and contradictions of a reformist program. You cannot expose a reformist unless he or she runs on a platform that in some fashion represents a real break from class-collaborationism. Every out-bureaucrat will promise “more militancy” and “more democracy” — it’s cheap. If you vote for somebody on that basis you are really just voting for one reformist because he’s more popular than the other.
It’s always a concrete question, but if a reformist oppositionist is running at the head of a real rank-and-file movement, and is seriously committed in the eyes of his base to fight for some programmatic plank which is really opposed to pro-capitalist business unionism, then class-struggle elements could consider offering him critical support, despite the reformist limitations of the rest of his platform. At the same time, it is necessary to warn those who follow such a candidate that his platform as a whole contradicts this particular demand. That way, if and when he betrays this demand, those who supported him because of it will begin to understand that only the consistent class-struggle elements in the union are capable of really fighting for their interests.
1917: In 1984 you initiated a united front for the political strike which boycotted the South African cargo on the Nedlloyd Kimberley in San Francisco. A lot of the workers involved in that action had very different politics than yours, right?
Keylor: That is correct. The initiating committee and the committee that implemented the boycott after it was approved, was composed of individuals who had not only widely different political views, but who had often been in very sharp, antagonistic disputes in the union and even outside the union.
1917: On the eleventh day of the cargo boycott, when a federal court injunction came down, the bloc split. What happened?
Keylor: When the federal injunction came down the local union leadership, which had been giving passive support, and in some cases rather active support to the boycott, called a special meeting of the local executive board. After extensive debate the board voted eleven to five to comply with the injunction. In the course of that debate the bloc split with most of the members, who were either one-time adherents or supporters of the Communist Party, various Maoist groupings or who could be characterized as something like black nationalists, went along with the union bureaucracy in advocating an end to the boycott and complying with the injunction.
The local executive board voted to end the boycott and voted down my proposal to call a mass, stop-work membership meeting at the pier to make the decision. I called for this because a meeting of a couple of thousand longshoremen at the pier would have amounted to a mass picket line and could well have led to successfully defying the injunction. At any rate, my proposal was voted down. So then, I, along with a number of other militants in the union and supporters from outside the union, attempted to put up a picket line and continue the boycott and defy the injunction. Initially we closed down the pier and stopped the trucks for an hour and the longshoremen did not work. But eventually the Stalinists, the adherents of the Communist Party, helped the cops to break the action by escorting the trucks through the picket line and creating fear among those participants who were not part of the union that they would go to jail for long periods of time for defying the injunction.
1917: Recently there has been an important strike on the waterfront by the Inland Boatman’s Union [IBU], an affiliate of the ILWU. I understand you have been active in promoting cooperation between the IBU and the longshore division to stop scabbing. Was there any defiance of injunctions in this strike?
Keylor: Not defiance of an injunction specifically, but there was an invasion of “private property” when the employers took three barges that had been stopped through joint IBU/ILWU action in Oakland to Redwood City and began unloading them with non-longshoremen. This was seen as a direct incursion of longshore jurisdiction, as well as an attempt to weaken and break the IBU strike. All the longshoremen, clerks and walking bosses in the Bay Area then left their jobs and traveled to the pier to protest the scabbing. This was an “illegal” action because, according to federal law, we were violating our contract. In fact, members of the longshore division and the striking boatmen went onto the pier and “illegally” chased off the scabs.
There have been many injunctions in the IBU strike which have largely strangled it, because they have been adhered to by the leadership of the IBU and the ILWU. The lesson that class-conscious militants in the unions have to constantly hammer home to the membership is that even a minimal defense of the union requires actions that are illegal under some section or sections of federal law. Whether defiance of an injunction, or even the most minimal stop-work action, the Taft-Hartley law makes it all illegal.
1917: Gompers-style “business unionists” argue that unions should concern themselves simply with the wages and working conditions of their members. In the long run the interests of the longshoremen are tied pretty closely to the interests of the class as a whole, including the unemployed. How can this connection be made?
Keylor: One of the problems we ran into in longshore is the parochialism, growing out of the fact that longshoremen, by the nature of their work, even though they are small in numbers, have an unusual economic power. Ports and port facilities can’t be moved easily. But the union could not have been formed in the first place or defended against employer attacks, especially in the early decades, without the support of other workers and especially other maritime workers. There is an unusually rich history of this in longshore which has almost been lost, but which the class-struggle militants went back to and used as illustrations.
For example, it is not well known, but in 1934 when scabs were loading ships in San Francisco harbor and some other west coast ports, the longshoremen in Chile, even though they were under a quite repressive government, refused to handle scab cargo. Longshoremen in Australia and some other countries did the same. That kind of international support was one of the factors that helped win the strike. Of course it was the massive San Francisco general strike and the threat of extending it to the rest of the west coast that finally won the establishment of the longshoremen’s union in 1934. Today we call for using the union’s full power to organize the unemployed in waterfront areas. That should make a lot of sense to any trade-unionist — it’s elementary self-defense.
As for the unemployed, rather than accept a shrinking workforce in longshore, for example, we call for a shorter work shift with no loss in pay to the point where not only all present workers are kept working, but additional workers can be added. This is how the Transitional Program proposes to solve unemployment — by dividing the available work among the available workforce, at no loss in pay.
It is also important to start organizing the unemployed directly by the unions, similar to what was done in the 1930’s especially in the mass organizing of auto workers. That’s part of the lost history of the labor movement. It would have been a lot harder to organize those auto plants if they hadn’t been organizing the unemployed along with them. A lot of the pickets that surrounded and sealed off the auto plants were composed of unemployed auto workers organized in unemployed leagues close to the union.
1917: Historically, the most important single obstacle to class consciousness among white workers in America has been the deeply embedded racism in this country. How can socialists in the unions take up this problem?
Keylor: Socialists first of all have to confront the problem where it exists. Even in the longshore union division racism existed in the form of restrictions against blacks coming into the union in a number of locals. The issue has to be confronted directly in terms of hiring, especially in hiring of blacks, Asians and other minority workers. In the longshore division that battle has been largely won for now. But the overall threat to the union by divisions among workers growing out of racism is a very real one.
Several years ago when a black longshoreman in my local moved into an area of the suburbs that was largely white, he was subject to direct threats and even attacks on his house by the Ku Klux Klan. At that time we Trotskyists fought for a defense guard composed largely of longshoremen to defend that worker’s home in conjunction with black community groups. We fought this issue out in the union. We lost the fight but in the process we made some gains in terms of educating workers in the necessity of not depending on the bourgeois state for defense against racist, fascist groups like the Klan.
1917: As I understand it, the union bureaucracy decided to hire private security guards instead.
Keylor: That is correct. The interesting thing is that we won the fight in the sense that the union bureaucrats had to concede that it was not realistic to simply rely on the police to defend this threatened worker. But their solution was to hire private security guards around the clock to protect his home.
1917: Finally, how do you see the possibilities for the creation of a class struggle current in the unions in the coming period?
Keylor: The potential is great but the difficulty is that in the short run there are not sizable political groupings in place that can initiate and give rise to indigenous class-struggle formations which can pose a quantitatively significant alternative on a national level. It is not going to happen spontaneously. It didn’t happen that way in the high points in North American trade-union history in the past. The obstacles to an alternative class-struggle leadership being built are in some ways even greater today, so that the necessity to bring forward the hard-won lessons of working-class struggle in initiating and building such formations is even more critical.
Part of the reluctance of workers to struggle and to go on the offensive is a lack of confidence in their present leadership. In fact, I wouldn’t say part of the reason, I’d say the overwhelming obstacle to a working-class offensive against Reagan is that the union ranks don’t trust their leadership to lead them in struggle.
There is among American workers a very profoundly felt hunger and need for labor unity in struggle. This was clearly expressed around the PATCO strike. Many workers have told me, even the most conservative workers, that the only thing that could have saved that strike, and stopped Reagan’s union busting was a nation-wide general strike, or at least regional general strikes where the airports were. That was a very deep-felt need of workers at that time. Unfortunately there were not the political groupings in place within the unions with the will and the authority to have raised those demands in such as way as to force some action. So we saw a defeat.
The key is to build a revolutionary organization with a real, organic connection to the working class. That is why I am a supporter of the Bolshevik Tendency. Because I think the Bolshevik Tendency has learned these lessons best and can show the way to build such formations in the working class. At this point, the question is one of the struggle for political clarity in the construction of the nuclei of the future leadership of the class.
There is today a growing awareness on the part of the more advanced workers that their problems can’t be solved on a national basis. I have been surprised at how aware workers are that capitalist interests can move their money around pretty freely from country to country. They recognize that it isn’t possible even to wrest lasting gains in this country because the capitalists can always move their money to where the rate of exploitation is higher than it is here.
There is a really deep felt need for international solidarity among workers. We found this was true in longshore when we raised demands for the defense of workers in other countries: South Africa, Chile and others. And when there was a possibility of acting, even in a small and symbolic fashion, to build solidarity with workers internationally, I have found through my own experience on the waterfront that the workers are quite open. And that’s why you can remain optimistic about the future. In the last analysis though, it all comes back to the question of available alternatives — the question of the crisis of working-class leadership.
The following text is reprinted from Keylor’s union publication circa 1987
1. DEFEND OUR JOBS AND LIVELIHOOD — Six hour shift, no extensions, at eight hours pay. Manning scales on all ship operations, one man — one job. Weekly PGP. Full no-cap C.O.L.A. on wages. Joint maritime union action against non-union barge, shipping and longshore operations. No ghost riders or witnesses. No long-term contracts.
2. DEFEND THE HIRING HALL — Use regular gangs on container ships; no dispatch of “unit gangs.” Call all 9.43 men back to the hall. Stop-work action to defend the hiring hall and older and disabled men.
3. DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS AND SAFETY THROUGH JOB ACTION — Stop PMA chiseling on the contract. Eliminate “work as directed,” “no illegal work stoppage,” and arbitration sections from the contract. Mobilize to smash anti-labor injunctions. No employer drug or alcohol screening.
4. DEFEND OUR UNION — No class B or C longshoremen. Register directly to class A. Keep racist, anti-labor government and courts out of the union and BALMA. Support unions’ resistance against court suits and government “investigations.” Union action to break down racial and sexual discrimination and employer favoritism on the waterfront. Organize for a coastwide strike to get what we need — no concessions — no give-backs.
5. BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY — Against government/employer strikebreaking. No more defeated PATCO or HORMEL strikes. Honor all class-struggle picket lines — remove phony, racist, anti-working class picket lines. Don’t handle struck or diverted cargo. No raiding of other unions. Organize the disorganized, and the unemployed. Defend IBU-ILWU (INLAND BOATMEN) against Crowley union busting.
6. STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union-organized labor/black/latino defense actions. No dependence on capitalist police or courts to smash fascists.
7. WORKING class ACTION TO STOP REAGAN’S WAR-DRIVE — Labor strikes to oppose U.S. military actions against Cuba, Nicaragua or Salvadoran leftist insurgents. boycott military cargo to Central America. Build labor action to smash the apartheid injunction.
8. INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY — Oppose protectionist trade restrictions — For a massive trade-union program of aid to help non-U.S. workers build unions and fight super-exploitation by the multinational corporations — Defend undocumented workers with union strike action.
9. BREAK WITH THE DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES — Start now to build a workers party based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will seize all major industry without payment to the capitalists and establish a planned economy to end exploitation, racism, poverty and war.