[Marxism] real left unity and unions

andypollack at juno.com andypollack at juno.com
Sat Jun 19 13:36:03 MDT 2004

I want to suggest that when José says "In reality nothing was going on in the union movement of much significance" (in the late '70's) he's off by some, although he's right about the SWP's sectarian approach toward both union and solidarity work. (parts of his post below).

Why does this matter now?  Last fall Bill Fletcher at a Labor Notes conference suggested we need a new Trade Union Educational League, a call seconded by others and the subject of discussion among various rads.  It came at a time when the Sweeney leadership's stagnation made clear its early promises, however limited, would never come true and the labor movement would continue to wither and lose important strikes.

At the same time, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Labor Notes – a magazine founded at the time of which José writes and led by IS (now Solidarity).  The IS took their approach to union work to the opposite extreme of the SWP's sectarianism by building a nonparty magazine and downplaying their leadership role within it (rather than trying to be the party that led genuine united front reform coalitions and, building on those, eventually a cross-union coalition).

Yet Labor Notes and the reform coalitions orienting to it succeeded, through ups and downs, in maintaining a pole of attraction, throughout those 25 years.  Their launch was successful because of the modest battles taking place in the late '70s (the miners' strike, Newport News, steelhaulers, etc., followed soon after by PATCO and Solidarity Day, etc.).  José is correct that this was not an upsurge – but it was fertile ground for an approach inbetween the sectarian and liquidationist approaches then on offer.

Today's level of activity is equally minimal – punctuated by important events like the recent California grocery strike – and is therefore equally amenable to a modest but active intervention by an organized labor left led by a healthy party.  Which brings us back to the issue José was originally commenting on – left unity.  Left unity within the labor movement would, I believe, require both collaboration among a wide spectrum of left groups, as well as regroupment among Trotskyists.

Andrew P.

José wrote:

This grew out of the turn to industry, which, I'll remind people who were there and explain to those who were not, wasn't projected merely as a factory colonization project but a complete and radical change in how we did all our work. The solidarity work was meant to go in and through the unions and our fractions, apart form that, only ultra-narrow SWP-dominated projects would be countenanced (such as the Militant/PM tours). 

With this line, the SWP in one fell swoop managed to wreck BOTH the possibilities for doing any fruitful union work AND any possibility of doing fruitful solidarity work.

Yes, I know, there was branch "A" that did this, and YSA local "b" that took part in that and so on. For the first several years AFTER the *industrial* turn (Feb. 1978) the leadership had to wage a fairly systematic campaign against a tendency of the comrades to revert to the old line, especially because the turn was presented on a false basis, i.e., as a turn towards increasing opportunities and a rising wave of struggles, including decisive class battles, in the next immediate period. In reality nothing was going on in the union movement of much significance, and certainly nothing resembling even a tiny uptick, never mind the world-historic explosion Jack had seen in his crystal ball, so the tendency for the old training to come back and reassert itself was strong.


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