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Vol. 75/No. 9      March 7, 2011

Unions need new leadership,
new struggle methods

Following is an excerpt from the political resolution “Prospects for Socialism in America," which was adopted by the 27th National Convention of the Socialist Workers Party, held in August 1975. It appears in The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions by Jack Barnes. The excerpt takes up the ruling-class assault on public employees in the 1970s, when Democrats and Republicans in city and state governments began cutting wages, benefits, and many jobs in order to solve a “budget crisis.” While much has changed in politics since, many of the challenges the resolution points out for class-conscious unionists remain. Copyright © 1981 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

For public employees, every struggle comes up against a series of obstacles. Antistrike and antilabor laws are used against them. They are weakened by the lack of broad labor unity mobilized in their support. They are crippled by the past failures of their leaderships to support the struggles of the oppressed communities. And they must confront not only the government as boss, but the Democratic and Republican parties to whom the unions have been subordinated by the misleadership of American labor.

Public employees are today the main target of the ruling-class offensive to drive down wages, working conditions, social welfare, and social services, and to weaken and demoralize American labor. They are more vulnerable to attack than the powerfully organized industrial workers, who create the profits for America’s rulers. Successful efforts by the public workers to fight back and overcome these obstacles could provide an example and constitute a turning point for the entire American working class.

But this will require a new kind of leadership, new consciousness, and new methods of struggle. The transformation of American labor into a class-conscious social and political force will be heralded both by massive social struggles outside the unions and by the rise of a class-struggle left wing in the union movement. Such a formation will strive to provide leadership for all types of social struggles by the oppressed. It will chart a political course of class independence for the unions, breaking millions of workers and their allies away from the two-party system of the bourgeoisie and its agents.

Even in a country like the United States where the workers comprise the vast majority of the population, the working class cannot succeed in wresting power from the capitalist rulers and beginning the socialist reconstruction of society without strong support from its allies. At the same time, these allies—the oppressed minorities, women, small farmers, craftsmen, proprietors, the GIs, and the student youth—all have a life-and-death stake in the socialist revolution.

The traditional allies of the workers have been primarily the small independent producers, craftsmen, and proprietors, both urban and rural. This still held true during the radicalization of the 1930s when the farm population was about 30 percent of the total. However, the large-scale changes wrought since then in the structure of industry, agriculture, and the labor force through the growth and further monopolization of American capital have radically reduced the size and altered the configuration of these classical petty-bourgeois strata.

The composition and character of the allies of the proletariat have undergone significant changes as the structure and composition of the proletariat itself have altered dramatically. But these changes in no way lessen the importance of understanding the independent needs and struggles of these allies or of winning them to the side of the socialist revolution. To the contrary, clear and concrete answers must be given to their demands if the revolutionary workers are to mobilize full striking power against the forces of capital. In so doing, they will eliminate the central obstacle before the coming American revolution—that is, the divisions within the working class.  
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