John Reimann, a veteran Trotskyist, wrote a solid response to the union question. This being posted in the spirit of trying to get every left group, in the US, Trotskyist, Left-Communist, Ultra-lefts, Anarchists, to write out, and define how they see revolutionaries relationship with unions. John Reimann, a leader of a 1999 wildcat strike of East Bay carpenters, is also very active in the Bay Area regarding social movements, and union struggles.
I think this sort of discussion/debate is a huge part of what has been lacking on the left, especially holding this out in the open.
As far as the unions: I think we have to start by looking at the objective developments and what mood and consciousness that created.
The 1930s and then again the strike wave of 1946 taught the US capitalist class a lesson: They could not simply steamroll over the working class as they had been accustomed to doing. So they retreated to trying to stabilize class relations. This was made possible by the post war economic boom and the dominant position of the US capitalist class globally. They were easily able to afford concessions.
There was also the role of Stalinism, which gave “socialism” a foul odor in the nostrils of the great majority of workers.This enabled a sector of the union bureaucracy that was most closely linked with the employers to strengthen their base in the unions and strengthen their grip on the union structures. Any worker who seriously wanted a more militant union was suspected (at the very least) of being a “Commie”, and there were consequences, the least of which was being shunned by one’s fellow workers.
Ironically, the end of the boom and the collapse of Stalinism actually strengthened this state of affairs. The collapse of Stalinism strengthened a huge propaganda wave in favor of the “free” market. We had reached the end of history, you see. Any thought otherwise was simply living in a dream world at best. And the end of the boom accelerated the attacks on the working class, including accelerating the wave of plant closures and runaway plants (to Mexico and then to China and elsewhere). Workers in general, and the union workers in particular, were told that if you fight for higher pay, or even if you fight against cuts in pay, you will end up losing your job altogether. Continue reading