Bulletin’s Hormel Lies
We told it straight. “Hormel Strike Knifed,” declared our headline, adding “All Labor Will Pay for This Treacherous Defeat!” (WV No. 400, 28 March). For seven long months on the picket lines-against a union-busting company, backstabbing International union tops, a liberal Democratic governor and the National Guard-the Hormel meat-packers hung tough. But finally, in the face of this unholy alliance, the leaders of Local P-9 in Austin, Minnesota decisively turned away from union action. Instead of a class-struggle program to clear the scabs out of the plant and win the strikers' jobs back, they called for a nationwide consumer boycott and announced they would sue the United Food and Commercial Workers. (UFCW) in the capitalist courts. “And so after a hard, bitter fight the heroic Hormel strike has been smashed,” we wrote.
We knew we would hear soon from the fake-left and others, whose program of tailing after the labor bureaucracy prevents them from saying what is. Sure enough, on April 1, the Bulletin, newspaper of David North’s Workers League (WL), ran a full-page polemic titled, “'Workers Vanguard Buries the Hormel Strike.” The article, by Bulletin editor Martin McLaughlin, labels the Spartacist League “dyed-in-the-wool defeatists” and claims:
“For all the rhetorical denunciations of the betrayals of the UFCW International, the resolution and the entire analysis of Spartacist AGREE with the position of the UFCW that the strike is over and it is time for a post-mortem.”
It’s not surprising the Bulletin resorts to this lying amalgam, a smear tactic from Stalin’s arsenal, equating the SL’s call for class-struggle unionism with the UFCW International’s scabherding. The entire resolution he refers to, by Spartacist supporter Stan Gow in the West Coast dock union (ILWU), is a bitter attack on the labor traitors that currently make up the top leadership of the American labor movement for having “deliberately isolated and stabbed in the back” the Hormel strike.
The professional con artists of the Workers League don’t have to bow to the Stalinists when it comes to cynical lies: having signed up as press agents for local president Jim Guyette and his adviser Ray Rogers of Corporate Campaign, Inc., the WL simply declares that P-9’s “decision to defy the International” was an “enormous advance” and a “great step forward for the entire labor movement.” So-presto! – the workforce of more than 1,000 scabs who have been working in the Austin plant for more than two months now is simply disappeared! What is this act of “defiance” North's WL praises so highly? They’re not talking about a plant seizure, mind you, or militant mass picketing (as opposed to symbolic “civil disobedience”) to drive out the Guard, stop the scabs, shutthe plant down and keep it shut until the strike wins. Guyette and Rogers accept the government's claim that such class-struggle tactics would be “violent” and therefore unacceptable. No, what they are referring to is taking the UFCW International union to court. The Bulletin article explicitly states that “the P-9 lawsuit is perfectly justifiable as a defensive measure....”
In 1979, when a WL agent, Alan Gelfand, was expelled from the Socialist Workers Party, North & Co. sued the SWP in federal court. Thus the Northites were calling on the class enemy to determine the membership of a self-proclaimed socialist organization! And as part of this provocation, the WL called on the court to pry into the SWP's minutes, finances-in short, every aspect of its functioning. Gerry Healy, North's British boss until recently (when Healy was blown out of the water in a scandal involving Libyan gold, fingering Iraqi Communists and allegations of sexual importunities with young women), would have leftist opponents beaten up by his goons, then sue them when they complained about it in print.
The Workers League has always had great faith in bourgeois justice. Remember their notorious support for the 1971 NYC police “strike,” moreover at a time when the racist cops were flexing their bonapartist muscles for more leeway to go after the Black Panthers! Until recently virtually the entire British left shared with the Healyites the idea that cops were incipient “comrades.” But the British miners strike, when the cops beat heads and tear-gassed strikers for 12 solid months, taught the British workers a lesson in the nature of the state and discredited the cop-loving Healyites in the eyes of militants.
For Marxists it is axiomatic that the state is not “neutral” but the armed fist of the ruling class. The behavior of the , cops, courts and National Guard during the Hormel strike has dramatically proved this again. What P-9er expects to get justice in the courtroom of Judge Bruce Stoner, whose injunctions have made real picketing illegal? Experience from the United Mine Workers to the NYC hospital union has shown over and over that when the government intervenes in the internal affairs of labor, the workers always end up paying. Rather than being a weapon for the Hormel strikers against the company and the treacherous UFCW bureaucrats, this suit will only help the bosses hamstring and control the union movement.
The Bulletin article promises to be the first of a series on “The Politics of the Spartacist League.” An introduction describes the SL as “imbedded . . . deeply into the sewers of middle-class radicalism,” and other uncomplimentary phrases. (This is a comedown, of sorts - last year the WL was labeling us “racist” and even “fascist.”) To back up such charges, it claims that the SL last year “hailed” the NYC “subway vigilante,” Bernhard Goetz, and “denounced” black revolt in South Africa, supposedly saying that armed struggle against apartheid was “hopeless.” Anyone who has read Workers Vanguard or is familiar with the politics of the Spartacist League knows that these are patent lies. We have refuted them, exhaustively, in our article “Smash Fascist Smear of SL” (WV No. 379, 17 May 1985). But North, McLaughlin et al. have fed well at the Healyite trough, and figure that they can dish out any amount of hogwash and get away with it.
The Bulletin lies about what we say on the Hormel strike; they lie about the SL's position on South Africa and the black question in the U.S. Aren't they afraid of getting caught out? The purpose of such obvious falsehoods is not to win over any independent worker or radical who comes in contact with the Spartacists. (In fact, anyone who does admit having talked to the SL is immediately given an ultimatum – break off all contact with “the Sparts,” or else.) Rather, these deliberate lies are a political straitjacket, to imprison their own members, morally and programmatically. Either you accept and defend them – all of them – or you're out of the Workers League. And once you've prostituted yourself peddling this crap, you’ve signed away your right to differ on anything: you are a proven liar.
There is one industry in the country where the WL is active and their work can be compared with that of Spartacist supporters: New York City transit. Recall that the Bulletin declared Bernhard Goetz a racist would-be killer on the sole grounds that he was a white man who shot some black youths; whether or not Goetz faced or feared a mugging was irrelevant to them, because in their legalist view only the “authorities” should have guns. The Goetz case was ambiguous, and we s aid so at the time. But recently a clear-cut case of self-defense has arisen, of black subway token clerk James Grimes, who shot robbers threatening his life in a hold-up attempt. Spartacist supporters together with token clerks and other transit workers have taken up Grimes’s case, seeking to mobilize broad union support. But the WL has done nothing to defend Grimes against management discipline and attempts by the D.A. to railroad him to jail on gun possession charges or worse. The Bulletin has not mentioned this case once. This group which hailed the 1971 NYC cop “strike” won’t defend a black man with a gun.
The WL's brand of “colorblind,” legalistic unionism shares the fundamental values of the racist pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy, which is why the Bulletin kept calling on every sworn enemy of P-9, from the AFL-CIO, and UFCW tops on down, to aid the Hormel strike. The Spartacist League, in contrast, put forward a program to mobilize the ranks of labor in militant class struggle. It is not “defeatism” to recognize a defeat when it is staring you in the face. No doubt many Hormel workers will find this hard to take. But revolutionary politics is not a popularity contest: it's a matter of providing leadership. According to the Bulletin, things are getting better and better – all you have to do is believe. But Hormel workers aren’t Peter Pans, and David North sure as hell isn’t Tinkerbell.
As Trotskyists we prefer to face the facts, in order to forge a party that can lead a winning fight. As Stan Gow's motion in the ILWU said of the Hormel strike, “All American workers are going to pay for this treacherous defeat. Next time there had better be a massive show of force by the labor movement to smash the union-busters.”