Workers League vs. the Unions
For more than five months, United Mine Workers members have been battling the coal bosses with one hand tied behind their backs, straitjacketed by UMW president Richard Trumka’s “selective strike” scam. From the outset, Workers Vanguard has told miners the truth: to wage a militant strike “means a clean break from Trumka’s Democratic Party ‘friends’ like Clinton, and a fight for a workers party …. You need a class-struggle leadership prepared to take on the Taft-Hartley ‘slave labor’ law, court injunctions and the cops, as well as the capitalist politicians from plutocrat Democrat Jay Rockefeller to ‘right to work’ Clinton” (WV No. 570, 26 February).
When WV teams traveled through the coal fields of southern Illinois and West Virginia, miners were receptive to our call for a solid strike to reverse the gutting of their union at the hands of the coal bosses and the UMW bureaucracy. But the Bulletin (5 March) of David North’s Workers League (WL) vituperated against our article for “promoting syndicalist nostrums” and “bankrupt illusions in trade union reformism.” In a piece entitled “Trumka’s Accomplices,” after a few swipes at the craven apologists for the UMW bureaucracy in the Communist Party (CP), Workers World and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Northites turn to their real target, the Spartacist League: “The February 26 edition of their weekly paper Workers Vanguard carried an article which presented the bureaucracy as waging a serious fight against the coal bosses.”
And how, pray tell, do we do that — by our call, “Coal Miners: Fight for a National Strike!” (WV No. 569, 12 February)? According to the Bulletin, “The Spartacists issue their appeals not to the working class but to its corrupt bureaucratic leadership. They cover up the transformation of the UMWA under the grip of the bureaucracy into an appendage of the coal bosses and the government.” Similarly, North’s German followers recently denounced our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party as a “left fig leaf for the trade-union bureaucracy” (Neue Arbeiterpresse, 14 May) for the Spartakist headline during the recent East German metal workers strike, “Metal, Steel, Coal: Full Strike Now, East and West!” (along with the kicker “Workers Must Fight for Power!”).
Interestingly, the 21 June Bulletin headlines, “It Is Time for a Nationwide Strike,” but they coyly put this in the mouth of a “West Virginia miner.” Above all, for the WL there is no possibility of a fight for the union to wage a national strike. Equating the pro-capitalist bureaucracy with the union as a whole, the political bandits of the WL are currently claiming that the unions are in no sense working-class organizations.
This is pretty rich coming from North & Co., who for years have issued endless appeals to the pro-capitalist AFL-CIO traitors to do everything from call a general strike to form a labor party! As recently as the 1990-91 New York Daily News strike, when striking pressmen gave the WL some heat over the lack of a union bug on their rag, we were taken to task by the Northites: “Spartacist never makes any demands on the New York AFL-CIO” (Bulletin, 16 November 1990).
The one constant for the Northites is their identification of the unions with the pro-capitalist bureaucratic apparatus which chains them to the bosses’ state. Thus the WL has never fought to unchain the unions. Quite the contrary, from Arnold Miller to the 1985-86 Hormel meatpackers strike, they have supported government intervention into the unions. It is crucial that class-struggle militants recognize that the regime atop the UMW today is the continuation of the pro-Labor Department bureaucracy that was installed with the approval and assistance of the capitalist government — and to the applause of most of the left, from the reformist Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party to the Workers League. In our coverage of the miners’ class battles, we have repeatedly pointed to the key question — fighting for the independence of the union from the capitalist state:
“From the Labor Department campaign of Arnold Miller, to Carter/Mondale’s use of Taft-Hartley against the long, bitter 1977-78 strike, to Trumka’s bowing before the injunctions of the coal company judges during the Pittston strike, the miners’ historic militancy has been throttled in the service of the bosses’ parties and the capitalist state.”The Spartacist League stood virtually alone on the left 20 years ago in refusing to capitulate to the Labor Department-run Miners for Democracy “rank and file” opposition in the UMW. Though many miners only came to. recognize Miller as the class traitor he was during the coal strike of 1977-78, we told the truth from the beginning:
— WV No. 569, 12 February
“For communists, whose fundamental aim in the labor movement is to transform the unions into a tool of the revolutionary will of the proletariat, no reform can increase the power of the working class if ‘it is won by placing the unions under the trusteeship of the capitalist state, thus destroying the first precondition for their mobilization in the struggle to smash that state.”In recent years, the WL pretends they always opposed Miller et al., whom they now term “‘reform’ candidates backed by the capitalist state. In the 1970s, the Labor Department put Arnold Miller in as head of the Miners for Democracy movement to suppress the powerful rebellion against the gangster leadership of UMWA President Tony Boyle” (Bulletin, 2 November 1990). But in the 1970s, when North was “Labor Editor,” the Bulletin (11 December 1972) hailed the MFD as “a real alternative to the Boyle leadership” and called on “all miners to vote for the Miners for Democracy slate, and to fight for this leadership to carry through a real struggle to defend the miners against the mining companies and the government”!
— ”Labor Department Wins Mine Workers’ Election,” WV No. 17, 17 March 1973
A few months before that, North himself held an “exclusive interview” with hidebound anti-Communist Steelworkers president I.W. Abel — in his Miami Beach hotel room, no less — where North enthused about the “developing break between the labor movement and the Democratic Party” (Bulletin, 24 July 1972). This was at a time when the Meanyite bureaucracy stood to the right of significant sections of the ruling class on the burning question of the Vietnam War. North reprinted excerpts from a speech to the AFL-CIO convention in which Abel “broke” with Democratic “peace” candidate McGovern, meticulously editing out his endorsement of the right-wing Democratic “Senator for Boeing” Henry Jackson.
Has North come clean after two decades of tailing the racist, anti-Communist AFL-CIO lieutenants of capital? Hardly. Since parting ways with his lord and mentor Gerry Healy (when their “International Committee” spectacularly imploded after the blood money from Arab sheiks dried up), North has continued as a political bandit who, as we put it, “will show any flag to attack any target. For this, the CIA-inspired graduate departments of elite universities attended by those among North and his crew were a good classroom. It, at the least, taught them how to write on every side of the question, like the position papers of the State Department” (“Why Should Anyone Believe David North?” WVNo. 487, 13 October 1989).
Take the “Russian question.” Trotsky argued, against those who wrote off the Soviet Union, that’ just as militant workers defend a trade union under bureaucratic leadership against the employers’ attacks, ‘so must they defend against imperialism the bureaucratically degenerated workers state. For decades — whether under Healy or without him — North tailed every anti-Soviet force from the “AFL-CIA” to Polish Solidarność, the CIA-sponsored Afghan mujahedin and the Lithuanian Sajudis. When Yeltsin formally dissolved the USSR in December 1991, North rushed to announce the death of the Soviet workers state. And in a grotesque inversion of Trotsky’s argument, North wrote off the unions as well, saying that “to define the AFL-CIO as a working class organization is to blind the working class” (“The End of the USSR,” Bulletin, 10 January 1992).
Over 50 years ago, Trotsky wrote of “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” (August 1940):
“They can no longer be reformist, because the objective conditions leave noSubsequent historical development has fully borne out Trotsky’s warning. The anti-Communist trade-union bureaucracy installed in the Cold War is so beholden to the bourgeoisie that it has presided over the destruction of union gains and whole unions, like PATCO. Writing about the closing of the auto plants in Detroit, already a decade ago we denounced United Auto Workers leader “Doug Fraser: Company Cop” (/em)(WV No. 330, 20 May 1983). But the unions themselves remain the principal mass organizations of the working class, and the point Trotsky was underlining was the necessity for a communist struggle for leadership.
room for any serious and lasting reforms. The trade unions of our time can
either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the
subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution,
or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the
revolutionary movement of the proletariat.”
As always with the shameless opportunists of the WL, even as they deny that the unions are any longer workers organizations, this doesn’t stop them from appealing to the wretched bureaucracy in North’s vile campaign of helping to railroad Mark Curtis, a member of the SWP, into a 25-year prison term on frame-up charges of burglary and sexual abuse. Thus the 13 September 1991 Bulletin ran an article headlined “Iowa AFL-CIO Denounces Mark Curtis Campaign,” complete with photo of Iowa AFL-CIO South Central Federation of Labor president Perry Chapin! The WL reprinted the bureaucrats’ entire resolution, including a call on the national convention of the AFL-CIO to “refuse any support to the Mark Curtis defense campaign.”
And today, the Northites will in one and the same issue of the Bulletin (12 February) compare the UMW to a “company union” — which the workers must seek to smash — while trumpeting headlines from the coal fields calling for (that “syndicalist nostrum “?) a national UMW strike! Writing off the unions’ potential to act in pursuit of the class struggle and kowtowing to the pro-capitalist bureaucracy are flip sides of the same coin. Both variants exclude a communist political struggle within the unions. But though the WL’s two postures may be symmetrical, they imply rather different appetites, and one thing we know about the WL is that it determines its “political” positions by their utility in pursuit of egregiously corrupt (often financial) self-interest.
What new appetite does the WL’s anti-union incarnation serve? We don’t know, but we notice the Bulletin’s recent makeover into a yuppified, expensive-looking weekly done up in modish earth tones. The great prevaricator Stalin once boasted that “paper will take anything written on it,” and the WL evidently intends to prove that fancy paper will, too.