The working class is the principal one that will carry out the socialist revolution. It is the class that holds the power of production in its hands, it is concentrated in the workplaces (whether factories, mines, offices or service industries). As the Communist Manifesto states: “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie to-day, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.” It is destined to be the gravedigger of capitalism.
The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) had a long and glorious history of organizing the working class. Even before its formation, many of its future leaders took a major part in the strike wave following World War I and the October Revolution. The CPUSA lead the Bonus March of veterans in 1932, it organized the Unemployment Councils during the Great Depression, it led in forming the main industrial unions of the CIO (longshore, auto, rubber, steel, etc.), and it helped in the building of a United and Popular Front against fascism before and during World War II. After World War II the U.S. emerged as the chief imperialist power on a world scale.
The U.S. government used a two-pronged strategy of repression and bribery against the working class in order to preserve peace at home while carrying out war and aggression abroad. It attacked the most progressive forces in the trade-union movement, especially the Communists, driving out most of the revolutionary elements during the period of McCarthyism.
It should be noted that the right made use of forces in the trade union movement that had been willing to ally with the CP in the building of the CIO, such as Reuther in auto, Murray in steel, and James B. Carey, who eventually lead the anti-communist attack against the United Electrical workers (UE) inside General Electric.
The government also bribed and made concessions to some of the better-paid workers, often through the social-democratic union leaders. Examples of this were the GI Bill, allowing some workers to try to escape from their class by going to college, or the provision of low-interest loans to purchase housing coops, such as much of the housing in Coop Village through the ACWA and ILGWU on the Lower East Side of New York City.
As Lenin pointed out in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism: “The receipt of high monopoly profits by the capitalists in one of the numerous branches of industry, in one of the numerous countries, etc., makes it economically possible for them to bribe certain sections of the workers, and for a time a fairly considerable minority of them, and win them to the side of the bourgeoisie of a given industry or given nation against all the others.” With this, the progressive forces in the trade unions were reduced to a small number of independent unions (such as the ILWU and the UE), as well as rank-and-file caucuses in other AFL unions and CIO unions. [The two labor federations merged in 1955.]
Thus the labor movement, and much of the popular movement as a whole, was relatively quiescent during the Korean War. The living standard of much of the working class rose during this period, but at the cost of its political independence. There were mass protests, particularly of the civil rights and human rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and of the movement against the Vietnam War in the mid-1960’s to mid-1970’s. These involved masses of people (including workers) from the oppressed nationalities, and of mainly petty-bourgeois students and others (including workers drafted into the imperialist army), but not the working class as a whole.
It is no accident that President Johnson was able to wage war against Vietnam at the same time as he carried out his “Great Society” program at home. It is also no coincidence that the year 1975 marked both the defeat of U.S. imperialism in Vietnam and the beginning of the slow decline of the standard of living of the working class at home. Unfortunately, the subjective consciousness of the working class lags behind the change in its objective conditions.
The leadership of the major AFL-CIO unions still objectively tail behind U.S. imperialism. There were changes in the objective situation of the working class in the 1950’s. The U.S. was an industrial powerhouse. It was the major producer of autos, steel, oil, coal, textile, etc. in the capitalist world. The working class was concentrated in 10 large factories, with thousands of workers. The largest companies in 1955 included GM (with over 550,000 workers), US Steel (over 265,000 workers), GE (over 210,000 workers), etc. In the 60 years since then, there have been great changes in production and in the productivity of labor.
The U.S. monopoly corporations, in pursuit of maximum profit, have shifted much of their manufacturing industry to other countries with much cheaper labor power, whether to México, southern Korea ,Bangladesh, China, India, etc. Also, the introduction of new machinery, robotics, etc. allows the remaining U.S.-based industries to produce more commodities with fewer workers. Many factories have been closed down or shrunk in size, converting the old Steel Belt into a Rust Belt.
Many petty-bourgeois people are becoming increasingly more proletarian; teachers and nurses for example. Office workers, once a relatively privileged adjunct to factory workers, have become a low-paid clerical workforce. At the same time, the low-wage service industry has vastly increased. Among the largest industries today are Wal-Mart (about 1,400,000 workers in the US), McDonalds (some 760,000 workers), etc. Many of the major economic struggles over the last few years have been in these service industries. One has been the fight for $15/hour and a union.
This struggle is still in its early stages, and there must still be a turn towards actual organizing of these workers into unions.
Another major fight is against the privatization of public services. This includes the fight against the closing of post offices throughout the country and the provision of postal services in non-union private companies such as Staples and Wal-Mart. So far, the postal workers have only fought this with a boycott campaign. it is the view of our Party that this attempt at privatization can only be fought effectively with a nationwide campaign to unionize these retail office supply chains.
A major fight exists across our country against the increasing number of private charter schools, and against state aid to private education. This struggle in education includes the fight against increased tuition in public colleges, and the fight of professors, adjuncts and teaching assistants there, who need to join forces with students and their advocacy organizations.
Being a party based in the working class, we cannot by any means ignore the continuing struggles of industrial workers to maintain and improve their standard of living and working conditions. The important strike of oil refinery workers represented by the USW, the struggle of the ILWU longshore workers on the West Coast against the use of scab labor, and the fight by the UFCW that organized meat packing workers in the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina provide excellent examples The strike to organize Smithfield highlighted the importance of African-American workers and immigrant workers and their unity.
Finally, we need to point out the key role of transportation workers. Transportation worker militancy can be seen, for example, in the strikes of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 bus and subway workers in New York City in 1966, 1980, and 2005. The 2005 TWU strike effectively shut down the city for 2½ days. It can also be seen in the important role of the Teamsters port truck drivers, whose solidarity with West Coast longshore workers was an important assist to their struggle.
This was true even though these drivers are not organized for the most part, and many are fraudulently not even considered workers, as they are officially classified as “independent contractors,” who have to buy off their rigs from the big trucking firms.
PCUSA’s trade union plan of action:
*Unite to oppose all anti-worker, anti-union trade deals.
* Support for low wage workers and the fight for $15 and a union campaign
* Campaign to repeal Taft-Hartley section 14 (b) the so-called Right-to-Work law
* Campaign against current “right-to-work” legislation
* Support effort to overturn the Communications Workers of America (CWA) vs. Beck decision
* Build Labor Today caucuses in each local union
* Build support for the anti-imperialist, principled trade union positions of the World Federation of Trade Unions and actively support and build the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) in North America.
LABOR TODAY- http://labortoday.us
FSM (Español) http://fsmamerica.org
United Electrical Workers- ueunion.org