Jewish and Palestinian workers unity in Israel today bodes well for future struggles

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Reading notes - American Politics Today: The Working Class Moves to Center Stage (1979)







American Politics Today: The Working Class Moves to Center Stage
By Jack Barnes


THE MILITANT/MARCH 16, 1979
http://themilitant.com/1979/4310/MIL4310.pdf

________



....We have entered a period in the United
States where the class war, because of the class-
collaborationist default of the labor bureaucracy,
is being fought in guerrilla struggles in factory
after factory. You could say that what is taking
place is urban guerrilla warfare for an extended
period. And, judging from the reports from Can-
ada and Mexico, we should add that it is on a
continental scale.


That is what we have: guerrilla warfare by the
workers, defensive struggles, not politically led,
not consciously organized, not carried out in a
coordinated way.

....It was correct to say that the [1978 UMWA] mine strike was the most important battle of labor since the showdown in the General Motors strike in 1946.


There is no doubt about that now.  What happened in the miners' struggle affected
the relationship of class forces in this country. It
shed light on the patterns of struggle that are
coming-in industry and in the country as a
whole. It illuminated the changing relationship
of forces between the ruling class, the labor
bureaucracy, and the workers. And that is at the
heart of all politics in this country.


The strike deeply affected the ruling class and
the way they view their tactical problems. It
profoundly affected the working class and its
allies, changing the way they look at themselves
and at each other.


I think it also affected the revolutionary party.
It sharpened our view of politics in this country
today. And it showed once more how a party can
act decisively, even when it is very small, in a
way that can begin affecting much larger
forces-providing you are in the strategically
decisive arenas of action.

....Over the years, the American working class
became a political prisoner, incarcerated in the
antilabor legislation and class-collaborationist
institutions. The workers were held in check by
the housebroken labor bureaucracy, which the
employers relied on more and more to do the job
for them.

....One of the biggest problems facing the rulers
in this country is the antiwar attitude of the
workers who fought imperialism's war in Viet-
nam for a decade, then got the austerity offensive
as a thank you. This deep-seated suspicion is a
state of consciousness the rulers are determined
to reverse-because they know they must be able
to directly use American military power.
They must do this not because of the strength
of world imperialism but because of its weakness,
the shift in the world relationship of class forces
against them.

....as the pressure mounts to break out of the
framework of capitalist politics, the rulers are
going to make more and more of an effort to
come up with safety valves that keep the exploit-
ed and oppressed stuck in lesser-evilism. If nec-
essary, they will increase the number of Black
candidates running. They will find this woman
to run, that young person, this "populist," that
gay person, this "environmentalist." They will
even start running some "socialist" Democrats.
Just as long as they don't break out of the
framework of capitalist politics, but instead serve
as a way of sucking people back in.

....Today the gap is closing between the
radicalism and combativity of the labor move-
ment as a whole, and the level of political
consciousness in the Black and Chicano com-
munities.


Not that the gap has been closed. But think
back to the 1950s, with the rise of the civil rights
movement. Compare the consciousness and the
readiness for political action-even if not on the
electoral front-of the Black community and the
labor movement then. In those days, the labor
movement was almost totally dominated by the
most reactionary political positions of the Meany
leadership.


But a great deal has changed in the labor
movement in the past several years. The growing
class consciousness among many white workers
narrows the gap with their Black co-workers.
There's more and more understanding of the
need for class solidarity, solidarity with the
struggles of labor's allies, the need for indepen-
dent class political action.

....In organizations such as NOW, we have to be
able to explain that lobbying is not just a less-
effective tactic; it's a wrong tactic. Lobbying
doesn't accomplish little; it's not even neutral. It
is harmful. It is counterproductive because it
diverts energies from useful activity.
This is not playing with words. If people go to
demonstrate in Washington, and as part of that
they raise some hell in the hallways of Congress,
and get on television, that's good. That's not
lobbying; it's a form of publicizing our demands.


But lobbying as a tactic simply institutional-
izes the course of relying on bourgeois politi-
cians. No bourgeois politician has ever done
anything for any section of the working class
because some lobbyist asked: "Would you do
this? We want this," or demonstrated he or she
was knowledgeable about the issues. That's not
how the capitalist politicians make their deci-
sions.

....We're about the only ones on the American left
who totally reject the nonsense about the country
moving right.


The "country's" not drifting to the right-
there's a class polarization taking place within
the country. There are signs of it every day. And
the more you are part of the American industrial
working class, the more you see it and under-
stand it.


It's certainly true that the Democrats and
Republicans are moving to the right. With their
system in a deep crisis, capitalist politicians like
Carter say things that Lyndon Johnson wouldn't
have dreamed of saying a decade ago. And
Carter will have to say more, and have to try to
do more-economically, militarily, politically.


Because the capitalists must continue their offen-
sive against working people around the world;
they have no choice. And while they can get
important help from the labor bureaucracy at
home, and Peking and Moscow abroad, they
ultimately have to do the job themselves.
A Mayor Gibson in Newark, a Mayor Kucinich
in Cleveland, a Mayor Young in Detroit, a
"socialist" Congressman Dellums, may talk a bit
more "left," but when push comes to shove, they
are owned by the banks. They bring down the
axe on schools, hospitals, jobs, raise taxes-
whatever the bankers need.


So, yes, the capitalist politicians are moving to
the right.


But the workers aren't. And neither are our
allies. They're looking for action. They're looking
for answers. And they're beginning to act-
whether misled, partially led, or just on their
own.


That's the guerrilla warfare we were talking
about at the beginning. As more and more SWP
members get into the steel plants, into the auto
factories, into the mines and rail yards, we are
learning this from our own experience.


It's what one steelworker official was referring
to when he talked to the Washington Post about
the shipyard workers in Newport News. "What a
guy used to put up with in the '30s and '40s, the
young guys today just aren't willing to put up
with," the official said.


And we could add that it doesn't just go for the
guys.

....Omari was right. In Weber, we have
something that could be five, ten, twenty times
bigger than the Bakke case. It goes right to the
heart of class politics. We don't know yet how
broad the movement around this can be. But the
Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and
that sets off a certain dynamic.


….Mary-Alice [Waters] reminded me of something
else that is important for us to absorb the
meaning of. The American working class is more
advanced, by far, on this question of affirmative
action than workers anywhere else in the world ..
Affirmative action, as we understand the con-
cept, is practically nonexistent in other advanced
capitalist countries. There is no consciousness
that fighting to increase the number of women or
oppressed national minorities in industry streng-
thens the workers in their fight against the
employers. As inadequate as the gains have been here, there's nothing like them in Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan. The labor movement in other countries is just more backward on this question, more influenced by the racist and sexist ideas promoted by the rulers.


This is because of the vanguard role of the
Black struggle in the United States and the
impact of the radicalization that came before the
period we're living through now. It's a precious
conquest of the early stages of this radicaliza-
tion. As a result, workers here have a potentially
powerful weapon. Because affirmative action is
solidarity. It is the strength our class needs to
fight. And this concept already exists, is already
part of this early stage of labor's fight for its
emancipation.

....The turn is not just for us. We think every fighting organization in this country should make the turn. Unless you do what we're doing-getting the overwhelming majority of our members into industry-you are going to be disoriented politically.


In order to see the political challenges and
opportunities today, in order to see the road
ahead, you have to understand what's happening
in the class struggle.


This is at the bottom of the crisis of perspec-
tives facing the Raza Onida Party, for instance.
This is what we must explain to the leaders and
members of the Raza Onida Party whom we
know and work with. We have to explain frankly
and clearly that this is where they have to orient,
or they will have no perspective to offer the
masses of Chicano working people in Texas.

....I think Mac [Warren] put it well when he pointed out that the ruling class sure doesn't think it's simply a preparatory period. That's a good point.
Even more important for us is the fact that a
significant layer of our class also knows that this
is not exactly a preparatory period. That's the
heart of the matter.


That's where virtually every other radical
group goes off the rails. They think it's important
to get elected to union office, instead of organiz-
ing around ideas and actions among the ranks of
the labor movement. That's like a decision to
abandon the fight to be a revolutionary socialist
in the unions.


That's why we stress the point that we can't
have our eyes on the secondary leaders or the
local leaders. We are looking to the ranks. And
we function as open socialists.
The truth of the matter is that every single one
of our opponents look to that layer, not to the
ranks of labor. That's where the Communist
Party looks. That's where the Maoists look.
That's where the International Socialists look.
The Social Democrats already look a little
higher, but they don't ignore the secondary lay-
ers.


Deep in their heart of hearts, a lot of these
petty-bourgeois radicals believe that Fraser and
Winpisinger are to the left of the American
workers. To you that sounds strange. It sounds
like an abomination. Because you are workers
who are thinking about strategy and tactics in
the battles today and the battles ahead.


But petty-bourgeois radicals who come into the
labor movement with a petty-bourgeois program,
get superimpressed with various competing indi-
vidual leaders, some more radical than others. It
wasn't just the Cochranites in our own party who
thought that the Reuther bureaucracy was miles
to the left of the auto workers in the fifties. This
kind of idea comes up with every brand of petty-
bourgeois political opponent today.
This is important to keep in mind. It helps to
reinforce where we're looking, and the axis that
we're on. It's all connected to the here and now.
That's what we're after.


movement, and they will come again. They will
become the dominant forms of struggle, and the
workers will have to cut through the red tape
with a few strokes. All the stuff with the lawyers
and arbitrators will fall by the wayside in com-
bat, class combat.


….of our opponents look to that layer, not to the
ranks of labor. That's where the Communist
Party looks. That's where the Maoists look.
That's where the International Socialists look.
The Social Democrats already look a little
higher, but they don't ignore the secondary lay-
ers.


Deep in their heart of hearts, a lot of these
petty-bourgeois radicals believe that Fraser and
Winpisinger are to the left of the American
workers. To you that sounds strange. It sounds
like an abomination. Because you are workers
who are thinking about strategy and tactics in
the battles today and the battles ahead.


But petty-bourgeois radicals who come into the
labor movement with a petty-bourgeois program,
get superimpressed with various competing indi-
vidual leaders, some more radical than others. It
wasn't just the Cochranites in our own party who
thought that the Reuther bureaucracy was miles
to the left of the auto workers in the fifties. This
What's at stake is challenging the thirty-year
web of class-collaborationist practices in the
labor movement. Farrell calls it miles of red tape.
He saw the genesis of a lot of it firsthand. You
get a picture of miles of red tape being wound
around the bodies of workers so they can't
breathe and can't move.


What did Mac say? Even when a worker gets
mad, what do they say to the steward? "File a
grievance. File a grievance for me."


Think about that for a minute. Isn't that a hell
of a state for the UAW to come to?


That's what is beginning to unravel. It will go
far beyond what we're seeing now. When the
workers very impolitely say, "Take the laws, take
the papers, take the grievance machinery, and
shove 'em."


Workers' real grievances are going to increase,
and they will have to be fought out with strikes
and picket lines against cops and company
goons. Those kinds of struggles built the labor
movement, and they will come again. They will
become the dominant forms of struggle, and the
workers will have to cut through the red tape
with a few strokes. All the stuff with the lawyers
and arbitrators will fall by the wayside in com-
bat, class combat.


….the gap between the radicalization among Black workers and the radicalization inside the rest of the working class has narrowed. That's not because Blacks have become less class conscious, but because whites
have become more class conscious. That's the
most positive thing in American politics.


The Black population has carried the U.S.
class struggle on its back for twenty years. It
started in the fifties with the rise of the civil
rights movement, and that began to transform
American society. It's taken us a long time to get
to where we are now.


But now we're here. And that's a wonderful
thing….

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