History of Workers Action: Record of Discussion (full version)

Workers Action

Workers Action
Record of Discussion Trade Union Question inside the Workers International League

September 7-25, 2008

The entire Portland branch and the majority of the San Francisco branch recently submitted our resignations to the Workers International League (WIL). Many of us joined the WIL over two years ago because of our fundamental agreement with the International Marxist Tendency’s (IMT) analysis of the Venezuelan revolution. The WIL is a member of the IMT. We were enthusiastic and optimistic when we joined because we had been working with the WIL in the united front, Hands Off Venezuela, in which numerous political groups were involved and where we had all been instrumental in organizing very successful events. However, in the recent past, two major differences erupted within the WIL which opened an unbridgeable chasm. The first revolved around a Cindy Sheehan flier produced by the San Francisco branch. The second concerned the trade union work of a Portland comrade who works at a hospital. We left as a last resort only because we felt the WIL leadership was making it impossible for us to stay. Immediately below is a summary of our differences with the WIL that led to our departure. But we are also including the transcripts of both discussions so that the reader can judge for him or herself.

Index:

Initials and Branch used in correspondence in parentheses, at first usage.

1. Mark (MV, Portland), 2008, September 7, 2008

2. Tom (TT, New York), September 7, 2008

3. Bill (BL) and Ann (AR), (San Francisco) September7, 2008

4. Alex (AG, Madison), September 9, 2008

5. Mark, September14, 2008

6. Tom, September 15, 2008

7. Bill and Ann, September 16, 2008

8. Karl (KB, Pittsburgh), September 17, 2008

9. Alex, September 17, 2008

10. John (JP, National Secretary, Minneapolis), September 17, 2008

11. Bill and Ann, September 18, 2008

12. Shamus C. (SC, Portland), September 20, 2008

13. Dave (DM,.WIL Trade Union Director, St. Louis), September 20, 2008

14. Mark, September 21, 2008

15. Tom, September21, 2008

16. John, September 21, 2008

17. Tom, September 21, 2008

18. Bill and Ann, September 21, 2008

19. John, September 21, 2008

20. John, September 23, 2008

21. Bill and Ann, September 23, 2008

22. Brad (BF, Portland), 2008, September 23, 2008

23. Josh (Josh, St. Louis), September 23, 2008

24. Shane (SJ, Providence), September 23, 2008

25. Shamus (SC), September 23, 2008

26. Dave, September 23, 2008

27. Alex, September 23, 2008

28. Bill and Ann, September 24, 2008

29. Tom, September 24, 2008

30. Jordi, (JM, London, IMT Representative) September 25, 2008

31. John, September 25, 2008


1 . MARK (SEPTEMBER 7, 2008)

At the last bargaining session, management continued their stonewalling for the most part. They are now offering us only a 2% cost of living increase, expecting us to be grateful that they have moved up their last offer from one and a half percent. Their was no significant movement on other economic issues.

On 9/03/08, we had a vote whether to accept management’s offer. Not only was the vote 92% against the acceptance of management’s proposal, we had more people voting then ever before in SEIU Local 49’s history at the hospital, including a strike vote in 2005. This represents a turning of the corner in regards to the rank & files involvement in this struggle. People are paying attention and even formerly anti-union workers are siding up with the union in the face of management’s intransigence. Incidentally, the attempt to gather signatures to have a union decertification vote appears to be failing miserably as things develop. In spite of mountains of flyers and a website dedicated to this cause, few if any appear to be signing.

Our next bargaining session is on 9/16. The offer that the union is putting on the table is a big step back from our original proposal. The bargaining committee is no longer asking for a one year contract to line up our contract date with Good Samaritan Hospital, and is instead calling for a three year contract. Rather then a 6% cost of living increase, the bargaining committee is now only asking for a 3% cost of living increase the first year, and a 3.3% increase for the next two years. In spite of this back pedaling, there are other aspects to the bargaining committee’s offer in terms of equity raises and better healthcare for the poorest workers that would be a significant gain. It is guaranteed that management will reject all this and, with the backing up of 9/16 vote, the bargaining committee will be less inclined to make further concessions.

On 9/17 we will have an all day Informational picket. It is basically a test of our ability to strike. Much of my activity in the next week will be getting my co-workers out to the line & doing public outreach to get others out to build it in a mass way.

Public outreach as been surprisingly aggressive for what unions normally do these days. We have a bill board and have placed full page adds in four major local papers, not to mention the union outreach that JwJ [Jobs with Justice] has been assisting us on. When we delivered the notice of a picket to Human Resources we were accompanied by about 7 local religious leaders, which clearly had an unsettling effect on the head of HR. This is a very important struggle for SEIU Local 49 since a victory would enable the union to organize in other hospitals.

I have been talking to co-workers saying that if management makes no significant movement and try to stall the following bargaining session, we should have a strike vote within a week after the info picket. Everyone I have talked to agrees to this and have said they will push this in the next union meeting. I also brought this up with the lead organizer for this campaign. After some questioning in regards to how the workers I am talking to are responding to this, he agreed with enthusiasm much to my surprise. We will see how things develop, but it seems to me that my main task in this struggle right now is to promote a sense of confidence and militancy among the rank and file, encouraging their mobilization so they can learn thru this experience of their power and be open to more advanced ideas.

2.TOM (SEPTEMBER 7, 2009)

Hi Mark,

It is clear that you are working hard in this intervention at your workplace. However, I think we must keep some points in mind regarding our intervention in this situation. I think we can all learn from this situation and hopefully maximize our gains in that workplace and in that union. In this respect, I have some thoughts about our political intervention.

I think it is more critical than ever for a flyer to come out addressed to the workers and the members of the local. The flyer could come out as “WORKERS IN SEIU LOCAL 49 FOR A STRONGER UNION” [or some name like that] and/or in the name of the WIL. The flyer should put forward our perspective on what the demands should be in the negotiations and how this battle can be won if the union leadership took up our strategy. You mention that the union leadership is backing down and giving up on some of its demands. *We must be on record against this.* We should explain that giving in to management at this stage shows weakness not strength. If the union has improved other demands, we support this but state this should not come at the expense of other demands. We counter pose the money that the health system has, the pay of the executives etc.

This flyer should explain what happened in the 2005 strike and why that went down to defeat and how this could be different this time, *if the leadership does all that is necessary regarding mobilization.*

In planning our intervention, it would be great if we won all or most of the workers to our position. However, based on what I can tell from reading your report, this is not likely at this stage. However, by putting forward an alternative strategy, we at least can start a dialog with those workers who want to fight and want to win and are serious people open to our ideas. It is OK if only a few people, right now, would take the flyer and be open to discuss with us. These few, if we win them over to working with us in the union [even if they do not join the WIL at this stage] will multiply in the future. There is no doubt, if the battle takes off and a strike develops, more people could be attracted to us at a later stage. *However, part of what will attract workers to us is if we put forward ideas that can bring about victory.* Victory does not just mean a new contract, but one with no concessions and some gains on top of that. Most unions are taking contracts where the membership is losing ground in terms of wages, benefits and working conditions. We want it clear: We are opposed to this!

Also, if the union ultimately does concede without a fight or goes on strike and is defeated, it would be very good if we had something in writing that shows how we warned against the policies of the union leadership and how a different result could have occurred. If we try to discuss with the workers after the fact and have not put forward our ideas, they can ask us with justification: Why didn’t you tell us this before?

If there is a militant rank and file grouping to the left of the union leadership, we should work with them but at the same time, in a friendly way, put forward our ideas on the situation and what we think the demands should be and how this can be won.

I am afraid that all of the work that you are doing such as mobilizing the members for the informational picket and collecting union dues, if it is not coupled with a strong stand explaining our position on this situation, could mean that the members do not see you as the potential leader of the opposition but just as an honest union activist. Yes, we want to be seen as honest union activists, but ones who have a different perspective to the false policies of the union leaders.

Of course, in putting forward a different perspective, program and strategy to the union leadership, it should be done in a skill full way. We do not denounce the union leaders as the ultra-left so often do. I hope my suggestions are useful. In Solidarity,

Tom

3. BILL AND ANN (SEPTEMBER 7. 2008)

Mark,

Here are some other considerations to keep in mind for the situation you are confronting at Emmanuel.

If in fact you are urging your coworkers to strike, then it is first and foremost important to prepare the members to win the strike. If you urge your coworkers to strike without the proper preparation and the strike is lost, then your own credibility will be damaged and even worse, workers will lose confidence in their own ability to struggle successfully when future battles appear on the horizon, as they surely will. Losing can lead to a downhill slide that becomes increasingly difficult to reverse as more defeats accumulate. So it is important not simply to call for a strike, but to do what is required to win the strike.

One problem with winning strikes at this time in history is that most union officials are not really orientated to waging effective strikes and winning them. Instead, they opt for the one-day strike where they can put up the pretense to the rank and file that they are really doing something, even

though one-day strikes do not hit the bosses’ profit margins hard enough to make them capitulate. So one-day strikes end up with the workers making a lot of concessions, which can be very demoralizing. In any case, this means that for the union to wage a winning strike, either the union officials are already militant or they are susceptible to going in a militant direction because of pressure from the rank and file.

The union membership must be prepared to win a strike, and this is no easy matter because very quickly the union will be up against not only the bosses but the courts and cops. The first thing that must be done, of course, is to organize a picket line. But there are two kinds of picket lines. There are the porous picket lines that the union bureaucrats love to organize where scabs walk right through them. This is one of the most demoralizing things in the world where you let scabs through the line and these people then take your job. It would be even worse if the scabs that cross the picket line start to include your own members. Rapidly the rest of your coworkers will become demoralized and wonder why they should not also cross the picket line and soon the strike is lost.

Then there is the real picket line where workers are prepared in advance and resolved not to let the scabs through. Here it is important to get all the help you can from other unions and the community. And many people will want to help out only if they think that a real struggle is being waged, as opposed to the pretend struggles of the bureaucrats. But one has to be prepared for the court injunctions that limit the numbers on the picket line. Here the bureaucrats again are eager to capitulate. If the membership is not prepared to stop the scabs from crossing the picket line, even if it means defying court injunctions, then they will lose the strike and possibly their jobs and will be completely demoralized.

Here are some of the things that are required for the union to wage a successful strike. First, there must be a mass meeting of the membership where what is required to win the strike is spelled out to them in detail, and where the vast majority of the membership indicate that they are prepared to put up that kind of a fight. Only if it is the case that the majority say they are prepared to organize this kind of struggle will you be able to get the rest of the hospital workers not to cross your picket line. Only a real battle will have the potential to inspire others from the community or other unions to offer support since they will understand this is a battle that the membership takes seriously. If the membership is not prepared to conduct this kind of battle, then I would not put myself in the position of recommending a strike that is destined to be smashed. But it is the membership who must decide WHAT they are prepared to fight for and IF they are prepared to put up a fight, given their present economic and social situation. It is not a moral imperative that they go out on strike. Rather it is an issue that must be decided by the membership after they have acquired a full understanding of what is at stake.

If the membership is prepared to conduct a real battle but the union officials are not, then you need an alternative leadership that is already in place in the wings, as it were, that can take over and lead the struggle. If such a leadership is not available, then again the strike will be smashed.

This struggle can only be conducted through the union, not independently of it, otherwise you will simply isolate yourself from a mass movement. To be effective you need to be the one to win the majority and forge unity in the ranks. As Alan Woods stated in his book, BOLSHEVISM, “…the problem before the Party was to win over the mass movement and not to counterpose itself to it.”

Bill and Ann

4.ALEX (SEPTEMBER 9, 2008)

Mark,

In my opinion, you are experiencing in first hand the dialectic development of the working class in movement, a privilege and also a challenge to our party and your role in the shop as a revolutionary.

As you already stated the workers are already acting in a advance mood, they are resisting the bosses pressures (like the decertification), they are confidence as we can see on the vote results, and they are receptive to new and more advance ideas as you stated when correctly talking with the workers about pickets and collections actions.

As other comrades commented before already, the question first is if the current leadership will lead correctly and honestly this fight. As we saw in the past, the bureaucrats whether at the local or city or even international might not be up to the level of fight and combativeness that the workers already show to be ready for.

It is the experience of many unionist in this country specially in the lat period that once the movement goes beyond the “tolerable limits” inside a shop, both the union bureaucrats and the employers would agree secretly in any range of tactics to unenabled the movement, including, as Bill and Ann stated, to organize a losing strike or labor actions to convince the most advanced that nothing can be done and that “thanks to the smart and skillful bargainers and the pressure of the union business reps we did not lose everything.”, and then the sell is done!

The interest of the bureaucrats are similarly treated by both the workers and the employers, as you say Mark, if the contract is won as big Victory, this is going to be a slap in the face of the rest of union leadership, a slap that many in the apparatus are not able to stand.

Even for the honest bureaucrats, there are always good reasons to stop fighting: we are not ready, “we are in state negotiations”, “we are in elections”, etc etc. It is natural, it is material, even those who came from the rank and file, in absence of an strong union movement in the last decades and with the strong ideology brainwash that BTW not only union bureaucrats did not fight against it but encourage it among the rank and file. It is logical that union leaders today are cautions, have no much confidence and ultimately feel defeated.

Generally both burn out for previous experiences and sympathetic to the all good-lies of the bureaucrats leaders.

This severe opposition soon to come is only stoppable if we arm the workers with more than a good contract demands list, and good methods but actually with an deep political explanation and specially now when things seem to go so well.

we need to be able to point out the interest at stake, to pose the necessary questions for the workers to be aware of a possible betrayal, and calling for a militant participation on the definitions, not only vote but actually a deep discussion prior the assemblies to understand the strategies and the next steps forwards.

This alone will tie the hands of bureaucrats for future maneuvers yet it is not enough.

As tom says, pose the questions, translate the lessons learnt from other fights has to b combine with extreme careful, crafty I would say. We should show our selves as the most confidence in our victory IF we apply our strategy, and we are cautions when things are not as developed as the situation demands and extremely critical if after the warnings, and winning a win of the workers, the bureaucrats sabotage the struggle.

That is why WIL has a role in this fight, no as an outsider but actually as part of the maturity and well experienced workers that we do have in our party, dedicated to study and defend the best ideas for and with the workers, in this case you are the communist cadre to transform quantity to quality, and this has to be done though a vehicle: the party.

The key is not to imposse [?] but offer our ideas and structure at the same time we fight hand by hand. when workers are ready, likely because they shall realize the bankrout [?] of the reformism and see in us a valid alternative, then they will come to us, as happens so many times before. That is how we build an alternative leadership on laying the grounds of our analysis, and proposals, using this exceptional time where workers are open to new ideas to explain ours.

As Bill says, preparedness for an strike without attempt to build a alternative leadership can be fatal. To build that leadership we should be able to be the best fighter, the best unionist, and the best for the cause of the proletariat, the sooner the workers understand that you represent much more than an honest unionist the faster the people will understand that actually we are asking the workers to eventually emancipate from the control of the bureaucracy and to fuel a new wind of unionism that can not be content in one hospital but spread to all shops in the region!

BTW sooner or later, besides the strike we should defend the extension of the struggle not only on a community level with bill boards, newspaper ads and faith support but actually calling workers for other factories around, unionized labor, hospitals, etc to come ands support the pickets. Another duty that WIL should take responsibility with fliers and with the newspaper.

Finally, a union is by its own role respect the production relations in society a deal-maker, it is the initial expression of workers awakening its concise [?] to its real role in society. When isolated to a broad social movement, in absence of convulsions and general radicalization of the worker class, the unions first purpose is to decrease the rate of surplus taking by the owner but NOT TO ELIMINATE IT. However, in a already 3 decades decadency of capitalism and still going even more convulsionbly [?], even the most small demand can be felt as a radical demand, there is where the dialectics of the process gots [?] in its high.. there is really not separation between the union work and the revolutionary work, it is one: to prepare workers for the times to come and to provide them with the program, ideas, methods and structure necessary to accomplish our duty in history: create a new society out of the ashes of this one.

In solidarity!

Alex

CONTRIBUTION #5 BY MARK (SEPTEMBER 14, 2008)

Comrades

Again, thanx comrades for responding. These discussions are what our Labor list should be about in my opinion. It is thru these discussions about implementing our class struggle approach in the context of our practical work that we can both refine and expand the application of our Marxist method as well as learn some of the nuts and bolts stuff, without which all of our theoretical understanding would remain forever on paper to only contemplate.

Since you wrote first Tom, let me respond to you to begin with. First off, let me clear up one incidental fact. The Executive Board decided to waive the collection of union dues at Emanuel until we have a contract. The task of collecting them would have presented too many difficulties that would distract us from what should be our first and foremost mission – mobilizing the membership to fight for a good contract.

In regards to your use of the word “concessions”, it should be pointed out that what the bargaining team is presenting now at the negotiating table would be a substantial improvement over our last contract, especially where health care and an equity raise are concerned. So in terms of comparing this offer with our last contract, there are no concessions, only gains as far as I can see. However, if you mean by “concessions” the back pedaling evident in the union’s current offer when compared with where we started, then yes we have retreated. Of course, some of this is almost always inevitable in any negotiating process, however, I am in agreement with you that the way this was done indicates to management that we are bargaining from a position of weakness, not strength. The way I usually try to address the problems with this back peddling is by saying more or less, “all of our attempts to meet management half way have only been meant with further insults. While, of course, the bargaining team needs some flexibility to do their job, on the issues that are most important to the membership such as the one year contract to line us up with Good Sam, we should be able to have a membership vote on this before the bargaining committee puts any reversal on the table. At this point management has demonstrated that they are clearly not interested in our attempts to be “reasonable” – only taking from us as much as they can. Therefore, in my opinion, we need to show them that we are capable of standing fast and stick to the one year contract. We need to demonstrate that it is management that has to move.” By putting it this way, my intention is to keep the fire aimed at the employer and indicate to 49 members how the union leadership should approach bargaining.

In regards to putting out a flyer in the name of the WIL or some, what in fact would be fictitious committee, we have had this discussion before on this list. While you have made some changes in content according to new developments, and added a few additional points as to why you believe this should be done, you have not addressed my reasons for not putting out a leaflet now. Let me beg your patience and again try to explain why this will not work in, hopefully, a more complete and better way.

At this point, the rank and file are looking to the union leadership to lead this struggle. “That is what we pay our dues for” is the usual rationale. The union has put much more resources into this struggle and done more outreach work, especially to other unions, then ever before. The most active workers are more or less satisfied with this. Therefore, any leaflet put out in the name of the WIL, or Committee for a Strong Contract, would be seen as something coming from outside of the union, as a fringe element and would be viewed as an attack on the union. No workers would pay this any serious attention. Believe me, I know. I see every day what the workers pay attention to and what they ignore.

If we were to raise demands that the workers SHOULD adopt, we would be completely ignoring the fact that the membership has settled on these demands on the basis of their concrete circumstances. That is, they have settled on these demands because they think this is what they need and are therefore willing to fight for. Would it make any sense for us to say that their judgment is wrong? The battle lines have already been drawn. It is our role as revolutionaries to help them solidify their demands, not tell them what their demands should be, and then to help mobilize the membership and lead them into battle with the perspective of winning over the majority to a class struggle approach.

Until union members are firmly committed to a fight and, thru the course of the struggle, begin to question how the union leadership is conducting things, it will not be possible for any newly organized current to come out as a caucus with their own written material independent of the union leadership. If this approach is launched prematurely, before the workers are willing to listen, it will be too simple a matter of isolating this committee as a fringe element. This would be all the more the case if I do this as an individual member within Local 49. It would plant no seeds for winning anyone, only create more obstacles for the formation of a class struggle current.

At this point in time, it is necessary for me to work with discretion, even if the work goes at a slower pace then we all would wish. I have argued for the formation of rank and file strike committees as well as for all major issues in bargaining being brought to a membership vote before being put on the bargaining table. I have done this in a supportive way for how the union is doing things. Because of this people respect what I say, though they may not always take these issues up themselves. However, at least one worker as now approached me with his concerns about how things are being run and has stated that I have been right on these issues as well as offer some of his own perspectives. (The brother is an old timer who has been active in other unions before so he understands what I am saying on the basis of his own past experience.) That could be a beginning. Granted, a modest beginning, but I think it demonstrates the, class struggle correctness of my approach towards planting seeds in the minds of the workers for the future.

When Shamus spear headed the organizing drive at Rosemont, he did not start out by frontally criticizing the union officialdom, though he realized there would be trouble along the way. (I think there are parts of what you have written Tom that could be misunderstood in this way, though I also know you appreciate the importance of tactically and skillfully approaching all issues.) Instead he kept his aim on the employer and when the staffers started to pull their punches, he talked to his co-workers about it. When he found that there was enough of an echo among his co-workers to push the battle against the employer further then the officialdom wanted to go, he helped to get his co-workers to the meetings to push thru how they felt things should be done. The staffers were left with little choice but to comply. Thru this flanking technique and working thru the union, rather then announcing himself as some sort of current in opposition to the union leadership, (though, in reality, he was able to organize the rank and file to overwhelm some of the staffers attempts to stop the struggle short) Shamus is now recognized widely throughout SEIU Local 503 as the leader of the Rosemont victory, which is a good place to be for us to get a hearing from a large audience. Also, comrades should know that every leader in the Rosemont Drive as at least attended WIL movie nights and/or meetings.

There are times when what you are advocating Tom, could be the right thing to do. We must approach each concrete struggle in all of its particularities as well as understand the general conditions effecting it and our general aims in intervening. Leninists should always strive to be the most flexible people when it comes to organizational and tactical questions in concrete situations. It is too easy a mistake to advocate misguided actions from the outside without understanding the complexity and details of a situation and the mood of workers. (I’ve learned this the hard way thru my own experiences.) It is the troops in the trenches who are best able to understand all this, and why any suggestions from outside the struggle on how to proceed should be run by them and tested thru a process of questioning.

Bill and Ann, I believe your contribution can be summed up in the following way: “Are your co-workers prepared and capable of doing what is necessary to win a strike. That means mass turn out from Emanuel workers and broad support at the picket lines to prevent scabs from crossing, the ignoring of court injunctions, dealing with the police, etc.” Comrades, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this question in any union struggle we deal with that could head for a strike. We mustn’t impose ourselves on a living struggle in the manner of the ultra-lefts and act as though all that is necessary is to be on a permanent offensive. I think Bill and Ann are absolutely right to warn, “If you urge your coworkers to strike without the proper preparation and the strike is lost, then your own credibility will be damaged and even worse, workers will lose confidence in their own ability to struggle successfully when future battles appear on the horizon, as they surely will.”

Where do things stand in regards to SEIU Local 49’s preparation for a strike? In terms of public outreach, especially to other unions. I think these efforts could easily result in mass public support at the picket lines if the call is made.

In regards to the Emanuel workers’ readiness, last Thursday the full time organizer, two co-workers, and myself made phone calls to Emanuel workers to see if they were willing to go out on strike and for how long. By the end of the evening, we had 64% saying they would be willing to strike, though a significant number thought this would be unnecessary because a new CEO has just taken the helm at Emanuel and these workers felt that he would rather settle then start his term in the middle of a labor dispute.

According to what I read yesterday in SEIU’s Bylaws, a strike vote needs 75% in favor to pass. (Obviously, this bylaw is meant to discourage any strike action and needs to be changed.) If there is no movement on the part of management, it is possible that 75% of the workforce would vote to authorize a strike. However, there is a big problem that could prevent this. Most of the workers at Emanuel are living paycheck to paycheck. Without some financial back up, they will be risking ruin even with a short strike. This is what I was told by several workers I talked to. Striking workers in Oregon cannot collect unemployment. (This is a point that helps to expose what side the state is on in conflicts between employees and their employers.) In terms of food stamps and welfare, I don’t know.

I was told by the president of Local 49 that it is the Executive Committee that decides how to allocate strike funds. Our current strike fund is $650,000, which is pretty small for a union of up to 8,000 members. If all of this was to go to the 450 strong Local 49 work force at Emanuel, that would only be $1,444 per member. In a discussion with the organizer, he told me that they would most likely use this fund to help pay for hardship cases, but would not use it to reimburse all the workers for the time they spent out on strike. This state of affairs underlines the importance of building a strong strike fund rather then donating members’ dollars to the Democrats.

As far as I know, the union is not planning to write to billing companies to explain to them that our membership will be going on strike and may have problems paying their bills on time, which is a necessary measure to discourage aggressive collection on the part of these companies and provide a bit more security for the membership. This is something the union should be prepared to do before a strike vote.

Another consideration, a decent number of workers that we polled on Thursday said that they would be willing to go out, but only for a limited duration because of financial concerns. Therefore, we may have a strike vote for only going out for, lets say, 5 days. If this is how things transpire, management must not find out about this limit since they can wait it out longer then the workers. Perhaps one way of handling this is to have a vote every day while out on strike on whether to continue staying out rather then announce beforehand that the strike is only going to last so many days.

A CNA found a management memo in which they discussed their plans to shift workers from other Legacy hospitals to Emanuel in the event of a strike. We need to organize teams to go to these hospitals to tell these workers the truth on what is happening at Emanuel and tell them not to cross the line. And we also need to find a way of blocking scabs at the picket lines without interfering with the hospital’s patients and their families.

If we maintain mass pickets at the hospital that stop scabs, it is a given that their will be a court injunction to limit the number of picketers. The union and Emanuel members need to be prepared to defy any such attempt to kill the strike on the part of the state. In one on one discussions, I have been bringing this up with co-workers when appropriate.

Part of my task at this time is to discuss these measures with co-workers, do what I can to encourage that they are taken on, and listen to my co-workers in regards to what support they need to strike in a way that can win rather then blindly advocate a strike without proper preparation. It is by paying attention to such matters that Marxists can earn a reputation for being working class leaders whose ideas should be listened to and acted on. It is a given that there will be even more intense struggles in the future for this workforce to face. This is the WIL’s opportunity to build a class struggle current at Emanuel by talking about what needs to be done and how in a way that will be heard as workers learn thru their own experience that it is possible to go beyond where the labor officialdom will try to stop a struggle.

I apologize for not directly responding to your contribution Alex. However, I think that in regards to how we should proceed with this struggle, I have addressed your main points.

Comradely

Mark

6. TOM (SEPTEMBER 15, 2008)

I thank Mark for his reply but I think he is making some political mistakes.. First, Mark stated that is necessary for him “to work with discretion.” I do not know Mark’s personal situation on his job.. If he is on probation, maybe he should not be active at all in his union, or he should be minimally active. *If a comrade gets a job, generally they should be very careful while they are on probation; otherwise the employer will quickly get rid of them as they do not want union activists, never mind revolutionaries.* However, I approached this discussion on our trade union work assuming that based on Mark’s reports, he was intervening in the union and therefore, I have made my position clear regarding what I think we should do.

Everyone who gets involved in politics makes mistakes from time to time. This is normal. The issue is not making mistakes but recognizing them and correcting them for the future. However, we must admit the mistakes first; otherwise we can not correct them.

Mark mentions that at this point, the workers are looking to the union leadership to lead this struggle. This is to be expected. Generally, the workers look to their traditional organizations when they wish to fight to defend or improve their standard of living and working conditions. All of my recommendations have been based on the WIL speaking to the workers, but putting our demands [both in terms of what workers want and how they should conduct the struggle] to the leadership of the Local and the SEIU International. If this is done in a skillful way, not in an ultra-left manner, this can increase our influence over time. * I want to remind you that last winter, in our internal discussion on how to address the union leaders in our flyers and articles, I was one of the comrades that suggested we should not call them “bureaucrats,” but address them as the union leadership.*

Mark mentions if we put out a flyer in the name of “Workers for a Stronger Union,” that this would be fictitious. If he could win one person over to support such a flyer, it would not be fictitious, but he could also put the flyer out in his own name or the name of the WIL. Obviously, in everything we put out, the “fire should be aimed at the bosses,” but to paraphrase Lenin, we want to use the union leaders as a stand to rest our rifle on so we can aim and hit the class enemy. A flyer would clearly state that we, as members of the union, fight along side our brothers and sisters and will do all that we can to help the union win the battle. But we must also explain that if the necessary measures are not taken [see what Bill and Ann wrote in terms of taking on injunctions and mass picketing], the results will not be good.

Mark says if this is done, no worker will take this flyer and they will see him as attacking the union. I do not understand how they would see this as anti-union, although I can see how those who identify with the union leadership will see this as “pie in the sky” and many workers may think “it is good, but it will never happen.” That is OK. We need to put down a political marker, so that as our political analysis of this situation is shown to be correct, we can then make gains. However, if we do not put forward our views, why would he think that if the struggle increases people will move to us?

Mark asks how we can tell the workers what their demands should be in the struggle for a contract. * I think that this points to the fact that one of the mistakes that was made in this intervention, is that when the process was open for the submission of demands, we should have had a flyer out, listing what we thought the demands should be.*

Our demands should have been bold and linked to how to mobilize to win this struggle. For example, a demand like 30 for 40 is away to mobilize unemployed to support the strike because if this demand is won, it will mean more jobs can be created. Also, a demand for a real raise and full COLA and equal pay for all, would mobilize the workers at the other hospitals to help out, as they can see that they could benefit directly from this struggle. Of course, if the workers vote on the demands and they do not vote for our demands, we will accept the result. However, if it was the union leadership that chose which demands were acceptable, then we would argue that the workers should have the right to choose the appropriate demands. Yes, it maybe too late for this at this stage, but again, I think a mistake was made, if we did not put forward demands at the appropriate time.

If we had a bolder intervention in this situation, it is possible that we would not have either recruited anyone to the WIL or got anyone to work with us at this stage. But by not even trying, we certainly will not recruit anyone or if we do, what would be the basis of this sort of recruitment?

Marxists are trying to win over the ones and twos to the organization. We are also trying to establish a layer of active sympathizers in the unions we are located, who will work with us on these types of struggles. We must not tailor our demands to what is acceptable to the union leadership or what they make the mass of the workers think is attainable. We are targeting the more advance and serious people to win them over as members or people who will work with us in the union. Regarding the mass of the workers, we want to put forward our material in a way that will lift their level of understanding and increase their questioning of the policies of the union leadership. Mark is saying that this can not be brought forward until they have already broken from the union leadership. I disagree and believe that by not putting forward our program for this specific struggle ahead of the break, we will not reap much if any of a benefit. *In fact, we are not distinguishing ourselves in a political way from the union leadership.*

Imagine if we tie our political position on this election to what the union leadership is telling the mass of the workers. Because of the leadership’s policy of supporting the Democrats and not building a labor party, the mass of the workers who vote in this election will vote for the Democrat or the Republican. Advocating McKinney is not very popular. Even Nader is better known than she is. Using Mark’s method, we should not advocate a vote for McKinney until the workers are willing to break from the labor leaders’ support of the Democrats.

I would like to give an example of how our tendency intervened in a struggle in the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union [HERE] in the past. In the late 1980’s, Labor Militant had two members in NYC in the HERE. One worked as a waiter in the Waldorf Astoria hotel, the other was a bartender in the San Moritz hotel. These two comrades, along with some union members who worked with them, but were not LM members, put out a flyer on the contract struggle in NYC hotels. This involved some 30,000 plus workers in many hotels throughout Manhattan. *Even though the forces were small, they became recognized as the opposition in the HERE in NYC. Even the union leadership had to cover them in the union’s citywide paper! This included a picture of Comrade Margaret speaking at a mass meeting about the contract.* In this case, the union leadership was able to win ratification of their contract. This is one example of how one or two people, working correctly, can affect the situation. The comrades had only worked in this union for a few years prior to this situation!

In no way am I critical of Mark based on results, as we know political gains are hard to attain. I believe Mark is working very hard on this contract situation. However, his present strategy will not get results or will train comrades and workers to blend in with the union leadership rather than confront them in a skillful way.

In Solidarity,

Tom

7.BILL AND ANN (SEPTEMBER 16, 2008)

Mark,

We want to respond to some of the information you provided in your last communication. You said:

Another consideration, a decent number of workers that we polled on Thursday said that they would be willing to go out, but only for a limited duration because of financial concerns. Therefore, we may have a strike vote for only going out for, lets say, 5 days. If this is how things transpire, management must not find out about this limit since they can wait it out longer then the workers. Perhaps one way of handling this is to have a vote every day while out on strike on whether to continue staying out rather then announce beforehand that the strike is only going to last so many days.

There are several things we think are important to keep in mind. First, it is virtually impossible to keep something from management when all of the workers are knowledgeable of it. We want the workers to be informed about everything. That way they are in a position to take control of the union. But there will often be at least one worker-snitch who goes directly to the bosses with any significant information, or even more likely, workers will talk to one another, which is only natural, and they will be overheard by management. It is good to operate on the assumption that management will find out about everything.

Second, we would again not advise going out on strike if the workers are not prepared to go out on an extended strike, and it sounds as if your coworkers are not prepared to do this. The problem here is that once the union goes out on anything that looks like a real strike, management correctly considers this act to be nothing short of a declaration of (class) war. Management will not only do everything it can to break the strike, but it will try to make it so the workers will never consider striking again. So management will try to punish the workers for striking and offer them even less than they were prepared to offer before the strike. And, of course, they will try to fire and replace any of the striking workers they can. If the strike fails, management will try to take advantage of the situation to press aggressively for their interests. In other words, a failed strike, in our opinion, is worse than not striking because it will be almost impossible to get the workers to consider striking again for a very long time.

As you indicated, if your coworkers are only prepared to strike for 5 days, then management will be prepared to last for 6 days. In such circumstances it might be best to advise against striking, but start immediately to prepare for putting up a real fight well in advance of the expiration of the next contract. What is important, in our opinion, is that you base your judgment on what the workers themselves want. We think you must keep your finger on their pulse, as it were, and know not only what they want, but how hard they are prepared to fight for it. You are like a general leading an army. You need to know what they are capable of in order to defeat the enemy in combat or in order to make a tactical retreat. You not only want to maximize your gains but minimize your losses.

You are in a delicate situation. On the one hand, you want to encourage your coworkers to put up a fight by letting them know that if the fight is conducted properly, they can win. But this would amount to all out war with the bosses, courts, cops, etc. On the other hand, you have to be prepared to switch tactics quickly so that if they are not prepared to put up a real fight, other alternatives can be pursued that would minimize losses and maximize gains. You must be constantly sensitive to their consciousness in order to be able to recommend effectively what course of action to pursue. And if you are forced into a retreat, then begin to prepare for the next contract struggle immediately. All of the time you are operating on the basis of our overall program, which is not just a list of transitional demands, but most importantly represents a class struggle approach. You are first and foremost attempting to mobilize the membership for a battle. You will fight for what the workers have collectively defined as their needs. It will not raise their consciousness one iota if we unilaterally attempt to add a few radical demands to their list in the form of an ultimatum. One might recall what Marx advocated as a guiding principle when engaged in the class struggle, “One real step forward of the movement is worth a hundred correct programs.” What will change their consciousness is if they choose to fight for what they have determined they need. As Alan Woods says in his book BOLSHEVISM, “The role of the strike in general is to make the working class aware of itself as a living social force.” And if they are not prepared to do it with this contract, then you could start by patiently laying a foundation for putting up a fight over the next contract.

What you might consider doing for now is get the union to sponsor perhaps even another and bigger support rally for the workers and invite as many people from the community, especially those people who use the hospital, as well as community leaders and other unions to come and voice support. It would be good to put together a flier describing the miserable wages and working conditions of workers at Emmanuel. You could make a special attempt to reach out to the Boeing workers who are on strike, asking support from them and offering support in return. And you could do the same in relation to any other unions in the area engaged in contract struggles. By marshaling support, you might succeed in raising the level of confidence of your coworkers so that they might be prepared to put up a stronger fight. But in any case, you will get a better sense of where their consciousness lies now by how they respond to such a solidarity rally. If the rally you organized already accomplished all of these things, then ignore this suggestion.

Another possible avenue to pursue if your coworkers do not want to strike, although this might not be applicable where you work, is to WORK TO RULE. This amounts to doing the absolute minimum that is required where one works exactly according to the job description and not an inch beyond it. You could ask other workers at the other hospitals to do the same as an act of solidarity, and you and your coworkers could do the same for them in the future.

One more thing you might keep in mind for the future is how the nurses conducted their successful strike against Kaiser hospital. Kaiser has many hospitals located throughout northern California. Instead of striking all of them at once, the nurses conducted what they called roving strikes. On one day they would strike at one hospital, on the next day it was a different hospital, and so on. In this way they could minimize the economic hardship on the nurses but keep up continual pressure on Kaiser. But, of course, for this to apply to your situation, all of the contracts at the different hospitals would have to expire at the same time.

Tom,

In your contribution you make a number of points that we would like to respond to. For example, you stated:

Mark asks how we can tell the workers what their demands should be in the struggle for a contract. * I think that this points to the fact that one of the mistakes that was made in this intervention, is that when the process was open for the submission of demands, we should have had a flyer out, listing what we thought the demands should be.*

But it is not clear from anything Mark has said that there ever was such a time when the process was open for the submission of demands. And the fact that he is pushing for the demands to be decided by the membership seems to us to be a good thing.

But later you add:

WE MUST NOT TAILOR OUR DEMANDS TO WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO THE UNION LEADERSHIP OR WHAT THEY MAKE THE MASS OF THE WORKERS THINK IS ATTAINABLE. We are targeting the more advance and serious people to win them over as members or people who will work with us in the union. [emphasis added]

But isn’t there a problem with this approach? Now is the time we are trying to unify the membership so they can wage a battle. If we discount what the workers themselves think is attainable and insist on more radical demands that will only appeal to a handful of the union members, won’t we be in essence creating divisions within the union and weakening it at the very moment they need to be most unified in order to go to war? Perhaps this is what Mark had in mind when he suggested a flier insisting on radical demands would, at this time, be viewed as an attack on the union. Moreover, might not raising demands that do not resonate with the vast majority of the workers have just the opposite impact on the workers than the impact that you are trying to achieve? Workers formulate their demands in relation to what they think they can win at any given time. What they are capable of winning is in part a function of how unified the ranks are. So by raising demands that only appeal to a few, divisions will be created that will lower workers’ expectations about what is possible to win, which is just the opposite effect that we want.

The point is not to ignore the demands of the workers, even though they might only represent modest reforms from our standpoint. As Alan Woods explained in his book on Bolshevism:

This gives the lie to the reformist opponents of Marxism who argue that the Marxists are ‘not interested in reform’. On the contrary, throughout history, the Marxists have been in the forefront of the struggle for the improvement of the lot of the workers, fighting for better wages and conditions, shorter hours and democratic rights. The difference between Marxism and reformism does not consist in the ‘acceptance’ or otherwise of reforms (you only have to pose the question to see its patent absurdity). On the one hand, is the fact that serious reforms can only be won by mobilizing the strength of the working class in struggle against the capitalists and their state and, on the other, that the only way to consolidate the gains made by the workers and to guarantee all their needs, is to break the power of Capital and carry out the socialist transformation of society. The latter is, however, unthinkable without the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism which serves to organize, train and educate the working-class, preparing the ground for the final settling of accounts with its enemies.

In other words, the important thing is to mobilize the workers to wage a battle because their willingness to fight will unleash a logic that will bring them further in our direction. We do not want to sit on the sidelines where we only address a few workers and simply mount a propaganda campaign over demands that the majority of the workers have rejected as unreal.

Woods put it this way:

The role of the strike in general is to make the working class aware of itself as a living social force… By participating in the strike movement, especially where this achieves an active form with mass participation, the workers acquire a feeling of their own strength through unity.

You also stated:

Our demands should have been bold and linked to how to mobilize to win this struggle. For example, a demand like 30 for 40 is away to mobilize unemployed to support the strike because if this demand is won, it will mean more jobs can be created.

Isn’t the prospect of Mark’s union organizing the unemployed unrealistic at this point in time. If they strike, the union’s energies will be consumed by organizing the picket line, reaching out to the community, etc. The unemployed are not currently in organizations. If they were in organizations, they could be mobilized. But they are instead isolated individuals at home alone, so that it will be impossible in this situation to mobilize them.

You also said:

Imagine if we tie our political position on this election to what the union leadership is telling the mass of the workers. Because of the leadership’s policy of supporting the Democrats and not building a labor party, the mass of the workers who vote in this election will vote for the Democrat or the Republican. Advocating McKinney is not very popular. Even Nader is better known than she is. Using Mark’s method, we should not advocate a vote for McKinney until the workers are willing to break from the labor leaders’ support of the Democrats.

We think this argument is flawed. Mark is trying to lead his coworkers in a struggle. Workers are only willing to wage a struggle over THEIR OWN demands, not the demands WE think they should adopt. The McKinney campaign is a propaganda campaign and is therefore fundamentally different. When we engage in propaganda, it is entirely appropriate to present any of our revolutionary positions where we have the space to argue why these positions make complete sense. The fact that Mark is a strong supporter of the McKinney campaign should have alerted you to the fact that the two situations are not analogous.

We would finally like to conclude by commenting on the manner in which you made your points.

First, even though Mark addressed you directly in his comments in a comradely way, in your contribution you talk about Mark as if he is not part of the discussion. You talk ABOUT him, not TO him.

Moreover, you give the impression that a discussion is not really necessary at all. As you said in the first paragraph: “I have made my position clear regarding what I think we should do.” This makes it sound as if Mark should implement whatever you made clear, regardless of whether he was convinced of the validity of your points or not.

And this impression is reinforced in the very next paragraph where you add:

“Everyone who gets involved in politics makes mistakes from time to time. This is normal. The issue is not making mistakes but recognizing them and correcting them for the future. However, we must admit the mistakes first; otherwise we can not correct them.”

Here one has the impression that the starting point of a discussion with Mark must begin with his admission of having committed mistakes, which in effect sounds like you are telling Mark THERE IS NOTHING TO DISCUSS. This, in turn, seems to reflect how, at times, you approach workers where you simply want to tell them what their demands should be, regardless of what their thoughts are on the subject. This comes across when you say, as we quoted above:

WE MUST NOT TAILOR OUR DEMANDS TO WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO THE UNION LEADERSHIP OR WHAT THEY MAKE THE MASS OF THE WORKERS THINK IS ATTAINABLE. We are targeting the more advance and serious people to win them over as members or people who will work with us in the union. [emphasis added]

But as Alan Woods said in his book on Bolshevism:

It was necessary to win the masses over in action, by means of timely slogans and correct tactics, to demonstrate in practice the superiority of Marxism on the basis of the concrete struggle and experience of the masses. In other words, the problem before the Party was to win over the mass movement and not to counterpose itself to it.

Moreover, when you use the formulation, “Marxists are trying to win over the ones and twos to the organization,” you give the impression that anyone who disagrees with you is not a Marxist. Isn’t it the case that all of us in the WIL identify ourselves with Marxism. So it is not a case that some of us are Marxists and others are not, but we might have honest disagreements over what exactly Marxism represents. And the only way we can proceed in such situations is to have comradely discussions over our differences.

We would urge you to respond to us and Mark in an entirely comradely way, even though you might have honest differences with us. For as Alan Woods said in his reply to Oviedo, “The inability to answer criticisms and differences in a democratic and comradely way will undermine the party and prevent it developing beyond a certain limit.”

Bill and Ann

8. KARL (SEPTEMBER 17, 2008)

Comrades,

Thus far I have not been very active on the Labor List. I have, however, been following the discussion very closely. I would like to give my contribution to this discussion and the direction in which I believe we should move forward in the brewing struggle at Emmanuel Hospital (and future struggles which we will be involved in). As for the insinuation that comrade TT has been in any way uncomradely in any portion of his contributions to the discussion, I firmly disagree. I will, however, leave these points to be addressed by the comrade in question and will refrain from speaking for anybody.

As for our general approach, I feel that mistakes in orientation have certainly been made. That, as comrade TT said in his latest reply (at the time of drafting this contribution) has already stated, is inevitable as we continue to mature and grow as an organization and participate with our brothers and sisters in the Labor Movement in day-to-day struggles.

The first mistake, I feel, has been an uneven emphasis on being “organizers” for the union and not active Marxist propagandists within the movement and within this particular struggle. I feel that our task must be to present clear demands which bridge the immediate level of militancy among the workers with the broader struggle for workers’ power along the lines of the Transitional Program.

In Trotsky’s introduction to this document we read the following:

“The strategic task of the next period — a pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda, and organization — consists in overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard… It is necessary to help the masses in daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of revolution.”

(The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology, pp. 257, Deutscher, Ed., New York 1964)

And further:

“Classical Social Democracy , functioning in an epoch of progressive capitalism, divided its program into two parts independent of each other: the minimum program, limited to reforms within the framework of bourgeois society, and the maximum program…” (Ibid., pp. 258, emphasis in original)

Trotsky goes on to explain the method by which we accomplish this task of bridging the minimum program with the maximum. I assume all comrades who are privy to this discussion are familiar with the Transitional Program and will not further burden this short reply with more quotations.

However, I feel that, as Ted was fond of saying, we must have a clear sense of proportion. The quotes comrades AR and BL used in their last reply (again, at the time of the drafting of this contribution) I feel have been taken out of context. These quotations regard the tactics and methods of the Bolsheviks in a very different situation and under very divergent conditions compared to those we find ourselves in today. We are not the Bolsheviks in 1917, or for that matter in 1914, ’15, or ’16! We are a tiny propaganda group, thinly spread across a vast continent with growing but still very limited authority amongst the working class.

In the words of Ernest Mandel (who I am not at all fond of quoting), the Marxists must understand when to agitate and when to carry out propaganda. We are incapable of agitation at this stage. To assume that our forces would be able to “win over the mass movement [to the Party],” as the final quotation cited by AR and BL reads, would be the acme of foolishness. In the first place, we are not “the Party”. We are barely the skeleton of a national organization. To point at a baby foal, still struggling to breathe, let alone stand, and call it a champion stallion would be cause enough to laugh the pointer right out of the stables.

At this stage we must focus on winning the ones and twos and presenting our concrete analysis to the labor movement wherever and whenever we can. This concrete struggle, in which our comrade has the ability to reach a struggling group of workers in the early stages of its journey to class consciousness, is a vital opportunity which we must not pass up if it can be helped. Our task is to counter pose the conciliatory positions of the union leadership to the class struggle positions and tactics of the Marxists (us) and patiently explain to the workers why our approach is superior. It is very likely (and at this stage expected!) that we will not win over 200 or even 20 or even 10 of these workers to our side. But the fact is that we can work to win one or two, building a base within our unions for when the workers draw the conclusions that their leaders are failing them and begin to seek answers.

Our comrades in Venezuela called for socialism when Chavez was still babbling on about the “Third Way” and was an admirer of Tony Blair. Our work in the Labour Party in the UK is a brilliant and successful case study in the approach which comrade TT has laid out in his reply and which I feel is correct. Our task must be to bridge the gap and win the advanced workers!

Comradely,

KB

9. ALEX (SEPTEMBER 17, 2008)

Comrades,

Just a point of order, in my opinion this is a very important discussion with very real, concrete and imminent consequences to hundreds of workers and for our party, it is of a vital importance therefore to avoid, to all cost, transforming this so far productive discussion in an evaluation of subjective purposes, tone or subtext.

And I am talking about how comrades Bill and Ann spent time and room in this discussion about really the psychology behind Tom’s remarks. Although I salute any constructive and positive criticism, I firmly oppose to let the forms and the subjective analysis take the natural place of the concrete matter of this discussion.

B and A stated:

“Here one has the impression that the starting point of a discussion with Mark must begin with his admission of having committed mistakes, which in effect sounds like you are telling Mark THERE IS NOTHING TO DISCUSS. This, in turn, seems to reflect how, at times, you approach workers where you simply want to tell them what their demands should be, regardless of what their thoughts are on the subject”

(My underlined)

Comrades, I do not see much of a scientific method of analysis of TT remarks, this is a speculation on your impression of what TT wants to say to Mark, in my opinion I think what it matters first is what he said, and second what Mark has to say about it.

I humbly ask to all participants to focus on the matter of the discussion and not in the subjective characterization of the remarks, and as we mature in our analysis and contributions, I would strongly suggest that if somebody’s tone hearts somebody feelings that this is address first in a private conversation among the parties involved. As we all agree, tone and miscommunications cannot be the base to claim to be right or make decisions, after all we are Marxist, and we would not let a discussion, movement, meeting, etc fall or failure only for how we feel about somebody’s way to pose their opinions.

For the discussion in general, I think this is discussion of tactic but also of strategic. The mistake as TT pointed out is that strategically we are not building the party inside the hospital but waiting for Mark to be trusted by the workers and then recruit those closer to us. I think this approach is very conservative and actually I would no suggest anybody to do so unless we are working under severe clandestine conditions.

I think if nothing else, my work on the immigrant movement confirms this idea. Under a very convulsion circumstances I had to get a group of activist and move forward to lead the movement in my town, and even though in the first meeting we discuss the manifesto comunista, outside the group I did not build on WIL but on UTI. This was a mistake that cost me two years of my life building back to be a visible WIL member, and this is the only way I can recruit people showing who I am and where I got my ideas and what I am trying to build in this planet. Nothing is permanent, neither our mistakes, but if I would not understood since the first moment that I start building UTI that there is something to correct, then now I would be even more underground, because people wants to know how to get papers, or what to do when they are caught without papers speeding in the highway, but they do not demand to learn about Marx and Engels, this is my duty to expose them to the workers.

This is a mistake, no in absolute terms, but in this concrete situation

The first obstacle to win people to our ideas are not the bosses, or bureaucracy but the prejudices that worker hold against more advance ideas(which is promoted by the bosses and bureaucracy That is how they can keep exploiting workers without any gain for decades. Our job is to acknowledge those prejudices not to build upon then but to destroy them. And instead lecturing people of what they should think, we skillfully build transitional demands that overall and foremost help us to explain the ideas and methods that our class needs to win. That is how we start the titanic enterprise of smashing the systematic prejudices and win the masses with us.

In a moment where the objective conditions are so mature that are almost rotten, and where the political and economical struggles are losing battlefields until the worker class recover its traditions and class conscious, propaganda and, in general, the ideology struggle is not only of the most important but the first priority in our work.

Therefore if the workers do not know our direct participation in the struggle, neither that we do have vision, analyses and program for unionism in this country, this is creating the bases for a long travesty in the dessert Emmanuel because we are building on peoples prejudices not on their capacity to understand upon our propaganda and their experiences the complete consequences of our ideas.

That workers have prejudices against a Marxist left should only confirm that the day they will not, the ruling class has just few days of existence. And that is our duty

Comradely,

Alex Gillis

10. JOHN (SEPTEMBER 17. 2008)

Hi comrades,

This is an important discussion, following on our discussion on the Work in the Trade Unions document at the National Congress. This document, which is based on the traditions and methods of the IMT in relation to trade union work, and was drafted in consultation with the International Secretariat, was passed unanimously. It is clear that comrade Mark is working hard within his union, and whenever we have comrades in a union and a struggle breaks out, it is clear that we need to be energetically involved. But to what end? It seems to me, based on this discussion, that the approach comrade Mark is using and advocating is upside down, and is not, in fact, the approach we should be taking, is not the approach outlined in the Work in the TUs document.

First, an excerpt from the introduction to the “Work in the TUs” document, which explains the main lines of our approach in this work:

“In every field of work we engage in, we begin by looking at the activities and needs of the organization as a whole. At each stage of our development, we must prioritize our limited resources and energies, striking a careful balance between strengthening and developing our own organization, and all the other activities we engage in. We must always strive to ‘get more out than we put in’ in terms of contacts, recruits, paper sales, points of support in the movement, etc. This also applies to trade union work. Our foremost priority at the present time is to build up a cadre organization with growing roots in the mass movement. This requires winning over the ones and twos to our program, perspectives, ideas and methods, while continually developing the next layer of cadres.

“Trade union work is long-term work that requires patience and determination, but it can pay tremendous dividends, as the experience of our comrades in the International has shown. It goes without saying that we must be the best workers and trade unionists in our workplaces, attending our Local’s meetings and otherwise participating actively in the life of our unions, fighting for a militant defense of jobs and conditions, etc. But this is just the starting point.

“The role of Marxists in the trade unions is above all to raise workers’ class consciousness and confidence in their ability to collectively change society. We do this by advancing timely transitional demands that link the problems and struggles immediately facing the class with the limitations of capitalism and the need for the socialist revolution. It is our duty to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with our class, to be at the forefront of the struggles that unfold, to go through each and every ‘learning experience’ of the class struggle with them, patiently explaining our ideas and fighting in the interests of the class as a whole.

“To sum up, the unions and the labor movement in general are a vital field of work through which we can connect with and win the most advanced worker militants to the program, ideas, perspectives, methods and traditions of the WIL.”

My apologies for the length of this email, but I would like to quote again from the “Work in the TUs” document, this time from the section “Building the Organization.” It is important that we be clear on what policy we adopted at our congress just a few months ago:

“As in all fields of work we engage in, we can’t expect immediate results in trade union work. Just like in anti-war, Hands Off Venezuela or YFIS work, contacts will, generally speaking, solidify only after a period of consistent work in which we’ve been able to establish ourselves as a presence and our ideas are more generally known. This is especially true in trade union work, which can be slow and painstaking. Conditions can’t really be otherwise when the mass of workers have yet to turn towards their mass organizations and are still looking for individual solutions to their problems. But on the basis of events a factory closure, a strike, an upsurge of the class struggle in general, or even seemingly unrelated events such as war or revolutions in other countries the situation can change rapidly. This makes it necessary to establish ourselves in the trade unions, making our political positions known to other workers in order to prepare for the inevitable change in the situation.

“Our work in the trade unions is still embryonic. We have a healthy and growing proportion of comrades who are union members and are active in the life of their unions. Whenever possible and appropriate, we should encourage comrades to find employment in unionized workplaces or to form unions where none exist. Determining how and when forming a union is the best use of our energies and how to proceed concretely should be discussed with the EC. But for the most part we are individual communists in our local unions. We might feel somewhat isolated from time to time, but if we keep the long-term, broad perspective in mind, we can combine the work of being the best defenders of our own and our co-workers’ immediate interests with raising the need for the socialist transformation of society. Our main task in the trade unions consists of winning the ones and twos in order to establish the first industrial nuclei of the WIL. Our long-term goal is to build the forces of American Bolshevism into a mass tendency of the working class. But first we must build a solid cadre organization, oriented to and with roots in the mass movement, the foundation upon which a mass revolutionary tendency can be erected.

“The first step in our trade union work is to be active members of our unions. We must get involved in the life our union, attending every local meeting, getting involved in committees (budget, organizing, etc.) when possible, attending conventions, and of course discussing union and political issues in general with our co-workers. As WIL members we must focus the majority of our attention on the work of building our own organization. In many cases this will mean concentrating on areas other than trade union work. As always, it is a matter of balancing our priorities and making the most effective use of our limited time, energies, and resources. But as a first step, trade union comrades should at the very least devote the time required to attend their union meetings. Often these meetings will be completely lifeless and poorly attended, but on the basis of events, even the most conservative unions will seethe with ferment, and we must establish a presence well in advance.

“At our local meetings we have the opportunity to raise our ideas and demands in connection with the issues under discussion, as part of our overall approach of calling on the leadership to adopt fighting policies against the bosses. We strive to connect with our co-workers on the basis of our program, and this has to be done in a measured, constructive, fraternal and appropriate way. If the issue under discussion in the local meeting is an increase in health insurance co-pays, for example, while fighting against any such increase, pointing to the profits of the company, the rise in our productivity, stagnant inflation-adjusted wages, etc., we might also raise say that the union should fight for a socialized national health care system and use its electoral funds to finance an independent labor candidate to campaign for such a system. If the issue under discussion is a COPE appeal, we should explain why the Democrats cannot be relied on, they are the bosses’ party, and call for a mass party of Labor in that connection as well. If the bosses are threatening bankruptcy, we call on the leadership to demand that the company’s finance books be opened, and so on. Of course we don’t just react to what happens in the meetings the officialdom will always set the tone unless the members pressure them so when appropriate we should raise issues and topics of discussion from the floor.

“Even if we do not immediately make contacts from these regular interventions, our ideas and positions will begin to be known and other union members will want to know more. Selling the paper is another important aspect of trade union work. While the environment at our union meetings may not always be as ‘carnival-like’ and as conducive to selling dozens of papers at a time like an anti-war rally may be, by putting forward our ideas and demands and approaching those that seem interested with our paper we can connect with the best elements and develop a layer of regular buyers and subscribers. By writing about local issues in our paper, we an also connect with or co-workers. Again, we are looking for the ones and twos, and they can’t join us if we don’t find and engage them. Sometimes we may only be able to sell a trickle of papers yet still make contacts and recruit other union members to the organization. In other cases we may have one comrade in a big factory who is able to sell dozens of paper and develop a large layer of supporters, yet not recruit anyone for years and years. The experience of the International in trade union work knows both scenarios and many in between.

“Our work is of course not limited just to local meetings, we use every avenue and approach open to us in order to connect politically with our co-workers. For example, leafleting at the factory gate or workplace entrance, chatting on our lunch or supper breaks, on the shop floor, or before / after work over a coffee or a beer. Another important opening for our trade union work is at the national conventions. At these meetings, even one or two comrades intervening can have an impact and we can find contacts on a national level. The same holds true of city, state and regional conventions. These conventions offer opportunities to sell papers, distributing flyers explaining our concrete proposals, to speak and introduce resolutions in front of a wide audience, for networking and making contacts.

“In order to be able to attend the national conventions we need to first be elected as delegates, which offers more opportunities for work on the local level. When running in delegate elections, we should campaign and leaflet around a concrete but clear and principled program. Those electing us should know what we stand for, that not only are we the best workers and defenders of the rank and file’s collective interests at the work place, raising specific demands to improve the workers’ immediate conditions, but also that we support things such as a mass party of labor, militant policies and an end to the approach of ‘partnership with the bosses’, etc. This allows us to carry out educational/propaganda work in a very concrete way in our locals. And if we are elected and the leadership pressures and attacks us in order to try to ‘tone down’ our demands, our election program will be our defense. We can reply: ‘How can we change our demands if we were elected in order to fight for them?’

“When intervening in union conventions we will be also able to connect face-to-face with militants on a nation-wide level, and with opposition currents when and if they exist.” [my bolding]

This is a balanced, Marxist approach to conducting the work in the unions, with the primary aim of building our cadre organization. It explains how we must approach this important field of work, not merely as energetic trade union activists, but openly yet patiently as Bolshevik revolutionaries. There is a fundamental difference.

Our differences on how this is all interpreted seems to revolve around how exactly we “win the ones and twos.”

Do we work as the best workers and trade unionists, doing trade union work and winning the respect of our co-workers, working to mobilize them in struggle, but limiting our demands to what is “acceptable” to the broader layers of the class and / or the workers at a workplace (which in most cases is limited to what is “acceptable” to the current leadership), and only then, on the basis of their own experience, once they are radicalized and more open to our ideas, raise our ideas in an effort to recruit the ones and twos (or more, as has been suggested)?

Or do we, from the beginning, in a skillful and patient way, while being the best workers and trade unionists, clearly explain what we stand for, what program we think is necessary in a given situation, raising more advanced transitional demands, even if they are not at this time accepted by the broader working class or even by significant numbers of our co-workers, with the aim of winning the ones and twos on the basis of our revolutionary program and analysis?

Is our main goal to build the WIL or to be the best trade unionists? Are we trade union activists who happen to be Marxists, or are we Marxist revolutionaries conducting work in the unions?

This is a very simplified reduction of the two approaches being advocated, and it is not intended to erect any “straw men.” But I think comrades will be able to see the what the main differences are, on the basis of what has been said during this exchange, and what was outlined and adopted by the WIL in our recent Congress document.

A few specific points from Mark’s contribution, which in my opinion, advocates an approach very different from what we adopted in our “Work in the TUs” document:

MV says: “The task of collecting them [union dues] would have presented too many difficulties that would distract us from what should be our first and foremost mission – mobilizing the membership to fight for a good contract.”

Again, is our foremost mission to mobilize the membership and win good union contracts, or to find the ones and twos to build the WIL? I think the excerpts from the TU document answers this quite clearly.

In relation to our saying that we are against concessions. I don’t really see how this would be construed as an attack on the leadership as opposed to it being a call to hold firm against the bosses’ efforts to wrench concessions from the workers. I don’t see how it would cause us to appear as alien, fringe elements. It is absolutely true, the majority of workers are not yet ready to accept our program; they may discount our ideas altogether, or agree with them but think that it’s nothing but “pie in the sky,” a “good idea on paper.” But our aim at this stage is to gain the ear of the most advanced workers, not the mass. Yes, we want to win the mass of the workers at a certain stage, but the road to the masses is through the advanced workers.

By stating that we are against concessions, we are simply explaining the WIL’s position on this matter. We are not alien to the movement. Although we do not yet have the ear of the majority of the workers, we are a component part of it. As part of the movement, we can and must raise our ideas and perspectives. The current leaders, either willingly or because they simply don’t have any other perspective, serve as a transmission belt for the ideas and influence of an alien class, the capitalists, in the labor movement. We must openly explain our ideas from our class perspective, otherwise, the only perspective the workers will hear is the class-collaborationist approach of the current leadership.

Now, whether or not the leadership accepts concessions or not, will be for them to decide, but the workers will be clear as to what our position was, that is the point. And if the leaders do in fact make concessions (which it appear they are already making – at least in the eyes of the bosses and probably also of at least some of the membership), then they will know that we were against this from the beginning. No one has advocated a “frontal assault” on the TU leaders. No matter how “honest” and well-meaning these local leaders have been so far, they are not steeled Bolshevik cadres, and they are under enormous pressure from the bosses and the higher ups in the unions to be “flexible” in the negotiations.

In relation to comrade MV’s opposition to producing a WIL flyer on the struggle at this stage, of presenting our ideas, he says:

“If we were to raise demands that the workers SHOULD adopt, we would be completely ignoring the fact that the membership has settled on these demands on the basis of their concrete circumstances. That is, they have settled on these demands because they think this is what they need and are therefore willing to fight for. Would it make any sense for us to say that their judgment is wrong? The battle lines have already been drawn. It is our role as revolutionaries to help them solidify their demands, not tell them what their demands should be, and then to help mobilize the membership and lead them into battle with the perspective of winning over the majority to a class struggle approach.

“Until union members are firmly committed to a fight and, thru the course of the struggle, begin to question how the union leadership is conducting things, it will not be possible for any newly organized current to come out as a caucus with their own written material independent of the union leadership. If this approach is launched prematurely, before the workers are willing to listen, it will be too simple a matter of isolating this committee as a fringe element. This would be all the more the case if I do this as an individual member within Local 49. It would plant no seeds for winning anyone, only create more obstacles for the formation of a class struggle current.”

To produce a flyer with our ideas and perspectives for the struggle, even if it is produced by a single comrade, is not “telling the workers what their demands should be.” Our approach must be to raise our demands clearly, to “set down our marker” for the future. If the vast majority ignore us, so be it. Most workers will not pay serious attention to our ideas at this stage anyway. But our aim is not to win all or even a majority of the workers at this stage, but to win just one. Let’s start with just one worker who agrees with our program and perspectives, who joins us or at leasts sympathizes with us on the basis of the ideas of revolutionary Marxism, not simply as a trade union activist.

Perhaps there is no one at your workplace at this stage that is ready for our program and to join the WIL, but we will never know if they can’t find us. The only way for them to find us politically is for us to be open and clear at all times about what we fight for. We wouldn’t raise the need for a socialist federation of the Americas in this context, that would obviously be absurd, but to raise other demands from our program, as outlined in the Work in the TUs congress document, is in fact how we should approach this work. A class struggle current will not form spontaneously, or at the very least, it will form much more clearly and quickly if there is even a single person there explaining our ideas in a clear, patient way. Our role is not to wait around for such a current to develop, and only then raise our ideas. This is entirely contrary to the approach we have outlined in our Work in the TUs document.

To sum up, it is not our role to simply to “help them solidify their demands.” That is the role of an honest and well-meaning trade union activist, but not of a Marxist revolutionary. I believe that the approach being put forward by comrades Mark, Bill and Ann, is not simply a tactical difference of opinion, but an important and significant difference in method, in how Marxists approach the work in the TUs.

There is more to be said, but I will leave it at that for now.

Comradely,

JP

11. BILL AND ANN (SEPTEMBER 18, 2008)

Karl,

We want to thank you for your thoughtful comments and respond to a few of the points you raised.

In particular, we want to respond to some key statements you made. For example, you said: “The first mistake, I feel, has been an uneven emphasis on being ‘organizers’ for the union and not active Marxist propagandists with the movement and within this particular struggle.” And then you quote Trotsky as saying: “The strategic task of the next period — a pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda, and organization — consists in overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard… It is necessary to help the masses in daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of revolution. Later you state: “We are incapable of agitation at this stage.”

We want to say a number of things in response.

You take a comment from Trotsky intended, as he specified, for a period of “agitation, propaganda, and organization” and argue it is appropriate for Mark’s situation, even though you go on to say we are not in a period of agitation, which would seem on the surface to render the quote irrelevant since he is addressing a period of agitation and you are not.

However, we agree that the quotation from Trotsky is entirely appropriate because we think that Mark should be engaging in agitation as well as propaganda. It is true that in most cases our party is too small or not present in strategical situations to play an agitational role. But Mark does have the opportunity to play an agitational role in his union. Should we tell him not to take advantage of this situation, even though it has all sorts of possibilities for us? In other words, we think he should be organizing and encouraging his coworkers to resist any concessions that management seeks to impose and to strike if they are prepared to do it properly. You claim it would be “the acme of foolishness” to try to “win over the mass movement,” in this struggle, but the mass movement in this situation is his coworkers who are in movement over their contract. And by winning them over to a class-struggle strategy, Mark will not only increase the possibility of them winning their demands but of our recruiting the ones and twos.

You say: “This concrete struggle, in which our comrade has the ability to reach a struggling group of workers in the early stages of its journey to class consciousness, is a vital opportunity which we must not pass up if it can be helped.” We entirely agree. But we do not think the way to do this is to add more radical, entirely unrealistic, solely propagandistic demands to the list of demands the workers themselves decide on.

You go on to say: “Our task is to counter pose the conciliatory positions of the union leadership to the class struggle positions and tactics of the Marxists….”

Again, we entirely agree, so our difference lies in how we think this can best be accomplished.

We believe the most effective way to counterpose our revolutionary perspective to the labor bureaucrats’ reformism in Mark’s situation is for him to encourage his coworkers to put up a fight against the attacks of the bosses and then explain to the workers exactly how the fight must be conducted if it is to succeed.

The union bureaucrats do not want to put up a fight. They want to protect their partnership with the bosses, and they want to protect their own economically privileged position. Strikes, by possibly draining the union’s treasury, could jeopardize the bureaucrats’ plush salaries.

Our program is not simply a set of demands, but it is a whole class struggle approach, and that is the last thing union bureaucrats want to pursue. They are only prepared to mount fake strikes that last only a few days. In this way they can allow the workers to let off steam and give the pretense that they “did everything they could” to win the workers’ demands. In contrast, we advocate a real strike where, as we said before, workers must be prepared to take on not only the bosses, but the courts and cops as well.

The consciousness of workers throughout this entire process will rise dramatically. At the very beginning of contract negotiations, workers think all they have to do is raise reasonable demands and the bosses will grant these demands. At this point we explain that the bosses will not capitulate because they want to maximize their profits. In this way we argue that the interests of the workers and those of the bosses are consequently diametrically opposed. Soon the workers realize that this is true and that they will have to put up a fight if they want to win something. And here the union bureaucrats try to subvert the movement by steering it in the direction of fake strikes and porous picket lines. It is our role to explain that the only way to maximize the prospects of success is to conduct a real strike with real picket lines. If workers are willing to take this step, then their consciousness can rise to a revolutionary level. They will come to understand that the state serves only the bosses’ interests (since the bosses will get the courts to impose injunctions and the cops will be summoned to enforce the injunctions) and that the only way they, as workers, can win is to maintain their union solidarity, reach out to other workers for support and thereby establish class solidarity, and engage in class war where you not only fight the bosses but the capitalist state as well. At the end of such a struggle, many of the workers will want to overthrow the capitalist state because they will discover that none of the Democrats came to their support but instead applauded the use of the courts and cops against them.

We think what we have just described is how best to implement what Trotsky had in mind when you quoted him as saying: “It is necessary to help the masses in daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of revolution.” Helping the masses in daily struggle, in our opinion, does not mean we are standing on the sidelines only offering propaganda. By leading successful strikes, we will raise workers’ class consciousness and confidence in their ability to collectively change society.

Bill and Ann

12. SHAMUS (SEPTEMBER 20, 2008)

A few thoughts on this discussion……

First, I must point out that I have the most recent and relevant experience in doing union work within the WIL.

What were the results of my tactics in my union? (tactics the branch discussed at every branch meeting)

1) A new union was born!

2) We indirectly have a new WIL member (Mike’s girlfriend worked with me on union work).

3) EVERY (!!!) “advanced worker” at my work site either regularly attends WIL meetings or WIL movie nights (!!!) Out of a bargaining unit of 50 workers, 10 of them are in the WIL’s periphery (!!!).

Was my success the result of luck? Or perhaps demagogy or charisma on my part? Of course not. The results were a reflection of the approach I used while doing union work. Mark is essentially doing the same thing at his work site. The two struggles are not identical, but they are similar enough to where similar tactics are appropriate.

Here are a few very important things to consider when doing union work:

– Do you know who the advanced workers are and their level of consciousness? (hint: the advanced workers are the ones who are on the bargaining committee, or those on auxiliary bodies of the union struggle. Being an “advanced worker” means that you are a LEADER, and by definition you have followers. An advanced worker is not a book nerd who is swoon by Marxist propaganda.)

– Are you one of the best workers on the job?

– Are the union organizers looked to as leaders of the struggle? Are they considered experts on union questions?

– Are you considered an expert on union questions? (if your not you will be ignored.)

– Do your coworkers and lead workers know you personally? Do they trust you?

– Has the union leadership lead a respectable struggle? Or have they exposed themselves as crooks? (have they left you ANY realistic openings in raising unsaid demands?)

The above questions will change with the work environment, meaning that you will have to alter tactics accordingly. They will affect how you talk to your coworkers, the tone and wording in your agitation, and whether or not people will take your propaganda seriously or not.

Sadly, there is no formula on how to conduct a union struggle, nor how to attract workers to the WIL in the process; The two things are not mutually exclusive, but intimately bound. If you do not prove yourself to be the best worker on the job, and the best unionist in the union, you will not attract workers to the WIL. As Marxists, we work INSIDE of the union, so to prove ourselves as leaders, and attract other leaders in the process, thus leading the struggle as a whole. If we do otherwise, we will resemble the miserable sectarians who hack their propaganda at the picket lines, while being ignored or hated by the workers. Hope this helped.

comradely,

Shamus

CONTRIBUTION #13 BY DAVE (SEPTEMBER 20, 2008)

Comrades,

I agree that two fundamentally different methods and overall strategies have been put forward so far in the process of this discussion. This is not really a ‘nuts and bolts’ difference on how we intervene in a field of work and build up our still small cadre organization, but of how we approach our class and its organizations overall. Other comrades have already congratulated Mark for being very active in his union’s struggle and I would like to do so also, but like many of the comrades I also have to say that I disagree with the approach taken in the Emmanuel struggle, which is quite different from the approach which we discussed and then at the Congress (just a few months ago) unanimously approved in the Work in the Trade Unions document.

Much of the discussion has revolved around how we should put forward our demands in the struggle at Emmanuel, or, rather should we even go beyond the limits of what the membership has already approved. Comrades Mark, Bill and Ann have said (generally) that we can’t go beyond these limits at this stage and should keep within the bounds of purely agitational activity (i.e., the nuts and bolts as it were of building support for a strike, calling for solid pickets and so on). The idea here seems to be that after a successful strike, or at some point afterwards, the mass or at least large numbers of workers will then be ready to be exposed to the full spectrum of our ideas.

I agree with other comrades who have already weighed in saying that this approach is fundamentally upside-down. While we can (and have) done agitational work on a relatively small scale in different areas and fields of work (UTI, Shamus’ workplace, etc.), by far our main form of work overall as an organization is propagandistic. Moreover, its important to keep in mind that we shouldn’t erect artificial barriers between agitation and propaganda, in general they often flow together. Transitional demands themselves bridge these together, by linking our ideas in a very direct way to the day to day struggles that we’re engaged in. Raising the idea of the need for mass party of labor, or for full employment or for nationalization under workers control of failed companies in trade union work (just like in any other field) is not something off the wall or “alien” (especially if we’re already active builders in our unions), and as has been mentioned already the raising of these kinds of demands is an integral part of the IMT’s method, which has proven itself in various countries (with different sets of subjective conditions from each other as well).

In Bill and Ann’s second to last email to the list, they included a few quotes from the Bolshevism book. I agree with Karl that these were taken out of context from where we are at, describing periods when the Bolsheviks were at a much, much higher level of development than we are today, where they were large enough to carry out agitation on a mass scale. An appropriate analogy would instead be with the period of the 1890s, when the Russian Marxists were beginning to systematically intervene in strike struggles for the first time, emerging from the period of small circles and still at the stage of building a cadre organization:

“For the first generation of Russian Marxists, economic agitation was only one part of the work, which always linked agitation with propaganda and tried to draw out the broader issues. The League had succeeded in winning over members from the old Narodnik movement by arguing a political case. On the other hand, the main task in relation to the strike movement was, while setting out from existing levels of consciousness, to raise the level of understanding of the workers and to make them realize through their own experience of struggle the necessity for a complete social overturn. Local agitational leaflets were too limited in their scope to do this. What was needed was a Marxist paper which would not only reflect the life and struggles of the proletariat but would also present the workers with a generalization of that experience, in other words, a revolutionary political organ which would serve to unite the strike movement with the revolutionary movement against the autocracy.” (Part one, page 91, emphasis in original).

Overall, our ideas are not “alien” and we have managed to recruit workers and youth (including trade unionists) on the basis of our Program in different fields of work. The same can apply to working in our unions, although just like in any other field of work recruitment and growth isn’t automatic but can take a lot of time and effort. The point is that we should raise demands in our unions in a way that starts from the workers general level of consciousness and draws it higher, and the demands in our Program and expanded on contextually in the Work in the Trade Unions document do connect with the general level of consciousness of the U.S. working class, or at the very least the advanced layers (from which we will most likely draw most new members from this work).

I agree that Tom’s suggestion of calling for a “30 for 40” demand was entirely appropriate. Replying to Tom’s suggestion that the “30 for 40” demand should be raised at Emmanuel, Bill and Ann in their second-to-last email said:

“Isn’t the prospect of Mark’s union organizing the unemployed unrealistic at this point in time. If they strike, the union’s energies will be consumed by organizing the picket line, reaching out to the community, etc. The unemployed are not currently in organizations. If they were in organizations, they could be mobilized. But they are instead isolated individuals at home alone, so that it will be impossible in this situation to mobilize them.”

I think the comrades here miss the point of transitional demands completely. The initial prospect of the SEIU local and/or the PDX central labor council beginning a campaign to organize the unemployed is definitely “unrealistic,” in the sense that the trade union leadership left to its own devices (i.e., when they are not under pressure from the ranks) will always try to keep struggles within the narrowest limits and they also actively work to narrow the workers horizons as much as possible. That is why one of our overarching goals in trade union work is to expand workers’ horizons and generally to raise the class’ confidence in its collective ability to change society, and we do so while at the same time actively participating in our unions and the struggles they engage in (attending meetings, building support for the strike, being active builders and so on). It is not an ‘either, or’ question. Tom’s suggestion of raising the “30 for 40” demand is precisely a way to reach out to the community and build support for the struggle. As other comrades have already pointed out, and is also pointed out many times in the TU document, the point of transitional demands and our use of them at this stage is to bridge the particular, everyday problems of the class to the need for the socialist revolution; to help raise workers consciousness further or faster than it would be raised on the basis of events alone; and also concretely help connect with workers (naturally starting with the more advanced layers) and win the ones and twos to the organization. Even if the prospect of local 49 adopting the idea of calling for a union organizing drive among the unemployed (if were to be raised) is remote (but not impossible), despite any flak we would get from the SEIU officials or even from other workers, it would put down a “marker” and show that our comrades are not just committed members of the union, but that they have different ideas than the current leadership. If we do not differentiate ourselves from the leadership and its policies, we could place ourselves on the slippery slope of limiting our demands and activity to what is “acceptable” to the officialdom, despite our best intentions.

Comradely,

Dave

14. BY MARK (SEPTEMBER 21, 2008)

Comrades

The intent of this letter is to inform comrades on the latest developments at Emanuel. I will respond to what comrades have written on the labor list latter in the week.

On Tuesday, September 17, the bargaining committee agreed to a tentative contract. The mass all day info picket on Wednesday was canceled and workers were expected to vote on the contract that day. No contract was actually presented to the workers. Instead a somewhat detailed description of it was presented by the union and the Emanuel workers voted 94% in favor of ratifying it.

In terms of the cost of living raise, the agreement stated that we will receive 3% the first year, 2.5% the second, and 3% the third year of the contract. Step increases will increase 3.2% a year. No movement was made on the equity raise except for the Emergency Technicians. Standby pay and shift differential pay was increased significantly. There were also important modifications to vacation rights since members are now allowed to take 4-6 weeks off to visit family more than 2,500 miles away – a particularly important issue for the immigrant workers at Emanuel. There were also a number of other reported on gains. There was no movement on healthcare for the poorest workers at Emanuel. The only concession in relation to our last contract was that the bargaining team gave up retro pay, that is, reimbursement for pay increases dating back to when the contract expired on June 30th. Instead, management offered us a contract ratification bonus that would be roughly the equivalent in terms of dollars as what we would have received with retro pay. This created more pressure to vote yes on the contract and set a problematic precedent because in every previous round of bargaining at Emanuel that went beyond the contract’s expiration date, we were always given retro pay.

In terms of process, I expressed both to co-workers and the union staff that the way the vote was being pushed was a problem. “We should be able to get a new contract in our hands in its entirety, give members a chance to ask their questions and express their opinions during the union meeting days, and then have a vote.” No one could disagree with that, though the dye had already been cast. In my discussions with workers I expressed that I would be voting no on the contract in the following way: “This contract, from what we are told, is better then our last one, but it’s not what we need. I think the fact that management has moved this much shows us the power we have in our attempts to build union/community solidarity. It shows we can do better. I think we need to build either a mass info picket or a mass march for equality and healthcare. If we do this, management will likely have to move more. However, even if this contract is accepted as is, the work that has been done is a great building block for getting a head start on preparing for the next contract and correcting some of the problems and mistakes we experienced this time.” I know several workers voted against the proposal because of this reasoning. They wanted to do more. However, even those who disagreed appeared to find value in what I said.

I also talked to several workers about what it takes to win a strike and why we should not go out on strike unless properly prepared. In other words, no to the one or three day symbolic strikes generally advocated by the SEIU officialdom. I also asked the lead staff organizers why the strike fund was so low. They actually stated to me outright, after months of posturing as though they were willing to go out on strike, that “strikes don’t win.” No surprise there I guess. I replied by referring them to the 1997 UPS/Teamsters strike. The only response I got was, “ya, that was a good one.”

I received multiple nominations to be a steward and will almost be definitely voted in. I believe this would be a very good opportunity to prove myself a reliable defender of the rank and file’s interests and open up more opportunities to build a class struggle current, discuss Marxism with the co-workers who are open to this because they have seen the hard work I back my ideas up with, and win ones and twos to the WIL over time. I also had at least two co-workers, including someone on the bargaining team, try to nominate me to the Executive Committee. I informed them that because of the by-laws, I would have to be in the union for two years before running. (I have not even been in the union for one year yet.) In fact, I would not be willing to run for this position until I have built up support from rank and file organizing for a class struggle program and would, consequently, be able to resist the pressures to adapt to the officialdom’s way of thinking and doing things in such a position.

All my work and constant agitation has been aimed at training the workers at Emanuel to defend their own interests, assure them in their own powers, and demonstrate the necessity of the union. At this workplace, the development of this beginning stage of class consciousness is the necessary bridge to build towards struggling for more advanced demands in a mass way – struggles that will erupt sooner rather then later given the acute crisis capitalism is experiencing that is plain for all to see. It will be slow patient going for a while, with a lot of swimming against the stream as the elections heat up, but the results for recruiting to the WIL and raising our profile can be enormous.

Mark

15. TOM (SEPTEMBER 21, 2008)

Hi Comrades,

I have just received the e-mail from MV about the new contract. I would like to add the following suggestion at this time. I believe we should now put out a flyer, where there is analysis of the contract, its strengths and weaknesses, and how it could have been different, if different demands had been put forward by the TU leadership and they had linked this to proper mobilization. The target audience is the 6% that did not vote for the contract.

Also, in my opinion, MV should not take the shop steward position unless the workers know his politics. Otherwise, if the workers find out later that he is with the WIL, it would look like we are trying to be deceitful. What MV can do is tell the workers, “I am a Marxist [or socialist] and I stand for this program. This is why I am active in the union and why I want strong unions and a labor party. If knowing this, you want me to be the steward, I will do so. However, if you have a problem with this, I would be willing to step aside.” Take care,

Tom

16. BY JOHN (SEPTEMBER 21, 2008)

Comrades, I drafted this last night, before the news of the contract at Emanuel was reported. The adoption of the contract does not change the fundamentals of the discussion we are having; if anything, it highlights the contradictions and brings to the surface the dangers of the approach comrade Mark used during the course of the struggle. More on that in a future email.

Also, I received Bill and Ann’s reply to Karl and Shamus’ contribution via the labor list. Can anyone else confirm that they did as well? If you need them resent, Mark, just let me know.

Comradely,

JP

——–

Comrades,

It seems clear to me that there are more than minor differences in the approach being advocated by comrades Mark, Bill and Ann, and the approach advocated by comrades Tom, Karl, Alex, Dave myself and the “Work in the TUs” document. In a previous reply to comrade Mark, I have already outlined several points which in my opinion show that it is not a simple difference over tactics in this or that concrete situation, but a much deeper difference in the overall approach to building the organization. Simply gathering together various quotes from various contexts by Alan Woods does not make the approach these comrades advocate the approach of the IMT. The approach of the IMT is the approach outlined in the “Work in the Trade Unions” document, drafted in conjunction with the International Secretariat, and passed unanimously by our recent Congress.

To put it plainly, the approach advocated by the comrades and put into practice at Mark’s workplace is not the same as what we approved at the Congress. It is an approach alien to the methods and traditions of the WIL / IMT. It is “upside down”, and if implemented, would not allow us to build the kind of organization we aim to build. There is a reason we started from scratch when we founded the WIL, basing ourselves on the ideas, methods and traditions of the IMT. This is because our ideas are fundamentally different from the ideas, methods and traditions put forward by the myriad U.S. Trotskyist groups over the last few decades. We are building a new kind of organization here in the U.S., based on the proven-in-practice methods of the IMT. The approach being advocated by comrades Mark, Bill and Ann, is simply not the IMT’s approach. This is not an insult or an attempt to brow beat or stifle debate. It is simply a fact. A comparison between what our Congress document states and what these comrades have advocated during this list confirms this.

Yes, we must combine agitation as well as propaganda – it’s not all or nothing, yes or no, black or white. But what is our main aim at this point in time? It is to recruit the ones and twos to our program. How to achieve this aim has been clearly outlined in our organizational and Work in the TUs documents. If mistakes have been made in the implementation of the policy we adopted at the Congress, it is not the end of the world; it is not an attempt to say that this or that comrade is a “bad” Marxist or a “bad” comrade. But we must correct these mistakes through comradely discussion, so we can build our organization and orient the work in the unions along the lines outlined, discussed and approved at our Congress.

In their contributions, comrades Bill and Ann have made many good suggestions on how to conduct trade union work. However, it is advice from the perspective of an honest and energetic trade unionist, not from the perspective of building a Bolshevik organization through our work in the unions. There is an important difference. The “Work in the TUs” document, which I recently quoted in another email on this list, makes it clear that the aim of such work is:

“Work in the trade unions is key to our perspective of building a revolutionary tendency that is organically connected to the broad masses of the working class, starting with the most advanced layers. However, building such a tendency would be impossible without firmly establishing a cadre organization, the foundation upon which all of our work rests … Our foremost priority at the present time is to build up a cadre organization with growing roots in the mass movement. This requires winning over the ones and twos to our program, perspectives, ideas and methods, while continually developing the next layer of cadres.”

In other words, we believe that the road to mobilizing and winning the masses to our program is through winning the advanced workers to our program, the “ones and twos.” The approach advocated by comrades Bill, Ann and Mark approaches the question “upside down” – in that it would appear that they believe the road to the “ones and twos” is through mobilizing the masses based on what is acceptable to them at this stage, and only later raising more “advanced” demands. This is a fundamentally different approach. Here are a few more examples from comrades Bill and Ann’s most recent contributions, which show that they are not advocating the approach outlined in our Congress document, but rather, something altogether different:

Bill and Ann say: “In other words, the important thing is to mobilize the workers to wage a battle because their willingness to fight will unleash a logic that will bring them further in our direction. We do not want to sit on the sidelines where we only address a few workers and simply mount a propaganda campaign over demands that the majority of the workers have rejected as unreal.”

First of all, no one has advocated “sitting on the sidelines” or merely mounting a “propaganda campaign.” From the beginning, everyone on this list has supported and advocated an energetic participation in the struggle at Emanuel. But the question is, on what basis and to what end do we energetically participate? The TU document explains that while participating in the struggle, we must raise our more advanced ideas patiently yet clearly, in order to serve as a political point of reference for the advanced workers, who we wish to recruit to our organization. Yes, the majority may not yet be open to all of our demands. But neither were the Bolivarian masses in Venezuela open to the idea of socialism, of nationalization under workers’ control, of the need to expropriate the banks, etc. Even now, ten years into the process, there is tremendous confusion.

Nonetheless, was it not correct for us to raise these demands from the beginning demands that flow directly from the objective needs of the situation, which are only now, after years of experience by the masses, gaining a growing echo and drawing larger numbers of workers and youth to our organization? In the meantime, over the last few years, on the basis of boldly and openly proclaiming our program and ideas we have built a cadre organization in Venezuela, a core of members trained and steeled in the ideas and methods of the IMT. The same applies to our orientation and work in the TUs in Venezuela. We in the U.S. are building a cadre organization at this stage. And that means that we are looking for quality, not quantity. On the basis of that quality, and on the basis of great events, we will get the quantity in the future. But if we do not establish firm foundations now, we will be building on sand, and all the quantity in the world will amount to nothing.

Comrades Bill and Ann say: “It would be good to put together a flier describing the miserable wages and working conditions of workers at Emmanuel.”

Comrade Tom first proposed the production of a flier several weeks ago. Comrade Mark is open to producing a flier at a certain stage, but has rejected doing so at this moment. But the real question seems to be, what approach do we take in the flier? Should it be written from the perspective of the trade union, explaining only the basic facts and demands already known and accepted by the leadership and the membership, in an effort to gain solidarity support and build the broader struggle, with the hope that ‘somewhere down the line’ the workers may be open to our own ideas? Or should it be a WIL flyer, with the aim of winning the ones and twos on the basis of our concrete suggestions on how to broaden the struggle with a class struggle approach, boldly yet soberly presenting our ideas and suggestions, even if they do not receive widespread support at the present?

It is not about “telling the workers what they should fight for,” but of putting down our markers for the future, of providing clear political point of reference so that the political level of the workers is raised as a result of the experience, and so that the workers know who, from the beginning, had a correct analysis, even if they don’t agree with us at the moment.

Comrades Bill and Ann say: “But it is not clear from anything Mark has said that there ever was such a time when the process was open for the submission of demands. And the fact that he is pushing for the demands to be decided by the membership seems to us to be a good thing …

“… Now is the time we are trying to unify the membership so they can wage a battle. If we discount what the workers themselves think is attainable and insist on more radical demands that will only appeal to a handful of the union members, won’t we be in essence creating divisions within the union and weakening it at the very moment they need to be most unified in order to go to war? Perhaps this is what Mark had in mind when he suggested a flier insisting on radical demands would, at this time, be viewed as an attack on the union. Moreover, might not raising demands that do not resonate with the vast majority of the workers have just the opposite impact on the workers than the impact that you are trying to achieve? Workers formulate their demands in relation to what they think they can win at any given time. What they are capable of winning is in part a function of how unified the ranks are. So by raising demands that only appeal to a few, divisions will be created that will lower workers’ expectations about what is possible to win, which is just the opposite effect that we want …

” … The point is not to ignore the demands of the workers, even though they might only represent modest reforms from our standpoint.” [my bolding]

Elsewhere, comrades Bill and Ann say: “In other words, we think he should be organizing and encouraging his coworkers to resist any concessions that management seeks to impose and to strike if they are prepared to do it properly.”

Producing a leaflet which patiently but clearly and boldly explained our ideas early on, when the struggle was just beginning to simmer, would have been a good thing. If there were meetings held to discuss the possibility of the struggle, our flier could have been presented. Our flier could have been handed out on many other more informal occasions as well. We could have been planting the political seeds for our intervention from the beginning, so that our co-workers – even if it was just one co-worker – would already see us as different from the current leadership or the average honest trade unionist; would see us as people with more advanced ideas and clarity.

It has never been suggested that we “ignore the demands” or “discount what the workers themselves think is attainable.” We must certainly begin with the current level of consciousness. But our role is not simply to support whatever the workers decide at any given moment. What they think is possible at the given moment is powerfully shaped by the media, the government, the TU bureaucracy, the bosses, etc. Our role is to patiently explain our ideas, to clear the dust that has been thrown in workers’ eyes, to raise the level of political and class consciousness of the workers, to build a bridge to our more advanced ideas, and on that basis, to recruit the ones and twos.

And just what are the “radical demands” being suggested in this case, which are apparently so alienating to the “vast majority of the workers”? Basic demands such as “30 for 40,” and “no to concessions,” demands / themes clearly raised in our Work in the TUs document.

I simply don’t see what is so terribly “radical” and potentially alienating about this. Also, it seems that you (comrades Bill and Ann) also think making a call to reject concessions would be appropriate. We are not calling for Socialist Revolution or a World Socialist Federation in this instance. However, comrade Mark explicitly rejected raising the modest demand “no to concessions,” as he thinks it would be seen as an attack on the union. I fail to see how that would be the case, as I outlined in a previous reply. Once again, our aim is to raise the political level and to serve as a political point of reference for the advanced workers.

When we speak of the “ones and twos” – those who are open to joining our organization in the near term – who are we referring to? Is it the “vast majority,” or the most advanced workers, those who have already drawn certain more advanced conclusions, and who are willing to learn even more about Marxist theory and the class struggle? Are we in a position to recruit large numbers of workers at this stage, or not? Are we aiming for quantity or quality at this stage of our development?

Comrades Bill and Ann say: “Moreover, when you use the formulation, ‘Marxists are trying to win over the ones and twos to the organization,’ you give the impression that anyone who disagrees with you is not a Marxist. Isn’t it the case that all of us in the WIL identify ourselves with Marxism. So it is not a case that some of us are Marxists and others are not, but we might have honest disagreements over what exactly Marxism represents.”

It could be construed from your above comments that you are in fact not of the opinion that we should be trying to win over the ones and twos. Perhaps I am wrong.

In any case, this basic approach to our work at our current stage of development is emphasized in pretty much every organizational document and resolution our organization has ever produced. Yes, there can be many interpretations as to what Marxism is or isn’t. But as far as the Marxism represented and defended by the WIL and IMT is concerned, it is clear that we have decided that we are currently at the stage of “winning the ones and twos” and building a cadre organization in the manner outlined in the Work in the TUs and Membership Handbook documents, and that such an approach constitutes a Marxist approach. This has been established in many documents produced over the course of many National and World Congresses. How we implement this policy and approach in each concrete case is another matter, and we must of course discuss in detail how we do this. This is the origin of this discussion. But what is being proposed by comrades Bill, Ann and Mark is an entirely different approach altogether. Hence the sharp differences that have come to light during the course of this discussion.

Comrades Bill and Ann say in their reply to comrade Karl: “The consciousness of workers throughout this entire process will rise dramatically. At the very beginning of contract negotiations, workers think all they have to do is raise reasonable demands and the bosses will grant these demands. At this point we explain that the bosses will not capitulate because they want to maximize their profits. In this way we argue that the interests of the workers and those of the bosses are consequently diametrically opposed. Soon the workers realize that this is true and that they will have to put up a fight if they want to win something. And here the union bureaucrats try to subvert the movement by steering it in the direction of fake strikes and porous picket lines. It is our role to explain that the only way to maximize the prospects of success is to conduct a real strike with real picket lines. If workers are willing to take this step, then their consciousness can rise to a revolutionary level. They will come to understand that the state serves only the bosses’ interests (since the bosses will get the courts to impose injunctions and the cops will be summoned to enforce the injunctions) and that the only way they, as workers, can win is to maintain their union solidarity, reach out to other workers for support and thereby establish class solidarity, and engage in class war where you not only fight the bosses but the capitalist state as well. At the end of such a struggle, many of the workers will want to overthrow the capitalist state because they will discover that none of the Democrats came to their support but instead applauded the use of the courts and cops against them.”

This, to me, is abstract in the extreme. While in broad strokes it is formally correct, it would seem that the comrades think that it is not until “the end of such a struggle, [at which point] many of the workers will want to overthrow the capitalist state…” that we should raise our more “radical” demands in order to recruit, not only the ones and twos, but possibly large numbers of workers who have gone through this experience.

But what will most likely happen in this struggle in next few days or weeks? It is not likely that mass of the workers in Mark’s workplace will go through the entire process explained above of transforming their consciousness from hoping for basic demands to understanding the need to overthrow the capitalist state. More than likely, some kind of deal will be patched together, either with or without a strike organized only half-heartedly by the leadership, some gains will be made, some concessions will be granted (if not concessions on the last contract, at the very least concessions compared to what was originally demanded), and the workers will go back to work, some enthused, others demoralized, but most just glad to get back to work. And what will we have achieved?

Mark will be respected as hard working and honest trade unionist, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. But there will have been no raising of the political horizons of the workers through our having raised their perspectives by explaining our ideas, not even of the most advanced workers; there will have been no clear delineation as to how we are fundamentally different from the current leaders or the average honest trade unionist; no setting down of a “political marker” to serve as a political point of reference in the future; and no recruits or close contacts for the WIL, or at least, no contacts or recruits that will have come to us on the basis of our program and methods as put forward in the course of the struggle. Sure, we may connect with co-workers and engage them in discussion and eventually recruit them on the basis of our ideas (I have recruited co-workers in this manner before). But it will not have been through showing how, in the course of the struggle, our ideas and methods are superior to those of the current leaders. This is why I and others believe that the course taken by Mark has been incorrect. But this doesn’t mean that it can’t and shouldn’t be corrected.

Also, I am not at all clear as to why this was added at the end of comrades’ Bill and Ann’s latest contribution: “We would urge you to respond to us and Mark in an entirely comradely way, even though you might have honest differences with us.”

At what point during this discussion was there a response that was not “entirely comradely”, which would necessitate such an urging? In what way might differences expressed not be honest? Mark has not expressed that he felt he has been treated in an uncomradely manner. A frank exchange of opinions is a healthy thing. No one has been insulted, or told not to express his or her opinions, etc. I am sure Mark and Tom can comment further.

A full and comradely discussion of any and all differences is necessary. But comrades should remember that our approach to the work in the unions was discussed in the pre-Congress period and at the Congress itself, and that the Congress document on this question was passed unanimously. Nevertheless, just a few months after the Congress, the discussion has been re-opened on this list. Not a discussion on how to implement the decisions taken at the Congress, but at root, a discussion on changing our entire approach. I, for one, am opposed to the approach being proposed by comrades Bill, Ann, and Mark, which is not the approach of the IMT, upon which the WIL is based, and will not allow us to build the kind of organization we seek to build.

Comradely,

JP

17. TOM (SEPTEMBER 21, 2008)

Hi Comrades,

The e-mail below was drafted prior to the contract settlement announced by comrade MV. However, I am sending this as I believe the issues below are very relevant to our present and future work and these issues need to be clarified.

Let me state at the beginning that this e-mail is addressed to the labor committee as a whole, including but not limited to comrades BL, AR and MV. The nature of these exchanges of e-mails on the labor committee is that they are not personal communications but larger discussions. After exchanging e-mail with MV on this subject, I felt that although he was working hard on this intervention, he was making some political mistakes and I wanted to address the members of the committee, which includes him. I was addressing the committee as a whole, which led me to refer to him in the third person, but in no way did I mean to insult this comrade. I saw it as a friendly debate in front of the comrades. I was not treating MV or any other comrade in a disrespectful manner.

The issues in this matter are serious, especially because I believe it could lead to mis-training WIL members in the important field of trade union work. I am especially concerned of the effect of this mis-training in the Portland branch, which I do not have much contact with since our geographic distance is so great. I believe comrades MV, BL and AR are creating confusion on two issues. First, what is the method and policy of the WIL [and the IMT] regarding our intervention in the trade unions. Second, what is the correct policy regarding our intervention in the trade unions.

I believe that there are two different methods being put forward for our trade union work. One method is the method of the WIL/IMT, which is explained in our document that we unanimously approved at the Congress in May. The other method, put forward by MV, BL and AR, is method that comes from outside the WIL/IMT.

When I used the term “Marxist” [MV used “Leninist” in his reply] I was not intending to exclude any member. However, a Marxist does not include anyone who claims to be one. A Marxist is someone who uses the Marxist method. A sectarian may claim to be a Marxist, but they use a different method. Let me add my own quote by Alan Woods.

“The first task of the Marxists is to work out correct ideas, policies, program and perspectives. The second task, even more complicated and difficult than the first, is to find the way to link up the scientific program of Marxism, with the necessarily unfinished, confused and contradictory movement of the masses. If we fail to establish this link, we become a sect, neither more nor less.” (Against Bureaucratic Centralism)

So for our tendency, sectarianism is not a political swear word, but a description of a political entity which does not relate in a correct manner to the objective process of the movement; rather, sectarians relate the objective process to themselves. They see themselves as the center, which all others revolve around.

Historically, many sectarians have originated from the movement. Usually, in a non-mass organization, if it continues to make mistakes, in the sense referred to by Alan Woods above, and if it does not correct its mistakes in time, the mistakes become a tendency of its own.

Our own tendency is not exempt from this process. Uncorrected mistakes led to the split in the CWI in 1992. Since the split, the CWI has not corrected the original political errors it had made and in fact, continues to make more egregious mistakes. This is how the CWI degenerated into a sect. At some point in the future, I will write a history of the Labor Militant. However, I believe that the degeneration of the CWI gradually led to changes in the method and program of the LM. I left before they changed the name to Socialist Alternative, but in some way the name change was a recognition that a different organization had been set up; that quantitative changes had become qualitative.

I do not know much about the personal political history of comrades BL, AR and MV. However, I believe that through no fault of their own and with the best of intentions, they got involved with “Trotskyist” groups, which were in fact sects. These comrades had no real alternative, as in the 1970’s and early 1980’s; our tendency did not exist in the US. However, they were “politically trained” in a sectarian method, not in the method of Marxism. Ted Grant explained that when the sects burned their fingers on ultra-leftism, they would try to over-correct their mistakes and go toward opportunism. Hence, it was not surprise that some of the same comrades that just last winter advocated publicly calling out the labor leaders as “misleaders” or “leaders” with ironic quotes in our articles and flyers, are now against putting forward a different program from these same union leaders, until the rank and file break from them. In practice, this means that they do not wish to break from the polices of the trade union leaders themselves, unless other workers come forward first.

We should be clear about this issue. If we do not find a way to put forward our program and analysis to the workers, then we are blending in with the trade union leadership. This is not developing a class struggle tendency, but the opposite. This idea, that we should not confront the ideas of the workers until they are ready to break from the leadership is a false argument. The mass of the workers are under a barrage of propaganda by the ruling class and the entire superstructure of capitalist society. The labor leadership could use the resources of the union to combat these ideas. But, they are not doing this and are yet another transmission belt of capitalist ideas into the Working Class. Remember, in spite of the capitalists and the trade union leadership, the real life experience of the workers is also pushing them to us. The advanced section is that part of the workers who stand closest to us and are more open to our ideas. This may or may not be reflected in union activists and people on committees, as some people are active in the unions because of the perks they may get from the leadership.

The labor leaders try to frame negotiating and enforcing contracts, organizing unions and political action into “realistic” channels. At times they might ignore us, while at other times they will attack us. However, we should not be afraid of this fight. Ultimately, our ideas are an accurate examination of the situation while the union leadership is counseling the Working Class to reorganize the chairs as the Titanic sinks.

If the workers at Emanuel end up taking concessions, whether or not they go on strike, it would be important if those who are looking for a way to fight and win could at least consider our ideas. Contrary to what comrades BL and AR said, I am listening to workers and many are frustrated with the dead end shown to them by the labor leadership. I know that due to our small size, we are not a mass alternative at this time, but we can make some gains if we are bold and creative in how we put forward our ideas.

I believe that BL, AR and MV can play a tremendous role in this organization today and in the future. However, in order to play this positive role, they must un-learn the sectarian methods they were trained in and learn the method of the WIL/IMT. However, in the course of this discussion, instead of working to implement the decisions collectively and democratically adopted by the Congress, they are putting forward an entirely different and false approach, which can only mis-train our comrades as they begin the important field of trade union work.

In Solidarity,

Tom

18. BILL AND ANN (SEPTEMBER 21, 2008)

John,

You raised a number of points in your last two contributions to this discussion that we would like to respond to.

We want to reiterate our support of the trade union document. But as you perceptively pointed out, “Our differences on how this is all interpreted seems to revolve around how exactly we ‘win the ones and twos.’”

We agree. While we all endorse our trade union document, we have different ideas about how best to implement it.

For example, you go on to say: “Again, is our foremost mission to mobilize the membership and win good union contracts, or to find the ones and twos to build the WIL?”

This is a prime example of our difference in approach. We do not counterpose winning good contracts by using our class struggle approach to winning the ones and twos. We think winning good contracts with a class struggle approach can often be the best way to win the ones and twos, as Shamus’ experience illustrates. He was able to recruit to the WIL and create more contacts precisely because he was the best fighter in relation to the union.

There is much more we could say in response to your September 17 contribution, but we would like to move to your more recent contribution (September 21) because of the important points you raise. And we agree that there are more than minor differences involved. But we want to be absolutely clear at the outset. We believe our approach is entirely consistent with the Trade Union document and the approach of the IMT. But we would like to emphasize that you yourself acknowledged that the Trade Union document was open to different interpretations when you said: “Our differences on how this is all interpreted seems to revolve around how exactly we ‘win the ones and twos.’” So our differences do not revolve around accepting or rejecting our trade union document but on how best to implement it.

You say: “But what is our main aim at this point in time? It is to recruit the ones and twos to our program. How to achieve this aim has been clearly outlined in our organizational and Work in the TUs documents.” But isn’t this begging the question? No where in the document does it say there is just one correct way to win the ones and twos.

You say: “In their contributions, comrades Bill and Ann have made many good suggestions on how to conduct trade union work. However, it is advice from the perspective of an honest and energetic trade unionist, not from the perspective of building a Bolshevik organization through our work in the unions.”

We could not disagree with your assessment more. Our approach was to encourage Mark to lead a REAL strike, which included breaking the partnership with the bosses, and being prepared to fight the courts and the cops, or in other words, go to war against the capitalist state. A simple trade union approach does none of these things. Honest trade unionists do not understand that these battles are based on the diametrically opposed interests of workers and capitalists, they are not prepared to defy the courts and the cops, they do not sell revolutionary publications to their coworkers, and they do not bring their coworkers to revolutionary movie showings so as to engage in political discussions in order to bring them closer to the WIL.

You continue to counterpose being militant unionists with recruiting the ones and twos. We think leading militant union fights is one of the best ways to recruit the ones and twos. Here is how Alan Woods described the importance of a strike in his book on Bolshevism:

“From the Marxist point of view, the importance of a strike goes far beyond the fight for immediate demands over hours, wages and conditions. The real significance of strikes, even when lost, is that the workers learn. In the course of a strike the mass of workers, their wives and families, inevitably become aware of their role as a class. They cease to think and act like slaves, and begin to raise themselves up to the stature of real human beings with a mind and will of their own.”

In other words, the significance of the strike does not lie in the list of demands and how radical they are but in the experiences the workers gain which make them much more receptive to our revolutionary perspective.

You say: “The TU document explains that while participating in the struggle, we must raise our more advanced ideas patiently yet clearly…” We completely agree. So the question turns on how this can most effectively be accomplished. We believe that in Mark’s particular situation, the most effective way to raise our ideas was to urge the members to conduct a real strike. This approach is precisely in line with Alan Woods’ argument above. This would have required explaining to the workers that there can be no partnership with the bosses. We do not think it would have been helpful in this struggle to raise 30 for 40 since his coworkers were clearly not prepared to strike for such a demand.

You say: “Yes, the majority may not yet be open to all of our demands. But neither were the Bolivarian masses in Venezuela open to the idea of socialism, of nationalization under workers’ control, of the need to expropriate the banks, etc.” We entirely support the raising of these demands in Venezuela. But the same demands cannot be raised in every situation. Our trade union document is very careful. For example, it suggests when the union is involved in a struggle around health care coverage, “…we MIGHT also raise that the union should fight for a socialized national health care system…” [emphasis added]. The document does not say we MUST raise socialized national health care. In our opinion, there are no simple formulas that work for all situations because our approach must take into consideration the level of consciousness of our coworkers, what they are capable of understanding at any given time, and whether we are engaged in propaganda or agitation.

You address the issue of putting out a flier and counterpose these two possibilities: (1) a flier explaining only the basic facts and demands already known and accepted by the leadership and the membership in an effort to win solidarity; or (2) a WIL flier aimed at winning the ones and twos on how to broaden the struggle with a class struggle approach, boldly presenting our ideas, even if they do not receive widespread support at the present.

Sometimes the second flier might be precisely what is required. But we believe that in the situation Mark described, it would have served as a diversion in relation to mobilizing the workers to put up a real fight, which, if pursued, could have opened up many more recruiting opportunities to us.

You say, still in relation to the flier: “It is not about ‘telling workers what they should fight for,’ but of putting down our markers FOR THE FUTURE…” [emphasis added] We think that such a flier would have been inappropriate at that specific time for Mark’s particular situation. He was in the middle of leading a fight where the question of what to do next was the burning question. Laying down markers for the future does not answer the question of what has to be done in the present. Instead of suggesting to Mark how to lead his coworkers in the fight, you seem to want to ignore the fight and switch the focus to the future. We think there is a time and place for that contribution, but not in the middle of a battle where Mark needs to unify his membership in order to go to war.

You say: “And just what are the ‘radical demands’ being suggested in this case, which are apparently so alienating to the ‘vast majority of the workers’? Basic demands such as ‘30 for 40,’ and ‘no to concessions,’ demands/themes clearly raised in our Work in the TUs document.”

We, of course, are completely in favor of raising the demand of 30 for 40 in a propagandistic way and at an appropriate time. In the course of propaganda, we ourselves have raised this demand many times. But propaganda and agitation are not the same thing. Propaganda, for example, occurs when we write articles for Socialist Appeal and explain that 30 for 40 makes good sense. But agitation means that we go into our unions right now and urge our coworkers to add 30 for 40 to a list of demands that they will fight for today. You seem to interpret our trade union document as if it were saying we must not only propagandize about 30 for 40, but we must also agitate about it in all trade union struggles. In fact, the trade union document makes no such assertion.

We are arguing that in the specific context Mark was in, where there was a possibility of his union going out on strike, that raising the slogan of 30 for 40 AGITATIONALY, when his coworkers had ALREADY SETTLED ON ANOTHER SET OF DEMANDS would have been inappropriate. It is one thing to propose transitional demands at the time the demands in general are being discussed by the membership, if these transitional demands seem appropriate. It is quite another thing to raise them when the membership has already settled on a set of demands and are moving in the direction of a strike. Interjecting new demands at this point would have hindered the struggle and made Mark look as if he were not really interested in mobilizing and then leading the battle for a better contract because he would have given his coworkers the impression that he did not think their demands were sufficiently strong.

You say: “It could be construed from your above comments that you are in fact not of the opinion that we should be trying to win over the ones and twos. Perhaps I am wrong.”

We find it deeply troubling that you say this because we have said in this discussion, as well as in communications to you in the past, that our differences revolve around how best to recruit the ones and twos. For example, in our response to Karl which was posted on the labor list for all to read, we said: “And by winning them over to a class-struggle strategy, Mark will not only increase the possibility of them winning their demands but of our recruiting the ones and twos.” In the recent San Francisco branch response to the EC over its criticisms of the Sheehan flier, which was drafted by Bill and voted for by Ann, and sent to you, it stated: “Moreover, I believe that my contribution to the discussion, if adopted, will actually enhance our ability to recruit the ones and twos, and possibly more, to the party.” We do not understand why, given these communications and similar statements in the past, you could possibly be questioning whether we are interested in winning the ones and twos. We think it is of the utmost importance that for a comradely and productive discussion that we listen carefully to what others are saying so that the discussion does not get diverted by distortions.

You say in relation to our response to Karl where we described workers having to take on the cops, courts, and capitalist state: “This, to me, is abstract in the extreme. While in broad strokes it is formally correct, it would seem that the comrades think that it is not until ‘the end of such a struggle, [at which point] many of the workers will want to overthrow the capitalist state…” that we should raise our more ‘radical’ demands in order to recruit, not only the ones and twos, but possibly larger numbers….”

We think you have completely misconstrued our position. We are NOT saying, as you put it, that it is not until “the end of such a struggle… that we should raise our more ‘radical’ demands in order to recruit…” Never have we said that more radical demands should only be raised at “the end of such a struggle.” Our argument is that the struggle itself, because it involves challenging the bourgeois state for power in so far as court injunctions and cops are defied, is itself a militant and ‘radical’ struggle. And because workers will be required to organize themselves and fight, their experiences will be fundamentally altered, as Alan Woods argued in the quotation above, so that this struggle will be far more effective in raising workers’ consciousness and allowing us to recruit them than simply adding radical demands to the list of demands the workers themselves have already decided upon.

You say, what if there is no fight, and workers go back to work, and then you ask: “And what will we have achieved?’

And you immediately go on to respond to your own question: “Mark will be respected as hard working and honest trade unionist, which is not a bad thing in and of itself.”

However, it is important to keep in mind that our trade union document says, “…we MUST be the best workers and trade unionists in our workplaces, fighting for a militant defense of jobs and conditions, etc.” [emphasis added] So we think it is an understatement when you say that what Mark will have done is “not a bad thing.” It is actually an extremely important thing that he would have done, and for this reason our trade union document says that he MUST do it. Moreover, in a recent communication you sent to Mark you said: “Our goal in these struggles at this stage is not to lead them or to have a decisive influence over the ‘masses’ of the union, but to find the ones and twos for our own organization.” Your advice would seem to be inconsistent with our trade union document.

And in the next sentence you add that if workers do not end up choosing to strike, then “… there will have been no raising of the political horizons of the workers through our having raised their perspectives by explaining our ideas, not even of the most advanced workers…” We do not agree. Being the best trade unionist does not prevent Mark from selling Socialist Appeal to the ones and twos; in fact, being the best trade unionist will make it easier to sell our publication to our coworkers, as Shamus’ experience has vividly confirmed.

You conclude this contribution by saying: “But comrades should remember that our approach to the work in the unions was discussed in the pre-Congress period and at the Congress itself, and that the Congress document on this question was passed unanimously. Nevertheless, just a few months after the Congress, the discussion has been re-opened on this list. Not a discussion on how to implement the decisions taken at the Congress, but at root, a discussion on changing our entire approach.”

We do not believe that our position is one of “changing our entire approach.” It is true that our approach is very different from your approach, but our approach is entirely consistent with our trade union document as well as with the approach of the IMT. And you have not provided any evidence WHATSOEVER that what we are advocating is in fact inconsistent with the trade union document. You have only argued that our interpretation is different than your interpretation. So we certainly do NOT agree with your claim that we have reopened the trade union discussion, which we agree would be inappropriate.

We disagree in the strongest terms with the way you are framing the discussion. We believe that you have not understood our position but, as we have shown, have repeatedly distorted it and have therefore entirely miscast it.

You said: “Also, I am not at all clear as to why this was added at the end of comrades’ Bill and Ann’s latest contribution: “We would urge you to respond to us and Mark in an entirely comradely way, even though you might have honest differences with us.’”

First, we did not add this at the end of our latest contribution but at the end of our first contribution. And we think we were clear about why we made the comment. Second, and more importantly, we would like to add that part of conducting a comradely discussion is listening carefully to one another and not distorting the other person’s position. It also means that each person is open to the possibility that one’s own interpretation of a document might not be the ONLY possible interpretation of the document. By distorting our position in several crucial ways and depicting us as if we abandoned the trade union document, you essentially define us as disloyal comrades operating outside the framework of our organization and thereby give the impression that you are not interested in a comradely discussion with us. This conclusion is reinforced by your statement towards the beginning of your contribution where you said: “To put it plainly, the approach advocated by the comrades [Bill and Ann] and put into practice at Mark’s workplace is not the same as what we approved at the Congress.” As a result of your starting with this assumption, you do not read our contributions carefully, you do not respond to most of our arguments, and when you do respond you distort our position in order to make it correspond with your own distorted assumptions about what our position is.

Finally, you said in a cover letter to this last contribution: “Also, I received Bill and Ann’s reply to Karl and Shamus’ contribution via the labor list. This is not correct. We did not reply to Shamus on the labor list.

Bill and Ann

CONTRIBUTION #19 BY JOHN (SEPTEMBER 21, 2008)

Comrades,

I agree with comrade Tom’s concrete suggestions. What do other comrades, in particular, Mark, Bill and Ann think?

Comradely,

JP

20. JOHN (SEPTEMBER 23, 2008)

Comrades,

All bolding is mine.

I believe that anyone who has read this entire exchange will clearly see that two very different approaches are being advocated. One of them is correct. The other is not. One is the approach of the IMT. The other is not. You cannot fit two such widely different approaches within the same framework. To simply assert that you agree with the Work in the TUs document while advocating an approach that is upside down to what is clearly emphasized in the document is not enough. To selectively quote from the TU document parts which you agree with does not mean you agree with the overall approach outlined in the document. To assert that you agree with “winning the ones and twos” while advocating an approach to doing so that is not the approach outlined in the document is not enough. To quote Alan Woods and thereby assert that your position is the position of the IMT does not make it so.

Aside from the frankly inappropriate use of out-of-context quotes from others’ private correspondence and from ongoing discussions with the EC, comrades Bill and Ann cobble together this or that out-of-context snippet in order to present my arguments in a one-sided manner, setting up a “straw man” which they can then easily demolish. For example, they reduce a multi-page contribution, in which I clearly explained the real content and intent of the Work in the TUs document, in contrast to the approach Mark implemented in his workplace, to a single quote: “Again, is our foremost mission to mobilize the membership and win good union contracts, or to find the ones and twos to build the WIL?” This is cited as a “prime example of our difference in approach.” The comrades then proceed to make a caricature of my position, saying further down that I “continue to counterpose being militant unionists with recruiting the ones and twos.” Anyone who has read my responses in full and who has read the Work in the TUs document can see that this is simply not the case.

Another example. The comrades quote from the Work in the TUs document: “…we MUST be the best workers and trade unionists in our workplaces, fighting for a militant defense of jobs and conditions, etc.” They emphasize this part of the quote, which they agree with, which we all agree with. However, in arguing that Mark not raise more advanced political demands or produce a leaflet explaining our position, that he in effect limit his intervention to being the best worker and trade unionist, they leave out the full context of the quote: “It goes without saying that we must be the best workers and trade unionists in our workplaces, attending our Local’s meetings and otherwise participating actively in the life of our unions, fighting for a militant defense of jobs and conditions, etc. But this is just the starting point.” Left out is the main focus and intent of the document:

“Our foremost priority at the present time is to build up a cadre organization with growing roots in the mass movement. This requires winning over the ones and twos to our program, perspectives, ideas and methods, while continually developing the next layer of cadres.” And, quoting from an Internal Marxist Bulletin of the IMT, the Work in the TUs document states: “The election of a comrade to a senior union position should be seen as the beginning not the end, of a campaign. A election campaign can be used to put forward a revolutionary program, make new contacts, make new recruits and build up a basis of support in a union.

How can we win “the ones and twos to our program, perspectives, ideas and methods” if we do not present our program, perspectives, ideas and methods? Selling the paper is an important start. But it is not the same as intervening with a leaflet in the name of the WIL or even “Workers for a Strong Contract” explaining our ideas, as opposed to limiting the content to what has already been decided (in most cases, by the union leadership). How do we differentiate ourselves from the union leadership and make ourselves politically visible to the most advanced workers if we do not put forward our ideas? How will the advanced workers learn that we offer something different (even if it is something as simple as “no concessions”) if we do not present our ideas? Even we had only succeeded in handing handed out 10 of our leaflets to those that seemed most interested out of a workforce of several hundred), it would have been an important opportunity to connect with the “ones and twos,” an opportunity we missed this time, but which we can correct and take advantage of now and in the future. If in an election campaign to union office we should “put forward a revolutionary program” in order to “make new contacts, make new recruits and build up a basis of support in a union,” how much more so should we do so in the course of intervening in a brewing strike?

Also, Alan’s quote on the raising of the consciousness of the masses of workers that takes place during a strike is taken entirely out of context. A general and absolutely correct description of the role of a strike is very different from how a tiny Bolshevik organization should orient to such movements in order to recruit the ones and twos. There is a reason we have an organizational document that outlines some basic nuts and bolts on this specific aspect of building the organization, and do not merely point comrades to the Bolshevism book, as important as that book is.

I therefore retract my implication that our differences are simply a matter of “interpretation” or of how best to implement the decisions of the Congress. After comrades Bill and Ann’s latest contribution, I believe that it is not at all a mere matter of “interpretation” of our TU document or of how best to “win the ones and twos.” Rather, I believe it is, as they themselves say, a matter of “more than minor differences” and that “our approach is very different from your approach.” I believe the differences are qualitative; and despite the comrades’ efforts to use this or that quote to prove the contrary, their approach does not fit within the framework of the approach outlined in the TU document or the approach of the IMT. Most importantly, the approach these comrades advocate will not allow us to build the kind of organization we seek to build.

It seems evident to me that the approach advocated by these comrades is an approach they bring with them from their past experience in various Trotskyist groups. In an earlier discussion on this list on how to approach the trade union leadership / the situation in the CAW, comrade Alex from Canada said the following: “This task requires sensitivity and a skillful use of the objective situation. One of the most important factors to be considered is the mood of the rank and file. Our tendency has a lot of experience doing just this.” To which comrade Bill replied: “I strongly agree over the need for sensitivity, etc. I come from a tendency where we also had a lot of experience doing just this.”

In other words, comrade Bill says clearly that he sees himself as having come from a different political tendency, whose methods he counterposed to the IMT’s during that discussion. Despite his agreement on the need for sensitivity, he had some different ideas on how to approach the trade union work, as evidenced in that earlier discussion, and as we see again now. It seems clear to me that the decades of combined experience these comrades have had in other tendencies has shaped their approach differently than if they had been trained and educated in the ideas and methods of the IMT. This is not intended to be an insult. It is simply a fact.

Therefore, it is not seem to me to be an accident that comrades Bill, Ann, and Mark, those comrades who have been most vocal in supporting a different approach, are comrades that come, not from the IMT tradition, but from the group Workers Action, which joined the WIL just over 2 years ago. Workers Action was a small group, based mostly in San Francisco, based mostly on ex-SWP / Socialist Action / Socialist Viewpoint comrades, with a couple of other comrades that had come from other small groupings. The WA comrades joined the WIL, despite having a handful of secondary political differences, because we were united on a number of more important questions such as Venezuela and Cuba and had worked together effectively on the HOV campaign. This was an important step forward in bringing together the forces of revolutionary Marxism in an epoch of instability, war, revolution, and counter-revolution. However, not every single question was discussed before they disbanded WA and joined the WIL, and it has become apparent over the last year or so that not only did some important political disagreements remain, some of which we have discussed and others which we will need to continue discussing at the appropriate time, but that there are also significant differences when it comes to our approach to building the organization. This discussion is part of clarifying those differences.

The main point is that the approach the comrades advocate is incorrect; it will not allow us to build an organization based on the ideas, methods and traditions of the IMT, which have been proven successful in practice around the world. That is the real test of the correctness of an idea or method. For example, what are the methods the Spanish or Italian comrades used to get from being a small nucleus of a few dozen cadres in a handful of cities to a much larger cadre organization of several hundred comrades in every region and major city, who are already playing a modest role in the national politics of the country and are now on the verge of far more rapid growth and development on the basis of events and the quality they have accumulated? Those are the methods we seek to emulate and establish as our traditions here in the U.S. The methods outlined in the Work in the TUs document and advocated by comrades Tom, Karl, Dave and myself during this discussion are those methods.

Following on the National Congress discussions, the aim of this discussion is to clarify how we approach the work of building the WIL / IMT through our work in the unions. Since the question “just what is the approach of the IMT?” has been raised, and as Alan Woods has been quoted extensively to “prove” the point, it would be useful to ask Alan himself and the IS for their opinion. I have done so and will keep the comrades posted.

Comradely,

JP

21. BILL AND ANN (SEPTEMBER 23, 2008)

Tom,

We just want to respond very briefly to your earlier contribution because it contains a fundamental misunderstanding.

You said: “In practice, this means that they [Bill and Ann] do not wish to break from the polices of the trade union leaders themselves, unless other workers come forward first.”

Do you REALLY think that the trade union officials are interested in breaking their partnership with the bosses and then proceed to mobilize the membership and encourage them to defy the courts and take on the police? We do not think the trade union leaders are prepared to take any of these steps.

All of us in the WIL are interested in breaking with the policies of the trade union leaders, but we have different approaches in how to do it. You want to add transitional demands to the workers’ demands, even though the workers are not prepared to fight for them. We want to lead our coworkers into war for the demands that they establish and are prepared to fight for, although when those demands are being formulated by the membership, we try to push them as far as possible to the left, which we have both done in our trade union work.

You also said: “I believe that BL, AR and MV can play a tremendous role in this organization today and in the future. However, in order to play this positive role, they must un-learn the sectarian methods they were trained in and learn the method of the WIL/IMT.”

It is strange you make this argument when you know nothing about the methods we were trained in since you have asked us nothing about our past experiences. Mark’s background, by the way, has little in common with ours. And you did not list one of these methods in your contribution. You can only speculate regarding our training. But we will emphasize one point. In our entire political past, we never adopted anything we were told simply because the leaders of our past organizations told us it was true. If something did not strike us as correct, we raised critical questions, and if they were not answered adequately, we did not accept what we were being told. At times this made people angry because some of them viewed themselves as great leaders who should not be questioned, but we have always been convinced that a healthy organization is one that encourages the membership to raise critical questions when they are not convinced of the virtues of a particular policy. When members feel free to raise questions and are provided insightful answers that increase their understanding of the issues, then the members will develop an increasingly strong bond and loyalty to the organization.

Finally, we would like to point out that when this labor list was originally established, we decided to read Dobbs’ books on the Teamster’s strike in Minneapolis. No one in our organization at that time said these books represented alien, anti-WIL/IMT ideas. The methods discussed in these books are the methods we were educated in, and we have found them to be very effective in developing the consciousness of our coworkers into a revolutionary direction. If you think the basic methodological approach outlined in these books is wrong, you should explain in detail why they are wrong. And if you are correct, we will all benefit.

Bill and Ann

22. BRAD (SEPTEMBER 23, 2008)

Transitional Demands: Rhetorical Device, or Solutions to a Concrete Problem?

The tactical debate that I’ve been following on the labor list has definitely revealed two different approaches within the WIL. This debate over how we will win the advanced workers to the WIL as cadre is of vital importance for the growth of our young organization. The specific way in which the transitional demands are applied in struggle doesn’t seem to have been clarified by the Trade Union Document. The document merely states that we are looking to recruit the ones and twos, we energetically participate in the life of our union, and that we use transitional demands that raise consciousness. The approach advocated by Mark, Bill, and Ann couldn’t possibly be “upside down,” because the document doesn’t point up, so to speak, in this specific technical issue. This aspect of our work in the trade unions is in the category of fine-tuning our assessment of the concrete application of “transition” in the interest of winning the ones and twos. However, to keep things grounded we need a quote from Lenin. Lenin’s approach to slogans is simple and clear when he says in his article, Argue About Tactics, But Give Clear Slogans:

Tactics must be debated, but in this the utmost clarity must be striven for. Questions of tactics are questions of the Party’s political conduct. A line of conduct can and should be grounded in theory, in historical references, in an analysis of the entire political situation, etc. But in all these discussions the party of a class engaged in a struggle should never lose sight of the need for absolutely clear answers—which do not permit of a double interpretation—to concrete questions of our political conduct: “yes” or “no”? Should this or that be done right now, at the given moment, or should it not be done?

Our markers are clearly laid down in our propaganda. Agitation should give clear directives in a concrete situation, clearly providing the appropriate solution to a given contradiction. We have a sect here in Portland operating in many of the same venues that already operates with this approach of “laying down markers.” Quite often, they say there should be a general strike, and not to be offensive, the demand for 30-for-40 would be right up their alley at this stage in the Portland labor movement, and they are definitely seen as a fringe element. Workers don’t go back for an after-action-review of the party’s agitation, but cold-shoulder you so that the chance of having any influence in the future has just been diminished.

Successful Experience

Nothing is as attractive as simple success. Of course, advanced workers will only be interested in our views if we are capable of winning a decent contract. Shamus and Mark are listened to in their union environments precisely through conducting pure and simple trade union work; without raising abstract “Marxist” transitional demands that don’t flow from the situation itself. They’ve managed to raise class consciousness, and the confidence of workers in the efficaciousness of struggle. As Shamus has already pointed out, Rosemont unionists are the ones that now regularly attend WIL meetings and movie nights. I think that an opportunity should be given for us to learn from this vivid experience. Theory is gray, but green is the tree of life. The Portland WIL received a burst of growth and vitality from what ostensibly was “honest-and-energetic” trade unionism alone, but dialectically, turned out to be the exact opposite. Our own experience has confirmed how Marxist Revolutionaries operate as unionists.

“Just one worker”

If we are still after tiny numbers of the most active and class-conscious working class people, the advanced workers, then why is a leaflet with radical demands even necessary? Leaflets are for the broad mass, while one-on-one discussions and paper sales are more appropriate for our objectives. We don’t need to cast about, in general, for advanced workers; they will already be close at hand. In the current trade union environment the “one worker” will be with us in the conduct of the basic trade union struggle that has organically grown up out of the current demands of the membership. The “one worker” will be on the bargaining committee, and involved in other caucuses where we will have an opportunity to get some face time This person will carry on a discussion with us, and be won to our ideas, without our having to broadcast the correct demands to the whole membership. The “one worker” will be the most active, “we” will be the most active (hopefully!) and a fruitful collaboration will take place. After working with us in the real struggle the most militant unionists can then read the paper, visit the website, and come to meetings; if they agree with our program, strategy, tactics, then they can help raise our stature with the rest of the union membership. It’s a simple process of natural selection, and it has an added bonus of not setting you up as a target with the union officialdom prematurely.

Fine-tuning Our Approach

Possibly each local adopts its own tactics until the next congress? We could unify theory and practice through a comparison of success rates based on recruitment, contacts, and “entrenchment” in the union. You can only be firmly entrenched if you are relevant. The Trade Union Document says nothing specific about the two tactics being debated on the labor list, but if we are dialecticians we begin by providing a clear directive for the next step in the honest and well-meaning trade union struggle, which by its inner logic, will run up against the friction of the labor officialdom, expose them, and group the militants around yourself. Just like the whole point of Das Kapital is that if the working class consistently fights for its interests it shakes the foundations of bourgeois society, consistently fighting out the trade union struggle shakes the foundation of the officialdom, wins respect, hearts, and minds – for the program of socialism.

Comradely,

Brad

23. JOSH (SEPTEMBER 23, 2008)

Comrades,

Until now, as with comrade BF, I have not replied to this discussion, but I have been following it intently. I thank him for his contribution as I think it offers us further opportunities for clarifying the points at hand, and I would like to respond to several of the points that he raises.

BF says: “We have a sect here in Portland operating in many of the same venues that already operates with this approach of “laying down markers.” Quite often, they say there should be a general strike, and not to be offensive, the demand for 30-for-40 would be right up their alley at this stage in the Portland labor movement, and they are definitely seen as a fringe element. Workers don’t go back for an after-action-review of the party’s agitation, but cold-shoulder you so that the chance of having any influence in the future has just been diminished.”

There is nothing offensive here because the comrade is comparing apples to oranges. “No to concessions!” is a far cry from “For a General Strike!” And for that matter, we need to be absolutely clear about what comrades JP, TT, DM, KB, and AG are advocating. It seems there is an attempt to paint the perspective of those critical of the approach being put forward by comrade MV in black and white, without any of the dialectical nuance present in the actual replies that these comrades have made. When we say that we think the comrade should have produced a flyer, early in the struggle, showing that we are against concessions, or raising the possibility of reducing the work week without loss of pay and creating new jobs (30 for 40), this in no way contradicts our ability to energetically participate in the struggle around the demands that have already been decided upon.

It is not an all or nothing, black or white question. Because we are in favor of more advanced demands and wish to present those demands in a patient but bold manner to our fellow workers, this does not make us against their demands, which are part and parcel of the same body in motion. To counterpose “our” demands to “their” demands would, of course, be sectarian and ultra-left, just as counterposing the mass to the party, or the party to its leadership would be, but no one has yet advocated such an approach. As comrade TT makes absolutely clear:

“Our demands should have been bold and linked to how to mobilize to win this struggle…Of course, if the workers vote on the demands and they do not vote for our demands, we will accept the result. However, if it was the union leadership that chose which demands were acceptable, then we would argue that the workers should have the right to choose the appropriate demands. Yes, it maybe too late for this at this stage, but again, I think a mistake was made, if we did not put forward demands at the appropriate time.”

It is, however, important that we lay down markers, for the reasons comrade TT describes in the reply quoted from above. It may be true that workers do not, as a whole, go back and do a play-by-play review of the struggle. Many may take no notice of our flyers, however one or two (or three) may. Had we been on record against concessions, a concrete example of the kind of political marker other comrades have referred to, it would have provided a solid base for comrade MV to campaign for a position on the basis of how we would have waged the struggle differently. As described in the TU document, running for TU positions offers an opportunity “to put forward a revolutionary program, make new contacts, make new recruits and build up a basis of support in a union.” On this basis, i.e. on the basis of a program of struggle and as socialists, we can run for positions in the union, always with the main “objective of building the organization.”

As the TU Document says, we should strive to be the best trade unionists and workers, but we should not, as comrade BF says we should, see ourselves to simply as engaged in “pure and simple trade union work.” We are Bolsheviks. It is essential that we raise transitional demands in a skillful way. By that I mean, it is essential that we relate them to the struggle at hand. We should not counterpose our transitional demands to our trade union work. Trade union work is not something separate and apart from political work, but rather, our trade union work is party work. This is what separates us from simply being good, honest trade unionists.

Of course, it goes without saying that we must all strive to be the best workers and trade unionists. That is ABC, but what comes after these letters in the alphabet? It is not as simple as being a good trade unionist to recruit members. Comrade SC’s example and hard work to organize his workplace has been cited several times, but I think there are some important considerations as to its direct relevance to the question at hand in comrade MV’s situation. Most obviously, comrade SC’s struggle was a unionization drive. I, myself, have been involved in a unionization drive at my workplace last year, and I can say that they are far different from a contract struggle at an established union shop. Just to cite one example, the only real “concession” that would be unacceptable during a unionization drive where there is no collective contract in place is failure to succeed in getting the union recognized. However, during a contract struggle, it is essential that we come out against concessions, which others have pointed out (comrades BL and AR have also said that this would be a demand that would be appropriate).

This is the most basic of demands that should have been raised, but we are not simply talking about demands. Comrade MV was, from the beginning, opposed to even producing a flyer in the name of the organization or even of the more softly named “Workers for a Strong Contract” or something of the like. This, in my opinion, was a mistake. We all make them, but we need to learn from them. As comrade TT pointed out, we should have produced a flyer early on, describing what demands we felt were most appropriate for the concrete situation. This was not done. Now, we are having very interesting discussions about what appropriate demands would have been for this very concrete situation, however a central point of contention is that no demands were raised by the WIL in MV’s workplace in the first place. We were thus left without the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from the leadership or the average, well-meaning trade union activists.

It goes without saying that we support the struggle of our fellow workers, even if we think other demands could have been raised, and that we will fight shoulder to shoulder with them, but what else do we support? This is the importance of these political “markers”: to show the advanced workers how we differ with the current leadership and why, even if they are not in agreement with us at this time.

BF says: “Possibly each local adopts its own tactics until the next congress? We could unify theory and practice through a comparison of success rates based on recruitment, contacts, and “entrenchment” in the union.”

Aside from the obvious difficulties in such a “contest” or “race” to furiously collect members (what would be the quality of those attracted during such a recruitment drive?), most importantly, the WIL is not a federation of autonomous localities, each following their own policies and tactical orientations. We are a national organization, part of an international organization. This approach would be entirely alien to the whole history of Leninism and democratic centralism. And as for the question of the clarity of the TU document. It is actually quite clear. As pointed out by comrade JP, one has to quote rather selectively from the document in order to make it amenable to the tactical approach followed by comrade MV during the Emanuel struggle. The document clearly outlines concrete examples of the kinds of transitional demands we raise in our paper, in leaflets, at Local meetings, etc. The idea that we do not produce leaflets for specific struggles and that the paper suffices, that leaflets are only for the broad mass, that we have enough advanced workers in touch with us already, and that they are only to be found on the bargaining committees, etc. is simply not correct.

As the Work in the TUs document states: “Especially when working in the unions, our transitional demands start at the workers’ general level of consciousness, which means we cannot assume conclusions that the workers themselves have not yet drawn. However, we must present them in a way that constantly raises their class consciousness, that leads them to the conclusion that only socialism can offer a solution to the problems they face under capitalism. In our press, leaflets and when we raise the question in union meetings and conferences, we attempt to offer a measured analysis and put forward our ideas and criticisms in a calm, friendly way.” (emphasis added-JL)

In other words, we must patiently raise demands that take the workers beyond where they are now, as was suggested by other comrades in this discussion. In other words, we play an important role as the subjective factor in these struggles. Workers learn through experience, yes, but the role of the revolutionary party and of even a single Bolshevik in a workplace is to serve as a catalyst for the raising of consciousness and ultimately, the socialist transformation of society.

Much more could be said, but I will leave my comments to that for now. Understand, that none of these comments are personal attacks on any comrades, but there are clearly different tactical approaches being advocated. I feel that is essential that through this discussion, we come out with crystal clarity on all points.

Comradely,

JL

24. SHANE (SEPTEMBER 24, 2008)

Comrades,

The differences that are being raised out of this discussion are not simply misunderstandings, as I think JP’s last post certainly clarifies. Nor are they simply some sort of academic or “bookworm” etc approach vs a concrete one.

However as has been said this difference can be corrected. Tom’s suggestion of a flier post-contract struggle, is worth taking up.

It is also worth considering this. Had MV taken up the idea of a political flier aimed at connecting with the ones and twos of the advanced workers, any such flier could have also been doubled sided as a flier promoting the WIL movie nights, for example, the PDX branch runs. This would have been a great opening to find out just who is the most advanced workers at Emanuel – and this could still be done, but of course it will be post contract negotiations. Certainly the Emanuel workers meeting the branch comrades, and the ten or so contacts from Shamus’s work place would have been constructive. This is an after thought, but it does highlight even in a small way how the distinction of approach results in a concrete difference.

Also I think Shamus’s approach while unionizing may have been slightly different than MV – and correct me if I am wrong. But it is to my recollection that Shamus did in fact produce some material about the struggle to unionized (perhaps it was made afterwards I can’t recall) – but I assume that this written material was accompanied with political conversations where Shamus’s WIL membership (selling SA) was known) and the more advanced ideas that eventually lead to the “ten” attending meetings etc where presented – although it was prior to the TU doc, as it was drafted after the union drive ended. But in any case Shamus was already, prior to victory seen as some one with advanced ideas, the victory of the union of course added a big push it seems.

Additionally I think, there might be a misconception of the dialectical transformation of quantity into quality, which Brad has put forward (under the paragraph “Success Experience” )- which at its base is something which the comrades who are posing a different approach to the TU doc are all perhaps putting forwards as well.

And that is that the dialectical “leaps” are to be understood as islands – rather than as nodes in a chain or line of progress of development. That the “leaps” in processes happen with out a gradual build up, rather than, that the episodic “leaps” are connected to the gradual accumulations – they are unified. There is no magic moment at which to present our ideas, like learning to speak – there will be mispronouncements, but it is better to learn to talk early on rather than latter.

The transformation of consciousness for workers, or anyone, is not spontaneous, or simply the linear result of a change in situation – rather the total experience of the preceding events builds towards such “leaps”. Our political material becomes part of this experience – workers are not dim wits, and have the cognitive capabilities to draw important conclusions about their conditions – revolutionary conclusions. This will happen at uneven rates, we are proof of that! But in any case it happens. Our worked out ideas, the ideas of Marxism, the generalized experience of class struggle and its theoretical expression is important in making sure the important conclusions arrived at by workers are not left hanging alone to perish in isolation – but to draw those unevenly advanced workers together as the most important section of the class. To do otherwise is in a sense to leave the general staff in the trenches as fodder. There is nothing alien to our method, it is essential – if the TU bureaucracy “exposes” us then it is red-baiting, and further conformation, however uncomfortable, of our perspective that they are the big historical problem of leadership as laid out by Trotsky in the founding of the 4th and in subsequent material.

What was it that the EC and other comrades, based on the TU doc sought, to produce a flier to attract the advance workers to the WIL and for the existing demands of the TU leadership to be advanced upon in our material. In essence for MV to be known to his co-workers in struggle as offering a firmly held class perspective.

The worst possible outcome – we are ignored on those points, but since MV is an honest and advanced class fighter this is “forgiven” by the other workers who will more than likely, unless extremely backwards see what we would put forward as positive but perhaps “unrealistic”. But perhaps we could have brought a few workers closer to us, and maybe one over one or two – and set up the longer term (as we all are aware TU work is) situation in favor of workers being comfortable with revolutionary ideas being the working part of any trade union struggle, quite a significant thing and worth the possibility of being ignored or red baited by the officialdom as they propose cuts etc.

These are just some thoughts, which are based on some limited experience – I have never been in a union (not yet!) but have intervened countless times, and have had some very insightful discussions with some older trade unionists here in PVD etc. I agree that there is no cookie cutter outline for all TU work every where, but I do believe that for revolutionaries there are some important things to keep in mind for our interventions as worker-communists in the labor movement, and the TU document voted on at the last congress is an excellent addition to such work – it is not simply abstract – at least not abstract in the pejorative sense, but rather a guide against what Trotsky calls “trade union fetishism”. This labor list of course is another important tool, along with the branches, the NC and the EC and, perhaps at this point, above all our international with decades upon decades of experience!

Comradely,

Shane Jones

25. SHAMUS (SEPTEMBER 23, 2008)

I want to thank both Josh and Shane for discussing some of the peculiarities of my union struggle. Out of the group who opposes the approach put forth by AR, BL, MV, BF, and myself, they are the first to comment on my successful experience.

It is true that I employed different tactics during my union struggle than did MV. Allow me to elaborate more on the objective situation at my workforce that contrasted with MV’s experience, which forced him to put forth more conservative tactics.

1) At my workplace, I had top seniority. I trained many of the workers who later worked along side me on the union campaign; they came to me if they had questions if there was a crisis, and through a very chaotic work environment, we became close friends.

MV, on the other hand, had been in the union for under a year, and was unknown to many of his coworkers. He works independently at his job, allowing him less time to know his coworkers intimately.

These “details” account for quite a lot when one is doing union work. MV began his union campaign isolated, while I had nearly unquestioned authority by most of my coworkers on work related matters.

2) Because of my leadership on the job and my consistently hard work on the union drive, I was elected to the bargaining committee. At this point I was already known as the “union guy” at work; people came to me when they wanted updates or had questions about the union. Being on the bargaining committee allowed me MANY situations where I was able to put forth ideas that contradicted the union leadership; I had such authority among my coworkers — along with close personal relationships– that I was able to comfortably sell the SA at bargaining committee meetings!!

MV, by contrast, had no chance to be elected to the bargaining committee for his campaign, since he was virtually unknown. Instead, he correctly chose to volunteer for the Contract Action Team (CAT), where he was able to put forth some ideas– subsidiary to the bargaining committee– and was able to FINALLY be recognized as a competent unionist (he achieved this status near the end of the campaign unfortunately).

3) During my bargaining committee meetings, the union leadership slowly exposed themselves as being very conservative. Often, the union acted in an outright reactionary way, leaving me room to become very critical. The union officials knew they had little room to attack me, since my coworkers learned, from experience, to trust my word over there’s. Of course, only the people on the bargaining committee had these experiences; but boy did they learn from them! Luckily, I was there to not only challenge the union organizers when they pressured us to make concessions on our demands, but also to explain the larger political questions my coworkers had, such as: “why do the union officials act in this way?”. Through many conversations such as these, consciousness was drastically raised, and now, most of the bargaining committee regularly attends WIL functions.

As BF correctly pointed out, it is conversations such as these that are of incomparably higher worth than handing out a flyer (something I never did, but perhaps could have done near the end of the campaign).

MV had far fewer chances to have such conversations, distanced as he was from the bargaining committee. Not only that, but MV’s union leadership lead a far more aggressive fight than my union did, allowing him less openings to fire shots (shots that would have been fired from a weak position with no one to back him up!). Again, it is “details” such as these that Marxists need to be aware of before they decide on how best approach union work.

In conclusion, it should be evident that MV and I put forth the same approach while doing union work, though adjusted for the circumstances. Our branch regularly discussed both of our union struggles, and find the tactics we employed in no way contradictory.

comradely,

Shamus

26. DAVE (SEPTEMBER 23, 2008)

Comrades,

I’m curious to hear what comrades Bill and Ann (and everyone else) thinks about these proposals.

Comradely,

Dave

27. ALEX (SEPTEMBER 23, 2008)

To the labor list in general,

After the last contributions I have to say that it seems that the Emmanuel concrete situation (which it is tactics merely) it is becoming a discussion on strategy and now methods. And in a way, it can not be in other way as we can see in the last week, the disagreement on tactics lays on a different approach to the very task of how we build the party in USA.

To Mark and others,

it is only normal that we feel the pressure of coworkers, union officials even other advance workers to lay low, to not to push the envelope to no to appear fringe under the workers eyes. This is not as a product of doubts in our revolutionary program and ideas but in the isolation to do minority and isolated work. And specially for those that start using the methods of the IMT in our workplaces, I only can say that it takes time and experience to fully grasp the pace and depth of our work, and for those who already have been through that initial experience I ask you to be patient and as it has been done already, to explain patiently what is the methods or our organization.

Shortcuts are good when they work! but poison when used to diverge from our initial vision. The discussion here is not if Mark should have done a flier or not, as Mark will learn in his own experience, besides not having an organized group inside the hospital, it really depends on his capacity to understand and trust the methods of the IMT to develop them. The discussion here is that to justify this shyness about start building publically WIL inside the hospital, the main argument is that workers would se us a sect. Is this opportunism?

The difference between opportunity and opportunism is clear, we use the opportunity to explain our program, what other thing we can offer at this stage? our ideas, first, methods and traditions are the mere enterprise of our revolutionary organization today!.

We would be opportunist if we do something different of what we defend only because we would have other people attentions and sympathies, even if this means to hide our own analysis and program.

We are not a group of activist who use the marxism as a tool and sort of a structure to work together, we are working to create a party able to deliver massively the seed of revolution into the minds of millions of workers in this country! we are building a party able to realize the revolution. Yes, we may be far from that point, but this is our only goal! we do not have any trust in this system, neither in the temporary concessions, or even in the reformist or democratic victories. we work with them, we do fight for them as part of our duty to walk with our class and keep building the socialist future.

And before I got quote saying that we do not fight for reforms, let me say that reforms only represents the correlation of forces between the two classes and the mood of the masses, and through this sea we have to navigate. Reforms are not an obstacle but actually a vehicle in its own contradictions and inability to solve the increasing problems of the workers.

when the capitalism is openly coming back to fascism and dictatorships in all the world. It is today, when we have to say louder and clear that we are in party that aims to change this reality once for all!

This is the first duty, how we do it? we depart form the average level of our class in any given moment and we build it up, today, we formulate transitional demands and we focus specially in the ones and twos so we can quickly have a critical mass to deliver better and stronger our program and methods to our class.

Honest workers may not be in agreement with us 100%, or they may, but if in 2, or 5 years from now we want the Emanuel hospital to be leading the most advance struggles inspiring confidence and spreading the proletarian revelius [?] to the rest of the area shops, we need to expose our ideas in the best way possible and yes! work in minority, patiently and comradely inside the union.

to say that workers trust us first and only due we are good union activist, is to say that we can be that all good unionist without being marxist. Unfortunately, this is not an option, only the study of the history and ideas of our class and the fully apceptance that in this system there is only horror and destruction for the most of humanity can give us the stregth, intinct, corretnes and indepednece to be a good leader. To not to identify this as the major reason of our outlook is to lie to the workers who have not the choice to expose themselves to our organization’s ideas.

In end, to work in minority it is not a defeat, if this means that your are building a path to many in the future!

Camradelly,

Alex

28. BY BILL AND ANN (SEPTEMBER 24, 2008)

Dave,

We thought the way Brad handled the question of Mark issuing a flyer in his “Just one worker” segment of his contribution was a good one. In our opinion, there is not just one way to deal with every situation.

Bill and Ann

29. TOM, (SEPTEMBER 24, 2008)

Comrades,

I wanted to reply to the contribution by BL and AR sent on 9/21/08. This discussion is important so we can clarify our intervention in the trade unions and build our organization on a sound political basis. I believe that in order for all of us to clarify this situation, we should stick to the main issues. I will answer their reply of 9/23/08 at a later time.

The first main issue is building the organization. I would like to quote from BL and AR’s reply [my italics]:

For example, you go on to say: “Again, is our foremost mission to mobilize the membership and win good union contracts, or to find the ones and twos to build the WIL?”

This is a prime example of our difference in approach. We do not counterpose winning good contracts by using our class struggle approach to winning the ones and twos. We think winning good contracts with a class struggle approach can often be the best way to win the ones and twos, as Shamus’ experience illustrates. He was able to recruit to the WIL and create more contacts precisely because he was the best fighter in relation to the union.

The comrades have suggested that if the WIL could play a leading role in a strike and win a good contract, we could recruit from this. On this I believe everyone is agreed. However, I believe that we disagree on the following points. What are the chances that the WIL could in this instance lead the strike to victory? Given the fact that we had only one person and no others working with him in the union, and MV stated the workers were not looking to him but to the union to lead the negotiations and the strike, it appeared extremely remote that we were going to lead this strike.

However, if a strike did not occur, we believed that we might have been able to win contacts, people who would work with us in the union and possibly new members, if we had put forward a flyer. I suggested the following on 9/7/08: “The flyer should put forward our perspective on what the demands should be in the negotiations and how this battle can be won if the union leadership took up our strategy. You mention that the union leadership is backing down and giving up on some of its demands. *We must be on record against this.* We should explain that giving in to management at this stage shows weakness not strength. If the union has improved other demands, we support this but state this should not come at the expense of other demands. We counter pose the money that the health system has, the pay of the executives etc.” I believe that what BL and AR wrote on 9/7/08 regarding how concretely to run a strike would have been an excellent addition to this flyer, regarding the part about how the battle could be won.

However, BL and AR either believe we cannot recruit anyone absent a strike led by us, or if we can recruit workers, they fail to explain how to do so without putting forward our demands and strategy in a flyer. They said what we suggested was divisive. So how can we distinguish ourselves from the union leadership and recruit people? I will say that if it was too late to put forward demands on 9/7/08, I believe a mistake was made in not putting forward demand proposals earlier. Perhaps it was too late by then, but we should acknowledge this mistake and correct it next time.

The second main issue is a misunderstanding of the connection between transitional demands raised and the need to run a militant strike. I will start with another quote from their reply on 9/21/08.

You say: “In their contributions, comrades Bill and Ann have made many good suggestions on how to conduct trade union work. However, it is advice from the perspective of an honest and energetic trade unionist, not from the perspective of building a Bolshevik organization through our work in the unions.”

We could not disagree with your assessment more. Our approach was to encourage Mark to lead a REAL strike, which included breaking the partnership with the bosses, and being prepared to fight the courts and the cops, or in other words, go to war against the capitalist state. A simple trade union approach does none of these things. Honest trade unionists do not understand that these battles are based on the diametrically opposed interests of workers and capitalists, they are not prepared to defy the courts and the cops, they do not sell revolutionary publications to their coworkers, and they do not bring their coworkers to revolutionary movie showings so as to engage in political discussions in order to bring them closer to the WIL.

You continue to counterpose being militant unionists with recruiting the ones and twos. We think leading militant union fights is one of the best ways to recruit the ones and twos. Here is how Alan Woods described the importance of a strike in his book on Bolshevism:

“From the Marxist point of view, the importance of a strike goes far beyond the fight for immediate demands over hours, wages and conditions. The real significance of strikes, even when lost, is that the workers learn. In the course of a strike the mass of workers, their wives and families, inevitably become aware of their role as a class. They cease to think and act like slaves, and begin to raise themselves up to the stature of real human beings with a mind and will of their own.”

In other words, the significance of the strike does not lie in the list of demands and how radical they are but in the experiences the workers gain which make them much more receptive to our revolutionary perspective.

You say: “The TU document explains that while participating in the struggle, we must raise our more advanced ideas patiently yet clearly…” We completely agree. So the question turns on how this can most effectively be accomplished. We believe that in Mark’s particular situation, the most effective way to raise our ideas was to urge the members to conduct a real strike. This approach is precisely in line with Alan Woods’ argument above. This would have required explaining to the workers that there can be no partnership with the bosses. We do not think it would have been helpful in this struggle to raise 30 for 40 since his coworkers were clearly not prepared to strike for such a demand.

Once again, the idea that at this stage, MV was going to lead the strike, I believe shows a great lack of proportion, not because of who MV is, but because of the fact that he is alone and does not have active allies on the ground to help him. However, the main mistake in the above is the formalistic way that the comrades separate transitional demands from the strategy of how to conduct and win a strike.

The working class does not engage in struggle for the sake of it or for kicks. Any battle, including strikes, are usually conducted only when there is not another alternative. Either a strike is provoked by management, as they might feel they can destroy the union, or the working class has its back to the wall and feels it needs significantly more than what is being offered by management. In a situation where management is not moving to destroy the union outright, the relatively modest demands put forward by the union, after they are further reduced by negotiations, will not usually provoke a fight. Workers think, “Why go on strike for another 1 or 2 %?” The workers do not wish to conflict with the capitalist state just for modest gains. Also, the workers look at how the union leaders have run strikes in the past and they see other strikes by other workers have not achieved much, so they see no reason to engage in something which involves sacrifice with possibly no pay-off.

This is where we come in. It is our task as Marxists to put forward demands that are not just about another 1 or 2 %, but mean a real increase in the standard of living. I do not believe that the demand of 30 for 40 should be mechanically put forward in every union, but why did I suggest this demand be raised in this situation? The slogan “30 for 40” can start discussion regarding the needs of working people, especially women, who need more time for their personal lives and families and counter-pose this to the wealth of the bosses in a very concrete way. This slogan can also initiate a discussion on how the workers can win over allies, such as the unemployed, which if the union was going to confront the injunctions and conduct mass pickets, they would need reinforcements.

The transitional demands that we put forward would spark discussion and help us to win over advanced workers who are looking for a way forward and who are tired of seeing the working class get less. Many workers would say, “These demands are great, but how in the world could we get them?” This opens up the discussion for a strategy on how to win this strike. Here, I repeat, that BL and AR put forward important points in their 9/7/08 contribution. Unfortunately, at no time was our full perspective put forward. Comrades, please note: That by putting forward demands linked to a strategy of how to win this strike, we could increase our influence even if a strike did not occur. I did not believe that in this situation, that the union was going to take up the demand to organize the unemployed. However, SEIU and Change to Win has huge resources that could and should be put to this use, especially now with the [Labor Department’s U-6 rate] unemployment rate at 10.7% and climbing.

The third main issue is eclecticism. I will begin with a quote from BL and AR.

You say: “Yes, the majority may not yet be open to all of our demands. But neither were the Bolivarian masses in Venezuela open to the idea of socialism, of nationalization under workers’ control, of the need to expropriate the banks, etc.” We entirely support the raising of these demands in Venezuela. But the same demands cannot be raised in every situation. Our trade union document is very careful. For example, it suggests when the union is involved in a struggle around health care coverage, “…we MIGHT also raise that the union should fight for a socialized national health care system…” [emphasis added]. The document does not say we MUST raise socialized national health care. In our opinion, there are no simple formulas that work for all situations because our approach must take into consideration the level of consciousness of our coworkers, what they are capable of understanding at any given time, and whether we are engaged in propaganda or agitation.

Comrades, no person has stated that there are simple formulas that we should put forward in cookie cutter fashion. The consciousness of the working class must be taken into account regarding how we present our ideas. However, the way the issue is addressed by the comrades, it could appear that they believe it is not a question of how an idea is raised, but whether it should be raised at all. It could be interpreted as meaning that raising the question of Socialism is OK for Venezuela, but not the USA. This reminds us of “American Exceptionalism.” Lovestone, an early leader of the CPUSA, believed that certain socialist ideas should not be raised in the USA because of the low consciousness of the working class. Lovestone raised his ideas in the late 1920’s, right before the huge collapse of Capitalism, beginning in 1929. It should be noted that Lovestone, led the battle against Trotsky and Trotskyism in the CPUSA at the time. We are a Marxist revolutionary organization, and as the Trade Unions document states: “We do not preach to the working class from the sidelines. We participate shoulder to shoulder with our class, fighting for each and every advance, wage increase or reform that can strengthen the labor movement and raise the self-confidence of the class as a whole. We do not try to jump over the heads of the working class, but to advance together with the class, step by step, *while always linking the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism to the perspective of the socialist transformation of society*. Our slogan is that of Lenin: ‘patiently explain.'”

The final issue, how did things turn out at Emanuel Hospital? Let me quote again.

You address the issue of putting out a flier and counterpose these two possibilities: (1) a flier explaining only the basic facts and demands already known and accepted by the leadership and the membership in an effort to win solidarity; or (2) a WIL flier aimed at winning the ones and twos on how to broaden the struggle with a class struggle approach, boldly presenting our ideas, even if they do not receive widespread support at the present.

Sometimes the second flier might be precisely what is required. But we believe that in the situation Mark described, it would have served as a diversion in relation to mobilizing the workers to put up a real fight, which, if pursued, could have opened up many more recruiting opportunities to us.

Well comrades let us look at the balance sheet. The struggle is over and there was no strike. 94% of the membership voted for a contract, which as MV describes it, was not so good. How did we gain through our intervention? Is it clear to the workers what our position was on this strike? Do workers know our views on how things could have been different? I’m sure there were some workers who did not vote on the contract [some of them out of disgust] and there were 6% of the workers who voted against it. Do they understand our position? Are they moving closer to us?

When MV explained the result of the settlement, I suggested that we have a flyer to reach out to the 6% and those workers who did not vote, to give our explanation of this situation. There has not been a response from MV [or BL & AR] at this point. Some workers suggested that MV become a shop steward.. That might or might not be a good thing. But if he takes this position without disclosing his politics, it will be a bad thing. I believe he should not take the position unless he states openly who he is and see if that is OK with the workers. MV [or BL & AR] has not as yet responded to this suggestion.

In conclusion, I believe that if comrades look at the main issues in our intervention and compare this to our document on our trade union work, and particular, page 8 under the section, What We Fight For, I would ask them to analyze whether how the comrades have handled this is in line with our approach. I believe, regardless of their assertion that they are using the same approach, that it is not the same. One more quote from BL and AR.

And in the next sentence you add that if workers do not end up choosing to strike, then “… there will have been no raising of the political horizons of the workers through our having raised their perspectives by explaining our ideas, not even of the most advanced workers…” We do not agree. Being the best trade unionist does not prevent Mark from selling Socialist Appeal to the ones and twos; in fact, being the best trade unionist will make it easier to sell our publication to our coworkers, as Shamus’ experience has vividly confirmed.

There is no difference of opinion on being good trade unionists, in the sense of being responsible people who attend meetings, know the contract backwards and forwards, filing grievances etc. WIL members do this and should also sell the paper and other publications to co-workers. However, the document also states that our intervention starts with our program and perspectives. If we just use the paper and not specific material geared to the situation, it could seem to the workers that being a socialist is not specifically related to having a different program and strategy in the union. The key is to link the two activities.

“In the unions, we make demands on the current leadership, in full view of the rank and file, who can then judge for themselves whether the policies they are carrying out are in the interests of the workers or not. We do not merely denounce their class collaborationist policies from the sidelines. Calling on them to put up a militant and organized fight against the bosses pushes the advanced workers into questioning the policies and role of the official leadership when they fail to fight the bosses. By combining transitional demands with active participation in our unions and the struggle against the employers, we can win the most advanced workers to our organization.” [Work in the Trade Unions, page 8.]

In Solidarity,

Tom

30. JORDI, (SEPTEMBER 25, 2008)

Dear comrades,

JP sent me the correspondence on the discussion taking place in the US section regarding the tactics in the dispute at the Emanuel hospital in Portland.

I thing that the issues raised are important and that discussing them can serve to educate the whole of the membership of the US section in important matters like our tactics in trade union work. I have discussed these matters with Alan and Fred, in preparing this response.

First of all, in any discussion, it is important to maintain a comradely tone and not to distort the arguments of other comrades. For this reason I will try to quote from what the comrades have actually said.

In relation to the dispute at the Emanuel hospital, the discussion started over the contents of an article in Socialist Appeal. JP suggested a number of changes in the article that were going in the following direction: one, to point out positive suggestions as to how to wage the struggle in a more effective way (out-reach, leafleting, etc) and two, to raise demands that would go take the struggle a bit further (shorter working week) and to make it clear to readers what is Socialist Appeal and its role (by asking them to join us and check our website).

Some of these were accepted by MV (although he preferred a vaguer formulation of “join us”), but the inclusion of the demand for a shorter working week was rejected by him because “it would not connect” and “I think that the workers will have to go thru the experience of struggling for this as well as, most significantly, a generalized increase in the national class struggle before they will be willing to mobilize around ‘a shorter work week with no loss in pay’ in a battle centered on one hospital.” MV also argued that the article was agitational in nature and this was also an argument against adding this demand.

Then the issue came up of producing a leaflet in the name of the WIL (or an ad-hoc rank and file committee) to intervene in the dispute. MV was against producing a leaflet because the workers were looking to the leadership of the union to lead the struggle: “any leaflet put out in the name of the WIL, or Committee for a Strong Contract, would be seen as something coming from outside of the union, as a fringe element and would be viewed as an attack on the union. No workers would pay this any serious attention. Believe me, I know. I see every day what the workers pay attention to and what they ignore.” (my emphasis).

It was further argued by MV that “written material independent of the trade union leadership” should only be produced “Until union members are firmly committed to a fight and, thru the course of the struggle, begin to question how the union leadership is conducting things”.

In Bill and Ann’s contribution they discuss the possibility of issuing “a WIL flier aimed at winning the ones and twos on how to broaden the struggle with a class struggle approach, boldly presenting our ideas, even if they do not receive widespread support at the present.” In response to this they say that: “we believe that in the situation Mark described, it would have served as a diversion in relation to mobilizing the workers to put up a real fight, which, if pursued, could have opened up many more recruiting opportunities to us.”

I think both MV and Bill and Ann are wrong on this question.

MV was in the middle of a dispute. The very fact that workers are discussing the possibility of strike action raises their sights. This is not a normal every day situation, but one in which workers are forced to think, the dispute is pitting them as a collective, against the employer. This is precisely the right time for Marxists to make an intervention that goes beyond selling the paper to a small number of co-workers and having one to one conversations over the dispute.

This is precisely the time to explain our ideas to a wider audience, that is, to conduct agitation. This can be done in a number of different ways. If MV has the opportunity to speak at mass rallies, union meetings, etc, this must be obviously done. The other obvious way of putting forward our ideas to a wider audience is precisely to produce a flyer. If we already have a caucus in that particular union we can use that to produce it, if not, we should produce it in our own name (the WIL). We want to get maximum exposure at a time when workers are thinking. This is a time where, if we are skilful, we can reach a much wider audience.

What should be the contents of the flyer? First of all, if the flyer is aimed at the workers at Emanuel Hospital, it should be supportive of their demands, it should explain how these can be achieved (what methods are we proposing for the dispute) but also, it should try to raise their level of understanding of the issues at stake. This is the whole aim of transitional demands: to raise the level of understanding of the workers, starting from where their level is at, but raising it to what is needed.

As a matter of fact, MV makes a whole series of excellent points in one of his contributions: about the need for mass pickets, the need to send pickets to other hospitals, the need to build a stronger strike fund (and this is linked to the need to break with the Democrats), the need to have rank and file control over the negotiations, etc. Why can’t this be put out in the form of a leaflet, adding a few more political points at the end? This would allow MV to raise these issues to a wider audience.

I fundamentally disagree that this would be a diversion or that this would be viewed as an attack on the union. This would only be the case if these points were made in a sectarian manner. We must avoid that at all costs. We cannot give the workers ultimatums and we cannot impose demands on their struggle. But nobody has suggested that (I have read the correspondence carefully).

However, there are two dangers in any given situation, that of empty sectarian shouting and that of opportunist adaptation. If we do not put anything at all in writing, we are falling into the second mistake. It seems to me that in the name of conducting agitation (explaining a few ideas to many people) as opposed to propaganda (explaining many ideas to a small number of people), what is being advocated is … to not conduct any agitation!

This discussion is, in fact, not a new discussion.

Bill and Ann have quoted Alan Woods’ book on Bolshevism where Alan talks about the effect strikes have on the consciousness of workers involved. That is true. But it is certainly not an argument against raising our own ideas in the run up and during a strike, in the form of leaflets amongst others.

As a matter of fact the Bolshevism book dedicates a whole section to explaining the struggle of Lenin and the Russian Marxists against the Economists, a tendency that thought precisely political agitation could only be carried out after the strike movement had changed the consciousness of the workers. Here are some passages from Bolshevism:

“[From the Economist journal Rabochaya Mysl’] ‘As long as the movement was no more than a means to soothe the conscience-stricken intellectual (!) it was alien to the worker himself… the economic base of the movement was obscured by the constant attempt to remember the political ideal… The average worker stood outside the movement… The struggle for economic interests was the most stubborn struggle, the most powerful in terms of the numbers of people it was understandable to, and in terms of the heroism with which the ordinary person would defend his rights to existence. Such is the law of nature. Politics always docilely follows economics, and as a general result political shackles are snapped ‘en route’. The struggle for economic status, (?) the struggle against capital in the field of everyday vital interests and of strikes as a method of this struggle—such is the motto of the workers’ movement.'[83]

“However, the Economists interpreted this in an entirely one-sided manner. Economic agitation and crude “activism” were elevated into a panacea. Revolutionary theory was effectively relegated to an unimportant secondary role. In this way, a correct idea was turned into its opposite, giving rise to the anti-Marxist “theory of stages”, which was later to have such a disastrous effect in the hands of the Mensheviks and Stalinists. “Political demands”, wrote the Economist Krichevsky, “which in their nature are common to all Russia, must correspond initially to the experience extracted from the economic struggle by a given stratum of workers. It is only on the grounds of this experience that it is possible and necessary to move on to political agitation.”[86]

“These lines express very clearly the opportunist nature of Economism, which flows from the desire to find a short cut to the masses by watering down the programme of Marxism and abandoning “difficult” demands alleging that the masses are not ready for them. At bottom, this phenomenon was analogous to the politics of “small deeds” advocated by the liberal Narodniks. It fitted in perfectly with the cowardly opportunism of the Legal Marxists, who themselves really represented the left-wing of bourgeois liberalism. Implicit in the ideas of the Economists was the fear of confronting the tsarist authorities, by avoiding political demands and attempting to present the activity of the Social Democrats as a “private affair” between workers and employers on the labour front, leaving the question of the state to others. In reality, the meaning of all the arguments of the Economists was that the Social Democrats should passively adapt themselves to the narrow limits of legality or semi-legality offered to them by the tsarist state.” (my emphasis)

Later on, dealing with the sectarian and ultimatums attitude of the Russian Marxists when they Soviets first appeared, Alan explains:

“The whole question of the relationship of the Party and the mass movement can be reduced in the last analysis to the difference between the finished scientific programme of Marxism and the necessarily unfinished, incomplete and contradictory movement of the masses. Whoever is incapable of finding a bridge between these two aspects will forever be incapable of building a mass movement. Naturally, Lenin explained, the Social Democrats will fight for influence within the soviets, and attempt to win them over. But the broad base of the soviets, representing the big majority of workers, not only the advanced layers, but even the most backward layers in the factories, Social Democratic and non-party, atheists and religious, literate and illiterate, skilled and unskilled, was a big plus in the revolutionary struggle against tsarism. Lenin was confident that, out of the experience of the struggle itself, the masses would, in time, draw the necessary conclusions and come to understand the validity of the Marxist programme. The duty of the revolutionary vanguard was to “patiently explain”, and not to present ultimatums to the masses. The method of Lenin recalls the revolutionary realism of Marx who pointed out that ‘one real step forward of the movement is worth a hundred correct programmes’.”

These lines are a clear criticism of presenting ultimatums to the movement. Doing so would be wrong, and as far as I can see nobody in this discussion is suggesting that we do that (ie, that MV should go to the workers at Emanuel hospital and say “if you do not accept the programme of the WIL we will not support you). However, these lines also explain very clearly the need to build a bridge between the movement of the masses and the programme of Marxism, not just to offer support for their demands, and not just to encourage them to struggle.

Trotsky also dealt with the issue of transitional demands in some detail and precisely in discussions with the US SWP, where he found resistance to adopting the transitional demands that he was advocating. He explained how:

“There are two dangers in the elaboration of the program. The first is to remain on general abstract lines and to repeat the general slogan without real connection with the trade unions in the locality. That is the direction of sectarian abstraction. The other danger is the contrary, to adapt too much to the local conditions, to the specific conditions, to lose the general revolutionary line. I believe that in the United States the second danger is the more immediate. I remember it most especially in the matter of militarization, armed pickets, etc. Some comrades were afraid that it is not real for the workers, etc.” (Discussions with Trotsky On the Transitional Program, 1938 http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tpdiscuss.htm)

In one of the contributions to the discussion Bill and Ann strongly object to Tom when he says: “WE MUST NOT TAILOR OUR DEMANDS TO WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO THE UNION LEADERSHIP OR WHAT THEY MAKE THE MASS OF THE WORKERS THINK IS ATTAINABLE. We are targeting the more advance and serious people to win them over as members or people who will work with us in the union.” Bill and Ann say that this approach is “problematic” and that it would be “in essence creating divisions within the union and weakening it at the very moment they need to be most unified in order to go to war?”

I think they are also wrong in this. Yes, we must unite the workers. Yes, we must encourage them to struggle. But at the same time, we must explain how we think we should struggle, with what methods, and also, on the basis of their own experience, introduce ideas that go beyond the immediate struggle. This was precisely the method of Trotsky who said the following about the programme:

“We have repeated many times that the scientific character of our activity consists in the fact that we adapt our program not to political conjunctures or the thought or mood of the masses as this mood is today, but we adapt our program to the objective situation as it is represented by the economic class structure of society. The mentality can be backward; then the political task of the party is to bring the mentality into harmony with the objective facts, to make the workers understand the objective task. But we cannot adapt the program to the backward mentality of the workers, the mentality, the mood is a secondary factor – the prime factor is the objective situation. That is why we have heard these criticisms or these appreciations that some parts of the program do not conform to the situation.

“Everywhere I ask what should we do? Make our program fit the objective situation or the mentality of the workers? And I believe that this question must be put before every comrade who says that this program is not fit for the American situation. This program is a scientific program. It is based on an objective analysis of the objective situation. It cannot be understood by the workers as a whole.” (Discussions with Trotsky On the Transitional Program, 1938 http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tpdiscuss.htm)

Comrades Bill and Ann and MV might object that they agree with this approach in general, but that this is not the right time. In fact, if you do not explain your ideas clearly and openly (in a skilful manner) precisely at a time when the workers are discussing going on strike, when are you going to do it? It seems to me that the logic of the argument put forward by these comrades is that the strike itself will raise the consciousness of the workers and that this will allow us to recruit them to the organisation. And that, on the contrary, raising our programme now would be seen as divisive, alien and a diversion from the real struggle. This is completely wrong.

In his discussions with the US SWP, where there was strong resistance to adopt the Transitional Programme, Trotsky dealt specifically with the issue of the backwardness of the US workers. In an article entitled “The political backwardness of American workers” (May 19, 1938) he said the following (I apologise because I am translating this from my Spanish edition):

“Some comrades say that, in some of its parts, the project of the programme is not adapted to the level of consciousness, to the mood of the American workers. In relation to this we must ask ourselves if the programme has to adapt to the mentality of the American workers or to the current social and economic conditions of the country. This is the most important problem to be solved.”

And he responds:

“Our programme must pay more attention to the concrete tasks of the working class than to the backwardness of the workers. It must reflect society as it is and not the backwardness of the working class. It represents precisely a tool to overcome and eradicate such backwardness”

and he adds:

“Another problem is how to present the programme to the workers. The explanation of the current situation to the workers is rather a terminological and pedagogical task”.

“What can a revolutionary party do at this moment in time? First of all, to offer a clear and honest analysis of the objective situation, of the historical tasks which derive from this situation, regardless of whether the workers are ready or not to carry them out. The aim is to raise the level of consciousness of the workers”

and replying to the objection that: “Well, the programme is scientific, corresponds to the objective situation, but if the workers do not accept it, this programme will be sterile”, Trotsky responds: “We must tell the workers the truth and we will win the best elements”.

“All the arguments that declare that we cannot present such a programme because it does not correspond to the level of consciousness of the workers are false.”

In another article, as part of the same discussion with the leadership of the US SWP, he added:

“What does “scientific socialism mean”? It means that the party that incorporates this science starts, like in any science, not from the subjective wishes, inclinations or moods, but from objective facts, the concrete situation of different classes and the relationship between them. Only through this method can we establish the demands that are in accordance with the objective situation. Only from this starting point can we then adapt these demands and slogans to the concrete mood of the masses. But starting from the mood, as if it was the fundamental fact, we would not have a scientific policy, but one that would be conjunctural, demagogic and adventurist.”

I would also like to add a more general point. We are in the middle of the most important crisis of capitalism for 30 years, some say this is the most important downturn in the economy since 1929. Banks have been nationalised by the government to prevent them from collapsing, the government is talking about a massive bail out of the economy, tens of thousands of jobs are being destroyed and hundreds of thousands of families have either lost or risk losing their homes. The arguments about raising certain transitional demands or not, must also be seen against this background. These developments in the economy are being watched, discussed and felt directly by millions of ordinary working people with no previous experience or political interest. I have no doubt that this has already had a massive impact in the consciousness of the American working class. At this time, our ideas, if explained in a bold and skilful manner, can connect with wider layers, our audience can increase ten fold.

Lenin remarked that sometimes revolutionaries are the most conservative of people. Surely at this time, in this concrete situation, we should be bold and offer a clear explanation of the crisis of capitalism. Surely at this time, the kind of transitional demands that we can and must raise as widely as possible in every election meeting, in every concrete trade union struggle, etc, are much sharper than those that were maybe appropriate two or three years ago.

In relation to the Emanuel Hospital struggle this would have been the time for producing, not one, but a series of leaflets, detailing our position in relation to each one of the stages the struggle is at and raising the sights and the horizons of workers beyond the immediate tasks, while at the same time intervening energetically and loyally in the concrete tasks of organising the movement. The echo that we might find will possibly not be very wide at the beginning. But if we are consistent, the workers, through their own experience, will come to the conclusion that we were right all along. If our ideas are not explained from the beginning (in writing), then our explanations ex post facto will sound hollow.

Even at this time I think that a leaflet should be produced in the name of the WIL and signed by MV making a balance sheet of the dispute. Explaining what we think could have been achieved, by what methods, explaining what we think should be done now and why, and linking all this to more general ideas about the need for democracy in the unions, accountability of officials, the need for a labor party, etc. Such a leaflet should be distributed as widely as possible and, if possible, a meeting of Emanuel workers should be organised to discuss its contents. Even if only one or two of them turn up to discuss with us the lessons of the dispute, that would be a success.

Finally, Bill and Ann and to a certain extent MV have raised concerns and warnings about conducting the discussion in a comradely and democratic way, about the need to listen to everyone’s arguments, etc. This is correct as a general statement. But, having read the whole discussion, I think that this has been conducted in a democratic and comradely manner.

To begin with JP discussed with MV the contents of his article, in a comradely way and progress was made. Then, in the one point where there was no agreement, MV’s will was respected, but the EC wrote to him pointing out the differences in the approach. MV then objected to this and asked for an official discussion. This was opened.

The comrades seem to object that JP and Tom are participating in the discussion thinking that they are right, that their views correspond to the traditions of the IMT on this matter and that the views of Bill and Ann and MV do not, and that MV has made some mistakes in his intervention.

Well, if that is what JP and Tom think, why can’t they say it? If they think that any comrade has made a mistake, that his approach does not correspond to that of the IMT on this or that matter, it is their democratic right (and duty) to say so. Other comrades can then argue against this point of view. This is precisely what a democratic discussion is.

Bolshevism was also the school of hard knocks as Ted always used to say. If you see some of the terms that were used by Lenin and others in the leadership about their counterparts in the numerous discussions that took place in the Russian Marxist movement, they were pretty sharp and strong worded. And still, they had all sorts of comradely discussions over a long period of time.

I would ask to comrades not to make empty appeals to democracy. If they think that their democratic rights have been violated (their material has not been circulated to the right bodies, their articles have been suppressed with no explanation, etc), they have the right to complain in a concrete way.

From the amount of correspondence that this discussion has generated I cannot see how can anyone argue that this has not been a democratic discussion. The main point is to raise the comrades’ political level and to learn from the discussion, correcting any mistakes that have been made in order to continue to improve the work in the future.

I suggest that Trotsky’s Transitional Programme and all the additional discussions around it, which are printed in the Pathfinder edition, should be put on the agenda of the EC, the NC and all the branches.

Comradely

JM

31. JOHN, (SEPTEMBER 25, 2008)

Comrades,

There has still not been a clear answer given by comrade Mark (or BL and AR) to the very concrete question being put forward in this specific instance. The crux of the question is the following: should MV run for shop steward, and if so on what basis? It has been suggested that a post-contract leaflet giving our analysis be produced, making our ideas known to those who would be electing him.

I understand that comrade MV has been very busy and am sure he will send his thoughts soon.

As for comrades Bill and Ann they simply say this in response to this proposal: “We thought the way Brad handled the question of Mark issuing a flyer in his ‘Just one worker’ segment of his contribution was a good one. In our opinion, there is not just one way to deal with every situation.”

Yes, there is “not just one way to deal with every situation.” Every concrete situation has this or that difference which we must take into account. However, there is in fact a way that the WIL and the IMT deal with this kind of situation, as outlined in our organizational documents. The point of having a worked out policy, as outlined in the Work in the TUs document, is to clearly lay out our basic approach to these kinds of questions.

As for comrade Brad’s “Just one worker” contribution. Here is what he said:

“‘Just one worker’

“If we are still after tiny numbers of the most active and class-conscious working class people, the advanced workers, then why is a leaflet with radical demands even necessary? Leaflets are for the broad mass, while one-on-one discussions and paper sales are more appropriate for our objectives. We don’t need to cast about, in general, for advanced workers; they will already be close at hand. In the current trade union environment the ‘one worker’ will be with us in the conduct of the basic trade union struggle that has organically grown up out of the current demands of the membership. The ‘one worker’ will be on the bargaining committee, and involved in other caucuses where we will have an opportunity to get some face time This person will carry on a discussion with us, and be won to our ideas, without our having to broadcast the correct demands to the whole membership. The ‘one worker’ will be the most active, ‘we’ will be the most active (hopefully!) and a fruitful collaboration will take place. After working with us in the real struggle the most militant unionists can then read the paper, visit the website, and come to meetings; if they agree with our program, strategy, tactics, then they can help raise our stature with the rest of the union membership. It’s a simple process of natural selection, and it has an added bonus of not setting you up as a target with the union officialdom prematurely.”

I appreciate comrade Brad’s contribution to this discussion. Comrades should feel comfortable in raising their ideas and differences. However, other comrades have a right to raise their disagreements with what is said. As a result of these exchanges, we can all raise our political level and better understand the questions under discussion. That being said, I think comrade Brad’s contribution is also “upside down” in approach and does not at all reflect the methods and traditions of the WIL / IMT. Here are a few examples why I believe this to be the case:

“If we are still after tiny numbers of the most active and class-conscious working class people, the advanced workers, then why is a leaflet with radical demands even necessary? Leaflets are for the broad mass, while one-on-one discussions and paper sales are more appropriate for our objectives.”

Is this really our position? That leaflets are only for the “broad mass”? This is a one-sided and mechanical position in my opinion. In reality, leaflets can be aimed at thousands of people or at a few dozen. How many leaflets have we produced that are aimed at tens of thousands of people? How many copies of our leaflets have we ever produced? Our aim at this stage is to connect with the ones and twos on specific issues. Our leaflets, even our more agitational leaflets, usually contain elements of propaganda, an attempt to attract people to the WIL and the IMT’s program, perspectives, and analysis. At this stage, we usually only produce a few hundred of each leaflet in each city we work in, if that many. Even for major interventions, a couple thousand leaflets or a few more is about the most I can remember producing. In the future we must produce tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of leaflets. But the fact is, at this stage, we have produced many leaflets on a wide variety of issues, often in small quantities, but always seeking to connect with the “ones and twos.”

For example, the current economic crisis and bail out. We need to intervene in the many demonstrations that are spontaneously arising across the country, as thousands of people react to the effect the crisis is having on their lives. This is an opportunity for us to connect with them. We cannot wait for the next issue of the paper to come out or rely only on one-on-one discussions with people. This is where a leaflet comes in, even if it only gets handed out to 50 people who attend an emergency protest at the local Federal Reserve building. The goal is to find the one or two who really agrees with us and wants to learn more.

Comrade BF says: “We don’t need to cast about, in general, for advanced workers; they will already be close at hand. In the current trade union environment the ‘one worker’ will be with us in the conduct of the basic trade union struggle that has organically grown up out of the current demands of the membership. The ‘one worker’ will be on the bargaining committee, and involved in other caucuses where we will have an opportunity to get some face time This person will carry on a discussion with us, and be won to our ideas, without our having to broadcast the correct demands to the whole membership. The ‘one worker’ will be the most active, ‘we’ will be the most active (hopefully!) and a fruitful collaboration will take place.”

It is great to have such confidence in our ability to find the best contacts, and this must always be our goal. But do we really already have as many close contacts / advanced workers as we can handle that we “don’t need to cast about, in general” for them? Yes, we have some close contacts and we have many loose contacts. But I would gladly trade some of the loose ones for more advanced workers, for whom we we must always be on the lookout. Paper sales, public events, interventions, leaflets, one-on-one discussions, etc. are all methods we use to find advanced workers in all kinds of places: from the unions to the immigrant rights, anti-war and Latin America solidarity movements and beyond. There is no simple way to finding the “ones and twos”. But we must be bold and make our ideas known without being hysterical.

It is not necessarily the case that the “one worker” is to be found on the bargaining committee or some other union caucus, or that he or she is necessarily the most active. The “one worker” may well be someone who has a lot of ideas and questions and concerns in his or her head, but has not yet moved into action. A leaflet may well draw him or her out and into contact with us. A leaflet can help us find these and other workers. How will people know where to find us if we are not open about who we are and what we fight for?

Comrade BF continues: “After working with us in the real struggle the most militant unionists can then read the paper, visit the website, and come to meetings; if they agree with our program, strategy, tactics, then they can help raise our stature with the rest of the union membership. It’s a simple process of natural selection, and it has an added bonus of not setting you up as a target with the union officialdom prematurely.”

Yes, workers in struggle will be far more politicized and open to more radical ideas. But is it the case that our approach is that only after a real struggle, the militant unionists can then read the paper, visit the website, and come to meetings? Is it our approach that we should conceal our ideas from the membership in order not to be “prematurely” set up as a target by the union leaders?

This is most definitely not an approach that will allow us to build up support and win members form the union on the basis of our ideas. It is most definitely not the approach outlined in the Work in the TUs document, and quite simply, it is not the approach of the IMT.

So is this really the comrades’ position in relation to whether or not comrade MV should stand for shop steward, and if so, on what basis he should stand? In order that we can all understand the issues more clearly, it would be very helpful if a much more clear answer in relation to this concrete situation and comrade Tom’s proposals could be provided by the comrades.

Should we produce a post-contract leaflet presenting our analysis? Yes or no? Should MV run as a shop steward, and if so, on what basis?

Comradely,

JP

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