A Strategic Orientation for Communist Labor Organizing
The following document was drafted by CounterPower's Labor Committee, and approved by a vote of our Coordinating Council (CC) on December 14, 2023.
The central task facing communist labor militants in the U.S. is two-fold: (a) to lay the groundwork for a fighting communist party linked to the masses of workers and oppressed peoples through the construction of a pre-party cadre organization rooted in workplaces and neighborhoods, and (b) to rebuild (or build anew) labor unions as fighting mass organizations of the working class, culminating in the formation of a revolutionary labor federation.
Labor unions are mass organizations formed by workers to wage class struggle against capital and the capitalist state. Unions are primarily defensive organizations, through which workers repel the attacks of the bosses and their state and fight to win material improvements in the working and living conditions of the people. The only barrier to joining a union should be one's membership in the working class, and recognition of the principle of class struggle. Labor unions alone will not bring about a socialist revolution and the transition to communism. To the contrary, left to their own devices, unions display a propensity to avoid broader social questions so crucial to workers' self-emancipation. Therefore, an organic link must be forged between labor unions and the communist party (or pre-party organization) to cultivate within the labor movement a proletarian class standpoint and combative orientation. On this basis, the labor movement can be transformed into a leading contingent of the people's revolutionary united front. As Karl Marx emphasized, labor unions "must now learn to act deliberately as organizing centers of the working class in the broad interest of its complete emancipation." With the development of a revolutionary situation, and arising from the workers' assemblies, stewards' councils, and strike committees of the labor movement, communists can agitate for the creation of workers' councils as leading organs of proletarian political power and the main instruments through which workers' control of the economy will be realized.
Having established a concentration within key strategic industries, and earning the trust of our fellow workers on the shop floor through accompaniment and participation in workplace and industrial struggles, communists must organize and consolidate a militant proletarian tendency. Uniting the most progressive elements of the labor movement around a common program, the development of this tendency necessarily begins with the formation of rank-and-file caucuses within the established unions. Within a particular union, the aim of a caucus should be to win the union's membership to a program of proletarian class struggle and self-emancipation, to transform the organizational culture and practice of the union in accordance with democratic principles, and to wage militant workplace and community struggles when the union leadership is unwilling or unable to do so, culminating in the caucus challenging and overthrowing the corrupt, bureaucratic, and reactionary misleadership of the union. In unorganized industries, the task of communists must be to build labor unions as organs of proletarian class struggle from the outset, though the eventual formation of a caucus may nonetheless prove necessary once the union is enmeshed within capitalist-imperialism's bureaucratic system of labor-management relations. In situations where members of a rank-and-file caucus are expelled en masse from a union but retain a mass base of support, it may be necessary to form an independent union, as was the case with the formation of the communist-led National Miners' Union (NMU) in 1928.
Emerging from the militant proletarian tendency, and proceeding in parallel with the growth and development of the organized communist movement, our labor work must aim for the eventual creation of a revolutionary labor federation to serve as a nationwide coordinating center for militant class-struggle unionism, and from which a movement for workers' councils could eventually emerge. This federation must give rise to a genuinely progressive alternative to the AFL-CIO and CTW-SOC, uniting independent unions with the revolutionary opposition groups operating within the establishment unions. While not without problems, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Trade Union Educational League (TUEL), and Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) are important historical reference points for this project. Learning from the twentieth century, we must keep in mind that the conditions for the founding of such a federation will take time, and the process should not be rushed: it will require extensive agitational and educational work within the official labor movement, experimentation and accumulation of experience with building and leading rank-and-file caucuses and independent unions, a radical transformation of the class consciousness of U.S. workers, and the reconstruction of a revolutionary communist movement.
Given the necessity of breaking with the ideological hegemony exercised over the working class in general and the labor movement in particular by the imperialist duopoly (i.e. the Democrats and Republicans), it may prove strategic—especially at the local and state levels—for communists to work in coalition with other progressive forces to build an independent electoral organization to serve as an instrument for the political recomposition of the working class and for winning material improvements in the working and living conditions of the masses. This electoral organization would function as a united front operating within the camp of the class enemy, amalgamating the progressive elements of the labor movement, the mass organizations of the oppressed and exploited, and the organized communist movement in an alliance against the imperialist bourgeoisie. However, under no circumstances should the role and function of this electoral organization be confused with that of a fighting communist party or pre-party organization: within any united front, it is of the utmost importance for communists to maintain their political independence, ideological and programmatic unity, and freedom of action in order to continue the struggle to win the masses of workers and oppressed peoples to the ideology and program of communism. It deserves repeating that there is no electoral road to communism. The socialist revolution will be unleashed only through an uprising of the masses that smashes the capitalist state and establishes a system of revolutionary people's power in its place.
Whenever the militants of a fighting communist party or pre-party organization achieve a concentration of three or more cadre within the same workplace or mass organization (such as a local union, rank-and-file caucus, or central labor council), they should immediately establish a communist cluster. Within their specific area of operation, members of this cluster should formulate operational and tactical plans, uphold the mass perspective and apply the mass line method of leadership, ensure the effective coordination of their mass work, and engage in the practice of criticism, self-criticism, and summation. Once established in multiple workplaces and industries, the party or pre-party organization could facilitate the coordination of communist clusters on an industrial and cross-industrial basis through a labor-specific sector committee, and on a territorial basis for sector-specific or multi-sector actions and campaigns through the local branch or central leadership of the organization.