April 24, 2024

President Joe Biden addresses UAW members walking a picket line at the GM Willow Run Distribution Center, Tuesday, September 26, 2023, in Belleville, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Introduction

It has been almost seven weeks since the UAW announced its “Stand Up” strike. In that time, we have witnessed five expansions of the strike. The first took place on September 22nd and saw over 5,000 workers join the strike. The second occurred on September 29th, with an additional 7,000 workers going on strike. The third expansion happened on October 11th when all 9,000 auto workers in a Ford plant in KY walked out. The fourth and fifth occurred on October 23rd and 24th respectively when a combined 11,800 workers joined the strike. The initial strike involved 13,000 workers, constituting just under 9% of the total union. With the first expansion, this number increased to 18,000, or about 12%. The second expansion raised it to 25,000, representing 17% of all UAW auto workers, and the third to 34,000, or 23%. With the two most recent strikes, the number of striking auto workers is now 45,800 (31%). This means that less than a third of the union is on strike right now, while over 97% of the union is willing to strike. By only involving a minority of the workers in the strike, the UAW is squandering the militant energy of its members and jeopardizing the success of the entire strike. Even worse, everything the UAW has done so far has further demonstrated its commitment to business unionism and its complete submission to the capitalist class and their political parties.

Fain, Friend of Ford

When Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, announced the second expansion he “spared” Ford and their plants from further strikes. “We still have serious issues to work through, but we do want to recognize that Ford is showing that they’re serious about reaching a deal. At GM and Stellantis, it’s a different story. [Record profits] have not been shared fairly, in my view, with the workers,” said Fain. This is a thorough display of a lack of class consciousness by a supposed militant trade unionist. This class collaborationist thinking denies the fundamental class antagonism between all workers and all capitalists. It obscures the fact that the struggle of the workers is not just with the individual capitalists who exploit them but with the entire class that those capitalists constitute; the bourgeoisie. 

The struggle of the working class cannot be confined merely to the struggle for better wages, that is to say, better terms under which it sells its labor. This is because even if we were to secure relatively good terms, by leaving the power in the hands of the capitalist class and its state, we make these gains only temporary. The only way to make our hard-fought gains permanent is through the seizing of state power and the construction of socialism-communism.   

But to the yellow trade unionists, the fight is not against an entire class but only against those who do not offer a “fair” deal. Through comments like this, Fain is attempting to promote the idea that Ford is making progress towards a deal where profits are “shared fairly.” 

Putting aside the vagueness inherent to such a statement, it presupposes and fails to challenge the legitimacy of the wage system. Profits are nothing more than the surplus value that capitalists extract from the labor of the working class. With every part they manufacture, car they assemble, and labor that they do, the autoworkers create all of the profit for GM, Ford, and Stellantis. In short, labor power is the ultimate source of profit. So regardless of whatever propaganda they spew, the capitalists do not create value instead they merely appropriate it. The workers at GM, Stallantis, and yes Mr. Fain, even Ford, are the sole originators of all of that profit. Therefore, the only “fair” deal is one where all the profits belong to the working class as a whole. A “deal” that can only be obtained through an unrelenting, militant struggle against the entire capitalist class. Without sparing those who are “serious about reaching an agreement.”  

Auto Workers Betrayed to the Bourgeois Parties

In all this, the two major capitalist parties are attempting to secure the support of the workers, to bring them under their control. With the approaching bourgeois elections, we are seeing the intensification of this process. The UAW and Fain are active participants in this process that aims to turn the auto workers into electoral clientele. When expanding the strike the first time, Fain extended an invitation to President Joe Biden to join the picket line. “We invite and encourage everyone who supports our cause to join us on the picket line.” said Fain “From our friends and families, all the way up to the President of the United States, we invite you to join us in our fight. The way you can help is to build our movement and show the companies that the public stands with us and stands with our elected national negotiators.” Once again, the UAW further exposes its yellow trade unionist character. 

Neither the Democratic Party nor Biden are on the side of the workers. In 2022, GM donated $703,474 to the Democrats which amounts to 57.54% of their total contributions to congressional candidates. Ford donated $366,839 (51.18%) while Stellantis donated $27,051 (61.39%). A party that is financed by the very monopolies that workers are fighting against, a party that is a revolving door for CEOs and lobbyists, can never be a working-class party. The fact that these capitalists donate to it is a testament to the fact that they see their interests represented in that party. Biden himself has taken $4,401 from the ‘The Big Three’ in 2022 alone. Not to mention the 1.62 billion dollars received for his presidential campaign in 2020. The majority (61.02%) came from “large contributions” or contributions over $200. When a candidate and their party are so thoroughly funded by the capitalist class, there is no way for either to be considered to be on the side of the workers. 

While the funding alone is incriminating enough, it is the actions of the Democrats and the Biden administration that confirm them to be anti-worker. We must not forget the role played by Biden in killing the railroad workers’ strike in service to the railroad monopolies specifically and the capitalist class generally. The workers in this industry were forced to contend with deteriorating infrastructure, notably prolonged work hours, absence of sick leave, and unpredictable schedules that required them to be “on call”, denying them even the right to sufficient rest. It is these conditions that animated the workers to struggle for a better contract and be willing to strike to get it. Biden’s Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, was sent in to ensure that an agreement was reached to prevent a strike. When it was clear that a strike was unavoidable, owing to the monopolies’ refusing to meet the justified demands of the workers, the Democrats, hand-in-hand with the Republicans, passed a bill imposing a previously rejected contract and thereby outlawing a strike by the railroad workers. 

The anti-worker character of the Democratic Party is demonstrated further in their funding of imperialist wars. An example is when Biden played a key role in pushing for a war against the former Yugoslavia during Cliton’s administration. NATO intervention took the form of a brutal campaign that saw deliberate bombings on civilian targets or targets where civilian targets were certain to be killed. In addition to traditional munitions, NATO bombers used rounds with depleted uranium cores. As a result, Serbia has been struggling with abnormally high rates of cancer. In 2021, Serbia led Europe in cancer deaths with a mortality rate of 151.7 per 100,000. This would not be the last time that Biden supported an imperialist war. He would go on, in 2002, to vote for the war in Iraq. In 2008, Opinion Research Business estimated that about 1.12 million people were killed in the Iraq war. This figure has, without a doubt, increased in the 15 years since this report. Figures like these are a chilling reminder that in the wars of the ruling class, it is the working class that pays the ultimate price. 

Fain’s and the UAW’s invitation of Biden to the picket line cannot be labeled as anything but an insult and a betrayal. The workers must not allow themselves to be used as political pawns. They must struggle to sever all ties to the political parties of their class enemy. Only a union that is class-oriented and independent can truly be a consistent fighter. Ties like these endanger the success of the strike since they divide the workers along the lines of the two parties. Instead of being united as one class against the ruling class, the workers will be asked to subordinate and substitute their interests with those of the specific capitalists represented by one or the other party. 

Effects of Yellow Unionism Bolsters Trump and the Republican Party

 Only a week after Biden spoke at the rally, Trump made his own appearance speaking to auto workers in Detroit. At the rally Trump attempted to capitalize on the discontent that yellow unionism creates by saying “The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump,” Similar to Biden, Trump is trying to position himself as the champion of the people. Of course, he is correct that the workers are being sold out to the capitalists but Trump, like Biden, represents the interests of the capitalist class. Even worse, Trump is no lackey but a member of the bourgeoisie himself. He has amassed billions in personal wealth from his various hotels and other businesses. All off the backs of millions of workers. 

How can a capitalist ever be a champion of the working class? It’s impossible and one only needs to look at Trump’s record of union busting. In 2016, when the housekeeping staff in his Las Vegas hotel voted to unionize, Trump refused to recognize and bargain with the union. So bad was his stonewalling that the NLRB, a tool of the bourgeoisie that oversees labor disputes, had to force him to the bargaining table. The interests that Trump represents are the same class interests that Biden represents, those of the bourgeoisie.

Under the leadership of Fain, UAW’s attitude toward Trump has been the exact opposite of its attitude toward Biden. When asked if he was attending Trump’s event, Fain said that there was “no point” in attending because he did not think Trump had “any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for.” He continued by saying that the former president “serves a billionaire class and that’s what’s wrong with this country.” This is undoubtedly the correct attitude to have towards the opportunistic political maneuverings of a bourgeois politician but these words ring hollow when just the week prior Biden, another servant of the bourgeoisie, was personally invited to the picket line by the very person who said these words. 

What class was Biden serving when he imposed a rejected contract on the railroad workers? Whose interests were served when a railroad strike was outlawed? What class suffered when bombs were dropped on Yugoslavia? The unfortunate fact is that these words are nothing more than the opportunistic condemnation of one side of the capitalist class as anti-worker in favor of cozying up to the other side which is no less anti-worker. In this way, it is a betrayal of the workers whose interests could never find expression in either party. 

When speaking about Trump’s anti-worker character, Fain said “All you have to do is look at his track record — his track record speaks for itself.” Again, a completely true statement. Trump’s record exposes him as thoroughly anti-worker but what about Biden’s record? A record of being funded by the capitalist class, of siding with the monopolies over the workers, of promoting imperialist wars that kill millions of workers, is the record of an enemy of the working class, not its ally. 

The Communist Attitude Towards Unions vs Social Democratic Cheer-Leading

Something that has been brought to the surface by the strike is the uncritical, knee-jerk support that social democracy inevitably shores up from the reinvigoration of the trade union movement, often overlooking their business union character. Many are star-struck by the empty pseudo-class conscious words of the union about how “historic” the strikes are and are unable to see past them. They focus on the unprecedented nature of the strike but do not analyze its strategy objectively, specifically its minimized economic impact on the bosses and the precarious position it puts workers in. 

Objectively, this strike strategy jeopardizes the victory of the strike which harms the working class movement. Others do bring up the “drawbacks” but then quickly buy into the rhetoric the union uses to justify its strategy. They’ll admit that the strike strategy is “disappointing” to workers who are ready and willing to strike yet are asked to continue to work under an expired contract but then they go on to say that this is justified because the “possibility” of them being called to strike is still there. “It is a historic display of workers’ power” they’ll say when in reality the workers are being held back from displaying their real power. 

It is from such positions that we see criticisms that our position is akin to attacking the workers, condemning the strike, or even splitting the union. Nothing could be further from the truth. The CWPUSA unequivocally stands by the worker’s decision to strike and from the very beginning has promoted the necessity of a full strike. Far from attacking the workers, the CWPUSA has been calling for, keeping in mind the precarious positions continuing to work puts them in, a full strike of all UAW auto workers. 

Only someone deeply confused could mistake a call for a total strike for a condemnation of striking at all. Of course, our support for the striking workers does not mean that we must tail the social democratic, yellow union leadership. Our unrelenting struggle against business unionism and social democracy in all its manifestations is what gets us accused of “splitting the union”. The fact is that we are not calling for a split in the union at all. To criticize the leadership is not the same as calling for workers to disaffiliate or leave the UAW. 

The work of communists within the reactionary trade unions is a necessity for the advancement of the class struggle. But we cannot go into these unions and begin tailing the social democratic leadership as this would be bowing to spontaneity. To advocate for “peace” between the left wing and right-wing, between the communists and the social democrats, is to advocate for the communists to give the social democrats free reign to betray and mislead the workers. It would be making the communists complicit in the selling out of the working class. This idea is erroneous because the very purpose of working within the reactionary trade unions is to agitate among the workers concentrated in them. 

It is the task of communists to organize revolutionary groups within the reactionary trade unions, working unceasingly for a policy of class struggle against class collaboration. Only in this way can workers be led in an effective struggle against the capitalist class and union bureaucracy. It is the responsibility of the communists, as the advanced detachment of the working class, to educate and guide the unions. In the absence of a party to , the CWPUSA is working tirelessly to analyze these struggles, provide clear communist positions, and organize the working class around these positions. 

It might be argued that whatever the correctness of the communist ideological-political struggle within the unions, that such a policy must be suspended during times of struggle, during a strike. William Z. Foster, the communist and militant trade unionist, correctly identified this as a mistaken idea to be struggled against. 

In his work “Strike Strategy”, Foster writes:

“First, let us dispel the illusion that the left wing cannot and must not fight the right wing during strikes. There are some left-wingers who, victims of this illusion, claim that “the workers cannot fight on two fronts at the same time”; that is against the employers and the right-wing simultaneously. Hence, when they fight the employers they refuse to struggle against the reactionary bureaucracy, and vice versa.

These workers make the serious mistake of not realizing that the employers and the right-wing constitute pretty much one front against the rebellious masses of workers and the organized left wing. If there are two fronts, they are two fronts of the employers’ forces. In the needle trades, for example, when the left-wing gets into a violent clash with the reactionary officialdom the latter never fails to call the employers to their support in blacklisting militant workers.” 

As Foster notes, struggling against the reactionary union leadership is necessary as this is just another aspect of the struggle against the bosses. This is because yellow trade unionists, like Fain and his administration, are the foot soldiers of the bosses within the working class camp whose support the bosses enjoy. 

In the same work, Foster writes:

“And by the same token, when strikes take place, the employers may always depend upon the active support of the right-wing, bureaucrats against the “unreasonable” demands of the masses. Indeed, it is during strikes that the right wing is most dangerous in its treachery and it is exactly then that it has to be fought most skillfully and resolutely. The treason of Thomas and others in the British general strike demonstrates this fact. Failure to fight the right wing during strikes amounts to giving the reactionaries a free hand to betray the workers.”

This is exactly what a policy of “peace” would result in; “giving reactionaries a free hand to betray the workers”. It bears mentioning that the situation has changed much since Foster wrote the above but only for the worse which makes this analysis all that more correct. The UAW’s history, its rise as a militant communist-led union, and its fall into business unionism are beyond the scope of this article (though we plan to take it up in the near future) but even the recent history of the union exposes its class character. 

The joint capitalist-union activities programs that brought the union into the management of the workers; a veritable second human resources department, the practice of appointing the leadership of these joint programs that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and the bureaucratic apparatus that ignored and circumvented the very constitution of the UAW, are just some of the examples of this recent history. The result of over 80 years of degeneration.  

Conclusion 

The struggle of the working class for better wages and better conditions of work, that is to say, the trade union struggle, is an important aspect of class struggle but it is just that, a part. We must not confuse the part for the whole, the means for the end. The working class cannot and must not confine itself to this one part as doing so is a dead end. The very laws of capitalist development demonstrate the insufficiency of such a form of struggle. The phenomenon of the concentration and centralization of capital, the merger and acquisition of businesses, accompanied by closures, layoffs, etc., are inherent to capitalism, especially during its regular periods of crisis. It conforms to the goals of competitiveness, capitalist development, investments, to the capitalist mode of production in general. This cannot be dealt with in its context, except when the working class takes the factories, all the keys to the economy and political power from the hands of the bourgeoisie. This is only possible if there exists a strong communist party that educates and guides the working class and its allies, leading it toward the final battle for state power. 

The labor movement, knowingly or unknowingly, challenges capitalist power. Inherent to the confrontations of the workers against the bosses is the questioning of the very power of the capitalist class. Only under the guidance of the communist party can these struggles take on a conscious character. Under the party’s leadership and as they confront the bosses, the workers are brought to question the legitimacy of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, the social character of production, and the private nature of its appropriation. But when the labor movement, either through the absence of a communist party or the hegemony of social democracy within it, is made to not challenge this power it is turned into another pillar of capitalist power. The end result of this process is the massive yellow trade unions that are tied intimately with the bourgeois parties and the state. 

Within these conditions, the workers bear witness to the most naked treachery where those who claim to represent their interests work hand in hand with the bosses to sell them concessionary contracts. This leads to pessimism and disappointment within the labor struggle which can only be remedied by raising the political consciousness of the workers. This necessitates a fierce ideological struggle against the reactionary trade union leadership which requires explaining the mechanism of capitalist exploitation and the root cause of the crisis. It cannot be limited to minimum demands or exposition of the specific enemies and problems alone but must agitate for the socialist revolution. We must present demands that go completely against the interests of the companies, that conflict with the profits of the capitalist and cede not even an inch in our advance.

The cooperation between the yellow unions, the bourgeois state, and the monopolies that we are seeing underscores the necessity of a truly, class-oriented, independent working-class party, a Communist Party. Only through the building of such a party can the working class be rid of the illnesses of yellow trade unionism, class collaborationism, and reformism. The mistakes and betrayals that are occurring throughout the labor movement are nothing more than manifestations of these opportunist trends. With the losing strategy of the “stand up” strike, the “sparing” of Ford, and the invitation of the anti-worker, Biden only being the most recent example. Only through a Communist Party can the rank-and-file workers within the yellow unions wage an effective struggle against their class collaborationist leadership, for the creation of militant, class-oriented trade unions. Unions that will always actively fight for the workers’ interests beyond mere reforms and will, under the leadership of the Party, fight for the liberation of all the exploited classes.