The role of Communists in union organizing

BY:Ethan Young| March 14, 2022
The role of Communists in union organizing


Decades of wage stagnation, little to no benefits, work weeks well above 40 hours, increasing housing costs, drastically declining standards of living, and plummeting life expectancy rates have all led working people across the United States to rethink having a union at their workplaces.

Two years of the pandemic have woken up millions of people around the world to how indifferent their employers, and governments, are to every facet of their lives. We liberally apply the label “hero” to every worker that we have realized are integral to society now, but scoff at the idea of compensating them appropriately for their heroism.

Euphemistically, this is an “appreciation shortage,” but in reality it is the culmination of years of degrading the living standards of everyone from bus drivers to doctors — a wage shortage. However, working people are reengaging with organized labor to address one of the most pressing issues of our time. On the heels of “Striketober” (thousands of workers went out on strike across the U.S. in late Fall of 2021), workers at over 88 Starbucks stores have demanded the recognition of their union.

Labor unions, as we know them, originated in the highly skilled trades of workers performing jobs in factories at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Over the past 200 years, these trade unions have expanded and diversified their ranks to represent most skills at any given workplace in any given industry. Unions basically serve to bind a group of working people together so that they are strong enough to stand up and make demands from, and negotiate with, their employer.

Communists in unions

This organized, relatively class-conscious, mass of working-class people have the ability to place extreme pressure on the economy and government to gain advances for working people across the country. The Communist Party states:

We recognize that victory relies not on slogans, gimmicks, or conspiracies, but on the understanding of millions won in hard struggles over real issues, an understanding that grows into full class and socialist consciousness. Such consciousness cannot develop as a result of spontaneous struggle alone, but must be combined with explicitly Marxist-Leninist organization and education, tested and proved in struggle.

Thus, under the right leadership, labor unions can play a revolutionary role in people’s lives. Unfortunately, the opposite is true when unprincipled and corrupt leaders control labor unions.

The history of the past hundred years shows us what labor looks like when people dedicated to socialism steer the ship. Unions in Germany and Austria fought fervently against the rise of fascism. In Spain, unions mobilized their members to take up arms and defend democracy against a fascist coup. Cuban unions helped the urban movement bring right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista down during the uprising, and now integrally serve to organize society and participate in the democratic process.

During the protests in Cuba in summer 2021, when Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel called on supporters of the revolution to take to the streets, many Cubans immediately went to their places of work to organize with their coworkers to support the revolution. In France, unions directed by the Communist Party of France (PCF) led a general strike (a strike in which all workers, union or not, are called on to stop working) in May 1968, which forced President Charles de Gaulle and his government to flee Paris. De Gaulle subsequently called the PCF, from the safety of an air force base in Germany, and agreed to hold new elections.

Reactionary unionism

However, there are catastrophic instances in which unions can play reactionary roles in history. During socialist Salvador Allende’s presidency in Chile, the CIA funneled over $8 million to a wide array of organizations — including $2 million to the truckers union in exchange for their refusal to deliver goods to urban centers throughout Chile. This strike against urban Chile brought down Allende’s government in a violent fascist coup, sponsored by the U.S., that unleashed a 20-year brutal dictatorship on the Chilean people.

This is why we believe that the role of the Communist Party is to guide the struggle of the working class to its ultimate aim of winning working-class political power and socialism. In the stages of struggle that lead to that ultimate aim, the Communist Party combines political, economic, organizational, and ideological struggle, the exact nature of which changes along with changes in the struggles and in the balance of power. The role of the Party during each stage of struggle leading up to socialism is to participate in the struggles of the here-and-now where millions of people are, agitate for the next phase of struggle, and advocate for socialism, thus linking activism in the struggles of the present with preparation for the struggles of the future.

We encourage Party members in organizing drives to always do the following:

Be a good coworker: Work efficiently, pick up the slack for coworkers — not management. Aim to be recognized as a good worker by coworkers and management, but don’t suck up to management.

Prepare to be a natural leader at work through your labor, build relationships with coworkers, remember their interests, and know work rules.

Demonstrate knowledge of rights, including sick-leave rules, FMLA, etc.

We encourage Party members in established unions to:

volunteer for roles;
run in elections;
provide critical views, analysis, and experience;
always act in solidarity with coworkers;
show up to union meetings;
get involved in the labor community;
give the union “leads” to unorganized workers who want to be organized; and
educate coworkers.

We encourage Party members in solidarity with labor actions to:

follow union leadership regarding tactics and strategy;
perform auxiliary work if requested;
put immediate struggle above everything;
don’t proselytize;
do work the union cannot do; and
bring in allies and build networks.

This article is an expansion of a presentation made for the Anna Hass Morgan Club, Ohio CPUSA, in Feb. 2022.
Images:  YCL Chicago; French general strike in 1968, Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).



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