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Albert Gates

The Recent Strike Struggles and
the Political Tasks of American Labor

(5 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 31, 5 August 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

THE first post-war wave of labor struggles has already taken place. A second is now in its first stages. These struggles surpass the ordinary “bread and butter’’ strikes of earlier years. The cause for these socially heightened labor struggles is found in the present character of United States capitalism.

Of the two real victors in the War, the United States and Russia, the former is by far the strongest economically and militarily. Its international political strength, while dependent upon its economic power, is difficult to ascertain, for the world political struggle within the “United Nations” is still in its early stages. The aim of American capitalism, however, is frankly clear. It seeks nothing less than the economic, political, and therefore, military domination of the world.

Capitalism’s Great Difficulty

The vast expansion of American industry and production makes mandatory the realization of these aims for the future existence of U.S. imperialism. American capitalism cannot produce profitably, nor continue expansion which is inherent in capitalist production, on the basis of its domestic market, or even by merely retaining its pre-war world markets. The new and vast expansion of industry and production which took place during the war to meet the military needs of the “United Nations,” makes it impossible to carry on the economy on pre-war levels, even those of the “prosperity period” of the ’20’s. This would mean a decline of profits for the capitalist class as a whole, chaos for many segments of that class, mass unemployment and the reduction of the standard of living of all the people. Herein lie the great inescapable difficulties for American capitalism.

But the great power of U.S. imperialism rests upon shaky foundations. Europe is a devastated continent whose peoples are restless, hungry and poverty-stricken. South America, more clearly under the domination of U.S. capitalism, is slowly reviving its old anti-imperialist struggle against the “Yankee dollar.” Asia and the Far East have emerged from the war with a new will to struggle for national independence. The collapse of world economy makes the prospects of recovery upon a capitalist profit basis quite dim.

The long range plan of American imperialism rests on two hopes: that it can achieve its world aim based upon the chaos and weakness of Europe and Asia; and that it can win the support of the working class at home through “bribing” it with the drippings from super-profits of imperialist exploitation. But the political factors of European and colonial discontent plus the increasing maturity of the American working class challenges this grandiose perspective of U.S. Imperialism.

Burden of Reconversion

During this post-war period the monopoly capitalists with the aid of their government put the burden of reconversion upon the shoulders of the working class. Since the relatively high war wages of the workers were primarily due to long hours of work, overtime and double-time, the end of war production meant an immediate cut in wages and a sharp decline in the standard of living. Coupled with the steadily rising cost of living it means that the entire burden of re-conversion fell on the people at large.

Capitalism could have weathered the post-war period on this basis alone, but it had other sources of strength. These other sources were political. Through its control of government, monopoly capitalism passed legislation guaranteeing profits at a high wartime level, rebates on paid taxes, elimination of price control, limitation of housing construction, etc. These advantages give American capitalism strength to pursue its world aims.

In what sense have recent labor struggles differed from previous ones? This time, the labor movement, spearheaded by the United Automobile Workers Union (CIO), was compelled to strike for something more than wages and hours. The UAW touched the very foundations of capitalist property relations when it demanded the right to examine the books of the company, to achieve a wage increase out of the profits of the company, without a rise in prices. If the conservative labor leaders (Green, Murray, Lewis) did not understand the real significance of the GM Program the most important section of the monopoly capitalist class did.

Capitalists Showed Alarm

The big capitalists responded to the UAW demands in the GM strike with alarm, denouncing the auto workers as enemies of free enterprise, property rights, production and progress. In contrast to most labor leaders, the capitalists exhibit an acute class consciousness.

This has been demonstrated anew in the present struggle on the price front in which the auto workers have proposed to the labor movement a program of action, which, if coupled with the GM Program, can win a significant victory over the profiteers.

But here again the top leadership of the CIO has watered down the UAW program in favor of reliance on the Truman administration and a host of so-called “friends of labor” in Congress. In the field of political action, which is the real hope of the working class, the leadership of the union movement reveals a lack of consciousness which results in a reactionary policy.

A Militant Working Class

On the economic front, the American working class is well organized and fiercely militant. The union movement in this country has become the most powerful in the world. Strike struggles in the United States are always vigorously prosecuted. American workers do not hesitate to take to the streets to defend themselves. If this wonderful militancy in economic struggle were joined to politically independent action, the future of the American working class would be more secure.

The amazing contradiction in the class struggle is the enormous gulf which separates the high level of economic struggles from the backward political character of the labor movement. In recent years there has been a stirring in the rank and file whose understanding is superior to an officialdom which has a vested interest in “business unionism.” The formation of the PAC was not merely an effort by the CIO to organize labor support for the Democratic Party; it was also a measure to forestall some form of independent political action.

But it is becoming clear to many workers that unless their economic struggles are joined to progressive political struggles, they are always severely handicapped and often defeated by reactionary legislation.

The political conservatism of the American labor movement is breaking down. Whereas early American capitalism gave the workers a rising standard of living because of its expansion of industrial productivity, this is no longer possible for a declining capitalism. In the immediate future, the monopolists Will attempt to “bribe” the working class by super-profits from international expansion and exploitation. Already it seeks support from labor for its imperialist aims with the excuse that success in its world program will guarantee jobs at home. Thus the American workers are asked to secure a doubtful livelihood at home by agreeing to the exploitation of the peoples of Europe, Asia and South America.

The experiences of the past period show that the workers are not at all inclined to accept this prospect. But the struggle of labor cannot be confined to the factory alone. That is a losing fight. The economic struggles of the workers will have to be joined to political struggles. The fight for “bread and butter” which is the ever-present instigator of the class struggle, catapults the working class into a struggle to control production, wages, prices and conditions of labor, and to fight for legislation to aid the fight on the economic front. The political struggle is inescapable. What is wrong with the politics of the labor movement is its subservience to capitalist politics.

The great task of American labor is to break with capitalism politically: TO HAVE NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO WITH the Democratic and republican parties of big CAPITAL. This conclusion flows logically and necessarily from the whole position of the working class. At present the main impediment to this progressive development of the rank and file of the labor movement is the hard shelled, conservative, capitalist-minded labor officialdom. The first progressive political step by American labor toward independent political action and a labor party will require the breakdown of the conservative influence of this officialdom.

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