Labor takes the lead: a new day in the class struggle
By Gus Hall, in People's Weekly World
25 July 1998
In his report to the meeting of the Communist Party USA National Board, Gus
Hall, the party's national chair, said new developments "force the working
class to rethink its role in what is a new situation." An except from the
This is a new era of class struggle, where the overall setting, context and
conditions are very different from what they were a few decades ago.
In fact, they are so different that the working class has to completely
rethink its strategy, tactics, and demands - and, in a larger sense, its
role in this new situation.
Not to do so would reduce labor to an insignificant player in the great
struggles that are reshaping the political and economic direction of our
Aware of this, the labor movement is changing to meet the new challenges as
the century comes to a close. More and more, our nation's working people
are confronting problems that are altogether new to them with militancy,
courage and creative tactics.
Of course, there are some hitches and unevenness in labor's revitalization
process. Cold War residue lingers in the thinking of some trade unionists.
Class collaboration has a hold on fewer, but still too many labor leaders.
Anti-Communism surfaces once in a great while.
And even some good leaders, accustomed to the old way of doing things, find
it difficult to fight in a new way.
But the main and dominant trend is that millions of trade unionists are
ready to fight, to unite, to put their jobs on the line, to stay out one
day longer than the boss, to dump the ultraright.
In fact, not since the early period of the CIO have we seen such bitter and
militant clashes between the working class and its class enemies.
It is not just one battle, but a whole series of battles. What we see is an
escalating pattern of militant struggles, involving broad sections of
labor, rather than a single battle of one or another sector of labor.
If it were confined to a single sector - no matter how militant the
struggle - our assessment would be quite different, but that is not the
case. The class struggle is broad in scope and gaining in intensity.
One day it's the steelworkers at Ravenswood,
Pa. and Warren, Ohio victoriously battling corporate conglomerates.
Another day it's the Boeing workers.
Last year, the UPS workers routed their corporate enemy and, in so doing,
set a new standard in terms of strike tactics, militancy and outreach. In
Philadelphia, striking transit workers shut down the public transportation
In New York City thousands of building trades workers blocked streets. The
next day hospital workers brought traffic in midtown Manhattan to a
And now the auto strike is shaking the country. Nearly a quarter of a
million GM workers are on the front line of the class struggle.
To see the auto strike as confined to 10,000 auto workers in Flint, or even
to a quarter of a million GM workers nationwide, is to view the strike much
This strike is a pivotal confrontation between the working class and
monopoly capital. Its outcome is sure to leave its mark on the entire
course of the class struggle in our country.
If ever there was a strike in recent memory that brings into bold relief
both the new trends in the global economy and the new framework of the
class struggle, this strike is it. This auto strike is a defining moment
for the entire working class.
At the core of this bitter clash is the issue of jobs. GM wants to
eliminate them by bringing in a whole new family of labor-displacing
technology, by outsourcing to semi-independent suppliers in countries like
Mexico, Brazil, China, Thailand, and the newest preserve of exploitation -
Eastern Europe - and by exhausting speedup, increased workload, and job
The GM workers, on the other hand, are determined to protect their jobs for
themselves and for their children.
The GM strike brings to the surface a longer-term and broader
transformation that is taking place in the way corporations are structured,
do business and exploit workers.
This transformation is global in nature although it develops at a different
pace from country to country.
Step by step, the way in which production is organized is changing under
the impact of the scientific and technological revolution and the new level
of inter-capitalist competition.
The vertically organized corporation - standard for most of the 20th
century - is less and less the dominant form of corporate and industrial
organization as we enter the 21st century. An example is the Ford Motor
At one time, nearly every phase of the production process in the making of
cars was housed under Ford's roof. And most of its assembly and
sub-assembly operations were concentrated in metropolitan Detroit. At the
close of WWII, for example, nearly 100,000 workers were employed at the
giant Rouge plant.
But that is not the case now. Ford, and most corporations, are trimming
their in-house operations to what they call their "core competencies," even
as they merge with rival corporate giants at home and abroad. Meanwhile,
other production tasks are outsourced to an outer ring of low-wage,
sweatshop producers on a regional and global scale.
Decentralization of production
What we end up with is an industrial pyramid, at the top of which sit large
corporate transnational giants who not only ruthlessly exploit workers,
including children not yet in their teens, but also dominate the less
capitalized shops in the rings.
In this new production scheme, the decentralization of production goes hand
in hand with increasing control of all phases of the production process by
the biggest transnational corporations, and accounts for their enormous
All of this is made much easier because of new computer and information
technologies. Such technologies allow corporations to coordinate far-flung
activities, enter and exit markets quickly, alter production designs
rapidly, install just-in-time delivery systems and closely monitor work
performance on the shop floor.
This new form of industrial organization translates into growing income and
racial inequality, widespread impoverishment, ruthless intensification of
labor, more contingent workers and the massive displacement of full-time
Indeed, not since the Great Depression have so many people felt such
What then is needed to preserve and create jobs in these new circumstances?
First of all, the present approach of the labor movement is inadequate.
Major international unions, like the UAW, are pursuing an approach that
slows down, but does not stop, the loss of jobs.
Their strategy is more like an orderly retreat than a direct struggle over
the issue of job preservation and creation.
What adds to the problem is that issues of outsourcing, new technology, and
job loading - in other words the main causes of the job crisis - are pushed
down to the local union level.
This gives a huge advantage to the corporations. And, not surprisingly,
they use it to whipsaw and squeeze concessions from local unions.
No better is the AFL-CIO's approach to the question of jobs. The issue
barely has a place on its agenda. To some degree, the leadership has bought
the spin of Wall Street and the Clinton administration that a booming
economy has put the issue of jobs on the back burner for now.
But the economy is not booming. And even if it were, the present jobs
crisis is a long-term structural problem that operates during all phases of
the economic cycle.
To resolve this crisis in the interest of the working class calls for a
New demands necessary
First of all, new demands that take into account the new economic realities
are necessary. A good starting point is a shorter workweek with no cut in
Some say that the trade union leadership is not ready to fight for shorter
hours. If that is the case, the task is to convince them. There is no other
The new developments in the capitalist economy, and especially the
revolution in science and technology, are forcing the issue of shorter
hours to center stage.
In Europe, shorter hours has been a fundamental demand of the labor
movement for some time and victories have been won.
Our labor movement has some catching up to do. And the broad left in labor
has to help out in this regard.
In addition, we should raise the demand for workers' control over
technology and capital flight, as well as dust off the demand for public
ownership under democratic control of auto and other mass production
Taken together, these demands would shift the cost of corporate
restructuring to where it belongs - the pocketbooks and bank accounts of
the transnational corporations.
Another aspect of any approach to preserving jobs must include a broad
appeal to the entire working class and its allies - and especially the
racially and nationally oppressed communities.
Limited mobilizations of labor and labor's friends will not curb the power
of the transnational corporations.
Because of the new global realities, narrow approaches have defeat
inscribed on them almost from the start. A labor-led, all-people's concept
fits today's situation.
Finally, industry-wide collective bargaining has to be restored. Otherwise,
mass production workers will experience death by a thousand cuts.
"One Industry, One Contract, One Class" must once again become the battle
cry of the labor movement as a whole.
All of this is a big challenge to every supporter of the labor movement.
But the immediate task is to win broad support for GM workers.
These workers are fighting on the frontline of the class struggle. They're
courageously battling a ruthless, profit-driven transnational corporation.
They're fighting for all of us.
Everything should be done to bring public opinion and pressure to bear on
GM. No jobs should be eliminated.
GM's earlier commitment to renovate its Flint plants should be met without
delay. Outsourcing to low wage, non-union shops should be immediately
And GM should end its outrageous threats to eliminate health care benefits
of striking workers.
It takes a fight to win and the auto workers' fight against GM is a
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