Industrial concentration and the clubs

 
August 6, 2002

Industrial concentration and the clubs

Report to National Committee / Conference on Clubs, CPUSA June 30, 2002 by Scott Marshall, Vice Chair and Labor Commission Chair

This is an important and a unique opportunity to discuss industrial concentration. We have not only our national leadership; we also have a great cross section of our club leadership in one place. Please consider my remarks in the context of Sam’s excellent political report and the thoughtful and outstanding report by Elena on our clubs and the grassroots. And Terrie’s report on the PWW put wheels under us.

Even though many of you newer comrades will be hearing of this policy for the first time, industrial concentration, in one form or another, has been a cornerstone of our party since our founding in 1918.

Industrial concentration flows from our Marxist-Leninist understanding of how capitalism works, how profits and super profits are made, how exploitation takes place, and what it will take to ultimately rid ourselves of the war, racism, sexism, exploitation and oppression inherent in the capitalist system.

The working class in this country is the overwhelming majority of the people. The working class is the largest it has ever been in our history both in numbers and as a percentage of the population. The whole of the working class is exploited by the capitalist class a tiny class that owns just about everything, especially the banks, the industries, the natural resources, the transportation and communications systems, the media and the government.

At the heart of this capitalist profit-making machine is the production of wealth. Profits made by the working class, stolen by the capitalist class. At the heart of the production of wealth are the workers who build everything, extract the raw materials, and move things to market. These mass production workers stand in a unique position in the working class. They most directly confront the heart of the capitalist system and its ability to make profits through exploitation.

The mass production process is also social and organized. A single worker doesn’t build a computer or a car. A single worker doesn’t mine coal or load a ship. This social and organized aspect of the production process also teaches mass production workers basic lessons of unity, organization, and working cooperatively. These skills and traits, combined with their strategic placement in the production process, make basic mass production workers a central core around which all of the working class can be organized and moved.

These basic workers are also the mirror image of our working class as a whole they are Black, Brown and white. They are Arab, Asian and Native American. They are women and men. They are immigrants. They are gay and straight. They are young and old. They are skilled and unskilled.

By concentrating on building our influence, our presence and recruiting to our ranks from these mass production workers, we help to maximize the organization of the class, and the power of the working class to confront capitalism at its roots. This is the essence of our industrial concentration policy.

But lets also say what industrial concentration is not about. It is not about setting up a hierarchy in the working class. It is not about holding some workers more important than others. It is not about turning our backs on any workers we want to recruit and build our party among all workers. Industrial concentration is a strategic concept of how we can maximize the power and strength of the whole class. It is a policy to unite the entire class around a strategic section of the class that most directly confronts the power of the system.

Industrial Concentration Today

How do we stand on industrial concentration today? Before I get into some problems let me make something plain so that nothing is misunderstood. No matter our small size and circumstances, we are overwhelmingly a working class party. Our membership, our policies, our program, our leadership, and our whole orientation are working class. Whatever the problems, we remain firmly rooted in the working class.

The economic restructuring of the 1980’s, the massive escalation of new technology and capitalist globalization of that period took a terrible toll. Thousands of steelworkers, autoworkers, miners, electrical workers and other mass production workers lost their jobs to automation and the export of capital to low wage areas of the globe. So too our membership in mass production industries took a terrible hit. Hundreds of Communist shop workers lost their jobs. Many were forced into early retirement.

The 80’s began a steep decline in our shop clubs, industry clubs and general trade union clubs. The economy was not the only factor, of course, there was also the set backs to socialism and the ensuing split in the party of the early 90’s. I think also the many so called ‘post-industrial’ theories circulating in the broader left had some influence in raising questions about whether a mass production base of the class still existed. But the main factor was the layoffs and plant closings.

And we have not yet recovered from those blows. Now the new economic crisis is decimating our ranks even further. We have to face the reality. We are at an all time historic low in the number of shop clubs, industrial clubs and trade union clubs. In fact, for the first time in our history, we have more union organizers and union staffers than we have union shop workers.

But we’re Communists solving problems is our thing. This conference, this gathering of our clubs and leaders is the best place to begin to revitalize our industrial concentration policy. This is a historic opportunity to begin a process to consciously rebuild our ranks in the shops and work places of the key sectors of the economy.

Industrial concentration is a policy for every club and every collective of the party. It is not a policy for our trade union comrades, it is not a policy for the labor commission, it is not a policy for our small number of shop comrades. It is a policy for us all for every club.

From this conference we can resolve to renew our discussion of industrial concentration in every club and collective body. But discussion alone will not be enough to turn the situation around.

We need action and motion. Nothing about industrial concentration is in isolation from the main questions of the day as outlined in Sam’s report. And our work has to be based on the grassroots, coalition style, left-center unity-building approaches outlined in Elena’s report. In this context every club can move in an industrial concentration direction. The good news is also that conditions for a turn in this direction are the best they have been in years.

The changes in the labor movement are profound and open up many doors. We already have great examples of clubs taking advantage of this new situation. There are many avenues, like Jobs with Justice and Living Wage campaigns, strike support and organizing efforts that give clubs handles. There is the Salt of the Earth Labor College model used by the party in Arizona. The labor movement is looking for community support, and there are now hundreds of opportunities for our clubs to get involved.

The current economic downturn is hitting manufacturing particularly hard, including in the newer high tech industries. Healthcare, unemployment and stolen pensions are devastating issues for these workers. But among these workers are also those angry at the Bush attacks on civil liberties and democratic rights. There are those moved by the threat of nuclear war and Bush’s dangerous imperialist meddling in world. There are those concerned about the Mid East.

We can’t pigeonhole basic workers as folks we can only reach in the shops on economic issues. For us industrial concentration had to be a rounded many-sided approach that constantly keeps the role of basic workers in capitalist society on our radar where we constantly seek to make the connections with everything we’re doing.

Yet ignoring the workplace or the basic economic hardships facing these workers is also not a winning strategy. Central to building our influence and our ranks among basic workers is still to be where they are in motion and in struggle.

We also have to say that at times we’ve confused good solid trade union work with industrial concentration. Trade union work is certainly a key component in the mass production industries. But it has to be more. It has to include the initiative and the presence of the party not in an isolated way but as champions of left center unity and labor solidarity.

Here are some questions we need to ask ourselves. What are the shops and factories in our clubs area? Are there union offices or union meetings in our area? But we also have to broaden our idea of how to reach and interact with mass production workers. We are involved in all kinds of mass movements are there mass production workers in those coalitions and organizations? Do we seek them out to bring closer to the party and our clubs?

Also do we try and find mass production workers in our neighborhoods? We long ago found that industrial concentration does not mean only trying to reach workers in the work place, but also where they live in their neighborhoods.

Lastly let me tell you something the labor commission wants to do to try and help. I mentioned that we have a growing number of union staff and union organizers in our ranks. These comrades have particular problems even thought they are centered in the labor movement. It is difficult for them to have a base among the members and to act independently because they work for the union. On August 17 & 18 in Chicago we will sponsor a conference on the problems of organizing. We will not only deal with the big strategic questions, but also with the role of Communists in labor staff positions. How can they contribute to helping clubs and districts with industrial concentration?

Later today we will also have a workshop for comrades in shop, industry and trade union clubs. There are particular problems these clubs have in addition to the general things we are discussing today.

But again I want to stress: Our industrial concentration policy is for us all to consider and to shape. Every comrade and every club has a role to play in helping to develop momentum in this direction. It is precisely here, at the grassroots of the party that we can focus on the specific tasks of rooting our clubs and our influence even more strongly among the strategic core of the working class.

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