New Setting of the Class Struggle and Industrial Concentration

 
October 9, 2001

Opening to the National Board

I want to start by saying something about the nature of this report. Many
of the reports and discussions we have been having in the recent period
in the board and the labor commission have been very much like the kind
of discussion we would have in a pre-convention discussion period. It makes
sense. We are facing many new and changing features of the class struggle.
We are making a transition to new leadership. And we’re due for a convention
next year.

This report will be along the same lines. I hope it will provoke discussion
and collective thinking from U.S. all. And I sincerely hope that everyone
won’t agree with everything in it though that’s rarely a problem with
this board, or with this labor commission. Hopefully this report will
build on the important and thought provoking reports given at recent meetings
challenging U.S. to adopt broader concepts of the class struggle, of coalitions
and social movements, of the role of our party and of building the party.

As much as possible I have tried to base my ideas and tentative conclusions
on facts and research. Not being a scholar or researcher, I quickly found
that Mark Twain was much given to understatement. Figures can not only
lie, they can walk you down the garden path and dump you into the Mad
Hatters tea party. They can ambush you and leave you wondering if you
understand simple math anymore. As much as possible I have tried to stick
to very simple and basic facts and figures. But one conclusion for me
is ironclad. We need to do a lot more work and study on the changes taking
place in the working class and in the world economic scene. One report
can only hope to open the subject for discussion.

Bear with me because it will be awhile before I get into any discussion
of our policy of industrial concentration. That is because I think that,
as we have always done, we have to place concentration in a broader political
and economic framework. Concentration is not a stagnant, one size fits
for all time policy. Our policy has to fit the times and the changes taking
place in the class struggle and in the working class.

Now for some framework.

In the first place we are dealing with the largest working class in
our history. Not counting farm labor, figures that I was not able to come
up with, there are roughly 130 million workers in the U.S. economy today.
If you add in the unemployed, who are very much part of the working class,
then the figure is probably closer to 135 million. For comparison, in
1948 there were a little more than 21 million and in 1970 there were about
71 million workers.

These figures roughly correspond to the increases in the population
as a whole for our country, though the working class is also larger as
a percent of the population. While there are more millionaires and billionaires
than ever before in the U.S., it is also clear that more wealth is held
in fewer hands than every before. And it is certainly true that as Marx
and Engels noted, middle strata including some professions are being forced
down into the working class hence doctors organizing into unions for example.

Mass production or goods producing workers in absolute numbers have
shown small increases from 1948 until today. According to labor department
figures in 1948 there were about 18.7 million goods producing workers,
in 1970 about 23.6 million and today there are about 25.2 million.

Workers in goods production, or what we call mass production workers
increased by about six million from 1948 till today. However service workers
increased by roughly 78 million in the same time frame.

What a change. The rapid and explosive growth of the service sector
has long been noted, but when you study the actual figures they are startling
and dramatic. However, I think some wrong conclusions have been drawn
by some on the left. Without getting into an overly technical discussion
of surplus value it is clear that with technology and productivity gains
and speed-up, mass production workers are supporting a gigantic increase
in services and support industries. In this regard it should be noted
that the BLS says that the largest growth in the service sector in the
last twenty years has been in what they call ‘services to business. ‘
Right now, the fastest growing sector of service to businesses is temporary
workers. Some economist call these workers ‘just in time workers’ to complement
‘just in time’ production methods.

Let me quote from a Department of Labor Report on the American Workforce
which includes an important study of the auto industry.

‘Manufacturing employment has been a declining percent of total non-farm
jobs throughout most of the post World War II period. However, this belies
the continuing importance of manufacturing activity to the economy’s health.
In particular, a host of manufacturing and service-producing industries
rely on economic activity in motor vehicle manufacturing and sales.’

It is amazing that, in the face of downsizing, plant closings, multinational
globalization, capital flight and new technology that the absolute numbers
of mass production workers has actually grown. This reflects, I think,
the new mass production industries in computer and electronics and communications
to a degree. At the same time though, there are definitely fewer steel
workers, though those that remain produce nearly as much tonnage today
as they did 20 years ago before the massive restructuring layoffs of the
early 1980s.

But lets continue with the auto industry as an example. According to
the BLS there are about the same number of autoworkers today as there
was in 1979 in the US. In 1997 there were 947 plants devoted to automobile
assembly located in 20 states. Two thirds of these are located in Michigan,
Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. General motors is now building three new
plants in Michigan and Ohio I believe. In 1998 the U.S. produced 12 million
passenger and commercial vehicles or about one fifth of world wide production.
This despite the fact that the big three are now global operations with
large production concentrations in Canada, Mexico, Germany, England, Spain
and Brazil. This production also reflects that major European and Asian
car companies have plants in the U.S.

We should do industry by industry studies. But my point with these facts
is that mass production workers are still key to the economy. They are
still at the heart of creating surplus value and wealth. They are still
at the heart of the global economy and the domestic economy. I don’t think
anyone in the party seriously challenges this notion, but I do think we
need to refresh our thinking from time to time as to the role of basic
workers in the economy. We are beset day in and day out with ‘new’ theories
of post industrial society and ‘third ways’ that hinge on the notion that
large sectors of the working class have disappeared from the scene replaced
by robots and computers and information.

At the same time we cannot ignore that over a hundred million workers
are in what we can loosely call the service and public sectors. We also
cannot ignore the dramatic increase in contingent and part time workers.
Manpower is the largest employer in the U.S. 23 percent of the contingent
work force are in what the BLS describes as ‘blue collar’ factory jobs.

We must consider the changing skills of workers in production industries.
Now computer operators have much to do with building cars, pouring steel,
running lathes and even building homes.

Just an aside on computerization and automation. A couple of weeks ago,
I had a very interesting discussion with the president of a Steelworkers
Local. He was describing for me the kind of automation they have in his
foundry. Yes in a foundry. It’s amazing and not just in the hot end, but
in the actual building, setting, pouring and breaking of the molds. It’s
still hot and dirty work, but not nearly as backbreaking.

Some skills have migrated off the shop floor and into offices, while
new skills have been born on the shop floor. And a related important factor
is the higher general education and cultural level of mass production
workers in our society.

Another thing to remember is that historically in an economic downturn,
service jobs are often hit hardest fastest. In fact the layoffs now taking
place in the so-called dot com industries may well be a sign of the slowing
economy today.

Another part of the framework is the labor movement.

In the same time period 1948 to today, union membership dropped from
35 percent of the working class to 13.9 percent in 1998. We should note
that 1998 was the first year that the bleeding stopped and there was a
net gain in union membership. But the AFL-CIO estimates that we will have
to increase membership by 6 million workers in order to reach the 1984
level of 18.8 percent, and increase membership by 30 million to reach
the 1945 level of 35 percent. From 1984 to 1998 union membership only
grew in one sector government. The areas of greatest membership loss for
that same period were in manufacturing, transportation and utilities both
public and private. Membership actually increased percentage wise in the
public sector from 1973 till today, but declined overall and in the private
sector.

Despite where the greatest membership gains and losses have been in
the last 20 years it is interesting to note that the highest percentage
concentrations of union membership are in government, education, utilities,
transportation, construction and manufacturing in that order. All of these
sectors are above the 13.9 percent average. Of course historically the
industrial unions had much higher union density in the basic industries
than the overall average.

The labor movement picture only looks bleak if we consider these facts
in isolation from the great progressive transformations taking place in
the labor movement. From the victory last year in the long running battle
to organize Cannon Mills in North Carolina, to the incredible mass organizing
victories in the Los Angeles area to the dramatic and far reaching change
in the AFL-CIO’s position on immigrant workers the trend is definitely
going our way. (By the way Cuba and Vietnam) Labor, even taking into account
the setback around the China campaign, is redefining itself as a social
movement of the whole of the working class multi-national and multi-racial,
male and female, young and old.

Labor is consciously building coalitions with other progressive forces
including the left and with it’s key allies in the African American, Latino
and other nationally and racially oppressed communities, and among women
and youth. Labor is more politically independent now than at anytime since
the CIO years. It is more inclined to international solidarity and peace.

To be sure there is unevenness, but the general trend is great. I want
to make a point here about the role of the industrial unions in all of
these developments. Here I expect disagreement, but let’s discuss it out.
At least to me Seattle showed the key role of the unions in basic industry
in the changes taking place in labor. The steelworkers were the anchor
for labor’s participation and coalition efforts in Seattle. Besides being
one of the largest contingents, they were the most organized and most
conscious element in the mix of those demonstrations, bar none. They were
the stabilizing element when some in labor, including in the top levels
of the AFL-CIO were wavering.

We should also consider the power of the Ravenswood strike, the UPS
strike, the Flint GM parts strike, and the Bridgestone/Firestone strike.
Each of these in their own way have been defining moments in the new direction
of labor. They had impact far beyond their own members on the whole of
labor. This is not in anyway to belittle the many other important strikes
and struggles of the working class.

At the same time we have to recognize the incredible role played by
other unions. John Sweeney didn’t come out of the basic industrial unions,
though most of them supported his bid for change. Justice for Janitors
is a good example of a militant, creative organizing strategy that changed
the labor movement. Some of the most thought-out strategies for organizing
are coming out of the public sector and service industry unions.

It would also be a mistake to examine the labor movement in isolation
from the broader anti-monopoly, anti-corporate working class upsurge we
are witnessing today. Unlike anytime in my lifetime, labor is willing
to lock arms with a broad array of social movements. More importantly
the new labor movement genuinely seems to appreciate the progressive contributions
of many diverse social movements that it once ignored or even found itself
at logger heads with like the environmental movement.

One important point on the labor movement. Even taking into consideration
the decline in membership, unions remain the largest and most representative
mass organizations of the working class. They have members in every state,
in every city and in most towns in America. Even given the lingering influences
of racism and male supremacy, unions are the most diverse and representative
mass organizations of the multi-national, multi-racial, male, female,
young and old, skilled and unskilled working class that exist. And even
given the limitations and the need for affirmative action, outside of
the Communist Party, the unions are the most advanced organizations with
real Black Brown and white, male/female leadership. Outside of the Communist
Party, the labor movement is the most advanced in consciously fighting
for maximum Black, Brown and white, male/female working class unity.

Another part of the framework class composition.

In January 1993, African Americans made up 10.2 percent of American
workers on the job. By April of this year, when Black unemployment hit
its record low, African Americans were 11.4 percent of America’s workers
on the job. Latinos were at 5.8 percent of those working.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that the nation’s unemployment
rate increased slightly this spring, from 3.9 percent in April, to 4.1
percent in May – with African-American and Latino workers absorbing nearly
all of the job loss.

Last hired, first fired is still the face of discrimination and racism
in the job market. Characteristically figures are harder to come by on
composition of workers in particular industries. (At least for me the
untrained researcher) In 1998 in auto 18 percent of the work force was
Black and Latino as compared with 16 percent in the rest of manufacturing.
This indicates higher than average numbers of racially and nationally
oppressed workers. In part this is due to the historic fight in labor
and civil rights for more equality in the basic mass production industries.
Auto has the highest average wages in mass production industries. These
jobs remain a cornerstone for a decent standard of living for large sections
of nationally and racially oppressed and women workers. (Incidentally,
there is plenty of evidence that higher production wages in the mass production
industries still act as upward pressure for all workers on wages and working
conditions.)

According to BLS figures women account for a third of manufacturing
jobs but only a quarter of jobs in auto production. Yet women make up
just under a half of the total work force.

Statistics aside we can be very sure that Black, Latino and women workers
remain concentrated in low paying jobs with the worst working conditions.

Yet as best I can tell from the statistics, African American, Latino
and other oppressed workers are growing as a percentage of workers in
the mass production industries. This is related to the long economic expansion
of the late 1990s till today. And this is despite the fact that we know
that in many industries, steel for example, old discriminatory hiring
and promotion policies are re-emerging, eroding the historic gains of
the great civil rights battles of the 1960s and ’70s.

Now to industrial concentration policy.

With all of these changes taking place in the working class and in work
itself, what does it all mean for our industrial or mass production concentration
policy for today?

Just a few things on the history and development of our policy. Industrial
concentration was not, and is not, an invention of our party. It flows
directly from Marx, Engels and Lenin and the experiences of the world
revolutionary movement. It is a policy based on understanding the class
struggle and the role of workers and unions most directly in conflict
with capital where surplus value is made and where exploitation is at
its most intense. It has never been a narrow or elitist policy that separates
out industrial workers from the rest of the working class. Indeed, real
industrial concentration sees mass production workers as key to uniting
and moving the working class as a whole into struggle.

I say that because I think it’s important from the beginning to say
that there is no contradiction in trying to figure out a sensible and
updated concentration policy for today’s conditions and in also fighting
for a broader view of the working class and the class struggle. There
is no contradiction in trying to develop concentration and expanding our
work in coalitions with the broader social movements. Marx and Lenin never
took a narrow view of the working class or the class struggle.

Just very briefly on the history of concentration in our party. We would
have to conclude I think that we most successfully pursued concentration
in the 1930s and early ’40s. This corresponds to our party’s greatest
membership growth and size. It also corresponds to one of the greatest
working class upsurges in our history in fighting the Great Depression,
organizing the basic mass production industries in the CIO and the fight
against Hitler world fascism.

At it’s height we had not only shop clubs, but even section organizations
in some of the key factories in steel, auto and electrical and other mass
production industries. We were in left center coalitions in leadership
of several key unions and in many local and district levels of the labor
movement. And I think it is important that we not just see this as only
a period of great shop floor influence, or influence in the labor movement.
This was a period of our greatest political and social influence on the
working class and movements of the day. Our shop floor organizations were
a bedrock of our party in a period when we came the closest to being a
mass party of the working class and people.

Out of these shop clubs and efforts at industrial concentration came
many of our finest party leaders like Gus Hall and Henry Winston and George
Meyers. This is the whole generation of leaders that we are beginning
to lose today that saw our party through the turbulent attacks of the
ruling class to destroy U.S. and through the rebuilding of our party in
the ’60s an ’70s. And many of these comrades were the bedrock of saving
our party in the early 1990s.

In every district we know more details of how the party shop clubs in
industry produced leaders for our party and the incredible influence they
had on orienting our party in a mass way on the working class. This is
true not only in the industrial Midwest districts, but from California
to New York. I remember long discussions with George Meyers and my father
in law, Bill Wood about the role of the shop clubs at Sparrows Point and
it’s influence on the Maryland Party organization and the devastation
of the dissolution of the Sparrows Point clubs and the attacks of the
government.

And I’ve had many discussion in Chicago where at one time we had a vast
system of shop clubs and the broadest possible mass influence. Earl Browder
and Browderism took it’s first step in liquidating the party by liquidating
the shop club system in the party. To be fair the attack was coming from
the ruling class, but Browder made it that much easier for them by disbanding
the shop clubs first. I know in Illinois that we lost hundreds of comrades
in that one move by the party. We lost leaders who did not agree with
abandoning concentration policy and we lost members who could not or would
not be integrated into other forms of party organization. With Browderism
we simply turned our backs on thousands of working class comrades at the
core of our party.

And this brings me to one of my most important points about the history
of industrial concentration in our party since I’ve been a member. In
1970 we held a conference in Chicago on industrial concentration. And
we held similar meetings again in 1983 and in 1991 roughly every ten years.
Looking back, what was most important about these meetings was not particularly
the discussions we had on shop clubs, on plant gate distributions, on
shop papers, or any other of the techniques and methods of industrial
concentration. (Before some start yelling I think all those discussions
were and are important.) No really what was so important about those meetings
was the effect they had of orienting the party on the working class.

True we had more shop clubs in the ’70s and ’80s and they were important.
And we will have shop clubs again. But our policy of concentration helped
our party focus on the working class far beyond the shop floor. Joelle
reminded me in a note on this meeting that out of those discussions came
our concept that industrial concentration also means focusing on workers
where they live and in their communities that industrial concentration
meant also working class concentration on neighborhoods and especially
in the neighborhoods of African American, Latino and other oppressed workers.

Those conferences were milestones in orienting our party on a firm working
class line that serves U.S. well even today. Think of the new party leaders
that came out of those concentration experiences and that orientation.
Many in the room today George and Denise, Bobbie and Paul, Wally and Bruce,
Armando and Lasker, Artie, Steve Valencia and Lorenzo, to make the cardinal
mistake of using names and therefore leaving some out, there are many
more. But these are examples of leading comrades who came out of the shops
and were oriented on the working class by our discussions and policy of
industrial concentration.

All during the period of the rank and file upsurge of the ’70s and ’80s
our industrial concentration policy oriented U.S. on the labor movement
and the working class. It’s important that we had shop papers and plant
gate distributions, but it was of critical and fundamental importance
that we foresaw and responded to the Fresh Winds in labor; that we understood
the significance of the changes in the AFL-CIO. That we understand the
significance of Seattle and LA for the class struggle. I would argue that
the whole experience of concentration prepared U.S. for the new alliances
and a broader view of the class struggle. By and large, in my experience,
narrow views of the working class and of the broader social movements
don’ t come from comrades in industry.

One last point on our history of concentration and to segue into concentration
for today. Sam Webb gave the report to our 1991 discussion on Industrial
Concentration. Remember 1991 and what we were going through. But in his
report he said our policy of concentration stands on five solid pillars.

Anyway I think the five pillars are still sound and should serve U.S.
still for discussion of concentration. I’ll just quote the lead sentences
though Sam developed each of these concepts extensively in his report.

1) The overarching feature of capitalist society is the class struggle.
2) The working class is the only really revolutionary class in society.
(My editorial comment this is not in any narrow or exclusionary sense.)
As Sam continues, not because we say it or write it, but it follows from
the position which the working class occupies in the system of (capitalist)
social production. 3) Class unity is the bedrock of class and social advancement.
4) Not all sectors of the working class occupy an identical position in
the system of exploitation nor do all have the same experience in the
class struggle nor are all equally capable of stimulating broad working
class and people’s unity for immediate and more advanced objectives. (Though
here again my editorial comment I would not put this pillar in the negative
I would say rather that the mass production workers and their unions are
in a special place in society to build unity and influence and lead the
broad mass currents of the working class and the peoples movements. And
5) The achievement of the historic aims of the working class is organically
bound up with the building of a bigger Party among the working class and
it’s key sectors.

A sensible mass production concentration policy for today.

I don’t think the question before the house is to concentrate or not
to concentrate. I think by and large we are united on the pillars above
and feel the necessity and urgency of developing a concentration policy
for today.

But in all honesty we’re not prepared to layout a plan for concentration.
In fact as I’ve said earlier, I think we need to see this as only the
first in a series of discussions aimed at arriving at a new policy for
today. Quite frankly I don’t think the most important discussions are
about shop papers, shop clubs or even shop gate distributions. I think
more important than discussion of methods and plans right now is asking
and answering some questions about what kind of policy fits today’s situation.

Here are some of what I think are key questions we need to discuss.

1) Do we know enough about what is going on with mass production workers
today? What are they talking about? What are their problems and concerns?
Do they feel threatened by globalization? What do they want and what do
they see as the solutions? What are their broader concerns? At one point
we decided to have informal discussions with our shop workers about these
questions and about what they think about recruiting. I want to amend
that today and propose that the labor commission undertake responsibility
to schedule a series of informal discussions in every district with shop
workers, party and non-party to sound people out. I think we will be surprised
and pleased at the results. We need to ask non-party shop workers too
how they see the party and our role.

2) How does working class neighborhood concentration fit in today? What
are the roles of mass production workers in the broader mass movements
and social movements? How will a new policy of industrial concentration
help orient U.S. on the working class in neighborhoods and communities?
3) What are the key questions of building Black, Brown and white unity,
male-female unity for mass production workers today? Want is the state
of affirmative action and civil rights in the mass production unions and
facing workers in industry today?

4) Our concentration policy originated in a time when masses of industrial
workers were located in huge what Lenin called factory fortresses. Today
mass production workers are located, for the most part, in much smaller
shops. What does that mean for a policy today?

When you boil it all down I think we have to ask these questions because
I think we have to get at a program for concentration before we can have
a new policy of concentration. What do I mean by that.

Our policy of concentration has to be built on a direction and program
for the working class. We are not just in the mix to be there. I certainly
won’t argue that we are sufficiently in the mix of mass production workers.
That is in part what’s behind the proposal for this series of informal
discussions. But I will argue that we have a specific role to play in
the mix and that that role must be based on where we want to see mass
production workers and the working class in one year, in five years and
in ten years.

We can’t substitute ourselves for the movements and we can’t make things
happen by sheer will power. But we do have to bring something to the table
besides our hard work for the goals that labor has adopted. Historically
our party and the broader left has always worked from a program of action
and initiative aimed at strengthening the class, uniting the class and
building the biggest possible mass movements for the interests of the
class I need only mention a few industrial unionism, social security and
unemployment compensation, defeating fascism, fair employment practices
and civil rights committees. Of course we didn’t do these things on our
own, but we did play an initiating and leading role in fighting for them.
We knew where we wanted to go with them.

Let me put it another way. When George Meyers led U.S. in drafting the
Fresh Winds program it was a guide to concentration. Our shop workers,
our trade union comrades, indeed the whole party could see and relate
to what we saw as the direction and program for workers. We need that
updated for today as a guide to developing a concentration policy. When
we have shop clubs in steel, what will they be fighting for? Shorter hours?
Nationalizing steel? Affirmative action in hiring and skills? Will we
be the ones who are seen as the best fighters for a strategy to organize
the mini-mills and what’s left of basic steel?

When we have shop clubs in auto what will the Communists be known for?
That they led a left center coalition fight to organize and reorganize
the auto parts and supply industries into the UAW? Will the party be identified
with initiatives to help organize temporary worker into the union with
full benefits and wages?

Will we be seen by basic mass production workers in the mix, as the
best proponents of the labor movements goal of organizing the unorganized?
And too, will we be seen as left initiators and innovators in helping
to develop a strategy for organizing that unites all of the working class
and the social movements in a crusade to organize the unorganized as the
backbone for progress on all of the needs and concerns of our people?

Will the reds in mass production industries perform their historic mission
of raising the basic flaws of the capitalist system and beginning the
discussion of the need to replace it with a working class system of Bill
of Rights Socialism, USA?

This leads to my second proposal. We need to draft a new party program
for labor that builds on the Fresh Winds program. I propose that the labor
commission undertake to prepare a draft for discussion by the end of the
year so it can be used as part of pre-convention discussion. Let me be
clear I’m not proposing a stages approach to a new concentration policy
first program then policy. Developing our thinking on the key programmatic
demands and needs of basic workers is essential in putting together a
new concentration policy for today.

We also have to answer the questions raised in the first part of this
report as part of developing a new policy. How will the working class
deal with capitalist globalization? How will we have a concentration policy
that not only fits workers in manufacturing, but helps to bring around
this key sector of the class the vast explosive numbers of workers in
the service and public sectors?

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