Special Report on Labor

July 22, 2005

Comrades and friends,

I greatly appreciated Sams keynote and the discussion and reports today. I was glad that he brought in the Fourth of July and its significance for us and the working class movement. I want to add another historical note. One hundred years ago this week, July 1905, Big Bill Haywood opened the founding convention of the International Workers of the World, the IWW, right here in Chicago.

The story goes that when Haywood stood up to open the convention he was overcome when he saw the sea of worker delegates. He stood looking out over the crowd for a few minutes trying to decide how to begin. Finally he grabbed a piece of wood and pounded it on the podium and, voice brimming with emotion, he declared,

‘Fellow workers… this is the Continental Congress of the working class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism.. The aims and objects of this organization should be to put the working class in possession of the economic power, the means of life, in control of the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters.’

Well looking out over this convention, feeling the energy and the passion, seeing all your beautiful and diverse faces I think I know how Big Bill Haywood felt. He felt great. Fifteen years later Haywood joined the Communist Party and became one of our great leaders.

Haywood spent those fifteen years in the trenches of the class struggle. Free speech fights, picketlines, marches and demonstrations. He served time for his efforts to stop WW I. But he also learned from those struggles. He came to realize the limitations of syndicalism and militancy alone. He came to realize that the class struggle was much more than an economic struggle, but a many sided political and social struggle as well.

Haywood came to see the need for the Communist Party. He also came to see the need to change his thinking and renovate his ideology not just because of the limitations of his old thinking, but because the world had changed greatly in those fifteen years. The Soviet Union had been born and the working class of the world now had an outpost of power. Weak and struggling, no doubt, but still a counter point to world capitalism and imperialism.

One of the greatest labor leaders in the history of our country, Haywood was always willing to embrace new tactics and new strategies in the face of change and new conditions. Yet he never gave up his core principles. And he kept his eye on the prize of working class emancipation, full equality, peace, justice and socialism.

And thats what I like most about the keynote, the draft program and the political resolution. Grounded in the basic principals of our Marxist-Leninist working-class science, with eyes focused on the prize, they struggle creatively and boldly to deal with the new conditions of the class struggle. Sure there is plenty of room for strengthening, beefing up, and polishing, but thats what this convention is all about. The essence of these documents and the report is to chart a correct course in the face of some profound changes in the world and some very new conditions for our working class and people.

I want to deal with change and new conditions and their impact on labor and to underline what I believe to be the correctness of our general direction as it relates to labor.

To put it mildly, its a whole new ball game for labor in the US and in the world. Capitalist globalization, the incredible new growth of transnational capital, with its attending growth of the extreme right, and the wondrous development of new technologies creates a very new terrain of struggle for labor the world over.

Much is made of the decline in union membership as a percentage of the workforce. What really bothers me is that too many in labor, on the left, and even some in our party turn this into a subjective inner issue. Whats wrong with this or that labor leader? Why dont the unions just you fill in the blanks, or if only the unions would.again fill in the blanks with your favorite scheme that would solve the problem if only labor would. But comrades it takes two to do the class struggle tango.

I used to say that the attacks on labor are the worst since the McCarthy period, or the wage cutting attacks of the 1920s. And then I realized this 25 year assault on organized labor that Reagan began with PATCO, is like no other in our history. The economic power of the transnational corporations, the political control of the extreme right, and the hyper-monopolization of the media, of information, and of culture you know what. Its one hell of a testimony to the power and the glory of the multi racial, multi national, male/female, GLBTQ/straight, young/old working class, and of our values of solidarity and equality and unity, that we even still have an organized labor movement in this country to complain about.

The attack on labor is global. Around the world labor movements, even very advanced, even left led labor movements are losing ground. Around the world the other side has the upper hand, and the military might, and the political power. Thats where the real problem is for organized labor. Its not mostly social democrats, or class collaborators, or insufficient militancy, or lack of will that is eroding labors power its transnational capitalism.

Now back to Big Bill Haywood. The genius of his generation of labor militants was that they figured out that industrial unionism was the only way the working class could effectively resist the qualitative changes taking place in capitalism that is the development of mass production industries based on huge (unheard of for that day) accumulations of capital. And the marriage of industrial and banking capital.

I believe that some kind of qualitative change in production and in the structure of global capitalism is happening today. Of course we dont have the time to develop that idea right now. But I do want to make this point.

Craft unionism was once the most advanced form of trade unionism. But as capitalism developed and as the imperialist stage of capitalism developed, craft unionism was just not big enough or broad enough, or democratic enough to be effective for the working class. Industrial unionism recognized the need to expand its reach to include a much larger more diverse working class. And comrades, capitalism at that stage also produced fascism. And old class against class Communist and Socialist strategies just didnt fit the bill for defeating that most extreme political manifestation of capitalism. Instead it took a major shift towards a united front that was broader and bigger and more democratic to save the working class and people of the world. I think you get my drift and where Im going with this.

Now for some good news about the debates in labor. These debates are not about any individual labor leader or any particular restructuring plan. These debates are not driven by egos and personalities though they often end up sounding like that. These debates are driven by capitalist globalization and the assault on labor by the ultra right. These debates will not end with the AFL-CIO convention at the end of this month no matter what happens. And thats real good news.

These debates are driven by a labor movement in the throes of change and development. It is astounding what labor has done in the last ten years under severe attack and with dwindling resources and numbers. The elections, the coalition building, the organizing victories, the new global solidarity ties and on and on. A new labor movement is being born and it aint easy.

So lets get back to Comrade Big Bill Haywood and why Ive been thinking about the IWW. Sam mentioned the Steelworkers convention. I think well look back on it as one of those turning points. Two big industrial unions merge to form a new even bigger industrial union. I started thinking about the IWW because thats the joke I hear from some in the leadership of the union. Yea, they say, Were the new IWW. Dont panic, theyre not embracing syndicalism but they are embracing change and militancy and the idea that they have to speak for all of the working class; that they have to build a bigger, broader, more democratic, more global kind of union.

With the changes and debates in labor. With the setbacks to Bushs policies and the emergence of broad all peoples coalitions of struggle, and armed and fired up with the great strategy and tactics and program being developed at this convention. We may not yet be able to say welcome to the second Continental Congress of the American working class, but we sure as hell can say welcome to one of its first planning meetings.

Thank you.


Related Party Voices Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer