Class-Oriented Trade Unionists Must Lead the Way—Opening Speech to LUEL’s 1st National Congress

Originally published in Labor Today

Welcome everyone to the first congress of the Labor United Educational League. It has taken many years for us to get to today. Through trial by fire this organization has fought to find its footing. Our organization has gone through many different eras of development and has existed under many conditions in the labor movement.

For decades organized labor has literally been drugged, stupefied, and dragged down to near extinction. Many will attest to rampant drug use, alcohol abuse, gambling, corruption, and general debauchery which could characterize many unions in years past as well as today. But the destruction of organized labor has in some ways made its rebirth possible.

With now considerably less influence, the labor bureaucracy has been unable to suppress growing militancy outside the trade unions. The workers of today in some respects do not carry on the same Gompersism that plagued US labor in the past. Many different trends in labor exist today and the working class is struggling to see who can answer their need for a strong labor movement.

We are meeting today at a time when the labor movement is struggling to integrate thousands of new organizers, new shops, and new perspectives. There is immense potential for what US labor can achieve today, but for our movement to put itself into position to utilize all of the culminating experience in the struggle for better working conditions we must support and defend a class-oriented trade unionism. No other perspective will be able to answer the needs of the American working class.

There are many who claim to be “pro-union”, “progressive” or “troublemakers” and who seek to fill the role of leader of the workers. But underneath their pro-union facade is objectively a policy of subservience to the bosses. In the interest of job security and temporary gains the long-term outlook of the working class is forsaken. Support for the struggle between the workers and the bosses turns to labor management and ways to improve production so companies retain a “competitive edge.” All initiative from the workers in the running of their own union is done away with. Organizing the unorganized is a long forgotten idea, and what little organizing does happen only comes on a silver platter in spite of the union. 

Our members live this reality every day and we unite today to say no more. We are done with the corruption, the stalling, and the sabotage of our institutions. Millions of Americans demand better from the so-called “pro-union” leaders in the labor movement who sit on mountains of wealth and ignore the South. Content with the section of the workers they are given by the bosses, these misleaders of labor employ the most backwards tactics to all but ensure that workers never achieve any sort of foothold not only in the industrial restructuring of the nation or for class-oriented trade unionists to lead our unions.

But we can’t achieve a class-oriented trade union movement unless we invest in the education of the rank and file. Which is why so much of what we do involves the Harry Bridges School of Labor. So that we can foster an environment free from the class collaboration taught by the AFL-CIO, and so we can give the rank and file of our unions the tools needed to put US labor back on the path of class struggle. This Congress represents the continued fight of honest rank-and-file members for class-oriented trade unionism!