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Theses on Workplace Organizing

Sojourner Truth Organization, 1974

1. Socialist movements in advanced capitalist countries have traditionally been based in organization at the point of production. At point of production, workers experience the exploitation and irrationality which is capitalism. They also experience the process of social labor which is the foundation for socialism. The mechanism of capitalist production "disciplines, unites and organizes" the working class in ways which undercut the national, racial, sexual and age divisions that the ruling class fosters as a matter of policy.

2. Participation in large-scale capitalist production gives rise to certain perceptions and ideas which represent the elements from which a socialist worldview will emerge. In the ordinary course of life under capitalism, these ideas are submerged by the bourgeois ideology which is able to call upon vastly superior resources, tradition and organization to impose itself. The development of these revolutionary elements of working class life is the primary responsibility of communists and these elements cannot be sufficiently developed to permit their triumph without mass workers' organizations able to clarify their features and give them distinct form.

3. Trade unions are not adequate to fulfill this function. Unions are a necessary development out of workers' spontaneous struggles against their oppression. While many of those who fought and died to build unions were moved by far loftier aspirations, for particular historical reasons, in this country the purpose of unions has come to be the attainment of better terms in the sale of labor power through a written contract with the employer. The unions have emerged as institutions which channel workers' discontent into paths which are compatible with bourgeois rule. The U.S. trade union movement, in particular, has developed ways which even undercut the workers' ability to wage the reform struggle. Most important of these is the widely recognized complicity of U.S. unions in maintaining and promoting national and sexual divisions in the working class.

4. Our stress on independent organization does not entail opposition to struggles in the union arena. When union struggles involve masses of workers, communists should be there. However, at times when the level of mass struggle is not high, and the revolutionary current among the workers is weak, communists must be particularly conscious of the danger of entrapment in schemes of union reform, which, in fact, isolate them from the workers. In such conditions, particular care must be used to distinguish the position of revolutionaries from that of reformists in practice, not just in rhetoric. Essential to this is the development of mass organizations able to deal with the problems of workers from a position of independent strength. Furthermore, such an external challenge to the union provides the best conditions for union reform.

5. The degeneration of the unions in this country has led to a general alienation from union procedures and the union apparatus by the masses of workers, especially the unskilled, the young, the Black, nonwhite workers generally, and women workers. Many workers are searching for means to deal with their problems which by-pass the established union forms and procedures. It is undoubtedly true that such extraunion struggles, except in some cases involving Black workers, still usually represent group rather than class interests and may even take a reactionary turn. Nevertheless, such struggles represent a starting point for the work of communists. Their responsibility is to help the workers involved in such struggles develop mass organizations that break with the trade unionist, reformist framework of the existing unions; it is not to channel these struggles into a program of union reform.

6. It is Utopian to attempt to lay out detailed characteristics of an organizational form whose shape must be concretely determined in the course of the class struggle. However, we can indicate three basic features which it must contain in order to solidify and extend its challenge to capitalism.

a. Through dealing with the immediate issues facing workers, it cannot capitulate to the legitimacy of capitalist property.
b. The organization must be self-motivated and the stands and actions it takes must be a true reflection of the will of its members. In no sense can it be regarded as an arm of the "party," nor can any such Marxist group be permitted to impose a line by virtue of its organization, technical skills and resources.
c. Only a group formed with a firm and unshakeable commitment to full equality for non-whites will be able to evolve sound positions on all issues of concern to working people, and a group that hedges on its commitment in this regard will inevitably find itself compromised on other issues.

These points must guide the approach of communists to their work, or the potentials to which that work is directed will not be realized.

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