How to Build a Real Union


How to Build A Real Union
Socialist Labor Party of Canada

"How to build a real union?" is a question of vital importance to the workers of Canada.

Usually, discussions on the subject of unionism produce much more heat and acrimony than fact and logic. This serves to emphasize the need to give the union question close, serious and sober consideration. It is of the utmost importance that this be done, since the future welfare of the workers of Canada (and, in the final analysis, of the world) depends directly upon a proper and correct evaluation of the nature and character of the unions in existence today and a knowledge of the correct principles of union organization.

The Socialist Labor Party is vitally concerned with all aspects of the union question. For the Socialist Labor Party is the only advocate of genuine working-class unionism. But the Socialist Labor Party charges that the present unions -- all of them -- are not working-class unions. They do not protect and advance the interests of the workers. On the contrary, they are organizations dedicated to principles contrary to the best interests of the workers. They are, in fact, definite obstructions to the workers' efforts to protect their interests and to free themselves from the horrors of wage slavery and ruthless exploitation.

The Socialist Labor Party's charges against today's unions are based on sound and logical reasons -- and it is important to you to know what these charges are. It is equally important for you to know how a real union can be built.

The union question is, of course, a large one with many ramifications. For reasons of space, only the most essential facts and principles can be dealt with here -- and those only briefly.

It is a historic fact that the unions were born out of a hard, bitter, often violent, struggle between capital and labor. The focal point of this struggle was the division of labor's product into wages and profits. As long as the capitalists could deal with workers individually, the workers were pretty helpless. It was to end this woeful helplessness that the workers combined into unions.

Exploitation did not cease and the struggle over the division of labor's product continued unabated. The unions only enabled the workers to resist partially ths encroachments of capital. The capitalist owners of the means of social production, acting under the compulsion of the profit motive and of competitive necessity, strove constantly to keep wages as low as possible and to get ever more production out of the workers. The workers, on the other hand, driven both by sheer necessity and by normal ambition to rise above a state of chronic want, resisted and sought to force wages up. But it was like dividing an apple in two parts. If one part was larger the other had to be smaller -- and this was the case whether the capitalist "apple" was big, as in boom times, or small, as in periods of depression. The class struggle, therefore, has been inherent in and inseparable from the capital-wage labor relationship.

Many of today's unions, when first organized, paid lip service to the class struggle. The American Federation of Labor, which today as the AFL-CIO functions as an unabashed prop of capitalism, once said in its constitution: "... A struggle is going on in all the nations of the civilized world, a struggle between the capitalist and laborer, which grows in intensity from year to year, and will work disastrous results to the toiling millions if they are not combined for mutual protection...."

Despite the indisputable conflict of interests between labor and capital, the AFL, Canadian Labor Congress, the Quebec-based Confederation of National Trade Unions and all kindred unions have accepted capitalism as a permanent system. Instead of concentrating on building a classless society, they limit their aspirations to a vague "fair day's wage for a fair day's work." The rest has followed logically. Under capitalism, labor -- or labor power -- is a commodity, a mere "means" of production that the capitalist buys in the labor market just as he buys raw materials in the raw materials market. Now, note this: Acceptance by present-day unions of the capitalist system as a finality means also acceptance of the principle that labor is doomed eternally to this commodity status.

Corruption has followed inevitably. Most union leaders started out as sincere and honest men, but the harsh realities of capitalism quickly disillusioned them. The more hopeless the plight of the rank and file appeared, the more the union leaders turned to feathering their own nests. Careerists and opportunists rose to the top, exploiting the workers' instinct for solidarity to promote their own bureaucratic interests. In strike after strike, the workers' interests have been sacrificed and bartered for such devices as the "union shop" and the dues "checkoff" -- devices that virtually make of the capitalist employer a union official and dues collector.

This is corruption of the most pernicious kind. It completely perverts the historic mission of unionism. Yet, despite their betrayals of the workers' interests, the present unions are upheld by virtually everyone who pretends to have the workers' interests at heart, including the "Communists," the N.D.P. and all other "friend-of-labor" reformers. The Socialist Labor Party stands alone. It is the only organization in the land that accepts the fact of the class struggle and points to the simple truth that the purpose of unionism has been corrupted, and that today's unions are run by labor lieutenants of the capitalist class pre-eminently in the interests of the capitalist class.

What's to be done? The Socialist Labor Party holds that a new union is urgently needed, a union that accepts the fact and implications of the class struggle and aims to unite the whole working class. We call our concept the Socialist Industrial Union. Socialist Industrial Unionism aims to achieve solidarity of labor. But, before genuine solidarity can be achieved the workers must lose their job-consciousness and acquire classconsciousness. Then and not until then can they organize as a class, employed and unemployed, skilled and unskilled, office worker and factory worker. United, they will no longer be an easy class to rule. On the contrary, the exploiters and their labor lieutenants will learn to their sorrow that their ruling days are over.

In form or structure the Socialist Industrial Union will conform to the structure of industry. Each industry will have an Industrial Union. But all the Industrial Unions will be integrally united into one big union, with a common purpose and a common goal.

Not only will all officers of a real working-class union be elected by the rank and file; they will be subject to recall whenever a simple majority of the members so decide. In short, in the Socialist Industrial Union, all power will be in the only safe place for power to be -- with the rank and file of the classconscious workers.

Socialist Industrial Unionism will put an end to the shameful practice, so prevalent today, of "unions" scabbing on, and breaking the strikes of, other unions. Its motto will be "an injury to one is an injury to all." Therefore, in waging the day-to-day struggle, the workers will be enabled by the Socialist Industrial Union to fully use their organized strength.

But even while waging the day-to-day struggle with unity and militant vigor, the Socialist Industrial Union will never lose sight of the real goal; namely, a reconstruction of society that will socialize the industries and give the people who do the work a democratic mastery of their tools and products. To this end, the Socialist Industrial Union will proclaim the need for the organization of a political party of the working class, the avowed -- and single -- purpose of which is to demand via the ballot that Socialism replace capitalism.

This program provides for a peaceful change from capitalism to Socialism. Through their overwhelming majority at the ballot box, the workers will establish their right to own and operate collectively the means of social production. The next step will be to abolish the political State of class rule. Through their union, workers will have the requisite might for backing up their action and assuming control of the socialized industries. The reins of administration will then be assumed by a new government, a Congress of workers' representatives, elected from the industries. As for the Socialist Labor Party, its work will be finished. Accordingly, it will cease to exist. For there will be no place for a political party in a non-political classless Socialist Commonwealth.

As Daniel DeLeon, the great American Marxist, summed it up: "Industrial unionism is the Socialist Republic in the making; and the goal once reached, the Industrial Union is the Socialist Republic in operation." It is both "the battering ram with which to pound down the fortress of capitalism, and the successor of the capitalist social structure itself."


Mankind is in a race with catastrophe. The threat is never far off that imperialist rivalry between the ruling classes of East and West will erupt in a nuclear war of annihilation. The capitalist system itself sits on an economic time bomb, which, when it explodes, will plunge this nation into the throes of devastating depression.

Accordingly, the choice before us is plain. It is Either-Or. Either we wake up, junk the AFL-CIO type of job trusts and build a new union on the fact of the class struggle -- or, as pawns of capitalist-minded union leaders and economic serfs of capital, we will be carried into the abyss of war and reaction to which obsolete capitalism is heading.

Let us choose freedom and survival while there is still time.