The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working Class Politics and the Trade Unions by Jack Barnes is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for March. Since the mid-1970s, Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, has led the political course of the SWP and its sister organizations worldwide to build communist parties — proletarian in program, composition and leadership — that can lead the working class and its allies to take political power. The excerpt is from the 1975 SWP resolution “Prospects for Socialism in America.” Copyright © 1981 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
The starting point of workers struggles is the defense of their standard of living and conditions of work….
The trade unions and other mass organizations of the workers and oppressed must take responsibility for organizing workers with jobs, those without jobs, and those with only “part-time” jobs. They should prevent the employers from creating a pariah category of unemployed whom the employed do not regard as fellow workers. Those out of work must be viewed as part of “us,” not as “them.”…
On the job the workers must protect themselves from the attempts of the bosses to extract a higher rate of surplus value through speedup, automation, chipping away at health and safety standards, and all the other ways of making the workers pay for the capitalists’ growing problems.
Struggles will grow for protection against speedup and layoffs, for safety and health conditions, regulation of and veto power over work rules, and health codes to protect workers against industrial hazards — asbestos fibers, coal dust, and chemical or radiation poisoning.
The workers must have veto power on questions of safety. They should insist that production be shut down at once on demand of the workers and at no loss in pay whenever safety of personnel is at stake. All safety controls and the speed of the production line must be set by the workers themselves. Acceptable levels of chemical pollution, control over purification of waste products, and similar standards must be established by the workers after full access to technical information and consultation with experts of their own choice.
Workers committees must be empowered to decide directly, in consultation with citizens committees responsible to the community, on projects to establish plants or use industrial processes that may adversely affect the environment of cities and regions. Such decisions have to be made on the basis of full and accurate information about the ecological and health effects involved, and with no concern for profits such as motivates the lobbyists and government representatives of big business. Only labor can fight to put science to work as the liberator of humanity, not its destroyer.…
“Open the books for inspection by the workers” is a necessary provision to protect the public against the shortages, sudden breakdowns, and rampant inflation endemic in the decline of capitalism and to counter any claims of the bosses that they cannot satisfy the needs of the workers, either as employees or consumers.
The claimed “right to business secrecy” is used by the employers’ bankers and their politicians in a drive to cut back on wages, working conditions, and public services in every city, county, state, and federal jurisdiction they control through their two-party system. When monopolies like the utilities, the postal service, the agri-businesses, the railroads, and the aerospace industries cry “bankruptcy,” charge exorbitant rates or prices, or refuse services to those who cannot pay, they should be nationalized and run under control of the workers and worker-consumer committees.
In order to make their decisions on a sound basis, the workers committees will have to proceed in cooperation with similar committees throughout their industry on a national scale, and other industries in their region. The facts must be shared nationally and internationally, and the public kept fully informed.
To acquire the needed information and resources of credit and planning, the entire banking system — now the accounting and credit system of the capitalist class — will have to be expropriated and opened up to the committees of workers and placed under their control as well. Only by winning that struggle can the workers begin planning and organizing the economy so as to prevent breakdowns, chaos, and the lowering of the standard of living of the entire working class and its allies. And along this line of march, beginning with individual industry and sectors, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie will be posed.
Even partial steps along this course, imposed by a rising mass movement that is rapidly gaining in social and political consciousness and led by a growing class-struggle wing of organized labor, will meet with stiff resistance from the bosses. To them it is a sacrosanct prerogative to run their business as they see fit — to keep the details of their operations secret from those they exploit, to throw thousands onto the unemployment lines, to charge extortionate prices, to move “their” factories to where the workers are less organized and less experienced in fighting for their rights, to slash the educational system and social services the workers have fought for, to destroy the earth’s ecosystem if this will assure high profits today, to use legislatures and “public” agencies to advance their schemes to make a fast buck.
An increase in class polarization will go hand in hand with deepening class struggle. Fascism, along with war, was the ultimate “solution” imposed by the ruling class to the last world capitalist crisis.
To protect their struggles and gains against murderous attacks by goons, cops, and fascist bands, the workers will have to organize and train their own forces and use them in the most effective way. Starting with defense of picket lines and the right to strike, the protection of their demonstrations or those of their allies, and proceeding to workers defense guards, workers militias, and the requisite arming of the working class, the working masses will learn from their own experiences what measures to take. The lessons of history, incorporated into the general strategy of the workers movement, will prove invaluable on this life-and-death question.