Workers Vanguard No. 1135
1 June 2018
Beware Anti-Union World Socialist Web Site
3 May 2018
The latest WV has a fine article on the Arizona teachers strike [“Victory to School Strike!” WV No. 1133 (May 4)], but I think (once again) it makes the mistake of failing to attack the Northites. As you must know, the Northites are in virtual campaign mode with enthusiastic talk of the wave of teachers’ strikes as supposed harbinger of a working class upsurge around the world—another “new stage” of class struggle.
This strikes me as wishful thinking, but the danger is they jump into it with significant resources and create special “newsletters” for their interventions—a Teacher Newsletter, an Autoworker Newsletter, a Telecom Workers newsletter, an Amazon Workers newsletter, etc. all of which do get circulation, I believe. Their online interviews with workers, with photos, suggest they could very well be making headway here, and simply ignoring them in the press is foolish, in my opinion.
They play on genuine worker disgruntlement to promote their anti-union line that the workers should just quit the union and form “rank-and-file committees”—committees led by the SEP [Socialist Equality Party], presumably? This sounds fanciful—perhaps a version of 1920s ultra-leftism—but I would not underestimate the danger here in their picking up some advanced workers who are fed up with the grotesque union sellouts, and want a broader view of the world than just unionism.
WV replies: We thank Mark for his letter. David North’s SEP, which runs the “World Socialist Web Site” (WSWS), promotes a union-busting line. They equate the trade unions with the pro-capitalist bureaucracy, which has presided over decades of givebacks and the decimation of the unions, all the while preaching reliance on the capitalist Democratic Party. The unions are the basic defense organizations of the working class. What is needed is a fight to forge a new, class-struggle union leadership based on the understanding that the interests of labor and capital cannot be reconciled. Instead, the Northites, whose politics cannot be described as ultra-leftist in any form, label the whole union movement as reactionary and call for the destruction of the unions.
For whatever talk they may spout about socialism, the Northites’ position serves only the bosses, who would love nothing more than to see “right to work” laws expanded from states like Arizona to the whole country, with an eye to getting rid of unions altogether. That is the purpose of Janus v. AFSCME, the case now before the Supreme Court.
The court’s expected anti-union ruling would ban the agency shop in public employment, whereby employees who refuse to join the union must pay “agency fees” to the union, which bargains on their behalf as well as that of its members. The reactionary forces behind Janus are betting that demoralized workers will then opt to quit the unions. WSWS aligns itself perfectly with the Koch brothers on this question: “There is nothing democratic or progressive in requiring workers to pay agency fees to the right-wing, pro-capitalist unions. These organizations long ago abandoned any defense of the interests of workers and collaborate openly with employers in driving down the living standards of the working class” (“US Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Union Agency Fees Case,” wsws.org, February 27).
During the West Virginia and Arizona school strikes, Workers Vanguard sales teams saw no evidence that the Northites gained traction among strikers with such anti-union garbage. But if they did, it’s not advanced workers who would be attracted. As we noted in “Janus Case: Assault on Labor,” which was in the same issue as our Arizona article: “The effectiveness of unions lies in their ability to carry out actions through their collective power; workers who abandon their union become a potential reserve of scabs.”
At the time of the West Virginia strike, we published a sidebar to our main article on the walkout titled, “‘World Socialist Web Site’: Anti-Union, Not Socialist” in Workers Vanguard (No. 1129, 9 March), which we also distributed in Arizona. Our article calling for victory to the Arizona school strike necessarily emphasized the fight for bilingual education as part of the struggle for free, quality, integrated education for all—a burning need for the working class and Latino, black and Native American poor. These are key issues for the labor movement to take up if it is to be revitalized.
For their part, the Northites have always displayed contemptible indifference to special oppression—whether as the SEP or its predecessor, the Workers League (WL). After the 2012 coldblooded killing of Trayvon Martin, a young black man, by a racist vigilante, the SEP presidential candidate grotesquely opined that the killing was “not fundamentally about race” (see “SEP Denies Racism in Trayvon Martin Killing,” WV No. 1005, 6 July 2012).
Decades ago, WL leader Tim Wohlforth crudely captured this outfit’s disdain toward racial and sexual oppression, telling a group of young New Left Maoists in the early 1970s: “The working class hates faggots, women’s libbers and hippies, and so do we!” Such views were indeed those of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy at the time under George Meany, who had nothing but racist contempt for the fight for black rights or those of any of the oppressed. Yet, at the height of Vietnam antiwar protests and the upheavals in the black ghettos, the WL urged that Meany’s AFL-CIO form a “labor party” on a program that omitted any mention of the war or the fight for black liberation.
After years of pandering to the AFL-CIO tops, the Northites in 1992 declared the unions to be “direct instruments of imperialism.” To justify this reactionary line, they drag Leon Trotsky’s name through the mud. In a February 28 article, WSWS selectively quotes from Trotsky’s 1937 article “Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State?” in order to make it appear that Trotsky denounced the unions as “an organization of scabs.” In fact, Trotsky famously drew an analogy between the American Federation of Labor, with its pro-capitalist leadership, and the bureaucratically degenerated Soviet Union in order to explain why it was vitally necessary to defend the workers state despite Stalinist bureaucratic misrule.
“[AFL head William] Green and Company, in order not to lose their base, must within certain limits lead the struggle of the workers for an increase—or at least against a diminution—of their share of the national income. This objective symptom is sufficient in all important cases to permit us to draw a line of demarcation between the most reactionary trade union and an organization of scabs. Thus we are duty bound not only to carry on work in the AFL, but to defend it from scabs, the Ku Klux Klan, and the like.
“The function of Stalin, like the function of Green, has a dual character. Stalin serves the bureaucracy and thus the world bourgeoisie; but he cannot serve the bureaucracy without defending that social foundation which the bureaucracy exploits in its own interests.”
For years, the Northites supported imperialist-backed forces working for the destruction of the Soviet Union and applauded the workers state’s demise through counterrevolution in 1991-92. Likewise, they stand with reactionaries hell-bent on destroying the trade unions.