The settler nature of the Euro-Amerikan oppressor nation is the decisive factor in their political struggles. It is the decisive factor in relations between Third-World struggles and the Euro-Amerikan masses. This was true in 1776 and true in 1976. True for the Ku Klux Klan and true for the Communist Party USA - not that these two organizations have the same politics, but that their settler national character is the decisive factor in both.
It is only by grasping this that the question of broader unity can be correctly answered. This is a particular problem for Asian-Amerikans, who as relatively small national minorities within the Continental Empire have a high organic need for political coalitions and alliances. It is difficult to evaluate different forms of unity just from our own experiences alone. Asian national minorities here have had a limited history of political unity with each other, much less with Euro-Amerikans or the oppressed nations.
Settler radicalism has taught us that two types of unity are important: proletarian internationalism (strategic unity of communists and workers of all nations) and immediate trade union unity (tactical unity of all workers in unions and other mass organizations). Since historically most Asian workers here have been nationally segregated, there has been little opportunity to test out this trade union unity. The often-cited example is that of the Filipino-Japanese plantation workers in the Hawaiian ILWU (the radical-led Longshoremen's Union on the West Coast), who by the 1970's were the highest-paid agricultural workers in the world.* This is cited as proof that by uniting inside the settler unions we will be able to not only get immediate economic benefits, but will be laying the foundations for eventual strategic unity with our "brother and sister" Euro-Amerikan workers. In that viewpoint, money-based tactical unity with settlers will eventually produce a heartfelt strategic unity, wherein Euro-Amerikan workers will join us as true comrades in making revolution against their Empire. What our analysis has proved is that this view is worse than simple-minded.
*[They are the first and last such, as the Hawaiian plantations are closing down and shifting production further into the Third World.]
To better examine the question of strategic and tactical relations, we need to turn to the broader history of "Black-White workers unity," which has been used in the U.S. Empire as the classic example of the supposed superiority of radical integrationism. We need to begin with the theoretical framework constructed by Message To The Black Liberation Movement. Message performed a mentally liberating deed by taking the question of unity out of the fog of "racial" or "interracial" sentiment - posing it instead in terms of national interests and class interests:
Black-White worker solidarity cannot be attained at any cost, but at a particular cost. We do not agree with white leftist revisionists that Black and White workers share the same interest because they are both workers. While this may be true on a tactical level (specific struggles around certain issues) it is not true on a strategic level. Strategically speaking (long range) the Black workers’ ultimate goal is the same as the masses of Blacks, which is toward national self-determination as a people... Both the establishment of a Black revolutionary Nation based on socialist relations, and overthrowing the present capitalist system and establishment of a predominantly white workers state are complimentary struggles, and as such there will be tactical unity around issues that affect both Black and white workers. (1)
While this view was an important advance, it also contained certain contradictions. It assumed, despite settlerism, that the Euro-Amerikan masses and the Afrikan masses had nationally separate but parallel struggles, both moving in the same direction. Because of this "complementary" relationship, there would naturally "be tactical unity" between "Black and white workers."
First of all, tactical unity should be understood as temporary, short-run unity around a specific issue by forces that can even be fundamentally antagonistic. The Chinese Revolution and the U.S. Empire had for a few years a tactical unity against the Japanese Empire. The unity between proletarians of different nations, struggling towards socialism, is not tactical but strategic. There is nothing temporary or tactical about the deep bond, for example, between the Vietnamese Revolution and the guerillas of El Salvador. We ourselves have deep feelings of unity - more strategic than any national boundary - towards our comrades in Vietnam.
If "both Black and white workers" were indeed moving towards socialism in their respective nations, then the unity would be more than tactical. In reality this is not the situation. Message becomes confused when it tries to deal with the fact that immediate issues (higher wages in a factory, tenants' rights legislation, etc.) call for some tactical relationship between "Black and white workers." This is a relationship in the larger framework of national antagonism.
It is necessary to deepen this to see more fully what is tactical and what is strategic in the linked struggles of Euro-Amerikan and Third-World workers. Particularly, in seeing that revolutionaries are not the only ones with tactics and strategies. What is the relationship of tactical unity to genocide?
The classic and most cited example of "Black-White workers unity" has always been the United Mine Workers. From its founding in 1890, the UMW constitution admitted all coal miners regardless of "race, creed or nationality." As early as 1900 the UMW had some 20,000 Afrikan members, while even in the earliest years an Afrikan miner, Richard L. Davis, was a union leader (Davis was elected to the UMW National Executive Board in 1896 and 1897). Davis himself said after many white miners voted to put him on the Board that the "...question of color in our miners organization will soon be a thing of the past." (2) By 1939 the UMW had as many as 100,000 Afrikan members, and Horace Cayton and George Mitchell wrote that year in Black Workers and the New Unions that the UMW was "...from the point of view of the participation of Negroes, the most important in the country." (3)
One of the earliest modern industrial unions in the U.S., the UMW was the only major union with significant Afrikan membership. The most integrated union in the AFL, the UMW under John L. Lewis led the breakaway from the old AFL to form the more militant CIO. To this very day the Mine Workers Unions has Afrikan local and district officers and the original constitutional provisions still making discrimination by any member grounds for expulsion.
The historic place assigned the UMW as an example of "working class unity" and integration is unique. The Negro Almanac says, for instance: "It has been said that no other CIO leader better understood 'the importance of equalitarian racial policies for successful unionism than John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers.' In this union, the common economic and occupational hardships endured by all minimized -although they did not totally eliminate - racial differences among members, even in the South... CIO policies ultimately prompted Thurgood Marshall to declare that "The program (of this organization) has become a bill of rights for Negro labor in America.""
In the UMW we can examine tactical unity over a 90 year period in a major industry. The fundamental reality was that Afrikan miners and Euro-Amerikan miners had tactical unity, but different strategic interests. Afrikan miners attempted to pursue their tactical interests by uniting within settler unionism, helping to organize all coal miners and thus building a strong enough union to significantly increase wages and improve working conditions. This tactical unity was very practical and easily understood. But the strategic contradictions are now equally clear, while seldom brought to light. While Afrikan workers had the strategic goal of liberating their nation from the U.S. Empire, the settler workers had the strategic goal of preserving the U.S. Empire's exploitation of the oppressed nations. The mythology that they had "common class interests" proved factually untrue.
Since Afrikan miners were perhaps 20% of all coal miners and a majority in the Southern mines, it was impractical for settler miners to build a union that excluded them. As early as 1899, UMW president John Mitchell told an astonished Congressional investigation that even in Alabama "There are cases where a colored man will be the officer of a local union" with both Afrikan and Euro-Amerikan members:
"I will say there is no difference as far as our organization is concerned. They recognize - as a matter of necessity they were forced to recognize - the identity of interest. I suppose among miners, the same as other white men in the South, there is the same class differences, but they have been forced down, so they must raise the colored man up or they go down, and they consequently have mixed together in their organization." (4)
Both Euro-Amerikan and Afrikan miners wanted tactical unity. However, since they had different strategic interests their tactical unity meant different things to each group. The Euro-Amerikan miners wanted tactical unity in order to advance their own narrow economic interests and take away Afrikan jobs.
In the early 1920s the UMW could in practice be divided into two regions: the unionized North, where most UMW locals in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania used their settler organization to keep Afrikan miners out; the unorganized Appalachian South, where the UMW needed Afrikan miners to build the settler union.
While UMW welcomed Afrikan workers as unpaid organizers and militants, when a mining community in the North became organized very often the Afrikan "union brothers" were told to get out. At the 1921 UMW Pittsburgh District Convention an experienced Afrikan delegate, recalling how he and hundreds of other Afrikan miners had taken up rifles to join the union's "Armed Marches" in West Virginia, complained bitterly:
Those colored men from the state of West Virginia put their shoulders to the shoulders of white brothers, and our newspapers tell us that they have sacrificed their lives for this great movement.
I think if looks very embarrassing when a man would sacrifice his life for this movement, and after the victory is won then his brother would say: 'We need you no longer.' A livelihood belongs to every man and when you deprive me of it... you have almost committed murder to the whole entire race.
Richard L. Davis, whom we mentioned as the first Afrikan to be elected to the UMW Board, spent sixteen years as an unpaid labor organizer - not only in Ohio, but in Alabama and West Virginia as well. Finally he was white listed, unable to get work from the mine operators and unable despite his leading role to get either financial aid or paid organizer's position with the UMW. Living in great want, unable to provide for his children, ill, he finally died of "lung fever" at the age of thirty-five. (5) He was used and then discarded. This is why Euro-Amerikan historians write of him as the best possible example for Third-World workers to follow.
The union actually depended upon a fighting base of Afrikan miners to get established in the South. As we discussed earlier, in both the 1908 and 1920-21 Alabama strikes the majority of strikers were Afrikans (76% of the 1920-21 UMW strikers were Afrikan). An Afrikan miner who worked in Mercer County, West Virginia for 43 years recalled:
The white man was scared to join the union at first around here. The Black man took the organizing jobs and set it up. We went into the bushes and met in secret; and we held all the key offices. A few of the white miners would slip around and come to our meetings. After they found out that the company wasn't going to run them away, why they began to appear more often. And quite naturally, when they became the majority, they elected who they wanted for their Presidents, Vice Presidents and Treasurers. The left a few jobs as Secretaries for the Negroes. But at the beginning, most all of the main offices in the locals were held by Negroes.
The UMW's triumph in the mid-1930s meant that at last the Euro-Amerikan miners held enough power to defend their settler class interests. Much higher wages, per-ton production royalties for union pension and medical plans, seniority and safety regulations, and other benefits all resulted from this triumph. Today, while underground mining is still very hard and dangerous work, the union mines are highly mechanized and workers regularly earn $20,000 to $30,000 per year.* These are very desirable jobs by the standards of the imperialist labor market. Even the weakened position of the UMW since the 1960s has not completely wiped out the gains made.
*[In 1980 the President's Coal Commission said that the 233,400 coal miners in the U.S. earned an average wage of $20,000 per year (with average weekly gross earnings of $434.70). Of these 50% owned their own homes and an added 24% owned mobile homes. 87% owned their own cars and 24% owned 2 cars. While imperialism is literally destroying much of Appalachia through physical and social environmental dislocation, it is paying high wages in the union mines in order to maintain mass acceptance of its policies.]
Now that the fruits of successful union struggle have been placed in view, we can evaluate in practice the gains that Afrikan miners won by sacrificing to build the settler UMW and steadfastly uniting with their Euro-Amerikan "union brothers." The gains, objectively speaking, are non-existent. There are no gains because Afrikan coal miners have been virtually wiped out by the alliance of settler capitalists and settler miners. Driven out of the industry by the tens of thousands, Afrikan miners found their share of the jobs taken over by their Euro-Amerikan "union brothers."
In 1930 Afrikan coal miners comprised 22% of the industry in Southern Appalachia (Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia). By 1960 their share of the coal mining jobs in Southern Appalachia had been cut to only 6%. Even during the boom years of the 1940s and early 1950s, when tens of thousands of new Euro-Amerikan miners were getting hired, thousands of Afrikan miners were being fired and not replaced.
In doing this the imperialists were merely carrying out their general policy on colonial labor, restricting its role in strategic industries and reserving the best jobs for Euro-Amerikans in order to ensure the loyalty of settler society. When most coal mining jobs were brutal hand-loading of the coal while working in two feet high tunnels, there were many jobs for Afrikan labor. But as unionization and mechanization raised the wages and improved the work, it became "too good" for Afrikans, and the companies and the UMW started pushing Afrikans out.
Denied jobs operating the new machinery, Afrikan laborers with ten years seniority found themselves being permanently laid off (in other words, fired) at the same time as the company would be hiring Euro-Amerikan teenagers for high-wage jobs on the new equipment. The other favored tactic was to transfer large numbers of Afrikan miners into the oldest mines, working them to exhaustion without investing even a penny in modernization, and then closing the worked out mine and firing the Afrikan men. At the same time the same company would be opening new mines elsewhere with an all-white work force. The United Mine Workers actively conspired with all the mine companies in this campaign against Afrikan labor - it would not have been possible otherwise.
Today surface mining accounts for over 60% of all coal production, double its percentage just ten years ago. The growing sector of the industry, it is also the best paid, safest, cleanest and most mechanized. It should be no surprise that these jobs are reserved for Euro-Amerikans. Alabama is traditionally the most heavily Afrikan area in the coal industry. Yet in 1974, the UMW's district 20 in Alabama had only ten Afrikan members among the 1500 surface miners - while Afrikans are over 26% of the area's population.
The "Black-Out" of Afrikan workers in the coal industry has reached a point where the 1980 report on The American Coal Miner by the President's Coal Commission (chaired by John D. Rockefeller IV) has an entire chapter on the Navaho miners who produce 3% of the U.S. coal, but not even one page on Afrikan miners. In a few paragraphs, the study praises the UMW as an example of integration, and notes that past "discrimination" is being corrected by corporate civil rights programs. It ends these few words by noting that the coal companies would supposedly like to hire more Afrikans for these well-paying jobs, but they can't find any job-seekers: "Coal companies contend that the major problem in finding Black miners is that many Black families have migrated to the large urban centers and that few live in the coalfields." (6)
We can see, then, that the tactical unity of settler and Afrikan miners can not be understood without examining the strategy of both groups. Euro-Amerikan labor used that tactical unity to get Afrikan workers to carry out the strategy of preserving the settler empire. Some Afrikan miners received tactical gains from this unity in the form of higher wages and better working conditions. But in return, Afrikan miners disorganized themselves, giving themselves up to the hegemony of settler unionism. Thus disarmed and disorganized, they soon discovered that the result of the tactical unity was to take their jobs and drive them out. There are no tactics without a larger strategy, and in the U.S. Empire that strategy has a national and class character.
As that Afrikan miner so correctly pointed out in 1921: "A livelihood belongs to every man and when you deprive me of it... you have almost committed murder to the whole entire race." Without that economic base, the Afrikan communities in West Virginia lost 25% of their total population during 1960-1970, as families were forced out of the coal areas. This, then, is the bitter fruit of "Black-white workers unity" over ninety years in the coal industry.
While such integration was shocking to many settlers, we can now understand why Richard L. Davis was elected to the UMW National Board in 1896. He was the chosen "Judas goat", selected to help lure Afrikan miners into following settler unionism. The UMW Journal reminded white miners at the same time that with his new position: "He will in a special way be able to appear before our colored miners and preach the gospel of trade unions..."
When Afrikan miners in Ohio complained that the UMW was "A White man's organization", Davis answered them: "Now, my dear people, I, as a colored man, would ask of you to dispell all such ideas as they are not only false but foolish and unwise... you have the same interests at stake as your white brother..." (7) While Davis proved his sincerity by literally giving his life to build industrial unionism, it isn't very hard to see that he was elevated into a high union office by white miners because that actually represented their own narrow interests. He was the mis-leader (although idealistic and honest) they helped create for Afrikan miners.
Even today, after the decisive blows have fallen, we find misleaders telling Afrikan coal miners that better unity with settler workers, and reforming the settler unions, are the answers to their problems. The damage in this case is limited solely by the fact that no one can be killed twice.
Bill Worthington, past President of the Black Lung Association (of miners disabled from breathing coal dust), is a prominent retired Afrikan miner. He often speaks at national labor rallies, community and settler "left" events. And he trots out with shameless disregard for the truth the whole tired line of settleristic lies: "The operators try to divide Black and white. It's a master plan to keep confusion among the workers. Keep the poor people fighting one another."
This is the classic line invented by the settler "left" to explain away national oppression. In point of fact, Afrikan and Euro-Amerikan coal miners are not actually fighting each other in the coal fields. By cooperating with the imperialists, Euro-Amerikan miners have forced most Afrikans out and now have whatever remains of the jobs. Afrikan miners have been forced out and are in a difficult position to fight. Imperialism has the coal mines, the settlers have the jobs - and are going to try to hold on to them - and the unemployed Afrikan workers get the inspiring propaganda about "Black-White worker's unity."
This history proves concretely that the strategy of settleristic assimilation and the tactics that flowed from it were incorrect for Afrikan miners, and that their true strategic interests lay not only in national liberation but in developing their own fighting organizations which alone could defend their true class interests. It was only from that foundation that correct tactical relations could have been made with Euro-Amerikan workers. Correct alliances must be based on correct strategy.
We also see how the Euro-Amerikan labor aristocracy uses tactical unity and the surface appearance of advancing the common good, but only really acts to protect settler privilege and maintain settler hegemony over labor. It is always important to go beneath the surface appearances of such tactical unity, no matter how good it looks.
In the summer of 1974 the United Mine Workers and the Euro-Amerikan "left" announced that a wonderful breakthrough had just happened: the union was leading thousands of settler miners to make common cause with the Afrikan liberation struggle in South Afrika! This was an event so improbable as to surpass anything but the propaganda of the settler "left."
In its June 5, 1974 issue, the radical weekly Guardian ran a large head-line: "MINERS HALT WORK TO PROTEST S. AFRICA COAL." In the article underneath they proclaimed that "spirited action" had "united the worker's movement with the Black liberation struggle." The article details how: "nearly 8000 miners went on a one-day walkout throughout Alabama May 22. On the same day 1500 people, also mainly miners, staged a militant rally in common cause with the Black workers of South Afrika. Carrying picket signs which read, 'Stop Imperialism in South Africa', 'End Racism and Slavery', and 'Stop The Southern Co.', the workers blasted the plans of U.S. energy companies to import coal from racist South Africa."
The "militant rally" was organized by the Birmingham-based Coalition to Stop South African Coal and endorsed by UMW District 20. The next week the Guardian ran follow-up material in its June 12, 1974 issue, including a large photograph of a Euro-Amerikan and an Afrikan kneeling together wearing miner's helmets, holding a sign urging "Do Not Buy South African Coal." Another photograph showed a Euro-Amerikan miner holding a sign saying "Oppose Racism - In Africa And At Home!" The Guardian further said:
Times are changing in the U.S. labor movement. When a major union recognizes the unity between the struggles of U.S. workers and workers abroad, it is a sharp departure from the usual union campaign of 'Be American, Buy American', which fails to distinguish the common interests of workers throughout the world. It is even more significant when the U.S. workers are from the South and the workers abroad are Afrikan...
This was truly unbelievable. How could the UMW and its mass of Euro-Amerikan members - who had a proven record of white-supremacist attacks on Afrikan workers - literally overnight without a struggle be converted to Proletarian Internationalism? Yet the Euro-Amerikan "left" was responsible for that new alliance. Some of the organizations involved in uniting with the UMW were the Revolutionary Union (now the Revolutionary Communist Party), the October League (now CPUSA-ML), The Black Workers Congress, some elements from the Southern Conference Education Fund and the Atlanta African Liberation Support Committee.
On the basis of its new found "solidarity" with Afrikan Liberation, the UMW District 20 officers approached the Afrikan dockworkers in Mobile, Alabama (where the South Afrikan coal was to be unloaded) and asked them to join the campaign and not unload the coal. The Afrikan dockworkers in Mobile refused. And at that point the whole treacherous scheme by the UMW and the settler radicals blew apart at the seams.
It turned out that the UMW District 20 leadership was, of course, totally reactionary and white-supremacist. They were, in fact, the labor arm in the area of the rabid George Wallace "American Independence Party" movement. Their settler union had also endorsed the then Attorney-General Bill Baxley, who was appealing to Euro-Amerikan voters by personally trying to get the death penalty for the Atmore-Holman Brothers. Inside the mines they openly promoted the most vicious race-baiting - knowing all this, the Afrikan dockworkers refused to have anything to do with them. (8)
The genesis of that strange charade began with the UMW's decision to fight importation of all foreign coal. The decision by the Southern Power Co. to import $50 million worth of low-sulfur South Afrikan coal was singled out. At that point the District 20 reactionaries were quietly approached by some Euro-Amerikan radicals, who convinced them that by falsely adopting "Anti-imperialist" slogans they could trick the Afrikan dockworkers into fighting to save Euro-Amerikan jobs (stolen from Afrikans, of course). That's what all that treachery was about - "tactical unity" based on settler self-interest. That's why we saw the unreal spectacle of racist Alabama settlers marching around with signs saying "Support South African Liberation."
Frustrated, the Klan-like unionists turned on the settler radicals and denounced them. Soon the Guardian and the other settler "left" organizations had to admit that the UMW leaders were not as they'd originally pictured them. Even after the UMW admitted that they didn't care about any Afrikan liberation, but only wanted to boycott all foreign coal to save settler jobs, the Euro-Amerikan radicals kept trying to support them.
Finally, the UMW miners had to tell the radicals to leave the boycott picket lines or get tossed out. An article in the Sept. 11, 1974 Guardian said that even though the Alabama UMW was now cooperating with the FBI and the Alabama State Police, the radical Coalition To Stop South African Coal still wanted to unite with them and still supported their settler boycott.
The entire example of attempted tactical unity shows how strongly the oppressor nation character of both the settler unions and the settler "Left" determines their actions. The settler "Left" tried to reach an opportunistic deal with reactionary labor leaders, hoping that Afrikan workers could be used to pay the price for their alliance.
While the settler radicals professed a heart-felt concern with helping the liberation struggle in South Afrika, we notice that they were totally unconcerned with the long-standing genocidal attack of the UMW against the economic base of Afrikans in the occupied South. Further, they covered up for their settler fellow citizens as much as possible. What is evident is that despite the tactical division between the rabid, George Wallace-loving settlers and the radical settlers, their common national position as oppressors gave them a strategic unity in opposing the interests of the oppressed.
After an emotional meeting in their local union hall with a representative from Zimbabwe, the Afrikan longshoremen temporarily held off the orders of their local union president and stalled for a day in unloading the South Afrikan coal. They desired to show support for the liberation struggle of their brothers and sisters in Southern Afrika. However incomplete and still undeveloped, that desire for solidarity was real. But in regards to the attempted UMW boycott, the Afrikan longshoremen were firm in their refusal to have anything to do with it.
That attempted maneuver was crude and obvious, no matter how lovingly the settler radicals wrapped it up in a camouflage of "anti-imperialist" slogans and postures. The Afrikan longshoremen saw right through it, right to its rip-off, reactionary essence. How come the Black Workers Congress couldn't unmask it? How come all the assorted Third-World comrades involved in those radical "multinational" organizations couldn't unmask it? They thought they were "Communists," but in practice their political framework of settleristic revisionism left them politically simple-minded, unable to prevent themselves from being pawns in the most vulgar white-supremacist maneuvers.
Exposed and defeated, this fiasco was dug up out of its grave four years later. This time by a new crew - the Chinese-Amerikan-led Workers Viewpoint Organization (now called Communist Workers Party). In their campaign to recruit Afrikans, this grouping had organized an "African Liberation Support Commmittee" under its leadership to stage a large Afrikan Liberation Day 1978 rally in Washington, D.C.*
*[We place "African Liberation Support Committee" in quotation marks to distinguish it from the earlier, genuine A.L.S.C.]
They dug up and reprinted the old, staged UMW photograph of the Euro-Amerikan and Afrikan miners kneeling together, even going so far as to say that the 1974 white-supremacist UMW boycott gives "lessons for future struggles" by its "examples of international solidarity between all working people by supporting Afrikan miners." That old lie of four years earlier was revived as evidence to justify another round of integrationism. This organization certainly shows that even an entire group of radical Chinese-Amerikans can be indoctrinated into settler ideology. (9) While proletarian ideology has a clear relationship to the oppressed, it is not transmitted genetically.
So we see that tactical unity is not just some neutral, momentary alliances of convenience. Tactical unity flows out of strategy as well as immediate circumstances. Nor is tactical unity with Euro-American workers simply the non-antagonistic working together of "complementary" but different movements. Even the simplest rank-and-file reform coalition inside a settler union is linked to the strategic conflict of oppressor and oppressed nations.
The alliances formed around the fiery League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit illustrate all this. The rise of the League's Revolutionary Union Movements in 1967, first at the old Chrysler Dodge Main plant, had alarmed the United Auto Workers labor aristocracy. The League represented the militant, anti-capitalist and anti-settler union sentiment of the young Afrikan workers in the Detroit auto plants. At least at Chrysler's Dodge Main and Eldon Ave. Gear and Axle plants the LRBW had won a clear majority support of young Afrikan workers against the UAW.
The UAW leadership responded with numerous attacks of different kinds - from verbal to violence. Emil Mazey, UAW Secretary-Treasurer and the most prominent figure in the liberal grouping of settler trade unionists against the Vietnam War, denounced the LRBW as "black fascists." He called upon Euro-Amerikan auto workers to respond to this new "black peril" (his words): "We can no longer tolerate the tactics of these young militants." (10) And when the UAW used direct police intimidation to defeat the LRBW's Ron March candidacy for union trustee at Dodge Main, the liberal settler union didn't look too much different from George Wallace.
But the UAW was different. One of the key ways it reacted to contain the League was to promote alternative, non-revolutionary Afrikan unionists. The International UMW had always intervened everywhere in the local unions to keep settlers in charge. This became particularly important with the gradual rise of Afrikan membership - the UAW officially placed Afrikans then at 25% of the UAW membership. But the breakout of revolutionary leadership in the form of the LRBW had outflanked the Euro-Amerikan labor bosses.
The UAW leadership selectively stopped organizing against those non-revolutionary Afrikan unionists who had been seeking the top offices in Detroit locals. After the LRBW broke out, moderate Afrikans were elected as the UAW local presidents at Ford Wayne Local 900, Chrysler Forge Local 47, Plymouth Local 51, Chrysler Mopar Local 1248, etc. etc. (11) So that in addition to cooperating with the companies to fire LRBW cadre, using police intimidation, etc., the settler union bureaucracy tried to undercut the League - that is to undercut revolutionary Afrikan leadership which rejected settler hegemony - by advancing alternative, moderate leaders for Afrikan auto workers.*
*[Bayard Rustin, archflunky for the AFL-CIO and Zionism, crowed about this in his article, "The Failure of Black Separatism": "Some of the most interesting election victories were won at the Chrysler Eldon Gear and Axle Local 961 and Dodge No. 3 in Hamtramck, where the separationist Eldon Revolutionary Union Movement (ELRUM) and Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) have been active. At both locals the DRUM and ELRUM candidates were handily defeated by Black trade unionists who campaigned on a platform of militant integrationism..."]
Now, the League itself had made alliances with Euro-Amerikan radicals in the auto plants. Most importantly, they had responded positively to suggestions from the United National Caucus for a cooperative working relationship against the UAW leadership. The United National Caucus was (and still is) the more-or-less official opposition coalition to the UAW leadership, with members from reform caucuses in locals throughout the UAW.
It had grown out of the "Dollar An Hour Now Caucus", a caucus of Euro-Amerikan skilled craftsmen who were pressuring for an immediate dollar an hour raise for themselves alone. The UNC was organized by Euro-Amerikan radicals, and had an Afrikan co-chairman.
He was Jordan Sims, an experienced activist and union reformer at Chrysler's Eldon Ave. Gear and Axle - an LRBW center of strength. Sims, while not a revolutionary, had defended the League in his attempts to win the local presidency. (After several stolen elections and getting fired, Sims finally became local President in 1973.) So this broad, "Black-white workers' unity" had some constructive possibilities.
But the world of the automobile plants is, however important, not the entire world. In April, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. Detroit blew up - and settler Detroit armed up. In the Detroit white suburbs gun sales soared as settlers prepared to keep Afrikans out of their communities. Euro-Amerikan housewives were signed up in special handgun classes. A publication associated with the League reprinted a newspaper photograph of suburban Euro-Amerikan women practicing with their new guns - and referring to the settler women in unfriendly words.
The problem was that one of the settler women photographed was the wife of a leading member of the United National Caucus! Incensed, the skilled Euro-Amerikan auto workers demanded that their caucus either break off ties with the "Black nationalists" or force the League to print an apology. The settler skilled tradesmen were raging mad that "their" women had been insulted by Afrikans. Naturally, the LRBW was unlikely to apologize for pointing out a true fact about Euro-Amerikan behavior. The relationship between the UNC and the LRBW was off, a casualty of the sudden lightning-bolt of truth that flashed across Amerika after King's assassination.
Privately, the leader of the Euro-Amerikan skilled tradesmen admitted that his people were wrong, that their attitude towards the LRBW was racist. But to be principled at that moment, he said, would be to "throw away" his years of work founding the United National Caucus and organizing settler auto workers into joining it. As a Euro- Amerikan radical he was unwilling to see his "rank-and- file" settler organization torn apart over their racism.
Besides, he continued, to be overly principled would be meaningless since "the League is through." With a smile, he revealed that the UNC had been secretly dealing with key Afrikan supporters of the League. As an example, he said that at a plant of the Ford River Rouge complex the UNC had convinced a League activist that if he split with the League and took some of its base of support with him, that together with the UNC's Euro-Amerikan voting bloc they would have enough votes to make him the next local union President! The UNC leader felt certain that with such practical bribes, they would be able to gradually win over enough Afrikan workers to undermine the League. (12)*
*[The complex reasons for the League's demise and the out-come of the various counter-insurgency tactics against it is far beyond the scope of this paper. This case study does not answer these questions.]
It is interesting that the supporters of this radical, "rank-and-file" workers caucus were busy arming themselves against Afrikans - at the same time tactical unity for union reform was being proposed. The most interesting fact that emerges, however, is that this radical-led settler caucus - organized to fight the established UAW bureaucracy - was using the exact same tactic against Afrikan revolutionaries as was the UAW bureaucracy! Both were working to divide the ranks of Afrikan auto workers, both promoting moderate Afrikan leaders who accepted settler hegemony, in order to undercut the threatened leadership of Afrikan revolutionaries. So where was the real unity?
In earlier chapters we primarily focussed on the larger picture of Euro-Amerikan workers in relation to the expansion of the U.S. Empire and the development within that of settlerism. Here we have examined the politics of settler unionism in the workplace, in its tactical relations with Third-World workers.
What is important about these case histories is that they should push us to think, to question, to closely examine many of the neo-colonial remnants in our minds. "Working class unity" of oppressor and oppressed is both theoretically good, and is immediately practical we are told. It supposedly pays off in higher wages, stronger unions and more organization. But did it? Some Afrikan coal miners did indeed get higher wages, better working conditions and so on from this unity. But to pay for that most got driven out of their jobs. Many Afrikan families who once mined coal now live in exile and on welfare in the North. A part of the economic foundation of New Afrika was taken over and occupied by settler workers - acting as social troops of the U.S. Empire. It was a national set-back. In all this the UMW, the union organization, was guarding only the strategic interests of U.S. Imperialism. Afrikan miners proved to be without organization, merely prisoners within an organization of their oppressors.
Was this just an isolated, untypical example? No. Afrikan workers were gradually herded into the oldest, least mechanized mines. Their exploitation helped provide the capital for modernization and economic investment elsewhere - and then they were laid off and the industry was gradually de-Afrikanized. Sounds like Detroit, doesn't it? What happened to the many thousands of Afrikan workers who were once the majority force in the now-closed Chicago meat-packing industry?
The actual history disproves the thesis that in settler Amerika "common working class interests" override the imperialist contradictions of oppressor and oppressed nations when it comes to tactical unity around economic issues. The same applies to the thesis that supposed ideological unity with the Euro-Amerikan "Left" also overrides imperialist contradictions, and hence, even with their admitted shortcomings, they are supposed allies of the oppressed against U.S. Imperialism. Could it be the other way around? That despite their tactical contradictions with the bourgeoisie, that Euro-Amerikan workers and revisionistic radicals have strategic unity with U.S. Imperialism? Most importantly, how has imperialism been so successful in using this tactical unity against the oppressed?
The thesis we have advanced about the settleristic and non-proletarian nature of the U.S. oppressor nation is a historic truth, and thereby a key to leading the concrete struggles of today. Self-reliance and building mass institutions and movements of a specific national character, under the leadership of a communist party, are absolute necessities for the oppressed. Without these there can be no national liberation. This thesis is not "anti-white" or "racialist" or "narrow nationalism." Rather, it is the advocates of oppressor nation hegemony over all struggles of the masses that are promoting the narrowest of nationalisms - that of the U.S. settler nation. When we say that the principal characteristic of imperialism is parasitism, we are also saying that the principal characteristic of settler trade-unionism is parasitism, and that the principal characteristic of settler radicalism is parasitism.
Every nation and people has its own contribution to make to the world revolution. This is true for all of us, and obviously for Euro-Amerikans as well. But this is another discussion, one that can only really take place in the context of breaking up the U.S. Empire and ending the U.S. oppressor nation.
When the new Republic is established there will never be any more army in Mexico. Armies are the greatest support of tyranny. There can be no Dictator without an army.
We will put the army to work. In all parts of the Republic we will establish military colonies composed of the veterans of the Revolution. The State will give them grants of agricultural lands and establish big industrial enterprises to give them work.
Three days a week they will work and work hard, because honest work is more important than fighting, and only honest work makes good citizens. And the other three days they will receive military instruction and go out and teach all the people how to fight.
Then, when the Patria is invaded, we will just have to telephone from the palace at Mexico City, and in half a day all the Mexican people will rise from their fields and factories, fully armed, equipped and organized to defend their children and their homes.
My ambition is to live my life in one of those military colonies, among my companeros whom I love, who have suffered so long and so deeply with me.
-Francisco "Pancho" Villa
1. Message to the Black Movement: A Political Statement from the Black Underground. n.d. p. 18. (full text available here)
2. HERBERT G. GUTMAN. "The Negro and the United Mine Workers of America." In JACOBSON, Ed. op. cit., p. 50-56. (citation here)
3. PAUL NYDEN. Black Coal Miners in the United States. N.Y., 1974. p. 7. All information on the UMW, unless otherwise noted, is from this CPUSA paper (full text available here); HARRY A. PLOSKI & WARREN MARR II. Eds. The Negro Almanac. 3rd Edition. N.Y., 1976. p. 410. (citation here)
4. GUTMAN. op. cit., p. 81. (citation here)
5. ibid., p. 53-55. (see note 2)
6. PRESIDENT'S COAL COMMISSION. The American Coal Miner. Washington, 1980. p. 20 (citation here); EILEEN WHALEN & KEN LAWRENCE. Liberation For the Oppressed Nations and Peoples of Southern Africa. Jackson, 1975. p. 7. (full text here)
7. GUTMAN. op. cit., p. p. 57-58. (see note 2)
8. WHALEN & LAWRENCE. op. cit., p. 7-9. (see note 6)
9. All Africa Is Standing Up. Vol. 2, No. 4, May 1978. p. 4. (citation here)
10. FRONER. Organized Labor and the Black Worker. p. 418. (citation here)
11. ibid., p. 418. (see note 10)
12. Personal interview