State of the Unions: Recent US Labour Struggles in Perspective

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

In the USA, the recent resurgence of workplace struggles and their mediation through unions indicate a possible future for the UK and Europe: will social democracy be reborn from its ashes, perhaps in a more radical form, through the initiative of rank-and-file militants? In the first major article in our new series on the retreat of social democracy, we trace the background and explore the peculiarities of the class struggle and its forms of mediation in the USA. We also draw out some implications the American situation may have for Britain and the rest of the world.


State of the unions

Recent US labour struggles in perspective
The USA has beaten the UK in the league table of strikes. Hardly a great achievement, but not without promise. A strike by 2,000 newspaper workers from six different unions, with mass blockades, office occupations, invasions of council meetings, battles with cops. United Parcel Services (UPS) forced to cave in by national strike of 185,000 workers.[1] General Motors shut down by a strike of 9,200 autoworkers at one plant. 40,000 construction workers bringing Manhattan to a halt and clashing with the NYPD, to the dismay of the union bureaucracy.

On July 12th 1998, newspaper workers locked out by the Detroit News and Free Press and their supporters marked the third anniversary of their walkout over contracts and merit pay with a strikers' picnic. Their three-year struggle against the media giants Gannet and Knight Ridder was part of a general upsurge in industrial unrest in the USA. This has been accompanied by an increase in the confidence and apparent militancy of the traditionally conservative US trade union hierarchy, as they seek to represent the subjects emerging from this struggle.

There is a certain irony in this, considering that Clinton's new Democrats have become the model for the Labour Party following the retreat of social democracy in the UK. As we shall see, the recent wave of strikes and labour struggles in the USA indicates a possible revival of social democracy. Is this really the case? We will investigate this through a close examination of the history of the class struggle in the US, allowing us to draw out some implications for Britain and the rest of the world, particularly in the light of the recent financial crises.
American English: Labour and the Democrats

The USA hardly seems like the ideal choice for an analysis of the future of social democracy, but Blair's Americanization of the Labour Party, if nothing else, makes an analysis of recent developments in the USA necessary. It was in Philadelphia, the site of a recent militant transport workers' strike, that early last century a group of artisans formed the world's first embryonic Labour Party.[2] There have been several subsequent abortive attempts to achieve an independent political representation for the working class within the state, most recently in 1996. But, unlike in Britain, a mass Labour Party capable of assuming the reigns of government and delivering reforms to the working class has never emerged within the USA. With the help of the unions, the Democrats have tended to divert attempts to form a mass reformist workers' party and have performed the social democratic function of integrating the US working class within the state, in particular through the reforms embodied in Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s and Johnson's Great Society of the 1960s.[3]

The Americanization of the Labour Party reflects the Democrats' recent success in reversing the defeats of the Reagan era. However, the Labour Party's political and ideological links with the Democrats did not begin with Blair. For example, the 1964-70 Labour Government's loyalty to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations was embodied in its adoption of Polaris and its support for the Vietnam war. For its part the US bourgeoisie has sought to influence the development of the Labour Party and British trade unions in a right-wing direction through 'Atlanticist' bodies.[4] Blair looks to the Democrats as a model for a Labour Party divorced from the unions, but ironically the recent labour upsurge is forcing the Democrats towards a more pro-union position.

Bill Clinton's triumph as the first Democrat in the White House for over a decade was a signal to the Labour Party of how to break the Tory stranglehold on British politics, already weakened by the poll tax revolt and the schism over Europe. Clinton had campaigned on a platform of 'tough love', and since his election, the dismantling of the welfare state, the criminalization of the poor and unemployed, reductions of real wages[5] and the imposition of flexible labour regimes have all been stepped up.

It was not long before Blair as Shadow Home Secretary spoke of being 'tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime'. Once elected leader, he expressed his admiration for Thatcher, and showed his commitment to her legacy by marginalizing the last remnants of social democracy within the Labour Party. When New Labour won the general election, it was clear that the tendencies in Clinton's America outlined above were likely to be duplicated here. So the 'modernizers' of the Labour Party have been trying to turn a social democratic party into a bourgeois liberal party, taking as their inspiration a bourgeois liberal party which became, under pressure from the struggles of the working class, a 'surrogate social democratic party'[6]. In the following section, we examine the historic peculiarities which gave rise to this situation in the USA.

Social democracy, American style! A labour movement in search of a labour party 'Exceptionalism'

Marx, Engels, Lenin, Kautsky and Trotsky were all fascinated by the possibilities for class struggle in the USA. The present analysis must avoid orthodox Marxism's tendency to equate the political maturity of the working class with the development of a mass workers' party; but it must nevertheless acknowledge the common leftist explanation for the lack of a mass labour, social democratic or Communist Party in America: the belief that US working class is a special case. American working class exceptionalism has been attributed to the frontier, 'racial' divisions and continuous immigration, agrarian-democratic ideologies bound up with petit bourgeois property and the international hegemony of US capital.[7]

The early adherents of these kind of explanations predicted that once the frontier was closed, immigration restricted, petit bourgeoisie expropriated by monopoly capital and US capital in decline, an economic crisis would lead to escalating class conflict and the emergence of a mass workers' party. But how did the orthodox Marxist crystal ball compare with the reality?

The ideology of frontier democracy

In the nineteenth century, American workers had a get-out clause from the wage relation in the form of the frontier, which enabled workers to join the wagon-train out west and stake out their own piece of land. This internal migration eased class tensions in several ways. It enabled some workers to participate in the expropriation of the indigenous population. It also softened the wage relation, and inhibited the development of a unified industrial proletariat antagonistic to capital. But when the supply of free land ran out and the wage relation became absolute, the ideology of frontier democracy persisted[8] and along with it the tendency to individualism in the American working class. By the use of internal migration, US capital was able to impose a greater malleability and fluidity of labour, allowing a more efficient reduction of the working class simply to labour power, leading Marx to comment that the US working class was the closest to abstract labour.[9]

Thus 'America' has become synonymous with capitalism; and communism, socialism or any kind of collective working class organization was denounced as 'un-American'. So the American Plan was a term for the union busting 'open shop'; and socialism is widely seen as an ideology alien to the USA - even by the left: 'American workers have rarely gone beyond a "libertarian populism" which is part syndicalism, part reformism, part socialism and part religion.'[10]

Class violence and the tendency to labour racketeering
In the introductory article in this issue of Aufheben, we mentioned that Mafia protectionism and liberal philanthropy each represent possible alternative methods of mediating working class needs, as distinct from social democracy. In the USA, both of these forms played a part in the mediation of the class struggle by trades unions. In the days before the social democratization of the Democrat Party became the preferred form of mediation, the tendency towards 'labour racketeering' had emerged to mediate class violence.[11]

The crisis of the 1870s triggered a wave of bitter class struggle over the length of the working day, beginning with wildcat rail strikes and rioting by the unemployed in Baltimore, and spreading as far as Chicago and San Francisco. The agitation for the eight hour day produced a new wave of trade unionism in the form of the Knights of Labor (KofL). In 1884, Engels regarded the emergence of the KofL as the birth of mass labour politics in the USA.[12] Workers rushed into the KofL after their victory against Jay Gould's Wabash railroad. But, with the industrial depression of 1884-6, the Socialist Labour Party's defeat in the 1885 election in Chicago and the Chicago KofL executive's last minute retreat from the Mayday general strike for the eight hour day, the prospects for American social democracy on the emerging European model looked bleak.

Nevertheless class violence continued, not least that by the US bourgeoisie itself in bloody reprisals against the working class. Not all of the bourgeoisie were as blatant as Jay Gould when he boasted that he could 'hire one half of the working class to kill the other half', but the history of American labour struggles is littered with massacres by cops, soldiers and hired goon squads. Those liberals who insist that armed violence is the preserve of subjects operating under dictatorships would do well to study the history of the USA, whose political system has always been democratic, but whose industrial relations in the '20s were the envy of Hitler. American workers have frequently had to resort to their guns where they haven't been disarmed by their leaders.

As we discuss further below, the AFL-CIO, the equivalent of Britain's TUC, is the amalgamation of two rival organizations, the American Federation of Labour (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The AFL's way of mediating proletarian violence was to specialize it, exemplifying a long-standing tradition of links between US trade unions and organized crime. Though the AFL's founding father Samuel Gompers said he was 'opposed to violence', he refused to grass up rioters. But after the McNamaras confessed to the 1911 LA Times bombing, linking the crime with union officials, the AFL swung to the right again in an attempt to regain its respectability with the US bourgeoisie. Despite this, however, the links between the unions and organized crime continued until the 1970s, only declining in recent years.

'Race', immigration and class composition

Until the 1890s, America's doors were open to the millions of workers displaced from the Old World by dispossession from the land and by their defeats in industrial struggles, as well as to those seeking to improve their standard of living in what had been promised to them as a land of plenty. So while the US bourgeoisie took a dim view of the left-wing and social democratic ideologies emerging in Europe, it was compelled by its own need for living labour to import them. Unlimited immigration allowed the early US bourgeoisie to import new labour-power to replace that lost to the frontier and to compete with the 'native' labour remaining. However, this was at the price of attracting more working class militants, experienced in the class struggle.

In Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America, Louis Adamic mentions the role of Irish factory and harbour workers in the riots in early nineteenth century New York and Pennsylvania. The Irish immigrants also brought the militant tactics of the Molly Maguires gangs, notorious for bumping off landlords who evicted peasants. When the MMs arrived in the Pennsylvania coalfields, they took to dispatching mine owners instead!

The ethnically diverse composition of the US proletariat could lead to intra-class conflict as much as to anti-capitalist class struggle. In the USA, the division of the working class on 'racial' and religious lines, together with the vast distances between different concentrations of population, have hindered both the formation of a class-for-itself on the national terrain and the emergence of a mass labour party to represent it.[13] Racism has been the spectre haunting the US proletariat ever since the seventeenth century, when concessions to European bonded labourers were used by the colonial rulers to help quell the bloody slave revolts by both European and African labourers. Thus the American working class was split into a black slave class in the South and a white wage-labouring class in the North. The early trade unions tended to represent the interests of the latter section, and feared competition from the newly freed slaves, leading to racial segregation within the trade unions.

The temporary convergence of the interests of Northern capital with those of the Southern slaves led to the temporary emergence of two mutually hostile forms of working class representation. At the end of the Civil War, the newly enfranchized former slaves were attempting to turn the Republican Party in many places into a de facto labour party through the post-Civil War reconstruction governments. Meanwhile, in the North, white workers were looking to the Workingmens' Party to oppose the Republicans whose interests they equated with their bosses. The failure of the white working class to find common cause with the Southern blacks and turn the abolition of slave labour into the abolition of wage labour, allowed the Northern bourgeoisie to withdraw troops from the South to suppress the struggles of the rail strikers who had seized the terminals from Baltimore to Chicago in 1877, and had established mass workers' assemblies in St. Louis.[14]

Since then, the descendants of the former slaves have inherited the role of a lower caste within the US working class: 'the last hired, and the first fired'. Many were taken on by Ford who saw them as a compliant labour force of strike-breakers, and much of the white working class resentment of them centred on their perceived tendency to scab. However, once incorporated into the workforce, they refused this role. For example, black rank-and-file militants led mass wildcat walkouts in the 1940s and formed the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW)[15] in Detroit in the 1960s.

But if the black-white division has been a crucial part of working class weakness, there have been others, such as between 'native' (Protestant) and immigrant (mainly Catholic) labour. The early crafts unions of the American Federation of Labour (AFL) tended to represent the interests of white Protestant workers, a kind of US aristocracy of labour distinguished from the unskilled immigrant labour by the ability to use their skills as the counter in collective bargaining. In 1912, Lenin saw Eugene Debs's electoral achievements for the Socialist Party as the breakthrough for mass labour politics in the USA, but it turned out to be the high watermark for the SP, which collapsed due to intra-class conflict between white, Protestant craft workers and unskilled, non-union black or immigrant workers.[16] However these latter were already in the process of developing a new union of all workers dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism!

From revolutionary syndicalism to reformist industrial unions

As craft unions became increasingly irrelevant due to the move from the formal to the real subsumption of the labour process, the new unions emerged which preserved their bargaining role by recruiting the black, immigrant and female labour despised by the AFL. To represent the class interests of these new subjects, a union needed to recruit and organize across an entire industry rather than across a craft. German brewery workers displaced by Bismarck's anti-socialist laws pioneered this form, after realizing that the brewers played such a limited role in the industry that the union would have to represent all brewery workers to be effective.

The industrial union form became more widespread with the rise of American revolutionary syndicalism in the shape of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a union of all industrial workers[17] with the stated aim of abolishing the wages system. Speakers at its first convention in 1906 hailed the previous year's revolution in Russia, and its members included workers in exile from Russia following the repression of that revolution. Two years later, the direct action tendency won control of the IWW, resolving the contradiction between these elements and the more electoralist faction associated with Daniel DeLeon and Eugene Debs. With its base in 'blanket stiffs' (migrant workers), the ideology of the IWW was hostile towards social democracy; it even refused to enter into written agreements with the bosses.[18]

Their actions launched daring assaults on capitalist production and circulation in the form of sit-in strikes, mass pickets and sabotage. 8,000 IWW strikers at McKees Rocks drove the Pennsylvania Cossacks off the streets in bloody gun battles. The outstanding incident in the early IWW history, the textile strike at Lawrence in 1912, started as a wildcat strike. Women workers in the Massachusetts textile centre walked out spontaneously smashing the machinery of anyone who tried to scab. Even when the union was in decline, IWW members were instrumental in the success of the Seattle general strike in 1919.

The IWW were one of the most radical labour organizations in the world at this time. They committed themselves to a general strike if America entered the first world war. When America did enter the war, they were unable to deliver on this. Nonetheless, the AFL helped to get hundreds of wobblies imprisoned to show that, unlike the IWW, they were an all-American union bureaucracy that US capital could do business with. The US bourgeoisie saw in the IWW the possibility of their own expropriation. They feared that the revolutionary wave sweeping Europe following 1917 might reach the USA. The demand for timber in the war industries escalated the suppression of the IWW, as armed gangs of patriotic businessmen ransacked IWW halls and offices. The backlash continued in Bisbee, with the forced deportation of striking miners from Arizona the same summer. Though the IWW itself was crushed by a combination of vigilantism, infiltration and outright state repression, the industrial union form it had established blossomed after the first world war.

Once the IWW was crushed, the way was open for the emergence of inclusive and racially integrated (but reformist) industrial unions under the umbrella of the CIO. Following the disintegration of the IWW, many of its tactics, such as the 'sit-down' strike, were adopted by militants in the reformist industrial unions of the CIO. Despite the IWW's rejection of political representation in favour of direct action, many ex-wobblies became the back-bone of the US Communist Party (CPUSA), whose role in the development of the CIO we discuss below. In the words of a veteran wobbly, 'Although we never became a major force in industry, we definitely showed the way for the CIO. Don't think its an accident that the United Auto Workers adopted "Solidarity Forever" as their main song'.[19] The IWW had tried to create 'a new world in the shell of the old', whereas the new industrial unions helped reshape the old world in the shell of the new.

Ford and Fordism

Following the first world war, Ford's production methods became the motor of the 1920s boom. The relative success of the struggle of the working class to secure more free time at the expense of absolute surplus-value production gave rise to a mode of accumulation based on relative surplus-value in which rising productivity was rewarded with high wages and increased access to consumer goods. The cutting of prices meant that not only could Ford manufacture more Model Ts, but he could sell them to the workers: Fordism allowed the integration of mass production with mass consumption.
However, in the face of competition from other more established firms who adopted his production methods, Ford was compelled to impose speed-ups on the production line, and wages were driven down by the intense competition for jobs at Ford's plant. The speed-ups in turn enabled Ford to sack more workers. Despite this intensification of work enforced by his private police force, Ford's initial phase of expansion fell foul of the Great Depression.

Thus Ford began to show how working class needs could be turned into the motor of accumulation, but the Fordist mode of accumulation could not become fully established without its counterpart in the realm of social capital: Keynesian demand management to keep mass consumption in line with mass production.

The social democratization of the Democrats

In the early 1930s, the crisis in the social and political institutions of the US bourgeoisie, coupled with the disorderly flouting of the laws of private property by the unemployed and dispossessed, called for drastic action. To Franklin D. Roosevelt, the survival of capitalism itself was in the balance. His New Deal was the culmination of a political realignment of US bourgeoisie, which had seen Roosevelt switch his alignment from Republican to Democrat. The New Deal coalition expressed a social consensus on the part of those sections of the bourgeoisie who favoured state intervention and corporatism. This new tendency within American capital sought to replace the traditional policy of confrontation with one of recuperating working class struggles as the motor of accumulation to 'get America working again'.

However, the New Deal needed the input of the new CIO unions to mobilize the working class behind Roosevelt's electioneering. This involved the subordination of the needs of individual capitals to those of social capital, particularly in large-scale industries such as steel, rubber, electrics, and motors. These industries were crucial to the emerging Fordist mode of accumulation which underpinned the new class compromise, but were largely non-unionized before the Depression. The New Deal corporatism embodied in Section 7a of the National Recovery Act (NRA) and the Wagner Act granted concessions on union recognition and collective bargaining. However it was one thing for Roosevelt to pass a law, and quite another to impose it on the bosses, particularly the steel barons who were virtually a law unto themselves, complete with private armies and 'company towns'. The new laws had to be contested in the work-place, leading to the sit-down strike fever of 1936-7, with its basis in second-generation immigrants excluded from the '20s boom then thrown onto the breadline in the early '30s. This new wave of struggle was launched by autonomous shop committees in the rubber, electric and motor industries. At Akron, a union official was shouted down when he tried to end the strike and stop the strike-wave spreading. At Flint, General Motors body-plant workers twice forced police back when they attempted to attack the occupied plant, and forced the United Autoworkers (UAW) and CIO leadership to back them. By spring 1937, there were 477 sit-down strikes involving 400,000 workers.[20]

Nonetheless, these struggles were still more amenable to union control than those of the unemployed during the Great Depression. CPUSA-controlled unemployed councils were organizing raids on restaurants, fights against bailiffs and mass hunger marches which turned into riots in Detroit, New York and Cleveland. But the CPUSA also played its part in the triumph of social democracy, as did other Communist Parties in other countries. In 1935 the New Deal was losing the support of the progressive section of the bourgeoisie committed to corporatism, and Roosevelt needed the support of the four million workers in the CIO in order to win the 1936 presidential election. In return for support from the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), set up under the Wagner Act, the CIO helped to abort attempts by the workers to establish an independent social democratic party. The CPUSA fell in with the CIO leadership, and the militants of Flint were mobilized behind Roosevelt's election campaign. The CIO leadership also managed to foil attempts at an occupation at Chrysler and a general strike in Detroit. But the convergence of the interests of the industrial working class as represented by the CIO bureaucracy with those of the cotton plantocracy, presupposed the exclusion of the cotton tenant farmers and sharecroppers from the New Deal. 'The party of the northern liberals was also the party of the southern lynchers.'[21]

For some on the left, the lack of a mass labour party and of socialist ideology is symptomatic of the political immaturity of the US working class. But lack of such a party is not the same as a lack of class struggle. Quite the reverse, if we use the level of class violence as our yardstick rather than the level of reformism! In US labour history, as elsewhere, upsurges in class struggle are often followed by the emergence of social democratic forms - rather than the other way round. The crisis of the early '30s was only resolved in favour of capital by the Democrats' CIO-assisted programme of Keynesian reflation and demand management, which it only really achieved with the outbreak of the war. Commenting on the unemployed Pennsylvania miners who excavated and distributed coal from company land during the Depression, Paul Mattick wrote:

The bootleg miners have shown in a rather clear and impressive way, that the so-much bewailed absence of a socialist ideology on the part of the workers really does not prevent workers from acting quite anti-capitalistically, quite in accordance with their needs. Breaking through the confines of private property in order to live up to their own necessities, the miners' action is at the same time a manifestation of the most important part of class consciousness - namely that the problems of the workers can only be solved by the workers themselves.[22]

By harnessing the militancy of the US working class with the help of the CIO, the New Deal planner-state allowed the needs of US social capital to subsume those of the aggressive individual capitals personified in Tom Girdler, 'the benevolent dictator' of Little Steel, as well as accommodating an increasingly assertive working class. Thus the US experience has been that of a labour movement minus a labour party. The consequent social democratization of the Democrat Party manifests a contradiction. On the one hand, social democracy as a 'labour movement' mediates working class struggle through trade union demands for social reforms and political representation within the bourgeois state; on the other hand, there is the compromised delivery of these concessions by a party representing a broad coalition of interests, rather than by a proper labour party better able to demobilize the class properly.

From New Deal to no-strike deal

The 'Roosevelt recession', the repression against the Steel Workers' Organizing Committee (SWOC) and competition from the AFL brought the initial phase of CIO expansion to an end. Then the USA's entry into World War II in 1941 revived industrial production due to rearmament and lend-lease, leading to 'an unprecedented recomposition of the US working class'.[23]

With accelerated agricultural mechanization, industrialization of the South and West and the collapse of the cotton tenancy, 4.5 million people moved permanently from the farm to the city. The war-time labour shortage allowed women to be admitted into heavy industry for the first time, and enabled strikers to win wage increases for the first time since 1937.

However, on the shop floor, workers faced speed ups as the demand for military production increased. At the same time, although profits were soaring on the back of guaranteed rising demand, wages were frozen. The CIO leadership was anxious to avoid the fate of the IWW, so they agreed a war-time no-strike pledge. However many of the militants whose struggles had provided the motor for the initial phase of CIO expansion, by contesting the NRA and the Wagner Act in the work-place, now turned their anger against the war-time corporatism in a wave of wildcat strikes against the no-strike deal and the National War Labor Board (NWLB) set up to police it.[24] This was a large and scattered group of workers consciously sabotaging the war effort without any union support. In one dispute, the workers' representative stated that the workers were on strike not against the company but against the NWLB.

After the army had been sent in to crush the North American Aviation strike of 12,000 militant rank-and-file, the CIO helped dislodge the CPUSA from the strategic aircraft industry in return for state support for the unionization of the defence industry. The CPUSA supported this strike and that at Allis-Chalmers. When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, the line from Moscow had been that the war was an imperialist conflict which should be actively opposed by all Communist Parties. However, by the time of USA's full entry into the war, Germany's invasion of Russia had led to a dramatic reversal in the line from Moscow. The war was now a war against fascism; and the fight against the axis powers had now to be fully supported by all Communists Parties. As a result, both the 'social patriotic' leadership of CIO and its Stalinist opposition gave their full backing to the war effort and were united in giving a no-strike pledge for the duration of the war.

As a result, the wave of wildcat strikes which swept the USA was resolutely opposed by the unions and the CPUSA. Despite the CIO's exhortations to 'work! work! work! produce! produce! produce!', the struggles against the no-strike deal lasted from 1942-45.[25] Thus the second world war demonstrated a shift in the relationship between the unions and the state, and between the unions and the working class in the USA. In the NRA strikes and the sit-down fever of the '30s, the working class had used the New Deal's social democratic institutions as an opportunity to strike, forcing the CIO leadership to back their autonomous actions. In wartime, the CIO itself fully became a social democratic institution for the prevention of strikes. The establishment of 'union towns', where cops were not permitted to attack picket-lines,[26] was symptomatic of the CIO's accommodation with capital and its state.

From New Deal to no-strike deal

With the devastation of much of Europe, the USA emerged from the second world war as by far the strongest military and economic nation on earth. The only nation that could seriously rival the USA was the USSR. For the American bourgeoisie at the time, the USSR appeared as a formidable opponent. In little more than two decades, the USSR had managed to transform itself from a largely agrarian economy into a world superpower which threatened to bring large swathes of the world under its influence. With even much of Europe on the verge of 'going communist', American capital was faced with the prospect of being hemmed in and deprived of its foreign markets which were vital for its continued profitability and survival.

It was this threat of the spread of 'Communism' which served to mobilize an otherwise introverted and isolationist American bourgeoisie around an active foreign policy which sought both to contain the military, economic and ideological expansion of the USSR, at the same time as constructing a world order amenable to the accumulation of American-based capital.
The first and most urgent task facing this new active foreign policy was to prevent as much of Europe as possible from 'going communist'. Using its continued military presence, its political connections with the European ruling classes and the substantial sums of money channelled through the Marshall Aid programme, the US sought to reconstruct a Europe firmly committed to 'free market capitalism' and therefore open to the expansion of American capital. However, such efforts only served to prompt the USSR into consolidating its own hold over Europe. As a result, as the relations between the two superpowers and former war time allies cooled into the Cold War, Europe became divided between the Eastern bloc which aligned itself to the USSR and Western Europe which aligned itself to the USA.

With the division of Europe, and with it the rest of the world, between the two superpowers, the US sought to organize western capitalism around new international economic and political structures which would ensure the rapid accumulation of American capital. With Britain as its junior partner, the US through the Bretton Woods agreement set up a system of fixed exchange-rates in which all currencies were to be readily convertible into dollars. To protect such system from short term imbalances in trade or from attacks by speculators, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established in order to provide governments with emergency loans to support their currencies on the foreign exchange markets. Alongside the IMF, the World Bank was established whose purpose was to provide governments with longer term loans necessary for the development and reconstruction of their economies so that they had no excuse for not competing in the world market.
The US also pressed for the opening up of all national economies to 'free trade'. The barriers to 'free trade' that had grown up during the world depression of the 1930s and the second world war were to be progressively dismantled as the war-torn European economies recovered through successive rounds of trade agreements under the auspices of the General Agreements on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). At the same time, the US took up the slogan of the 'right of national self-determination' to demand the break up and decolonization of the British and French empires so that the 'third world' could also be opened up to American capital.

At home, like its Western European counterparts, the American bourgeoisie was obliged to accept the need for greater state intervention and regulation of the economy. However, unlike many of its European counterparts, the American ruling class didn't feel the need to concede a fully fledged social democratic settlement. Thus, while American economic policy, like that in Britain, was based on Keynesian demand management in which the expansion of state spending was used to sustain demand and prevent the return of economic stagnation, this increased spending was directed less towards the provision of welfare, than in Britain and the rest of Europe, and more towards military spending. Hence American post-war economic policy can be described as a form of military Keynesianism.

With the international framework established by the Bretton Woods agreement and the adoption of Keynesian economic policies, the basis was laid for the post-war economic boom which was to last for more than twenty years. Fordist production methods which had been pioneered in the inter-war years were now adopted by an increasing number of industries in the USA and exported abroad. As a result, the productivity of labour rose rapidly, allowing rising profits to coincide with rising wages which in turn led to high and sustained rates of economic growth and capital accumulation. In establishing these conditions for the post-war economic order the American trade unions played a vital role.

Although the leadership of the CIO were for the most part moderate social democrats, their commitment to militant industrial action meant that they were obliged to tolerate union activists and officials who were either members or supporters of the CPUSA. As a result, there emerged a distinct Stalinist opposition to the leadership within the CIO. After the collapse of the Nazi-Soviet pact, the CPUSA's support for the war effort muted this opposition, with the Stalinists becoming enthusiastic supporters of the no-strike deal.

With the end of the war the divisions between the leadership of the CIO and Stalinist opposition reopened over the issue of the presidential elections. The left within the CIO sought to break with the tradition of supporting the Democrats and urged that the CIO throw its organized weight behind an independent candidate - Henry Wallace - for the 1948 Presidential elections. This move was defeated.

Meanwhile, in 1947, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act. This law required all union officials to declare that they were not Communists before they could be given recognition by the National Labour Relations Board. The left within the CIO argued that the unions should defy the law and that all union officials should refuse to sign the declaration thereby making it unworkable. The right-wing and the leadership of the CIO, however, saw it as an excellent opportunity to rid themselves of increasingly troublesome left-wingers.

The failure to oppose the Taft-Hartley Act led to the mass expulsion of CPUSA members from union positions and contributed to the anti-communist witch-hunts that culminated in the McCarthy trials in the early 1950s. These anti-communist witch-hunts, combined with the growing prosperity of post-war America, brought about the eradication of left-social democracy and socialism from both the unions and American politics in general.

Having established its position as the mediator in the sale of labour-power, the CIO no longer needed to maintain the tradition of militancy which it had built up in the 1930s. With the expulsion of the Stalinist opposition, the CIO leadership was free to find a rapprochement with the AFL which resulted in their merger in 1955. Together, the AFL and CIO proceed to play their crucial role within the Fordist mode of accumulation ensuring that wages, and thus consumption, rose in line with increased production despite the immediate interests of individual employers in holding down the wages of their own workers.

The American labour movement also played a vital part in the struggle over the division of Europe following the second world war. One of the most important issues was the control of the newly re-established labour movements across Europe. From the start the AFL acted as conduit for US foreign policy, channelling cash and influence into the heart of the European labour movement. In contrast, the CIO, with its strong Stalinist wing, at first played a more ambiguous role. While the CIO in some respects supported US foreign policy, it also joined the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), which was dominated by Stalinist-led trade union federations and which, despite its protestation that it was neutral, was widely seen as aligned with the USSR. However, following the defeat and expulsion of the CPUSA officials in the CIO, and with onset of the Cold War, the CIO broke with the WFTU in 1948 and fell into line with AFL.

The economic and political framework established after the second world war provided the basis for an unprecedented period of economic growth throughout the industrialized nations within the Western bloc. However, by the 1960s the limits of Fordism were becoming apparent. As elsewhere, the prolonged economic boom had led to a rising organic composition of capital and with it a decline in the rate of profit for US capital. At the same time, a new generation of workers emerged who were no longer content with the concessions won by their parents at the end of the war. New social movements arose, such as the Civil Rights movement, which made new demands on the state; while at the workplace full employment gave workers the power and confidence to assert their own needs and demands in the form of wildcat strikes and labour indiscipline. As a result, state spending and wages grew rapidly, squeezing profits further.

In addition, the USA found itself facing a relative decline in economic position. The Marshall Aid programme, and other post-war arrangements aiding the devastated economies of Europe, had not only saved Western Europe from 'going communist' but had provided the basis for their rapid reconstruction. By the late 1950s the economies of Western Europe, particularly that of West Germany, had re-emerged as serious rivals to the USA in many crucial sectors. The competitive advantage of American capital, that had led to a huge trade surplus with Western Europe in the 1940s and 1950s, was eroded, giving rise to a mounting trade deficit and a glut of dollars in the vaults of the European banks.

As a result, by the late 1960s the US was in crisis. Faced with growing workplace militancy and a generalized revolt against work, the unions were forced to adopt more militant bargaining positions in order to head off working class dissent. The unions' demands for higher wages could only be reconciled with company profits through accelerating inflation as wage rises were passed on as price increases. At the same time, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and the social and welfare programmes introduced by the Democrats in the early sixties, led to a rapid increase in public spending.

With the Democrats split over the issue of involvement in the Vietnam War, it was left to the Republicans under the Presidency of Richard Nixon to resolve the crisis of American capital. Faced with accelerating inflation and a ballooning trade deficit, the Nixon administration introduce strict new labour laws and wage controls in order to hold wages down. This ran the danger of politicizing industrial relations as demands for higher wages had to challenge both government policy and the law of the land. However, unlike their British counterparts who not only smashed both Labour's and the Tories' attempts to introduce and enforce an industrial relations act and in the end brought down the Heath government by breaking its pay policy, the American unions were not compelled to take on the government.

At the same time, with his foreign policy détente, Nixon sought a new understanding with both China and the USSR which paved the way for arms control and with it a substantial reduction in military spending. And in 1971 the dollar was devalued in order to boost the competitiveness of American industry, which eventually led to the break up of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in 1973.

While Nixon's attempt to resolve the crisis within the old post-war framework averted the immediate crisis, American capital, like its counterparts in Europe, remained mired in declining profitability throughout the 1970s. In response, capital sought to break out of the rigidities of existing Fordist production and sought opportunities elsewhere. As a result, investment in industrial production declined and unemployment throughout America and Europe rose giving rise to stagflation (i.e., rising inflation combined with rising unemployment and low levels of economic growth).

The quadrupling of the price of oil in 1973 in effect shifted capital out of the hands of industrial capital into the coffers of the banks. This allowed capital a greater degree of fluidity with which it could outflank the working class. No longer confined and committed to the old industrial circuits, capital was able to shift out of the old heavily unionized industries of the North and East of the USA to low waged and non-unionized industries situated either in the South and West or in newly industrializing countries such as Brazil, Mexico and South Korea - a process that was to gather pace in the 1980s as we shall see.

By the late 1970s the attempt to stem the flight of capital had become exhausted. The gradual devaluation of the dollar, wage controls and attempts to control military spending had all proved to be futile attempts to swim against the tide, opening the way for the sharp reversal of economic and foreign policy which was to occur under Reagan. As in Britain the unions had contained working class militancy and then defused it; but in doing so they had undermined their own position. Reagan's electoral success reflected the emergence of the 'Reagan Democrats', corresponding to the 'C2' skilled workers who transferred their allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives in the 80s.[27]

Star Wars and the class war: Reaganomics and the retreat of social democracy

Many militants involved in UK trade unions will be watching events in the USA with keen interest. The decline of trade unions in the USA mirrors Britain's recent history of labour defeats: steelworkers, the miners, the printers. With the crisis of the '70s, the American New Right became one of the ideological inspirations for Thatcherism, with the US economist Milton Friedman providing in monetarism the rationale for imposing unemployment and austerity on the 'bloody-minded British worker'.

Like Thatcher, Reagan swiftly replaced the policy of accommodating the working class via the unions to one of outright confrontation, exemplified in the defeat of the air-traffic controllers strike (with the assistance of the machinists and other unions, who ordered their members to cross PATCO picket-lines). As we noted in our introductory article, social democracy was never as well established in the USA as in most of Europe. The British Labour Party's initial response to its defeat in the 1979 General Election was to swing to the left.

In the USA at the time of Reagan's victory, there was already widespread cynicism among working class voters with the bourgeois political process, expressed in a general perception that there was little difference between the two main parties. The attempt by the more social democratic elements within the Democrats to regroup around a 'rainbow coalition' and reverse the party's drift to the right failed. Thus in the 1984 general election Reagan was able to portray himself as the natural heir to Roosevelt, in contrast to the monetarist 'new realism' of the Democrats under Walter Mondale.

Although Reagan had come to power on a promise to balance the books by 'rolling back' public welfare spending, Reaganomics included an element of military Keynesianism in the form of a revival of the post-war tendency towards military accumulation. While Thatcher's bouts of red-baiting tended to concentrate on the 'enemy within', Reagan's attacks were directed at the USSR, characterized as 'the evil empire'. Abandoning the policy of 'détente', Reagan attempted to rally the American bourgeoisie still traumatized by their pasting in Vietnam. In doing so he re-oriented global capital accumulation around the needs of American military production.[28]

This policy involved a massive expansion of the defence budget at the expense of post-war working class gains in the form of the rising social wage. This was accompanied by an ideological 'backlash' against the 'new social subjects' who had emerged in the '60s and '70s, notably the Women's Liberation Movement which had begun contesting their unwaged role in reproducing the waged worker. Though the 'family values' of the religious right sought to confine women in the home, the '80s and '90s have seen capital attracting women as a low-paid, non-union workforce, alongside the tendency to repel the traditionally male bastions of working class entrenchment in heavy industry. The seemingly contradictory ideologies of monetarism and fundamentalism found their expression in the ruthless attack on benefits aimed at single mothers, culminating in the replacement of Aid for Dependent Families (ADFC) by Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF). This relentless clawing back of the concessions of the 1960s has continued into the Clinton era with the wide scale adoption of 'workfare', forcing black single mothers on the dole to combine unwaged domestic labour with unwaged drudgery outside the home, as they sweep the streets with their children in tow.[29]

Far from balancing the books, Reagan's military Keynesianism meant abandoning the policy of competitive devaluation of the dollar favoured by previous administrations; and interest rates were pushed up to finance the growing trade and budget deficits. This devastated large swathes of the concentrations of working class entrenchment in the 'rust-belt' industries of the North East. The military Keynesianism of Reagan's policy of military expansion helped US capital to outflank the working class by capital migration within the USA itself (whose federal system enables capital to migrate internally from areas of working class entrenchment to so-called 'right to work' sunbelt states in the South and West). The Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), nick-named 'Star Wars', represented a massive state subsidy for the non-union computer software and electronics industries at a critical stage in their battle with their Far East competitors. This was part of a growing tendency within the USA for the centre of accumulation to shift from unionized heavy industry to the non-unionized service sector and 'Silicon Valley', a tendency which has continued in the Clinton era.

The USA could only sustain its vast military expansion by vast borrowing, reducing the USA to the status of the world's most indebted nation. Meanwhile, the renewed pressure of the arms race sharpened divisions within the Soviet bureaucracy, with the result that Gorbachev was unable to accommodate the demands of the working class and the 'managerial faction' of the bureaucracy within the USSR's institutional framework. The eventual collapse of the Eastern bloc due to both these pressures and the gross inefficiencies of the Russian form of capitalism was hailed by the bourgeoisie as final confirmation of the triumph of capitalism, as the gangrenous vampires slavered over the new markets to be conquered, and as the end of any possibility of radical change. The demise of 'actually existing socialism' was yet another nail in the coffin of social democracy.

As the US economy slid into recession and George Bush fell victim to the loose cannons of the fundamentalist right, the Republican Party's hegemony over the White House was finally ended by Bill Clinton's victory in the 1992 presidential elections. As it followed hot on the heels of Neil Kinnock's failure to end 13 years of Conservative government, Labour 'modernizers' were watching it closely. Far from rehabilitating social democracy, Clinton showed himself the natural heir to Reagan's legacy. Under Clinton, the Democrats were able to shake off their image as 'tax and spend liberals' with a continuation of the draconian welfare cuts which had helped to provoke the LA uprising, and the adoption of workfare as a national policy. To pre-empt any further unrest, Clinton's 'tough love' law and order policies amounted to the criminalization of the black population, disproportionately affected by this impoverishment and re-imposition of work. So, following the trend set by Reagan, his rejection of traditional Keynesian accommodation of working class demands has been accompanied by a huge rise in the prison population, the infamous 'three strikes', and, as promised, 100,000 new cops.

Clinton has presided over the consolidation of the capital restructuring initiated in the late '70s: the rapid growth in part-time, insecure work, the migration of labour from the 'rustbelt' North East to the 'right to work' sunbelt states of the South and West and the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to facilitate capital flight to the low-wage haven of Mexico. Thus the early 1990s saw a continuation of the dismal catalogue of defeats for the American labour movement begun in the '80s. This has been manifested in a decline in union membership from 20 million in 1979 to 16 million in 1996. The effect of this long-term decline has been contradictory: on the one hand, an attempt at a neo-corporatist accommodation with capital and the state on the part of the AFL-CIO leadership; on the other hand, a recruitment drive and a resurgence of industrial militancy.

The US working class is dead!
Long live the US working class!

In the early '90s, the US working class was widely seen as hopelessly demoralized, divided and defeated, with strikes reaching an all-time low. In 1994, according to US Labour Department statistics, the average American worker would stand to reclaim a day from work through a strike once every 100 years should current trends continue![30] By contrast, in the last few years, there have been more strikes in the USA than in the UK.

Of course, strikes are far from the only form of class struggle, and in the light of the dismal history of the previous two decades, it would hardly be surprising if the US working class would turn to other forms of resistance.[31] It is interesting at this point to mention the role of black proletarians, marginalized both within the unions and the workplace, in one of the most inspiring manifestations of the class struggle in that period, the LA uprising.[32]

If LA was a struggle in which union mediation had no role, the recent strikes are partly an expression of the unions' need to regain their influence within the working class. The unions' increase in militancy was also linked to a period of reflation. This reduced unemployment to a 24 year low of 4.9%. This major change in monetary policy followed a period of deflation under the Republican-controlled Congress. Their victory in November 1994, on a platform of spending cuts known as the 'contract for America', ended 40 years of Democrat control of Congress, undermining the union bureaucracy's neo-corporatist policy of lobbying congress. Liberal commentators put this result down to the disillusionment of the 'blue collar Democrat' with Clinton's neo-liberal economic policies .

In 1996, trade union financial contributions of $50 million helped the Democrats to win the presidential and congressional elections. This helped to create a climate in which the US bourgeoisie was becoming sympathetic towards trade union demands. During the 19 month long Detroit News strike, the Democrats even had a policy of refusing to speak to the scab papers. The UPS strike also attracted very favourable media coverage.

The upsurge in militancy is also linked to the swing to the left within the leadership of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). This was the union involved in the UPS strike, and two out of the six unions in the Detroit News strike were Teamster locals (branches). Historically the Teamsters are notorious for corruption and racketeering, a trend synonymous with the presidency of Jimmy Hoffa Sr. But in 1991, a split in the old guard allowed Ron Carey to beat Hoffa Jr. on an anti-corruption ticket. This was the culmination of a rank-and-file movement dating back to the '70s, called Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) seeking democratic control of 'their' union. Though Carey was himself not immune to charges of corruption, his election created a climate favourable to the new mood of militancy within this union, which has 1.4 million members and strategic positions in transportation.[33]

Upsurge in industrial militancy

For many on the left, notably the SWP, the high-point of this resurgence in trade union militancy was the United Parcel Services (UPS) strike in August 1997. For the SWupPies, the UPS strike was a historic turning point in the fortunes of the US working class: 'the first time in over 20 years that a major national strike (in the US) has won a victory.'[34] Clearly they would like to see this perceived pattern reproduced in the UK; but an analysis of the relevance of the US situation to the future of trade unionism and social democracy in this country must avoid the Trots' miserable trade-union consciousness.
However, we can't accept as the only alternative to seeing trade unions as 'workers' organizations who unfortunately sell out their members' that of seeing them as in an undifferentiated conspiratorial unity with employers. Correctly, the International Communist Current (ICC) point out that the 10,000 new full-time jobs gained by the UPS strikers would be more than cancelled out by the 15,000 lay-offs expected due to loss of business during the strike. But the ICC suggests a grand conspiracy between the government, the bosses and the unions to stitch up the working class. Certainly all three are the enemy, but they don't always work together. The ICC go so far as to say that 'there is no conflict of interests between UPS and the Teamsters' union', on the basis that the UPS bosses deliberately provoked the strike in the summer months when the retail trade was slack. Though this is undeniable, it does not provide a case for saying that there is no conflict of interests between management and unions. After all, there are conflicts of interest within the bourgeoisie itself, because of the imperatives of the market forcing different capitals to compete with each other. This can be seen in the UPS strike, when rival delivery firms used the strike to grab a share of UPS's market.

As the ICC correctly point out, the union gave management plenty of warning of an impending showdown in the form of their 'countdown to contract' campaign within the union, enabling management to time the strike to their advantage. In spite of this, the strike halted an estimated 75% of US deliveries. The National Retail Federation appealed to Washington to intervene. As for UPS themselves, the company lost $800 million dollars not to mention customers lost to competitors; so if they were so happy to concede the unions' demand, why didn't management stitch up a deal with them before the strike? Probably because the recent history of labour defeats, including a failed UPS strike in 1994, had made them over-confident in their ability to weather a strike.

The ICC article points out that UPS invited the Teamsters to unionize its workforce in the '20s. But there have been enormous changes in the structure of US capital and the composition of the US working class since then, not least of these the new tendency towards militancy within the IBT itself. Originating as an AFL craft union, the Teamsters were involved in battles against the CIO in 'labour's civil war' in the '40s. More recently, the IBT transformed its structure to become a CIO-style industrial union. Though the UPS strike was widely seen as a victory because of the new contract negotiated by the union, there is no sign that it will stop the gruelling intensification of work endured by UPS employees. This hidden grievance was mediated by the unions in the form of 'health and safety issues'. It also undeniable that the Teamsters did their best to stop the strike from spreading and to keep a lid on the class antagonism they had unleashed. However despite the limitations of the UPS strike, its undoubted success in shaking the complacency of the US bourgeoisie was nevertheless a considerable psychological victory if nothing else for the US working class.

We shall expand upon the nature of unions as mediators of class struggle below. Now we must turn to the changes within capital which are being contested in these struggles.

The new militancy within the Teamsters has led it into defeats as well as victories, such as the strike by 2,000 newspaper workers in Detroit. This 18 month long battle, and the lock-out which followed the unions' unconditional surrender, was again provoked by the bosses to a certain extent in an effort to break the union's control of the workplace. In the light of the apparent conquest of the Teamsters by the rank-and-file, it is inadequate simply to denounce the union as class collaborationist. Our task is to expose the contradictions between the antagonistic subjectivity of the proletariat and its representation in the unions. The success of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the resulting militant stance of the Teamsters' union expresses a convergence of interests between the union as and its members. As we shall see, the Detroit strike was not a simple case of the unions stitching up the workers. The unions lost out too from the imposition of an 'open shop', displacing them from their role in hiring and firing in the workplace.

Counter Information was not far off the mark when it labelled the Detroit News and Free Press strike a 'Wapping style dispute'.[35] The bosses of Detroit News saw the strike as an opportunity to impose an open shop, in order to reduce the workforce and realize more profits from the scab labour remaining. DN were prepared for a long siege, with scabs housed in makeshift sleeping quarters inside the DN building.
Scab newsroom staff registered their submission to the bosses' intensification of work by displaying a notice outside the newsroom: 'Twice the work. Half the time. None of the whining.'[36] Despite technological changes, before the strike DN had been burdened with job classifications and restrictive practices which were now obsolete. The six unions in the industry resisted management's proposal to atomize wage bargaining with merit pay. But when the union demobilized the strikers with its unconditional return to work offer,[37] DN president Frank Vega claimed that the strike 'handed us $35 million in savings - 700 jobs we don't need anymore.'[38]

In the end, the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the strike was caused by management's attempt to impose 'unfair labour practices', making them liable for back-pay for the strikers who weren't reinstated after the union's unconditional return to work. But while the legal processes have been dragging on, strikers have been 'scattered to the four winds' and have sought other employment.[39] Besides, any reinstatement would exclude the 200 militants sacked for picket line violence.

The DN/FP bosses gave new technology much of the credit for enabling them to continue publishing their papers during the strike, failing to mention the more traditional strike-breaking methods: scabs, cops, goon squads and injunctions. Whatever the decisive factor, other newspaper bosses sent teams to Detroit to study how DN/FP published despite the strike. The Gannet and Knight Ridder media giants also had the advantage of a joint operating agreement, and were rich enough to be able to afford running at a loss until the unions caved in.[40]

The trends mentioned in the section above on Reaganomics haven't changed significantly: the capital migration from unionized heavy industry to the non-unionized information technology industries and the service sector and the service sector continues, and with it the unions' long-term decline. The unions' recruitment drive has made gains in the service sector, notably among hotel workers in Las Vegas. But most of the major workplace struggles in the USA's recent past have been in traditional centres of militancy, such as Detroit, the birthplace of the mass worker. The recent strike by 9,200 General Motors (GM) workers has been taking place in Flint, which was at the centre of the sit-down strike movement in 1936-7. The 1998 GM strike is of its time though, highlighting the vulnerability of the USA's biggest motor firm. By cutting off supplies of vehicle parts, the strike has forced GM to close 27 out of their 29 assembly plants, and has lost them over $1.2 billion. The strikers' use of the motor industry's 'just-in-time' inventory system meant a swift shutdown of GM's motor production,[41] turning capitalist restructuring into its own negation. That a walk-out in one place can halt production 1,100 miles away is evidence of capital's falling victim to its own division of labour. A use-value may have travel half-way round the world before its value can be realized, completing its transformation into a commodity.

The struggle of the GM workers highlights the use of capitalist restructuring in the form of 'out-sourcing' and 'downsizing' to outflank working class. In Flint, the number of GM employees has dropped from 76,000 to half that number since the '70s - an example of the capital migration from the North which accounts for the decline in union membership. GM has started 'out-sourcing' its parts to other, smaller plants, who need to cut labour costs in order to compete with non-union firms in the South of the US.[42] NAFTA has also encouraged capital flight to Latin America: GM has 10,000 employees in parts plants in Mexico.[43] This exemplifies the contradictory process of attraction and repulsion inherent in capital accumulation.
Despite the fact that much of the shift of capital has been within the USA, the UAW leadership has been attempting to mobilize the strikers behind a racist and neo-protectionist 'Buy American' campaign.

The earlier strike at Flint four years ago was over the use of 'temps' and a 66 hour week. This summer, the United Autoworkers have mentioned 'health and safety' on their list of the workers' official grievances, along with job losses to cheaper labour markets.

However the two issues are linked. In the UK, the recent death of Simon Jones, someone hired as a stevedore with no training by a scab temping agency, demonstrates the lethal effect of casualization in the wake of the abolition of the National Dock Labour Scheme.[44] The issue of 'health and safety' raised in both the GM and UPS strikes is a trade union mediation of the proletariat's day-to-day experience of the risk of injury and death in the workplace. The 500 Liverpool dockers sacked for refusing to cross a picket-line were also casualties of casualization. As the introductory article pointed out, one of the Liverpool dockers' more effective tactics was their direct approaches to dockers around the world, confronting capital as a supra-national subject with the dockers' tradition of international solidarity. Ironically their sacking would have been illegal in the USA, whereas the American dockers' actions in support of them would have been illegal over here due to the laws on secondary picketing!

Another instance of workers attempting to transcend national borders occurred in the UPS strike, when the German transport union OeTV organized solidarity actions over UPS sub-contracting and the resulting intensification of work. Limited though these actions were, they jeopardized UPS's international trade. The Teamsters and the dockers, as well as the French truckers, are all conscious of the role of their industries in the circulation of capital, its transformation through transportation. Their actions deliberately target the weak points in this circulation, and impact 'on crucial nodes in the increasingly important routes of international trade'.[45] The Teamsters' strategic targets were the time-sensitive next-day second-day delivery system, the fastest growing and most profitable sector of UPS. Such actions constitute a response, however tentative and limited to union channels, by the working class to the increasing fluidity of global finance capital.

The neo-protectionism of the UAW bureaucracy characterizes this tendency as 'Pearl Harbour II', emphasizing the role of competition from Japan in the relative decline of US capital. It is also a characteristically social democratic attempt to use the notion of a cross-class 'national interest' to demobilize the working class. However such a model of social democracy presupposes distinct national centres of accumulation. With the increasing ability of money capital to transcend national borders, the cohesion of these 'national economies' has been called into question.

Before finally concluding our consideration of the future of American social democratic forms and relating this to the British situation, the pressure of recent events has made it necessary for us to locate this issue in the context of the global economic crisis.

Clinton, Blair and the paper tiger economies

As we have seen, the integration of social democracy within state and capital was based on the Fordist class compromise established after the second world war. Profits were ploughed back into industry in order to expand production and raise the productivity of labour. This in turn allowed both wages and profits to rise, creating the demand to absorb the increase in production. This process was underwritten by the Keynesian state which, through an active fiscal and monetary policy, maintained rising levels of demand and provided the framework through which the class compromise was sustained. As such, social democracy provided the means through which the aspirations and demands of the working class could be harnessed as the motor for capital accumulation.

However, by the late 1960s, the Fordist class compromise had reached its limits. As the rate of profit began to fall, the working class, strengthened by years of near full employment, went on the offensive. Social democratic mediation translated this offensive into demands for higher wages and social spending which nonetheless exceeded the growth in labour productivity and hence led to a further squeeze on profits. As a result, capital across the world entered into a severe crisis of profitability.

To resolve this crisis capital had to radically restructure. With the growth of global finance capital, capital sought to outflank the entrenched working class of the advanced industrialized economies. Investment was now shifted out of high waged and unionized industry into low wage non-unionized sectors, while the capital that remained in the old industries no longer aimed to produce more from the same workforce but to maintain existing production levels with fewer workers. As the emphasis has shifted away from the production of relative surplus-value to the production of absolute surplus-value, the role of social democracy has become restricted.

This process of restructuring has been long and drawn out and has created a series of further crises and imbalances in the world economy. First there was the flight of capital from the USA and Europe at the end of 1970s, which had taken the form of huge bank loans to Latin and central American governments. With the onset of recession in 1981 these governments found themselves unable to meet the debt repayments causing a severe crisis in the global banking system whose collapse was only narrowly averted by the intervention of the IMF. The implementation of Reaganomics created a huge and unsustainable American budget and trade deficits together with a vastly over-valued dollar. Following this there was the world stock market crash of October 1987. In order to avert a repeat of the 1928 stock market crash, which plunged the world into a slump in the 1930s, the central banks of the leading capitalist powers eased their monetary policies fuelling the late 1980s credit boom which then turned into the prolonged recession of the early 1990s, seriously afflicting the USA, Japan and the UK.

The election of Clinton in 1992 seemed to mark the end of the after-effects of this long, drawn out process of restructuring - at least for the USA. Under Clinton, the USA has experienced six years of economic growth and falling unemployment. The huge trade and budget deficits of the 1980s have been gradually unwound and inflation has been subdued. With the economies of Japan and much of Europe stagnating, Clinton has presided over the resurgence of the USA as an economic power. As a result many of the more hopelessly optimistic US economists have talked about a new economic paradigm - the 'Goldilocks economy' - in which booms and slumps have been abolished and economy enjoys steady growth and low inflation.

This revival of the American economy under Clinton has, by reducing unemployment, served to strengthen the hand of some sections of workers. As such it is no doubt an important factor in the resurgence of industrial militancy. However, it seems unlikely that the unions will be able to return to the position they enjoyed during the post-war era in the foreseeable future. Even at the end of the post-war boom, the productivity of labour rose by around 2.6% per year,[46] allowing ample room for higher wages and social spending without jeopardizing company profits. In recent years the average rate of increase in productivity has slumped to 0.8%[47] and shows no signs of increasing. The growth in both the economy and profits has come from drawing women and immigrants into the workforce and paying them low wages.
The room for the working class to gain social democratic concessions without seriously damaging capital's continued profitability is therefore far more restricted than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Nevertheless, America's successful re-establishment of its hegemonic position vis-a-vis Japan and Europe does perhaps allow more room for such concessions than in other countries. Given capital's current reliance on the production of absolute surplus-value - increasing the intensity and length of labour rather than its productivity - even such concessions are likely to be meagre even in America. Of course, of greatest interest to us is the possibility of the working class realizing that it can only meet its interests by going beyond social democratic mediations of its struggles - as the construction workers in New York pointed the way this summer.

In Britain, Goldilocks has arrived late and the three bears are due back soon. In contrast to Reagan, Thatcher, facing a far more entrenched working class, was unable to cut average real wages, nor was she able to launch a full scale assault on the welfare state. In order to smash the bastions of 'union power', such as the miners and the print workers, she was obliged to allow the wages of other workers to rise. Also the universal nature of the welfare state made it much more difficult to cut without arousing howls of protest from the middle classes whom she needed for electoral success. As a consequence, it was only with the recession of the early 1990s that the average rate of increase in wages in the private sector was brought down to below 7%; it was only after the recession that the Tories were able to impose a sustained real cut in wages for those working in the public sector.

Like Clinton, Blair, it seemed, inherited a economy enjoying steady growth and low inflation with budget and trade deficits well under control. The days when economic policy was plagued by recurrent crises appeared to be over and long term policy-making seemed to be a possibility. Fully embracing 'neo-liberalism' and the conservative economic orthodoxy of the bankers, the first act of Gordon Brown was to hand over day-to-day monetary policy to the Bank of England and announce rigid rules to restrict public spending. By being more conservative than the Conservatives, Brown announced that at this one stroke he would be able to smooth out the cycle of boom and slump that has dogged capitalism since its inception!

Having abolished the business cycle in its first few days in office, New Labour could then concentrate on reforming the welfare state and increasing the level of training and education which they hoped would raise the 'trend rate of growth of the economy'. With faster economic growth, and a reduction in welfare spending due to welfare reform, more resources would be available for 'priority areas' of public spending such as health and education.

The problem of course is that even if Brown had managed to find a way of smoothing out the booms and slumps of British capitalism, and even if welfare reform and investment in education and training could lead to an increase in the long term rate of growth of the economy, the two sides of New Labour's economic policy do not add up. Financial orthodoxy requires strict controls on public spending if not further cuts, yet any attempt fundamentally to reform welfare would in the short to medium term be very expensive, as would raising the levels of education and training.

Even without the effects of the financial crisis emanating from the Far East it would seem that after six years of growth the British economy would slow down. Indeed, the government has accepted this, arguing that there is a need for the economy to grow below the trend rate of growth for a year or so to take the heat out of the economy. However, the Bank of England's policy of raising interest rates has made matters worse. High interest rates, and a consequently over-valued pound, has already forced manufacturing industry into a recession and this now seems set to spread into the previously booming 'service' sector. As the growth in the economy falls below 2%, unemployment will begin to rise sharply, swamping Blair's underfunded 'welfare to work' programmes and making welfare reform difficult if not impossible without considerable opposition.

Yet the biggest danger to the arrogant complacency of both Blair and Clinton is of the financial crisis of the Far East causing a world slump - a danger that is beginning to dawn on Blair with recent redundancies announced in his own constituency. As we have argued, the growth of global finance capital provided the means through which capital as a whole could outflank the entrenched working classes of the advanced industrial economies. However, it has brought with it the danger of greater instability to the world capitalist system as a whole. The crisis in the Far East is a prime example of this.
In the late 1980s, facing declining profits at home, combined with an over-valued Yen, Japanese capital either took flight into property speculation, or else moved abroad to the newly industrializing economies of the Pacific rim whose currencies where pegged to the US dollar. On the basis of Japanese investments, these 'tiger economies' were able to rapidly expand their exports to the USA and achieve high rate of export-led economic growth. Seeing the huge profits that were being made, the Western Banks pressed for these tiger economies to open up their finance markets. With such financial deregulation, Western finance capital poured into the Far East looking for a fast buck.

Last July the inevitable happened. Unable to keep up with the growing demands and expectation of the financial speculators, having taken on more and more speculative ventures, the banks in Thailand found they could no longer service their debts. The financial markets panicked and began withdrawing their money from all the tiger economies, pushing even the solvent banks in these countries to the point of bankruptcy. With the Western speculators trying to turn their investments into hard dollars, the currencies of each of the tiger economies could no longer maintain their parities with the dollar and went into free fall.

With these devaluations, the price of imported raw materials have rocketed, forcing into bankruptcy even those companies that have managed to survive demands for loan repayments made by banks desperate for cash. Thus millions of people in Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea are facing redundancy and rapid rises in the prices of imported goods.

Of course, the intervention of the IMF has done nothing for the working class in these countries. Its main aim has been to protect the interests of global capital and the Western banks. By lending billions of dollars which are then used to maintain loan repayments to the Western banks, the IMF buys time until the implementation of the usual austerity measures can be put in place so that working class of these countries can pay off the loans in the form of lower wages and cuts in social spending.

Even though the IMF has been able to contain the crisis in the Far East, as it has done previous financial crises over the past two decades, there is now a question of whether it has sufficient resources to cope with the crisis if it spreads to Latin America. Quite simply, the IMF is running out of money. The main source of funds for the IMF is the USA, but the Republican Congress is reluctant to an release the increase in funds promised by Clinton's administration. As many Republicans argue, if the IMF bails out the Banks and speculators every time there is a crisis they will have little disincentive for making risky and irresponsible loans in the future. They will in effect be given a one way bet: either they make big profits from successful loans or else the loans fail and are instead paid by the IMF! Thus there is a serious dilemma. Either the IMF is allowed to continue to bail out the present financial crisis at the risk of making the next one even bigger, or else crisis will have to be allowed to take its course, which could mean it spreading to the USA and Europe, causing a collapse in the world financial system.

Obviously, these events would represent a complete change in the context in which the recent militancy has unfolded. However, it is too early to speculate on this. We now turn our attention back to the recent strikes and struggles to see what they can tell us about the nature of the unions in the present period.

'Casey Jones, the union scab':[48]
Analysis of the function of trade unions

Now that large-scale class confrontation is returning to the American workplace, and with it the role of trade unions, the moribund British left has been looking across the Atlantic for inspiration. Both the SWP and the Teamster boss Ron Carey are in agreement that the UPS strike marks an 'historic turning point' for the US working class.

Recognizing the limits of the tendency towards militancy within the US trade unions helps us to avoid the pitfall of bemoaning the 'betrayals' and 'sell-outs' of the working class by right-wing union leaders. This position provides the ideological basis for the Trotskyite strategy of left unity: campaigning for the replacement of right-wing leaders by their own left-wing candidates. It fails to see that union leaders of whatever political persuasion are forced into these 'sell outs' by the logic of their own position within capital and by the nature of unions, whose function is to regulate the sale of labour-power.

The Teamsters since the rise of TDU are a good example of this. The union leadership is committed to democracy and 'the organizing model' of trade unions, which means opening up the union to membership participation. At UPS, they negotiated a leave-of-absence clause enabling rank-and-file leaders to take time off for full-time campaigning. This is part of the TDU's strategy of promoting an active membership. Time and again rank-and-file initiatives rejuvenate trade union hierarchies to create a new layer of leaders who then in turn stitch workers up. This exposes as a sham the leftist condemnation of 'sell-outs' by the leadership. It is not the union leaders who sell the workers out, but the workers who sell themselves out, and it is the left who encourage them.[49]

Teamster leader Ron Carey also rook on as an assistant Harold 'Eddie' Burke, a veteran of the Pittston coal strike of 1989. In an echo of the IWW/CIO sit-down strikes, the Pittston strikers occupied a coal processing plant for several days. The Detroit strike also involved more limited occupations of suburban DN/FP offices, as well as invasions of council meetings. The office occupations were intended to be media stunts, but were also disruptive and led to arrests. Burke's prominence in the Teamster leadership indicates the unions' need to harness the militancy of the subjects they represent, by sanctioning direct action and law-breaking. In Burke's words, 'if any union plans on striking their employer in this day and age and is uncertain as to breaking laws that are on the books, my advice is not to strike'.[50]

But by mobilizing these subjects in confrontations with the cops, the 'militant' union leaders began losing control of the workers. The struggle was attracting support outside the unions directly involved in the dispute, from other workers who saw newspaper bosses' imposition of casualization and atomization of wage bargaining as an attack on them. These included Detroit GM workers in the UAW, themselves under threat from 'downsizing' and 'out-sourcing'.

As bricks, bottles and sticks rained on the Detroit cops during mass pickets of up to 3,000 strikers and their supporters, the unions applied to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a hearing to determine whether the strike was caused by 'unfair labor practices'. The involvement of the NLRB, a legacy of the New Deal, highlighted the role of social democratic institutions in demobilizing the working class. Although the NLRB was quicker to define picketing rather than casualization as an 'unfair labour practice', the use of a Federal racketeering suit against the six unions, and eventually against the UAW as well, suggests that the NLRB was insufficient to compel the unions to control the class anger they had unleashed.
According to the NLRB, the unions violated an informal agreement banning violence and sabotage, so the unions accepted a legally binding agreement which eventually had to be backed up by fines.

It seems that the US union bureaucracy is having considerable difficulty in maintaining control over the class antagonism it has been attempting to harness. The union leaders were as surprised as anybody by the eruption of class violence at a recent construction workers' rally in New York, which left 18 cops injured and caused consternation among the yuppies of Manhattan. Having prepared for 10,000, the cops were overwhelmed by the turnout of 40,000 in what amounted to a mass, one-day wildcat strike. The predictable response of the construction unions was to cancel plans for a further rally.

Ironically, the issue behind this conflict of the workers and the union was an attempt to re-establish unionization in the New York construction industry. Thus in order to reverse their long-term decline US unions have had to mobilize the working class against capital. However in the process of negotiating the price of labour within capital, unions also need to be able to reduce the working class to labour-power, which means demobilizing the working class. To be taken seriously by employers, unions must be able to mobilize workers, but in doing so they risk losing control of them. In this sense, trade unions are an expression of the contradiction of working class autonomy, of a class both within and against capital.

On the other hand, the unions have managed to keep the recent strikes sectional, reflecting the tendency for class consciousness to become subsumed in 'job consciousness' in the US working class.[51] It is useful to contrast the recent wave of strikes with the struggles of the '30s and '40s, especially in the light of the recent GM strike's origins in the town which provided the nucleus of the sit-in strike fever - Flint, Michigan. As with most of the labour struggles of the '30s, the pretext for this occupation was the contestation of the new social democratic institutions embodied in the New Deal (the NLRB, the NRA, and so on). But the audacity of seizing and holding 'one of the most expensive piece of corporate real estate in the world'[52] offered a direct challenge to the power of the state and its laws of private property. The CIO and UAW leaders were forced to back them, and were powerless to stop the movement from escalating. In the end the CIO was able to use this movement to consolidate its power, so that Flint became a 'union town', an expression of working class entrenchment. Nevertheless, the second world war saw a movement which achieved an exemplary autonomy and antagonism in relation to the unions. The contradiction between proletarian subjectivity and its representation via unions was apparent in the fact that most voting UAW members voted to maintain the no-strike deal, although the majority of workers in the motor industry went on strike shortly after.[53]

In contrast, the recent wave of strikes have largely been initiated through the official channels of the unions, partly under pressure from the rank-and-file, partly as a rear-guard action against their own marginalization, reflecting the comparative weakness of the proletariat. In Britain, this weakness seems even more irreversible, though the solidarity demonstrated by American longshoremen towards the sacked Liverpool dockers reminds us that struggles in the USA and UK are inextricably linked. With this in mind, we now turn to a consideration of the prospects for social democracy in the UK, where Blair's coronation followed a Clinton-style presidential campaign.

Social democracy in the '90s and beyond

The limitations of the USA's revival pale into insignificance when compared with the weakness of the working class in Britain, which has yet to see any comparable developments. As we have seen, the last two decades have seen the retreat of social democracy in the UK, and the USA installed as the social model for the renegotiation of the post-war settlement. Blair has continued this trend, venerating Clinton's policies as the model for a 'third way' between social democracy and the free market New Right. New Labour even echoes Roosevelt in the name of its US-style workfare programme. However, Roosevelt's 1930s and Blair's 1990s New Deal have little in common historically. Roosevelt had to bail the banks out to avert financial collapse. By contrast, Blair inherited a growing economy and falling unemployment from the Tories! More importantly, the 1930s New Deal in America, whose work-schemes were often voluntary, reflected the threat of working class antagonism and was used by militants as an opportunity for contestation; but Blair's compulsory 'welfare to work' programme, like the US workfare schemes which inspired it, is symptomatic of the defeat of the working class in both countries and extends the imposition of the regime of 'labour flexibility'.

But individual capitals have been slow to respond to the needs of UK capital-in-general, and Labour's New Deal is under threat from the very problems it was intended to solve. Employers have been lukewarm in their response to the scheme, and have been conceding private sector wage claims, pushed up by labour shortages in areas such as skilled construction. House prices have been falling as estate agents anticipate a repeat of the collapse of the 1980s housing boom. The pound's strength against the DM has led to renewed fears of stagflation, with factories laying people off at the highest rate for five years and Rover imposing a four day week on its workforce, the government will have a job persuading them to employ and train New Deal people. The Employment Service will be under pressure to force more claimants to take unsubsidized jobs with no training.

In our previous issue we remarked that Blairism had emerged in a period when the crisis of the '70s had been resolved in favour of capital by the Thatcher's radical renegotiation of the post-war settlement. Blair appeared to the bourgeoisie as a means of consolidating the gains of Thatcherism in a period of relative economic social stability, at a time when the Tories had become too weak and divided to carry out this task effectively.

The problems of the US trade and budget deficits had been laid to rest, and it was enjoying an economic revival; nevertheless recent events have shown how rapidly capitalism can plunge into crisis with the prospect of financial meltdown in the Far East - not to mention the financial collapse in Russia. Facing the possibility of its own negation, it is possible to see the attractions for the bourgeoisie in a revival in social democratic forms both for mediation of working class needs and, more to the point in a period of crisis, imposing capital's needs on the working class.[54]

The recent wildcat strike in Glasgow social services was blamed in the bourgeois press on the election of a leftist shop-steward; but surely what must be really worrying them is that 2,000 workers were willing to take wildcat strike action against a Labour council. UNISON's role in ending the wildcat strike and its subsequent ballot for official strike action shows that Labour still needs the unions to police its members.

However, it seems unlikely that social democracy will re-emerge as the dominant form of mediating working class needs at a national level. The post-war order in which social democracy matured presupposed a structure of distinctly defined poles of national accumulation - national economies- with money-capital subordinated to the accumulation of national capital. With the increasing fluidity of global finance capital, the cohesion of the nation state and its ability to intervene in the market has been undermined. Blairism represented an acknowledgement of the impossibility of reversing the legacy of the Thatcher years. Having given the Bank of England complete autonomy over the control of interest rates, the Labour Government has abandoned any attempt to accommodate the needs of the working class.


This analysis of recent US labour struggles has sought to show the relevance of tendencies originating in America to the development of social democracy, both here and on the continent. We began by commenting on the influence of the Democrats on the British Labour Party generally and in particular its role in New Labour's abandonment of social democracy under Blair, in favour of more liberal ideologies such as 'communitarianism', which relate to the working class not as a class but as an interest group or as atomized bourgeois customer-citizens. We examined social democracy's transition from a movement of opposition, expressed in union militancy and embryonic labour parties, to its expression in state intervention, Keynesian demand management, Fordism and corporatism (in America, happening through the medium of a non-social democratic party - the Democrats). At this stage, the unions themselves became integrated within the state, as US capital sought to use its hegemonic role to reorient global accumulation around the needs of military expansion.

Then we saw how the working class forced social democracy into crisis by the self-valorization and expansion of its needs, and the response to the crisis by the out-flanking of the working class by capital flight. The retreat of social democracy was accompanied by a succession of defeats for both the US and UK working class, and a decline in the size and influence of the unions in both countries. Our examination of the recent revival of industrial militancy in the USA tended towards the conclusion that it represented a rear-guard action by the unions against their continuing marginalization. The renewed confidence and militancy of the working class is also linked to Clinton's success in balancing the books. The resulting economic expansion has minimized the disciplinary power of unemployment, but has also subjected workers to speed-ups and other work intensification.

The movement of the 1930s and 1940s showed that struggles over emerging social democratic forms could provide opportunities for the development of proletarian subjectivity. The resulting institutions were used to police and pacify the working class until its needs outgrew social democratic forms. The recent labour struggles in the USA show the possibility of new struggles over social democratic forms, in an age where the comparative decline of US capital has limited their ability to mediate working class needs.

Traditional social democratic methods of mediation which presupposed a 'national interest' have been undermined by the mobility of money-capital, leading to Clinton and Blair's embracing of 'neo-liberalism'. However, the threat of global financial meltdown has exposed the instability of capitalism, raising the possibility of a future revival of some form of social democratic mediation of working class needs on a continental or bloc level. Moreover, at present, in the United States, as well as in Korea and elsewhere, struggles are taking place in which proletarians are coming up against the repressive side of social democratic forms such as unions - and hence invite the possibility of going beyond these forms.

[1] Though this is debatable, as we acknowledge below.
[2] Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economics in the History of the US Working Class (Verso editions, the Haymarket series, 1986).
[3] The Great Society reforms extended US welfare provision reflecting the new demands made on the state by the Civil Rights movement. We examine the New Deal in more detail below.
[4] These bodies were set up by the US state department due to perceived links with the USSR within the British 'labour movement'.
[5] Between 1989 and 1993, median family incomes in the USA fell by $2,737, a trend that has continued under Clinton (Guardian, 20th February, 1995).
[6] See Davis, op. cit.
[7] Mike Davis, op. cit. See also Noel Ignatiev, Introduction to the United States: An Autonomist Political History (Final Conflict Publishing, 1992): 'Why has the US, alone among the developed countries, failed to produce a mass labor or social-democratic party? Is American prosperity so overwhelming or are US workers so backward that they have felt need to take any initiative that would lead them out of the two main capitalist parties?'
[8] The persistence was due to the relatively greater possibility of social mobility that has existed in the USA compared to Europe. Whereas in Europe, the bourgeoisie's power grew up within pre-existing class privileges which restricted class mobility, in the USA, due to bourgeois society starting from an almost clean slate, the egalitarianism and freedom of money had a free hand.
[9] '...nowhere are people so indifferent to the type of work they do as in the United States, nowhere are people so aware that their labour always produces the same product, money, and nowhere do they pass through the most divergent kinds of work with the same nonchalance.' Capital Vol. 1, p. 1014 (Penguin edition).
[10] Letter from Bob Rossi in Discussion Bulletin (DB) 88, March-April 1998. This was one of two pieces in response to Dave Stratman's 'Strategy for Labor' in DB 87, in which he describes the labour defeats of the preceding 25 years as 'a litany of rank-and-file heroism and AFL-CIO betrayal'. Both respondents offer a more pessimistic view of the American working class than Stratman's.
[11] Louis Adamic, Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America (1963, Harper and Brothers).
[12] Mike Davis, op. cit.
[13] Noel Ignatiev's Introduction to the United States: An Autonomist Political History suggests a Faustian bargain between white workers and the US bourgeoisie, at the expense of black workers. Revolutionary southern blacks forced Lincoln to rally Northern industrial capital behind the abolition of slavery, but they were abandoned to lynch mobs after the reconstruction period. When blacks moved to the Northern cities they faced the entrenched racism of the unions.
[14] Ignatiev, op. cit.
[15] The LRWB was a 'federation of groups from various industrial plants in the Detroit area who had organized themselves outside the union structures and built links with the black schools and community, as part of a conscious effort to link Marxism with the Black Revolution.' (Ignatiev, op. cit.).
[16] Davis, op. cit.
[17] In fact, the IWW's strength was not so much in the industrial North, where its leaders tended to come from, but in the casual and migrant workers of the West.
[18] The case of the IWW shows us that the weakness of social democratic forms in the USA should not make one see the American working class as simply lagging behind their European brothers and sisters. As a form of organization, the IWW was exceptionally radical and important. When, at the end of the first world war, revolutionary workers in Europe broke from their social democratic parties and unions, they were inspired by and looked to the IWW as a model. See for example Sergio Bologna's 'Class composition and the theory of the party at the origin of the workers' councils movement' in Telos 13, 14-21 (1972).
[19] Stewart Bird, Dan Georgakas and Deborah Shaffer, Solidarity Forever. The IWW: An Oral History of the Wobblies (1987, Lawrence & Wishart, London). 'Solidarity Forever' was an IWW song.
[20] Davis, op. cit.
[21] Ignatiev, op. cit. Whereas the industrial working class could be mobilized to vote for the New Deal, the sharecroppers of the south were disenfranchised by a poll tax. However, the rural poor began to organize as the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU), under the leadership of Clay East's Socialist Party, which undermined segregation by uniting blacks and poor whites. The STFU contested the Wagner Act in the 1935 Arkansas cotton pickers' strike, which forced planters to raise wages after rumours that strikers were shooting scabs! After the government agreed to compensate tenant farmers directly under the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), the planters started just evicting them.
[22] Cited in A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.
[23] Mike Davis, op. cit.
[24] See Martin Glaberman, Wartime Strikes (Detriot, Bewick).
[25] For a good discussion of this, see Glaberman's Wartime Strikes and The Working Class and Social Change (Detriot, Bewick).
[26] Ignatiev, op. cit.
[27] However this period also saw a definite tendency towards mass electoral abstentionism within the US working class.
[28] The limitations of this policy can be seen in the fact that the only NATO country to support America's proposed three per cent military expansion target was Britain.
[29] See our recent text Dole Autonomy versus the Re-imposition of Work: Analysis of the Current Tendency to Workfare in the UK; the pamphlet's appendix gives details of American workfare programmes.
[30] See Curtis Price, 'The Refusal of Work in the '90s' in Collective Action Notes (No. 2, summer 1994); reprinted in Discussion Bulletin 68.

[31] Price, op. cit. Price draws attention to 'micro level resistance' within the American working class.
[32] See 'The rebellion in Los Angeles: The context of a proletarian uprising' in Aufheben 1 (autumn, 1992).
[33] Slingshot, Spring 1998.
[34] Socialist Worker, quoted in World Revolution, No. 208, October 1997.
[35] Counter Information (No. 47).
[36] 'Inside the news',
[37] Labor Notes (No. 217, April 1997).
[38] 'Analysis: Back to work offer reflects strike's reality', Detroit News (16th February 1997).
[39] 'Newspaper strikers pin their hopes on injunction', DN (23rd March 1997).
[40] Collective Action Notes, Dec. 1996.
[41] 'UAW keeps big three wages at parts plants sold by GM', Labor Notes 217.
[42] Labor Notes, op. cit.
[43] With over 80,000 workers in Mexico, GM is Mexico's largest private sector employer.
[44] See Where's My Giro? No. 2, Newsletter of Brighton Against Benefit Cuts.
[45] Smash Hits, No. 2.
[46] Between 1960 and 1973 output per worker in the business sector of the US economy grew at an average rate of 2.6%. Source: OECD.
[47] Between 1979 and 1996 output per worker in the business sector of the US economy grew at an average annual rate of 0.8%. Source: OECD.
[48] The title of a wobbly song. The IWW were fond of detourning popular contemporary music, adapting their lyrics as propaganda for their militant activities.
[49] See the Wildcat pamphlet Outside and Against the Unions and the discussion of this in Echanges et Mouvement.
[50] 'Detroit takes on tones of '89 coal walkout', Detroit News, June 16th, 1996
[51] A notable exception was Detroit News, which united six different unions and attracted support from members of the UAW, a union not directly affected by the dispute.
[52] 'The Flint Sitdown Strike 60th Anniversary', Detroit Journal NEWS, Sunday 29th December. DNJ is the newspaper of the striking Detroit newspaper workers.
[53] See Glaberman op. cit.
[54] We are seeing this in Korea at the moment where the unions are rallying to the national interest in order to impose the IMF-directed job-cuts, privatizations and other austerity measures. Instead of pushing the price of labour-power up, they are negotiating wage-cuts, extended unpaid holidays and increased working hours. Their main role of course is that of demobilizing a working class that is moving to radical actions such as factory occupations.