What direction will the Million Worker March organization take?

By Mark Williams
(CV #35, March 15, 2005)

Can you oppose the Democrats while backing the AFL-CIO leadership?
Is opposing the sellout union leaders "anti-union"?
WWP objects to a consistent stand against the Democrats
CVO supporter replies to WWP
Efforts to stifle the debate by WWP
Where is the Detroit MWM going?

. Since the October 17 Million Worker March (MWM) in Washington, D.C., there have been efforts to establish local MWM chapters in various cities. These organizations are supposed to carry out work in support of the MWM's list of economic and social reforms. But the question of what orientation will best fight for these demands is a matter of controversy among activists who are organizing among the workers. In this article we will look at some of the debates that have broken out in the MWM organization in Detroit.

. The top national MWM organizers called for an independent workers trend and criticized not only the Bush administration but the Democratic Party as well. At the same time, the MWM leadership has tried to court the AFL-CIO leaders. But the AFL-CIO hierarchy is tied to the Democrats and opposes militant class actions. These union leaders work against the proclaimed goals of the MWM. This is why what attitude activists take toward the AFL-CIO bureaucracy is a crucial issue now facing the activists attempting to organize MWM chapters.

Can you oppose the Democrats while backing the AFL-CIO leadership?

. This issue of whether or not to build a truly independent class trend has come up in the Detroit MWM meetings. A supporter of the Communist Voice Organization (CVO) has emphasized the need for an orientation independent of the Republicans and Democrats and the AFL-CIO hierarchy. But this stand has met a good deal of opposition within the ranks of the Detroit MWM organization.

. One line of argument is that while it would be OK to criticize the Democrats it would be wrong to have sharp criticism of the union bureaucrats. One of the activists putting forward this view is a postal clerk union steward and Detroit Green Party leader. But in past writings in his own union local paper, this activist was forced to admit that during Bush's preparations to invade Iraq, the vast majority of the trade union leadership "has been totally uncritical of George Bush's War on Terrorism" and that "many of our [union] leaders have been sleepwalking since 9/11, as if the only item on our national agenda is terrorism." Thus, this activist himself has, on occasion, presented striking evidence that the union leaders, in line with the Democrats, rolled over for Bush' war drive.

. But if that's the case, why reject serious criticism of the union bureaucrats? Was this failure to stand up to Bush's war drive an aberration in an otherwise fine AFL-CIO policy? Hardly. It's part of a consistent class collaborationist stand. And the AFL-CIO unions' leaders have consistently backed the Democrats as part of their wretched stand. Example after example shows it is impossible to oppose Democratic Party influence among the workers without breaking all illusions in the AFL-CIO leadership.

Is opposing the sellout union leaders "anti-union"?

. Another argument raised against a clear stand against the timid union leaders was that this would be "anti-union." This argument was raised by a prominent member of the Workers World Party, a group with roots in the anti-Marxist ideology of Trotskyism. She also presented a stand against the bureaucrats as getting in the way of organizing around issues like utility shutoffs and city worker layoffs. The way this WWPer presents matters, city workers and the poor of Detroit can wage a powerful struggle regardless of whether their leaders are in bed with the Democratic Party and regardless of whether they favor militant action. This mocks the MWM's proclaimed goal of independent working class action.

WWP objects to a consistent stand against the Democrats

. The debate over whether or not workers really need to be told the truth about the AFL-CIO bureaucracy continued to be at the core of many controversies within the Detroit MWM. For instance, it surfaced over the question of what speakers to invite to speak to an public forum held in early February by the Detroit MWM organization.

. A CVO supporter went on the local MWM e-mail list with some proposals for the upcoming meeting. He suggested places to carry out leafletting for the meeting that would reach workers directly. This was one way of avoiding relying on the likes of the union bureaucrats to get out the word. He also proposed that there be speakers at the forum who:

* "[give] enthusiastic endorsement of MWM and an independent working class movement" * "[have] condemnation of the Democrats and their neglect or actual opposition to pro-working class policies"
* "[have] denunciation of the AFL-CIO leadership for its war against MWM, attempting to sabotage the Oct. 17 march".

. These suggestions should have been acceptable to anyone who claims they are building a real alternative for the workers. Indeed, the national leadership of the MWM called for an independent movement and wrote scathing criticisms of the Democrats. And while the national MWM organizers did not take a consistent stand against the mainstream AFL-CIO leaders, they at least condemned the AFL-CIO president Sweeney for sabotaging the October 17 march. But the WWP supporters in the Detroit MWM launched an attack on the CVO supporter's suggestions. Despite the WWP's "Marxist" and "socialist" pretensions and their general proclamations against both the Republicans and Democrats, their followers were upset with suggestions that would assist building an independent class trend. This is another example of how the trotskyite-style politics of the WWP has nothing in common with real revolutionary communism.

. In a December 14 message to the Detroit MWM e-mail list, a WWPer denounced that speakers invited by the MWM should have any particular orientation because the MWM was "an umbrella that gathers together and encourages real struggles." Thus, he ignored that the question of orientation was vital to building a powerful class movement.

. Now it's true that not every speaker need have a clear and conscious orientation. For example, there may be ordinary workers newly awakening to struggle who have something to say at the forum, but aren't clear on certain issues. But this should highlight the need for the MWM itself to have a clear independent class orientation and the need for those speaking in the name of the MWM to reflect this stand. It should bring home that if outside speakers are desired, finding those who will speak in this spirit is important.

. Instead, the WWP member belittled building the MWM as a trend clarifying the true nature of the Democrats and the timid AFL-CIO officialdom. Thus, he wrote:

. "It is not necessary or advisable to insist that speakers denounce the Democratic Party. I think it is clear that most, if not all of us on the organizing committee do not look to the Dems. But many workers still do -- not understanding the difference between the Democratic Party's base among workers and minorities and the strangle hold the wealthy have over the Party's direction and top candidates. It certainly shouldn't be a precondition to working with the MWM."
. "Finally, it is not necessary for us or guest speakers to 'denounce' the AFL-CIO leaders. We have never hidden our criticism of Sweeney and others for not supporting and undermining October 17. But our struggle is to show the way forward to the workers and poor, not get into a fight with union leaders who don't want to lead.  "

. This WWPer wants us to understand that he, of course, knows the Democrats are sworn enemies of the workers. But he dodges the question of what the MWM should tell the workers about the Democrats. Thus, while the MWM is supposed to oppose relying on the politicians, this stand means leaving the door open to wheeling and dealing with certain liberal politicians. For example, this WWPer has pushed for the Detroit MWM to unite with certain Detroit City Council members associated with the Democratic Party at a national conference of cities. This collaboration with the liberal bourgeois politicians has been presented as a means to fight cutbacks being imposed on Detroit city workers. Meanwhile, in the real world, the City Council recently voted unanimously for a deal with Detroit's budget-slashing Democratic Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick. This deal allows about 700 layoffs of city workers, with the potential for more layoffs down the line.

. Likewise, this WWPer would tell workers the MWM supports their struggle. But he would hide from the workers that the AFL-CIO bureaucrats are frightened of militancy, that they sabotage every effort at rank-and-file motion, and that they spend the union dues on imperialist and anti-worker dregs like Kerry. What splendid support!

CVO supporter replies to WWP

. A CVO supporter in the Detroit MWM exposed the bankruptcy of the WWP's analysis as the e-mail debate continued. The CVO supporter pointed out that

. "It's understood that MWM is not an elaborate organization with a fully developed political program. .  .  . But even so, MWM is a definite organization with some basic views and a general orientation. It represents something. There is in fact a growing anger against the Democrats and AFL-CIO hierarchy for their refusal to defend the basic interest of working class people .  .  .  ."
. "Our forum should reflect this growing anger. It should help consolidate and extend this sentiment among working people because this is the way forward. The way forward is not to set up some empty shell of an organization that cheers on the AFL-CIO hierarchy as they sell our struggles down the river as they did in the Detroit newspaper strike and the California grocery workers strike."

. The CVO supporter went on to point out that the fact that many workers look to the Democratic Party is "why it's important to address the issue of orientation." And he showed the hypocrisy of the argument against "a fight with union leaders who don't want to lead." The CVO supporter stated "this neglects that there is already a struggle over MWM's very existence, a struggle launched by [AFL-CIO president] Sweeney before Oct. 17 to try and abort the organization."

Efforts to stifle the debate by WWP

. Another activist responded favorably to the CVO supporters stand on the e-mail list. She said he "has very good points of principle" and that a speaker at the forum "needs to address these points." She added that "I feel that the Detroit MWM needs to reflect not only the anger about the Democrats and sell-out AFL-CIO types, but also be tenacious for a working class orientation." This activist also called for the MWM organization to have an open discussions of what the views of speakers were and what the orientation of the group was so there is "a clear cut definition and understanding about who we specifically are".

. In response, a WWP member tried to stifle the debate on the organization's overall stand and on proposed speakers at the MWM forum. She attempted to declare the matter of orientation of the Detroit MWM already settled by fiat, saying "That [the MWM] initiative doesn't include making a focus of our efforts attacking the AFL-CIO" and "the issues that [the CVO supporter] raised need to be put to rest so we can move forward." Finally, she asserted that raising that a discussion is needed about the views of proposed speakers is "throwing up straw men to knock down" because "everyone who has been proposed has a legitimate involvement in the struggle we are looking to unite and advance." How lucky the Detroit MWM is to have such worthies who can save all the other members the wear and tear of discussing who is really advancing struggles and who isn't!

. The arrogant stance of this WWPer drew a protest from the activist she attacked. And it also drew another activist to denounce her high-handed policy. This activist did not necessarily share the same overall vision of independent class organization as did the CVO supporter, but he did think the MWM moderator at the forum should "make some of the overall points, if not in the exact tone, that [the CVO supporter] has stated." In reply to the WWPers point that the MWM policy was no longer subject to discussion, he said "I do not agree that just because a movement is initiated by certain people that we are obliged to just fall into line and follow their program, lock step".

Where is the Detroit MWM going?

. The stand taken by the CVO supporter in the MWM has helped orient the group to consider more carefully what stand the group takes and what policy speakers at its events take. The idea of the group taking a principled stand against the AFL-CIO leadership and the Democrats has gotten a certain, limited support. But the group as a whole does not have that orientation at present. It remains to be seen what exactly the local Detroit MWM becomes. Will it really help orient workers to build their own rank-and-file struggle? Will it call on workers to form their own new militant forms of organization that can carry out the class battles independently of the AFL-CIO leaders? Or will it confine itself to supporting the bankrupt forces that dominate the workers struggles and other mass movements today? The debate continues.

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