Out of the Driver's Seat:
Marxism in North America Today
The Windsor Labour Centre
In March of this year (1974) the Labour Centre, the
only active left group in Windsor, finally faced the fact of three
mutually exclusive theories of socialism working within its midst.
At that time there was a decision to restructure the Labour Centre
with two of the tendencies withdrawing from the former structure
leaving the eight authors of this paper with The Labour Centre.
Everything that transpired before then, and that has transpired
since, has served to leave many of our friends both in Windsor and
in other places in some confusion about where we are at and what
our political theory is. It is in these circumstances that this
paper is written.
At the time of the Labour Centre splits, the guiding
principle of the LC organization was that people in the organization
had their major commitment to the different areas in which they
worked, called working groups. In theory, the Labour Centre was
a central meeting place where people brought back what they were
doing and discussed it within the context of Marxism's view of totality.
The Labour Centre had long since rejected the idea that it was a
democratic centralist body that set guidelines for practise and
sat in final judgement of the great theoretical questions of our
day. Since March, we have not rejected the theory behind the working
We decided that the confusion about what we think,
the confusion behind the March splits and numerous apparent misconceptions
about our view of the relationship between our thinking and what
we do, neccessitated some kind of statement about where we stand
now. This paper is the result.
In doing this paper the eight of us encountered the
usual problems inherent in collective writing. Therefore, we apologize
for the variations in style and modes of expression and assure the
reader that any apparent differences are just that - apparent. We
are submitting this primarily to Newsletter subscribers as our contribution
to the existing debate on organization, autonomy and Marxism.
In it, we by no means deal with every question that
concerns the world in these times, nor do we feel that our coverage
of any of the things that we do deal with is exhaustive.
The paper is comprised of three major sections. The
first incorporates our major organizational experiences as well
as two personal accounts of work situations. These six pieces are
written in the style of working group reports with the difference
that the analysis has been lengthened and conclusions have been
The reports are followed by a discussion of the major
theoretical elements of our political perspective. The paper then
outlines what we see to be the role of the present day Marxist organization
and concludes with two practical situations where elements of the
perspective are in some way represented.
Well, introductions should distinguish themselves
either by shortness (the sweet approach) or by an exhaustiveness
that essentialiy eliminates the value of the work following, so
we'll stop, since we want you to read this paper.
WHERE WE WERE
The Student Group
Perhaps the best place to start is with the Windsor teacher's strike
in Jan. 73; partly because it was our first real involvement with
the student movement since we left school and partly because we
perceive it as the start of a new phase in the struggle. Maybe it
was only a new period of the teacher's struggle or maybe it wasn't
a new phase at all. This is really only a matter of speculation
- the important thing is that we perceive it as such.
We had been meeting for a while and talking about school when
we caught wind of the upcoming teacher's strike. We decided that
this would be an opportune time to put all that talk into practice
and so we started to make plans. Our first action was to hold a
meeting which was attended by parents, students, and teachers in
numbers that exceeded all our expectations. The meeting was basically
informational. Both the teachers and the Board presented their side
of the story and then the people in the audience asked questions,
grilled the panel, got angy and learned a lot. Inspired by this
success, we held a series of meetings to plan some action around
the strike. The meetings were attended by ever dwindling numbers
of students and culminated by a demonstration, which can only be
termed a failure.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that our specific role should
have been one of finding ways of providing information, which we
did at first. We wanted to go beyond that and organize students
in support of their teachers. The teachers didn't particularly want
our support, and the students did not see any reason to get involved
in a struggle that they didn't see as "theirs."
We saw the teachers' strike as a focal point for action, perhaps
in the same way the left has traditionally seen contract time as
a focal point in the factories. Students, however, saw it as a vacation
and a temporary reprieve from the boredom of the classroom, (To
teachers it was obviously very important. We, however, weren't interested
in working with teachers.)
Some of our conceptions began to be turned right around during
the strike and the weeks that followed, it became clear that teachers
and students were not natural allies, but in fact fundamentally
Freire had the final word on this subject when he pointed out
over and over in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that the under-lying
principle of any educational institution is the contradiction between
teachers and students, between those that have the knowledge and
those that are to receive it, There are many examples of students
and teachers being best of friends and finding ways, outside the
classroom, of truly learning together. But in the classroom, no
matter how low the Pupil-Teacher Ratio, no matter how radical the
curriculum, the teacher is the one with the power, the authority
to be obeyed. The teacher is the representative of officialdom to
the students. The student-teacher contradiction exists, in varying
degrees, in all educational institutions in modern society, from
boarding school to free schools.
During this time, the group, which included some students, proceeded
to read and re-read Freire. We analysed, argued, tore it apart and
put it back together all in an attempt to discover what his methods
were and how to apply them to students and schools in Windsor, Ontario.
Nobody ever had the heart to say it after all that, but now it seems
pretty clear that his methods can't be applied to our situation.
It was during this time, however, that we worked from Freire the
concept of an investigation team, which we still see as very important.
The investigation team would he a group of students and others (radicals)
who would investigate and he involved in all aspects of student
life. Investigation includes gathering statistics, analysing trends,
and generally knowing what is going on in schools. More importantly,
it means talking to students and knowing what students are thinking
and doing. Even more importantly it means taking an active part
in these struggles and knowing through the words and actions of
students what specific contributions the investigation team must
make. The investigation team has a responsibility to present their
findings, facts conclusions etc. back to the student in a useful
Having decided on the concept of investigation teams, we then
set out to organise them and were once again stuck with the problem
of where, how, when do we find these students.
Freire was one of our major influences in rejecting the concept
of the vanguard, yet at this point, we were still talking about
organizing students. We were looking for the most conscious, the
most militant students, rather, than seeing the student movement
as a whole, as 'average' students working and learning together.
While we pondered our problems, one of the student members of
the group went back to her school and talked to all the grade 9
classes. Out of this, she organized the Walkerville investigation
team, a group of 20 or 30 junior students who got together and talked
about the problems of school.
The first action of the group was to get a smoking area for the
school - a response to an immediate need. This led to a run-in with
the principal, who did not like the idea of students' getting together
and talking about school. He would not let them meet in the school
without a sponsor teacher, and meetings were held in the park.
During the summer we (the outside group) met with the Wal-kerville
group and investigated a number of aspects of school. We looked
into semestering and had a student come in and talk about it; students
interviewed the director of education, the OSSTF president and their
new principal; a leaflet was produced about sponsor teachers. By
the time school started in the fall, however, there were only 3
or 4 people left in the group. We began to wonder why
Students in the group were always saying "Let's do something'.
There was a contradiction between investigation and action which
we were never able to reconcile. Investigation was seen as facts
and figures and theorizing, rather than as a dialectical process
of taking part in the struggles of students as well as objectifying
Of course, the students were also saying, "Nothing is going
on". Starting from that point, their investigation proved that
nothing was going on. To investigate the student movement, it is
necessary to believe that there is a student movement and that students
are doing things. From this starting point, investigation finds
examples of students' taking action, which shows the investigators
how they can take part in those struggles. Recognising that the
student movement does exist, the investigator must record the facts
of its existence and present them back to the students in a useful
We were still using a vanguard approach at this point. The group
had started in the school and was now meeting with us outside the
school, making it more and more divorced from what was happening
in the school. The group never has got back to-gether within the
About this time, we came to a very important conception. For many
years we had been telling students how oppressive, destructive and
horrible school is. As we talked to students, it dawned on us that
students already know that school is bad. They don't need to be
This can be seen in the immense popularity of the "School
is boring" buttons. The slogan is simple and obvious to anyone
who can identify and agree with it. And while the slogan is obvious
to students, it is a direct confrontation to those disciple/descendants
of Hall and Dennis who run the educational system. The credit system,
non-compulsory subjects, greater course choices, videotape sessions,
Mickey Mouse classes were all created, if for nothing else, to combat
boredom. Make school more interesting and entertaining, but not
necessarily more educating.
At this point, there is no doubt that the student movement does
exist. There have been examples of sit-ins, walkouts, boycotts and
demonstrations this year in Ontario and they are on the increase.
As a recent OISE study points out, over the last four years incidents
of student protest have increased drastically in Ontario schools
(from 1969 to 1971, for example, incidents went from 23 to 150 per
year while the number of students participating in these incidents
increased about ten times). The dropout rate is steadily increasing
and the attendance officer for the Windsor Board is having trouble
keeping up with all the truancies and suspensions. Students do not
need to be organized; they are organizing themselves in the classroom,
just as they are organized by the classroom.
A systematic investigation of school, centering on the student
movement, is step one of our method. Step one consists of many small
sub-steps. As we discover, create or decide on these smaller steps,
they should be explicitly stated, thoroughly discussed and understood,
and then put into practice.
Step two is presentation of our research back to high school students.
This is to overcome the isolated existence of the student movement,
and to stimulate further movement (action). This reporting is factual
and sympathetic. It shouldn't be heavy rhetoric, sweeping assertions,
pleas for re-volt or any other form of nagging. It presents back
to the students collectively, what students have already done individually
and in small groups. Newspapers are perhaps the most efficient,
least costly and most effective way of doing this. Other media may
have their virtues, but usually cannot compete in reaching a mass
audience of students like a newspaper can.
We started a newspaper in February 1974, called Z Minus.
There is a description of this activity later in this paper.
Women's Liberation in Windsor
(Please note; This section will centre around the development of
the women's movement in Windsor because our experience lies there.
However it was agreed by all that the events outlined here are similar
to those that took place across Canada.)
IN THE BEGINNING
was the word and the word was with us and the word was us. Unfortunately,
this bit of jocularity is rooted in fact. The initiatiors of women's
liberation in Windsor, operating in good faith, attempted to tell
women of their oppression and the means they should use to rid themselves
We failed on two counts.
We didn't examine the day to day situations of women in this city
nor did we look at women in the context of class.
The sources of ideology espoused by women's liberation were articles,
pamphlets etc. We did not take these ideas and examine them in any
context, but rather, we tried to force them on Windsor women; yet
we were amazed when they did not heed our prophetic words.
A classic example of this modus operandi is the demonstration we
staged on Mother's Day one year. After a bit of research we discovered
that the original purpose of this day of homage was to promote peace.
Thus, we protested to re-educate people about the real intent of
the day, and to tell women how stupid they were to be bought off
with flowers, candies etc. Our actions upset and alienated a lot
of people. We didn't realize Mother's Day is a time women can relax
and be pampered and that this was important to them.
The example mentioned above is a mere part of the 'line' the family.
We didn't believe in it, wanted it abolished. Anyone who was dependent
on men was a non-liberationist. We saw women united on the basis
of sex alone. We were striving for liberation from the family, sexual
liberation and we didn't see this in the context of class oppression.
A vivid example of our ignorance of the situation of working class
women is our action around the Equal Opportunites Act in 1972. As
women's liberationists we were very enthusiastic about the new laws
(because they were supposed to force employers to treat men and
women the same.) In talking with plant women, though, we soon found
out that the majority of them were very opposed to the laws. They
lost privileges that they had been granted because of their sex,
e.g. weight lifting limits, transportation after midnight. They
felt that liberationists should mind their own business and stay
out of their work world. By losing seperate seniority lists they
knew that men would get their jobs. If there was a forced pay increase
for women's jobs, then men would start applying for them. If there
was a choice, employers would hire men. As outsiders, we were upset
about the low pay for women's jobs, but they knew that the low pay
was one of the main reasons why women had jobs in the first place.
At the time we were very discouraged that these working women were
so unliberated. But this confrontation with them forced us to question
our leadership role. Instead of trying to raise them to our level
of consciousness, we started to pay more attention to the realities
of their lives.
In short, a handful of women were determining the areas of struggle
and actions. We were constantly disappointed and dis-illusioned.
We could not comprehend how women could be so 'dumb'.
It is impossible to pinpoint the source of our realization that
our methods and the ideology behind them were bankrupt.
However, we were operating on two major false assumptions:
1. That sex and sex alone is the major basis for unity.
2. That without our coaching and nagging women would never realize
that they were oppressed.
Part of our change was caused by the short term involvement of
women in the Women's Liberation group. Many women came into the
group because of` personal problems. As these improved through consciousness
raising, support etc., women then dropped out of the group. It seemed
that the theory of women's liberation was not sufficient to involve
women on any long term basis. If our problems along sex lines improved,
than we didn't have to go much further. But a few in the group attempted
to do an analysis of sexism - what are the causes behind many of
the problems that women are experiencing? This led us to see the
over-riding importance of the economic structures and the influence
of class in women's lives.
After recognizing that class is such a major factor in the oppression
of women, we evaluated our contacts with working class women. We
had to admit that most of them were cut off from and even opposed
to the ideas and actions of the Women's Liberation groups. This
led some of us to move to a more open structure that would be less
alienating for working class women. The Women's Place was established
because working with these women became our priority. Experience
had taught us something about our ignorance of many women's lives.
From the beginning of this operation we were careful not to tell
women what their problems were. We were committed to an investigation
of women's situations. Instead of going to them with preconceived
notions of their non-liberation, we started to search out their
attitudes, their values and their interests. Changes in the situation
of women will only be brought about by women themselves. We saw
our role and investigating and communicating the struggles of women,
not determining the struggle for them.
An example of our change in methodology comes up in the strikes
at Daal Plastics and Dominion Auto. When the women were picketing
these plants, we walked the picket line with them and talked with
them. Our role was low key in that we asked more questions than
We had difficulty with their attitudes towards the union leaders.
The women seemed to have so much confidence in them, but we felt
the workers were being sold down the line. Even though we drew attention
to some of the contradictions, we weren't accepted enough to really
challenge what we thought was going on. This led some of us to pursue
implantation (trying to get a job in the plant) instead of just
playing an outside support role. We needed a lot more understanding
of their situation than we had. Some of this could have been accomplished
through investigating and researching similar strikes and struggles
but the time period of this strike was too short for us to get a
grasp of what was really going on. An aggressive intervention on
our part would have been foolhardy.
After the plants were closed down completely, the Women's Place
gave a party for the women from both plants. The response was very
good. We were still in the learning position and understood even
more that leadership was not our role. What happened to them and
to women in similar situations is very important for building strategy.
The actions being taken and led by women in the workplaces are developing
the struggle far beyond the limits that we reached when we tried
to act as their spokeswomen,
These experiences have taught us that the vast majority of
women are more aware of their situations than we had supposed. We
have confidence that women themselves will take responsibility for
changing the conditions that have oppressed them.
We will still have an active role, but it will be one of aiding
advance of the struggle rather than leading it. The exact nature
of this aid cannot, of course, be predetermined, as it will vary
with the particularity of the specific situations in which we become
Windsor Gay Unity
When I moved to Windsor in December of 72, 1 had not come out other
than by telling a few close friends. When I arrived, I didn't expect
to find any more gay people here than I had in Toronto, despite
the fact that there are gay people everywhere one looks. But a member
of the Labour Centre at that time had decided it was time he came
out, so he took a leave of absence to form the Gay Liberation Front.
By the time I arrived it had had a number of meetings, and had found
the gay community. A phone service had been set up in one of the
early member's apartments, and some leafletting of the city and
the campus had been done. Meetings then, as for a long time, were
held on Wednesday evenings, and generally at that time attracted
a fair number of people. The name was changed first to the Windsor
Homophile Association and then to Gay Unity.
I think it important to note that the people who were responsible
for starting the organization and who eventually became seen as
organization people all essentially came out through the organization,
and came into their first contact with open gay culture through
the organization. Most of the people who staffed some of our early
functions and who eventually dropped out, had come out long before
and were part of an established homosexual society in Windsor.
We held our first public function (a dance) in February of 73
and it was a smashing success, much to our surprise. It showed for
the first time that our ignorance of what constitutes gay culture
in Windsor often led us to completely wrong conclusions about what
was going to happen ... largely because then we were outside of
that culture, looking in to organize it. (Incidently, we had an
assault at that dance by several drunken and over-reactive straight
men, who were chased off.)
At a certain point, for reasons that we were at a loss to explain
at that time, attendance at the meetings dropped off almost completely,
except for the organization people. The situation continued to deteriorate,
especially after the phone had to be moved from the original person's
house to the apartment of one of the organization people. Members
who had priorly done shifts at the phone now stopped coming. One
of the primary functions that we saw for ourselves at that time
was to make it possible to come out with 'dignity' ... that is without
shame and the necessity to sneak around like some many movie characters
engaging in stereotyped activity. We felt this entailed holding
public functions, largely dances, that would allow gay people to
socialize in public without the exploitation and closetness of the
bars (which in Windsor are largely in Detroit). What we failed to
realize was that there was a significant community of gay people
that already did socialize in public and were not terribly concerned
whether anyone thought they were dignified or not. I think it is
true that that community experienced a considerable thrust from
the original existence of gay liberation, and in fact is far more
public today than it was 2 years ago. But it did exist. Fairly characteristic
is the way that our people had looked at the formation of GLF/WHA/GU.
The organization was called the club and looked on by them as an
extension of the already existing gay society. We, the organization
people, looked on it as the organization per se of the community.
How far wrong we were is indicated by the continuing degeneration
of the organization.
By September of 73, a lot of changes had happened within the community.
(I was away for the summer and when I came back I could hardly recognize
what was going on as the same thing.) People had started hanging
around a different bar (called the West Side) and a large number
of new people had come out. As well, a number of other out groups
of people had started hanging around with the people who had originally
given Gay Unity its start. But the organization had floundered,
and was really nowhere to be seen. Good leftists that we were, we
threw ourselves into making the organization anew and never really
looked at what the gay community was saying about it.
In short, we looked at the gay community from the point of view
of the organization that sought to organize it, rather than to look
at the organization from the point of view of the community which
was the real basis for our existence and the form of our existence.
In that fall, we had another upsurge of membership, and then a
decline; we held a number of successful dances (before the university
decided it had had enough of us and started hassling us very subtly...
but that is another story), but by December the organization was
really in trouble. At that point I wrote a paper which called for
the end of the proverbial Wednesday night meetings and the substitution
of a new form of organization... that is ad hoc committees to do
what was felt necessary and a lot of study to see where we we were.
In effect, the organization died at that point. Since then it would
be fair to say that there have been only two consistent organization
people, the rest of the diehards have finally faded. Presently,
we are holding a number of popular Beer Keggers, a study group,
which is still setting itself up, and periodic meetings of those
interested to talk about stuff, especially the state of the North
Just before I end this partial history of GU, I should say that
I mentioned only those activities that brought us in contact with
the gay community in Windsor. There was for sometime a study group
called the Gay Marxist non-caucus, which talked a lot but got nowhere.
We went to the University and local community college and talked
to classes about the existence of gay people and gay liberation
and we periodically attempted to have some influence with various
community social service agencies. One particular battle that carried
on for a while was with the publisher of the Windsor Star,
who decided that liberalism did not extend to perverts and engaged
in a lengthy campaign against us, largely by tacky articles and
a conspiracy of silence. But these efforts were rarely seen by other
gay people, and were treated as of little importance. They were
largely of an internal left nature, and when the time came that
the organization had proven that it was not the best form of organization
for the gay community in Windsor, these activities did not provide
an adequate raison d'etre for continuation.
WHY GAY LIBERATION?
In this section I am not concerned to make the arguments for the
validity of homosexuality as a sexual orientation or as a lifestyle
(which is an ambiguous enough term as it is generally used). I will
presume the reader's acceptance of these facts and move to the present
form of the gay community.
Gay society exists. For centuries gay people have organized themselves
into communities, largely around socialization activity, both for
the purpose of satisfying their desires as human beings and for
the purpose of some modicum of collective defense.
Gay People have been viciously persecuted throughout the history
of capitalism, both because of a rejection of their sexual orientation
as unnatural and because the existence of gay society is a direct
challenge to the idea of necessary marriage, necessary procreation
for all people and, more important, necessary procreation through
the means of the nuclear family. The repression of the human movement
to love has many forms, and the repression of gay people is a form
of that repression not only directed to gay people, but indirectly
to straight people in whom a fear of homosexual love is instilled
and developed into an anathema.
At the present time, homosexual society, largely through the mechanism
of the direct challenge to its closeted nature that is being made
by the existence of public gay liberation, is moving toward a new
openness and a new rejection of our longtime roles as perverts,
weirdos, scapegoats and criminals. A large part of the necessity
for gay liberation is simply this, that gay people as a group no
longer perceive the necessity for their repression, and no longer
intend to act in its interest.
I might point out, for those who have never heard of these things,
that the gay liberation movement marks its modern renaissance by
the Stonewall riots, which occurred in 1969 in New York. NY police
raided the Stonewall, a gay after-hours bar. This sort of raid was
a common thing, but this particular raid resulted in a revolt. The
gay people fought back and eventually locked police inside the bar
and started what cannot be called anything other than a riot. New
police were called in to save their cronies from the attack, and
these reinforcements were also attacked. 'The uprising ended by
morning, but was renewed with fresh vigour the next night, and for
a number of nights succeeding. These people were average gay people.
They were not gay liberationists or leftists or outside agitators
or anything other than gay people who were sick of the shit they
got handed. Gay Liberation did not start Stonewall; Stonewall started
The relationship between the gay liberation movement and the rest
of the gay community is a complex one. Firstly, gay liberation has
been the result of the gay society's forging ahead into public view
and public existence. At the same point, the gay community has left
most of the new forging to the movement and significant sectors
of the gay community protest strongly against how public many gay
people have become. In Windsor, the particular nature of this is
pretty clear. From the beginning of Gay Unity in Windsor, the only
people who ever played an active role were people who worked in
plants, offices and stores. The middle class businessmen, whose
interests as businessmen are very directly affected by their coming
out too publicly have been opposed to us, and even openly hostile
to us. Gay workers, especially in plants and offices, tend to express
an open hostility to where they work, not only on the basis of its
being alienated, but also on the basis of its being straight. I
wonder what kind of parallels exist with straight people? I suspect
that the existence of such a tight knit gay community with its basis
of resistance to straight people and straight institutions places
gay people in something of a different relationship to work. I'm
not sure. I have never been able to get the guts together to come
out fully at work (a plant), and there are not too many people who
have. Time will tell.
I think there is some analogy to women here. Many women have expressed
the fact that female plant and office workers see the workplace
as a secondary part of their existence, and see their role as woman
in the family as primary. Many gay people see the gay community
as the primary part of their life...and run them-selves ragged working
eight hour days and then staying up all night hanging around downtown
with other gay people. This whole area is a little confusing and
we are only just starting to investigate it systematically.
WHAT SHOULD GAY LIBERATION BE DOING IN WINDSOR
1) Investigation. We have become aware that there is an active gay
community, that acts in its own interests and struggles against
various forms of repression. We must investigate what it is doing,
how it is doing it and make this material available to the people
involved in the struggle. Our attempts as Marxists to intervene
in this struggle have shown that people resist interference with
the community that they have developed over time. The forms of resistance
that this community uses are not things to be replaced by our 'elevated'
understanding, but things to be advanced through themselves.
2) Coming Out. The gay community that exists seems little prepared
to help people in the hassles of coming out. The pattern tends to
be that people come out for a while, then retreat, then come out
again. Out people are very wary of new people, because by and large
they have gone through a lot of the same pain themselves and it
frightens them. A great deal of fun is made of closets and especially
closets who have started coming out. There is a role to this kind
of hardness. Nobody makes any bones about the pain that must be
endured in coming out... it somehow prepared people to be fit members
of the community. I do not think that gay liberation should pre-empt
the role of the gay community in dealing with new people, but it
can serve as a public front, a publicity front. A lot of non-leftist
gay people are involved in this. One particular form of publicity
is called zapping, which, along with drag and camp, takes the form
of bitter satire. Zapping, drag and camp are important things.
3) Formal Defence and Resistance. Especially in regard to the
law. In Windsor police mostly harass people with vagrancy and curfew
laws. Some sort of formal assistance in dealing with doctors and
the psychiatric 'profession' has been attempted, but this sort of
thing is limited by closets. 1 know few out gay people in Windsor
who have any desire to see shrinks. It is the closet, not homosexuality,
that screws people up.
Anatomy of a Militants' Group
(The following analysis of Workers' Unity was done by two former
members of the group and represents only their view of the situation.
Other members may have drawn different conclusions. Therefore, the
pronoun 'we' usually refers to the authors only.)
In June of 1970 a white leaflet announcing a slate of unknown candidates
for the union executive elections appeared at Chrysler's plant gates:
With that began 18 months of intensive political activity which
saw the rise and fall of a small militant workers' group - Workers'
Unity. The leaflet was a straightforward demand for struggle
around working conditions and many of the power abuses of the union
(Brooks) administration. What was most significant, however, was
that a small group of relatively unknown militants from a machining
department. in the engine plant got 22% of the vote. Two members
of this slate decided to continue their activity and formed, along
with the wife of one, Workers' Unity.
They produced a series of 'pink leaflets' that fall, continuing
to focus on local in-plant issues and demanding improvements in
working conditions. During that fall, Bron and Ron visited the group
and decided to move to Windsor to participate in Workers' Unity.
We returned to the city in January 1971 just in time for the proposed
(For reasons of space, we have omitted a lengthy factual history
of Workers' Unity which was part of the original article. This
article appeared in NEWSLETTER 4. The history deals with
the details of the group's successful campaign to get progressive
stewards and other in-plant union officials elected and ends with
the group's breakup in the fall of 1971.)
WORKERS' UNITY: THE POLITICS
The three original members of Workers' ' Unity concentrated their
attention on in-plant issues etc. and saw running for various elections
as the way of raising these issues. Their involvement in the executive
elections is a case in point in that it was not an opportunisitic
situation: they had no desire to win but simply saw this strategy
as a method of becoming known, attracting attention to the issues
and building a caucus.
With the in-plant elections, however, the strategy was clearly based
on the desire to win - particularly in the steward positions. Chrysler
Plant 2 stewards do union work the full 8 hours and this meant (as
WU saw it) a lot of time to talk to people, to 'organize' etc. The
group also saw the importance of stewards' fighting issues directly
on the shop floor and involving as many men as possible. To this
extent WU candidates advocated the concept of the rank and file's
building workers' councils. The concept was generally adhered to
in principle but practically never materialized (Indeed, we now
know that, by definition, workers' councils must be a self-organized
movement by workers themselves, not an abstract concept to
Beyond the in-plant situation the group's theory and strategy
vis a vis the union was very unclear. None of us really saw the
International union as the vehicle for socialism, but we were pretty
hazy on the question of taking over the union to reform it and somewhat
romantic about getting back to the militancy of its early days.
What we did see, in one way or another, was basing ourselves strongly
in Plant 2 and it. was there that we concentrated. All of WU's union
positions were there and one of the group's members was plant chairman.
A situation we saw as conducive to the building of a base . That
is, we recognized that tactically, the work of one or two stewards
could be easily undermined if the rest of the plant committee (particularly
the Plant Chairman) was controlled by Brook's men.
During this period our contribution to the group theory and practice
took many forms. Practically, the two of us had the requisite technical
skills to lay out an off-set newspaper and it was partly because
of our urging that the group moved to this format. Theoretically,
our travels around Canada and our discussions with other qroups
had helped us to develop an anti-imperialist perspective which we
attempted to share and to relate to the problem of the international
union. Unfortunately this was not reflected in the paper to any
great extent except in the last issue where we began what was intended
to be a series on multi-national corporations.
The other major contribution was the development of a womens group
around WU. Before our arrival, the discussion of the 'women's question'
had been practically non-existent and there had been little attempt
to relate the oppression of working class women to the plant struggle.
The group that formed attempted some consciousness raising, as well
as extensive discussions of women in relation to the plant struggle.
Each paper carried a one page article written by the women which
attempted to discuss the role of women and the relation of their
work to that of the work in the plant. We also attempted to explain
why the struggles should be united.
Connected to this aspect of our contribution was an attempt on
our part to add some of the perspective of our past 'new left' experience
to the major thrust of the group. This involved an awareness, not
only of women's struggles, but of students, gays, community work
etc. We also tried to focus attention on the national struggle in
Quebec. One member of the original froup had been involved in community
issues, but the group's general practice was to pay lip-service
to these areas rather than to attempt to understand them more clearly.
Again - and this will be discussed more thoroughly later - the paper
generally discussed such issues only when they related directly
to the plant situation.
To the extent that we saw the trade union as some sort of base for
the revolutionary movement, then, our political thrust was a traditional
Leninist one. We did, however, recognize the problems such a strategy
raised in relation to an international union. The analysis of this
particular aspect of the problem that appeared in Progressive
Worker Vol. 6, No. 1 (Independence and Socialism in Canada)
was one that we shared.
Implicit in the publication and thrust of our paper - and explicit
in our group discussions about it - was the belief that our main
task was to 'build consciousness' or 'politicize' the working class.
We saw the discussions of in-plant issues as a 'concrete' basis
for this process and we attempted to build from there to a 'world
view' which related direct, in-plant experience to US imperialism,
other workers' struggles, women etc. In all of this, we very clearly
saw our function as that of analysing and explaining political reality
for the working class. This function is clearly explicit in the
following excerpts from the original Statement of Purpose, published
in our first issue, even though at times we made verbal appeals
for information and articles from the rank and file at large:
Workers' Unity believes that no one person, however powerful or
intelligent, can decide on the best course of action. Part of the
purpose of the articles we print is to give all workers an understanding
of the cause of their problems and an idea of how to change them.
THE WORKERS' UNITY EXPERIENCE: AN EVALUATION
In general, the Workers' Unity experience was invaluable for us
as an introduction to working class politics. We learned a great
deal about in-plant conditions, union structures, etc. Politically,
the group did raise issues and promote discussions. However, after
the in-plant elections (and perhaps even before) we were perceived
by the workers as a 'union caucus' group and this did much to invalidate
any of the wider aims expressed in our paper.
The other problem was that the group did not have any reliable
method of investigating the overall plant situation or of discovering
the general reaction to what we said and did. Only a very few people
were in a position to talk to workers in the plant and many of these
were in union positions, a factor which (as we see it now) may have
affected the kind of feedback we got. More importantly, we could
not investigate the situation with people. There was no
way for us to explore the perceptions that workers had of what we
were doing or of what was going on in the plants.
In evaluating our experience we are aware of specific areas which
need to be discussed in detail:
I.The Union Question
Our public position (as expressed in leaflets, papers etc.)
was marred by the fact that it was unclear and ambivalent, especially
in relation to such major questions as l.the International and Canadian
unions and 2.the role of the union in a revolutionary movement.
This ambivalence, however, had its basis in our ideology and not
just in the fact that our thinking was a little 'fuzzy'. Because
we accepted the assumption that somehow the union would be some
sort of basis for a revolutionary workers' movement, we did not
- or could not - look at the trade union movement historically in
its ever-changing relation to capital. Our tendency was to treat
the obvious changes ahistorically: we lamented them in a moralist,
romantic way as indications of how the union leadership had deviated
form the path set by their radical forerunners of the organizing
days, days to which we hoped to return. All of our papers, for example,
carried articles describing how the union leadership had misrepresented
the rank and file in its handling of grievances or had degraded
the principles of trade unionism by making them cross picket lines
etc. Our final issue contained the following conclusion to such
the present union administrations are the best examples of
where playing it safe ends up in the long run. By refusing to
support those who act in the interest of the rank and file most
union 'leaders' have become a mouth-piece for the companies. Obviously,
playing it safe is not the game that will solve our problems.
The anti-militancy line is a scare tactic which serves the interest
of the corporations and those of an entrenched union bureaucracy.
In aligning itself with the companies, this bureaucracy has chosen
to ignore its responsibilities to the rank and file. If we do
not want this to continue, we must decide how we are going to
handle this problem.
What we missed in all of this was the historical fact that
the union leadership had not deviated at all. They are simply recognizing
and fulfilling the role of trade unions in advanced capitalism -
the function of controlling the rank and file, mediating the in-plant
struggle and deflecting any activities which might disrupt peaceful
industrial relations. As well, such harangues assume that the attitude
of the rank and file who read them is one of dissillusionment, whereas
our more recent, more direct experience indicates rather that the
rank and file have a very realistic understanding of where the union
is at and a growing willingness to move beyond it (and disregard
it) when necessary.
Moral harangues - like those against union leadership - or expressions
of moral indignation about the weakness of the union have, at best,
a short-term agitational effect. At worst, such outbursts from a
Marxist paper serve only to distort the analysis which workers,
by their actions, are clearly expressing and to retard the potential
growth of the movement which can develop as this analysis is generalized.
In running members for union positions, we again failed to recognize
the objective function of stewards etc. within the union structure
and assumed that 'our' people could do differently, could somehow
be a progressive force within a corrupt structure. The experience
of the past 3 years has proved this to be impossible and from all
that we have seen and heard, the people we put forward have been
forced into the union mold, at best posing as a progressive opposition
to Brooks. Such a situation arises, not because these people have
been corrupted (moral fibre has little to do with it) but simply
because the subjective attitude of the individual cannot in any
real way change, affect or be separated from the objective function
of a steward in a large industrial union in 1974. One might say
that in such conditions progressive stewards are no more useful
than 'good' cops.
We are using the word 'vanguardist' to describe this aspect of our
practice in a very specific way. While we may have accepted the
Leninist concept of a party, we, as W.U., did not see ourselves
as a vanguard in that structural or organizational way. Rather,
we were vanguardist in our approach to the questions of the development
of theory and organization in the working class itself. This, we
consider, was the major error of Workers' Unity.
As we have already said, we saw our function both as Marxists
and in the publication of a Marxist paper, as that of bringing theory
to or developing theory for the working class. Our method was to
take a situation either from the plant or from the outside political
situation and explain it - analysing for our readers the situation
as we saw it and prescribing, in conclusion, what we considered
the obvious and necessary actions that should (the operative word)
follow from our explanation. We made no attempt (nor did we have
the means) to collect the opinions or ideas of the workers -or of
anyone else - on these matters or to use these as the basis of our
discussion. When we talked about the actions of workers (especially
those in Europe) we used them as illustrations of our idea of what
should be done or what we wanted to explain about the evils of capitalism.
There are many problems in this approach, the most basic of which
is the assumption that we could advance theory for the working class.
Any advances in Marxist theory will come, rather from the working
class itself and from there alone. We say this, not out of any utopian
or romantic idea about 'faith in the people', but from a recognition
of scientific fact. One of the basic premises of Marx' theory is
that the working class (like the bourgeoisie in a former period)
is the "class that holds the future in its hands'. Because
of the material nature of its relation to capital, the working class
acts against the interests of the bourgeoisie and by those actions
indicates the nature of the developing socialist society. It is
from our understanding of these actions that our understanding of
capitalism and socialism advances. In WU we ignored this fact, not
simply out of a certain ideological weakness, bot also out of our
tendency to equate verbal articulation rather than action with a
high level of 'political consciousness'.
In our eagerness to explain things to the workers we often overlooked
or undervalued situations which could have clarified our thinking.
One example is an article which discussed how the union was selling
out the rank and file and how it was time for the rank and file
to rejuvenate the union. As an example we used the illustration
of certain worker tactics in Turin. Only in retrospect do we see
how widely we missed the point, fot the tactics we described clearly
indicated that the Turin workers already had an analysis of the
union which was far more sophisticated than ours and which was leading
them to experiment with new forms of worker organisations and new
relations of production which went far beyond the idea of 'rejuvenating'
As a result of this perspective our objective stance in relation
to the working class was one of moralism - an attitude of 'nagging
the workers'. Rather than recognizing appreciating and discussing
the advances that workers themselves were making, we took it upon
ourselves to tell them how to organize andwhat to do. Almost every
article we wrote ends on this note: urging rank and file unity,
militancy etc. We had set ourselves over and against the working
class, assuming that workers would form an organization (along our
suggested lines) in response to our paper. We ignored any informal
organization that already existed in the plant as well as the very
real prospect of a wider organization emerging, when necessary,
from the actual relations of work on the line - an organization
that could use a paper such as ours to publicize and expand the
III. Other Problems
Another problem - or set of problems - was the lack of clarity on
the question of the various sectors of: the class and their inter-relations.
There is not any question about the fact that our position considered
the industrial sector as the primary one. One reason for this, of
course, arises naturally from the overwhelming impact of industrial
labour on every facet of life in Windsor. One sees that everything
is affected by this sector of the class, and without much reflection,
assumes that all other sectors must define themselves in relation
to it. Our tendency was to discuss the situation in other sectors
( say the office workers at Chrysler) only in terms of how they
affected or did not affect industrial workers.
The problems of this approach were most glaring in the women's
group. We came together in the first place as 'wives of W.U.' -
the basis of our group being that our men were auto workers and
that we wanted to be involved in a support of their struggle. We
talked a great deal about our situation and the articles we wrote
for the paper are excellent analyses of the position of the family
and the working class housewife in a capitalist economy.
The result was a group whose 'commonality' was often somewhat
artificial and in which very real contradictions between working
class men and women were denied or softened rather than examined
and confronted directly. In the articles which dealt with the working
class family and the role of housewives, we described the tensions
between man and wife (the alienation of the man from his children,
the repression of sexuality, the sex-stereotyping in terms of household
tasks etc.) but we constantly mitigated their seriousness by blaming
allsuch evils on capitalism and Chrysler Co. In an overall, simplistic
way this may be true; it most certainly does not shed very much
light on the real complexity of the contradictions between men and
women nor does it analyse satisfactorily the direct oppression that
most women feel. The problem was equally obvious in our group practice:
in the case where a couple broke up, it was the woman who left the
women's group - evidently because she no longer had a reason to
Another problem was getting women involved. Our potential contact
came through the paper, which only reached women if men took it
home. This method reflects a limited ideology. We have since learned
that women come together when motivation is based on their common
experience, not indirectly through relationships with men.
While the ideological problems surrounding the women's group were
the most glaring, they were not isolated to that situation alone.
In general, we tended to see building a strong workers' organization
as a pre-requisite to developing struggles in other areas, such
as tenants, food co-ops etc. We also assumed that other sectors
of the class - white collar workers, service employees etc would
begin to move only if and when the industrial sector provided the
impetus. The questions of autonomy as they are now being discussed
were not part of our analysis at this point.
As well as concentrating on the industrial sector exclusively,
we also focused our attention mainly on in-plant situations. This
viewpoint was abetted by the in-plant union positions held by 'our'
people and, while we are not negating the importance of these as
a beginning, we are aware of certain problems. The most major problem
is the tendency to see each in-plant problem and and the struggle
around it as isolated and local rather than relating it to tendencies
within capital as a whole and the movements of the class in combatting
We can best conclude by reiterating the three main areas of our
WU experience in which we consider the most valuable lessons were
learned. The first is the union question and the recognition of
the importance a sound, historical analysis in this area, relating
the change of trade unions to the needs of capital. Such an understanding
must be necessary as a framework for any discussion about running
for union positions, working with union militants etc.
A second area - that of the inter-relations of various sectors
and the totality of the class - is one that, for us, requires still
more discussion and thought. We both recognize the limitations and
narrowness of our previous perspective, but we diverge somewhat
in our idea of how to change that perspective and why. The previous
Newsletter discussions around the issue of autonomy have been most
valuable in clarifying our thinking.
For us, still, the most important change in our thinking centres
around the question of vanguardism, both in its structural and organizational
sense and in the sense of defining and analysing experience for
the working class. In regard to the latter, we can only re-emphasize
what we consider the importance of investigation about a particular
situation with the people in it. The opinions and ideas of workers
themselves, are, for us, of utmost importance to any group of militants
attempting to develop a Marxist analysis. As well, the daily actions
of the working class, as it gradually builds the basis of socialism,
form, for us, the basis of any further development of theory.
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