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 group structure.

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 drawn.

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.


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 opposed.

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 way.

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 those struggles.

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 way.

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 school.

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 told.

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.)

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 of it.

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 offered answers.

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 involved.

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 American movement.

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.


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 Gay Liberation.

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.


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 Chrysler strike.

(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.)


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 organize around.)

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.


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 an article:

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' the union.

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 ideas generated.

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 be there.

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 them.


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.

Continued on Next Page