---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2002 23:16:19 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Revolutionary struggles of Black workers in the 1960s
Revolutionary struggles of Black workers in the 1960s
by Dan Georgakas
International Socialist Review Issue 22, March-April 2002
There's no point in repeating all the events chronicled in Detroit: I Do
Mind Dying. It's more useful to expand on some of the issues we raised in
terms of ongoing and future organizing. In the 1960s, we used to talk to
activists of the 1930s to learn more about how they had operated. Although
it turned out that a lot of what they said was useful, conditions had so
changed that we could not repeat them in the same format. I think that some
of the things we did also will be useful to our successors, and some of
them will not be useful at all. This is just a sharing. There is no sense
that we did it this way, so you better do it this way or you're going to do
The most obvious question is, How does a Greek American come to write a
book about revolutionary Black workers? That has a lot to do with the city
of Detroit. I am the child of immigrants, and I was the first person in my
family to graduate from high school. When I went to Wayne State University,
I met a lot of other people from a similar background. A number of them
were African Americans whose parents had come north to work in the car
When I arrived at Wayne State, the last socialist group had just been
ousted from campus. The powers that be must have thought they had finally
killed the Marxist beast. The United Auto Workers (UAW) had also expelled
as many Marxists as possible during its anti-Communist purge. A lot of us
asked ourselves what it was about this "ism" that the establishment did not
want us to know. We immediately began looking around.
There were three small socialist groups in the city that still held public
events on a regular or irregular basis: Raya Dunayevskaya's News and
Letters group, the C.L.R. James group led by Marty Glaberman, and the
Friday night socialist forum sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party. I
began to attend various events, and over time I met many of the individuals
who would eventually create the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
Numerous political initiatives were undertaken between 1955 and 1967.
Almost every single tactic one can think of was employed at one time or
another. There were sit-ins, teach-ins, petition drives, work in the
Democratic Party, independent electoral campaigns, independent
publications, defense committees, study groups, and so forth. By the time
the League came into existence, at least a few hundred people had worked
together in various projects.
I moved to New York in 1966. I was approached two years later by Marvin
Surkin, who wanted to locate a Black author to write an essay on Detroit
events for a book he was then editing on urban politics. When we went to
Detroit, Marvin felt events there needed an entire book. We spoke with John
Watson, Ken Cockrel, and Mike Hamlin, three of the seven League leaders,
about the need to get the League story to a national audience. They replied
that they were much too busy building their organization to take time off
to write. They suggested that we do it.
I was greatly honored that they would trust us with that task. The major
reason was that I had worked with them for so many years on different
projects and they had confidence in my political judgment. The only request
they made was that we use as much of their own words and documents as
possible, an orientation that exactly matched our notion of how to write
When I say trust, that means that someone will make available a huge pile
of documents and tell you to look through them and take or copy whatever
seems useful. That requires a lot of confidence. I don't say that to
indicate anything special about me, but about the nature of political
relationships. If you have worked with a group of people for some 10 years,
and you have a social as well as a political relationship, then if a moment
comes when you must work without real supervision, people are willing to
A brief history: In May 1968, some 3,000 workers walked out of Dodge Main
in Hamtramck in a wildcat strike. At Dodge Main, 85 percent of the workers
were Black, but only 2 percent of the foremen and shop stewards were Black,
an indication of racist promotion policies shared by the company and the
union. In due course, Dodge workers would assert: "UAW means ^A'You Ain't
White.'" The year before had seen the Great Rebellion [the urban rebellion
in Detroit in 1967ķed.]. Now, the issues of the Great Rebellion were being
expressed on the factory floor.
With one exception, the first Dodge wildcat strike was not reported
nationally. The exception was the Wall Street Journal. Its reporter noted
that the radical language used and the anger expressed was a reprise of the
1930s. The strikers were calling themselves the Dodge Revolutionary Union
They, meaning Marxists, were back. The newspaper was concerned about what
was going to transpire in other factories. What, in fact, did transpire was
that in the weeks that followed, other factories erupted. A FRUM (Ford
Revolutionary Union Movement) and a CADRUM (Cadillac Revolutionary Union
Movement) came into existence. Other RUMs would emerge at UPS and the
Detroit News. Eventually, a score of workplaces formed RUMs.
Many of the RUMs would collapse before organizers could give them the
attention needed. There were simply too few activists to handle all the
requests for organization. Nonetheless, the RUMs were eventually fused into
a single organization called the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. The
aim of the League was to assume power in the city of Detroit.
That the League was built around workers and not students or street people
or welfare mothers or other sectors of society was not accidental. The
people who created the League were Marxists. They believed that you
organized workers, not because of some mythical notion of workers'
nobility, but because workers have real power. Workers are the nexus of the
means of production. When they take action, everyone is affected. If
workers exert political power, anything is possible. It does not follow
that students are not important, that welfare mothers should not be
organized, that some street people may not indeed become more than fickle
lumpen proletarians. The League simply pointed out that no other class
formation was strong enough to lead a mass movement. Moreover, workers have
families. Thus, you automatically plug into education, health, and housing
At that time, Detroit was the most industrialized city in the United
States, and one out of six American jobs were linked, directly or
indirectly, to the auto industry. The League soon received calls,
telegrams, and visitors from all over the country wanting to create similar
groups. There was contact with an ongoing movement at the Ford plant in
Mahwah, New Jersey, and with a GMC plant in Fremont, California. Other
queries came from steelworkers in Birmingham, Alabama, and autoworkers in
Baltimore, Maryland. The League realized that these and similar groups
could be fused into a Black Workers Congress (BWC) that would operate
nationally to unite workers.
So, the Wall Street Journal was right to be worried.
A crucial difference from the past and from the present is that these were
membership was limited to nonwhites. This, however, did not reflect a
separatist ideology. The concept of Black Power had arisen in the course of
the civil rights movement when white funders tried to shape its agenda and
tactics. Many Black activists felt it was essential at that point to limit
organizational membership to nonwhites so that it would be clear to
everyone who was in charge of the struggle in terms of ultimate and
short-term goals. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and
numerous other organizations undertook this change.
Such a process took place in Detroit, as well. I had belonged to a group
called the Negro Action
Committee. The name tells you something about the time frame. In due
course, the group, which
contained two future leaders of the League, Luke Tripp and John Watson,
dissolved. In its stead came UHURU, an all-Black group. A theater group in
Detroit called The UnStabled lost some of its nonwhite personnel to a new
all-Black group called Concept East. These developments were not traumatic.
They seemed appropriate to the political times.
What, then, should the non-Blacks do for the struggle? Well, there was a
long list of support or parallel activities available, and there was the
suggestion that whites could organize their own communities. In any case,
the relationships were not broken. They simply evolved into a new phase.
The League would always have a lot of white supporters in these new roles.
But the all-Black nature of the RUMs was not without its problems. To be
sure, Black nationalists and separatists were attracted to the RUMS, and
they often opposed working with other groups in the plants or outside that
were not limited to Blacks only.
The kind of organizational form that was appropriate for the period of
Black Power is not the kind of thing that needs to be repeated. What does
need to be retained, however, is that nonwhites in workers' organizations
must continue to feel that they are in control of their destiny in terms of
tactics and priorities.
The Black Workers Congress, while never very viable, finally came into
existence in l971. Its membership had been defined in a manner that
accepted Hispanic, Asian, and Native American affiliates and clearly was
compatible with other workers' groups that might arise. The following
paragraph from the BWC manifesto is unambiguous about making class status
its key concern. The Black Workers Congress was proposing to lead not
simply the Black revolution, but the American revolution:
Our objective: workers' control of their place of work, the factories,
fields, offices, transportation services, and communications facilities, so
that the exploitation of labor will cease and no person or corporation will
get rich off the labor of another person. All people will work for the
collective benefit of humanity.
I would like to look at some of the things the League did very well. One of
them was framing issues. The best example is the League's defense of James
Johnson, a worker who one day walked into a factory and shot to death two
foremen and a fellow worker. One foreman was white and the other was Black.
The third worker was white.
Some years ago, William Kunstler proposed the idea of Black rage as a
defense for a Black man who had killed white commuters on a train. The
retort to that, of course, is that it could be countered by the concept of
white rage. In Detroit, it was suggested that one could investigate to see
if some of the white workers killed were rabid racists. Perhaps they
belonged to an Aryan brotherhood of some kind. Ken Cockrel, the League
counsel, rejected all such options.
The League's defense of Johnson was that "Chrysler pulled the trigger."
Whether the foremen were good guys or bad guys did not matter. Chrysler,
the League charged, had created a system in which such carnage is
inevitable. Chrysler was the true killer. Chrysler was on trial. Chrysler
had to show that the charges against the corporation were not true. Lo and
behold, the case was won, and Chrysler had to pay workers' compensation to
James Johnson for driving him crazy.
Ken Cockrel took that kind of League strategy into every case he could.
After a jury had been selected, he would inform the jurors that he had
wanted every one of them to serve. Of course, there would be a few white
jurors who thought that was just empty rhetoric. But Cockrel would then
wave a piece of paper and announce that he still possessed the right to
deny one more juror for any reason he wanted. He would proceed to say he
had accepted all of them because the Constitution guaranteed a trial by
one's peers and what made them all peers was that they lived in a city
dominated by the auto industry. He asked them to just bear in mind the
environment that industry had created as they considered the case at hand.
On another occasion, Cockrel came out of the courthouse fuming. There was a
horrible judge who put huge bails and fines on some workers. Cockrel told
reporters that the judge was "a racist monkey, a honky-dog fool, and a
thieving pirate." Now that is not typical lawyerly discourse. His opponents
immediately set out to disbar him, assuming that the least they would get
was a humiliating public apology. Cockrel astounded them by stating a
disbarment proceeding was fine, as it would be an opportunity for him to
prove that the judge was "a racist monkey, a honky-dog fool, and a thieving
pirate." The judge, not he, was the true defendant.
Cockrel asserted that as an officer of the court, he was obliged to report
on legal irregularities to the public in a language that the public could
comprehend. He summoned semanticists and experts on mass communications. He
explained that his public statements were not aimed at other lawyers or
college students. He was communicating with a mass audience in Detroit. He
had to speak in the language they spoke. He brought records, newspapers,
and tapes of radio programs to demonstrate how people spoke and what
certain words meant to Detroiters. He clinched his case by saying that he
would present a statistical comparison of the judge's handling of white and
Black defendants that would indicate clear racial bias. The disbarment
proceeding was dropped.
I give these examples to demonstrate how the League framed issues to its
advantage. One reason the Democrats drive me crazy is that they accept the
framework of the other side. They talk about saving Social Security. I
would talk about allowing people to retire even earlier, not pushing it
back. I would talk about increasing the payments of the rich. I would
suggest the payroll tax could be cut or even eliminated by simply charging
a few cents tax for every share traded in the stock market. None of that
requires a revolution, only a different class analysis.
It's worth noting that the League operated under a multiple leadership.
They were very careful about not having one person stand out as the major
leader because they were afraid of attempts at decapitation.
They did the same thing in the individual RUMs. They tried to avoid
building personalities. Of course, certain personalities became better
known than others, but their policy was to minimize this phenomenon.
One of the League's most sensational successes was the takeover of the
South End, Wayne State University's daily newspaper. I think that
experience can be repeated today, and not necessarily just with newspapers,
but other resources. The Wayne paper had never had a Black editor. The
paper itself was one of those dullish things not many people read, and few
students thought about how its editors were elected. The League studied the
selection process and, following the established rules, elected John Watson
as editor. Watson promptly transformed the South End into a Marxist daily.
An early change was to place two black panthers astride the newspaper's
name and add the subtitle:
"One class conscious worker is worth a hundred students." You don't see
such a masthead on many college newspapers, not even in the 1960s.
What is critical about that masthead is that it was not a put-down of
students. It was an elevation of workers. They were not saying students
were useless. They were saying workers had far more potential power. The
South End had a daily print run of some 10,000 copies. During the Watson
regime, it was not unusual for half the papers to be given away on campus
and the other half at factories. When a big action was due at Dodge Main or
elsewhere, only a handful of papers might be distributed on campus.
The Wayne administration was furious. They insisted the newspaper was for
the students. Watson's group replied that the paper was like other college
institutions. Student teachers were sent to public schools.
Student nurses were sent to hospitals. They were journalists, and their
product should also serve the general public.
Watson was also favored with some good luck. The newspaper had attacked the
main public hospital for its poor service and facilities. Detroiters
waiting in the lobby while a loved one was having an operation would be
able to read in the South End about the hospital's inadequate performance.
The mass media attacked the story as sensationalism, and a city councilman
called a meeting at the hospital to respond to the charges. In the middle
of his presentation, there was a partial collapse of the ceiling.
The South End provided paying jobs. Some of these went to people who
happened to be organizing in the factories. Thus, a situation had been
created in which the state of Michigan was paying militants, some of whom
were factory organizers, to put out 10,000 copies of a newspaper dedicated
to a working-class analysis of local, national, and world issues. This
state of affairs had been cleverly conceived and executed with aplomb.
Thus, although many League people were impressed by what they thought the
Cultural Revolution was accomplishing in China, when they achieved control
of the South End, the pages usually dedicated to sports, fraternities,
sororities, and the like were left untouched. The explanation for this was
that other students had rights regarding the paper, and if their news was
retained, they might read the rest of the paper, as well. Later, when the
authorities made an all-out effort to close the paper, there was as no
preexisting dissent from these sectors of the student population.
The South End was even able to come out in support of the Palestinian
cause, arguing first that there was a huge Arab population in Detroit that
was rarely heard from and, more importantly, that the Palestinian cause had
considerable merit. The entire state government responded in a rage. The
governor, state senators, and some congressmen were sure that now the Black
editor had gone too far. To question Israel was surely to be anti-Semitic.
Again, due to how the League operated, the onslaught was withstood. The
paper had been careful to be anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. Although that
difference can be and often is blurred, the South End did not do so. There
were also a number of Jews who wrote for the paper. Most of them were
League supporters and anti-Zionist themselves, but they were not anti-Semitic.
In addition, the newspaper also published some columns that were supportive
of Israel. Thus, the attack was weathered, not because of the greater
latitude allowed Black militants but because the policies in place
regarding the issue were defensible on their own merits.
The faculty adviser to the newspaper, whose views were largely ignored,
could not comprehend what was happening. He observed, "This new one, this
Watson, walked in with a look of cool hatred in his eyes."
Perhaps the adviser had not read Watson's first editorial in which he
stated, "Our only enemies will be those who would further impoverish the
poor, exploit the exploited, and take advantage of the
powerless." Or perhaps he had.
During the period when Watson was editor of the South End, the League
obtained considerable funding from religious groups. Part of this money was
spent on buying a printing press. The League established Black Star
Publishers to print books and its own newspaper. This concern about owning
a press flowed from the experience that several of the League founders had
in publishing the Inner-City Voice (ICV) in the year before the eruption at
The ICV activists discovered that every time they published an issue, the
FBI or the police department would visit the printer and explain that if
the printer produced another paper, various government agencies would be
back to look into every detail of the printing operation. Over the course
of a year, the ICV exhausted every printer in the city that was willing to
deal with them. The publishers finally had to have the paper printed in
Chicago by, of all people, the Nation of Islam. The paper then had to be
trucked back to Detroit.
With their own printing press in hand, the League was less concerned about
retaining direct control of the South End. This proved to be an error when
mechanical trouble with the presses developed and the League came under a
The League's concentration on publishing a newspaper was not happenstance.
In the mid-1960s, several future League leaders had taken part in a study
group led by Marty Glaberman. Their study included important works by
Lenin. Among these was "Where to Begin?" in which Lenin theorized about the
importance of having a popular press.
In addition to having a publishing arm, the League understood the
importance of culture. A worker is not simply a person who labors; a worker
sings, dances, reads, goes fishing. The League thought it would be useful
to have a book club where people could meet and discuss a book. A call was
issued to determine how much interest a book club would generate. The
organizers were prepared to go forward if about 50 people expressed
interest. The response was in the hundreds. Many of the respondents were
white and many lived in the suburbs. Rather than rejecting this
constituency, the organizers determined the book club could be a valuable
de facto support group of the League.
The format for the book club was much like the situation I have observed at
this Summer School. People would read a book and then come to hear an
author discuss it and answer questions. Readers would be gathered at tables
to discuss the book among themselves and, if possible, the author would
come around to participate. The organizers very wisely did not think of the
book club as a recruiting front. It was to help create a climate of opinion
favorable to the objectives of the League. The book club was not a League
project; it was run by an allied organization that had both Black and white
The situation at the book club contrasts with problems that arose in some
factories when individual white workers came forward to work with the
League. Sometimes they were turned away rudely, and other times it was
difficult to find an appropriate means for forming a coalition. This was a
predictable problem with the Black Power approach of the League, and the
lack of a plan to deal with friendly white workers was uncharacteristically
shortsighted in terms of League strategy.
The League commitment to cultural activism and its ability to work with
sympathetic whites is
demonstrated by the making of the film Finally Got The News. To my
knowledge, no other Black
organization of the l960s made a movie about itself. There were many movies
about the Black Panthers but none made by the Black Panthers.
The League film began as a project of three white filmmakers associated
with New York Newsreel. In a series of events we discuss in Detroit: I Do
Mind Dying, the League decided to take direct control of the filmmaking.
The League did not replace the filmmakers. Instead, League personnel took
on the role of producers. They explained in general terms the points they
wanted emphasized and the points they wanted minimized or omitted. Although
there was give-and-take, the League had the final say. Just as critical to
the film's success, the filmmakers were free to implement the agreed-on
approach in whatever artistic manner they thought would be effective.
John Watson was the League leader most committed to film. He thought films
would be very useful in national organizing, being much cheaper to send
about than personnel. He also envisioned making fiction films that would
explore League perspectives. He and others visited in Hollywood to confer
with filmmakers such as Jane Fonda to explore how that proposition might
become a reality.
Another important outreach was to autoworkers in Turino, the automobile
center in Italy that resembled Detroit in many ways. Individuals traveled
back and forth between the two countries to discuss common problems and
tactics. In those moments, when a lot of wine had been consumed, people
would speculate on the impact of a joint strike in which auto-workers in
Turino and autoworkers in Detroit wildcatted against their unions and their
companies at the same time. These speculations revolved around groups such
as Potere Operaia (Workers' Power) and Lotta Continua (Continuous
Struggle), extraparliamentary groups that were then very active in Italy,
with units in automobile factories as well as universities.
More practically, of course, the League had to deal with the Detroit
police. It felt strongly that the military battle, if necessary, was the
last option, not the first. The police were going to be marshaled against
them in any case, so to provoke the police rhetorically did not make sense.
The League had a very, very sophisticated defense apparatus that was rarely
heard or seen. None of the League leaders were ever killed or wounded in
shooting incidents. Nor were there many confrontations with the police of
the kind the Black Panthers frequently got into.
The League mainly took on the police at the legislative and political
level. A campaign led by Ken Cockrel would succeed in the disbanding of the
so-called STRESS squads of the Detroit police, heavily armed units that had
been the center of numerous conflicts in Black communities. The League was
even able to have some Black sympathizers within the department who
provided useful tips from time to time. The League believed this kind of
approach was far more useful than posing in military garb with raised
rifles to chant "Off the Pig."
In that context, I am reminded of experiences that Wilbur Haddock has
related about organizing at the Ford plant in Mahwah, New Jersey. He said
that after initial successes, they had put on black leather jackets and
decked themselves out in pins and badges. Their support seemed to fade
rather than develop. One day, he pulled aside an older worker he trusted
and asked what the problem was. He was told that the workers were now
scared of the organizers. They were not talking and walking as they had
when the organizing had begun. The man said, "Now you're some kind of
commando, but I'm just a Ford worker like I always was." Haddock hastened
to add that it was not the political perspective that was upsetting
workers, but the costuming, which suggested some kind of action more
designed for mass media consumption than for defeating the company.
Sexism was a problem in the League, as it was in other organizations.
League veterans have been candid about that. But General Baker has spoken
eloquently about the DRUM slate that was formed for union offices at Dodge
Main. One of the candidates was a woman. Years later, when she was dying of
cancer, he visited her. She had the DRUM campaign poster up and told him,
"That was the best moment of my life, when I was with people working to
change our lives." Well, that doesn't mean sexism was not a problem in the
League, but it says something.
Regarding the movement against the war in Vietnam, the League was adamantly
opposed to the war.
John Watson created a huge fuss when he was called by the draft board. He
threatened to bring
thousands of workers to protest. They had dozens of squad cars ready when
he showed up. He only had about five people with him. It was just a bluff.
They ran him through quickly and rejected him on political grounds. Luke
Tripp spent considerable time in Montreal when his number was due.
That response was typical of League activists. There was no vacillation
whatsoever about opposing the war. The whole notion that African Americans
were not part of that antiwar movement is nonsense. Just one attorney,
Conrad Lynn, who had offices in Harlem, had 200 or 300 Black resisters as
clients at any given time during the war.
The question of electoral politics always was contentious in the League.
One of the issues that was part of the split was that time given to
conventional politics meant less time and personnel for the factories. The
Ken Cockrel faction was committed to conventional politics. They ran
Cockrel's law partner as a candidate for judge in the criminal court and
won. In a matter of years, they were able to reform the criminal justice
system at the local level from the inside. Later, Cockrel ran for the city
council and won. If he had not died prematurely, he would likely have
succeeded Coleman Young as mayor of Detroit. All these elections were
nonpartisan, and the Cockrel group was always open about its political
ideology. Others in the League thought electoral politics were a diversion
from the work needed to be done in factories.
Given all I have said about how well the League was conceived and operated,
it is logical to ask why it fell apart so quickly. The first response, of
course, is that it collapsed for all the reasons all the organizations of
that period ultimately failed. These included the inevitable personality
problems, financial pressures, sheer fatigue, and the counter-thrust from
the other side. Again, our book goes into that in some detail, so I will
just elaborate on something Mike Hamlin has written for the new edition. He
observes that sometimes groups fall apart because of their strengths.
One of the characteristics of the people most central to the League was
that they had more than a
decade of experience working together. With the emergence of DRUM, their
efforts seemed to have
finally paid off. There were more phone calls than could be answered by the
available forces, yet
somehow enough had been addressed to make the League possible. Now the
communications were at a national level, and the number of people that
could handle them had not increased substantially.
Expansion nationally was extremely dangerous. In Detroit, the League had
never been infiltrated. Even when the League leaders fought with one
another, there were no defections.
A section of the League, identified with General Baker, felt it was
necessary to concentrate all efforts locally to strengthen the units
already in existence. Others thought the local strength could only be
preserved by bringing in more militants and creating a national shield.
When SNCC collapsed, a group of League leaders allied with James Foreman
and brought him to Detroit. Other militants were brought in from the
Significant sectors of the League were wary of these developments. The
situation arose that one group wanted to continue in the manner that had
brought success in the past, with an emphasis on local resources, while the
other wanted to continue in the manner that had brought success in the past
but with activists that included politically tested non-Detroiters. Each
essentially was relying on a strategy that had previously succeeded without
paying sufficient attention to the new details of the developing political
This repeating of a strategy that has been successful in the past is
similar to the crisis the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) faced in
1917. When the government decided to decimate the IWW by indicting 101 of
its leaders, the IWW leadership had to decide how to respond. Should they
put up 101 individual resistance efforts, with most going underground and
perhaps a few accepting a show trial? Or should they all accept the
indictment process and trust in the judicial system?
Bill Haywood, the leader of the IWW, previously had faced major trials of
this kind. Each time, he had won and the organizations that had been
involved had grown. He concluded it would be best if the indicted opted for
a mass trial. He expected explosive growth in the IWW would follow the
anticipated mass acquittal of the IWW leadership. The trial, however, was
lost, and the IWW would never again be a powerful force.
What is relevant here is that Haywood's strategy was based on past
strengths. Whatever the other IWW weaknesses might have been, a crucial
error had been made by relying on past strengths in a new context in which
the old strategy was inappropriate.
I want to conclude with a few comments about organizing strategies extolled
by the League.
The League believed even the most minor battle must produce some kind of
victory. I have been very pleased to hear people in other Summer School
meetings here expressing the same view. The League was not favorably
disposed to actions whose purpose was largely symbolic, a witnessing as it
were. Their view was that workers get beat up all the time. Workers already
know they are getting beat up. They usually know who is responsible. Every
day they work, the cycle resumes. So, if one is proposing action, there is
not a great need to show the system is lousy. What is needed is a victory
over those forces, any damn victory, however small, even five minutes more
of paid wash time. Each victory is a stepping-stone in the trust process.
The victories elicit continuing support.
Just as critical is that the organizer needs to emphasize that the victory
is part of a longer process. Unlike the social democrats, who consider the
reforms a worthy end in and of themselves, the League, like the IWW before
them, considered each battle to be a training exercise. The reform was just
a temporary payoff while you prepared for the next confrontation. In
practical terms, that meant making demands that could be won. The idea of
posing demands that could not be met so that workers would be further
infuriated was not considered sound. Defeats lowered confidence in the
leadership, while tactical victories fed the will to act again for an ever
In that sense, picking targets cannot be haphazard. Eldon Avenue Gear and
Axle is not a household name, but in the late l960s, it was the only axle
plant in the Chrysler empire. If an organization could close Eldon at will,
Chrysler would soon be closed. The League had a unit at Eldon that could
have done for the League what the closing of a key Chevy plant in Flint had
done for the UAW in l938. So, if you are the League and you get 10 phone
calls asking for help, and one of them is from Eldon, you respond there
first. But, of course, that means that you have to have studied the
industry to know just what Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle is.
The essence of the strategy of winning is to pick targets carefully and to
achieve small victories.
Capitalism is not going to be replaced with any single action. That may be
the larger context of the
demand, but workers are not going to respond if the program you propose
does not offer some
1 Those interested in obtaining the documentary Finally Got The News on
video should contact The Cinema Guild, 130 Madison Avenue, New York, NY
10016-7038, phone: 212-685-6242.
Dan Georgakas is coauthor with Marvin Surkin of Detroit: I Do Mind Dying
(South End Press,
1998, revised edition). He is also a professor and lecturer, longtime
editor of Cineaste film quarterly, and coeditor of The Encyclopedia of the
American Left. This article is adapted from a presentation given at
Socialist Summer School in Chicago in June 2001.
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