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March-April 1976 Volume 10, Number 2


Renate Bridenthal 3

David Montgomery and Ronald Schatz 15


Women's Work Study Group 29


Ann Withom 47


Tod Ensign, Carl Feingold and Michael Ubi 53


Christopher Knowles 71


Zapotec Indwn woman and chikl t'n San Sebastwn Teitipac, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo by PhyUis Ewen.

The Dialectics of Production
And Reproduction in History

Renate Bridenthal

In recent years , feminist Marxists have been working to evolve

a theory which will restore and reintegrate women's experience
into written history, not only in the interests of fairness but, more
importantly, for the sake of a better understanding of the forces of
historical dev elopment as a whole. In this endeavor, we have en­
countered two major fra mes of historiographical reference that
require s erious attention. Of main interest to us is Marxism, but
we cannot ignore the other, structural functiona lism, which con­
tinues in the mainstream of liberal thought. Much historical schol­
arship in the latter framework is b eing conducted and supported by
the established profess ion, and not a few radical historians are
drawn to it in search of a synthesis with Marxis m .
Marxi sm its elf has suffered from a certain degree o f tradition­
alis m . A brief recapitulation revea ls both the relevancies and
drawbacks to the history of women. Marxists focus on capitalist
industrialization, noting that it removes the product and the means
of production from workers and deprives them of economic initia ­
t ive and of relative independence. They hold that other cultura l
forms correspond to economic change, and that consequently psy­
chological ali enation accompanies m aterial alienation. For women,

the process fo rces them out of the hom e into paid employm ent, thus
both proletariani zing them and destabilizi ng the fam ily, which is
f inally destroyed by i ndividual competitiveness , Tempora rily de­
structive though the process is, it liberates wo men from i m m ed i ­
a t e dependency on thei r husbands a nd politicizes them by fo rcing
them into the labor fo rce, Thus , acco rdi ng to Marxist criteria ,
women lo s e autonomy along with m en as capitalism develops, They
regain it when they join the class struggle, and ultimately share it
with men in socialist society, Autonomy is defi ned, in this view,
prima rily as control over the m eans of production, which is the
key to control over other aspects of life.
Structural functionalists, on the other hand, following the sociol­
ogy of Talcott Parsons a nd the hi storiography of Neil Smelser,
come to the oppo s ite conclusion . (1) Its adherents stress the ap­
parently liberating aspects of industrialization, the adaptation of
the family to a small, efficient nuclear fo r m , and the evolution of
both physical and emotional dimensions of love . Autonomy, in thi s
verS ion, is defined as heightened enjoyment of life through self­
determination of pleasures, mainly tho se of social contact of a
private or personal kind. Self-determination in work or pa rticipa ­
tion i n life-or-death decisions concerning production and politics
appears secondary in thi s form of historiography . It stress e s the
increase i n leisure as leading to personal development, By suc h
c riteria, women appear to ga in increasing autonomy historically.
Their work burden is reduced, their affective relationships are
deepened, especially with their children, a nd their sexual lives are
N either of these two mainstream s of historical thinking does full
justice to hi storical evidence about wom e n . Functionali sts speak of
a utonomy too muc h in psychological term s , a nd overlook areas of
decreas ing independence fo r both s exe s , but especially for wom en
i n such areas as production and politics, Marxists, on the other
hand, have too heavily emphas ized production and wo men's pa rtici ­
pation in it as the c rucial va riable in their hi story . Women ' s par­
ticipation in reproduction, however, whi le sketched out in E ngels '
S T A T E, and in Marx ' s C A P I T A L (2 ), ha s not received nearly the
same amount of attention, with the re sult that the treatment of
wom en, while baSically co rrect, lacks full dimens ion. Specifically ,
the way in which the family i s destroyed and new fo rms of social
relations established are not suffici ently analyzed . Simple gener­
a li zations about "free love " or "egalita rian socialist mar riage"
have been applied to the end of hi storical developm ent, with little
a nalysi s of process or of transitional fo r m s .
I n fact, t h e term s "progre ss" a n d "regress " become mea ning­
less in comparisons of past and present autonomy, without further
r efinements in the categories. Juliet Mitc hell, who might be termed
a Marxist structurali st, ha s made impo rtant strides toward s uc h a

refinement. (3) She singles out production, reproduction, sexuality,
and the socialization of children as categories within which women
have operated historically and by which their position at any given
period in time may be ascertained . Women ' s liberation, or auton­
omy , depend s on the structures of all these four fUnctions being as
non-restrictive as po s sible; if any one remains confining, women
cannot be considered free , according to Mitchell. The problem with
this schema, advance though it is, i s that the categories appear
separate and unrelated in their origin. If mechanically applied, they
would seem like so many boxes, each of them reaching back into
t he pas t . Connections between them may be made, but are rendered
difficult by the initial compartmentali zation. The influence of one
category on another - not to speak of a dialectical relationship­
is easily los t . Mitchell's Marxism falls victim to her structural­
I propose a different framework for analy s i s , based o n a com­
bination of Marx 's and Mitchell 's frameworks, In such a frame­
work, the categories of sexuality, reproduction, and socialization
of chi ldren would be subsumed under the term "mode of reproduc­
t ion . " Then a relationship would be sought between it and the "mode
of production, " the soc ial organization of the creation of new value
in SOCiety, I fuse three of Mitchell ' s categories into one because
biological reproduction and the soc iali zation of children together
constitute reproduction of the species and because sexuality and its
control is an important aspect of control over reproduction.
My reading of history suggests that the relations hip between
production and reproduct ion is a dialectic within the larger hi s ­
torical dialectic, That i s , changes i n the mode o f production give
rise to changes in the mode of reproduction. such that a tension
arises between them, For women, the experience has become one
of pulls between opposing forces, work and family, Thi s dialectic
demands a new synthes i s , in which each pole will be absorbed and
transcended, Such a synthesi s would be a society in which the
modes of production and reproduction are controlled by members
of both sexes equally. This analytic approach makes room for
som e of the more subtle and complex interrelat ionships between
objective conditions and consciousness. A schematized version of
this framework appears in Append i x A, Narratively it would work
out as described below.
In Western Europe, the pre-industrial agrarian economy gave
rise to modes of production and reproduction that were symbiotic,
that is, in a close, mutually advantageous aSSOCiation with each
other. For women, thi s meant that they could participate in both
in such a way that each reinforced the other. Thu s , ho usework,
which produced items for consum ption, helped to reproduce the
fam ily. Conversely, children (obviously in the category of repro ­
duction) helped in production. The locus of both production and re­
production was in or near the ho me. With industrialization, wom -

en 's functions divided: production moved out of the home, leaving
reproduction behind. Many wom en were thus removed spatially
from ongoing participation in productive work.
I n the nineteenth century , production became markedly more
public; that i s , the community was o rganized to work in facto ries.
Meanwhile, reproduction b ec a m e m a rkedly more privatized . Moth­
erhood as a fem inine ideal rose a nd served as a us eful rationale
for removing middle -cla s s wom e n from productive life. Further,
by providing a n alternative to exploited employment, it also served
to mute the consciou s ness of working-cla s s women, who provided
a flexible labor fo rce t hrough their transient presence i n the labor
m arket.
During this period, the two categories of public production and
p rivate reproduction stood i n dialectical relationship to one another
for women involved in both modes. That is, the demands of each
conflicted with the demands of the other , posing a double burden
for working wom en and enforced idleness and isolation for bour­
geois wom e n , The resulting tension sought resolution i n a new
synthesis, and this period witnessed the first wave of orga ni zed
feminism, a n ideological response to structural change. It was a
first effo rt toward the equalization of the sexes, and limited itself
to demands for c ivil equality, which was s ee n as a first step to­
ward greater social change - a liberal the sis characteristic of the
m iddle class from which the first feminists came.
In the twenti et h century , the mode of production developed fur­
ther, becom ing more capital -intensive a nd less labor-intens ive.
The distribution and service s ec to r s employed i ncreasingly great­
er numbers, while the industrial s ector stabilized o . r , in the case
of female e mploy ment, even shra nk in som e place s . The latter de­
v elopment was due partly to the fact that b ranches of m a nufactur­
i ng traditionally occupied by wom en declined more rapidly than
n ew areas which employed them expanded. For example, textiles
and clothing manufacture dropped off faster than m etallurgy ,
chem icals and electronics picked up. Overall change in the level
of wom en ' s employment was m inor , as shown by Appendix B. But
c hanges in the labor m a rket as such necessitated more education:
m o re people went to school and stayed there longer . Schooling
provided more intensive training in som e cases and reduced un­
employment statistics i n general. Also, the needs of the modern
state sponsored new jobs in education a nd public welfare. These
repre sented women's traditional family functions, now in the pub ­
lic sphere. Activities which fall into the area of reproduction, such
as teaching, nursing , social work and so on, became increaSingly
o rganized through the public sector. Like the mode of pro duction,
the mode of reproduction increaS i ngly moved out of the home and
concomitantly involved more m e n , especially in control1ing pos i ­
t ions .
For example, in F rance the number of wom e n in public service
and the libe ral profeSSio n s , i ncluding teaching, increased between

World War I and World War'I1 by over 100,000, but only by a scant
one percent of the total profession: from 30 percent to 3l percent.
In Germany. in the same period, the number of female teachers
actually fell by about 3,500, as did their proportionate number in
the profession , from 32 percent to 30 percent. The number of
nurses rose, and nursing remained a predominantly female pro­
fession, However in social welfare, while the number of women
rose by about 15,000, their predominance became precarious as
men 's entry into the profession reduced women 's share from 82
percent to 67 percent. In Italy. similar trends emerged somewhat
later. F emal e teachers rose from 70 percent to 73 percent of the
profession during the interwar period, but fell to 67 percent after
World War II (4 ).
If we look at the reproductive sector in the family, we find a
pa. r allel shriveling of its functions as a unit. Within it, women 's
specific functions become both more specialized (they must learn
consumer education, child psychology, and good housekeeping ) and
simultaneously diminished (that is, challenged by professionals in
these fields) . With the merger of industries, monopoly, and in­
c reasing capitalization of the mode of production, there 1s an in­
c reased need to control the labo r force and its reproduction. Hence
we find a growing interest of the state in demography, education,
and social maintenance. Women are manipulated in their biological
reproductive function by demographically conscious statesmen. on
one hand, and by an increasingly professional corps of educato rs,
psychologists, and SOCiologists on the other . (5) While women often
move into that corps themselves, they tend to land at the bottom of
the public social - wo rk hierarchies. Here they are distant from
policy-making and hence are alienated from their "product, " the
nurturance and maintenance of the working class.
Thus Wf(: see here a dialectic within the dialectic. The capita list
mode of p roduction gives rise to a public mode of reproduction
which comes into contradiction with the private ownership of the
means of production as represented in and perpetuated by the in­
dependent self-reproducing family, the t ransmittor of property .
C e rtainly the process reveals the hollowness of the ideology of the
family. We a lso have a third level of contradictions within the mo de
of production itself, This is that· women employed in public repro­
duction become the very instruments of the destruction of their
role in the family. Women 's alienation from reproduction, through
layers of institutionalization, is both a cause and an effect of the
destruction of the family, that is, the erosion of its functions and
the increasing absence of its members, Still a fourth contradiction
is that the rise of companionate marriage, which reduc es pat ri­
archal autho rity and allows greater equality between the sexe s , oc­
c urs in an institution (the family) which is losing control over sig­
nificant areas of life, (7) For women, the overall result is a decline
in autonomy, masked by apparent equalization at home and in the
labo r fo rce, through the sheer availability of new kind s of jobs.

In the 1970 ' s , then, we find both production and reproduction be­
coming inc reasingly public, yet not m utually reinforcing. as they
had been when both were in the private sphere. Besides standing
in the dialectical relationship outlined above, the two mode s may
be in conflict with one another in the very person of a woman who
m u st divide her tim e and location between her wo rk and fam ily
functions. Or the conflict may come between two different repre­
s entatives of these functions, say a mother and her child 's teacher
ov er som e issue of socializatio n . At any rate, both modes now ali­
enate the product from the produc er and reproducer, who remains
privatized because she lacks cont rol over both modes and becau s e
the ideology about wo men and t h e family sustains a myth o f priva­
t iza tion. Conc retely, this means that female wo rke rs produce co m ­
m odities outside the ho me, according to decisions made b y others,
receive wages, and then retranslate their labor into consumption of
t hese predetermined items through thei r purchases. In their re­
p roductive capacity, women bear children according to decisions
m ade by professional psychologist s , and then t ransfer them at an
early age to educational institutions. Here they are taught mainly
by other women performing the tasks of socialization of children
for wages, which they in turn ret ranslate into consumption of goods
and services, including education fo r their children, Wo men are
thus alienated from their reproductive product (the child) in two
ways: there is another socializer beside s the mother at an in­
c reasingly earlier age for the child: and as teachers , wo men are
estranged from their pupils by institutional control and by the
transient nature of their contacts with children. The ultim ate re­
s ult is alienation affecting all m embers of society: today's children
are tomo r row's adults, F� wo men in particular, their autho rity
in the socialization proc ess, so dependent on emotional as well as
intellectual bonds , is under mined, It is further reduced, if one in­
cludes the subversive power of emotional blackmail traditionally
exercised by wo men to circ umvent patriarchal autho rity in the
family, That is , if the fat her previously supervised a child's edu­
cation by its mother, she could exercise her own influence none­
theless through her close bond with the child. Contrary to the
structuralist-functionalist view, affective mother-child relation­
ships are diluted by the socialization of the mode of reproductio n .
Thus, t o speak of "progress" o r "regre s s " i n women's hi story
is relatively meaningles s . The key word is shift, in women's par­
ticipation in production and reproduction, from the private to the
so cial arena, and from relatively direct to relatively m ediated
participation. The resulting feelings of alienation have given rise
to a second wave of organized feminism . Like the fi rst, it is an
ideological response to structural change. Elabo rating on and
evolving out of the first wave, it po ses a new alternative, beyond
civil equality, one characterized by sex-role free dete rmination in
production and reproduction. Given the new sophisticated technol­
ogy which reduces the need for a division of labo r by sex, such a

soci ety becomes a real po s sibility. However, without correspond­
ing control over what is produced and ho w, it would offer only a
kind of freedom of choice among options one had not created in the
first plac e. Fo r example, one could choose between Westinghouse
o r General Electric refrigerato rs, but not between individual re­
frigerators or com munal kitchens. By itself, the second wave of
feminism is only a symptom of alienation rather than a solution
for it.
Thus, for the history of women and fo r hi story in general, the
conc epts of "progress" and �regress " will have to be replaced by
som ething that better reflects women's and m en's compl ex experi­
ence, Women's hi story has differed from men's in ways impo rtant
enough to affect some basic assumptions, To return to the two ma­
jor fram es of reference:
F unctional i st thought needs to redefine some basic concepts such
as individualism, responsibility, and autonomy, so that they could
apply to women as well as to men, And it would have to re-exam ine
and reinterpret the historical development of "affective" (female)
and "instrum ental" (male) roles in the fam ily, Were it to do so, it
would lose much of its optimistic cast.
Marxist thought must take better account of changes in repro ­
duction as well as production, and it must integrate the fact that
women's emergence into the public sector is increaSingly in the
area of reproduction, rather than production. It should be noted al­
so that men are inc reaSingly ente ring the area of public reproduc ­
tion, in fact c rowding wo men out in some cases, Recognizing these
developments mi ght help us to understand the compos ition and
consciousness of the reconstituted labor fo rce, and might lead to a
redefinition of alienated labor as including labo rers employed in
the reproduction of labor po wer . C lass analy sis must include rec­
ognition of sex differences, since wo men have some important ex­
periences which differ from tho s e of men in their class, My own
research into the history of wo m en in Europe indicates that these
differenc es do not unite women ac ros s class lines, but rather that
m en and wo men of the working class, for example, may have dif­
ferent experienc es of their clas s po sition. Such a deepening of
Marxist analys is could provide the best key to our understanding
of historical process.
As an index of political maturity , feminism is important . It rep­
res ents a vanguard akin to the ali enated intellectuals who beco m e
detached from t h e status quo , and as such i t may beco me a power­
ful political fo rce for radical social change.

This paper was first read at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women,
October 27, 1974, and further developed for a Sarah Lawrence College Women's
Studies Program Symposium, "Conceptual Frameworks for Studying Women's
History," March 15, 1975. Presentations by the entire panel included perspec-
tives on the Classical period by Marylin Arthur, on the Renaissance by Joan
Kelly-Gadol, and on American History by Gerda Lerner. The symposium is
available from Sarah Lawrence College, Women's Studies Program, Bronxville,
New York 10708.

Appendix A


(Feminism II)
Advanced Production 3" _ _ ___ _ � Reproduction3
capitalism (public) (social)

dialectical relationship

(Feminism I)

Industrial Production2 '7'�--

_ _---4� Reproduction2
capitalism (public) (privatized)

dialectical reiationship

Pre-capitalist Production 1 �( _____ �) Reproduction 1

pre-industrial (private) (private)
symbiotic relationship


(factors of production, mode of production,

climate, terrain, demographic needs, e.g.
labor and defense, etc.)

Note: The main historical dialectic occurs in the left-hand column, as the de­
velopment of the modes of production. The dialectic between the modes of
production and reproduction are a dialectic within the larger dialectic.

Percentage of economically
active women out of total
Percentage of economically active economically active pop.
Country women out of total female pop. (same census years)

P re-war 1920's 1930's Pre-war 1920's 1930's

Belgium 28.6 (1910) 21.3 (1920) 24.1 (1930) 30.9 25.0 26.3
Denmark 27.2 (1911) 24.1 (1921) 26.9 (1930) 31.3 29.7 30.5
France 38.7 (1911) 42.3 (1921) 34.2.(1936) 36.9 39.6 36.1
Germany 26.4 (1907) 35.6 (1925) 34.2 (1933) 30.7 35.9 35.5
Great Britain 25.7 (1911) 25.5 (1921) 26.9 (1931) 29.5 29.5 29.8
Ireland 19.5 (1911) 23.5 (1926) 24.3 (1936) 23.7 26.3 26.2
Italy 29.1 (1911) 27.2 (1921) 24.8 (1936) 31.3 28.7 28.7
Norway 23.0 (1910) 21.9 (1920) 22.0 (1930) 30.1 27.8 27.1
Netherlands 18.3 (1909) 18.3 (1920) 19.2 (1930) 23.9 23.2 24.1
Sweden 21.7 (1910) 25.8 (1920) 28.7 (1930) 27.8 29.8 31.0
Switzerland 31.7 (1910) 31.4 (1920) 29.0 (1930) 33.9 33.9 31.5

Source: P. Bairoch, La population active et sa structure (Inst. de Soc. de L'Univ. Librc de

Brussels, 1968), pp. 27-34.


1. The most recent products of this school are Fred Weinstein's and Gerald
(University of California Press, 1969) and Edward Shorter's THE MAKI:\G OF
THE MODERN FAMILY (Basic Books, 1973).
2. Karl Marx, CAPITAL, V olume I, Part I, Chapter I, on the fetishism of
comm odities.
3. Juliet Mitchell, WOMAN'S ESTATE (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971).
4. Francoise Guelaud-Leridon, LE TRAVAIL DES FEM:\1ES E:\ FHANCE.
Institut national d'etudes demographiques. Travaux et documents, cahier no. 42.
(Paris: Presses l'niversitaires de France, 1964), p. 25.
Renate Bridenthal, "Beyond KINDER, Kl]CIIE, KIHCHE: Weimar Women at
Work," CENTRAL El'ROPEAN HISTORY (Atlanta: Emory {"niversity, June 1973),
vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 163-164.
ECONOMICHE IN ITALIA (Rome: Societa Italiana di Economia demografia e
statistica. 1972), Nuova Serie, pp. 39 and 89.
Franco Archibugi, "Recent Trends in Women's Work in Italy," INTEHNA­
TIONAL LABOR REVIEW (Geneva: International Labor Office, 1960), vol. 81,
p. 296.
5. For example, during the Great Depression, official encouragement of ma­
ternity intensified in Europe. Such a policy reduced two anxieties at once - that
about population decline and that about women competing for work with men.
Thus, in Germany, the Unemployment Act oLJune 1, 1933 offered marriage loans
of up to one thousand Heichsmarks on condition that the bride leave her job and
not return until she or the couple had repaid the loan. As a further incentive,
the loan was reduced by 25 percent with the birth of each child. Interestingly,
not only Fascist countries, but parliamentary democracies such as France, Bel­
gium, the Netherlands, and Great Britain had similar schemes to encourage
births and discourage women's employment in this period. Various medical and
social rationalizations were used to support these state policies, such as the
physical health of women, the psychological health of children, and the socio­
logical health of the family as an institution.
6. The concept of the dissolution of the family as a link between the dialectic
developed in this paper and traditional Marxist analysis was first called to my
attention by Atina Grossman, graduate student in history at Hutgers Lniversity.
7. Hobert Blood and Donald Wolfe, Hl'SBANDS AND WIVES (Glencoe, Ill.:
The Free Press, 1960).
York: The Free Press, 1970).
Gunther Luschen and Eugen Lupri, SOZIOLOGIE DEH FAl\fiLIE (Opladen:
Westdeutscher Verlag, 1970).
JOl'HNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FA:\ULY (Menasha, Wisc: :-.iational
Council on Family Relations, 1969), vol. :31, no. 2 is a special issue I)f cross ­
cultural family research.

RENATE BRIDENTHAL is the co-editor with Claudia Koonz of

coming from Houghton-Mifflin, 1977). She is also a coordinator of the
Women's Studies Program at Brooklyn College.


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IN VOL. VI NO.2 (WINTER, 1976):



THE LONG SHADOW OF WORK-Herb Gintis, Sam Bowles,
Peter Meyer
SYSTEM-Fred Block

(264-page special issue)
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Facing Layoffs

David Montgomery and Ronald Schatz

Overwork and unemployment have been indi spensable and insep­

arable characteristics of economic l ife under capitalism since its
i nception. No American worker who came of age before 1 940 could
have failed to be keenly aware of the relationship between the two .
The first fifteen years of this century were marked by rapid eco­
nomic growth and a relentless inc rease in productivity per wo rk­
er, yet in only one of those years did the annual rate of unemploy­
ment fall below 6 per cent of the industrial labor force, In nine of
those years it rose above 1 0 per cent , Long before and long after
that period a "slack seaso n " came every year in construction,
c lothing manufactu re, lumbering, coal mining , and other industries,
a nd in meat packing easily half again as many people could find
employment during the first three days of any week as in the last
three, From time to time the entire economy was plunged into cri­
s i s: during \903-04, 1908-09, 1 913-14, and 1920-22 one out of
every five or six wage ea rne rs faced grim weeks or months with­
out a job. And, of course, memo ries of the hungry thirties haunt
older wo rkers to this day,
The more recent, protracted experience of Americans with rela­
tively high l evels of employment, unemployment compensation, and
welfa re systems (whi ch were fo rced by popular struggles of the

Opposite: WPA pickets in New York protesting job cuts in 1937.

1 9 30 ' s and 1 96 0 ' s to be noticeably more access ible to tho se i n need
than anything experienced by earlier generations) has served to
dull our memories of the tec hniques formerly used by workers to
cope with unemployment of both the routine and cata strophic vari­
eties, Even the sharp eco no m ic sl umps of 1949-50. 1953 -54, and
1 957 -59 failed to generate a s ignificant revival of the types of self­
organi zed activity aJt: the base which had been characteristic of
earlier crises, On the other hand, the s everity of the current levels
of unemployment and the pro spect that much higher levels of job­
lessness than have been cu stomary in the last 35 years are likely
to be with us for a lo ng time to come have made it i mpo rtant to
recall various ways i n which workers used to cope ', v ith layoffs a nd
with widespread unemployment in their ranks.
Styles of struggle have changed i n response to changes in mana­
gerial practices, the government's role, and the strength and
structure of unionism. The depre ss ion of the 1930 ' s its elf marked
an important watershed in all these developments, and hence i n the
evolution of workers' practices. That decade saw the ri se of sen­
iority systems to govern layoffs i n m a s s-production industrie s ,
unemployment compensation to e a s e the burden o f short-term job­
lessness, and extens ive relief program s , fi nanced by the federal
government to get the angry unemployed off the streets, All tho se
developments modified the forms of workers ' actions in the face of
wide spread joblessness.
Seniority itself emerged from the confluence of twentieth-century
m anagerial practice with the demands of workers in depres sio n­
born industrial unio n i s m . Few ni neteenth- century workers har­
bored any sense of long-term attachment to a particular company.
The tie to one' s trade was far stronger than that to one ' s place of
work. When, for example, the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics
of Labor surveyed 230 shoe operatives. textile hands, machinists,
c arpenters, and others i n 1 8 7 8 , it found that 65 per cent of them
had been in the same occupation for more than 10 years, but only
1 5 per cent had been that long with the same firm . ( 1 ) The extra­
ordinary rates of geographic movement, which Stephan Thernstrom
a nd other historians have lately made so famil iar to us, had their
counterpart in rates of job turnover which dwarf anything to be
found today. When major corporations first became s erious ly con­
c erned about turnover, during the rather flush period between early
1 9 1 0 and late 19 1 3 , they found that s eparations averaged slightly
over 1 00 per cent of the number of people on company payrolls
each year, and that more than two- thirds of the workers leaving
quit on their own ini tiative. Ford Motor Company hired 54 ,000 men
b etween October 1 9 1 2 and October 1 9 1 3 to ma intain an average
work force of 13, 000 (a rate of 4 1 5 per cent, as compared to
Ford 's 1 96 9 rate of 2 5 per cent). Major efforts were undertaken to
s ecure the stabil ity of trai ned workers after that period, and espe­
c ially during the 1 920 's. Pensions, stock options, i nsurance, hom e
financing, and other benefits were awarded i n return for long s erv-

ice with the company . Consequently the median quit rate in manu­
factur i ng fell to 30 per cent per year by 1929, and then in the face
of the depre ssion below 1 5 per cent in 1936 and 1937. By 19 49-50
the average annual turnover for all occupations had reached the
all-time low of less than 1() per cent. (2)
Of cou rse, workers usually quit when plenty of other jobs were
available. When econom ic downt urns made it necessary to lay off
l a rge numbe rs of employees, however, many companies learned
to sack relatively new and unski lled wo rke rs wholesale (thei r turn­
over rates being incurably high in any case), while tra nsferring
more skilled and experien ced men and wo men i nto the unskilled
jobs , or ins tituting a general reduction of thei r hours , so as to
spread the available work withi n the favored group, Mo st gla ss
wo rks, located as they were i n small towns which could have met
huge welfa re costs only by increa sing taxes on the mills, cut hours
rather than dismissing older men, even after mechanization had
broken the unions . Westinghouse retai ned almost all the wo rkers
at its vast Ea st Pi ttsburgh plant who had more than ten year s '
s ervice during the worst of the ea rly 1 930'S , Ford and General
Motors i n those same years dev i s ed preferential lists of skills,
which the N,R.A:s Automobile Labor Board easily conve rted into
depa rtm ental senio rity rules in 1 934. (3)
These company practices had two important effects . First, they
allowed the employers to assume the initiative in wo rks haring, for
whi ch wo rkers had often fought befo r e. Despite the fact that this
i nitiative was applied selectively (favoring leaders of local ethnic
lodge s , activists in the Democratic and Republican machine s , offi­
c ers of veterans organizatio ns, etc . , and throwing wo rkers older
than fifty out wholesale), they often succeeded i n earni ng the in­
tense gratitude of people who had been saved from layoff by these
means . Secondly, as wo rke rs' attachment to a pa rticular place of
work grew stronger, a new tendency developed (to a rema rkable
degree i n the 1930's) fo r people who had lost their jobs to stay
where they were and wa it to be recalled . As late as the bitter de­
pres s ion of 192()-22, more than half of the Slavic and Black wo rk­
ers of Allegheny County left the region, just as their nineteenth­
century counte rpa rts would have done. What wa s new after 1929
wa s not the vagra ncy but the relative lack of it, the la rge numbers
of people who did not move to anot her town in s ea rch of wo rk . Of
course , the universality of the c r i s i s reinfo rced the sedentary i m ­
pulses which n e w management practices had nurtured. I t was , how­
ever, this new tenacity which provided the basis for the rapid ri s e
o f unemployed organizations , irresi stible pressure on legislatures
fo r unemploym ent compensation, and st ruggles demanding that
particular companies restore jobs , most notably the Ford Hunger
March of 1932.
It wa s out of this setti ng that workers ' demands for the regula­
tion of layoff a nd recall by seniority beca me a central feature of
the emerg ing i ndustrial unionism . Before the 1930 's the seniority


principle was seldom found i n union rules or contracts, as they
a pplied to layoffs. The peculiar characteri stics of ea c h occupation
had shaped its workers' demands. Seniority clauses were unknown
in coal miners' unions down to World War I I. Such schemes as two
weeks of work for half the m i ners , followed by two weeks for the
other half, remained commonplace. Anthracite miners , who s e in­
dustry was clearly expiring during the thirtie s , did rai s e a con­
tract demand for s eniority i n layoffs in 1 940, but failed to get it.
Like garment and construction workers , miners hlld previously
sought to safeguard thems elve s against arbitrary dismissals by a
combination of the closed s hop and a standard rate (m inimum
wage>, which would deny the employer any economic advantage
from di smissing union members or better paid m en or wom en
first. A s seasons of steady work drew to a close, workers in all
three of these groups customarily slowed down, For contract min­
ers and clothing workers in piece work, this custom amounted to a
s elf-instituted work-sharing scheme. Garment workers still prac­
tice it today. (4)
The closed shop, combined with a union hiring hall, provided
workers with the best possible control over who got recalled to a
job when work picked up again. Just such a hall was especially im­
portant to longshoremen, sailors, and construction workers , whos e
jobs changed constantly and for whom s eniority never h a d much
m eaning. In the San Francisco strike of 1 934 a rotary hiring hall
was the central demand of the longshoremen. Of course, such hir­
ing control could be used effectively to exclude Blacks , as was done
by Brooklyn 's Local 9680f the International Longshorem en 's A s so ­
c iation in 1 949 -50, but it could also be used to s ecure the po sition
of at least a m inimal quota of Blacks, a s it was in New York 's re­
ta il stores by Local (later District) 65 during the same period.
Layoffs themselves were dealt with by unioni zed workers as they
arose. Tapestry weavers in Philadelphia's many shops fabricating
upholstery textiles drew lots to determine who would leave and,
where pos sible, exchanged surplus members among shops under
union control. Seniority was used by them only to decide which
weaver got which loom. The locals in the beef-killing and s heep­
killing s ections of Chicago ' s packing houses during the period of
peak union strength ( 1 903> actually waged a succes sful struggle to
prevent any layoffs at all, then dema nded a raise in piece rates to
compensate for their scanty work late in each week. Ma c hini sts in
C hicago ' s militant District 8 of the I.A .M. demanded "seniority and
proficiency to govern " in recall from layoffs in 1 900, though they
made no mention of the layoffs them s elves. Many railroads of that
period followed the pattern of the Machinists ' agreement covering
repair shop workers of the Atcheson, Topeka, and Sante Fe, that
"when reductions in force are neces sary , seniority, proficiency
and married men be given the preference of employment." Much
m ore common in the machinists' trade, however, was the claus e:
"Should a reduction of expenses become necessary, it shall be

made i n a reduction of hours, unless otherwi se agreed upon by both
parties . " (5)
C losed shop, standard rate, spreading work. and, where po ssible,
a union-controlled hiring hall, then, were the most common tec h ­
niques b y which organized workers regulated layoffs before 1 930.
Organized and unorganized workers alike slowed down, when the
word from the shipping room and office clerks had it that a layoff
was i n the offing, Senio rity clauses did appear occas ionally. A s
early as 18 86 the Knights o f Labor put one in an agreem ent with
the large E .S. Higgins Ca rpet Weaving Company after a strike
against discriminatory dismiss als, In fact, strike settlements
s erved to popularize the idea of senior ity. Ea rly in the twentieth
c entury the demand of unions that employers should fire all scabs
and reinstate all strikers was often compromised after long strug­
gles by reinstating all employees (ol d and new) in o rder of senior­
ity . During Wo rld War I the National War Labor Board used that
formula regularly in its mediation of strikes . The first widespread
general application of the seniority princ iple. however, appeared
on the ra ilroads under government administration in 1 9 1 8 and 1 919.
Unionized ra ilroad shop crafts managed to keep seniority even af­
ter the di sastrous strike of 1922, Locomotive engineers, however,
were often successful in avoiding unemployment by urging the rail­
roads to lay off firemen instead of themselve s , and put the engi­
neers tempo rarily to stokins;!; the fi rebox. (6 )
It wa s, therefore, with the industrial unions of the 1 930' s that the
s enio rity rule became so basic a part of American life that many
workers today find it difficult to imagine any other principle as
just. Nothing wa s more obvious to the workers of the 1 930 ' s than
the insecurity of their job s . As soon as they organi zed in any form,
they demanded an end to arbitrary employe rs ' control over layoff
and reca ll. The power of fo remen to pick and choose which worker
should stay and which should go was challenged by a determ ined
struggle to impose a clear, objective standard on layoffs. Seniority
c lauses were demanded and won by the new unions in rubber, oil,
steel, textiles, electrical machinery, auto, and urban transporta­
tion. (7 ) Often these clauses were not far removed from what the
companies had already been doing in practice, but they eliminated
the arbitra riness which had characterized that practice when it
rested entirely on the companies ' initiative. The ga in was of enor­
mous importa nce to older workers especially, and it provided a
major component of the complex formula by which the second gen­
eration of E a stern and Southern Europea ns secured a recognized
position in American economic life.
Regulating layoffs, however, was only one facet of workers' ef­
forts to cope with unemployment. The othe r was the struggle to put
food on the tables of tho s e who were already out of work. This ef­
fort as sumed too many different forms under constantly varying
c ircumstances to allow anything like a full account here. At times
workers' parties and unions staged massive public rallies demand-


ing relief from municipal authorities, as they did in New York City
in the winter of 1873-74, or marched in force into bourgeois neigh­
borhoods to dramatize the workers' hunger, as they did in Chicago
in 1884. In other instances unions whose members could afford
high dues, like cigar makers and printers, paid benefits out of the
unions' treasuries to unemployed members.
It was probably the first nine months of the Crisis of 1893 which
witnessed the most impressive variety of efforts by unions to aid
the jobless. In Danbury, Connecticut, locked-out hat workers went
to the town meeting and voted themselves and other unemployed
people $50,000 in relief (which the selectmen subsequently refused
to pay). In Chicago a series of militant demonstrations organized
by the unions forced Mayor Carter Harrison and the city council to
appropriate funds for relief and public work directly to a union­
controlled Labor and Temporary Relief Committee. In Denver,
which teemed with unemployed miners from mountain camps of the
region, the city's Trades and Labor Assembly established Camp
Relief, which provided shelter and clothing in a tent colony run
completely by its own inhabitants, and the Maverick Restaurant,
which fed 550 people a day. (8)
All these efforts ultimately collapsed from lack of funds, and
relief work in each community was taken over by church and civic
reform groups, which had the confidence of wealthy contributors,
It was only appropriate, therefore, that the L W, W. aimed its unem­
ployed struggles of 1913 and 1914 directly at public charities and
churches, Its most famous efforts involved direct action to clean
up relief shelters and the invasion of Catholic churches during
mass to demand some Christian charity on the spot, (9) The unem­
ployed movemeJ1ts of the early 1930's resorted to both self-organ­
ized mutual assistance and pressure on charities and public agen­
cies, but they enjoyed little of the assistance from city central la­
bor bodies which had been evident in the 1890's.
The final phase of the depression of the thirties, which began
with the severe downturn of the fall of 1937, forced the young un­
ions of the C .1.0. to act quickly and imaginatively on both fronts:
control of layoffs and relief to the unemployed. On the latter, the
unions themselves assumed many of the functions which unem­
ployed councils and leagues had exercised before 1935. Dealing
With layoffs, they coupled the new seniority principle with older
working-class practices, often in highly imaginative ways, which
suggested that the two forms of regulation could be combined ef­
fectively by workers who had both ingenuity and audacity,
It is important to recall how perilous the plight of the new un­
ions was, Hardly had the first contracts of C.I.O. unions been ne­
gotiated when the economic upswing, which had nurtured labor's
militancy and effectiveness in 1935 and 1936, collapsed. In the last
quarter of 1937 the steel industry suffered the largest production
drop in its history (roughly 70 per cent), and its total payroll was
cut in half. In St. Louis, a center of light electrical manufacturing,

the United Electrical Workers found half its members unem ployed
throughout 1938, and most of the others working only part tim e.
That y ear was one of many lost strikes, and companies like Gen­
eral Motors, Philco, and Maytag sought to withdraw what recogni­
tion they had extended to the C.I.O . The traditional union device of
controlling layoffs through the closed s hop was denied to the new
i ndustrial unions by the adamant resi stanc e of the corporations.
Court rulings against si t-down strikes and an om inous rash of "la­
bor peace bills " in state legis latures made veterans of the labor
movem ent fear that a repetition of the di sas ters of 1 920- 2 2 was at
On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of the workers who
were being laid off from mas s -production industries were already
union members . In the U , E. "out-of-work stamps" were issued for
five cents a month (regular due s were one dollar a month), and
those who paid such dues were treated as full-fledged members,
with voting rights at local meetings. Local secretaries were urged
by the international officers to keep laid-off members informed of
all m eetings and developments in their locals. Many locals assi sted
unemployed members in obtaining relief and in fighting any bureau­
cratic obstacles they mi ght encounter in welfare agencies. (l 0) At
its 1939 convention the U. E . resolved to battle in each district for
the right of workers to be placed on relief automatically , as soon
as they were certified as unemployed by union officers, thus cir­
cumventing any investigation by welfare agencie s . Indeed, in some
i ndustrial c enters, like Pitt sburgh and Tarentum, Pennsylvania,
C.I.O. unions had won the power to place their unemployed mem­
bers on relief rolls by early 193 8 . (ll)
Moreover, U . E. locals waged a major and often highly effective
effort to place their unemployed m embers q uickly on the payrolls
of the W . P .A. and to defend their rights and earnings there . In
Dayton, Ohio, the U . E . established a W. P.A. Auxiliary to assist its
needy members, The new auxi liary quickly expanded its endeavors
to try to organi ze all workers on the area's W . P . A . , to press work­
ers ' grievances with W . P . A . officials, and to campaign for higher
wages on W . P.A. work. It had a st eward system and an educational
com m ittee . According to K . M. Kirkendall, a wel l-known leader of
the U . E . in Dayton, the auxiliary was "spreading the gospel of un­
ionism to many people who never had the opportunity to organize
b efore the axe fell and cut them away from private employ­
ment." ( 1 2)
Jobless union members were thus forged into a link between the
indus trial workers of the com munity as a whole and the new indus­
trial union s . Similar activities were undertaken by U.E. locals in
St. Loui s , where Henry Fiering, financial s ecretary of Local 1108,
who had hims elf been fired from C entury Electric after a strike in
Apri l 1937 , helped place 700 laid-off workers from that company
on W. P.A. jobs or relief during the f� llowing year. Nor were they
confined to the U . E . As early as 1 935 the Trotskyist- led Local 574

of the T ea msters had' c reated an effective Federal Wo rkers ' Sec­
t ion, which took over many of the functions formerly performed by
the Trotskyists ' unemployed o rganization in Minneapoli s . Numer­
o us locals of the Steel Workers Organizing Comm ittee set up re­
lief committees for their unemployed m embers, who were exoner­
ated from all dues and assi sted in getting relief by staff represen­
tatives. (13 )
Clearly the activities of the Steel Workers were more i n the
form of a service to the m embers, a s was typical of that organiza­
tion, while those of the Teamsters and U.E. took the form of mobi­
lization of the m embers. The difference between waiving all dues
and requiring a nickel a month is symbolic of the contrast. But both
fo rms of activity represented a new style of unemployed struggle,
which was significantly different from that of the early 1930 's. The
struggles of the early thirties had been largely comm unity-ba sed,
highly spontaneous in their actions, and organized by the various
r evolutionary parties. Those of the late thirties were shaped in the
mold of industrial unionism and di rectly attached to the new unions.
These new cha racteristics becam e most evident in the W. P.A.
strikes of the summer of 1 939. Early that year the new conserva­
tive majo rity in Congress had o rdered all W . P.A. offices to trim
thei r rolls, to require a loyalty oath of W.P.A. employee s, to close
down all non-manual relief work such as theater projects and his­
torical records surveys, which could not find state sponso rship,
and, most drastic of all, to lay off for one month everyone who had
been on the rolls for more than a year and a half . (14 ) The response
i n Minneapolis typified the new role of unions in the unemployed
m ovement. The st rike was called by a United Organi zational Com­
m ittee, which consisted of five representatives from each of the
following groups: the A.F. of L. C entral Labor Union, the city 's
Building Trades Council, the Federal Wo rkers Section of the truck
d rivers ' local (now numbered 544 ), the Workers ' Alliance (a united
front of the older unemployed o rganizations ), and the county C.I.O.
C ouncil. All projects of the W.P.A. were picketed, and the Com­
mittee demanded that the W. P.A. administrato r for the state close
them down. The walkout was widespread, but fiercely resisted by
the new Republican administrations of the city and state, which had
ousted their Farm er-Labor predecessors through campaigns dom­
inated by inflammatory red-baiting and anti -Semitism the previous
fall . The projects were kept open ; police fired into one crowd of
pickets, killing a bystander; and 163 strikers were indicted by a
grand jury. (15 ) A union-led strike of unemployed workers who had
been taken on by government relief projects could have occurred
o nly in the setting of the new managerial, governmental, and union
p ractices.
Just as the heavy unemployment of 1938-39 drove many unions
i nto unprecedented involvement in the struggle s of the unemployed,
so too did it stimulate flexible and innovative efforts to control
layoffs. Several locals in the building t rades used their control

over hiring to prevent em ploye rs from taking advantage of the
heavy unemployment to rid them selves of workers who had slowed
down with age. The painters ' and electricians ' unions in New York
fixed quotas of the minimal numbers of workers over 5 5 , whom
contractors were obliged to hire for every job . as did the electri­
cians in Cleveland and C incinnati. The Fur and Leather Workers,
through a protracted strike in the New York market in 1 9 38, sharp­
ly limited employers ' abilities to di scharge �inefficient " workers
at the end of each season and lengthened their formally -recogni zed
wo rk-sharing period. ( 1 6 ) All these accomplishm ents represented
novel applications of traditional union controls over hi ring .
Although the Steel Wo rkers Organi zing Committee had won a
weak seniority clause from U,S. Steel, it authorized each local i n
that com pany and elsewhere to deal with the new layoffs a s it
wi shed. Som e of them cut the work week drastically - to as little
as 20 hours, Othe rs permitted large layoffs, while battling for un­
qualified application of the seniority principle, Usually younger
workers fought for the first approach a nd older wo rkers for the
second, and m any locals were badly split over the question . These
conflicts stimulated the desire of the union 's leadership to return
control to managem ent 's hands , provided it could be limited by
clearly fo rmulated seniority rights in the contracts. But U,S. Steel
and other firms in the industry fought adamantly to make 4merit
ratings " prevail over seniority in selecting who was to be spared
in layoffs, and thus kept local initiative very much alive until the
war years, when the War Labor Board introduced the complex
s eniority system s, which lasted until the recent cons ent dec ree. (17 )
When U . E , locals wrestled with the terrible choices involved in
workers ' effo rts to control layoffs, they came up with a wide vari­
ety of answers. At the big Westinghouse Local 6 0 t . to take but one
example, the union had contended vehemently for a n unqualified
seniority principle before 1 937, but the stunning impact of the new
dismissals led it to demand a general reduction of hours in order
to share the remaining wo rk . As short time in many departments
d ragged on month after month, however, everyone in the local be­
came uneasy over what the unio n ' s paper called this "trem endous
sharing of mis ery, " and local activists came inc rea singly to share
the fear of countless Am ericans at the time that unemployment at
very high levels had become a perma nent pa rt of A merican life in­
stead of the cyclical affliction it had fo rm erly been.
Consequently, C harles Newell, whom the local had elected its
business agent, a rgued that the union should abandon its work­
sharing policy , insist on layoffs by strict seniority , and couple that
policy with a militant battle for massive expansion of employment
by the public sector. Yet Newell him self wa s openly anxious over
the dangers i nherent in that approach. He explained :

It is the tendency of the employed workers to disown the

unemployed workers, to refuse giving them any help. and

even to try to exclude them from the union and deprive
them of the right to vote. Thi s represents the gravest
danger to both.

There i s nothing that makes me angry as does the sneer

or taunt one of our more cons ervative members may make
towa rds our unemployed workers, accusing them of being
too radical, etc . One can expect it from (Westinghouse
Board C ha i rman) A . W. Robertson, but not from other
wo rkers. ( 1 8 )

Although Local 60 I still did not have a contract with Westing­

house, it had already wrung control over layoffs away from the
fo remen. Now it had to devise a complex fo rmula to solve its own
dilemmas, and in August 1 939 it wrested agreement to that plan
from the company. The first response to lack of work wa s to be a
r eduction of hours i n the divi sion affected. If average hours fell
below 36 a week i n any division for more than four weeks, every­
one in the division with less than a year 's service was to be
dropped, If they fel l below 34 hour s , as many people as necessary
with less than five years were to be t ransferred to other jobs or
laid off. No reductions below 32 hours would be allowed . Repre­
sentatives of any division threatened by such a development would
negotiate an alternative with the company. R ehi ring options were
to go first to any employee who had been transferred off his or her
job, then to tho se who had been laid off, acco rding to plant-wide
s eniority. (1 9)
These elaborate ar rangements des erve close attention because
t hey reveal not only the thoroughness with which wo rkers could
thrash out their own agonizing problems , but also that, even after
seniority had become enshrined as the basic principle governing
layoffs i n mass- production industry, that principle could still be
subjected to s ignificant modification in order to avoid a pa raly zi ng
division between the older a nd newer wo rkers. Seniority and con­
t racts both had thei r place i n wo rkers ' struggles, but it was equally
dangerous to sanctify either device.
The dangers beca m e especially evident during the next sharp
downturn of the eco nomy, that of 1 94 9-50. By that time some kind
of seniority fo rmula (plant, divisional, depa rtmenta l, "with ability
to do the job, " or whatever) had beco me standard practice i n
most basic industry. O n t h e other hand, large numbers o f Black
workers had first obtained jobs in those industries during Wo rld
War II. Strict application of sen iority, therefore, threatened to wipe
out the gains of Black workers and sha rply pit unemployed Blacks
against white wo rkers who remained on the job with union prot ec­
tion. In thi s setting Black organizations launched a powerful cam­
paign for state a nd federal fai r-employm ent-practices commis­
Sions, and the Communist Party wa rned that "seniority today, i n
i t s effects upon t h e Negro people in a period o f gene rally declining

employment, acts in the int�rests of the employers • • (20)
. • "

Alone among the predom inantly white organizat ions which had
any influence in the unions at the time, the C. p . called for a re­
vitalization of ol der methods of co mbatting layoffs, as part of a
many-faceted struggle to secure the unity of white and Black
workers. Although the political conditions of the period guaranteed
the defeat of its program , it did contain several ideas which are
very m uch worthy of review, at a time like the present when lay­
offs threaten the position of wo men workers and Blacks alike.
First, where a union controlled hiring to any degree, the C . p.
called upon it to make a deliberate effort to place Blacks on any
jobs that came open, regardless of their seniority , much as the
New York building trades had done on behalf of older workers dur­
ing the thirties. In Local 65 and i n the United Office and Profes­
sional Workers this wa s actually done, and both unions dealt with
occupations with high turnover. Tho se unions establis hed the rule
that at least one out of every four workers placed o n jobs had to
be Black. Num erous s hop meetings were held to thra s h out, and
where necessary defend, this pol icy . Beca use Black office workers
were then very few, the U.O . P. W . A . encouraged Blacks who were
not members to use its hiring hall s .
Second, t h e program called for battles on the job t o open more
skilled jobs to Black workers and to s ecure their positions there
by plant-wide rather than departmental seniority rules . Third,
it called for work s haring through s horter weeks and other time­
honored practic es, in order to hold newer members on the job.
F inally, it advocated the automatic awarding of two to five years'
s eniority to all Blacks, to compensate for the many decades in
which they had been barred from employment in the industri e s
altogether. All these efforts were t o be placed in the context o f a
general campaign for government m easures to restore full em­
ployment, just a s George Meany would advocate today ; but in sharp
contra st to Meany, the Communist s ' leaders of that tim e warned :

The general struggle for jobs for workers as a whole

s hould not be permitted to subm erge the special struggle
for jobs that must be conducted in relation to the Negro
worker s . The achi evement of the 3D-hour week will not
end discrim i nation. Sharing work alone will not solve the
special problem of the Negro workers . (2 1 )
For the most part the Com munists' program was howled down
in the unions as "Jim Crow in reverse, " "super- seniority, " and
a diabolical effort to pit race against race. The inviolability of
s eniority became the basic argument used against the program by
union leaders , rank-and-file white workers , and employers alike.
The greatest degree of success wa s scored in battles over upgrad­
i ng and over the use of job-di spatching powers to combat the de­
cline of Black m embership through layoffs .

It would be foolish to apply any of yesterday 's techniques for
wrestling with unemploym ent m echanically to today ' s problem s .
But it would b e even more foolish to treat the seniority principle
and other established collective-bargaining arrangem ents as insu­
perable obstacles to the emergence of new, imaginative styles of
struggle. As those new styles em erge , they are certai n to contai n
recognizable features o f t h e older m ethods.
The tradition of work sharing, for exam ple, has la rgely receded
from workers ' consciousness today . Any reduction of hours below
40 now quickly reaches the point where the take-home pay of the
workers is l ess than they would get on unemployment com pensa­
tion. Moreover, the lure of consum erism drives workers to seek
long hours of overti m e and moonlighting in order to m eet their
bills. On the other hand, whenever signs of a layoff appea r, a wide­
spread aversion against overtime quickly materializes . Even work­
ers who have been on an overtime binge fo r years then mobilize
peer-group pressure against the acceptance of overtime, while
s hop mates a re out of work. When they discuss the struggle at
union m eetings , some of the workers inva riably castigate the ef­
fects installm ent-buying capitalism wa s having on their own lives.
It is precisely in situations of this type that the worke rs ' initi ative
can carry them beyond the sacred seniority fo rmula, ideologically
as well as o rgani zationally , with tactics well attuned to their own
peculiar circ um stances.
Whatever changing fo rms social evolution may impa rt to strug­
gles over unemployment, however, the most signifi cant mom ents
of working-class unity have occurred when workers have fought
simultaneously for control of layoffs and for o rganization of the
unemployed. Only this two-front battle can effectively co mbat the
em ployers ' ability to divide the workers into privileged and under­
privileged segments. E ven during such struggles potent fo rces of
d ivis ion remain present. Som e wo rkers wrote to the PEO PLE 'S
PRESS and the V.E. N E WS during 1 938 and 1 939 arguing that wom ­
en should give u p their jobs in favor o f men with families, and
C harles Newell t estified to the contempt and fear in which som e
employed union m embers held the unemployed . But i t i s only i n
the context of the battle o n both fronts, whether i t b e coordinated
by unions, comm unity-ba sed groups , or some collective form not
yet d reamed of, that workers can prevent their own cherished for­
m ula of seniority from being used against them with deva stating
effect. Conversely, only such a struggl e can effectively demand a
general reduction of wo rking time and an end to the installm ent
m ania, which has made us willing slaves in the production of junk.


1. Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, REPORT (1879), 104-105.

(Washington, D.C., 1941), 100-101 ; Magnus Alexander, "Waste in Hiring and
Discharging Men," IRON AGE, 94 (oct. 29, 1914), 1032-1033; Special Task Force
to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, WORK IN AMERICA (Cam­
bridge, Mas s., 1973), 38 -40.
1942), 723-734, 765-766, 581, 617-620.
4. An excellent survey of union rules related to layoffs may be found in Slich ­
ter, 98 -163.
(Boston, 1905), 229-230; MACHINISTS MONTHLY JOURNAL, 12 (March, 1900),
UNIONISM (Cambridge, Mass., 1961), 248, 258.
6. New York Bureau of Statistics of Labor, REPORT (1886), 254 -258; Millis,
327, 351 -357.
7. See the tables on contract layoff provisions in Slichter, 105 -107.
8. Carlos C. Closson, Jr., "The Unemployed in American Cities, " QUAR­
TERLY JOURNAL OF. ECONOMICS, 8 (Jan., 1894), 168 -217, 257-258.
STATES, vol. IV (New York, 1965), 435 -461.
10. U.E. NEWS, Feb. 25, June 3, June 10, July 22, Aug. 5, 1939.
1 1 . IBID. , May 20, 1939, PEOPLE 'S PRESS (National Edition), Jan. 29, 1938.
12. IBID. , Feb. 25, J une 6, 1939 .
13. IBID., July 29, 1939 ; Farrell Dobbs, TEAMSTER POWER (New York,
1973), 78-96; Millis, 528. See also Philip S. Foner, THE FUR AND LEATHER
WORKERS UNION (Newark, 1950), 512 -513.
14. Joint Resolution of June 30, 1939, 76th Cong., 1 st sess . , U.S. STATUTES
AT LARGE, vol. 53, part 2, 928-936.
15. U.E. NEWS, October 28, 1939.
16. Slichter, 55n; Millis, 212 -213; Foner, FUR AND LEATHER, 522-523.
17. Millis, 554 -562.
18. U.E. NEWS, April 29, 1939.
19. IBID., Aug. 26, 1939; Millis, 767.
20. Hal Sim(m, "The Struggle for Jobs and for Negro Rights in the Trade Un­
ions, " POUTICAL AFFAIRS, 29 (Feb . , 1950), 33 -48. The quotation is on p. 37.
See also John Williamson, "Defend and Extend the Rights of Negro Workers , "
IBID., 2 8 (June 1949), 28 -37.
21. Simon, 42.

DA VID MONTGOME� Y teaches history at the University of Pitts­

burgh. He is currently writing a book dealing with the changing
nature of industrial workpkLces and workers ' control s truggles
between the 1860's and the 1920's. RONALD SCHA TZ studies history
at the University of Pittsburgh and is working on a s tudy of the ways
'in which unionization affected electrical workers at the shop floor and
the community levels in the 1990's and 40's.

Loom, Broom and Womb:
Producers, Maintainers and

Women '8 Work Study Group



Women 's work and the development of American capitalism can

be examined in t hree historical phases : t he pre- capitalist phase
p rior to 1 82 0 ; the phase of competitive capitalism between 1 8 2 0
and 1 890 ; and the monopoly capitalist phase from 1 890 to t h e pres­
ent. In this section each period is b riefly described in terms of the
or ganization of production and the implications of the organization
of production for the l ives of women.


The pre-capitalist period in North America is dominated by ag­

r icultural production : in the northern colonies by small-scale
family farming, and in the southern colonies by large-scale plan-

Note: This paper i s excerpted from a longer work appearing i n Vol. I , No. 1, of
Frontiers, which aims to examine major aspects of women's lives under advanced
capitalism. The longer work includes sections on methodology, history, ideology and
consciousness, and strategy.

tation production . In small -scale agriculture, the family hous ehold
was the unit of production. It wa s engaged in produci ng simple
com modities for both home consumption and sale (the extent of
which depended upon access to market s ), but can be characterized
as genera lly self- suffici ent. While there was a sexual division of
labor, with m en predominating in agriculture and wo men in dom e s ­
tic manufacture, flexibility existed. Women took charge o f vegeta­
ble gardens a nd da iries and as sisted in the harvest , while men as­
sumed responsibility for the manufacture of heavi er farm tools .
When a household began to produce a pa rticular item for the pur ­
pose of exchange, the husband usually took over, beco m i ng the
master c raftsperson, while the wife continued to produce a rticles
im m ediately consumed by the family. The wife would often, how­
ever, expand her responsibi lities to i nclude selling the product the
fam i ly produced . On her husband 's death, the wife would often as­
sume the pOS it ion of master craftsperson . Thus , while there was
a general divi s ion of labor, sexual hierarchy was not pronounced.
Instead, soc iety was stratified acco rdi ng to wea lth. Wo men who
o wned land (usually widows of wealthy men ) could and did pa rti ci­
pate in prestigious occupations , exercise power in the com muni ty ,
and vote.
In contrast to small-scale fam i ly farming was the plantation unit
based on s lave labo r . Like women on the fam ily fa r m , slave women
both reproduced and maintai ned labor power for the plantation
economy. Slave wom en, however, a lso had their labo r expropriated
fo r agricultural production on the plantation. Slave wo men were
exploited as labo r in the fields a long with male s laves. Addition­
ally, female s laves had their reproductive capacities expropriated
to the extent that women were urged to reproduce a new generat ion
of s lave labo rers which could be worked or sold at will by planta­
tion owners . The exploitation of the productive and reproductive
power of s lave wo men is one distinguishi ng feature of the planta ­
tion system . It prefigures the double exploitation of all wom en
(as wage labo rers and household workers ) with the developm ent of
capitalism in a later period .

THE C OM PE T I T I V E C A PITA LIST PHASE , 1 82 0 - 192Cl

For wom en , the most impo rtant change which occurred with the
transition to a capitalist organi zation of production wa s the sepa r­
a tion of hom e a nd workplace. It i s impo rtant to note that this sep­
a ration had already occurred for slave wom en in the context of the
plantation. In the pre-capitalist era , production was carried on
either in the hom e or on land surrounding the home. With the ad­
vent of factory manufacture, the production of commod i t i es bega n
to shi ft outside the ho me. One of the most important aspects of the
growth of manufacturing is the crea tion of a class of people who
sold t heir labor power.

In North A m erica, the first group of people to sell their labor
power for industrial production wa s single women. Prior to textile
manufacture, a significant way in which single women contributed
to the welfare of their families was by spinning thread and weavi ng
the thread i nto cloth. As manufactured cloth became cheaper and
factory jobs became available, young single women took work out­
side the home. These women constituted a cheap, available supply
of laborers wo rking for a third to a quarter of the wages of m e n .
F rom the 1 8 3 0 ' s onward, large waves of European i m m igrants
came to the U , S . to fi ll the need for more cheap labor. A t first,
imm igrant wo men wo rked in their hom es, taking in boa rders and
washing. Someti m e s , they worked outs ide the home as do m e sti cs .
Gradually, these wo men began to take up jobs in factories and
fo rmed the ba s e of wo men wo rking for wages. Although they were
an important pa rt of the development of m i litant labor struggles,
women were only a round 1 7% of the wa ge-labor fo rce in 1 8 90.
It i s during this pe riod that an ideology to di sgui se the reality of
wom e n ' s po sition in the productive sys tem developed . It did thi s
by defining the hous ehold and reproductive work perfo rmed by
women in the fa mily as eco no m ically unimportant. A lthough thi s
reflected the fact that important productive functi.ons no longer
took place i n the fam i ly, even nec essary reproduction of the labor
fo rce which took place there wa s no longer valued. Additiona lly,
the role of women wa s being defined as properly limi ted to the
family, a lthough women were s erving as a sou rce of cheap labo r
for the capitalists. Thi s i s the origin of a doubly oppressive ideo l ­
ogy for pro leta rian wom en. Initially, it obscured the role wo m en
play in reproduc ing and maintaining the labor fo rce. Over time it
a lso came to obscure their role as wage laborers.
While wealth wa s becom ing more conc entrated i n a growi ng cap­
italist cla s s , ideology and practice developed which obscured class
differences . Ideology stressed the equality of all wh ite men. The
vote was extended to men rega rd less of their wealth at the s a m e
time that state aft er s t a t e pa s s ed laws prohibiting wo m en, rega rd­
less of their wealth, from voting. By 1 8 37 wom en could no longer
vote in any state. Wo rking-class men were encouraged to feel that
they had more in common with bourgeo is men than they did with
the women of their own cla s s .


1 890 TO THE PR E S E N T

Monopoly capitalism differs in the logic of i t s development from

competiti ve capita l i s m . Many more deci sions about the production
and sale of commodities are under the monopolists ' contro l , e . g .
control of prices, type, and quality o f products, etc. In addition,
profit rates are higher With monopolies. These two facts create
one of the contradictions of monopoly capital i s m : the need to


m a i ntain high profits by s elling more products at a higher price,

while simultaneously cutting production costs by keeping wages
low and thereby curtailing the wo rkers ' capacity to consume what
is produced.
Monopolists have attem pted to suspend this contradiction in two
ways which have had the effect of pushing more women into the
wo rk fo rce. F i rst, monopolists have reorganized their corpo ra­
tio n s , developing huge new departments to promote and facilitate
the sale of their product s . This has m eant a rapid growth in cler­
ical, sales, transportation, and communications jobs . These jobs
required educated wo rkers who would work for low wages . Wom en
were an ideal source for this type of labo r.
Second is the advertis ing thrust designed to build expectations
and the de s i re fo r more material goods . At the same time, the
socially necessary reproduction costs of wo rkers ros e fa ster than
wages . This m eant that families needed an additional wage earner.
Many of the goods which corporations produced were home appli­
ances , "labor-saving " devices for the home. A lthough the time re­
qui red to care fo r a house was not decreased by these appliances,
because standards for ho usework were rising, hous ewives were
made to feel that their chores could now be done in thei r spare
time, on weekend S , and in the evening s . Consequently, women were
"freed " to become the second fam ily wage earne r .
Labor-force partic ipation - rate figures give an indication of the
importance of these developments in transforming mar ri ed wom ­
e n , in pa rticular, into wage labo re rs. I n [ 8 90. only 4.5% o f all
m a rried women wo rked for wages . By [ 970, 40.8% of all m arried
wom en were em ployed. In s pite of these changes in wom en 's pa r­
ticipation i n the labor fo rce, women continued to be ideologically
defined in terms of our ro les as mothers and hous ewives. Thi s
id eology helps capital to control the rapidly growing female wage­
labor fo rce, by slowi ng the development of women 's consciousness
of ourselves as wo rkers.


Desc ribing the contradictory nature of t h e demands which the

capitalist system places on the ho usehold requires an exa m i nation
of three characteristics of domestic labo r. F i rst, the labor per­
form ed within the fam ily i s essential for mainta ining the labo rer 's
c apacity to wo rk. Secondly, the social relations in the household
are different from thos e in a capitalist wo rkplace. Thi rdly, to
understand the s pecific work done in the home, we must see that
it is related to the capitalist secto r .


In America today there is a tendency to dem ean the work women

do in the home. Women feel this lack of s tatus and respond in va r­
ious ways . One woman wrote to Abigail Van Buren :

Dear Abby,

My career is my hom e and my family, and I 'm proud

of it. But for some strange reason, when a housewife is
asked what she doe s , she very apologetically says, "I 'm
ONLY a housewife . " Thi s i rritates m e no end.
When I am asked what I do, I proudly say, uI 'm an
oikologist. .. The word comes from the Greek words
"oiko s , " which m eans ho use, and "ologi st , " which m eans
one who studies o r i s an expert in.
Please pas s this on for other hous ewives. Perhaps they
will feel more impo rtant as they use it too.

UOikologi st ..

Abby responded in her characteristically sisterly fashion :

Dea r Oik,

I wouldn 't reco m m end s pringing that on the average Joe

without defining it. The "oikologis t " might be mistaken for
an expert on pigs .

What s trange reasons would cause a woman to say, "I 'm ONLY
a housewife " ? Several characteristics of hous ework m ake it frus ­
trating and unrewarding. ( 1 ) There is a large proportion of routine
tasks. (2 ) The short period which elapses between m uch of the pro­
duction and consumption which follows t ends to detract from the
worker 's sati sfaction. She feels her labor results in nothing per­
m anent. For exa mple, a m eal i s immediately eaten after it is
cooked, although it may have taken all day to make it. ( 3 ) The
products of the housewife 's labor don 't go on the m a rket ; they re­
ceive no monetary valuation. Since her contribution cannot be
m easured quantitatively, s he and society as a whole fail to appre­
ciate the contribution to people 's well-being she actually makes.
(4) Since the housewife earns no money for hous ewo rk, she is de­
pendent upon her husband - or the state, in the cas e of welfare
mothers - for her food, clothing, shelter , and money . (5) While
it is conSidered a "privilege " to live in a single-family ,household,
full-time hous ewives who s pend their time alone o r in the com pany
of s mall children often feel isolated and lonely.
Other characteristics of housewo rk make it less alienating than
many other jobs . ( l ) The worker i s her own taskm istress and can
rest at desired intervals . She has some control over her work.
(2 ) The tasks are undertaken to m eet the needs of the worker a nd
her family. ( 3 ) The woman i s free to exercise her initiative and
judgment and to experiment a nd s eek out the best conditions of
work. (4 ) Hous ewo rk is unspec ialized and therefore new, and var­
i ed problem s are continually being presented.

On balance, the tendency i s for society to demean the housewife
and to undervalue her contribution to people 's welfare and to the
reproduction of the capitalist system.
In the capitalist s ector, workers a re paid a wage s ufficient to
cover the costs of m aintaining and reproducing their labor power.
This wage must be converted into food , clothing, and shelter, the
use values which allow the worker to go on living and working.
Household work i s the essential activity which translates the wage
into these useful goods. We can imagine more direct ways of
transla,ting the wage into useful goods than via domestic labo r.
For example, a worker can go to a restaurant and buy a prepared
m eal ins tead of buying raw m eats , vegetables, and grains, using
a kitchen, and prepa ring the food . Housework is obviously not the
only way to reproduce and maintain the labor force under capital­
i s m , but today m uch of the reproduction and maintenance work is
in fact done in the household by wom en.
Household labor differs from wage labor in the following ways :
( 1 ) In housework, no one exercises authority and control over
the woman during the work process. The woman herself decides
which tasks m ust be done in any given day and sets her own stand­
a rds of speed and thoroughness. She is, however, s ubject to de­
m ands from other people, such a s her children a nd her husband.
But these limitations on the housewife 's control over the work
process are of a very different nature from those faced by a wage
laborer. The wage laborer contracts with the capitalist to spend
a certain number of hours per day at the work place in exchange
for a wage. Historically, the capitalist has taken more and more
control over the work process out of the hands of the worker s .
By contrast, housework has not been subjected t o these forces.
(2 ) Housewives are not s eparated from their means of produc­
tion to the extent to which wage laborers are. In a patriarchal
family, legal ownership of the home , care, and other goods may
belong to the husband. But we are intere sted in economic control,
by which we mean acc ess to the means of production. Housewives
do have control since they can use the family stove to prepa re
m eals for themselves and their families. The same is not true for
wage laborers. In the capitalist sphere, production is undertaken
only if the capitalist thinks he can make a profit. If he thinks he
cannot make a profit, he will not use his m achines, nor will he
allow anyone else to use them, even though people are willing to
work and even though people need the goods which those machines
can help produce.
(3) The housewife works in order to meet her needs and those
of her family. It m ay appea r a s if the wife exchanges her house­
hold labor for a share of her husband 's wage, but this is false
s ince the wife 's standard of living does not depend on how hard she
works. Working harder at housework does not reSUlt in a larger
share of the wage for the housewife. Rather, her standard of living
depends upon her husband ' s incom e and the status of hi s occu­

In the capitalist s phere, although whatever is produced m ust fill
some human need if the capitalist expects to be abl e to sell it,
the purpo s e of producing i s not to fill human needs but rather to
m ake profit. For exampl e , capital ist cattle ranchers periodically
destroy thousands of calves. This happens despite record numbers
of people sta rving, becaus e thos e ranchers cannot make a profit
in raising the animals. Capitalism is increasingly controlling
household labo r by i nfluencing consumption patterns, s etting stand­
ards for housework through high-pressure advertising, and psy­
chologi zing about child care.



I n o rder t o i solate contradictions (sources o f change), we must

now examine the interrelationship of the household and capitalist
spheres. We have already described how the development of the
capitalist s ecto r re sults in a la rger and larger proportion of wo m ­
e n who d o both housework and wage labo r. In analyzing further
interrelationships , we found it helpful to think about the ways in
which the i nte rnational capitalist system relates to pre-capitalist
economies in coloni zed countries.
The pre-capitalist coloni zed economies are compa rable to the
household economy in some important respects . ( I ) In the t radi ­
tiona I sectors of coloni zed economies, control over the work proc­
ess i s not in the hands of the capitalists. (2 ) People control thei r
own m eans of production. (3 ) Production in the traditional sectors
i s oriented mainly toward the creation of use va lues , not exchange
The subo rd ination and interdependence of pre-capitalist colon­
ized economies on i mperialism is pa rallel to the subo rd ination and
interdependenc e of the household on the capitalist system in this
country. The hous ehold economy, however, also differs in many
ways from both traditional pre-capitalist and coloni zed econo m i e s .
Ip. contrast t o m any coloni zed economies, t h e household is com ­
pletely dependent for its reproduction upon the wage which comes
from the capitalist s ector. The comparison shows the nature of
capitalism as a dominant fo rce, creating dependent relationships
between itself and other spheres of production.
Where traditional, pre-capitalist econom i es have som e contact
with the capitalist sphere, as in a colonial situation, much of the
reproduction of labor power for the capitalist sector takes place.
In addition , the traditional s ector acts as a buffer, absorbing and
caring for thos e whos e labor is tempo rarily or perma nently re­
jected by the capitalist s phere. These people are sick, la id off, or
too old to work fo r wages. This also includes people who are work­
ing in traditional subsistence job,S . Meanwhile subsi stence wo rkers
are forced i nto the wage-labor force, as they need cash to pay for

taxes and to consume goods.
Groups within the pre -capitalist economy may, for so me time.
m a i ntain a n i ndependent course of subsistence . For example. tra ­
ditional agriculture a llows the people to continue li ving despite the
lower-than- subsi stence wages paid by capitali sts. But this inde­
pendent source of subsistence is gradually eroded as both land a nd
neces sary labo r are appropriated by the capitalists.
C apItalism conveni ently continues to highlight traditional ideol­
ogies and differences between groups of people (differences of
culture or race) to divide the growing proletariat along false line s
which ob scure the class baS i s of imperiali s m . This leads various
t raditional groups to come into conflict in their competition for
jobs and to ignore the commonality of thei r plight of subs ervience
to capi tali s m . In sum . capitali s m . i n its relation with the coloni zed
pre-capital i st wo rld . gradually becomes the dominant mode of
production and forces coloni zed peoples into economic. cultura l .
and ideological dependence on i t .
Understanding the i nterrelationships between imperialism and
coloni zed societies b rings into focus the relationship between the
hous ehold and capitalist spheres under advanced capita l i s m . It i s
a necessity for capitalism t o c reate dependency a n d erode pre­
capitalist sectors of production.
The household sphere reproduces daily and generationally the
labor needed by the capita list system. Hous ehold labo r trans lates
wages into needed goods and services for the wo rkers ' fam i l i e s .
T h i s unpaid ho us ehold labo r stretches t h e wage paid t o wo rkers.
thus allowing capitalists to pay lower wages than would be re­
quired for the reproduction and mai ntenance of the worker and
his/her fam ily if hous ework were taken over by capita l i s m .
The household plays an important storage role for t h e capitalist
s phere. It absorbs and maintains those unem ployed members of
society. the children. the aged , the sick, and the temporarily un­
em ployed . This relieves the capitalists of the responsibi lity for
their ca re. R eserve labor po wer. especially wo men ' s labor power,
i s stored i n the ho us ehold and may be drawn upon when needed by
the capitalist system . This happe ns , for example, during wa r time,
when many male wo rkers are drafted, or during Christmas rush
or seasonal food proc essi ng, when additional - but temporary -
labor power is requi red . The household is expected to reab sorb
these women 's time and energy when they are not needed in the
wage-labor force.
Most of the consumption of capitalist goods takes place i n the
household unit. Today the hous ehold produces fewer a nd fewer of
its necessitie s , turning i nstead to the processed foods , clothe s ,
a n d labo r- saving devices produced b y capita l i s m . Advertising i s
a i m ed at creating an ever - expa nding variety o f personal and
hous ehold needs . All adult members of many fam ilies must s ecure
wage-paying jobs to provide the household with the money to buy
socially necessary goods.


We can now i solate some of the contradictions inherent i n the

relationship between the two spheres of production. Thes e contra ­
dictions help us identify stress poi nts of the capita list sphere and
are the points a round which we can organize and develop strate­
gies for our struggle against capitalism and sexi s m .
In capitalist ideology, t h e household is portrayed a s "wom a n ' s
place, " a n d a s the location for domestic bliss, separate from the
grind of the outside wo rld, the capitalist sphere . In fact the hous e­
hold of today does not and cannot exist as a separate entity. Not
o nly i s the wage derived from the sale of labo r power essential for
the maintenance and reproduction of the fam ily, but in turn house­
hold consum pt ion and reproduction serve vital needs of capita l i s m .
C apitalism manipulates t h e household b y shunting i ndividua l s , pa r­
ticularly wo m e n , back and forth between the two spheres . Through
adverti sing, patterns of c·o nsumption are dete rmined by the profit
n e.eds of capitalist production. The no tion of the s eparate house­
hold only disgui ses the extent of the household ' s dependence on and
penetration by capitalism.
The more the household consumes of the proc essed food, goods,
and labo r - saving devices ma nufactured by the capita l i st sphere,
the higher are the costs of fa m i ly maintenance and reproduction.
Wom en are forced into the wage- labo r sector in an attem pt to
maintain thei r fa m i ly 's standard of living. A s a result, the house­
hold is becom i ng a less effective storage unit for temporarily un­
used labor, since women are becoming perma nent m embers of the
wage- labor fo rc e .
A lthough wo men look for jobs in order to help maintain the
household. when they pa rticipate in wage labor they become more
independent by having control of a wage . More and more wom en
are challenging thei r husbands ' traditional authority and control in
the household. As increasing numbers of wo men are pa rti Cipating
in wage labo r today, the traditional power relations within the
household unit show tendencies to break down.
On the job , male and female wage labo rers experience the com ­
mon oppression of being employees rather than employe rs, wage
earners rather than owners of their means of production. The sur­
plus value they create is appropriated by the capitalists ; what they
produce is dete rmined by the profit needs of the capitalist mode of
production rather than by real needs of people. Yet capitalism uses
ideologies derived from traditional family relationships to divide
wo rkers along sex l i ne s . Women receive lower wages than do men
and are concentrated in service and clerical jobs.
While capitalism erodes the family with its demands for in­
creaSing consumption which fo rce wo men to work for wages ,
it also manipulates the concept of family and fa milial ties to its
own advantage. For example, advertis ing i s used to reinfo rce the

domestic unit when capitalists need women to return to thei r
homes to make room for m en in the labor fo rce . This manipulation
occurred at the end of World War II, and today we find the m edia
stress ing the ideal of the traditional fam i ly i n a period of high un­


Wom en have s e rved as a reserve army of labor in the pa st be­

cause they could be returned to the hom e when not needed by the
capitalists. At the same time, the growth i n the s i ze of co rpora­
t ions with its attendant need for more clerical workers has b rought
m any women into the wage-labor fo rce on a permanent bas i s . Thi s
greater participation of women i n the wage-labor force on a per­
m anent bas i S undermines the willingne ss of wom en to s erve as a
res erve army of temporary labor.
This contradiction highlights two specific theoretical problem s
that need to be discussed due to thei r relevance to women ' s work
for wages. F i rst is an analysis of productive and unproductive la ­
bor and the i r relationship to wom e n ' s wage work. Second i s the
relationship between the reserve army of labor and wom en in the
capitalist syste m .
Marxists generally consider "productive " work to b e wage work
which i nvolves the d i rect production of goods whose sale b ri ngs
profits to the -capitalist. "Unproductive " work i s defined as a nec­
essary part of the overall production process which assists i n the
ci rculation o r sale of goods but does not add di rectly to the profit
made on a product. According to this definition most of wom en 's
wage work in clerical, sales, and s ervice jobs would be consi dered
unproductive. The important political point which many people
draw from this di stinction is that only productive workers have
revolutionary potential, s i nce they are the ones di rectly involved
in producing the goods which bring in profits.
We reject both the labeling of clerical , sales, and s ervice jobs
as "unproductive " and the conclusion that workers in those occu­
pations are not worth o rganizing.
F i rst, it i s c ertainly pos sibl e to think of a task which is purely
"unproductiv e " in Ma rx's sense of the word. C hecking out grocer­
ies in a food store would be one such job. It m erely accomplishes
the t ransfer of ownership of goods from the capitalists to the con­
sumers . However there are few wo rker s whose only task i s check­
ing out groceries. Most cashiers also restock the s helves and
transpo rt groceri e s , and these tasks are "productive " because they
are part of the reali zation proce ss of capitalist production. We
would a rgue that most clerical, sales, and service workers i n fact
do both "productive " and "'unproductive " tasks . Even i f revolution­
a ry potential � a function of the productive/unproductive d i s ­
t inction, then we would argue that clerical, sales, a n d s ervice

workers do some productive tasks and therefore have revolution ­
a ry potential.
Howev er we would like to make a stronger argum ent and say
that revolutionary potential is not related to the productive /unpro­
ductive distinction . Ma rx emphasi zed the integrated and increa s ­
ingly social character o f t h e labo r process as o n e o f the under­
lying, self-destructive features of capitalist production. It i s the
collective nature of capitalist production which creates the poten­
tial for revolutiona ry action and consciousne s s among workers .
At the time Marx was writing, "productive " labor had the most
highly developed social character. But monopoly capitalism has
brought an increasingly social character to clerical, sales, and
s ervice jobs , too . Private s ec retaries are becoming inc reasingly
rare. A larger and larger propo rtion of clerical work is done in
typing pools. With the increasing social nature of this work com es
the potential for class consciousness.

A s women 's employm ent becomes more and more permanent,

i t becomes more appropriate to consider their work i n relation to
what is known as the floating s ector of the reserve army of labo r.
Thi s sector is m ade up of workers attracted and repelled by cap­
italism, pushed out of jobs by technical advance or reorganization
somewhere and made available fo r expansion and new jobs some­
where else. Because of the fluctuating and unstable nature of jobs
in clerical and service wo rk, this labor is frequently performed
by the floating reserve army. Since the 1 940 ' s , however, clerical
work has been stabili zing. Women ' s permanent employment has
' steadily risen ; job turnover, although high, i s usually within the
same sector and at the same skill level.
It i s often a s s erted that wom en are taking away men ' s jobs. It is
true that since the 1 950 ' s the percentage growth rate of employed
operatives (largely male) has fallen while the percentage growth
rate of employed women - until the current economic crisis ­
ros e ma rkedly. There is not , however, an i m m ediate link between
these two trends. To begin with, the a ctual number of m en em ­
ployed did not d rop. In addition, operatives not finding jobs o r be­
i ng fo rced out of old ones were males, while wo rkers finding jobs
in the clerical sector were females. Clea rly there is not a one-to­
one correspondence between those losing jobs i n operative work
and the growth of new jobs in the clerical sector. One po s sible
hypothesis is that capital i s m is counting on ma rriage o r the
household as a bonding m echanism within the floating s ector of the
reserve labor army. In this way, workers fo rced out of one s ector
can be supported through marriage by other workers d rawn into
another secto r . It is indeed the case that the percentage of the fe­
male labor force which is married has risen ma rkedly since
World War II.


Women have s erved as a source of low-wage labor from t h e b e ­

ginning of capitalist production in the United States. During the
early industrialization period of the 1 82 0 ' s women accounted for
from 75 to 90% of the factory labor force in New England. Thei r
wages were one-fourth to one-half the level, of men ' s . As more
m en were forced to wo rk for wages - no longer able to support
themselves as farmers and craftsmen or because they were newly
a r ri ved from E urope - women ' s propo rtionate contribution to the
wage- labor force fell. But by 1 900 wom en still accounted for about
1 7% of the wag e - labo r fo rc e . Most of the women who worked for
wages in 1 900 were black or i m migrants or daughters of i m m i ­
grants and s ingle and young.
One of the clearest indications of the use of women for s ea sonal
o r i rregula r labo r needs was during World Wa r II . In response to
the needs of wa r production and the absence from the work force
of millions of men in the m i litary, "Rosie the Riveter " urged
wom e n to enter the work force as their patriotic duty. The per­
c entage of women over 1 6 who were employed lumped from 2 8 .9%
i n 1 940 to 3 8 . 1 % in 1 945. By 1 94 7 , however, this figure had fallen
back to 30.9%. Corporations gave strong ideological and material
support to wom en joining the work force during the war, for ex­
a m ple, through the establishment of corporation - sponsored day­
care centers. Corporations were equally ca reful , however, to make
none of these benefits permanent. After the war, governm ent and
i ndustry cooperated in a campa ign to put women back in the hom e ,
a nd t o turn t h e home into a unit o f consum ption for the pent-up d e ­
m a nd productive potential o f the U . S , econom y . With th e subs equent
l ayoffs of m illions of wom en, the m edia played up fam i ly "togeth­
erness . " The resulting " fem inine mystique " attempted to convince
wo men that thei r place was in the home, and that household drudg­
ery and rai sing children were the sol e source of women ' s fulfi ll­
m ent in life.
In addition to the exceptional use of wo men as wage laborers
that developed during the war , wom en continue on a yearly basis
to participate i n such s ea sonal work as pre-Christmas sales and
food processing. Women constitute an ideal reserve army, since
they continue to perform vital econom ic functions in their homes
when they are not in the wage- labor fo rce. This reserve-army as­
pect of wom en ' s participation i s also evident in the fact that only
42% of women wo rkers currently work full-ti m e , year- round .


The other S i de of the picture i s the long-term trend of wom en ' s

i ncreaS ing labo r -force participation. Particularly s ince the turn o f

the c entury , a growi ng percentage of people work for wages. A s a
result, the wo rking class has grown relative to the capitalist clas s .
I n 1 940, fo r example, 7 5 % o f a l l people in the labo r force worked
for wages. By 1 970 that figure had jum ped to approxi mately 90%0
Secondly, with the exception of the rapid rise and dec line of
wom e n ' s participation in the labor force during Wo rld War II,
there has been a steady growth of women ' s employment through
the Twentieth C entury. While a round 1 8 90 1 8% of all women wo rked,
by 1 940 that figure had climbed to 2 7 . 9% (of women over the age of
16 wo rking for wages ) . By 1 970, 42% of women worked fo r wages.
A lmost 50% of women between the ages of 1 6 and 6 5 work for
wages at the pre sent time.
At the turn of the century most of the wom en who entered the
labor force were young and unma rried. Most were black. i m m i ­
grant, or daughte rs of i m m igrant s . During the Second Wo rld War
the bulk of wom en who entered the labor fo rce were marri ed and
had schoo l -age children. Most were in their 30 ' s . Since Wo rld Wa r
II, there has been an inc reas ing tendency fo r women with pre­
school and schoo l -age chi ldren to participate in the labor fo rc e .
T h i s growing tendency t o pa rticipate during all stages of the l ife
cycle highlights the growing permanency of wo men ' s ro le in the
wage- labor fo rce.
F inally, the rapid growth of the clerica l , sales, and service sec ­
tors of the econo my accounts for much of the increase of wom en ' s
labo r-fo rce participation. Between \ 940 and 1 970 the S ingle cate­
gory of work with the highest growth rate was clerical wo rk. which
grew from 9.6% of all jobs in \ 940 to 1 6 .6% in 1 970. The largest
number of women wo rkers is in the clerical sector, which by 1 970
employed over one-thi rd of all working wom en.


After World War I I it was easy for Am erican corporations to

earn high profit s . A m erican wo rkers had built up large savings
during the war yea r s . Many wo rkers had worked ful l shifts plus
overtime, yet beca use facto ries were produc ing milita ry supplies
and food was rationed, their wages could not all be spent. When
capital ists began converting their factories to the production of
consumer goods after the wa r, they found a large and ready mar­
ket for thei r products. In addition to thi s dome stic demand, U . S .
corpo rations found good markets in Europe. Since Europea n fac ­
tories had been destroyed in the wa r , A merican capita l i sts could
sell their products and their technology there at prices well above
production cos t s . Finally, Am erican capi ta lists could further boost
profits by investing directly in E urope, since European workers '
wages were low.
What did this mean for wom en's lives ? Opportunities for such
high profits meant that ca pitalists found it worthwhile to hire many

wo rkers. The unemployment rate fell fro m a post-war high of 5 . 5 %
in 1 94 9 to 2 . 5% in 1 95 3 . This inc reasing demand for wo rkers t ended
to push up wages. In an effo rt to keep down wages, capitalists en­
couraged the participation of wom en i n the labor force. Addition­
ally, the fact that capital was being concentrated i n the post-wa r
period m eant that s i ngle fi rms were growing la rger and more bu­
reaucratic, implying a g rowth of jobs i n the clerical s ector , a sec­
to r which employed ma inly women.
The cumulative effect of these fo rces pushing wom en out of the
hom e and pulling them into the wa ge-labor fo rce was a substantial
rise in the labor-force pa rticipa tion rate of women. The fem a l e
r a t e r o s e from its po st-war slump of 30.8% in 1 947 t o 3 5 . 5% i n
1 95 7 . The inc reased pa rticipation was even more dramatic for
m a r ried wom en living with thei r husba nds. In 1 947 2 0 .0% of m a r­
ried women, husband pre sent, worked for wages. By 1 957 the rate
was 2 9 . 6%, an i nc rease of almost 50% in just ten y ears !
These women, for the most pa rt, were employed in the so-called
white-collar occupations . White-collar jobs s ugges t, i n the dom i n ­
a nt ideology , jobs which a r e clean, require a fa i r amount of edu­
cation and judgment. are interesting, and receive decent wages.
This characteri zation of white-collar jobs was accurate a round the
beginni ng of the Twenti eth C entury, but over the course of the
T wentieth C entury white-collar jobs have become routi ni zed, bor­
i ng, and poorly pa i d . C le rical wo rkers employed in 1 900 by ra i l ­
roads and ma nufacturing establ i s hments earned $ 1 . 0 1 1 as a n aver­
age yearly wage. Production workers in these industries ea rned
an average of $435 and $548 in ma nufactu ring and ra i l roads re­
s pectively. Today, ho wever, the m edian wage fo r clerical work is
lower tha n that for every type of blue- collar work.
C le rical work wa s more like a c raft around the turn of the cen­
tury. The occupation requi red mas tery of bookkeeping, tim ekeep­
i ng , payroll, quality control, com m e rcial traveling, drafting, copy ­
ing duplicates by hand, a l1d prepa ring accounts . Rationalization of
office routines has reduced the scope fo r wo rker control over the
work process, reduced the number of activiti es in which an ind i ­
vidual worker i s engaged, a n d , i n short, m a d e i t v i rtually identical
with factory labor.
Thus, although the jobs i n which women were employed after
World War II were considered nice, plea sant. m iddle-cla s s occu­
pations, they are in fact proletarian, and are becoming more pro ­
leta r ianized every day.

LA T E \ 950 ' S TO 1 97 0 ' S

By the late 1 950 ' s i t was beco m i ng more difficult fo r capitalists

to earn high rates of profi t. The po st-war domestic demand had
been spent, and Europe wa s catching up technologica lly and in
m anagement techniques, m ak ing E uropean goods more competi ti-

tive with Am erican good s . A m erican capita list6 could no longer
charge s uch high prices (relative to product ion costS ) as they had
in the early 1 950 ' s . In addition, di rect i nvestment i n E u rope wa s
no longer as profitable as it had once been beca use class s truggle
by Europea n wo rkers won them higher wages . What did this more
difficult profit-making climate mean for our lives ? Again, a ma­
jor implication was more work for women.
In an effo rt to maintain their domestic sales in the fac e of de­
c reasing demand for thei r products, corporations i n the late 1 950 's
and early 1 960 's began pushing "easy c redit terms " fo r purchas ing
thei r products . Since many fam ilies had grown used to regular in­
creases in i nco m e , and also becaus e credit term s were made to
appea r m uch more favorable than they in fact were . many fam i l i es
got i nto debt. But reduced profit-making oppo rtunities for co rpo­
rations made conditions for the class struggle in Am erica less
favorabl e . In the early to m id- 1 96 0 ' s the rate of i ncrease of wages
began to slow . Fam ilies did not rec eive the income increases whi ch
they had grown to expect, yet debts still had to be pa id off. This
situation forced many wives to seek employm ent outside the born e.
The labor-force participation rate of women i ncreased. In 1 970,
42 .6% of all wom en and 40.8% of ma r ri ed women living with thei r
husbands participated in the labo r fo rce.
During the mid to late 1 960 's women 's consciousness of our op­
pression as women began to rise. This development was due i n part
to the fact that so many wom en were both regular pa rticipa nts in
the wage-labor force and yet still responsible for all of the house­
wo rk. Yet the ideo logy conti nued to define us solely i n terms of
our ro le in our families. The wom en 's l iberation movem ent which
grew out of this i ncreas ed consc iousness of oppress ion had some
revol utionary aspect s . It challenged the ideology that wealth and
status can be achieved by anyone who i s willing to work fo r it by
s howing how wom en were systematically excluded from powerful
a nd enjoyable jobs . The movement also gave women expe rience i n
o rganizing and demonstrated how collective action can i m prove
people ' s Ii ves .
However the movement with its present objectives does not
s erve the needs of ill. women. By concentrating its attention on
gaining acc ess for wo m en i nto des i rable profe ssional occupation s ,
i t s uppo rts the myth that a nyone who i s willing t o work hard can
enjoy the benefits of capita l i s m . Bourgeoi s men, bourgeois women,
a nd those few proleta rian wom en and men who make extraordi nary
sacrifices and enjoy good luck can reap the rewards. But if ill
p roletarian women and men worked harder , then they would m erely
receive the same low wages but be required to do more work. The
capitalist o rgani zation of production does not permit all wo rk ers
to have good jobs with good pay. A women ' s movement which doe s
not challenge the capitalist organization o f production, therefore,
cannot bring liberation to all wom en .

Demands for equal pa rticipation of women and men in the wage­
labor force will only mean that wo rking-class wo m en will be
doubly oppress ed. Jobs in the wage-labor force whi ch a re open to
wo rking -class women a re ro utinized, bo ring. and poorly paid. In
addition, working-cla ss wo men are unabl e to afford the quality
day-care services and household help which make it pO SSible for
bo urgeois women to manage both household and labo r-force re­
s po ns ibilities. Wo rki ng-class women will be liberated only when
the entire o rgani zation of production is reorga nized. This will be­
come clear as we exa m ine the effects of the current economic cri­
sis on wo men 's live s.


By the 1 970 ' s the abil ity of U,S, corporations to ea rn profits had
dec lined even further . Europe had caught up technologically and
o rgani zationally, and in many industries was able to outsell U,S,
corpo rations . Wages in the most "adva nced " European countri es
ros e when trade unions were able to exclude Southern European
"guest workers " from employment in industry. Therefore, it be­
came l ess attractive fo r Am erican corporations to make di rect
i nvestments in E uro pe .
R esources and labor were still cheap in the Third Wo rl d , but
gro wing nationa lism - both in the form of na tional liberation
struggles and in the form of stronger national bourgeoiSies - l im ­
ited the volume of di rect U.S. investments . Third World countries
couldn 't be made to se rve as good markets fo r U,S. products, ei­
ther, because the people are so poo r.
The position of U.S, capital was further weakened because the
high profits which corpo rations had been earning in the '50 ' s and
'60 ' S , plus the extension of credit which began in the late ' 5 0 'S,
had produced general overinvestment i n plant and equipment. Now
corporations have the ability to produce more goods than they can
poss ibly sell at high and profitable pric es. To maintain profitable
prices they must close some pla nts and lay off wo rkers.
What does this crisis mean fo r wo men ? A major effect is that
we are being forced to make most of the sac rifi ces. With price
i nc rea ses which exceed wage inc reases and with so much unem­
ployment among m en, it has beco me even more imperative for
women to find job s outside the home. Yet just at the time when it
has become even more necessary to wo rk, the institutions and
s tructures which had made it pos s i ble for women to combine do­
m estic and ho us ehold responsibilities a re beco ming less s upport­
ive. It is very difficult for wo men to find jobs . Although male un­
employment rates are high, women 's rates are 50 to 1 00% higher.
Effo rts to improve child-care facilities were weakened as soon as
it becam e clear that the economy wa s headed for a cri s i s . Affi rm­
ative-action programs and progra ms to elim inate sex discrimina-

tion i n employment are stoppi ng. Finally, the ideology that mar­
ried women who work do so only to buy luxuries or beca use they
are bo red seems to have taken on new vigor.
Meanwhile, wom en are being forced to work harder at . hom e
al so . La st year Gerald Fo rd asked Am ericans to help fight inflation
by adopting his money-saving tactics. His suggestions all m�ant
extra work for women. For example, he urged housewives to shop
a round at many stores, searching fo r the lowest-cost item . He
also suggested that women lower the hems on last yea r 's dresses
i nstead of buying new one s , s pend more time prepa ring m eals
which are nutritious and tasty but which co st less , and go through
the ho use turning off lights in em pty roo m s . Most wo m en al ready
do these thi ngs ; they all require a lot of time and energy . Mo re
im portantly, these suggestions are an attem pt to make us feel per­
sonally responsible for the fact that our grocery bills are rising .
These sugge stions a r e a n attempt to divert wom e n ' s attention from
the real source of the problem ; that the economic system under
wh ich we live is a system for the purpose of making profi ts, and
not a system for meeting human need s .

The WOMEN'S WORK STUDY GRO UP represents a range of

different perspectives within the socialist and feminist movements,
but shares a common commitment to the me thodology of dialectical
and historical materiALlism. A U members of the group have partici­
pated in collective discusswn, research, analysis and writtng. No one
person is tndividuaUy responsible for a specific idea or written
portum. A list of the group 's members follows:

AMY B UR CE is a graduate s tudent in anthropology at Stanford

University and a participant in the West Coas t Union of Marxis t
Social Scientists; she is currently doing research on wage w.bor in
Papua New Guinea. SUSAN CARTER is a graduate student at
Stanford University and is active in Unwn for Radical Political
Economics. HELEN CHA UNCEY teaches part-Ume at San Jose City
CoUege and is active in the women's and Marxist-Leninis t party
building movement. She is also doing work on Communist Party
organizing in pre-1949 China. LORI HELMBOLD teaches part-time at
San Jose State University and is active in the women's and anti-im­
periALlis t movements tn San Jose. SHERR Y KEITH is an itinerant
university teacher. She is active in the women 's movement and in
Third World liberation struggles. VERA SCHWARCZ teaches at
Wesleyan University and is active in the women 's movement.
NANCY STONE is one of the founders of the Sojourner Truth Child
Center in Palo Alto, California. She is active in the women 's
movement. BARBARA WA TERMAN teaches at the University of
Vermont. She is active in the women 's and health care movements.
In addition, the group wishes to express its thanks for the criticisms
and feed-back from the many friends and comrades who have gone
over the paper with them.

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The Death of CLUW

Ann Withorn

Since its inception the Coalition of Labor Union Wom en has b een
locked in conflict between wom ·,m i n the upper l evels of the trade­
union bureaucracy and wom en from va rious parts of the Left. The
first Constitutional Convention of C LUW (held in Detroit in Decem ­
b e r ) ha s , for all practical purposes , end ed the struggle. The
bureaucrats have gai ned solid control over the o rgani zatio n , al­
though in order to gain their victory they were forced to destroy
C LUW as a widely based mass o rganization within the trade unions.
They have won , but everyone - especially the male trade-union
bureaucracy they so hope to impress - knows that C LUW i s now
just a paper o rganization dom inated by union bureaucrats who can­
not mobilize large numbers of trade-union women for even the
most na rrow goals.
Looking back on C LUW ' s b ri ef history, it i s not difficult to un­
derstand the present s ituation. As A nne Marie Troger and Susan
R eve rby po inted out in this maga zine (Nov . - Dec. 1 975 ), C LUW was
born out of contradictions between the lim ited goals of its founding
l eadership and the broad appeal inherent in form ing any coalition
of working-class wom en .
I n 1 97 3 , a few wom en i n the top levels o f the union bureaucracy

b egan to see the usefulness of a trade-union based , NOW-type or­
gani zation for helpi ng them to ga in more recognition, and there­
fo re more �power " , within thei r unions . Led by Olga Mada r of the
UA W and Addie Wyatt of the Amalgamated Meat C utters , these
wom en did not have an alternative vis ion of trade union i s m , nor
even broad "fem ini s t " goals fo r changing the status of all wom en
wo rkers within the trade union s , They simply wanted m')re status
for themselves and for other potential women bureaucrats , They
saw a strategy of linking them s elves to the increasingly acc epted
"women ' s movem ent " as a m eans to this end.
The early literature procla im ing the idea of C LUW spoke of
"recognition " , not po wer, It empha s i zed the dis rega rded accom ­
pli shments of exi sting wom en leaders, not the potential of rank­
and -file or unorgani zed women, The bureauc rats tried to build an
o rganization which would honor them , which would legitimate them
as s pokespeople for women trade- union ists and which would in­
c rease thei r stature in the eyes of George Meany, Frank Fitzsim­
mons, etc .
But, in order to build such an organization, the leadership had
to open it to the rank and file, and therefore to the Left. F rom the
earliest prelim inary meetings , the Left - m eaning a hodge-podge
of Ma rxist- Leninist and independent Left wom en - created a pres­
ence. Left women often made a strong appeal to the "m i ddle forces "
of solid rank-and -file working-class wom en who, both s pontane­
ously and through the � urging " of the leadership, came to the fi rst
m eetings. Together the Left and the rank and file confused the
l eadership with a broadly bas ed mili tancy - aimed as often against
m or ibund union leadership as against the bosses. During ea rly
s tages the bu reauc rats attempted to harness this activist spi rit,
and only later did they try to completely s uppress it.
Indeed , it looked in the beginning like coalition m ight truly be
po s s ible. By the founding convention in Ma rch 1 974, the rhetoric
of the more moderate bureaucrats had gotten braver. The unex­
p ectedly la rge turnout of more than 3 , 000 wom en gave a spirit of
"sist erhood " to the convention and allowed, in the confusion of so
m a ny unknown people, many Left women to ga in m embership on
the National C oo rdinating Committee (NC C ), the Steering .Com m i t ­
t ee , and even o n e national office. Lines were clea rly drawn, prim­
arily around the relationship of C LUW to unorgani zed wom en and
to local unions , and a round the rol e of local chapters . However,
there wa s also a widely shared s ense that C LUW wa s an "idea
whose time had come " . Ma ny people came away from the conven­
tion with an understanding that, although the Left and the bureau­
c rats would clearly remain in conflict, the organization wa s us eful
enough to both so that neither would precipitate suicidal struggle.
It was not to be so . Despite the logic s upporting coexistence,
lines quickly hardened. The leadership sluggi shly initiated com ­
plicated certification procedures which forced new chapters i nto

perform ing time-consum ing, non-outreach duties in o rder to obta in
charters . Chapters received little communication or s upport from
the national office except when they did not play by the rules ­
when they raised questions of m embership requi rements, when they
c ritici zed local unions , when they tried to address "loaded " issues
like seniority o r deportations. Then the reaction was harsh and
dictatorial. C ha rters were denied; condem ning letters were mailed
to all m embers ; overt and bitter R ed-baiting took place. Olga Ma ­
dar, the President, was pa rticularly vocal . She even went to Atlanta
a nd vowed to start her own chapter because the local one was
strongly influenc ed by the October League.
The Left and the rank and file were unprepared for such an of­
fensive . At the local level complicated bureaucratic procedures
frustrated them and led to splits a mong Leftists over the proper
way to fight, They a rgued over whether it was best to comply re­
luctantly and fight nationally or to stand on principle, In m any
chapters, such as Washington DC or Detroit, the anti-communist
parano ia of the bureauc rats, and their efforts to pack com m ittee s ,
led many moderates t o move further left, " I never thought r w a s a
radical , but if they keep treating me like one r might as well be " ,
o n e woman said.
The more common response among the moderate rank and file,
both in local chapters and on the NC C , wa s to d rop away from the
increasingly bitter and intense fighting, Despite mas s ive effo rts by
the bureaucrats, including Shanker's paying of his A F T m embers '
dues, ' the m embership did not grow rapidly. Local chapters re­
m ained small and NCC attendance dwindled. The Left, under viru­
lent attack, could not unite. The October League, although most
s everely hara ssed by Madar, would not work with the International
Socialists or with other Marxist- Leninist groups . The Socialist
Workers Party and the Com munist Party supported the leadership
a nd did not condem n the Red-baiting. Independents were unable to
unite among them selves to influence other members to be less
s ectarian.
By the fall of 1 97 5 , C LUW was in tatters . C ha pter m embership
was down. NC C m eetings could no longer command quorum s . Near­
ly every chapter experienced difficulty with NCC rules and restric­
tion s . Many independent Leftists and progressive rank-and-file
m embers had pulled out . While the officers spent tim e m eeting
with the Presidents of the A F L- C IO , the Teamsters , and other
major unions, those active m embers who remained pressed for a
last-ditch campaign a round a more meaningful constitutional con­
vention and a cons titution which would provide a less bureauc ratic,
more open structure.
The December Constitutional Convention was , in spite of these
efforts , a sorry affa i r , Only \ 200 women, more than 60% of them
staff or officers in their unions, gathered in Detroit to officially
hand the corpse of C LUW over to the bureauc rats . The Convention

was structured so that there was much c eremony and little time
for busines s . The internal structure was o rganized a round union
m embership. Instead of com ing together geographically, people
were required to meet with their unions and were pushed to lodge
together with their fellow union m embers from all over the coun­
try. There were no "middle forces " ; votes almost always broke
down the same way. Only about a quarter of the delegates voted
with the mino rity ; everyone else faithfully voted with the majority.
The mino rity did not even go down to defeat gracefully . There was
an unimpressive squabbling at the m ic rophones over the "correct "
m inority po sition.
So C LUW continues to exist, but with a structure based almost
solely within the unions and with no hope for the pa rticipation of
unorgani zed wom en or of C LUW ' s support for union members '
struggles within their own unions , The more c redible women with­
in the trade unions - such as Lillian Roberts of the A FSCME -
have tacitly abandoned it. Most of the Left, except the October
League, has given up, along with the moderate rank and file . C LUW
i s now the official Women 's A uxiliary of the t rade- union bureau­
c racy.

This close to the distressing spectacle of the Detroit convention ,

it is hard to unders tand how any o f us ever had hope for C LUW,
Were we wrong ? Was the collapse of C LUW inevitable ?
Surely the str ength of the trade- union bureaucracy was always
there. We could never expect the leadership to attempt to c reate
anything but a passive organi zation which would try to smother any
rank-and-file milita ncy . But perhaps we could have been more
prepared for the sophis tication of bureaucratic delaying tact iCS ,
for the outright lying which wa s the leadership 's stock in trade , We
struggled to keep to the is sues , but und er the frustrations of
bureaucratic technicalities and the surpriS ing viciou sness of the
R ed-baiting ( "there are alien forces represented here ", proclaimed
one NCC m ember ) we often reso rted to emotional attacks and ap­
peals ours elves .
The divisions in the Left were c ritical to its defeat. The SW P
and �he C P were noticeable in their lack of opposition to the lead­
e rship and its R ed -baiting . While they made "mod erate " comm ents
during debates , they always voted with the leadership. A lthough the
October League wa s often forceful and skillful at opposing the bu­
reaucrats at the national level, locally they often tried to force
C LUW into being an O L support group rather tha n an independent
o rgani zation with other goals than to endo rse OL activities. Granted
it would have been difficult no matter what, but October League
m embers were not always able to see that demonstrations , ed uca­
tionals, and leafletting a round tangential i s sues were not the most
effective outreach activities.

The Spartacists and other splinter Left groups were also instru­
m ental in the los s . Their highly vocal and antagonistic presence
at public activities must ha ve discredi ted other Leftists and a l ien­
ated m any members of the rank and file. International Socialists,
who be haved more respons ibly, were active in local chapters , es­
pecially Detroit and New Yo rk, but by the time of the convention,
at least, had become somewhat shrill and excessively sectarian,
particularly in regard to OL Independent Leftists were often pas­
s ive c ritiCS, individually oppos ing both excessive bureauc racy and
s ectarian tactics, but seldom offering organi zed alternatives.
The economic crisis hurt C LUW, Given the rise in unemploy­
m ent and inflation, many wo men workers' were less likely to join
an organization like C LUW. High unemployment forced complicated
issues of seniority to the fore at a tim e when the Left was organi­
zationally too weak to push them effectively.
But the greatest enemy of C LUW was the nature of A m e rican
trade unionism itself. The unions ha ve evolved to a po int where
there i s a full-time bureauc racy who s e material interests a re in
large part independent of the welfare of the rank and fil e. Wom en
unionists have many legitimate complaints and much distrust of
their unions , and are unlikely to be attracted to an o rganization
so closely linked to the unions. Only if C LUW could have pos ed as
a real advocate for women within their union s , as an organization
willing to fight bosses ru:!9 unions, would it have attracted ali enated
rank-and-file women. Yet C LUW could only be such an organiza­
tion if it had a strong, active bas e of the very women who would
not spontaneously come to it or stay if it were "just like the union " .
Perhaps i f C LUW had not been a nationa l, hierarchical o rgani ­
zation, there m ight ha ve been hope. During the best times local
c hapters were able to spontaneously attract a c ross-section of
working -class wo men, With real "middle forces " present, the Left
was able to be less sectarian and some of the more moderate bu­
reaucrats could be less defensive. But tho s e chances are gone with
C LUW, Attempting to work within the Coalition of Labor Union
Women now offers about as much potential for building wo rking­
class st ruggle as efforts waged within the Democratic Party, New
effo rts, locally based, perhaps Similar to San Franci sco 's Union
WAGE, will have to continue the fight fo r a strong o rganization of
wo rking-class women, For C LUW, although it still exists as a
paper o rganization, is dead.

Ann WITHORN, an editor of RADICAL AMERICA, belonged to the

Boston chapter of CL UW and was its delegate to the National
Coordinating Committee.

, 1
�'* 1
1 I
1 ,
". 4i

..._ .. d 1
Plaza Commercio. Lisbon
in December 1975. Photo by
Jim Green. 1
Construction worker in the
The Meaning of November 25

Tod Ensign
Carl Feingold
Michael Uhl

In the events of late November, the Portuguese left and the

working class have suffered a defeat. Whether or not this reversal
is fundam ental and permanent remains to be seen, but two major
a reas of revolutiona ry influence - the m ilita ry and the m edia -
have been b roken. Hiera rc hical authority has been resto red to the
m il itary, and it will be difficult for left - i nfluenced troops and offi ­
c ers to refuse to carry out acts of official repression. Hundreds
o f l eftists have b een fi red i n purges of newspapers and radio- TV
stations ; especia lly symbolic wa s the silencing of Radio Rena­
sc enca a nd the daily paper R E PUBLICA, sinc e they had com e to
function as g eneral organs of the revolutiona ry left following thei r
s eizure by wo rkers last yea r.
The wo rking class has thus lost som e of its ability to com muni­
cate a nd some of the shelter which radicalized s ectors of the m i l i ­
ta ry wer e often able t o provide. However the widespread network
of wo rkers ' co m m i s s ions reta in their autonomy, and so far only
l ight repression has been d i rected against the revolutionary pa r­
ties of the civilian l eft. With the m i l i ta ry and media under its firm
control, however, the government i s now moving di rectly against
these wo rking-class organizations to reassert bourgeoi s dom i -

nance over production. The outcome of this struggle is yet to be
The November 2 5 debacle - in which the governm ent provoked
an incident (the seizure of A i r Force bases by disaffected pa ra ­
troopers ), then used it as a pretext for a series of calculated m eas­
ures against the left - came as the climax to three months of
st ruggle that followed the ouster of Prime Minister Vasco Gon­
calves in late Augus t . This article will describe the background
to that struggle and explain the events of late November.

SUMMER 1 97 5

B y t h e s u m m e r o f 1 975, the A rmed Forces Movement (MF A ) had

accomplished certain goals ! expropriation of the major monopo­
l i sts who had profited so m uch from the Salaza r - Caetane fas c i st
regimes ; freeing of the old regi m e 's pol it ical pri soners and dis­
ma ntling of its s ec ret police; and above all, decolonization i n Af­
rica. With these projects largely completed, the M F A ' s socialist
rheto ric masked inc reasingly s harp divisions as to the direction
o f the Portuguese revolution . Within the Revolutionary Council, the
MF A 's ruling body, there were bas ically three factions. One, led
by the social democrat Melo Antunes, emphas ized progress toward
fo rmal pol itical democ ra cy and opposed further nationalization of
private industry. A s econd. generally as sociated with Otelo de
C a rvalho, espoused a kind of radical populism, and was responsive
to the initiatives taken by workers acting through their own organ­
i zations. The third, headed by Goncalves, genera lly followed the
l ead of the Com munist Party ( PC p ) , pursuing lim ited progressive
policies such as land reform and nationalization of large enter­
prises while attempting to prevent the eme rgence of revolutionary
o rgani zation and consciousnes s in the working cla s s .
The M F A ' s internal splintering w a s in response t o and in turn
stimulated the rapid development of two oppos ing social forces
during the summer. The first of these wa s an inc rea s ingly embold­
ened working clas s , pa rticula rly in L isbon and the southern agri­
cultural regions. The working cla s s wa s so dynamiC in its factory
occupations, rent strikes, and land s ei zures, that the military and
government leaders were often forced to ratify these advances
even when they went beyond offi cial policy. (See Radical America,
November-December 1 975 for a desc ription of this proce s s . ) The
s econd force consi sted of the bourgeoisie (minus the fo rmer mo­
nopolists who had fl ed the country ) and the no rthern small land­
holders and local mercha nts. Although the land - r eform program
wa s poorly organized in the North, there were real conflicts in the
interests of the small peasa ntry and a radicali zed working cla s s .
In Portugal la rge corporations exist, but m o s t of t h e working class
is employed in small enterprises of fewer than fifty employees.
Nationalization could not go very far without affecting small bus i -

nesses. This was especially true in Portugal where nationalization
followed spontaneous seizures by the workers in the shops rather
than a calculated plan developed at the top. In fact, many small
shops had been taken over by their wo rkers. Similarly, the fact
that they owned real property and were deeply influenced by the
Church drove many small farmers to the right. Thus the radical
activities of the spring and summer helped to create the class bas e
of reaction.
The withdrawal of the Socialist Pa rty ( S P) and the Popular Dem ­
c ra t s ( P PD ) from the governm ent i n mid-July after the workers '
r eopening of R E PUBLICA and the M F A supporting Poder Popular
( Popul a r Power) coincided with the explo sion of a vi rulent cam­
paign of anti -communist activity in the North. The Fifth Provi­
s i o na l Government '" had a narro w political and social base. It de ­
ri ved its political strength principally from the C P and its in stitu­
tional presence within the working class. Socially, its centers of
support were the wo rking classes of Lisbon and the surrounding
industrial areas and the agricultural workers in the Alentejo.
It had little support in the North, where two -thirds of the country
resides , and decli ning support within service and "white-colla r "
unions .
B y A ugust, Portugal 's social divi sions were openly expressed
inside the M F A leadership. First, Melo A ntunes and eight other
m embers of the M F A 's Council of Revolution iss ued the "Document
of the Nine, " urging a slowdown of nationalizations , greater labor
di scipline, and a curbing of the "anarchist " tendencies of the pop­
ular power movem ent within the working class. For quite different
reasons - primarily a fear that Go nca lves ' policies were attempt­
ing too many restrictions on wo rki ng-cla ss power and were lead­
i ng toward an Eastern European type of regime - Otelo and other
MF A radicals also began to openly oppo se the Fifth Government.
Since revolutionary groups within the working class generally sup­
ported the F ifth Government even while critici zing it, it wa s the
A ntunes document which united trem endous opposition within both
the m i litary and the center-right pa rties against the government,
bringing together a number of diverse and contradictory political
tendencies within the M F A .
The populist C O PC ON fa ction, l e d b y Carvalho, wa s willing to
coalesce with the social-democratic Group of the Nine to oust Gon­
calves ' government on August 2 9. For Antunes, the program of the

Note: The structure of the government of Portugal since April 1974 has been that the
MFA·appointed president - Costa Gomes has held this position since the beginning -
appointS a prime miniSter who in turn appoints ministers to a cabinet. The installation
of a new cabinet constitutes the passage from one government to the next. Each is
"provisionai" because it is only meant to sit until general elections bring a constituent
assembly to power. The Fourth and Fifth Provisional Governments with Goncalves as
Prime Minister sat from late March 1975 until the end of August; the Sixth with
Azevedo as Prime Minister has been in power since mid·September.

F ifth Government wa s too radical. For Otelo, on the other hand,
Goncalves ' drift toward cont rolled socialism on the state -capitalist
m odel was contrary to C O PCON 's concept of grass - roots democ­


The replac ement of the Fifth Government with the Sixth repre­
s ented a return to the pre- July status quo when the Socialists and
Popular Democrats had left the government. Pres ident Costa Go ­
m e s appointed Jose Bati sta Pinheiro de Azevedo , Chief of the Navy,
to be the new Prime Minister ; that it took three weeks to fo rm a
cabinet is an indication of the problems he faced in sorting out the
competing fo rces. The So cialists and the Popular Democrats in­
si sted that the governm ent reflect the results of the pro portional
voting in the April 1 9i5 elections, in which they polled 6i% of the
vote between them. As a result the Com munist Party had only one
m ember in the C abinet while the P PD had two and the SP had three.
By mid- Sept ember, a government intent on restoring orthodo x
di sCipline to the military and regaining full control over the mass
m edia had emerged. These steps were seen as preconditions to
halting the nationali zations of industry and achieving industrial
"di scipline. "
These goals reflected the needs of the social and political ba ses
of the Sixth Provisional Government. With the nationa li zations of
m o nopolie s , the bourgeoi s base of the government was and is lo ­
c ated in the political representatives of monopoly capita l and in
small enterpri ses such as construction, light manufacturing, food
processing, fishing, canning, and the tourist trade. Small fa rmers
in the North, motivated by their own short-run class interests as
well as the influence of the Church, and rightist pa rties were im­
portant to the new government. Some professionals who had not
already fled and technocrats who profes sed socialism but were
i ntent on top-down control were supportive of the new gov ernment.
Also, international capital breathed easier with the collapse of the
F ifth Government, as was evidenced by the willingness of the inter­
national lending agencies to reconsi der loans to Portugal, and the
warmth expressed toward the new government by the social-demo­
c ratic leaders in Europe.
Dominating the new government, the Portugue se Socialist Party,
l ed by Ma rio Soa res , is not even a social -democratic party in the
classic European mold. The European parties enjoy a cons idt;rable
m embership and influence among the working cla s s . While the
Portuguese SP indi sputably enjoys mass appeal, as demonstrated
by the April elections, it can in no sense be considered a mass
workers ' party.
C reated in West Germany nearly three years ago, the Portu­
guese SP does not enjoy the prestige or experience earned by the

l eft parties through long years of underground activity against the
fascists. Such working-class influence a s the SP has i s limited to
white-collar workers in banking, insurance, and the po stal service.
While in Po rtugal , we were told that the S p ' s recent success in
the po stal -union elections (in alliance with the Maoi sts ) was attrib­
utable more to workers ' di sgust with the C P than to any pro - S P
sentiment. T h e memory o f t h e Communists ' attempts t o break a
m ajor postal strike was still painfully vivid when the wo rkers
voted . At Setenave, the modern shipyard in Setubal, the SP failed
to obtain even the fifty signatures required fo r election participa ­
tion from among the ya rd's four thousand wo rkers.
We would define the Portugue se S P as being virtually a bour­
geois party. While it does seek working -class support and has or­
gani zed mass actions involving many wo rkers, its politiCS are
c learly bourgeoi s . Its role as the stalking ho rse for both Portu­
guese and international capital has been clearly perceived by the
more dynamic secto rs of the working class.
The power of the l eft wa s growing at the point of production.
This power wa s built and defended by autonomous workers ' organ­
i zations , by revolutionary parties, and at times by the C P-con­
t rolled Inter·sindical, C O PCON, and soldi ers. Hence the Sixth Gov­
ernment was forced to proceed cautiously. The very nature and
extent of the workers ' conquests had caused qualitative changes
in a variety of social and economic relations . At the time of the
Sixth Governm ent 's installation, the power of the working class
was expres sed in basically four types of o rganizations within the
facto ries and offices, with one o r more form present in vi rtua lly
all industry.
Fi rst, there were the unions affiliated with the Intersindical.
These were traditional trade union s , which in many cases Com­
m unist Party cadre had constructed from the shells previously
used by the fascist corpo ratists.
Second, there were the workers ' commissions o r factory coun­
cils that in some shops had existed in embryonic form even b efo re
the April 1 97 4 coup, but which had becom e generalized throughout
i ndustry since the coup. Their scope and level of political develop­
m ent varied from plant to plant. They were elected by plant-wide
or office-wide assemblies, and generally co-existed with - and in
some places virtually superseded - the t rade unions.
Third, there were the Comm ittees for the Defense of the R evo­
lution launched in the summer of 1 97 5 by the Communist Party
to combat the influence of the far left in the workers ' com missions.
Fourth, there were the R evolutionary Councils of Workers , Sol ­
diers, a n d Sailors (C R TSM). Though the MFA had banned these
committee s a s "paramilitary " they continued to function in a num­
ber of important industries . The CR TSM were o rganized in Spring
1 97 5 at the initiative of the Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat
( P R P ) . They enjoyed considerable initial success, culminating in

a June demonstration of 40, 000. N evertheless, the C R TSM's were
viewed by the mass of workers a s the instrum ent of just one revo­
lutionary group, hence lacking sufficient authority to becom e au­
thentic soviets .

F A LL 1 975

For the most part, the Sixth Governm ent 's effo rts toward a
rightward turn economically were propa gandistic, limiting them ­
s elves to pronouncements such as A zevedo ' s wa rning that "there
m ust be an economic role fo r private i nitiative a nd private prop­
erty, including small a nd medium bus iness like housing a nd tra n s ­
port . " Socialist Minister o f A griculture a nd Fishing Antonio Lopes
C a rdoso warned that "political activity is necessary for eco nom ic
development . it will � be necessary to i mpose wage and
• . •

price controls to get the economy moving • • we need a new fo r­

. •

eign investment policy - but a government of fi rm authority must

c ome first . " Whatever restrictions they felt i n terms of actual
ability to "discipline " the work force a nd i nc rease its "produc­
tivity, " the so -called socialist government made no attempt to
conceal its pro-capitalist bias .
In late July 1 975, the Goncalves government had promulgated a
basic Agrarian Reform Law with the obj ective of transferring land
and power from the large landholders to the small fa rmers and
farm wo rkers. The law held that maximum land ownership was to
be 1 , 750 acres. There was widespread skepticism about the sin­
c erity of the promise to compensate owners for their land and
doubts about the ability of the government to m eet s uch financial
comm itments, which strengthened opposition to Goncalves. In addi­
tion, farm workers were frustrated with the inaction of the Agrar­
ian R eform Institute ( A R I ) a nd the Land R eform Agency - both
parts of the state bureauc racy - and many simply occupied the
estates they worked on without wa iting for formal "recognition "
of their cooperatives by the government. The number of land sei­
zures steadily i nc reased in August and throughout the fa ll. In fact,
from the time of the formation of the Sixth Government until No­
vember 2 5 , the amount of land that had been occupied more than
t ripled. Azevedo 's C abinet consciously did little to faci litate the
work of A R I , In late September, Agricultural Minister Lopes Car­
dozo quietly began removing some left officials from their A R I
posts. His hostility to the land seizures wa s explicit.
The Union of Farm Workers, dominated by the C P, organi zed
m any of these land seizures. The C P, through a youth wing, the
C om munist Student Union ( UE C ), also organized many volunteer
work brigades , which sent hundreds of students into the southern
countryside to as sist in cultivation and harvesting.
A s nearly all the land s eizures were conducted by landless
workers who had very limited experience with scientific fa rming

Portuguese corkworker from the south of Portugal in August 1975. He worked on a
coUective farm which had been taken over by the workers. Photo by Jerry Berndt.

and no access to the distributive mechani sms, and who further
lacked capital fo r fertili zer o r machi nery, they were very depend­
ent on governmental assi sta nce. By simply withholding o r imped­
ing technical ass istance (many foreign technicia ns had l eft ) and
financial help, the governm ent could generate enor mous pressure
on the new coope ratives. It 's not surprising that som e agrarian
economists predict as much as a 30% decline in agricultural pro ­
duction over the next year. While farm workers were well-organ­
ized and militant, the nature of their rural isolation limited their
abil ity to resist the government by them selve s .
Aware o f t h e cons ervative mood o f the small northern land­
o wners, the M F A fo rmed "cultural dynam i zation brigade s " i.n May
1 975. They attempted to take the message of the revolution into the
rural North. Inexperienced, and sometimes arrogant , these units
enjoyed slight succes s . As the brigades offered mostly rhetoric
a nd propaganda, they COUldn 't sati sfy the real needs of the pea s ­
ant s . I n som e res pects, their collective anger a n d frustration was
under standable. With inflation raging at 25- 30%, the puchase of
fertilizers and m achinery became prohibitive, and the various gov­
ernments s eemed unable to stimulate or reorganize the economy.
In the early fall Gene ral C harais, a member of the "Antunes
N ine, " commanded the operation to break up a "co llective " of farm
wo rkers who had rec ently occupied a la rge estate. At the same
time, vigilante gangs of small fa rmers and fascist provocateurs
b egan to launch raids against som e of the new coope ratives in var­
ious parts of the North. These operations m et with som e success
due to the hostile climate to ward the left in the area. (So m e radical
m ilitary units did continue to work with new cooperatives, how­
ever, donating labor and machinery in the same area s . )


The major confrontations between the left and the center-right

fo rces in the fa ll, however, occurred within the a rmed forces and
the o rgans of mass communication. Indeed, the struggle for class
i nt erests was sharpest in the military. On one hand, the bourgeoi­
s i e needed to establi sh control over its military units, while on
the other, the revolutionary soldiers and sailors were s eeking to
destroy the bourgeo is army from within. When the Revolutionary
C ouncil reduced its s i ze by purging som e progre ssive offic ers in
early Sept ember, the internal logic of the struggle led to revolu­
tionaries ' forming autonomous military committees outside the
MF A and free of its hegemony.
To counter the developing power of the cente r- right fo rces wi thin
the military and to throw their weight behind the further c reation
of organs of popular power, enlisted soldiers, draftees , and some
offi cers fo rmed a clandestine organization, Soldiers United Will
Win (SUV ), in early September. While the SUV had been supported

by the l eft, it was sta rted by thems elves out of barracks grievance
comm ittees establi shed ea rl ier. The revolutiona ry gro ups main­
ta ined by and la rge a non-sectarian attitude toward the SUV, un­
derstanding that the rank and file wo uld not tolerate pa rty building
within its orga nization. The SUV manifesto criticized the ri ghtward
trend in the m i l itary and thei r own previo us willingness to follow
the MFA. They proposed to st ruggle for greater democ racy i n the
barracks, for the deve lopm ent of soldiers ' com m i s sions , and fo r
building links with the base organizations of popular power. Their
first demonstration, which took place i n Oporto on September 1 0,
had 2 0 ,000 pa rticipant s , i ncluding 1 , 500 unifo rmed soldie rs. They
m a rched under the banner "Soldiers United Will Win " and shouted
that " Portugal will not be the Chile of Europe . " In a similar left
demonstration of about 30, 000 in Lisbon on September 2 5 , between
3 , 500 and 5 , 000 soldiers and sailors marched in unifo rm . They
repres ented nearly half the enlisted personnel stationed in the
Li sbon a rea. In addition to deeply alarming the governm ent , SUV
s ucceeded i n s ecuring the relea s e of two soldiers who had been
i mprisoned fo r di stributing l eaflets on base announcing the demo.
In response to the huge SUV turnout on the 2 5th, A zevedo a n ­
nounced t h e fo rmation of t h e Mil itary Intervention Group (MIG )
to ensure that he would have a reliable fo rce to call on when the
rank and file and the CO PCON officers sided with the l eft. The
MIG was an elite strike fo rce commanded by "traditional " officers ,
with t roops given special trai ning and higher pay than other units.
R egular marine and a rmy units were a s s i gned to operate und er
its control, but widespread resi stance within the ranks prevented
i t from being effective.
By the end of September the l eft influence within the ranks of
the m i l itary had reached the poi nt where nearly all units wo uld
mobilize only i,n response to right- wing activity . Only the Am adora
com mandos - 1 00 men in an elite unit receiving special treatm ent
m uch like the U . S . A rmy 's Special Fo rces - and some marginal
units would respond to "alerts " called because of "left-wing
threats . " Presi dent Co sta Gom e s , in a nat ional address, wa rned
that left agitation endangered m i l itary operational capacity and
could, i n his wo rds, lead to "counter-revolution. "
The i ntens ifying struggle taki ng place between the rank and file,
prima rily organi zed und er the SUV, and the authoritarian command
i s portrayed by a series of events that began in Oporto on October
4. General Veloso, a rightist who had replac ed Corvacho (a Gon ­
calves suppo rter) a s northern com ma nder, ordered comma ndos to
occupy and disband C I C A P, a highly radicali zed transport training
unit. Since the revolutionary soldiers understood that demobiliza ­
tion and redeploym ent of troops was a tactic being adopted by the
forces of "o rder, " they refus ed to di sband. For days there wa s a
standing confro ntation between Veloso 's commando s , supported by
r i ght-wing civilians, and the C IC A P troops, supported by thei r

civilian comrade s . Both sides were prepared to fight. The Light
A rtillery R eg iment of Lisbon (RALlS), known as the "red regi­
m ent, " issued a statem ent in support of the C IC A P and condemn­
i ng the "government of right- wing dictatorship operat ing under
the cloak of social democracy. " Representatives of 1 8 different
m i l itary units joined the troops in Oporto , and decla red sol idarity
with their fight. The C IC A P struggle was an impetus to revolu­
tiona ry unity, as the soldiers began publfshing their own weekly
newspaper and forging links wi th other popular power groups
throughout the country.
General Fabiao, head of the Army, wa s s ent by the Revolution­
a ry C ouncil to negotiate wi th the mutinous troops . To the conster­
nation of the Revolutionary Council, he ga ve in to all the strikers '
demands except the removal of General Veloso. Fabiao - genera lly
sympathetic to the left and with Otelo i nc rea s i ngly isolated within
the R evolutionary Co unc i l - later expressed puzzlem ent that the
SUV could be "ho rizontal " in an army organization that was "'ver_
tical, " i . e . hierarchical. But the horizontal o rganization of the
troops continued, and throughout the fall the popula r power organs
of the soldiers and civilian working class supported each other.


In early Septem ber protesting soldiers relea sed a press state­

m ent t hat wa s carried by newspapers ; hence one o f the first acts
of the new government was to t ry to censor news reports about
m i l itary activity. This wa s unsuccessful , and then, in a move that
somehow went almost unprotested, Azevedo took over distribution
of all commercial newspapers . This mea nt that So�ial ist and inde­
pendent daily pa pers from Oporto would be widely available in
Li sbon, the hope being to counter the i nfluence the l eft held over
the m edia at the time.
On September 29, Azevedo launched a further offens ive against
the left-dominated m edia by ordering the infantry regi ment at
Queluz (R IOQ) to forcibly retake all worker-occupied radio and TV
s tations. His use of R IOQ (a C O PC ON unit), with Otelo 's approval,
wa s an impo rtant test of the governm ent 's ability to exercise con­
trol over its repressive apparatus. By choosing a ta rget (the
broadc a st stations) where the revolutionary left wa s deeply en­
trenched, Azevedo wa s clearly trying to gauge the real s trength
and popular support of the forces arrayed against him . When the
troops openly collaborated with the s tation ' s wo rkers, refusing his
o rders to oust them, A zevedo grew ala rm ed. He then willi ngly
complied with the left demands to withdra w all troops (except at
R enascenca, where commandos disconnected the t ransmitter) to
a void their further "contamination " by the popular power fo rces.
With the governm ent ' s retreat, the stations continued their con­
stant criticism of Azevedo and his C abinet. On October 2 1 , thou-

sands of workers and soldiers rallied at the R enascenca transmit­
ter, and forcibly put the station back on the air. This wa s pa rtic­
ularly emba rrassing to Presi dent Costa Gomes, who was on a state
visit to the Vatican at the time.
On November 5 and 6 , the C P and other leftists demonstrated
outside the offices of the Ministry of Info rm ation demanding that
Secretary C unha (a PIDE agent under the old regime ) be removed.
E ven though demo nstrators clashed with the police, Otelo now re­
fused to send in C O PCON t roops to subdue the c rowd. The govern­
m ent eventually called in the Republican National Guard (GNR > ,
a paramilita ry security force c reated in the days of Salaza r and
never disbanded. Following thi s Otelo publicly broke with A z evedo
a nd began to boycott meetings of the Revclutionary Council, vo icing
open support for the left opposition to the government.
In another test of his troops, on November 7 , A zevedo o rde red
elements of M IG, including some Amadora com mandos and sixty
Tancos paratrooper s , to dynamite the Renascenca transm itter . This
desperate act provoked another wa ve of m ilitance that began with
the paratroopers themselves. They met, and following an intense
s elf-criticism session , voted to purge the co mmanders who had
l ed them in the operation, elected new officers from within thei r
ranks , and vowed not to work with the MIG again.
By early November, the pace of events was quickening ; there
were many large and highly-politicized demonstrations d em anding
the ouster of the Sixth Government and advocating direct links be­
tween workers ' a nd soldiers ' com m i ssions. Many of the more po­
liticized m ilita ry units were able to defy demonstration o rders ,
while SUV activists were distributing s mall arms to som e left
parties and workers ' councils. On the other side, the governm ent
received economic aid and support from its European and Amer­
ican capitalist allies who encouraged its repres sive policies. It was
able to retard and bureaucratize agra rian reform, while mobilizing
right-wing support in the North. Through its probes , it wa s devel­
oping a clear sense of which troops could be trus ted to act unques­
tioningly to restore "order. " The c enter -right forces could not
allow ever-greater expressions of working-class power to go un­
checked, but they lacked the ability to decisively defeat the work­
ing-class movement. Neither was the left strong enough to move
towa rd the seizure of power ; however, it wa s embarked upon a
cours e which could only result in a confrontation of clas s forces.
This was the setting in which the events of November 25 took place.


The event that, above all others, exposed the Sixth Government ' s .
lack of effective control wa s the nationwide strike of 250,000 con­
s truction workers in November . The main demand was for a 40%
wage hike. E vidently, the A z evedo C abinet decided to fight it out
over these n egotiations. In Lisbon, the struggle escalated very

rapidly, with 80,000 construction wo rkers and their supporters
blockading the Constituent A ssembly and the Premier 's home on
November 1 3. Afte r a day and a half, A zevedo was forced into the
hum iliating po sition of acceding to all their demands. Emboldened
by this stunning victo ry, the left sought to capitalize on this mo ­
m entum by building additional demonstrations.
On November 1 6 , over a hundred thousand marched through the
streets of Lisbo n , joined by bulldozers, trailer s , and trucks. While
one hundred and twenty workers ' comm i ssions in the Lisbon a rea
called the rally, all left pa rties worked to make it a success. The
rally demanded replacement of the Sixth Government with a gov­
ernment of "revolutiona ry unity. " When Otelo ' s message that he
would always be on the "side of the people " was read, there was
h ea vy applause. The turnout was in striking contrast to the pro­
government rally which the S P and P PD had organized the previous
Sunday, and which had attracted at most 30, 000 people.
Overwhelmed by these development s , the C abinet went "on
strike, " refusing to m eet until the MFA guaranteed that it would
enforce its dec rees. This ultimatum set off a chain of events which
b rought new authority to the moderate and rightist fo rces which
dominated the Sixth Government, and a severe setback to the left.
The C abinet ' s ultimatum had a galvanizing effect on a key s eg­
m ent - the majority, in fact - of the Council of Revolution. In the
weeks previous , bypa ssing Otelo , Fabiao, and the C P-influenced
m embers of the Council, the majo rity had been quietly organizing
a unified staff and o rganizational command . This provided them
with a striking force capable of coo rdinated action throughout the
country. It wa s to prove decisive in the subsequent confrontation
with left milita ry units. Colonels Jaime Neves and Ramalho Eanes
(who was to replace Fabiao as Army C hief of Staff after the 25th>
played k ey roles in this shadow command, although they were not
m embers of the C ouncil .
With its operational command poi sed for action, the Council set
its trap for a showdown with the left. Otelo was the bait. Whil e
c riticizing the C abinet for its "strike, " the Council on November
2 1 removed Otelo from .command of the Lisbon m ilitary district.
A t first the provocation was unsuccessful, because the leaders of
the great majority of m ilitary units in the Lisbon a rea simply an­
nounced that they would refuse to accept the C ouncil 's choice, Cap­
tain Vasco Lou renco, as commander. Faced with this oppo sition,
the Council suspended its action against Otelo. The Lisbon Wo rk­
ers Commission called a two-hour strike for Novembe r 24, de­
m anding the Sixth Governm ent 's ouster and supporting the initia­
tive of eighteen military (mainly C O PC ON ) officers who had called
for the establishment of workers ' power based on independent
wo rkers ' o rgani zations and for the arming of the working class on
November 2 1 st.
In the rural a reas north and east of Lisbon, rightist fa rmers be-

gan closing roads to the city. The following morning, November 2 5 ,
after a n all-night session, the Council again voted to oust Otelo.
This time the trap was sprung. At daybreak responding to the
ouster, paratroop units wh ich had been radicalized by the events of
the autumn occupied all the Air Force bases in the Lisbon region
- the Tancos , Montereal, and Montejo. They were welcomed by
the troops, and open fraterni zation took plac e. They also occupied
the F i rst R egion air-command headquarters at Monsanto and de­
tained the regional com mander, Pinho F reiere. They dema nded
the resignation of Freiere, A i r Force Commander Morais e Silva,
and two other Air Force officers who were also members of the
Council of Revo lution. Several other left-wi ng units around Lisbon,
i ncluding the Military Police and the RALl S, went on alert in soli­
da rity with the "para s . "

RevolutUmaTY Portuguese soldiers on the base of the First Engineering Regiment,

which was the operational headquarters for the April 25, 1971, revolt. Photo by Michael
Up to this poi n t , the paras ' action was nothing out of the ordinary
in the context of Portugue se politics during the autumn. On s everal
previous occasions, troops had taken direct action to re sist m i l i ­
tary reorga nization or t o fo rce t h e removal o f certa in com mand­
ers. The aims of the November 25 "upri si ng " were fa r from insur­
rectionary. What s et this rebellion apart from earlier episodes
wa s the governm ent ' s determ iration to seize upon it as the pretext
fo r a gene ral c rackdown on the left.
Lat e that afternoo n, the PR P and the Left Socialist Movem ent
(ME S ) issued a joint call for workers to occupy their factories and
offices and prepa re for any eventuality. It said, "Now is the time
to give a definitive lesson to the bourgeoisie - this is the will of

the workers . " Their call for mobilization elicited little response
because strong links with the work force had not been forged.
As both the paras and the far-left parties apparently understood ,
the conditions necessary for the seizure of power d i d not exist o n
November 2 5 . While t h e m a s s organizations o f t h e working class
had made great progress, there was an absence of any unified mil­
itary strategy or command on the left, not to m ention the lack of a
mass revolutionary party. The process of a rm ing the workers and
o rganizing them into defens e units was only in a prelim inary stage.
But a strong mobilization of workers in support of the para s ' ini­
tiative might have preserved the status quo of the autumn.
The equivocal role of the Communist Party in blocking full -scale
mobilization in the factories and barracks , while at the same time
calling for " vigilanc e , " was to prove crucial to the Council ' s
scheme for left "saneamento " in t h e days that followed. Party
cadre within nearby ma rine units, in which the C P had a strong
influence, argued against moving in support of the para s . A dmiral
Rosa Coutinho , the C p 's main ally on the Council, was reported
to have personally intervened with the marines to block any mobil­
i zation. Party disc ipline on this was observed throughout the mili­
tary, Indeed, C P leader A lva ro C unhal m et sec retly with both Costa
Gomes and Melo Antunes on the 25th and 26th. C unhal not only
pledged the C P's oppo sition to any general mobilization by workers
or troops under its influence, but actually supported resto ring
"order " within military units influenced by the fa r left. Melo An­
tunes, in return, agreed to support the C P demand for more pos i ­
tions within the government.
Late in the afternoon of the 25th, knowing that the para s ' revolt
had not spread fa r, C osta Gomes nonetheless declared a state of
em ergency in the Lisbon district and a ssum ed direct command of
all regional units. During the evening units of the Amadora com­
m andos (headed by the right- wing Col. Jaime Neves ) began to re­
take the occupied bases. E ven though there was no serious resist­
a nce, Costa Gom es went on television in mid-evening (accompanied
by the vacillating Otelo ) to raise the "state of eme rgency " to a
"pa rtial state of siege. " The following mo rning, with a declaration
of martial law, he began the process of purging the l eft from po ­
s itions of influence in the media and the military. None of these
decrees were necessary to suppress the "insurrection, " since it
was not a real insurrection; the decrees were, however, a way of
uSinglli e paras ' revolt as a rationale for a long-term restructur­
ing of power.


The government wa sted no tim e in exploiting its victory. Under

its "state of s eige " order, all newspapers and broadcast stations

were tempo rarily closed a nd hund reds of left workers were dis­
m i s sed. Vi rtually all left officers within the m il itary were de­
tained, with 1 40 persons, mos tly mili tary, being imprisoned. All
l eft m i litary units were demobilized for a two - week "probation . "
On November 2 7 , the Council o f Revolution decided to suspend
all cur rent labo r negotiations until January, and cancelled the re ­
cent wage increases won by the cons truction workers as well as
bakery and sanitation wo rkers.
Two weeks later, the Council announc ed a new plan for restruc­
turing the armed forces which included dissolving the MFA as a
political force. All soldiers ' assemblies and comm issions were
banned, and almost the entire middle - level comm and structure of
the military was wiped out in the purge of leftists. Several high­
ranking officers fo rmerly close to Spinola resumed commands ,
while nearly all fo rmer C O PC ON officers were removed. Otelo
was arre sted in mid - January and charged with participation in the
"plot " on November 2 5 .
With t h e military and media no w firmly i n hand, t h e Azevedo
C abinet turned its attention to the broader issues of social and
eco nomic policy. On December 1 9, the C abinet announced its " aus­
terity " plan. Its main features were an indefinite free ze on wages ;
state guarantees for all fo reign -owned prope rty ; stringent energy­
cons erva tion plans (gasoline, for example, is now $ 2 . 60 a gallon,
the highe st rate in the wo rld) ; and an Investm ent Institute to s eek
and channel fo reign investment.
In the atmosphere created by the government ' s manufacturing of
the "ins urrection " and its subsequent initiat ives against the left,
forces to the right of the Azevedo government began to as s ert a
growing self-co nfidence. In mid-December a Rightist Confedera­
tion of Portuguese Farmers was announced in Rio Maior to fight
the "socialist " agrarian policies. The Confederation 's main griev­
ance was "Communist domination " of the Agrarian Reform Insti­
tute, marketing boards , and fa rm league s which control rural
c redit; pricing, and crop classification. The Confederation orga n­
i zed a vociferous rally in Braga a few weeks later at which 40, 000
fa rmers heard s harp attacks on the agrarian reform in general
and on Agricultural Mini ster Cordoso in particular.
Even a s the right has advanced, the Socialist Party has clung to
its alliance with the P PD, res isting all the Communist Party 's
entreaties that it fo rsake that alliance in favor of a united govern­
ment of "the left. " The PPD its elf has moved much more unam­
b iguously to the right. In a recent split, the party expelled its so­
c ial-democratic elements , with twenty-one deputies and four P PD
m embers of the Azevedo C abinet among those expelled. It is omin­
ous that the P PD finds it less neces sary than befo re to pres ent a
progres s ive facade to the public. Even more ominous are the doz ­
ens of bombings and other terro rist attacks which have been di­
rected at left-wing offices and at agric ultural cooperatives in re­
cent weeks. The S P, the P PD, and the further- right Democratic

C enter (CDS) are now pushing for early elections and an end to
the m ilitary 's conti nuing power over national affairs. (The Council
of R evolutio n ' s count er-proposal, d rafted by the I
ubiquitous Melo
Antunes, i s that the m ilitary ' s rule continue for another five years . )
The c enter - right parties also want the franchis e i n the elections
granted to all two m i l l ion "overseas Portugue se. " Becaus e most
of tho s e who would vote under thi s provision are from the con­
s ervative North, still bound by strong local-village ties, their
votes would undoubtedly strengthen the right. The C P has wisely
opposed thi s extension of the franchise.
Both the Communist and revolutionary left groups have at­
tempted to regroup and regain some of the initiative lost since
November 25. On New Yea r 's Day , they organi zed prote st ra llies
at the prisons in which the November 2 5 political prisoners were
bei ng held. At C ustoias prison, i n Opo rto , National Republican
Guards fired on the crowd, killing four and wounding many others.
Two new organizations, the A s sociation of Anti - Fascist Former
Political Prisoners and the National Comm ittee fo r Defense of
F reedom of E xpression, have been fo rced to coordinate this de­
fense effo rt. The latter group i s compos ed of many promi nent in­
tellectual s, scholars, a nd artists, some of whom are c'l os e to
the C P o
For the present, the Communists have confined their attacks to
vague charges of "fascis m . " At a mass rally on January 1 7 , called
by thi rteen C P-led unions in the Li sbon area, the speakers attacked
the Azevedo governm ent in gen eral terms, without offering any
specific program for countering its offensive against the working
class. The far l eft groups to date have been unable to fo rmulate
a program to effectively unite the wo rking class. With inflation
now galloping at 50% per month, these groups tried to organize
a la rge farmers ' ma rket to make low-priced foods availabl e to
urban worke rs. This foundered, however, due to inadequate sup­
plies and rural haras s m ent.
The FUR, the united front of revolutionary left groups, exists
in nam e , but at this poi nt it consi sts only of the PR P, the Popular
Socialist F ront ( F S P - a l eft split from the S P ) , and a badly-weak­
ened MES. A m ino rity of the MES split a way after November 2 5
and formed the R evolutionary Socialist Movement. The Interna ­
tional Communist League ( LC I ) has departed a long with the Po rtu­
guese D emoc ratic Movem ent (MO P - the C p 's electoral front) and
the League of R evolutionary Unity and Action (LUA R ) , which i s
quite small. Although there has not been a wholesale repre S S ion
of the far l eft ' s l eadership and publications, there i s no denying
that the right has regai ned the initiative. Nonetheless, the govern­
m ent still must reckon with the strength of the working cla s s , as
was recently demonstrated i n its tempori zing approach to the Jan­
uary seizure of a Timex watch factory by wo rkers fearing plant
c losure. Nothing comparable to the pulveriz ing defeat of the C hi l ­
e a n working class h a s occurred in Portugal.


Did a revolutionary situation exist in Portugal in the months

following the a scendance of the Sixth Government ? Some of the
leaders of the revolutionary groups thought one did : · they believed
that an adequate basis for seizing power would exist by mid-Jan­
uary 1 976. At the least, they thought that a defensive response to
a right-wing move might grow into a left insurgency. While a mass
revolutionary organization could not be built in that short period,
they thought that the existing rudiments of armed workers ' and
.soldier s ' councils could take and hold power in the greater Lisbon
area . A revolutionary organization could then be forged out of the
c rucible of such action. In fact, the right had contingency plans for
such a development as far back as September. They envisaged
moving the national government to Oporto, then sealing off the
"Lisbon Commune, " cutting off its food supply, and attacking it
at will.
In their calculations, segments of the left confused a revolution­
ary period with an insurrectionary one. With the benefit of hind­
s ight we can see that the taking of state power was not on the
agenda. Several factors support this view.
First, the organs of working-class power were insufficiently
developed either to carry out insurrection and destroy the old state
or to be in themselves the embryo s of the new proletarian state.
The widespread workers ' commissions did not yet approach having
such a potential: they lacked sufficient experience in the political
arena to effectively administer the state apparatus. Nor did they
possess the requisite coordination or linkages needed for such an
Secondly, substantial sections of the left and the working-class
organizations placed too much reliance upon the military, espe­
cially· the C O PCON units and Otelo de Carvalho. Most officers,
Fabiao and C arvalho included, would not accept true workers '
democracy, no matter how sympathetic they were to the working
class. Therefore, overdependence on the CO PCON units, while
tactically understandable, was strategically unwise.
Third, there was no large revolutionary organization implanted
in the working class which could provide leadership and revolu­
tionary experience in the struggle for power: in fact by late No­
vember no organi zation was approaching this capacity, and the
FUR was far from having achieved unity among the left parties
and groups. Without such a deeply rooted organization, the ad­
vanced strata could not make sufficient links with the masses.
Fourth. there were significant regional splits. Most people out­
side of Lisbon, Oporto, and the Alentejo were deeply influenced
by the campaign of the right. As the revolutionary left had not of­
fered a concrete program which might have won the small farmers
to the side of the working class, they were faced with an implac-

able fo e. If the rural m ajority, including the small fa rmers, could
not at least be neutra lized as a hostile fo rce against the revolu­
tion, then a premature insurrection would have left Lisbon a s iso­
lated as the Paris Communards had been.
Prospects for socialist revolution in Portugal now appea r dim.
Yet who would have predicted before April 25, 1 974 that the Portu­
guese working class and its allies were capable of such impressi ve
accomplishments, given a half-c entury of fascism, in such a s hort
tim e ? They have demonstrated rema rkable resourcefulness and
c reativity in bui lding autono mous organizations to advance and
defend their interests - giving the lie to the skeptic s ' a s sertions
that the European working class has been "cor rupted " and no
lo nger constitutes a revolutionary fo rce.


based in New York City, formed the Portugal Information Center in
July 1975 to disseminate accurate information about revolutionary
developments in PortugaL P.I. C. reguw.rly publishes the BULLETIN
which RADICAL AMERICA readers may receive by writing P.I. C. at
1 75 Fifth Avenue, 111010,' New York, NY 10010 ( Telephone: (212)

Wheatcutterfrom southeastern Portugal. Photo by Jerry Berndt.

On the Death of
Augustin Tosco

Christopher Knowles

It was shortly after the surpnsmg appearance of his collected

prison writings in Buenos A i res booksto res that A rgentines were
i nfo rmed of Augustin To sco ' s death early last November. After
a year of directing his mi litant Light and Power Union ( Luz y
F uerza ) in Co rdoba from the underground, Tosco died of a malig­
nant brain tumo r.
Fo rty-four-yea r-old Tosco, mourned as the militant trade-union
movement 's most lucid and popular leade r , had been unable to re­
c eive proper treatment fo r his illness due to strict police control
of ho spitals and clinics . He had been living and working in the
underground since C ordoba police began gunning for him in Octo­
b er of 1 974.
Isabel Pero n ' s regime and the labor bureaucracy of the General
Workers ' Confederation (CG T ), to whom To sco repres ented an
unyielding and dangerous enemy , found cause for a double celebra­
tion : the man high on their "most wanted " lists could be crossed
off and had died without their direct involvement, as rarely is the
For militant trade-unionists and progressive forces nation-wide
who followed Tosco 's unswerving revolutionary leadership over

the past two decades, hi s death has rai s ed great concern fo r the
unity and clarity of the ongoing struggle. Tosco will be remem ­
bered fo r his particular abi lity to ra lly diverse sectors of the
working class and the petit bourgeoisie around specific causes and
clearly define the specific strategy needed to win their demands.
Cordoba, A rgentina ' s automotive center which Tosco helped to
o rganize into the most defiant and potent focus of leftist militancy,
m a rked his death with illegal work stoppages. In defiance of the
bloodiest state of siege in Argentine history, more than six thou­
sand persons attended hi s funeral , which was dis rupted by several
t housand rounds of police gunfire in the cem etery . The entire na­
tion silent in the oppressive atmosphere generated by ubiquitous
death squads and police convoys, paid unspoken homage.
To sco had po s s essed so m ething rare in A rgentine po litical and
trade-union circles ! he was consi stent. A self-proclaimed Marxist
i n a country which ha s been dom i nated by the ideological confusion
of Peronism for the last thirty y ears, his battle was uphill all the
He consistently pointed out and described the nature of the ene­
mies of the A rgentine working clas s . For the last ten years these
were what he desc ribed as the "neo -corporativi st " military dic­
tatorships (headed by Generals Ongania, Levingston, and Lan u s s e )
which had surrendered t h e country t o foreign capital a n d c rushed
all democratic expressio n ; and the "collaborationist " trade - union­
ism which has come to characterize the C G T leadership. Tosco
d e s c ribed in speech after speech and letter after letter (especia lly
while he was in prison ) how the dictators hips and the corrupt C GT
leadership worked together to deny A rgentine workers even their
basic human rights , not to m ention their workers ' rights to organ­
ize and to strike .
In combating the dictatorships and the corrupt leadership, Tos ­
c o ' s strategy and objectives were always the same : the use of the
general strike and mass mobilizations in defense of the rights to
better working conditions, higher wages, freedom to o rganize and,
gradually, to make more sophi sticated demands which earned Cor­
doba the title of "Argentina ' s Socialist Provinc e " .
I n 1 968 Tosco and the leaders o f other m i litant unions formed
a national network of trade unions designed to chal lenge the C G T
collaborationist hegemony called the " C G T d e l o s A rgentino s ".
This parallel CGT, later outlawed, reflected Tosco ' s concepts of
l egitimate trad e-unionism : that only from the rank and file did
authentic trade-unionism spring, as oppos ed to the "rule from
above " which is the basis of Peroni s m . Tosco wrote at the time :
"Only through the people are we going to reach popular solutions .
All conception of elites, of whatever kind, ends up s erving to con­
solidate the system which oppresses us . "
Though convinced that Cordoba had become the vanguard for
eventual revolutionary change in A rgentina , Tosco worked with

combative unions throughout the nation i n o rder to generalize the
struggle. The militant unions in Cordoba constantly s end financial
and logistical support to strikes in other cities and the country­
side (sugar wo rkers in Tucuman, m igrant labo rers in Mendoza
and Neuquen, m iners in Rio Negro ), combating the isolation which
often contributed to the failure of m a ny strikes and conflicts.
Tosco spent a lot of time in pri son . The principal leader of the
May 1 9 6 9 massive insurrection which took control of Cordoba (the
so-called "Co rdobazo " ) and brought the Ongania regime to its
knees, he was s entenced to eight years in prison by a military tri­
bunal. Popular pressure got him released in time to lead another
uprising, the so-called "Viborazo " which helped to bring General
Levingston 's regime to collapse and Tosco ' s return to jail . By
then the resistance movement which had developed nationally had
rallied around the demand for Juan Peron 's return from exile.
It was debated whether to run Tosco for president as an independ­
ent Marxist candidate as an alternative to Peronism . Though he
did not run in the 1 97 3 elections, Tosco never accepted the illus ion
that Peron had returned to bring socialism to A rgentina. It wa s
not long before the fraud became obvious to even the most fanatical
Peronists. For m any, it was too late.
Because of its militant and often non- Peroni st character, Cor­
doba logically became the focus of the violent repres s ion unleashed
by the Peronist government, particula rly under Isabel. The mili­
tant un ions there have been taken over by the national CGT and the
entire apparatus forced to go underground.
With the repression of militant trade-unionism in Cordoba the
combative spirit sprang up in other industrial area s, such as the
heavily industrialized zones between Buenos Aires, Villa Consti­
tucion, Rosa rio, and Santa Fe. Wildcat strikes and rank-and-file
unrest over unchecked inflation and an ever increas ing repre ssion
by Isabel ' s governm ent exploded into a General Strike last July.
As a result of the national s hutdo wn, ultra-rightist Jose Lope z
R ega, Isabel ' s "eminence gri s " , was forced to flee the country.
But it would be inaccurate to claim that the militant unions have
not been s eriously curtailed in thei r activities as a result of the
all-out war against them : repression wo rks. That the revolution­
ary trade-unionist movement is strong enough and deeply rooted
enough in the A rgentine working class to survive the repres sion,
however, is certain. The question which fa ces the militant trade
unions, and the left generally, at this point is how best to carry
the struggle on.
On one hand, A rgentina ' s ruling elites - the Peronist muddle of
labor bureaucrats and politiCians, the bankrupt Radical Party op­
position, and the restless military - have demonstrated in the long
s eries of unresolved crises that they are unable to run the country
or the economy. On the other hand, the guerrilla fo rces, especially
the People 's Revolutionary A rmy (E R P ) and the leftist Peronist

(Editors ' Note: We would like to encourage our readers to send us
brief responses to our articks and comments on important political
issues for publication in this section. We wiU prt:nt as many as we can
of those which seem of general interest to our readers.)
Radical America

Dear Friends and Comrades,

I don't find Noel Ignatin's letter in Radical America, vol. 9, 116 helpful in untangling
the problems raised by the Boston busing situation or the general problem of working
class education in America. Having taught in the Chicago public schools a total of four
years since the late sixties, I have had a chance to view first-hand the problem as it
exists here, both in the most oppressed section of the Black community (at Dusable
Upper Grade Center on the Southside, which "serves" the Robert Taylor homes) and
in white working class communities on the Northeast side. I have taught both
vocational and general education from grades seven through twelve, as well as
elementary grades K through 6 (as a long-term substitute).
The value of the Radical America analysis of Boston lies in its concreteness. The
weaknesses of both Noel's and Staughton's offerings lie in their abstractness - in their
lack of analysis of the schools in the city where the three of us all live.
Noel is simply wrong when he states " . . . the demand for quality education is rarely
heard in white communities except in response to Black demands for equality in
education." Leaving aside Chicago's suburbs where quality education is perhaps the
main demand of parents of school-age children (white, for the most part, because of
housing segregation), I do not know of one predominantly white school in this city
where community, parents, and teachers' activity is not focused in one way or another
on improving the schools or preventing their decline. The same is true in the Black
community schools where I have taught. Parents, white or Black, still view education
as one of the major ways to free their own children from their class. With the decline in
the city schools (or - at least as accurately - with the greater improvement in
suburban schools�, this is one of the major reasons why white parents move out of the
city and take on the added costs and inconveniences of suburban life. The difference
here is: white families have the option to move to the suburbs. Because of segregation,
most Black and Latino families don't.
More specifically, why do I say that Noel's assertion is wrong? Because I have seen
the facts in the activity of white families that prove to me he is wrong. Let me give two
First, I am teaching this year at Steinmetz High School, on the Northeast side of
Chicago. Until 1970, Steinmetz was all-white. The nearest Black families live in the
Austin area, three miles from the school. Housing in the area is maintained in typical
Chicago segregated fashion: Black and Latino families can't get into the neighborhood.
Beginning in 1970, Black students were '.Jussed to the school on a voluntary basis from
West Austin, and the faculty was integrated.
Just before Thanksgiving, the school held its annual parents' night, when parents
come to hear about activities in the school and talk with their children's teachers. The
parents' night crowd filled the school auditorium with over 1,000 people, Black and
white. After some introductions, they came around to classrooms.

Those thousand parents - mostly white - came to the school that night because
they were interested in their children's education - in its quality. Most of the parents
who visited me were not expecting their children to go to college (Chicago's high
schools have a four-track tracking system: 'Basic,' 'Essential,' 'Regular' and 'Honors'. I
teach essentials and regulars, the majority of whom will never go beyond high school,
with some continuing in the junior colleges for awhile.)
Why were those parents there? Because they were concerned about their children's
education - the quality of it; not because the Black community was demanding
My second example is less direct. In the North Austin district. where the neighbor­
hood is 'changing' from white to Black. the white and Black parents from the Byford
Elementary School have been protesting overcrowding. Since Byford became inte­
grated. the Board of Education has stalled on building a new building, allowing the
school to become 100% overcrowded. The school lot is filled with temporary class­
rooms (which look like large house trailers).
This summer, Byford's Black and white parents packed a Board of Education
meeting to shout about the situation. Both wanted an immediate end to the chaos at
the school. Additionally. the white parents stated that they wanted to stay in North
Austin and wanted their children to go to school and live with Black children equally.
But between panic-selling, other pressures. and the Board of Education, they were
being told - directly and indirectly - to take their white 'option' and move north.
They were refusing and standing together with the Black families for 'quality
education' (first step, end overcrowding) for all their children.
Why do I make so much of this? The process of winning whites - part of which
involves helping them to first understand the poisonous nature of their relative
privileges over Black and Latino people and later to reject both the racism and the
material privileges which underpin it - is just that, a process. If we begin by floating
outlandish generalizations about white working people - for example, that they only
fight for quality education to maintain their white skin privileges - we as white
revolutionaries will have little chance of changing white workers' "reactionary" con­
sciousness. Because that consciousness has many elements, some of which lead to Nazi
rallies in Chicago's Marquette Park and others of which led my white working class
students to decide to chase the Nazis who were leafletting our school.
Staughton is wrong if he believes that white revolutionaries can come up with a
program that enables them to avoid confronting white privilege. The history of the
American left right down to this moment is filled with that kind of white opportunism.
But Noel is equally wrong - more so, because he has analyzed the white problem more
thoroughly - if he insists on negating the positive aspects of white people's dual

Yours for revolution and liberation,

George N. Schmidt
Chicago, Illinois
November 30, 1975


Two former editors of RADICAL AMERICA, Roger Keeran and myself, are now
directors of the Oral History of the American Left program, sponsored by Tamiment
Library in New York City. The last half-dozen years have seen the deaths of many of
the remaining well-known political figures from the 1920's and 1930's: Paul Robeson,
James P. Cannon, Solon DeLeon and Earl Browder, to name only a few. We are sharply
aware of how priceless a legacy of information, interpretation, plain reminiscence and
anecdotes we are losing. With that in mind, we hope to create a central repository for
oral history materials that now exist in the form of tapes made by teachers and stu-

Those thousand parents - mostly white - came to the school that night because
they were interested in their children's education - in its quality. Most of the parents
who visited me were not expecting their children to go to college (Chicago's high
schools have a four-track tracking system: 'Basic,' 'Essential,' 'Regular' and 'Honors'. I
teach essentials and regulars, the majority of whom will never go beyond high school,
with some continuing in the junior colleges for awhile.)
Why were those parents there? Because they were concerned about their children's
education - the quality of it; not because the Black community was demanding
My second example is less direct. In the North Austin district, where the neighbor­
hood is 'changing' from white to Black. the white and Black parents from the Byford
Elementary School have been protesting overcrowding. Since Byford became inte­
grated. the Board of Education has stalled on building a new building, allowing the
school to become 100% overcrowded. The school lot is filled with temporary class­
rooms (which look like large house trailers).
This summer, Byford's Black and white parents packed a Board of Education
meeting to shout about the situation. Both wanted an immediate end to the chaos at
the school. Additionally. the white parents stated that they wanted to stay in North
Austin and wanted their children to go to school and live with Black children equally.
But between panic-selling, other pressures. and the Board of Education. they were
being told - directly and indirectly - to take their white 'option' and move north.
They were refusing and standing together with the Black families for 'quality
education' (first step. end overcrowding) for all their children.
Why do I make so much of this? The process of winning whites - part of which
involves helping them to first understand the poisonous nature of their relative
privileges over Black and Latino people and later to reject both the racism and the
material privileges which underpin it - is just that. a process. If we begin by floating
outlandish generalizations about white working people - for example. that they only
fight for quality education to maintain their white skin privileges - we as white
revolutionaries will have little chance of changing white workers' "reactionary" con­
sciousness. Because that consciousness has many elements. some of which lead to Nazi
rallies in Chicago's Marquette Park a:nd others of which led my white working class
students to decide to chase the Nazis who were leafletting our school.
Staughton is wrong if he believes that white revolutionaries can come up with a
program that enables them to avoid confronting white privilege. The history of the
American left right down to this moment is filled with that kind of white opportunism.
But Noel is equally wrong - more so. because he has analyzed the white problem more
thoroughly - if he insists on negating the positive aspects of white people's dual

Yours for revolution and liberation.

George N. Schmidt
Chicago, Illinois
November 30, 1975


Two former editors of RADICAL AMERICA. Roger Keeran and myself. are now
directors of the Oral History of the American Left program. sponsored by Tamiment
Library in New York City. The last half-dozen years have seen the deaths of many of
the remaining well-known political figures from the 1920's and 1930's: Paul Robeson.
James P. Cannon. Solon DeLeon and Earl Browder. to name only a few. We are sharply
aware of how priceless a legacy of information, interpretation, plain reminiscence and
anecdotes we are losing. With that in mind, we hope to create a central repository for
oral history materials that now exist in the form of tapes made by teachers and stu-

dents, by political groups, relatives and others. We also hope the project will encour­
age the taping of rank-and-filers from the 1920's ( or earlier) to the 1940's and 1950's,
not only in labor but also in cultural work, health foods, science fiction - whatever
comes to mind as a point where the Left has made its influence and there are
old-timers around to talk about their situations.
There is no money to pay people for taping, although copies will be made of all tapes
when requested, so that there is no outlay for the interviewers. We do not mean to
create a monopoly on the interviews - Tamiment would like to exchange tapes with
other libraries involved in similar projects. We hope that articles for RA and other
journals may come out of this work, but all tapes will be restricted for use according to
the wishes of the interviewee.
We'll have a column in the Radical Historical Review on our work and from time to
time Tamiment will issue a bulletin to those who request further information. We ask
you to send for a formal announcement to pin up on bulletin boards and get into local
papers and magazines, and to give us a boost at getting some of the work done that is
so badly needed now. Write to "Oral History of the American Left," Tamiment
Library, New York University, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012.

Paul Buhle

The Worl<ing Class

& Social Change

by Martin Glaberman
O n t h e m o d e r n wo r k I n g c l a s s ,
t h e nature o f work , mode l s o f
c o n s c i ou s n e s s , and t h e s t ru g g l e
a g a i n s t c a p i t a l a n d un i o n s .
new hogtown press
1 2 Hart Hou.. Circle, Unlveralty of Toronto,
Toronto, Ont8rto, C.ned.

In forthcoming issues:
Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English: The Politics
of Housework
Bruce Dancis: Women and the Socialist Party
Repon and presentations from the socialist-fem inist
conference in Yellow Springs, O h io
R ichard Lichtman: Marx and Freud
Sam;' A min : Population and Underdevelop ment
A special issue on Afro-American politics and culture:
Hubert C. Hammond: The Economic Foundation
of the Black Working Class
John Higginson: Social Classes and the Trade
Unions in B lack America
Ernest Mkalimoto: Afro-Ideology, 1 9 4 5 - 1 970
Johnetta Cole: The B lack Woman in America
Eric Perk ins: Afro-American politics



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I upcoming issues feature:

i' U N EM P LO Y E D CO U N C I LS I N T H E 1 9305
I Radical A merica is an I ndependent Marxist journal in i ts 1 0th
year, featu ri n g the h i s tory and cu rre n t deve l o pments i n the work­
ing class, the ro le of women and Th i rd World people, w i t h reports
on shop-floor and com m u n i ty organ i z i n g , the h i story and poli tics
of radical ism and fe m i n i s m , and debates on current social ist
theory and popu l a r cu l t u re .

C u t out th i s b o x a n d m a i l t o : R ad i cal America,

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Radical America 's special pamph let subscription is designed to make

new pamphlets from the left presses in the US and Eu rope avai lable to
our readers.

In the past year our pam phlet m a i l i ngs have i n c l uded the fo l lowing

Winter, 1974

Mark N aison , Rent Strikes in New York, from New England Free Press; H .
H anegb i , et. aI . , The Class Nature o f Israel, from the Middle East
Research and I n formation Project; Fredy Perlman, Essa y on Commodity
Fetishism, from N EFP; and A Guide to Working Class History, a sel ected,
annotated l ist of read ings, record i ngs and f i l ms on workers' h i story i n
the U S and Canada, also from N EF P .

Spring, 1975

Critique (#4) : A Journal of Soviet Studies and Socialist Theory, from

G lasgow; the fi rst issue of Network : Voice of the UA W Militants, from
Detro it; a special l abor issue of Philippines Information Bulletin ; and
the su ppressed monograph by Noam Chomsky and Edward S . Herman,
Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda ,
from Warner Mod u l ar Publ ications.

Summer, 1975

Portuga l: A Blaze of Freedom , from Big F l ame ( Britai n ) ; Unions and

Hospita ls: A Working Paper, by Transfusion ( Boston); Taxi at the Cross­
roads: Which Wa y to Turn ?, from the Taxi Rank and F i le Coal ition ( N ew
York) ; and the fi rst: issue of Cultural Correspondence, edited by Paul
B u h le and Dave Wagner.

Autumn, 1975

Southern Populism and Black Labor, by Vi n ce Copeland; Lip and the

Self-Managed Counter-Revolution , by Black and Red ; The IWW in
Canada, by George Jewe l l ; and an issue of Theaters, with Marxism and
Popular Culture, by Pau l Bu h l e .

A Journal of Radical Perspectives on the Arts


B r u n o ' s Cast le, o r Some L i terary M i scon ceptions G e ne H. Bel l

Art Aga i n st I m per i a l ism E. San J uan
Brecht, Godard and E p i c C i n ema Nao m i G reene
R ef lections on L i terary Theory and C u l t u re John F e kete
A S h i ft i n Weather ( poem ) R u th Lech l i tner
A r t , Censorsh i p a n d Socia l i sm Stefan Morawsk i
Mayakovsky :
Language and Death of a R evol uti onary J o h n Berger and A n ya Bostock
Art as Human i z i n g Prax i s Marx W. Wartofsky
T he Livin� Theatre i n Braz i l Theodore Shank
The E d u ca t i on to Despa i r :
Som e Thoughts o n Death i n Ven i ce D u n can S m i th
T h ree Drawings W i l l i am G ropper
T he L u mpen D rama of F ran k Wede k i nd F ra n k G a l assi
The End of Cri t i cism :
Som e R e f lections on Rad i cal Practice K i ngsley Wi d mer
Hegemony , Prax is and the N ovel Form A l a n Swi ngewood
The Contem porary Social F i l m :
I ts Contents and Aesthetic CharacterISt i cs A n ton i n J. L i e h m
Agai nst Duchamp Ca r l Andre
T he San F ra n c i sco M i me T roupe Perform Brech t Lee Baxand a l l
T he Case for R evo l u t i onary Cul ture :
The M i me T roupe Versus Baxanda l l I ra Shor
R e p l y to I ra Shor Lee Baxand a l l
Doubt and R eflex ive Po l i t i cs of G u n ter G r ass Charles R usse l l
We Must Begin by M a k i n g Sac r i f i ce E a r l Conrad
James T. F ar re l l at Seventy A l a n Wa ld
G ames w i t h H istory George Woodcock

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