Chapter Eighteen: Communist Class Struggle Policies (1923-1929)

18.  Communist Class Struggle Policies (1923-1929)

Passaic textile strikers protest at the White House in 1926.
The Communists were important leaders in this strike,
and later funded and produced one of the earliest labor
films based on this experience, The Passaic Textile Strike
Throughout the Coolidge "prosperity" period the Workers Party, renamed the Workers (Communist) Party in 1925, fought strongly against the whole class collaboration program of the trade union leadership and came forward with a policy of class struggle. This in spite of serious right opportunism—Lovestoneism—in its own ranks. The Party exposed the fallacies, in theory and practice, of the "B. & O. plan," "union-management co-operation," the "new wage policy," "labor banking," "the higher strategy of labor," and all the rest of the current ideological sugar-coating of the employers' speed-up program. It also blasted the crude "American exceptionalism" underlying the entire campaign of confusing and thereby more intensively exploiting, the workers—the notion that somehow capitalism in the United States was different from and superior to capitalism in the rest of the world. The Party showed that the so-called "new capitalism" was just the same old capitalism in the boom phase of its economic cycle, and that, far from having ended all economic crises, this system was at the time definitely heading toward a severe industrial break-down. The Party demonstrated that the entire policy of the official bureaucracy was bringing about lowered living standards and weakened trade unions for the workers.

The Communists and their allies, in spite of severe persecution, fought everywhere against the application of the deadly class collaboration program of the A.F. of L. leadership—on the floors of union halls, in the trade union elections, and on strike picket lines. They cultivated a militant struggle of the workers, Negro people, and farming masses for their elementary demands. Most of the important organizational campaigns and strikes of the period were either directly led or heavily influenced by the Communists and their co-workers. This was because the official heads of the labor movement refused to give leadership to the workers, even on the most elementary questions. This resolute fight against the A.F. of L. class collaboration policies during the Coolidge regime constitutes one of the most effective pages in the history of the Communist Party of the United States.


A basic necessity for the employers and labor leaders, in order to force the current speed-up program upon the unwilling workers, was to break down all opposition to such a program in the unions. This was what the efficiency expert Taylor had euphoniously called "getting the workers' consent." It implied war to the knife against the Communists and all other opponents of intensified class collaboration. As a general consequence democracy was just about extinguished in the trade unions. A "goon" rule, patterned after the current gangsterism of the prohibition era, and in many cases actually carried out by professional gangsters, was instituted in unions where the left wing had a strong following. Moreover, the employers and the police could also be relied upon to help the reactionary union leaders, should the situation threaten to get out of hand.

The worst feature of this terroristic regime was the leaders' policy of expelling militants from the unions. The Workers (Communist) Party was blasted, the T.U.E.L. was condemned as a Communist organization and a dual union, and membership in either brought expulsion. The Communists, who could not be defeated in honest debate, were ousted from the unions altogether, often to the accompaniment of physical violence. This meant that they were also forced out of the industries where they earned their livelihood. Such terrorism was something new in the American labor movement, for all of its previous record of reaction. Never before had workers been systematically expelled from their jobs and from their unions because of their political opinions. Dozens of union ruling cliques, anticipating by a generation the Smith and McCarran Acts, wrote clauses in their union constitutions specifically barring Communists (often along with Negroes, women, youths, and other "undesirables"). The expulsion campaign, beginning with a few militants here and there, finally reached the stage of ousting thousands at a time.

The Socialists went along with the outright Gompersites in this terror campaign, even as they had swallowed whole the latter's B. 8c O. plan, new wage policy, speed-up program. Indeed, in their activities the Socialists even outstripped the open reactionaries. For the first of the expulsions took place in the Socialist-led International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and it was also in that organization that the expulsion campaign later reached its highest point, with the ouster of 35,000 New York cloakmakers. No unions in the country were more gang-ridden than the needle trades organizations.

In the shameful class collaboration of the Coolidge period the Socialist leaders finally cemented the open alliance with the Gompers—now Green—bureaucracy that they had been courting for so many years. Schneider and Saposs describe this development in which the Socialists gave up their policy of militant boring-from-within and sought to win the confidence of the A.F. of L. administration.1 And, says Saposs, "After the world war the Socialist boring-from-within policies and tactics were completely reversed. . . . Instead, they aim to sue for the confidence and good will of the entrenched labor leaders. . . . This new political alignment of the Socialists with the Administration forces marks the end of their leadership of the opposition in the labor movement."2 Ever since then, the Socialists have been part and parcel of the reactionary clique dominating the American labor movement.

About the close of the "prosperity" period, in May 1929, a group of "left" Social-Democrats and renegade Communists, alarmed at the too flagrant corruption of the Socialist Party leadership, formed the Conference for Progressive Labor Action. It aimed at eventually becoming a rival of the Communist Party. Its chief figures were A. J. Muste, head of the Brookwood Labor School, J. H. Crosswaith, and others. Its program called for an active wage policy, social insurance, trade union democracy, a labor party, workers' education, and recognition of Soviet Russia. The C.P.L.A. was built on the Two-and-a-Half International plan—that is, lots of radical talk but little constructive action. It made a pale effort to pattern its main work after the T.U.E.L. This "Muste movement" existed for several years. It took part in a few textile and mine strikes, but it played no very important role in the labor movement. In October 1934, it merged with the Trotskyites—a short-lived union which hastened its disintegration. The C.P.L.A. served mostly as a fig leaf to cover up the nakedness of the leadership of the Socialist Party and the A.F. of L. The Musteites were the "little brothers of the big labor fakers."

The resentment of the masses of workers at the treacherous class collaboration policies being followed by their unions' leadership was evidenced by the strong support given the Workers (Communist) Party and T.U.E.L. program in many industries, despite the expulsion policy of the top union leaders. Thus, in the Machinists Union elections of 1925 the Anderson progressive-left slate got 17,076 votes, against 18,021 for the administration candidate, William H. Johnston. Undoubtedly, the left actually won the election. And in the Carpenters Union elections of the same year the T.U.E.L. candidate, M. Rosen, was credited with 9,014 votes against 77,985 for the reigning autocrat, Hutcheson.


Among the many industries where the Communist Party and T.U.E.L. forces led strikes during the Coolidge period were the textile, needle trades, and mining industries. These were the so-called sick industries of the period, suffering heavily from unemployment, speed-up, low wages, and—to make matters worse for the workers—reactionary trade union leadership. All these strikes were conducted upon a broad united front basis of Communists, left Socialists, and progressives, through the T.U.E.L. and its specific organizational forms in the various industries.

The first big struggle of textile workers to be initiated by the Pafty and conducted directly by the T.U.E.L. was the famous Passaic, New Jersey, strike of 1926. At the outset the workers, employed mostly on woolens and worsteds, were almost completely unorganized—of the one million textile workers nationally, not over five percent were unionized at that time. The Party forces energetically set about organizing among them. Characteristic conditions of deep poverty, gross exploitation, and boss tyranny prevailed. The spark that touched off the bitter struggle in Passaic was a 10 percent wage cut in October 1925. The A.F. of L. union in the industry, one of the most incompetent in the labor movement, the United Textile Workers, refused to stir in the matter, so the T.U.E.L. forces, in the form of the United Front Committee, began with success to organize in Passaic.

The strike was precipitated on January 21, 1926, when a committee of 45, presenting the demands of the workers to the Botany Mills, were discharged forthwith. The response of the mass of workers to this brutal treatment of their leaders was immediate and powerful. In two days the 5,000 unionized workers of the autocratic company were on strike, and within a few days the whole Passaic area, with some 16,000 textile workers, was tied up. The bosses, with the characteristic violence that accompanied the "open shop" movement, undertook to break the strike by instituting thug rule in the community. Every known strikebreaking technique was used; but they all failed, the solidarity of the workers was invincible. The official head of the strike was Albert Weisbord, a weakling; but the main strength came from the Pafty backing, with such militant fighters as W. W. Weinstone, Charles Krumbein, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, John Ballam, Alfred Wagenknecht, and others.

The strike was very well organized and was fought on both sides with great stubbornness. It attracted national attention. This hard-fought strike sounded a new and militant note in the labor movement, then being choked by the union-management co-operation poison. The struggle lasted thirteen months; it was finally settled by a compromise which restored the wage cut, admitted the right of the workers to organize in the A.F. of L., and gave some recognition to the union grievance committees.

The next big textile strike in which the Party and the T.U.E.L. played a decisive role was the walkout of 26,000 cotton mill workers in New Bedford, in April 1928. This strike was also against a wage cut and the speed-up, and for union recognition. The strike gave birth to a series of further strikes in Fall River, Woonsocket, and surrounding textile centers. After six months of struggle the wage cut was defeated in New Bedford, but the workers were deprived of a real victory by a typical A.F. of L. sell-out. The strike resulted in the formation of a new textile union, the National Textile Workers, affiliated to the T.U.E.L.

The most desperately-fought textile strike of the period, however, was that in Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1929. The National Textile Workers Union sent organizers into the south in February of that year. Their activities started a general movement among the textile workers, who were suffering under extremely low wages, the stretch-out (speed-up), and anti-union shop conditions. The workers involved were almost entirely American-born, for several generations back. The N.T.W. forces concentrated on the Gastonia area, where a strike of 2,500 workers of the Loray mills took place on April 2nd. Later these workers were joined by 1,700 others. The whole membership of 25,000 local textile workers was deeply stirred by the dramatic strike. The Workers (Communist) Party had many of its organizers in the field.

The millowners and the state government officials set out immediately to break the menacing strike by violence. The governor, a textile millowner, ordered several companies of militia to the scene. The American Legion organized vigilantes, and on April 18th, a masked gang of 50 to 75 attacked the union headquarters, wrecked it, and beat up strikers there. On June 7th, another gang of thugs, led by Chief of Police Aderholt, raided the union center; but this time the workers were prepared and defended themselves with gunfire. The police chief was killed and three of his deputies were wounded. This led to the arrest of 100 workers. Eventually seven strike leaders were found guilty of second degree murder and given prison sentences of up to 20 years. During the trial, a vigilante mob ran riot, smashing the union headquarters and assaulting organizers. Ella May Wiggin, a mother and militant strike leader, was murdered. The strike was finally crushed, but the millowners were compelled to make concessions to the workers.

The A.F. of L. was greatly alarmed by the uprisings of the southern textile workers and the growing Communist influence, which affected Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas, and other centers, and it sent a flock of organizers into these areas in an effort to head off the movement. William Green toured the South hobnobbing with the millowners and bankers and offering them co-operation of the approved B. & O. plan type. But the textile bosses, mostly representing Wall Street big capital, preferred their own methods of suppressing strikes and union activities by open terrorism. The southern textile workers, however, remained unorganized. At the time the Workers (Communist) Party made a major mistake of concentrating too much of its attention upon Gastonia and not spreading out and challenging the employers and the A.F. of L. mis-leaders in other key southern textile centers.

The Passaic, New Bedford, and Gastonia strikes represented new high levels of strike organization for the United States. Not only was the strike organization itself highly perfected in each case, but the auxiliary departments were also well developed. There were strong youth sections to mobilize the youth and children. Special attention was paid, too, to the enlistment of women in the strikes, and many women leaders played most active parts. The Workers International Relief (W.I.R.) thoroughly organized national strike relief campaigns, and the International Labor Defense (I.L.D.) conducted vigorous fights for legal defense of the many arrested strikers and union leaders. The Workers (Communist) Party gave vitality and strength to all this work. The strikes, too, were conducted with a keen eye to strike strategy, a subject to which the T.U.E.L., in international affiliation to the R.I.L.U., paid very much attention during these years. The great significance of the strikes was their high fighting spirit at a time when the A.F. of L. was carrying out its no-strike policies. They emphasized the role of a new factor, the Communist Party, in


The needle trades "Socialist" union leaders, as already remarked, were neck deep in the paralyzing A.F. of L. class collaboration and speedup policies of the period of 1933-29. This fact brought them into head-on collision with the Communist and progressive forces, who were strongly organized in the Party and the T.U.E.L. in the industry. The left wing fought for improved wage conditions, the 40-hour week, the shop delegate system, organization of the unorganized, a needle trades industrial union, a labor party, affiliation with the R.I.L.U., defense of the Soviet Union, and against the whole prevailing speed-up, gangster-control regime of the right-wing leaders.

The first decisive collision developed in the Fur Workers Union. After various oscillations in power, the left-center united front made a bitter fight and won solid control of the New York Joint Board, which constituted about 80 percent of the whole union. Ben Gold, who was stabbed by gangsters during the struggle, became head of this Board. In February 1926, some 12,000 New York furriers went out on strike with the 40-hour week as their central demand. The ensuing 17-week strike was one of the hardest fought in the history of New York City.

The Kaufman leadership of the national union sabotaged the strike from the outset. Finally they brought in William Green, A.F. of L. president, who went over the head of the New York Joint Board and arranged a sell-out with the bosses on the basis of the 42-hour week. The left rallied the fur workers so solidly, however, that they refused to allow the betrayal agreement to be put through. Several weeks later, the workers finally won the 40-hour week, the first instance of its establishment in American industry. It was a resounding victory for the workers and the left, and a direct smash in the face of the strikebreaking top leadership of the A.F. of L.

The latter was not so easily disposed of, however. Deeply embarrassed and embittered by their defeat, Green and Co. set up an ultra-reactionary committee, consisting of Matthew Woll, E. McGrady, J. Ryan, J. Sullivan, and H. Frayne, to "investigate" the conduct of the strike. As a result the Furriers' New York Joint Board and its affiliated local unions were "reorganized" in January 1927. The effect of this unheard-of action was to expel 12,000 furriers from their union and to leave the International bankrupt. 3

The struggle in the International Ladies Garment Workers was no less intense. By 1925, in spite of the top leaders' gangster and expulsion licy, the left-center united front had won control of locals 2, 9, and 22, comprising about 70 percent of the New York Joint Board, backbone of the International. Whereupon, President Sigman cynically expelled the 77 Communists and T.U.E.L. supporters on these locals' executive boards, an action which amounted to ousting 35,000 members from the union. The expelled locals set up the Joint Action Committee, conducted a sharp struggle, and after 16 weeks compelled Sigman to give in and reinstate the three locals. This was a nationwide victory for the left wing of the union. Consequently, when the national convention of the I.L.G.W.U. assembled in Philadelphia in November 1925, the left wing, with 114 delegates, represented 34,762 members, or two-thirds of the convention's real representation. But the Sigman administration had so gerrymandered the union elections that although there were only 15,852 members behind them, they nevertheless had 146 delegates, or the convention majority. They used this control to maintain themselves in power.

On July 1, 1926, the left-led I.L.G.W.U. New York Joint Board called a strike of 40,000 cloakmakers against intolerable conditions in the industry. The Workers (Communist) Party gave all-out support to the strike. President Sigman, while officially endorsing the strike, sabotaged it. Finally, in December, after a bitter 20 weeks' strike, Sigman made an agreement with the bosses behind the back of the Joint Board, patterning this maneuver on Green's in the fur situation. This second time, however, the treachery succeeded. There were many fine leaders among the cloak-makers, such as Joseph Boruchovitch, but the key figures of the cloak and dressmakers Joint Boards—Louis Hyman and Charles Zimmerman (who were later rewarded by the International)—did not boldly rally the strikers to defeat the sell-out, as the Gold leadership had done in fur, but tamely yielded. The strike was lost, and 35,000 workers found themselves outside of the union.

The mass expulsions of Communists and other progressives from the Fur Workers and I.L.G.W.U. resulted, on December 28, 1928, in the formation of the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union (T.U.E.L.). Louis Hyman was elected president and Ben Gold secretary-treasurer. Then followed a bitter seven-years' fight between rival unions for control of the industry. But of this general development more later.

In the long and difficult needle trades struggle women militants played decisive parts. There were no braver pickets or bolder fighters for trade union democracy. When the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union was formed it had more women than men members.

In the Amalgamated Clothing Workers (and the Cap and Millinery Workers) the struggle between left and right was not so sharp, although in both cases the top leadership (especially Hillman) was tied up with the B. & O. plan, the "new wage policy," labor banking, standards of production, speed-up, and the general class collaboration program of the A.F. of L. The A.C.W. also expelled a number of militants for T.U.E.L. membership. However, Sidney Hillman, head of the organization, was inclined to follow some elements of a progressive political policy, A.C.W. conventions commonly adopting left resolutions on non-economic questions. The union also displayed friendship for embattled Soviet Russia; in 1921 it organized the Russian American Industrial Corporation, with Robert W. Dunn in charge, to aid in establishing the clothing industry in that country. The A.C.W., then an independent union, also maintained a fraternal affiliation with the R.I.L.U. On many political questions the left had a united front with Hillman, but, as in many such cases, the left was not skillful enough 10 build up its own forces while working in the united front. Today, under the Potofsky leadership, the A.C.W. is just another dry-as-dust A.F. of L. union, but a generation ago, as an independent union born in struggle in 1914 against A.F. of L. crooks, it enjoyed great prestige with the left wing. Indeed, most of the independent industrial unions of the period—in metal, textile, food, shoe, tobacco, etc.—included in their titles the word "amalgamated." The direct strength of the Communist and T.U.E.L. forces in the A.C.W. was indicated at its 1924 convention when Phil Aronberg, Communist candidate for the general executive board, received 8,897 votes against 17,362 for his opponent.


The United Mine Workers sank almost into a death crisis during the Coolidge "prosperity" period. The coal industry, a "sick" one, partly owing to swift mechanization, suffered from heavy unemployment which sapped the economic power of the union. The mine operators, realizing their advantage in this situation, proceeded to stick the harpoon into the weakened union. John L. Lewis, U.M.W.A. president, made the situation worse by a lot of leadership sins of commission and omission. Instead of fighting resolutely against unemployment, he raised the reactionary slogan, "200,000 miners must go." In 1922, also, Lewis abandoned the key miners of the unorganized districts in the strike settlement of that year, and he also refused to make a serious effort to organize the strategic mines in the southern states. To make a bad situation worse, Lewis expelled Freeman Thompson, Pat Toohey, Frank Borich, Dan Slinger, Tony Minerich, and hundreds of other Communist union fighters, who had dared speak out against his ruinous policies.

The T.U.E.L., with the active support of the Party, began activities early in the mining industry (see Chapter 13). In Pittsburgh, on June 2-3, 1923, it organized the Progressive International Committee of the U.M.W.A. This broad left-progressive committee put forward demands, major among which were the six-hour day, five-day week, enforcement of the union scales, unemployment relief and insurance, organization of the unorganized miners, opposition to arbitration and speed-up agreements, a national contract for all coal miners, restoration of union district autonomy, nationalization of the mines, and a labor party. In furthering this program the left-progressives nominated an election slate, headed by George Voyzey, a Communist rank-and-file Illinois miner, against the Lewis ticket. In the final election tabulation Lewis credited Voyzey with polling 66,000 votes, as against 136,000 for himself. The opposition claimed that Voyzey had actually been elected.

Meanwhile the union's position in the industry deteriorated rapidly.

The Jacksonville agreement of February 1924 was supposed to run until April 1927, but in 1925 the big operators of West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, including the Pittsburgh Coal Company, the largest of them all, began freely to violate the union agreement and to operate open shops. The union rapidly disintegrated in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, and other bituminous districts. When the crucial strike of April 1, 1927, began, the U.M.W.A. controlled only 40 percent of soft coal production, as against 60 percent in 1924.

In 1925, the T.U.E.L. forces in the industry, to counteract the catastrophic decline of the union, put out the slogan, "Save the Union," and organized a broad united front committee by that name. Pat Toohey was secretary, and Frank Keany, former head of the U.M.W.A. in West Virginia, was editor of The Coal Digger. The T.U.E.L. carried out a three-phase campaign in the mining areas. The first stage of this was to push for the organization of the vital West Virginia, Kentucky, and southern mine fields in preparation for the coming strike. Nothing came of this, however, as Lewis, despite the demands of many scores of local unions, refused to budge toward doing the job.

The second stage of the Save-the-Union campaign was to put up a national ticket of progressives against the Lewis slate in the 1926 U.M.W.A. elections. The chief Save-the-Union candidates were, for president, John Brophy, president of District 2; and for secretary-treasurer, William J. Brennan, former president of District 1 in the anthracite region. This was a very broad united front movement. The left-progressive opposition made a vigorous campaign, for which Lewis allowed 60,661 votes for Brophy and counted 173,323 for himself. Brophy protested that gross frauds had been practiced and claimed he had been elected.1

The third stage of the Save-the-Union program was all-out support of the strategic 1927 bituminous strike. The progressive opposition mobilized its strong forces everywhere to man the picket lines and to hearten the strikers. The Penn-Ohio Strike Relief, headed by Alfred Wagenknecht, was set up and conducted a vigorous national campaign. After the strike had been going on for a full year, on April 1, 1928, the Save-the-Union Committee held a mass conference in Pittsburgh, for the purpose of strengthening and.extending the strike. Present were 1,125 delegates representing 101,000 miners, or about half the total of the U.M.W.A. membership. The conference issued a call to the miners in the non-striking fields to come out, and there was a considerable response.

But the strike was beyond saving. Shortly afterward Lewis signed a 
separate agreement for the Illinois district, after which the other districts straggled back to work as best they could. Wages and working conditions won in 30 years of struggle were lost almost overnight. Then, indeed, the union crumbled. Splits and dual unions developed in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado, and elsewhere. During this period of collapse of the U.M.W.A. the Save-the-Union forces, except for the Brophy group, drew their supporters together and, in September 1928, founded the National" Miners Union in Pittsburgh. John Watt was elected president, William Boyce, vice-president, and Pat Toohey, secretary-treasurer, of the new miners' organization. 4


The Trade Union Unity League was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, August 31-September 1, 1929. It developed as a reorganization of the T.U.E.L. at the latter's fourth national convention. In attendance were 690 delegates from 18 states. Some 322 delegates came from the three newly-organized national industrial unions in the textile, needle trades, and mining industries, which together had a membership of about 57,000; 159 delegates were from left-wing groups in craft unions; 107 from small groups in unorganized industries; and 18 came directly from A.F. of L. local unions. Of the delegates, 64 were Negroes, 72 women, and 159 young workers. The average age was 32 years. A National Executive Board of 10 and a National Committee of 53 were elected. Labor Unity was the official organ and New York was chosen as national headquarters. William Z. Foster was elected general secretary. 5

The program of the T.U.U.L. followed the general lines of the old T.U.E.L. It was a broad, independent, united front movement of Communists and progressives. It made a head-on collision with the class collaborationism of the A.F. of L. leadership, basing itself on the class struggle. Its central slogan was "Class against Class." Concretely, the program called for the seven-hour day, the five-day week, the organization of the unorganized, industrial unionism, social insurance, full economic, political, social equality for the Negro people, affiliation to the R.I.L.U., world trade union unity, struggle against fascism and imperialist war, defense of the Soviet Union, and socialism.

The major difference between the T.U.U.L. and T.U.E.L. was that whereas the old T.U.E.L. placed the main stress upon the work within the conservative trade unions, the new Trade Union Unity League put its main emphasis upon the organization of the unorganized into industrial unions. As we have seen, this new orientation had been developing through 1927-28 in the work of the T.U.E.L.; in fact, the scenes of its sharpest struggles—textile, needle, and mining—had produced three new independent industrial organizations, based on the principle of "one factory, one industry, one union."

Three basic considerations made necessary this radical change in trade union policy represented by the difference in line between the T.U.U.L. and the T.U.E.L. First, the class collaboration, speed-up policy of the A.F. of L. and railroad union leadership was violently contrary to the interests of the workers, and it destroyed the fighting qualities of the unions. As the program of the T.U.U.L. declared, "the trade union movement of pre-war days, despite its corruption, backwardness and general weakness, was a fighting organization in comparison with the degenerate A.F. of L. of today." Second, the A.F. of L. unions, misled and betrayed into the hands of the employers, were in serious decline. They had lost out in many important sections of industry, particularly its trustified areas—steel, auto, meat-packing, textile, lumber, railroads, coal mining, etc. Now more than ever, they were becoming restricted to skilled workers and did not represent the great masses of unskilled and semi-skilled workers or protect their interests. Third, the expulsion of large numbers of Communists and militant rank-and-file workers from the old unions posed the question of independent unionism in an acute form. It was these general reasons which led the Communists and their progressive allies at this time, through the T.U.U.L., to put the main stress upon organizing new unions in the unorganized or semi-organized industries.

This sharp departure in labor policy was not supported by the Workers (Communist) Party without very considerable discussion. 6 Jay Lovestone and his followers generally opposed the new trade union line. The R.I.L.U. also spoke on the question, as the world-wide expulsion and splitting policies of the Social-Democrats were everywhere making the question of independent unionism an urgent matter.

This changed labor policy did not signify that the Communists were reversing themselves and going back to dual unionism, as Muste and other enemies maintained. Undoubtedly, under the circumstances there was a wide base for independent unionism. During the next few years, however, there were considerable sectarian tendencies to build independent unions in situations where there were no grounds for them, and also to consider the T.U.U.L. as a national labor center that would eventually supersede the A.F. of L.   Nevertheless, the T.U.U.L. unions led many important strikes, organizing campaigns, and unemployment fights. In particular, they did invaluable pioneering work in preparation for the tremendous organizing drives of the middle 1930's.


Communists, as conscious internationalists, are always ardent supporters of world trade union unity. This issue, in various forms, was important during the Coolidge period. One manifestation was the campaign during those years for trade union affiliation to the R.I.L.U. The most important action in this respect was the vote for affiliation of the Nova Scotia miners in 1923, for which, among other things, they were expelled from the U.M.W.A. Another important international activity was the going of labor delegates to Soviet Russia to study the new socialist republic at first hand. The most important of these delegations was that in 1927, consisting of James H. Maurer, John Brophy, F. L. Palmer, J. W. Fitzpatrick, and A. F. Coyle, all well-known trade union figures—together with economists—Robert W. Dunn, Stuart Chase, Paul Douglas, and others. The delegation submitted a favorable report, which was well received by the rank and file of organized labor.

During these years, the Russians made a big fight to establish world trade union unity. The policy of the Social-Democratic International Federation of Trade Unions was to keep the Russian unions isolated from the labor movement of the West. Therefore, after several ineffectual tries for general unity, the Russian trade unionists got together with the British union leaders and formed the Anglo-Russian Committee. The British leaders were the more willing to do this, as Great Britain was anxious to gain access to the great Russian markets. The A.F. of L., violently anti-Soviet, was radically opposed to the new committee, which opened up promising perspectives for a united trade union international. Hence, when A. A. Purcell, head of the British Trades Union Congress, came to the A.F. of L. convention of 1925 as a fraternal delegate and spoke for world labor unity, he was denounced as a "red" by the Green bureaucrats and virtually treated as a pariah. The Workers (Communist) Party vigorously supported and popularized the Anglo-Russian Committee. The Committee was dissolved, in September 1927, by the British union leaders, on the pretext of the Soviet trade union leaders' criticism of their treacherous betrayal of the workers in the great English general strike of 1926. 7

1 D. M. Schneider, The Workers (Communist) Party and the American Trade Unions,
Baltimore, 1928. 
2 D. J. Saposs, Left Wing Unionism, pp. 37, 3g, N. Y 1926.
3 Labor Unity, June 15, 1927.
4 Perlman and Taft, History of Labor in the U.S., Vol. 4, pp. 564-68. 
5 Labor Unity, Sept. 14, 1929.
6  The Communist, July 1928.
7 Lewis L. Lorwin, Labor and Internationalism, pp. 313-15, N. Y., 1929.

Chapter 19

No comments:

Post a Comment