James P. Cannon

On Trade-Union Policy

Written: October 10, 1925
Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Prometheus Research Library
Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

These motions by Cannon, as well as the statement by Cannon and William F. Dunne which follows, are taken from the minutes of the Workers Party Political Committee meeting of 10 October 1925.

In the period immediately following his break with Foster, Cannon generally blocked with the Ruthenberg-Lovestone group, especially on trade-union policy. At issue here was the policy the TUEL-led left wing was to follow at the upcoming convention of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in Philadelphia.

The ILGWU was an important union, claiming over 91,000 members in 1924, most of them in the New York area. Earlier in 1925 the social-democratic Sigman leadership had suspended the three large New York locals which were led by TUEL members. The locals had banded together into a Joint Action Committee which continued to function as a union and collect dues, retaining the allegiance of the overwhelming majority of New York ILGWU members. Sigman had been forced to reinstate the suspended locals and call a special convention of the union for November in Philadelphia. In the period preceding the convention, Sigman forced out some of the more anti-Communist officials of his bureaucracy, in the hope of making a deal with the left wing, which had entered into negotiations with him.

The TUEL was being run at the time by Foster’s lieutenant Jack Johnstone, since Foster had left for Moscow to appeal the Comintern’s cable to the party’s Fourth Convention. In collaboration with the leaders of the party’s needle trades fraction, Johnstone exaggerated the significance of the division in the Sigman machine, advocating that the left wing make a deal with Sigman. Johnstone’s written proposal insisted that if the left wing failed to win a majority of delegates to the convention, “attempts must be made to continue the split among the reactionaries, through carefully considered tactics. If that split continues, under these conditions, making it impossible for anyone to form an administration for the union with a solid majority of the delegates behind it, the left wing shall negotiate for organizational guarantees, which will completely protect it in the control of its present positions...under which conditions it will give conditional support to a mixed administration for the union until the next convention.” (emphasis in original)

Cannon and Dunne vigorously opposed this policy, as well as the idea that the left wing should seek a deal with Sigman’s vice president, David Dubinsky. But they also submitted the statement which follows, protesting the attempts of the Ruthenberg majority to undercut Foster’s Trade Union Department.


1. That we establish, now, definitely, as is our policy, that we will have no united front, direct or indirect, with the Sigman forces—either before the convention or during the convention.

2. If the comrades in New York consider it necessary to give partial or indirect support to Dubinsky they shall furnish the CEC with more complete and explicit information as to the reasons for it.

3. In the event of such a course being decided upon, support must be given openly and with complete explanation to the workers as to the reasons for it.

4. The CEC does not support the policy of giving indirect support to Dubinsky by, on the one hand, not nominating left wing candidates and, on the other hand, telling the workers to vote for Dubinsky’s slate.

5. If it is established that Local 89 takes a semi-progressive stand, the CEC is in favor of a united front minimum program with them against the reactionaries.[1]



We wish to again remind the Political Committee of the wrong path into which we are drifting in handling trade union work. The Trade Union Department is not given sufficient initiative and is not functioning properly. Trade union questions are constantly being taken up in the Political Committee before the Trade Union Department has had the opportunity to consider them and formulate recommendations. As a corollary to this practice the comrades in charge of our work in the field are failing to supply the Trade Union Department with copies of their reports and proposals. A continuation of these practices will have the inevitable result of practically liquidating the Trade Union Department. Since the CEC has already clearly established the necessity of an active and functioning Trade Union Department we are of the opinion that it should take definite steps to ensure it. To this end we propose the following motions, some of which have been previously adopted, but not fully carried out.

1. The Trade Union Department shall meet regularly and formulate recommendations on all important questions of policy for the Political Committee.

2. All material on current trade union problems (or copies of same) shall be supplied to the Trade Union Department.

3. All comrades in charge of party trade union work in the field shall be again instructed to report regularly to the secretary of the Trade Union Department, and to send him copies of all reports on their work which are sent direct to the CEC.

4. The Political Committee should have the recommendations of the Trade Union Department on all trade union questions before taking final action on them, except in cases of emergency where immediate political decisions are necessary.


1. The Political Committee did not act on Cannon’s motions at this meeting. Instead, it adopted Ruthenberg’s proposal that action on the issue be deferred pending receipt of more information. At a meeting of the Political Committee on October 12, at which Cannon was not present, a report by Gitlow was read, indicating that negotiations with Sigman were continuing. Motions by Ruthenberg and Dunne demanding that this policy cease were passed unanimously. A motion by Dunne rejecting any kind of deal with Dubinsky in Local 10 also passed unanimously. However, this latter motion was reversed at a Political Committee meeting on October 24, after Gitlow objected that the left wing would lose control of the New York Joint Board if they did not make the deal. Cannon and Dunne were the only Political Committee members to vote against the agreement with Dubinsky.