Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 27 (Whole No. 86), 17 October 1931, p. 4.
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The central feature of interest in needle trades labor circles for the past weeks has been the negotiations and discussions over the question of unity of the furriers. There is something behind this sudden eruption of unity fever which every one who wants to understand the trade union question will do well to consider. It is a remarkable fact that the leaders of all the factions found it necessary to take part in the negotiations, each swearing with his hand on his heart that he stood for a united union. There was a reason for these protestations. The rank and file of the fur workers, who have seen their standards cut to pieces by the disruption of the union, are crying aloud for a single organization that will give them the strength and courage for a new struggle against the rapacious employers.
The fact that all the leaders without exception have been compelled to listen to this demand and profess agreement with it is a singular confirmation of the idea, which we have advanced more than once, that no one can do just as he pleases with the trade unions. The elemental interests of the workers play their own part and break through all the schemes. At the present writing, the negotiations have been broken off, but this is by no means the end of the affair. Therefore a brief review of what has taken place and some suggestions regarding the future course of the Left wing will not be out of place.
The initiative for the unity negotiations came from a section of the Right wing fakers, with the Lovestoneites acting in their now fully established role of butlers for them. But Stetsky and Co., who control the Joint Council of the A.F. of L. union, are the very people who disrupted the union. It cannot be forgotten for a moment that these outright betrayers of the workers expelled the Left wing and joined forces with the bosses, the police and tbe A.F. of L. bureaucracy to smash the union and the strikes. What does it mean if they now approach the Industrial Union with proposals for unity? It means in the first place that they haven’t got the workers. It means that even those furriers who have been driven back, into the A.F. of L. union by police clubs and economic pressure have not forgotten the traitors and do not trust them. In spite of all the blows dealt by the combined reaction, in spite of all the blunders of the leadership, the soul of the furriers belongs to the Left wing. That is why Stetsky has resorted to the unity maneuver. And by that he, and all those who joined in the unity chorus from Kaufman down, paid tribute to the power of the Left wing.
On the other hand there is no room for doubt that the fakers have gained a certain advantage in the situation and that the Industrial Union has been out-maneuvered. This followed inevitably from the fact that the party, and the leadership of the Industrial Union guided by it, gave over the initiative on the unity question to the Right wing betrayers at every stage of the discussion and negotiations. The unfavorable results were made doubly sure by the failure of the Left wing leaders to formulate a correct position on the issue of unity. Can these leaders ever learn anything? They don’t know yet that the workers really want a united organization and that the question cannot be played with any longer. They don’t know yet – eleven years after the trade union theses of the Second Congress of the Comintern – that trade union unity is the slogan of the Communists. So they hand it over to Stetsky. If he is not grateful for such a contribution, he ought to be. People like Stetsky, whose function in the trade unions is to disrupt and split them, have their work greatly facilitated if they are also allowed to parade as the champions of unity.
The Industrial Union leaders presented a sad spectacle throughout the affair Here was a singular case of the preconceived theories of Stalinism colliding with the logic of the class struggle and a sweeping demand of the workers. The result was contradiction and confusion all along the line. The theories simply did not fit the facts, and the whole time was spent in a hopeless attempt to reconcile them. First they were taken unawares by the bold maneuver of the faker and their henchmen from the Lovestone group. Then they said they would not negotiate with the officials of the A.F. of L. union because it is a “company union”. Besides, according to the current theory, it is wrong to negotiate with reactionary leaders. They began to talk about the well-known “united front from below” when they were interrupted by a movement “from below” in their own ranks. Under this pressure – following the masses and not leading them – they had to go to the negotiations and sit at the table with the fakers, choking on their own formulas of “company union” and “united front from below” as though their mouths were stuffed with feathers.
The basic fault in the strategy of the Industrial Union, which has given a real if only a temporary advantage to the Right wing disrupters, proceeds from the abandonment during the “Third Period” of the Lenin teaching on trade union unity. More than two years ago when this error made its first appearance, and on many occasions since, we have pointed this out to the party and the Left wing workers. In the Militant for August 15th, 1929 we wrote the following:
“One of the greatest weaknesses in the current trade union policy of the party is the withdrawal of the slogan of unity. This was a central slogan of the party and one of its mightiest weapons in the fight against the reactionaries. The slogan of unity was one of the most effective means of mobilizing the masses in the needle trades under the Left wing banner. And conversely, although their are other factors, the decline of Left wing power and influence and the revival of the Rights in this field are closely related to the dropping of this slogan.”
The idea expressed there has gained force in all the experience of the Left wing on the trade union field in the intervening period. It has been given a fresh and startling confirmation in the recent developments among the furriers. The unfortunate results of the unity negotiations should be a warning to the Communist workers of the false and dangerous path the party is travelling on the trade union field. If they see it that way, if they exert the necessary pressure to turn the helm, the lost ground can soon be regained. Stetsky’s maneuver will remain a small episode in the struggle for a powerful union of the needle trades workers under the leadership of the Left wing. The masses of the workers there have not been won over by the traitors. They will support the Left wing again if the leadership makes it possible. For this a Communist trade union policy is needed, not as Stalin teaches but as Lenin taught.
We have no intention of suggesting here any “clever” answers for the Industrial Union to make to the fraudulent unity maneuvers of the Right wing disrupters and their Lovestoneite come-ons. What is needed is a reorientation of the whole policy of the Industrial Union. It must put the slogan of unity in the foreground, and really mean it. It must re-educate and rally the workers again around the idea that it is the Communists who fight for the unity of the trade union movement and the reactionaries who disrupt it. A few months of intensive agitation on this point will change the whole situation. One of the very first results of such a course will be the revival of the spirit and confidence of the militant workers. The second result will be a complete retreat of Stetsky and Co. from their hypocritical pretenses regarding unity and the passing of the initiative into the hands of the Industrial Union. This will clarify the situation and put the issues as they really stand. The demand of the workers for unity, which will grow deeper and stronger every day they feel the harsh results of the division and disruption, will become a great motive force behind the Left wing, forcing it forward, strengthening its positions and thereby preparing the ground for a genuine revival of militant unionism in the needle trades.
Last updated on: 4.2.2013