A New Federation Of Labor?

(January 1933)

Published: Editorial Notes, The Militant, Vol. VI No. 3, 21 January 1933, p. 4.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The Conference of Illinois trade unionists held at Gillespie on December 27th, and the second one scheduled for January 29th – both of them sponsored by the Gillespie Trades and Labor Council and the Progressive Miners of America – are events of exceptional interest to the progressive and revolutionary elements throughout the country. The first conference call proposed to discuss and lay plans for “formulating a Progressive Federation of Labor displacing the old and practically defunct American Federation of Labor.” Such a project raises again, and very concretely, a crucial question of tactics, which the Left wing militants must answer realistically and correctly if disastrous errors are to be avoided.

That the coming resurgence of working class militancy, the conditions for which are maturing under the fearful pressure of the crisis, will break out of the formal bounds of the conservative trade union organizations – of this we have not the slightest doubt That it will result in, or at least make possible, the formation of new, modern organizations on the industrial union basis in various fields is a reasonable calculation. The emergence out of the stormy conflicts of a new trade union center is not excluded; it is rather the most probable prospect. But, assuming all this, it by no means follow that the basis now exists for the formation of such a new trade union center. And, still less does it follow that organizational steps in this direction, at the present time, will facilitate the development of the progressive movement. On the contrary, at the present moment, they can only add another demoralizing failure and place new obstacles in the way of a normal and solidly-grounded development of the new union movement. From this point of view the progressive sentiments and alms of the Illinois militants run the danger of being negated by ill-considered tactics. The moderation of the original project at the December 27th Conference is to be welcomed with the hope that it is to be followed by a still further moderation of tactics on January 29th.

A new trade union center contesting the A.F. of L. for supremacy in the labor movement will very likely make its appearance at a certain stage in the development of the American labor movement towards eventual unity on a class struggle basis. But such a new, central organization cannot be made to order. It cannot come into life at the call of the impatient militants, of a new isolate unions. A union in one industry alone, or rather in one section of one industry, and with a still problematical stability in that restricted section – as is the case with the Progressive Miners of America – is not a sufficient basis. The addition of a few, or even of all, the progressive labor organizations now existing in isolated localities and trades would not constitute a new trade union center in the real sense of the word. It could only give the deceptive appearance of such a center, tend to isolate the dynamic militant elements from the conservative organizations and arrest the radical ferment within them. Instead of creating a new progressive labor center on a firm basis the premature step now under consideration at Gillespie would retard the development in this direction. Instead of reinforcing the position of the Progressive Miners union the proposed, new venture would undermine it, cut it off arbitrarily from its natural allies, the half-formed progressive movements in the conservative unions, and weaken the prestige and authority of the Progressive Miners organization. The reactionary labor bureaucracy at which the Gillespie enterprise is subjectively aimed will be the real gainers if the original plan to “formulate a New Progressive Federation of Labor” is not radically modified.

The Progressive Miners organization of Illinois enjoys a high respect among the militant and progressive labor elements throughout the country. And justly so. It has won this respect in stirring battles which wrote, and are still writing, bright pages of labor history. It is a militant organization and, despite the weakness and vacillations in its leadership has a profound urge within its rank and file to extend the battle front and to join hands with kindred elements on a national scale. This is the impulse behind the Conference at Gillespie, and it is a fundamentally sound one. Properly directed the Illinois miners movement can become a real influence for the revival of militant labor throughout the country. All the more reason therefore, to guard against the dissipation of this influence in premature and ill-considered ventures which leave the present reality out of account.

According to the report in the Progressive Miner the first Conference at Gillespie decided “to continue indefinitely the work of fighting within the American Federation of Labor”. From this it is to be inferred that the plan to form an independent labor federation has already been modified to a certain extent, or at least postponed. It is to be hoped that the second Conference on January 29th, will revise the plan fundamentally and take the organization of a new federation off the agenda for the present.

At the present stage of developments a general propaganda movement for a militant program is needed. Such a movement can unite the militant and progressive forces in all the labor organizations, inside as well as outside the A.F. of L., and consolidate their forces for common struggle. The formation of a new, independent labor movement all intentions to the contrary notwithstanding, would pull these forces apart and weaken the struggle of each.

Last updated on 5 May 2021