Organize! Join the Trade Union Educational League. This is a system of informal committees throughout the entire union movement, organized to infuse the mass with revolutionary understanding and spirit. It is working for the closer affiliation and solidification of our existing craft unions until they have been developed into industrial unions. Believing that all workers should stand together regardless of their social or other opinions, it is opposed to the common policy of radical and progressive-minded workers quitting the trade unions and starting rival organizations based upon ideal principles. That policy is one of the chief reasons why the American labor movement is not further advanced. Its principal effects are to destroy all radical organization in the old unions and to leave the reactionaries in undisputed control.
The Trade Union Educational League is in no sense a dual union, nor is it affiliated with any such organization. It is purely an educational body of militants within existing mass unions, who are seeking through the application of modern methods to bring the policies and structure of the labor movement into harmony with present day economic conditions. It bespeaks the active cooperation of all militant union workers. For further details apply to the Trade Union Educational League, 118 North La Salle Street, Chicago
A commonly accepted principle of practical economics is that in a given country the extent and ripeness of the labor movement depends directly upon and may be measured by the degree of industrial development attained in that country. In non-industrial China, for instance, no one looks for important labor organizations, but all the world takes as a logical thing the powerful labor movements in highly industrialized Europe. Karl Marx stresses this principle, saying: “—combinations (of labor) have not ceased to grow with the development and growth of modern industry. It is at such a point now that the degree of development of combination in a country clearly marks the degree which that country occupies in the hierarchy of the world market.” [ Poverty of Philosophy, P. 156.]
This economic principle holds true quite generally. With almost unfailing regularity those nations with well developed industrial systems also have well developed labor movements, and those that are backward industrially are also backward in working class organization. The one glaring exception to the rule is the United States.
Here we have the extraordinary situation of the world’s most highly developed industrial system on the one hand, and the most backward labor movement of any important country on the other. The United States stands first in the world market, but, in apparent contradiction to Marx, this could never be deduced by a study of its primitive working class organization. The whole situation is a great paradox.
Before indicating the cause of this paradox and pointing the way out of it, it will be well for us to demonstrate the extreme undevelopment of the American labor movement by considering a few of its principal phases:
A prime requisite for carrying on Labor’s fight successfully against the exploiters is a clear understanding of just what that fight is about. Otherwise practical programs and effective tactics are out of the question. American Labor, aside from the weak revolutionary groups, is particularly lacking in this vital respect. It has not yet opened its eyes to the true meaning of the labor struggle, nor is it trying to do so. It is intellectually blind.
In all other important countries, particularly in Europe, Organized Labor has awakened to the revolutionary character of the working class movement. It has come to acquire a revolutionary point of view regarding private property, the State, the wage system, the class struggle, and capitalist society generally. It knows that the wrestlings between the workers and the capitalists are but so many incidents of a revolutionary struggle in which either side seizes from the other all that it has the power and intelligence to take. With eyes that have been opened, Labor abroad is conscious of its revolutionary mission, and it is striving constantly, despite a thousand timidities and mistakes, towards the only way to solve the labor problem, towards the abolition of the capitalist system and the establishment of a proletarian regime.
But American Labor is still asleep, drugged into insensibility by bourgeois propaganda. It is the only important labor movement in the world not yet aware of the revolutionary character of the fight that it is carrying on; it is the only one which has not declared for some sort of a socialist society as its ultimate goal. And the worst of it is that it is making no effort toward such an awakening. European Labor studies present day society deeply and draws fundamentally revolutionary conclusions therefrom, but American Labor takes capitalist economics and morals for granted. An earnest study of social institutions by a typical American labor leader would be a world curiosity.
In this philosophical backwardness, in this positive refusal to see capitalism in its true light, originate most of the evils from which our labor movement is now suffering. American Labor has no social vision, no real understanding of what it is trying to accomplish. A few years ago its leaders used to tell us they were striving for “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” but since that nonsensical conception has been exploded they dodge the issue altogether. Consequently the movement just drifts along aimlessly and planlessly, fighting for petty immediate demands, most of which are founded upon false bourgeois premises, and which lead the workers into a swamp of defeat. American Labor, because of its ignorance of its true goal, is short-sighted and crassly materialistic. It knows nothing of that wonderful spirit of sacrifice and idealism which is always born of the workers’ hope for a new day. Mr. Gompers and the others who justify this condition of ignorance and fight relentlessly against every attempt to enlighten the workers about capitalist society and to get them to formulate real working class intellectual conceptions, are as generals of an army who have neither a plan of strategy nor a knowledge of the enemy they have to contend with. It is our calamity and discredit that one has to come to America to find the sad spectacle of a great labor movement which has not yet freed itself intellectually from the bonds of capitalism, and which is still persisting in the foolish and hopeless task of patching up the wage system.
No less primitive is American Labor’s conception of political action. In this respect also we stand in a class by ourselves, at the foot of the list. In all important foreign countries the labor movements have come to understand that they must carry on the class war in the political as well as the industrial field. With them it is no longer a debatable question as to whether or not the workers should organize politically on class lines. Such organization is so well understood as to be taken for granted as a self-evident necessity. The only matter at issue is whether their political parties should be Labor, Socialist, Syndicalist, or Communist in make-up. [Although differing radically from the other groups in their political conceptions, the Syndicalists nevertheless carry on working class political action. They use the unions as their party, and instead of electing representatives into the Governments, they bring direct industrial pressure to bear on them.] Only in the United States is the labor movement so altogether raw and undeveloped that it still has this fundamental lesson to learn. This is the one modern country where the mass of organized workers have no political party of their own, and where they continue to tail along in the train of the capitalist parties, pursuing the program of “rewarding their friends and punishing their enemies.” Everywhere else the labor movements have outgrown this obsolete policy from 15 to 50 years ago.
By preserving in this primitive and outworn political method American Labor has been reduced to practically a political zero. Our labor movement has little or no real influence in the affairs of the State. One aspect of its powerlessness is its almost complete lack of representation in the various legislative bodies. Outside of a few nondescript “card men” here and there who are often even more corrupt and treacherous than the capitalist politicians themselves, Labor has no spokesmen whatever in the local, state, and national legislative assemblies. The whole law making and law enforcing mechanism is in the hands of the enemy, who do as they please with it.
Compare this situation with that prevailing in Europe, for instance, where the workers have understood to build themselves class political organizations. There Organized Labor is a great political power, and one which must be reckoned with on all vital issues. In Germany the workers’ parties control 42% of the members of the Reichstag, in Austria 38%, Checho-Slovakia 36%, Belgium 35%; Denmark 34%, Italy and Bulgaria 25%, Norway, Holland and Switzerland 22%, in their respective national parliaments. In Great Britain many experts look for the Labor Party to be the dominant one after the next general elections. Politically the workers of Europe are a real power.
Another aspect of American Labor’s political weakness is the reactionary course of labor legislation in the United States. In 1909, after his visit to Europe, Mr. Gompers had this to say:
“We are, in the United States, not less than two decades behind many European countries in the protection of life, health, and limb of the workers . . . We are behind England 10 years. We are behind Germany 20 years.” [“Charges Against the National Association of Manufacturers, etc.” P. 2532.]
In the 13 years that have elapsed since this comparison was made the situation has become much more unfavorable for the United States, because during that period, and especially since the war, nearly all the European countries have made great strides forward in labor legislation while this country has gone steadily backward. All over Europe the workers have been able to wring one political concession after another from the capitalists, whereas here the capitalists have stripped the workers of many of their most fundamental rights. Free speech and free press have been largely abolished by the multitude of anti-syndicalist laws, and hundreds of labor men, arrested merely for expressing their opinions, have been given prison sentences so severe as to shock the civilized world. The right of assembly has degenerated into little more than a privilege, dependent upon the whims of the American Legion, the Ku Klux Klan, or corrupt local officials. The right to strike has been abridged by Esch-Cummins laws, industrial courts, and the injunction abuse, which flourishes now as never before. Even the fundamental right of popular representation has been invaded by the refusal to seat regularly elected workers’ candidates, and by millionaires flagrantly buying their way into Congress. Hardly a month passes by but what some hard-won piece of legislation is destroyed. The Sherman Anti-Trust law, with its fancy Clayton Amendment, has become a laughing-stock by being used only against Labor, the very one it was supposed not to apply to. The Seamen’s Act has been rendered inoperative, and the noble Supreme Court has declared the Federal Child Labor Law unconstitutional. Likewise, this august body, in the Coronado Case, has delivered itself of an American Taff-Vale decision against the unions. And now comes Judge Wilkerson with his injunction, denying the right to strike to 400,000 shopmen, and making outlaws of them. Almost any one of the workers’ political rights may go next. And in the face of all this disaster, the labor movement flounders around helpless to stop the rout. Mr. Gompers’ pet policy of rewarding the workers’ “friends” and punishing their “enemies” has made a political nobody of American Labor.
Besides robbing the workers of representation in the legislative bodies and stripping them of all political power, Mr. Gompers’ political policy directly corrupts and weakens the trade union movement itself. By opening the organizations to capitalist party representatives, posing as “friends” of Labor and seeking endorsement, it has made the workers’ unions convenient nesting-places for all sorts of political crooks. These sharpers, in turn, have poisoned the selfish individuals in Labor’s ranks to such an extent that in many localities selling out Labor politically for cold cash has become a regular profession of alleged labor leaders. Much of the bribe-taking from employers for industrial “favors” that curses our labor movement derives from the same source; for once labor officials become accustomed to betraying the workers politically it is an easy step further to betray them industrially. The shocking Mulhall exposures of a few years ago gave barely an indication of the extent to which capitalist politicians have poisoned the labor movement, because its doors are open to them.
But, worst of all, American Labor’s political policy directly checks the growth of class consciousness among the workers and retards the intellectual development of the labor movement. The acceptance of the capitalist parties as the political expression of the working class necessarily carries with it also the endorsement of their general capitalist point of view. Logically enough practically the whole battery of our trade union officials and labor papers express almost identically the same social conceptions as the capitalists and join hands with the latter in suppressing all activity tending to give the workers a clear understanding of the class nature of present society. Only when the workers organize politically as a class do they break with capitalist concepts and develop class consciousness.
For many years the British labor movement went along pretty much as we are doing now, a political cipher in the service of the capitalist parties. With most of its leaders preaching purely capitalistic economics, naturally class consciousness made slow headway. But when finally, as a result of the Taff-Vale Decision in 1901, the movement was driven to independent political action and to organize the Labor Party, these very leaders, in the nature of things, were compelled to advocate, to a greater or lesser extent, class solidarity and class action. This broke the ice, and henceforth proletarian investigation and education found a more congenial atmosphere. The supposedly unshakably conservative British workers began to become class conscious. From that time to this they have made wonderful strides towards acquiring a revolutionary point of view. American workers will do the same once they break with the capitalist parties and set up a class party of their own. With its present policy of rewarding its “friends” and punishing its “enemies,” the American labor movement is still in the political kindergarten.
In harmony with its undeveloped social viewpoint and its infantile political organization, American Labor’s trade unions also are in a very backward state. Whether considered from the standpoint of numerical strength, type of structure, or general spirit of progress, they fall far behind the unions of many other countries. Even a casual glance over the world’s labor movement confirms this statement.
Regarding the question of numerical strength: At present there are, including all independent unions, not over 3,500,000 trade unionists in this country, or about 1 unionist to each 31 of the general population of 1l0,000,000. Compare this, for example, with the situation in the two other leading industrial countries, Germany and England. In Germany there are somewhat over l2,000,000 trade unionists out of a total of 55,000,000 people, or about 1 to each 4 1/2; while in England the trade unionists number approximately 6,000,000, or 1 to each 7 1/2 of her population of 44,000,000. In other words, the German trade unions, considering the difference in the population of the two countries, are numerically about 6 times as strong as ours, and the English about 4 times. For our unions to be as large proportionally as those in Germany they would have to have no less than 24,000,000 members. Compare this giant figure with the paltry 3,500,000 members that our unions now possess and a fair idea is had of how far behind the American labor movement is in this respect. In Germany and England (not to mention other countries) the great mass of the working class has been organized, but here in the United States barely a start has yet been made.
Structurally our trade unions make an equally poor showing. Whereas in all other leading countries the main labor movement, accepting the logic of capitalist consolidation, have quite generally endorsed the principle of but one union for each industry and are making rapid strides towards its realization, the American labor movement still clings firmly to the antiquated principle of craft unionism. Throughout the rest of the world there are many single unions—such as building, metal, railroad, general transport, printing, etc.—that have been built up recently by amalgamating the original craft organizations. Others are being constantly created. In England the giant new Transport and General Workers’ Union has just been formed; the Amalgamated Engineering Union is making steady headway towards its avowed goal of one union in the metal industry; likewise the National Union of Railwaymen, the Federation of Printing and Kindred Trades, the Federation of Building Trades Operatives, etc., in their respective fields. Strong amalgamation movements are afoot in every industry. In addition plans are now being discussed to lash all the national unions together and to develop the whole labor movement into one gigantic machine. In Germany a similar process of consolidation goes on constantly. Already many large industrial unions have been constructed from the old craft organizations. The best-known of them is the famous Metal Workers’ Union, with 1,700,000 members. Gradually the entire labor movement is being developed into one organization. [In Germany the General Federation of German Trade Unions (Socialist), comprising about two-thirds of the whole labor movement, has 8,000,000 members. These are combined into 49 national unions. On the other hand, the A. F. of L., with fewer than 3,000,050 members, is split up into no less than 117 national organizations. The average membership of the unions in the German Federation is approximately 143,000, while that of the A. F. of L. unions is less than 24,000. This illustrates the much greater consolidation and concentration of trade unions in Germany than in the United States.] In Belgium the original welter of craft unions has been hammered together into about a dozen industrial organizations, and plans are now being carried through to unite all these into one body. In Australia the largest unions in the country have declared for a complete amalgamation of all the workers’ labor organizations into a single departmentalized union to represent the whole working class. In Norway there is now a committee at work devising ways and means to reorganize the entire craft union movement into a series of industrial unions, all of which shall be locked together.
So it goes all over the world except in the United States; everywhere else the workers are making rapid progress in the necessary work of transforming their primitive craft unions into modern industrial organizations. But here we are still floundering in the mud of craft unionism, and progressing at only a snail’s pace. Disregarding the rapid consolidation of the employers and their wonderful increase in strength, American Labor plods along with the 19th century condition of from 10 to 15 autonomous craft unions in each industry, and considers such a primitive state of unorganization as the acme of trade union accomplishment. [The one exception is in the case of the United Mine Workers of America, which, at least so far as its structure is concerned, will compare favorably with any coal miners’ union in the world.] There is hardly a breath of progress anywhere. Though our movement is threatened with extinction because of its lack of solidarity and centralization, the man who proposes a sensible plan of amalgamation is harassed and persecuted by the highest officials as a fanatic and a disruptor. At its Cincinnati, Ohio, Convention, the A. F. of L. repudiated the principle of amalgamation and endorsed the Scranton declaration of 21 years ago, which was written before the great modern capitalist combinations were formed. On the other hand, the progressive German unions, which are much further advanced than the A. F. of L., and by no means as hard pressed by the employers, at their 1922 Leipzig Convention went on record for amalgamation generally and laid plans to reorganize the whole labor movement on an industrial basis. In the United States, where capitalist organization has reached the highest known type, the trade unions should lead the world in the matter of numbers and structure. In point of fact, however, they are not beyond the point reached generally by European trade unions 15 years ago.
Invariably American labor leaders, when confronted with irrefutable facts demonstrating the numerical, structural, and intellectual inferiority of our labor movement as compared with that of Europe, attempt to wave aside the unfavorable comparison by making the broad assertion that trade unionists enjoy better conditions in this country than any where else in the world. So far as wages are concerned this is undeniably true. But it is idle to say that such is the case because American labor is better organized or more ably led than European labor. Without belittling the accomplishments of our unions, it is safe to say that the determining factor in the matter is that the United States, as compared with Europe, has long been a bonanza country. Enormously rich and getting from 2 to 20 times greater production from their employees, the capitalists in this country are much more inclined to yield a bit on the wage scale of the workers, unorganized as well as organized, than are the employers in poorer and slower-going Europe. Unquestionably European workers have to fight much harder for wage increases than we do.
Nevertheless, up to the outbreak of the war at least, the European unions were able to make a surprisingly creditable showing in wages. During a debate in 1909 between Karl Legien and Karl Kautsky this was strikingly illustrated. In his paper, Die Neue Zeit, Kautsky sought to prove that trade union action had little value. To back up his assertions he cited official A. F. of L. statistics which showed that the wage increases secured by its affiliated unions from 1890, to 1907, had barely beat the advancing cost of living. Legien took exception to this argument, and refused to consider the accomplishments of the A. F. of L. organizations as exhausting the possibilities of trade unionism. In a pamphlet, Sisyphusarbeit oder positiv Erfolg, he demonstrated that the German unions had made a much better showing with regard to wages, compared with the rising cost of living, than had the American organizations.
But in any event, even if our wage standards are somewhat higher than those in other countries, certainly we have little to brag about. In the March, 1922, wage hearing before the Railroad Labor Board, B. M. Jewell, President of the Railway Employees’ Department of the A. F. of L., stated that in 1921, the full-time wages of railroad shop mechanics could purchase only 64% of the meat, fish, milk, and eggs; 77% of the cereal foods; 91% of the vegetables; and 71% of the butter, fats, and oils necessary to maintain their families at the lowest level of safety. The Department of Labor family budget calls for an expenditure of $2,303.99 per year; whereas the wages of the shop mechanics, counted at full-time basis and totally disregarding the terrific unemployment, amounted only to $1,884.90. And since then their wages have been slashed again about 10% on the average. With strategically situated mechanics in such a condition, the deplorable state of the unskilled, who get hardly half as much wages, can better be imagined than described.
But a far better criterion than wages to judge the strength of a labor movement is the more vital matter of the shorter workday. In this respect American Labor is behind the rest of the modern industrial world. In Great Britain, Australia, Italy, and New Zealand, the 8-hour day has been quite generally established by trade union agreements, and in the following countries national 8-hour laws have been enacted for industrial workers: Austria, Checho-Slovakia, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Jugo-Slavia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay. [For comparisons between these laws and the limitations of each, see U. S. Dep’t of Labor Monthly Labor Review, P. 184. April, 1921.]
Compare this wide-spread application of the 8-hour day with the situation in the United States. Many, if not most of our industries, still have the 9 and 10-hour day, not to mention the barbaric 12-hour day of the steel mills. Despite the United States’ great industrial advantages over all its competitors, which should have greatly facilitated the unions in winning shorter hours, this country remains pre-eminently the long hour work-day nation of the world. This is indeed a poor recommendation for the prowess of our labor movement.
Another matter which is vital in determining the real strength of all labor movements, and in which ours is sadly lacking, is trade union control over industry. In many European countries the trade unions are so thoroughly established in almost every branch of industry that the employers have come to accept them practically as permanent institutions. In such lands trade unionism has become recognized as an inevitable factor in industry. So well are the workers organized that scabs are almost a thing of the past. This is notably the case in England and Germany. In the latter country the trade unions have agreements covering every industry. No sane employer hopes to dislodge them, much less break them up. Consequent upon this firm grip on industry, which encourages them to look forward to the time when the mills and factories will be democratically owned and operated, the European unions have worked out elaborate systems of factory councils, guilds, etc., to take over the management of industry, and they have made substantial progress in establishing these organizations.
But things are profoundly different in the United State. Here the unions have such a slight grip upon industry that they hardly dream of such things as factory councils and guilds. Indeed, outside of the clothing industry, very few of our labor leaders would even know what such things are. The nearest approach we have had to such a movement was the one centering around the Plumb Plan, and Mr. Gompers neatly smothered that. As yet our trade unions have hardly won a semblance of recognition. Constantly they have to fight for their very existence. In not a single industry have they been able to force the type of recognition that is common in many European countries. The closest there is to such recognition is in the case of the four railroad train service organizations, and even these are constantly threatened. America is peculiarly the land of the “open shop.” The “American Plan” is the correct name. Nowhere else but here is such an abomination to be found. With the great industries almost totally unorganized, and with vast armies of scabs available, the employers of this country have contempt for the trade unions. They look upon them as a passing phase, as presumptuous organizations which must and will be eliminated at the first opportunity. The present wholesale smashing of unions, which threatens the life of the entire labor movement, is the most eloquent testimonial to the weakness of American Labor.
In no other phase does the unparalleled conservatism and backwardness of the American Labor movement come to light more strikingly than in the latter’s relations to the labor organizations of other countries. At present there are two great world labor movements; one, the International Federation of Trade Unions, with headquarters in Amsterdam, and the other, the Red International of Labor Unions, with headquarters in Moscow. The former is passive and reformist, the latter is militant and revolutionary. All the important labor movements of the world are affiliated to one or the other of these two—that is all except ours. The American trade union movement stands aloof altogether, on the ground that both are too revolutionary. According to Mr. Gompers, who pulled the A. F. of L. out of the Amsterdam International a couple of years ago, even that yellow organization, whose leaders undoubtedly stopped the world revolution and saved capitalism during the big labor upheavals in Germany, France, Italy, etc., after the war, is much too radical for American workingmen to associate with. This withdrawal from Amsterdam has made us the laughing stock of the international labor world, reformist and revolutionary alike. To the militant unionists of other countries it is a profound mystery how, in this land of advanced and aggressive capitalism, the labor movement can be so spineless intellectually as to fear affiliation with even the timid Amsterdam International.
In the matter of a labor press the American working class is particularly weak. As for the A. F. of L. itself, its journalistic efforts are deplorable. On the one hand it gets out the hard-boiled American Federationist, with its news and editorial columns filled with reactionary attacks upon everything even mildly progressive, and its advertising space littered up with scab advertisements; and on the other hand, the anaemic A. F. of L. News Letter, with its poor attempt at being a news service for the labor press generally. Likewise the international journals, with rare exceptions are dry as dust and reactionary. Rigidly censored by the controlling officials, there is no freedom of discussion in their columns. They sound no real proletarian note, nor do they carry on vital educational work. Their technical trade education and constant repetition of stereotyped petty capitalist ideas might well be left for the employers to propagate. Nor are the local papers as a rule any better. Many of them are contemptible grafting sheets, the like of which cannot be found in any other country. Such parasitic papers, almost always stout defenders of Gompersism, make their living by campaigning against everything healthy in the labor movement. Their favorite method is to print vicious attacks against all progressive movements in the trade unions and then, on the strength of these, “sandbag” the employers into giving them advertising and flat donations of money. There are scores of such “rat” sheets, some operating independently and some with the endorsement of local central labor councils, pouring a flood of poison into the trade union movement. Nearly all important industrial centers are infested with them. Pittsburgh, for instance, has three, viz.: National Labor Journal, Labor World, and National Labor Tribune. All of them joined hands with the employers to defeat the great steel strike of 1919. And the worst of this journalistic shame, which could exist in no other labor movement, is that the A. F. of L. officialdom makes no effort to obliterate it. But this officialdom spares no effort to crush the revolutionary press. Characteristically just now it is engaged in a war against the Federated Press, the best labor news gathering agency in the world and one of the few institutions of which our labor movement may be really proud.
In the field of co-operative enterprise the American labor movement makes the same poor showing that it does in so many other phases of labor activity. All over Europe, in England, Germany, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, etc., the co-operative movement is vast and vigorous and a real institution in the life of the people. It involves great armies of members and hundreds of millions of capital. But in the United States the movement is just beginning. This country has long been the despair of earnest co-operators. An apparently incurable blight, traceable to the ignorance, cupidity, and indifference of our labor leaders, has cursed and ruined their efforts. Only within the past few years, with the development of co-operative stores among the miners, the founding of the labor banks, and occasional other ventures here and there, has any real headway been made. Compared with that in Europe, the co-operative movement in the United States is still in its swaddling clothes.
The prevailing type of American labor leadership is a sore affliction upon the working class. Our higher officialdom swarms with standpatters and reactionaries such as would not be tolerated in any other country. Mr. Gompers himself personifies the breed. He is the arch-reactionary, the idol of all the holdbacks in the labor movement. Possibly, as some allege, he was a progressive at the time the A. F. of L. was formed, but now he is the undisputed world’s prize labor reactionary. In many respects he is even more reactionary than the very capitalists themselves. A case in point is his present attitude towards Russia. In that distressed country millions of people, famine stricken, are dying of starvation. The labor movement and the liberals of the world, forgetting political differences, are rallying to their support by sending food and money. Even the cold-hearted capitalistic United States Government, not to speak of various other bourgeois organizations, was moved to make a substantial contribution. But in the face of all this bitter need Mr. Gompers, a bound slave to his insane hatred for everything radical, stands unmoved. The cries of millions of starving women and children go unheard by him. Not a word has he spoken in their behalf, not a dollar has his organization raised to relieve their sufferings. Mr. Gompers would starve Soviet Russia into re-establishing capitalism. This brutal program, now frankly abandoned even by most capitalistic politicians, is on a par with that of Kolchak and Semenoff. American Labor’s policy towards Russia, dictated by the blind hatred of Mr. Gompers, is a disgrace which should make every workingman bow his head in shame. [On a par with Mr. Gompers’ reactionary Russian policy was his attitude towards the infamous “red” raids engineered by Attorney-General Palmer. Never was a more dastardly crime committed against the rights of the workers. But Mr. Gompers made no protest. Quite evidently Mr. Palmer was a man after his own heart. Characteristic enough it is that on May 1st, 1922. with Mr. Palmer in political limbo and even the reactionary Republican politicians refusing to stoop to such contemptible artifices, it was Mr. Gompers who issued the flaming warnings in the capitalist press against the impending red peril.]
American Labor leadership has displayed crass incompetence in organizing the masses industrially. The relatively small number of trade unionists in the United States is ample proof of that. As a shining example of our movement’s weakness in the organizing department let us again cite Mr. Gompers. Considered as a labor organizer he is a first class failure. Because of his incompetency much of the blame for the unorganized state of the working class attaches to him personally. Never during the long tenure of his office, at least not since the “stormy ’80’s,” has he developed, or allowed anyone else to develop a comprehensive plan to organize the masses of the workers. Opportunity after opportunity he has allowed to slip by unused, to the sad detriment of the labor movement.
Consider the war situation for example: That was a marvelous chance to organize the great body of the working class and to unshakably intrench the trade unions. The workers were most strategically situated and enjoyed wonderful political and industrial power. Had there been even a mediocre organizer, instead of a ’“labor statesman,” at the head of our movement, great armies of toilers could have been drawn into the labor organizations. A general national organization campaign should have been mapped out and intensive, systematic drives for members started in all the industries. Given even ordinarily competent direction, such a movement would have achieved tremendous success. But of course, nothing of the kind was done. The intellectually sterile Mr. Gompers failed utterly to perceive the needs and opportunities of the situation. He was too busy winning the war and making the world safe for democracy. Flattered by great capitalists and basking in the sunshine of a fickle public opinion, he completely neglected the vital business of organizing the workers and spent his time with such questionable affairs of state as putting across the Versailles Treaty. He worked out no general strategy, no unified campaign of organization for the labor movement. And no one else was in a position to do so. Consequently the various organizations had to go ahead as best they could. Everybody started whatever he pleased. While Mr. Gompers dallied with his capitalist friends, the Chicago Federation of Labor was compelled to launch the great drives in the packing and steel industries. To organize such movements was clearly the duty of Mr. Gompers’ office, and if it failed to do so he alone was to blame. The situation, from an organizing standpoint, was chaotic. Little substantial was accomplished. With the general result that, because of Mr. Gompers’ inefficiency, because he had no inkling of what should have been done, the great masses of the workers were not organized during the golden opportunity presented by the war time. And now we are paying the penalty in the great “open shop” drive that is smashing the unions. Had the workers been organized during the war, and they easily could have been, the “open shop” drive would never have started against the deeply rooted trade unions. Had Mr. Gompers been even a third rate organizer it would have changed the whole face of industrial America.
All over the world the labor movement suffers grievously from unscrupulous, self-seeking leaders, but nowhere so much as in the United States. Here we are infested with breeds of them entirely without parallel anywhere else. Only in America can be found known crooks and convicted criminals functioning as labor officials, many of whom have become enormously wealthy through robbing both employers and workers. This condition is a world scandal; the active unionists of other countries simply cannot comprehend it. They have their reactionaries a-plenty. But such open thievery is peculiar to the United States alone. It is a drastic proof of the low level of our labor leadership.
But worse even than the plain grafters are the large body of leaders who, destitute of all idealism and real proletarian feeling, look upon the labor movement simply as a convenient means to well-paid jobs of power and influence. They kill all life and progress in the workers’ organizations. Mr. Gompers is the undisputed king of this type. He is the champion office-holder of them all. The way he has hung on for forty years is a world marvel. And the labor movement has paid dearly enough for it. Mr. Gompers has never considered any movements of the workers from any other angle except what effect they will have upon his tenure of office.
Like all other labor politicians, but much more pronouncedly, Mr. Gompers shirks responsibility. No matter how burning the need for vigorous action to save some critical situation, he will initiate nothing. The labor world may tumble about his ears, but to protect his own interests, he stands pat. With him everything is all right so long as he does not have to assume responsibility that may breed him enemies. His philosophy is, better to lose a thousand strikes and organizing opportunities through inaction than to risk one aggressive movement, the failure of which might enable someone to “get something on him.” He moves ahead only when pushed. This negative attitude, this habitual refusal to initiate anything or to assume any responsibility caused the failure to organize the workers generally during the war; this it was that made Mr. Gompers sabotage the steel campaign from beginning to end, when it got under way in spite of him. And this do-nothing policy it is which constantly paralyses the labor movement in its brain and heart and reduces its vitality to the vanishing point. It is a policy fatal to Organized Labor; but it is good for Mr. Gompers’ own personal ends, and that to him, is of course supreme justification for it.
More than simply failing to initiate progressive movements, Mr. Gompers is actually a valiant fighter for things as they are in the labor movement. A curious twist of this policy makes him play the role of a sort of weak king among powerful nobles. The international union presidents are the nobles. Things have conspired to make them into petty despots in their respective spheres. They are little nabobs. With unlimited autonomy and points of view to correspond with their narrow craft interests, they naturally carry on a wrangling, unsolidaric movement fatal to the interests of the working class as a whole. The great need of the labor movement is that the power of these nabobs be clipped, and that it be absorbed by the general organization, the A. F. of L. The national movement, as such, must be strengthened. But it is exactly this that Mr. Gompers fails to do. On the contrary, he defends the vicious nabob system even more militantly than the nabobs themselves. He fights every attempt to strengthen the A. F. of L. or to make it function as an effective central organization. He battles to preserve all the privileges of the nabob international presidents, disastrous though these may be to class solidarity and progress. This has given him wonderful prestige with the nabobs as a “safe” man. Thus, strangely enough, by keeping his own organization—the A. F. of L. proper—weak and functionless he personally waxes great and powerful. And again, for his advancement, the labor movement pays a bitter price. The labor politician, of which Mr. Gompers is the shining example, is the old man of the sea of American Labor.
Severe though many of the foregoing criticisms of American Labor may be, no truth-seeking worker, free from chauvinistic bias, can deny their correctness. Although the American labor movement has some admirable qualities (which will be indicated as this pamphlet progresses), nevertheless, in the main, it is miles and miles behind the labor movements of other important capitalist countries. Our labor movement’s non-revolutionary outlook, its lack of social vision, is unique in the international labor world; likewise its want of an organized, mass working class political party. Our trade unions are primitive to a degree in their structure and they cling tenaciously to the antiquated craft form, discarded by workers in other countries; they are exceedingly weak in numbers, encompassing only a small body of workers, instead of the great mass, as in Germany, England and elsewhere; they have not succeeded, as compared with European unions, in winning the shorter workday and in establishing the foundations of democracy in industry; the breath of progress is not in them. The international policy of our movement is a joke, when not a tragedy. Our labor journalism is colorless, stupid, and often corrupt; our co-operative movement is in its infancy; our labor leadership is incomparably reactionary. While the labor movements abroad, keeping pace with a growing capitalism, have gone ahead developing new conceptions, consolidating their organizations, and winning new conquests, we have practically stood still, stagnant, unresponsive, unprogressive. Finally we have arrived at the paradoxical situation where, apparently in contradiction to economic principles, the United States has at once the most highly developed industrial system and the weakest working class organization of the modern capitalist world. So decrepit and unfit is our labor movement that, unless ways are found to revive and re-invigorate it, it is actually threatened with extinction by the employers in the present great “open shop” drive. The American labor movement is bankrupt.