Uniting the Textile Struggles

(May 1929)

From The Militant, Vol. II Nos. 9–10, 1–15 May 1929, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is difficult to obtain completely rounded and accurate information of all the details of the important strikes taking place in the Carolinas and in Tennessee by reading the frothy accounts in the capitalist press, or even the blissfully optimistic reports in the official Communist Party press. But sufficient material is available to make it possible to estimate the situation with a fair degree of sureness.

The most sensational feature, of the North Carolina strikes, particularly in Gastonia, has undoubtedly been the leadership of the National Textile Workers Union, with its Communist direction. The bourgeois and yellow socialist press have been unable to conceal their chagrin at the progress made by the militants in this strike situation. For the first time on any consequential scale, the Communists have appeared in the Bourbon South with a militant program of demands in a strike struggle, have succeeded to a relatively great extent in breaking down the poisonous barriers that divided the Negro workers from the white, and have begun to teach many of the strikers their first concepts of class organization and struggle.

The Successes Achieved

The militancy of the workers – despite their almost total lack of class consciousness – in these few weeks of the half a dozen or more strikes in the three Southern states is a refutation once and for all of the myth about the impossibility for the labor movement to break into the South. It puts an end to the prevalent bourgeois theory – expressed in the Communist movement particularly by Lovestone – that the South is another Ruhr for the American bourgeoisie, that is, an almost inexhaustible reservoir for capitalist growth and reaction.

The progress already made for the militant labor movement in the Southern strikes must be zealously guarded so that the gains be not dissipated. This has happened too often in the past. It is quite true that absolute guarantees for success do not exist and never did. But a correct policy of struggle, it is equally true, gives the only guarantee that is possible under the circumstances of the moment. Such a policy has not yet been sufficiently applied in this situation.

The strike situation is not limited to the struggles led in North Carolina by the National Textile Workers Union. The vicious conditions in the textile, industry have caused similar outbreaks elsewhere. In Elizabethton, Tennessee, a strike is in progress under the leadership of the United Textile Workers Union, the A.F. of L. organization. In Stroudsburg, Pa., a struggle is, being led by the Associated Silk Workers. In South Carolina, spontaneous textile strikes have broken out which have no definitely organized leadership. Numerous struggles, tremendous possibilities, untouched reservoirs of strength on the one hand, separate organizations, separate leaderships, separate appeals for support on the other hand. None of the competing unions in the field is sufficiently strong to completely dominate the situation by itself.

The workers who are engaged in struggle, and those who can be brought into struggle are interested primarily in improving their conditions and building a movement that can enforce the maintenance of constantly better conditions. That section of the working class that can best represent and fight for these interests is the section which will rally the textile slaves to its banner. These interests are paramount for the workers now. Just as McGrady and Hoffman in Elizabethon can hardly organize the strikers for any mass battle against “Communism in the textile fields,” so the N.T.W.U. can hardly organize the Gastonia strikers for mass resistance against the A.F. of L. bureaucracy. What the workers want is an end to the “stretch-out” system, to long hours and short wages.

The Task of the Militants

The task of the militants and the left wing in the situation is to agitate constantly for the unification of all the forces available in the textile field for an onslaught against the powerful mill barons. It is necessary for the left wing union to say to the A.F. of L. leaders: “You maintain that you are for improving the conditions of the textile workers. Prove it by deeds. Let the ranks of the workers be united in the struggle so that more forces will be organized to resist the murderous conditions imposed by the bosses. Instead of separate struggles, with separate appeals for strike relief, let us have joint action in a common battle.”

It is true that the McGradys, Greens and Wells will reject this demand. They are not for the unity of the working class, they stand for split and division. They will have nothing to do with any movement in which the militant left wing is engaged. They lead struggles only to strangle them and turn them over to the mercies of the bosses whom the A.F. of L. serves. That is one side of the coin. But the other side is this:

The left wing, which is followed so far only by a small minority of the workers, will demonstrate to the textile strikers in all four states that the A.F. of L. reactionaries will not lead the workers in successful struggle. The left wing will show the textile workers that it stands for unity in the fight, for the greatest possible mobilization of forces against the mill owners, which is what the strikers are interested in right now. The left wing will strengthen its support not only in the ranks of the workers now following it, but it will create a movement in support of the left wing also in the ranks of the workers now following McGrady.

If this tactic is properly pursued, these workers will demand of the McGradys why they refuse to accept the left wing’s proposals for united struggle.

We would emphasize that this policy has nothing in common with the one pursued by the Party in the Passaic strike, which showed that workers’ militancy alone – and there was plenty of that in Passaic – without correct policy, is insufficient. We are not for turning the workers organized by the left wing over to the A.F. of L. bureaucrats without extracting any guarantees from the latter, and without safeguarding the movement by maintaining the independence of the left wing, its right to criticize, its right to its own leaders, etc., etc. This suicidal course virtually destroyed the Passaic union.

But to react against the Passaic distortion – if not the perversion – of the united front tactics by swinging blithely to the other extreme (a customary “corrective” in the Party nowadays) would be profoundly wrong. The Party and its press is speaking of the North Carolina strikes now as if the left wing had the South by the throat, as if it did not at all have to consider the hundreds of thousands of workers who do not yet follow the left wing.

It will not do for a moment to minimize the colossal difficulties in the way of organizing the textile workers and leading them along the path of class struggle and out of the swamp of class collaboration. A consciousness of these difficulties, militancy, level-headedness, persistence arc prerequisites for victory. Necessary above all is a shunning of sectarianism and isolation, and the pursuit of a course that represents the interests and actual needs of the workers in general, and lays the basis for achieving solidarity and unity.

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