Paterson on Strike

N.T.W. Must Take Initiative in United Front of All Silk Workers

(July 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 16, 25 July 1931, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Paterson, scene of bitterly-fought battles of the textile workers in past years, is again occupying the center of the strike field. The National Textile Workers Union has issued the call for a walkout of the silk and dye workers of the city, involving some 20,000 black and white workers of both sexes. The N.T.W. demands include the eight-hour day, an increase in wages, an end to discrimination against Negroes, young workers and women, equal pay for equal work, opposition to the speed-up system, unemployment insurance and recognition of the Union. These demands are virtually identical with those advanced by the United Textile Workers and the Associated Silk Workers which, under the influence of the Muste group, have recently voted to amalgamate on the eve of the strike which they planned to call in their own name on August 1.

The Paterson strike follows directly upon the heels of textile strikes under N.T.W.U. leadership in Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket, R.I., and a silk workers strike under the A.F. of L. in Allentown, Pa. All these movements are indicative of the deep ferment of dissatisfaction among the textile workers in the country with the conditions of misery and intense exploitation to which they are subjected, and speak eloquently about the splendid opportunities offered to the labor movement to mobilize the workers on a broad scale for resistance to the ruthless capitalist offensive. How seriously undermined the living standards of the Paterson workers are, is evidenced by the fact that they are compelled – in order to live – to demand an increase of about one-third in wages.

The conflict in strike dates resulting from the division of the ranks into two antagonistic unions, presents a serious handicap to the progress and success of the strike. There is no doubt that the joint leadership of the U.T.W. and the A.S.W. has demonstrated a great vacillation and protraction in the negotiations with the manufacturers – in face of the fact that the bulk of the workers involved are keyed up to a high point of enthusiasm for the strike The N.T.W., on the other hand, is not showing itself capable of measuring up to the complicated situation. The attempt to hasten the strike by precipitous actions will not prove to be the best way of mobilizing the majority of the workers for a successful strike struggle.

What is further already evident, on the first day of the strike as this is being written (Wednesday), is that the N.T.W. cannot expect to make the necessary progress by a pure and simple “head-on collision” with the reformist unions in the field. The response on the first day has been very limited, embracing only a very small minority of the 20,000 workers. As a matter of fact, less than 1 000 have thus far responded to the suddenly issued N.T.W. call, although the prospects for broadening the strike are still excellent, making it possible to overcome initial blunders.

The N.T.W. dares not repeat the mistake made in the mine fields by the official Left wing, particularly since its application in the Paterson situation involves even more pointed dangers. The combined membership of the U.T.W. and the A.S.W. is in the vicinity of 3,000. The N.T.W. has little better than a small core in Paterson. This situation dictates the immediate need of initiating and carrying through a genuine united front policy. To confine themselves to the purely formal, empty gestures of the united front “only from below” would be the greatest mistake the Communists could make. Even more than in the coal fields, where the rivalry is not so direct, the N.T.W. must call upon the other union organizations for a united front conference, to coordinate all the forces, to seek a joint strike committee in which each side on an equal plane, shall have full freedom of criticism and action. This is the road to winning the workers to the side of the militants, the road to a successful conclusion of the strike. Up to now, only the motions of a “united front” have been gone through, with the usual empty results. The workers cannot be deceived by formalities: the realities must be given to them.

In the united front, the workers will learn through their own experience – not by unimpressive denunciation – which of the contending forces in the trade unions offer them the best program and the best leadership. From such a process of learning, the Left wing can and should have nothing at all to fear.

The strike is just at its beginning. The coming weeks are rich with opportunities which, unfortunately, have been so cavalierly passed up by the Left wing in the past, and at this very moment are being passed up in the mine fields. The N.T.W. in Paterson must seize the opportunity.

Shachtman button
Max Shachtman
Marx button
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 5.1.2013