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N.Y. Dressmakers Strike

Workers Unity Against the Common Enemy Imperative

(February 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 7 (Whole No. 103), 13 February 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the New York dressmakers strike, now on, the crucial issue is that of working class unity. But it will be attained only with a policy based upon that objective. And so far the exact opposite is the case.

Every working class action constitutes part of the historical laboratory testing the program and policies of the revolutionary party. No evasion of fundamental duties, no emasculation or counterfeit for these duties, however cleverly proposed, can circumvent this test. Its results will only be new confusion and strengthening of the enemy’s hands. That completely holds true also in this instance in the needle trades market.

How do matters stand in this strike? Last Monday the Left wing, the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union, issued the call. Obviously that was in accord, with the policy of the official Communist party leadership which controls the union. For some time the union under Right wing control, the International Ladies Garment Workers, has been preparing for a strike and has made such a decision with the actual date not yet set. This decision, of course, is the direct result of pressure from the rank and file leadership. In the center of the demands of all workers stands the abolition of the sweatshop, improvements of the standard of living, enforcement of the reduced work week, and insurance for the unemployed. These demands are made by the workers upon their common enemy.

The condition of two unions existing within the needle trades is not one originating today and cannot be changed at will. To that extent the workers are naturally and of necessity divided. But it is precisely because of this condition that the problem of working class unity has become the crucial issue. For this reason the only policy of the revolutionary party which can stand the test in this situation is the one which is founded upon the united front of all workers involved in the conflict. This policy, which, in other words, is a fundamental duty of the revolutionary party, the Stalinist leadership has constantly evaded. It has constantly followed the opposite direction. It has pursued a course which culminated in a complete emasculation of the united front policy, in the establishment of a counterfeit – the so-called United Front Committee – which does not at all proceed from the two unions as its base. It does not provide a bridge for unity in strike action of the two unions but rather a preventative. Therefore it must be said unequivocally that in the crucial issue of working class unity, the policy of the official party leadership completely fails the test.

There need be no illusion of the strike intentions of the Right wing union leadership. They have gone as far as they have only under pressure from below. All past experiences prove its treacherous role and fully justify the most severe indictment. It would be foolish to expect it to have reformed today. Within this union, the Lovestone group occupies a peculiar position, though one quite in accord with its general orientation. Does this group now demand from the I.L.G.W. that it immediately decide upon the strike date in common cause with the workers of the industrial union who are already out? Do they take up the fight for a united front of all the dressmakers within that union? There is no evidence of either. Despite all of their clamor of participating now in a progressive movement the fundamental fact remains that when they unconditionally returned, to the folds of the Right wing controlled union, they deserted the Left wing and all it stands for.

It is a well known fact that the Right wing leadership have with every possible means resisted all efforts for a workers’ united front. That they will continue to do so need not be doubted for one moment. But their views and policies are not determined by the revolutionary party, nor is it responsible for them. Its responsibility rests exclusively with its own policies for which it must render an account to the working class as a whole.

It is true that the official party leadership has made progress from its one time position of the industrial union members staying at work while the members of the I.L.G.W. were out on the streets. But this progress is miserably small and far from sufficient in the present much more exacting situation. The requirements are much greater than that. The rank and file pressure for struggle has vastly increased. So much so that the Right wing officials are compelled to heed their demands.

But let us again recall the exact situation today. The workers of both unions are in a direct conflict with the common class enemy. It represents the immediately threatening danger. Its defeat is the common objective. Can that be accomplished separately at all, or are the possibilities better when united? Certainly the latter. Could the two unions, one following a Left wing policy, the other a Right wing policy, be completely united at once? Hardly. That will most likely proceed through several conflicts. But for the common strike objectives, for a practically identical set of demands and for the defeat of a common enemy, a united front could and should be established. There will be objectors, saying: the Right wing leadership are the out and out emissaries of capitalism. To this we answer: that is completely true, but how can these emissaries be defeated except by the unity of the workers. In a united front, the Left wing would, of course, not for one minute cease its criticism of nor its fight against these Right wing capitalist flunkies.

If the Communists should not endeavor to unite workers who should? Does a call upon those workers in the I.L.G.W. to leave their established, union bring unity? No, experience has shown that this is not the way. Another course must be found and the direction for that course is clearly indicated.

By far the largest section of the organized dressmakers are in the I.L.G.W.

The N.T.W.I.U. is a minority; but the Left wing spirit is by no means crushed within the former. Yet it is a matter of two distinct organizations; two movements. In this situation, the party leadership can square its responsibility to the working class only by sincerely and genuinely fighting for a united front on the common strike objectives. A united front from organization to organization, from movement to movement. Concretely, it would mean to fight for a joint strike; for a joint strike leadership to jointly work out the demands for settlements. The party leadership should tell the workers in the shops who belong to the I.L.G.W. not to leave their organization, not to forsake it for a counterfeit institution but to fight within for a united front. Undoubtedly, it would produce a powerful and favorable echo. This is the way to defeat those who have designs of betrayal. Incidentally it will also be the way to re-establish the seriously damaged prestige of the Left wing.

This policy, the Left Opposition has repeatedly emphasized. It is the policy of Lenin. In this decisive moment, in the face of a serious conflict, it has become so much more imperative.

We call upon all the dressmakers to heed the strike call, as far as the Left Opposition members are concerned, they will strike with the Left wing.

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