According to William Z. Foster's testimony at his 1923 trial, the Trade Union Educational League was founded in November of 1920, immediately prior to Foster's departure for Soviet Russia as a correspondent for the Federated Press news service.
After returning from Soviet Russia in 1921, Foster compiled his Russian journalism into a book called "The Russian Revolution" and toured the country lecturing on behalf of the Friends of Soviet Russia and acting as a fundraiser for the FSR. According to Foster's account, TUEL preexisted as an independent organization and "upon my return to the United States I had a meeting with the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party, who agreed to support the work of the Trade Union Educational League." Foster stated that "the League is not an organic section of the Party but is simply endorsed by it.”
In actuality, the TUEL was a cross between a mass organization and the industrial department of the Communist Party of America, The vast majority of its members up to 1925 were members or supporters of the Communist Party, as Foster noted to the Comintern in 1925. The TUEL was referred to as "The X" in the minutes of the underground CPA organization and was to a very great extend funded by the Communist movement. There were no dues collected for membership as a means of making it difficult for the AF of L bureaucracy or its member unions to purge TUEL adherente from their organizations -- there were no membership cards of any sort -- and the only visible means of financial support of the organization were revenue generated from a series of 10 and 25 cent pamphlets.
William Z, Foster spoke at the August 1922 Bridgman, Michigan convention -- a meeting that was penetrated by an agent of the Department of Justice who was elected as a delegate from Camden, NJ. Foster, who attended ostensibly as a representative of TUEL, was arrested after the fact for having violated the harsh Michigan "Criminal Syndicalism" laws, which provided for a penalty of up to 10 years in state prison for advocating or attending a meeting of a group which "advocates crime, sabotage, violence or other unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reforms." As the most famous of the Bridgman defendants, Foster was brought to trial first, with the trial beginning March 8, 1923. On April 4, 1923, after 31 hours of deliberations and 36 ballots, the jury deadlocked on the issue of Foster's 6-6, and a mistrial was declared. Foster published a rather lengthy account of the trial in the May 1923 issue of The Labor Herald.
The First General Conference (National Convention) of the Trade Union Educational League was held over the weekend of Aug. 26-27, 1922, in Chicago.
At the close of the second session on the first day, the hall was invaded by a raiding party of about 50 policemen, uniformed and plainclothes, headed by Chicago "Red Squad" head Sgt. McDonough. Everyone in attendance was ordered to remain seated while a search was conducted for suspected participants at the Bridgman, Michigan "Communist convention." Fifteen arrests were made, including the entire Canadian delegation, as well as Earl Browder, associate editor of The Labor Herald. Following the arrests, the gathering continued to meet, chaired by William Z. Foster.
The 2nd General Conference of TUEL was held at the Labor Lyceum in Chicago, opening early in the morning of Sept. 1, 1923 and closing at 8:30 pm the next day. The gathering was attended by 103 delegates from cities all around North America. Meetings of the gathering were open to the public and the proceedings published in The Labor Herald for October 1923.
The annual meeting of TUEL heard a detailed report on the organization's activities for 1923 delivered by Earl Browder.Delegates from the TUEL's sections in the Building Trades, Metal Trades, and Needle Trades each gave reports. New officers were elected for the year, including: Earl Browder, Chairman; Walt Carmon, Secretary and Literature Agent; A. Overgaard, Organizer; Phil Aronberg, Executive Board for Needle Trades; D.E. Early, Executive Board for Food Trades; with one other board member to bne chosen by the Metal, Printing, and Building sections.
The 3rd National Conference of TUEL adopted a new Program for the organization.
The 4thd National Conference changed the name of the Trade Union Educational League to the Trade Union Unity League.
The TUUL unions in the needle trades, maritime, mining, auto workers, fur workers, etc. were freed up by the party to merge with the AFL on whatever terms they could muster in 1934.
The emptied shell of TUUL was disbanded at a convention held in New York City in the middle of March 1935.