Arne Swabeck

On the Textile Situation

Written: July 23, 1928
Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Prometheus Research Library
Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

This letter from Arne Swabeck to Benjamin Gitlow was also attached to the minutes of the July 23 Political Committee meeting. In the letter Swabeck objects to the party’s too precipitous move toward founding a new textile workers union. Pushed by the emerging Third Period dual-unionist line of the Communist International, in June the party had transformed the New Bedford Textile Mills Committee into the New Bedford Textile Workers Union. But the Committee’s support, which had been strong among New Bedford’s largely unskilled Portuguese workers, was already fading. The AFL textile union, which had retained the allegiance of the skilled, white, male craft workers, had accepted a compromise deal of a 5 percent wage cut, undercutting the party’s organizing drive. Nonetheless, Gitlow adamantly defended the party’s policy against Swabeck, and the party transformed the New Bedford Textile Workers Union into the National Textile Workers Union at a conference held September 22-23.

Dear Comrade Gitlow:

Reading in the Polcom minutes the decisions made in regard to the organization of a new textile workers union, I fear that there are some serious errors in the policy adopted and in the tactics to be applied in carrying out this task.

In considering the general situation in the textile industry I believe the following factors should be definitely taken into account:

First, the general migration of the industry to the South into up-to-date equipped mills, highly competitive, with low wages; a migration which has now reached the point of half of the spindles and possibly two-thirds of the activities being in the South.

Secondly, the process of rationalization now going on in the textile mills in the North, particularly in New England.

Thirdly, the fact that some unions already exist, the United Textile Workers of America being the dominant one; truly a moribund organization but yet having shown lately some capability of amalgamation of textile unions, under domination of reactionaries. It has also shown some signs of activities.

Fourthly, our contacts among textile workers at present appear to be rather limited and organization certainly less. In the South no organization within which we have a basis, and apparently no contacts. In the silk mills in the Pennsylvania Anthracite region, apparently little or no contacts and no organization within which we have a basis. In New England and nearby states in several points local organizations or mill committees, some of a high quality. Yet neither our actual local organizations nor our contacts could be claimed to be very broad in scope when we consider an industry of about one million workers.

The first three factors mentioned are by no means arguments against a new union. On the contrary, they serve to accentuate the necessity of such a step. The correctness of the building of a new textile workers union I believe is unquestionable. But these factors do emphasize the necessity of correct policies and tactics being applied in building this union. The fourth factor, I believe, particularly serves to suggest certain changes in our policy.

For instance, I believe our first task in organizing this new union should be to greatly intensify our activities in all textile centers for the building of local unions, mill committees and actual live contacts, this work to reach a sufficient organizational basis before the final step of launching the national union is taken. Meanwhile the local organizations, mill committees and contacts should have some sort of affiliation to a center to be created.

Further, I believe it necessary to consider the possibility of utilizing the conference called for September 22 as a means of creating such a national center to stimulate and intensify the further work of building and strengthening local organizations, mill committees and contacts everywhere to a point where the national union can be successfully launched.

These few points mentioned in this letter are by no means exhaustive or even sufficient as a basis to fully consider policy and tactics to be applied in building the new textile workers union, but I believe they do warrant a more thorough examination by the Polcom of the needs of the present situation and I would urge that the whole matter be again discussed.