How did revolutionary workers’ organizations respond to emigration and the conflicts it produced in the post-World War One era? Of particular relevance today is this resolution from the Third World Congress of the Red International of Labor Unions (the Profintern), held in Moscow in July, 1924. The United States’ William Z. Foster, head of the R.I.L.U. constituent the Trade Union Educational League, sat on the Profintern’s International Executive, with Arne Swabeck and James P. Cannon the Communist Party’s delegates. Much of what this resolution addresses remains to be addressed today.
‘Resolution on Emigration’ from the Third Word Congress of the Red International of Labor Unions published in Labor Herald Library No. 12. Trade Union Educational League, Chicago, 1924.
CAPITALIST exploitation causes the emigration of the workers of different countries. Beggarly wages, bad conditions of labor and political persecution are the cause of the emigration of workers from many countries.
On the other hand, the prospects of a good wage and better living conditions, which are the result of propaganda and shameless advertisements used by the capitalists of the countries of immigration, enable the latter, in their struggle against the proletariat, to execute a double manoeuvre:
1. To obtain a foreign labor force, which, because of the lack of political and social rights, is placed in a worse position, than the local workers, and therefore more easily exploited.
2. To fight successfully against the demands of the native workers, by means of the competition of foreign workers.
Sometimes the authorities and employers even grant to immigrant workers certain illusory advantages, but that is done exclusively for the purpose of provoking hostility towards the foreign workers among the local laboring population. For instance, the Polish agricultural workers imported into Germany, do not pay the 10 percent tax which is deducted from the wages of the local workers.
3. Emigration was greatly developed yet before the war, particularly among certain peoples- the Germans, Spaniards, Italians Austrians, Chinese, etc. Already at that time the United States, South America, France, the colonies and dominions received this stream of immigrants.
But the war, having upset the political and economic conditions of the capitalist countries, brought about an enormous development of the emigration movement. In some countries, such as Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria the violence of reaction and fascism drove the revolutionary workers from their native country. On the other hand, the economic situation created by the shattering of the capitalist system and the reaction is so terrible, that the workers emigrate to other countries en masse. Unemployment, which has particularly developed in Germany and England, also causes emigration, which will increase.
4. Thus, millions of workers annually come to the countries of immigration. At the present time the main centre of immigration is France. Three millions of foreign workers were imported into France for restoration work in the devastated regions, for the supply of labor power necessary in industry, and in order to compensate for labor deficits due to the lower birth rate. Brazil, the United States, Argentine, also receive large contingents of immigrants. Besides, many English and Dutch workers move to the colonies and the dominions. It is also necessary to note the fact that the agricultural crisis which is extremely acute in South America, causes an influx of a considerable number of agricultural workers into the industrial centers, who augment the number of unemployed. A similar situation, somewhat less acute, obtains in some European countries.
The revolutionary labor unions must strive to free the laboring masses from the illusions born of misleading advertisements of international capital. They must warn the workers who intend to emigrate against the dangers arising for the proletariat from leaving the currents of emigration movement to the sole control and influence of capitalism; they must show to the working class that emigration and immigration are only the outcome of capitalist exploitation, phenomena of the same order of unemployment and over-production.
5. In order to protect the interests of emigrant workers under the capitalist regime, in order to conduct among them the same revolutionary propaganda as among the labor masses of the local population the R. I. L. U. and its sections must develop an intensive and incessant activity and create organs necessary for enlisting into the unions those laborers who are torn from their native land and subjected to cruel exploitation. To achieve this purpose, the Third Congress of the R. I. L. U. considers necessary the practical realization of the following proposals:
ON AN INTERNATIONAL SCALE, the establishment inside of the Latin Bureau, of an International Emigration Office, whose task will be:
a. To gather information and statistical data regarding international emigration and immigration.
b. To assure connections between the central organs of the labor union movement of the countries most interested in the emigration movement.
c. To struggle against the import and export of strike-breaking forces.
d. To convey to the Executive Bureau of the R. I. L. U. necessary information and documents, which would enable it to direct the emigration current into the channels of the revolutionary international labor movement for the interests of the proletariat.
ON A NATIONAL SCALE: To create in the interested countries, by the efforts of labor centers, bureaus of emigration and immigration, the main tasks of which will be:
a. To cause the creation of a bureau of immigration in the interested regions and localities; to strive for the establishment of frontier, port and station bureaus for propaganda and information; to organize at the places of embarkation abroad propaganda, similar to that which is conducted among the local proletariat; to secure necessary information regarding the conditions of the labor market in those countries, where the emigrants are going.
b. To strive for the creation inside of industrial unions of legal aid bureaus for the defence of the every-day interests of the immigrants and propaganda among them (control over the execution of labor contracts, the hygienic condition of the houses for emigrants, etc.)
c. To be connected with the International Bureau and the emigration office and to supply them regularly with information and statistical data regarding the emigration movement in a given country.
d. To communicate directly with similar bureaus in those countries where the emigrants are moving or which supplies the labor power.
Immigrant workers must not form special unions, but join as rightful members of the existing labor organizations in which they must be given the same rights and the same duties as the local workers.
The Role of the International Propaganda Committees.
Parallel with the work conducted by the International Office and the national emigration bureaus, the industrial International Propaganda Committees must turn their attention to the emigration movement and strive for the realization of the following aims:
a. To assure a strong connection between the industrial unions for the purpose of organization of the immigrant workers and to struggle for the improvement of their material and moral conditions.
b. To centralize all statistical data on the emigration movement of every industry for the purpose of informing the interested unions about the emigration movement.
c. To assure a connection between industrial unions and the emigration bureaus for the purpose of conducting a concerted struggle against the bourgeoisie which endeavors to create competition in the labor market between the newcomers and the local workers.
Organization of Printed Propaganda.
a. On an international scale: the publication of pamphlets, periodical press organs, circulars designated for active workers’ propagandists.
b. On a national scale: articles in foreign languages in labor organs published by the central committees of the unions, district organizations, local unions, etc.; leaflets, circulars etc.
It is also necessary to begin the publication of magazines in different languages, to the extent demanded by the development of emigration. For the purpose of gathering necessary material for those magazines, the editors must maintain constant communication with the bureaus of those countries whence the emigrants come.
Particular attention must be given to the organization of press propaganda among the agricultural emigrant masses, in view of the necessity of a close alliance of the agricultural proletariat with the industrial workers.
In all published magazines. pamphlets, circulars, etc., must be printed the addresses of the revolutionary labor organizations of those countries where the emigrants are going.
a. The right of coalition of unions and strikes of immigrants on equal terms with local workers.
b. A guarantee of equal pay for immigrant labor in the same category of workers as for local workers and the regulation of wages by union schedules.
c. Fulfillments of labor contracts made on the above conditions.
d. Separation of the housing contract from the labor contract.
e. Equal rights with local workers in unemployment relief, social insurance, legal aid, etc.
f. Organization of efficient medical aid on board of emigrant steamships and obligatory insurance against accidents during the voyage.
g. Equal rights with local workers at election of factory delegates, representatives of mutual aid societies, arbitration chambers, etc., etc.
h. Establishment in the largest immigration centers of free trade schools for the education of foreign workers in the technical methods applied in a given country; establishment of free schools for instruction in the local language.
i. Obligation to put at the immigrants’ disposal quarters found suitable after inspection by a sanitary commission with the participation of representatives of labor organizations.
It is necessary to insist upon the above enumerated demands also with regard to woman and child labor, for the purpose of equalizing the immigrant women and children with the natives.
Every central body should adjust its demands for the immigrant workers to the social legjslation and working conditions existing for foreign workers in the particular country.
Such organization must seek to cover the expenses arising out of the task of creating emigration organs as specified above.
The significance of the emigration must be fully appraised. Even if at the beginning financial sacrifices may seem heavy for the union organizations, the international revolutionary movement will soon reap the fruits of active propaganda and systematic work among those energetic workers who are compelled by the cruel necessity of the struggle for existence to quit their native land and who, therefore, often manifest a higher fighting spirit than the passive masses who stay at home.
The Third Congress of the R. I. L. U. once more states the necessity of dispelling the illusions spread among the working masses by the selfish appeals of the employers who are interested in encouraging emigration.
In every country the proletariat is subject to cruel exploitation, and must stand unemployment, lengthening of labor hours and cuts in wages. Emigration makes it possible for capitalism to perpetuate this state of affairs. It will disappear only in consequence of a world revolution, when all wealth will pass into the hands of those who create it, the proletariat of all countries.
Resolutions and Decisions of the Third World Congress of the Red International of Labor Unions Held in Moscow July, 1924. Labor Herald Library No. 12. Published by the Trade Union Educational League, Chicago. 1924.
PDF of full pamphlet: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/tuel/12-3rd%20World%20Congress%20Red%20Labor%20Us.pdf