‘Organizing the Unorganized, The Task of the Left Wing’ by William Z. Foster from Labor Herald Library No. 17. Published by the Trade Union Educational League, New York. 1926.
THE organization of the unorganized millions of workers is primarily the task of the left wing. There is no other section of the labor movement possessing the necessary courage, energy, and understanding to carry through this basic work. This is a prime lesson that T.U.E.L. militants must understand.
The three general groups in the trade union movement play essentially the following roles in the gigantic task of organizing the unorganized masses: The left wing militantly leads, the progressives mildly support, and the right wing opposes.
The left wing alone has a realization of the tremendous social significance of the organization of the unorganized. It speaks primarily in the name of the unskilled and semi-skilled who make up the mass on the outside of the unions, and it habitually leads a militant struggle to unionize them. It is the champion of industrial unionism and the Labor Party, the fate of both of which is bound up in the general question of organizing the unorganized. It realizes that only when the great masses are mobilized in the unions can effective assaults be made against capitalism. Hence, it is the life of every organizing campaign, and it must be such, whether these campaigns are carried on through the medium of the existing trade unions, or by the launching of new organizations.
The progressives primarily represent the skilled, and, to a certain degree, the semi-skilled workers. They usually mildly favor and support general campaigns of organization. They have some appreciation of the importance of bringing the masses into the unions, but they haven’t the necessary understanding and militancy to do the actual work. They must be stimulated into action by the left wing.
They lack the leadership to map out and carry through the broad, daring campaigns necessary for the organization of the masses in American industries. They fear the militant and desperate strikes which must accompany such campaigns. They are class collaborationists, they are afflicted with many of the craft prejudices and much of the conservatism of the right wing. But, under the pressure of the left wing, they can be pushed into doing effective organizing work.
The essential form of an organizing committee or movement under present conditions in the American labor movement is a united front between the left wing and the progressives, with the left wing functioning as the driving force.
Sabotage by the Right Wing.
The right wing controlling bureaucrats are the real stumbling block to organization. They primarily represent the skilled workers. They fear that the organization of the unorganized masses of semi-skilled and unskilled will overwhelm the organized skilled workers. The bureaucrats want to maintain craft lines and craft interests, in wage scales, in organization forms, and in various other ways, and they know that the influx of the unorganized mass will tend to wipe out these special interests. They know that the struggle to organize the unorganized will compel the skilled workers to abandon their class collaboration policies, and they fear it will force them into fights against the employers that will jeopardize their craft organizations and preferred wage scales.
They know that with the. mass organized, the skilled workers will not be able to trade so successfully at the expense of the unskilled workers, as, for example, the Railroad Brotherhoods and many other unions are now doing. The right wing bureaucrats fear the unskilled will flood the unions and capture them from the skilled. They dread the influx of the mass because it means a general disturbance of the equilibrium in the organizations, the rise of new leaders, and probably their own displacement. They sense the general revolutionizing effect of the influx of semi-skilled and unskilled workers into the unions, and they shrink from it.
Hence, the right wing bureaucracy is ordinarily opposed to the organization of the unorganized, except along their narrow craft lines, where they often display organizing activity. Their policy is to set up bars against apprentices, against helpers, and to develop their unions into job trusts. They concentrate in certain industries easy to organize, such as the Electrical Workers’ Union, confining itself principally to the building trades; the Metal Trades Unions, specializing on the railroads, while they neglect other industries “hard” to organize.
Even when driven into organizing campaigns by pressure, the right wing bureaucrats refuse to lend them real support. At best they then only trail along. Their policy is one of sabotage. They are affected by a hundred petty craft considerations, and they raise innumerable technical and other objections in order to hinder the organizing work. Often they co-operate with the employers to prevent organization. They usually will accept mass organization if it is “handed to them on a silver platter” by the left wing organizers, but they will not go out and fight for it. They are lazy, unimaginative, corrupt and petty bourgeois. The left wing must consider and deal with them as a major obstacle in the work of organizing the unorganized.
Stimulating the Trade Unions Into Action.
It would be a grievous error, however, to conclude from the foregoing that the right wing can block the organization of the unorganized by the trade unions and that nothing can be done in these bodies. A whole series of organization campaigns by the trade unions belie this pessimism. The impulse of the labor movement to expand into a real mass and class organization is very powerful. Where there is an insistent and intelligent demand from the combined left wing and progressives, the right wing can literally be driven into organizing campaigns. This is What was done to Gompers and the presidents of the various internationals in the steel and packing industry campaigns. And on the railroads the more progressive elements were responsible for the organization of hundreds of thousands of the unorganized during the war period.
The right wing bureaucrats find it exceedingly difficult to fight directly against the demand for organization. Their method is mostly indirect. They commonly adopt organization resolutions, presented by the more progressive elements, and then sabotage them to death. They do lip service to the organization of the unorganized and then prevent it in practice. The American Federation of Labor has adopted, from time to time, resolutions for the organization of every industry in the country, and immediately after the conventions has promptly forgotten all about them.
In the struggle against the right wing over the question of organizing the unorganized, two principal dangers confront the left wing, both of Which must be guarded against. The first is a pessimistic conclusion that the trade unions cannot be stimulated to do organization work. The second, the other extreme, is a naive, over-optimistic belief that the right wing will put into effect the adopted resolutions calling for the organization of the unorganized.
Both of these tendencies block real organization work. The proper policy in the trade unions is for the left wing to enter into alliance with the progressive elements, to force the adoption of programs of organization, and then themselves to do the actual work of organizing, in spite of the sabotage of the right wing. The theme of this chapter is correct; upon the left wing rests primarily the burden of organizing the unorganized.
Organize the Unorganized by William Z Foster. Labor Herald Library No. 17. Published by the Trade Union Educational League, New York. 1926.
Contents: Importance of Organizing the Unorganized, Unions in Danger, Will Create a New Spirit of Progress, Into the Basic Industries, A Favorable Opportunity, The Left Wing Must Do the Work, Sabotage by the Right Wing, Stimulating the Trade Unions Into Action, The A.F. of L. and Independent Unions, Formation of New Unions, The Fight for Affiliation, Jurisdictional Problems, Methods of Organization, “Open” Organization Campaigns, “Closed” Organization Campaigns, Company Unions and Workers’ Clubs, Shop Nuclei and Shop Committees, Combining Different Forms, Organization and Strikes, The Question of Demands, Organization Strategy, Plan Scope Spirit, Strike Strategy, When and How. 32 pages.
The Labor Herald was the monthly publication of the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL), in immensely important link between the IWW of the 1910s and the CIO of the 1930s. It was begun by veteran labor organizer and Communist leader William Z. Foster in 1920 as an attempt to unite militants within various unions while continuing the industrial unionism tradition of the IWW, though it was opposed to “dual unionism” and favored the formation of a Labor Party. Although it would become financially supported by the Communist International and Communist Party of America, it remained autonomous, was a network and not a membership organization, and included many radicals outside the Communist Party. In 1924 Labor Herald was folded into Workers Monthly, an explicitly Party organ and in 1927 ‘Labor Unity’ became the organ of a now CP dominated TUEL. In 1929 and the turn towards Red Unions in the Third Period, TUEL was wound up and replaced by the Trade Union Unity League, a section of the Red International of Labor Unions (Profitern) and continued to publish Labor Unity until 1935.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/tuel/17-Organize%20the%20Unorganized.pdf