Wm. Z. Foster

The Labor Movement

Amalgamation Movement in America

(6 February 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 13, 6 February 1923, pp. 111–112.
From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 5, 8 February 1923, pp. 75–76.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The United States and Canada have long been classic lands of craft unionism. To indicate the extreme condition of separatism prevailing in our labor movement, all that is necessary is to compare the American Federation of Labor with the A.D.G.B. (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, i.e., General German Labor Union Federation). The A.F. of L. has less than 7,000,000 members, yet it is divided info 117 national unions; whereas the A.D.G.B., with approximately 8,000,000 members, has only 40 national unions. In other words, the average membership of the unions in the A.F. of L. is but 24,000, as against an everage of 163,000 in the A.D.G.B.

The workers have long realized the weakness of the trade unions, but no real work for industrial unionism was accomplished in the old unions until 1920–1921. The Trade Union Educational League, the representative of the R.I.L.U. in America, is carrying on a most active campaign for amalgamation of the old craft unions into modern industrial organizations, with surprisingly effective results. Fully half of the American labor movement has been led to declare itself in favor of industrial unionism. The movement first took shape in a resolution adopted by the Chicago Federation of Labor, representing 300,000 workers. Then eleven State Federations, including Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin, declared in favor of combining all the existing unions into a series of industrial organizations. Seven national organizations, including the Railway Clerks, Railway Trackmen, Butchers, Firefighters, Typographical, Mens Clothing Workers, and Food Workers, took the same course. Besides this there were thousands of local unions and central trades councils.

In the principal industries the situation is about as follows: The railroad men are taking the lead generally in the amalgamation movement. They have organized a national rank and file committee to carry on the propaganda. This committee has issued a plan of amalgamation to combine the sixteen railroad unions. This was sent out to 12,000 local unions in the railroad industry. As a result, at least 4,000 sent in endorsements of it. Encouraged by this response, the National Committee called a conference to consider ways and means to bring about the amalgamation. The officials of many unions denounced this Conference, warning their members to have nothing whatever to do with it In spite of this opposition, however, the Conference was held in Chicago on December 9–10th and was a great success. There were present 425 delegates from all over the United States and Canada. The Conference mapped out an active campaign to popularize amalgamation and to actually bring it about. The National Committee was instructed to try to organize a general amalgamation convention of all the unions, and is now in correspondence with them upon this matter.

In the printing trades, a strong amalgamation movement is also going ahead. The organization to take the lead in this was the International Typographical Union, which at its last convention, went on record lor one union in the printing industry. The Typographical Union comprises about 5% of the organized workers in the printing trades, and is a very powerful organization. Its officials are now negotiating with the heads of the other organizations looking to a general consolidation. The Bookbinders have gone on record in favor of the proposition, but the Photo-Engravers, the Electrotypers, and the Pressmen, have declared against it. The heads of the latter organizations are trying to have adopted a system of federation, to forestall amalgamation. In order to hasten the movement and to lend real power to it, the left-wing militants, under the guidance of the Trade Union Educational League, are organizing nationally to carry on an active amalgamation propaganda in all the five principal printing tracks unions.

In the clothing trades the amalgamation movement is also strong. The leading union of the industry, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, declared at its last convention in favor of one union in the clothing industry. It is an independent union. The rest, including the Ladies’ Garment Workers, the Capmakers, the Furriers, and the Tailors, are affiliated to the A.F. of L. The latter four organizations favor federation, and at the present time are working to establish that rather than amalgamation. The clothing industry is the best organized of any in America, and the left-wing elements are the very powerful in the organizations.

These have formed a National Comittee, one of the principal objects of which is to bring about one union in the clothing industry. They refuse to be satisfied with the substitute of federation, but are going ahead demanding a complete amalgamation throughout the industry.

In the metal trades, the amalgamation movement is also making headway. Ths movement, likewise one of the rank and file, goes hand in hand with the amalgamation movement among the railroad workers, the two industries being closely related. About ten years ago the International Association of Machinists (machine builders) declared in favor of one union in the metal trades, but their officials never made any campaign in favor of it, contenting themselves with accepting refusals from the officials of the other metal unions. The metal trades are very poorly organized in the United States and Canada. Of a grand total of approximately 4,000,000 employed in the metal industries, not more than 300,000 of them are organized, and most of these are employed in the railroad shops. The great steel industry, employing 450,000 men, is almost completely unorganized. The metal unions are divided into 24 principal organizations, which have not even a federation among themselves. The new rank and file movement hopes to put an end to this incredible confusion and weakness by drawing all the organizations together, A.F. of L. and independent alike, into one powerful body.

The textile industry is another that is badly broken, not so much because of craft unionism, as because of dual unionism. There are several principal unions in the industry, nearly all of which are industrial in character, but none of which have any considerable strength. Of a grand total of 1,000,000 textile workers in the industry, not more than 100,000 are organized. Recently, several of the independent unions, which are mostly of a mildly socialistic character, combined in a federation. The Trade Union Educational League is now organizing a left-wing movement in all these unions, A.F. of L. and independent, to bring them all together in one body. There is a strong sentiment among the rank and file for consolidation. But as usual the officials of many of the unions oppose the bringing together of the organizations into one union.

The coal mining industry of America is fairly well organized, there being some 500,000 out of a total of 750,000 in the unions. There is one union in the industry, the United Mine Workers of America, which, strangely enough, has probably the most complete industrial form of any miners’ union in the world. It includes in its ranks not only the actual coal miners, but also all mechanics and laborers of every description working in and around the mines. In the Food, Building, Boot and Shoe, and other industries, amalgamation movements are also developing. In the Boot and Shoe industry, particularly, several independent unions amalgamated their forces recently. Combined, they equal in strength the A.F. of L. union. The trade Union Educational League is working to bring about a combination between this independent amalgamation and the A.F. of L. union.

In view of this widespread movement for amalgamation that is going on, the trade union officials are very much alarmed. They can readily see that many of their easy jobs are about to be eliminated. Consequently, they are showing great hostility. But the rank and file are aroused and are determined to put an end to craft unionism. In the recent convention of the Railroad Trackmen, which was made up of 1,500 delegates representing 200,000 members, the officials tried to defeat a resolution calling for amalgamation. In consequence, 10 of them, including the General President and the General Secretary, were swept out of office, and new ones were elected. This event, unparalleled in American labor history, has caused consternation in the ranks of conservative trade union officialdom. It has made them very cautious in fighting the amalgamation movement. The rank and file are aroused. Ruthless American capitalism has taught them the futility of craft unionism. The slogan of the new movement is “amalgamation or annihilation”. In spite of the opposition of the officials, most important consolidations of American trade unions are bound to occur in the near future.

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