Wm. Z. Foster

Gompers Faces Triple Revolt

Problems of the Coming A.F. of L. Convention

(30 August 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 58 [36], 30 August 1923, pp. 633–634.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2022). 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.

So completely reactionary is the Gompers bureaucracy that every movement for progress in the A.F. of L., no matter how mild its character, assumes the nature of an open, revolt against the administration. Gompers proposes absolutely nothing constructive himself, nor will he allow anyone else to do so if he can prevent it by hook or crook. Backed by the united reactionaries he has choked to death every important progressive movement in the trade unions for many years. One such defeated movement was that of the Socialists. Before the war it looked as though it might break the death clutch of Gompers. But nothing came of it. Gompers scattered the Socialist forces to the four winds domesticating those that he did not destroy outright. Another wave of progress that dashed futilely against the rocks of reaction was the Plumb Plan movement of 1918–20 for government ownership of the railroads. Although this movement gave Gompers the worst beating of his career, at the Montreal convention, nevertheless he eventually crushed it back and now it is only a memory. Consequent upon this desperate resistance of Gompers and his clique to every form of progress, the A.F. of L. has for a generation remained almost completely unresponsive to the insistent and pers stent urge for Labor development set up by our rapidly, evolving capitalism. Its social outlook, its tactics, and its structure are practically the same now as they were thirty years ago. Stifled, cramped, and repressed by its own leaders, the A.F. of L. is a weak and insipid organization dangerously unfitted to cope with its militantly capitalistic environment.

Although Gompers has decisively beaten all forms of progress in the A.F. of L. in the past, he is now confronted with a greater progressive revolt than ever. This is much more profound and far-reaching than either the Socialist or Plumb Plan movements. It is of triple character, developing in three broad streams: viz. the great movements for (1) amalgamation, (2) the labor party, (3) recognition of Soviet Russia. This triple revolt attacks frontally three fundamental policies of Gompers. Victory for it in any one of its aspects might well shatter the Gompers machine and break down the Chinese Wall that has been set up against the development of the A.F. of L. Hence, to dissolve and destroy this deep-seated movement, so dangerous to his rule, will be the supreme problem of Gompers at the Portland Convention of the A.F. of L. in October.

The Amalgamation Movement

One branch of this three-phased revolt is the movement to amalgamate the craft unions into industrial organizations. Gompers has long been a bitter opponent of industrial unionism. He has fought it consistently since the days of the American Railway Union, whether it manifested itself within or without the trade unions. Already at the Cincinnati Convention of last year the present movement for amalgamation developing under pressure of the terrific and disastrous “open shop” drive, was beginning to make itself felt. Gompers attempted to head it off by denouncing it as the work of Russian agents, and by digging from its peaceful grave the A.F. of L. declaration of 1901 on industrial unionism, which was written before the era of the modern trusts. But despite all this, the movement ran on acquiring constantly more weight and volume. In the past 18 months, a great number of state federations, international unions, city central councils, local unions have endorsed the plan, of combining the craft unions into big industrial bodies. So widespread has the movement become among the broad rank and fie hitherto deemed practically immune to industrial union propaganda, that undoubtedly if the question of amalgamation were put to a referendum vote it would carry by an overwhelming vote Gompers, on pain of complete defeat, will leave no stone unturned to defeat this vital and fundamental movement.

The Labor Party Movement

Another branch of the triple revolt confronting Gompers is the swiftly spreading movement for the establishment of a labor party. This touches Gompers at his very heart. With almost fanaticaI zeal he has fought against the workers going into politics on their own store, and, unfortunately, with too much success. Nevertheless, for the last two years the demand for independent working class political action has been mounting higher and higher in an irresistible flood. The capitalists’ ruthless use of the Government in crushing strikes and sweeping aside all legislation beneficial to Labor is arousing the workers as never before to the necessity for a political party of their own. A broad and deep movement is under way for the formation of a labor party. So many unions have declared for the project that one no longer keeps count of them; State and city labor parties are springing up all over the country; the Workers Party and the Trade Union Educational League are carrying on a militant and successful labor party campaign among the organized masses, the old Farmer-Labor Party and the Socialist Party have contributed their mite to the general stream, and even the Johnston Conference for Progressive Political Action, despite its vague aims and timid leadership, has done much to popularize the need for independent working class political action. But the most striking manifestations of the movement were the election of Johnson in Minnesota and the formation of the Federated Farmer-Labor Party at the historic Chicago convention of July 3–4–5. Unquestionably the overwhelming mass of the labor movement are for the formation of a labor party. At the coming A.F. of L. convention it will be the task and necessity of Gompers to thwart this will of the great rank and file for a party of their own and to keep them shackled securely to the political chariots of their industrial masters.

The Recognize Russia Movement

The third branch of the triple revolt now taking shape in the A.F. of L. is the movement for the recognition of Soviet Russia. From the outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution. Gompers has distinguished himself by the most violent hatred and opposition to Russia. He sees in the Soviet Government the personification of the “red” hobgoblin that he has exorcised for so many years and he froths at the mouth when it is even mentioned. Not even the blackest Russian aristocrats outdo him in propagating vicious misrepresentations about the first Workers’ Republic. But in spite of him the movement for the recognition of Soviet Russia constantly grows in the ranks of Labor. Already at the A.F. of L. convention last year many prominent labor leaders had declared for it and Gompers was desperately pushed to defeat a resolution calling upon the United States to recognize the Soviets. And since then the movement has made rapid strides. The flood of news from Russia to the effect that the Government has been stabilized, the famine overcome; and the industrial crisis relieved, is having its effect, Consequently many additional labor leaders and organizations have expressed themselves in favor of recognition. Besides this there is the profound effect of the open campaign for recognition being carried on by La Follette, Borah, Johnson. Brockhart, Wheeler, Shipstead, and other liberal politicians whom Labor follows. Gompers at the coming convention will have a far greater movement in favor of Russia to fight than ever before.

What Gompers Will Do

To suppose that Gompers, at the Portland Convention, will condone or support any one or al! three of these above-mentioned movements would be ridiculous. On the contrary, it is perfectly safe to assume that he will carry on a life and death struggle against them, even as he has against every other progressive movement for decades past. His motto is the most determined resistance to every forward step of Labor. He will smash or demoralize them if it is humanly possible for h m to do so. And his principal means to this end undoubtedly will be to smear them all over with red. Once again he will conjure up the red peril, which has so many times served his purpose, and thus try to scare the timid and colorless reactionaries into line behind him.

Of the three progressive movements he will have to face, Gompers need fear the amalgamation movement least. This is because it is in a sense the most fundamental of all three. It threatens more directly than the others the petty personal interests of the higher officials that make up the A.F. of L. convention. Hence Gompers, in his fight to hold back amalgamation can depend upon the loyal support of these officials. Although many of them hail from unions that have endorsed industrial unionism – such as the miners, railway clerks, railway maintenance men, printers, etc. – they will conveniently let the issue slip by without a fight if they can, or, if need be, they will openly violate their mandates, as they did at Cincinnati, to defeat it. It will take a couple of more years, when the amalgamation movement has had opportunity to register itself in the international conventions, before it will become really dangerous to the A.F. of L. bureaucracy.

With the labor party movement, however, the situation is vastly more threatening for Gompers. Undoubtedly there will be a very great sentiment at the convention for the formation of a labor party. A powerful leader might very easily organize this into a movement that would crushingly defeat Gompers. But Gompers, nevertheless, will meet the labor party movement with a frontal attack (in addition to his “red” campaign) if it ventures to raise its head. He will blaze right into it with both barrels and take his chances with it in an open struggle. He knows well the intellectually weak-kneed Johnston who stands at the head of the movement for independent working class political action. He realizes that. Johnston does not possess the requisite boldness, courage, and generalship to make a real fight for the labor party. He will calculate, definitely upon Johnston’s weakness if a battle develops over this issue.

Especially careful will Gompers have to be regarding the movement for the recognition of Soviet Russia; for, of the three movements mentioned in this article, that is the one most likely to be victorious at the Portland convention. If such turned out to be the case it would. be a death blow to his pride and prestige. He is irretrievably committed against Russia, and he will fight to the last in opposition to its recognition. When this question comes before the convention we may look for him to indulge in his usual red-baiting and democratic-patriotic slush, in a desperate effort to blind the delegates with their own prejudices. Already he is preparing to meet this issue. That is the meaning of Secretary of State Hughes’ recent letter to him outlining the reasons why the United States’ Government does not recognize the Soviet Republic. That letter, marshalling as it does every argument calculated to appeal to trade unionists, was written primarily to influence the action of the next convention of the A.F. of L. Let us charitably, if innocently, assume that Gompers had no hand in its formulation. We may depend upon it, however, that if the situation demands it, it will serve the purpose for which it was written by being solemnly read before the delegates as the final and overwhelming reason why they, as patriotic citizens, should not fly in the face of the Government and give aid and comfort to the enemy by adopting a resolution in favor of recognizing Soviet Russia.

A Problematical Situation

Can Gompers at the Portland convention, beat back all three of these great movements, fed and stipulated by the left wing, to bring about amalgamation, a labor party, and recognition of Soviet Russia? Can he dam up still higher the stream of progress and make the labor movement still more incapable of effective action? Although the unexpected may happen, the chances are very much in favor of Gompers accomplishing his work of reaction A.F. of L. conventions have become so accustomed to let him do their thinking and to accept unquestioningly as their policies his most trivial whims that it will take little short of an earthquake to rouse the Portland convention from the customary intellectual lethargy and to make it take a stand of its own. But there is one hopeful feature. The revolt against the deadly policies of Gompers is at least under way. Whether it prevails or not at this convention, success must finally come to it.

The movements for amalgamation, a labor party, and Soviet recognition must go on taking to themselves greater and greater volume. United with other progressive movements into one broad stream of revolt, they will eventually break through the obstructions built up by Gompers and his clique and sweep before them in a mighty flood the broken fragments of the A.F. of L. bureaucratic machine. When this time comes, and come it will soon, if not at the Portland convention, there will begin a new day for the American labor movement.

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