Organized Labor and Politics

Ever since the election of a number of labor mayors the labor press has been engaged in a discussion of trade union politics. Most of the labor papers advocate going into politics, especially in municipal affairs. Everyone must realize that the platform of the A. F. of L., and most of the resolutions passed at its annual convention require political action or else they become meaningless talk. Organized labor has been resoluting for eight years for The National Eight Hour Bill, which has just passed the House. No doubt it will be killed in the Senate. The Chinese Exclusive Act is another case in point. The bill supported by organized labor failed to pass. What is true of Congress is equally true of the state legislature and city governments.

In the industrial centers where we are a power, and could be ten times greater power if we united our voting strength, we elect city governments and then ask them to have city printing done in union offices, or, for an eight-hour day, etc., and so on, yet we are nearly always turned down on at least half of our demands.

Then again, when it comes to strikes, nearly every official is on the side of the employer. Organized labor only asks for a fair field and no favors in such contests, but this it never gets from the present old parties.

It is admitted that labor should organize and stand together in the shops, but why not do the same at the ballot box?

There has been heretofore this reason why it did not unite at the ballot box: There was so little difference between the two old parties, and the new parties demanded more than many able and honest trade unionists could support. To illustrate: The single taxer who may and does believe in the full program of the trade union movement does not believe in socialism, but both the socalist and the single taxer believe in the platform of organized labor. It may be asked right here: Why don't these two schools of thought unite on a program that means so much, and win that first, then separate if they desire?

One of our valued exchanges advocates capturing the Democratic party and another says capture both parties. From all this it would appear that if we are to unite any considerable number of trade unionists on the political field, we must do it on those lines in which the leaders are in accord and that means on the lines of the platform of the A. F. of L. More trade unionists can be united on the trade union platform than on any other. Such a program would enable us to send some trade unionists into Congress. The trade unionists polled over 21,000 votes in San Francisco; that means that they can elect a congressman there. Organized labor to-day has the power to elect thirty or forty congressmen. It has the power to control many cities. How to do this with the least danger to the economic movement is the great problem.

The one great curse in American politics, and this is true of all parties, big and little, is blind partisanship. The leaders of every political party in existence to-day are so partisan that they would refuse to accept any kind of a government, even one that meant a heaven on earth, unless they could boss the job. Anyhow it is self-evident that labor ought to unite both economically and politically. The great army of labor should be represented in the halls of legislation. To gain better conditions and wise laws, it is absolutely necessary to have our own people to represent us.
(Reprinted in the Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers' Journal [Nov. 15, 1902] )


Home
  
Created by   The Samuel Gompers Papers Project