January 9, 1923.
Mr. J. H. Walker
President, Illinois State Federation of Labor,
728 Illinois Mine Workers Building, Springfield, Ill.
Dear Sir and Brother:
Your letter of December 28 received and read with interest.
In my letter of November 18 in reply to yours of December 11 I had no intention of conveying to you in any way the idea that I thought you had criticized the action of the A.F. of L. National Non-Partisan Political Campaign Committee in issuing the report
on its activities for the year 1922. I simply wished to answer the point you advanced that when we pointed out our successes we laid ourselves open to blame for those things we had not done. This you believe spurs "our enemies to increase their efforts." I do not take that view of it. Members of congress are influenced more or less by Labor's enemies only when they believe it would not injure their political fortunes.
The result of the recent elections has given the members o[f] congress who have followed the practice of accepting advice from our enemies considerable of a jolt. For instance, Representative Steenerson
of Minnesota has repeatedly contended that he did not care for the Labor vote as there was no Labor vote in his district. Since returning to Washington he makes no secret of the fact that he was defeated through the influence of Labor. There are quite a number of such cases. It has had a moral effect on members of even this reactionary congress. There is one fact established by the Report of the National Non-Partisan Political Campaign Committee of the A.F. of L. and that is that when there is no third party in the field the non-partisan political campaign of Labor has surer chance of success.
I much regret that we do not have same viewpoint, as you say:
"I believe that we should have a Labor political organization."
A certain m[ember o]f [congress in] Il[linois proposed to a] member of the A.F. of L. Legislative Committee that a Labor Party be started in his district in order that he be assured of election. He was very emphatically informed that the American Federation of Labor would not countenance such a proposition. That Representative was defeated in the election.
There is no doubt that you carried out the policy which you outlined to me in the Fall of 1921 and that it was successful has been proved by the results. If there had been a strong "Labor political organization" during that campaign, however, it would have been very difficult for you to have swung it as you did to the non-partisan policy. Yet you favor a permanent "Labor Political organization" that will be strong and influential enough to enable the workers "to use their votes most effectively in their own interests."
The fact is that there was really no Labor-Farmer Party in existence in 1922 outside of isolated localities. In Washington where it showed the greatest strength it was badly defeated. In Illinois the vote was so small it was only incidentally mentioned in the official result. How much better would it have been if Labor in Washington had supported former Representative Dill for Senator instead of by their action making it possible for Senator Poindexter to be elected. During his term as a member of congress Mr. Dill's legislative record on measures of interest to Labor was 100 per cent.
The votes of the progressive forward-looking citizenship of our country cannot succeed in the election of public officials unless they are united. Where a third party is in existence all its members cannot be influenced to vote just the way its leaders may desire.
The most convincing arguments against a "Labor political organization" is your statement that the same men who represent Labor in the making of agreements with employers usually lead in the political campaign. If there is a partisan labor party in existence between elections some of those labor officials who take part are likely to sacrifice the economic movement for the political movement.
You also state that "if the officials of those organizations are not a part of the 'labor political organization' it usually means disaffection, division and weakness." Therefore when you have a partisan labor party you are between the upper and the nether mill stone. That being the case, why create an organization that will cause so much dissatisfaction which ever way the labor officials act?
Third parties have never been successful in the history of American politics. The efforts wasted in such movements would have radically changed conditions in this country if they had been directed along non-partisan lines. So far as the farmers are concerned they wi[ll] not vote for a third party. They will vote for labor, however, in support of one of the old party tickets, as was the case in Oklahoma.4 There must be much agitation and a better understanding between Labor and the farmers before the latter will unite with the wage earners in a third party political movement. During the last campaign great headway was made in this respect. We found that the farmers were willing to vote for friends of Labor on either dominant party ticket but would refuse to vote for a candidate on a third party ticket.
The American Federation of Labor has conducted a campaign among the farmers for years that is beginning to show results. It is hoped that nothing will interfere with this encouraging situation.
I feel very deeply on this matter. Whenever a partisan labor party did not intervene we generally have been successful in elections. The progress of the labor movement in its political activities has been hampered much. Along the pathway it has struggled can be found the wrecks of many labor parties none of which did any good for the labor movement.
I am sending you, under separate cover, copies of pamphlets entitled "Should a Political Labor Party Be Formed,"
5 and "Forty Years of Action."6 After you have read them I would like to know whether it has changed your convictions. If our convictions are antagonistic to those of the labor movement do you think we should continue to defend them?
You and I are simply individuals in a tremendous human movement for the advancement of humanity. The great mass of our people believe in the non-partisan political policy. Therefore, in all seriousness I hope I can convince you that a labor party political organization is a detriment and not a benefit to our economic movement. Like yourself you know my make up is of your type, strong in conviction but tolerant in opposing views, with the absence of feeling of hostility or bitterness to anyone no matter what differences of opinion may exist.
To return for a moment to the original cause of our correspondence. I feel that when the report of the Executive Committee of the American Federation of Labor National Non-Partisan Political Campaign Committee was prepared it did service to the cause of Labor and justice and was of advantage to all the people of our country.
With best wishes and assuring you of my desire to be helpful in any way within my power, I am,
Fraternally yours, Saml Gompers.
President, American Federation of Labor.