Fannia M. Cohn, Executive Secretary
Educational Department of the
International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union
New York May 22, 1924.
Miss Florence C. Thorne,
American Federation of Labor,
My dear Miss Thorne:
By this time you probably know that I was re-elected vice president of the I.L.G.W.U
I tried to keep well during the convention,1
but now that it is all over I feel the effect of it. Some of the men say that it is due to my sensitiveness. Probably it is so. Men take everything easier; they never cherish their mistakes or worries. They make an effort to forget their mistakes soon after they are made.
The four and a half days' discussion on the report of the Credential Committee was enough to exhaust the strongest person.
From the discussions of the Credentials Committee's report an intelligent listener, who is not a "bitter-ender" on the left side or the right side, could learn of the two tendencies underlying the entire struggle within the trade unions. One is the tendency of those who hold that all the powers be in the economic organization and the function of politics is to serve it. The other is the tendency advanced by the Russian Bolsheviki, that every movement and institution be subordinated to the political organization. The Communist Parties demand from its members that the first allegiance be given to the political organization and that the purpose of their activities in the workers' economic organization is to advance the political organization. I belong to the first group, with the philosophy that the workers' economic organization is foremost.
I am not politically minded, and I do tolerate politics as much as it will assist me in advancing the economic interest of the workers. And this is because I hold the opinion that the future social organization will be the workers' industrial commonwealth.
It is to be expected that during such a controversy neither side will use good judgement and tact in defeating each other. I do hope that this internal strife will cease within the near future and that those of our members who believe that certain people be replaced appreciate that they will never succeed in realizing their aims through activities directed by outside organizations.
The honest and intelligent members of that group will sooner or later realize that to be effective in a trade union, as in any other organization, they will have to demonstrate their loyalty, their devotion to the trade union movement first, and they will have to give their first allegiance to the trade union and only then will they exercise a constructive influence.
I am anxious to hear from you about the conference2
called by Mr. Gompers of the International presidents regarding the organization of women. From the few minutes' conversation I had this morning with Mr. Baroff
, our General Secretary, who attended this conference, I understand that the planned advisory committee or council, which will work together with the executive secretary, will turn out to be a man's organization.
I am not one of those who believes in dividing the labor movement on sex lines. I do believe that the only salvation of the workers is that both men and women work side by side in solving its problems. I also believe that both have something of their own to contribute to the labor movement and they can learn much by working together. In my social activities I was seldom active in a purely woman's organization. You and I realize the necessity of women shouldering responsibility and acquiring self-confidence. There is a saying that if one wants to learn how to swim he must throw himself in the water. If women are to acquire experience in the labor movement they will have to be active in it. An opportunity will have to be given them to do so.
Women suffer more from lack of self-confidence than from lack of ability. Political organizations, to interest women in their campaigns, found it expedient to have women on their most important committees. Unfortunately, the labor movement has not come to this point. In the trade union movement men think that it is they who are to do the job not only for the men but also for the women, due to [their self-confidence that they are women's betters]. They do not realize that women will never be able to do their jobs unless they, too, will acquire this experience. Nothing encourages women to b[e] in the labor movement so [much] as the recognition that is accorded to some of them.
It seems to me that if the Committee for the Organization of Women will turn out to be a man's organization, the W.T.U.L
. will have a just claim to its existence and full recognition. I hope that you will understand my intensity in this matter, knowing that my life was devoted to this movement, that all that is in me is placed at the disposal of the labor movement and realizing that more and more women will come into industry, and swell the ranks of the wage earners. Hence my great interest that these women be encouraged to take an interest in their economic organization.
What was on my chest I shared with you. Summoning my reasoning power and after deliberation with myself, I came to the conclusion that since my main interest in this, to my mind epoch-making movement on the part of the A.F. of L., is to see women organized, I will be the last person to bring in any element of controversy that will weaken this effort. Realizing as I do that the presence of the presidents or secretaries of the international unions on such a committee will enlist the interest of their organizations, I would let it stand as it is.
But I wish to make the following suggestion for your consideration and that is that in addition to this organization committee or council, whatever its name will be, an advisory educational committee composed of working women be appointed by President Gompers. The function of this committee should be to submit plans of an educational character to the organization committee. Women who can think and analyze their sex will, I am certain, prove helpful in devising ways and means of an educational character how to interest working women in organization.3
I am eager to have your opinion to my suggestion.
I hope to hear from you soon.
With best personal wishes.
Faithfully yours, Fannia M. Cohn.
TLS, AFL Microfilm Convention File, reel 33, frames 1187, 1197, AFL Records.