Two Currents in World Labor

Courtesy Reuters

THE foundation last autumn of the World Federation of Trade Unions -- into which, not without some dying convulsions, the old International Federation of Trade Unions has been quietly merged -- marked a stage, though not necessarily a final one, in the rivalry of the past 25 years between two different currents in the world labor movement. The cleavage was and is apparent, but is not easy to define, since many streams have gone to make up each broad current. It is not identical with the cleavage between the Second and Third Internationals; for although the older trade unions were associated with the Second International and suffered badly in prestige from its decline in the period between the two wars, many of the forces which went to build up the new World Federation would at no time have had any truck with the Comintern. It would be equally inappropriate to describe it as a clash between "reformist" and "revolutionary" trade unionism. The unions imbued with the new trends are on the whole more radical than the older unions. But no unions of any importance can now be said to pursue their aims by revolutionary methods; one and all, broadly speaking, are striving to harness the state to their purposes, not to destroy it.

One clue to the difference is perhaps the evolution from the older craft union to the modern industrial union -- the historical divergence which in the United States lies at the root of the divisions between A.F. of L. and C.I.O. Thus the A.F. of L. with its rooted predilection for the craft basis stands at one end of the scale; at the other end are the Soviet trade unions organized exclusively on the principle that all workers in the same concern, whatever their trade, belong to one union. The British trade unions are intermediate in this respect, but are passing over gradually from a preponderantly craft to a preponderantly industrial basis.

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