Courtesy Reuters

World Labor's New Weapon

STUDENTS of international affairs were quick to recognize the establishment of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (I.C.F.T.U.), at London during the first week of December 1949, as "an event of historic importance, in many respects the most significant development in the struggle for a free world."

The I.C.F.T.U. is not the first attempt at world labor organization. About 85 years ago, the International Workingmen's Association was founded by Karl Marx; it succumbed to the Bakunin-Marx feud and the differences caused by the Franco-Prussian War. The Second (Social Democratic) International was established in 1889, but could not weather the crisis of World War I. Its economic counterpart -- the International Federation of Trade Unions (I.F.T.U.) -- founded in 1901, managed to survive the war, but soon thereafter faced the ruthless assaults of the Third (Communist) International and its trade-union auxiliary, the Red International of Labor Unions (Profintern), which were set up by the Bolsheviks after they seized power in Russia. Not even the blows of the Nazis could entirely wipe out the I.F.T.U., however, and it struggled on through World War II while Stalin was, for diplomatic reasons, officially "liquidating" his Comintern.

Despite determined opposition from the American Federation of Labor, the I.F.T.U. decided to merge with the World Federation of Trade Unions (W.F.T.U.), which had been established in January 1945 and included the Communist-controlled "trade-union" organization of Russia as well as the Congress of Industrial Organization (C.I.O.), which hitherto had had no international affiliation. This marriage turned out to be a quarrelsome and miserable affair, for the Kremlin persisted in exploiting the W.F.T.U. as an instrument of its imperialist foreign policy. After about four years, the British Trades Union Congress, the C.I.O. and other free trade unions withdrew.

Meanwhile, a realignment of profound importance was maturing in the ranks of world labor, and in June 1949 there was

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