Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York's First Communist Councilman

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview
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12
The Labor Party is Born

PETE and the Communist Party welcomed the birth of the American Labor Party. In fact, it can be said that they were among its midwives.

There had been labor parties in New York and elsewhere. Henry George, the famed single taxer, had made a powerful run for Mayor on a labor party ticket in 1886 and there were strong stirrings for a similar party in the New York trade union movement in the period immediately after World War I. But the ALP that was born in 1936 was different. While it had its principal roots in New York's more progressive trade unions it was obviously affected by a whole new national climate in the labor movement and beyond. CIO-led organizing drives were in full swing in basic industries. Sit-down strikes electrified the country but the unionizing drives were resisted in many areas of the country, even those controlled by elements nominally Democratic and ostensibly Roosevelt backers.

Thus there developed a new movement for independent political action by labor, with rank and filers, various middle-level union officials and even some top labor leaders convinced of its necessity. While supporting FDR and the New Deal, many men and women of organized labor were deeply suspicious of various elements of the Democratic Party, ranging from the Southern Dixiecrats to Tammany Hall in New York.

Voice was given to this mood at the 1935 Atlantic City convention of the American Federation of Labor. President Francis J. Gorman of the United Textile Workers had seen his Southern pickets gassed and shot in the 1935 textile strike. His union knew from first-hand experience what it meant to have the full force of the government authorities thrown against a strike. Gorman and Isidore Nagler, vice-president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, made impassioned speeches on the convention floor for independent labor political action. They were ignored for the most part by the old-line labor leaders, but there were some in New York and Washington who gave heed.

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