A History of Trade Unionism in the United States

By Selig Perlman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
RADICAL UNIONISM AND A "COUNTER-
REFORMATION"

For ten years after 1904, when it reached its high point, the American Federation of Labor was obliged to stay on the defensive—on the defensive against the "openshop" employers and against the courts. Even the periodic excursions into politics were in substance defensive moves. This turn of events naturally tended to detract from the prestige of the type of unionism for which Gompers was spokesman; and by contrast raised the stock of the radical opposition.

The opposition developed both in and outside the Federtion. Inside it was the socialist "industrialist" who advocated a political labor party on a socialist platform, such as the Federation had rejected when it defeated the "program" of 1893,1 together with a plan of organization by industry instead of by craft. Outside the Federation the opposition marched under the flag of the Industrial Workers of the World, which was launched by socialists but soon after birth fell into the hands of syndicalists.

However, fully to understand the issue between conservatives and radicals in the Federation after 1905, one needs to go back much earlier for the "background."

The socialist movement, after it had unwittingly assisted in the birth of the opportunistic trade unionism of

____________________
1
See above, 139-141.

-208-

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