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A History of Trade Unionism in the United States

The international regulation of immigration


In

short, the distinction between the ideas of the _Internationale_ and of Lassalle consisted in the fact that the former advocated trade unionism prior to and underlying political organization, while the latter considered a political victory as the basis of socialism. These antagonistic starting points are apparent at the very beginning of American socialism as well as in the trade unionism and socialism of succeeding years.

Two distinct phases can be seen in the history of the _Internationale_ in America. During the first phase, which began in 1866 and lasted until 1870, the _Internationale_ had no important organization of its own on American soil, but tried to establish itself through affiliation with the National Labor Union. The inducement held out to the latter was of a practical nature, the international regulation of immigration. During the second phase the _Internationale_ had its "sections" in nearly every large city of the country, centering in New York and Chicago, and the practical trade union part of its work receded before its activity on behalf of the propaganda of socialism.

These "sections," with a maximum membership which probably never exceeded a thousand, nearly all foreigners, became a preparatory school in trade union leadership for many of the later organizers and leaders of the American Federation of Labor: for example, Adolph Strasser, the German cigar maker, whose organization became

the new model in trade unionism, and P.J. McGuire, the American-born carpenter, who founded the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and who was for many years the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor.

Fate had decreed that these sections of a handful of immigrants should play for a time high-sounding parts in the world labor movement. When, at the World Congress of the International Workingmen's Association at the Hague in 1872, the anarchist faction led by Bakunin had shown such strength that Marx and his socialist faction deemed it wise to move the General Council out of mischief's way, they removed it to New York and entrusted its powers into the hands of the faithful German Marxians on this side of the Atlantic. This spelled the end of the _Internationale_ as a world organization, but enormously increased the stakes of the factional fights within the handful of American Internationalists. The organization of the workers into trade unions, the _Internationale's_ first principle, was forgotten in the heat of intemperate struggles for empty honors and powerless offices. On top of that, with the panic of 1873 and the ensuing prolonged depression, the political drift asserted itself in socialism as it had in the labor movement in general and the movement, erstwhile devoted primarily to organization of trade unions, entered, urged on by the Lassalleans, into a series of political campaigns somewhat successful at first but soon succumbing to the inevitable fate of all amateurish attempts. Upon men of Strasser's practical mental grasp these petty tempests in the melting pot could only produce an impression of sheer futility, and he turned to trade unionism as the only activity worth his while. Strasser had been elected president of the Cigar Makers' International Union in 1877, in the midst of a great strike in New York against the tenement-house system.


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