The Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance

The People
August 26, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 9

THE ST&LA WAS WORLD'S FIRST SOCIALIST UNION

The Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance was the world's first socialist labor union. It was founded in December 1895 as the Marxist answer to the procapitalist "unionism" of the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor. The SLP endorsed the ST&LA at its 1896 National Convention. In 1905, the ST&LA became part of the original Industrial Workers of the World.

We are told today that American workers are inherently opposed to socialism and that they always have been. The fact is that the American workers of the last century were so much opposed to capitalism that the AFL was forced to acknowledge the class struggle. AFL president Sam Gompers once told a congressional committee that he couldn't conceive of conditions that would harmonize the interests of workers and capitalists.

The ST&LA was founded to expose the AFL's pretended defense of the workers' interests and its service on behalf of capitalism. The ST&LA's goal was the destruction of labor fakerism and the achievement of socialism. It held, however, that while capitalism exists the workers must struggle to wring from their exploiters such wage and hour gains as conditions permit.

In his autobiography, Gompers wrote: "Even among the mill workers of the South the corroding influence [of the ST&LA] extended." AFL organizers in Georgia and Alabama could make no headway against the gains made by ST&LA organizers. Gompers himself followed De Leon around, as in New Bedford, Mass., where De Leon delivered his WHAT MEANS THIS STRIKE? address, in his attempt to destroy the socialist gains. Gompers "won," or seemed to win, but only because all the powers of capitalist propaganda were organized to erect a tissue of lies between the workers and the truth. Ever since, the SLP has fought back against that tissue of lies about the principles of genuine unionism and the false unionism represented by the AFL-CIO.

In future issues we will trace the origins and history of the ST&LA and the struggle to build a genuine union movement. It's a part of working-class history that every worker should be informed on. You can help us by securing more readers for THE PEOPLE. You can also help by supporting the various activities of the SLP -- its meetings, fund-raising activities, leaflet distribution, etc. By working together on behalf of socialism, we will succeed in restoring the fighting spirit of the American working class.