Trade Union Unity League

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The Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) was an industrial union umbrella organization of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) between 1929 and 1935. The group was the American affiliate to the Red International of Labor Unions. It was the result of the Communist International's Third Period policy, which dictated that affiliated Communist Parties pursue a strategy of dual unionism and thus abandon attempts to "bore from within" existing trade unions.

Organizational history[edit]


The Trade Union Unity League had its roots in an earlier Communist Party foray into the trade union movement, the Trade Union Educational League (1920-1929), headed by William Z. Foster.[1] This earlier organization sought to pursue a "boring from within" tactic inside the previously existing unions, inside and outside of the American Federation of Labor — seeking to organize left wing "militants" within these unions with a view to transforming the unions themselves into revolutionary instruments.[2]

Despite his lifelong enmity towards dual unionism, Foster remained at the helm of the TUEL organization when it changed its name and tactics at its 1929 convention.[3] This change of line was externally driven, Foster explained to his associate from the United Mine Workers of America, Powers Hapgood at the time of the change, declaring "Powers, the Communist Party decided that policy. As a good Communist I just have to go along."[4]


The TUUL was founded at a convention held in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 31, 1929.

This period in the Party's history has been called its "hey day" and is notable for Communists' unyielding antagonism to more moderate organizers, who were branded "social fascists." TUUL activists attempted to organize some of the most marginal populations of the working class, such as the unemployed, women, and Blacks in the racially segregated American South.[5]


The TUUL was dismantled in 1935 when the Comintern switched to the Popular Front strategy. CPUSA organizers then joined the industrial union movement under the Congress of Industrial Organizations, where they applied skills developed during the TUUL era.

Affiliated unions[edit]

Partial list

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The best history of TUEL and its activities remains Philip S. Foner's multi-volume History of the Labor Movement of the United States. See: Volume 9: From TUEL to the End of the Gompers Era, (New York: International Publishers, 1991) and Volume 10: The TUEL (New York: International Publishers, 1994).
  2. ^ See: David Saposs, Left Wing Unionism: A Study of Radical Policies and Tactics. New York: International Publishers, 1926; "Chapter 3: Communist Boring From Within," pp. 48-65.
  3. ^ James R. Barrett, William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999; pp. 160-161.
  4. ^ Quoted in Saul Alinsky, John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1949; pg. 58.
  5. ^ Devinatz, "Trade Unions As Instruments of Social Change: Does Ideology Matter?", WorkingUSA, January 2007; Smethurst, The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946, 1999.


Further reading[edit]

  • Victor G. Devinatz, "Trade Unions As Instruments of Social Change: Does Ideology Matter?" WorkingUSA, vol. 10, no. 4 (January 2007).
  • Victor G. Devinatz, "A Reevaluation of the Trade Union Unity League, 1929-1934." Science & Society, vol. 71, no. 11 (November 2007).
  • Edward P. Johanningsmeier, "The Trade Union Unity League: American Communists and the Transition to Industrial Unionism: 1928-1934." Labor History, vol. 42, no. 2 (May 2001).
  • Brian Grijalva, Organizing Unions: The 30s and 40s, Communism in Washington State History and Memory Project, 2002.
  • John Manley, "Moscow Rules? 'Red' Unionism and 'Class against Class' in Britain, Canada, and the United States, 1928-1935," Labour / Le Travail, vol. 56 (Fall 2005), pp. 9-49. In JSTOR.
  • Judith Stepan-Morris and Maurice Zeitlin, Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.