The Trade Union Unity League

Four weeks after our return from Seattle, Gene wrote in the national Daily Worker of the 90,000 jobless in our city. From official statistics he noted that the majority of Mexican workers in the country were unemployed. He concluded, “with ninety percent of the working class outside the organized labor movement, our burning need is to organize the unorganized, militant industrial trade unionism and class struggle versus class collaborationism.”

Gene was now Southern California head of the Trade Union Unity League, a militant Left center organized first in 1922 as a rank and file movement inside the craft union, almost lily-white A.F.L. Now it was shifting, as was the Party, to greater emphasis on independent organization of the unorganized and the formation of new industrial unions outside the A.F.L.

A citywide general strike in the needle trades was Gene’s first initiation into his new work. The strike symbolized graphically the multi-aims of T.U.U.L., for it contained four fronts of struggle: the action against the employers; rank and file opposition to the old A.F.L. and Socialist Party leadership within the union; conflicts between the skilled, mainly male, dominantly Jewish craftsmen who were oldtime unionists and the young, unskilled, Mexican women workers new to the union and in their first strike; and the building of the T.U.U.L.’s Needle Trades Industrial Union.

—Autobiography of an American Communist, Peggy Dennis.

Dennis doesn’t see fit to mention it in her book, but the T.U.U.L. was part of the CPUSA. She doesn’t avoid the topic of the CPUSA in generalhow could she, when she was married to Eugene Dennis, who became the General Secretary of that party after Moscow removed Earl Browder? I suppose I’ll find out soon whether she bothers to mention the favor she and her husband must have had in the eyes of the Soviets. Anyway, here’s her obituary in the New York Times.

One page later, in March 1929, Dennis gets pregnant:

Basking in Gene’s excited pleasure, I nervously prepared to break the news to Mama, but made Gene promise to support my claim that it was an “accident.” With abortion completely out of our awareness at the time, the act was irrevocable. All I had to contend with was Mama’s displeasure. I carefully chose the moment as we rode the Brooklyn Avenue streetcar, so she could not make the scene I expected.

Mama was an intense feminist. She was more the protagonist for woman’s unshackled spirit than a sign-toting activist for equal rights. She believed the two to be inseparable, that individually women could live the first while fighting for the second. Frustrated by ill-health and transplanted to a foreign land and alien culture she refused to adapt to, Mama did not personally act on her beliefs, but she was determined that her two modern daughters would.

My sister and I were willing pupils, and we early absorbed Mama’s special pride in being female, destined for greater things than merely being some man’s wife. We acquired the conviction that personal love was not a sufficient singular purpose in life; that for women, no less thaan for men, there must be much more to an enriched life. Conventional marriage was the deadly trap and motherhood was the snaplock to that trap door.

Mama scorned housekeeping and cooking; they were unavoidable chores to be disposed of with minimum effort. She knitted, crocheted, and sewed beautifully, but she refused to teach us, saying we had more important things to do with our time and abilities—like studying, writing stories, making speeches, attending meetings, planning the revolution.

Papa had been a quiet supportive influence in all this. Slight of build and height, he was gentle and sensitive and there seemed to be no female/male roleplaying in our family. He often buffered with good humor and with dance and song Mama’s tense moodiness. He washed supprt dishes and scrubbed kitchen floors, urging us to go to the library or write the composition due at school. …

When Bill began staying overnight in my bed, Mama kept the fact secret from his parents, for his sake. When we were legally married to mollify his mother, Mama was furious. In joining Gene, a year later, I was exercising my courage to go my own way, as they had taught me. Now I was pregnant and I had betrayed twenty years of revolutionary and feminist conditioning.

I could not define to Mama or to myself the changes in me. I was torn with the contradictions between my emotions and my theory. With Gene I had become the classic handmaiden to love, a role blatantly contrary to what I believed in, and yet I was revelling in it.


3 responses to “The Trade Union Unity League

  1. Pingback: The Trade Union Unity League | Reaction Times

  2. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/06/14) | The Reactivity Place

  3. Pingback: Twentieth-century Americanism | nydwracu niþgrim, nihtbealwa mæst

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