Introduction: The United States of Europe or Europe Limited (Dan Gallin)

Fimmen wrote very many articles (mostly, but not only, in ITF publications) and some brochures, including speeches and lectures. “Labour’s Alternative” is his only book. It was published in English by the Labour Publishing Company Ltd. in London in 1924. (128 p.), as well as in several other languages.
His objective in writing the book was to explain and promote his views about the need for reorganising the international trade union movement. He starts out with an analysis of the concentration and internationalisation of capital, moving on to argue that the labour movement would be unable to develop an appropriate international response as long as its main organisation, the IFTU, would remain based on national trade union centers rather than the ITSs. He predicted that:

“Just as the development of capitalism has always determined the organisational form of its opponents, has given rise first of all to local and subsequently to national trade unions, so capitalism will become, if not the originator, at least the furtherer of the international organisation of industrial workers.”

Fimmen was under no illusion on the capacity of the ITSs of his time to rise to what he considered to be their historical tasks:

“We are still far short of this point”, he wrote. “Several years are likely to elapse before the ITSs (which are still in the very earliest stage of their activity, and most of which are as yet devoid of substantial importance) will have won, practically as well as theoretically, the leadership in industrial struggles.”

Seventy-five years later, after a second world war and the subsequent Cold War set the labour movement back for decades, many ITSs, and not necessarily the smallest, are still “devoid of substantial importance” in terms of their capability of successfully conducting international labour struggles. Fimmen’s conclusion, however, remains inescapable:

“Still, however weak and imperfect in respect of organisation the ITSs may be, however little international, nonetheless the development of capitalism will compel them to take up the task that is incumbent on them unless the proletariat is to lapse internationally into a condition of more hopeless dependence and enslavement than that of the working class in its national subdivisions today.”

“Labour’s Alternative” is a prophetic book. In 1924, Fimmen anticipated developments such as the European Union and the globalisation of the world economy. His views on the reorganisation of the international trade union movement are at the core of the discussion going on within the ICFTU and the ITSs today about the same issues.

In contrast with the political labour movement, the trade union movement, in its long history, has produced remarkably few theoreticians and independent thinkers. In the inter-war period, Fimmen is the only one – and, at the same time, the political leader for about twenty years of the most significant international labour organisation of the time. His book is important not only because it is topical in the issues and arguments it deals with, but because it sets an example of a method and level of political thinking which hardly exists today.

(1) Quotes from: Edo Fimmen – Iron Fist in a Silken Glove. A Biographical Sketch, Sigrid Koch-Baumgarten, in: “The International Transportworkers’ Federation 1914-1945 – The Edo Fimmen Era”, Bob Reinalda (ed.), IISG., Amsterdam, 1997.

(2) Quote from: Labour’s Alternative, Dan Gallin, June 14, 1999.

NEXT: Edo Fimmen (Sigvard Nyström)