Framing Black Communist Labour Union Activism in the Atlantic World: James W. Ford and the Establishment of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, 1928–1931

Research paper by Holger Weiss

Indexed on: 20 Oct '20Published on: 01 Aug '19Published in: International review of social history / International Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam


The International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW) was a radical trans-Atlantic network for the propagation of black proletarian internationalism, established by the Red International of Labour Unions in 1928. Its key mastermind was James W. Ford, an African American communist labour union activist who was in charge of the organization and its operations until the autumn of 1931. This article critically highlights Ford's ambitions as well as the early phase of the organization. Both in terms of its agenda and objective as well as in its outreach among black workers in the Black Atlantic, the ITUCNW and its main propagators stressed the “class-before-race” argument of the Comintern rather than the pan-Africanist “race-before-class” approach. This is not surprising as the ITUCNW was one of the organizations that had been established when the Comintern and the RILU had started to apply the “class-against-class” doctrine, which left no room for cooperation between communists and radical pan-Africanists.