Historical Catechism of American Unionism/In conclusion
Students will be impressed that from the advent of unionism in the United States there have been attempts to fasten political parties upon the economic organizations of labor. The idea that politics offer a field for resultful labor activity is hard to dispel, notwithstanding that all the past experiences of organized labor in America go to show its ineffectiveness where the working class interest is concerned.
From the second decade of the Nineteenth Century, the record shows that political action by labor has been the instrumentality by which promising labor movements have been done to death. Political parties of labor have sapped the economic organizations of their vitality and kept the labor movement marking time when it should have been marching forward. Politicians today may "point with pride" to past political activities of the organized workers in America, but they fail to note, or at least do not draw attention to the fact that the rise of the political idea has always marked and been in proportion to the decline of economic effectiveness.
Every now and again movements aiming to provide American labor with a national expression were foundered upon the reef of labor politics. We find here, and there, on different occasions, representative bodies of labor protesting, because of previous experiences, against the commitment of organizations to political action. Nevertheless, down even to this day, the conception of the organized workers as a political force has survived; that unions can function effectively in more than one capacity. Though the past of American labor proves beyond cavil or doubt that the introduction of political action exerts a disruptive and paralyzing influence upon unions in their economic functions, there are still those who, perhaps because they have not understandingly analyzed the past, maintain that political action is a proper and legitimate function of a labor union.
The interference of the state in disputes affecting the relationship of employer and employe, upon the side of the employing interests, tends to mislead those who do not see beneath the surface of things into the belief that through the voting power of the workers the character of the state can be changed. To believe this is to misunderstand the state, which is the instrument by and through which the ruling class endeavors to maintain and perpetuate the relationship between the capitalist class and the working class—a slave relationship.
The capitalist state functions for the ruling class in modern society just as the state functioned for the ruling classes in chattel slave and feudal times—to preserve an industrial relationship by which the fruits of the labor of one class are the property of another class. The ownership of socially essential things—resources and means of production is guaranteed by the state and the social relationship growing out of that ownership is a concomitant which the state is designed to preserve.
The United States, more plainly than any other modern country, shows the state to be not only the means by which the existing class relationship is maintained, but the very means by which the ownership out of which it grows was instituted. Railroad grants, timber, mineral and oil steals plainly demonstrate that government (the State) has been the instrument by which the capitalist class has risen to power and the working class has been reduced to its present plight in the United States.
Government has always been a disguise under which acquisitive predatory powers moved for the conquest of socially necessary things and by which they held the producers of the United States and other countries in subjection. This ownership and the class relationship, the state will array all the powers at its command to defend and to continue indefinitely. That, primarily, is its function. It is a social instrument only in the sense and where a slave relationship exists within a society, or a social division. The capitalist state, like its chattel slave and feudal prototypes, is the social instrumentality by which a ruling class is enabled to control the labor power of the working class, and as a consequence, the products resulting from the expenditure of that labor power.
The acts of the legislative bodies, the decisions of the courts, the use of repressive forces by executives, the control of the educational system, all manifest class hostility and all tend to "keep the working class in its place." Yet, the whole superstructure of modern society is upreared and rests upon the working class. To exist and to progress capitalist society must control the labor power of the working class. It must, and it will, use any means or any weapon which will assist it in achieving this end. Political pretensions only conceal industrial ambitions. The important thing, therefore, for the workers to recognize, is the industrial character of our society, and the true nature of the state.
When they do, they will direct their energies against the wage relationship and offer battle to the masters of society where these are least qualified to offer resistance—in the industries. There the workers are masters when they understand their position and realize their power. With this conception there must develop the recognition that with an instrument which will enable them to control their labor power, they can successfully resist aggression, and change their present status.
With the state the workers need not concern themselves except to recognize its class character and function. To scheme for concessions and favors from it, as an institution, is to cherish a delusion. To construct and develop an instrumentality by which the workers in the industries can assert and advance their interest as social factors against their employer is to have generated a power that will compel the state to modify its programs and conduct so as to accord with the changes which the workers will force in this relationship to the employers. As the organized proletariat advances in the control of labor power, the prestige of the capitalist class declines and the state as a repressive power is weakened correspondingly. The workers need not, and indeed should not direct their efforts against the state but against the wage relationship of which it is the guardian, custodian and defender.
The right to strive for shorter hours, higher wages and better conditions—modifying the class relationship—is acknowledged, even in capitalist circles, as a legitimate ambition and effort of the workers. Such readjustment as will presently lessen and ultimately eliminate unemployment is also admitted as a worthy endeavor of the workers. The social character of labor is the point that a real working class movement must stress, and the social importance of the points for which the organized workers contend, in their demands, is the logical and successful way for a union movement to make progress. This is the way of revolutionary preparation. For, as working class organization extends, its influence is felt socially. That influence is necessarily beneficial and advantageous. A genuine labor movement is constructive, and social construction, or reconstruction, is predicated upon industry and the social industrial relationship.
Moreover, as the class organization grows, in corresponding measure does class consciousness develop. And, as this class conscious feeling spreads, the source upon which the state depends for its repressive forces dries up. The bayonets of its soldiers and the clubs of its policemen are wielded by those who were lately of the working class, and who upon dismissal or resignation will return to that class and face its problems with the rest of us.
It must be the effort of the workers to remove every obstacle to solidarity. The rivalry of antagonistic groups must give way to co-operation. Division in the ranks of labor is the objective desired by the capitalist class. Labor when divided is weak and powerless. The one reliable source of labor's power lies in its control over the means of production—the vitals of society. This power inheres in the worker as producer. It can be organized effectively in no other capacity. It cannot be organized politically. Economic organization by the workers will produce economic changes, and, in the very nature of things, the state will accommodate itself to the modified arrangement. Actual changes in the wage relationship will compel political changes while rule by the capitalist class obtains. The political records of these changes will mark the transition from political government, by and in the interest of a class, to an economic administration, by and in the interest of a workers' society.
By organizing industrially the workers will form the structure of a new society within the shell of the old, and prepare for the change which will revolutionize social conceptions, forms and methods. The worker as worker—producer—alone can carry out the historical social process.
Politics is the temptation of careerists. It may offer a future to some of them, but only at the expense of that understanding at which labor must arrive. The great duty of the present is economic organization along class lines, guided by the conception that labor is the important social factor. With the growth of such a movement—labor will progress to a better state of society, where new problems will be met squarely with social understanding undimmed by class antagonism; and will be solved upon the basis of common benefit. Let us prepare for the next step—build up the Industrial Workers of the World. *** You have read the pages of this catechism. You have learned how the craft union system grew on the ruins of the Knights of Labor, how it provided good livings for the officials of the craft unions, not to mention banks and mines and farms and office buildings. You are yourself a constant reminder of its failure to provide you with all that you desire. You are yourself, as this pamphlet is published, witnessing how the ebb and flow of economic laws, decide your wages and working conditions for you. You have seen and can see, for yourself, how markets, panics, "good business" eras, and "hard times" whip you about like a straw in the wind, from work and temporary security, to unemployment and starvation, without your craft union or your insurance association, whichever it should properly be called, being able to solve your problems.
In the summer of 1923, as this pamphlet issues from the presses of the Industrial Workers of the World, a series of great craft strikes has failed. The Railroad strike has broken down after months of struggle. The few roads on which the battle still (theoretically) drags along, are operating more and more efficiently with scabs, organized into company unions in most cases. The old Grand Chief of the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers has become a great banker, and mine owner, and finds himself an exploiter of Labor. He is widely quoted in the capitalist press as registering his undying disapproval of any general railroad strike. "It is loaded with dynamite," he says, "for the public, for the employers, and for us". (Us evidently meaning the bureaucracy of the Railway Brotherhoods, which might lose some of its mines and banks, if a general strike took place.
As this is written, the coal miners are writhing in their realization of the fact that they have been sold out in the Cleveland agreement. A portion of the Rosslyn Cle-Elum fields in Washington is operating under a company union, which includes in its preamble a statement that the interests of Capital and Labor are identical, that the union shall be controlled by a board on which the Employers have a majority of votes, and that no member shall belong to the United Mine Workers of America, nor shall any person who does belong to the A. F. of L. be employed in the mines. In Kentucky, an over-lapping contract has been signed, by which one group, one district of coal miners, binds itself to remain at work while the rest of the union goes on strike, if it is able to once more resist intolerable conditions by the strike.
In the marine transport industry, we find the old "leader", Andrew Furuseth, urging his seamen to sling cargo, and his firemen to make steam for winches in order to break the strike of longshoremen, including A. F. of L. longshoremen, at Portland and San Pedro.
In the oil fields of Southern California, we find regularly elected officials of the A. F. of L. oil workers union deliberately urging that members who belong to another union than theirs—men who adhere to the Industrial Workers of the World—be jailed for from one to fourteen years. We find them urging their following to act as stool pigeons, and to point out to the brutal authorities, representing capitalism, all members of the I. W. W., to the end that those who will not pay tribute to the job trust of the A. F. of L. shall be buried in dungeons of San Quentin.
In the summer of 1923, the Capitalist Class of America is treating you as well as it ever treats its slaves. It is filling the boards of the employment offices with jobs, at what seems to the man long unemployed, to be reasonable, "living" wages. If this announcement comes to you while business is still good, you should not conceal from yourselves the fact that this condition is temporary, that just as panics have succeeded "boom" periods in the past, so depression, and lack of work will haunt you in the future, the near future. Many of you will look upon these lines after that depression, that unemployment, has you in its grip. Many of you will read these pages after you have travelled in despair and danger over many a railroad, through many a city and town, in search of a job that does not exist.
When that time is upon you, or now, when you can see the signs of it, the necessary preparations for it, on the part of the boss—in this very speeding-up process of which temporarily provides you with the right to toil and make a fortune for him—is the time when you should seriously consider the situation you are in, and seriously determine what shall be done by yourself (for no one else will do it) to relieve yourself from danger.
Fellow Workingman, do you, can you expect any aid from craft unions? Is not their treason and their swindling exposed in a thousand deeds? If you get hold of this little book before the great panic, which we, the Industrial Workers of the World tell you is certain to come, then use a half day's wages to take out a card in our organization, and if this writing does not fall into your hands, until the chaos is upon us, and the capitalist is "retrenching" at your expense, why then employ your leisure, you'll have lots of it, in studying the plan and method of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Here is something different, here is something hopeful. We do not have to tell you that your government has done nothing but marshal the forces of capitalism against you. We have proved to you in its pamphlet that the craft union system has shifted you into positions where capitalism can not help but defeat you.
The following manifesto, which was issued as the call for the formation of the I. W. W. is as potent today as when written, 19 years ago.
INDUSTRIAL UNION MANIFESTO
Social relations and groupings only reflect mechanical and industrial conditions. The great facts of present industry are the displacement of human skill by machines and the increase of capitalist power through concentration in the possession of the tools with which wealth is produced and distributed.
Because of these facts trade divisions among laborers and competition among capitalists are alike disappearing. Class divisions grow ever more fixed and class antagonism more sharp. Trade lines have been swallowed up in a common servitude of all workers to the machines which they tend. New machines, ever replacing less productive ones, wipe out whole trades and plunge new bodies of workers into the ever-growing army of tradeless, hopeless unemployed. As human beings and human skill are displaced by mechanical progress, the capitalists need use the workers only during that brief period when muscles and nerve respond most intensely. The moment the laborer no longer yields the maximum of profits he is thrown upon the scrap pile, to starve alongside the discarded machine. A dead line has been drawn, and an age limit established, to cross which, in this world of monopolized opportunities, means condemnation to industrial death.
The worker, wholly separated from the land and the tools, with his skill of craftmanship rendered useless, is sunk in the uniform mass of wage slaves. He sees his power of resistance broken by class divisions, perpetuated from outgrown industrial stages. His wages constantly grow less as his hours grow longer and prices grow higher. Shifted here and there by the demands of profit takers, the laborer's home no longer exists. In this hopeless condition he is forced to accept whatever humiliating conditions his masters may impose. He is submitted to a physical and intellectual examination more searching than was the chattel slave when sold from the auction block. Laborers are no longer classified by differences in trade skill, but the employer assigns them according to the machines to which they are attached. These divisions, far from representing differences in skill or interests among the workers, are imposed by the employers that workers may be pitted against one another and spurred to greater exertion in the shop, and that all resistance to capitalist tyranny may be weakened by artificial distinctions.
While encouraging these outgrown divisions among the workers the capitalists carefully adjust themselves to the new conditions. They wipe out all differences among themselves and present a united front in their war upon labor. Through employers' associations, they seek to crush, with brutal force, by the injunctions of the judiciary, and the use of military power, all efforts at resistance. Or when the other policy seems more profitable, they conceal their daggers beneath the Civic Federation and hoodwink and betray those whom they would rule and exploit. Both methods depend for success upon the blindness and internal dissensions of the working class. The employers' line of battle and methods of warfare correspond to the solidarity of the mechanical and industrial concentration, while workers still form their fighting organizations on lines of long-gone trade divisions.
The battles of the past emphasize this lesson.
The textile workers of Lowell, Philadelphia, and Fall River; the butchers of Chicago, weakened by the disintegrating effects of trade divisions; the machinists on the Santa Fe, unsupported by their fellow workers subject to the same masters; the long struggling miners of Colorado, hampered by lack of unity and solidarity upon the industrial battlefield, the thousands of subway railroad workers of New York City forced into defeat by orders from the Civic Federation, the unholy alliance between leaders of labor and captains of industry; the hatmakers in a long-drawn-out struggle fighting the industrial power of their opponents with weapons of by-gone days; the iron and steel workers defeated in their efforts to beat the gigantic combination of capitalist interests with a disintegrated, powerless craft union of mechanics; the switchmen of the Northwest losing their contest through the allegiance of their fellow unionists to the common enemy; the suffering coal miners of Pennsylvania and Illinois, starving in a hopeless conflict while other union miners are supplying the markets with coal; the defeated street car workers of Philadelphia unsupported by other craft unionists in their conflict; the tens of thousands of militant men and women of that city who, not shackled by craft union contracts which would force them to scab as the craft unionists had done, preferred to stand by the striking car men in struggle against oppression, wrong and abuses and be crushed with them as the result of this division in the ranks of the workers; the steel and iron workers of Bethlehem deserted when support and co-operation would have brought victory and amelioration of the evils they rebeled against; the seamen once in the employ of the same corporation by which the steel workers' craft unions were crushed, appealing in vain for the support in their struggle for the rights of free men, all bear witness to the helplessness and impotency of labor as at present organized.
This worn out and corrupt system offers no promise of improvement or adaptation. There is no silver lining to the clouds of darkness and despair settling down upon the world of labor.
This system offers only a perpetual struggle for slight relief from wage slavery. It is blind to the possibility of establishing an industrial democracy, wherein there shall be no wage slavery, but where the workers will own the tools they operate, and the product of which they alone should enjoy.
It shatters the ranks of the workers into fragments, rendering them helpless and impotent on the industrial battlefield.
Separation of craft from renders industrial solidarity impossible.
Union men scab upon union men; hatred of worker for worker is engendered, and the workers are delivered helpless and disintegrated into the hands of the capitalists.
Craft jealousy leads to the attempt to create trade monopolies. Prohibitive initiation fees are established that force men to become scabs against their will. Men whom manliness or circumstances have driven from one trade are thereby fined when they seek to transfer membership to the union of a new craft.
Craft divisions hinder the growth of class consciousness of workers, foster the idea of harmony of interests between employing exploiter and employed slave. They permit the association of the misleaders of the workers with the capitalists in the Civic Federation, where plans are made for the perpetuation of capitalism, and the permanent enslavement of the workers through the wage system.
Previous efforts for the betterment of the working class have proven abortive because limited in scope and disconnected in action.
Universal economic evils afflicting the working class can be eradicated only by an universal working class movement. Such a movement of the working class is impossible while separate craft and wage agreements are made favoring the employer against other crafts in the same industry, and while energies are wasted in fruitless jurisdiction struggles which serve only to further the personal aggrandizement of union officials.
THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD
It is founded on the class struggle and its general administration is conducted in harmony with the recognition of the irrepressible conflict between the capitalist class and the working class. It is established as the industrial organization of the working class, without affiliation with, or support of, any political or non-political sect.
All power rests in the collective membership.
Industrial branch, industrial union, departmental and general administration, union labels, buttons, badges and emblems, transfer cards, initiation fees and per capita tax are uniform throughout.
All members must hold membership in the industrial union in which they are employed, but there is a universal (free) transfer of membership between all unions.
Workers bringing union cards from industrial unions in foreign countries are freely admitted into the organization.
The general administration issues publications representing the entire union and its principles which reach all members in every industry at regular intervals.
Hundreds of thousands of workers, in every civilized, country are coming to understand the principles of industrial unionism. They are organizing for the battles of today, for better conditions, and for the final clash in the future when the general lock-out of the parasite class of non-producers will end the contest for industrial possession.
If you are one of the millions needed to accomplish the task, join the industrial union composed of workers in the shop or plant where you work. If none exists be the first to get busy. Get others, organize them. Learn to tackle the industrial problems, show others how the workers will be able to run the industries through agencies of their own creation the world over.
Write for further information to
1001 West Madison Street,