Skip to main content

Chapter 7 - The One Way Out—Industrial Unionism

All of these marvelously complex machines, methods and technology are the instrumentalities through which capitalism accomplishes its purpose. That purpose is not the welfare of the many nor the social good of the masses. It is the exploitation of the working and producing part of the population for the enrichment of a class. It is an organized system based upon this exploitation for profit making in the interest of a class. The machines are merely the means through which the social relation of owner and wage-slave is maintained.

Capitalism is organized for a class purpose. It accomplishes its purpose through this special form of organization. All machines, inventions, processes and scientific accretions of knowledge are made subservient to this organization. The corporate form is the characteristic of capitalism. Before a new invention or a new project can be put in operation it is subjected to organization. It is capitalized. That is, its earning power—its power to extract surplus value from workers—is estimated in advance and a capital value placed upon this prospective earning power. That prospective value is called capital stock, common stock, preferred stock, or it is bond issue or some other form of debt laid upon the workers in advance of production. Every worker must assume his share of this debt when he takes a job. So every worker is born in debt. If he produces enough to pay the interest on the debt, he is retained on the job. If he can't he is fired. If his work produces more than a normal rate of interest on the debt, the debt is enlarged by the issuance of more stock, bonds, debentures, etc. If the debt burden becomes greater than the productive power of the workers, frantic efforts are made to improve the instruments, machines, processes and conditions of profit taking. If that fails, the "business" shuts down or goes bankrupt. If the machines cannot pay a profit, they are junked along with their human parts—the workers.

It is the organized social relationship of owner and wage slave that produces surplus value. It is this relationship that produces the surplus value, no matter what machines or technology are used in the process. And it is against this social relationship that the workers must struggle to economic and social emancipation. Capitalism is organized to maintain this relationship. If machines become overbuilt or overcapitalized both they and the unsalable commodity production that flows from their use as instrumentalities of surplus value will be restricted by the capitalist class. You may call it "sabotage" or "controlled economy" or what you will, the result is the same. Just now the overcapitalization and the redundant machines as well as the extra land areas under capitalized operation are being subjected to NRA and its "codes". The redundant capital invested in machines and lands will be lost to the owners but others will profit and the social relation which is the soul of capital will be preserved.

It becomes apparent, therefore, that no form of organized resistance to this system of exploitation that the workers can make will be of any avail if it recognizes the legitimacy of the relation of capitalist owner and wage slave. Craft unionism, which is merely a form of labor brokerage in which the reactionary officials of the craft unions bargain with the masters for a brokerage on the sale of wage slaves or their services, is manifestly useful only to perpetuate the exploitation. Craft unionism recognizes the right of the capitalist to exploit labor. It prospers when there is a large turnover of labor power. It declines when the cyclical over-production of surplus value precipitates a panic. It is increasingly helpless to protect the worker as the rate of surplus value increases with improved technology. Craft unionism is the only thing in the labor world that has been rendered obsolete by the progress of mechanization. Political action has never been anything under capitalism but an instrument of demagogy and social deception for the purpose of maintaining the exploiting class an power.

In the readjustment of the social relationship between organized capital and the subjected wage- working class that is now taking place the function of the workers as the sole producers of wealth becomes more clearly apparent as mechanization increases. The individual worker may seem to have become of less importance with the growth of the machine processes. But only as an individual. The more complex the economic structure becomes, the more organic become its processes. That is, the more highly organized and interdependent become its working parts. But whatever mechanical agencies may be used, it is living labor that gives life and power to the machine processed. The working class becomes more highly organized for production under the machine processes; it must also become more highly organized for resistance to class exploitation. The individual unit, the craft unit, the district or regional unit of organized labor passes with the individual processes but the industrial form of organization becomes all the more necessary with the advancing technology.

The source of all power is still at the point of production—on the job—where all wealth is produced. The capitalist class has long since abandoned isolation and has organized as a class to control production. The working class must do the same. Its only refuge from economic and social oppression to the level of absolute slavery is in industrial unionism. That is the basis of the Industrial Workers of the World and its form of organization. The objection is raised that you cannot organize the unemployed. The answer is that you cannot organize unemployed capital. The social disintegration that takes place in periods of depression is destructive alike to both. But the fact remains that organized society must depend upon economic production for its existence and its wealth; and the unit of production is still the worker—not the machine. When the worker is laid off, the machines stop, production stops, consumption stops and investments begin a rapid process of dissolution. Contrawise, when production is resumed, it is the worker that pours the first lifeblood and vitality back into industry and the exchange of commodities that brings back capitalist prosperity. The new technology points only to better forms of organization among the workers. The hours must be shortened; the wages raised; the conversion of wealth taken from labor in surplus value into redundant capital and the capitalization of prospective earning plower must be checked by the only class that has an interest in checking it—the workers in industry. The workers in industry must be converted into an effective organized power to exercise control over the machinery of production. This can be done only through industrial unionism as advocated by the I. W. W. With such a power built up through organization in industrial form, the workers on the job will be able to convert the reserve army of the unemployed into an employed army of organized workers by shortening the working day and developing unity of action for the carrying on of industry when the rapidly approaching debacle of capitalism reaches its final destructive crisis. The objection that the unemployed cannot be organized is no more cogent now than in periods of prosperity; for the organism of capitalist production has always and automatically produced and maintained such a reserve of unemployed workers. Their increase in numbers during the later and more disastrous panics only points to the growing importance and necessity of correct organization on the job—the source of all wealth, all capital, and all power. The pressure of the mass of unemployed behind the forces of organized workers will, if correct organization be had at the point of production, only increase the power of the organized industrial workers, for it will make the periodic panics more dangerous to the ruling class. Even in the present depression which caught the workers unorganized or organized only in obsolete and ineffective craft or district forms, the capitalist class has seen the necessity of removing this menace to their existence as a class by shortening the working day and the working week. This force will be directed under industrial union organization into a more effective power for working class control of industry and the ultimate destiny of the workers, absolute industrial democracy, will be attained.

In the meantime the vast chaos in international capitalism can only increase with the increase in integration and mechanization. There is no absolute cure for unemployment in a system based upon surplus value. There is no way to reorganize society on a rational basis in conformity to the already revolutionized industrial processes save through control of industry by the workers and the elimination of the price system based upon surplus value. And there is only one form of social and economic organization that shows the way to this result—industrial democracy—and that is the Industrial Workers of the World. Organization by industries, without regard to craft skill or alignment; without regard to race, color, creed or nationality. International integration of all labor's power into One Big Union, not only to produce power for carrying on the every day struggle with the capitalist class, which cannot be avoided, but to carry on production in an intelligent and organized manner, for the purpose of feeding, clothing and providing shelter for the masses in that rapidly approaching time when capitalism shall have finally proven itself impossible and shall be no more. The I. W. W., born in 1905, is the reflex and outgrowth of modern industry. It is not a visionary utopian plan but the logical line of action developed and indicated by modern industry for the preservation of society. It is the germ of the new society developed within the womb of the old. The worker who reads its literature and preamble is intelligently prepared to take his part in that inevitable struggle between the classes for control of industry which rapidly approaches. It is far better to be thus prepared to act intelligently than to be precipitated into the final chaos of capitalism's collapse, just as the workers have been precipitated into the present hell of unemployment, misery and death, without warning and without knowledge or organized power to help themselves.

The worker who reads the literature of the I. W. W. and organizes into industrial union form under the banner of the I. W. W., not only takes the best course for the immediate relief of unemployment, but insures the formation of that organized nucleus around which the workers must rally in the chaos which capitalism must inevitably produce. Production for use and not for profit is the ultimate evolutionary phase of advancing machine production. The I. W. W. alone shows the way to that evolutionary outcome and prepares the worker for it. Meanwhile it will, if supported loyally by the workers, provide a means in time of industrial peace as well as during times of industrial struggle for the growth and preservation of working class power.