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Chapter 3 - The One Big Union of the Workers Versus Bosses

Let us investigate the causes of the miserable condition of the lumber workers. We find that the lumber companies are in business for one purpose-to make profits. They care nothing about the welfare of the workers; that is none of their business. They do not care how rotten conditions are in the camps as long as the men are able to do their work. To them it is immaterial how many men die from disease or accident, so long as they are able to get others to take their places. The longer the hours, the lower the wages, the harder the work and the more inhuman the conditions, the bigger. the profits of the companies.

On the other hand the object of the workers is to make a living. They care nothing about the profits of the employers. They want to make as good a living as possible, and to make it as easily as possible. High wages, short hours, easy work, and good conditions are beneficial to the workers. In this difference of interests and aim, is the very essence of the natural conflict between the Lumber Trust and the lumber workers. In this, as in all conflicts, the side with the most power will win. The secret of power is Organization. The lumber companies are organized into a powerful trust, and so long as the men remained unorganized, they were at the mercy of the Trust. Who then is to blame for the wretched condition of the lumber workers? No one but the lumber workers themselves; for owing to their unorganized state, they added to the power of the Lumber Trust and made possible the oppression from which they suffered.

To the lumber workers, the miseries of their lives, their toil, hardships and abuses emphasized their need of organization. How could they organize to best advantage? What kind of a union should they form? There are two principal points to be considered in connection with unions. One is the for m of organization-the method of achieving power. The other is the aims and objects to be accomplished by the union-how the power is to be used.

There are three principal forms of organization-craft unionism, mass unionism, and industrial unionism. The principles aims and objects of a union may be either reactionary or revolutionary.

Let us first consider craft unionism, which is represented in this country by the American Federation of Labor. Instead of uniting the workers in an industry, it separates them into a number of craft, or trade unions, each of these unions being tied up by a separate contract with the employers, and all these contracts expiring at different times, so that when one craft goes on strike, the others in the same industry remain at work, thus making concerted action impossible by dividing the forces of Labor and dissipating their energies.

The A. F. of L. is based on the false theory that the interests of Labor and Capital are identical. If this were true, high wages, short hours, easy work and good conditions, being good for the workers, would also be good for the employers and it would not be necessary to form a union to force them to concede these things. On the other hand, low wages, long hours and hard work being profitable for the employers would also be good for the workers, which is absurd.

The slogan of the A. F. of L. is "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." This may sound reasonable enough to those who arc ignorant of the real nature of the wage system but in reality it means nothing; for who is to determine what is a fair day's work, and what is a fair day's pay? Between employers and workers there is a wide difference of opinion on this question. The employer thinks that a fair day's work means all a worker can possibly do, and that a fair day's pay means just enough to keep him in working condition. On the other hand, an intelligent worker knows that all wealth is produced by Labor and that he is entitled to all he produces. If the workers got the full product of their labor there would be no profits left for the employers. This would mean the end of the present system of society, which is based on wages and profits. By adopting this slogan, the A. F. of L. puts itself on record as standing for the perpetuation of the present capitalist system, and holds out to the workers no higher hope than that of being wage slaves forever.

Not only is the form of organization of the A. F. of L. out of date, inefficient and inadaptable to modern industry, but it's principles are thoroughly reactionary; it serves to mislead and confuse the workers in the interests of the employers.

Not all unions affiliated with the A. F. of L. are craft unions. The United Mine Workers, for instance, is not divided on the basis of craft, but it is nevertheless organized in such a way as to prevent concerted action on the part of its members. Instead of separating the workers by crafts, it separates them by districts, and these districts are tied up by separate contracts expiring at different times. When one district is on strike, the rest remain at work. The orders are transferred from the strike district to the others, and in this way one district is forced to scab on another.

This is no argument against districts. There is no reason wily there should not be districts in a union whenever necessary for efficiency and convenience. It is not the existence of districts in the UMW. that prevents solidarity of action but the fact that these districts arc tied up by separate contracts.

Mass organization means the organization of all workers together in one union, without regard to the industries in which they work. This form of organization is inefficient and unwieldy. Only the workers in an industry are competent to transact business relating to that industry, but in a mass organization business relating to each industry would be transacted by a confused mass of workers from all industries, meeting together. The Knights of Labor was an example of mass organization and its inadaptability to the conditions of modern industry was one of the reasons for its early disintegration. Besides this the K. of L. was not strictly a working class organization, as it took in many professional and small business men.

Industrial Unionism means the organization of the workers according to industry, on the basis of One Big Union in each industry, without regard to craft or the tools used. This form of organization is represented by the Industrial Workers of the World, which is patterned after the structure of modern industry and the organization of the capitalists who control industry.

The IWW is not only industrial in form, but is revolutionary in character. It is based on the principle that "the working class and the employing class have nothing in common" and "Labor is entitled to all it produces." It is a strictly working class organization, and takes in none but actual wage workers. Its aims are three-fold:

  • To organize the workers in such a way that they can successfully fight their battles, and advance their interests, in their every day struggle with capitalists.
  • To overthrow capitalism, and to establish in its place a system of Industrial Democracy.
  • To carry on production after capitalism shall have been overthrown.

Each industry is dependent on, and inseparably connected with all other industries, the whole forming the complex structure of modern production. The workers in each industry are organized by the capitalists to cooperate with the workers in all other industries, to carry on production. The workers in each industry must organize themselves in such a way that they can co-operate to the best advantage with the workers in all other industries, to stop production whenever necessary in their conflicts with the capitalist class, and to carry on production after the overthrow of capitalism.

The capitalists who control industry are organized into companies, syndicates and trusts, which interlock with one another, the whole being dominated by great combinations of capital, centering in Wall Street, and

having their branches all over the world, regardless of national boundary lines and tending more and more towards the formation of one great, world-wide combination of capital. In the same way the workers who carry on production must organize according to the industries in which they work, and consolidate together into one great world-wide combination of labor.

The capitalists are bound together by their business interests regardless of race, color, creed, or sex. So must the workers recognize their community of interests, and unite together in the industries for mutual

protection and the advancement of their interests as workers.

All wealth is produced by labor applied to the natural resources of the earth. Under the present system, the earth and its resources and the machinery of production are owned and controlled by capitalists, and the

workers are allowed access to them only on condition that the capitalists can make a profit off their labor. The capitalists do no productive work but live as parasites off the labor of the workers. The wealth produced on the job is divided into two parts; one part goes to the workers in the form of wages which are just sufficient to keep them in working condition; the other, and by far the larger part, goes to the capitalists in the form of profits.

When the workers are unorganized they are at the mercy of the capitalists who deal with them as individuals and can impose on them any conditions they see fit. When the workers are organized they deal collectively with the capitalists and exert some control over the job. They can determine to some extent what the wages, hours' and conditions shall be. As their organization grows stronger, their control increases; wages go up, hours are cut down, conditions improve, and profits diminish. Finally a point is reached when the control exerted by the workers becomes stronger than that exerted by the capitalists; then the workers take over the industries, and run them for their own benefit, instead of for the profit of the capitalists.

The IWW is the result of the past experience of the labor movement and has learned from the mistakes of former organizations. The dues and initiation fees are low, to be within reach of all workers. There is a free interchange of cards between all Industrial Unions in the IWW When a worker changes from one industry to another, he can transfer from one union to the other, without expense or inconvenience.

It is against the principles of the IWW to sign contracts with employers. When workers sign an agreement not to strike, they sign away the only weapon they possess. Past experience has shown that employers only respect contracts so long as the workers have power to enforce them. When the workers have such power, contracts are unnecessary. When they lack power, contracts are useless, for the employers break them whenever it suits their purpose. The IWW is non-political, for it recognizes that the power of the workers is not on the political, but on the industrial field; and that economic power precedes and determines political power.

Next page: Chapter 4 - The Early Struggle for Camp & Sawmill Democracy.