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The IWW and the Living Wage

By the Lawrence, Kansas General Membership Branch of the IWW, ca 1999

The plea for a 'living wage' is a plea that runs through out history as long as there has been a ruling and a working class. It has taken many forms and been fought for in many different ways, but it has always been underlined by the same common theme: The demand that those of us who create the wealth of the world receive our fair share. This strife has continued for centuries and despite hundreds of years of bitter labor struggle the demand remains the same, and why? The reason lies in what the employing class would call "a conflict of interests."

It is understood by the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) that "the working class and the employing class have nothing in common"[1] and naturally these opposing classes have a "conflict of interests." For the bosses of the world lay interest in maximizing profits, "down sizing" labor costs, and gaining as much capital as possible while doing the least amount of work. While workers of the world simply want honest work and honest pay.

The employing class of Lawrence (bosses, chamber of commerce, CEO's...) clearly stated their interests at the living wage hearing. Demanding that city council "shut the door"[2] on policies that would guarantee wage increases and referring to an exploitable labor market as "carrots." The proposal to restrict subsidized poverty was denied because workers living in poverty will naturally work for the scraps employers want to throw us. Thus, an attractive "carrot" to draw more wealthy business owners to our "bedroom" community, and more poverty work for the working class.

So the line between the classes is clearly drawn and it is now obvious on which side our city council has chosen to stand. And if our city government chooses to side with the employing class, who stands with the working class? If our city government will not protect us from greedy business owners who will? The answer is us, the workers of Lawrence, those who create all the wealth but receive next to none of it. We know our true interests and are there for the most capable of serving our needs. But for this to happen we must be organized. The argument that a healthy working class would scare away business (aside from total nonsense) is irrelevant to Lawrence workers because a booming economy that leaves us in the dart is worthless. Why should we be content making the wealthy wealthier if it's just going to keep us in poverty? The answer is we shouldn't and the reality is we don't have to.

A business can move to town and with it products, machines and other technology, but without our labor it can not produce a dime. For our labor is what makes the economy go. We are the fertilization which nurtures and produces all capital, and if the bosses don't appreciate our work then we don't have to do it. Or if the employers want to pay poverty wages then we should commence poverty work.

In current situations we have been subject to a system of "divide and conquer" where we are left to plead and beg for a living. We are not able to demand a "living wage" by simply withholding our labor because we have been brought to believe that our labor does not belong to us (workers disorganized, divided and isolated our power is rather feeble compared to the organized power of the bosses). We have also been led to believe that we are a less deserving class who are not capable of serving our own interests. We have been told that we can not survive with out a minority of bosses to wield power over us and embezzle our wealth. This of course is nonsense.

We each do our fair share in this system. Producing raw materials, constructing buildings or vehicles, manufacturing and transporting goods, communication workers or being the face of the service industry; and it's along these "industrial departments" that the I.W.W. seeks to organize. For we create all of the wealth of the world together but, since the structure in which we create the wealth isn't owned and run by us, we are not the benefactors of "the fruits of our labor." This is why the I.W.W. proposes the organization of the working class into the "One Big Union" of all workers regardless of industry, skill, gender, race or belief. Where the bosses have us divided we seek to organize and demand workplace democracy. The I.W.W. is not willing to accept working people living in poverty and begging for a living, especially while a handful of bosses enjoy all the good things in life.

While divided we may achieve a minor victory for wages or conditions here and there, we will not become the full benefactors of our labor until we are organized. When the bosses "shut the door" in the face of labor we are left out in the cold, if we choose to stand alone, but together solidarity we are unstoppable. Our organization into the "One Big Union" is crucial to insuring we gain a living wage and everything else we have earned.

To insure we gain all that we are entitled to and that we don't loose what we have today come and join the I.W.W.!

[1]I. W. W. constitution.

[2]Bill Sepic, Lawrence Chamber Of Commerce.