Chapter 6 - Labor's Greatest Enemy
The workers are aware that certain undesirable and unwelcome things exist, but they do not know why these things are. Consequently, they do not understand how to secure the remedies that they covet, and for which they clamor. This knowledge the I. W. W. is striving to bring to the working class. Education is the main dependence of the I. W. W. It realizes that only the ignorant can be victimized with impunity. Ignorance is the enemy of working class progress. The ignorant are always fearful; they do not know how to go, and they only make headway timidly. In proportion as the workers understand their class position in society, they recognize the need of organization and the power that lies in it. The intelligent among the workers are nearly always found in labor organizations.
Unfortunately for the working class, the individual conception sometimes overpowers the social consciousness of organized workers, and they reach out for personal advantage to the point where they use the working class, instead of permitting themselves to be used by it and for the class interest. They are not always consciously unfaithful, but are swayed, without perceiving it, by the common predilection to put self before others. There is a deplorable low standard of economic morality obtaining among organized workers, for which leaders of labor thought, who encourage imperfect labor agencies, must be held accountable, because they have consistently and often intentionally cultivated and fostered economic ignorance among the union membership whose sources of information they controlled.
So long as this ignorance permeates the mentality of the workers, the labor movement must lag behind and labor miss opportunities to advance its interest. Moreover, as long as the element which has dominated labor affairs, and controlled working class destiny in the past, maintains its position of mastery, every attempt to educate the working class will encounter hostility from it.
Gompersism, which means capitalist control of organized labor power through the craft system, will fight every educational movement which it cannot control in the interest of capitalist property, as it has fought every movement in the past forty years that tended more clearly to define the lines of class division in capitalist society.
Mental Poverty of Labor
Ask the average worker what relation machine production has to unemployment, and you will find that he is unaware of the fact that machinery will explain unemployment. Yet this fact, which is potent enough to be self-evident, is a mystery to the average unionist, let alone to the average working man and woman. The unemployed, even after many experiences, on the average only understand that "the job was shut down" by the boss. It is accepted that the employer has an unquestioned right to shut down industry, regardless of the social consequences. Why the capitalist system compelled the suspension and left the employer no option is a sealed book to the working class generally. This should not be.
The workers, at least the organized workers, should be able to explain this phenomenon, and the experience of years should have taught them how to correct these periodic industrial visitations. But under the domination of ideas, as much out of keeping with the times as are their unions, every new occasion finds the workers as unprepared as did every previous panic. Labor has not learned from its sufferings, because its thinking, like its action, is largely indirect. It does not find explanations for its plight, it accepts advice and explanations from those who do not explain, and whose interest lies in working class inability to understand; and in its acceptance of conditions to which only its ignorance permits it to tolerate. And the explanation for unemployment is not difficult, if the workers seek it out.
Where the machine is put in, some of the workers move out. One worker with a machine, or a small working force with machinery, will produce more goods than a large working force with hand tools. So that machinery displaces laborers. This is the feature of machinery that secures its installation in industry. But machinery does more than merely throw workmen out of jobs, it renders the versatile skill of the craftsman unnecessary. So the machines have won their way into every industry, and wherever they went less labor was required until eventually the aggregate of these surplus laborers grew to such proportions that there came into existence what is known as the army of unemployed.
At first the unemployed were largely of the mechanical trades, but the invention of new mechanical devices, and the improvement of machinery, which has been going on, has reduced the unemployed to a working class contingent in which the unskilled workers predominate.
The change in the proportion of skilled and unskilled workers in the unemployed ranks corresponds to the change which was taking place in industry, where skilled craftsmen had ceased to be important factor. For in all industries today, due to machinery, the unskilled and little-skilled constitute the predominant element. The place of the craftsman has been taken by the technologist but relatively, the industrial proletariat is the most important factor in modern production. In field, mine work and railroad, and upon the sea, the unskilled workers dominate. Were they once organized, as the I. W. W. proposes, they would bind every other social element to their will and purpose.
There has been going on in society, side by side, two great conflicts, that between the working class and the employing class on the one hand, and that between the unskilled and the organized craftsmen. Within the working class, the organized workers of the craft days have striven to retain their supremacy over the unskilled workers. The organized labor movement in the craft system, so far as it is a labor movement, has and is still attempting, to secure for itself the places attending the machinery of production. Its fight has been to drive off the unskilled, for whom technical advancement was making place. These unions grew to deserve the term "job trust," which has been applied to them. Even their demand for shorter hours, better wages and conditions were never intended to improve the lot of their unskilled fellows, and many advantages won by these unionists were secured at the expense of the unskilled. Their initiation fees, generally prohibitive, their apprentice rules, their jurisdictional lines, were all established in an effort to retain their special advantages.
Even their attempt to organize the unskilled workers by their sides, where they did organize them, was intended only to make their own positions secure. Instead of asking for the organization of the unskilled, the working out of this policy made organization by and of the unskilled more difficult. But the machine continued at work, reducing the quality of skill and diminishing working forces to mere skeletons of what they were formerly. The problem of unemployment persisted in chronic form, insistently commanding the attention of the workers until there is a growing recognition that the solution of this problem rests with the workers themselves, and that they must organize as a class to solve it.
Unemployment Working Class Problem
While the unemployed army is a constant and growing social element, its personnel is in a state of constant change. There is continuously growing an interchange of places between the employed and unemployed portions of the working class. The problem is ever the same, and its solution becomes everyday more necessary to the working class. Within the capitalist system, the workers must decide how to fit a continuously increasing number of wage workers into a constantly diminishing number of jobs. One way is by shortening the workday.
If the average working day is now eight hours, by reducing the number of working hours to six per day, millions, now permanently unemployed, would be put to work. Of course the workings of the capitalist system would operate again to create another army of unemployed, but the workers, by organization could again shorten the workday to from 6 to 5 or 4 hours, or by reducing the number of working days per week.
Unemployment Necessary to Capitalism
While the present system of ownership survives, the army of unemployed is necessary for the capitalist class. The workers are indispensable, the capitalists are unnecessary. Common social sense points out that what is essential to social upkeep be preserved and that the unnecessary and unserviceable be dispensed with. So that when it becomes apparent that capitalist ownership of necessary social resources, and the means for their utilization, menace society they will be discarded. But, in the meantime, the workers must organize themselves to make room for their fellow workers around the machinery of production. Every worker added to the working force lightens the burden of the other workers. The employers, by virtue of their ownership, are riding upon backs already overburdened. The employers are not necessary to production, the workers are; and, as workers, they have the power to say whether, or how long, the capitalists will ride. The power over wealth production is the power over society. The workers must organize, as the I. W. W. is proposing, in order to wield that power.
Industrial Solidarity Greatest Power
The superiority of industrial power, as represented by the workers' organized control of labor power, over every other expression of power, has been strikingly illustrated in recent years.
In the great world war, the economic forces were as important as the military forces. It was clearly proven that without economic support the military effort would have collapsed. So important was the economic end of the military campaign that the several governments actively prosecuting the war had to take cognizance of it and give expression to their recognition. Politician and militarist were reluctantly forced to admit that, in the last analysis, the success of the military effort depended upon the economic support with which the industrialists in the various countries assisted the armies; "Work or Fight" was the slogan and men were selected for work or war, as their value in the furtherance of the campaign seemed to warrant. The machine in the industry was as important and as necessary as the battery at the front; the worker in overalls was as indispensable to military victory as the soldiers in uniform. The worker was even more necessary, because the soldier, in his military character, cannot and does not equip himself with the instruments of warfare, or the means with which to fight.
A nation must first be a producer of surplus wealth before it needs to, or can fight. In war, as in peace, the working class is the determining factor. The I. W. W. would preserve the working class character—producer—and would eliminate war wherein the overall is dropped and the uniform assumed; where productive tool is replaced by the death-dealing weapon, and men go forth to destroy wantonly and recklessly what has been produced in labor travail and is sorely needed by the human race.
Labor the Great Reliance
The political contention for labor has also received a decided setback, when the annals of the world war are read understandingly. Political governments proceeded to industrialize themselves and to organize the industrial forces of the nations as a prerequisite of military and political success, which, taken together, meant national industrial advantage, for the capitalists who control.
In Russia, we found that the political communists were compelled to forego some of their industrial policies to win political tolerance from, and a place among, the political governments. In proportion as it changed its economic principles, Russia made headway politically, until at the present time, the fears of the international capitalist class have abated to a point where Russia is about to be admitted to the "family of nations." The economic retrograde movement, though the Russians entered upon it reluctantly, won friendly influence among the profit-hungry in the capitalist countries, but the friendship is that of the wolf for the sheepfold.
Economic Factor in War
Again, in the Turkish-Allies controversy, political democracy is the disguise preferred to an economic end—control of the oil deposits in the disputed territory.
In the French invasion of the Ruhr basin, if political ends only were to be served, Berlin was as readily seized as Essen and Bochum, but the French were after the substantial in German national life, and they occupied the industrial heart of Germany.
The politicians in Berlin in this emergency did not rely upon political platitudes; they made their appeal for the greatest resistance that Germany as a nation could offer—a general strike by the German workers. This is all the more significant, because it was the German political socialists who coined the phrase: "The general strike is general nonsense." Time and circumstances have driven the German socialists to give world acknowledgment that the conscious, organized control of labor power is the greatest force in society. In 1920, the German politicians also depended upon industrial action to defeat the Kapp counter-revolution.
The French, also, recognize that the one power in Germany which would reduce the army of invasion to impotence is the refusal of the workers to labor. The French use their military power to exert economic pressure—their army of occupation is but an extended armed picket line—but if the workers stand pat, and the French labor movement does its labor duty, the capitalists of France, and their comrades in labor exploitation will experience the setback and the lesson of their career.
An I. W. W. organization in Germany, or in France and Germany, would bend the politicians, render the army of occupation helpless, and bring the capitalist class, which both serve, to its knees. Industrial power is the irresistible force which the I. W. W. is endeavoring to bring into play. When the labor power necessary to each industry and all industries is controlled by an organization which includes the workers in every labor classification and division, it will not only be possible, but sure, that such control will be exercised in the direction of attaining higher living standards, as stepping stones to industrial freedom.
The I. W. W. and the Unemployed
As the unemployed, or workers in fear of unemployment and its denials, constantly threaten this working class ambition, one of the first undertakings of such an organization would necessarily be to relieve this disastrous competition. One of its early moves would be to strive for a shorter workday, thus reducing the number of unemployed and strengthening the employed force which would be more amenable to organization, and so situated as to exert its industrial influence toward the advancement of working class interest. A working class organization will naturally have a working class viewpoint, and its activities will be of a working class nature primarily, but all its industrial ventures will likewise be social in character because of the fundamentally social character of the working class.
For the unemployed workers, there is no hope for alleviation of their lot, or for emancipation from their condition of helplessness, except through such an organization as the I. W. W.; and propagation of its principles should be their constant care and business.
Migratory Labor and the Social Revolution
The self-satisfied among the labor intellectuals pronounce the I. W. W. anathema because it is composed principally of migratory workers. "Wise" in their conceited estimate of themselves, it does not dawn upon these "superior" persons that the migratory worker, the worst denied and one of the most essential of working class elements, is the proper custodian of correct labor principles, and of proletarian revolutionary organization and program. The migratory wage worker is the particular product of machine production, and in this element all the experiences of the working class under capitalism are incorporated.
Fundamentally and economically, there is no difference between those workers who move about from job to job and from one industry to another in one city or neighborhood, and those who travel the United States and Canada shifting from locality to locality, and following now one and again another industrial calling. The only thing that distinguishes or rather differentiates one from the other is the radius in which they move about.
To change residence from one part of the city to another, is not different to changing from one city, or state, to another. The necessity to move arises from a common cause. The problem of the one element is the problem of the other, and they must unite to solve it.
The migrant is an unemployed wage-worker in search of employment. He may find a job within reaching distance of his residence, or he may have to travel thousands of miles to find one. But find a job he must, or perish. Upon this is his life conditioned.
The homeguard may balk at the term "tramp," but the workman who is out of work must tramp to find another job. To sell his labor power is the sentence of capitalism upon the wage worker. To try to sell it is his pressing business when unemployed. How far he must travel before he succeeds in doing so depends upon circumstances and the man. Between the city's unemployed, who tramp the streets from factory to factory, and those who go from place to place by way of the boxcar, there is no difference substantially. The difference is only psychological, not material.
The condition is identical, resulting from the same cause, springing from the same source, and demanding the same remedy. They must unite to solve that problem, and the I. W. W. offers the only means for doing so. The existing ownership, and the class relationship growing out of it, makes it imperative for the migratory workers to seek permanent access to the means of life—the earth's resources and the instruments of production. This element is where it must move for its own preservation, and the only objective toward which its condition and experiences are driving it entails a revolutionary change. It must have access to its means of livelihood. The present system of ownership stands between it and the social destination toward which it must travel—it must remove and replace that system of ownership before it attains security for itself. Hence the tenacity, with which the migratory workers cling to the I. W. W.
Again, if the workers can only learn by experience, surely these migratory workers, all of them at some time resident or stationary workers, have a fund of experience excelling that of other working class elements. They have, besides, the stimulus of a condition that qualifies them to lead the vanguard of labor.
Labor and the "Intellectuals"
Had the I. W. W. entrusted its destiny to the unrestricted control of parlor intellectuals whose experiences were not those of the industrialists, the organization would long ago have disappeared from the labor arena. The I. W. W. is not unmindful or neglectful of the need for intelligent guidance and action. It stresses education for the workers, but it has drawn its intellectual material from, and been guided by the experiences of the actual workers in industry and they are slowly and painfully building this organization into power which will bring to the working class the recognition to which it is entitled, and give the control of society into the hands of those who alone are capable of administering its affairs in the interest of all and for the benefit of all—the workers.
The future belongs to the I. W. W.