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Building Construction

A Handbook of the Industry

ISSUED BY

BUILDING CONSTRUCTION WORKERS’ INDUSTRIAL UNION No. 330 OF THE I. W. W.

 

 

PUBLISHED BY

INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD

1001 WEST MADISON STREET, CHICAGO, ILL.

 

 

Printed by Printing and Publishing Workers Industrial Union, No. 450, I. W. W.

Transcriber’s Introduction

"Industrial Communism"

The term "Industrial Communism" used in this pamphlet requires some explanotion. When the pamphlet was published, in or around 1924, the term "communism" did not have the specific meaning it has acquired since then. The bloody career of the totalitarian dictatorships calling themselves "Communist republics" was then unknown (although the Wobblies had already foreseen it), and the Communist Party of the United States had existed for only three or four years.

"Industrial Communism" was intended to describe a society in which industry and the means of production would no longer be the private property of a parasite class, but would be held in common by the workers who operated them, for the benefit of all humanity. The term has nothing to do with the political Communism (actually a brutal form of bureaucratic state-capitalism) advocated by the various Communist parties. This is best demonstrated by the fact that it was a favorite term of Industrial Pioneer editor John Sandgren, whose bitter criticism of the Russian Communist party actually got him fired from the magazine.

As the corruption and viciousness of the so-called "Communist" regime in Russia became clear, and the term "communism" came more and more to be associated exclusively with that regime, the I. W. W. quit talking about "Industrial Communism". Soon it was expressly denying any connection with the Communist Party and deploring its "rule or ruin" politics. Although it accepts the Marxian economic analysis of capitalism, the I. W. W. has never subscribed to Marxist politcs or had any connection with political "Communist" parties. "Industrial Communism" expresses a completely different concept, and readers should not confuse it with political "Communism". — J. D. C.


 

BUILDING CONSTRUCTION

1. PRESENT CONDITIONS IN THE BUILDING INDUSTRY

THE GREAT BUILDING SHORTAGE AND THE RESULTING BUILDING BOOM

If we were to compress the information obtainable about the status of the building industry for the moment into a composite word picture, we should not be telling the whole story. Such a verbal snapshot would not tell us enough of the immediate past to give us the power to look into the immediate future. It is the general direction of the road over which we have just come which indicates to us whither we are going tomorrow and the day after, and we need information on that point, in order to act intelligently.

For this reason we shall briefly review the post-war conditions in the building industry, gradually working up to the present.

The conditions in the building industry during 1922 and 1923 are without parallel in the history of the country. It is a notionwide boom of a thousandfold the magnitude of the booms of pioneer towns along the arteries of transcontinental traffic in the past.

In order to get as correct a view as possible of this extraordinary situation, we shall view the same from three different angles.

The first viewpoint is the valuation of building permits. The highest record ever reached in U. S. A. previous to 1922 was on April 1, 1920, when the total valuation of building permits issued reached the high figure of $125,000,000. During 1922 the valuation is entirely above the peak of 1920, and the first half of 1923 breaks all previous records.

A graphic idea of the big lead the first half of 1923 has over the first six months of any former year may be gained by comparing the figures for twenty important cities for which valuations have been ascertained for each month since January 1, 1914. These valuations are illustrated in the accompanying chart reproduced from "The American Contractor" of Chicago, a high class publication for exact data on the building industry, which every ambitious and knowledge-seeking building worker should read steadily, in order to have the building situation constantly at his fingers’ ends.

The valuation for these 20 cities for the first six months of 1922 is $825,326,767, but for the first six months of 1923 it is the much greater figure of $1,110,418,015. Chicago records the biggest June drop from May activity—the May figure was $32,198,000, and the June figure is $17,683,550. New York registers the biggest gain, the May figure was $39,556,401 and the June figure is $57,216,625.

In chapter IV, which treats on "The Bosses’ One Big Union in the building industry," we shall reveal the startling facts about the taming and subduing of the musty old "law of supply and demand," which may be considered as great a human achievement as the harnessing of Niagara. This will be better understood when we point out that the mountain peaks and the valleys and fluctuations on the accompanying chart are unmistakable signs of a terrible social disease, to wit, absurdly inadequate housing facilities for the people on the one side and reckless profiteering on the homeless on the other side.

Here follows the chart. It is easy to understand. The figures to the right and left signify the number of million dollars. The irregular lines crossing the chart signify the valuation of permits for each year. By following these lines and observing the reading on the sides and at the same time reading the month of the year at the bottom, you may get the correct valuation of permits for any month of the last ten years, with the actual war years excluded. Moreover, by studying the remarks in chapter IV, above referred to, you will be able to approximately trace in advance the building situation for some time to come.

Total Valuation of Permits Issued in Twenty Cities, 1914-1923

 

The curve for 1923 comes down near the 150 million line in June, but for July it is again at the 160 million line.

In Chicago the total cost figure of September, 1923, permits is about twice the figure for September, 1922.

The second viewpoint of this record in building activity we obtain by noting the total sum of contracts awarded.

All records were broken in 1922 for volume of construction. The year’s total for 27 northeastern states (including about three fourths of the construction of the country) was $3,345,950,000, which would indicate about $4,465,000,000 for the whole country.

Analysis of the 1922 record shows the distribution of building activities to have been approximately as follows :

Residential contracts . . . . . . . . $1,341,009,000 or 40 p. c. of total
Public works and utilities . . . . 562,966,000 or 17 p. c.         "   
Business buildings . . . . . . . . . . 496,145,000 or 15 p. c.         "   
Industrial buildings . . . . . . . . . 325,100,000 or 10 p. c.         "   
Educational buildings . . . . . . . 303,272,000 or  9 p. c.          "   
Others. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 p. c.          "   

The third viewpoint is well brought out in an analysis of the building shortage worked out in 1922 by the Cleveland Trust Company of Cleveland, Ohio. From their report we gather the following valuable information on that subject:

Almost everyone of the 50 cities investigated by the Trust Company shows a large, accumulated building shortage, which began to be evident about 1916 and has increased every year since then. The shortage for an entire group of 50 cities’ is so great that it would require the full time efforts of the building industry for nearly two and a half years to make it up. Stated in another way, this means that the builders and contractors would have to work 25 per cent above their normal rate for ten years to fill the existing deficit.

The greatest indicated shortage was that of Portland, Ore., amounting to three and a half years. That of Indianapolis was 2.3 years, and that city ranked 25th among 50 cities. The most serious building deficits are, in the cities of the Western group, while the least shortage exists among the cities of the middle Atlantic section.

The 50 cities in question. include about one fourth of the population of the country. The shortage was so great that it would apparently require 1,250,000 building operations to make it up. About 700,000 of these operations. would consist of erecting new buildings, while the remaining ones would call for additions, alteration, etc. Of the 700,000 new buildings about 300,000 would be residences, and the majority of the rest would be garages.

Part of this shortage is due to a rising standard of housing. During the past quarter of a century a new type of dwelling house has come into existence in this country that is much finer than any that has heretofore been available for any except wealthy people. It has hardwood floors, steam heat, modern plumbing, electric lighting, improved windows, and a completely finished basement. These improvements are now being incorporated even in houses occupied by people of modest incomes. Similar changes are taking place in business, industries and public structures, and these improvements largely account for the rising expenditure.

So far for the Cleveland Trust Company.

In their report as well as elsewhere one looks in vain for a sign of shame or contrition or a desire to shoulder the responsibility for this almost catastrophic condition of the housing facilities of the country. These people point with bejeweled fingers to the glorious prosperity of the country and claim the credit for all achievement in behalf of their captains of industry, but when you start looking for the particular captain responsible for the terrible conditions in the building industry, then there is "nobody home." Then they blame it on "notural causes," "economic laws," etc., that is, when there is no possible chance to blame it on the I. W. W.

No better proof than this shortage could be asked for, in order to prove the social irresponsibility and the incompetency of the capitalist class. They left the fleshpots of war profiteering and returned to building profiteering only when driven to it by the force of economic necessity, and after Uncle Sam was mulcted dry in the sign of patriotism and 100 per cent Americanism. The bankers did not divert the rivers of capital into the dry and barren fields of the building industry, until the masses of the people were so hard up for a roof over their head, that the building profiteers could literally hold the masses up like robbers and demand any price.

While thus trafficking in the economic necessity of the people they made and are making such a rich haul that the question of wages, hours and conditions becomes of minor importance to them.

What a fine prospect for the building workers to remodel the foundations of their organizations! What a splendid chance to tear down the stinking, rotten, antiquated craft union structure and replace it with industrial unionism! What a glorious opportunity for the members of the I. W. W. to shift from migratory occupations and capture control of a new industry by reorganizing it!

II. THE UNPRECEDENTED "LABOR SHORTAGE" IN THE BUILDING INDUSTRY

From all parts of the country the building industry employers are sending up the cry of "labor shortage." But the I. W. W. members have had too much experience with such cries as "5,000 men needed for the Kansas wheatfields," "farmers 100,000 men short to harvest bumper crop," etc., to fall for the first noise of this kind. We know that unless the applicants for a job stand in a hungry and submissive looking breadline several hundred deep, the employers send up the howl of "labor shortage," in order to attract more applicants and create competition, so that they may have greater power over the workers. But outside of such considerations there is an unprecedented state of affairs in the building industry, and has been for the last couple of years, inasmuch as there seems to be no such "breadline" just now, and inasmuch as most building construction workers seem to be steadily employed. On the whole we object to the term "labor shortage": the supply of labor power in an industry is an almost constant quantity. It is the demand that varies.

However, we will here let the employers themselves analyze the labor situation, as they pretend to see it, with a warning to the reader to take it "with a grain of salt," as we always should do with statements emanoting from the other side.

"LABOR SHORTAGE" DESCRIBED BY BUILDING BOSSES

The following quotations are from "The American Contractor" of October 21, 1922:

A general contractor of Chicago says: "A general shortage of building tradesmen is felt so acutely at present, because for the first time in the history of the construction industry we have had a boom that has swept every cranny of the’ country.

"In previous years when Chicago and a few other big eastern cities went over the mark with a great building campaign, there was usually a slack period in the building activity of other places. As a result men could be drawn from these dull sections and a balance maintained in industry. This year there has been no slack, unless the conditions that prevailed in the narrow section around Montana and Idaho could be so represented.

"Faced as we are with a shortage of some craftsmen that cannot for several years be trained in sufficient numbers to fill existing needs, is it not possible to discover and put into effect some means to co-ordinote the building program of the notion?"

And then this writer goes on to suggest the shifting of the working force in the building industry back and forth between North and South, summer and winter, much as the agricultural workers travel with the season. He does not state who is to pay the fare and expenses and for lost time, but very likely he had a golden’ dream of building tradesmen riding blind baggage and brake beams in rainy nights, chased by marshals and constables for the bounty, as happens with the migratory I. W. W.’s in many places.

Such measures of co-ordinotion this writer considers:

doubly important now. The stream of skilled workers that has flowed from Europe to our shores has stopped. I do not think that the immigration laws have anything to do with it. Consider that the northern European countries have the only craftsmen that are available for this work, and’ that the immigration from these countries has not come up to the quota allowed us. If these craftsmen wanted to come to this country, certainly no immigration bars have kept them out. No, they have not wanted to come.

In other words, the capitalists of this country have almost killed the goose that has laid the golden egg for them these many years. The I. W. W. does not blame the skilled workers of northern Europe for not being stampeded into the cattle-pens of Ellis Island, as soon as his nibs, the profiteer, would like to cut strips out of their hides. The workers of northern Europe are fairly well educated and most of them read socialist and syndicalist papers every day. They have no doubt heard of the 10,000 I. W. W. members thrown into jail during the last 17 years and of hundreds of I. W. W. men still in jail for alleged violation of the Espionage Act and the "Criminal Syndicalist Laws." They are all opposed to war, and large numbers of them are syndicalists. Furthermore, they have probably learnt of the funeral of liberty in this country, and of those splendid 100 per cent Americans who call themselves the Ku Klux Klan, who eat foreigners, negroes and syndicalists alive. Can you blame them for not coming in a trot when Mr. Capitalist waves his wad of tainted dollars!

IMMIGRATION AS A FACTOR IN ALLEGED LABOR SHORTAGE

In order to get the real facts in regard to immigration we will briefly review the, situation.

With the intention of checking the expected tide of war-stricken and supposedly criminal syndicalist people of Europe the Dillingham per centum limit plan law was enacted on May 19, 1921, and later extended to June 30, 1924. The principal feature of this law is the following point:

The number of aliens of any notionality who may be admitted to U. S. A. in any fiscal year shall be limited to 3 per cent of the number of foreign born persons of such notionality resident in the U. S. A., as shown by the census of 1910.

The effect of this law has been to check the immigration from southern and eastern Europe, while northern and western Europe have not been affected at all. The following figures for the first 12 months of enforcement of this law tell the tale:

Admissible

Admitted

Per cent
Northern and western Europe............ 198,082 91,862 46.4
Southern and eastern Europe............ 158,200 150,774 95.3

While not one half the number of admissibles from northern and western Europe have taken advantage of the opportunity" the other countries filled their quota in a few months. The former countries included the British Islands, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries, which have supplied ready-made building workers in the past, raised and trained at the expense of those countries.

THE RUNAWAY LABOR MARKET

We continue to quote from various 1922 publications of the employers:

With business failures still running 50 per cent above’ normal we find ourselves confronted by a labor shortage and rising labor costs.

Already in from 3 to 6 months, increasing labor and material prices have noticeably increased building costs long before they were lowered to what we thought was a reasonable basis; and the danger symptoms of bonus payments to workmen and competitive bidding for labor by industrial groups again appear. As wages are approximately 44 per cent of the direct cost of building the effect of the increase on the construction cost is at once evident." "Labor is not ‘a fixed caste in this country, and sons do not follow in their father’s course of life. In Europe, where social class lines have long been crystallized, workmen’s sons succeed their fathers, and the labor supply is fairly steady. Here there is a continuous shifting from the callous handed class to the white collar class. Throughout our history the main source of our common labor has’ been immigration. Skilled mechanics from notive sources are not replaced as fast as they are eliminoted by disability or death. The skilled American workman is not usually succeeded by his son.

In construction alone we need 35,000 new skilled workers and 12,000 additional common laborers annually, merely to replace those lost by death or other causes.

The I. W. W. has this to say to these distracted contractors: "Don’t worry!" With the knowledge we have of the American slave markets in our big cities we should say that we can supply the need of 12,000 additional building laborers annually upon 24 hours notice, and it will not show a ripple an the surface either, when those 12,000 men are picked out. It will merely relieve an insignificant part of the chronic poverty in our ranks. On that scare you need not send for a single immigrant.

In regard to the 35,000 additional mechanics needed yearly the task of procuring them is not much more difficult, if there only were a semblance of good will on the part of the capitalist class to help men to their feet which in the course of the years they have ground down and made destitute and hopeless. There is nobody that can speak with more authority on the composition of the millions of migratory workers in this country than we and we can assure you that there are more than 35,000 yearly all around mechanics in those drifting millions, which with very little training would supply the pressing need for carpenters, painters, paperhangers, structural iron workers, hoisting engineers and what not. We only need to call attention to the phenomenon of how quickly several hundred thousand of shipbuilding mechanics were stamped out of the ground in war time in spite of conscription. As if by magic 50,000 carpenters’ tool boxes came into evidence.

But instead of loosening up like sensible, practical men the log jam of poverty which separates these possible building mechanics from the work that goes a-begging, they merely frantically wave their roll and howl for immigration. Ready-made mechanics without cost to themselves is what they want. There are a hundred different ways of solving this problem, if there only were good will. Free transportation, room and board on credit for a couple of weeks and a box of tools on credit for a suitable time would solve the question. A well organized move of this kind would draw thousands and thousands of married and single men from rural communities of the backwoods, who only for lack of the first couple of hundred dollars to get a start with are held down in poverty. The rest would surely be supplied by the army of drifting mechanics who are trained in half a dozen trades and can quickly turn their hands to almost anything, if given a chance. Furthermore, those footloose mechanics have an up-to-date knowledge of everything American as well as of the language, and it would very likely be easier to break them in to their special task than to break in 35,000 greenhorns yearly. We have absolutely no objection to our European fellow workers fleeing from starvation across the water and coming here to share our bread, such as it is, but we see no sense in flooding the country with greenhorns when we can easily take care of all the work without them, especially as it would take such a lot of greenhorns to get 35,000 building mechanics yearly. What are the rest of them to do?

We strongly suspect that the howl for increased immigration is insincere and has very sordid and shameless motives behind it. First of all there is the ever present effort of the employers to flood the labor market, in order to lower wages. This is, no doubt, the chief incentive of the patriotic howlers who are so anxious to save their country and the people from disaster again. But, in the second place, it brings to the surface another very important consideration. In all the past industrial history of this country, one of the chief sources of wealth for our labor exploiters has been to get ready-made mechanics for nothing. Europe has raised them and trained them, and the American capitalists get their services for just enough to feed them and clothe them while they have any use for them. They have been in the same enviable position as a large farmer would be, if he did not have to buy or raise his draft horses, but they came jumping over his barn yard fence full-grown, well broken in and harnessed, asking for a chance to pull his plows for just enough oats and hay to keep alive and a stall in his barn. That farmer would get rich quick, while his neighbors who had raised those runaway horses and lost them quite as naturally would get poor.

It is the prospect of having to pay for the training of his own mechanics on a large scale that all of a sudden makes the building profiteers, landlords and real estate sharks so patriotic that they would like to dump tens of thousands of despised foreigners on the country. Economic necessity is forcing them to face the question of training apprentices, but as it cuts into their shameless profits to some extent, they do not face it gracefully. Incidentally these facts show how the people are at the mercy of irresponsible profiteers for their housing. It is high time for the building workers to get together and organize in such a manner that we can take the building business out of the hands of the money lender, the real estate speculator, the building material hog, the contractor with millionaire ambitions and all the rest of the parasites and grafters who stand between us and the possession of a home.

It is the function of the I. W. W. to so organize the building workers.

III. THE BUILDING WORKERS AND THEIR WAGES.

According to U. S. Census of 1920 the number of persons engaged in building erection were 2,338,210. Of these, 175,942 were classed as employers and independent workers, while the regular building construction workers. numbered 2,162,268. These figures do not include the clerical force of the building industry, but for I. W. W. organization purposes these workers are also counted as building construction workers.

The above total of building construction workers is divided among the different crafts as follows:

Employees Employers and
indep. workers

Total

Builders and Contractors 90,109 90,109
Brick and Stone Masons 132,698 132,698
Carpenters (83% of total carp.) 696,143 44,369 740,512
Cranemen and Hoistmen ( of total) 18,944 18,944
Electricians (1/3 of total electr.) 74,175 74,175
Laborers 623,203 623,203
Helpers (bldg. and hand trades) 63,519 63,519
Mechanics, not otherwise specified 26,765 1,409 28,174
Painters 233,961 16,152 250,113
Paperhangers 17,981 937 18,918
Plasterers and Cement Finishers 43,980 2,294 46,274
Plumbers and Gasfitters 193,432 20,672 214,104
Roofers and Slaters 11,628 11,628
Semiskilled (building and hand trades) 7,003 7,003
Structural Iron Workers 18,836 18,836
2,162,268 175,942 2,338,210

 

WAGES

According to reports of U. S. Dept. of Labor the wages in the building industry have steadily increased since 1913, reaching the peak in 1921, 1922, 1923, in spite of craft unionism, mostly due to the extraordinary conditions above referred to. In most other industries the workers have not been able to hold their own against the increase in the cost of living.

We shall here give the wage increases for some building trades from 1913 to 1923 in some important cities, namely New York, Chicago, San Francisco-Oakland, Minneapolis and New Orleans. Above each such table we shall give the Government figures for the increase in the cost of living at the same time. In smaller cities and in rural districts wages are lower.

It is to be noted that the peak in wages has been reached contemporaneously with, and in spite of, the introduction of the open shop, partially or completely in most cities. Also that the building industry counts with about 2/3 working time or about 200 days a year.

NEW YORK

PER CENT INCREASE FROM DECEMBER, 1914 TO

Cost
of
Living
Dec Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. June
1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922
2.0 14.9 44.7 77.3 103.8 101.4 79.7 70.7
Wages in cents
per hour
1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 Dec.
1922
March
1923
Bricklayers .......... 70.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 81.3 87.5 125.0 125.0 125.0 125.0
Carpenters ............ 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 68.8 75.0 112.5 112.5 112.5 112.5 112.5
Cement finishers...... 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 70.0 70.0 75.0 112.5 112.5 112.5 112.5
Inside Wiremen .... 56.3 60.0 60.0 60.0 65.0 65.0 75.0 112.5 112.5 112.5 112.5
Painters ................ 50.0 50.0 50.0 62.5 62.5 62.5 75.0 112.5 112.5 112.5 112.5
Plasterers .............. 68.8 68.8 68.8 75.0 75.0 75.0 93.8 118.8 125.0 125.0 125.0
Plast. laborers ...... 40.6 40.6 40.6 43.8 46.9 56.3 62.5 87.5 93.8 93.8 93.8
Plumbers 68.8 68.8 68.8 68.8 68.8 75.0 75.0 112.5 112.5 112.5 112.5
Sheet Metal Wor’s.. 59.4 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 70.0 75.0 112.5 112.5 112.5 112.5
Struct. Iron Work’s 62.5 62.5 62.5 66.3 68.8 75.0 90.0 115.0 112.5 112.5 112.5

For September, 1923, the New York wages for bricklayers and plasterers are given as $1.50 per hour, for plumbers and electricians as $1.25. for carpenters as $1.10 and for plasterers’ laborers as $1.06

CHICAGO

PER CENT INCREASE FROM DECEMBER, 1914 TO

Cost
of
Living
Dec Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. June
1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922
3.0 10.5 41.8 72.2 100.6 93.3 72.3 65.0
Wages in cents
per hour
1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 Dec.
1922
March
1923
Bricklayers ............ 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 87.5 125.0 125.0 110.0 110.0
Building Laborers.... 40.0 40.0 40.0 42.5 45.0 50.0 57.5 100.0 100.0 72.5 72.5
Carpenters ............ 65.0 65.0 65.0 70.0 70.0 70.0 80.0 125.0 125.0 100.0 100.0
Cement Finishers.... 65.0 65.0 65.0 65.0 67.5 75.0 80.0 125.0 125.0 85.0 85.0
Hod Carriers ........... 40.0 40.0 40.0 42.5 45.0 50.0 57.5 100.0 100.5 72.5 72.5
Inside Wiremen .... 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 81.3 87.5 125.0 125.0 110.0 110.0
Painters ................ 65.0 70.0 70.0 70.0 72.5 75.0 87.5 125.0 125.0 95.0 95.0
Plasterers ........... 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 81.3 87.5 100.0 112.5 110.0 110.0
Plast. Helprs ........ 48.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 56.3 62.5 106.3 106.3 78.8 78.8
Plumbers ................ 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 84.4 125.0 125.0 95.0 95.0
Sheet Metal Wrks.. 65.0 68.8 68.8 70.0 70.0 70.0 75.0 125.0 125.0 95.0 95.0
Struct. Iron Work’s 68.0 68.0 68.0 68.0 69.0 70.0 87.5 125.0 125.0 105.0 105.0

The above Chicago rates for 1922 and 1923 are from the Landis award. Many unions have retained their old wage scale. Others, such as bricklayers, plasterers and lathers in many cases obtain a bonus, making their. daily earnings from $14.00 to $18.00, it is said.

For September 1, 1923, the following changes are noted in published tables, indicating the progressive collapse of the Landis award.

Bricklayers $1.25, carpenters $1.15, cement finishers $1.10, hod carriers 82c, plasterers $1.25, plasterers’ helpers 83, plumbers $1.15, sheet metal workers $1.15, structural iron workers $1.25.

SAN FRANCISCO AND OAKLAND

PER CENT INCREASE FROM DECEMBER, 1914 TO

Cost
of
Living
Dec Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. June
1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922
1.7 8.3 28.6 57.8 87.8 85.1 63.6 56.8
Wages in cents
per hour
1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 Dec.
1922
March
1923
Bricklayers ............ 87.5 87.5 87.5 87.5 87.5 100.0 112.5 125.0 125.0 125.0 125.0
Building Laborers.... 27.8 31.3 31.3 31.3 37.5 43.8 62.5 75.0 81.3 62.5 62.5
Carpenters ............ 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 68.8 75.0 87.5 106.3 112.5 100.0 100.0
Cement Finishers.... 75.5 75.5 75.5 75.5 75.5 87.5 100.0 112.5 112.5 106.25 106.25
Hod Carriers ........... 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 62.5 75.0 93.8 100.0 81.25 81.25
Painters ................ 56.3 59.4 62.5 62.5 62.5 75.0 87.5 106.3 106.3 100.0 100.0
Plasterers ........... 87.5 87.5 87.5 87.5 87.5 100.0 112.5 125.0 137.5 125.0 125.0
Plast. Helprs ........ 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 68.8 87.5 106.3 112.5 87.5 87.5
Plumbers ................ 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 81.3 87.5 100.0 125.0 125.0 112.5 112.5
Sheet Met. Work’s.. 68.8 68.8 68.8 68.8 75.0 82.5 100.0 112.5 125.0 106.25 106.25
Struct. Iron Wrks 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 75.0 87.5 100.0 112.5 125.0 112.5 112.5

San Francisco is supposed to be running on the so-called "American Plan," which, of course, means lowering wages to the tune of patriotism. In other cities they cut wages in the name of religion and morality.

The above wages were unchanged on September 1, 1923.

MINNEAPOLIS

PER CENT INCREASE FROM DECEMBER, 1917 TO

Cost
of
Living
Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. June
1918 1919 1920 1921 1922
15.8 32.7 35.7 20.7 17.3
Wages in cents
per hour
1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 Dec.
1922
March
1923
Bricklayers ............ 65.0 70.0 70.0 70.0 75.0 75.0 87.5 125.0 112.5 100.0 100.0
Building Laborers.... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... 55.0 50.0 50.0
Carpenters ............ 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 65.0 70.0 80.0 100.0 112.5 80.0 80.0
Cement Finishers.... ...... 50.0 50.0 50.0 55.0 55.0 75.0 100.0 100.0 80.0 80.0
Inside Wiremen .... 50.0 50.0 56.3 56.3 56.3 68.8 68.8 81.3 100.0 80.0 80.0
Painters ................ 50.0 50.0 50.0 55.0 55.0 62.5 70.0 100.0 100.0 80.0 80.0
Plasterers ........... 70.0 70.0 70.0 70.0 75.0 75.0 90.0 112.5 125.0 100.0 100.0
Plast. Helprs ........ 40.6 40.6 45.0 45.0 50.0 55.0 60.0 85.0 85.0 ...... ......
Plumbers ................ 56.3 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 68.8 75.0 87.5 100.0 87.5 87.5
Sheet Met. Works.. 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 56.3 70.0 100.0 100.0 80.0 80.0
Struct. Iron Wrks 56.3 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 75.0 87.5 112.5 80.0 80.0

On September 1, 1923, some improvement in these wages are to be noted: bricklayers and plasterers $1.12 ; carpenters, cement finishers, electricians and painters 87c.

NEW ORLEANS

PER CENT INCREASE FROM DECEMBER, 1917 TO

Cost
of
Living
Dec. Dec. Dec. Dec. June
1918 1919 1920 1921 1922
17.9
33.9
36.7 22.7 18.9
Wages in cents
per hour
1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 June1922
Bricklayers ............ 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 75.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Building Laborers.... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... 50.0 50.0
Carpenters ............ 40.0 40.0 40.0 40.0 40.0 50.0 60.5 75.0 100.0 100.0
Cement Finishers.... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... 100.0 100.0
Hod Carriers ........... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... ...... 65.0 65.0
Inside Wiremen .... 45.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 56.3 70.0 90.0 100.0 100.0
Painters ................ 40.0 40.0 40.0 40.0 40.0 50.0 65.0 75.0 90.0 80.0
Plasterers ........... 62.5 62.5 50.0 50.0 62.5 62.5 75.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Plast. Laborers ........ 22.5 22.5 22.5 22.5 28.3 28.3 45.0 65.0 50.0 50.0
Plumbers ................ 56.3 56.3 56.3 56.3 56.3 68.8 80.0 90.0 100.0 90.0
Sheet Met. Works.. ...... 40.0 40.0 40.0 45.0 68.8 80.0 100.0 100.0 90.0
Struct. Iron Wrks...... 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 62.5 75.0 75.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

Later figures not available for New Orleans.

In order to make this account of wages in the building trades more up to date we will go beyond available statistics and quote a cheerful contributor in the Chicago organ of the bosses, "The American Contractor" of July 14, 1923:

A wage level has been found. With the passing of the first six months of 1923 comes definite indication that the big wave of boosting wages has broken itself on the shoreline, and any oncoming waves look small—merely ripples caused by too much displacement of the general level.

During the month of June, 1923, only twenty cities report wage changes as against 31 so reporting in May. During June a total of 79 trades (counting each separate trade in these 20 cities ) received raises, whereas in May 280 trades received raises. Digesting these figures in the common sense light of present building conditions, which show a well defined trend towards recession, and in the light of the fact that most wage changes are generally made during the early months, we are led to the conclusion that upward revision during the remainder of this year is not going to be largely indulged in.

Decreases in large numbers cannot be expected, however, for there is sufficient volume of construction work and of common labor work to absorb the available supply. There were 8 cases of cutting wages in June.

This contributor, however, seems to have been a little too optimistic. During August there were 66 raises and 6 cuts reported from 22 cities.

WHAT DETERMINES WAGES?

The employers pay as much as they have to pay, in order to secure "the help" that they need, in order to carry out their profit-making enterprises. They pay the union scale, if they have to, that is if the union has power enough through solidarity to enforce the scale. Otherwise the practise of secretly working below the scale becomes a regular arrangement. They pay 50, 75 or 100 per cent above the union scale, even to unorganized men, if they have to. The employers pay no attention to "the standard of living." If they can get a sufficient supply of low-priced immigrant labor, so they do not have to worry about the workers dying out, they will not pay enough to enable them to raise children and propagate their kind. On the other hand, they do not care whether you are a 100 per cent American of revolutionary stock and related to the best families or a "damned foreigner," if they only need you badly enough. They pay what they have to in the open market. And right here we are coming to the point.

In the open labor market your wages are determined by your own economic necessity. If you are destitute enough to offer your labor power for lower price than the other fellow, wages will come down. Standing alone with empty pockets you are no match for the boss with pockets bulging with money, and backed up by an intensive industrial organization.

The workers found this out more than 100 years ago and began to organize unions, pledging one another not to work below a certain price. If they worked vigorously to get all available workers into the union and if they practised solidarity to a high degree, they were able to shift the burden of economic necessity from their own shoulders to the employer’s, and made him pay them "a living wage."

But the bosses soon found a way to fool the organized workers. They made them sign "sacred" and "binding" "contracts" for 3-5-7-10 years, and in the meantime prices on all the necessities of life were raised, so that at the end of the period the workers were worse off than when they signed the contract. Workers think very slowly. Although this cunning practise has been in use for more than 100 years, there are large masses of organized workers who take a ludicrous pride in the conscientious observance of their contract with the boss, even if their children have to suffer from it.

If you turn to the above wage tables from 5 American cities you will see numerous instances of wages that remain stationary at a pitiful figure for 3-4-5 years, while the cost of living is skyrocketing. These stupid contracts are a fundamental principle in the "collective bargaining" of the American Federation of Labor.

The I. W. W. condemns all such contracts with the employers. We will charge the employers all the traffic will bear for our labor power, and we will organize so as to increase our power to charge higher prices for the only thing we have to sell. We will leave the law of economic necessity free play in raising wages, for we have everything to gain thereby and nothing to lose. Contracts are in our way when we could better our condition, and they do not protect us when things go the other way, for if the contract calls for more than the boss thinks he has to pay, he will try to break the contract and establish "open shop," or perhaps, company unions.

We reserve the right to take advantage of the shifting economic situation to the limit, and will do so through the power we get by means of a well built organization and the practise of solidarity, thus shifting the bitter end of economic necessity over to the boss

IV. THE BOSSES’ ONE BIG UNION IN THE BUILDING INDUSTRY

By this time it is so well known as to have become almost unnecessary of repetition that the capitalist class of the country is about to become solidly organized into "one big union." This one big union of the employers may well be likened to a tree. The trunk is Wall Street, that is, a dozen gigantic financial institutions owned and controlled by the Morgan interests, the Standard Oil interests, etc., all firmly united into one solid trunk. From that trunk rise a great number of great branches—the industries of the country. The smaller branches, the twigs and the leaves, are the individual industrial and commercial establishments. But under the surface are the roots from which this magnificent tree grows: the private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, with the system of wage slavery resulting therefrom.

The "general convention" of this one big union of the employers is the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, and that convention is also run by the Wall Street interests.

This one big union is the real government of the country, the government at Washington and in other capitals being controlled by this one big union, as is now openly being admitted by the liberal minority in Congress in their campaign speeches. It is in the directors’ meetings in Wall Street that the public business of the country is decided, before it comes before the public through the camouflage government at Washington. When that camouflage government, grips you by the throat in labor’s big battles, it is really the capitalists’ one big union you are up against.

The subordinate parts of this capitalist economic machine are becoming better organized each day. The employers in every industry have their "associations," local, state and notional. In the building industry there has for many years been a number of such associations, but not until very recently have all the building interests come together in one big union of the building industry, and that one big union is called "The American Construction Council," an ominous and already powerful institution which has attracted hardly any attention in the labor journals.

THE AMERICAN CONSTRUCTION COUNCIL

On June 19, 1922, representatives of the whole building industry, including representatives of labor, met in Washington, D. C. and formed "The American Construction Council." There were present about 200 men: architects, engineers, general contractors, sub-contractors, representatives of’ labor, and of manufacturers, dealers, bankers, insurance and bond interests, public utilities corporations, and state, federal, county and municipal construction departments.

In reviewing the situation a vice president of the Associated General Contractors said:

The extreme difficulties encountered in construction as compared with other industrial problems makes an organization such as this an inevitable factor. For 40 years American business has been passing through a transformation from individualistic to collective and co-operative activity, but the co-operation so far developed in the construction industry has been the efforts of the units of the industry, so that while individually we were important our co-operative efforts have proved ineffective.

This brief statement deserves to be framed. It is a fine, concise, business-like statement of the passing over from private capitalism to the next evolutionary stage: collective capitalism, a recognition by a public man in a public place, speaking from his own experience, of the fact that society is an evolutionary product. Having once unconsciously admitted this tremendous change in the forms of property, he has wrecked the old, stupid conception of the immutability of property, and at the same time raised the question of what evolutionary stages of property, that is, of society, have gone before and what will come after. Building contractors as a rule live merely in the present and have never studied social evolution, so we will help them out by stating the complete series of evolutionary stages that society has run through: primitive communism, family collectivism, feudalism, private capitalism, collective capitalism, and to this we will add INDUSTRIAL COMMUNISM, the next form of society, the one that the I. W. W. is working for. The collective capitalism that these great men of the building industry have met to create, is merely the bridge we are waiting for, in order to cross over into the next stage.

THE PROGRAM OF THE AMERICAN CONSTRUCTION COUNCIL

The immediate, tentative program of the American Construction Council resulting from the deliberations in Washington includes the following points:

1. The formation of a code of ethics acceptable to the whole building industry and to the public.

2. The gathering of adequate statistics from all sources and resulting interpretation having all the facts.

3. The reduction of the notional shortage of building trades mechanics and the establishment of the necessary apprenticeship system.

4. Co-operation in establishing uniform building codes throughout the country.

5. Co-operation with the railroads in expediting the revision of existing freight rates on construction materials. The establishing and strengthening of local organizations throughout the country to bring about the co-operation of all elements in conformity with the principles of the council.

6. The mitigation of the evils of seasonal employment and trade migration of labor.

7. The encouragement of local building shows.

8. Simplification, STANDARDIZATION and eliminotion of waste.

9. Education of the public to the distribution of its construction and maintenance requirements more evenly throughout the year.

10. The promotion, of the health and safety of workmen.

11. The reduction of loss of life and waste of construction materials from preventable fires.

12. The study of old buildings, in order to establish superior methods of construction.

13. The education of the public as to the necessity and economy of properly maintaining existing structures.

THE INDUSTRIALIZATION OF BUILDING CONSTRUCTION

As will be seen, this establishes "the self-government of the building industry," to quote one of the delegates. This one big union of the building interests immediately proceeds to take the reins into its hands, and we realize with a start, that the "independent builder" is a thing of the past. He is simply abolished through the above program. The little feudal lords of the building industry have been shorn of their power, and the American Construction Council is king of them all. We shall soon relate how this new king stretches out its powerful arm and guides the destiny of the building industry.

The employers have thus, driven by economic necessity, done what the A. F. of L. refuses to do and what the I. W. W. plans to do—from a different angle. While we workers are wrangling and fighting, the bosses stepped in and took the job of organizing industry off our hands. From now on the fate of the building workers will be largely decided: by this one big union of the bosses, and their lives will run in courses laid out for them and determined by it, much as the earth and moon obediently run in predestined courses, determined by the sun and the law of gravitation, that is, unless the workers organize a one big union of their own which is so powerful as to be able to enforce its own will.

We call special attention to point No.8, calling for standardization. We can see the time coming soon when the building crafts will almost disappear, to be displaced by industrial laborers working as assemblers of manufactured, standardized parts or operating building machines which will displace hand labor, such as, for instance, the paint-spraying machine, the cement mixer, pneumatic nailers, etc. We have already proceeded far along that line. What specialization there is left among the workers nowadays is not directed as much upon developing craft skill as rather upon developing speed. It is no longer the most skillful worker who commands attention, it is the speedy worker, the "robot," as a recent drama calls him, the sexless, statistical beast that is counted by the millions, of a uniform type, provided with iron nerves, void of human frailties, desires, ambitions and sentiments, but working away madly at a special monotonous task from a sheer sense of self-preservation. Such is the human factor that corresponds to standardization under capitalism.

This step marks the industrialization of building construction and requires industrial unionism to protect the workers, the "robots."

DEPOSING HIS MAJESTY "THE LAW OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND"

Individuals as well as trade journals commented on the sudden drop in the activities in the building industry in the early summer of 1923, ascribing it to this or that cause, but outside of the well informed "Monthly Labor Review," the monthly publication issued by the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, there seems to be no realization of the mysterious power behind that drop. The mysterious power is The American Construction Council and its ramified connections with the world of politics, finance and industry.

The statement of the case by the expert writers of the U. S. Bureau of Statistics is so fine, so simple and so plain that we can do no better than reproduce the chapter on this subject from the July, 1923, issue almost word for word. Here we quote

Suspension of building to stabilize the building industry.

Meeting in New York City on May 16, 1923, the Board of Governors of the American Construction Council inaugurated a campaign for the temporary suspension of all except urgently necessary building, for the regular diffusion of information as to building costs and their probable trend, for the curtailment of credit for speculative building, until the present "crisis" moderates, and, in general, for the control and regularization of the building industry. This action, taken because of uneasiness over the rapidly mounting costs of construction, is merely the latest development in a movement which has been going on for some time past.

With the beginning of the year the more conservative building journals began to point out that while prospects were good for a year of intense building activity, there was a danger in the increasing costs of material and labor, which, unless they could be checked, threatened to produce a slump like that of the second half of 1920.

If the building costs should rise too high there might be a buyers’ strike and a period of deflation which would harm not only the building interests but the general prosperity of the country as a whole. Early in the season came an indication that these fears were not imaginary, when it was announced that the erection of a 3,000 room hotel in Chicago had been given up temporarily because of the tremendous rise in costs between the inception of the project and the time to begin building. The rise in cost of steel alone from April 1, 1922, for this project would be $900,000.

Shortly after this came the publication of Secretary Hoover’s letter to the President, recommending the withholding of contracts for State and Federal building until the demand upon the building facilities of the country should have somewhat diminished, and this in turn was followed by reports from various parts of the country of projects relinquished or delayed because of high costs.

It was at this point that the Governors of the American Construction Council met to formulate a policy. They felt that a serious crisis faced the industry. If the building activities of the country continued to progress at the present rate, the demand would soon far outstrip the supply (sic!) that prices would become actually prohibitive and a period of depression and disorganization must ensue. The grounds for this belief were set forth at some length.

We summarize:

1. The volume of construction projected so far this year exceeds the volume of last year by more than 40 per cent, and the experience of 1922 demonstrated that during that year facilities for producing materials and conducting field operations were taxed about to the limit. Production in the basic materials is not only limited by the available supply of labor but, like other industries, by inadequate transportation. Construction is likewise limited by these factors, and, in addition, by the restricted supply of manufactured products and materials from the basic industries.

2. Stocks of materials on hand in practically all of the materials entering construction are lower than last year while the unfilled orders are greater.

3. Material prices are rapidly rising. Contractors in different parts of the country report that jobbers and manufacturers are unable to maintain their quotations for more than a day or two at a time on certain manufactured products, and it appears that the current demand has reached that stage where competition has passed from the seller to the buyer. The latter is bidding for materials and sending the prices upward. Furthermore, to aggravate the situation, deliveries are becoming uncertain and recourse is being taken to the practise of over-ordering for the job.

4. Labor rates, like prices of materials, are rapidly increasing. In the building trades especially, employers are placed in the position of bidding for services and paying bonuses to an extent, in many instances, even greater than in 1920. Regardless of what the different opinions may be as to the reasonableness of a wage of $15 to $18 per day for skilled mechanics, we know that under the present conditions these scales will soon stop building operations and leave the laborer in a more unfavorable position than he will occupy under steady employment at a lower wage.

5. The production capacity of various industries is limited and appears unable to meet a continuation of the present demand.

To meet the situation created by these conditions the Council recommends several lines of action:

Speeding up of production and transportation is urged.

Co-operation of shippers with railroads is proposed.

Labor is urged to drop all restrictions on output.

Holding up of all but absolutely necessary building is, recommended.

Publicity as to costs is suggested, as a means of letting people know when it is wise to build and to refrain.

The banking interests of the country are especially urged to curtail loans on speculative building. This action, the Council suggests, will exercise considerable influence in discouraging unnecessary projects and in bringing the volume of building into proper relation to the available supply of workers and material.

Briefly, the result is that numerous building projects are being delayed for more favorable conditions.

In consonance with these suggestions the New York Journal of Commerce reports, on May 25th that banking, mortgage and building loan interests are reported to be making it more difficult to obtain money for speculative building. Mortgage companies reduced their loans from 60 per cent or more to 50 and 40 per cent of total costs of new building.

One of the most definite results of the Council’s deliberations is an arrangement for the publication of a weekly forecast of the building industry of the whole country, much in the same manner as reports are now published by the Weather Bureau. By consulting this weekly report any intending builder can see just what are the conditions in his own locality, and whether or not the time is propitious for beginning his project. If prices are rising and labor is scarce, he will noturally be inclined to hold off, thus lessening the upward movement of costs, and if the contrary conditions prevail he will just as naturally be inclined to launch his undertaking, thus retarding the downward swing.

The whole program is intended to stabilize the course of industry, to level down peaks and level up its depressions, making a comparatively steady volume of construction, avoiding the crises and slumps which have been painfully in evidence of late years.

IT IS SAID TO BE THE FIRST DEFINITE ATTEMPT YET MADE TO UNITE ALL THE FACTORS OF AN INDUSTRY IN AN EFFORT TO CONTROL THE BUSINESS CYCLE.

Thus ends the Bureau of Labor report.

Having, for the sake of official propriety, to observe a rigid reserve of expression the Government Statistician cannot, like we in this book, point out without hesitation the real meaning of such efforts as those described above.

Putting it briefly, it means that both the contractors, the real estate men, the landlords and the building workers are fenced in. When this Council makes a move of some kind, the results will be immediately visible. We need only refer to the above mentioned curtailment of credit. One such blow makes the whole industry tremble. Contractors topple over and the bread is snatched out of many workers’ mouths. Any time mere man grapples with the forces of nature, such as the forces called supply and demand, and conquers them, it is equal to a social earthquake. Adding to this the step taken by Sec’y Hoover, in causing 40-50 million dollars worth of Government building to be postponed (and no doubt this was done after consulting the Council) we have the explanation of the "drop" in activity above referred to.

Mr. Babson, the oracle and prophet of the business world, has good backing, consequently, when on July 10, 1923, he sent out the following piece of advice to his clients:

If you are contemplating building write today to the contractors with whom you have been negotiating, that you have given up the work for the present. Write your architect today that you shall await lower prices. Abandon all new construction for the next 30-60 days.

The material dealers, who have so long been coining money out of the misery of the people did not dare to make open objection to the actions of The American Construction Council, but they took vengeance by all jumping on poor Babson for injuring their profits, virtually calling him a bum prophet who has been getting their money for years for nothing. That Babson’s advice under the circumstances will be taken seriously can hardly be doubted.

Thus we have here the explanation of the lull in building operations in the summer of 1922, but it is an artificial lull, a mere damming up of people’s needs. It now remains to be seen whether The American Construction Council will be able to regulate the dam they have built so that business will flow as regularly to their profit mill as the miller makes the water flow to his flour mill.

Through their dam, as well as through their weekly publication of building forecasts, the Council is going to affect the wages, hours and conditions of the building workers mast profoundly. They will make no noise about it, and it will not show on the surface, but every move of theirs will immediately be projected into the field of labor and will be felt by every worker in the industry. Thus the Council has in fact appointed itself the guardian of and dictator over the building workers. And we have enough experience and knowledge of our bosses to know that it will not be long before the Council will undertake by subtle and masked moves to reduce the wages of the building workers on a national basis, increase the hours, speed up the work and aggravate the conditions. The Council speaks gently and innocently, but, beware, behind its back it carries a terrible club.

The A. F. of L. leaders will be as putty in the Council’s hands, and the building workers stand practically defenseless against a most powerful and remorseless enemy and exploiter, unless they answer with a counter-move of the right kind, that is, by organizing the building industry industrially.

V. THE DISORGANIZED STATE OF THE BUILDING WORKERS

What have the building workers to set up against this all-powerful One Big Union of the employers?

Leaving the I. W. W. out of consideration for the moment, as we have not entered into this industry to any great extent, the building workers have no organized body which is at all capable of protecting them against the terrible pressure which can be expected from The American Construction Council, working hand in hand with the subordinate associations of employers and with a shortcut connection with the big banking world. The treasurer of the Council is, namely, none less than John B. Larner of the American Bankers’ Association. We say, what have the workers got to put up against this? Nothing as yet but the collapsing A. F. of L.

THE COLLAPSE OF THE A. F. OF L. IN THE BUILDING INDUSTRY

The craft unions in the building industry came into existence at a time when building construction was almost exclusively handled by petty craft contractors who had the knife on one another’s throat most of the time. The tenacity of craft unionism in the building trades is still chiefly due to the existence of these craft contractors. Furthermore, at that time handicraft skill was still a great factor. Windows, doors, moldings and sashes and all sorts of fittings of wood or metal did not yet come ready-made from the mill and the factory, the paint had to be mixed by hand for each job, the granite blocks had to be cut and fitted by hand on the job instead of in the planing mill, etc., etc. Under such conditions the craft unions had a great function to fill. But as the process of industrialization progresses, craft lines are being obliterated more or less. The workers are becoming more and more assemblers of factory-made parts instead of artisans. The craft unions no longer correspond to the organization of the work on the buildings in the course of construction. And as industrialization progresses, the general contractor looms bigger and bigger and the craft contractor smaller and smaller. As soon as the American Construction Council’s program plank calling for standardization is carried into effect to its full extent, the craft contractor can pack up and go and join the mummies of the dead past.

Under these circumstances, when the craft unions in an ever decreasing degree are being held together by economic necessity, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the leaders to hold the membership together for dues-paying purposes, seeing that the union lost one fight after another in its stupid attempt to set the clock of industrial progress back. To make up for this decay of the very foundations of the craft unions and to check the gradual collapse, the leaders formed conspiracies to keep the members together by means of intimidation and terrorism. Bulldozing and slugging became the order of the day. Having thus lost their sincerity, as they themselves could not possibly any longer believe in a cause which required such means, the A. F. of L. leaders went down the inclined plane of dishonesty and corruption like oiled lightning. Court proceedings of recent years and months in New York and Chicago have shown that most officials were bandits, crooks, grafters, extorters, gunmen, dynamiters, common jailbirds, all of them "playing the labor game" much as rotten politicians play "the political game." We all know that conditions are more or less the same in other cities. The A. F. of L., particularly in the building industry, is going down and out in a perfect riot of crime, corruption and shame.

The proofs of this terrible statement are so numerous that without much trouble one could fill book upon book with it from the files of the press and from the court records. But what is the use of digging into stinking details that everybody knows of already, facts that nobody will deny except the crooks themselves and those dupes or worse who are picking up a miserable and dishonest living along their slimy trail.

The employers are, naturally, taking advantage of this situation for the purpose of shaking off the leeches that have constantly bled them in the past by declaring strikes and boycotts for their own mercenary purposes. It is largely due to the moral collapse of the A. F. of L. leaders that they have been so successful in establishing the open shop in certain places, completely or partially. The success of the open shop movement is not merely due to the economic out-of-dateness of the craft unions, but also to the fact that thousands and thousands of building workers are glad to get away from the sluggers, grafters and despots who have tyrannized them so long, even if they have to take chances on a hand to hand struggle with the employers, as individuals. They feel that they can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that they are not parties to and mixed up in any dirty business. Most men are righteous at heart, and they despise their leaders and suffer from having to be the tools of rascals and criminals.

Thus it has come to pass that in New York open shop conditions largely prevail, while in Chicago the Building Trades Council is actually broken up and 50-60 thousand unorganized men are at work on the buildings. In Philadelphia 13 trades were open shop some time ago, in Sioux City 16, in St. Joe, Mo. 8. Des Moines, Duluth and Tucson were all open shop, and Columbus, O., partly so. We say "were," as conditions are shifting so rapidly that what is true today may be only partly true tomorrow. The above cities are picked at random. The reader may easily find other open shop towns. We cannot here go into further details, but it is an undeniable fact that is plain to all building trades workers that craft unionism is about to collapse completely. The "labor shortage" may give the slugging dues-collectors of the A. F. of L. another chance for a while yet, but the cry for industrial unionism is rising from every part of the country inside the A. F. of L., though we must admit that we find a very poor understanding of industrial unionism in that quarter.

TRAFFICKING IN THE OPEN SHOP

Fully aware of the utter impracticability for the contractors to deal individually with millions of workers, the A. F. of L traffics in the natural hostility toward the open shop, in order to get the workers back and to get that "recognition" of the union without which the labor fakir’s job is not worth anything.

As a sample of the argument put up for that purpose let us quote what a friend of the craft unions says in New York Times:

To restore the open shop, with nothing to take the place of the present union is as impossible as to unscramble eggs and set them to hatch. Collective bargaining is an unescapable consequence of the size and complexity of modern industry. You can no more restore the individual bargain than you can restore hand-tool production. And the workers are going to determine for themselves the form of their own organization and choose their own representatives. The employers cannot formulate it for them. They can merely form, on their side also, such organizations as they may choose, to deal with such organization as the workers may choose to form or join.

So far most employers’ organizations have made the blunder of taking the I. W. W. instead of the trade unions as their model. That is, they have organized as ‘one big union’ of employers as a class, instead of organizing by trades and industries and federating these groups. (!!!) Experience has long since shown that the one big union is efficient only for fighting and destruction but misfit for bargaining and business.

If the purpose is to destroy capitalism, the I. W. W. is the way. If the purpose is to do business with it, the trade unions are the way. If the purpose is to do business with it, the federated organizations by industries is the way.

The employers, like the employees, have the right to choose either way. But if they choose an organization only for fighting and try to do business with it, they must not be surprised if the business effort fails and breaks up into a fight. Also if they fight the craft unions they must not be surprised if they raise up the I. W. W. in their place. It would be better to deal with them.

(Quotations reproduced from "The Carpenter," official craft union organ.)

Yes, if industrial evolution could be stopped by chiding and cajolery of this kind, and if the world with everything that is in it were the work and the plan of an omnipotent trifler, then muddle-headed craft unionists with an eye for "doing business with the employers" would be in clover forever. Their clock stopped on "recognition" and "collective bargaining" years ago, and they can get no further. They are mentally bankrupt. They want evolution to stop and come back and pick them up. The I. W. W. they use as a scarecrow, in order to make their argument more impressive, as the above writer.

The Eskimo Heaven is said to be the place where blubber is to be found any way you turn. Blubber to eat, blubber to drink, and nice little cozy blubber fires flickering and sputtering everywhere as far as the eye can see.

In the same way, the craft union official’s Heaven is a place where "collective BARGAINING," with emphasis on bargaining, is the chief indoor sport. Table after table of collective bargainers as far as the eye can see, with "settlements" made under the table as often as above it! That’s their Paradise, with so much per day, plus expenses, thrown in for good measure.

No wonder it makes their heart sad to see the employers take the cue from the I. W. W. and line up for a finish fight by means of "one big union," in obedience to industrial evolution.

VI. INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM

At a time when the opportunities for organizing the building workers are greater than ever before, due principally to building shortage, but also due to the leveling process incidental to the industrialization of the building industry, we find these workers either drifting on the waterlogged ship of craft unionism or embarked upon a fool’s errand—industrial unionism via amalgamation, while more than half of them are unorganized.

What is to be done to remedy this sad state of affairs? We, the building construction workers in the I. W. W., we know what should be done, and for that reason we dare, at this time, to come forward with a program that we think will solve all problems in this line and enable us to successfully take up the battle for life with the one big union of’ our employers.

THE I. W. W. PROGRAM

We cannot here go into a lengthy discussion of the I. W. W. program. We have large separate books and pamphlets which treat that subject. Here we have to content ourselves with a brief and condensed statement.

The Industrial Workers of the World, or the I. W. W. for short, propose to organize all the usefully employed productive and distributive forces of mankind industrially, to the extent that they are ripe for it, that is, into Industrial Unions which shall have a twofold purpose, to wit:

1. To serve as fighting organs in the daily battles of the present for better wages, shorter hours, better conditions and increased control by the workers.

2. To serve as organs for taking over the industries in due time and as organs of production and distribution for the future.

At this point a thoughtful study of the Preamble to our Constitution will be helpful, and we here give that Preamble in full:

I. W. W. PREAMBLE

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in anyone industry, or in all industries, if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system." It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.

The army of production must be organized, not only for the every-day struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

In order to make this program a reality the I. W. W. has planned to organize all the workers into 6 large Industrial Departments, or more if necessary, each one containing as many Industrial Unions as will be necessary to cover all the industries, each of which, in turn, shall contain as many branches, and sections of branches as will be necessary to take in all industrial establishments. Thus, as a rule, each shop, each shipyard, each ship on the seas, each construction job will constitute one complete branch or section of a branch, at the discretion of the workers there employed, irrespective of their different crafts or occupations. This is the central idea in industrial unionism that differentiates it from craft unionism, which organizes all workers with the same tools into one craft, irrespective of the industry they work in.

The I. W. W. proposes to organize the workers in the same way as production and distribution is now mainly organized, namely by industries, while craft unionism still organizes the workers along the lines that production and distribution followed in the past.

These I. W. W. unions hold their business meetings in halls when possible, like other unions, to discuss and to vote, but the chief activity of these unions will be right on the job, where job delegates in sufficient numbers are always present to uphold the decisions of the union and where every member is expected to be constantly on guard against encroachments by the employer and constantly on the alert to increase and to exercise job control by the workers. The I. W. W. builds job unions rather than office unions. The job meeting, the shop meeting and the carrying out of their decisions on the job are the chief elements tending to build up control by the workers.

From this brief general description of the every day life of the I. W. W., which should be studied more in detail by reading our papers and other books and pamphlets, we shall now pass over to a consideration of the building construction workers in the I. W. W.

THE BUILDING CONSTRUCTION WORKERS’ INDUSTRIAL UNION NO. 330, I. W. W.

In analogy with the shop, the shipyard, the construction camp, etc., each building in erection is a "one big union" or a section thereof, that is, all the workers, irrespective of craft or occupation, carry the same card and belong to the same union. There is only one union on the whole job, and that is Building Construction Workers’ Industrial Union No. 330, I. W. W. The same delegate or delegates, if several are required, represent all the workers, technicians and laborers, plumbers and painters, granite cutters and asbestos workers, etc. These are, namely, no longer known by their trade, but they are, for union purposes, known as Building Construction Workers. To begin with, you will easily see that such an arrangement, such an industrial job union will make impossible such conditions as now prevail, where each craft union works separately, frequently out of communication with the rest and often scabbing on each other. The present conditions in Chicago will serve as a good sample of the results of craft unionism. Just think how different it would be if they threw away their craft union cards and all the workers on each building stuck together as one union!

We have started with a description of how the I. W. W. carries the union to the job, but the union also lives in business meeting halls. How will the I. W. W. arrange this feature?

As we have shown in a statistical table in a previous chapter the building construction workers constitute about 2 per cent of our population. If these were evenly distributed it would make a local branch of 1,000 members in a city of 50,000. Experience proves that a union of this size can carry on business without subdividing. But they are not evenly distributed. The cities have a much larger percentage of building workers than the rural districts. In rural districts and towns of, say, less than 25,000 inhabitants, no subdivision of the local branch will be necessary for meeting and business purposes. All the building workers, plumbers and carpenters, electricians and laborers, gasfitters and draftsmen, etc., meet together and take joint control of the building industry of their locality. Can’t. you immediately see that such a union would be the strongest power in the community? Officials and politicians, newspaper reporters and contractors would gather in hushed expectancy in the anteroom of the meeting to learn of the decisions which would be the guides of their actions. There is no power in the world that can resist industrially organized workers.

The question of building shortage would have to be put up to these men, and they would solve it with the contractors, for the present, if they are nice and tractable, otherwise without the contractors.

Our plan is best understood by allowing the mind to keep this fundamental type of a branch as the pattern to build from.

When we come to cities over, say, 25,000 inhabitants, the matter becomes a little more complicated, and we want to say right here that the I. W. W. never lays down cast iron rules in advance for the workers to follow. The I. W. W. has been built up by natural growth and not according to blueprints or decrees. The workers will have to work out the best plan for organizing effectively even in the big cities. The United States have about 250 cities above 25,000 population where this problem would eventually have to be faced.

As this stage we merely offer some suggestions.

As long as the branch is not too big to carry on business in regular meeting, no subdivision should take place, unless it be necessary an account of the size of the city or for agitational purposes. Anyhow, this would have to be considered by the workers themselves in each case separately. It might be desirable in New York to start with a branch for lower Manhattan, one for Harlem, one for Bronx, one for Queens, one or several for Brooklyn, one for Staten Island, etc., as travelling to the meetings otherwise might take up too much of the worker’s precious time. In the same manner it might be necessary in Chicago to have separate branches from the start for North Side, South Side and West Side, which later may subdivide as the pressure of circumstances upon them dictates, all the time remembering that it is on the job that the chief place is for the union to function.

This Industrial Union is as yet in the educational and agitational stage, and what is most suitable and serviceable now might have to be changed in conformity with economic conditions when we have increased in numbers so as to have actual job control.

In any event, it is absolutely necessary that these various branches be strongly united by the federated body established in the I. W. W. General Constitution, known as the "Industrial Union District Council." Representatives from all the branches should meet at regular and frequent intervals, so as always to meet every attack by the solidarity of the bosses, with the great resistance that solidarity of the workers affords. All disputes, and all strikes should be handled by the district council, or by committees from it and as being a portion of the functions of the said subordinate body.

We repeat, the I. W. W. does not dogmatically lay down cast iron rules for the workers to follow. We hold that society is an organism and not a manufactured machine, and as an organism it should be allowed to have a natural growth.

We believe in implicitly obeying the Law of Economic Necessity and in following the line of least resistance, like everything else in nature. We want the proper forms to be experimentally determined as we go along. There is one thing, however, that we must remember amid all these considerations, and that is that we should adopt such forms that our unions will on short notice and at the earliest possible time be able to take over the whole industry with the social responsibility that goes with it. This form will at the same time strengthen the union for its daily battles with the employers.

THE BATTLE TO THE FINISH

This will, of course, mean a battle to the finish for control of the building industry between Building Construction Workers’ Industrial Union No. 330, I. W. W.,—the One Big Union of the Workers—and the American Construction Council— the One Big Union of the employers.

This battle need not necessarily be looked upon as social frightfulness and as a thing to be avoided. On the contrary, human progress is largely the history of such battles through the ages. They reflect economic necessity.

A good many of the elements now back of The American Construction Council and its subsidiaries may be considered parasitical in a broad sense, such as bankers, insurance men, real estate men. But the contractor as a rule exercises a necessary supervisory function, in addition to having to scrape the money together required for building. Architects, civil engineers and draftsmen are as necessary as the carpenter and the electrician. A considerable part of the bosses’ One Big Union, now subservient to the interests of capitalists, thus properly belong with the workers, although they are now enslaved by the money lenders, the real estate sharks and the speculators, just as the same elements reach out to enslave us, the manual workers. The A. F. of L. has already surrendered to them. The President of the Building Department of the A. F. of L. was "labor’s" representative at the constituent meeting of The American Construction Council. With the noose dangling before his eyes, so to speak, this champion of labor, shortsighted on account of his craft vision, could in the new Council see only a realization of the craft official’s golden dream, that is, a chance for national and complete "recognition" of his union and a convenient instrument for endless "negotiations" and parleys, to smooth out little difficulties between capital and labor, such concessions to be made in return for labor’s recognition, through him, of the justice of exploitation and the acceptance, through him, of wage slavery as an eternal institution.

That the American Construction Council is, or soon will be, the capitalist organ, for controlling the building industry and for carrying on the building operations in the U. S. A. over the heads of the craft unions seems not to have occurred to him. A fly crawling on the wall of a skyscraper does not realize what a big thing she is up against. The same way with the craft officials.

If the big capitalist interests in control of the American Construction Council and the subsidiary associations could have their way, they would completely ensnare and absorb in their sphere of control the manual workers also, and there would be nothing or nobody to effectively protest. The chains of slavery would be on our necks with the keys thrown away for ages to come. That is the bosses’ ideal. The building industry would be completely organized, just as the I. W. W. proposes, only with this ghastly difference that the manual workers would be slaves instead of free men.

The I. W. W. greets with jubilant satisfaction the monumental event in social evolution marked by the formation of The American Construction Council. It is going to bring order out of chaos. It is going to perform a considerable part of the task that the I. W. W. has set for itself, but which we have as yet hardly tackled in earnest, due to the ignorance and backwardness of the working class. Nor do we in the least fear the mighty arms of the capitalist octopus thus reaching out to capture us and crush us. We are confident of our inherent power as a class to successfully wage the battle for the freedom of all humanity and wrest control over this important industry from the pirates that now hold sway.

When we shall have gathered the manual workers of the building industry into one big union, through self-discipline, and through agitation, education and organization we shall be a power too strong to crush or enslave.

As we grow in strength we, shall attract the forces of technical, supervisory and clerical labor indispensable to the industry. They are now more miserable slaves than we are, though some of them may roll in wealth. We shall emancipate them from slavery under the money lender and the real estate shark who now largely determine what shall be built, where and when and how. After that we shall jointly take over the building industry and make plenty of fine homes and transform our cities from dirty nightmares into beautiful Paradises of gardens and structures that will realize the dreams of our greatest architects and builders for the City beautiful.

The real estate shark and the building profiteer, the main cause of the present terrible housing conditions, will then be a thing of the past. Such crimes as a "building shortage" will be impossible. We shall all have a decent roof over our head. Such absurdities as alternating "labor shortages" and unemployment with their resultant sufferings to the workers will also be a thing of the past. And no longer shall the people be ground between the upper millstone of these sharks and the nether millstone of the building material profiteers as at the present.

The building industry will be jointly controlled, in the interest of society, by the manual, technical, clerical and supervisory workers of the industry, organized into Building Construction Workers’ Industrial Union No. 330 of the I. W. W.

Capitalism throughout the world—disregarding the hectic flush on its cheeks in U. S. A. at present, coming from a boom due to mismanagement in the past rather than exuberant health —is in a state of. collapse. The old organs of production have come to a deadlock and are ceasing to function satisfactorily, as in the building industry. New organs are required. The race is on between the capitalists on the one side and the building workers on the other. The first lap belongs to the capitalists. The I. W. W. is a good second in the race for control and coming strong.

Upon the outcome of this race for control hangs the fate of all mankind, whether we shall be free men and women or wage slaves for ages to come.

Go to it, you building workers! Your fate and the fate of your children is in your own hands.

For further information and for organization supplies and literature write to

SECRETARY-TREASURER, Building Construction Workers’ Industrial Union No. 330, I. W. W., 1001 West Madison St., Chicago, Ill., or to

GENERAL SECRETARY-TREASURER, I. W. W., at the same address.


 

 

 


Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield from an original kindly lent by FW Steve Kellerman, Boston GMB. Numerous errors in spelling and punctuation silently corrected. Format slightly altered for easier reading.

Last updated 2 March 2004.

 

Last updated 5 November 2004 by David Walters for the MIA’s I.W.W. Collection. We extend our heartfelt thanks to J. D. Crutchfied for granting us permission to use his collection of online pamphlets.