Thomas Bell

British Advocates of Industrial Unionism


Source: The Socialist, May 1908.
Transcription: Adam Buick
HTML Mark up: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


The above body has come into existence to advocate the principles of Industrial Unionism, i.e., an economic organisation embracing all wage-workers, irrespective of the trade or craft to which they belong, and having for its object the taking and holding “of all the means of production for the entire working class.”

The need and importance of such a union will be readily grasped when we consider the vast army of workers who are unorganised, and that the relative standard of comfort of those workers who form what is known as the “trade” union movement is steadily declining.

If, after a century of pure and simple “trade” unionism, it can be shown that the great majority of the working class are without any means, in the shape of an organisation, to protect themselves against the encroachments of the capitalist class, surely the time has arrived when we should begin to form an organisation which would not only be serviceable in the every-day conflict with that class, but finally wrest from them the power to enslave us.

While most working men have, more or less, a lurking regard for the “trade” union movement, there is growing up a feeling that in the conflict with the employing class the trade union as an effective force is decaying.

This is especially brought home to the workers in times of strike or lock-out. Hence we often hear the expression that all the workers should be in one union.

This opinion indicates the current of Industrialism running through the whole working class.

Born at a time when capitalism was in its infancy, when the productive forces of the country were scattered, petty, and dwarfish, “trade” unionism had some utility. By means of the strike and boycott, concessions were often wrung from the employers, who found it more convenient to concede the demands of the unions than suspend their business, and so allow their competitors to outstrip them on the market, but these days are no more. Production being carried on for profit, to produce cheaply is a necessity, hence the constant introduction of labour-saving machinery, etc. To-day the whole front of capitalism is changed. With the development of the tools of production, the better organisation of the workshops, etc., the labour process is being simplified, and, accordingly, what were once highly, skilled and separate trades are being wiped out. The workers are being reduced to mere detail labourers grouped together into departments, numbers of which form an industry. So closely linked together are the various grades of labour in all industries, that should one grade have a dispute with the employers and go on strike, the work of the industry need not stop; a very slight extension of the duties of the grades remaining at work takes in the portion left by the strikers, and production continues, although in a less efficient manner than previously. The “trade” unions, instead of recognising-this, have raised impassable boundary lines, over which the various unions are continually quarreling during times of industrial peace. The jealousies thus created manifest themselves during a dispute, THE SECTIONS NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED REMAINING AT WORK, THEREBY ASSISTING IN THE DEFEAT OF THEIR STRIKING FELLOW-UNIONISTS.

In addition to this, the belief fostered in the unions that the interests of the masters and the slaves are the same, leads them to sign agreements which, expiring at different months of the year, make it impossible to present an united front. Small wonder that many workers should despair of any kind of unionism and rush into pure and simple politics. ’Tis true that we have federation of trades, but these exist for the purpose of more clearly marking the line of demarcation between trades. They are only held together by the thin cord of financial assistance, and leave the craft basis untouched.

What we aim at is an Industrial Union broad enough to take all wage-workers into its ranks, thus making an injury to one the concern of all. As the old handicraft form, of production has been brushed aside in the march of economic development to make way for the modern machine industry with its sub-division of labour and complexity of form, so craft unionism, which is a reflex of the former, must make way for an industrial organisation of the workers to suit modern conditions.

The Industrial Unionist stands firmly on the bed-rock of the class struggle, and; declares, that so long as the means of production are in the hands of a numerically small class, the workers will be forced to sell their labour-power to them for a bare subsistence wage. Consequently, between these two classes a struggle must go on until the toilers come together on the political as well as on the industrial field and take over for themselves that which, being the result of their labour, justly belongs to them.

Craft unionism in its theory of identity of interests between capital and labour, not only splits the workers on the economic field, but as a result of such pernicious teachings fosters political ignorance and divides the workers at the ballot-box.

Industrial Unionism in recognising that there never can been anything in common between the employing class and the working class, instils into the workers’ mind a sense of class solidarity on the economic field and promotes unity on the political field.

With these two separate though complementary movements, the political to destroy the capitalist political State, and the Industrial to back up the political and form the Parliament of Industry in place of the defunct class State,—the workers could forthwith lock-out the employing class and accomplish their freedom.

That the foregoing is no mere theory or sentiment, will be gathered from the fact that in America to-day there is a movement on such lines known as the “Industrial Workers of the World,” with thousands of dues-paying members.

In this country the “Advocates of Industrial Unionism” is the probationary movement to launching the British wing of this International Union. We appeal to you therefore to attend our meetings, and study our literature; get to know what Industrial Unionism means, and then line up with your fellow-workers in the struggle for industrial freedom.

NOTE.—Dissatisfaction is manifesting itself in the ranks of all the “trade” unions, and there is a growing desire to hear a statement of the principles of Industrial Unionism.
Already the “Advocates” have addressed many such meetings, and are prepared to send speakers to address the members of workers’ economic and political bodies.
Applications for speakers to be sent to the Secretary,
333 Westmuir Road, Parkhead.