William Z. Foster

Published by the Trade Union Educational League


Chapter VI.



The most powerful of all the weapons employed by the capitalists in ordinary strikes is that of hunger. They seek to starve the workers, their women and their children; to shut off their supply of life necessities until their courage is broken and they come back to work upon the employers’ terms, defeated. It is a cold and brutal business, but it is one of the many barbaric means the employers use to maintain their power to rob and exploit the workers. Starvation in all its forms in strikes is a morale breaker, a scab breeder.

There are many kinds of scabs, each of which has to be dealt with in its own way. There are professional scabs, there are good-job scabs who fear the loss of their preferred positions, and there are weakling scabs who simply have not the courage or intelligence to fight. But the most menacing and terrible scabs are hunger scabs, those sincere workers who are driven back to work because they lack the physical necessities of life to continue the fight.

This is the form of scabbery that breaks strikes, especially among the unorganized and unskilled, and this danger the strike strategist must find ways and means to prevent. To do so confronts him with a maze of very difficult financial problems. Here only a bare outline of a general policy can be indicated.


This problem raises the general question of the role of the workers’ funds in strikes. The question has often been put thus: Can the workers win strikes with money? Can they pit their pennies against the capitalists’ dollars and defeat them? The right wing leaders’ policy constitutes practically an affirmative answer to this. They place great reliance on huge strike funds and large strike benefits. The ultra-leftists, typified by the I. W. W., give a negative answer. They scorn the power of the workers to finance their own strikes. They will have nothing to do with strike funds or regular benefits.

Both of these policies are wrong. Ample experience teaches us that by depending on money alone we cannot win, except in the case of a few highly skilled and thoroughly organized trades, especially in these days of an enormously enriched and strengthened capitalism. It is altogether impossible to win through strike funds when great masses of the unorganized are on strike. Take for example, the strike of 400,000 steel workers. What chance was there to pay benefits in such a situation? Millions would have had to be poured into the strike weekly. Or, consider a national strike of coal miners or railroad workers. Manifestly such strikes for winning must depend chiefly upon their shattering effects on the industrial system and upon their profound political consequences. Nevertheless, the ultraleftist I. W. W.’s, by rejecting the strike benefit system altogether and by generally minimizing the importance of money in the fight, make a mistake in the other extreme from the right wingers who depend too much upon money.

The issue is not money (as the right wing proposes) versus militancy (as the ultra-leftists advocate). The solution of the problem comes from a correct combination of the two, militancy and money. Extra high dues, such as exist in many unions of skilled workers, and great strike and other funds prevent amalgamation, check the organization of the unorganized, and spread a general spirit of conservatism through the unions. Besides, they are no specific protection in far-reaching struggles against the employers.

On the other hand, the low dues and cheap financial systems of the I. W. W. and other radical independent unions keep these organizations so impoverished that they are virtually helpless. Militancy alone is not sufficient to meet all the needs of a labor movement under capitalism. The left wing must stand for relatively high dues, based on the ability of the various categories to pay it. It must also make provision for strike funds in established unions, especially by strike assessments levied in the months prior to an expected strike.


To finance strikes of long organized workers presents considerably different problems from those in the financing of unorganized workers’ strikes. If the former strikes are not too large, in all probability some form of regular benefits must be paid, particularly if the groups of workers have been accustomed to the benefit system. Failure to do this may result in the collapse of the strikes. On the other hand, when large masses of unskilled are on strike they cannot be paid benefits, nor are they accustomed to look very hard for them.

Then the policy must be to take care of the most needy cases with cash and to establish commissary systems to furnish food supplies to the rest. Where the workers are strong enough they should enforce the “pay-no-rent” rule until the strike ends. Skilled workers and others who have been long organized do not take kindly to the commissary system under present conditions, unless they are driven against the wall by a desperately fought strike, such as those that often take place among the miners. The skilled nearly always demand and insist upon cash. Always we should fight for the pooling of funds and benefits where several unions are engaged in a joint struggle against the employers. Nothing is so demoralizing to a strike as to have certain categories of workers receive regular and large strike benefits while others get few or none.

In any event, whether a given left wing strike be of organized or unorganized workers, it is certain that there will be a most urgent need of money in large quantities. Hence, the strike strategy must develop the most effective ways and means of mobilizing the financial reserves of the workers in support of strikes. This involves problems of publicity, of dramatizing the strike, of spreading a network of relief committees throughout the local and national labor movement, of insisting that other unions regularly assess themselves for the strike, of floating rank and file strike bans, etc.

Strike relief work, which offers a splendid means for the left wing to establish its organization and prestige in the unions, must be accompanied by a penetrating propaganda carefully calculated to drive home to the workers the real economic and political significance of the struggle and to awaken their class consciousness. Ordinarily the strike relief’ committees can best be organized under the auspices of either the strikers’ unions or of the sections of the labor movement being appealed to. In several strike situations in this country the International Workers’ Aid has done good service.


The employers use many weapons to crush strikes; starvation, demoralizing propaganda, playing off one section of workers against another, bribing of leaders, etc., and to all these methods and interspersed with them they add sheer terrorism. With plain force they seek to break the workers’ ranks and drive them back to work. They always have their own private armies of plug-uglies and provocateurs who systematically terrorize strikers. But their great reliance is on the state.

The state is the strong right arm of the capitalist class, the great guardian of their class interests. They control and dominate it from top to bottom. It is ever at their service, with its hostile anti-labor legislation, its injunction breeding courts, its army, its state police, its deputy sheriffs, etc. The degree to which the employers use this great instrument of legalized violence against the workers depends upon the urgency of their need.

If the strike is a small one they may confine their violence to the thuggery of their private plug-uglies and local police. If the strike is more important they will call in the courts, with their train of injunctions, jails, and the rest of it. And if the strike is a great one of far-reaching political significance they will use the troops if need be to crush it. Ever and always when they need it they use the state against the workers. Their use of its armed force is limited only by the extent of their necessity.

The question of fully stopping the use of the state power by the capitalists against the workers in strikes and other labor struggles raises the central problem of the whole labor movement, the problem of the overthrow of the capitalist system. So long as the capitalists control the state just that long will they use its forces militantly against the workers in defense of their profit-making system. Hence, the workers, to finally solve the problem, must break the grip of the capitalist class and set up their own state. This will inevitably involve a bitter struggle for power between the two classes. But a fundamental discussion of this basic problem lies beyond the scope of this booklet, which is to elaborate a system of strike strategy applicable under present conditions. (Worker students, to learn the role of the state in the class struggle, should read “The State and Revolution,” by N. Lenin.)

Although the complete solution of the use of the state and the employers’ private forces against the workers awaits conquest of power by the latter, nevertheless much can be done under present conditions to ward off, counter, prevent, and weaken such attacks of the employers. The strike strategist must learn to move courageously and intelligently in this most crucial matter. The history of the American labor movement is replete with the militant defense made by workers driven desperate by fierce employers’ attacks, such as in Homestead, Colorado, West Virginia, McKees Rocks, Herrin, etc.

When dealing with such open ruptures, the left wing must stir the whole labor movement to its depths to lend its maximum support, moral, financial, industrial, and political to the attacked workers. If this is done the capitalists will often find the game not worth the candle, to provoke a costly upheaval among the broad masses for the sake of brutally oppressing one small section. A skillfully cultivated “public opinion” will, under existing American conditions, aid in meeting such situations. Liberal organizations will help to create this. The employers in Passaic, for example, learned that their tear bombs and police clubbings, in the face of a thoroughgoing exposure, an aggressive attitude by the workers, and a determined strike leadership, were not breaking the strike but putting life into it.


Arbitrary restrictions upon the right to strike, such as the issuance of injunctions, adoption of Industrial Court no-strike laws, etc., the workers can break down by a display of militancy. They are nettles. Touch them lightly and they stick you, but grasp them firmly and they lose their sharpness.

The hesitating way the conservatives handle these issues only strengthens the evils. Mass violation of such anti-strike legislation and ukases is the way to deal with them. No injunction denying the right of picketing can stand in the face of a rigid determination of strikers to picket notwithstanding. The collapse of the Kansas Industrial Court when Howat’s miners struck in spite of it was typical of what happens to such tyrannical laws generally when confronted by a militant labor movement. The breakdown of the injunction against the New York cloakmakers as a result of their mass violation of it is another case in point, several thousand workers being arrested in the fight.

The time was when the A. F. of L. advocated officially the application of such aggressive tactics in cases of injunctions. But in these days of intensified class collaboration the bureaucratic policy grows weak and insipid. Now its fight against injunctions amounts to little more than sentimental protests and fruitless attempts to line up “Labor’s friends” in the two old parties to vote against the right of the courts to issue injunctions in labor disputes.


Similarly, militant tactics can be used with good effect when the companies, through their city government agencies, attempt to prohibit free speech and the holding of public meetings during strikes or organizing campaigns. The thing to do is to hold meetings anyhow and go to jail if necessary. A well-waged free speech fight is never lost. Not even in the black steel districts of Pennsylvania, where the town officials are usually also steel company officials or stockholders, could they prevent us from having meetings in the campaign of 1918-19. They barred meetings in Homestead, Braddock, Rankin, McKeesport, Duquesne, and other cities, but in each case we defeated them by taking to the streets in spite of their official ukases.

Free speech fights are an excellent means to unite and inspire the workers in such situations, provided the campaigns are conducted so that the workers realize their direct connection with the wage struggle. Care must be taken not to precipitate such free speech fights prematurely, before the workers realize what is at stake, else they will not support them.

The employers have a keen sense of the importance of militant working class leaders in the struggle. Hence, a settled policy of theirs is to arbitrarily remove these militants wherever they get a chance. The railroading to jail of such labor fighters has long since been a favorite weapon of American employers. The frame-up and the fixed jury are their means to this end. The cases of Tom Mooney, W. K. Billings, Sacco, Vanzetti, Cline, and Rangel are only a few of scores who have paid the penalty.

This line of attack, the crippling of our leadership, is one that must not be allowed to go on unchecked. Under existing circumstances the best protection that can be thrown around them is a wide and bitter fight to arouse the working class in their defense when any are taken. This agitation must not flag until they are finally released. These outrageous arrests and imprisonments can be made the occasions of such great upheavals and protests among the workers, that the capitalists will often be compelled to slow up if not abandon altogether their persecution plans. The labor movement must militantly defend its fighting leaders. It must be organized definitely to this end. The organization best fitted for such purpose is the International Labor Defense.


American employers make more extensive use of undercover men than any capitalists in the world. They plant large numbers of detectives and stool pigeons among the workers to betray and defeat them. These under-cover men constitute a real problem in all important organizing campaigns and strikes. Strike strategy must include ways and means to uncover these traitors and to defeat their treacherous activities.

In all sections of the labor movement the under-cover men are a deadly influence, but nowhere so much as in newly-formed organizations of the unskilled. In established unions the employers, to control the masses, depend largely upon the corrupt and conservative bureaucrats. But in new unions and movements of the unorganized, the employers, having no such body of reactionary officials to rely upon, flood them with their under-cover men and try to capture them entire.

In all great movements of the unorganized in American industries under-cover men work their way into the leading committees. Often the leadership is saturated with these betrayers. In some cases, as in the I. W. W. a dozen years ago, the rubber strike in Akron, under-cover men actually made up a majority of the leading union committees. The invasions of new mass unions by large numbers of detectives and spies is a settled employer policy.

Under-cover men are obstructionists, provocateurs, spies, and disrupters. When many of them are working together in a new union they may engage in all these activities simultaneously, but generally they are to be found performing one particular, organized role, the character of which is determined by the state of the movement. The employers carefully fit their policies in the shops to harmonize with those of their undercover men in the unions.


Under-cover men appear as obstructionists especially when an organizing campaign is just beginning, or is only weakly going ahead. Then the employers may find it more advisable to try to choke out the movement quietly than to smash it in open struggle. Therefore, they set their stool-pigeons, well-organized and strategically situated, at a policy of systematic obstructionism. These worthies oppose the honest leaders, spread defeatism among the workers, and block every effort to build or vitalize the movement. In this way many a promising movement has been killed.

The employers, to facilitate the slow strangulation of the movement, do not discharge or otherwise victimize leading workers, fearing thus to galvanize the whole body of workers into action. Under these circumstances, the left wing must carefully analyze and militantly expose the harmful tactics of the detectives. It must fight for the democratization of the leading committees. Upon every possible occasion it must force the doubtful characters before mass meetings of the rank and file to defeat their reactionary policies. When the leading union committee is controlled by under-cover men, as will often happen, ways must be found to crystalize the honest forces in the union to drive them out or to gradually build a substitute leading body out of some other committee.


Where a movement is going ahead effectively and the choking process can not succeed the employers may decide to kill the union by a premature strike. Then the undercover- men become provocateurs, demanding a strike to adjust some discharge case or other grievance carefully rigged up by the employers. As strike provocateurs, the under-cover men are especially dangerous. They pretend to be the defenders of the rank and file. But the left wing must learn to keep its head and not allow the workers to be stampeded into hopeless strikes.

In flourishing organization campaigns, such as those in the packing and steel industries in 1917-19, the role of the under-cover men is reduced pretty much to that of the spy and informer. The under-cover men must then pretend to go along with the movement in order to secure strategic positions and to win some influence over the workers. Consequently, in the packing and steel industry campaigns, some of the most effective organizers later were discovered to be detectives. In the steel campaign one of the most effective of the 200 organizers was Jack Peters of the Wheeling district. It turned out later that he had been a detective for 22 years. Similar cases could be cited galore.

In strikes, notably of the unorganized, the under-cover men blossom forth primarily as disrupters and betrayers. Especially is this the case in the later, more difficult stages of these struggles. They then spread defeatism among the workers.

They head “back-to-work” movements, frame up acts of violence to jail the leaders or discredit the strike, and in numerous other ways seek to break the ranks of the workers. The policy of organized under-cover men in an organization of the workers may vary from time to time. But it is always based on the methods most likely to break up the movement in the given circumstances.

Left wing leaders must learn how to combat the menace of the under-cover man. This is not to be done by inaugurating alarmist spy-hunts such as have occurred in some unions. The best way to approach the problem is by a careful study of the given situation, and to systematically isolate those doubtful individuals who are manifestly carrying out the under-cover policy of the employers. Thus much can be done to neutralize these traitors and often they can be exposed and driven from the unions.

The essence of good leadership in strike situations is to conduct a successful fight to establish and maintain the unity of the strikers in the face of innumerable splitting and disintegrating tendencies. The fighting policy of the employers against the workers is well-expressed by the time-honored axiom of all strategists, “Divide and Conquer.” And their ways to divide and weaken the workers are many, devious, and difficult to defeat.

In the foregoing we have indicated some of the more important of these ways and how to checkmate them. The employers play skilled against unskilled, native workers against foreign-born, whites against blacks, unemployed against employed, adults against youth, men against women. And in all these maneuvers they receive practical assistance from the reactionary policies of the present trade union bureaucracy.

The employers seek to demoralize the workers intellectually by injecting the poison of patriotism in their ranks and by cultivating religious prejudices among them. They starve the strikers and their women and children; they terrorize them with the courts, the army, the police, and various kinds of private thugs. To all these methods they add bribery, in the shape of cash payments to leaders, and of illusory concessions to the workers, such as company unions, welfare systems, temporary wage increases, etc. They plant their provocateurs and detectives in the ranks of the workers to mislead and betray them. They try to force them back into the mills or shops with “Citizens’ Committees” and “Back-to-Work” organizations. Their nondescript politicians and go-betweens try to poison the strikers’ spirit in a hundred insidious ways. In their quiver the employers have many deadly arrows of disruption to shoot into the ranks of the workers.

To defeat the employers’ many-phased policy of driving wedges between the different categories of workers, of starving, terrorizing, demoralizing, and bribing them; to maintain a solid, unbreakable unity of the strikers in spite of all these attacks, is the prime task of working class strike strategy. It is the sine qua non for winning strikes. And this can be accomplished by intelligent and loyal application of the general line of strategy above outlined.

American capitalism is strong but the workers can thwart it with correct policies and proletarian determination. The pressure of capitalist exploitation forces the workers to unite regardless of all obstacles. They tend to forget their differences and to see clearly the powerful enemy, who can be defeated only by united action. It is our task to speed up these unifying tendencies, to help the workers to rise superior to every difference and weakness among them. It is a battle for unity and it will be won.