What kind of an organization is the Industrial Workers of the World? Why is it organized? Where is it organized? How is it organized?
These are questions that are being asked all over the country today by workers, students and men and women from all walks of life.
Thousands of columns of newspaper publicity have been given to the Industrial Workers of the World as a result of its activity. Countless magazine articles have been devoted to it and its alleged principles. Still the reading public has at best but a hazy conception of what the organization really is or what it stands for.
These questions the writer will try to deal with in his own way. First of all, however, it is necessary to show a few of the things "which we are not."
The I. W. W. is not a political organization in the sense that political organizations are today understood. It is not an anti-political sect. It is not a reform body. Its membership is not made up of anarchists, as some writers have stated. Its ranks are not exclusively composed of socialists, as others have asserted. True some of its members may have accepted the anarchist philosophy. Others may have accepted the socialist faith. However, to the organization of the Industrial Workers of the World they are known only as workers, as members of the working class.
The Industrial Workers of the World is a labor union that aspires to be the future society. It is a labor organization that holds that craft, district, or other forms of division are harmful to the workers. It teaches that an industrial system of organization must replace the antiquated forms.
Every man, woman or child who works in a given industry must be organized into the one big industrial union of his or her industry. The "ONE BIG UNION" slogan of the I.W.W. does not mean mass unionism. It does not mean that the railroad worker, the plumber, the teamster and the baker will be all in the same local union. That form of organization has been proven a failure. It has been shown to be unsound. Mass organization, irrespective of industrial needs, is too unwieldy to produce results.
The "one big union" slogan of the I. W. W. means CLASS organization according to industry. It has been proven practical by the capitalists themselves. All the great trusts and monopolies are organized according to industry. The steel trust, for example, not only own the mills wherein steel rails and other products are made, but also the mines from which the iron ore is taken. It owns the railroads leading from the mines to the lakes. It owns the steamship lines that haul the ore. It owns the blast furnaces that smelt the ore. In short, the steel trust is an industrial organization, covering every branch of the industry. The I. W. W. proposes to follow the boss' plan and scope of organization for the benefit of the worker.
Let us show an example—the railroad industry. This will show the form of the organization of the I. W. W. It will also tend to show the futility of the craft form of organization.
Every worker on a railroad, whether he be a section hand or a locomotive engineer, works for the same employer. All are necessary to the maintenance and operation of the railroad. If they were not they would not be employed
Railway corporations do not hire men from philanthropic motives; they hire men because they need them. All these workers are but units in the great railway organization. All perform certain functions, without which the railroad could not be operated. The section hand must keep the track in repair, else the engineer cannot run his locomotive at the required speed.
All have the same interests in common more wages, shorter hours and better conditions. Logically all should be organized together. However, we find that the craft union organizes the engineer into an isolated union having its own international officers and its own agreement with the railway company. The brakeman is in another union, having another agreement or contract; the conductor in another, and so on all along the line. We find that there are seven different international craft unions in the railway industry, not to mention the shopmen. In the railroad shops and roundhouses there are at least ten other craft organizations. All of these different organizations have separate contracts with the railroad company; all these contracts expire at different dates. The result is disastrous to the workers. When the fireman goes on strike the engineer remains at work; his union contract must be lived up to; he is liable to a heavy fine if he violates it. The engineer stays on the job and teaches the scab fireman how to attend to the water gauge. He teaches him how to attend to the boiler. In short, he teaches the amateur scab how to become an efficient scab. When the switchman goes on strike the brakeman remains at work, and vice versa.
A few years ago, during the switchman's strike on all railroads west of Chicago, union brakemen switched the trains before starting on their runs. After doing switchmen's work while the latter were on strike, the brakemen thee voted a strike assessment to help the switchmen. It was like cutting a man's head off and then offering him a piece of court plaster to heal it with.
During the strike on the Illinois Central railroad among the Union conductors, engineers and firemen are hauling scabs to and from their work. Union switchmen switch disabled engines into the roundhouses for the scabs to repair. All this time the shopmen are struggling for better conditions.
We, of the Industrial Workers of the World, hold that organization as outlined above is nothing more or less than organized scabbing. Whenever a group of workers remain at work while others in the same industry are striking for better conditions, they are helping to defeat those who are on strike. In so doing they are acting the part of scabs. The mere fact that they carry a craft union card in their pocket does not change the status of the case. If their union sanctions such action, then their union card is nothing more than a scabbing permit.
The I. W. W. claims that inasmuch as every worker on the railroad is necessary to the maintenance and operation of the railroad, therefore every worker should belong to the "one big union" of railroad workers. The section hand, the trackman, the engineer, the switchman, and othersall in their industrial union. Then when a strike is to be called, call them all out, from the man who handles a shovel on the grade to the man who handles the throttle of a locomotive; from the man who pushes a truck in the freight house to the man who pushes a telegrapher's key in the dispatcher's office.
Then you would have a real railroad strike. Not a train would move. The industry would be paralyzed. Think what power the workers would have. The railroad company would be forced to accede to the demands of the workers. That is the way the I. W. W. proposes to organize.
As we would organize the railroads, so we would organize all workers in all industries. Carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, cement mixers, masons, laborers, and all building workers into one industrial union of building workers. Weavers, spinners, doffers and loom-fixers, together with all other textile workers into one big industrial union of textile workers. Barbers, elevator boys, janitors, etc., into one union of public service workers.
All industrial unions of a kindred nature are to be combined into the industrial department to which they belong. For example: Marine Transport Workers' Industrial Union, Railway Transportation Workers Union, Railway Construction Workers' Industrial Union, Street Car, Subway, Elevated R. R. Workers Industrial Union, etc.— all organized in the Transportation Department of the Industrial Workers of the World.
All industrial unions, industrial departments and local unions, to compose one great central organizationthe Industrial Workers of the World. This organization will embrace all workers, in all industries, in all countries throughout the world.
We aim to have a union broad enough to take in every worker and narrow enough to exclude all who are not workers. We aim to build up a nation of workers that will have no boundary lines or limits except those of the world's industries themselves. We intend to wipe out class lines by doing away with classes. We propose to inaugurate a system of society where the workers will get the value of what they produce for themselves.
This statement necessarily brings us to another phase of the I. W. W. movement, which will show that we are international in scope and recognize but one nation, the nation of those who work.
The Industrial Workers of the World is an INTERNATIONAL movement; not merely an American movement. We are "patriotic" for our class, the working class. We realize that as workers we have no country. The flags and symbols that once meant great things to us have been seized by our employers. Today they mean naught to us but oppression and tyranny. As long as we quarrel among ourselves over differences of nationality we weaken our cause, we defeat our own purpose. The practice of some craft unions is to bar men because of nationality or race. Not so with the I. W. W. Our union is open to all workers. Differences of color and language are not obstacles to us. In our organization, the Caucasian, the Malay, the Mongolian, and the Negro, are all on the same footing. All are workers and as such their interests are the same. An injury to them is an injury to us.
An example of the way nationality bars are thrown down in the I. W. W. was shown in the great Lawrence strike. Here 27 different nationalities speaking over 47 different tongues, brought up under different customs and conditions, united in one great cause. All differences were forgotten. They had one common enemy, the woolen trust. They centered all their forces on that enemy. Turks and Italians fought side by side against their common enemy, although their respective countries were at war at the time. For nine long weeks in the dead of winter the workers, under the banner of the I. W. W. showed what solidarity could accomplish. Fifteen million dollars a year was the increase in wages that the textile workers received as a result of their fight. More than that, however, was the knowledge they had gained of their own power.
No longer will the slaves in Lawrence be docile as in the past. No longer will they submit to unspeakable brutalities such as were their portion before the strike. They have gained a knowledge of organization together with the cardinal principle of solidarity, that is priceless.
Such a strike as the Lawrence strike could only be made possible by long and continued agitation. Such agitation was carried on for years by the I. W. W. in Lawrence. Such agitation is being carried on by the I. W. W. throughout the world. One day this agitation is going to bear fruit.
Not only do we differ from the craft unions on the admission to membership of so-called aliens, but we also differ in the matter or initiation fees and dues. The tendency in the craft union is to keep all workers out of the organization after a certain stage is reached. Initiation fees as high as $300 are charged for admission to some craft unions; $75 and $50 initiation fees are common among craft unions in the building trades. High dues are also common. The I. W. W. low dues are always the rule, low initiation fees likewise. We want an open union, and then we will have a closed shop. The initiation fee is the I. W. W. can never be over $5.00, and in most cases it is two dollars. Dues are almost uniformly 50 cents per month and never can be over $1.00 per month. Every inducement to join that can be offered to the workers, is offered by the I. W. W.
Another feature of the I. W. W. is the universa1 transfer of cards. We recognize the card of any labor organization in the world in lieu of an initiation fee. A member of the Industrial Workers of the World can transfer from one industrial union to another of the same or of a different industry, without cost. One union, one card. Once a union man, always a union man.
Now a few words as to where we are organized. A few years ago the I. W. W. was unknown. It consisted of a few small groups of propagandists who were working day and night to spread the message of industrial unionism. Today our agitation is bearing fruit. Today we are not only a propaganda power, but we are the important factor in the labor movement in the United States.
Today a strike of 1,000 industrial unionists will attract more attention than a strike of 20,000 craft unionists. Why? Because the powers that be recognize in the I. W. W. a power that is one day going to overcome their power. Today the I. W. W. has almost complete sway over the textile industry. The lumber barons are also beginning to feel its power. On the high seas (and on the shores) we have organized the Industrial Union of Marine Transportation Workers, with strong organizations on the Atlantic seaboard. In nearly every state we have Unions that are recruiting more and more workers to our banner. We have had more successful strikes in the past year than the American Federation of Labor with its 27,000 different local unions.
In South Africa the great street car strike at Johannesburg, two years ago, was conducted by the I. W. W. In New Zealand and Australia we have national administrations paying a nominal per capita into the General Organization. In Alaska and Hawaii local unions are springing up. In Europe the syndicalist movement looks to the I. W. W. for new tactics and methods of organization.
The I. W. W. is fast approaching the stage where it can accomplish its mission. This mission is revolutionary in character.
The Preamble of the I. W. W. Constitution says in part : "By, organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old." That is the crux of the I. W. W. position. We are not satisfied with a fair day's wages for a fair day's work. Such a thing is impossible. Labor produces all wealth. Labor is therefore entitled to all wealth. We are going to do away with capitalism by taking possession of the land and the machinery of production. We don't intend to buy them, either. The capitalist class took them because it had the power to control the muscle and brain of the working class in industry. Organized, we, the working class, will have the power. With that power we will take back that which has been stolen from us. We will demand more and more wages from our employers. We will demand and enforce shorter and shorter hours. As we gain these demands we are diminishing the prof its of the bosses. We are taking away his power. We are gaining that power for ourselves. All the time we become more disciplined. We become self confident. We realize that without our labor power no wealth can be produced. We fold our arms. The mills close. Industry is at a standstill. We then make our proposition to our former masters. It is this: We, the workers, have labored long enough to support idlers. From now on, he who does not toil, neither shall he eat. We tear down to build up.
In the place of the present system of society where crime, prostitution and poverty are rampant, a new society will arise. No more prostitutes. Girls will no longer sell their bodies when they can get for themselves the full product of their labor. Crime will disappear as the incentive for it is taken away. Poverty cannot exist where all are workers and none are shirkers. Children instead of working in the mills will be in the schools. Mothers will no longer dread the ordeal of motherhood, from economic reasons. We will grow, physically, intellectually, and morally. A new race will result, a race that will live for the joy of living, a race that will look with horror upon the pages of history that tell of our present day society.
The Industrial Workers of the World are laying the foundation of a new government. This government will have for its legislative hails the mills, the workshops and factories. Its legislators will be the men in the mills, the workshops and factories. Its legislative enactments will be those pertaining to the welfare of the workers.
These thing are to be. No force can stop them. Armies .will be of no avail. Capitalist governments may issue their mandates in vain. The power of the workers—industrially organized— is the only power on earth worth considering—once they realize that power. Classes will disappear, and in their place will be only useful members of society—the workers.
The charge is now being made and repeated constantly by the enemies of the Industrial Workers of the World, that our organization is committed "exclusively to a program of violent destruction"; that "the I. W. W. would destroy society and industry, leaving nothing but chaos in their place." With much eagerness and flourish a large part of the labor press is repeating this nonsense, until no doubt many sincere workers are misled by it, which is, of course, the intention of the enemy. In order to offset this, and supply our own active members with material with which to educate outside workers, "Solidarity" hopes from time to time, to deal in detail with the structural forms of the "One Big Union." Our readers should understand that it is not the alleged "noisy talk" of the I. W. W. agitator that is so much feared by the capitalist master, as it is the attempt by the I. W. W. to build concretely the wonderful structure of industrial solidarity that shall replace the rule of the masters by the organized control of industry and society by the working class.
A brief outline of the structure of the I. W. W. is here given, for the benefit of those who cam be induced to enter more into detail with regard to their own particular industry, and to apply that knowledge in their propaganda among their fellow workers :
(1) The fundamental unit of I. W. W. organization, as provided for in our constitution, is the Industrial Union, "branched according to the requirements of the particular industry." The I. W. W. takes account of the evolution of modern industry, from the era of small shops with distinct tools or implements of labor around which were grouped equally distinct craftsmen. For example, the word "blacksmith" or "weaver" at once suggests the mental picture of the man at the forge with hammer and anvil at hand; or the picture of the man or woman at the loom. The idea of the particular tool used by the workers stands out in bold relief when the trade is thus named. The craft form of union followed logically from that method of production. But when we say "metal and machinery worker" or "textile worker" the concept is different. The tool is lost sight of, and in its place the product comes to minda printing press; or cotton, woollen or silk cloth. There are many subdivisions or specialized groups of "metal and machinery workers" as there are of "textile workers" co-operating together in turning out the given product. As a consequence, a metal and machinery shop, or a textile mill, can no longer be properly organized on a craft basis, according to the tools used by the workers.
Recognizing the fundamental changes due to industrial evolution, the I. W. W. provides for the organization of all workers in a given metal and machinery shop or a textile mill, into one shop branchwith regular branch officers, shop committees and general shop meetings or referendums, to deal with questions pertaining to their shop interests alone. In this way, we get directly at the boss or shop owner, at the closest possible range.
But there may be many shops of the same kind in the same locality. Most matters do not concern a single shop only; for example, an eight-hour day, or an increase in wages is a matter that cannot well be settled by a single shop organization. Hence the shop branches must be grouped in such a way that all the workers in a given locality, or in all localities can act as a unit against their employers and for all the workers at once. So for the purpose of local unity of a given industry, all the shop branches are bound together in an Industrial Union Branch, for instance, of "metal and machinery workers" or of "textile workers." This industrial union branch functions through a central committee or council, composed of delegates from each of the shop branches, having all necessary officers to transact affairs of general concern, to maintain communication between the branches and larger subdivisions of the same industrial union, and so on. All detail work except important matters that require attention of the entire local membership, is attended to by the central committee or council. Such important matters are referred to a general meeting or a general referendum of the local membership. In this way, by the I. W. W. plan of organization, every possible detail is provided for.
But local unity is not sufficient, the local industrial union and the district council are not complete in themselves. An eight hour day or demand for a general advance in wages may originate as a local movement, but in order to be successful against a manufacturers' association or in face of the advantage that one competing capitalist will naturally take of another, such a movement must involve the entire industry. For instance, the Paterson textile workers (1913) demanded an eight hour day and succeeded in completely tying up the silk shops of that city. Immediately the bosses shouted that they could not "compete with the mill owners of Pennsylvania, New York and other sections of New Jersey." Thereupon the I. W. W. took them at their word, and proceeded to call out about 20,000 more strikers in the sections named, practically paralyzing the entire silk goods industry. The strikers of Hudson county, New Jersey, were offered their demands and requested to return to work. They refused, "until such time as the Paterson strikers should be granted the eight hour day and other concessions."
Thus the I. W. W. plan of organization has provided the Industrial Union for the purpose of bringing together all branches of a given industry into one body. All the textile workers of the nation are to be united in one industrial union. To transact its affairs, maintain unity of action and intercommunication between branches, etc., the industrial union elects officers and an executive board, holds conventions and deals with matters pertaining to the industry through the referendum.
Through this form of organization, the textile workers, for example, will tend more and more to assume control of that industry, and to regard it as their particular responsibility, in relation to the industrial society as a whole. Hence the basis of that claim by capitalist writers (and given a foundation in the assertions of some "half-baked" "syndicalists") that the I. W. W. proposes to "have the miners own and control the mining industry; the textile workers own and control the textile industry," etc. This is not true, as will appear later. Suffice it to say here, that the industrial union is provided for by the I. W. W. constitution to enable the workers in a given industry to maintain, in detail, the unity and solidarity of that industry. This form of organization is seen to be essential both for purposes of defense and aggression against the capitalist enemy, and for shaping an essential part of the structure of the new society which it is seeking to form within the shell of capitalism.
(4) Following the same "industrial lead" through the "vein" of modern capitalist industry, we find that a still larger groupingof closely allied industriesis necessary. That is provided for under the name Department. In dealing with "departments," we cannot speak with the same assurance as with regard to the other subdivisions of the organization. Owing to the close inter-relation of "allied industries," the departmental lines are not clearly defined. Nevertheless, the I. W. W. constitution provides tentatively, for the following departmental structure:
1. The Department of Agriculture, Land, Fisheries and Water Products.
2. Department of Mining.
3. Department of Transportation and Communication.
4. Department of Manufacture and General Production.
5. Department of Construction.
6. Department of Public Service.
Each of these six departments will embrace all the industrial unions of closely allied industries in the respective development to which they may properly belong. Under this classification, as at present conceived, the industrial union of textile1 workers would be included in the Department of Manufacture and General production. An industrial union of "Municipal Workers," having charge of the lighting, heating, paving, watering and otherwise administering cities, would belong to the Department of Public Service. But, as suggested above, the question of departmental grouping will have to be gone into more thoroughly, as the constructive work of organization proceeds. The concept of "departments" only brings out more clearly the inter-relation of one industry to another, and provides for the closer unity of allied industries.
(5) On this question of "closer unity" the I. W. W. constitution goes even farther. It proceeds on the understanding that wealth production is today a social process, in which the entire working class co-operates to feed, clothe, shelter and provide the entire population of the world with the accessories of civilization. No single group of workers stands alone; no single industry is sufficient to itself; no group of industries can operate independently of other groups. For instance, the textile workers would be unable to "clothe the nation" if other groups of workers did not supply them with food, build machinery for the mills, raise cotton, wool and flax as "raw material"; transport products to and from the textile factories, etc. At bottom, all the working class co-operates with or aids directly or indirectly any group of workers in performing its function.
Consequently, just as the industrial union binds together the branches; and the departments the industrial unionsso the departments, whether more or less than six in number when this form of grouping is worked out, will be brought together in one general union of the entire working class, whose functioning will bind together all workers of all industries into one co-operative commonwealth.
This form of organization precludes the idea of the workers in one industry "owing and operating that industry for themselves." That proposal is found to be impossible of realization in view of the social character of production. The General Organization of the I. W. W. is for the purpose of securing and maintaining the co-operation of all industrial groups for the work of social production for the use and benefit of all the people. The general organization has also another purpose at the present timethat of binding all the workers of the organization together for common defense and aggression against the master class. Its present success along this line brings forth the cry that the "I. W. W. is trying to destroy society."
Through this form of organization thus briefly sketched, the I. W. W. is seen to have a constructive program, supplementing its destructive tactics against the capitalist enemy, that is invincible. And it is this constructive program that alarms the masters and their retainers more than all the "loud talk" which they attribute to I. W. W. agitators. This program should be debated, studied and understood by all I. W. W. members first ,of all. Moreover, it should form a part at least of every soap-boxer's speech. Without it, the "tactics" of the I. W. W. are of as little value as geometrical figures without material substances through which to express their meaning. Tactics are inseparable from organization. Therefore let us study and work to build the organization that, while striking capitalism its death blow, is at the same time preparing to put .in the place of capitalism a new and better society.
Craft unionism is the chief factor in creating scabs and the greatest stumbling block in the path of the laborer who wishes to improve his or her condition. The apprentice system is responsible for more strike breakers than any other known cause.
A man goes to work, we will say, in a shop where general building is carried on. He works in the roofing and sheet metal department, which is thoroughly organized(?) in the A. S. W. W. I. A., which is the tinners and roofers craft union. It's perhaps the first time that he has ever had the opportunity to work in a union shop and he is enthused with the idea that at last he can become a union man, and, as such, be able not only to better his own conditions; but to help better the conditions of his fellow 'workers.
His first rebuff comes when be inquires of his fellow workers as to the steps necessary to become a member of the union. He is told that he is not wanted, and that before he can become a member he must have credentials showing that he has worked three years as an apprentice. Somewhat subdued, he inquires then as to how to become an apprentice. He is told that the number of apprentices is limited (one to every three journeymen), and that the shop has the full quota of apprentices at the present time.
All this time the journeymen are working eight hours per day and receiving $3.25 for that work, while he is working nine or ten hours a day and taking whatever the boss sees fit to hand him. He sees that the union does not concern itself as to whether he gets paid for overtime or not. He sees that to all intents and purposes the union does not recognize his existence. All this time the idea is growing within him that the union is not organized for the benefit of the workers as a class, but for the benefit of those fortunate persons who are already members.
During the day's work he chances to pick up one of the tools that the journeymen use while at work and is instantly commanded by a surly journeyman, who occupies the position of shop steward, to lay down that tool, and in the future to remember to obey the rules of the union (of which he is denied membership) in regard to laborers and helpers handling tools. These rules are printed on cards and hung in prominent places in the shop.
He is given to understand that he is a social inferior and that he should not expect the same privileges that journeymen enjoy. He must not touch the hammer (except on stated occasions, such as nailing drip), the snips or shears, soldering irons or any of the various tools that a man must become accustomed to before he can hope to acquire the faintest rudiments of the trade.
He is graciously permitted to carry slate, build scaffolds and paint tinwork and all other dirty work that may be required. He is supposed to be at the beck and call of the journeymen at all times and to be, in general, a good, faithful animal. If he dares to question the wisdom of the union in granting him these many benefits, the good union journeymen (who are afraid that he might learn to do the work that they are now doing) can and do make life miserable for him. He is told to hold a joint of pipe in place, so that the journeymen may fit it, and with his arms stretched at full length above his head (which, by the way, is the most tiresome work in the world) he waits the journeyman's pleasure, while the journeyman talks over the latest prize fight news with one of his comrades.
The boss has had his eyes open all this time and if, in his judgment, the man will make a good workman he approaches him with a proposition to buy a share of stock in the company, which will give him the right to work at the work that the journeyman works at and to use the same tools, and thereby learn the trade.
For be it remembered that this same craft unionism which has so low an opinion of its helpers, and such utter disregard of their welfare, has at the same time such a high opinion of the boss and such deep concern for the interests of stockholders that if any one buys a share of stock in the concern that exploits them, he is permitted to work at anything all hours and for any wages. The man, by this time, thoroughly disgusted with the union, consents, and he begins to think that the employer has given him a squarer deal than the union. In a short period of time he begins to degenerate into one of those atavistic workingmen who think that their interest is wrapped up with that of their employer.
It may happen that the employer does not make this proposal and that the union, in the course of time, declares a strike. Then, and with some justice, the man reasons thus: "This union did not recognize me and did everything in its power to keep me from bettering my conditions. Now is my opportunity. I will take the place of one of these men and learn what I can of this trade and be in a better condition to wage the struggle of existence in the future." The reasoning lacks logic, but is perfectly natural under the circumstances.
Thus scabs are bred.
These are the actual conditions that laborers work under.
Here are some of the rules of Local 266, A. S. M. W. I. A., New Castle, Pa.
Rule 7. Each shop shall be allowed one apprentice, but no two apprentices shall be allowed unless four or more journeymen are employed therein.
Rule 8. Apprentices going to work in a shop shall work two years for said boss, or cannot take another job until their two years are up.
Rule 10. Apprentices shall serve three years before they can become journeymen.
Rule 12. Helpers are allowed to paint, nail drip, put up circles and do other work not conflicting with the rules of this local.
These rules are typical, not only of this organization but of all craft unions. Get wise and join a union that will protect every workingman whether he be a laborer or mechanic. In other words, join the I. W. W.
Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield from a PDF in Indiana University's Debs Collection, with grateful acknowledgment. Several errors silently corrected. Slightly reformatted for easier reading in this medium. Cover images colorized by the transcriber.
Last updated 17 January 2005
Last updated 13 January 2005 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.