Shop Organization the Base of the I. W. W.


The One Big Union Monthly, June 1920

Transcriber’s Introduction

This article appeared in the June issue of The One Big Union Monthly, during a time of growth and turmoil for the I.W.W. Thousands of Wobblies, including the most experienced organizers and best administrators, were in prison or under indictment for "criminal syndicalism" or alleged violations of the Sedition and Espionage Acts. Under the stress of relentless government persecution, internal conflicts of personality, ideology, and practical strategy would soon cause a split in the union from which it has not yet recovered. The union’s membership saw a clear need for structural change, as well as for a change in rhetoric and tactics. The following article is one example of the proposals for change that circulated at the time. For the existing structure of the I.W.W. in those days, see the 1919 Constitution. Many of Hardy’s recommendations were later adopted.

This article is presented here for its historical interest, and also as a basis for discussion towards the I.W.W.’s reconstruction—though much of it will certainly be unacceptable to a generation of workers who know the history of the Russian experiment with Communism, and consequently know the dangers of centralized bureaucratic administration.*

George Hardy joined the I.W.W. in Vancouver, B.C. in about 1909. He served as General Secretary-Treasurer in 1921. In 1925 he was in England as a representative of the Comintern, and in the 1930s he represented that organization in South Africa. His autobiography is Those Stormy Years. Memories of the Fight for Freedom on Five Continents (1956).

In the following transcript from The One Big Union Monthly I have corrected obvious misprints but left Hardy’s ideosyncratic punctuation and spelling unchanged.


Shop Organization the Base of the I. W. W.

British Shop-Stewards

Much discussion is going on in the ranks of labor, as to what is the best form of organization to give power to the workers in industry. This is an indication of discontent with the American Federation of Labor, and all other craft forms of unionism, which in reality is not unionism at all. The primary cause for discussion can be attributed to the advent of the Shopsteward Movement in Great Britain, which was brought about during the war, because the officials of the great trade unions pledged labor’s support to the Government, and who afterwards were prevented from participation in strikes, by the Defense of the Realms Act and the Munitions Act, thereby forcing into existence the unofficial movement, due to the abnormal conditions prevailing.

There has been a desperate attempt to make this shopstewards’ system fit American conditions by all and sundry. Especially is this true of some of the bourgeois and semi-bourgeois minded people, who claim to be revolutionary; while on the other hand, the members of the Shopstewards’ Movement in Great Britain state frankly, they would be in the I. W. W. if resident in U. S. However, the Shopsteward Movement does fit British conditions, because of tradition etc.

Reason for Continuity

The above position of the British militants is absolutely correct, because the "Industrial Workers of the World" is thoroly in harmony with capitalist development and the labor conditions prevailing in America. There are less than ten per cent of the workers organized in this country, as against fifty per cent in the British Isles; with considerably weaker unions existing amongst the American workers, than those of the British workers. The I. W. W. has stood the battle for fifteen years—this alone proves its continuity inevitable and in conformity to Economic Evolution. The I. W. W. admits of changes necessary to prevent the organization from becoming obsolete, as the craft unions have. This is because its constitution is an elastic one—it has changed many times.

Necessary to Change

Today again we are confronted with the necessity of changing our form and tactics, due largely to the fact, that rapid changes are taking place in the economic world, and the apparent blood-thirsty tactics of the masters of industry. Therefore I submit the following program for consideration—not as "my" program—but as a program evolved out of the accumulated knowledge of the past; gathered by reading and discussion with my fellow workers, and an analysis of the position of the proletariat to the economic necessity of abolishing the system of private ownership, together with the avaricious, trustified masters—the capitalist class.

During the last two years many plans have been submitted. Some members are willing to stay by the "Old Ship"’ (the I. W. W.) without applying modern machinery to run it. Others want to change its name. To the thinking portion of the members both plans are equally disastrous—you cannot fool the ruling class! What is necessary now is new machinery to run it. We must abolish that part which has served its purpose, and install the most uptodate equipment the modern mind can conceive of, or we will be operating at a loss of prestige—a loss of membership—the crew will become too small to run the big ship, and we will land in some future storm on the rocks. This is financially evident today. We can, however, insure the future by installing new, modern, efficient and uptodate machinery of ad ministration, to discharge the rotting cargo—capita1ism. Let us do it today.

Efficiency calls first for an organization with its basis on the job, with rank and file control from the bottom up to the highest office; second, that administrative councils be created to admit of joint action from the job to the whole of the organization; third, that a regional council should exist to execute business that interests the whole working class community; fourth, that a defense council shall be maintained for the purpose of caring for members who have temporarily ceased to be industrial workers, because of their incarceration by the capitalist class; fifth, that at all times the prerogative shall be in the hands of the members on the job; sixth, instead of District Offices for each industrial union, supply stations should be opened jointly.

Organizational Chart

The picture will get bigger if you expand this window. To see it full-sized, click on it.

The above can only be gained by having a Union formed along the lines indicated in the chart. I do not, however, claim its application should be hard and rigid; but, I do claim the principle with slight variations can be applied to all industries which we seek to organize.

Job Branches and Committees

The job branches as set out are the base of all action, whether, legislative or administrative—the executive power lies always with the workers at that base. The workers first organize the job—a mine, mill, camp or factory—immediately they have seven members they constitute themselves a Job Branch; hold meetings; elect a job committee, one of whom may be elected delegate for that job. This would move the avenue of communication from the delegate to the job. When a delegate leaves a job, immediately one is elected in his place, and supplies given him which were left behind by the retiring delegate. It will be seen here, the supplies become the property of the job committee, instead of the delegate. It will also be noticed, there will always be a delegate on the job, and one who expresses the wishes of the group so organized, for they elected him. They have the power to remove him if not satisfactory. With this system in operation there can never be more than one delegate on one job, and all jobs organized will have a delegate.

The job committee is the administrative committee, and attends to all matters arising on the job between meetings; such as grievances that may arise; differences prevailing amongst the members etc., and have power to call special meetings by a majority vote of the members of the committee. The meetings then take up the matters on the agenda and decide what action shall be taken.

Organized in this way the territorial divisions, prevalent in the craft unions disappear, for all workers meet together who work together; thus, as the workers gain power, so they are gaining control, and will form the basis of the future administration of industry under the Co-operative Commonwealth—Industrial Communism.

There are many workers who work in separate factories and jobs, who will be found to be working for the same master in a given piece of territory or a large city. We also know, that modern industrial capitalists are all organized industrially and territorially, so we must look on them as a class—the exploiting class—with the above divisions for efficiency amongst themselves; so, we must, therefore, unite our forces on the jobs to be able to meet them in open combat.

Central Branch Council

The Central Branch Council is fitted for meeting the opposition, and taking the aggression against the locally organized industrial groups of capitalists. The central branch council is made up of delegates from the job branches, who will meet as often as the job branches represented on the council decide, consistent with urgency, distance and expense, etc. They could meet oftener in highly centralized communities than where distance is an obstacle. A council ought to be formed as soon as seven job branches have been organized. If the job branches were large in membership, one could be formed with a less number. Representation could be had on a pro-rata basis, say, one delegate for every one hundred or any part thereof. The Central Branch Council’s function is legislative. It is to enable the workers to come in contact with each other through their duly elected representatives, who would receive instructions from their job branches, and deliberate, with their fellow workers in relation to the issues under discussion. Here we find that one delegate would bring up a question never thought of by some of the other delegates, so without instruction they would use their best judgment and vote accordingly. The decisions would be ratified by the members of the job branch. We must also concede that large bodies of men become unwieldy and cannot make the best decisions. They can also be played upon by eloquent popular orators. The central branch council would deal with facts alone, and members would act [here a line is missing in the original] from the council by the rank and file.

Industrial District Council

Several central branch councils could exist in an industrial district like some of the large mining districts, lumber districts, coastal districts of marine transport workers and agricultural districts, etc. This would necessitate an Industrial District Council being organized, to co-ordinate all the activities of a district within a given industry. The industrial district council would be made up of delegates from the central branch council, with a delegate for every 500 members affiliated or less. Again we must bear in mind the job branches would ratify the election of any delegate to the district council which would meet as often as conditions demanded, say every six months, and consistent with finance, urgency, etc.

This is absolutely necessary for drawing up uniform demands in a district where natural industrial divisions exist, such as in the logging industry where different machinery is used to get out the logs. These districts should not exist with territorial divisions where these natural divisions exist—the uniform methods of industry in the district would demand common council with each other—besides unity of action compels the workers to adopt modern ways of accomplishing Solidarity. Instead of striking separately, the workers would carry their grievances—if not settled locally—to the industrial district council. This would produce efficiency and a stability which would give ECONOMIC POWER to the WORKERS’ ONE BIG UNION.

Today we know that our interests are identical, that is, if we are workers. We also believe, that an organization which still maintains that the workers have interests in common with their employers—the parasites—is serving the masters’ interests, as opposed to the workers’ interests. Yes, the above is generally true. The workers almost without exception nowadays, admit they are fleeced daily by the profiteer, which means, they are subconscious of the wolves in sheep’s clothing—the Industrial Kings of the World, who rob us daily at the point of production.

General Industrial District Council

In so far as the workers have interests in common, they must organize into a General Industrial District Council. This would be done as soon as two or more industrial district councils existed in a district. It would not be necessary for this body to meet very often; say, once a year, if nothing of a critical nature came up appertaining to the interest of the whole district. Representatives or delegates from the central branch councils would meet, and comprise the general industrial district council, on the same pro-rata basis as the central branch council—thus we create co-hesion within a district—District Solidarity.

There will not be any permanent offices attached to the above councils, as they are purely creative or legislative. They must be so because they come from the job, and only workers who work on the job either by hand or brain are entitled to legislate or create machinery to govern their affairs. They know best! This does not mean that if some specialized work needs to be done, they must place a worker from the job to do it. No, they will hire the most efficient man to do the work.

Executives of Councils

The above councils, central branch, district and general, will all have their executives, who will attend to all matters as they arise during the intervals between conferences or meetings, and call into session—with permission of the job branches—emergency conferences, if a critical condition arises which demands immediate and important action that only a conference can settle. The office force of the clearing house or supply station, will be under the jurisdiction of the executive of the general industrial district council, who will go over books from time to time and see that efficiency is maintained, and render a report to the job branches.

Supply Stations

In districts which are a long way from the head quarters of the industrial unions, and where two or more industrial unions are operating, supply stations should be opened where delegates elected on the jobs can obtain supplies. All that would be necessary for the maintenance of this supply house would be a supply book and delegates’ credentials etc., with a Report Sheet for the daily supplies sent out and money received, which should be sent to the industrial union headquarters every day. Of course a duplicate of the work done would be kept on file for comparison, should a mistake arise. In this fashion, there would be no need for Index Cards, etc., together with the unnecessary work caused by duplicating the work at this office. The up-keep of this office would be maintained by those using it on a proportionate basis.

Form Union on Job

We are inevitably, always forced back to the ground work of organization, which always leads to the job. So we find, to form an industrial union is, not to open an office, but to go to the job and form a job branch—this is the foundation. It becomes unnecessary to open an office to do organization work for a particular industry, since there is in existence a general headquarters of all the industrial unions already organized. The job branch once formed could get its supplies from general headquarters temporarily, where a set of books could be kept under the jurisdiction of the G. E. B. When several small industrial unions exist, one bookkeeper and stenographer could be hired at headquarters to do the work, until they grow large enough to warrant the existence of separate offices with machinery. Then industrial charters should be issued. We come now to the Industrial Union.

Industrial Union

After 5,000 members have been attained, Industrial Union Headquarters could be opened. Remember, by the time a union reached a membership of 5,000, there would be in existence many central branch and district councils, therefore, not only would the work warrant the opening of a headquarters, but would be necessary to bring the workers together for common action nationally. The Industrial Union would then do business direct with the general office, distributing supplies to supply stations and job branches, and receiving the finance and paying its debts. A solid front would be forming like an army division, but under no circumstances should that division go to battle before enough recruits have made its strength almost impregnable. Never let the enemy choose the battle ground, especially while we are still weak.

Bureau of Industry

The General Headquarters of the Industrial Workers, organized into their respective industrial unions, now becomes the center of the whole working class as far as their economic interests are concerned. It is a central active bureau of industry. Each year a conference is held and officials elected. The most important executive of all is brought into being thru a ballot of the membership—the General Executive Board.

Under the jurisdiction of the G. E. B. comes the General Office, with all its subsidiaries, such as the publishing house, etc. They also supervise all unorganized fields where no industrial union exists to take care of it. They assist weak industrial unions, which come under their care because of not having attained a membership large enough to get a charter. This does not mean the G. E. B. would be the dictators to a newly formed union, but would work in conjunction with the rank and file in districts where job branches exist. Under no circumstances would the G. E. B., or the Industrial Union executives, operate contrary to the wishes of the membership of a district, providing they were not violating the principles laid down in the general constitution. Always the job branches, through their central branch councils, would decide who would be the organizer. The general office would finance this organizer until the district had sufficient funds in general headquarters to pay their own way.

Regional Council

To organize industrially is not enough for a revolutionary industrial organization to accomplish. There are other interests, which are communal in character. It is the working class community that will benefit by class-consciousness; not only the industrial part, but the mothers of the rising generation—the producers of the producers—producers par excellence. Therefore, on regional or territorial lines, we must form a city central council.

The City Central Council is therefore made up of delegates from the job branches, augmented by allowing membership to the wives of the fellow workers, providing they agree with the principles of the organization. This ought to be done, as a mother and companion’s interests are bound up with the conditions of her husband’s, and vice versa.

Social Center

This city central council would carry on propaganda meetings and finance itself thereby. This would relieve the industrial units from direct participation, which would only be connected by their delegate on the City Central Council. This would allow the industrial units to put in all their energies organizing the workers on the jobs. The council will also be the Social Center, where all the units in the industrial arena can find an outlet for their talents; a study could be maintained with a scientific labor library, economic classes and industrial history classes held, concerts and dances, giving an outlet for the musicians and singers; social dramas would be staged for those with artistic tendencies, and a multitude of things done in this direction.

The greatest inspiration of sincerity would be injected into the members of the City Central Council by the recognition that they are participating in a social council, which may be the council that will care for the community interests when capitalism is abolished. A beginning can be made into this work by organizing a system of food stations, also milk stations for the babies and the sick, to be brought into existence during real strikes. They would also during strikes set up a vigilance council to see that no acts of violence or vandalism were committed, and if any such acts were committed, to be in a position to place the responsibility. This may be the nucleus of a functioning body for the future—a Protective Council.

General Defense Council

Attached to the general office is the General Defense’ Council, which could be made up of the G. E. B. members, and those actively engaged in the responsible positions within accessible distance to the meeting place. A secretary-treasurer would be appointed through the committee. The office is a transitionary one, for, as soon as we gain power in industry the masters of bread who now are so urgent in their demands for blood and prison bars would then have to meet our representatives and would be forced to look at a condition unfavorable to themselves—the withdrawal of our Labor Power—which would solve the defense question.

There are several important items that come under the control of this transient office, and as long as we are forced into the capitalist courts—their battle ground—we must have funds to defend our members who choose to take legal defense. The raising of these funds, therefore, comes under control of the defense council. Under the direct charge of this council comes the hiring of all the legal talent necessary for adequate defense. It will be the duty of the council to observe closely all cases that are brought to their attention, and to decide whether the victim’s case is an organization matter. None but those arrested for doing organization work, or for being a member of the Union should receive defense. We should, however, always keep in mind the tactics pursued by the masters and not allow their camouflage to deter defense of a sincere fellow worker.

Defense Publicity and Relief

Publicity is a part of the general defense councils’ work. They should, through the secretary, get out publicity matter, nationally and internationally, and show the world how capitalism—the white terror—operates to our detriment. Also, the speakers for the defense are controlled by the council, who will devote their attention to the injustices of the capitalist class—imprisoning or killing our members.

Another important item is the caring for the wives and families of those in the dungeons. The assistance of those needing relief should be in proportion to their obligations and necessity for relief; sickness, number in a family and any reasonable obligation; but, in no case, should a self-sustaining person receive assistance. We must, however, avoid driving our dependents to the brink of injurious poverty. We should look upon the sons and daughters of our imprisoned comrades, at least, as an intelligent farmer looks upon his pure-bred stock—perpetuation of the class-conscious— which will assume some responsibility in the future.

Industrial Departments

The Industrial Departments have been omitted from this chart because of the desire to avoid confusion by extra complications. All that is necessary is to show that which is absolutely necessary today. The industrial departments may be a factor in the future, as there are many related industries which could not run on any anarchical scheme. For example, the tanneries and shoe factories, iron ore mining and the steel mills, and a number of other industries would be found closely related, if we had time and space to go into them. However, this is a matter for the future, as related to our immediate needs for organizing with efficient machinery under capitalism. As we develop our union, probably a need will arise for departments. This need is not here now; so let us deal with the immediate.

A Real International

With a program such as this being put into a tangible form of unionism in every country, we are reorganizing society to carry on production in a Free Society. The Workers’ International is in the embryo stage. At the present time messages are received daily from all parts of the globe of a shifting of the industrial scenery. The masters of gold have left the world the ruins of that of which they have always been the beneficiaries; they refuse in all cases to give assistance unless they may still continue to exploit. Their war did this—their greed for gold. The hope of the world’s workers lies in their ability to organize this prostrate world. Great hope and sincerity is shown now, for there are the great revolutionary syndicalist movements in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and other small countries; there are the revolutionary unions in Germany with civil war reigning; also, the workers of Austria and Hungary, making desperate plans to recuperate since the allied white terror has been introduced; the workers of the South American countries have endorsed the I. W. W. and become a part of the I. W. W. in Chile; the One Big Union movement to our north in Canada, and in Australia, due chiefly to the influence of the I. W. W. propaganda; and, the Shop Stewards’ and Workers’ Committees movement of Great Britain has voted in conference nationally to link up with the I. W. W. Our Russian fellows have sent out a call. Shall we answer and form an Industrial International? — International Solidarity of Labor—yes, a thousand times yes!!!

A Social Institution

This edifice of human affairs is a revolutionary one, because its very structure, outlined by the chart, leads through all the avenues of industry for taking care of the industrial and communal life, when capitalism shall have ceased to exist. It is rank and file; that will give them a lever to their own emancipation, and, by so doing, insure the future by the avoidance of chaos. Every member of the revolutionary union; every unit of the Army of Labor, so organized, will become a steadying factor in the transitory period; it embodies the forces necessary in the creation of food, clothing and shelter—the maintenance of life itself as well as giving an outlet to all esthetic qualities. There is the nucleus of protection, which, if extended nationally, can become the guardian of the workers occupied in peaceful production, which will be absolutely necessary, for, Lo and Behold the brutal outlook of today!

Constitutional or Capitalist Right?

An attempt has been made by trustified capital to outlaw any organization that challenges its power to own and control industry. This is all done in spite of the principles embodied in the Constitution of the United States, that all one hundred per centers should learn and adhere to. Article One of the first Amendment clearly states that no law should be made "Abridging the Freedom of Speech, or the Press, or of the right of the People Peaceably to Assemble." The fourth Amendment protects persons in their homes and renders inviolate the invasion of homes by any who may take it into their heads to invade—they must state specifically in a warrant the "persons or things to be seized"—this the so-called "law enforcers" hardly ever do. That great freedom-loving statesman, Abraham Lincoln, speaking of the people of America on March 4th, 1861, said, "Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government they can exercise their constitutional right of amendment, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it." This is a part of the Declaration of Independence.

Violence and Chaos?

We propose to make the changes according to the above well-defined principles—by peacefully organizing the workers and the jobs. We have a legal right to do this. Judge Landis said in the great Chicago trial we had a right to revolution, "providing we could put it over." Whether the change will be by violence is a matter entirely in the hands of the capitalist class. They are committing violence on every hand! We want no violence and no chaos! The Constitution provides for these changes, and facilities to bring it about, if the Constitution is inviolate. We do not bother about Congress, for it expresses the economic interests of those in control. It will make laws to prevent our representatives getting there; so we must organize to control economically and choose our own institution of political expression—this will be done.

The Russian Conquerors

The inspiring devotion of our Russian fellow workers to their revolution has given an example to the world’s workers. The greatest statesman of the day—Lloyd George, says, "You cannot crush Bolshevism by the sword." This is an admission of defeat by the physical force advocates amongst the international gang of thieves. The same is admitted by Italian statesmen, with an added rider by the British premier that, "the Bolshevist Army is the largest and best disciplined army in Europe." All this with practically no organization on the industrial field when the collapse came—when the workers found the ruins of capitalism’s great war at their feet. The Russian Proletariat was forced into the building of the new society with chaos reigning on every hand. Yet they have succeeded marvelously. We must learn a lesson from them. If they have succeeded against a world of vengeance in spite of the apathy of the labor movement of the world, how much quicker could they have succeeded with a scientific industrial structure and a trained industrial army? Let us learn our lessons from the past and never repeat a failure.

NOTE— In this article a statement is made that the writer does not want to claim he alone is responsible for this work. Therefore, he names Roy Brown, with whom be was cellmates while incarcerated in Leavenworth Penitentiary, as one whom he accredits with having a great deal of knowledge along the lines indicated in this article. [Roy Brown was Chairman of the General Executive Board in 1921.—Tr.]

Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield
Last updated 14 January 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.