How the I. W. W. is Organized

By James Kennedy

Industrial Pioneer, May 1921

The Fallacy of Craft Unionism

As to the necessity for working-class organization there can be no question. The point to be decided is: How shall the workers organize? This question is of supreme importance. If the workers allow themselves to be misled and tricked into organizing in a way that will not only fail to free them from wage-slavery or even to better their condition, but will put them more thoroly in the power of the industrial masters, much valuable time will be lost and discouragement and despair will result. What is needed is unity of thought and action. Far better no organization at all than a fake form which divides the workers against themselves and misleads them in the interests of the employers.

Such a form of unionism exists today. It is know as craft unionism and is represented by the American Federation of Labor. Craft unionism splits the workers up into as many different unions as there are crafts. Each of these unions is tied up by a separate contract with the employers, and all these contracts expire at different times. In this way united action is rendered impossible. Not only does the A. F. of L. divide the workers in industry but it teaches them the economic lie that the interests of labor and capital are identical. It stands for "a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work." This may sound reasonable enough to these ignorant of economics and unacquainted with the real nature of the wage system. In reality it means nothing except that the A. F. of L. puts itself on record as upholding the wage system and condemns the workers to perpetual exploitation. Who can determine what is a fair day’s pay? Wages and profits go together. One cannot exist without the other. If a worker admits his wages are fair then he must also admit that his employer’s profits are fair. One might as well talk about a fair night’s plunder for a burglar. Employers think a fair day’s pay is just enough to keep the workers in working condition. Intelligent workers know labor produces all wealth, and they demand the full product of their labor. This would leave no profits for the boss and so would mean the end of the present system which is based on wages and profits.

The workers are organized to produce wealth—not by crafts but by industries. To get out logs the donkey engineer cooperates, not with engineers in other industries, but with fallers, buckers, choker men and all others on the job. In carrying on industry he is only remotely connected with engineers in other industries. He cannot come to an agreement with engineers in the mining and construction industries as to how many logs are to be got out by the crew with which he works. That agreement can only be made or carried out by the men who make up the logging crew. The stationary engineers are organized in a craft union. Their local union is made up of stationary engineers in all industries in that locality. At their business meetings engineers from the logging industry come together with engineers from all other in dustries. It is impossible for them to arrive at, or carry out an agreement to exert any control over the job, for their union separates them from the other men on the job, with whom they work.

The different local unions of a craft are brought together in so-called international unions. These cut across all industries and bring together a small section of the workers in each industry. It is impossible for workers organized on the craft plan to ever exert any appreciable control over industry because only the workers remotely connected in industry are brought together in the union, and those directly connected in industry are separated and tied up by separate contracts. On one job there may be a dozen or more different unions, each tied up with a separate contract. Thus the men organized by the bosses to work together to produce, are organized in craft unions to prevent their acting together to control. Could any more effective system be devised to keep the workers divided and powerless? Could any arrangement better suit the masters than this Machiavellian policy of "divide and conquer"? The only explanation is that craft union officials are agents of the capitalists and traitors to the workers.

Not all A. F. of L. unions are craft unions. The United Mine Workers, for instance, is not divided on craft lines; but it is organized so as to prevent concerted action by its members. Instead of separating the workers by crafts it separates them by districts. These districts are all tied up by separate contracts expiring at different times. When one district is on strike the rest remain at work. The orders are transferred from the strike district to the others, and in this way one district scabs on another. Often the strikers go to work in other districts, thus scabbing on themselves.

Revolutionary Industrial Unionism

Revolutionary industrial unionism, as represented by the Industrial Workers of the World, aims to organize the workers according to industry, on the basis of one big union in each industry, without regard to craft or the tools used; all these unions being brought together under one head and all co-operating together towards a common end. The I. W. W. is not only industrial in form but it is revolutionary in character. It is based on the principle that "the working class and the employing class have nothing in common" and that "labor is entitled to all it produces." Its aims are threefold:

(1) To organize the workers in such a way that they can successfully fight their battles and advance their interests in their every-day struggles with capitalists.

(2) To overthrow capitalism and establish in its place a system of Industrial Democracy.

(3) To carry on production after capitalism has been overthrown.

The Job Branch.

The workers are organized by industries to carry on production. The job is the unit of these capitalist-controlled producing organizations. Each job is controlled by a capitalist’s agent—a foreman. The object of the workers’ organization is to control industry, therefore it must follow the lines of industry, and its unit must be the job branch. At the job branch meetings the workers who work together, come together in conference. At the meeting they can come to an agreement to work in whatever way is most beneficial to themselves. When they go back on the job they can co-operate to carry out this agreement. In case of strike all quit together. The foreman’s control is exerted to speed up the workers and get the greatest amount of work done for the least money. Control by the organized workers is exerted to secure for themselves the greatest possible percentage of the wealth they produce. On all organized jobs the workers’ control is centralized in a job committee whose function is to see that all legislation passed at the job branch meetings is lived up to.

The Industrial Union

But little can be gained by organizing on one job if the other jobs in the same industry are unorganized. The workers on each job co-operate with the workers on all other jobs in the same industry to run that industry—for the capitalists. Capitalist control of the different jobs in an industry is centralized thru the medium of foremen, superintendents, general managers of companies, and industrial associations of capitalists until it culminates in the trust—or one big union of bosses—that dominates that industry. In the early days when employers were small and unorganized, the workers on one job might have organized and struck successfully. But shutting down one job brings little pressure to bear on a big company that owns many jobs. Even if all the jobs of one company were shut down by strikes it would still be possible for that company to continue to do business by transferring their orders to other companies in the trust. The union must cover the whole industry. But even if the workers on every job were organized their power would be small unless they had some means of coming to a common understanding with the workers on all other jobs so they could act in unity.

Therefore all job branches in an industry must be brought together to form one big industrial union so they can all cooperate to control that industry for themselves. They must have some means of arriving at a common agreement, and must keep in touch so they can co-operate to carry out that agreement. To this end annual or semi-annual conventions are held, composed of delegates from all branches in the district or industrial union. At these conventions a general agreement is reached as to how the business of the union is to be conducted. The convention is the legislative body of the union, but all legislation passed must be ratified by referendum vote of the rank and file on the job. As boards of directors are elected at stockholders’ meetings to look after the interests of the company, and are responsible to the stock holders, so the executive committees of the union are nominated at the conventions and elected by referendum vote, and are responsible to the membership. The job branches of an industrial union are further kept in touch thru the medium of a weekly bulletin published at industrial union or district headquarters. This bulletin prints the minutes of all job branch meetings so each branch knows what all others are doing at all times.

One Big Union of All Workers

The workers in each industry are organized to co-operate with the workers in all other industries to carry on industry as a whole. Each industry is dependent on, and linked up with all other industries. The whole complicated system of modern industry is run by capitalist-controlled producing organizations of workers. Control of the whole system culminates by means of interlocking directorates, common ownership of stock, "gentlemen’s agreements," etc., in the hands of a ring of great financial magnates with headquarters in Wall Street. This is the one big union of capitalists who control all industries. The industrial unions of the workers in each in dustry must be brought together in one big union of the entire working class, so that the workers in each industry may co-operate with the workers in all other industries to control industry as a whole and run it for their own benefit. The connecting link between the different industrial unions is the general convention of the I. W. W., composed of delegates from each industrial union; and the General Executive Board, which is nominated at the general convention, and elected by referendum vote of the rank and file. The G. E. B. has general supervision over the affairs of the organization between conventions. As in each of the industrial unions the general convention is the legislative body of the union, but all legislation passed must be ratified by referendum vote of the rank and file.

Industry is world-wide. It pays little attention to national boundary lines. The modern wage worker has neither property nor country. Ties of birth and sentiment which connect him with any particular country are slight and unimportant. It makes little difference to him what country he exists in, but he must have a job. Therefore he follows industry. Capital seeks the most profitable investment. If an American capitalist can invest more profitably in the Krupp Works of Germany than in the Steel Trust of the United States he in vests in the Krupp Works tho he knows his money may be used to finance the manufacture of submarines to send American sailors to the bottom of the sea. Capitalists often try to cover up their crimes with a cloak of patriotism, but the only patriotism they know is that of the dollar mark. The revolutionary unions of the workers must not confine themselves to geographical divisions or national boundary lines, but must follow the world-embracing lines of industry. The workers of all countries co-operate to carry on industry regardless of national boundary lines, and they must organize in the same way to control industry. To promote unity of thought and action among the world’s workers, international conventions are held, composed of delegates from the unions of different countries. But as industrial development proceeds industrial lines grow stronger and nationallines become relatively less important. It is probable that in future these conventions will be composed of delegates from the different branches of one great world-wide industrial union.

Revolutionary Tactics.

When the workers are educated to the real nature of the profit system they lose all respect for the masters and their property. They see the capitalists in their true colors as thieves and parasites, and their "sacred" property as plunder. They see state, church, press and university as tools of the exploiters and they look on these institutions with contempt. They understand the identity of interests of all wage workers and realize the truth of the I. W. W. slogan: "An injury to one is an injury to all." Organized industrially, the workers are in position to strike at the very heart of capitalism. Even with only a small percentage of workers organized there are many ways in which they can use their economic power for the benefit of their own class, and to weaken capitalism. Railroad men can refuse to transport scabs or material produced by scabs. They can refuse to haul gunmen or soldiers to be used against strikers. They can carry union men free of charge. Union longshoremen can refuse to handle munitions to be used against workers in any part of the world; or to load vessels beyond the safety limit. Union telegraph and telephone operators can fail to transmit messages detrimental to labor. Union printers and publishers can refuse to print distorted news, anti-labor editorials or advertisements for scabs. Union cooks and waiters can refuse to serve rotten food to union men or any food to scabs. Union store clerks can sell the best goods to union workers and reserve shoddy clothing and adulterated food for scabs and parasites. Union steel workers can refuse to manufacture armored automobiles, trains or tanks to be used against their class. Union factory workers can refuse to manufacture rifles or ammunition for use against workers. Union food workers can refuse to can rotten or diseased meat or to adulterate food in any way. Union construction workers can refuse to handle scab material, or to build jails or dangerous, unsanitary houses. Union lumber workers can refuse to supply lumber to scab construction jobs.

By mutual agreement organized workers can slow down on the job, thus conserving their energy and lessening the army of unemployed by causing more men to be put to work. They can dictate who shall be hired or discharged. They can refuse to work under objectionable foremen and can choose their own foremen. It might be objected that such action by workers would cause their discharge. This would depend on how strongly they were organized. Some of the examples given would require the backing of a strong union, others could be done with very little organization, but all have been put into practice in recent years both in this and other countries. Little is heard of such cases because, for obvious reasons, they are seldom mentioned in the capitalist press.

When the capitalists feel their control of industry slipping they will probably declare a lockout and try to cause an extensive shut-down of industry, hoping by this means to starve the workers into submission. But the organized workers, confident of their power to run industry, will remain on the job and continue to carry on production and distribution. These tactics were used on a large scale by the Italian workers in 1920. The metallurgical workers demanded higher wages, which the employers refused. They did not go out on strike but stayed on the job, and by the slow-down strike reduced production one half. The employers then declared a lockout, but the workers refused to leave the job. They put the bosses out and continued to operate the plants. Owing to lack of sufficient organization in other industries they were forced to let the capitalists take control again. But when they resumed work for wages it was on much more advantageous terms in regards to hours, wages and conditions.

No doubt the same tactics will be used many times in different countries before the final collapse of capitalism. With each trial of their strength the workers will gain experience and learn their weak points. As working-class organization grows stronger capitalism grows weaker. It has already outlived its usefulness. It is unable to run industry efficiently, and fails to supply the needs of the great majority of the people. With the workers organized industrially and understanding their interests and their power as a class, failure is impossible, and it is only a matter of time before they take full control of industry and abolish wage slavery .

Facts About the I. W. W.

The I. W. W. is non-political. It is not concerned with the empty forms of a fake political democracy. Industrial unionists know popular government can never be anything but a fraud and a sham under a system of industrial autocracy. Knowing the industrial government is the real government, they refuse to waste time electing the hirelings of Wall Street money kings, but aim straight at the root of all human power—control of industry. The aim of the I. W. W. is industrial democracy, which means that those who run industry shall control industry and that every worker shall have a voice in its management. Control of industry by the workers means a social revolution—a complete turning over of the social system. With control of industry in the hands of the workers production will be carried on for use and not profit, and all activities of society will be for the benefit of the workers instead of for the maintainance of a parasite class.

The I. W. W. believes in, advocates and practices direct action. Direct action means the direct use of their economic power by the workers themselves—as in strikes—as opposed to parliamentary action by which the workers try to elect politicians to represent them in capitalist governments.

Initiation fees and dues in the I. W. W. are low in order to be within reach of I. W. W.I. W. W. aims to take in all workers regardless of race, creed, color or sex. It is not its object to build up an exclusive job trust, but a great working-class union. Keeping workers out of a union by a prohibitive initiation fee forces them to scab and eventually destroys the union.

The I. W. W. is democratic in principle. It tolerates no official autocracy within its ranks. Officials are elected and all im portant questions decided by referendum vote of the rank and file. Strikes cannot be called on or off except by vote of the men on the job.

It is against the principles of the I. W. W. to sign contracts. When workers sign a contract not to strike they sign away one of their strongest weapons. Past experience shows employers only respect contracts so long as the workers have power to enforce them. When the workers have power to enforce them contracts are unnecessary, but when they lack such power contracts are useless, for the employers will break them whenever it suits their purpose.

There are no high-salaried officials in the I. W. W. Wages of officials are determined by the average wages of the workers in industry. There are no permanent officials, the term of office being limited to one year. Ex-officials must work at least six months at the point of production before they are eligible to hold office again.

In its battles with the system the I. W. W. does not depend on big treasuries. It realizes the power of labor is industrial, not financial, and that the few nickels and dimes of the workers can never prevail against the billions of the capitalists. No attempt is made to build up a big treasury, all funds not needed for actual running expenses being used to carry on the work of education and organization. Big treasuries are more a source of weakness than of strength. They cause a union to become conservative, and in time of strikes can be confiscated by the courts or tied up by injunctions as in the case of the Danbury Hatters and the United Mine Workers of America. When any industrial union or branch is on strike it is backed up by the solidarity of all members in all industries. Meetings are held, collections taken up and subscription lists circulated. This method has never failed. Some of the biggest and most successful strikes ever carried on in the United States have been financed in this way.

There is a universal transfer system between the different industrial unions of the I. W. W. When a worker moves from one industry to another he can transfer from one union to the other without expense or inconvenience.

The I. W. W. is the result of the past experience of the labor movement. It has learned from the mistakes and failures of former organizations. It is a natural result of capitalism. So long as the conditions which produced it remain it cannot be destroyed.

For further information write to the Secretary-Treasurer of the Industrial Workers of the World, 1001 W. Madison St., Chicago, Ill.

Editor’s Note-The above article forms a chapter in James Kennedy’s book on the Lumber Industry which will soon be published by the Industrial Workers of the World. Two other chapters from the same book have already been published in previous issues of The Industrial Pioneer.

Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield
Last updated 13 December 2003.


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.