Contract Work

By The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

Entry 6566


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Revolt Library Anarchism Contract Work

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(1905 - )

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), members of which are commonly termed "Wobblies", is an international labor union that was founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. The union combines general unionism with industrial unionism, as it is a general union, subdivided between the various industries which employ its members. The philosophy and tactics of the IWW are described as "revolutionary industrial unionism", with ties to both socialist, syndicalist and anarchist labor movements. (From:

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Contract Work

Sooner or later, in whatever industry you are engaged, your employer will come to you and suggest a contract. He always makes it look good to start with. If you have been working for him by the day, the management will flatter you by telling you that your work is satisfactory, and that you can have a little plot of ground, or one of the machines all to yourself, and you can work early or late, fast or slow, just as you like. "You will be your own boss," says the employer, "you are to be a business man just like myself, and we will have a business arrangement, a contract."

There is the "gyppo" system in the woods. When a clothing worker takes out a contract, they call it sweat shop work, and a construction worker knows that "station" work is the same sort of thing. Contract labor, now called "leasing", in the mining industry is the normal way of operating now. The system is spreading into other industries.

In every case, when contract work is first introduced, the toiler is given a chance to make a little more money in a little less time. But this situation does not last. The boss, you know, is an expert in the game of buying and selling. He doesn't produce anything, and it is only by the exercise of a low cunning, which he dignifies by the name of "business sense", that he is able to exploit labor at all. When the worker goes into business with the boss, he is abandoning his position as a wage worker, where he has at least a chance to quit the job if things aren't going right, and he ties himself up in a business deal where the practiced, trained trickery of the employer has every opportunity to cheat him. The workingman submits his income to the clever juggling of expert (and frequently dishonest) scalers, measurers or counters, who are going to make money for the boss if they can.

Contract Worker Still A Slave

But while the contract worker abandons the weapons of his class, the strike and the boycott, he does not free himself from the disadvantages of the working class. He has still to produce enough to live on, and the boss has still the chance to take everything else, for the boss is organized to take all that is produced over and above a living wage. If the contract worker gets too much money, a way is found, which shall be explained shortly, for the reduction of the wage.

But first observe that when the worker takes a contract, he loses the right to produce only a standard day's work. He is now in a position where the more he produces, the greater his pay; apparently, at least. He is urged by this fact to make Herculean efforts to rush the operations, regardless of danger to life and limb. The boss is freed of the necessity of watching him, except to see that he does his work well.

Under the old chattel slavery system, overseers lashed the slaves to their tasks. When wage slavery came into existence the slave master was still there, in the shape of the straw-boss, but the lash had become an invisible one, the threat of discharge.

Both chattel slaves and wage slaves combine against the slave driver, through labor unions. But the contract worker conspires with the boss, not against him, and enters into an unnatural compact to bleed himself for the boss' benefit. He is placed in a position where he has to kick himself into the collar, drive himself at top speed all day, and help lower his wages when he turns over the results to the employer.

Take, for an example, a man who is working at lumbering, bucking logs, we will say, for $4 per day. His product scales some 12 thousand log feet, or more, depending on the ground. If this man goes into contract work at 40 cents a thousand he puts on a buirst of speed; and turns out 20,000 feet. These figures will vary according to conditions but in any case the gyppo is working longer hours, and twice as hard. All the contract workers do this, and the product of the whole industry is much increased. But the lumber company does not have any use for so many logs. They don't want to flood the market, and they have no larger market just because some persons are "working-fools" and insist on piling up the logs.

Work Themselves Out Of the Job

So the company discharges about half of the contract workers by failing to renew their contracts. The lumber companies now receive about the same lumber they had before, or a little more, and they are spending about the same amount of money, or a little less, for having the work done. But there are a large number of idle men, men who would like to have contracts, who are in fact clamoring for work, and the company takes advantage of the situation. As soon as their contracts have expired, or before, if there is a clause allowing renouncing of the contract, the superintendent calls in his best "gyppoes" and says to the: "Now see here, Boys. We can't afford to pay any such price as this any longer. You are making more money than you ever made in your life before. We know you can get along on $4 per day, and that's all we can pay. Now, be reasonable, make the new contract at 20 cents, and if you don't, why then, Boys, mope on out of here and give some one else a chance at it. Lots of men need the work." Then everything is perfectly lovely, for a while, for the boss, because he is getting as much work done as in the beginning, and is giving only half the pay.

But is it so pleasant for the worker?

Has he anyone to blame but himself? He has digged the very pit into which he has fallen.

Every Industry To Be A Sweat-Shop?

This has been the history of every industry in which the contract system has fastened its grip. In the first of these, the clothing industry, there have developed such frightful conditions that they have become a by-word. Everybody has heard of "sweat-shops"; the hideously depraved and disgraceful conditions of the laborers in these contract hells of the needle trades is well known. The "sweat-shop" is the logical final stage of the contract system. You see the tendency towards it in mining, lumbering, and construction work, textile manufacturing, automobile manufacturing, oil tank building, boiler making, harvesting, fruit packing and other branches of human activity.

The Remedy—Industrial Unionism

All the evils of the contract system flow from the fact that the contract laborer abandons his class, the wage working class, gives up its traditional safeguards, which are organization and cooperation between fellow workers, to substitute cooperation with the employer, to aid the capitalist in exploiting the working class.

Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the workingmen, and against the boss, the contract worker finds himself in bitter competition with all the other workers, running a race in production with them, and all for the benefit of the boss.

We workers want no contracts, to obliterate class lines; we should instead, draw tighter the bonds of mutual aid which exist between workingmen, and make clearer our distrust and enmity for our oppressors, the employers. We should organize to wipe out those snaring contracts, traps for the unwary who do not have class consciousness enough to resist the bait. The Industrial Workers of the World is opposed to all "gyppo" or contract labor. If you feel the same way, but do not belong to the I. W. W., you should ask the first delegate you meet to show you an application blank. If you don't find a delegate, write to 1001 West Madison St., Chicago, for information.


The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in anyone industry, or in all industries, if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system." It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.

The army of production must be organized, not only for the everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

Transcribed by Jim Crutchfield from a photocopy of an original in the Tamiment Library.

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.

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