Historical Catechism of American Unionism
(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 : Wikipedia.org.)
Historical Catechism of American Unionism
In publishing this Catechism, the object sought has been to stimulate a desire for knowledge of American labor history. Labor progress we believe to be predicated upon a wider and deeper knowledge than is prevalent among the workers at the present time.
This pamphlet is only an outline which it requires a study of American unionism to fill in. It is our hope that those who read this book will carry their investigations further afield. But, even as it is, this catechism fills a long felt want. It will help acquaint those who read it with some things they should know. The works from which this condensation is made are beyond the means of the average worker. They are available at the public libraries, but so few of the working class have either the time or the inclination to visit these institutions that it was deemed advisable to publish the Catechism as an experimental step in working class education. The price puts it within reach of even the poorest worker.
Whatever shortcomings the pamphlet may have, it is at least an effort to communicate knowledge to the workers of America, of which they stand in great need.
It is intended to follow the Catechism with other works dealing with American unionism, at a later date. Some of these are even now being prepared.
We submit the Historical Catechism of American Unionism to our fellow workers with confidence that it will be received as a worthy contribution to American labor literature.
Educational Bureau of the I. W. W.
Historical Catechism of the American Unionism
1. What is a labor union?
An organization formed by wage workers to serve their interest as wage workers.
2. What is the interest of the worker as a wage laborer?
To secure an adequate wage, reasonable hours, and good working conditions under capitalism. To overthrow capitalism is the objective of the labor movement.
3. Has the worker no other interests that these?
None that are not conditioned upon these.
4. Then the labor union has no other function than to enable the workers to regulate their jobs?
None whatever. When a labor union attempts to function in any other capacity it is undertaking something foreign to its purpose, and which detracts from its usefulness as an instrument of labor.
5. What is an adequate wage?
A wage which will enable the worker to live according to a decent standard and to make provision for periods of sickness and old age.
6. Should it be the purpose of the union to bring about the establishment of such a wage?
That is the purpose of a union. Together with the regulation of hours and conditions, this is the sole mission of a union in the everyday struggle on the job.
7. Is it not functioning within its proper sphere when it provides for sick and death benefits?
It is not. If the union functions successfully in its proper sphere—the job—the workers will be able to attend to their own sick wants. As to death benefits, the union is intended to serve the living laborers; and, as a union—a body with an economic function—is not, at least should not, be concerned about the dead.
8. Is this not a heartless view?
Industry is not sentimental, and we are trying to study the labor union, as an instrument of labor. If we would learn the truth about it, we must be prepared to cast aside sentiment and prejudice and get down to bedrock.
9. Do not unions serve a good purpose by paying sick and death benefits?
No. We must consider, in dealing with unionism, that we are dealing with an instrument designed to serve definite purposes in industry, and nowhere else. If unions provide for their sick and injured, to the extent that they do so, they defeat their own purpose, which is to force from the capitalists a return which would make such relief by unions unnecessary. This discourages the spirit that would force the recognition that proper provision for the workers should be the first charge against industry.
10. Then you are opposed to the workers rendering one another mutual assistance?
No. It is folly for labor to foster the belief that the union can function successfully in two opposite directions; that it can secure an adequate return from the employers by lessening the need for it. If the workers are provided for, even insufficiently, during their periods of sickness or unemployment they are so protected, however, that the rigors of capitalism do not effect them, as they would if they were not so protected; and consequently, the workers are not inspired to fight for increased wages, or to find a solution for unemployment. If these features, which have been added to unionism, were removed it is probable that even the conservative unions would be inclined to address themselves to the problem of unemployment; they would devote themselves to essential job problems.
11. Would it be better for unions not to have such features?
Decidedly. If the unions did not have such features they would have to function more aggressively for the workers in industry. They would necessarily strive for higher wages, shorter hours and better conditions.
12. And then?
Well, with better wages, the workers could make better provision for themselves; with shorter hours more of them would be employed, and more leisure for self-culture would be available; with better conditions less accidents would occur; the percentage of sick would be enormously reduced; there would be fewer victims of industrial diseases, etc.
13. Then the unions only defeat their own purposes by adopting these policies?
Exactly. Whenever a union tries to function anywhere else than on the job, it is neither successful as a union nor in any other capacity. The union is designed for one purpose—the regulation of the job in the interest of the workers. It cannot function in any other manner. It can no more be a union and an insurance society at the same time, than a saw can be a soldering iron, or a plumber can wipe a lead join with a shovel.
14. Should a union function only in industry?
Absolutely. When a union confines itself to dealing directly with industrial problems, other things will be added to its achievements. The union is the key with which the workers can unlock the treasure house of industry and solve all their problems.
15. Should the employer be permitted in a labor union?
No more than a coyote in a sheepfold.
Because the interest of the boss is to that of the worker as the interest of the coyote is to that of the sheep. The union cannot serve the worker and the boss at the same time, though many of the workers believe it can be done.
17. Why can’t the union serve both the employer and the employes?
Because their interests are opposed. The boss wants low wages, while the workers want high wages; the employer wants the workers to speed up, while the worker does not wish to. So that it would be impossible for the union to serve these opposing interests.
18. Do not some unions admit the employers?
These are not labor unions. They are employers’ unions, no matter what they call themselves, or are alleged to be.
19. Well, how about letting the bosses join the union?
Not yet. By the bosses, of course, you mean superintendents, foremen, etc. Their viewpoint is the same as the employers’, or they would not be holding their present jobs. In the discussion of questions relating to the job they would be putting up and contending for the employers’ side, thus preventing the advancement of the workers’ interest. They would, therefore, prove a hindrance to the union.
20. Is there not an employers’ side to every industrial question?
Well, if there is, let them look out for their side. We have all we can do to attend to ours.
21. Then you have no regard for the employers’ interest?
The only regard to be felt for them is to regard them as our enemies, economically.
22. Should they be fought all the time?
That is what a union is, if it is anything at all—a fighting weapon of the workers. People do not take fighting weapons to a picnic; they do take them to a battlefield—and that is just what modern industry is. There is an unceasing battle between the working class and the employing class. The union is the weapon with which the workers wage battle in behalf of their interests.
23. What do we know about the earliest unions in the United States?
Very little is known of the earliest unions in the United States. The printers are. known to have organized for and won strikes in New York (1776) and Philadelphia (1786). The carpenters of Philadelphia struck for a 10-hour day in 1791. Shoemakers in Philadelphia organized in 1792, but no records of that union have been preserved. They organized again in 1793. This union was known as the Federal Society of Cordwainers. It lasted until 1806, when there was a conviction for conspiracy. This union conducted the first organized strike in America of which there is record. The printers of New York organized the Typographical Society in 1794. This union lasted two and one-half years. Later there were organized the Franklin Typographical Society (1799-1804) and the New York Typographical Society (1809-1818). The shoemakers and printers were unquestionably the pioneers in developing unionism among the wage workers in the United States.
The Baltimore tailors struck successfully in 1795, 1805 and 1807. There were sailors’ strikes and ship-builders’ strikes in Massachusetts in 1817, and a sailors’ strike in New York in March 1800.
The first twenty-five years of the 19th century mark a period during which the wage working elements in the U. S. were striving to develop some means for protecting themselves as workers. This may be regarded as the dawn of American unionism.
24. Upon what were the conspiracy charges, referred to in the preceding question, based?
Upon the grounds that the Federal Society of Cordwainers was an illegal and criminal combination for the purpose of raising wages.
25. What was the result?
In the Philadelphia case (1806) the jury returned a verdict of "guilty of a combination to raise wages." The New York case went against the shoemakers. In one of the Baltimore cases the jury found for the journeymen. The Pittsburgh case (1814) was compromised, the shoemakers paying the costs of the case and going back to work at the old rate of wages, practically, if not legally, a defeat. In the Pittsburgh case (1815) fines were imposed without imprisonment.
26. Were the courts biased in these trials?
Professor Commons’ History of Labor in the United States says: "On the whole, the judges, especially in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh cases, sided against the journeymen."
27. Were these trials of local importance only?
Commons’ history is here quoted: "That other employers of labor were much interested is evident from the dedication of the Pittsburgh case of 1815, penned by the reporter, ‘To the Manufacturers and Mechanics . . . . This Trial Involving Principles essential to their interest, is humbly dedicated by their Obedient Servant . . . .’
"Similarly, in his preface the reporter remarks that:
’Perhaps he would not . . . have undertaken to report it, but for the pressing solicitations of many respectable Mechanics and Manufacturers ...The verdict of that jury is most important to the manufacturing interests of the community; it puts an end to those associations which have been so prejudicial to the successful enterprise of the capitalists of the western country. But this case is not important to this country alone; it proves beyond possibility of doubt that, notwithstanding the adjudications in New York and Philadelphia, there still exists in those cities combinations which extend their deleterious influence to every part of the union. The inhabitants of those cities, the manufacturers particularly, are bound by their interests, as well as the duties they owe (the) community, to watch those combinations with a jealous eye, and to prosecute to conviction, and subject to the penalties of the law conspiracies so subversive to the best interests of the country.’"
28. Were these the first cases where aid of the courts was invoked by the employers?
The Commons’ history states that "These prosecutions were the first in this country in which the employers invoked the aid of the courts in their struggle with labor"; and it adds: "It was brought out in the testimony that the masters financed, in part at least, the New York and Pittsburgh prosecutions."
29. Does not this look as though the bosses were early alive to their class interests?
Indeed, it does. It shows, moreover, that the courts showed their class character at an early date.
30. How did the workers take these decisions?
That we have organizations today proves that they regarded them as unjust. In the later cases the right to organize was conceded, but the means by which organizations sought to achieve their aims were declared illegal because they injured the employers, and interfered with the rights of others who would take jobs against the rules laid down by the unions. Pretty much the same arguments as are used by the open-shoppers today.
31. How were strikes conducted in those days?
As the unions were local in scope and composed of skilled mechanics, the very earliest attempts to win concessions from the employing tradesmen were to resolve the union into a cooperative concern competing for business with their former employers. Where this policy was not adopted, it was customary for those who remained in employment to support those who were battling for the points at issue, which were wages and hours. The shoe-makers, printers and carpenters very early adopted a system of providing funds from which striking members were supported. The policy of "non-intercourse" (boycott) was a very effective weapon with the early unionists, who employed it seriously and applied it vigorously. They would not patronize a boarding house where scabs were admitted; buy from a store that supplied them with goods; nor have anything to do with anyone who had dealings, social or otherwise, with a scab.
32. What did the early unions mostly concern themselves with?
Wages and hours. As the apprentice system had a bearing upon wages, it received much attention. Part-time workers, in the sense that only part of the time required for apprenticeship has been served, worked for lower rates than certified journeymen. This resulted in lowering the wages and throwing sufficient of the journeymen out of employment to make it a burning question.
33. How did the workers propose to deal with these questions?
They sought to establish the "closed shop", wherein they believed these questions might be more easily dealt with.
34. Did they have closed shop employments in those days?
The shoemakers union would not permit its members to work in any shop where nonunion men were employed, nor for any employer who hired nonunion help. The printers were opposed to scabs also.
35. Are there any instances where scabs were successfully barred from shops?
In Philadelphia, New York and Pittsburg the shoe-makers compelled the outsiders to join them as soon as they came to town. New York shoemakers imposed a heavy fine for failure to do so. Pittsburg shoe-makers exercised jurisdiction over men not members of the union, who they demanded should attend the meeting at which charges were preferred against them and defend themselves. Employers had to pay fines imposed against scabs.
36. Outside of strike funds did the early unions have benefit features?
Yes. Almost from their first appearance they had sick and death benefit features. The printers allowed benefits "to sickly and distressed members, their widows and children . . . provided, that such sum shall not exceed $3.00 per week." The shoemakers allowed "$3.00 per week", although it was "not an article of the constitution."
37. What effect did these benefit features have on the unions?
Commons’ history says of the Philadelphia Typographical Society that "it willingly risked its status as a trade-regulating body in order to secure its benefit funds. Likewise, the New York printers, in their eagerness to make their benefit funds secure, in 1818, agreed to surrender their trade union functions completely, when the legislature declined to grant an act of incorporation on any other terms".
38. Did the employers organize at this time at all?
Yes. The Philadelphia Society of Master Cordwainers was organized in 1789. The master shoe-makers of Pittsburg were organized in 1814. The master printers were organized in New York, Philadelphia and other towns. The bosses are never behind-hand with organization.
39. What was the average length of a working day in those times?
The working time extended from sunrise to sunset for all workers, with stoppage of work for the morning and mid-day meals. This applied during the entire year, so that the length of the workday varied with the season. The workday was longer in the summer time than in the winter.
30. Did not this method give the employers a great advantage in the summer as compared with the winter?
41. How did the working day come to be so measured?
Farming, which was then the prevailing industry, was carried on with sun to sun as the measure of the day. The idea prevailed that this practice was necessary in manufacturing as well. Besides, it was believed that shortening the workday would have "an injurious effect" in all modes of business, agriculture and commerce. Moreover, lowering the working time would be "opening a wide door for idleness and vice," and would destroy the condition of the workers, "made happy and prosperous by frugal, orderly, temperate and ancient habits". As usual, even in our day, the demand for a shorter workday was attributed to foreigners, "bringing with them their feelings and habits, and a spirit of discontent and insubordination to which our Native Mechanics have hitherto been strangers". (1821)
42. What was the first attempt made by any workers to shorten the workday?
That of the Union Society of Carpenters in Philadelphia, in May 1791. The men demanded a working day "from 6 o’clock in the morning to six in the evening."
43. What, besides the long workday, brought on the 1791 carpenters’ strike?
The master carpenters paid by the day in summer, and work was done at piece rates in the winter.
44. What other ten-hour manifestations have we any record of?
Journeymen, Millwrights and Machine Workers of Philadelphia (1822) ; Boston House Carpenters (1825), who struck in the busy season as there was a great demand for carpenters owing to "the recent calamitous fire" and "great public improvements". They "believed the existing wages derogatory to the principles not only of justice, but of humanity", and "that ten hours faithful labor shall hereafter constitute a day’s work." They also contended that "on the present system, it is impossible for a Journeyman, Housewright and House Carpenter to maintain a family . . . with the wages now given".
45. What did the employers reply?
They replied to the effect that this "combination for the purposes of altering the time of commencing and terminating their daily labor, from that which has been customary from time immemorial (is) fraught with numerous and pernicious evils . . ." would have an "unhappy influence . . . by seducing them from that course of industry and economy of time" to which it was desirable to "inure" apprentices. Moreover, it would expose the workmen "to many temptations and improvident practices" from which they would be delivered by "working from sun to sun". These early bosses were pious old ducks, for one reason why they opposed the shorter workday was because "we fear and dread the consequences of such a measure upon the morals and well-being of society". They were patriotic, too, regular 100 per centers. They did not believe "this project to have originated with any of the faithful and industrious Sons of New England, but are compelled to consider it an evil of foreign growth, and one which we hope will not take root in the favored soil of Massachusetts". "And especially", they added, "that our city the early rising and industry of whose inhabitants are universally proverbial, may not be infected with the unnatural production." That is how the bosses regarded unions, and the demands of workers, one hundred years ago.
46. Were the bosses not concerned about the effect of the shorter workday upon themselves?
It is the employers’ manner, and very effective strategy as well, to disguise their material interests with morality and patriotism, such as you read in the answer to the preceding question; but at bottom their real concern is always for their material interests. So we find the real (economic) reason buried beneath their moral and patriotic mouthings "if such a measure (10-hour day) would ever be just, it cannot be at a time like the present, when builders have generally made their engagements and contracts for the season." Then to show their disinterestedness (?) and broad Christian spirit (?) they announce that they will not only not grant the 10 hour day, but "that we will employ no man who persists in adhering to the project of which we complain." Here is the blacklist as early as 1825.
47. Did the Boston Carpenters win their strike?
They did not.
Because the business elements combined against them. A meeting of the business interests was convened which declared that the proceedings of the journeymen were "a departure from the salutary and steady usages which have prevailed in this city, and all New England, from time immemorial." "If this confederacy," they added, in appealing to fellow employers, "should be countenanced by the community, it must, of consequence, extend to and embrace all the Working Classes in every department in Town and Country . . . ." This meeting also decided to support the Master Carpenters "at whatever sacrifice, or inconvenience, and to this end extend the time for the fulfillment of their contracts, and even to suspend, if necessary, building altogether." They could foresee, they said, "No loss or inconvenience arising from such suspensions, equal to what must result from permitting such combinations to become effectual".
49. Were they determined to head off unionism?
Apparently. From the standpoint of their relationship they could see what the workers should do, and they feared that organization "would extend to and embrace all the Working Classes in every department in Town and Country". They saw also that "no loss or inconvenience—was equal to what must result from permitting such organizations to be(come) effectual." Note: It is well for the student to bear this in mind when considering the later unions in their structure, policies, and the aims which they sought to achieve. Remember that the early capitalist class saw clearly the necessity of working class organization, and feared it. The capitalists have lost none of their cunning, and have never had scruples or a conscience to lose. They wanted the workers divided, and they are divided. Division is organized in the ranks of the workers.
50. How did these Boston carpenters fight their employers?
They organized a cooperative and advertised to do work at 25 per cent less than the prices charged by the masters.
51. Was their cooperative venture a success?
Evidently not, as they lost the strike. We agree with Commons’ history that "cooperation is an indication, not of trade unionism, but of the failure of trade union policies." We shall find much evidence in this respect at a later period. Cooperation has been used (1) for the purpose of retaliation on the employers, and (2) to attain a position where permanency of employment might be achieved. Up to now it has not proved successful.
52. Were the employers permitted to join the early unions?
As the tools of the period were comparatively simple, every journeyman expected at some time to become a master. This feeling tended to cloud their perceptions as to the necessity of keeping their unions clear of any influence which might tend to mislead them in the enunciation of principles and the formation of policies. It had the tendency to temper the demands of the day with the idea of its effect upon their own possible changed relation upon the morrow. This was, and still remains, a dangerous influence in organizations of wage-earners. Even though the employer might be barred from membership, which was not the case, the influence of his viewpoint still commanded an important place in the deliberations of these early unions.
53. How long did this condition obtain?
With a few modifications it has remained up to quite recent times. The physical absence of the employer is not important as long as his mentality governs in union affairs. This is the case in the A. F. of L. and "independent" unions today.
54. Were there no exceptions?
There was one exception, an employing printer was expelled by the New York Typographical Society in 1817. According to Commons’ history, which quotes from the No. 6 Official Annual of the Typographical Union, March 1892: "’Experience teaches us that the actions of men are influenced almost wholly by their interests, and that it is impossible that a Society (union) can be well regulated and useful when its members are actuated by opposite motives, and separate interests. This society is a society of journeymen printers; and as the interests of the journeymen are separate and in some respects opposite to those of the employers, we deem it improper that they should have any voice or influence in our deliberations.’"
55. Is that not clearly a recognition of the class struggle?
It is a clear statement, in all probability due to the influence of some member or small group. But all the organizations accepted the doctrine that "the interests of the capitalists and wage earners are mutual and harmonious".
56. How do we know that this is true?
Here are some expressions that go far to prove it: Typographical Society (1802), "We cherish the hope, that the time is not far distant, when the employer and employed will vie with each other, the one, in allowing a competent salary, the other, in deserving it."
Philadelphia Journeymen, pressmen (1816) in presenting a scale of prices to the employing printers: "The pressmen are induced, from a duty which they owe themselves to call your serious attentions to what they here represent. They therefore anticipate that you will, with the liberality becoming your profession, give your decided approbation to the annexed scale of prices. Your opposition we ought not to expect."
It was generally held by the early unionists that employers and employed held interests in common. Says the Commons’ history, "There was, indeed, as yet no ‘labor philosophy’. The skilled mechanic might expect to become a master, and it did not occur to him to use his organization to abolish the wage system."
57. Was there any connection between the unions in the different towns?
Sometimes the unions corresponded with one another upon their purposes, informing each other about their demands and exchanging fraternal greetings. Sometimes, they rendered financial assistance to one another, as in the case of the Philadelphia printers who sent $83.50 to New York to aid in relieving "distressed" members. They also used to send out lists of scabs to their organized fellow craftsmen in other cities. At times they notified other unions of their wage demands.
58. Was there ever joint action by these unions?
In particular trades there may have been. In 1809 the shoemakers struck against one firm. This firm farmed out its work to other manufacturers. To meet this situation, the shoemakers called out every man in the trade. It was a general strike against the master shoemakers.
59. What became of these early unions?
Following the Napoleonic wars an industrial depression swept through the United States. Goods manufactured in Europe were dumped into this country. Unemployment made ravages among the working class, and in the resulting competition the unions were destroyed. It is stated that in Philadelphia alone out of 9,762 workmen employed in 1816, about 7,500 were discharged in 1819. It is authentically reported that in 1819 approximately 20,000 workers were seeking work in Philadelphia, a like number in New York, and 10,000 in Baltimore.
60. How long did the panic last?
It reached its height about 1820. Thereafter there was gradual improvement.
61. What important event took place about this time?
Steam power had been successfully applied to water transportation. This made the navigation of western waters commercially more advantageous. There is said to have been 108 steam-propelled vessels on western waters in 1822. The new power made possible readier and more rapid use of the Mississippi, and other navigable waters. This development of production machinery made possible the addition of vast territories, and rendered the rest of the world more accessible to our production, and our markets to their manufactures. Steam as a motive power in industry and transportation was the means upon which capitalist domination depended.
62. What effect did the revival of trade have upon the workers?
We find many unions springing up in trades where previously there had been no organization. In New York (1825) "The Nailers Union (and) the Weavers Union joined with a number of journeymen societies in celebration of the opening of the Erie Canal". The "female weavers" struck with the men in Pawtucket, R. I. in 1823. In 1823 the New York City stone-cutters struck for $1.62½ a day. This union also struck for higher wages in 1825. Journeymen Hatters in Philadelphia struck in 1825, "to establish a regular system of wages, to prevent one employer from underselling another." New York hatters organized in 1823.
Other strikes were called to resist wage cuts. In 1823, Buffalo Tailors, Philadelphia Ship Carpenters, the New York Journeymen House Painters struck for increased wages. In 1825 there were strikes of tailors, stone-cutters, stevedores and common laborers in New York; hand-loom weavers in Philadelphia, and cabinet makers in Baltimore and Philadelphia. In 1825 the bakers sought the abolition of Sunday work—a shortening of the weekly working time. New York City bakers led this fight.
63. Was there any new factor in those times?
Yes. Prison labor for the first time came into conflict with "free labor". In their effort to minimize the labor cost of production, the rising capitalist class sought to employ convict labor. This had an injurious effect upon a labor market which was just recovering from the effects of the panic. In 1823, the journeymen cabinet makers of New York held a mass meeting and petitioned the state legislature for redress from a practice which threatened "the ruin of . . . free mechanics." Adding, as a recommendation, that "convicts be employed in a state marble quarry."
64. Then it was not the principle of the employment of convict labor they objected to, but its effect upon their own trade?
Evidently. That employment in a marble quarry might have a bad effect upon the quarrymen did not concern them, as long as the cabinet making trade was given relief. The unskilled working strata have always furnished the dumping ground for all the grievances of the skilled workers. That is true even today.
65. What effect did these union activities have on the employers?
They became alarmed, and several prosecutions upon charges of conspiracy resulted. While the right to organize was no longer denied, the means adopted to build up, and the methods employed by the organizations were questioned. Tactics, like picketing, supported strikes, closed shops, distribution of scab lists were declared illegal by the courts. These were regarded as being coercive, and forms of intimidation. The unionists were found guilty. The position of the courts in these cases is almost identical with the position of the courts in labor cases today.
66. When do we first find anything like a co-ordinated movement of wage workers?
Following a strike of building trades workmen in Philadelphia in 1827 there was organized in that city the first central labor union of which there is record—The Mechanics’ Union of Trade Associations.
67. Of what did the mechanics’ union of trade associations consist?
It was a body consisting of delegates from existing trade associations affiliated with it. The carpenters, painters, and bricklayers were affiliated. Many other trades were also connected with this movement; for at one time it embraced fifteen associations. It undertook the work of organizing unorganized trades "who are yet destitute of trade societies."
It adopted a constitution and by-laws. It is alleged that this contained a clause prohibiting political action by the organization. Notwithstanding this provision, after a year of existence, in May, 1828, it resolved itself into the first labor political party in this country. The decision to function as a political organization was approved by vote of the constituent unions and other trade societies.
Thus, the very first promising effort of American work-men was diverted from its proper economic sphere into the by-path of politics. As the political movement made headway, the Mechanics’ Union lost ground as an economic factor, and at its last meeting in November, 1829, only four unions were represented. It was killed by politics. Two years later, in May 1831 a mass meeting was called "to consider the establishment of a ten-hour day"; so that it would appear that there existed two schools even in that day—the labor politician and those who believed in direct economic action.
68. What particular results followed from the movement?
A labor press was one result of this movement. A recognition of class divisions in society, though not at all clear, is noticeable. It implied the division of the population into "the rich" and "the poor" rather than into the employing and the employed classes. There was a widespread belief that the control of the state by "the rich" was responsible for the evils under which the wage working population suffered. From this there followed a conviction that the wage earners and "common people", who were numerically in the great majority, could remedy their grievances through political action. There was complete failure to recognize the true character of the state—a failure that persists up to this date—and, with the mistaken idea that their ballots would effect their deliverance, the workers were inveigled by their leaders to essay the political role which seemed to have the virtues of being easy and sure.
69. Could not the workers see that their greatest reliance was in their economic organizations?
Why, they do not see that yet. The arguments that won the workers of 1828, and the following years, are as potent to win them today as they were then.
There were many things in the infancy of the labor movement that appeared to be essentially political in their origin, and it was deemed that these would respond to political treatment. That these were basically economic did not occur to the early unionist. Such were (1) the obligatory militia service, (2) imprisonment for debt, (3) denial of educational facilities. The workers of those days sought relief from these very grave matters in the way that appeared easiest and best to them—politically.
70. Well, why did they go to the trouble of organizing unions?
The instinctive promptings that their power lay in the control over their labor power, urged the economic organization. We must remember that the bulk of these workers did not understand the social relationship which victimized them, and were easily persuaded that "injudicious and partial legislation, and the indifference of our rulers to the general welfare"; that "laws were made for the benefit of the rich and the oppression of the poor" was the cause of their disadvantage. They were thus induced to seek redress in politics. So far was this carried that even the ten-hour day took the form of a political demand.
71. Was this movement confined to Philadelphia only?
No. In New York, as in Philadelphia, it was originally a ten-hour day movement. With the nucleus of these two organizations, the movement spread out over the New England states and through the southern seaboard states, until it is said to have been active from Maine to Georgia.
72. How long was it maintained?
It disintegrated about 1831-1832, because of "the workers inability to play the game of politics", and the all-too excellent acquaintance of the old party politicians with the "tricks of the game."
73. What purpose did it serve?
It served the purpose of directing the attention and energies of the workers from the industrial field, where they might have made themselves formidable, to the political arena, where they became the playthings of capitalist intrigue—a decidedly capitalist purpose, which politics served well.
74. What succeeded the workingmen’s political party?
The New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics, and Other Working Men.
75. What was this organization?
It aimed to be a union of all producers. Its program was both economic and political.
76. What was its origin?
It grew out of a ten-hour movement. The ten-hour day had been established in New York City, and partially established in Philadelphia. But the building trades in Boston had been defeated in an attempt to establish it, by a strike in 1830. A movement to force a ten-hour working day grew in volume in New England. The mechanics and machinists of Providence, R. I. met in November 1831 and declared that "after March 20, 1832 they would only work ten hours." In December of that year (1831) delegates from several parts of New England held a meeting in Providence and issued a call for a convention to be held in Boston in February 1832. This convention gave birth to the New England Association, and voted to establish the ten-hour day.
77. Did it take in others than wage workers?
Yes, and this was a fundamental weakness. It showed its concern and solicitude for the small employer "who is exposed to a competition that is frequently ruinous from the disproportionate means of those who contend."
78. How did the working people respond to this organization?
It is recorded that the factory operatives proved a disappointment. The New Haven delegates to the convention of 1833 complained that "the absence of delegates from the factory villages gives reason to fear that the operatives in the factories are already subdued to the bidding of the employers—that they are already sold to the oppressor, that they have felt the chains riveted upon themselves and their children, and despair of redemption. The Farmers and Mechanics, then, are the last hope of the American people. If they falter, from ignorance or from fear, if they are diverted from their object by deception or by reproaches, the next generation will find its workingmen pusillanimous subjects of an aristocratic government, naked, famished and in hovels, sowing that others may reap, and building palaces for others to inhabit."
79. What was the general program of this movement?
"To mature measures to concentrate the efforts of the laboring classes, to regulate the hours of labor, by one uniform standard, to promote the cause of education and general information, to reform abuses practiced upon them, and to maintain their rights as American Freemen." It proposed to establish "committees in each state, to collect and publish facts respecting the condition of laboring men, women, and children, and abuses practiced upon them by their employers." They also proposed to petition legislatures on the subjects of hours of labor and the education of child operatives in the factories.
80. Was this movement local?
It was not intended to be. In its structure and proposals, it was a mass organization of producers corresponding to the Knights of Labor of later years. At its second convention, held in the State House in Boston (September 1832), delegates were present from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. The third convention had a representative from Pennsylvania in addition to the states represented in the second convention. At this (3rd) convention the case of the imprisonment of operatives of the Thompsonville Carpet Manufacturing Company of Thompsonville, Conn. was taken up. A strike had occurred in the plant of this company. Suit for damages was brought against the strike leaders. They were imprisoned upon a charge of conspiracy to ruin the business of the company because the demand for an increase of wages was refused. A committee was appointed to propose a statement of facts for publication in "The New England Artisan". The convention denounced the conduct in connection with the strikers in this case as "an alarming abuse of power which ought to be resisted." Arrangements were made by this convention "to call a national convention at some central point."
The next and last convention of the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Working Men met at Northampton, Mass., in Sept., 1834. It was only a prelude to the state political convention, which met in the same place immediately afterwards. Politicals had slain another economic movement of the workers.
81. Was the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Working Men responsible for any economic attempt by workers?
Yes. Ship carpenters and caulkers of Boston, and house carpenters, masons, painters, slaters, and sail-makers, jointly strove for a ten-hour day though, apparently, without success. There was later a lockout of the ship carpenters and caulkers belonging to the Association, and a boycott of those master mechanics who were suspected of being friendly to the union men.
82. Did the political effort succeed?
It accomplished none of the things to which it applied itself. The reforms it sought were later taken up as vote-getting expedients by the dominant political parties, and were thus legally established. As a preventative of industrial unity, from the capitalist point of view, these political parties were very successful; from the working class point of view, they were disastrous.
83. Did any unions continue during this period of political activity?
The typographical societies of New York and Philadelphia, which, however, were of a purely benevolent character since their incorporation, maintained a continuous existence. In 1833 the Philadelphia Typographical Association was formed whose "primary intention" was "the determination and support of adequate wages for journeymen printers".
In 1833 also, the Benevolent Society of Journeymen Tailors of New York divided. The militant members formed the United Society of Journeymen Tailors directed to industrial purposes whereupon the old society devoted itself, in part, to trade affairs and affiliated with the city central union.
The Pennsylvania Society of Journeymen Cabinet Makers, organized in 1806 and incorporated in 1825, revised its constitution in 1829 in order to apply itself industrially, by making it an objective "to establish a stated price, as a criterion for workmen to settle all disputes which may arise between them and their employers, in an amicable and satisfactory manner."
The United Beneficial Society of Cordwainers of Philadelphia during March 1835, held a meeting to organize all nonunion shoemakers, and two months later voted to strike for higher wages.
84. What is worth noting about this period?
That division of labor was threatening the hand-craftsmen. The period of apprenticeship covered from 5 to 7 years, when the full trade was learned. But now, only certain processes were necessary, and when an apprentice became an adept in one or more of these, the employer had every interest in refraining from completing his knowledge of the trade. The employer thus got an expert’s work in a process for an apprentice’s allowance. As a consequence, the apprentice system was a live question with the journeymen, and every effort was made to regulate it. It threw many journeymen out of work as boys were substituted, because their wages were lower. The printers, tailors, ropemakers, bakers, and many trades in other branches of manufacturing were affected. There was great complaint that there was much hardship endured by workers in the various trades because "labor is so divided that what made one trade formerly, now makes half a dozen, and every working tool is simplified or improved—to say nothing of machinery."
Besides the cheap labor of the apprentices, women provided another source of cheap labor. In 1837 women were employed in more than one hundred different trades. Women were used as compositors to break a printers’ strike in the Philadelphia newspaper offices in the early 30’s, and women seamstresses to break a strike of tailors in 1833 in New York. Cheap convict labor was employed in competition with free labor earlier in New York and Pennsylvania than in other states.—It was systematically used in Massachusetts in 1805, Vermont, in 1808, Maryland in 1811, and New Hampshire in 1812. As early as 1828 the New York and Auburn prisons became profitable undertakings to the state. In Connecticut (1828) the prisons also became profitable, as did those of Massachusetts (1832). The Sing Sing prison in 1835 made a profit of nearly $29,000. What, do you think, did the manufacturers who contracted for this prison labor make!
85. What organization form succeeded the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Working-men?
Organizations of central labor unions of the type of the Mechanic’s Union of Trade Associations, which originated in Philadelphia in 1827.
These unions cannot strictly be said to have followed the N. E. A. of F. M. and O. W., as the first one was established in New York City in 1833, while the New England Association was still in existence.
This form of unionism gave impetus to organization work among the several trades, for we find unions of Hand Loom weavers, plasterers, bricklayers, smiths, cigar makers, plumbers as well as the pioneer trades which were foremost in advancing the cause of unionism, like the printers, carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, etc.
The women workers, also, show signs of awakening, and they formed a mass organization, covering Philadelphia and vicinity, which was known as the Female Improvement Society. This organization included in its membership tailoresses, seamstresses, binders, folders, milliners, stock-makers, corset makers, and mantua-makers.
In Philadelphia trade societies increased from 21 in 1833 to 53 in 1836. During the same period in New York, such societies increased from 29 to 52.
Baltimore had 23 trade societies in 1836. Newark (N. J.) 16, Boston, 16. Local unions were established as far west as Louisville, Ky., and St. Louis, Mo., and included Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.
86. Were there any important local developments?
It is very significant that all the building trades of Buffalo, N. Y. were included in an association of Journeymen builders. This would appear to be the starting point of the modern Building Trades Council.
The Female Improvement Society of Philadelphia was an inclusive union which did not apply itself to remedying ills in one calling but in all callings where women were employed. It won an important demand in Philadelphia by which an increase of wages for all women was secured. We are informed that "the employers appear to have granted the increase without a strike, and the association soon after went to pieces."
Women in many trades had recourse to organization as a means of improving their conditions. We find women’s unions in New York, Baltimore, Lynn (Mass.)
87. What prompted the formation of central unions?
It was argued that the trade societies (craft unions) "having discovered that they were unable singly to combat the numerous powers arrayed against them, united together for mutual protection". It was believed that "trade societies are the best means" for workers in the individual trades, and Trades Unions (central labor bodies) the best means for all the trades.
This idea gained such headway that the cotton operatives in several Pennsylvania towns formed the Trades Union of Pennsylvania. The tailors of Louisville, Cincinnati and St. Louis acted concertedly against the master tailors of those three towns in December, 1835.
88. What was gained through these central unions?
Carpenters won the 10-hour day in Philadelphia and an increase in wages in 1833. Several attempts to cut wages were successfully resisted. Many strikes for benefits were successful. A labor press was one important outcome of these bodies, and a more general knowledge of labor problems was diffused.
89. What appears to have been their general economic policy?
Unions with grievances would strike in the absence of remedial treatment. The affiliated unions would lend financial assistance and such industrial support as refusing to supply raw material, or to handle the products of scab workmen. At that stage of industrial development this meant the exercise of great power, and with the conscientiously strenuous use of the boycott was designed to win a greater measure of success than was possible to a single trade society.
90. What of union political action?
Apparently the unions had learned the lesson of politics, and their experiences were recent enough to suggest to them the taking of a definite stand. So, we find the unionists dead set against participation in politics by the organizations. In New York they counseled the unionized workers "not to lend their standard to decorate the pageant of any political procession". In Baltimore politics were disavowed. In Philadelphia, the home of labor politics, it was decided that "no Party, political or religious questions shall at any time be agitated in, or acted upon by this Union."
In 1836 the Philadelphia union gave three reasons for their position in regard to politics: The third one, after referring to the experience of the Mechanic’s Union, declared that "the Trades’ Union never will be political, because its members have learned from experience that the introduction of politics into their societies has thwarted every effort to ameliorate their conditions". This says, in effect, that they believed politics to be an instrument of the employers.
91. How did the politicians regard this stand?
They did not welcome it. That this policy on the part of the union militants was not a mere gesture is shown by the demand for the resignation of the first president of the New York General Trades’ Union. This individual accepted an appointment by the Governor of New York to serve on a commission to investigate prison labor in the state. The report of this commission was a great disappointment to the organized workmen. The labor president subscribed to it. He was accused of having "deserted the cause of the Mechanics and Workingmen". However, there was enough politics in the union to prevent any investigation of his conduct. The politicians were inside, and laying low while awaiting their opportunity.
92. Was the opportunity provided?
Indeed it was. In 1835 the Supreme Court of the State of New York handed down a decision in which a shoemaker’s society was held to be "a combination to injure trade and commerce". The employers took this decision as a basis upon which to institute an action against the journeymen tailors who were then on strike. Twenty tailors were arrested and charged with "conspiracy to injure trade and commerce, and for riot and assault and battery". The tailors were found guilty.
The decision of the court aroused intense indignation. A mass meeting was held at which the judge and courts in general were denounced. This meeting, influenced by the outrageous finding of the court in this, and other cases, upon the spur of the moment decided upon political action instead of economic action, and resolved "to take into consideration the propriety of forming a separate and distinct party, around which the laboring classes and their friends, can rally with confidence." The opportunity was provided, and the politicians were ready.
Similarly in Philadelphia in 1836, when some three hundred coal heavers were on strike for a 25 cent per day increase. Several of them were arrested. The bail was fixed by the mayor at $2,500. He is alleged to have declared when setting the bail that he was determined "to lay the ax at the root of the Trades’ Union". The threat, and the excessive bail aroused the central labor union, which took up the fight on behalf of the coal heavers. The court dismissed both charges of conspiracy and riot. The union determined to strike at the mayor politically; the politicians were on hand, but the mayor was reelected.
93. When was a general ten-hour day established in any section of the United States?
In Philadelphia, in June, 1835. It was obtained as the result of a general strike of all workers, which, curiously enough, was inaugurated by the common laborers and coal heavers of the city. The workers in every calling struck, and the employers conceded the ten-hour day. Three or four days of direct action accomplished what years of politics could not make a start on. The New York Journal of Commerce, which was very hostile to the workers, conceded that ten hours was a long enough day, when the workers already had it. Previously, that employers’ sheet could not reconcile itself to the demand. But it stated that "What we object to is not the thing sought—but the means of attaining it. For the precedent is full of mischief ; if such is to be the rewards of turn-outs (strikes), there will be no end to them."
That these strikers were predicated upon organization, and that organization was made necessary by the refusal of the interests for which this paper spoke is conveniently overlooked.
The strike brought the ten-hour day, and the lead was taken by the unskilled workers. This is worth remembering.
94. Did the unions rest upon the ten-hour day?
No. They immediately set out to obtain increased wages, and met with encouraging success.
95. What effect did this have?
It brought about the organization of the employers. Employers’ associations are found in all the industrial towns from 1836 on. The blacklist was used as a weapon against union workers. The blacklist was not equal to the union and the boycott, so the employers again turned to the courts for aid in overcoming the advantages that lay with organized workers. The courts did not disappoint them.
96. What was the general effect of unionism during this period?
There was much activity in organizing work. There were many demands for betterments, and, on the whole, there was a wholesome development in the working class.
97. Was no attempt made for more extensive organization than Central Labor Unions?
Yes. The first attempt at national organization was made when the New York General Trades’ Union issued a call for a national convention in March, 1834.
98. With what response did their call meet?
A convention was held in New York City in August, 1834, which was attended by delegates from Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Poughkeepsie, Newark, and Philadelphia. The unions of Washington, and Baltimore were not represented. This convention gave birth to the National Trades’ Union.
99. Was it a harmonious gathering?
The question of politics came very near disrupting it. After an exhaustive discussion, it was decided by the convention to refrain from politics.
100. Did the convention announce any policy?
Yes. It decided to encourage the spreading of education among the workers, for it was impressed "That the primary cause of all the evils and difficulties with which the working classes are environed can be traced to the want of a correct knowledge." Also, it recommended that "such of the working classes of these United States as have not already formed themselves into societies for the protection of their industry, do so forthwith, that they may by this means be enabled to make common cause with their oppressed brethren, and the more speedily disseminate such knowledge as may be most conducive to their interests in their respective trades and arts, as well as their general interests as productive laborers." It referred to a "line of demarcation between the producers of wealth and the portions of society which subsist upon the fruits of the Working Man’s industry."
101. How long did the National Trades’ Union last?
From 1834 to 1837.
102. What succeeded it?
Trade societies organized upon a national scale.
103. What unions were so organized?
The National Cooperative Association of Journeymen Cordwainers (1836-1837) ; the National Typographical Society (1836) ; (This union became the National Typographical Association in 1837). It was the first union to inaugurate the system of issuing union membership cards. These cards served to restrict the employment of apprentices as journeymen. A union card secured for the bearer courtesies from union craftsmen in towns where he was a stranger, where the society was in existence. The Comb Makers, Carpenters, and Hand Loom Weavers all started national unions in their trades.
104. What became of these national unions?
Where previously the union movement had been killed by politics, the movement rising in 1836-37 committed suicide by undertaking cooperative productive enterprises through which the panic, beginning in 1837, wiped them out.
105. What was the attitude of the working class after the destruction of their unions?
The idea of economic combination survived the passing of the unions. All through this panic, which lasted until 1849, the workers were involved in a condition which they were at a loss to understand; and consequently unable to deal with. Throughout its duration, and following its passing, the wage earners instinctively felt their supreme need to be economic organization. This is testified by their refusal to adopt the suggestions of the humanitarian philosophers who offered many schemes as panaceas.
106. What were these schemes?
Owenism, which had a revival following 1837. It assumed forms differing somewhat from Robert Owen’s colony, established at [New] Harmony, Ind., in 1826. The most prominent of its intellectual leaders in the revival were: Emerson, Channing, Brownson, Brisbane, Greeley, Weitling. There were many others, but to these belongs the distinction of greatest prominence.
107. What was the nature of their schemes?
Principally cooperative undertakings, but they were not in accord with one another.
108. What were the real wage workers doing?
In 1844 a delegate convention attended by delegations from several states inaugurated the New England Working Men’s Association. At its second convention the cooperative associationists dominated. Robert Owen (England), Wm. H. Channing, and Horace Greeley were among the speakers. Another convention was held in the fall of 1845. This convention endorsed cooperative enterprises, and political action. The 1846 convention changed the name to the Labor Reform League of New England. After the 1847 convention this organization disintegrated, the cooperators going into the New England Protective Union, and the others taking part in the Industrial Congresses.
109. Did the organization effect anything?
As an evidence of the working class ambition to achieve the 10 hour day, which was its principal feature, it undoubtedly impressed the employers and the workers. As soon as one ten-hour organization was disposed of, another took its place. We find New Hampshire passing the first ten-hour law in 1847, with qualifications. Pennsylvania followed with a restricted ten-hour law in 1848; Maine in 1848; but agriculture was not included; Ohio in 1852; Rhode Island in 1851, a qualified ten-hour law; California 1851. Georgia passed a law in 1853 making the legal day "from sunrise to sunset for all white persons under the age of twenty-one years".
110. What is meant by "A Qualified Ten-Hour Day Law?"
Longer hours were permitted where contracts were entered into for more than ten hours per day. If a worker signed a contract to work eleven, twelve, or fourteen hours, the law was not contravened thereby. Even children whose parents or guardians gave written consent, could be worked longer than ten hours. As a result, employers made applicants for employment sign Papers, and the law was to all intents and purposes a dead letter. The working people had no organization to enforce the spirit of the law, and its letter was against them. They had a ten-hour law, and, in the absence of economic organization, they had a twelve or fourteen hour workday.
111. What were the Industrial Congresses?
They were primarily an attempt to reconcile the different schools of social and labor opinion. The movement gradually dwindled down to a land reform association, having dropped abolition, the ten-hour day, and cooperation. It finally died out in 1856.
112. Were there still organizations of the wage earners?
Apparently there were, as we find records of strikes by various working groups. From 1839 to 1852, tailors, shoemakers, printers, bricklayers, carpenters, painters, common laborers, longshoremen, and others are recorded as having struck. Some of the building trades struck twice in a year—in the spring for an increase in wages, and in the fall to prevent reductions. The printers, shoemakers, tailors, and the building trades appear to have maintained some form of organization throughout.
113. What do we find in particular about this time?
A tendency on the part of the skilled workmen to disregard the unskilled workers. Some labor men pointed out that the apprentice regulations sought by the craftsmen worked a hardship upon the unskilled laborers, and constituted a denial to the youth of the time. One spokesman, protesting against the apprentice system, claimed that the youth who were denied opportunity might say to the unions: "As you have cast us from your bosoms, as outcasts we will fearfully repay you."
114. Did not general movement of labor come with the return of industrial activity?
There does not appear to have been any. Attempts were made to establish central labor unions in New York City, but seem to have been without result. On one of these occasions, representatives of forty-nine societies were in attendance. The employers adopted a conciliatory attitude, and the attempt was abandoned.
115. To what extent did craft unions obtain?
It is difficult to say exactly, but in New York, 1853 and 1854, there were strikes by seventy-four different trades and callings. At this time there is said to have been forty-four unions organized in Philadelphia, thirty-eight in Baltimore, twenty-six in Pittsburg. There were some organizations in Albany, Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Harrisburg, Milwaukee, Newark, New Haven, New London, New Orleans, St. Louis, Washington, D. C., and Utica, N. Y.
116. With such a degree of organization why could no general labor movement have developed?
The industrial depression which began toward the close of 1854 destroyed the organizations. A few of the stronger unions survived—printers, stove-molders, and some others.
117. How severe was this depression?
Very severe. It not only crushed the unions, but demoralized the working class. As usual, the politicians were on hand with their cure-alls. Large processions of unemployed marched with banners demanding or requesting consideration of their plight. Societies to aid the unfortunate were formed in the principal cities. Labor looked outside of itself for relief.
118. What is marked about 1853-’54?
The first attempt was made, in New York, to wed the organized labor movement to political Marxism.
119. How was this attempt received?
120. What national organizations were there in the fifties?
The Typographical Union (1850); Cigar Makers’ (1856—out of business in 1857); (R. R. Engineers) National Protective Union (1856) ; Upholsterers’ National Union (1853) ; Plumbers’ National Union (1854) ; National Union of Building Trades (1854—this union included painters, stone-cutters, carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, and masons. Other trades were invited to join); Mechanics’ Trades Union of the United States (?) ; Lithographers’ National Union (1853) ; National Silver Platers (1856); Painters’ National Union (1859) ; Cordwainers’ National Union (1859) ; National Cotton Mule Spinners’ Ass’n. of N. A. (1858) ; National Union of Iron Molders (1859); Journeymen Stone Cutters’ Union of the U. S. and Canada (1855).
All of these did not succeed in carrying out their intention. The coming of the war of the Rebellion interfered, and nationalization of unions did not arrive until after its close.
121. How many national organizations survived the industrial depression and the war?
About five. The Typographical Union, Molders’ International Union, National Union of Machinists’ and Blacksmiths’, Hat Finishers’ National Association, and the Stone Cutters’ of the U. S. and Canada.
122. What was the attitude of the workers toward the civil war.
They did not desire it. They favored some compromise, which would leave the question of slavery optional with the several states. When Lincoln called for volunteers, however, the workers responded generously; whole local unions volunteering in a body.
123. Was there any attempt at organizing the workers during the war?
Evidently there was. In 1863 Fenchers’ Trades’ Review, a labor paper, published a list of unions in sixty-one trades scattered over a wide territory.
The following list showing the number of unions in several states in 1863 and 1863 indicates activity in organization work.
|State||Dec. 1863||Dec. 1864.|
|Connecticut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||2||6|
|Delaware . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||—||2|
|Illinois . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||1||10|
|Indiana . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||3||17|
|Kentucky . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||2||8|
|Maine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||1||7|
|Maryland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||—||1|
|Massachusetts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||17||42|
|Michigan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||4||9|
|Missouri . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||4||9|
|New Jersey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||4||10|
|New York. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||16||74|
|Ohio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||4||16|
|Pennsylvania . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||15||
|Rhode Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||1||7|
|Tennessee . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||—||2|
|Virginia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||1||1|
|Wisconsin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||—||1|
Twenty-two organized trades in New York and vicinity sought wages increase in 1864. The establishment of labor papers is another sign of active interest among the workers.
124. Was there any connection between the local unions in the war period?
There were local connections. These were "trades assemblies." The first of these "was organized in Rochester, N. Y., in March 1863. Boston and New York followed in June of the same year. Albany, Buffalo, Louisville, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, St. Louis and San Francisco had trades’ assemblies by the end of 1863. At the end of the war trades’ assemblies existed in every important center."
125. How did these assemblies function?
They endeavored to organize the unorganized workers, by employing organizers, calling mass meetings, etc. They also, in some instances formed co-operatives. The assemblies of Albany, Boston, Chicago, and Troy helped establish stores that dealt in groceries alone. The nature of this form of cooperation is significant; it shows that the workers believed they were exploited as consumers.
The Chicago German Trades Assembly, the Philadelphia, and Troy assemblies established free libraries and reading rooms.
126. Were these assemblies of advantage to the workers?
These assemblies were instrumental in winning many local strikes. The employers feared them, which is a good sign of effectiveness. The bosses organized to oppose them in New York and other centers. The Employers’ Committee sent out a questionnaire to their fellow employers in which eleven questions were asked, of which the fifth and sixth are as follows:
"5. Would a combination of employers engaged in one business be able to successfully overcome a strike of their workmen if the workers were supported by means of assessments levied upon workmen in other trades, then in employment?
"6. Would a General Combination of Employers, representing diverse business interests, be successful in such a case as is supposed in the last question?
Another question was asked: "Would it be possible to enact and enforce laws, without encroaching upon the liberties of the people, that would wholly or at a considerable extent, prevent the interruption of industry and the other evil consequences of strikes." To prevent strikes by making strikes illegal. The capitalists sought that end then, and before; they are still seeking it.
127. Were any steps taken to form a general organization of labor on a national scale?
Yes. The Machinists’ Union at its 1860 and 1861 conventions went on record as favoring a national organization by the national unions then in existence. Nothing came of it.
In 1864 the Louisville Trades’ Assembly made two appeals for a national convention; the first in April and the second in August. Twelve delegates were present. A constitution was drafted. The next convention of this International Assembly was scheduled for Detroit in May 1865, but it never took place. A tendency toward political action wrecked this attempt; besides this, the Philadelphia Industrial Assembly, the strongest in the country, did not take part. This is accounted for, in part anyhow, by the fact that the national officers of the Molders and Machinists influenced that body. While they desired a general national organization, they desired the national union rather than the trades’ assembly to be the unit. Had these officers not been able to influence Philadelphia, the story of American labor might have been written in different terms.
128. What national unions appeared in the sixties?
From 1863 to 1866 several new national unions were formed; viz: Plasterers’ National Union, National Union of Journeymen Curriers’, Ship Carpenters’ and Caulkers’ International Union, National Union of Cigar Makers, Journeymen Painters’ National Union, National Union of Hatters, Tailors’ National Union, Carpenters’ and Joiners’ International Union, Bricklayers’ and Masons’ International Union.
The spinners were the only ones to organize nationally in 1867, In 1868 the Knights of St. Crispin and the Grand Order of Railway Conductors were organized. In 1869 the Wool Hat Finishers, the Daughters of St. Crispin, and the Morocco Dressers were organized.
Between 1870 and 1873 there were brought into existence: International Coopers’ Union of North America (1870); the Brotherhood of Iron and Steel Heaters, Rollers and Roughers of the United States (1872); the National Union of Iron and Steel Roll hands of the United States; the Furniture Workers; the Miners National Association; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen (1873); the Machinists’ and Blacksmiths’ Union which had 1,500 members in 1870 had reached 18,000 in 1873. The Sons of Vulcan who had 1,280 members in 1870 had 3,048 in 1873. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers which had 3,108 in 1869 had 9,000 members in ‘73. The anthracite miners had about 30,000 members, and the Knights of St. Crispin had 50,000. It is conservatively estimated that about this time there were in the neighborhood of a half million workers organized.
129. Were there many industrial conflicts?
The Iron Molders’ Union bore the brunt of the attacks upon organized labor. The iron founders organized in opposition to this union. A national strike broke out. The molders assessed themselves generously, but eventually the assessment feature brought disfavor; so the molders established cooperative foundries in several towns. The result was an evil influence on the union feature of this splendid organization. It was not until 1879 that the union, cured of its cooperative idea, again functioned as a union.
The machinists, printers, and other organizations had their encounters with their employers. The union men made steady progress.
130. What other trades were involved in strikes?
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers struck against the Galina and Chicago Union R. R. Co. It developed after the strike that this road had been assisted by other railroads. There was strong resentment. The B. of L. E. was a fighting organization for just one year—from August 17, 1863 to August 17, 1864—while it was headed by an enthusiast, named W. D. Robinson, who "placed his whole soul and energy at the service of the organization." He was "framed" in the convention, and charges preferred against him. A handy man for the New York and Hudson River Railway, named Wilson, succeeded him. The structure and policy of the organization was changed to suit the railroad interests. Wilson used the B. of L. E. under the direction of the American Railroad Association. He held office until 1874, when a specially called convention forced him to resign. The opposition to Wilson was led by P. M. Arthur. By special invitation Robinson was present at this convention, and vindicated so that he was cheered to the echo. Arthur followed the path for which he blamed Wilson, and you can judge how Warren Stone is traveling at the present time.
131. What was the Knights of St. Crispin?
A shoemakers’ organization. It was started in Milwaukee by seven men. It spread rapidly throughout the shoe trade, having a phenomenal growth. It was primarily an effort to preserve his skill to the shoemaker, and was destined to play a losing part. It directed much of its energy against "green hands." It produced some fine labor men, many of whom were later leading figures in the Knights of Labor.
132 What was the National Labor Union?
It was a general organization of labor upon a national scale. Its principal object was to have been the establishment of an eight-hour day; but at its first convention it was steered into politics. Its representation was drawn from central bodies and local unions. National Trades’ Union officials and representatives were also given seats. This was the first union to establish connection abroad. It had an agreement with the International Workingmen’s Association.
133. What became of the National Labor Union?
It was wrecked by politics. It lasted from 1866 to 1872.
134. What succeeded the National Labor Union?
The Industrial Congress and Universal Brotherhood.
135. What was the Industrial Congress and Universal Brotherhood?
It was a national organization called into existence by a convention arranged by officers of the Iron Molders’ International Union, Machinists’ and Blacksmiths’ International Union, Coopers’ International Union, and the International Typographical Union. In addition to representatives from these unions, the miners, tobacco workers, cigarmakers sent delegates, as did the central bodies from Columbus, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and two other cities. The convention was held in Cleveland on July 15, 1873.
136. What was the general policy of this Industrial Congress?
To avoid politics, not to take cooperation too seriously, and to devote itself to economic action. The political policy of "reward your friends" originated with this union. It lasted from 1873 to 1875. Its refusal to play politics and to gain membership at the cost of principle, these, together with the industrial depression killed it.
137. Upon what did workers then depend?
Enough of them depended upon politics to be the backbone of the Greenback party.
138. What was the Sovereigns of Industry?
An organization devoted to cooperation. The Industrial Congress refused to affiliate with the Sovereigns of Industry and won its hostility. It lasted from 1874 to 1878. It failed to survive the depression, and dishonest officials. Cooperation had received another black eye.
139. What was the general condition of unionism in this decade?
The National unions were composed of autonomous locals. The centralization of power, which now amounts to dictatorship, was not invested in the national and international unions. This, it was argued, was a weakness, though that is doubtful. Another thing that was noticeable and which had a bad effect upon the labor movement was that its most capable men could not resist the temptation to use their union popularity for their own political advancement. A seat in Congress, or a good position under the government turned many of them from labor leaders to enemies of the working class. In the closing years of the ‘60 decade many organizations were swept away and all of them lost members. Gompers estimated that not more than 50,000 remained in the organizations in 1878.
140. What effect did this have on the workers?
Much that had been gained in wage increases and shorter hours in the eight-hour movement was lost. Many bitter strikes were fought in efforts to resist wage cuts and increased hours. The cigarmakers fought a losing strike which lasted 107 days. The textile workers resisted wage cuts, which amounted to about 45 per cent, unavailingly. The miners fought hard strikes in the 70’s and went down to defeat. Their officers did not "play the game."
141. What were the Molly McGuires?
The history of the Mollies has only been written by their enemies. What we do know definitely about them from their enemies is that they were "framed" and betrayed by hirelings of the Reading Railroad Company which operated large coal holdings in the anthracite regions of Pennsylvania. A scoundrel by the name of McParland was sent down into this region as a spy and agent provocateur. He incited his dupes to assist him in committing murder, or to accompany him in murdering expeditions. He was the ring-leader for a price. This fellow’s word hung ten men and sent fourteen to prison. He was hailed spotless as an angel—he had victimized the members of the Mollies and enabled the P. & R. R. R. to resume operation in their coal properties.
142. When did the policy of employing labor spies begin?
That is hard to answer. Gowen, president of the Philadelphia and Reading R. R., hired the infamous McParland, and again, we find him using Pinkerton detectives in the B. of L. E. Gowen had notified the engineers on his road to withdraw from the B. of L. E. They did, but they intended to pull a surprise strike. The Pinkerton spies informed Gowan who had new men to take their places.
143. Were the engineers the only organization of railroad employes?
No. There were organizations of conductors and firemen. In 1877 great headway was made in organizing a Trainmen’s Union. This was to include "engineers, firemen, conductors and brakemen on the three grand trunk lines, into one solid body," and to strike simultaneously. The strike was to have been pulled on June 27, at noon. Forty men were dispatched from Pittsburgh to notify the various divisions. At the last moment division developed, and the whole plan fell through. Was this manipulated by agents of the railroads?
There were some desperate strikers in the railroad industry. All the strikes were lost. Had the trainmen’s union been in existence, there would have been a different tale to tell, in all likelihood.
144. What is the next important labor development?
The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, a secret organization formed in Philadelphia in December, 1869. It was originally a secret union of garment cutters, but admitted workers of every trade as "sojourners" without paying dues. These could not participate in matters pertaining to the trade.
By 1874 six assemblies of textile workers were formed. All of these were in Philadelphia. A District Assembly (No. 1) was formed in Philadelphia on Christmas Day, 1873, with affiliation of thirty-one local assemblies. From this time on the Order maintained a steady growth. It was fed from two sources: Locals of the defunct national unions joined it, and independent organizations threw their lot with it; miners’ locals, machinists’ and blacksmiths’ locals, locals of the Knights of St. Crispin, the ship carpenters’ and caulkers’ locals joined it. It spread rapidly over Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, New York and New Jersey. The opposition of the Catholic church, and other influences forced it to come out into the open, and in 1878 it aimed at being a national labor body.
The Junior Sons of ‘76, another secret order with a political bent, which barred from membership a "professional person, practical politician, speculator, corporator or monopolist" unless admitted by a four-fifths vote, invited all existing labor organizations to attend a convention at Tyrone, Pa., in December, 1875. The Knights of Labor and the Social Democratic Party of North America were among the organizations accepting the invitation.
145. What was done at this convention?
It became the battleground in a contest between the greenbackers and the Socialists. Another convention was held in Pittsburgh in 1876.
146. What did the Pittsburgh convention accomplish?
Generally speaking, the economic idea prevailed, tho the greenbackers seemed to triumph to such an extent that the socialists withdrew from the sessions. The convention decided that it was unwise to launch an independent political party, but advised a policy of bringing pressure to bear upon existing political parties.
147. Why did the Knights of Labor hold to secrecy?
There were many who believed that "the veil of mystery was more potent for good than the education of the masses in an open organization." However, the desire to wield national influence forced the abandonment of absolute secrecy, and we find a convention in Philadelphia, (July 3, 1876), taking the name of The National Labor League of North America. The opposition of the Catholic church, in localities where it controlled large numbers of working people, was a force to be reckoned with. Besides, the secrecy of the Molly Maguires and its results had an important bearing upon the decision of the K. of L. to come into the open. It was done haltingly, but it was eventually accomplished.
With all labor organizations that had adopted the policy of secrecy, the intention seems to have been that this course would keep the employers ignorant of what was transpiring in the meetings and of the programs which the unions arranged. Of course, this did not prove correct. Secret deliberations provided a fertile field upon which the profession of labor spy grew like a weed. The Knights of Labor came out definitely as a national labor organization, under its own name, in 1879.
148. What was the structure of The Knights of Labor?
It was a mass organization. It admitted to membership all persons over 18 years of age who "are working for wages, or who at any time worked for wages" but "no person who either sells, or makes his living by the sale of intoxicated drink, can be admitted, and no lawyer, doctor or banker can be admitted."
Local Assemblies were "composed of not less than ten members, at least three quarters of whom must be wage workers; and this proportion shall be maintained for all time." District Assemblies were composed of the Local Assemblies in a locality and had jurisdiction over them. The General Assembly of the K. of L. of N. A. was the highest tribunal, and had full and final jurisdiction in all matters.
149. Did the K. of L. strive for class organization along class lines?
Evidently not. If it had, it would have confined membership to those who work for wages. Under the provision that those "who at any time (had) worked for wages" John D. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Schwab, and other capitalists could qualify as members. Moreover, the provision that local assemblies be composed of three-fourths wage workers implies that the other fourth need not be wage laborers. The K. of L. in its beginnings, was the direct opposite of the separate autonomous trade union, though later on it was proven not to be averse to such modifications as would permit trade unions to form out of the "sojourners" within its own ranks. The adoption of this course was forced upon it by the rivalry of the A. F. of L. , which had come into existence in Pittsburgh, in 1881, as the Federated Trades Unions of the United States and Canada, afterwards the American Federation of Labor.
150. When did the K. of L. take national shape?
Following the Reading (Pa.) convention in 1878, which provided for a national central body—The General Assembly—to which all parts of the organization were subordinate.
151. Along what lines did the K. of L. propose to advance the interest of the workers?
By the use of economic action, education, and cooperation. As it grew, it found itself involved in many strikes. The Resistance Fund, raised by a per capita tax of 5 cents per month, which it had originally intended to devote to cooperative enterprises and educational purposes, was used to finance strikes. Many attempts were made to commit the K. of L. to a political program in the years of its earliest importance, but it was shy of politics at that time.
152. Was the K. of L. involved in many strikes?
The history of the K. of L. is a series of strikes. Many of its local assemblies were involved in the great railroad strikes of 1877. There were numerous strikes into which the order was precipitated until the great telegraphers’ strike of 1883. The telegraphers struck against the Western Union Company for a six day week, an eight hour day shift, seven-hour night shift, and 15 per cent increase in wages. The strike was lost after lasting one month, from June 19 to about the end of July. In 1882 the New York Central freight handlers struck in New York city. This strike was broken in less than a month. A strike of Illinois coal mine workers (Dist. Ass. 33) was defeated, and the mine workers quit the K. of L. New York street car men’s Knights of Labor Assembly was rooted out by labor spies.
Some of the strikes were won by the K. of L.: One was the general strike in the Saginaw Valley, Mich., (1885) ; (this was a spontaneous strike by the workmen who were largely Polish. It lasted about six weeks). The strike of the Union Pacific shopmen, also a spontaneous strike to resist a wage cut of 10 per cent, was won in three days. A strike of the shopmen on the Gould system (Wabash and M. K. & T.), in the spring of 1884 which was supported by the engineers, firemen, conductors and brakemen, was also won. The Gould strike of 1885 was won, although the train crews refused to give the support they had given the preceding year. The Great 8-hour strike of May 1st, 1886, succeeded in winning the eight-hour day for thousands of workers. There were other strikes, but out of this strike grew the infamous Haymarket incident in Chicago.
153. What led up to, and what happened in the Haymarket?
In response to the eight-hour strike call for May 1st, the turnout of Chicago workers was the largest of any city in the United States. Of the 80,000 Chicago workers who struck, 10,000 were lumber shovers. On May 3rd a contingent of these lumber shovers were holding a meeting force the McCormick reaper works, when a large force of police arrived and shot into the meeting, killing four persons and wounding many. August Spies who had addressed this meeting issued a call for a mass meeting in the Haymarket on May 4th to protest this outrage. He urged the workers to come prepared to defend themselves. About 3,000 attended the meeting, which was addressed by August Spies, Albert R. Parson and Samuel Fielden, in the order named. Carter H. Harrison, Sr., Mayor of Chicago, attended the meeting. A heavy rainstorm thinned the crowd to a few hundred. When the crowd was thus reduced a force of 180 policemen marched upon it. Fielden cried out to the captain in charge: "This is a peaceable meeting." A bomb was thrown, by whom has never been learned, and a sergeant of police was killed. Eight men were tried for murder, found guilty of being anarchists, and seven were sentenced to be hanged. Spies, Fisher, Engels and Parsons were hanged; Fielden and Schwab had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Oscar Neibe got 15 years penal servitude. Ling is alleged to have committed suicide.
154. Did they have a fair trial?
Of course not. When Governor Altgeld pardoned Fielden, Niebe and Schwab he scored the unusual and prejudiced manner in which the jury had been drawn. Here is how the jury was selected. Judge Joseph E. Gary appointed a special constable, who selected such men as he, the bailiff, chose instead of drawing them out of a box that contained hundreds of names. (It is said that every man who sat on the jury had pledged himself to find the defendants guilty.) Altgeld also stated that the judge by his ruling had made it extremely difficult for the defendants’ lawyer to get consideration for the charge; that the jury had been packed; that the judge connived at getting men on the jury who admitted prejudice against the defendants, including a relative of one of the victims of the bomb; that the judge admitted he ruled without precedent when he denied a motion for a new trial; and that the personal bearing of the judge had been extremely unfair throughout the trial. Fair trial! their execution was judicial murder.
155. Was there no protest by labor?
Labor’s best protests are not verbal. In the hearts of the workers there is still protest for what was done. The American Federation of Labor convention pleaded for mercy for the men, but Powderly threw his influence against any sympathic expression by the General Assembly of the K. of L., and the highest representative body in the K. of L. remained voiceless while its bravest were being done to death.
156. Why did Powderly act so?
Only Powderly and his connections know. When the K. of L. decided upon the May 1st eight- hour day strike, Powderly sent a secret letter to his lieutenant throwing cold water upon the idea. Later, Powderly got a Federal job. There may be some connection between that job and his acts relating to the eight-hour strike and the Haymarket K. of L. men. Quien Sabe?
157. Did the K. of L.decline because of the Haymarket affair?
On the contrary it grew rapidly; but within a year it begin to decline. This was due in part to the hostility of the A. F. of L. , but principally to inherent defects in the structure of the organization itself. Each district was autonomous. As a result three important lockouts in 1886 proved demoralizing. The K. of L. Laundry workers at Troy, N. Y., numbering about 3,000 were locked out; 12,000 of their fellow workers joined them by walking out. After five weeks the General Secretary of the K. of L., Hayes, accepted the manufacturers’ terms and called the strike off. In Amsterdam and Cohoes, N. Y., District Assembly 104 pulled 20,000 knit goods workers out on strike. On October 16, 1886 the manufacturers locked out the K. of L. This dispute is said to have arisen out of the promotion of an apprentice to operate a new machine. After five months, in May 1887 the strike was called off.
In the Chicago packing houses the packers decided to restore the ten-hour day on October 11. They refused to negotiate and blacklisted the Knights. On November 10th, the packing bosses had decided to rescind the blacklist, when a telegram was received from Powderly declaring the strike off. This gave the Knights a black eye. Powderly’s secret circular in the eight-hour strike; his refusal to allow the Order to plead for Parsons and his fellows; his telegram on this occasion, at the time when these eight men were awaiting their fate, makes it appear that Powderly was serving some interest other than the workers.
The strike of the Coal Handlers and Longshoremen in New York on Jan. 1, 1887, which spread to include all waterfront workers, railroad freight handlers, ship trimmers, boatmen, bag sewers, involved approximately 28,000 workers. This strike collapsed.
In January, 1888, members of the B. of L. E. and B. of L. F. scabbed on a K. of L. strike on the Philadelphia and Reading R. R., and defeated them. Later, in the same year, when the brotherhood men on the C. B. & Q. struck, the K. of L. retaliated.
The unskilled workers, unable to secure advantages through the K. of L., began to fall away, until in 1891 it was practically liquidated into the People’s Party. Another labor organization was laid in a political grave.
158. Was the K. of L. a real labor organization?
Yes. It was developing into a class organization, and would have done so were it not for its weak, if not treacherous, leadership. The Knights of Labor grew to be the champion of the unskilled and semi-skilled workers. It had shortcomings, such as the autonomous District Assemblies, but it was developing towards an industrial form of organization, and would have but for its unsympathetic leadership. These men were handicapped by an overestimate of trades union importance. The rivalry of the A. F. of L. with its rigid forms tempted the K. of L. intellectuals to try to fashion and fit similar organizations within the Knights of Labor where they could not find a congenial atmosphere, and, consequently, could not flourish. The timidity of the K. of L. leadership, instead of making the Haymarket affair a point from which to develop, lost heart and missed a great opportunity. Many of the internationals, now organized in the A. F. of L., owe their origin to the Knights of Labor. It was a splendid organization and won the working class of America and the world an experience that will yet serve it well.
159. What was the International Labor Union?
An organization started in the early part of 1878. This body aimed to unite the working class for the abolition of the wage system. Among other things, it proposed:
1. The formation of an Amalgamated Union of laborers so that members of any calling can combine under a central head and form a part of the Amalgamated Trades Unions.
2. The establishment of a general fund for benefit and protective purposes.
3. The organization of all workingmen in their Trade Unions, and the creation of such unions where none exist.
4. The National and International Amalgamation of all Labor Unions.
This union achieved a membership of about 8,000 members within the year, almost entirely textile workers. It .elected a delegate to attend the next Trades Congress of England. But a series of strikes in the textile industry, which failed, reduced the membership so that no funds were available to send the delegate. This union, through one branch in Hoboken, maintained a nominal existence until 1887, when it disappeared.
160. How many trades were organized nationally at the close of the ‘70’s?
There were in the neighborhood of thirty. There were, however, Trades Assemblies in about thirty-five cities and counties in which more than a hundred different trades were represented.
161. When was the American Federation of Labor formed?
In 1881, in Pittsburgh. It was then known as the Federated Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada. In 1886 it resolved itself into the A. F. of L.
162. Was the A. F. of L. designed to be a national economic organization when created?
The call for the first convention was vague on this point. There would appear to have been an implication that the federated unions would act unitedly whenever an emergency arose. The call stated that "only in such a body (a federation of trades) can proper action be taken to promote the general welfare of the industrial classes. There we can discuss and examine all questions affecting the national interests of each and every trade, and by a combination of forces secure that justice which isolated and separated trades and labor unions can never fully command." To the rank and file such "a combination of forces" could only mean industrial joint action, while the officials might interpret it to mean whatever they desired.
The idea of a lobbying committee was put plainly, which "could be elected to urge and advance legislation at Washington on all such measures."
The idea was also advanced that "a federation of this character can be organized with a few simple rules and no salaried officers." That is an idea from which the federation has traveled very far indeed.
163. Did the A. F. of L. become a national movement?
It has not yet become so. It is merely a political body imposed upon the affiliated international unions, whose function is to solicit consideration for labor from Congress, decide questions of jurisdiction between the component unions, but without power to enforce its decisions. It cannot order or call off strikes, nor commit the unions composing it to any program, nor prohibit anything that any of them may decide upon. It is not a national movement, but is resigned to prevent the formation of an economic movement upon a national or international scale. Only upon two occasions did it make attempts to function nationally in an economic way: First, on the occasion of the 8-hour strike in May, 1886, and again when a decision was reached in the 1888 convention to make a united effort to establish the eight-hour day on May 1, 1890. The vote favoring this suggestion was 38 to 8. The convention in 1889 revoked the decision to institute a general strike, and adopted a program whereby one union would strike and receive financial backing. After the union selected had won the eight-hour day, another union would be designated to make the demand; until the eight-hour day was generally established. For the purposes of supporting such unions as would be designated "the Executive Council was authorized to levy a special assessment of two cents per week per member for a period of five weeks."
164. How did this program work out?
The Carpenters’ Union was the first one selected to make the trial on May 1, 1890. The carpenters are reported to have "won the eight-hour day in 137 cities, and gained the nine-hour day in most other places." The miners were selected to make the fight in 1891, but in the months prior to May, the miners, whose organization did not include more than one-tenth of the mine workers, became involved in a strike in the Connellsville coke region. In this emergency they requested the Executive Council of the A. F. of L. to levy the assessment for their support in this strike. The Executive Council refused to do so. As a consequence, the United Mine Workers refused to strike on May 1. The barbers’ union asked the convention of 1891 to be designated as the union to make the attempt in 1892. The matter was referred to the Executive Council of the A. F. of L., where it was buried, and no further attempt has since been made. The eight-hour movement was dead as far as the A. F. of L. was concerned.
165. Was not the A. F. of L. in favor of the shorter workday?
Actions speak louder than words, and are the test by which profession is gauged. It renders lip service to the idea, but, as an organization, does nothing to advance it. While it is recorded as having initiated the eight-hour strike in 1886, there is little question that this was very largely in the nature of an advertising stunt, for its affiliated unions embraced less than one-fourth of the then organized workers. Its annual receipts up to that time had never exceeded $700. It had an ambition to grow, and to do so, it was compelled to attract attention and membership. As a legislation-seeking body it had failed to impress the workers. So the 1884 convention considered two proposals: (1) a general strike for the eight-hour day on May 1, 1886, and, (2) that each affiliated union pledge two per cent of its total revenue toward creating a strike fund. This was an attempt to transform the A. F. of L. into a national economic organization. The strike proposal carried by a vote of 23 to 2. The strike fund proposition was referred to the affiliated unions. So few of these favored the idea that it came to naught. In 1888, as stated in the answer to the preceding question, a strike fund was again provided for in a modified form, but soon was abandoned,.
166. If the A. F. of L. inaugurated the eight-hour strike in 1886, how came the K. of L. to be involved in it?
The shorter workday was of surpassing interest to all labor. The A. F. of L. , with less than 50,000 members, could not hope, of and by itself, to make much of an impression. It therefore extended an invitation to the K. of L. to co-operate. This appeal was warmly received by the Knights. However, Powderly and his official family threw cold water upon the idea. The leading figures in the A. F. of L. were lukewarm. Had the spirit that animated the rank and file of organized labor in both camps been shared by the officials, a great deal more could have been done than was accomplished. Only a fraction of what was possible was secured. Moreover, the seed of enmity and resentment was planted in the minds of the workers, and a crop of prejudices had grown up among them that smothered their class instincts and prevented that toleration of opinion upon which working class progress must depend.
167. Why should such an organization die while the A. F. of L. survives?
If you are an employer it is likely that you would prefer not to have an organization in your establishment which would embarrass you and compel you to grant concessions that in its absence you would not even deign to consider. It is more than likely that you would give a great deal to be rid of it. Now, when the K. of L. brought Jay Gould to terms it demonstrated that labor solidarity was equal to the power to the strongest corporations of the time. This exhibition of power was regarded by the capitalist class as a menace to be removed. That which offers hope to labor is always a menace to the employing class. Now, the capitalists saw a contemporaneous organization of workers which behaved itself in an entirely different manner. So they were prompt to take advantage of the situation. They used the A. F. of L. unions to stab the Knights of Labor in the back. This tactic of the employers inaugurated the era when the charges were hurled back and forth between the organizations that each was scabbing upon the other. The desire for membership upon the part of both was at the bottom of this suicidal conduct. The A. F. of L. temporarily enjoyed the favor of the capitalists as their choice of the least of two evils. By the time the Knights of Labor was hors de combat the A. F. of L. bore the brand of capitalist agent burned deeply and ineffaceably into it.
168. Has not the American Federation of Labor overcome some of the difficulties that beset earlier union attempts?
It has survived for over forty years, but has done so only by avoiding everything which a labor organization should have attempted. If it had aimed to be a body influencing legislation to be consistent it should have formed a political party. It has not done so. If it had aimed to influence legislation by a show of economic power it should have become a national economic expression. This it has not done. It has attempted, or pretended, to advance and improve the legal status of labor by making its appeals for consideration upon moral and humanitarian grounds. That it has not been successful as a legislative getting body is testified by the fact that the legal status of labor is on a lower level now than ever before. What laws have been secured are of a minor character, and many of these laws have been declared unconstitutional by the courts. It is capitalistic and militaristic—both anti-labor features. It never meets adverse decrees or legislative inaction with the challenge of economic power. It is a belly-crawling organization at best, which deludes the workers and holds them helpless before every onslaught of capital. Its failures in regard to labor, if not its betrayal of the labor interest, is the price it has paid for capitalist tolerance.
169. Was the A. F. of L. ever a real Labor Organization?
No. Common’s History of Labor in the United States says of the unsuccessful attempts by national unions to effect a national organization: "The initiative which was finally crowned with success came apparently from a non-trade union source. A disaffected group of the Knights of Labor, who desired to establish a rival order, called a conference for this purpose." It was significant that 68 of the 107 delegates were from the Pittsburgh vicinity and mainly Knights of Labor. Common’s history says : "The large attendance of Knights was due to fear that a rival to their order was to be established." Their fear was well founded.
170. Is it possible to change the A. F. of L. by boring from within?
About as possible as irrigating the Sahara desert with a garden hose. The A. F. of L. is capitalistic and cannot tolerate the spreading of working class ideas within its ranks. Those who preach boring from within capitalist unions are on a par with workers who pay for membership in a Chamber of Commerce to use it for the advancement of the proletarian interest. Craft unions, in our day, are not labor unions; they are gatherings of workers under the control of capitalist agents. They are not designed to further the labor interest but to restrain the laborers in the interest of capitalist property. As long as the working people regard them as well-intentioned but poorly constructed and ignorantly wielded working class weapons, attempts will be made to remodel and regenerate them. Only when they recognize them for the capitalist instruments that they are, will the workers cast them aside and fashion a weapon suitable to and capable of successfully furthering the working class end of a world-wide battle. An auger may bore a hole that will empty a tank, but a tank cannot be remodeled with an auger or a gimlet. It is impossible to change the A. F. of L. It is as impossible to change it as to change a timber wolf into a lap dog, or to make a house pet of a skunk.
171. If the A. F. of L. is not a labor organization, what is it?
It might be called a national association of labor brokers. In the first years of its existence there were some influences at work trying to mold it into a national economic body. For ten years these influences and others tending in the opposite direction were in conflict. The forces that made for an economic function were out-manouvered, and the A. F. of L. settled itself down to solicit political conventions and implore legislative bodies, while the international unions through all their branches undertook to obtain the control of jobs and to deal in labor power. The unions were prostituted from their job-regulating functions to instruments for the aggrandizement of the officialdom. For many years the official machines that have been built up have controlled these unions and used them as political levers and stepping stones to power and financial security for the official groups.
Any city craft union movement will bear out this contention. The building trades achieved great power at a time when the margin between journeymen and contractors was slight. Rival contractors vied with each other for the favor of men who stood high in union circles, and as a result vicious combinations with business and political connections were established. Slight advances to the rank and file had to be conceded, and the business agent or labor leader who fixed a deal whereby his union constituency benefitted even slightly won the devotion of the men. He became automatically a personage for politicians to connect up with and for business interests to deal with. One of the consequences was the establishment of a new, or go-between element in the union movement with their own peculiar interests to serve—neither capitalists nor workers — who shared with the capitalists and preyed upon the workers. They "called" and "settled" strikes as their interests dictated and when in their judgment situations were ripe.
Graft had become an institution in the name and under the auspices of unionism. So true is this, that, while real labor people deplore that graft, the grafters are seldom challenged or impeached; so great has their power become. This refers principally to local labor movements, but these had to depend upon national and Canadian connections. So, raised upon this basis, the international offices could only differ in the modification of the means employed. Where the business agents connected up with local politicians, the higher-up officials sat in with the Big Capitalists and national party riggers in the Civic Federation, and the whole craft union system was dominated by an influence foreign, alien and inimical to the working class interest. The so-called labor movement of the United States and Canada is a business institution for the purpose of controlling and guiding labor discontent into channels where it threatens least injury to the capitalist interest, which is only another way of saying that the least possible benefit is conferred. upon the workers.
172. Is it meant that the A. F. of L. is consciously so?
Just that. Any visitor to an A. F. of L. convention who is conversant with and interested in the welfare of the American workers is struck by the alertness of the international officers in suppressing or diverting expressions of rank and file opinion, which challenge their wisdom and sincerity, or the effectiveness of their organizations, This convention truly represents the dominant labor movement in America. The interests or opinions of the working members have no place in its deliberations. It were far more correctly termed an annual convention of American labor-brokers. These delegates, with the exception of a scattering few with little voting power, represent the controlling influence over organized American labor power. That is their special and particular business. Unity of the workers would destroy that business, and these well-fed, well-groomed, well-paid business men cannot tolerate any idea that would deprive them of their comfortable means of livelihood and relegate them to their old working places, even the memory of which they are reluctant to renew.
173. How do these men exercise such a power as is here attributed to them?
If you are the average union man you joined the union, after having paid an initiation fee which you thought excessive, and dues you felt to be beyond the requirements of the union. After a meeting or two you failed to attend meetings, except upon special occasions, because you found the local dominated by an influence against which you and those who thought with you were powerless to contend. There was ever present in your mind the thought that upon being parted from your present job, or changing your present location you must find another job, either in your present location or a new one, and a union card would make it easier to do so. Moreover, as a general thing, wages, hours and conditions were better in unionized employment. So you "kept up your card." That card was a letter of introduction and a recommendation for a job in strange places and new employments. You came to regard your union expenses as an employment fee paid for a chance to obtain employment easier than without such connection. The result was that you grew to pay no more attention to local and international union affairs than you would to the conduct of any other employment agency to which you had paid a fee. You kept a union card to facilitate your getting employment. Your union you did not regard seriously as an instrument by which much greater benefits might be secured and steadier employment obtained. In fact, encountering, as you did, the ubiquitous business agent, you learned to regard him as a personage to conciliate more than the foreman or superintendent under whom you worked. He exercised more control over your life than any other agency with which you came into contact. He was one to conciliate and to "stand in" with. THE UNION WAS HIS. It was, because the union members abdicated in favor the officialdom. That is the power in which the officialdom of the A. F. of L. deals; that is their business; the business of controlling—and delivering—unassertive, docilely obedient, and submissive packages of human labor power like you.
174. Why say the A. F. of L. bears the brand of capitalist agent?
Because it does. It has lost the militancy that marked the first ten years of its existence. Its aggressiveness was tempered by the reluctance of forces that came to control it absolutely after its tenth year. The jealous regard of the international unions for autonomy made itself felt in the adoption of the first and second sections of Article I, of the constitution. The first of these, by confining the function of the A. F. of L. to the effort of securing labor legislation, denied it the opportunity of ever becoming a national labor union; and there was retained to the international unions, in the second section, the privilege of being the only national economic expressions of their particular organized groups. Here, at the very outset of its career, the Federation became the loosest kind of a bond between the international unions. It took on the appearance of national unity, behind which was hidden permanent and unalterable division of the American working class.
The A. F. of L. really performs no legitimate function for labor, but it does serve the interests of the capitalists by making for a perpetually divided and, therefore, weakened condition of the American working class. What serves capitalism is capitalistic. Its preamble is contradicted by its constitution. The one proclaims the class struggle, the other denies it. Where "strict autonomy of each trade" prevails, it will, in the words of the A. F. of L. preamble, "work disastrous results to the toiling millions." Between unions unassociated and those separated by the rigid lines of trade autonomy there is little difference, and whatever difference there is redounds to the advantage of unassociated unions. While the fiction of unity is preserved by the A. F. of L., the industrial kinship of the different groups can never find expression.
As long as a permanent organization for soliciting labor legislation is passed off for effective combination of national unions, the organized workers are being imposed upon. If the best that more than two million workers can do is to provide themselves with a lobbying committee, some influence, that is not a labor influence, is misguiding them. And what is not a labor influence in capitalist society is a capitalist influence. There is no neutral ground.
And what have they got, these labor solicitors for more than 2,000,000 organized workers? A beggar’s portion—more refusals than laws. What laws have been conceded were of a minor character, and while the courts were empowered to decide, even these are not secure. The invocation of the Lever Act against the miners in 1919, and the Coronado decision recently, is a negation that ought to drive home to the American workers the need for some other attitude than a begging posture before legislative bodies and cowering posture before the courts. The craft union system was made to order for the capitalists.
The policy of time agreements, which originated with the employers in 1890, is an essentially capitalistic feature of craft union policy. All agreements are arranged to expire at different times. As a result, the employer whose industry is organized under the craft union system is always assured that his industrial inconvenience will be as slight as the craft system can make it. Craft unionism is insurance for the boss against very serious embarrassment. Contrariwise, it is a serious handicap and an embarrassment to the working group which it condemns to fight alone; for one set of union workers in an organized employment may strike to adjust a grievance, but the rest of the organized workers, bound by their agreements, remain at work and assist the employer—thus helping to defeat the strikers with whom they are in sympathy to the last heart beat. Nothing on earth, except the craft union system, could induce these workers to scab upon their fellows.
So often has this happened that it would be a waste of paper to set forth all of the numerous occasions. These are a few of the most flagrant instances:
The Homestead strike (1892) ; Buffalo switchmen’s strike (1892) ; Pullman strike (1894) ; Bituminous strike (1902) ; the Harriman System Federation strike (1911) ; San Francisco streetcar men (1907) ; Chicago packing house workers (1904), etc. These are only a few of the lost strikes for which the craft system of unionism is solely responsible. These were only a foretaste of what the many strikes since and the open shop drive of the present were to make the craft unionists acquainted with.
Even the agreement is being denied and arbitration demanded. To this the A. F. of L. seems to agree—that the brokers may still deal in American labor power—for we find only today (July 22, 1922), that the committee of international officers of the A. F. of L. building trades have determined to bring the Chicago building trades under the terms of the infamous Landis Award and under the domination of the anti-labor Citizen Committee; and to do so, they are organizing a dual Building Trades Council. Verily, the A. F. of L. bears the brand of capitalist agent.
175. Why say craft union system?
Because unless we see the craft unions as a system, we fail to understand their significance. A body of men following a special line of work might advantageously organize themselves into a union to advance their interests. Then when they found out that such a union was unequal to serving them, they would naturally incline to enlist with them such other labor classifications as would enable them to meet and deal with a condition or conditions which they could not favorably influence alone. As the function of unions is economic, it is natural that an alliance between them or a federation of unions, would have an economic object. When, therefore, we find alliances that serve another and different purpose to the extent that they entirely defeat the natural object of the component units, the intent of the workers composing these bodies has been misdirected. The American Federation alone is only a part of that system. The railroad unions are the other part. Combined, these constitute a system whereby the purposes of inter-union combination is defeated.
176. How was such a system brought about?
By fostering economic ignorance among the workers. Without that it would have been impossible to foist such a system upon them. The philosophy of individualism extended only to include a group, is the base upon which the system is built. Every man is vain enough to desire the good opinion of his neighbors, and in the labor world, as in national life, every man and group desires to be regarded as a patriot. It is popular to be patriotic when patriotism calls for nothing more than pretense. So we find the appearance of unity in the craft union system, concealing effective and disastrous division. A system that not only divides, while pretending to unite, but which finds its main excuse for existence in the internecine strife that it cannot eradicate without destroying itself, is in the nature of a conspiracy.
177. What is meant by internecine strife?
Jurisdictional disputes between unions. When two unions each claim jurisdiction over the workmen who perform a certain operation, and such disputes occur continually, it is not the interest of unionism that is involved in the controversy but the "rights" of the conflicting officials to the dues emanating from workmen who are employed on such jobs. If it were only the interest of unionism, the one requirement would be good standing in any union. If it were working class interest, the ability to do the work would be the only requirement. The settlement of such disputes between unions affords employment for Executive Councils that never give satisfaction. Autonomy is the great God of union division. In the interest of autonomy millions of dollars have been wasted and thousands of opportunities lost to the organized workers.
178. How are opportunities lost?
If even the comparatively small fraction of the workers at present organized into the craft union system would act as an economic unit, they would exert a power that legislatures would heed and courts not treat contemptuously. Through the craft system they are prevented from doing so. The open shop drive could have been broken before it had gotten under way. The miners’ strike could have been won in a week. The steel strike would not have gone under. The maintenance of way men could not have received the first wage cut, let alone the others. The shop crafts would not be fighting a lost cause. There would have been no Coronado decision, no Mooney case, no Centralia murder. All of these and thousands of things equally bad in the working class sense, are directly traceable to the craft union system. It holds nothing in check but the aspiration of the workers; denies nothing but their hopes; and defeats nothing but their longing for united action.
179. How does the system endure if that is true?
By support, not necessarily financial, from capitalist sources.
180. If that be so, how is the open shop drive accounted for?
The capitalist class is not without division. The highest strata of the employing class are intolerant of any form of workers’ combination which has in it the kernel of resistance to the capitalist ambition. The craft system has within it a working membership who are compelled by the nature of their economic circumstances to analyze even their own unions and the system which these compose. The value of the craft system to the capitalist depends upon the ability of the managers of the system to control the members of the unions. If, at any time, this would prove to be beyond the power of these managers then a situation would result which would be extremely perilous to the capitalist regime.
If, for instance, the unions’ members were to realize the capitalist nature of the system, and would deprive the system managers of control, these members, cognizant of organization value, might consolidate their forces into a single union with disastrous consequences to the capitalist control of society. If, however, with the aid of the craft system, they could destroy these unions, the idea of unionism would receive a body blow from which it would take it some time to recover. These capitalists have started out to destroy existing unions, regardless of the past services the system has rendered, not because of any impediment they offer as unions, but because they are the breeding ground from which may spring that menacing thing—one union of the working class.
181. Are the large capitalists behind the open shop drive?
It looks that way. They are not only the driving force behind the assault upon unionism in the open shop movement, but behind all the legislation proposed for national arbitration bodies by means of which it is intended to compel workers to labor under unacceptable conditions of unemployment. They are also trying to circumvent organizing efforts among their workers by means of Industrial Congresses, Benefit Societies, pension schemes, Industrial Relation plans, Loyal Legions, etc.
182. Why should the large capitalists take the lead in such a program?
Because they represent, to the greatest realized extent, the fulfillment of capitalist ambition, while their working forces represent largely the other extreme—a little-skilled proletariat. In the very largest industrial establishments the so-called unskilled workers predominate. Once this element of the working class is organized the end of capitalism is in sight. As long as the craft organizations exist, while there is no danger of their organizing outside of their restricted limits, there exists a source of inspiration, even tho it be an example of what to avoid. Therefore, the large capitalists, arrogant and at the same time fearful, are breaking down the barriers behind which they have found protection. A protection far surpassing anything which they, themselves, are capable of creating.
183. But do not craft unions organize unskilled workers?
Not as they should and must be organized. "No man understands better than the king, how much a man the king is." And no man knows better than the modern "craftsman" how much a fiction his alleged "craft skill" is. When the craft unions move their membership lines to include helpers, it is not done to assist the helper but to remove a menace to themselves. The average helper can, in a comparatively short time, learn to perform the operation upon which he assists the "journeyman." Therefore, it is only common sense to enroll him in the union as a subordinate. Seniority rules, and other handicaps, tend to control him better, and he enters into every situation with a feeling of family loyalty. However, he remains a "helper" and should he find himself out of employment he returns to the realm of the unskilled and poorly paid. Should he secure employment in an organized shop in some other calling, he may again become a "union helper" upon the payment of a new initiation fee and new dues. Should he desire, in view of industrial uncertainty, to retain his old along with his new union membership, we have the lowest paid worker in industry called upon to furnish the greatest financial proof of his adherence to, and belief in unionism. Now, as the unskilled or little skilled worker in the course of a few years may find himself attached to several trades—boilermaking, machinist, pipe fitting, firing, mining (coal or metal), building, etc.—it not only is financially impossible for him to retain union membership, but it is heartless and absurd to expect him to. Thus, any fair-minded person is able to see at a glance, not only that the craft union system cannot organize the so-called unskilled, but is designed to deprive that element of every possible chance to organize.
184. Are there not federal labor unions composed of workers of every calling in the A. F. of L.
Yes. But these are merely recruiting unions—a form first adopted to compete with the mixed Assemblies of the K. of L., and used later to oppose the I. W. W. In these unions when the number of members, following any calling which is organized nationally, reaches the minimum required for a local charter, upon demand of such international they are required to withdraw themselves from the Federal Union and to organize as a local of the International. It may be said of such unions that unity is accomplished only for the purpose of division.
185. What does this suggest?
That after the workers achieve unity in a Federal Union the capitalists take charge of it and divide it up to suit their own interests. You, as a worker, would desire such a union as is implied in the Federal Labor Union—all workers in one union. An employing group, or even an individual employer, would want them divided up, and bound by rules and agreements, so that they could not act together. The Federal Union and what becomes of it demonstrates the difference between a working class conception of a union and a capitalist conception. It is just the same difference as between the working class conception and the A. F. of L. conception. The A. F. of L. views and treats labor as do the capitalists.
186. What was the American Railway Union?
An industrial union of land transportation workers. This union was brought into existence as a direct result of the railroad workers’ experience in the Buffalo switchmen’s strike. It made rapid headway and in the spring of 1894 won a victory over the Great Northern Ry. Co. in less than three weeks.
During the same summer the Pullman strike was inaugurated and was lost through the treachery of the craft union system. The loss of this strike has been attributed to the hostility of the courts, the federal government; but it was really lost because the craft system of unionism could not lend its aid to the workers involved. A general conference of persons nationally prominent in the labor movement of the U. S. met in Chicago in connection with this great strike. It is said that this conference "arranged the funeral of the A. R. U." as a previous similar conference had doomed the strike of the Buffalo switchmen.
187. What became of the A. R. U.?
It rapidly lost prestige after the failure of 1894, and what was left merged with the Social Democratic Party in 1889.
188. What international figure was connected with the A. R. U.?
Eugene V. Debs. Debs contrary to all precedent quit a high official position with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen to organize the A. R. U. He has devoted his life to the emancipation of labor, and in pursuit of his ideal has made almost as many enemies as any character in history. His admirers number millions and include most of his enemies. To hate and persecute, as his enemies have Debs, is to fear him, and fear is the highest tribute of admiration.
189. What was the Western Federation of Miners?
An industrial union of mine workers that embraced all working classifications necessary to the production and treatment of minerals. At first it included coal miners as well as metal miners, and coke workers as well as mill and smelter employes. This was one of the most militant labor organizations in America. Its decline was due to a campaign of destruction directed by agents of the Mine Operators’ Association.
190. When was the W. F. of M. organized?
Following the Coeur d’Alene strike of 1892. Previous to that time the metal and coal miners of the west were organized in local unions. The results of the Coeur d’Alene strike showed the need for greater unity, and the W. F. of M. was brought into existence. It had a brilliant history in the battle of American labor until reactionary influence gained control of its machinery. only a vestige of it is left to provide a nucleus with which it is hoped to defeat or delay the rise of a worthy successor to the W. F. of M. of the nineties, and the first five years of the twentieth century.
191. With what events was the W. F. of M. connected?
With the Moyer-Haywood-Pettibone case and the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World. It also assisted in the starting of the Western Labor Union.
192. What was the American Labor Union?
An organization that aimed at organizing the unskilled elements in American industry as the basis of a working class union.
193. What became of the A. L. U.?
It became a constituent part of the I. W. W. in 1905.
194. What was the United Brotherhood of Railway Employes?
An organized protest against craft division in the railroad industry. It was dissolved into the I. W. W. in 1905.
195. What do we find in our sketch of American unionism?
That politics is deadly to unionism.
196. What instances prove this?
Beginning with the Mechanics’ Union of Trade Societies in Philadelphia up to the Knights of Labor, politics killed every promising union movement.
197. What other factor helped to kill unionism?
Cooperative enterprises. Many of the attempts of the earliest American unions were cooperative, and either through a lack of business capacity, or the dishonesty of those directing them, they invariably had the effect of losing out and ruining the economic organizations, that relied upon them. The opposition of both Catholic and Protestant influences to cooperation as a labor policy no doubt prevented to some extent the financing of such enterprises. The Catholic churchmen opposed it as a "first step to Socialism," and a writer in the Christian Advocate denounced "the attempt to improve on the divine law (which) is not ridiculous simply; it is absurd and blasphemous. If men cannot live and get along as God has arranged and ordained, they can get along in no other way."
The stove molders had at one time eleven cooperative foundries. One at Troy, N. Y. was very successful. So much so that the cooperators adopted the capitalist view that "the fewer the stockholders in the company the greater its success." While these cooperators still held to membership in the Molder’s Union they said: "but the trades unions are of no use now, really." Cooperation in successful enterprises felt the restriction of union rules and interference.
198. What conclusion may we draw?
We are justified in drawing the conclusion that whenever a union tries to operate outside its sphere—job regulation—it only defeats its purpose and destroys itself.
199. What is the Industrial Workers of the World?
A working class organization with the revolutionary aim of overthrowing capitalism. The unit of organization is an industry. All the industrial unions are united in the general organization. All laws originate in the General Convention and become effective only when passed upon by majority vote of the membership. Its aim is toward inclusiveness, and with this end in view its policy favors low initiation fees and dues. It has a universal card system so that a member can transfer from one industrial union to another without extra charge; thus making it possible for its members to hold continuous membership regardless of changes of employment and location.
This union has had remarkable success in handling large strikes, such as the textile strike in Lawrence and other Massachusetts towns, and in Patterson and Little Falls, N. Y., It also struck terror into the hearts of the steel kings at McKees Rocks, Pa. The rubber barons of Akron, Ohio, were taught a bitter lesson by the I. W. W. This organization, never strong in numbers until recently, has so strong a working class appeal that it has gone into unorganized territory and stirred whole working class populations into activity on behalf of their interests as workers.
No organization just like the I. W. W. has ever before appeared above the American labor horizon. It embodies all the experiences of American labor and crystallizes all its spirit. It is a purely genuine proletarian type of organization. It tears the sham from the craft unions and exposes them, showing up all their fallacies and weaknesses. It is the terror of the craft union oligarchy, as it is of the capitalists. Both have vilified, slandered, and persecuted it. No other organization has been so grievously misrepresented a n d pitilessly persecuted. While its members have [been], and are yet, selected for victimization in industry and by the legal authorities, the organization itself has gained membership and influence, and is today strategically the most advantageously placed economic organization in America.
Every attack upon the I. W. W. has redounded to its benefit, driving it more securely into the consciousness of the world’s workers. For, peculiarly enough, every act of this organization was of proletarian origin and every tactic an adaptation of the workers’ experiences in industry. It was enabled to turn attacks upon it to its own advantage with the versatility of that proletariat whom it can truly claim to represent. When a task is to be performed in industry, it is to be performed; there must be no acknowledgment of defeat. The same spirit has dominated the I. W. W. This makes it an enigma to the capitalist class and a thorn in the side of "the Labor Lieutenants of Capitalism," as Mark Hanna aptly termed the craft union officialdom. They do not understand the workers’ problem and are only concerned about the capitalist side of the problem. Consequently, anything genuinely labor is to both a profound mystery.
If the I.W.W. had been controlled by "intellectuals," or dominated by professional labor leaders, it would have gone the way of all previous efforts to supply labor with an effective instrument. Having been wrested from the control of these elements at an early stage of its career, and having been controlled by purely proletarian elements, it has weathered all the heavy seas and kept its course despite cyclonic storms of persecution. The bludgeon, the bullet, the penitentiary, lynchings, and tar-pots—every outrage, every scurrilous attack has added a new leaflet to its propaganda, put a new tone into every new appeal. The I. W. W. has demonstrated that capitalism can recruit no force to smash or to deter it. The I. W. W. has nothing to fear from the outside; it can only be destroyed from the inside, and its proletarian character makes that unlikely.
200. What is an "intellectual"?
This term is applied to those who are not experienced as wage workers and who attempt to play a more or less important part in the labor movement. This term should not be used loosely to include all those who do not perform manual labor. The class-conscious labor movement is a target for all kinds of so-called "intellectuals." Preachers, physicians, college men, lawyers, etc., are the main offenders. They are usually obsessed with the idea that they are born leaders of the workers. They seem to feel that the workers will "go to the dogs" unless they be allowed to control the workers’ destiny. As a matter of fact, the "intellectual" is, more often than not, a nuisance and a detriment to the class-conscious labor movement.
201. When was the I. W. W. organized?
In Chicago, June 27, 1905, with an initial membership of somewhere about 50,000.
202. Is it purely economic organization?
Yes. Originally it declared for political as well as economic action by the workers, but at the fourth convention, (1908), the idea of political action was discarded, and the I. W. W. decided to devote itself exclusively to industrial action. This won for it the hostility of the politicians. In fact, it has succeeded in antagonizing every anti-labor and psuedo labor element in society since it refused to be a breeding ground for fallacies.
203. What are its principles?
Its basic principle is recognition of the class struggle. Because of this it is a militant labor organization. It is attempting to organize the working class for victory over the capitalist class. Its preamble, as amended by the fourth convention and endorsed by the membership, is:
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 management of the 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 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 any one 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.
204. What is meant by "organizing industrially?"
Organizing in the industries as wage workers—economically—not politically. The I. W. W. believes the worker as wealth producer to be the social unit, for society cannot exist without its workers. The politician believes the citizen to be the social unit. Therefore, the I. W. W. relies upon the workers, organized as producers to exert greater influence industrially that is possible to them as citizens in capitalist society. That is what is meant when the preamble states "By organizing industrially we (the working class), are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old." This denies the possibility of doing so by political action, or by any other means.
205. Explain this more clearly?
The I. W. W. seeks to organize the workers in all the industries into one organization. But this is not a mass organization. It proposes to follow the present arrangement of the workers in production, and to organize them as they are placed in industry. It does not ask the worker what tool he uses, or what operation he performs. It only asks for what object his labor power is expended. If it is for the purpose of assisting in coal production, it classifies him as a coal mine worker and enrolls him in the Coal Mine Workers’ Industrial Union No. 220. If his work is to assist railroading, no matter what the nature of his task, he is put in the Railroad Workers’ Industrial Union No. 520. So with any worker in the textile mill; whether he be an engineer, loom fixer, or janitor, he takes his place in the Textile Workers’ Industrial Union No. 410; and so on until the whole field of working class activity is covered. All the time the I. W. W. is organizing, it is educating the workers, giving them a new viewpoint, filling them with a new consciousness. When its organization is sufficiently extensive, trained and disciplined, it is ready to take over industry—because it has prepared the workers to do so.
206. What do we mean by an industrial union?
All the workers, all over the world, have a common interest and are interdependent—the workers of one country upon the workers of all other countries. So, likewise, the workers in one industrial calling are dependent upon the workers in all the other callings and these other workers upon them. Yet, in industry, national and international, there are more or less clearly defined divisions which we know as industries, such as coal mining, railroading, lumbering, farming, steel, manufacturing, etc. When a man works in any one of these industries he comes into more intimate contact with his associated workers than he does with the balance of the working class. For instance, in or around a coal mine, whatever he does is done to assist in bringing the coal deposit to some convenient place from which it can be transported to where it is needed. Whether he be an engineer, machinist, blacksmith, miner, driver, loader, weighman, bookkeeper—whatever he does—his labor fits in with that of all the other workers in and around the mine, and the objective of all their labors is to get the the coal in a convenient place. They could not fulfill this purpose without his labor classification, nor he without theirs. They are necessary to him and he to them; they are all the coal mine working force. The I. W. W. organizes all of them in one industrial union.
Now, while each of these coal workers are in more or less personal contact with each other in the process of coal production, it is only through the industry as a whole, represented by the product—coal—that they come into contact with transportation and the transportation workers. The I. W. W. arranges for their contact, co-ordination, and cooperation in its general organization—the working class organization. By thus organizing the workers by industries and uniting them in one solid organization, you can see how the I. W. W. is forming the structure of the new society.
207. But are not the coal miners so organized now?
No. "All is not gold that glitters," and every organization that appears to be is not an industrial union. Being an inclusive union in the industry is not by any means all there is to being an industrial union. Industrial unionism, as exemplified in the I. W. W., means something entirely different from the U. M. W. of A. The U. M. W. of A. reconciles its members to holding aloof from the other workers. If the I.W.W. organization held a commanding position in industry, when the mine workers threw down their tools and walked out of the mines on April 1st (1922), that hour the hauling of coal would have stopped. The operators and "the public" would not be figuring how long the surplus and scab production would suffice. The strike would have had an entirely different aspect from the first day, and, in all likelihood, would not have occurred at all. It would avail nothing to mine coal in scab territory for no train crew would haul it.
If the I. W. W. was in the coal industry, the tonnage (piece-work) system of mining would not be in vogue. The miners would be spared all the inconveniences and controversy growing out of that operators’ scheme. Miners would work by the day. There would be no check-off, for the miner would have his wages without bothering about dockage, short weight, minimum turn, or what not. There would be no danger of "sell outs" in negotiations, or forced arbitration, for a united working class would secure justice for the miners, and could depend upon the miners in their turn. The miners constitute about the most dependable element of the American working class and it would be strange if they were not the first to see the light-and soon. The U. M. W. of A. with the most intelligent and largest aggressive minority in the American organized movement is not an industrial union. More is the pity.
208. Has the I. W. W. conducted any strikes?
Yes, many. In 1906 the I. W. W. established an eight hour day for hotel workers in Goldfield, Nevada. This town had the first universal eight-hour day in the United States as a result of I. W. W. activity, and a minimum wage of $4.50 per day for unskilled labor.
209. Was it retained?
Through the combined forces of the mine operators, the business element and scabs led by Grant Hamilton, general organizer for the A. F. of L. , the established conditions were lost. The treachery of the general officers of the W. F. M. was a factor in breaking I. W. W. control in this district, and degrading the conditions of the workers.
210. What were the other strikes?
In Skowhegan, Me., three thousand workers struck over the discharge of active I. W. W. men. The strike was won in a short time, though the A. F. of L. union of United Textile Workers, under John Golden, tried to break it by furnishing strike-breakers.
Three thousand saw mill workers in Portland, Ore., won a nine-hour day and a 75-cent increase in wages in 1906
In Bridgeport, Conn., an I. W. W. strike of 1,200 tube workers was scabbed to defeat by A. F. of L. unions.
In McKees Rocks, Pa., in 1909, eight thousand employes of the Pressed Steel Car Company struck and won all their demands after a stubborn contest lasting nearly three months. This was one strike where the Cossacks were tamed.
In 1912, a textile workers’ strike and a shoe workers’ strike were both won in Haverhill, Mass.
The great Lawrence strike (29,000 workers) was won despite the contemptible and traitorous scabbing tactics of the A. F. of L. unions. New Bedford (13,000 workers), Little Falls, N. Y., (about 1,500 workers). United Textile Workers used scabbing tactics here also. This strike was a victory (1913). Lumber Workers (La.), in 1913; Akron Rubber Workers’ strike (22,000 workers). Lost in seven weeks. (1913). Paterson Silk Mill Workers’ strike (50,000). A. F. of L. unions tried to scab but failed, owing to the feeling of the workers and the thorough picketing. Result was a compromise settlement. One thousand I. W. W. metal workers in Toledo, Ohio, won a strike after a few days. I. W. W. Garment Workers of Baltimore, Md., lost a fourteen weeks’ strike through the scabbing tactics of the A. F. of L. union of United Garment Workers, which furnished strike-breakers.
In 1916 the Mesaba Range strike of iron miners took place. This strike was typically handled by the corporations who imported large forces of gunmen thugs whom compliant sheriffs deputized. MANY of the striker pickets were murdered by these plug-uglies.
A shingle weavers’ strike the same year in Everett, Wash., requested assistance from the I. W. W. The mill owners and the(ir) authorities attempted to drive all I. W. W. members from the city. The I. W. W. answered this challenge by chartering a steamboat. When this boat was docking in Everett, the sheriff, who was drunk, and a large force of gunmen opened fire upon the passengers with high power rifles. Seven of the passengers were killed and many wounded. Just imagine what followed—seventy-four I. W. W. members were indicted for this crime of a drunken sheriff and the lumber barons’ gun-men. They were acquitted, but the sheriff was never punished.
In 1917, one thousand two hundred I. W. W. members were deported from Bisbee, Arizona, in connection with the copper strike. The copper-collared sheriff was supplied with an army of 2,500 selected ruffians. A federal commission investigated this affair but no one has ever been punished though the tactics employed were brutal—one of the I. W. W. members being done to death.
A general strike of the lumber workers in June where genuine I. W. W. tactics were used. The general strike was continued under various forms—irritation strikes, striking on the job, individual strikes, striking in one camp and going on another job, and all the time working to win the strike. This was something new to the employers, and they were not prepared for these tactics. Consequently, they gave up the struggle and the eight hour day, wage increase, and greatly improved conditions resulted.
211. What is a craft union?
A craft union is a union of workers following a special trade. Formerly, a craftsman, taking the raw material, worked in all the processes required to complete production of the finished article. At that time a long apprenticeship was served, and was necessary in order that the workers in the craft might learn how to perform the work accurately and expeditiously, in the different stages. These workmen formed unions, such as we learned about, at the close of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. These craftsmen were highly skilled workers, employing hand tools, and hence, often termed handicraftsmen.
212. Are there any such workmen now?
Very few, if any. Most of the present day crafts are no more than sub-divisions of the old time trades. The mechanical tool displaces skill without dispensing with it so far as the production of commodities is concerned. That is to say that the individual workman does not require that versatility of skill in machine production which was indispensable to the handicraftsman. The machine changes the technique in industrial operation so that all-around skillfulness, while unnecessary to any workman, is still demanded of the working force. In order to reap the full advantages of machinery preference is given to workmen in the various processes who display ingenuity in machine attendance and develop a knack which operates a machine tool at its approximate capacity. The skill, formerly the possession of the mechanic which enabled him to perform several operations, is now distributed so that the skill required in each operation is the qualification of special workmen. Where the old time trademan’s skill consisted of a series of knacks gained from long experience, the skill of the modern workman in machine industry may be confined to a knack in one operation gained by a comparatively short experience. Today we have many skilled workmen, but few craftsmen.
213. How would skill be defined?
That depends. . . . If the skill of the old time craftsman is meant, the standard by which skill is determined might be defined thus: Skill:—That quality in workmanship which enables the workman to surpass the average untrained worker in all the processes necessary to transform the raw material into the finished product; intimate knowledge of, and a facility acquired by practice in the processes required for the production of a particular thing; that efficient versatility which we are accustomed to associate with the handicraftsman who served a long apprenticeship.
Skill, in the modern sense, applies to the faculty of doing one or a few particular things exceptionally well.
214. Does not that imply that there are no crafts now?
Strictly speaking, there are none. We speak of printers as being craftsmen, but it is a long step back to the time and condition when that was true. The work of the old-time printer is now done by many specialized workmen. Where he did everything in a printing plant, now a number of specialists, each doing a particular thing, co-operate to perform his task. This holds for the tailor, shoemaker, carpenter, blacksmith, etc. The tendency is toward the sub-division of labor and simplification of processes, so that the skilled worker of a period of long passed development is unknown and unnecessary to modern production. As has been said, strictly speaking, there are no crafts, and it follows, as day follows night, that a craft union is an anachronism in modern industry. As the Industrial Union Manifesto well said: "Laborers are no longer classified by difference in trade skill, but the employer assigns them according to the machines to which the are attached. These divisions, far from representing differences in skill or interests among the laborers, are imposed by the employer that workers may be pitted against one another . . . and that all resistance to capitalist tyranny may be weakened by artificial distinctions."
215. How is the I. W. W. constituted?
The I. W. W. is composed of Industrial Unions, Industrial Departments, Industrial District Councils and General Industrial District Councils. Each Industrial Union has branches at strategic points within the industry and maintains contact with the members through the job delegate system.
216. What is an Industrial Department?
Industrial Unions of closely allied industries are combined into departmental organizations. For example, the Marine Transport Workers’ Industrial Unions referred to above, would be united with Railway or Steam Transportation Industrial Unions, Municipal Transportation Industrial Unions, Motor Transporters, and Aviators’ Unions, into the "Department of Transportation and Communication."
The Industrial Departments are combined into the General Organization, which, in turn, is to be an integral part of a like International Organization; and through the international organization establish solidarity and cooperation between the workers of all countries.
217. What is an Industrial District Council?
Organization is of first importance in the I. W. W. It is not enough that the workers are class-conscious. They must be organized. Industrial district councils are composed of delegates from all the shop or job branches of one industry within a given district. It aims to promote unity of thought and action within the district.
218. What is a General Industrial District Council?
To achieve general solidarity among the workers in a given district, two or more industrial unions elect delegates to form a general industrial district council. Its function is to keep the different industrial unions of the district in touch with each other and to transact all business pertaining to the general welfare of the workers in the district.
219. Is there anything corresponding to the General Industrial District Council of the I. W. W. in the A. F. of L. ?
Not exactly. The A. F. of L. central labor unions most nearly resemble it. Their bodies, however, being composed of representatives of craft unions, cannot be as truly representative of the workers in a given locality as would a body representing the workers in the industry as working forces. Moreover, the geography of the A. F. of L. is political, while the geography of the I. W. W. is economic. A central body in the A. F. of L. is concerned about the political management of the municipality, whereas an I. W. W. central organization would use the economic power of its constituent unions to improve the status of labor.I. The A. F. of L. central bodies wait upon the political management and endeavor to secure through petition and political influences the desired changes. The A. F. of L. central bodies have no economic power unless they usurp it. The autonomy of the affiliated unions denies any power to the central labor unions. The A. F. of L. central bodies mediate between employers and crafts having grievances. No boycott by a dissatisfied union can become binding without the consent of the central bodies. These simply constitute local parliaments of labor with only the privilege of recommendation but without the power of enforcement. The State Federations of Labor, likewise, geographically are political divisions, which try to influence legislation in the state legislatures, but are without any economic authority. Both the central labor unions and the State Federations organize unorganized employments. Generally the organizing work of these bodies is negligible.
220. Do the city and town workers generally understand the limitations of these A. F. of L. subordinate bodies?
Not generally. It frequently happens that craft unions with grievances expect the industrial support of the central labor union, and are much puzzled when denied it. We have heard it asked many times what a central union was for, if a union in difficulties could not count upon it for industrial support. We have also seen central labor unions disintegrate in times of industrial strife because they proved a disappointment to the workers belonging to the affiliated unions, who felt that the central body was a local body to achieve industrial unity of its affiliations. The workers can think only in terms of industry, and politics has no appeal to them. While the central bodies do not serve labor in an industrial way, while they hinder advancement through industrial action, they are the one valuable feature of the craft union system. They are training schools in what labor must avoid, and out of them have graduated most of the exponents of real unionism, many of whom have severed relations with the A. F. of L. through disgust and in recognition of its capitalistic character.
221. Could not the same thing happen in the I. W. W.?
It could if capitalist ideas dominated its councils. But the first concern of the I. W. W. is the education of the workers in the economics of capitalist production and what are known as "the class struggle sciences." A rank and file grounded in these, will make it difficult to impose fallacies upon and to mislead them. The I. W. W. in its seventeen years has spread more sound literature among the workers, out of its small treasuries, than has the A. F. of L. in more than forty years. The I. W. W. is safeguarding the worker with education.
222. What is a job delegate?
A job delegate is an organizer in the I. W. W. Any qualified member in good standing may become a job delegate. To become a job delegate a member fills out an application for credentials and sends it to his industrial union secretary. He will receive credentials and supplies. He is then authorized to initiate any wage worker into the I. W. W.
The job delegate system is the product, and typical of militant industrial unionism. It is an efficient way of organizing.
223. How does a job delegate function?
Job delegates in the I. W. W. perform the same function as paid organizers do in other unions; they secure new members. After receiving credentials and supplies they begin operations. The supplies consist of membership cards, dues stamps, voluntary assessment stamps, and I. W. W. literature.
The job delegate will explain the principles and program to all workers he comes in contact with. He will sell and distribute literature. He agitates on the job, and initiates new members there. He talks to the workers while at work, at noon time, and after work. He will visit the workers in their homes. He never loses an opportunity of agitating for the I. W. W.
The job delegate not only secures new members, but affixes dues stamps in the books of old members. He performs the work of a branch secretary on the job. Job delegates do not receive wages for their organizing efforts. Delegates must make reports to their industrial union every week.
224. What is a traveling delegate?
Traveling delegates carry large amounts of supplies. They travel through the harvest fields and industrial districts supplying the job delegates with membership cards, dues stamps and literature. They, also, are authorized to enlist members in the I. W. W. They are, as a rule, members of the General Organization Committee of the industrial union. They make surveys of industrial conditions and inform their general office. They are the field representatives of the industrial union.
225. What is a stationary delegate?
Stationary delegates are placed at strategic points by their industrial unions. In the Marine Transport Workers’ I. U. No. 520, they are known as "Port Delegates." The office of the stationary delegate is the base of operation for traveling and job delegates. Their offices usually are located at the gateways to the harvest fields and industrial centers. They are recruiting stations for migratory and stationary workers. The stationary delegate makes regular reports to his industrial union headquarters. The report will be comprehensive, giving much valuable industrial data to the general secretary and the officers of the industrial union stationed at headquarters.
226. How about initiation fees and dues in the I. W. W.?
As the I. W. W. wants the workers to organize, it makes it as easy as possible for them to do so. So it inclines to make initiation fees and dues as low as possible. The initiation fee is $2.00 and the dues are 50 cents per month. Contrast this with the A. F. of L. unions, some of which charge several hundred dollars as an initiation fee. Evidently, unions which charge high initiation fees do so to keep workers out of the unions, and the purpose of high initiation fees is to keep men out. That is why the craft unions are called job trusts.
227. Does each Industrial Union demand an initiation fee?
No. A member of the I. W. W. is called upon to pay only one initiation fee. Once a worker joins the I. W. W. and becomes a member of one industrial union, whenever he charges his occupation he automatically becomes a member of the industrial union in his new occupation upon presentation of his union card. Once a union man in the I. W. W., always a union man, unless he violates the laws of the union. In the craft union system whenever a man changes his occupation from one industrial calling to some other calling, he is required to pay a new initiation fee. If he refuses to be bled, or has not the price, a long and distinguished union career will not help him. He must pay. He can have a whole album full of union cards, they will not help him. He must take out a new union card. It might be stated thus: When a man joins an industrial union he joins the I. W. W.; when a man joins an A. F. of L. union, he does not join the A. F. of L., for the A. F. of L. has no economic existence. He joins the plumbers’ union. But when he changes his occupation he must join another union. The policy of the craft union is to keep them out, or get their money. The policy of the I. W. W. is to get them in the union; never mind the money, if they have a paid up card in any union. The I. W. W. depends upon the industrial power of the workers. Other unions depend upon finance. The I. W. W. wants all the workers. Other unions only want the select few.
228. Is the I. W. W. a secret organization?
The I. W. W. is not a secret organization. It never holds secret meetings. It has no passwords, secret signs, or other tomfoolery. All meetings are wide open. The I. W. W. holds that it can be more effective as an open organization than as a secret one. Underground movements cannot hope to be effective as working class organizations in this country. Secret organizations of labor are breeding places for spies. It would be impossible to have a labor union broad enough to include all wage workers and maintain secret rules, program and aims. Since the I. W. W. is not plotting to capture the political state, but is organizing to control industry, it is not necessary or good to deliberate in secret.
229. What workers can join the I. W. W.?
All wage workers are eligible to membership in the I. W. W. It seeks to organize every wage worker in industry. The position or wage is not taken into consideration. Clerical workers, technicians, teachers, engineers, etc., can join the I. W. W., provided they work for wages.
The term "brain worker" is used to draw lines in the working class and should be avoided. It is an aim of the I. W. W. to bring about solidarity among the workers, and all terms suggesting division are taboo.
230. What is solidarity?
The term is used to denote the common interest, fellowship, aims and action of the working class. It means an entire consolidation of interest, responsibilities, and aims of those in a common condition or situation, and the organization of those so conditioned or situated to conserve their common interest, bear their collective responsibilities, and to achieve their common aim.
Industrial unionism is the only medium through which industrial solidarity can be achieved. "An injury to one is an injury to all" is the best expression of the spirit of solidarity.
231. What is syndicalism?
In Europe, syndicalism means unionism. In the United States the word is so lost in a maze of misunderstanding as to mean almost anything. State legislators, at the instigation of employers and aided by the press, have so perverted and misrepresented syndicalism that most people believe it to be a criminal and iniquitous conspiracy. Syndicalism is derived from the French word syndicate, meaning a local trade union. In France the labor union movement has two wings—radicals and conservatives. To distinguish themselves from the conservatives, the radicals call themselves "revolutionary syndicalists." When the I. W. W. began to assume power in this country, the phrase-mongering apologists for the capitalist system attacked it most bitterly. To create a prejudice against it, they called it an importation—syndicalism from Europe. The name so attached itself to the organization that well-meaning "historians" have called the I. W. W. the syndicalist movement of America. The I. W. W. and the syndicalist movements of Europe differ widely in many respects. The I. W. W. is not a byproduct of the syndicalist movement; it is a purely revolutionary industrial unionism. The I. W. W. is really the first international of labor. Its philosophy, structure and aim mark it as the foundation, and the only foundation upon which international unity of the world’s workers can be upreared.
232. What is "criminal syndicalism"?
If the law makers of this country were compelled to write their laws in English there would be no such phrase as "criminal syndicalism." Syndicalism is a French word meaning unionism. It would not be good politics to place on the statute books Criminal Unionism laws; so the law makers have coined the phrase "criminal syndicalism."
Several states have passed laws against "criminal syndicalism." It is untruthfully and maliciously defined as a doctrine advocating violence, terrorism and crime to effect political and industrial changes. There is no union on the American continent advocating violence, terrorism, or crime, so, therefore there is no "criminal syndicalism." The law were passed for the obvious, but underhanded, purpose of attacking unionism. The law makers did not have the courage to call their laws "criminal unionism."
233. What law of nature supplies the incentive to organize unions?
The law of mutual aid.
234. What is the law of mutual aid?
Mutual aid is a fundamental law of nature that causes animals to band together for self-protection.
235. What is the highest human expression of the law of mutual aid?
The principles and program of the I. W. W. are the highest expressions of mutual aid, because they embody the idea of mutual protection and advancement for the greatest number of human beings.
Mutual aid prompts man to give and receive help from his fellow workers. It is the instinct for solidarity and self protection that causes workers to organize labor unions. Mutual aid is expressed in many ways. It is mutual aid that causes employers to form organizations. The secret societies are expressions of mutual aid. Among the lower animals mutual aid is practiced. Deer and wolves band together for mutual aid. Bees and ants practice mutual aid to a great extent. It is not the love for a fellow being that causes man to aid one in distress, but the instinct of mutual aid. In winter, animals will huddle together to keep warm. It is not the love of the herd that causes a sheep to run with it, but the instinct of mutual aid. A puppy does not cuddle close to the other puppies to keep them warm, but to keep himself warm. It is mutual aid. Workers do not organize unions because they love each other, but because through organization they are enabled to get more of the good things of life.
Students will be impressed that from the advent of unionism in the United States there have been attempts to fasten political parties upon the economic organizations of labor. The idea that politics offer a field for resultful labor activity is hard to dispel, notwithstanding that all the past experiences of organized labor in America go to show its ineffectiveness where the working class interest is concerned.
From the second decade of the Nineteenth Century, the record shows that political action by labor has been the instrumentality by which promising labor movements have been done to death. Political parties of labor have sapped the economic organizations of their vitality and kept the labor movement marking time when it should have been marching forward. Politicians today may "point with pride" to past political activities of the organized workers in America, but they fail to note, or at least do not draw attention to the fact that the rise of the political idea has always marked and been in proportion to the decline of economic effectiveness.
Every now and again movements aiming to provide American labor with a national expression were foundered upon the reef of labor politics. We find here, and there, on different occasions, representative bodies of labor protesting, because of previous experiences, against the commitment of organizations to political action. Nevertheless, down even to this day, the conception of the organized workers as a political force has survived; that unions can function effectively in more than one capacity. Though the past of American labor proves beyond cavil or doubt that the introduction of political action exerts a disruptive and paralyzing influence upon unions in their economic functions, there are still those who, perhaps because they have not understandingly analyzed the past, maintain that political action is a proper and legitimate function of a labor union.
The interference of the state in disputes affecting the relationship of employer and employee, upon the side of the employing interests, tends to mislead those who do not see beneath the surface of things into the belief that through the voting power of the workers the character of the state can be changed. To believe this is to misunderstand the state, which is the instrument by and through which the ruling class endeavors to maintain and perpetuate the relationship between the capitalist class and the working class—a slave relationship.
The capitalist state functions for the ruling class in modern society just as the state functioned for the ruling classes in chattel slave and feudal times—to preserve an industrial relationship by which the fruits of the labor of one class are the property of another class. The ownership of socially essential things—resources and means of production—is guaranteed by the state and the social relationship growing out of that ownership is a concomitant which the state is designed to preserve.
The United States, more plainly than any other modern country, shows the state to be not only the means by which the existing class relationship is maintained, but the very means by which the ownership out of which it grows was instituted. Railroad grants, timber, mineral and oil steals plainly demonstrate that government (the State) has been the instrument by which the capitalist class has risen to power and the working class has been reduced to its present plight in the United States.
Government has always been a disguise under which acquisitive predatory powers moved for the conquest of socially necessary things and by which they held the producers of the United States and other countries in subjection. This ownership and the class relationship, the state, will array all the powers at its command to defend and to continue indefinitely. That, primarily, is its function. It is a social instrument only in the sense and where a slave relationship exists within a society, or a social division. The capitalist state, like its chattel slave and feudal prototypes, is the social instrumentality by which a ruling class is enabled to control the labor power of the working class, and as a consequence, the products resulting from the expenditure of that labor power.
The acts of the legislative bodies, the decisions of the courts, the use of repressive forces by executives, the control of the educational system, all manifest class hostility and all tend to "keep the working class in its place." Yet, the whole superstructure of modern society is upreared and rests upon the working class. To exist and to progress capitalist society must control the labor power of the working class. It must, and it will, use any means or any weapon which will assist it in achieving this end. Political pretensions only conceal industrial ambitions. The important thing, therefore, for the workers to recognize, is the industrial character of our society, and the true nature of the state.
When they do, they will direct their energies against the wage relationship and offer battle to the masters of society where these are least qualified to offer resistance—in the industries. There the workers are masters when they understand their position and realize their power. With this conception there must develop the recognition that with an instrument which will enable them to control their labor power, they can successfully resist aggression, and change their present status.
With the state the workers need not concern themselves except to recognize its class character and function. To scheme for concessions and favors from it, as an institution, is to cherish a delusion. To construct and develop an instrumentality by which the workers in the industries can assert and advance their interest as. social factors against their employer is to have generated a power that will compel the state to modify its programs and conduct so as to accord with the changes which the workers will force in this relationship to the employers. As the organized proletariat advances in the control of labor power, the prestige of the capitalist class declines and the state as a repressive power is weakened correspondingly. The workers need not, and indeed should not direct their efforts against the state but against the wage relationship of which it is the guardian, custodian and defender.
The right to strive for shorter hours, higher wages and better conditions—modifying the class relationship—is acknowledged, even in capitalist circles, as a legitimate ambition and effort of the workers. Such readjustment as will presently lessen and ultimately eliminate unemployment is also admitted as a worthy endeavor of the workers. The social character of labor is the point that a real working class movement must stress, and the social importance of the points for which the organized workers contend, in their demands, is the logical and successful way for a union movement to make progress. This is the way of revolutionary preparation. For, as working class organization extends, its influence is felt socially. That influence is necessarily beneficial and advantageous. A genuine labor movement is constructive, and social construction, or reconstruction, is predicated upon industry and the social industrial relationship.
Moreover, as the class organization grows, in corresponding measure does class consciousness develop. And, as this class conscious feeling spreads, the source upon which the state depends for its repressive forces dries up. The bayonets of its soldiers and the clubs of its policemen are wielded by those who were lately of the working class, and who upon dismissal or resignation will return to that class and face its problems with the rest of us.
It must be the effort of the workers to remove every obstacle to solidarity. The rivalry of antagonistic groups must give way to cooperation. Division in the rank of labor is the objective desired by the capitalist class. Labor when divided is weak and powerless. The one reliable source of labor’s power lies in its control over the means of production—the vitals of society. This power inheres in the worker as producer. It can be organized effectively in no other capacity. It cannot be organized politically. Economic organization by the workers will produce economic changes, and, in the very nature of things, the state will accommodate itself to the modified arrangement. Actual changes in the wage relationship will compel political changes while rule by the capitalist class obtains. The political records of these changes will mark the transition from political government, by and in the interest of a class, to an economic administration, by and in the interest of a workers’ society.
By organizing industrially the workers will form the structure of a new society within the shell of the old, and prepare for the change which will revolutionize social conceptions, forms and methods. The worker as worker—producer—alone can carry out the historical social process.
Politics is the temptation of careerists. It may offer a future to some of them, but only at the expense of that understanding at which labor must arrive. The great duty of the present is economic organization along class lines, guided by the conception that labor is the important social factor. With the growth of such a movement-labor will progress to a better state of society, where new problems will be met squarely with social understanding undimmed by class antagonism; and will be solved upon the basis of common benefit. Let us prepare for the next step-build up the Industrial Workers of the World.
You have read the pages of this catechism. You have learned how the craft union system grew on the ruins of the Knights of Labor, how it provided good livings for the officials of the craft unions, not to mention banks and mines and farms and office buildings. You are yourself a constant reminder of its failure to provide you with all that you desire. You are yourself, as this pamphlet is published, witnessing how the ebb and flow of economic laws, decide your wages and working conditions for you. You have seen and can see, for yourself, how markets, panics, "good business" eras, and "hard times" whip you about like a straw in the wind, from work and temporary security, to unemployment and starvation, without your craft union or your insurance association, whichever it should properly be called, being able to solve your problems.
In the summer of 1923, as this pamphlet issues from the presses of the Industrial Workers of the World, a series of great craft strikes has failed. The Railroad strike has broken down after months of struggle. The few roads on which the battle still (theoretically) drags along, are operating more and more efficiently with scabs, organized into company unions in most cases. The old Grand Chief of the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers has become a great banker, and mine owner, and finds himself an exploiter of Labor. He is widely quoted in the capitalist press as registering his undying disapproval of any general railroad strike. "It is loaded with dynamite," he says, "for the public, for the employers, and for us". (Us evidently meaning the bureaucracy of the Railway Brotherhoods, which might lose some of its mines and banks, if a general strike took place.
As this is written, the coal miners are writhing in their realization of the fact that they have been sold out in the Cleveland agreement. A portion of the Rosslyn Cle-Elum fields in Washington is operating under a company union, which includes in its preamble a statement that the interests of Capital and Labor are identical, that the union shall be controlled by a board on which the Employers have a majority of votes, and that no member shall belong to the United Mine Workers of America, nor shall any person who does belong to the A. F. of L. be employed in the mines. In Kentucky, an overlapping contract has been signed, by which one group, one district of coal miners, binds itself to remain at work while the rest of the union goes on strike, if it is able to once more resist intolerable conditions by the strike.
In the marine transport industry, we find the old "leader", Andrew Furuseth, urging his seamen to sling cargo, and his firemen to make steam for winches in order to break the strike of longshoremen, including A. F. of L. longshoremen, at Portland and San Pedro.
In the oil fields of Southern California, we find regularly elected officials of the A. F. of L. oil workers union deliberately urging that members who belong to another union than theirs—men who adhere to the Industrial Workers of the World—be jailed for from one to fourteen years. We find them urging their following to act as stool pigeons, and to point out to the brutal authorities, representing capitalism, all members of the I. W. W., to the end that those who will not pay tribute to the job trust of the A. F. of L. shall be buried in dungeons of San Quentin.
In the summer of 1923, the Capitalist Class of America is treating you as well as it ever treats its slaves. It is filling the boards of the employment offices with jobs, at what seems to the man long unemployed, to be reasonable, "living" wages. If this announcement comes to you while business is still good, you should not conceal from yourselves the fact that this condition is temporary, that just as panics have succeeded "boom" periods in the past, so depression, and lack of work will haunt you in the future, the near future. Many of you will look upon these lines after that depression, that unemployment, has you in its grip. Many of you will read these pages after you have traveled in despair and danger over many a railroad, through many a city and town, in search of a job that does not exist.
When that time is upon you, or now, when you can see the signs of it, the necessary preparations for it, on the part of the boss—in this very speeding-up process of which temporarily provides you with the right to toil and make a fortune for him—is the time when you should seriously consider the situation you are in, and seriously determine what shall be done by yourself (for no one else will do it) to relieve yourself from danger.
Fellow Workingman, do you, can you expect any aid from craft unions? Is not their treason and their swindling exposed in a thousand deeds? If you get hold of this little book before the great panic, which we, the Industrial Workers of the World tell you is certain to come, then use a half day’s wages to take out a card in our organization, and if this writing does not fall into your hands, until the chaos is upon us, and the capitalist is "retrenching" at your expense, why then employ your leisure, you’ll have lots of it, in studying the plan and method of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Here is something different, here is something hopeful. We do not have to tell you that your government has done nothing but marshal the forces of capitalism against you. We have proved to you in its pamphlet that the craft union system has shifted you into positions where capitalism can not help but defeat you.
The following manifesto, which was issued as the call for the formation of the I. W. W. is as potent today as when written, 19 years ago.
Social relations and groupings only reflect mechanical and industrial conditions. The great facts of present industry are the displacement of human skill by machines and the increase of capitalist power through concentration in the possession of the tools with which wealth is produced and distributed.
Because of these facts trade divisions among laborers and competition among capitalists are alike disappearing. Class divisions grow ever more fixed and class antagonism more sharp. Trade lines have been swallowed up in a common servitude of all workers to the machines which they tend. New machines, ever replacing less productive ones, wipe out whole trades and plunge new bodies of workers into the ever-growing army of tradeless, hopeless unemployed. As human beings and human skill are displaced by mechanical progress, the capitalists need use the workers only during that brief period when muscles and nerve respond most intensely. The moment the laborer no longer yields the maximum of profits he is thrown upon the scrap pile, to starve alongside the discarded machine. A dead line has been drawn, and an age limit established, to cross which, in this world of monopolized opportunities, means condemnation to industrial death.
The worker, wholly separated from the land and the tools, with his skill of craftmanship rendered useless, is sunk in the uniform mass of wage slaves. He sees his power of resistance broken by class divisions, perpetuated from outgrown industrial stages. His wages constantly grow less as his hours grow longer and prices grow higher. Shifted here and there by the demands of profit takers, the laborer’s home no longer exists. In this hopeless condition he is forced to accept whatever humiliating conditions his masters may impose. He is submitted to a physical and intellectual examination more searching than was the chattel slave when sold from the auction block. Laborers are no longer classified by differences in trade skill, but the employer assigns them according to the machines to which they are attached. These divisions, far from representing differences in skill or interests among the workers, are imposed by the employers that workers may be pitted against one another and spurred to greater exertion in the shop, and that all resistance to capitalist tyranny may be weakened by artificial distinctions.
While encouraging these outgrown divisions among the workers the capitalists carefully adjust themselves to the new conditions. They wipe out all differences among themselves and present a united front in their war upon labor. Through employers’ associations, they seek to crush, with brutal force, by the injunctions of the judiciary, and the use of military power, all efforts at resistance. Or when the other policy seems more profitable, they conceal their daggers beneath the Civic Federation and hoodwink and betray those whom they would rule and exploit. Both methods depend for success upon the blindness and internal dissensions of the working class. The employers’ line of battle and methods of warfare correspond to the solidarity of the mechanical and industrial concentration, while workers still form their fighting organizations on lines of long-gone trade divisions.
The battles of the past emphasize this lesson.
The textile workers of Lowell, Philadelphia, and Fall River; the butchers of Chicago, weakened by the disintegrating effects of trade divisions; the machinists on the Santa Fe, unsupported by their fellow workers subject to the same masters; the long struggling miners of Colorado, hampered by lack of unity and solidarity upon the industrial battlefield, the thousands of subway railroad workers of New York City forced into defeat by orders from the Civic Federation, the unholy alliance between leaders of labor and captains of industry; the hatmakers in a long-drawn-out struggle fighting the industrial power of their opponents with weapons of by-gone days; the iron and steel workers defeated in their efforts to beat the gigantic combination of capitalist interests with a disintegrated, powerless craft union of mechanics; the switchmen of the Northwest losing their contest through the allegiance of their fellow unionists to the common enemy; the suffering coal miners of Pennsylvania and Illinois, starving in a hopeless conflict while other union miners are supplying the markets with coal; the defeated street car workers of Philadelphia unsupported by other craft unionists in their conflict; the tens of thousands of militant men and women of that city who, not shackled by craft union contracts which would force them to scab as the craft unionists had done, preferred to stand by the striking car men in struggle against oppression, wrong and abuses and be crushed with them as the result of this division in the ranks of the workers; the steel and iron workers of Bethlehem deserted when support and cooperation would have brought victory and amelioration of the evils they rebelled against; the seamen once in the employ of the same corporation by which the steel workers’ craft unions were crushed, appealing in vain for the support in their struggle for the rights of free men, all bear witness to the helplessness and impotency of labor as at present organized.
This worn out and corrupt system offers no promise of improvement or adaptation. There is no silver lining to the clouds of darkness and despair settling down upon the world of labor.
This system offers only a perpetual struggle for slight relief from wage slavery. It is blind to the possibility of establishing an industrial democracy, wherein there shall be no wage slavery, but where the workers will own the tools they operate, and the product of which they alone should enjoy.
It shatters the ranks of the workers into fragments, rendering them helpless and impotent on the industrial battlefield.
Separation of craft from renders industrial solidarity impossible.
Union men scab upon union men; hatred of worker for worker is engendered, and the workers are delivered helpless and disintegrated into the hands of the capitalists.
Craft jealousy leads to the attempt to create trade monopolies. Prohibitive initiation fees are established that force men to become scabs against their will. Men whom manliness or circumstances have driven from one trade are thereby fined when they seek to transfer membership to the union of a new craft.
Craft divisions hinder the growth of class consciousness of workers, foster the idea of harmony of interests between employing exploiter and employed slave. They permit the association of the misleaders of the workers with the capitalists in the Civic Federation, where plans are made for the perpetuation of capitalism, and the permanent enslavement of the workers through the wage system.
Previous efforts for the betterment of the working class have proven abortive because limited in scope and disconnected in action.
Universal economic evils afflicting the working class can be eradicated only by an universal working class movement. Such a movement of the working class is impossible while separate craft and wage agreements are made favoring the employer against ether crafts in the same industry, and while energies are wasted in fruitless jurisdiction struggles which serve only to further the personal aggrandizement of union officials.
is an organization to fulfill these conditions. It is the modern, scientific movement of the working class toward emancipation by INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM. All the workers in any division of an industry are organized into an INDUSTRIAL UNION, so branched as the needs of the industry may require; these INDUSTRIAL UNIONS are in turn organized into INDUSTRIAL DEPARTMENTS of connecting, or kindred industries, while all are brought together in the GENERAL ORGANIZATION of the INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD—ONE BIG UNION OF ALL THE WORKING CLASS of ALL THE WORLD, making possible world-wide working-class SOLIDARITY.
It is founded on the class struggle and its general administration is conducted in harmony with the recognition of the irrepressible conflict between the capitalist class and the working class. It is established as the industrial organization of the working class, without affiliation with, or support of, any political or nonpolitical sect.
All power rests in the collective membership.
Industrial branch, industrial union, departmental and general administration, union labels, buttons, badges and emblems, transfer cards, initiation fees and per capita tax are uniform throughout.
All members must hold membership in the industrial union in which they are employed, but there is a universal (free) transfer of membership between all unions.
Workers bringing union cards from industrial unions in foreign countries are freely admitted into the organization.
The general administration issues publications representing the entire union and its principles which reach all members in every industry at regular intervals.
Hundreds of thousands of workers, in every civilized country are coming to understand the principles of industrial unionism. They are organizing for the battles of today, for better conditions, and for the final clash in the future when the general lock-out of the parasite class of non-producers will end the contest for industrial possession.
If you are one of the millions needed to accomplish the task, join the industrial union composed of workers in the shop or plant where you work. If none exists be the first to get busy. Get others, organize them. Learn to tackle the industrial problems, show others how the workers will be able to run the industries through agencies of their own creation the world over.
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Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield from a scanned copy in the Debs Collection at Indiana University, with grateful acknowledgment. Numerous typographical errors silently corrected. Some punctuation and layout changed for easier reading. The scan of the cover image is in black & white, so I had to guess at the colors.
Last updated 28 March 2004.
From : Marxists.org
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