Miss Flynn’s Address
to the Butte Miners’ Union
1909 — Butte MT
Comrades and fellow workers: It certainly gives me a great deal of pleasure to be with you in Butte to celebrate the formation and continued successful progress of a union of the size and spirit of the Butte Miners’ Union. But such occasions are really valuable only so far as they add to the solidarity of the labor movement and spread among the working class a knowledge of their conditions and how these conditions can be changed when necessary. The conditions are not such as we can be proud of.They speak of poverty, misery, lack of employment, constant danger of being unable to gain a livelihood; of the workers of the world being an enslaved class. This was not the case a few years ago. In the revolutionary days our forefathers declared in the declaration of independence that all men were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Men could be independent then. But in the later part of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century conditions changed. Today if you have food and shelter and clothing you have the right to life and liberty, but if you haven’t got them then, in spite of all your patriotic talk, you haven’t got life and liberty.
The labor problem is a simple problem-how to live. In the old days, the loom and spinning wheel of the housewife gave way to the textile machine. The village blacksmith gave way to the steel mill and the shoemaker gave way to the great shoe factories, which have 50 odd machines with 50 different processes and hundreds of toilers, who have no ownership in what they produce. Where formerly man owned the shop where he worked and owned what he produced until he sold it, now he owns nothing but his labor.The factory worker has nothing to say as to ownership or management of the factory. Fewer and fewer of the workingmen are skilled now in any line.
Mighty Little Property.
Today, in spite of the great wealth and resources of the world, the workers of this world have no ownership or control over the land or the machinery at which they work. We are a propertyless class, fellow workers.
We have mighty little property to celebrate over today. We are landless. We don’t own enough land to cover the palm of your and, and yet they ask us to go out and fight for our country. All we have is a 50-cent room. The reason for this is that ownership has been concentrated in the hands of a few individuals. A handful of 25 men controls the destinies of 80,000,000 people.
Fortunately or unfortunately, we still own our own physical frames. Doubtless, had it been possible to take our bodies away from us and organize them into a trust, that would have been done. But these bodies are still our own. But they must live. When you sell your labor power you must go right along with it. When your labor power goes into danger you go into danger with it. When it is cut off you are cut off, too.
When it is worn out you are worn out, too. When we sell our labor power we are selling ourselves for a wage. When we are called wage slaves there is no use getting mad about it and talking about our being free American citizens, for we are wage slaves just the same.
More Workers Thank Jobs.
The invention of the sewing machine threw six girls out of work where it gave one employment. So it has been with all the inventions of labor-saving machinery. In consequence, there are today more workers than there are jobs to be filled, and that is why we have the unemployed army.
That is something we can’t get away from, in spite of by the capitalistic class. There are three men for every job in this country, and so the man who gets the job is sure to be the man who will work for barely enough to enable him to keep alive. That standard has been reached in the factories of New England, in the stockyards of Chicago, in the sweatshops all over the country. Some get just enough to support themselves, without enough to support a wife and children, and that is why there are so many bachelors in the country.
We are only labor machines to the capitalist. Outside of barely enough for us to live on, the rest of what we earn and produce goes to the employing class. That is his reward for owning things. One-fifth comes to us and the four-fifths goes to the owners, and no wonder that, in the words of their great leader, they are “absolutely delighted.”
The agitator simply points out these things, shows that you fellows are on one side and the boss is on the other; points out the struggle that is gong on and points the way out of the struggle. The struggle of the worker is to get better conditions right now.
I don’t believe in the missionaries and salvationists who tell us that we should suffer in this world because the harder time we have here the more will we enjoy the glories of the next world. I believe in better conditions in this world as fast as we can get them-better hours, better wages, better everything. In other words, we want to get all we can right now, and jut as soon we get strong enough we want to take the whole thing.
Conditions Just as Bad.
We must learn from the employing class how to wage war. We workingmen have been organized many years, but not much has been accomplished. The conditions are just as bad as they were in the days of feudalism in spite of our organizations. We have been so busy working for the other man that we haven’t worked for ourselves. The capitalist has found it to his advantage to keep us divided and so we are pretty well divided right now. They divide us on nationality, on language, on religion.
These corporations are so patriotic that they hoist flags on their mills and mines today all over the country-on Homestead, where there are the graves of many workingmen who were shot down. If the capitalist struggle for what he wants and we struggle for what we want, I tell you there can be no identity of interest. There is a quarrel between us and the man who employe us. Our labor organizations will only serve us when they establish the principle that between the workers and the employers there is nothing in common. The worker and the consumer should get together and take things out of the hands of the capitalist. We should get out of the notion that the only man who should be in the union is the man who is working. The man who is not working should be in the union as well. The union must have a universal transfer system. Men must be organized according to the way they work today, not according to the way they worked 50 years ago. The craft form and industrial form of organization are at war. The American Federation of Labor is organized under the craft system of 22 years ago.
Organize to Fight.
Then there were still many skilled workmen in the country, but today the great bulk of workers is unskilled. We should organize to fight the trusts as thoroughly as we organize to work for them. Sympathy does not pass as currency in this world. It doesn’t pay anybody nor does it feed hunger nor satisfy anybody but organized labor. When a union is on strike and another union working for the same corporation passes resolutions of sympathy, that doesn’t help any. The other union, by still working, beats the strike, and thus organized labor beats itself. All labor must be organized to fight together, not in little sections each for itself. We should organize to quit work as we are organized to carry on work and quit all our little squabbles with one another.
The engineer and fireman co-operate together for the railroad company in running the engine together. But as soon as they get off the engine each has his separate union and if he has a fight with the employer each fights his battle alone. They are divided in working for themselves, while they are united in working for their employer. The sooner we get together and forget the little differences of skill and craft the sooner will we be able to do something for organized labor in this country.
Source: The Anaconda Standard, June 15, 1909.