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The Working Class

June 29, 1909 — Spokane WA


This meeting, as you well know, is held under the auspices of the Industrial Workers of the World. The organization is a new form of labor organization, one that stands for the industrial working class and that class alone. We are not interested in the welfare or the ideas of any other class in society; and we who are the members of the toiling class have in these sufficient of our own interests that need looking after, that we have no time to bother with other classes.

The working class of this country look out upon a situation where there are natural resources present to supply the entire world with plenty; they look out upon an industrial situation which has invented machinery capable of getting these natural resources with but little labor expenditure into finished commodities of necessities or luxuries. Yet in spite of that and in spite of the productiveness made possible by men who labor and the natural abundance of the earth itself, in spite of that, we have people starving in this country and five million idle; over a million child laborers in the United States; seventy thousand children in New York City and fifty thousand in Chicago that go to school without a breakfast in the morning. We have a conditionin whichthe majority of the people are a propertyless class, are a class that own no land, that control none of that productive machinery, that control absolutely nothing in this land of the free and home of the brave but their own labor power; their own abilities to work. Just the same as the mule can pull a big load, so a worker can handle his labor power, muscular energy; and is the only thing he has; and if some trust could have been organized to separate us from that, to divide us from ourselves, I suppose even that would have been done long ago.

The working class of this country have not the obstacles that faced their ancestors. They have not the natural impediments; they have not the fear that the soil will not be productive not the fear that there may be not enough rain or that there may be too much rain — all of these things that nature heaps upon men and that man has long ago overcome. Today the working class have only conditions that they themselves are in a position to remedy, they have only false conditions, not nature’s making, but man’s making, that they themselves can overthrow; and we who have this labor power for sale who have only our abilities to work that we control, have to go out on the labor market and sell that ability to work.

Think of it! When fool politicians and the preachers come out and tell us that we want to go out and defend home and country and not have anything to do with the socialist because they say they destroy your home, something like the hotel we passed this evening, the Taft Hotel, a hotel in which you can get a room for 15 cents a night, a home in which the visitors are so abundant you can’t sleep at night.

That is the kind of a home they want us to defend! Don’t you feel big when you pay your 15 cents to sleep in a great big room where there are two or three hundred more sleeping at the same time? I venture if you got a spy glass, and went looking for it, there are none of you that could find your section of the country. All we have is our ability to labor and the capitalist class have not that one commodity; they have the factories, they have the land, they have the railroad but they have not the labor power, the power of wealth producing.

Of course they could work — that is if some of them could get rid of the gout and some of them could get rid of the surplus flesh that they have accumulated through high living and if some could get rid of the soft white hands, then perhaps they might be able to work; but there is no particular fun in being a capitalist if you have to work yourself. The point is to get some other fellow or as many other fellows as we can to work for us; that is the point of being a capitalist; and we have in our possession that power-wealth producing.

Now one would suppose that a class that controls that weapon, which the capitalist would strive to do, would not go without clothing to cover their nakedness and without shelter to house them from the heat, the cold and the wind, one would suppose that the class that could control that power would be in a position to dictate that basis upon which they should labor, should be able to say, “Either I will get so much for my labor or I will not labor at all.” And they would do that were it not for the reason, first, that there are too many of us.

Competition Among Workers.

There are a whole lot more men in this country than there are jobs for the men, more men than there is work for, not more men than can supply the needs of the people-oh no! There are bakers that you would find among the ranks of the hobo probably, riding the rods tonight that could bake bread for these seventy thousand, there are tailors that could make clothes for them that need them; there are carpenters and plumbers and masons that could build houses and homes for those that live in lodging houses and shacks.

But what stands before them and the work that they could do and that is in need of being done, is the master class and their control of the jobs. They don’t want more produced than there is a demand for, and a demand is not the need of the people, but the money of the people; not what you need but what you can pay for. You may need bread, you may starve for bread, but you have not got the dime to pay for the bread, you may starve in this country. It is not what you need but what you can purchase, that represents demand to the master class; and so even in the days of the high-handed prosperity and in the days of the full dinner pail there are more men, three to one, than there are jobs to be filled. And what does that mean? It means that the workers have got to compete with one another as to who will get the jobs. It means that you and I and all the rest of us are cutting each others’ throats as to who will get a chance to be exploited by the capitalist. It means if you go to work and ask for $4.00 a day — it may be 50 per cent of your production, but the capitalist will send to the nearest hospital and ask them to send a padded ambulance to remove a dangerous lunatic! Why? Because there are lots of fellows in this country that are willing to work for $2.50 a day and glad to work for it.

The Slave Market.

Go look down the street to these employment agencies and what do you see? You see, “Men wanted-a dollar and a half, two dollars, two dollars and seventy-five cents per day.” And a lot of these men work for two dollars and a half, because they must; and if you want two dollars and a half, there will be probably the together fellow that will cut you down to two dollars, and the man gets the job, takes a wage upon which he can barely exist and hold body and soul together, and he does not know after his job tonight where his supper is to be had a week from tonight! And that working man and men is the type that forms the average worker in this country, these “Jobless” are the man that is so anxious for a job at two and half dollars or a dollar and seventy-five cents a day.

And what comes of the rest of the labor’s production; where goes the millions upon millions that labor produces? Surely the dollar and seventy-five cents, the dollar and a half, or even three dollars a day does not represent the sum total of the product of labor; for if it did, the worker would not be getting his wage. The employer does not take us for love; he does not like us and he does not give us a job because we are going to be brothers in heaven. That does not interest him a bit. The only thing he worries about is, can he make a profit on our labor and if he cannot, surely we won’t get the job. And so it stands to reason, no matter how high or how low our wages, there is something over and above, that goes to the master for himself and the bargain that we make is simply divvying up with the men that employ us and saying to them we will work in your factory and I will give you the bulk of the product, work the first two hours for myself, produce my wage, ad then pay you for being a good boss and giving it to me; and then the rest of the day put in producing enough to pay for the raw material, the wear and tear on the machinery and reward you for allowing me to produce it for you; and of course the capitalists say to such a bargain as that “Absolutely delighted,” and accept.

The United States census shows how the producers of the necessities of life get one-fifth of their product as wage, and the four-fifth goes to the running of the industries and the men that own the industries; goes to them that they may be able to employ back a certain amount of the workers as personal servants, as men to wait upon their every wish, their wives and children, their dogs and their cats and their horses, to serve them as slaves as the slaves of Rome served their masters; and the one-fifth that we get, spells for us a meager existence, shoddy clothing, unsanitary houses to live in, adulterated food, no reading matter, no amusement, no travel, nothing but labor and labor again! And that is the reason for the great big class struggle that is existing in modern day society; that is the reason for the strikes and the lockouts and the never-ending warfare that daily goes on between the master and the workers.

The Class Struggle.

The class struggle exerts itself in two forms; in a demand on the part of the worker for more wages, for shorter hours, for safer working conditions and thus the unconscious and sometime conscious striving of the class as a whole to get possession of the means of production and the source of raw material; in other words, a struggle for a little more of their production today that they can put themselves in fighting condition to take the whole loaf.

The union movement rests on the part of the workers to organize that power that the capitalist has to purchase from us and the only power that we control, the power of wealth producers and the union movement is strong only in organizing that power which seems to lie within the citadel of the corporation; and there is no situation in any kind of warfare that is quite so strong as the hole that you have inside the fort of the enemy; and this power of wealth producers lies in the union movement only as we are organized the way that it is organized in the shops and the mills, the mines and the factories. If we organized according to the method of wealth production of 25 years ago it is worse than useless; it is a drag upon the workers.Only as we organize according to the method of wealth production of now; is it a power in the hands of the workers. That is the contract blank, craft union type, it is the American Federation of Labor and the opposite is the type of the  Industrial Workers of the World. We want to organize our power as wealth producers as we have it organized in the various industries and the American Federation organizes it as it used to be to carry on the industries half a century ago.

Now let me give you an instance of that, so that you may realize from experience the weight of the argument. We had a strike in New York City that was typical for three forms of scabbery. It was astrike of the Interborough Railroad workers;the road was owned and controlled by August Belmont,who is the tool of the Rothschilds of France. August Belmont was at that time president of the CivicFederation, and side by side on the federation sat Mr. Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor.

Gompers, the Bosses’ Friend.

The engineers and firemen, conductors and motormen went out on strike, as it was in the transition made between locomotive and electric systems. The electricians, organized in the electrical union, good union men, but in a different union, stayed at work. “Farleyites” ran the trains.After that, there come the boys from Columbia University,who thought it was such fun to run a train. You know they had never done an honest day’s work in their life, so it was fun to them; but it was a matter of life and death to the wives and children of the strikers, but what did they care? They came and they were trained under Mr. Seth Low, who was than president of Columbia University, now president of the Civic Federation.

Note the connection now. To New York, came Mr. Samuel Gompers and Mr. Mann,who was president of the streetcar workers. They looked over the situation and they said to the men. “Go back to work; you have broken your contract.”The men refused on the philosophy that they might just as well starve idle as starve working; it was a case of starve anyhow. Mr. Gompers and Mr. Mann went straight away from New York-those friends of the workers-and left them high and dry, stranded. They never received the slightest assistance from organized labor and their union wasbroken; their strike absolutely defeated. You cannot find a union man on that road today. If you speak of the union as I spoke to one of them he would say to you, “Don’t say anything about it around here. I might lose my job if they heard us talking about it.”

That the road of August Belmont, the great friend of organized labor! And didn’t Brother Gompers, who believed in the interests of capital and labor, serve well Brother Belmont? Oh, you just bet he did! But the workers, what about them? They learned that there were several forms of scabbery; that there were scabs besides Farleyites. Farleyites are at least honest scabs; they are scabs and they know it; they admit that they are antagonistic to organized labor; but these electricians, what about them? Didn’t they assist in breaking the strike just as much as the Farleyites? They were in a measure scabs also, but the only difference was this; that they were organized union scabs with union cards.

Andthey learned also that the contract system enforced by their leaders is simply a rope around them tying them down to the master class; that as long as they are bound down by a contract that their leaders call upon them to enforce, the masters and not they, are in supremacy; and they learned to invest their power of action in a few men simply made those men tyrants over the men to whom they should be servants.

We had another strike, or contemplated strike, last spring in the coal mining district, the United Mine Workers of America — I was going to say one of the backbones of the America Federation of Labor, because it is like a jelly fish, it has lots of backbone! The organization had a convention in Scranton and they decided not to strike, though they were very anxious to get better conditions in the mines. A good mine contract expired in April. What kind of a time is that to strike? Who cares anything about coal in April? The time for a coal mine to strike is very much the same time for hotel workers to strike.

Thestrikers in Butte told me that they were dissatisfied with their wages, and they wanted more and they were going to wait until prosperity came back and then they were going to strike. Can’t you see them waiting? And I said, “The time for you to strike is next week when there will be a convention of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the town will be filled with members and all the hotels will be on their good behavior and the town of Butte trying to make a great show of their wealth and generosity; then would be the time to strike.” And can’t you see the hotel managers and the restaurant owners coming to time if the girls struck then? The time to strike is when you are most needed and when it hurts the boss most.

And the time for the coal miners to strike is in November, when everybody will freeze to death if the miners don’t keep getting out coal; but they waited until April and decided not to strike for the reason that the operators had coal that would last at least six months stock piled, and the miners had funds which, even at a starvation ration, would only last between four and five months; and so they could figure out that their strike was lost before it was ever begun. Now who piled up that coal? Was it the Baers that owned the mines? Oh, no; it was the miners whose delegates voted not to strike because the coal was there; these were the ones that stock piled it; and they themselves had laid up the weapons with which the company was in a position to absolutely defeat them. Now why did they do that?

The Sacred Contract.

Because in the states of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, they have a contract which says that any miner who will in any way retard the production of coal shall be fined ten dollars, five of it to go to the union and five of it to the mine operators! And so, along about January, the operators started to hurray up and work overtime and the men are tied down by their contract and they can’t help themselves.

And let me tell you another clause of their contract-oh you fine American citizens who go to the “ballot box” on election day and cast their vote to say which body of thieves shall continue to rule over you! Now then, in the United Mine Workers of American they have another clause, which say that any miner coming under the jurisdiction of that contract, revokes his right to in any way further the interest of political parties seeking to change any existing mining laws or have new laws put on the statute books. That is another clause in their beautiful contract.

And then they have a system of collecting fines. The reason the Ziegler mine is, and has been an open mine today, is that Ziegler refuses to let his superintendent collect the union dues. They have a system by which you need no secretary, no paid walking delegate to go around and take up the money; they have a a system by which when you get your pay envelope you have so much checked off for powder, and so much checked off for union dues and the balance what is coming to you in wages. Think of a union that is so antagonistic to the interests of the boss that he is willing to collect dues for them! Think of the union that represents the interests of the workers so well that the boss forms himself secretary of the union!

It is very much like a case I heard of in Philadelphia, Penn., of a book binders’ union in which the boss was president of the union. The president of the union had the right to say when men should accept a lowering in wages, and so the boss lowered the wages and as president of the union told them they would have to take it; and they had no way of getting out if it and the last time I was in Philadelphia they were working for the lower wages. The United Mine Workers of America are not much better.

A system of unionism where you tie yourself down by contract to scab on yourself, being removed absolutely from the control of your own finances, is not a union at all; it is simply a gathering together of the laboring machines for the use of the master class — that is all.

The railroad workers are organized on the same system. The engineers and firemen work side by side in the cab of an engine, step outside that engine after working together for the master and work alone, each one separate and distinct from the other, when they are fighting their own battles; and all they ever come together about is to squabble as to who shall have jurisdiction. When the engineer goes out on a strike, the firemen will probably run the engine until they can get a scab engineer; when a fireman goes out on a strike the engineer must stay at work and teach, the scab fireman how to fire the engine; when the switchman goes out the engineer and fireman will carry the train over the road where the switches are switched by scab switchmen. One after another they may go out in their little 2×4 strikes but all the rest must stay at work-links in the chain that unite with the scabs and breaks the strikes.

Union Scabbery.

The Canadian Pacific road had a strike on, among the machinists and the engineers, the firemen, the conductors, the switchmen and section hands and telegraph operators all stayed at work and transported scabs from all roads of Canada and the United States to the end houses where the machinists were need deposited them right there, where they could break the strike. And then they called themselves union men.

Idled there by a strike on in the stock yards of Chicago, as there was among the butchers a few years ago-the teamsters eventually went out on a sympathetic strike-but all the refrigerator men stayed at work and kept the thousands of dollars’ worth of meat that was in the refrigerators away from the hands of the workers, and when scabs were put to work and took the scab product and kept that fresh so the union men might take hold of it and distribute it around throughout the country. It was not the scabs that broke the strike; it was the refrigerator men who were the key to the industrial situation at the time, who kept the property of the corporate class safe and thereby effectually broke the strike.

The strike is on among the longshoremen. You the teamster and railroad men, firemen and engineers, all stayed at work and brought goods in that broke the strike of the longshoremen. The teamsters bring it right to the wharf after it has been unloaded by the freight handlers, and carried from the different quarters of the continent by the railroad men; when it is delivered at the wharf after it has been loaded by scab longshoremen, it is sent across the water by union men, union firemen and union engineers.

Let there be a strike of the miners, and the lumber workers are organized separately, and they furnish the timber that is put in by scab miners; then the lumbermen go on strike, as they did at Somers, Montana, and the miners stay at work and put in scab lumber, and they evidently had no scruples against putting it in the mines.

Let the miners go out on a strike and the blacksmiths, tool repairers and electricians, all organized in the American Federation of Labor, and organized under a different contract system, stay at work, furnishing tools for scab miners, furnishing light for scab miners, furnishing power, repairs, everything needed that scab miners may continue without interruption the work dropped by the union miners.

Let the machinists go out and the boilermakers stay at work; let the weaver go out in the textile mill and the loom twisters and fixers stay at work; let the laster go out in the shoe factory, and every other worker stays at work; the clerk stays at work in the stores selling the product over the counter; the railroad men carry it, the teamster takes care of it, and every other laborer working thinks nothing of furnishing labor to the scab shoe factory. And all along the line, in every industry, you will find that we are organized not according to the way we work, not according to the commodity we produce, but according to the tool we used to use, according to the skill that we once had, the skill that is no longer necessary because a worker can transfer today from one industry to another and the standard of skill everywhere is so low that a miner can become a weaver, a weaver a miner if he has the strength.

We are organized according to a system which competition once caused capitalists to be afraid of the little individual craft union because he realized that every day he lost was a day gained by his competitors. But that system is no longer effectual today, because today every big industry is organized from the ground up in one gigantic trust and has no competitors worth speaking of-the United States Steel Corporation controls everything from the Mesaba iron range straight down the ore road, down the Great Lakes, through the smelter and mills and furnaces and finally the coal fields-all belong to the United States Steel Corporation-and then the finished product is distributed by means of the American Bridge Company and the different contractors

Employers Unite Industrially.

The tobacco trust is organized from the tobacco fields straight through all the productions to the United States cigar stores and sell it over the continent; the American wool trust, from the backs of the sheep clear through the mills, where the cloth is sold to the wholesaler; the beef trust is organized from the ranchers of the West through the slaughter houses and packing houses, and even in through the tannery, where leather is tanned, and they are now grasping out for the show factories, where the shoes are made.

Everywhere in the field of industry you see the organization according to the commodity produced, from the source of the raw material straight through the distribution of the finished product; and you find that straight line of capitalist industry sliced across by the union, just a little slice here and there; and by that method a class that has no capital hope to defeat those that have every power at their command.

We have only our organization, fellow workers; they have capital; they have the power of the government, the slugging community of the capitalist class; they have the power of the state; they have the power of international capital — and we have but our power of organization. They can call out against us the militia, the army and the navy, and we have no means of stopping it, until we are organized to shut off from that army and navy their supply of food and their means of transportation.



Source: The Industrial Worker, July 15, 1909.