Transcriber's Note: This is an interesting article from a "progressive" (i.e., pro-business) magazine, most notable for it's emphasis on the non-violent character of the I. W. W. The captions to the pictures seem to have been written by another writer, for they are far more suggestive of violence and other misbehavior by the union than the text of the article. It would be interesting to see how the same magazine painted the I. W. W. in 1917a project I'll probably get to sooner or later.JDC
WHAT is the organization that calls itself the Industrial Workers of the World? How powerful is it now? How powerful is it likely to become and what destruction can it do?
A study of the men who lead it and of their methods is an interesting sidelight on modern industry.
In the first place, where do the funds come from?
When the Industrial Workers of the World were planning to give a pageant of the Paterson silk strike at Madison Square Garden last June, it became necessary to raise three thousand dollars over-night. There was no money in sight and apparently no way of getting any. It seemed as if this spectacular demonstration would fail through lack of funds. But the New York silk workers, who were also on strike, went out into the neighborhoods in which they lived, borrowed twenty-seven hundred dollars within a few hours, and agreed to get as much more in three days if it were needed.
This ability to raise money on the spur of the moment is one of the most significant characteristics of the I. W. W. It shows a surprising latent vitality. Mr. William D. Haywood, its chief organizer, told me that it had got money from members of regular labor unions when the unions themselves could not get it. It has no accumulated surplus to conduct strikes, nor can it levy on its members for large amounts, but it succeeds, nevertheless, in carrying on large operations and in paying its way as it goes, out of spontaneous contributions.
The Paterson strike alone has cost at least $35,000, but the money has come in small gifts by working people, from collections at mass meetings, from benefit performances, and from occasional checks from well-to-do sympathizers. At Lawrence, Mass., the strike committee received from outside sources an average of more than a thousand dollars a day. Some days the contributions ran as high as three thousand dollars. The money came from labor unions, meetings of sympathy, Socialist clubs, and all sorts of unexpected sources.
The I. W. W. can work in this way because it is not really an organization. It is a revolution. It has the mere skeleton of a framework on which to build. It consists chiefly in a small nucleus of agitators. It breaks out here and there, where industrial conditions are worst. So far it has made no headway in orderly, settled manufacturing communities where the work is done by skilled American workmen who live under decent conditions. It has thrived on the discontent of overworked and underpaid foreign laborers.
It has not even originated the most important strikes with which it has been identified. At McKees Rocks, Pa., at Lawrence, Mass., at Little Falls, N. Y., and at Paterson, N. J., where the four biggest I. W. W. strikes in the eastern states have taken place, the strikes had really begun before the I. W. W. took an active part in them. Lawrence, in warning other cities against the I. W. W., admitted that that organization did not take charge until the strike had already progressed three days.
The leaders of the I. W. W. say that there is so much discontent with the hard conditions of life in all the big industrial centres of the United States that they will be able to secure a large enough following to bring on a general strike and paralyze industry before they can be prevented. If this be true, it creates the most serious situation which American mill owners have ever faced.
The I. W. W. was born in the "bull-pens" of Colorado during the violent strikes and lock-outs in the long struggle between the Western Federation of Miners and the Mine Owners' Association. It grew up in bitter antagonism. The twenty-four men who met in Chicago in 1904 and there solemnly launched the movement had all been connected with prolonged labor troubles. They had been through war and their weapons were those of war. In their constitution's preamble they said:
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace as 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.
That is still their slogan, though their methods have changed. All through its earlier agitations the I. W. W. pursued the methods of the Western Federation of Miners and went further in its demands. Its first strike, in Nevada, was really a mutiny. It consisted largely of "high-graders" in the mines, who justified their theft on the ground that they were doing the work and were entitled to all they could steal. The following year the I. W. W. organized a strike among the lumber-yard workers in Portland, Ore., men who were here to-day and gone to-morrow. They had no fixed purpose beyond their immediate ends. The railroad strikers in western Canada belonged to the same type of "floating" population. Any turn of fortune was certain to help them. None of these strikes would have received much attention if it had not been that the I. W. W. was (and is) an avowedly revolutionary movement.
This early history of the I. W. W. is separate from, and has very little in common with, its later history. It needs only to be told about and then forgotten. For the I. W. W. did not come into real importance until it invaded the industrial districts in the eastern states. It found there deep-seated discontent, and it has spread like wildfire especially of late.
Mr. Haywood, the organizer, explained its growth to me in this way:
Here lay a task to my hand. As soon as I looked over the depressing mill-towns and the vast, sordid cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, I knew where my work lay. Here were millions and millions of people working desperately and barely able to exist. All I needed was to stir those millions into a sense of their wrongs.
We have been working among them several years, and we have made ourselves feared. The mill-owners dread above all things an I. W. W. strike. Why? Because we can make a great mass of ignorant people hold together.
When machinery began to reach a stage thirty years ago that called for fewer skilled workers, the mill-owners congratulated themselves. They felt that they could afford to keep on good terms with what few skilled men they needed, because they could run their mills chiefly with unskilled labor, and no one had ever succeeded in organizing unskilled labor sufficiently to make it fight for a principle. Then they found that the peasants of Europe could run their looms and their foundries and could be had for less money than American workers. So they encouraged this immigration until now the industries of the United States are in the control of these laborers.
They have sown the whirlwind, and now they are getting their harvest. These foreign laborers have shown a real understanding of the principles of the Industrial Workers of the World. At McKees Rocks, speeches at the meetings had to be delivered in a dozen different languages, but, looking down on those faces from the platform, you could see the light of a new understanding dawn in them.
That is the secret of the I. W. W.'s success. Anyone can understand it. Our purpose is simple. We refuse to continue as labor slaves. We divide all the world into three parts: the capitalists, who are the employing class that makes money out of money; the skilled laborers; and the masses. The I. W. W. represents the masses. It tells them that they need not work for the capitalists any longer than they want to. All they have to do is to stop working and the capitalists will go bankrupt. Their hope rests in a general strike that will paralyze industry. When that day comes, control of industry will pass from the capitalists to the masses and capitalists will vanish from the face of the earth.
The only comment worth making on these remarks of Mr. Haywood's is this: Talk of that kind has won strikes for the I. W. W. It has kept on strike men of a type that had never been considered good strike material before.
Mr. Haywood spoke on frankly:
It will be revolution, but it will be bloodless revolution. The world is turning against war. People are sickened at the thought. Even labor wars of the old type are passing. I should never think of conducting a strike in the old way. There will never be another Coeur d'Alene, another Cripple Creek. I, for one, have turned my back on violence. It wins nothing.
When we strike now, we strike with our hands in our pockets. We have a new kind of violencethe havoc we raise with money by laying down our tools. Our strength lies in the overwhelming power of numbers.
What Mr. Haywood says about violence is also borne out by the facts. The I. W. W. strikes in the Eastern states have been comparatively free from it. At McKees Rocks, where 8,000 men from every corner of Europe were on strike for eleven weeks, only one death could be laid to the strikers. At Lawrence, the I. W. W. stopped violence. At Paterson there has been relatively little, and the speakers at the mass meetings have been warned not to deliver incendiary addresses. As the Paterson strikers have been Italians, who have always carried knives, they have been repeatedly told to leave their knives at home.
One day in Paterson a group of private detectives tried to pick a quarrel with the crowd that was coming out of a mass meeting. They hurled every insult they could think of, but they got in return only smiles. And, mind you, the people whom they were insulting were mostly hot-blooded Italians. But they knew what they had at stake, and walked past with their hands in their pockets, smiling.
This attitude has made these new I. W. W. strikes unusual. They have an atmosphere different from other strikes. There is suppressed excitement in the air, as if it were the eve of a great day. The participants regard themselves not as strikers, but as revolutionists. They may be peaceful, but their spirit is that of rebellion. The ten thousand silk workers on strike in New York have not even done any picketing and not one of them has been arrested. All they have done is to stay home, but they feel that they have taken an important revolutionary step.
You cannot call those ten thousand men anarchists, but their purpose is to bring about a state of anarchy. They display a red flag, but they shed no blood.
"All we need," said Mr. Fred Boyd, secretary of the New York strike committee, "is to have a million men led by fifty thousand who understand thoroughly what we want, and the general strike will be on. There will be no need to wait for some unusual injustice. Conditions are so bad for unskilled labor that there is always good reason for striking. And, when that million stop work, industry will be dead. Once dead, it will not be revived until a state of socialism takes the place of capitalism."
For five years now the doctrines I have been describing here have been spread among the five million foreign laborers in the United States. As yet a real understanding has reached comparatively few, but in every large industrial centre there is an I. W. W. nucleus ready to lead the first strike that arises. In Lawrence, before the strike, there were about 300 members of the local branch of the I. W. W., according to United States Labor Commissioner Neill, but within a week the I. W. W. was leading a strike of 23,000 people. In Akron, O., Mr. William D. Haywood and Miss Elizabeth Gurley Flynn made a short campaign and left behind them a group of twenty-five followers. A year later the I. W. W. was leading a strike in the rubber industry in Akron with 7,000 men.
With examples like these before them, it is no wonder that the I. W. W. leaders are confident that they can bring about a general strike within a short time. They have already announced a strike of two hundred thousand steel workers, and if they were to succeed they would deal a severe blow to all allied industries.
The efforts that have been made by employers and by governmental authorities to repress the movement have been worse than useless. Every move that has been made against the I. W. W. has had the effect of winning sympathy. The Lawrence strike would never have become a national event if it had not been for the attempt to prevent the sending away of the children. The trial of the three agitators, Mr. Ettor, Mr. Giovannitti, and Mr. Caruso, for the murder of a woman whose death was indirectly due to the strike, was a tactical error. Mr. Ettor won the support of millions of people when he said, " I have been tried here not for my acts, but for my views." The Paterson strike received new life when the agitator, Mr. Patrick J. Quinlan, was convicted of inciting the strikers to riot. It brought a check for five hundred dollars from Mr. Amos Pinchot and a letter denouncing his trial as unjust and un-American. This letter was printed in newspapers throughout the United States. At San Diego, so much violence was used against I. W. W. leaders that Governor Johnson, of California, sent Attorney-General Webb to see justice done.
The Industrial Workers of the World ask nothing more than to have this keep up. It can be said, then, that employers have done nothing effective as yet to check the I. W. W., and local authorities have fostered it. But it has one persistent enemy, the American Federation of Labor. This organization has discovered that its power over the labor market is being threatened by the I. W. W., and it is taking active measures to prevent the I. W. W. from making further inroads. The struggles lie between the two. The American Federation of Labor enters the contest with 1,750,000 members, a standing army of unionism. It confronts a vast revolutionary horde.
Organized labor first realized the possibilities of the I. W. W. when the time came to make the latest agreement with the anthracite coal operators. It found miners less docile to leadership than they had been, and it traced this restiveness to the activities of I. W. W. agitators. There was no attempt on the part of the leaders of the I. W. W. to conceal its activities, and they openly boasted that they forced the unions to stand out for better terms on pain of giving the I. W. W. a foothold in the mining regions.
There is a fundamental hostility between organized labor and the I. W. W. The unions organize according to trades, and keep their lines jealously distinct. The I. W. W. draws no lines. It organizes according to nationality merely for convenience.
Organized labor also makes trade contracts. These the I. W. W. scorns. It holds that the employer is an enemy and it will not deal with him on any other basis. One of the sharpest thorns in the side of the I. W. W. is the protocol under which the United Hebrew unions in New York work successfully in the various clothing trades. This protocol, which brought about an actual understanding and feeling of common interest between employers and workers, leads to contentment. The I. W. W. refuses any contentment short of the uprising of the masses.
The contest between these opposing forces has been on now for about eight years. The earliest skirmish occurred in Philadelphia, where the first I. W. W. leaders to come East attempted to bring about a strike of unskilled labor. The American Federation of Labor heard of it and was able to prevent it. A similar situation arose in a strike at the tube works in Bridgeport, Conn., the following year, and organized labor won again. A few months later, I. W. W. agitators tried to take charge of a silk strike at Lancaster, Pa., and were unsuccessful.
For five years after that the I. W. W. made little progress in the East. Not until its few members at Lawrence secured the leadership of the textile strike in 1912 did it assume real prominence in the labor world. It gained ascendancy there because, of more than thirty thousand strikers, only twenty-five hundred were members of the United Textile Workers.
Click on the Pictures below for larger views
These were the skilled workers. They were less than one out of twelve. All the rest flocked to the I. W. W. banner. It was also not forgotten later that the unions were willing to settle for a 5 per cent. raise and the I. W. W. stood out for 15 per cent. The scale of increase of from 5 to 26 per cent. in wages was an acknowledged I. W. W. victory.
The effect of this was shown a few months later when the strike at Little Falls, N. Y., occurred, and the I. W. W. again prevented the American Federation of Labor from gaining the leadership. At the time this is being written the American Federation of Labor organizers are active in Paterson, but reports say that they have made small headway against the I. W. W.
These last three strikes show that the American Federation of Labor cannot hold foreign unskilled laborers against the alluring prospect held out by the I. W. W. The American Federation of Labor can only tell them that it will get them a small increase in wages and possibly union recognition. The I. W. W. promises a big increase in wages right away, another big increase very soon, and continued increases until ownership of the mills passes from the capitalists to the people. It is easy to see that the unskilled laborers will follow the I. W. W. banner.
"What could the manufacturers do to prevent the growth of the I. W. W.?" I asked Mr. Haywood, the principal leader of the whole movement.
"They can't stop it," he replied, doggedly.
"But suppose they made conditions so good in the mills and banded together in philanthropic organizations that made the towns so livable that the workers became happy and satisfied?"
Mr Haywood looked at me with an ironical smile, as much as to say, " Dreamer of dreams." After a minute he replied:
"It is too late now. We have them frightened, and we know it. Any move they make to do what in common humanity they ought to have done long ago will be immediately recognized as a sop to keep their workers quiet."
But Mr. Haywood forgets that he is dealing with ignorant men and women who have so far only had the seeds of revolution sown among them. The great body of unskilled labor has not yet heard of the general strike. The I. W. W. strikes that have so far occurred have been for particular ends, and have been brought about by particular acts of injustice. At Lawrence it was never even established that there was a deliberate effort to get more work for less pay out of the factory operatives, but the suspicion was enough in an industry where, as Labor Commissioner Neill reported, it was necessary for the father and mother and three or more grown sons and daughters to work in the mills and pool their pay to live in even moderate comfort. In Paterson the strike was caused by at least a seeming doubling of work without increase in pay.
It is beyond question that manufacturers can go a long way to prevent the activities of the I. W. W. by such work as the survey that was conducted by the United States Steel Corporation. If the mill owners in every manufacturing community were to make a private survey of living conditions and set themselves seriously about the business of making the mill workers happy and satisfied, they would find it a good investment. The largest obstacle in the way of such a movement is absentee owner-ship. Some of the largest stockholders in the Paterson mills are Japanese who live in Japan. Not a single large stockholder in any of the Lawrence textile mills lives in Lawrence. This condition is true of mill-ownership in general. The stock-holders know little or nothing about conditions, and the active management is concerned only with immediate results.
Now a different attitude is being forced on mill-owners. They find it necessary to look ahead and to see what is coming. They are beginning to realize that con-tented workers who receive a living wage do not lend a ready ear to agitation. The I. W. W. has never yet been able to get their attention. It tried to conduct a strike among the textile workers of New Bedford, but it failed because the workers were not desperate. They worked hard and for small pay, but they did not feel that they were being treated unjustly and they were not ready for revolution. They had something to lose. The I. W. W. is an ability to organize discontent; where there is no serious discontent it cannot operate.
Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield from a scan of the original magazine. Anybody who would like big, high-resolution copies of the pictures can write me for them (but remember they're from a magazine, not photographic prints).
Last updated 7 January 2005.