The Immediate Demands of the I. W. W.

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 every-day 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.

The Immediate Demands

of the I. W. W.

We wish to begin this brief statement of the I. W. W. position towards immediate demands by quoting the last paragraph of the preamble to our constitution :

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must he 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.

Immediate Demands In First Place.
Ultimate Demands In Second Place.

If we examine this paragraph thoughtfully we will see that the I. W. W. fully recognizes the everyday struggle with the employing class. In fact, the writers of the preamble take it as a matter of course that the first function of a labor union is to make immediate demands in regard to wages, hours and conditions and to fight for them, giving second place to the ultimate function of the I. W. W., i. e., to build industrial unions which are to serve as organs of production and distribution in a new society.

New Society Several Years Off.

In the years that have passed since the preamble was written, things have changed greatly. Capitalism and its organs of production and distribution are breaking down in one country after another, that is, the capitalist system functions unsatisfactorily or not at all. Notably is this the case in Russia, Germany and Austria, the collapse in the latter country being so complete that the industrial breakdown has been followed by a breakdown of government, due to lack of revenue, thus proving the I. W. W. contention that it is a waste of time for the workers to attack or capture capitalist government.

But even in the U. S. A., the last important stronghold of capitalism, the old organs of production and distribution function with great and ever increasing irregularity. The recent breakdown and suspension of work in such great industries as steel production, coal-mining, meat-packing and railroad transportation are all indications of a progressive collapse even here. The organism of world capitalism is dying by inches, but still it has, unquestionably, several years to live in this and many other countries.

Under these conditions the second function of the I. W. W.—forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old—assumes greater importance than the writers of the I. W. W. Preamble ever dared to hope for in such a short time, and overshadows the first function, if we look at the matter from the elevated viewpoint of a social master engineer or highbrow sociologist, at whose door the wolf never calls, and who does not know what it is to be hungry, unclad or shelterless. And it is well that the ultimate aim of the I. W. W. should thus be kept steadily in view. The moment we lose sight of this our final goal the I. W. W. ship is off its right course and getting in dangerous waters.

The Workers' Needs Can't Wait.

But—the realization of this ultimate program, which we should always keep in mind, is at the best several years off. Such a gigantic establishment as the world's economic mechanism cannot be revolutionized in a day, in a month, or in a year. It cannot be changed by orders from the top. Society is a living organism like man himself and not a dead structure like a house or a pyramid. It cannot be constructed according to arbitrary plans or dogmas. It has to grow, like a plant or an animal, in accordance with nature's laws, rather than according to man's desires. It will be many years yet before the masses have learned to adjust society in accordance with these laws and get the new society in good working order, even if the masses had understood and accepted the interpretation of those laws contained in the I. W. W. program. As it is, we have, as yet, been able to reach only a part of the people with our message of economic salvation. If we were to become so fascinated by the vision of a new society, through the long distance telescope of our imagination, that we dropped everything else, we, the workers, would very soon be brought down to earth by the vigorous protests of an empty stomach.

For that reason it is always well for the workers to keep their feet firmly on the ground of merciless reality, while drawing inspiration and hope from a peep behind the curtain which separates us from the future.

Not for a moment should the workers forget the everyday battle with the employers. On the vigorous carrying on of that battle rests our hope of ultimate success in our undertaking to abolish wage slavery. If we shirk that battle and merely engage in social stargazing, the new I. W. W. society will forever remain a fanciful dream.

Thus the two functions of the I. W. W.—the immediate and ultimate—go hand in hand. They supplement each other and are equally necessary.

Immediate Needs — Immediate Demands.

Even if hours and conditions are relatively satisfactory, it is very seldom that a worker is getting enough to support his family or educate his children as he wishes to do it, or as it should be done.

Ninety and nine percent of the workers labor or live under conditions which could and should be improved, and of these there are millions upon millions—men, women and children—who work and live under conditions which are simply damnable and scream to high heaven. They work and live under conditions which ruin their health and their morals, rapidly making them the victims of disease and degeneracy, which is frequently the only inheritance they leave to their children—when home and family life is not simply out of question for them altogether, as is often the case.

"A bird in the hand is worth ten on the bush," says the proverb. So, to these workers on their road to destruction immediate relief is worth ten paradises in the future. For what good is an earthly paradise to the one who is killed by bad conditions before he gets there, or to the one who is too degenerated physically and morally to enjoy even a paradise, or whose offspring is too stunted bodily and intellectually to measure up to the standard of manhood?

To check this mad race down the inclined plane leading to destruction (recent official statistics show, for instance, that 5 men out of 8 are sexually diseased before the age of 28—Dr. Bundesen, Chicago Board of Health) —an immediate demand for improved working and living conditions in every place of work and abode should rise, tens of millions strong, from an outraged and desperate proletariat.

"Up and at them!" should be the worker's motto at all times in their relations with the employers. If the workers keep silent and endure conditions as they are, the employers will never move a finger to improve them. The wages must be raised so we can get better food, clothing and shelter and check the dissolution of family life by creating homes of our own. The hours must be lowered, so that we may get a better rest, keep more clean and get more time for study and wholesome recreation. The place of work should be made to conform to the highest sanitary requirements and the burden of work should be so distributed among the masses as to promote health and life rather than destroy them.

I. W. W. Sets A Good Example.

Right here is where the I. W. W. has already set a good example.

Those who are old enough to remember the working and living conditions of, for instance, the migratory workers in the opening years of this century and earlier, before the I. W. W. was born, in the construction or the lumber camps, in the wheatfields or in the hopfields, will still shudder at the thought of them and bend their heads in sorrow at the recollection of all the ghastly misery they and their fellow workers had to pass through. To take a job of that kind in those days was to take a plunge into hell itself, and hope there seemed to be none. To become a migratory worker was like saying goodbye to life forever.

It was then that the I. W. W. came as a real savior, a child whose father was gruesome economic necessity and whose mother was the rising tide of working class education. Its message of salvation through industrial organization and solidarity carried the force of divine revelation. The already doomed outcast straightened up his back and could see the blue sky of hope once more.

In a few years the I. W. W. message had penetrated, slowly but surely, to almost every camp in the country. Driven by necessity, the workers organized in the I. W. W., and as soon as they began to feel the thrill of organized power tingling in their blood and in their nerves and became conscious of their manhood, they made demands on the employers for improved working and living conditions more in keeping with their new-gained human status, and they usually got what they asked for.

The condition of these workers is still far from what it ought to be, but it is an undeniable fact that through the immediate demands of these I. W. W. members the worst terrors of migratory life were done away with, and, besides, there they stood with the embryo of an organization in fighting trim, ready to make new immediate demands, including demands for shorter hours and better wages.

There is one general conclusion we can draw from this early I. W. W. experience, and that is, that the easiest and most natural way to begin the attack upon the employers is to demand the abolition of abuses which even the dullest worker cannot fail to see. Having once gathered the workers for common action on a small scale in this way, it is only a question of "striking while the iron is hot." Before the first little victory is forgotten they come with new immediate demands. Each such job battle strengthens the organization and gives new hope and increased vitality.

Thus, by jointly making immediate demands and backing them up with the pressure that lies in speaking jointly, and in a snappy show of unity and solidarity, many points were gained without an open battle. In other cases it became necessary to resort to strikes and boycotts or "strikes on the job". Through such persistent efforts under the I. W. W. banner, coupled with a strenuous educational campaign, the migratory workers have in most places won a chance to work and live under something like human conditions, where they before were treated worse than a chattel slave ever was.

The Eight Hour Day and the "Living Wage".

It was through these successive immediate demands that the workers in the lumber industry and the construction industry finally got to the point where they could make a stand, here and there, for the eight hour day and "a living wage", whatever that is.

It was through such "pyramiding" of immediate demands that the agricultural workers in the wheatfields, after many years of patient and tireless effort, finally have got to the point where the employers in this line take it for granted that they have to "come through" when the I. W. W. makes an immediate demand, whether it be for bedsprings and clean sheets and towels, meat without worms, abolition of work by lantern light as hurtful to the eyes, or a little additional wages to replenish the wardrobe.

It is by proving to the workers that they can "make good" through their organized power and enforce such immediate demands that the influence of the I. W. W. is deepening and broadening from year to year, in spite of all its enemies, open and disguised,—deepening in industries already partly organized, such as agriculture, lumbering, metal mining, construction and marine transportation, and broadening into new, or partly new fields, such as the oil industry, coal-mining, meat-packing, railroad transportation, etc.

The immediate demands for improved conditions, shorter hours and better pay are the rallying cries by means of which we can wake up the dormant mind of the average worker and get him with us so that we can educate him for efforts of a higher order, such as building the structure of a new society.

I. W. W. Follows the Law of Economic Necessity

Everything in nature follows the line of least resistance, in obedience to the fundamental law which in physics is called "the law of gravitation." Any attempt to work against this fundamental law can meet with only temporary, limited and illusory success.

The law of gravitation transplanted into sociology becomes the Law of Economic Necessity.

Economic necessity under given conditions shapes the course of humanity as a whole, as well as of the individual, just as gravity, under given conditions shapes the course of water from snowy mountain peaks to the deep sea.

Human progress consists largely in discovering, interpreting and following the irresistible will of "Nature." It is when human beings fail to adjust their institutions to the demands of economic necessity that social trouble begins, resulting sometimes in such catastrophic situations as the world is in at present.

Economic necessity now demands the abolition of private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, and their taking over by the people.

Interpreting the law of economic necessity in that manner, the I. W. W. seeks to gather the workers into unions which will serve as new organs of production and distribution, and we depend upon economic necessity to force the workers into those unions rather than upon dogmas and theories.

Any attempt of the workers to build organizations on anything else than the economic necessity, that is crowding us so terribly, will sooner or later meet with failure, as is the case with the dogma and theory-bound movements of political socialism which would reconstruct society from the top downward in accordance with programs expressing the special economic urge of the would-be leaders of the working class in revolution, instead of the economic urge behind the mass of the workers. Russia, Germany and Austria are terrible examples at the present time of what happens to people who buck the law of economic necessity. It is "monkeying with the buzz-saw" of nature with disastrous results. Other peoples should heed the warning.

The I. W. W. has from the beginning followed the law of economic necessity. The immediate demands are the tangible expressions of this law of economic necessity. The terrible resistance the I. W. W. is meeting is not nature-made but man-made. It comes from those who think they can stop economic evolution with jails and bayonets, dogmas and theories. There can be no doubt who will win in the and.

As long as the I. W. W. is thus building its unions and councils under the legitimate pressure of economic necessity, rather than under the compulsion of dogmas and theories, it is building on bedrock and in accordance with the laws of nature. That is why all hell cannot destroy or uproot the I. W. W. while disaster is imminent for the dogmatic movements which try to save their theories by sacrificing the people, and the craft union movement which fails to adjust itself to the demands of economic necessity.

Worker's Brain Reached Through His Stomach

For that reason, wherever the yoke of wage slavery presses, make an immediate demand for relief, in obedience to the law of economic necessity. It is sure to gain more attention than shelves of books, or theories.

When you appeal to the worker's immediate material interest you strike right home and he is with you. In the immediate demand you can hear his own voice.

In nine out of ten cases (as educational statistics prove) the worker's mind is too untrained to grasp a plan for a world-wide and revolutionary reconstruction of society. He will gradually wake up to that later on. But the first appeal to his sense of solidarity is apt to be most successful if it is made to the stomach instead of to the intelligence. The workers born as god-like, intelligent idealists who could sacrifice their own immediate economic welfare in the interest of the welfare of all humanity are easily counted. The big mass are "gross materialists" who move only in obedience to economic necessity, like a herd of buffaloes, and cane only gradually acquire the power of unselfish social vision. But such workers are still the material of which the new society is to be made, if it is to be made at all.

Road To Emancipation Paved With Immediate Demands

This leaflet is primarily directed to those workers who have already succeeded in reaching a state of mind development which makes it possible for them to make conscious and intelligent effort towards the abolition of wage slavery.

We hope to have convinced you that the law of economic necessity is such a vital factor in our life that no limited group of men or political party can abolish wage slavery by merely conspiring or co-operating to capture the political offices and the government buildings. Such procedure would only give the people a new master, a bureaucratic autocracy.

We hope you can see as plainly as we that the economic structure of society cannot be successfully changed from the top downward, but that it must be done from the bottom upward ; in other words, that "the emancipation of the workers must be their own work." We also hope you agree with us that the workers can drive away the shirkers and take real possession and control of the world's resources only by beginning at the bottom, that is, by organizing on the job, by making one immediate demand on top of another, and thus gradually growing into control of the industries and throwing off the control of the shirkers, much as man conquered the wilderness, drove away the beasts of prey and grew into actual and effective control of every foot of ground by labor. This is organic social growth as differentiated from mere violent conquest. It is in the capacity of workers that men have taken the earth away from the lion, the tiger and the bear, and not through politics or war. It is as workers we shall again grow into control of the earth along I. W. W. lines and not as politicians or as soldiers.

As politicians or soldiers we might gain possession and control of a library, by authority or by bayonets, but the knowledge stored in that library would never be ours unless we humbly sat down and studied the books.

As politicians and soldiers we might take forcible possession of the industries, but they would in reality belong to and be controlled by a bureaucracy until we take complete and actual possession of them through our unions and learn how to run them through the union by way of "immediate demands". Those who promise to the workers their emancipation from wage-slavery by any other route are simply deceiving them, in order to get into power themselves.

The road to our emancipation is paved with "immediate demands" successfully fought for and not with "revolutionary" phrases or political dogmas. Real control of the industries is gained, not by means of bayonets held by our hands, but by means of knowledge held by our brains and by intelligently organized and co-ordinated economic action.

Not for a moment should we lose sight of the ultimate aim—building the framework of the new society within the shell of the old—but the immediate demands fought for and won are the cement which gradually binds us together into the unions forming that structure. Besides, the gradual control thus gained is our schooling in world management, which is necessary.

General Demands and Specific Demands

In this brief leaflet we have classified the immediate demands into three groups—wages, hours and conditions. We have spoken in a general way only. When it comes to actual practice of the action here outlined in general terms, the workers of each industry have to work out their own demands. That will be the work of the different industrial unions or their branches.

Workers—get together and let your voice be heard. Make a set of immediate demands on the employers which will check the steady trend toward degradation. Take advantage of the situation thus arising to get your fellow workers into your industrial union, so that they may have power to enforce those demands and come with new ones. At the other end of that line of action lie industrial control through the union, abolition of wage slavery and a new society.

Go after the employers with an endless string of immediate demands.

Up and at them!

For proper co-operation on the widest possible scale get in touch with your industrial union of the I. W. W. or with the main office of the I. W. W., under address,


1001 W. Madison St.,
Chicago, Ill.

If you are an Agricultural worker, write to :

A. W. I. U. 110,

1001 West Madison St.,

Chicago, Ill.

If you are a Lumber worker, write to :

L. W. I. U. 120,

1001 West Madison St.,

Chicago, Ill.

If you are a General Construction worker, write to :

G. C. W. I. U. 310,

1001 West Madison St.,

Chicago, Ill.

If you are a Metal Machinery worker, write to :

M. M. W. I. U. 440,

1001 West Madison St.,

Chicago, Ill.

If you are an Oil worker, write to :

O. W. I. U. 230,

218 Culbertson Building,

Oklahoma City, Okla.

If you are a Marine Transport worker, write to :

M. T. W. I. U. 510,

Box 69, Station D,

New York, N. Y.

If you are a Coal miner or a Metal miner, write to :

M. & C. M. W. I. U. 210-220,

318 No. Wyoming St.,

Butte, Montana.

If you are a Railroader, write to :

R. R. W. I. U. 520,

1001 West Madison St.,

Chicago, Ill.

All other Unions are under the direct supervision of the General Executive Board and information concerning them will be given gladly by

The General Secretary-Treasurer,

1001 West Madison St.,

Chicago, Ill.

Scanned and edited by J. D. Crutchfield. A few commas added for clarity. This pamphlet is undated and could have been published at any time between 1917 and 1923, judging from the address of General Headquarters. The reference to Austria's economic and political collapse suggests a date after the autumn of 1922.

Last updated 19 April 2008.