Showing posts with label industrial unionism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label industrial unionism. Show all posts

Friday, March 21, 2014

Explaining the OBU

Jack Houston was in the Socialist Party of Canada and was editor of the editor of the OBU Bulletin. The following are adaptations of his editorials from 1919 to 1921. He was S.P. of C. Candidate in the Dominion election of 1908The S.P. of C. placed him in the field as a general organizer in 1909 In 1914, Comrade Houston, still carrying on organization work for the S.P. of C., transferred his activities to eastern Canada. He spent considerable time lecturing in Toronto, afterwards taking up his residence in Montreal. Born at Lanark, Ontario, he came to Winnipeg in 1905. During the First World War, he made munitions at Montreal. In August 1919, he was the founding editor of the OBU Bulletin (One Big Union Bulletin), which he remained until forced to step down in poor health prior to his death at St. Boniface on 11 March 1921. He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

The following is based on his editorials found here. 

The O.B.U. was not created  out of pure thought, but from the objective industrial situation. Craft unions have grown obsolete and this asserted not by spite but as a statement of fact. Craft unionism is obsolete because the conditions which gave it birth and demanded its growth have been supplanted by the onward development of industry itself and its ever changing methods of industrial organisation. The O.B.U exists not only because some labour leaders determined to bring it to birth, but because the workers would not remain in the old-style unions. This is a fact and not a theory. The welfare of our capitalist class depends upon private property. They rule because they own and they own because they rule.  Any challenge to their control is a challenge to their ownership, and nobody understands this better than the capitalists themselves. Therefore they wish to see the leaders of any movement in which labour acts as a class, discredited and punished, and they will use any and all means to see this accomplished.

 In Canada and the United States, the heads of the labour movement initiated the closest cooperation with the governments, that is, with the bosses. To the extent that this cooperation prevailed, labour was betrayed and to the same extent the leaders of labour proved themselves to be crooks. The history of the workers’ movement is a record of labour officials who have time after time sold out body and soul, to the corrupting influences of capitalism for either hard cash or position. Labour, today has to fight to capture every inch of ground from the hostility of the of big business and their toadies in the media, the courts and legislature, and in the universities.

Every revolution has character all its own, yet every revolution has points in common with all the rest. We are now taking about political revolutions. There are revolutions other than political revolutions. There are physical revolutions of matter about a centre; there are revolutions in dress, in fashions, in habits, in manners and customs; there are revolutions in science, in religion and philosophy. The world is not static but dynamic, therefore, all experience is of a revolutionary nature.

 Most people are frightened at the mention of a political revolution. Yet there is no need for worry. Contrary to general ideas, revolutions are not made, they just grow and the growth of a revolution is often not visible, or perceptible. The person who thinks he is producing a revolution is a fool; is like the fly on the wheel that imagines that it is turning the wheel, because it does not understand the mechanical powers.

The student of the social sciences knows, in a general way, the mechanics of revolution, but also knows also that the social forces are so complex that no student is able to measure the rate or intensity of the social processes. The supposed experts are as usually as much surprised as any person  when the social convulsion erupts, and is equally utterly unable to predict the direction or the extent of the movement.

The  industrial revolution caused by more efficient system of production and  an improvement of technology,through the discovery of new tools, processes or machines, thus making human creativity more efficient and more productive.  This produced changes  in human relations by the new system of production. Slowly and gradually men come to apprehend the lack of social control built up and suited to a previous system of production and long looked upon as just and right, authentic and authoritative. These institutions are now perceived to be fetters of production.

Principles are merely habits of thought. Each method of production developed its typical principles or methods of viewing or apprehending phenomenon . The feudal system of production with the lord ever in evidence, regarded society as authoritative and its scaffolding of status as the will of God. Under the handicraft system of production, it was necessary that one should do as he liked with his own, so that production and the commerce that grew with handicraft production developed new principles, and with Pym, Hampden and Cromwell in the limelight, asserted the right to manage their own business by depriving Charles I of his head. For a long time after machine production had replaced handicraft production the principle (habits of thought) of handicraft production has prevailed but today in ever greater and greater numbers men with new principles are challenging those of the handicraft line. It is a clash of principles. As soon as these new principles become pervasive to such an extent that a large majority of people possess the machine culture, the revolution will take place. How and when no man knows.

The students of social science find only two alternatives. Such a people will perish through strife and struggle or will, through revolution, not necessarily through violence, alter their institutions to harmonize with the new culture, or principles or habits of thought. The men who stand in the way of revolution are always a menace to peace and order, and the onward progress of the human race.

 Let it be clearly perceived that understanding must precede action if the action is to be intelligent. Therefore, the socialist stresses education that there may be understanding.  Who is going to undertake this task? Not the arm-chair philosopher who is never was anything but a critic. It must be done by the workers themselves and to do the work well they must bring the work of organizing an enthusiasm and resolve determination that will overcome all obstacles. Every worker must educate himself or herself.

Working-Class Tactics

The tactics of the workers are and will be dictated by the ends which are the ideals sought. The means by which these ends are to be attained are governed by more than one determining factor. The workers are the foundation on which our civilisation is built. That civilisation which satisfies its wants through an economic system which is based on the exploitation of labour by the owners of capital, an economic system which is, at the same time, the pecuniary system, the competitive system and the price system and which measures success or failure in terms of money, necessarily dictates the objects of working class activity. Plainly stated the workers want to be on an equality with all others in society, which means that all must do their bit, all must share and share alike in duties, responsibilities, and in the actual work of production. This aim is democracy, a word which has an odious smell these latter days, because of the hypocritical drivel of our present rulers. .

 The ways and means by which the working class is to free itself from domination and exploitation cannot be foretold. There are too many factors in the calculation to predict results; and there are the unknown changes which are constantly coming into the problem and affecting the relations of men, which make the role of the prophet mere foolishness. But some of these factors can be taken to be, for all practical purposes, unchanging. One of these is human behaviour, another is the end aimed at, a third is that the workers must emancipate themselves. With these three factors fixed we can say a few words on tactics.

Briefly, then, any tactics are good tactics which give to the workers superior weapons, or advantages of position, a better understanding of their relative positions with that of the enemy, the exploiters of labour.

First, understanding must precede action. Therefore, a sound knowledge of economics and of culture, is desired. Economics is well enough understood by those who take the pains to make use of the means at hand. Culture is not so well understood. To understand culture is to know why one group of people hold one set of beliefs while another group hold entirely different ones, sometimes diametrically opposed to those of the first group or to those of all other groups.

Possessed of this knowledge and knowing the direction and extent of the malevolence of its class  enemies, the tactics of workers consist at the present time, largely, in building up its organisations. The immediate aim of this system of tactics is to fit the workers to take charge of industry. They must, therefore, consolidate their position by getting into their union organisations every one who is essential to the management and planning of affairs. All the engineers technicians and scientists are necessary and must be brought into the fold.

To gain experience the masses must be brought again and again into the fight with the enemy.
Today the fight may be in an election while tomorrow it could be a test of the industrial strength for better conditions or higher wages. Always it is to be remembered that the people better responds to mass action only when idealism takes the form of emotion and passionate struggle. The tactics of the present has for its object, teaching the workers to organise so as to win victories. Any field, political, economic, or industrial, is good so long as the required object is held.

A scientist will say no one really understands a question until the terms or language peculiar to that study has been learned , that is to say, that while one is getting the ideas he or she is also getting the terminology. There is such a thing as popularising science or presenting an easy guide to it. This process is like lowering a high voltage current to render it safe for light duty purposes. The terms surplus value, the materialistic conception of history and the class struggle in themselves, contained but small hints of the special meanings applied to them by the intellectuals of the working class movement. However, the terminology in which these principles of working class study were clothed was a stimulus to the studious, while the lazy who would have only confused any question, were repelled from any consideration of the matters at issue. The once exclusive learning of professors is now, through a thousand channels, coming to be thoroughly understood by ordinary workers.

The class struggle produces class consciousness. Loyalty is almost an  inherited instinct nature of humanity, part of the heritage of every human being. This loyalty must have some subject on which it may rest. In primitive times  it was the family; during later periods it rested on the clans then the confederation of tribes. Since the arrival of modern civilisation, the territorial division known as the state or nation has been its foundation. Nowadays, it rests on the class of workers alone, and finally when classes are abolished, the inherited loyalty will cover the whole human race. Loyalty involves its necessary component or opposite hatred or dislike of all outside its own class. At the present time, no one can be called class conscious who had any vestige of loyalty to the nation or state.

When Marx wrote on surplus value the prevailing handcraft notions of economics, made it possible that the new theory has spread so rapidly over the world and has brought the workers so sharply against its stern rule in so rude a manner that few illusions from the old handcraft culture have any chance of retaining their validity among the actual workers in the plants. The workers do the work and must be secured in their livelihood or they cannot perform their tasks. The owners take the product of labor because they are owners. The worker will be on the pay roll when the boss can make a profit but at any other time his only right is to starve to death. When he has any part of the pay left he has rights as a professor of wealth but, the moment his pay is all spent, he is a vagrant with laws made and provided for his promp exclusion. Should the workers in any particular number cease work and thus upset the social order, as is inevitable when capital (owners) is not receiving the profits that might be in sight for the time being, they must be imputed to be rebels against the social order and criminals both in fact and in law. The code as written may not so class them but the law as construed must so treat these recalcitrants. The worker who thinks that he possesses any rights, which come as a hold over from the codes of the days of the handicraft laws, is a thro-back.

The materialistic conception of history was presented to us from Marx and Engels in a somewhat imprecise form. The miracle of their presentation was, that, with the sources of information and the state of the social sciences so backward, their generalizations and their applications of the principle were so sound. Little wonder, however, that so many people found it impossible to make an interpretation of what was meant and that so much fog and confusion was the result. At first a socialist doctrine, it has come to pass that the bulk of the development along its lines has been made not by socialists, but by scientists seeking knowledge for itself. After Marx, Morgan made the first substantial contribution in his great work, Ancient Societies. Then followed a whole school of archaeologists, ethnologists, psychologists and sociologists, all of whose contributions of any value have been made in this present century.

 Academic journals, from time to time, contains the sum of the new discoveries. The proof that one understands the materialist conception of history is the  ability to make the application of the principle to the numerous changes in the social world as they occur. The purpose of the theory is to enable its students to understand human behavior insofar as it can be called conduct. The beginning of wisdom in this regard is to be able to tell what is native endowment or heredity, and what is cultural, or the use and wont, or habituation. If one has not learned to make the discrimination, he or she is a-historical.

No strike can be won. If the strikers win, it is not a strike but a revolution. It is a failure to maintain the relation of ownership to the thing owned, a negation of the rights of discretion and control over poverty. Our analysis is that the powers of the state unflinchingly applied will bring an immediate victory to the owners. But often victory is worse than defeat. The enemy retires to perfect new resources for another assault.

What is now challenges is the ethical right of owners of property to dispose of the social product of labor and the lives of men, their happiness, their joys and sorrows, their hopes and aspirations. The class struggle is on, but the end is not yet.

 The task is the task of the workers. On the results of their efforts humanity will write either success or failure. The technology of the human race requires, now, a social product. Our laws, our political institutions, our social relations are those of the days of individualism and further back those of autocracy. Both or either of these principles means failure to progress in social achievement and in well doing in the well being of the inhabitants of earth. Let the workers draw together with the common aim, in their social groups, determined that the achievements of science, the triumphs of technology, the efficiency of social-team work will be made immediately available for the common-weal, and in our own day.

First then, the workers must purge their own institutions, their unions, from all self-seeking individualism and bureaucratic autocracy. In their own unions must first be worked out that principle of full and free democracy which will make these institutions subject to the rank and file—those who do the work. Not until this is done is the ground cleared for progress of any kind or in any direction. “Workers of the world unite,” is a futile, empty slogan until this first, and perhaps the greatest of all our tasks, is accomplished.

 Many have long suspected that Marx was always  right. In fact our suspicions have been steadily growing for a number of years, and now we have an illustration that sets our wandering mind at rest and we are quite satisfied that he was right. Karl Marx made a number of definite statements backed up by unshakeable argument. One of these statements was to the effect that labor—and labor alone—produces all values.

Direct action, however, on the part of labor, when labor is fully organized, carries with it consequences so dire and destructive that it must not be played with as children play with a toy. Direct action involves the complete stoppage, of the present economic system and as a consequence, when labor reports in direct action, labor must be so trained and disciplined through actual experience in doing things that they have the organization to carry on, all ready to hand. All the direct actionists in the world, who adjure all other tactics, could succeed in nothing except in causing confusion and failure. If they were not prepared with the substitute organization. The future of direct action will lie in the direction of a short time strike as a demonstration of solidarity and determination. Even then, the necessity must be grave which would call into being the use of such a powerful weapon. Direct action is in the nature of sabotage and the evil effects of sabotage can be fully understood when we see the results of the evil things as used day by day by the present owners of capital.

There should be no necessity for direct action on the part of labor fully organized and organized on the basis of understanding the economic system as it is. Capitalism is day by day revealing its weakness. Capital must expand or die. The limits for its expansion have been reached in many directions and soon all avenues will be clogged. Then nothing remains but self-destruction through conflict and wars. The human race will soon see the impossibility of capitalism and an economic system will be evolved where all must work so hard as to render social service, where all will be equal, where all will participate in the enjoyment of the social product because everyone will be compelled to do his bit. It is the job for labor to make the change. The change only awaits the growth of understanding that is the growth of pervasive culture. When that comes into being the final push to the house of cards may come through direct action or it may come from an insurgent militarized or it may come through parliamentary action. Any old way will be a good way.

Prof. Hoxie in what is perhaps the best history of American Trades Unionism that had been written, divides unions according to function and according to structure. Structure is important only because of its effects on structure. Adopting a simpler subdivision than the professor, a few remarks are here offered in regard to the functions of the Trades Unions.

Our division, for the time being, will be threefold, that is revolutionary, militant and reactionary Trades Unions. Revolutionary Trades Unions is [sic] out for a complete change in the economic order. Of such a nature is Guild Socialism, Communism and Syndicalism also Bolshevism. These are all out with a cut and dried structure for the economic society of the future and their plans are all laid and the blue-prints drawn for the new structure. These people are fondly accumulating material and assembling forces to be used in building, and the main work is soon to be begun or get under way.

Militant Trades Unionism centers its activities on the present. The phenomena which it studies are things as they are. To understand social phenomena the genetic methods of physical science are borrowed. The past is studied so that a proper understanding of the present may be had. The social order is regarded as dynamic and not as static; all the social order is in process of flux and change; nothing is, everything is becoming; what we see before our eyes is a continuous succession of social phenomena in more or less casual sequence; the child of today is the man of tomorrow. The future is in the field of idealism. With the millions of social factors at work any combination of which may possess a determining influence on future combinations, it is impossible to predict the processes of society even in the immediate future. One invention or discovery might and would change fundamentally the whole basis of ownership, might compel us to recast every human institution. The present is ours to do with it as we will; the future belongs to our children. Militant Trades Unionism, therefore, sets its hand in the work which presents itself to be done today.

Reactionary Trades Unionists looks upon society as static. The present order is the natural order. The system of property, of little more than one hundred years duration is nor as it was at the beginning and ever more shall be. The tendency of this old Unionism is to dwell on the past and to depend on the institutions of the past. All these people are hurt when there is any deviation from the old order, with which they are familiar. Such a people always stand in the way of progress. From the standpoint of culture, these people are only halting on the way of progress. The social forces are of such a nature that, by and by, they must come under the rod. In the meantime they ought to be indicted and to be convicted for being a common nuisance.


In Industry, in politics, in religion, even the principle of “Every man for himself” is not “well seen” today.

In place of this principle of individualism, there has come into the world another conception of life and the guiding thread that should govern social relations; this is the principle of race solidarity.

Marx said that the manner by which men made their living together determined their social, politically and intellectual life processes generally.

When the machine processes of production became the prevailing process by which men made their living together, there was bound to follow, so soon as time sufficient to make the necessary mental adjustments had been given, profound changes in man’s ways of looking at all of his social relations.

Now it is seen that all of man’s institutions should be made to conform to the new industrial methods which are forced on the world by the greater efficiency of the new and more complex systems of production brought into being by the machine.

It is the shift from the “I” method of looking at human affairs to the “we” method of observing and appreciating human relations.

The man who retains the old “I” standards is a reactionary and stands in the way of human progress until he is compelled to recognize that he is living in a changed world. What is wanted is to see that the change has come into the world and to lead to subordinate, to the required degree the selfish instincts, so that the world may go on unhampered in the direction it must follow.

In making the shift there must come in clash of cultures, wars and revolutions, the destruction of civilization and, perhaps, the death of racial types.

Man, in making the adjustments, is still at the mercy of his instincts. Institutions are not built by rationalizing. History showed more examples of peoples who have failed to survive than those who have saved themselves alive, in the making of the shift from one culture to another.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Folded Arms

The old “folded arms” theory of  syndicalism is the belief workers could topple capitalism without violence and merely by folding their arms and stopping work. This theory sprung forth in the period just after the Paris Commune when the workers were still  recuperating from the slaughter. It was also a response to the growing accommodation that the workers parties developed with the status quo. Syndicalism represented an extreme reaction against reformist, parliamentary socialism which can be viewed as the father of syndicalism.The restiveness of the working class is constantly working out new forms of struggle under changing circumstances that invariably lead towards the question of some sort of workers control over production.

 Those who call for a politicalised socialist trade union should understand that a union needs to recruit all workers to be able to put up resistance to the bosses. Can it possibly wait for all the workers to become socialists before inviting them to organise themselves or before admitting them into the organisation.   Any fusion  between the socialist  and union movement ends either by rendering the union helpless and  powerless to obtain improvements or result in the socialist party committing its socialist principles to empty paper promises of reform.  Socialists must work  for socialist ends and not engage in the horse-trading of the labour market although, naturally, socialists within the unions will strive to ensure that they remain open to all workers of whatever opinion or party on the sole condition that there is solidarity in the struggle against the employers. They will argue against the unions becoming the tools of the politicians. Socialists are minded that the workers’ organisation is not the end but just one of the means, however important, of preparing the way for the achievement of socialism. It is the system and not our remuneration or  the “boss” which must be changed.  Socialism is not achieved  through public (state) ownership or workshop committees or trade union representation on this or that management board, but through a fundamental change in class relations. It is necessary to have a clear understanding as to what differentiates syndicalist theory from the orthodox socialist doctrine.

The essence of syndicalism is social revolution by means of the trade unions while the essence of socialism is the revolution by voting.  The syndicalists recognises but one “field” of working class activity — the economic; only one kind of social question — the economic. To solve these economic questions it uses, in all cases, direct action tactics alone. It forces the state to pass laws in the same manner as it forces a private employer to raise wages, or to better working conditions — by strikes and other forms of industrial action. And not only does syndicalism feel perfectly sure of its ability to force the state and private employers to grant concessions by its direct action tactics, but it also intends to overthrow the whole capitalist edifice by the supreme, ultimate application of direct action, i.e., the general strike. It makes absolutely no provision for the conquest of the political power by the political party via the ballot box. Syndicalism bases the whole workers movement upon economic action, not political actions. It sees in the immediate struggle of the unions a preparation for the revolutionary strike that will overthrow capitalism; and it organises the working class in a way that provides the means of assuming control of society by building in its organisation the structure that will function as the administration of the new society on the day of the revolution. Even the Left SPD Marxist Karl Kautsky, in an article in the International Socialist Review, April 1901, said:
“The trade unions...will constitute the most energetic factors in surmounting the present mode of production and they will be pillars on which the edifice of the socialist commonwealth will be erected.”

Some in the history of the socialist movement such as the De Leonists have sought a hybrid theory of syndicalism insisting it needs a guardian and helper — a political “shield.” and tries to force the guardianship on the unwilling syndicalists  but in doing so creates a situation where two movements cannot exist in harmony as they are intent upon trying to absorb each other.  The two movements become competitors for the undivided support of the working class.

Monday, January 07, 2013

A football working class hero

Nicolaas Steelink
Organised sport was originally for the elite with its roots in the English public schools. But taking advantage of the free-time offered by the eight-hour day, workers began to democratize games like soccer and rugby. We enjoyed sport as passive spectators and as active participants. Who can blame someone for enjoying leisure on a day off?

Before long, major social democratic parties across Europe were using sporting clubs and festivals to construct working-class identity and promote solidarity. By 1928, German sports societies had more than two million members, most of whom were affiliated with the Social Democratic Party. These clubs offered escape and a sense of belonging to the masses. Thousands hiked and learned to swim, freeing themselves, however fleetingly, from the grinding indignity of wage slavery. In Austria, during the Red Vienna period (1918-1934), a new stadium was built to host a “Workers’ Olympiad,” which welcomed participants from across the world—a testament to the internationalist impulses of a confident and forward-looking movement. In Britain we had cycling and rambling associations. Another sports world seemed possible, one that needn't be sold as a commodity. But these days sport has become unlinked from the working class political movement, hi-jacked by the jingoistic nationalists, the profit-seeking media corporations and sponsors, not to mention the egotistical oligarchs seeking an identity through being club owners.

One can even imagine aspects of sports that most closely mirror the capitalist ethos taking on a different context in a better society. Competition is brutal and ruthless in capitalism, under which, in many parts of the world, winning and losing carry life or death consequences. But competition in a safe environment can be positive and rewarding. We can imagine the new ways in which work and play could intermingle in a future society governed by equality and abundance rather than exploitation and scarcity. The discipline and pride of a craftsman who hones a skill and the athlete who trains toward perfection will have a larger place in the world.

Nicolaas Steelink was inducted into the American Soccer Hall of Fame in 1971. He was instrumental in organising the Californian Soccer League in the 1950s. Nicolaas Steelink was Dutch and immigrated to the US in 1912 at the age of 22. It was through his contacts playing football that he got introduced to a variety of political activists including socialists, industrial unionists and anarchists. At the time Steelink was angered by the injustices that surrounded him in California. Poor working conditions, war propaganda and censorship that was luring young Americans to their death in the trenches of the Somme, corruption and unpunished lynchings, were among the issues that helped radicalise the young Steelink. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and wrote a weekly column for their paper the Industrial Worker.

Following the First World War a number of states passed repressive laws in response to a rising radicalism amongst a large section of the workers. In California the state passed the Criminal Syndicalism Act in 1920, and Steelink was subsequently one of the first of the 151 IWW members to be arrested under these new powers. He was sentenced to five years hard labour in the infamous San Quentin prison for being a member of the IWW. After two years Steelink gained parole and his strong sense of injustice had been reinforced by the experience. He dedicated the rest of his life to continue to fight authority and injustice and continued contributing regular articles to the Industrial Worker entitled “Musings of a Wobbly”, under the pen name Ennes Ellae. He never lost his love for football. It was through football that he found that he could help the underprivileged youth, giving them a sense of comradeship and self-pride. He coached his teams to play flowing, skillful football that expressed his ideas of individual freedom.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tom Bell - Industrial Unionist

What they said before they became Moscow's men and followed the Moscow line.

British Advocates of Industrial Unionism
Glasgow Branch


The above body has come into existence to advocate the principles of Industrial Unionism, i.e., an economic organisation embracing all wage-workers, irrespective of the trade or craft to which they belong, and having for its object the taking and holding “of all the means of production for the entire working class.” ...

...What we aim at is an Industrial Union broad enough to take all wage-workers into its ranks, thus making an injury to one the concern of all. As the old handicraft form, of production has been brushed aside in the march of economic development to make way for the modern machine industry with its sub-division of labour and complexity of form, so craft unionism, which is a reflex of the former, must make way for an industrial organisation of the workers to suit modern conditions....

...The Industrial Unionist stands firmly on the bed-rock of the class struggle, and; declares, that so long as the means of production are in the hands of a numerically small class, the workers will be forced to sell their labour-power to them for a bare subsistence wage. Consequently, between these two classes a struggle must go on until the toilers come together on the political as well as on the industrial field and take over for themselves that which, being the result of their labour, justly belongs to them...

....Industrial Unionism in recognising that there never can been anything in common between the employing class and the working class, instils into the workers’ mind a sense of class solidarity on the economic field and promotes unity on the political field. With these two separate though complementary movements, the political to destroy the capitalist political State, and the Industrial to back up the political and form the Parliament of Industry in place of the defunct class State,— the workers could forthwith lock-out the employing class and accomplish their freedom...

333 Westmuir Road, Parkhead.