Trade Unionism. A Debate

[To save repetition and for convenience of reference we have numbered the paragraphs in the reply of the Advocates, and will answer under those numbers.]

The loose and inaccurate habit of thought of the S.P.G.B. is well typified by the sub-heading of their answer, which attempts to make out that the present debate is with the S.L.P. instead of with the A. of I.U.

(1) When we speak of the S.P.G.B. wandering away from the correct position, it is in the sense that they totally fail to put into practice the principle expressed in their Manifesto, “that the basis of the trade unions must be a clear recognition of the worker’s position under capitalism and the class struggle resulting therefrom,” by advocating the formation of such a union in Great Britain. Instead they deliberately attack those who are seeking to establish an industrial union based on the class struggle, aiming at the overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of the Socialist Republic.

(2) The S.P.G.B., after publishing in its official organ the statement that “we Socialists want to see industrial unionism,” reject another later article because it asks for the same thing. For the S.P. to contend that a union could not be a class union, that is, based on the class struggle, because it would be organised according to industries, cuts the ground from under their own feet, for if economic grouping in an economic body robs it of its class character, then geographical grouping in a political body must do likewise.

(3) There is no jumble of unions in our organisation. Our object is to organise the workers in a compact body along the same lines in which modern industrial conditions compel them to work together, that is united according to industrial, and not divided along craft lines. The object of our union is the taking over by and for the workers themselves the productive forces they now operate for a boss. Anyone knows that the General Federation of Trade Unions is simply out to federate the existing craft unions, duplicates as well, leaving their internal organisation absolutely intact. What we are out for is to organise one union of the whole working class, divided for administrative and other purposes into industrial departments and local industrial unions, just as an army is divided into regiments or a political party into local branches.

(4) The I.W.W. of America, in spite of the alleged split (a split only in the sense that the fakirs were kicked out) has now over 28,000 fully paying members. Several European countries, France, Roumania, Bulgaria, Italy, Germany, etc., have unions organised on industrial lines, both before and since the I.W.W. was started, and now Australia is starting an industrial union, with the title, preamble and constitution of the I.W.W.—facts which prove the efficiency of revolutionary industrial organisation.

(5) To say that because we wish an economic organisation as being the chief means to overthrow capitalism and to form the foundation of the Socialist Republic, that we are Anarchist as believing in direct action, places the loyal S.P’ite in the same category should he become involved in a strike and should he not attempt to conduct it through the ballot box.

(6) We claim that were the working class organised in a revolutionary industrial union, we could prevent to a large extent the use of armed forces against the workers. Transport, food, clothing, ammunition, etc., are necessary factors in warfare, and the workers industrially organised could prevent the hired assassins of the capitalist class from using them. In the railway strike in Italy the Governnent used armed force to compel the men to run certain trains, but the organised workers in Milan and elsewhere called a series of strikes in these towns which made the Government withdraw the troops and grant the workers’ demands.

(7) If the revolution is to be effected by armed force, how are the workers going to get it ? because if the capitalists can prevent the organising of a revolutionary union because of their strict supervision, are we to suppose they will allow an armed force to be got together ? And if they did, how are workers ever to obtain sufficient wealth to purchase “the modern weapons of precision and death-dealing ?”

(8) Although the capitalists could not starve the industrially organised workers into submission, seeing we will have possession of the means of production, what would there be to prevent them starving a “Socialist” government out of power by refusing to give up control of the fighting forces and the means of production to the Socialist M.P.’s ?

(9) To say that the capitalist class laid the foundation of their control by building up an army under Cromwell and Fairfax begs the question as to how they got control of this army, which we contend was only by the capitalists having since the time of Henry 8th been developing and getting economic power, thereby being able to purchase the munitions of war, pay their soldiers, etc., when the question of feudal or capitalist supremacy finally became relegated from Parliament to battlefield.

(10) We were wrong in describing the S.P. as “neutral,” for to actively oppose, as they do, those who are attempting to organise a union “based on the class struggle, aiming at the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the Socialist Republic,” amounts to backing up the existing reactionary trade unions. To say that Allen’s article was allowed in because it asked for a Socialist union when it stated “we Socialists want to see industrial unionism,” and to reject a second article because it asked for the same thing, is equal to saying that a union “based on the class struggle,” etc., is not a Socialist union.

(11) The statement that Kent’s resolution did not say an industrial organisation “affiliated to and controlled by the S.P.G.B.” is a distinct suggestion of falsification. The facts are that these words were added to Kent’s resolution as an amendment by Anderson. The resolution as amended was carried, and Kent himself voted for it. If the S.P. attitude is not one of “boring from within” when it allows its members to hold office in existing unions that deny the class struggle, thus helping to build them up and extend their influence, we should like to know what is. They have some members who have denied the need for economic organisation at all.

(12) With regard to the I.W.W. excluding men on account of high dues, when first established the Executive Board had power to lower and forgive them if it so wished. The S.P. likewise conveniently overlooks the differences in the money rate of wages in America and here. Since Sherman & Co. were kicked out, the I.W.W. has organised men who were on strike without the payment of initiation fee or dues. The Paterson silk workers had their dues reduced 25 per cent., and they won their strike. In their official organ for July 27th, ’07 they report the winning of the Paterson Locomotive Workers’ strike, and in the same issue report Local 95 as exempted from paying assessments. Bridgeport I.W.W. machinists won their strike. The big strike in the mills of Skowhegan was won by the I.W.W. Case after case can be given proving it a lie to say that the I.W.W. has never won a strike, and also that it makes dues and initiation fees so high as to keep workers out. In Schenectady the I.W.W. had only 3,000 men : the rest of the 12,000 in the Works were in craft unions, and it was these remaining at work blacklegging on the I.W.W. that lost the strike. In Buffalo several new unions have been started. The I.W.W. has won more strikes than it has lost. Even if it had not, it does not prove industrial unionism wrong, because anyone with sense knows a union must have a certain proportion of workers inside to strike successfully ; while young and weak some strikes are sure to be lost. The S.P.G.B. has never won an election, therefore it is a fraud.

(13) With regard to the split, the S.P. should be the last to talk of splits seeing that it is simply the result of a split from the S.D.F. itself, and has since had splits at Islington and elsewhere in its own ranks.

(14) We attend workers political bodies, trade union branches, trades councils, etc., at their invitation just as the S.P.G.B. was prepared to let Lehane go to the Parliament branch U.I.L. when there was a chance to go. To drag in the S.L.P. is quite irrelevant as this is a debate with the A. of I.U. and not the S.L.P. The S.P.G.B. allows its members to hold office in unions that deny the class struggle, that are going to moralise the capitalists like the O.B.S., establish mutual relations between employer and employed, and that are affiliated to the bogus Labour Party which is supposed to be fought by the S.P. If industrial unionism is so bad and against Socialist principles why does the S.P.G.B. fail to tell us the methods on which a union should be organised, and then set about organising it to prove their honesty ?


(1) Both on the platform and in our paper we continually point out to the working class the necessity for political and economic action and for building up their organisations from their class basis. To call a new organisation an “industrial” union merely conveys to the average worker the idea of a union similar in most respects to the existing unions and differing only in some details. Call it a “Socialist” union and attention is at once directed to the fundamental differences between that and the present unions. If the Advocates are in favour of a Socialist union why do they attempt to start unions that sectionalise the workers according to industry and then try to hide their stupidity by saying that this sectionalism is on a class basis ?

(2) As people usually live in different localities, geographical subdivision of organisation becomes necessary, and the I.W.W. has been compelled to adopt this form despite their denouncing this method as wrong. The S.P. is an organisation with geographical sub-divisions, but the I.W.W. is composed of Industrial and Local Unions—that is, of complete organisations or entities—not branches of an organisation, and is merely a conglomerate similar to the General Federation of Trade Unions.

(3) This is answered by No. 2 above.

(4) This is so clumsy an evasion of the truth that we can only suppose the Advocates to imagine their opponents know nothing of the facts. When the I.W.W. was formed it claimed 100,000 members. At the next Annual Convention these figures had dropped to 60 or 70,000. Now they are given as 28,000. Nor is this the most important fact. The union that formed the back-bone of the I.W.W., and was lauded in their press and speeches as the most clear-cut revolutionary union in America, is the Western Federation of Miners ; and it is just this union, stated to number 30,000 members, that has withdrawn from the I.W.W. No talk of “alleged splits” can cover the seriousness of these facts and figures.

If the existence of so-called industrial unions on the continent of Europe proves the efficiency of this form of organisation, then the so-called ”craft” unions must be immensely more efficient as they exist with a far greater membership.

But the truth is that these industrial unions are Anarchist unions and fight Socialism at every opportunity. The strongest and most important of them all—the General Federation of Labour of France—has for years bitterly opposed the Socialist party and propaganda there ; while— a curious fact —the Australian S.L.P. has withdrawn from the Socialist Federation in Australia that endorsed (not started) the I.W.W. there.

(5) Utter inability to refute our case showing how the A. of I. U. adopt the Anarchist position is proved by the absurd paragraph in question. To talk of conducting an economic strike through the ballot box is sheer idiocy.

(6) While this paragraph is the first attempt to come to anything like close quarters in the discussion, it carefully evades our previous statement. In the first place they have utterly failed to show how unarmed workers could prevent the armed “hired assassins” from using the immense stores that are under the control of the capitalist class, in the Arsenals, victualing yards, etc. ; and in the second place the only “demands” granted the railway workers in Italy were doses of lead in Milan and Barra Bridge. Far from the men winning they were completely routed by the use of the soldiers in running—and compelling the men to run—the services in question.

(7) This paragraph shows how completely the Anarchist notions have bitten into the Advocatee, as the only alternative to an economic struggle they appear capable of grasping is the Bakunine position of street riots with such arms as the workers can secure by purchase or theft. They fail to see that with the control of the political machinery there is control of the ordering departments, and therefore control of the fighting forces already in existence ; and until this control is obtained by the workers they cannot hold the means of production.

(8) This reiterates the same old fallacy that, “industrially” organised, the workers are invincible, the absurdity of which we have shown above.

(9) The contention that the capitalists in the seventeeth century were only able to control the Army because they had the means to purchase munitions of war and pay soldiers is entirely inaccurate. Leaving out the point, so well established in the Thirty Years’ War, that an Army can support itself while production exists at all, the bourgeois class obtained their army in the first place from the militia existing in England and which was under the control of Parliament. When they had conquered political power in the Commons they were able to use this militia to protect themselves, while the King had to rely upon his courtiers and their retainers for an army to fight them, showing in a striking manner the importance of the working class gaining control of the political machinery to accomplish their emancipation.

(10) The naive admission made here well shows how the Advocates merely repeat parrot-like phrases and statements used in America even against facts existing here. The American S.L.P. denounces the Socialist Party there for claiming to be “neutral” on the trade union question. Then the Advocates here—formed by, and largely consisting of members of, the Scots S.L.P.—must use the same phrase against the S.P.G.B., although the subject was debated on Peckham Rye with G. Geis in August, 1906 and again at Plumstead in January, 1907, with Allen ; in the latter case the debate was, technically, on the political question, but it was almost wholly taken up with with industrial unionism. This is now the third encounter we have had on the subject, yet the Advocates only discover in their second contribution that we are not “neutral” but in opposition ! This they say amounts to backing up the existing reactionary trade unions. The fact that we have lately had to defend ourselves in a libel action, due to our criticism of some of these reactionaries, is by itself a sufficient refutation of the statement; but in truth, from the publication of our Manifesto onwards, we have always opposed all organisations that are non-Socialist, whether political or economic.

The almost pathetic reiteration of one sentence from an article by E. J. B. Allen is best met by further quotation from that article.

“We must carry on an organised agitation and education within the existing unions to which our members belong, so as to form a nucleus of sound Socialists in each. They should proceed with the educational work … so that they can get a sufficient number of sound men within the unions, so that when we are strong enough and conditions are ripe, we can call them out to form the foundation of the Socialist union. . . . Better do this and build a solid foundation by education . . . than pass pious resolutions instructing the E.C. to form Socialist unions at a time when it is a numerical and financial impossibility.”

In an article two months previous to the above the same writer stated :—

“The question therefore arises can the unions be made of service to the working class ? The answer is undoubtedly, yes.”

And further on it is said :—

“They (the Socialist trade unionists) should, it seems to me, endeavour to effect the sound economic organisation of the workers by systematic propaganda of Socialism inside existing unions—a work which, it must be remembered, has, hitherto, never been seriously undertaken.”

In face of these quotations it is unnecessary to labour the point further.

(11) It is now admitted that Kent’s resolution did not contain the statement questioned. It is not true that Kent voted for the resolution as amended. The next point is “boring from within.” It is stated that “the S.P. allows its members to hold office in existing unions.” So do the Advocates ! G. Geis, a prominent member of both Advocates and S.L.P., has held office in his trade union as late as last November. Evidently everyone but an “Advocate” holding office is only “helping to build them up and extend their influence.”

(12) The opening statement here is entirely false. Nowhere in the constitution is any provision made for remitting dues, nor is any power given to the Executive Board to do so and where this has occurred, the Executive have acted outside the rules. Every union that entered upon a strike has found itself compelled to organise the non-members without payment of dues, as such payment is obviously impossible then. Local No. 95 were exempted from payment to headquarters because they were supporting an organiser entirely by their own efforts, thus saving the centre a good sum.

In Secretary Trautman’s Report to the I.W.W. Convention it is stated that the “Paterson Silk Workers’ strike is still pending” and up to time of writing no further report has appeared. In their official organ for June 15th it is pointed out that the blacksmiths, hammermen and helpers of Paterson Locomotive Works all belong to an independent union, and that the I.W.W. helpers worked jointly with them when the strike was called. The above is a sample of the bluff indulged in by the Advocates, but more can be quoted. In the report of July 27th it says a telegram was received saying “Paterson strike won” but neither then nor since have the details of the “victory” been published. The Skowhegan strike was so “big” that in his first report, organiser French described the firm as “a cockroach concern that cannot stand for any long period without going into bankruptcy,” and while it was only claimed that the women in the finishing department were in the I.W.W., the whole of the employes came out on strike and received support from various quarters. But here again no details are given of the “victory,” while in the case of Bridgeport Machinists, not only is there no mention of the strike in the secretary’s report, but it is not claimed anywhere that the strike was won, though it is stated it was “settled.” The significance of this silence as to details is vividly shown by the solitary case where they are given and we cannot do better than quote the secretary :—

“In the strike of the smeltermen of Tacoma, Wash., the workers made a splendid showing. The company settled on the terms of the 8 hour day and 15 per cent. increase of wages, but singled out all officers and active workers of the union for the black list. They had to leave the town, after the spokesman of the company had succeeded in having the organisation dissolved. The concessions of the company, however, will not be lived up to, and the misguided few may soon again see the necessity of organising so as to preserve what was conceded on account of the splendid fight conducted by those who were finally made the victims.”

Did ever “craft” union win such a “victory”? It must be left to the imagination to picture what the “victories” were on the details of which they are silent.

We are then told that it was the craft unions remaining at work that lost the Sohenectady strike. Secretary Trautrnan says it was due to leading individuals, who afterwards received their rewards in the shape of well-compensated foremen’s positions for having delivered the goods (Ind. Bulletin, Sept. 18th, 1907), and later on it is stated that “It was C. W. Noonan” who sold out the strike. Our readers may take their choice.

But superior to all these petty details, however, is the point made in our last contribution, namely, that attempts to form Socialist unions with non-Socialist material was a stupid farce and merely encouraged further labour faking. The Advocates have entirely ignored this point, while, in addition to the quotation given above, the following, from the same report, clinch the argument:—

“But the unions in Schenectady had hardly gone through the transitory stage of development, unions formerly connected with the American Federation of Labour had joined in full force the Industrial Workers of the World without sufficiently understanding the difference in the basic principles. The change of name did not materially change the structure of the organisation, . . .”

And this section of the report closes as follows:—

“It is essential that in every organisation at least a good minority be fully possessed of the knowledge of the aims and objects of the Industrial Workers of the World, so that in times of conflicts this element can assume control of the situation and rise fully to the occasion required in critical and crucial hours.”

So ! not only are the rank and file in mass not required to know the principles of the organisation they join, but not even a majority need know them. All that is wanted is a minority to control and guide the rest. And this is called a Socialist organisation ! Nothing we have ever said is so strong a refutation of such a claim as the secretary’s own statement given above.

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