1920s >> 1924 >> no-239-july-1924

Labour in the United States

The Army of the Workless.

Glowing stories are current here of the prosperity in America. Work and high wages for all is the tale told by fly-by-night travellers. The facts, however, are quite different. The “boom” which began in 1923 is over, and many leading industries are working on “short” time and with reduced labour. The organ of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers (“The Advance,” June 6, 1924) reports from the great centre of the clothing trade—Chicago—that for every 100 jobs available for the week ending April 5th, 1924, the numbers of workers registered at the Chicago Employment Exchange was 1,587, an increase of 200 over the last week in March.

The huge commercial concern in industrial America, The Stone and Webster Company, writing on conditions in the textile centre of Lawrence, Massachusetts states, in their official “Stone and Webster Journal” for April, that :—

“the textile industry is in such a state that thousands of people who depend upon that industry for a livelihood are now out of employment. Many families and persons are now in dire want and the outlook is not encouraging.”

They warn the textile workers that they must take lower wages because people have “stopped buying as much in the way of clothes as formerly. Consequently a great unemployment problem was raised at Lawrence.” This is in an industry where about the lowest wages are paid in America, and these starvation rates have been obtained after the most bitter and bloody suppression of millworkers’ strikes in America’s history. Machinery, girl labour and the brutality ot the employers have told their tale in Lawrence and the Fall River “she” towns. Starvation wages for a while and long periods of “no wages” makes the life of the worker.

The Present Depression.

America is no exception to the “laws” of capitalist production. The organ of finance, “The Wall Street Journal,” for April, analyses the situation thus :—

“The fact is that for several years we have been going along smoothly filling out the post-war demand for sundries such as new housing, railroad equipment, automobiles and many other essentials and non-essentials. That demand has to an appreciable extent been satisfied.
The first point to consider is our manufacturing equipment. On this score there can be no question that in many lines we have too much capacity of production for the demand at hand. Ever since the war it has been a great problem to keep our plants fully and profitably occupied.”

It goes on to state that, without a large foreign market, the highly productive industrial resources become an incubus. The article shows that in all the basic industries demand has greatly declined and will decline further. Production has decreased considerably.

In the “Golden West” the same “slump” has taken place. The Bay Counties (San Francisco, etc.) District Council of Carpenters issues a bulletin for May, which states :—

“Our unemployment situation, which was large enough throughout the winter, is growing steadily worse. Building operations are being curtailed or postponed, mechanics are being laid off, and are walking the streets with their ranks steadily increasing by the influx of men from other localities looking for work.”

This is in the largest shipping and financial centre of California. The same conditions exist in other centres. The motor-car industrv centred in Detroit (a city of over a million people) has piled up production so rapidly since the factories re-opened in 1922 that large vacant plots had to be used to store the cars. Rapid production with a non-expanding market has resulted in a large and growing number of men being thrown out of work, with others on short time. Wall Street capital organised in the “General Motors Combine” and Ford’s practically control the trade, and when they reduce output there is no chance for work elsewhere.

“The Land of Opportunity.”

“Every man has a chance” is a common joke in the U.S.A. The workers’ chance may be gathered from the Report of the Industrial Relations Commission of 1916 which stated that 2 per cent. of the people owned 60 per cent. of the wealth. The control of wealth by the few was made plainer still by this Commission appointed by the Government. Their report states:—

“With few exceptions each of the basic industries is dominated by a single large corporation, and where this is not true, the control of the industry through stock ownership in supposedly independent corporations and through credit, is almost, if not quite, as potent.
In such corporations, in spite of the large number of stockholders, the control through actual stock ownership rests with a very small number of persons. For example, in the United States Steel Corporation, which had in 1911 approximately 100,000 stockholders, 1.5 per cent. of the stockholders held 57 per cent. of the stock, while the final control rested with a single private banking house. Similarly in the American Tobacco Company, before the dissolution, 10 stockholders held 60 per cent. of the stock.”

Since 1916, Henry H. Klein, Deputy Commissioner of Accounts of New York City, has written his volume of statistics, called “Dynastic America and Those Who Own It.” In this he shows how the industries of the country are owned and controlled by very few. He names 14 families whose wealth is estimated at 100 millions each, and points out in detail how the financial magnates own a controlling share of the stock of the concerns of the country. The same kind of concentration takes place in agriculture. Senator Brookhart stated in the Senate that 400,000 lost their farms in 1923.

The Economic Trend.

The result of advancing capitalism in America has been the replacement of competition by monopoly. The great capitals invested have enabled the capitalists to build huge plants with the latest machinery and under the most scientific running of industry. There is no chance for the worker starting for himself in industry. The so-called high wages in America, often quoted here, are in reality “high” only in money terms. Their purchasing power is only sufficient to cover the cost of living in a country where rent takes a large part of the wage. The necessities of life are also proportionately “high.” These “high” wages are little when compared to the ever-increasing output of labour, and the high degree of exploitation accounts for the fabulous riches of the employing class. Work there is intensive, and under the Taylor system of shop management, the speed is always increasing. Young men are chiefly recruited, for the older men are “worked out” very soon. Piecework, with its exhausting effects, is widespread, and as soon as output increases, rates per piece are reduced. The speed of modern production is so great that in a short time the market is glutted with goods. In 1921 there were over 6 millions out of work. In the short period since work started again, modern highly-developed methods have once more overstocked the market, and thus the spectre of unemplovment becomes a grim reality. Even when trade is brisk only a fraction of the working class is required in production, and the others are driven to all kinds of commercial pursuits. In this department, too, the Trusts by their close ownership and control, save wages by reducing the number of men required. “Crime” becomes a resort of large numbers who are pushed out of industry, and crimes against private property have become so numerous that they cease to be fully reported. The labour of women, especially married women, is largely used because of its cheapness, and the use of child labour is another powerful force against the worker. “Prosperity” spells little but hard work for our class in the U.S.A. as elsewhere.

The Workers’ “Share.”

The story that most workers own their own houses and their own motor cars is another study in satire. The terrible overcrowding of trams and trains during rush hours is an answer to the motor-car nonsense, and the fact that most workers live in hired rooms answers the “house-owner’s” joke. Even when they do “own” houses they are bought on instalments, and the owner soon seizes his property when “depression” stops the workers’ wages. Most workers’ houses, too, are wooden shacks of a primitive variety. Considering, too, that the secondhand and even new cars the workers buy on instalments are not much higher in price than bicycles here, it does not mean much to be a car “owner.” The expensive limousines and high-priced cars used by the parasites there make the workers’ cars look like tin cans. Life in the U.S.A. shows that, wherever capitalism develops further, it makes a greater contrast in the position of the worker and the capitalist.

When an industrial crisis takes place, as in 1921, the secondhand car dealers are flooded with cars which the “lucky” workers have to sell. The charity societies are packed with applicants clamouring for bread, and outside bakers’ shops long lines form to get a crust. The ranks of prostitution are swelled, and the great numbers involved in the crisis prevent personal borrowing. As soon as the factories re-open the capitalist cuts wages, knowing the large army of workless waiting for jobs. War is declared on unions and strikes are doomed.

“The Socialist Party of America.”

The trade unions in the U.S.A. are largely composed of loyal followers of the Republican and Democratic Capitalist Parties. Sheep-like they blindly elect the nominees of the financial interests, and they support the most servile agents of capitalism as their union leaders. The powerful and widely-read capitalist press carefully moulds the workers’ minds, and the result is that educational work in the trade unions is carried on under difficulties. Little of this Socialist work is now being attempted, however.

“The Socialist Party of America,” formed 24 years ago, has rapidly declined in numbers. Boasting over 100,000 members in 1916, it has to-day not more than 20,000. More than two-thirds of their members were expelled in 1919, and since that date the “Socialist Party” has become so opportunist and reformist that they promoted a Labour Party and joined in conferences of the Committee for Progressive Political Action, whose object is to decide which capitalist politician is most suitable to vote for. Even with all their vote-catching and time-serving methods, their numbers have disappointed them so sadly that quite a number have joined more popular bodies where jobs and notoriety are quicker.

The Socialist Labour Party.

The oldest party in U.S.A. claiming to be Socialist is the Socialist Labour Party. Once very active and advancing, it rapidly declined when it promoted Industrial Unionism. The I.W.W. was formed by S.L.P. efforts on the theory that only economic unity can make political unity. The economic organisation, however, caused immediate conflict in the political party. The theory that only an economic body can “take and hold” the means of production which the S.L.P. laid down, resulted in the I.W.W. being anti-political. Wm. Haywood and a majority of the I.W.W. soon repudiated all ideas of political unity, and the S.L.P. minority formed a new I.W.W. which later changed its name to the Workers’ International Industrial Union. This body still insisted that economicaction alone could make the workers victorious. The result was that the. S.L.P. dwindled, until to-day it is a shadow of its former self. The W.I.I.U. refused continually to endorse the political party (the S.L.P.).

The economic organisation of men of all parties and all ideas instead of making for political unity with the S.L.P. caused the S.L.P. members in the union to fraternise with political opponents such as the S. P. of A. The S.L.P. was soon, therefore, driven to expel many of their oldest members, such as Herman Richter, Rudolph Katz, etc. The disbanding of the W.I.I.U., reported elsewhere in this issue, admits all that our party has said in criticism of the S.L.P. But the confusing ideas about the relative value of political and industrial action still exists in the minds of the S.L.P. members, and therefore a correct understanding of the class struggle is still lacking.

The Industrial Workers of the World.

The I.W.W. to-day is but a fraction compared to the 100,000 they once claimed. Although supposed to be revolutionary, it has been compelled to enrol any worker, irrespective of his views. Functioning to-day as a trade union, it is organised for the every-day struggle about wages and hours. Their chief cry is organisation. “Organise on the job” they say, for better conditions. Their war-cry of the General Strike has long been absent from their literature and their official organ, “The Industrial Worker” (September 29, 1919) published the following farewell to their General Strike battle-cry :—

“It must be apparent to anyone who has given any thought to the matter that a social general strike as the culminating point in the revolution will fail if it ever happens. . . The workers must organise, not so much for a strike, as for carrying on production and distribution, after capitalism has been overthrown. The trouble perhaps with those who formulated the general strike theory, is that they could not free themselves from the dogma that capitalism was to be overthrown by establishing a tremendous picket line around the industries. They rejected craft unionism but couldn’t lose its methods.”

This was written after large numbers of Haywood’s pamphlet on the “General Strike” had been circulated by the I.W.W. This pamphlet has been withdrawn now that they have given up the General Strike idea. Sabotage, which they formerly advocated (see Elizabeth Guriev Flynn’s “Sabotage”), they have now publicly repudiated. Their papers and lectures largely consist of appeals for help in defence funds which have become almost an industry in America. Their past reputation for “Smashing the ballot box with an axe” and their spasmodic strikes have resulted in many prosecutions for “Criminal Syndicalism.” The attacks upon the trade union activity of the I.W.W. simply shows the brutality and power of the ruling class in America. The bloody attacks upon American Federation of Labour strikers in West Virginia coalfields and in the steel areas shows that even “respectable” unions are crushed in blood once they resist the employers’ attacks on wages. The I.W.W. to-day is confined to limited areas where the American Federation of Labour is weak. The attacks upon them from the outside and the deliberate Communist effort to break it from within have left the organisation but a few thousand members. Nearly all the prominent men from W. Haywood to G. Hardy have gone into politics and secured jobs from the Communists. The Moscow International once declared its admiration and support of the I.W.W., but later decided that “One Big Unions” are to be opposed and workers should go back to the ordinary labour unions. Hence the disruptive tactics of the Communists in the I.W.W.

The Communist Party of America.

This party was formed by foreign language federations who were expelled from the Socialist Party of America. Largely of Russian and allied nationality, they soon showed their 100 per cent. Bolshevism by issuing a programme similar to that the Bolsheviks issued under completely different conditions. In a country where the outlook of the workers is conservative and where the elementary work of preaching Socialism remains to be done, the International Secretary of the Communists, Louis Fraina, explained the Communist idea thus :

“The Revolution is an act of a minority at first; of the most class conscious section of the industrial proletariat which in a test of electoral strength, would be a minority, but which being a solid, industrially indispensable class, can disperse and defeat all the classes through the annihilation of the fraudulent democracy of the Parliamentary system implied in the dictatorship of the proletariat, imposed upon society by means of revolutionary mass action.” (Revolutionary Socialism).

The Communist Party refused to take any part in the first elections after they were formed, regarding them as a delusion. Their manifesto advocating armed force and minority action resulted in suppression by the Government. Through adopting such a programme they drove themselves underground into a secret society in which police spies played an active part. The Communists thought the revolution was just around the corner, and they foolishly announced (The Communist, No. 16) : “The day of theorising on the necessity of the revolution is past,” and they went on to preach the rule of the few in the organ of the United Communist Party thus :

“Furthermore, it is impossible to reach and convert the great mass of the workers. Their minds are controlled by the corrupt capitalist press ; their education takes place primarily in capitalist institutions; the capitalist State has the power to close the doors of any proletarian school. This precludes the possibility of reaching and turning to Communism the mass of the workers. (Communist No. 16.)

“The Workers’ Party of America.”

When Moscow decided for legal parties, the Communists emerged into daylight and rapidly changed from a party advocating a “revolutionary upsurge” to the most reformist and opportunist party ever calling itself Communist. They decided soon to disband the Communist Party and form themselves into a vote-catching body called The Workers’ Party. The decisions of the Third International for a “United Front” of all parties and a reform programme resulted in the “minority mass-actionists” putting up candidates like Rose Pastor Stokes with demands like these:

1. Emergency legislation to combat and stop the reduction of wages.
2. Emergency legislation for the relief and amelioration of the condition of the unemployed.

Under instructions from Moscow International their members went into the unions to oust the old leaders. In this work they bargained for positions and supported reactionaries in return for support of their candidatures in the union. The Daily Worker (April 12th, 1924), their official paper, contains some revelations of their class struggle activities on the side of the capitalists. In Michigan their members are prominent in the American Federation of Labour, and have been active in support of Republican and Democratic politicians. This has gone so far that, when told by the Executive of the Workers’ Party to start a Farmer-Labour Party, their members and District Executive, anxious to “keep in” with their fellow office-holders in the A.F. of L., answered they could not fight the candidature of Baker, Republican Candidate for Governor, whom they had previously supported :

“A decision to fight his candidacy would involve us in a fight with the trade union leaders. But regardless of our possible decision to make this candidacy an issue later on, it is the opinion of the minority that nothing should be done now to provoke a fight.” (Daily Worker, April 12th, 1924).

The party still continues its downward course. They entered the Farmer-Labour Conference at St. Paul (June 17th, 1924), where it was expected that Senator La Follette, Republican, would be nominated for the Presidency of U.S.A.

The Workers’ Party Executive defend their action in the Daily Worker (April 12th, 1924), where the spokesman for the majority of the E.C. produced this reactionary statement: “This step of supporting the candidates of a petty bourgeois liberal Third Party, under the conditions laid down in the thesis of the Central Committee, is a correct one.”

This party of political gymnasts, it is only necessary to add, is affiliated to the Third International !

The Proletarian Party.

Elements of the Socialist Party which differed with the reform and opportunism of the Socialist Party of America formed the Proletarian Party, after the Russian Federations rejected their programme for the Communist Party at the inaugural conference.

The Proletarian Party accepts the Statutes and Thesis of the Third International, and “unreservedly endorses” the twenty-one points of admission. They claim to be Marxians, and conduct many study classes in economics, but their attempt to be Bolsheviks of the Third International and Marxians at the same time involves them in a good deal of confusion. The “united front” policy led them to send delegates to the Farmer-Labour Conference at Chicago, and the Theses of the Moscow International on reforms or immediate demands makes them hesitant about adopting a revolutionary attitude. Their delegate to the Third Congress at Moscow was expelled recently from the Proletarian Party for supporting capitalist candidates, but only after this had been going on for years and had been brought to a head by protests of new members.

The Socialist Educational Societies.

Amidst this confusion and ignorance under the iron heel in America there are signs of promise in the growing study of Marx’s writings. Workers in the U.S.A., as a result of study of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, have seen the necessity of carrying on systematic Socialist education. In New York City and in Detroit there arc bodies of students of Marx who, by conducting open-air meetings, study classes, and the spreading of sound literature, have earned themselves a wide reputation in the U.S.A., to say nothing of undying hatred by those who thrive upon the ignorance of the workers. The work of propaganda in America is hard. The abysmal ignorance of labour, the power of wealth, the poison of the Press, and the rise of mob law fostered by such millionaire-ruled bodies like the Ku-Klux-Klan, are some of the forces against us. And with the increasing number of so-called labour bodies like the Farmer-Labour Party and the Workers’ Party, our work is doubly hard.


(Socialist Standard, July 1924)

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