Electronic text provided courtesy of Jim Crutchfield, New York City General Membership Branch Industrial Workers of the World. See Jim Crutchfield's I.W.W. page.

One Big Union of the I.W.W.

Industrial Workers of the World (? 1924)

Social relations are the reflex of the grouping of industrial possessions. The owners of all resources and means of wealth form a class by themselves; the owners of labor power, as their only possession in the market, another. Political, judicial, educational and other institutions only mirror the prevaiing system of ownership in the resources and means of production

One class--the capitalist class--owns and controls the social necessaries, to wit: the economic resources of the world. That class, for its own protection and perpetuation in power, subjects all institutions to its own interests. On the other hand, there is a class--the working class--which is eventually to change the whole system of ownership of the means of production. Intelligent workers ralize that immediately following the change, these social relations will also be shifted; institutions deriving their support and sustenance from the class in power will be made to confirm to new conditions after the overthrow of the existing industrial system.

Social structures collapse as a result of ever recurring changes in their economic foundation. But the new structure is not a ready-made product of each of the epochs of reconstruction. A historic process of evolution reaches a climax in a revolutionary upheaval. Achievements of preceding epochs are always utilized in the constructive work of a never-resting, always advancing civilization.

Decaying elements render nourishment to Mother Earth for the generation of new species and structures. Nothing is lost in the reciprocal process of nature. Precisely so in social systems. Achievements of social and industrial evolutions are always preserved after a revolutionary climax removes all obstacles to further developments. Only the class previously dominating the poicies and actions of the social institutions is supplanted by the revolutionary change; ownership in the means of life is shifted to another class.

Capitalist ownership of industries had its origin in the unfolding of conditions which hastened the downfall of the feudal system, and the advent of the capitalist class to power.

Working class control of industries, by all engaged in the process of production, must build its foundation on the highly perfected form and methods of production, and upon the conditions which accelerate the passing away of the capitalist system of ownership in the instruments of production and distribution.

The feudal lords had to surrender their scepter to the ascending bourgeoisie, better known today as the capitalist class. The latter, at the outset, had in view only the free development of all forces of production, in an era of unrestricted competition between individuals. When, over a century ago, the change was consumated by revolutions, the instruments of production were more equally distributed. They were in possession of a multitude of victorious capitalists, who owned small enterprises. Most people believed that in such a competitive system, as was then established, every one would have a chance to rise to a superior station in life. The instruments of production were not then highly developed. Handicraft in the operation of small machines, or in the use of tools, still predominated. Small capital only was required in starting the manufacture of things for small margins of profits.

This epoch, beginning with the revolution of the "Third Estate" in France, found its counterpart in the revolution of the American people against British semi-feudalistic rule. Since then the forms, methods and yield of production have rapidly developed in every industrially developed country. The ownership of the means of production have been centralized ever more into fewer and fewer hands. With the centralization of the means of production and distribution, the agencies protecting the new interests in power also grew proportionately. Gradually all elements that obscured the line of cleavage, between the producers of wealth and the class that exproportionated all economic resources of the world, are eliminated.

The manufacturers of the early capitalist era were found only in small communities. They depended upon the superiority of the embryonic system over the prevailing handicraft system, and won through only by demonstrating its advantages. Their start was circumscribed and handicapped by the slow and cumbersome methods of transportation of that early day. The coming of steam had yet to knit localities closer together, and to reduce the oceans to ponds.

In this process of transformation other things are to be observed. Social relations are shifting with the change in forms of the ownership of the means of production. Social strata are fiercely struggling for their conservation, in vain. There is no escape from the inevitable and irretrievable result of these rapid changes in the industrial possessions and arrangements.

The howls of reactionaries and the frantic appeals and clamors of reformers will not in the least affect the course of events. The destructive battles of trade unions, divided up in factions and sections that find their traditional base in the middle ages, will not turn back the wheel that rolls on with irresitible and crushing force.

The outcry, so often heard before, redounds in vociferous strength again: "A revolution! A revolution is needed to change these conditions." It voices the recognition of an imperative social need. The middle class is frantic in its despairful wailings. They are successful in lining up a large political following of workers. Millions are made to believe that an impending struggle against predatory wealth will have as its object and result the restoration of by-gone conditions, or the enforcement of restrictive measures for curbing further concentration in the control of industries.

But the workers are not, and should not be, concerned in the hopeless struggles of a decaying element of society. They have a historic mission to perform; a mission that they will carry out, despite the allurements held out to them that a restoration of past conditions would accrue to their benefit.

The workers are beginning to realize that in the constructive work for the future they have to learn the facts of past evolutions and revolutions. And from these facts, expressed in theories, they find the guide for the course that they have to pursue in their struggle for the possession of the earth, and the goods that tye alone have created. That growing class conscious portion of the working class is building on the rockbed of historic facts, and the structure to be erected follows the principle that:

"It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism--the army of production must be organized. By organizing industrially the workers are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old."

Some definite conclusions must be drawn from the previously established premises. It is the heritage of the working class to utilize to the fullest extent the great achievements of the preceding and existing processes and methods of production, for the benefits of all useful members of society.

In its advent to power and supremacy the present economic master class succeeded another that had decayed in the process of evolution. This mastery of the present owners of the economic resources also only paves the way for successors. Such is the inexorable law of evolution.

The workers, conscious of their mission, must recognize the fact that the industries are developing to the highest state of perfection, and will be ready for operation under a new arrangement of things, that is, after the class now in possession and control of them have gone the way of decay, under the pressure of the advancing force of an industrially organized proletariat driving toward a new civilization.

But it is imperative to arrange the human forces of production for the operation of the vast resources and implements of production under a system wherein products will be made for use alone. To build and to arrange correctly, and for lasting purposes, the constructors of a further developed industrial structure must possess a thorough knowledge of the economic facts, and of organizations destined to accomplish the task. The architects must know the proper grouping of each component part and cell in the composition of industrial combinations, so that, when harmony in the industrial relationship of mankind is established, it will be reflected in the harmonious social and ethical institutions of a new age.

We repeat: Industrial and social systems are not ready-made products. In their changes, from one stage to another, they derive their propelling forces from the achievements and accomplishments of every preceding epoch. In its onward course to a further advanced system, mankind is going to utilize all that present day society has evolved and constructed. This the workers must know, and then they will also learn the intricate, inter-dependent arrangements of the component parts of the whole industrial system. Equipped with this knowledge, they will be able to construct and form their own industrial organizatons, the frame structure of the new society, accordingly. By learning the social relations and understanding their source, they can profit and prepare to change the industrial structure of society, which, as a matter of course, will determine also the changes in the social character of the system which is bound to be inaugurated. And this is the problem. The working class, as the promoter and supporter of a higher standard of social relations and interrelations, must be equipped with the knowledge, must construct the organizations, by which the cause of social classes can be removed. Industrial inequality is the source of every other inequality in human society. The change in the ownership of the essentials of life will bring automatically, so to say, the change in the intercourse and the associations, and also in the institutions for the promotion of these things between the human beings upon the globe.

Good will, revolutionary will power, determination, courage, are valuable assets in the struggle for the change. But they are, like the water on the millwheels, unconscious of the great service that they are rendering. To convert force and power into useful operation requires intelligence. And that intelligence must guide us to use the accumulated force for a defined purpose. That purpose, as it seems to be agreed, is to form a new social, or rather industrial structure within the shell of the old society. To accomplish this the advocates, the militants for the new society, must know to what extent the present factors in industrial development have organized and systematized industrial production. When this is fully understood it will explain the subesquent domination of industrial possession over the political, social and other agencies in present day and previously existing societies.

The workers of the world, conscious of their historic mission, will learn to avoid the mistakes they would make should they depend on other forces than their own industrial power for the solution of the world's problem. Agencies and institutions deriving their lease of life from the industrial masters of today cannot be looked to for support. They may feign being in favor of radical changes in the effects. They will, however, strenuously, even violently oppose any attempt at destroying the base, or the cause. They will strive to perpetuate the wages system at all costs.

The working class alone is interested in the removal of industrial inequality, and that can only be accomplished by a revolution of the industrial system. The workers, in their collectivity, must take over and operate all the essential industrial institutions, the means of production and distribution, for the well-being of all the human elements comprising the international wealth producers.

No destruction, no waste, no return into barbarism! A higher plane for civilization is to be achieved. When the workers understand how the industrial system of today has developed, how one industrial calling dovetails into another, and all comprise an inseparable whole, they will not wantonly destroy what generations of industrial and social forces have brought forth. The workers will utilize the knowledge of ages to build on a solid rockbed the foundation of a new industrial and social system.

The foundation must be firm and solid. The revolutionary climax, after an incessant course of evolutionary processes by which forms and methods undergo changes, will eliminate forever the cause for the industrial division of society into two hostile camps. Harmonious relations of mankind in all their material affairs will evolve out of the change in the control and ownership in the industrial resources of the world.

That accomplished, the men and women, all members of society in equal enjoyment of all the good things and comforts of life, will be the arbiters of their own destinies in a free society. We present, with this introduction, to all our fellow workers in battle and strife, a portrait of industrial combinations.


The Chart Explained in Detail

The main purpose of this chart is to show how the industries are grouped together in the existing arrangement under the capitalist system of production.

Production begins with the application of human labor to extract material for human use which nature generates, or has stored up.

Modern production involves and includes all classifications of labor in the present complex system. Transportation is a productive function as well as agriculture, manufacturing and mining. These, with other industries, constitute the system by which wealth is produced and the resources of the earth are made available to mankind.

Each and every one of the activities of mankind, in their present stages, are necessary one to the others in order that the present social standard bye maintained, and further progress be possible.

All of the products in the modern world can be reduced to terms of food, clothing, shelter and culture. All the productive proceses are interlinked and interdependent. The kinship of labor, no matter where or how employed, is established, and its social importance is made evident. The industries constitute the foundation upon which the structure of modern civilization is upreared. But the industries depend upon the workers who function in them. Material passes from hand to hand, from group to group, and all along the way finished products, of one kind and another, are made available for human use, until every want and need of modern man is supplied.

The industrial arrangement is not a haphazard, happy-go-lucky one, but an ordered, systematized, harmonious human mechanism in which mechanical factors really play only a subordinate role. The laborer is the indispensible factor. Part fits to part, section to section, industry to industry and department to department, until there results a world-covering, co-ordinated, wealth producing system which depends upon the workers of the world.

These workers are organized by the capitalist class and made to function for the benefit of that class. The workers ought to, must and will, organize themselves as they are arranged in the industries, so that they will be enabled to function in their own interest and for their own benefit.

The chart is only intended to approximate the outlines of those differentiations which we term industries--steel, coal, oil, textiles, transportation, etc.--whose boundaries are not rigidly set, and are consequently more or less indeterminate.

It may happen that in this rough sketch important distinctions may appear to have been overlooked while in other instances there may seem to be an over-emphasis. But the chart is, at best, only intended to approximate. There is no pretention that it is exact and precise. It is a guide to rather than a blue-print of the capitalist industrial arrangement. Changes are constantly occurring and new alignments follow as a result. The intention of the I. W. W. is to make corresponding changes in its own structure and methods, which will enable the workers to use it for emergencies when they arise, and to provide an effective instrument for their use at all times.

In presenting this plan of organization of industries we have in mind only the object before explained. The workers, forced by capitalist ownership of the means of production must organize themselves in all the industries in their proper places. Their places in industry will determine their places in the working class economic organization.

Every worker who studies this chart will find where he will fit in when the industries are organized for control by the workers through industrial organization. Of course, it is the ultimate purpose of this arrangement that each worker shall have equal rights, and equal duties also, with all others in the management and operation of the industry in which he or she serves in the process of production.

Another and equally important purpose is to organize the workers in such a way that all the members of the organization in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any part thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

This can only be accomplished when the workers organize by industries along class lines. That is to say, all the workers in any one industry must be members of one and the same organization--no division along craft lines. The capitalist institutions are organized today in this manner. The industries as they are grouped today, dovetailing into each other, furnish to the workers the basis upon which they must construct their organization for the struggles of today for better living conditions; and for the supervision, the management and operation of industries in a future industrial commonwealth of workers and producers.


All natural resources of the soil, mines and water receive their first value when labor is applied to win useful things from them.

But all these products have more social value when they are transported to other places for the purposes of manufacture and commerce; where they are transformed and converted into many commodities for exchange.

The life of human beings will not consist only of common drudgery when all the good things created by the workers are available to them.

For all purposes, present and future, the functions of the public service institutions have to be defined industrially and the people engaged in their maintenance must be given a place in the industrial organization, the same as those who take care of the sick and disabled. Thsoe who render social service are usefully engaged, altho most of the institutions in which they serve today are prostituted for the protection of capitalist interests.

For all functions combined, the industries are arranged on the general plan presented in the chart, as follows:

  1. The Department of Agriculture, Land, Fisheries and Water Products.
  2. The Department of Mining.
  3. The Department of Construction.
  4. The Department of Manufacture and General Production.
  5. The Department of Transportation and Communication.
  6. The Department of Public Service.

These departments again have their subdivisions. As it is proposed that the workers organize in accordance with the industries in which they are serviceably engaged, it is essential that a general term shall apply.

The term Industrial Union is therefore applied to those callings where the labor of the workers is expended upon the same or similar basic raw material; or where the products may be included under a general designation, as, for instance, "metal goods," "food products," etc.

But within these general classifications there are working groups whose industrial contacts are more intimate, and whose problems are consequently more special to them than to other workers in the same industrial union. For example, in I. U. No. 440 the workers in a steel plant have everyday problems which are different in their special phases and aspects than those of workers in a jewelry factory; those in a locomotive works have questions to deal with that never occur in a plant where watches are produced. Or again the packing house worker and the cigar or cigarette worker, have different everyday problems.

In fact it may be pointed out that under the general classifications there are included many callings wherein the special needs of the workers demand an organization arrangement whereby they may readily and effectively use their organized power in their own behalf. An organization must afford ready expression to the workers who compose it. There the industrial unions are arranged by Sections. Thus we have Steel Workers' Section, I. U. NO. 440; Packinghouse Workers' Section, I. U. No. 460; etc.

The Sections include all workers of every labor classification necessary for the production of any commodity or commodities, or for the rendering of any service. This system of organization enables the workers in recognized industrial groups to advance their interests, and assures them, through the general organization, sufficient industrial support to enable them to do so.

Each Section comprises, as stated, all workers necessary to a product or products, but will not separate or divide them. It is not division but co-ordination that results when this arrangement is followed.

It is impossible, at this stage, to eliminate entirely the terms now used to designate certain functions which different sets of workers perform in each industry. But it must be distinctly understood that this is not meant to imply that these groups will organize, as has been the case heretofore, in craft organizations within the industries, or according to the tools that each set of workers uses. That would mean the maintenance of craft division under another name. A worker in an industry will be assigned to the Section representing the product or products of that Section in the industry. The Industrial Union includes all Sections and welds them into a unified, cohesive, co-ordinated industrial force.

When the several classifictions of workers engaged in a particular industrial production organize industrially all are subject to the rules governing the affairs of that industry. But certain fundamental rules and principles governing the "One Big Union of Workers" cannot be infringed upon by any of its component parts without doing injury to the whole organic body.

Still another point to be made clear: The process of production does not cease until the finish product reaches the consumer. All workers engaged in the process of distribution of any certain product are members of the same Section of the Industrial Union in which the makers of the commodity are organized.

Of course, the railroad and water-transportation will be in the Transportation Department, although it might be said that tye are also engaged in the process of distribution. But here is the difference: railroad and marine transportation connects localities and countries without regard to particular products. Their function is general distribution, and is essentioally of a social character. But those workers who are engaged in transporting particular products from their places of completion to the consumers, are part and parcel of the working force and are included with the workers organized in that Section of a given Industrial Union.

But in municipal and interurban transportation there are workers engaged in conveying goods, who have no established connection with any particular product or set of products. These come under the head of transport workers. For instance, a salesman or clerk in a shoe store would be a member of the industrial union section in which all workers engaged in the shoe industry are organized. A teamster delivering meats, or other goods from a grocery would be in the organization in which all the food stuff workers of that particular branch are organized. But a truck driver, who may haul a shipment containing mixed products from one depot to another and between times hauls general merchandise, performs the work of a transport worker, and as such organizes under that head.

With these necessary explanations, suggestive of a better understanding of the plan of organization, one will be able to see far better how and why industries are grouped on the accompanying chart.

Electronic text provided courtesy of Jim Crutchfield, New York City General Membership Branch Industrial Workers of the World. See Jim Crutchfield's I.W.W. page.