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what the more reactionary business interests would like to have the people believe about the Industrial Workers of the World. If, and to the extent that these reactionary employing interests can induce the public not only to believe this about the I.W.W. but also to believe that the picture applies as well to all labor organizations, they will to that extent ally the public with them and against labor.
The negative or destructive items in the I.W.W. program are deliberately misconstrued and then stretched out and made to constitute the whole of I.W.W.-ism. In reality they are only a minor part of the creed. There are immense possibilities of a constructive sort in the theoretic basis of the I.W.W., but the Press has done its best to prevent the public from knowing it. And it must be said that the I.W.W. agitators have themselves helped to misrepresent their own organization by their uncouth and violent language and their personal predeliction for the lurid and the dramatic. Even what the Wobblies say about themselves must be taken with a certain amount of salt. This matter of the currentlyreceived opinion of the I.W.W. has been dwelt on because the writer believes that it is not alone important to know what an organization is like. It is also very important to know what people think it is like.
The popular attitude toward the Wobblies among employers, public officials and the public generally corresponds to the popular notion that they are arch-fiends and the dregs of society. It is the hang-them-all-atsunrise attitude. A high official of the Federal Department of Justice in one of our western states gave the writer an instance. On a recent visit to a small town in a distant part of the state he happened upon the sheriff. That officer, in reply to a question, explained
that they were having no trouble at all with the Wobs.” “When a Wobbly comes to town,” he explained, “I just knock him over the head with a night stick and throw him in the river. When he comes up he beats it out of town." Incidentally it may be said that in such a situation almost any poor man, if he be without a job or visible means of support, is assumed to be, ipso facto, an I.W.W. Being a Wobbly, the proper thing for him is pickhandle treatment or-if he is known to be a strike agitator--a "little neck-tie party.”
Since we have been at war certain groups of employers, particularly those in the mining and lumber industries, have still further confused the issue and intensified the popular hostility to the Industrial Workers of the World. They have done this by re-enforcing their earlier camouflage with the charge of disloyalty and anti-patriotism. Wrapping themselves in the flag, they have pointed from its folds to “those disloyal and anarchistic Wobblies” and in this way still further obscured the underlying economic issues. Whatever the facts about patriotism on either side, it appears to be true that the greater part of the I.W.W.'s activities have been ordinary strike activities directed toward the securing of more favorable conditions of employment and some voice in the determination of those conditions. These efforts have been met by charges of disloyalty and by wholesale acts of violence by the employers, that is to say they have been met by the night-stick and neck-tie party policyas witness the wholesale deportation of “alleged Wobblies” from Bisbee, Arizona, and the hanging of Frank Little in Butte, Montana. As the President's Mediation Commission reported, “the hold of the I.W.W. is riveted, instead of weakened, by unimaginative opposition on the part of employers to the correction of real grievances.
Report of the Commission, Sixth Annual Report of the Secretary of Labor, p. 20.
By means of an insidious extension of the I.W.W. bogey idea, either that organization itself or some other labor body or both of them are made the “goat” in disputes in which the I.W.W., as an organization, has no part. If a lumber company, for example, gets into a controversy with the shingle-weavers union of the American Federation of Labor, it has only to raise a barrage and shout through its controlled news columns that they are 'Wobblies !'” and public opinion is against them. Nor does the misrepresentation stop there. All who openly sympathize with the alleged Wobblies are, forsooth, themselves Wobblies!
Naturally the liberals in this country have no sympathy with this night-stick attitude toward I.W.W.'s nor with the night-stick interpretation of I.W.W.-ism. The writer is bound to say, however, that he considers the liberal interpretation entirely inadequate. The liberal attitude is expressed and judgment pronounced when it has been said that the I.W.W. is a social sore caused by, let us say, bad housing. It must be evident (unless we are prepared to take the position that any organization which purposes a rearrangement of the status quo—the Single Tax League, for example—is a social sore) that the I.W.W. is much more than that. The improvement of working conditions in the mines and lumber camps would tend to eliminate the cruder and less fundamental I.W.W. activities, but it would not kill I.W.W.-ism.
We can no more dispose of the Industrial Workers of the World by saying that it is a social sore on the body politic than we can dispose of the British Labor Party or our National Security League by saying that they are sores on the Anglo-Saxon body politic. We can only completely and fairly handle the I.W.W. problem by dealing with its more fundamental tenets on their merits and acting courageously upon our conclusions. We shall be obliged seriously to study the problem of the organization of the unskilled; the question of the relative merits of craft unionism, mass unionism and industrial unionism; the question of the sufficiency of political democracy and of the possible future modifications of it and, not least, the question of democracy versus despotism in our economic and industrial life. The Wobblies insist that no genuine democracy is possible in industry until those who do the work in a business (from hired president to hired common laborer) control its management. It so happens that the British Labor Party, in its reconstruction report on Labor and the New Social Order, insists upon practically the same thing. The fact that the B.L.P. insists in a more refined and intelligent manner than the I.W.W. may explain the almost universal obliviousness of our liberals to this item in I.W.W.-ism. The Industrial Workers of the World have even developed a structure and mechanism (crude and inadequate, naturally) for this control. The industrial union, they say, is to be the administrative unit in the future industrial democracy. All these will be dominant issues when peace breaks out, and if the Wobblies are no longer in existence the radical end of each issue will be championed by their successors in the field.
The most important item in the affirmative part of the I.W.W. program is this demand that some of our democracy-some of our representative government–be extended from political into economic life. They ask that industry be democratized by giving the workersall grades of workers—at least a share in its management. They ask to have the management of industrial units transferred from the hands of those who think chiefly in terms of income to those who think primarily
in terms of the productive process. The Wobblies would have “capitalism” (the monarchic or oligarchic control of industry) supplanted by economic democracy just as political despotism has been supplanted by political democracy in nearly all civilized states. When the British Labor Party asks for representative government in industry, those who do not ignore the request give it serious attention. When the I.W.W. echoes the sentiment in the phrase: “Let the workers run the industries,” the editors are thrown into a panic, the business world views the I.W.W. menace with aggravated alarm and the more reactionary employers hysterically clamor to have "these criminal anarchists shot at sunrise."
Perhaps the very best way to run an industrial enterprise is on the currently accepted model of the Prussian State. It is simply a moot point and the I.W.W. has challenged the Prussian method. Whatever intrinsic merit there may be in the affirmative program of the Industrial Workers of the World, it must be admitted by even its most enthusiastic members that were they today given the power they ask, they would be no less relentless Prussians than are the corporations we have with us.
Even though capitalism may be ripe for replacement, the I.W.W. are a long way from being fit to replace it. The Wobblies are grotesquely unprepared for responsibility. So far their own members do not understand how relatively unimportant is their muchtalked-of sabotage method. They liave challenged the autocratic method, but they have done it very crudely and with a weird misplacement of emphasis. They whisper it in a footnote, as it were, to their strident blackface statements about method. “If labor is not allowed a voice in the management of the mines—apply sabotage!”