This site is a static archive. Visit the current IWW website at ▸
Skip to main content

Direct Action

The direct control of our union business is reflected in the direct action on the job for which the I.W.W. is famous. Some years ago the I.W.W. modernized the west coast lumber industry in the United States and Canada. Our members established the eight-hour day by blowing their own whistle at the end of eight hours and quitting work then instead of carrying on for the additional two or four hours the bosses expected. Some crews were fired, but the next crew hired blew their own whistle too, until the eight-hour day became established practice. (Later a law was passed.)

The old practice had been to sleep in double-deck, muzzle-loading bunks and to carry your own blankets when looking for work. I.W.W.-organized lumberjacks made bonfires of the bunks and the bedding, and told the companies that thereafter if they wanted men they would have to provide decent cots, mattresses, and clean sheets and blankets.

Long strikes may, at times, be unavoidable; but as far as it can the I.W.W. avoids them. We prefer a series of short strikes timed to do the most good; to get the same results or better at less cost to us members. Why walk out because the company refuses to get rid of an unsafe foreman? Why not have the workers under him elect one of themselves whose judgment they trust to best direct the work, thus carrying out the instructions of their own instructed delegate rather than the instructions of the company-appointed foreman?

With the backing of the workers on the job this can usually be done. Why walk out because a fellow worker is fired? It costs us nothing and costs the company a lot if we go to work expressing our sorrow for such treatment in the way we work.

The logic of direct action is simple enough. If we stop doing what we are told to do and start doing what we collectively decide to do instead, there isn't anything much that can stop us. The I.W.W. expects to build a decent world in that simple way.

Briefly, these are some of the policies that the I.W.W. has found best in the wide and varied experience it has had in the struggles of industry since it was started in 1905. Out of the experience of the many good members who have built and maintained the I.W.W., it is able to offer the working class a rational plan of industrial organization, a set of trustworthy principles, a body of policy and method, of strategy and tactics that assure success. It assures success not only in the ordinary struggle for better wages and working conditions, but also in the struggle to establish a sane social order.

At an I.W.W.-organized textile strike in Lawrence, MA, some of the women strikers picketed with a banner saying "We want bread and roses too." When the I.W.W. says it wants more of the good things in life, we're not just talking about getting the bosses to come over with a bit more cash, but we want a better life here and now, the new society in the shell of the old.

Next page: What To Do