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How An Industrial Union Works

By Giovanni Baldazzi, Class War Prisoner No. 13,116, One Big Union Monthly, February 1920

Characteristics of Industrial Unionism

One of the most important unions in the Industrial Workers of the World is the Bakery Workers' Industrial Union No. 46, with headquarters in New York. From the viewpoint of industrial union education, not to say as information matter, it will be interesting for all readers of the One Big Union Monthly to know something about the workings of that union as an agency of industry, and how considerable improvement has been won on the issue of wages, working hours and conditions, and especially about the high degree of protection and control attained by the I. W. W. bakery workers in New York through a wise and consistent application of industrial union tactics and policies. One should not think that to induce a number of workingmen in a given industry to get together under the statutes of the I. W. W. and with red cards in their pockets would really mean that they had built up an industrial union. While it is a highly commendable and noble thing for every conscious and faithful member of our organization to look upon the red card and the preamble of the I. W. W. as inspiring symbols of our struggle in the labor movement, we should not altogether be so dogmatic as to expect by the mere influence of these symbols some sort of industrial miracles. The creation of an industrial union capable of affording its members an effective and efficient protection on the job, and to preserve such standards of wage and conditions as would compare favorably with all other sections of organized labor, is not such an easy task. Working class devotion and idealism should undoubtedly be welcomed on this field of endeavor; although they would bring little or no practical result unless coupled with a sound knowledge of industrial union process; that is to say, of that complexity of tactics, discipline and union policies which after the age-long experience of labor's history, is to be considered as the most trustworthy condition of success in the workers' struggle. Industrial unionism is to a certain extent a faith, yes; but more than that, it is a struggle to be carried on along scientific lines. These studies on the technical problems related to the existence and development of our industrial unions are paramount in the I. W. W. literature, inasmuch as they do not con template some abstract and cultural conceptions or side issues, but the very subject of our daily struggle, the thing for which our best fellow workers have fought, suffered and died: The conquest for the I. W. W. of an influential position in the industrial life of the country, as the first step or the condition of departure toward the establishment of a proletarian commonwealth.

History of Bakery Workers' Industrial Union No. 46

The history of the bakers' union of the I. W. W. stands as a convincing proof of the great efforts that a body of workers must face in order to secure for themselves a position of comparative prosperity and job control. The union membership is about one thousand (1,000), most of the members being residents of New York City and nearly all employes of the French bakery shops. There are several Italian branches besides one German and Polish branch. The bakers' union was organized about fifteen years ago, and joined the I. W. W. some six years ago.

The wages are the highest paid in the bread industry within the boundaries of New York state, viz., first class bakers, $42 a week; second class, $38; third class, $36. The bakers in the French bakery shops controlled by the I. W. W. union have brought about the end of the night work system, while the unhealthy condition obtains everywhere else in the bread industry throughout the United States. It is a fine piece of "industrial legislation" enacted in the union hall of the I. W. W. and in force since the month of July, 1919, without any attempt having been made at consulting the politica1 wisdom of the house of representatives in Albany. The Bakery Workers' Union No. 46 of the I. W. W. was the first union in the bread industry to declare for a forty-four hour week. So the members of that union are actually working seven hours and a half a day, and before long they will ask for a seven or a six hour work day, and they will get it. A great effort has been made by active members of Industrial Union No. 46 with the co-operation of several English speaking fellow workers of the I. W. W. Recruiting Union to spread the agitation among all bakery workers in New York City, encouraging them to fall in line far better sanitary conditions, higher wages, forty-four hour week and the day work system. German, Polish and Jewish branches are in process of organization.

Far from being the product of momentary enthusiasm, all these thousands of successes have been brought about through a long record of per severance and stubborn struggles. Out of a fifteen years' existence of Bakery Workers' Industrial Union No. 46 (although the union itself was known under other names before being incorporated in the I. W. W.), it springs into light the old commonplace truth that it is rather difficult and almost impossible for a union to win at one blow, by means of a victorious strike, or by the mere spirit of enthusiasm such a thing as an influential position in industry. Industrial conquests are comparatively slow, and they seem to be the conclusion of persistent, systematic efforts for the capture of power on the job, rather than the result of some kind of master stroke.

What Industrial Control Means

The act by which an employer takes into his service a wage worker or employe is known as a "con tract. " Since labor contracts are the commonest form of intercourse in our present industrial life, they most frequently occur under the seal of silent conventionalism. This sort of labor selling between employers and employes may take the shape of an individual or collective contract. 0f course, a true union man, whether he is an I. W. W., an American Federationist, or an independent unionist, is necessarily opposed to the proposition of individual labor con tract. Why is this so? Because from a long series of experiences the workers have learned that any direct agreement between individual workingmen and employers turns out to be detrimental to the former contracting party and it effects also an extremely demoralizing influence upon the collectivity of labor. Individual bargaining affords no protection' for the working man, surrendering the latter to the employer with hands and feet solidly tied.

The Industrial Workers of the World is by no means against the proposition of collective bargaining and union contracts, but they are decidedly hostile to timed contracts, a1 well as any specific contract, between the employer and the members of a trade or other particular section of' an industry, when it might endanger the general interests and solidarity of the workers of the whole industry. One of the main points of difference on the questions of tactics between the American Federation and the I.. W. W. is to be identified in this manner of conceiving and carrying out the policy of conceiving and carrying out the policy of collective bargainings and union contracts. The I. W. W. repudiate all timed agreements with the employers on the question of wages and other conditions affecting the workers in the industries, and they conceive the idea of collective bargaining on the basis of the general interest and solidarity of all workers employed in the industry while in a good many unions of the A. F. of L. organized along trade lines, the workers are engaging themselves in sectional forms of contracts to such an extent as to divide them and make them scabs against each other in time of strike.

Except for these differences the I. W. W. should be as much insistent as any other labor union on the question of enforcing the "closed shop" and collective bargaining in all transactions between the workers and the employer. These, at least, have always been the policies of the Bakery Workers' Industrial Union No. 46, and the members of that I. W. W. body are firmly clinging to them as a solid ground for practical and successful industrial unionism. Experience has taught also that every industrial union which does not recognize the principle that all men on the job should be made members is bound to fall quickly into disintegration. There is a spirit of class discipline in our conceptions and tactics of industrial unionism, and that spirit springs logically out of the economic fact that the interests of the individual worker are tightly bound with the interests of the whole body of his fellow workers employed in the industry, so that for the sake of the common good he ought to solidarize and fall in line with them. The industrial unions are the medium of this working class solidarity and discipline.

How the Shops Are Controlled

To understand the tremendous power exerted by Bakery Workers' Industrial Union No. 46 in its struggle against the bosses and the large share of protection afforded to its members on the job, one should visualize that union not merely as an institution stranger to the industry, but as an auxiliary of the highest import in the working of the industry itself. There is great meaning conveyed in the proposition that a true and well organized industrial union ought to function right on the job, rather than in the union hall. However, let us illustrate this idea by the aid of facts.

All bakery shops controlled by the I. W. W. in New York City are running with full crews of union men. None of the members of the crews are allowed to remain out of the union ranks. The drivers themselves are members of the union. The question arises: How did the union succeed in compelling the boss to engage members of the I. W. W. exclusive of all other classes of workers? One of the most effective instruments that helped the bakers' union in tightening its grip over the jobs is the employment bureau. Nobody, including the members of the union, is allowed to go and ask a boss for a job. All jobs are disposed of by the Union Employment Bureau. Even the right of a boss to supervise the crews on the jobs is ;restricted to a considerable extent. There is common understanding that the workers under the guidance of the union foremen are bound to turn over a production according to some conventional standards; there ceases the :right of interference on the part of the boss. In the case of a man refusing to pay his monthly dues or having made himself responsible for some offense against the union, the committee and the assembly are invested with full judicial powers to admonish or to punish him. Some times the union required that the guilty man be .dismissed from, the job, and the boss had to comply with it. There is' not a boss that dares to resist such requests, realizing that he couldn't possibly run the place without the consent of the union men. On the other hand, in order to prevent the bosses from complaining to the police against such union tactics they have been made to sign an agreement to the effect of securing their crews at the Union Employment Bureau to the exclusion of all other agencies.

The actual bakers' union of the I. W. W. in New York is built upon such strong foundations as to give assurance for tremendous successes in that line of organization work. It is to be noticed that all that has been done hitherto comes directly from the initiative of the membership of that body, without any outside help. Taking into account the lack of English speaking elements in the ranks of Union No. 46, it would be utterly absurd to expect great results under actual conditions. So it is high time the General Headquarters of the I. W. W. extends its powerful hand and help in bringing about the propaganda, agitational and organization work among the slaves in this industry.

To train the workers in the responsibilities connected with the running of the industries so that they shall be prepared to solve the revolutionary crisis which is so near, and that they will be able to build up a new commonwealth founded on the possession by the workers of all instruments of production, and of the wealth of the world, this is undoubtedly the most compelling task, both of an educational and of an industrial or technical character that the Industrial Workers of the World is confronted with. These qualities for industrial government, that is to say, these capacities on the part of the workers to take care of all processes of production and to discipline themselves on the job, so as to eliminate all reasons for capitalist patronage, find the best conditions of development in the practice of industrial control.

This is also the plan that we should carry on and make effective through all the educational and organization activity of the I. W. W., if we really expect to play an actual and dominant role in the future of American industrial life.

Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield
Last updated 3 December 2003