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Chapter 5 - Two Kinds of Unionism And How They Work Out

The inadequacy of craft unionism on the railroads has long been obvious to every thinking worker in the industry. Many efforts have been made to transform it into something more serviceable. These efforts, like those in other industries where workers faced similar problems, have wound up in failure. In general one may observe that the leadership of unions is powerfully entrenched. Constitutions and prevalent practice give the rank and file little to say about major decisions. The business we have with our employers is handled in such unions rather by officers than by workers themselves. Members have little opportunity to express opinions in their union publications if these run counter to the official viewpoint.

Those who have sought to change long established craft unions into something more progressive, regularly find that the leadership is re-inforced by a large army of "organizers" whose work is not so much to organize unorganized workers as it is to stick long noses into local lodges and smell out those who demand a better quality unionism. Even though local officers are very often those who have accepted these responsibilities in the hopes of building greater solidarity and winning better conditions, they soon find themselves tied by these responsibilities to the official —and no doubt still others, anxious to get their hands on some gravy, gladly support top leaders whom they know to be phoney.

In railroad unions, as in many others, despite these handicaps to "insurgence," occasionally the insurgents have won and elected a whole new officialdom. Though the men elected to office in such cases and those who elected them had high hopes of doing far better than before, regularly they have done much the same thing. This is not entirely because such situations offer temptations—temptations that cease to exist once the rank and file makes the decisions—or because "men are prone to be crooked." It is because these unions, like every mechanism, are certain to work according to how they are built. Past experience in changing "leaders" has shown that so little is changed by it, that it is obviously necessary, if we are to seek better unionism, to do something more fundamental about it: change the structure of unionism so that it has to work differently.

Some have had hopes of building a greater solidarity by various plans for linking unions together in federations, amalgamations and the like. Where this has been tried, it too has failed. The conflicts of leadership and of jurisdictional interest and the like have done to such ventures what conflicting national interests did to the League of Nations.

You cannot take some antiquated dwellings, pile them together and make a fine new house. If you want a good new house, you plan it the way you want it and build it according to plan. If you want good unionism, you have to think out what the union should be like, and then build it that way. (While you are building your new house, you keep your old one in as good shape as you can.)


Some seem to think that while industrial unionism is a fine ideal, conditions peculiar to the railroads make it unworkable; that the problems of different crafts are so different that there is no way of handling them in one industrial organization. The working conditions of a switchman or road engineer have little to do, they say, with the working conditions of a shopman or clerk.

That industrial structure is workable can be shown by the fact that outside of the United States and Canada railroad workers everywhere are organized either in industrial or semi-industrial organizations. This does not mean that they have the I.  W.  W. kind of unionism; it is usually more like that of the CIO which has transferred to plant or industrial units the type of entrenched leadership and narrow purpose typical of the craft unions. But it does show that industrial organization is workable. Even the most hard-headed craft unionist must admit that there are three things which concern all railroad workers—job security, wages and hours. These are the issues over which the real battles of the workers have been fought. It is precisely in their fight over wages and hours that the craft unions have been split during recent wage movements. A set-up in which all men who work for the railroad are in one organization does not mean that each group which really does have its own problems must be denied representation for the settlement of these problems. The I.  W.  W. plan of organization does not hamper such action: it aims throughout at the utmost autonomy consistent with industrial solidarity, that those directly concerned with an issue should have the say-so about what is to be done about it.

The I.  W. W. union is not something to hamper you, but something to enable you to get more out of your job—more pay, better living, greater security. You can make it a safer and more agreeable job, with better fellowship among those who work on it, and more democracy and less concern about supervision looking down your neck.

The I.  W.  W. is built on this important idea: A union should unite workers instead of divide them; it should be run by workers and not run them; it should fight employers instead of fighting other workers; it should aim at getting for the working class ALL the wealth that labor produces.

To make sure that it is run by its members it refuses any check-off of union dues so that there will be no "taxation without representation." It gives no clique the power or motive to run it, for the power to make decisions, settle disputes, etc., is in the hands of the rank and file, and its avoidance of politics yields no motive for wanting to run it; and its salaries are kept to the average earnings of its members.

Organized capital has rigged things so that in this period of full employment and high profits, labor is living worse than it was during the war, worse than it has lived for many years. To cope with this situation, we need the up-to-date, scientific industrial unionism of the I.  W.  W.—the union built on the right idea.


The translation of this program from paper into living reality is YOUR job. The members of the I.  W.  W. are men just like you, railroad workers who are anxious to do something about our miserable wages and working conditions, and are willing to devote some time and energy to seeing that something is actually done about them. But they can no more give you the wages and working conditions and industrial form of organization outlined here than they can give you the moon. It's up to you to join and help get them.

What can be achieved by organizing right is far more than we have outlined here. By organizing your own industry right, you are helping the entire working class to organize right. And once the working class is organized democratically in One Big Union, it can have the kind of world you want to leave for your children, where the labor of man serves the common good, where a few hours' work each week provides abundance for all, where there is no more war or worry or fear or want. No disorganized, misorganized working class can have this; no rightly organized working class can be denied it. Your first step toward it is to organize yourself and your fellow workers.


If in this wide-spreading universe, there be a Great God of Justice, hear me!

Stiffen my watery spine: harden and straighten my loose and foolish mouth; put fire into my dull eyes.

Even the beasts of the field, even the despised mule hitched to the plow, struggles that their life may be better.

Redden my blood with the courage of man. Help me despise my own image in the mirror if willingly I clutter up the path of progress with my stupid meekness.

Unstop my ears to hear. Open my eyes to see the glorious earth that can be made by One Big Union, the abundance for all that can replace the private plunder of a few.

The sum of my prayer is: Give me sense enough to want plenty, and grit enough to go after it, for myself, my children, my wife, my fellow workers. Open the windows of my brain to the glory of it.

A Blind Worker

Organize and Educate

To build good unionism, join the I.  W.  W. To better acquaint yourself with its programs and to help you spread good union ideas, subscribe to its official publication.

Sooner or later railroad workers will be organized in one industrial union. You can join Railroad Workers Industrial Union then, and be a bit sheepish about it—or you can join now and be proud. That's entirely up to YOU.

Fill out these forms and either mail to the General Office of the I.  W.  W., 2422 N. Halsted, Chicago 14, Ill., or turn in to your local I.  W.  W. office: