Chapter 2: form of the organization

Submitted by Juan Conatz on April 18, 2015

The I.W.W. believes that it offers a form which will make labor invincible. This form of organization will make industrial democracy a reality. Industrial democracy, in turn, will make possible a better world. It will make society an harmonious whole, intelligently working for the good of all. It believes that this result will be obtained when the workers, rather than capitalists or political dictators, decide what is to be produced and what is to become of the product. Its contention is that democracy is possible only in industry of the people, by the people and for the people. Under the I.W.W. industry will be governed by democratically selected representatives from industrial instead of territorial groupings. It claims that its principles are an adaptation of those of Robert Owen, that essentially it aims at replacing the capitalist state based on territory and property by a workers' administration based on occupation, or industrial union lines. It intends its organization to be such that by education, promotion of a comprehension of business, and fraternal, public spirit, it can prepare the worker for a gradual transition from the wage system to the cooperative method of production of the future, which will have the purpose not only of meeting industrial needs but also of meeting social requirements. It desires that industry be administered according to the wisdom of the workers most basically and directly concerned. The workers will be their own employers, their own capitalists, their own beneficiaries.

According to the I.W.W. industry is divided into six major departments. In order that the union may be organized in conformance with industry, it is also broken into six departments. The following pages present the details of this organization.1

Department No. 100
Agriculture and Fisheries

Agricultural Workers' Industrial Union No. 110
All workers on farms, ranches, orchards, cotton and sugar plantations. All workers engaged in the raising of cattle, livestock, fowl, bird diary farms, etc.

Lumber Workers' Industrial Union No. 120
All workers in forests (rangers, foresters, etc.). All workers engaged in lumbering operations, in saw and shingle mills, and preparing wood for fuel and manufacturing purposes; collectors of sap, bark, etc.

Fishery Workers' Industrial Union No. 130
All workers in fishery and fishing pursuits on oceans, lakes and rivers; oyster and clam-bed keepers. All workers engaged in collecting pearls, corals and sponges, etc.

Floricultural Workers' Industrial Union No. 140
All workers engaged in nurseries, hothouses, etc., mainly devoted to flower production, in the distribution of flowers, in landscape gardening, etc.

Department No. 200
Mining and Minerals

Metal Mine Workers' Industrial Union No. 210
All workers engaged in mining of gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, tin, platinum, iron, etc., in mills, smelters, refineries. and other reduction works. This division also includes quarry workers, such as those engaged in mining of salt, sulphur, clay, borax, mica, bromide, graphite, soda, gypsum, asphalt, limestone, sandstone, whetstone, marble, onyx, slates, building stone, granite, etc. All precious gems, salines, salt and soda dry works, etc.

Coal Mine Workers' Industrial Union No. 220
All workers engaged in coal mining, lignite, anthracite, bituminous, etc. in the production of coke, briquettes, peat and turf, and in the distribution of these products.

Oil Workers' Industrial Union No. 230
All workers engaged in the production of oil, and in refineries, gas wells, filters, etc., and in the distribution of these products.

Department No. 300

General Construction Workers' Industrial Union No. 310
All workers engaged in the construction of highways, streets docks, railroads, bridges, subways, sewers, tunnels, levees, canals, viaducts, air fields, dams, irrigation ditches, etc.

Shipbuilding Workers' Industrial Union No. 320
All workers engaged in the building and repairing of ships, launches, boats of all kinds; dry dock workers, etc.

Building Construction Workers' Industrial Union No. 330
All workers engaged in the erection and construction of buildings and the direct supply of building materials; or in their repair except when employed as maintenance workers.

Department No. 400
Manufacture and General Production

Textile and Clothing Workers' Industrial Union No. 410
All workers engaged in the manufacture of threads, yarns, of fabrics, or in dyeing them, or in the manufacture of knitted wears, or of synthetic substitutes.

All workers engaged in the manufacture of garments, including sewn clothing, gloves, hats, caps, furs, etc. and in the supply of their accessories.

All workers producing other textile products, as cotton belting, rope, awnings, etc.

All workers employed in laundries, cleaning and dyeing establishments, and the repair of garments, etc.

Furniture Workers' Industrial Union No. 420
All workers employed in planing mills, molding factories etc. not attached to sawmills; or the production of furniture, etc., whether of wood or other materials, including pianos, organs, etc., bowling and billiard equipment, and most sporting goods; phonographs, radios, etc.

Chemical Workers' Industrial Union No. 430
All workers engaged in the manufacture and distribution of drugs, medicines, perfumes and kindred products.

All workers in the production of rubber goods and synthetic substitutes, etc., and in the distribution of these products.

All workers engaged in the production of explosives and their allied products, and the production of industrial chemicala. etc.

Metal and Machinery Workers' Industrial Union No. 440
All workers engaged in steel mills, blast furnaces, rolling mills, tin-plate mills, etc.

All workers engaged in the production of machinery including electrical equipment, locomotives, autos, airplanes, industrial and household equipment, etc.

All workers engaged in the production of sheets, tubes, castings, etc., of non-ferrous metals.

All workers engaged in making household utensils, watches and clocks or musical and scientific instruments.

Printing and Publishing Workers' Industrial Union No. 450
All workers engaged in the production and direct distribution of newspapers and other periodicals, whether employed in the editorial, art, business or mechanical departments.

All workers employed in other printing establishments, in concerns printing periodicals for their publishers, and in allied work as photo-engraving, bookbinding, etc.

Foodstuff Workers' Industrial Union No. 460
All workers engaged in the manufacture of foods, as in meat and fish packing plants, canneries, sugar refineries, cheese and condensed milk factories, and dairies, including their distribution workers.

All workers employed in flour, cereal and feed mills; bakeries and biscuit factories, confectioners; breweries, wineries, distilleries, and plants producing carbonated and other beverages, and workers engaged in the direct distribution of these or allied products such as yeast, malt, etc.; tobacco factories; establishments for preparing and packaging teas, coffees, spices and other groceries.

Leather Workers' Industrial Union No. 470
All workers engaged in tanneries, etc.; in making boots, shoes, and harness; in the production of trunks, bags, belts and all other leather goods.

Glass and Pottery Workers' Industrial Union no. 480
All workers engaged in the manufacture of glass products; in the production of pottery, porcelain, chinaware; cement plants brickyards, tile and terra cotta workers, etc.

Pulp and Paper Mill Workers' Industrial Union No. 490
All workers engaged in pulp and paper mills, in making paper containers, etc.

Department No. 500

Transportation and Communication

Marine Transport Workers' Industrial Union No. 510
All workers engaged in loading and unloading of vessels.

All workers engaged in the operation of ocean, river, lake and harbor crafts. This includes all workers, in all departments aboard ships.

All workers on docks, wharves, etc.

Railroad Workers' Industrial Union No. 520
All workers employed by railroads in the operation of their service, whether they operate trains, repair and clean rolling stock, maintain the roadbed and equipment, work in the office, or watch as a crossing.

Motor Transport Workers' Industrial Union No. 530
All workers engaged in general trucking and inter-urban bus lines, including the warehouses, garages, etc. incident to this industry. (Note: The truckdriver employed by a factory or store belongs in the industrial union of his fellow employees.)

Municipal Transportation Workers' Industrial Union No. 540
All workers employed in street car, bus elevated, or subway service; taxi drivers, and any truckers or draymen, etc., not attached to specific industries.

Air Transport Workers' Industrial Union No. 550
All workers employed in the maintenance of this service, whether in its direct operation, in repairs and maintenance of airfields and equipment, in offices or attendant services.

Communication Workers' Industrial Union No. 560
All workers engaged in communication service, such as postal, telephone, telegraph, radio, television, etc., and the maintenance of the same.

Department No. 600

Public Service

Health Service Workers' Industrial Union No. 610
All workers employed by hospitals, sanatorium, etc., including physicians, attendants, clerks, janitors, etc.

All workers employed by bath and massage establishments, barbers, beauticians, . etc.

All workers employed in sanitation, garbage disposals, etc.

Educational Workers' Industrial Union No. 620
All workers engaged by institutions of learning, schools, colleges, libraries, museums, research services, etc.

Recreation Workers' Industrial Union No.630
All workers engaged in the production of motion pictures, (actors, mechanics, etc.) or in the operation of motion picuure theatres; and all workers engaged in other theatres as actors, singers, musicians, stage-hands, ushers, etc.

All wage earning musicians not otherwise classified.

All workers at amusement parks, circuses, and other places of recreation.

Hotel, Restaurant, and Building Service Workers' Industrial Union No. 640
All employees of restaurants, hotels, public cafeterias, etc.

All domestic help.

All workers engaged in maintenance, servicing and cleaning of office buildings, apartment houses, etc.

Park and Highway Maintenance Workers' Industrial Union No. 650
All workers employed in maintenance of streets, roads, parks, zoos, cemeteries, golf courses, etc.

General Distribution Workers' Industrial Union No. 660

All employees in stores, warehouses, Wholesale establishments including delivery service.

All employees of banks, insurance companies, etc.

All employees of advertising agencies, etc.

All wage earners engaged in general salvage and junking.

Public Service Workers' Industrial Union No. 670
All workers employed in such services as water supply, gas and power plants, central heating plants, and similar public services.

The industrial unionism advocated by the I.W.W. stresses the following basic rules:

1.All workers on the same job, regardless of craft, belong in the same job organization.

2.All workers in the same industry belong in the same industrial union.

3.All members of these industrial unions belong directly as members of the One Big Union of the entire working class.

4.Any worker changing his job is entitled to transfer free of charge to the industrial union covering his new employment-- "once a union man, always a union man."

5.No part of the labor movement should accept any obligation to work on materials furnished by strikebreakers, or to furnish material for them, or to fill the orders that strikers were supposed to fill; or cross any picket line, or aid in any way to break the strike of any group of workers.2

It is noteworthy that the I.W.W. emphasizes the importance of the job or work place in this organization. As they put it, "The job is the worker's State, the medium by and through which he will introduce reforms and the new society." They liken the job or shop to a cell which in turn is part of the union of the industry involved, possibly as a local branch. The industrial union is then connected with other industrial unions in a district council. The industrial councils are in turn bound together in the One Big Union. The division into different industrial unions is not to be construed as separating them. They compare their organization chart to a wheel. The lines between the sections are not lines of division, but spokes binding the different groups together.

They claim that all members are directly members of the One Big Union and have a right to participate in the determination of policies of the whole union as well as a vote in the election of the general officers. In addition, they have the right to participate in the affairs of their own industrial union, and free transfer rights from one group to another. At the same time, members can not participate in the affairs of a part of the I. W. W. to which they do not belong. Their immediate organization is the job or branch at the place at which they work. Each part of the I.W.W. is self-governing as long as its performance is not in conflict with the general constitution or by-laws.

On a given job or in a particular shop, the I.W.W. members hold meetings, consider grievances, wage and other demands to be made of the employer, and also discuss social problems and their solution. The shop organization elects a committee to act for it, but such a committee has no authority to conclude any settlement without the approval of the shop organization. One of the advantages of the shop organization device is that it encourages understanding on the part of the workers of the technical problems of the industry and thus prepares them for management when capitalism collapses. In addition this democratic rank-and-file control stimulates members to take a more active interest in union matters, as compared to the method of management by business agents.

In preparation for their management of industry the I.W.W. has made studies of the technical processes of a few manufacturers with the intention of writing manuals so that the workers could be educated in the "know how” of the various industries. This project was later postponed indefinitely. In the woolen industry, for example, the woolen factories of the country were studied. Charts were made up classifying them as to capacity of output, nearness to sources of supply, manufacturing techniques, nearness to markets, etc.

The principal organizing goals of the I.W.W. are solidarity and efficiency. They desire all the workers at a given plant or place of business to be in the same union, but at the same time workers with certain common skills should be able to unite in order to advance their common purposes. For example, the I.W.W. cites the case of hospital workers. Although all the workers at the hospital should be in the same union, anyone group such as laundry workers will be free to join with other laundry workers in promoting common demands. On the other hand, although the staff of an industrial cafeteria, the mess department of a ship, and the kitchen department of a logging camp have much in common, they might find it more effective to be in the same union as the factory workers, seamen and lumberjacks, respectively. Gas station attendants might find it more satisfactory to join with the workers at the refineries rather than with store clerks in their locality. At any rate in the I.W.W. the problem of proper jurisdiction is unimportant. The workers at a given workplace decide for themselves with which group they will be affiliated. The important thing is that they are all members of the same union and assist each other in any way practicable whenever the need arises. The workers at a particular plant are united together regardless of craft, and as a group they associate themselves with whatever other groups they can bargain or strike with most effectively.

The I.W.W. believes that the labor movement has been hampered considerably by faulty organization in the past. It feels, of course, that it has found the answer as to proper principles of organization. It is interested in a united working class and is, therefore, very much opposed to any kind of discrimination, whether it be on the basis of skill, race, religion or political allegiance. Solidarity and democracy are its underlying principles. Joseph J. Ettor, a prominent “Wobbly” in the days of the Lawrence textile strikes, expressed the essentials of the I.W.W. philosophy as follows:

The days that have just passed have demonstrated the power of the workers. The power of the capitalists is based on property. Property makes them all powerful, socially and politically. Because of it they control the institutions of attack and defense; they have the laws, the army, everything. They can employ agents to go around to plant dynamite and to provoke disorder among the workers, in order to defeat them. In spite of all that, the workers have something still more powerful. The workers' power, the one thing more powerful than all the property, all the machine guns, all the gallows, and everything on the other side, is the common bond of solidarity, of purpose, of ideals. Our love for solidarity, our purpose and our affection for one another as workers, binds us more solidly and tighter than do all the bombs and dynamite the capitalists have at their disposal. If the workers of the world want to win, all that they have to do is to recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists. As long as the workers keep their hands in their pockets the capitalists cannot put theirs there. With passive resistance, with the workers absolutely refusing to move, lying absolutely silent, they are more powerful than all the weapons and instrument that the other side have for protection and attack.3

The administrative organization of the I.W.W. is in conformity with its basic ideal that the rank and file workers should control; that democracy requires that the control be by, not over, the workers. Hence, there is no President nor Vice President, nor any other officer of similar importance with a different title. On several occasions when asked "Who is your leader?" the true I.W.W. has replied: "We have no leader. This is an organization run by its members, the workers." Administrative work is taken care by the General Executive Board, particularly the General Secretary, whose functions will be described shortly.

Several safeguards have been established to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of one individual or in a small group. For instance, no officer is elected for more than one year at a time. No officer may be elected for more than three successive terms. The shop committee at a particular plant is elected by the workers at that plant. This shop committee acts only under the direction of the shopworkers. It can conclude no agreement nor settlement with the employer without the approval of the shop organization.

The workers of several plants within an industry may decide to establish an industrial union; or, the workers of plants in different districts within the same industry may decide to set up district industrial unions; or, those in different industries may ally in an industrial department. In any of the above situations all officers are elected by the workers immediately concerned. The General Secretary-Treasurer is nominated and elected by a general referendum ballot in which each I.W.W. is entitled to participate. The General Executive Board is nominated and elected in the same manner.

The functions of the General Executive Board are executive not legislative in nature. It coordinates the activities of the member unions, supervises the press and publications of the I.W.W., and manages the education of members in I.W.W. principles. The members of this board serve without pay except when engaged in organization work. The amount of pay at such times is decided upon by the membership of the unions concerned. The board is in continuous session by mail. It meets whenever called by its chairman or one of the industrial unions to take up an issue needing attention between conventions.

Each industrial union may elect a General Organization Committee, whose function is primarily that of organizing. Local organizers or job delegates may be appointed by this committee upon approval of the membership. Generally, he is a worker on a dob which the union is desirous of organizing. It is his function to organize the shop. He accepts new members, instructs them in I.W.W. principles, supplies them with dues books and literature. When the shop is sufficiently organized, he calls a meeting and initiates the election of the shop committee. However, job delegates are not limited to a particular shop or industry. They are empowered to accept members for any of the industrial unions included in the I.W.W. The I.W.W. attempts to avoid the use of professional organizers by using only the workers on the job which is being organized.

The chief duties of the General Secretary-Treasurer are the managing of central headquarters, known as the Clearing House, processing correspondence, and supervising whatever bookkeeping and general clerical work needs to be done. The expense of operating the Clearing House is divided among all the industrial unions in proportion to membership.

No officer has the power to call strikes on or off. Such action is taken only upon vote of the members. Any officer is subject to recall by majority vote. The I.W.W. is opposed to the "check-off”. It feels that this device is injurious to unionism because it tends to divorce the job committee from the members. It believes that the union representative is more likely to become acquainted with the members' grievances and their satisfaction with the union's handling of grievances and other demands by personal contact in the collection of dues. The I.W.W. has noted that some companies have expressed preference for the "check-off" for opposite reasons. The I.W.W. thinks the "power of the purse" can be kept under the control of the rank and file better if there is no "check-off”.

  • 1One Big Union Page XIII
  • 2Ibid Page XXIV
  • 3I.W.W. Theory and Practice Pages 80 and 81