City central councils

An short piece about IWW structure that expands on one aspect of an article that appeared in the June 1920 issue of The One Big Union Monthly.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on September 20, 2014

In the past we have been so busy building the productive and distributive organs of the future-the industrial unions with their branches and councils--that we have had little time to devote to another equally important function of the job branches, namely as the basis of local and regional administration. But we need not only organs of production and distribution. We must also have local administration to begin with and regional administration in the second place. Such an organ is the City Central Council, pictured on the Hardy chart as a representative local body, drawing its members from the various job branches. This council will have nothing directly to do with production but will function as intermediary between the job branches for purposes of local administration. It will take over most of the functions of the present city councils, but will in addition have many functions growing out of the change from private ownership to communism. So far we have had little use for these City Central Councils except as a body to handle the question of joint local propaganda for all the branches, such as renting of a common hall and office, handling literature and arranging meetings and entertainments, etc. But these functions are apt to be immensely widened almost any moment without any particular effort on our side. That capitalism is about to collapse completely nobody denies. Production and distribution are breaking down daily. Capitalism is making a failure of almost every branch of human activity. Particularly dangerous is the railway and coal situation. The capitalist press is making no secret of the fact that even if a railroad settlement is now effected, which is by no means sure, the railroads will not even approximately be able to get in shape in time to handle the crops. Famine stares us in the face in the near future. If railroad transportation breaks down all industries will suffer. They will have to shut down, and more particularly for the reason that there is little or no coal available. People in an authoritative position are repeatedly warning us that there will be a coal shortage this winter, that factories will have to shut down and that people will freeze. It is these very things that constitute the collapse of capitalism. Add to this that conditions in Europe are much worse and tend to drag American capitalism along to destruction, and we may without drawing too much on imagination say, that the collapse here is impending.

No chain is stronger than its weakest links, and the rail and coal situation are two links that are ready to snap.

All modern governments depend for their existence on taxes. If capitalism collapses, taxes will soon cease to flow. There will be little or no revenue for the governments. No capitalist government, local, state or national, can exist without revenue. When capitalism collapses the various governments will soon follow. They will be unable to function. The administration of our cities will go to pieces. Streets, light, water, schools, courts, institutions---all of these items of local administration will be stranded.

In Chicago f. i. the local government has been in a state of collapse for some time past. City employees of all kinds, including police and firemen have repeatedly gone on strike. The city had in sufficient revenue to keep going.

People will become desperate from suffering and disorder. The bad elements, the same ones who lynch Negroes or start race riots or raid I. W. W. halls, will get out their guns and begin a reign of terror like in Centralia, with this difference that they will have no organized production and distribution to fall back on. Banditry itself on a large scale (such as Villa's) will be impossible. Then people will grasp at straws for their salvation. They will try the A. F. of L. labor councils in many cities as an organ of local administration. It will be better than nothing, but unless it speedily regroups the workers industrially so they can take over production and distribution through their unions, they will make a failure of their administration.

Only a council elected by the workers in the shop or the place of work, penetrates with its power to the bottom of society and draws its inspiration from the whole people, and is in touch with living life. The modern governments are not in touch with the masses. Only such a City Central Council will enjoy the confidence of the people as a whole sufficiently to restore order without bloodshed. Only such a council will have the means at hand of running a city administration without collecting taxes. It will base the administration on an exchange of services.

While we may have no immediate use for such councils in some places, the question of organizing them should be taken up, to be ready for an emergency. We must not allow capitalism to crush us in its fall. We may not have time to organize any considerable portion of the cities before the great crash. But the start we have will serve as a nucleus around which we can in an emergency manner group representatives from all occupations until such time as we have a chance to thoroughly organize them for productive and distributive. purposes. Thus the City Central Council will not differ very much from the Russian soviets at the time w'hen capitalism and capitalist governmenlt broke down in Russia.

These City Central Councils are bound to become the basic units of the local administration of the near future.

In England the workers have suddenly awakened to the necessity of immediate action in this regard. They are now organizing the same kind of bodies under the name of Social Committees in Scotland and Social Soviets in England.

In Sweden the syndicalist organization has from the start built for local administration rather than for productive and distributive purposes. The local samorganizations of the Swedes will serve like a charm as organs of local administration, while they still have a good deal to do before they get their productive and distributive organs in shape.

In Germany the Labor Exchanges correspond most nearly to our City Central Councils, the English Social Soviets, and the Swedish Local Samorganizations. In Latin Europe they also have their labor exchanges. (Bourse du travail, camera del lavoro, etc.) Everywhere the workers are getting ready for the great crash which they see coming. The penalty for neglecting it will be severe.

There is one danger attending this work.

Some people may become so captivated with the idea of making a body of local administration, no matter how it is made up, that the professional politician will get too much play and precipitate us into revolutionary adventures a la left wing. It is always a good rule to keep the politicians out. All they want is power and wealth without going the legitimate way in getting it.

The proper way to go about it, is to organize one shop after another, one place of work after another. As the number of job branches grows, the City Central Council grows by having new members added. Every shop branch that sends delegates adds to its power. Thus we secure a natural and organic growth of the future organ of administration, which leaves no room for the professional politician to get in, except he works as a useful producer.

Henceforth we have, consequently, to build in two directions. We have to hurry to build our industrial unions, in order to have new organs of production and distribution when capitalist production collapses, and we have to build City Central Councils so as to have organs of local administration when capitalist administration, built as it is on private property and taxes, comes down in a heap.

Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield. Taken from an page no longer online, but available in