Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The AFL and the IWW

I. AF of L, Gompers, and “Pure and Simple Unionism”

A. American Federation of Labor – established in 1886, in the aftermath of the Haymarket Square incident; provided an outlet for craft unions to distance themselves from the radicals arrested because of Haymarket.

1. Pure and Simple Unionism – emphasis upon so-called bread and butter issues—wages, working conditions. Accepted the capitalist system (which other working class movements did not do, including the Knights of Labor).

a. Need to control hiring practices – to maintain enough control to maintain wages and working conditions, workers had to maintain solidarity (by refusing to work at job sites that used non-union labor), and control the number of people who gained access to the trade.

b. The “Walking Boss” – craft unions developed system to police members and the companies that hired them—the business agent, or “walking boss.” BA’s job was to make sure that all of the craft people employed within a certain craft were union members; this left BA’s susceptible to bribes and “sweetheart” deals with firms.

2. Running a Labor Union like a business – AFL unions were often run on the business model, with up-to-date accounting practices, etc.

II. Labor Actions in the 1890s

A. Homestead (1892)

1. Carnegie’s “non-involvement” – Carnegie had not been an advocated of the non-union shop until the early 1890s, when he apparently began to feel that having union workers cost too much money.

a. Ford Clay Frick – Carnegie hired Frick, who had a reputation as a union buster, to run the operation at Homestead, and then left for an extended “vacation” at his newly purchased castle in Scotland.

b. Hiring of Pinkertons – Frick had retained the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency to protect the strikebreakers he expected to hire after locking out current employees at the plant, which had been “protected” by several miles of steel fencing.

2. The Defense of Homestead – Pinkertons were floated a barge downriver from Pittsburgh, expecting to take the workers in Homestead by surprise. Workers were expecting this maneuver, and after a pitched gun battle lasting several hours, workers of Homestead defeated the Pinkertons, who were then viciously beaten by townspeople by being made to run a gauntlet.

3. Aftermath – Pennsylvania militia sent in to “restore” peace, arrest “ringleaders.”

a. Attempted assassination of Frick – by anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Bergman

B. Coeur d’Alene – mining region in northern Idaho, which gave birth to the Western Federation of Miners.

1. 1st Strike – during 1892 mine owners organized themselves to resist miner’s insistence that they be paid $3.50/day. With the aid of a Pinkerton spy who had been able to infiltrate into the highest levels of the miners’ union (he was elected treasurer), the owners first locked out the miners during a rate dispute with the railroad. After the rate dispute was settled, the owners agreed to take back the miners; however, only skilled miners would receive the $3.50/day rate; unskilled miners would receive $3.00/day. The introduction of the steam powered drill had greatly reduced the demand for skilled miners. Miners struck in protest; mine owners brought in strikebreakers. Violence escalated until troops were called in; eventually, a combined state and federal force of 1500 was able to allow the strike to be broken. Union members were summarily arrested and held without trial in hastily constructed stockades called “bullpens.” Result was that miners became active in Populist politics in the state, and the Western Federation of Miners was founded.

2. 1899 “Dynamite Express” – the second Coeur d’Alene strike, in which a large group of miners (estimated at approximately 1000) hijacked a train and used it to transport themselves and a large amount of dynamite to the isolated town of Wardner, where they used the dynamite to blow up a breaker. State government in Idaho dismissed local officials, and asked for federal troops (the black 24th cavalry, just back from conquering San Juan Hill), so that the soldiers and miners would not fraternize). Miners again collected into bullpens; this time, however state takes more repressive measures, including requiring mine companies to use “yellow dog” contracts, which effectively breaks the control of the WFM in the state

a. Split in WFM leadership – this event caused a split in the WFM leadership; part of the group moves into socialist politics, while remaining in the union (the WFM eventually becomes Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers); the more radical left wing eventually evolves into the IWW.

b. Murder of former Governor Frank Stuenenberg – blame was laid to the WFM; Pinkertons were allowed to kidnap officers of the Union and transport them to Idaho for trial.

C. 1894 Pullman Strike

1. “Model town” of Pullman – George Pullman established his model city just south of Chicago, where he provided workers at his factory with housing, stores, schools, and places of worship—all owned by George Pullman.

2. Onset of the 1893 Depression – with the beginning of the depression, Pullman sought to cut costs by cutting his workforce, and by cutting the wages of those workers who remained. Pullman the landlord, however, refused to cut rent for those workers who were forced to remain in his housing, which eventually precipitated a strike in the spring of 1894.

3. Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union – Debs, a former officer in one of the Railroad Brotherhoods, came to see the need to organize railway workers on an industrial, rather than crafts basis. The reason for this was that railroad companies were able to play one set of craft workers against another, and undermine worker solidarity. 1894 ARU convention held in Chicago, voted to boycott any trains that Pullman Cars were attached to.

4. Breaking the strike – on the advice of Attorney General Olney, a former railroad attorney, companies begin attaching mail cars to trains with Pullman Cars, which the federal government then uses as a pretext to arrest union officials, including Gene Debs, for interfering with the US mails.

III. The AFL Alternative

A. Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) – the repression of the WFM led many members into socialist politics.

1. 1905 Founding Convention – “The working class and the owning class have nothing in common.”

2. Syndicalism – IWW used direct action, or sabotage, to fight for control of the workplace with management.

a. Refusal to sign contracts – IWW hostility to the capitalist system led them to refuse to sign contracts with management, which meant that they had to rely upon continued militancy to maintain concessions that they won during any particular labor action.

IV. Industrial Democracy

A) Definition – actually, there is no one definition of industrial democracy—it meant different things to different people. To workers, it meant that they would have a say in how a factory or other kind of business would be run. To owners of the factories and businesses, it meant that for the duration of the war they would tolerate government interference in the running of their business, in return for guaranteed profits—but only to the end of the war.

B) Different views of Industrial democracy
1) Americanization programs – largely under the control of the capitalist class, intended to make workers think and act like “Americans.”

(a) Banishment of German language newspapers – distribution of German language material through the mail was banished in 1917, which effectively ended the large German press in the United States.

(b) Company-sponsored programs

(i) Ford Motor Company – in the period just before the war, Ford introduced his famous “Five Dollars a Day” program, which he proposed to pay workers in his factories five dollars a day (about twice the then going rate for factory workers). To qualify, workers had to pass inspection from the Ford Social Department, who ensured that workers were living frugally and would not dissipate the salary that they were to receive. Immigrant workers, in addition to this, were also required to attend language classes if they did not speak English, and were lectured on work habits, personal hygiene, and table manners; they were also encouraged to move out of ethnic neighborhoods, and not to take in borders.

(ii) International Harvester Company.

(c) Loyalty organizations – groups like the American Protective League were formed by natives born to enforce their vision of Americanization upon the foreign born, as well as other natives who did not fit their vision of proper conduct.

(d) Restrictions on immigration – although the numbers of immigrants was not restricted by law until 1924, and the effect of that law did not come into effect until 1929 (when, due to the world-wide depression, immigration would have fallen off, anyway), restrictions were placed upon immigration before that time period.

(i) Literacy test – immigrants had to prove that they could read and write in their native language—a law the AFL staunchly supported. The law was passed by Congress over President Wilson’s veto

(e) Eighteenth Amendment – the amendment abolishing the manufacture (except for personal consumption), distribution, and sale of any alcoholic beverage. This concept had long been an aim of moralists in the country; what may have finally pushed the issue over the top was a backlash against the German American brewery owners who dominated the industry.

(f) Nineteenth Amendment – giving women the right to vote; this was another long political struggle that reached fruition by the end of hostilities in Europe. While this gave women the right to vote, most men who worked for passage did not expect this to change the political balance in the country, and it did not—the mostly middle class women who benefited most from this amendment voted in much the same way as the middle class men did. Leading women who worked for passage of this amendment went immediately to work on passage of an Equal Rights Amendment, meant to remove the remaining inequalities between women and men; most were not around to see Congress finally approve it in 1972, and practically none around to see its failure to pass muster among the states.

2) Industrial democracy for working people.
(a) Labor as a partner in society – the symbolic importance of the positions that AFL president Samuel Gompers held should not be discounted in importance; this gave the working people that he represented (the single largest group, and growing during this time period) the impression that they finally had some influence in government.

(b) Success of labor actions – with sympathetic members sitting on the War Labor Board, which was charged with adjudicating labor disputes, labor unions increasingly won recognition from companies, and modest wage increases for the workers they represented (which companies could afford to grant because many of them operated with “cost-plus” contracts from the Federal Government—which meant that the companies were guaranteed a certain level of profit).

V. Reaction to Industrial Democracy – after the signing of the Armistice, companies in the United States moved to rescind many of the agreements that had been reached during the war years.

A) 1919 Strike wave

1) Seattle General Strike – a strike instigated by the International Associations of Machinists, who represented shipbuilding workers in the city. Eventually, most workers in the city joined the machinists on strike, and a workers’ strike committee ended up running the city for three days—providing law enforcement, food distribution, and other essential services.

2) Rossford Ford Plate Glass strike – led by the IWW, began the same time as the Willys-Overland strike; strike leaders were swiftly arrested, and carted off to Wood County seat Bowling Green (with the assistance of a number of volunteer deputies recruited from the normal college there), where they were held largely incommunicado. Catholic school children were told that there parents would be excommunicated from church if they attended a strike rally in Toledo; management in the factory armed and deputized by county; after several weeks, with the assistance of strikebreakers, strike defeated.

3) Willys-Overland strike – Willys attempted to unilaterally impose a wage cut on workers; offered a profit-sharing scheme to workers, which was rejected. When wage cut imposed anyway (in the form of a longer work day with no increase in wage), many workers walk off job at normal quitting time; workers are fired, and strike called. Workers from Lagrange Street area board westbound streetcars on Central, all workers who cannot produce a Chevrolet work badge are made to get off the streetcar. Strikebreakers are hired, and housed within the company compound; strikers surround compound. Sweeping injunction granted after North Carolina auto dealer claims business adversely effected.

4) Steel strike – AFL made concerted attempt to organize steel workers during the war, and this attempt continued during period just after the war. Most success occurred in the area around Chicago, and result encouraged attempts to organize workers in the Pittsburgh area. Leadership of this drive was given to former Wobbly William Z. Foster, who had headed up a similar drive on the behalf of the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butchers to organize packinghouse workers in Chicago area. Steel companies refused to negotiate; used Foster’s syndicalist past to discredit him, and eventually crush the strike.

5) Boston Police Strike – walkout of the Boston Police force led to widespread looting and general lawlessness; Governor of Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge orders the firing of the entire police force, and mobilizes the state militia to police the city. This strike, perhaps more than any of the other of the hundreds that occurred, scared those in power most.

B) Reaction of governing elite

1) Red Scare – led by US Attorney General (and Presidential wannabee) Mitchell Palmer, a nationwide coordinated attack against known and suspected radicals took place in early January 1920, when hundreds were arrested, with a suspension of the rights of habeas corpus; some of those arrested are deported on minor violations; some of those who were American citizens—like Big Bill Haywood—jumped bail and left the country (Haywood fled to the Soviet Union, and is buried in the wall of the Kremlin).

2) Institution of the “American Plan” – this plan was part carrot, and part stick. While unions were unwanted in the workplace, in many factories the indiscriminate powers of the foreman were curtailed, and powers to hire and fire were given instead to newly instituted personnel departments.

(a) Power of foremen curtailed

(b) Institution of personnel departments

(c) Grievance procedures

(d) Profit-sharing and stock options plans

(e) No collective bargaining, however


V. Conclusion

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