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Mistaken Identity: the Tortured History of Sabotage, Part 1

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, March 3, 2016

The IWW has long been associated, for better or worse, with the tactic of "sabotage", so much so that it has become an essential part of the Wobbly lexicon (even though the tactic predates the IWW by at least a century). As I have detailed elsewhere1, the radical environmental movement, initiated principally, though not exclusively, by Earth First!, beginning in the very late 1970s in the United States, drew much cultural inspiration from the One Big Union (and to a much lesser degree, some of its economic critique of capitalism). One of the most celebrated such "borrowings" was the strategy of direct action.

A classic IWW slogan, which appeared on many of the IWW's literature and imagery, reads "direct action gets the goods". The black cat or the wooden shoe (otherwise known as a "sabot"), often associated with the IWW, symbolizes "sabotage," and these same symbols and slogans would later appear in Earth First! literature and iconography.

Earth First! cofounder, Dave Foreman popularized "monkeywrenching" (sometimes also called "ecofefense"), a series or class of tactics involving small bands of anonymous guerillas entering into wilderness areas slated to be developed or have their resources extracted and vandalized the equipment that was to be used in the process or set traps that would hamper the same equipment from smooth and timely operations. This has often been called sabotage (or sometimes ecotage).

However, sabotage and monkeywrenching are not the same thing. In fact, many who practice, or at least preach, using the latter do not understand the difference, and economic conditions which led to the adoption of the former by workers. Indeed, may of them don't understand sabotage at all, and that's no coincidence. What most people have heard or read about the IWW and "sabotage" is fairly inaccurate, and most accounts are more romantic fiction than historical fact.

Most popular definitions of Sabotage are Wrong

How many times have people heard the following explanations for the origin of the term "sabotage" (uttered in the Hollywood movie, Star Trek VI, the Undiscovered Country, by Spock's "protoge", Valeris of all contexts):

400 years ago on the planet Earth, workers who felt their livelihood threatened by automation flung their wooden shoes, called sabots, into the machines to stop them. Hence, the word "sabotage."

That's a colorful historical account, often repeated, except that it's entirely wrong. In actual fact, the word sabot is French for wooden shoe, deriving from the word bot (similar to the English "boot", naturally), but the story of workers flinging them into the machines is entirely apocryphal.2 In France, those that tended to wear sabots, which are very cumbersome and clunky footwear, tended to walk inefficiently and clumsily. Sabotage actually referred to an entire class of tactics that facilitated the workers consciously and collectively withdrawing their efficiency at the point of production, as if walking on wooden shoes, and this could be done a number of ways, including simply engaging in a strike.

The IWW, being a revolutionary, anti-capitalist, class struggle union certainly embraced sabotage in that sense, and published at least two thoroughly descriptive pamphlets on sabotage:

As one can plainly surmise, very rarely--if ever--did workers engage in actions that deliberately damaged the means of production, including tossing their shoes into it, and there is a very good reason for that: during the period of history when workers' organizations openly advocated sabotage, they were very deeply steeped in both Marxist and Syndicalist political-economic theory, both of which held that the working class had an historical imperative to collectively seize possession of the machinery of production from the capitalist class, thereby abolishing capitalism once and for all, and reorganizing society along socialist or anarchist principals, where production for the profit of the employing class would be replaced by production for the needs and desires of all. It makes little strategic sense to destroy the machines you wish to ultimately own.

As one would likely expect, the capitalist class did not take too kindly to notion that the working class aimed to overthrow their overlords and reorganize society, and considered sabotage a substantial threat. The Wobblies knew this, of course. In fact, being identified as a union member at all (IWW or otherwise) in many contexts was enough to find oneself jobless, homeless, or in danger of being lynched and murdered (depending on the circumstances), because, in those days, the right to join a union was not protected by law in the United States, Canada, and most other nations. To make matters worse, the bosses (then as now) cultivated stooges among the workers who would report potential "troublemakers" to the boss, in order for the latter to thwart union organizing efforts by their employees.

To escape detection, the Wobblies (and others) developed both spoken and visual slang, much of which became part of historical IWW lore, and some of which entered into popular consciousness and persists even to this day, though many are not aware of its connection to the IWW. The idea of "sabotage" is one of these, but there were many ways in which the concept was cleverly disguised by the Wobblies back in the day.

Perhaps the most famous example was the use of the black cat, which is now universally recognized among radicals as symbolizing sabotage (or, at least direct action). The cat even has a name: "Sabo-cat" (or just "Sab-cat"). None other than Ralph Chaplin--who also wrote labor's most famous anthem, Solidarity Forever3, which was, in fact, a musical distillation of the concept of the general strike, described in great prosaic detail by both Ralph Chaplin and Big Bill Haywood elsewhere--came up with the icon in the first place. Originally, however, the symbol wasn't a sable feline, but a tabby, and Chaplin no doubt intended that to serve as a visual pun, and if one were to check early IWW texts, one will find that Sabo-cat is also sometimes called "Sabo-tabby" which rhymes with Sabotage if the "e" isn't left silent.4 However, sketching tabby markings likely proved a tedious exercise, so the symbol quickly evolved into the black cat we now recognize as the IWW mascot and symbol.

The IWW utilized sabotage, in the general sense, as described by Gurley-Flynn and Smith, to great effect, and this caused the employing class no shortage of consternation. Examples of this included everything from IWW organized workers consciously slowing down on the job, to satirical newspapers purporting to be issues of capitalist publications (but were instead, actually published by the Wobblies as close but obvious copies offering the workers' perspective), to the reworking of Salvation Army Hymns (by Wobbly troubadours, such as Joe Hill) to offer secular class struggle lyrics instead of religious peonage to the employing class.

However, at no time did the IWW ever advocate, nor was the IWW ever conclusively connected with "sabotage" in the sense of destroying machines, engaging in significant property damage, committing arson, or carrying out other destructively insurrectionary acts (though IWW members often took place in--mostly nonviolent--insurrections as individuals and generally supported such uprisings if organized by the working class in opposition to capitalism, even if they were critical of them being generally disorganized and unstrategic). The employing class tried to pin such wildly destructive acts--which did occur from time to time--on the IWW, and if that weren't sufficient, they would spread wildly exaggerated and inaccurate accounts of actual IWW sabotage being thusly destructive when it wasn't, or they would simply spread rumors and falsehoods implying that engaging in wildly destructive acts was the IWW's modus operandi.

How the Yellow Socialists enabled the Capitalist Repression of the IWW

As a result of this (and other factors) the Wobblies were controversial, even among the rest of the North American left. Within the ranks of the Socialist Party--which represented the primary organization to which most of the US left belonged until the rise of Bolshevism in 1917 and subsequent splits between Marxists and anarchists following that--an ongoing battle simmered between the party's "red" revolutionary left wing and "yellow" reformist right wing. The red faction very much supported the IWW and revolutionary syndicalism (and many of its adherents were IWW members, such as Vincent St John and Big Bill Haywood), whereas the yellow faction supported social democratic parties, incrementalism, and working within the ranks of the American Federation of Labor (which later became the AFL-CIO when the former merged with the CIO which was created in the 1930s).

One of the primary bludgeons that the yellow Socialists constantly directed at the Reds was the IWW's advocacy of sabotage (again, meaning organized direct action and conscious collective withdrawal of efficiency by the workers at the point of production, not vandalism or property destruction). Ostensibly these were genuine disagreements over strategy, i.e. the reds supporting syndicalism and revolutionary socialism versus the reformist social democracy favored by the yellow faction, but there's no doubt that it's also true that the presence of skilled professionals and technocrats among the latter influenced some of these fights. The yellows included a lot of what today might be "professional organizers", including the heads of left-leaning union bureaucrats, environmental NGOs, and party bosses (and, to be certain, there were insurrectionist elements within the greater left and anarchist milieu who would certainly align themselves with the red, syndicalist faction, even if the reds didn't always welcome these unpredictable allies, a point that the yellows would also use as means to marginalize the reds). The IWWs would counter, with no shortage of justification, that the yellows sought to capture the leadership of the AFL rather than build a revolutionary organization and th every presence of the IWW represented a threat to that.

This battle raged for the first decade of the IWW's existence, from 1905-1913, and while the IWW was busy battling the bosses in the mines, mills, and factories as well as out in the forests, fields, and on the seas, they had to battle the yellow socialists within the ranks of the Socialist Party. The latter was not adverse to accusing the IWW of the same destructive acts that the employing class often tried to pin on the Wobblies, and the yellow socialists' claims were no less untrue. In actual fact, the AFL was far more apt to engage in the acts of vandalism and property destruction, for real, but this either escaped the yellow socialists' notice, or they chose not to care, because it wasn't such acts that the reformists opposed, but revolutionary syndicalism itself (a point the IWW kept trying to raise). Though truth was on the rise of the revolutionaries, they ultimately lost the battle, when, in 1913 in an undemocratic, fixed election controlled and dominated by the yellow faction, an organized faction of the party recalled Big Bill Haywood from its National Executive Committee and subsequently passed a resolution against sabotage within the Socialist Party.5

Ironically, it was the real version of sabotage that the bosses feared the most. The capitalist class could and often does withstand acts of vandalism, property destruction, and even occasional outbursts of arson. Such things are generally much more common that people realize. It's quite common for rank and file workers to pilfer items from the workplace or some of the manufactured product (and most of the time they get away with it, and the boss even tolerates it to a point, but is nevertheless always willing and ready to bring down the hammer on any worker they wish to terminate, should the situation make it strategically advantageous for them to do so). It's also quite common for workers to engage in individually destructive acts to vent frustration at being an exploited wage slave, even if they lack class consciousness (which, more often then not, they do. In all likelihood, the more class conscious workers are those that engage in such actions rarely or not at all). A collectively organized resistance to capitalist discipline at the point of production is far more dangerous to employing class, because the latter represents a significant threat to the capitalist profit margin. For that reason, the bosses declared war on the IWW, and ironically followed the lead of the yellow faction of the Socialist Party to do so.

In an instance of fortuitous timing for the employing class, the entry of the United States into World War I gave them the conditions they needed to increase repression on the IWW, and utilize the power of the state--almost entirely a tool of the bosses anyway--against them. Already alarmed at the IWW's growing popularity among the working class (in spite of interference and obfuscation from the reformist socialists and AFL), and the IWW's having begun to win significant victories by engaging in revolutionary industrial unionist activity, most significantly in the wheat belt of the Great Plains states between 1915-17, the capitalists sized upon the outspoken opposition to World War I among vocal leaders of the Wobblies (though the IWW officially took no stance for or against the war). Stoking hostility to the IWW using jingoistic hysteria, suggesting that the organization--whose membership was composed of workers from all nationalities and ethnicities, including Scandinavians, eastern Europeans, Asians, and Blacks--was a tool of the German Kaiser (an utter falsehood, but an often repeated one), and using the language crafted by the yellow wing of the Socialist Party, the employing class successfully enacted "Criminal Syndicalism" and "Criminal Anarchism" laws in many US states and used the latter to repress the IWW and imprison much of its leadership in an organized campaign.

As Ralph Chaplin later recounted in his autobiography, Wobbly (pp. 206-07):

Even after the war was declared, [Big Bill Haywood] fought to the last to the last ditch for reprinting Elisabeth Gurley Flynn’s Sabotage...It was never reprinted. Saner counsel prevailed. Frank Little was voted down by the General Executive Board. Bill Heywood (sic) had his way again in the matter of proscribing the ‘Black Cat’ I was using rather freely in cartoons. My "Sab Cat" was supposed to symbolize the "slow down" as a means of "striking on the job."

The whole matter of sabotage was to be thrashed out thoroughly at our trial. There is no doubt that our advocacy of it as a class-war weapon contributed to the jury’s hasty and unanimous verdict of guilty. The evidence, as interpreted by the prosecution, was against us, but the facts in the case were not. Gurley Flynn’s pamphlet, for instance, was a brief restatement of the type of sabotage advocated by European anarchists and syndicalists from which the IWW had adopted only a few features applicable to conditions in the USA (emphasis added).

The word 'sabotage' is derived from the French word 'sabot', wooden shoe. in the France of the previous era wooden shoes were (allegedly) dropped into machines by striking workmen ready to walk off the job. In the course of time this practice was extended to the use of monkey wrenches, explosives, or emory powder.

The prosecution used the historic meaning of the word to prove that we drove spikes into logs, copper tacks into fruit trees, and practiced all manner of arson, dynamiting and wanton destruction (emphasis added). Thanks to our own careless use of the word, the prosecution’s case seemed plausible to the jury and the public. We had been guilty of using both the "wooden shoe" and the "Black Cat" to symbolize our strategy of "striking on the job." The "sabotage" advocated in my cartoons and stickerettes was summed up in the widely circulated jingle:

The hours are long, the pay is small So take your time and buck ‘em all.

We tried to show the difference between our sit-down and slowdown strategies and the kind of sabotage used by extremists in Continental Europe.

Because of the negative backlash, the IWW officially distanced itself from sabotage as a tactic in 1918, as described by the following resolution, passed by the union's General Executive Board:

Whereas, The Industrial Workers of the World has heretofore published, without editorial adoption or comment, many works on industrial subjects, in which the workers have a natural interest, including treatises on “Sabotage” and

Whereas, the industrial interests of the country, bent on destroying any and all who oppose the wage system by which they have so long exploited the workers of the country, are attempting to make it appear that “Sabotage” means the destruction of property and the Industrial Workers of the World favor and advocate such methods, now,

Therefore, in order that our position on such matters may be made clear and unequivocal, we the General Executive Board of said Industrial Workers of the World, do hereby declare that said organization does not now, and never has believed in or advocated either destruction or violence as a means of accomplishing industrial reform;

  • first, because no principle was ever settled by such methods;
  • second, because industrial history has taught us that when strikers resort to violence and unlawful methods, all the resources of the government are immediately arrayed against them and they lose their cause;
  • third, because such methods destroy the constructive impulse which it is the purpose of this organization to foster and develop in order that the workers may fit themselves to assume their place in the new society,

…and we hereby reaffirm our belief in the principles embodied in the Report of this body to the Seventh Annual Convention, extracts from which were later re-published under the title, On the Firing Line.

Reaffirmed by the present General Executive Board and published December 13, 1919 in New Solidarity.

Members of G. E. B.:
George Speed, chairman;
George D. Bradley; James King; Henry Bradley; John Jackson; Fred Nelson; Chas. J. Miller;
Thomas Whitehead, Gen’l. Sec’y.-Treas.6

Striking on the Job in the Woods and the Mills

The aforementioned action taken by the IWW's General Executive Board was not a defeat, but rather a sidestep. The IWW continued to organize at the point of production and withstand the assault of the employing class anyway. Furthermore, in spite of officially distancing themselves from use of the term "sabotage" and refusing to promote the two aforementioned pamphlets, they continued to use elements of it, and often to great effect. The most successful and highly developed example of this took place in the woods of the Pacific Northwest from 1917-18.

In the Spring of 1917, prior to the IWW's official "renunciation" of "sabotage, the IWW Lumber Workers Industrial Union 120 had initiated a strike centered in the lumber camps of northwestern Washington state, demanding clean bunkhouses with mattresses, tables, and chairs; 8 hours work with no work on Sunday and Christmas; a living wage of $60 per month; no discrimination; free hospital service; and hiring from a union hall. The strike quickly spread to the rest of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, and several sawmill workers, including AFL union organized workers joined in as well. The sheer lack of timber forced the non striking camps and mills to also shut down, but the bosses decided to wait out the strike and began recruiting scabs. As the strike dragged on for several months, some of the IWW organizers began to worry about losing a war of attrition with capital and proposed apparently ending the strike, but instead of simply returning to work in defeat, transferring the strike to the job itself!

The tactic succeeded beautifully. By the middle of September 1917, the strike ostensibly ended, and the press spun it as a victory for the lumber bosses, but while back in the camps, the workers slowed their pace considerably. Instead of working ten hours, the crews would collectively cease work after eight. Although the employers would usually fire the entire crew on the spot, and hire a new crew a few days later, the latter being just as sympathetic to the goals of the IWW, would repeat the actions again. Meanwhile the first crew was duplicating these efforts elsewhere, as well as they could manage. The bosses could not defeat this "strike" by the workers' starvation or attrition. Authorities could not single out and arrest the "leaders" because there was no way to identify who they were, and even when they tried, the arrests only further fanned the flames of the timber workers discontent. The employers could also not afford to organize a "general lockout", because there was a high demand for lumber due to the prolonged conventional strike that had preceded the new "strike on the job". The IWW’s direct action at the point of production persisted throughout the winter.

The timber bosses were temporarily able to delay defeat by creating a company union, called the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen (LLLL), lead by Colonel Brice Disque, which sought to turn the workers away from the revolutionary unionism of the IWW. Disque used both "carrots" (in the form of appeals to the workers' sense of "patriotism", since the US was now embroiled in World War I), and--failing that--sticks, in the form of subtle (and sometimes blatant) acts of repression against the rebellious lumber workers. But the LLLL was barely able to blunt the union workers' resolve, and so desperate for a solution, Disque deployed soldiers to join the workers in the logging efforts in the woods. The bosses greed outdid them, however, and the soldiers also began to strike on the job, using the same IWW methods that they had been dispatched to thwart! Finally, on March 1, 1918, Colonel Disque issued a statement on behalf of the timber corporations making the eight hour day official.7 Determined to deny the IWW credit for this achievement, the bosses spun this as a "victory" for their side (and some historians, such as Robert Tyler, who wrote an extensive book about the IWW's Lumber Workers Industrial Union, have slavishly accepted this interpretation without much question).8

The IWW Lumber Workers Industrial Union begged to differ, however, and declared:

This was one of the most successful strikes in the history of the labor movement. The efficacy of the tactics used is further emphasized by the fact that it was directed against one of the most powerful combinations of capital in the world. Two hours had been cut from the work day. Wages had been raised. Bath houses, wash houses and drying rooms had been installed. The companies were forced to furnish bedding. Old-fashioned, unsanitary bunk-houses were displaced by small, clean, well lighted and ventilated ones. Instead of bunks filled with dirty hay, beds, clean mattresses, blankets, sheets and pillows changed weekly were furnished. The food was improved a hundred per cent. In short, practically all demands were won.

The lumber barons claimed they had granted these concessions ‘voluntarily’ ‘for patriotic reasons.’ In reality, they had granted nothing. All they had done was to bow to the inevitable, and officially recognize the eight-hour day after the lumber workers had taken it by direct action. The LLLL also claimed credit for the victory. This was the joke of the season. A skunk might as well claim credit for the perfume of a flower garden, after having failed to pollute it. At the present writing there is scarcely a trace left of the LLLL. The last feeble squeal heard from this conglomeration of boss-lovers was when they went on record in Portland as favoring a reduction of wages.9

For a host of (not altogether related) reasons, the IWW was not able to immediately build upon this victory, but they did wage numerous other battles with the employers in the lumber industry and elsewhere, using the tactic of "striking on the job"--sometimes also referred to as "wobbling the works" often with a reasonable degree of success, and this tactic found its ultimate pinnacle in the CIO affiliated United Autoworkers Union sit-down strikes in Flint Michigan in 1936-37. While neither the IWW nor the CIO publicly referred to the continued use of this strategy as "sabotage", it more or less was the advancement of the same tactics laid out by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Walker C Smith in the mid 1910s.

The Decline of Revolutionary Unionism in North America

The IWW continued to exist, without interruption, since its formation in 1905, but after the 1920s and 1930s its membership declined in number and its influence waned. The reasons for this shift are far too complex to describe in this context. In a nutshell, beginning in the 1930s, social democratic capitalism and bureaucratic state "communism" (which was actually a form of state capitalism) represented the two poles that dominated world governments, and competed for control over the nonaligned "third" world states, and within most of those states, bureaucratic business unionism declared a "truce" with capital accepting a role as its junior partner, promising "labor peace" in exchange for advocating for token gains and benefits for the rank and file workers, and as a result, eclipsed revolutionary unionism and direct action tactics, at least until the 1980s. At that point, state "communism" began its terminal decline and social democratic capitalism stagnated. Having temporarily retreated, but not expired, laizzes-faire capitalism opportunistically staged an ideological comeback, and won over the hearts and minds of many in the non "communist" world (as well as a few erstwhile "communist" adherents), declaring the stagflation the fault of "communist" inspired social democracy. Slowly at first under its initial figureheads, Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, capital began to liquidate their junior partners, and reignited the class struggle that had inspired the formation of revolutionary unions and organizations to counter it in the first place.

By this time, the word "sabotage" had assumed the definition assigned to it by the capitalist class, in popular culture (such as in the Star Trek quote) and in daily conversation; even most union workers accepted this particular definition. That was due largely to the erasing of the IWW's legacy from most official history books (though the now largely insignificant IWW kept the true definition alive, even though dong so was often akin to a tiny solitary house cat struggling to be heard amidst a stampeding heard of braying jack asses, thundering elephants and roaring bears). The idea of workers collectively engaging in coordinated, organized, direct action at the point of production was largely unknown outside of the left wing radical fringe. Fortunately--though it took anything but a direct course--an at least partially broader definition of "sabotage" found its way back into popular consciousness via the rise of radical environmentalism, led principally by Earth First! beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unfortunately, that has also brought about its own share of problems and pitfalls.

To be continued...

Notes

[1]. See The IWW And Earth First!: Part 1 - Establishing Roots, Part 2: The Crucible, Part 3 - Tree Spikes and Wedges, Part 4 - I Knew Nothin' Till I Met Judi, and Redwood Uprising.

[2] On the etymology of sabotage, see this citation.

[3] Ralph Chaplin's original lyrics to Solidarity Forever, sung and/or played to the tune of John Brown's Body (sometimes also known as The Battle Hymn of the Republic) are as follows:

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.

CHORUS:

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.

Chorus

It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.

Chorus

All the world that's owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.
We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.
While the union makes us strong.

Chorus

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

Chorus

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.

Chorus

Additional verses have been added by others, and alternate versions, including one written by Judi Bari, titled Aristocracy Forever, skewering the labor fakirs of the AFL-CIO have also been written.

[4] Perhaps the most famous utterance of this pronunciation of "Sabotage" belongs to Bugs Bunny (or rather Mel Blanc's voicing of the character in Bugs's now famous hybrid Bronx-Brooklyn accent). An example can be seen here, in the 1943 short, "Falling Hare":

Whether Blanc choose this pronunciation himself or did so at the request of Robert Clampett is uncertain, and it's not known whether either had knowledge of the IWW's popularization of the concept.

[5] For more detail on this sordid affair, please see Foner, Phillip S, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Volume 4, the Industrial Workers of the World, 1905-1917, New York, NY, International Publishers, 1965, pp 391-414.

[6] Adopted by the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World and first published in Defense News Bulletin of May 4, 1918.

[7] For more detailed on this struggle, see Ongerth, Steve, Redwood Uprising, Chapter 1, "An Injury to One is an Injury to All!" (the unedited, online version) at judibari.info. For additional accounts, see especially, The Centralia Conspiracy, by Ralph Chaplin, 1919; The IWW in the Lumber Industry by James Rowan, 1920; and The Lumber Industry and Its Workers, by James Kennedy, 1922. These works also provide a good deal of historical background, admittedly from a mostly IWW-centric, syndicalist perspective. For additional background on the IWW and the lumber industry prior to the aforementioned strike, see also The Everett Massacre, by Walker C Smith. Tyler, Robert, Rebels of the Woods: The IWW in the Pacific Northwest, Eugene, University of Oregon Books, 1967 offers an alternative, non-IWW centric perspective.

[8] Tyler's argument is essentially that the the class collaborationism of the LLLL won the eight hour day, rather than the direct action at the point of production advocated and organized by the IWW. Tyler bases this argument on the fact that the IWW was unable to immediately build upon this victory, and that the IWW subsequently "declined" in the lumber industry immediately following the strike-on-the-job and in general overall during the 1920s. The path of the IWW's "decline" is actually far more complex, and its debatable that the IWW actually declined immediately after or as a result of the strike. Furthermore, numerous historical currents that existed independently of the IWW, such as the Bolshevik Revolution (which, for all of its faults--which were not always readily apparent in 1917--was seen by many as a major victory of the Russian working class against capitalism, and greatly raised the allure of the incipient Communist movement, which had an often rocky and not always supportive relationship with the IWW), the rise of the Communist Party, splits within the IWW that had little or nothing to do with the Lumber Workers Industrial Union, and the rise of the CIO, also had the effect of shifting historical tides away from the revolutionary industrial unionism that the IWW advocated and practiced. Tyler, a Social Democrat writing a good half-century after the fact, was writing with the biased lenses of a post World War II, Cold War era academic historian rather than an actual participant in the struggle. One can debate whether or not the IWW would have fared any better had the historical currents flowed in different directions, of course, but one cannot debate the fact that the LLLL would never have been created in the first place if the IWW had not forced the issue to begin with, and for that reason alone, Tyler's thesis is fundamentally flawed. Tyler also admits that the LLLL all but disintegrated a few years after its formation, while the IWW continued to organize, even in timber, and yet he argued that the workers favored the company union’s class collaborationism. Such a contradiction cannot honestly be reconciled.

[9] Kennedy, op. cit.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.