You are here

Mark Leier

Monopoly capitalism and the rise of syndicalism

By Mark Leier - reprinted by Libcom.Org, January 27, 2018

A portion of the first chapter of labour historian Mark Leier’s 1990 book Where the Fraser River Flows: The Industrial Workers of the World in British Columbia, which may serve as an introduction to the IWW’s syndicalist ideas and practices, as well as what conditions brought about the revolutionary union in the first place.

(Note: Besides the final paragraph, ~3,200 of the last words were left out for the sake of being concise. What was left out went further in depth about how "the essence of the new system of production was [...] in increasing the division of labour and in reducing the initiative of the workers over the work process," showing how some tried to achieve this.)

By the last years of the nineteenth century, many American and Canadian workers were keenly aware that the craft unions affiliated to the American Federation of Labor and the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada would not alter the basic relations between capital and labour. Unions could continue to carve out better wages for their members, but they would not help the mass of workers who were not organized. Nor would they work to abolish the unjust system of capitalism. At the same time, the socialist movement was isolated from the working class and its daily struggles. Prompted by the Western Federation of Miners and the left wing of the Socialist Party of America, unionists and radicals tried to create a new organization that would be able to unite all workers and work towards revolution as the only way to solve labour’s problems once and for all. Late in 1904, workers from the American Labor Union, the United Railway Workers, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and the Brewery Workers met to begin the formation of “a labor organization that would correspond to modern industrial conditions.” In January 1905, several delegates drew up a manifesto which would lay the foundation for a revolutionary industrial union. The manifesto decried the power of monopoly capitalism and outlined the fundamental changes in the labour process which accompanied it. As machines replaced skilled workers, the tradesman was “sunk in the uniform mass of wage slave. . . . Laborers are no longer classified by differences in trade skill, but the employer assorts them according to the machines to which they are attached.” Trade unions could not address this problem; at best, they could offer “only a perpetual struggle for slight relief within wage slavery.” The manifesto ended with a call for unionists and radicals to assemble in Chicago that June to create a new labour organization.1

By early morning on 27 June 1905, Brand’s Hall in Chicago was filled with tobacco smoke and people. More than two hundred delegates had shown up in response to the January manifesto.

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.