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The General Strike - Part 6
The One Big Strike on the Job
It may be argued however that the General Strike might prove to be as difficult to control and, due to the possible paralysis of transport, equally productive of privation as civil war. If State power were not captured by the workers would not the armed forces of the master class crush the strike with military power? Would not the result in the long run be the same as far as mass starvation and disorganization are concerned?
The answer is that, as the I.W.W. conceives of the General Strike, it would be so perfectly organized by workers and technicians and effectually used that the feeding, supplying and transportation of armed mercenaries would be practically impossible. The strikes at Seattle and Winnipeg gave some indication of the ability of strikers to organize, picket and police their strike and, at the same time arrange for the adequate distribution of food stuffs to the population. As for machine guns, tanks, airplanes and bombs of asphyxiating or incendiary character, it is well to remember that such things are only available when they are manufactured and transported by labor and would be more difficult to use against workers stationed in and about the nation's widely spread industries than against mobs massed together in the labor ghettoes of the great cities.
According to the modern idea of the General Strike it would not be at all necessary, during a well organized class movement of this sort for the employed workers to leave their assigned places in industry at all. On the contrary, the effort would be made to get workers into the industries instead of out of them in order to keep the wheels of production going. The General Strike, in other words would be a means of feeding rather than of starving the people.
This is in keeping with the I.W.W. program of STRIKING ON THE JOB. The only difference would be that the factory doors, under the direction of the technical managerial staff of the productive forces, would be thrown wide open to absorb the millions of unemployed. The wheels of industry would operate in their customary manner only for the purpose of supplying human needs instead of the enrichment of a profit-greedy Kept Class.
The General Strike therefore would simply mean that the army of production under competent technical and managerial direction, would continue to man and remain in the industries, producing and transporting goods for consumption but refusing any longer to yeild up surplus value to the parasite class. The General Strike would be a General Lockout against these idle drones who now hold as their `private property' the machinery upon which the human race depends for life.
Mass Opposition to Exploitation
The General Strike is conditioned upon the WILL of the workers to make it effective and their stubborn determination to put an end to exploitation by producing goods for USE instead of PROFIT. Unlike the small strike the General Strike does not necessarily depend on the complete withdrawal of productive effort from machinery, but rather their ability to withdraw or withhold only such effort as will put a complete stop to the profits of the parasitic 'owners'.
The ultimate aim of the General Strike as regards wages is to give each producer the full product of his labor. The demand for better wages becomes revolutionary only when it is coupled with the demand that the exploitation of labor must cease. Labor is exploited at the point of production, and it is at the point of production alone that Labor can stop the idle, absentee drones from receiving any more than they produce. Only the complete disallowal of any share whatever to nonproducers will guarantee economic justice to the working class. Working conditions under capitalism have occasioned many bitter controversies but even the most necessary demands for their betterment could hardly be called revolutionary. Even under Industrial Democracy such things will be matters of expediency and consistently sustained improvement, in keeping with recognized needs.
Short Hours, THE Revolutionary Demand
The demand for shorter hours however is decidedly a revolutionary demand. On the basis of an eight hour day less than three hours are all that is necessary for the worker to earn his wage; the rest of the day he is employed in producing surplus value for the boss. Each hour of the shortened workday means for the employer one hour's less profits from every man employed-- one hour less opportunity to exploit. This accounts for the fact that the worker's demands for shorter hours have always been contested more vigorously than demands for better conditions or even increased wages.
The reason is obvious: The difference between the six hour day and the eight hour day is the difference between the three hours and five hours given to the employer in which to sweat profits from the hides of his help, each hour of reduction being made at the expense of the exploiter. The difference between the six hour day and, say, the three hour day is the difference between three hours of profit-sweating and none at all. Therefore, if the employer wishes to continue to live off the labor of his wage slaves he must (and does) guard jealously the length of the toiler's work day. Upon it depends not only the amount of his unearned income but also the continuation of his privilege to live without producing.
The chief demand of the General Strike would therefore logically be a demand for an average workday of not longer than three hours or whatever length of time is technologically necessary to carry on production on a non-profit basis. This is the most revolutionary of all demands because it dries up the possibility of class exploitation at its source. Under a planned industrial system and with the perfected machinery of modern production placed at the disposal of the human race even with the present staff of competent directors there is no reason at all (apart from the profit system) why anyone should be forced to work longer than two and a half or three hours per day. Any workday longer than that required to do the actual necessary work of the world simply serves to fatten the already hog-fat parasites of industry. The General Strike for the three hour day would not only put the millions of unemployed back to work, but it would also put the Thieves of Big Business to work alongside of them. In this regard it is well to remember that I.W.W. loggers in the northwest won the eight hour day by the simple expedient of blowing the whistle at the end of eight hours and then walking off the job en masse.
The General Strike and General Picketing
The I.W.W. is credited with having introduced two outstanding tactics of industrial warfare into the American labor movement-- the strike on the job and mass picketing by the unemployed. Both of these are of utmost importance to the successful operation of the General Strike. In fact the success of the move (apart from competent technological direction) would depend upon the solidarity existing between employed and unemployed workers. In a class strike this solidarity is indispensible, because only by joint action and common understanding of this sort can the hours of labor be shortened to permit all to return to work. The effect on the capitalist system of millions of unemployed picketing the factory gates for a shorter workday can easily be imagined. By so doing the jobless would not only be hitting at the root cause of unemployment (long hours) but they would also be hitting at the root cause of exploitation (the private ownership of socially necessary machinery).
It may be objected that, admitting the General Strike to be a good thing, there is still but slight possibility that it will ever be used. The answer is affirmative. There is every reason to believe that a victory by the General Strike is far more probable than a victory by either ballots or bullets. It must be admitted however that its possibility is impaired by the insistent promulgation by politicians, insurrectos and reformers of non-industrial methods, just as it would be helped by an aggressive educational campaign along revolutionary industrial union lines. Unless a great effort is made to direct the growing discontent of the working class along industrial lines for the attainment of Industrial Democracy by means of the General Strike many other things are likely to happen. The only other alternatives appear to be mob disorders and dictatorship of one kind or another. Workers should make every effort to get what they want, but they should be mighty sure they want it.
The New Society Not Inevitable
The capitalist system, rotten as it is, has resources which cannot be overlooked. The armed forces of the state are not nearly so formidable as the venal press and other avenues of publicity and class mis-education. The capitalist press and class-controlled radio are perhaps the very strongest bulwarks for the established order. By means of these, labor hatred and mob frenzy can be lashed to fever heat at any time and against any individual or group which dares to challenge the capitalist system. It will be recalled however that newspaper workers have at times, notably in Seattle, refused to set-up or print slanderous and inflammatory anti-labor editorial matter. So here as well as in the manufacture and transportation of war material, the economic power of the workers can be used to advantage.
The system of exploitation is still strongly entrenched and deeply rooted in the economic ignorance as well as in the habits, customs and imbecile individualism of the groove-minded electorate. But regardless of these obvious advantages the upholders of the present order are fighting a losing fight. Capitalism has outlived its usefulness as a social system. It has become a curse to the entire human race. There is no further historical justification for its existence. It has become an obstacle to further social progress. It is doomed by the iron law of inexorable change. Just as chattel slavery yeilded to serfdom and serfdom to wage-slavery, so the latter is forced by evolutionary and revolutionary pressure to make way for scientific industrialism-- Industrial Democracy. But even this is not inevitable, for the present ruling class shows unmistakable willingness to plunge the entire world into disorganization and chaos. They may succeed unless steps are soon taken to stop them.
Let Come What May...
Already the world is a tumult of disorder and rebellion due to starvation and misrule. No individial or organization can predict with blue-print precision what course events may take in each of the civilized countries, during the last days of the expiring social order. All that we are able to see in the light of social science is that the industries must be taken over by the ones who use them and need them and be operated for use instead of profit. The socialization of the means of production, transportation and exchange is now necessary for the survival of the human race. Only the workers are in a position to do this and it is their duty AT ALL COSTS to see that it is done. Properly organized and disciplined no power on earth can stop the aroused working class from coming into its own.
The scientifically sound and thoroughly constructive character of the I.W.W. program has never been stressed more forcibly than in the concluding paragraphs of its Preamble:
"It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized not only for the everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old."
"Labor Shall Be All"
"Seize the industries," is at present a discredited slogan, for, by inference, we are led to understand that this means to seize the industries from the outside. But, frankly, is it necessary for workers to "seize" something they already have?
Every day, on the job, workers are in possession of the industries. The problem is not how to "seize" them, but how to keep from giving them up. The scientific modern General Strike would have a much simpler slogan and a much more sensible program: For the employed: "Retain the industries, but refuse to produce for profit." For the unemployed: "Picket the industries and refuse to scab or to let anyone else scab."
It is vitally necessary for the present "owners" that machinery and resources be manned by labor. It is equally necessary, during the revolutionary transition, that labor refuse to relinquish its hold on machinery either to "owners" or to their scabs or mercenaries.
That labor will defend its own interests goes without saying. The I.W.W. has taught and is teaching workers to fight, not to beg-- to demand, not to plead for what they want. And in this final struggle to free the world from social parasitism, courage, clear-thinking and fearless fighting spirit are needed as never before.
Realizing that the control of industry can only come into the hands of the producing class when the producers have sufficient power to keep and to hold this control, the I.W.W. advocates the General Strike on the job reinforced by formidable, determined revolutionary picket lines of unemployed. The change from private to social ownership being inevitable, only thus can the danger of serious destruction and bloodshed be minimized.
The workingclass should bend every effort to this end. The full current of the revolutionary movement should be directed from the streets to the industries. The revolutionary struggle should be thought out and fought out in terms of industrial action-- control, defense, operation. The class struggle, in the last analysis, must be a struggle to control the means of production, transportation and exchange. It will probably be a bitter fight, but one that can have but one ending-- complete victory for the workers in the world's industries.
Let come what may, no worker should count the cost. Even at the worst a General Strike could scarcely entail more privation and suffering than one of capitalism's many and all too frequent depressions. The General Strike is saner than insurrection and surer than political action. And beyond it-- after the storm-- is a scientifically planned and ordered world based on peace, plenty and security for martyrized humanity. What other thing is more worth striving for by courageous men and women than the ideal of this classless Industrial Democracy for which the I.W.W. has battled so valorously and for so many years?