Ottawa-Outaouais IWW

The General Membership Branch of the Ottawa-Outaouais region

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The Role of the Working Class in Human Progress

What Is Industry & How Did It Get That Way?

Industry–from converting of raw materials into the things people want to the providing of services people need–is the center and foundation of our social life. The capitalists who control the natural resources, and who control the equipment and facilities necessary to transform raw materials and to provide these services, form the smaller of the two classes in society. Workers who gather raw materials, transform materials into usable goods, and provide services society needs are the other, and much larger class.

The interests of these two classes is opposed. The entire social life of the world is shaped by these facts.

The capitalist class is anxious to stay in control and keep the privileges that come from having that power. To make that control secure, it seeks to gain or keep control of all social institutions. It wants the government to write and administer its laws. It wants the schools to teach respect and obedience to the privileged few. It wants the press, television and film to shape our thoughts and feelings to serve its interests. And where it cannot get rid of the organizations that labor has built, it wants to control them too.

Capitalists are threatened with the loss of their control by two outstanding facts:

* Modern industrial development has made their activities unnecessary;
* The working class is able, once it so desires, to take control of industry and thus establish a much more efficient and satisfactory society.

The original function of the capitalist was to provide funds and management. Today management is the job of a specially trained section of the class of managers, and funds are amply provided out of the various reserves taken from profits. The system of corporate administration that the capitalists have built up has made them unnecessary.

The capitalist class to power in society as the result of long struggles against kings and feudal land owners. Kings and feudal land owners ran the world based on a agricultural social system where the ownership of land was the basis of power.

With the help of the common people who did the fighting, capitalists won the fight against feudalism because new inventions, procedures, and discoveries had made feudalism outdated. The parliamentary bodies that had been created to raise funds for the feudal order had also established a more efficient system of government, and had made kings and lords as obsolete as capitalists are today.

Historic voyages and discoveries, improvements in navigation, and the new factory system had all made the ownership of warehouses, ships and equipment more important than the ownership of land. The basis of society had shifted from the farm to the factory, and the control of society had shifted to those who control industry.

Revolutionary Progress

The conservatives of feudal times warned that the advance of capitalism would be the end of civilization. They were wrong, and for all its flaws, capitalism was a progressive step forward. Whatever of the old order was serviceable to the new was kept and cultivated. What was destroyed was aspects of feudalism’s rule that obstructed progress.

Under capitalism invention and industry flourished as never before. Our ways of producing and living have changed faster in the last two hundred years than in the previous two thousand. Each worker’s capacity to produce is at least a hundred times what it was when capitalism first took over from feudalism.

However, because our standard of living has not kept pace with invention, and cannot keep pace with it as long as capitalists control industry, the possibilities of abundance and leisure are wasted in artificial created shortages, depressions and wars.

Modern economic development has made the activities of the few who control industry unnecessary. It has also reduced the number of people in the capitalist class. The growth of large corporations requires either the closing of a large number of little businesses or their absorption as subsidiaries of larger corporate conglomerates.

At the apex of this economic pyramid, sits the few, the wealthy, and the powerful. They are an oligarchy who exercise nearly unaccountable authority over the economic functioning of the world, and pursue their private interests at the expense of the vast majority of humanity, and often at the expense of the very ecological vitality of the Earth which sustains us all.

In the face of little organized resistance, capitalists’ greed knows few limits. In the United States, recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that one fifth of the population receives nearly half of all aggregate income generated in a year. Between 1989 and 1996 the wealthiest five percent of the population in the United States experienced a ten percent rise in annual income while eighty percent of the population had negative income growth. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the rich have gotten richer while working people’s incomes have stagnated or declined.

In countries other than the United States, the controlling clique is often a considerably smaller proportion of the population. Capitalists of every country coordinate their activities to extract the greatest profit from the labor of working people everywhere.

Through cartels and multinational corporations, a handful of people plan and control the economic life of the world. According the United Nations’ Human Development Report 1999, the world’s 200 richest people more than doubled their net worth between 1994 and 1998 to more than 1 trillion dollars. That was more than the combined income of 41 percent of the world’s people.

In 1999 the assets of the top 3 billionaires were more than the combined GNP [Gross National Product] of all least developed nations and their 600 million people. Nearly 1.3 billion people lived on less than a dollar a day, and close to 1 billion could not meet their daily consumption requirements.

The few people who control the world’s resources have many servants, but few friends. Only these few would have their privileges decreased if the control of industry were taken out of their hands. The rest of us would be much better off.

Who Should Control?

Since the rise of capitalism, the working class has grown in many ways. It has grown in numbers until it includes almost everybody. It has grown in knowledge and ability. The worker of today has to understand and be able to do things that would have baffled the engineer and scientist of a century ago.

In place of a class of illiterate serfs, we are a working class able to read and write. We have an extensive literature of our own. We discuss the news of the world daily. We have also grown in organized power through unions and coalitions. Every step the working class has taken in building unity and solidarity has been a trespass on what was previously the complete the exclusive control of owners of industry. Whenever it fought to reduce the hours it would work, to increase the pay it would take, or improve the safety and sanitary conditions on the job, it had to unite and fight to win.

As a result, organized working class movements have been fought by the capitalist class as its mortal enemy, And by the logic of events, that is precisely what organized labor should be. Every step forward that we take strengthens our position as the logical successor of the capitalist class to exercise control of industry. And because there is no class beneath us, our triumph means the first classless society since civilization began, and the end of all the horror, cruelty, stupidity, and injustice that necessarily go with class society.

One big question for today and tomorrow is this: How is industry to be controlled? It is not so much a question of who is to own industry. Managerial control is what counts, and it has largely become independent of the actual investors. Who is to say whether industry is to run or stand idle? Who is to decide what is to be produced and where that product is to go? Who is to decide what services are provided and to whom? These are the important questions.

* Should modern industry be controlled by a handful of business managers?
* Should it be administered by politicians?
* Or should it be run by those who do the work?

It must be one of the three. The corporate managers through their banks, their control over directorships, and their enormous influence over public debate through the media they own seek to insure their complete control over the economic life of the world.

But their control, by its very nature, strangles that economic life, for it does not pay to let the working class produce all that it is capable of producing. So either those in control of industry ally themselves with those in control of government to save themselves from democracy, or those in control of government extend their regulation over industry and its workers, as in the state controlled economies.

Industrial Democracy Wanted

The Industrial Workers of the World see nothing good in an economy that is controlled by corporate managers or by politicians. Instead they want economic democracy–industry run by its workers through direct democratic process free from hierarchy.

The greatest problem facing humankind is not the much-discussed question of production and distribution. It is the problem of power. It never has been safe to let a few control the affairs of the many, and it never will be safe. The depressions, the wars, the various other ills of the modern world, have been possible only because there was already an unsafe concentration of power in the hands of the few. What happened did happen as the result of the will of these few, not of the will of the many.

Under capitalism every invention that has increased our power to produce or destroy has increased the power of the few and decreased the power of the rest of us. Every improvement in communication has extended the empire of this minority.

And every time we give more power to some one to try and remedy the resulting evils, we increase the problem that much further. And this holds true whether we allow that power to fall to the present managers of industry, their friends in government, or their friends in the undemocratic business unions. Consequently the only safe and logical choice is economic democracy–industry run by those who do the work using democratic procedures on a daily basis for the equal benefit of all.

It’s Up To Us

We can run industry and thereby solve the problem of power, for all the power that runs this world comes from our own efforts. Our class has only to stop doing what it is told to do and start doing what it collectively decides to do, to deprive its opposition of all the power they ever had and to acquire for itself all the power it will ever need.

Management of industry by workers organized to do the job is not a mere dream. It is the historic trend. It is the pole toward which every forward move of labor has pointed, whether intended that way or not, but it cannot be achieved without deliberately planning for it. If that job is not done, the counter trend wins out–regimentation of everything either by all kinds of business, by all kinds of government, or most likely, by their unholy alliance, fascism.

Industrial democracy is the answer to many problems. It can keep alive the democracy that cannot survive when practiced only on election day. It can free us from want and fear, waste and war. With modern production methods it can enable ordinary people to get all the material goods they can use, by working about as much as they want to.

It can give us security and freedom, those two most desirable ends, neither of which is possible without the other, for a person driven by want cannot be free, and the puppet is never secure. It can make organized society a harmonious whole, intelligently working for the good of all–for it is only when the all of humankind can decide what is to be produced and what is to become of the product that it can know what it is doing.

Industrial democracy can be built only by an organized working class that is aware as a class of what it wants and how to get it, rather than giving decision-making power to .friends of labor. in political parties or to controlling cliques and vanguards within its own ranks.

Working class organization must serve two purposes:

* It must provide the most efficient structure for carrying on our daily struggle for better conditions and better pay;
* It must provide a comprehensive and flexible solution to the issues regarding the production and distribution of goods in an equitable and ecologically sustainable manner by making possible the efficient management of modern industry by organized labor.

Fortunately, but not by coincidence, the same type of organization best serves both purposes; for by organizing the way we work, so that we have the same relations in our unions as we have in the process of production, we are lined up so as to have the most strategic advantage in our everyday struggle, and the necessary coordination for assuming the responsibility for industrial production.

How to organize right is thus the immediate question. It is with that question that we are concerned. In organizing, the I.W.W. uses to the facts of the future we want because how we organize will define what the future will be.