THE FALSE THEORIES OF THE I. W. W.

From an Address by William B. Wilson, US. Secretary of Labor,
before the Boston Chamber of Commerce, April, 1919.

The Department of Labor, over which I have the honor to preside as Secretary, for more than two years has been combatting the peculiar philosophy advocated by the Industrial Workers of the World, which is very closely akin to the philosophy of the Bolshevist movement, though there have some things developed in connection with the theories and practice of the Bolshevists that even our most rabid radical philosophers among the Industrial Workers of the World will not accept when they come to understand them.

A year ago last September the western part of our country was honey-combed with the teachings of the Industrial Workers. The organization had almost gone out of existence after a brief period of activity and could not again have come into existence in our country if it had not been for the assistance that it received, consciously or unconsciously, from abroad. The President directed a commission to proceed into the western part of the country, to examine into the situation and endeavor to find a remedy if possible, so that the industries, particularly those industries necessary for the prosecution of the war, might not be interfered with.

I had the honor of being the chairman of that commission. We proceeded to investigate and we found this to be the situation: That the Industrial Workers of the World were unable to secure a foothold of any importance in any of our industrial establishments except where the owners of the establishment or the management of the establishment had pursued a policy of repression of the legitimate aspirations of the workers in their plants.

Wherever the evolutionary tendency of the workers was permitted to express itself, the philosophy of the Industrial Workers found no foothold. Unfortunately, there have been large numbers amongst the capitalists of our country who have felt that the welfare of their establishment and their business required that they should pursue a policy of repression of the legitimate expressions of their workers, and hence a fertile field was created for the propaganda of these false philosophers.

The Department of Labor, being entrusted with the welfare of the wage workers, believed that ultimately the acceptance by the wage workers of these theories, even though they were working under conditions of repression, would lead to great injury, started a campaign of education against the philosophy.

And what was the philosophy that we found? First, the propagandists laid as the foundation of their theories that every man is entitled to the full social value of what his labor produces. This is a purely maximal theory, stated in a purely maximal way, but it is not only a theory that socialists may accept—it is a theory that every individual may also accept.

To my method of thought it is a truism to say that every man is entitled to the full social value of what his labor produces.

The difficulty with it, however, is that human intelligence has not as yet devised a method by which you can compute the value to society of the labor that is contributed by any man; and until human intelligence has devised a method by which you can compute the value of the mental and physical labor of mankind, it is futile to assert that every man is entitled to the full social value of what his labor produces.

We have endeavored, in years gone by, in the centuries that we have been engaged in industrial enterprises, to solve that question on the basis of competition,—competition multiplied on one side by the organization of capital and on the other side by the organization of labor.

But having laid that foundation for their philosophy—and a very sound foundation this—they proceed to step farther and they say that all property is valuable only so far as profits can be secured from the property—that if you can destroy the profits that result from the use of the property the owner will no longer desire to retain it, and the thing for the workers to do, therefore, is to destroy the profits from the property—to shirk, to soldier, to "perform a stint," as they say on the other side of the ocean, to put sand upon the bearings, to break the machines, to destroy the product, to drive copper nails into fruit trees—anything that will reduce the production per individual and increase the cost; and the allegation is made that if this course is pursued by the workers, the profits will be eliminated so far as the owner of the property is concerned, and with the profits eliminated and the property no longer valuable, the workers can take the property over, operate it themselves collectively and secure the full social value of their labor.

The people who are advancing these theories fail to take into consideration our public school system, our facilities for acquiring information and knowledge, the method of thought of the average American. They fail to realize that the vast majority of the workers of our country have at least a smattering knowledge of industrial history, and all we had to do to upset that kind of preaching was to call attention to the historical fact that, prior to the introduction of the modern factory system, prior to the rebirth of the inventive genius of man, when everything that was produced was produced by hand, there was a smaller amount of production per individual per day, per week, per year than could possibly result from any system of shirking they could introduce.

Yet in those old days there were still profits for the employers and value in the property. What did result was a very much lower standard of living for the wage workers; and if these people succeeded in crowding their theories into effect, if it had been possible for them to do it, instead of destroying the value of the property and the profits of the employer it would have resulted in reducing the standard of living of the wage workers of our country.

Mutual Interest.

The employer and the employee have a mutual interest—and an identical interest; mark the distinction—the employer and the employee have a mutual interest in securing the largest possible production with a given amount of labor, having due regard to the health, the safety, the opportunities for rest, recreation and improvement of the workers. Those being safeguarded, then the larger the production the better it is for all of us. If there is nothing produced there will be nothing to divide. If there is a large amount produced, there will be a large amount to divide.

The interests of the employer and the employee only diverge when it comes to a division of that which has been produced; and if they are wise in their generation, if they have the good business tact that the average American man usually has, in these times of stress and in the years that are to follow when it comes to the point of a division of that which has been mutually produced they will sit down round the council table and endeavor to work out the problem on as nearly a just basis as the circumstances surrounding the industry will permit.

Divergent Views.

And yet we find very divergent views existing amongst employers and amongst workmen on that very question.

We find amongst employers the theory set forth that their property is their own, their business is their own, and they have a right to run their business as it suits themselves, without interference from any sources. Now that may have been true in the days of Adam, when there was only one man on earth, but when the second man came the second man had equal rights with the first, and as they grew in numbers each of the additional men had equal rights with those who had preceded them. They had divergent views as to what constituted their rights. That grows out of the judgment which the Almighty has endowed us with. And because they had variations of judgment as to what constituted their rights, they had conflicts; and finally as a means of adjusting those differences without resorting to physical conflict, we established organized society in its various forms—and in the organized society no man has a right that is absolute and complete within himself that has any bearing upon the equal rights of his neighbors.

There are certain things that are inherent, that deal only with the man and his own conscience—a man in his relation to the Almighty, in which no majority has the right to impose its will upon the smallest kind of minority; but in the relation of man to man no one has an absolute right that in any way interferes with the equal rights of somebody else.

Partners in Industry.

To my mind, the employer and the employee, having a mutual interest in the largest possible production, are, to the extent that they have that mutual interest, partners in the business. It does not follow, however, that because men have a voice in determining the conditions under which they will assist in producing they will be compensated alike, because as I have already said, men are endowed with different degrees of intelligence, with different viewpoints, they have lived in different environments; and because of these differences they approach the question from divergent standpoints, and so there may be conflicts growing out of these divergences of opinion, even where both feel that they are absolutely right in their position; but the number of conflicts will be reduced to a minimum when there is a recognition on the part of the employer of that partnership and where there is also a recognition on the part of the employee that there is that partnership.


Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield.

Last updated 21 April 2004