A century ago, Whiting Williams, general staff at a hydraulics firm in Cleveland, OH, took it upon himself to obtain ground truth in the operational reality of large industrial organizations around the USA and Europe. His scheme was to pose as a common laborer and solicit employment like any other itinerant worker. For over three years he went from industry to industry, country to country, working and living with the workforce to get their take on the dysfunctional proceedings. Remarkably, only one supervisor in Germany became suspicious of his gambit.
Williams wrote a series of books from his daily journals and observations. Excerpts from his 1920 book, his fourth, are provided below because he covered everything in our field of endeavor far better than we ever could, with an authenticity that speaks for itself. All of Williams books are available on the massive .pdf thumbdrive library, available to you for the asking.
PREFACE to “What’s on the workers’ minds” Whiting Williams 1920
“WORSE than at any time in history.” That seems the only proper way to describe the present relations between the various persons commonly grouped, in these industrial times, as Labor, Management, Capital, and the Public the investors of brawn, brains, and bullion, and the “bourgeoisie.” For that reason it has seemed, on the whole, desirable to make public in this way records and observations put down at the close of strenuous days and nights, in the belief that the chief causes of the troublesome factors of the situation are as deep as human nature and no deeper.
If, somehow, the experiences described may help to a better understanding of each other’s minds and hearts, the effort will be accounted not in vain. Certainly such a better understanding of the fundamental humanness of all the persons connected with the industrial process, whether in one group or another and most of us are in two or three of those groups at different times is indispensable to both the preservation and the upbuilding of the life of our nation and, perhaps, through it, of the world.
Some effort has been made to restrain the temptation to draw conclusions from the various experiences and testimonies at the time encountered. At the close of their recital I shall make bold to set forth what seem to me proper interpretations, but not without giving them, as now, my full blessing to any and all readers who may find themselves arrived at very different conclusions.
The particular reason for trying to get at the whole matter in this particular way arises from the belief that men’s actions spring rather from their feelings than from their thoughts, and that people cannot be interviewed for their feelings. The interviewer can only listen, and then try to understand because he is not only hearing but experiencing and sympathizing. Since the period described, jobs have become more plentiful. This does not at all weaken my conviction of the fundamental importance to the worker of the daily job as the axle of his entire world. On the contrary, it serves, I believe, only to complicate the whole industrial problem in certain ways, ways which shall receive attention before the book is ended. Whiting Williams, June, 1920.
The next excerpts from the book come after Williams’ presentation of the particular engagements. No other study of the workforce ever approached the scope and depth of his research – to this day. It forms the benchmark of the truth about workforce value systems we have put to use for the last two decades. He did not recognize the foreman as the keystone MitM of the non-dysfunctional organization. He believed top-down ruled to his final breath. All of our mentors did.
SOME OUTSTANDING IMPRESSIONS
And now, what of it? What does it all mean? Certainly the most outstanding impression of all is that I found my companions in the labor gangs so completely human and so surprisingly normal. It makes me smile at myself now as I recall the air of mystery and “differentness” with which my mind had surrounded all these workers back there in the days before I started out to join them. I feel like apologizing to them now for all my wonderings as to whether I could meet the test of their suspicion or the strain of their possible misunderstanding and probable ill will.
My only excuse is that these same wonderings were quite manifestly in the minds of practically all my white-collared friends before I set off. If, perhaps, they were also in the minds of my readers as well, I shall certainly hope that the foregoing pages press this point home, namely, that my hard-working associates my “buddies,” as I now think of them are enormously more like all the other members of our national House of Industry and Life. In every room of that house, also, all seem to find life just about the same nip-and-tuck problem of hopes and fears, satisfactions and disappointments, pleasures and annoyances; in general, pretty much the same mixture properly described as “this pleasing, anxious being.” Wherever found, too, these humans seem just about equally ready and anxious to tell about these hopes and fears, these satisfactions and disappointments, to anyone who will present an ear which is manifestly and sincerely sympathetic.
As I look over the experiences and testimonies reported, I find myself wishing that I could add some of the conversations held with workers and others during the months following my return to well-dressed ways. For these, of course, have contributed to the final impressions without being given to the reader. Perhaps, however, the reader himself has recently heard such testimony as that of the elevator girl and her greeting to me: “Where you been all this time? . . . Yes, this uniform ain’t so bad, but, all the same, it’s why I’m goin’ to quit tomorrow. . . . Well, you see, I’m on what they call the ‘split shift’ a few hours on, then a few hours off, and back again. That makes me change into or out of these clothes four times a day. I can’t see it.”
Next to this fundamental humanness of all of us, wherever we are, the outstanding impression, as I try to marshal the various experiences in single file past the reviewing stand of memory, is certainly this: the most important factor of all in the life of the wage-worker is the job the daily job. For him the day commences with the breathing of the prayer, “Give us this day our daily job.” That is the only way in which the daily bread may be spelled with satisfaction and contentment in a civilization organized for the mass production required for meeting a fast-moving world’s mass needs. It almost makes me shiver with the cold of those February mornings before the great factory gates when I think of the heart-sick dejection, the demoralizing loss of standing as a man, and the paralyzing fear of the bread line which fill the mind and soul of the man who, after days of seeking, has no job and knows not where to find one.
This impression has been greatly strengthened by many recent conversations, both with laborers and executives. Some of these latter say that they still recall more vividly than anything else the hours and days and weeks back there twenty or thirty years ago in the foundry or machine shop, spent in the fear that a lay-off might be required by the company’s business or that discharging somebody might appear to the foreman as the best way for him to ease his mind from some of his vexations. All that I have seen or heard or felt combines to make me believe that it is impossible to see the world as the worker sees it without looking at it through the eyes of the man to whom the need of the daily bread together with the need of the daily hope means the need of the daily job. We are quite likely, also, to miss the real point when we assume so blithely that an overplus of men in New York can easily be remedied by the reported overplus of jobs in, say, Chicago.
Unless the finding of work and the allotment of men to it throughout the country is far better organized than at present, the job in Chicago does precious little good to the jobless man in New York especially if he is unskilled. For, in the nature of the case, the worker who must earn his living by his naked as well as untrained hands is not likely to possess a financial margin sufficient to bridge the distance. The paying or the advancing of his fare has its difficulties and involves considerable risk, especially for the man of family. The saving of fare by the use of the “side-door Pullman” or by ” riding the rods” means the endangering of both his body and his morale by exposing these to the degenerating irregularity of the hobo, or, as he calls himself, “the migratory worker.” One look at the world through the eyes given by this daily need of work, also, makes it immensely easier to understand the worker’s attitude toward the restriction of output “stringing out the job.”
Whether we like it or not, even a short experience will convince anyone that the workman has considerable right to fear, as a practical, day-by-day proposition, that by working too hard or too well he may work himself out of his job that by producing too much he may produce himself out of that indispensable daily bread. Especially to the man hired by the day, the whistle for the end of the turn may announce not so much the beginning of his hours of rest as the foreman’s “Here y’are, Jo! This’ll get your ‘time.’ Won’t need you tomorrow. Work’s all done” and the beginning of that hopeless circuit of the gates in search of further opportunity to earn his “time.” The thought of even a few weeks of that is often reason enough to make the worker feel highly doubtful about the introduction of machinery very hesitant to accept the calm assurance of the economists that he need have no fear because the whole thing is bound to work out in the long run through the increased production and the resultant cheapening of goods. Naturally enough, with his family on his mind, he fears this “long run” may be so long that his self-respect may be destroyed, even though starvation be avoided, before the slack is taken up.
Still further, there seems to be general admission from both workers and executives that unexpectedly large production under an attractive piece-rate has often brought about the rate’s reduction. If that is true, it is not strange if the worker often feels it his duty to himself and his friends not to gamble too much upon the permanency of the arrangement. The understanding of this fundamental importance of the daily job helps also to an understanding of the labor-union. In addition to its more public appearances, on behalf of better wages and hours, the union is likely to be quietly busy helping to find work for its members and then to protect them against unjust firing, to much the same effect as was mentioned so often in support of the representative committee there in the oil refinery.
It is impossible to help wondering if the unions would have grown to anything like their present size if all the managers who find them so serious a problem had felt more keenly how seriously this problem of the daily job touches the life and soul of the worker. In any event it is beyond the slightest doubt that nothing like proper happiness and therefore proper effectiveness is by any means to be expected in the industrial world until more thinking and more organization have been devoted to the increase of security for the country’s working hands and heads in this regard along lines to be suggested in later pages.
The recent months of plenteous jobs are, I am sure, not at all sufficient to affect the value of this fundamental necessity of the job as a keystone to the whole arch of the problem of industrial relations. The result of such months is merely to make the restless situation worse by urging the worker to make good use of the occasion to get acquainted with the advantages and disadvantages of as many different employers as possible during what he is certain will be only a temporary period because an abnormal one. When next week or next month things begin to get back to what he is convinced is their normal tightness, he will know what plant furnishes, all things considered, the best combination of the securities and opportunities he hopes for. If a worker has saved a little ahead, such an “inspection tour” may be as good an investment as spending it in loafing or on some of the ordinary luxuries especially if in the meantime he finds about as much security at the last place as he had originally!
It will surely appear natural enough that the next impression which marches in on my memory is that of tiredness and the connection of this tiredness with its unheavenly twin, temper. Together these two certainly make a vicious circle which deserves the thought of all those desiring either a better industry or a better and safer America. Tiredness seems to cause earlier temper with hardly greater regularity than temper, with its inner friction, causes earlier tiredness. Happiness, either in the plant or the home, appears to be unthinkable in connection with regular workshifts longer than ten hours at the most. Apparently, too, this happiness together with good citizenship is impossible with the long factory turns without much reference to the question of the nature of the work. One of the most violent denunciations of the twelve-hour shift came from a plant policeman: “Why, you guys that work on the floor up there in the open-hearth can go home and go to bed and keep yourselves in good shape. But when we chaps have sat here all day at the gate, we’ve got to take an hour’s exercise or two before turnin’ in or we begin to get fat and slumpy. This twelve hours is the devil all right.”
The bulk of our iron and steel should no longer be made and rolled into the heavier forms on the twelve-hour day and the seven-day week. For the labor gang and for the furnace men it seems beyond question that management must plan somehow to find enough things for a man to do in eight, or at most ten hours, to justify the payment of a satisfactory wage and, at the same time, not too much work for the preservation of the worker’s physical stamina. There can be no question in my mind but that the long turns are uneconomic and wasteful from the view-point of plain dollars and cents.
I shrink with proper shame when I recall the gait we workers took in the moving of those bricks from the furnaces or the “checkers” a gait that required careful observation to determine whether we were moving or not. I remember, however, that even that gait sufficed to bring all the weariness that could be borne either by me, the greenhorn, or by my friends, the old-timers. Certainly all of us grew, almost daily, less and less worthy of the wages we were paid. Certainly, too, few if any foremen prove able to stand the strain to the point of such loyalty to the company as suffices to keep them awake night after night. With the long turns added to the seven day week, it just is not humanly possible.
Whether foreman or worker, such men are paid for energies which they simply are not able to deliver. If it is true, as a member of the War Labor Board reports, that 98 per cent of the disputes they were asked to solve simmered down finally to some petty dispute between a foreman and a man, then I am willing to wager that the majority of this 98 per cent would be found to have occurred when both foreman and worker were just plain tired. Such ill humor, the doctors are assuring us, is the one unfailing sign and symptom of such tiredness. Many foremen, I am sure, are regularly working too long hours: in many cases their responsibilities call for longer turns from them than from the men under them. Indeed, in some cases it would appear that the whole organization, from the president down to the humblest shoveller, is pushing itself too hard in order to meet some emergency which is allowed to stretch itself over the weeks and months until everyone under the plant roof is “on edge” and the stage is set for trouble.
Whether tiredness and temper T. & T. are caused by bad conditions of working or of living, I am convinced that they constitute an explosive which is almost as destructive as the “T. N. T.” of warfare in its effects on the firing Hue of our daily lives and along the larger front of our national safety and development. “A man swears to keep from crying; a woman cries to keep from swearing,” is a saying recently heard that substantiates the “philosophy of profanity” originally set down in explanation of the “detonations” encountered there on my first long-hour job. The connection of these “twins” with the sleep-inducing virtues of the “whiskey-beer” of the same town has been made, I think, sufficiently plain. There can be no doubt, also, that “T. and T.” constitutes a serious menace to the whole country in the way it persuades its possessor to listen sympathetically to the words of the agitator.
Anyone who has carried these twins for days sitting upon his own body and soul wants to counsel every good citizen to beware of the daily headlines which blame all industrial difficulties upon the I. W. W., sower of dissension. It would get us all much farther along if we only would inquire whether tiredness does not supply one reason why these presumably happy and contented persons listen as much as they do to those agitators. It is nearer the whole truth to believe that the agitator earns, or at least works for, the salt of his daily bread by rubbing it into the raw spots and sore spots which our public opinion and our industrial intelligence allow to exist. Of such raw spots and sore spots one great and continuous cause is contributed by these twins. It is largely a needless and a preventable cause because it represents such low-speed work and such high-speed deterioration.
Democracy is not safe in any country where there are hundreds of thousands of tired chronically tired men or, for that matter, women. For that reason, if no other, those workers who want to “make a stake” quickly either for themselves here or their families, or that farm “back in old countree,” and so ask for the long turns, should be refused. The problem of the agitator and his hearing goes over, of course, into the field of ignorance and its opposite in education. Even tired minds would not give the credence they give to the agitator’s false statements “For every dollar you earn your employer earns ten,” or “You earn your wages in two hours of work, what you earn in the other ten or twelve makes his profit” if education, inside the plant or out, put into those minds what it should.
The point is that the installing of proper facts and information are quite impossible when those minds are chronically tired. Indeed, almost all the constructive educational and social agencies set up by a public which wants to be helpful are sure to fail of their mission if they finally impinge upon persons who would be happy to profit from them if only they were not too tired to care. “Want of interest is worse than want of knowledge” if only because without it knowledge is impossible.
Thus the third impression, which marches out like those silent timbers which came forward from the black corridors of the mine, is closely connected with the second: the worker’s ignorance the unskilled, the semiskilled, and, yes, the skilled worker’s ignorance of the plans and purposes, the aims and ideals the character of his employer, the company. This ignorance is not strange. The work of obtaining a mutual understanding between the industrial manager and the great mass of workers who have rushed in during the last few years from all over the known world for taking up their tools in our vast scheme of modern production, is colossal! It takes one’s breath away to contemplate it!
This is especially true of steel, in which America has suddenly forged to the front as the producer of more steel than all the rest of the world combined. This work, too, is one whose accomplishment must necessitate time, time with the help of patience, and, most of all, of sympathy. Meanwhile, it must be understood that the great means for that mutual knowledge which must be added to by mutual sympathy to make mutual understanding, will grow immensely faster by demonstration than by exhortation. The seeing of the thing done the thing which actually happens this constitutes the great primer by which the minds of practically all of us learn the greatest lessons. Statements, arguments, logical exposition, whether by ink or breath: these for virtually all of us are mere footnotes on the page of practical instruction and learning.
One or two, possibly three or four, demonstrations seen unmistakably in the doing of our work and taken into the inner sanctum of our experiences these give us our fixed ideas and attitudes, and so supply the real roots of our education. Perhaps it is well that it is so, otherwise we might believe the false teachers and preachers instead of casting them out when the demonstration given by their lives and works fails to support their words. At any rate, the worker is not to be blamed if he considers his driving foreman or that grouchy gate policeman or that mean-minded paymaster or his pompous clerk quite as fully and as properly a representative of the company’s real purposes as the solicitous employment manager or the friendly nurse or if he sets the manifest waste of materials off against the company’s narrow figuring of its wage rates. For that reason it must be granted that much of the distrust of great corporations is not based so much upon ignorance as, in too many cases, upon bad demonstration.
Nor can the better understanding be obtained merely by the addition of truer demonstrations unless the goodwill is really there to be demonstrated. The solution requires a sincere purpose within the soul of both parties in the relationship and then the conviction that every single contact between the two is sure to be understood as a revelation of that purpose. Especially in the case of the great concerns which now maintain these relationships under the supervision of absentee management, a successful outcome requires an amount of attention which is nothing less than tremendous.
Where the executive in immediate and close-hand charge feels that his sensibilities in the particular understanding of a delicate situation and matters of human relationships are never anything but delicate are practically bound to be rendered worthless after passing through a thousand miles of postal communication, there is set up a hopelessness and a mechanicalness which is sure, in time, to dull those sensibilities. Sooner or later, such dulled and injured sensibilities, on one side or the other, are pretty likely to mean the severed relations which, as recent history proves, are but the vestibule to war.
For all these reasons it is extremely superficial of us to think that we can solve the problem of happy industrial relations or happy American citizenship for the foreign-born worker merely by juggling with the phrase of “Americanization.” The word itself should be dispensed with because it assumes so blithely that what we have already can profit from nothing they can bring and that whatever they bring can be made suitable if they will only let us teach them English and show them the street to the court-house! No Americanism is worth our effort to obtain unless it is an Americanism of good-will, good-will built upon understanding.
And this good-will and understanding of America must be gained, after all, in exactly the same way as the understanding of the company and its purposes by demonstration. It is for us, therefore, to look more to the demonstrations of a likable or unlikable Americanism which are given every time a foreman commands, a judge instructs, a salesman sells, or a newspaper reports, assumes, or exhorts. It is idle to suppose that the teacher of English is going to make his printed pages offset all the force of the demonstrations of all the other contacts which the worker makes from day to day with all of us. It is folly also for us to assume that all our teachings must wait upon his learning of his English.
There are many, many things which should be gotten over, through his own language, to the worker whose years may now be too advanced or whose working hours are much too long to permit the learning of our tongue in time to be of service to us. In the making of these contacts, also, and especially if we have in mind his joining an English class, we should try to reach the worker not so much through his friends and compatriots at the plant, but through the larger group of his friends in his particular settlement or colony. If we cannot by all our demonstrations in all our contacts with that colony and its leader succeed in “selling America” so as to have their combined good-will in the learning of our ways, then perhaps we should take a look at our ways!
Of the seven months’ experiences, these appear to me the outstanding impressions. Beneath them, and tying them together into the whole great organization of modern life and work, are some deeper factors which should be looked at before we talk about the way out. . . . Meanwhile neither our classes nor our contacts will be found to “demonstrate” an Americanism which the foreign-born worker is likely to find attractive unless we can first of all come to a deeper realization of that fundamental humanness which makes him enormously more like us in all the larger reaches of his thoughts and feelings than unlike us.
In order to make it easier to think about the industrial worker, it has long been the fashion of the philosophers to describe him as the “economic man” interested in playing his part in the process of production or distribution, more or less exclusively for the purpose of thereby earning his daily bread, and, with good luck favoring, his daily jam and cake. “All he wants is in the pay envelope” so more practical and experienced observers are apt to voice the same effort to find an all-inclusive rule of modern human action. Such a man, it goes without saying, will have only an incidental interest in the nature, the hours, or other conditions of his work, or the character of his foreman, or his company, so long as he takes out of the plant enough money wherewith to buy in the remaining hours of his day the satisfaction of his real desires as a person among other persons. This explanation of the mainspring of men’s doings is highly popular.
To my great surprise I found it used quite as much by the worker for the explanation of his employer’s behavior and especially his misbehavior, as by the employer for the understanding of the worker’s comings and shortcomings. But something must surely be wrong with a mainspring whose effectiveness is so readily accepted in the case of the “other fellow” and so strenuously denied in our own. At the very least an enormous amount of proof ought to be required in order to substantiate on any universal basis a theory which no one can be found willing to admit for himself or for anyone else except the person he does not intimately know.
Of course the dilemma may be partly avoided by making the all but universal assumption that putting men into the group called Labor or Management or Capital changes them even down to the bottom of their souls where their life’s motors are set upon the piers of their foundation desires. This is the way often taken to get around the need of coming to the understanding of the other person’s actions by taking the tune to understand him. Of such study the result is pretty sure to be the same as that which impressed itself after my months at the south pole of the industrial world that humans vary little at the bottom of their hearts though they may vary much in the tops of their heads; that of all of us the mainsprings are just about the same, though different circumstances require different modes and methods of their escapement.
For some months I carried about the conviction of the enormous importance of the job to the wage-worker, as though it made him a very different and rather peculiar kind of chap till I awoke to the realization that in this industrial era of ours the job is almost equally important to everybody else. After all, there are exceedingly few of us in this country whose first concern is not our job. For almost all of us the most important part of our income, by far, comes from the carrying of some current responsibility, with serious trouble camping down very close to us the moment something goes wrong with that source.
Even the industrial captain builds up his capital quite largely to take care of himself and his family in the days when sickness or other disability puts an end to his yearly salary as the busy director of this enterprise or that. The chief dollars-and cents difference between his job and that of the workers in his factory is that he is more likely to be hired and paid by the month or the year instead of by the hour, day, or week and to have certain securities against unwarranted discharge. Upon him as upon the worker hangs always heavily the fear of lessened income as the result of sickness or death of joblessness. His abilities and his savings lessen the fear, of course, but do not by any means eliminate it. Most of the difference, then, consists, not in his being in the group of management, but in the size of his margin of security and safety a margin given him by his closer connection with those who give the job or take it away and by the larger savings and assurances which his larger education and earnings permit.
In the work of the Cleveland Welfare Federation we spent large sums trying to get the people of the city to understand that the community’s poor were not a fixed group or class habitually acting from abnormal and peculiar motives and therefore habitually and permanently in need of help. It is this difference, not of human material but of educational economic margin, which permits some to save themselves while others, encountering the same obstacle of sickness or unemployment, are brought down to the need of temporary help, just as a friend of mine reported: “I’m getting old. Ten years ago I could stumble and still keep going for fifteen feet at least. Now a stumble means a fall without doubt and without delay.”
The difference is in the margins of assurance, opportunity and living in general, allowed by the daily or weekly wage instead of the monthly or yearly salary it is this that gives the reason of the labor gang’s intenser and more necessitous attitude toward the job, rather than any or all supposition that the gang is made up of humans possessing different interests and therefore wanting satisfactions entirely different from the rest of us. During the long hours of shoveling bricks, lifting the steel sheets off the cold rolls, or stenciling the “Regular weights, there now !” onto the barrel-heads, it was often a problem to know what to do with one’s mind.
On some such turns I would definitely try to make the time go faster by picking out some particular field of recollection and endeavoring, hour after hour, to “lick the chops of memory” by recalling every impression possible, for instance, on one shift from my travels in Italy, on another turn Egypt or South America. At other times I would find myself swinging my body in rhythm with the movements of the job while almost chanting to myself: “I wonder if anybody could ever find any connection between this town’s evident immoralities and some of the plant’s evident dissatisfactions?’
“Is there any connection between the way people earn their livings and the way they live their lives? and if so, do bad morals cause bad jobs or bad jobs cause bad morals, or both?” As becomes a father, my fondest hope is that the following offspring of my long-turn ponderings may prove a more helpful interpreter of our modern industrial life and all its human units than that offspring of the philosophers which ought to be known as the “economic alibi.”
Suppose we start at what might be called our “jumping on” place there in the shining land of Get-up-in-the-morning, and draw a line through the sixteen waking hours of our day to the “jumping-off” place there in the shadowy land of Go-to-bed-at-night. Such line we may quite properly call our “western front” at least it represents all the opportunity we have for the putting forward of all our life’s campaigns, whatever and wherever they may be. Now, from all that I have seen or heard all kinds of human beings do and say, it is safe to assert that every normal person possesses at the bottom of his heart the desire to find somewhere along this front the satisfaction that comes with the consciousness of “breaking through.”
It is impossible to conceive of anyone who would pass along this front day after day, and year after year, without getting anywhere some feeling that he is making progress counting as something more than a cipher in the sum total of humanity and be therewith content. Such a person is pretty certain to be proved an imbecile or a fool or else he will be found among the unknown derelicts at the morgue. Now, in these recent days of unrest and commotion, when fear gives birth to misunderstanding, and misunderstanding increases the brood of fear, it is easy for all of us to believe that the man who is too far off up the line, or down for us to see and know him, will not be satisfied unless his “break-through” brings him into the manager’s or the autocrat’s or the plutocrat’s chair of absolute power for the domination of the rest of us.
Yet acquaintance with both groups is sure to convince all as it does me that the member of the labor gang is no more truly represented as the father of such an extreme desire than is the capitalist though such acquaintance does show that each is willing to believe the other not only capable of such a desire, but happy in it. It is immensely truer to the actuality to believe that every normal person, quite apart from his particular membership in this group or that in the industrial process, is moved to do what he does by the universal itch to feel that somewhere on his life’s front he is justifying his existence among other persons by ” getting on,” doing a little better than merely holding on, while those about him pass along. In this feeling all of us find quite as much pleasure in beating our own previous record as in going ahead of others. The main thing is the sense of motion and progress.
When the “high spots” of the “boss roller” or the “first helper” are put alongside of the successful banker’s or manufacturer’s it is odd to observe that they all fit into practically the same formula each is a high spot because it serves to measure their progress from the point where they started. It is this satisfaction in the distance traveled rather than in the point arrived at, that permits millions of us to have our separate, individual satisfactions without wanting to crowd each other out of the pleasure of the same, or competing, ultimate destination.
Thus: “Well, yes, things have gone pretty well with me,” says the nationally known philanthropist, the boss roller, or the first helper, as he reaches expansively for his Havana, his pipe, or his quid, according to station and fancy. “I’ll never forget the day and, yes, the hour, for I happened to notice as I went in that it was o’clock when the boss sent for me from out of the labor gang” (or the office force, or other position without especial distinction), “and asked me if I didn’t want to take a try at – ” (fill in name of next position up the line).” Then I recall that it was just years ago this next month that my new boss proposed,” etc., etc. (fill in all the steps which indicate distance travelled from the point of starting).
Altogether, it is very fortunate that the great majority of us take much more satisfaction in passing the “flivvers” of our past, or the truck loads of our slow-moving associates, than we take dissatisfaction in the thought of the limousines still ahead of us and still unpassed on the road of life and progress. All things considered, we could hardly hope for progress from anything less selfish or for self-preservation from anything less progressive. Now I am convinced that the daily wage-worker wants, to an even greater extent than the rest of us, to find his high spots and locate his break-through in the sector of his job.
For one thing, the narrowness of the margin between the daily job and the daily bread means that what he does in the hours under the plant roof determine more narrowly what he may do elsewhere, than does the nature of our work for the rest of us; and that is saying a great deal, for in a world built on jobs, all of us must adapt ourselves first to the conditions which we must meet for the earning of our living, and then, with what we have left of time and attitudes and interests, set about the living of our lives. If the worker is still on the long-hour day, all this can be figured out in minutes to make plain the immense necessity of getting the utmost of personal satisfactions out of his working time.
That means that the worker lives and moves and has his being there on the job. There is where the tire of his life’s wheel meets the smooth or jagged roadway of actuality. But still more important than that, he finds there in the precise nature of his job, skilled or unskilled, important or unimportant, and in the relationships it provides, the most important means of establishing his status and standing as a man and a citizen and the status and standing of his wife and children. Thus the oil-can or the wrench spells progress upward from the shovel, quite beyond the two-cents-hourly income. Thus, too, the promotion out of the gang to the humblest foremanship is certain to mean not only more money for a wider margin of enjoyments and securities, but also, and much more important, the envious congratulations of the gang, the familiar acceptance as a comrade at the hands of others heretofore far above him, and, finally, those gossipy noddings of heads at the club or the lodge which are the incense burned before the altars of progress and success.
It is only the great distance of most of us from such events that permits us to miss the hugeness of these steps as they appear from the view-point of the labor gang. It is this hugeness that causes many workers to lose their heads certainly, at least, the natural size of their heads the moment they find themselves thus elevated and so perhaps inclined to drive their former “buddies” with less consideration than that shown by those who never were in the gang. Now in view of all this, the most fundamental criticism I know how to make, in regard to the present industrial situation, is this: that in the minds of so many members of the labor gang, and also of higher groups of workers, there is so wide-spread and so deep-set a conviction that for them there is no chance to break through on their industrial sector!
It must be evident to those who have read this diary that while the matter is two-sided, nevertheless, considerably more justification than could be wished is, as a matter of fact, given that conviction. The trouble the most manifest trouble at least is in that “first line of defense” which is maintained there at the contact points on the line by industrial management in the person of the boss or foreman, the plant guard or policeman, and the plant paymaster and his clerks. If the break-through is to be engineered on the sector of the job, it must inevitably be in” the presence, and with the permission and recognition, of one or more of these representatives of and of parts of the management.
Through these the workers must get those daily demonstrations of the plans and purposes of all the other “lines.” There would seem to be no way by which management can avoid the responsibility for whatever impression the workers gain of its performance and intentions as the result of those demonstrations nor any effective denial that that impression as a whole is considerably less satisfactory than could be desired. Whether justified or not, this conviction that on this sector no satisfying feeling of gain or progress is to be made in proportion to effort required that “pull” and the marrying of the boss’s daughter must be counted on for getting forward produces the same result in the factory as it would on the fields of France and Flanders. When Foch or Haig became convinced rightly or wrongly that successful pressure could not be hoped for, strategy and the necessity to keep moving required, of course, the transfer of the effort to another sector.
So today, when the worker becomes, in any way, convinced as the result of a few deadly demonstrations, that employers as a group are unwilling or unable to reward initiative, loyalty, and skill, he’ changes his tactics. Leaving behind just enough energy and skill to keep “the enemy” from “breaking through ” and discharging him and he’s a wonderful judge of the precise amount needed for this purpose he withdraws the reserves of his interests and enthusiasms for more effective and worth-while application elsewhere. Like all the rest of us, the worker, it is worth repeating, carries into the other sectors of his living the equipment he is able to take out of his job.
So here again he suffers from the narrowness of his margins. If he is untrained he must daily put a larger proportion of his entire physical equipment in his case, his entire capital into his daily givings for the benefit of the needed daily gettings of the family’s food than do the most of us. Unskilled, skilled, or semiskilled, if he makes iron or steel the chances are that he must put in an average of twelve of those sixteen waking hours with, in most cases, an additional hour and a half or two to go and come. The result is not favorable to such a worker’s finding in, say, the sector of his home the sought-for satisfactions of forward movement and distinction. That is certainly evident from the most casual reading of the foregoing pages.
Over into the sector of his relationships as a citizen, similarly, many a worker can take only a depleted physique and an unsatisfied hope. Some, however, do “stand the gaff” of even the hardest work and, perhaps with the help of a sense of humor or a determined will, endeavor here to find the distinction of leading those around them. I am quite sure that these are often the men whose manifest ability to influence others comes to the attention of the all too common plant detective or “under-cover man” with the result that they may be reported as potentially dangerous workers. In too many instances such a report is likely to lead to the “planting” of, say, a bottle of whiskey in the man’s clothes, with the later discovery of it by the secret planter, who in horror at such outrageous breaking of the plant rules, lands the offender on the street, jobless and sore, ready to believe that his manhood requires his personal direction of a continuous war against the industrial and economic arrangements which permit such injustice.
I have reason to believe that such men are not happy in their capacity as leaders of the war that they would be enormously happier if they could find there in the plant and on the job the opportunity to enjoy the sense of constructive leadership which, of course, remains unattainable until the hurt that honor feels has been assuaged. It is strange that so many managers who themselves get great pleasure from their membership in some committee of the local Chamber of Commerce find it so difficult to understand the wish of some of the workers to enjoy similar distinction in their world under the plant roof.
Into the final sector of their miscellaneous relations as a person come great numbers of workers who realize their position at the base of modern industry, yet who have found nowhere else in home or club or lodge any milestone of distance traveled from the starting point of personal insignificance. Here is their final chance. Of such men their profanity, I am persuaded, is intended to convince their hearers that they themselves remain unconvinced of the inferiority which their present job may indicate in much the same way that a child assures you of his ” I don’t care! I don’t care!” when his toys are taken from him. In addition, he can hope for a certain distinction among his pals by giving the requisite attention to the luridness and daring of his blasphemies. Of such men, too, their boastings of their “fifteen, sixteen w’iskee-beer” are also calculated to impress themselves and their friends with the remarkable carrying or staying powers of their physical manliness.
For many, further, the certainty with which drunken ears are able to hear the assurance of their owner’s achievements, past, present, or future, makes it worth while to indulge in the cup which congratulates as well as inebriates congratulates because it inebriates. The old machinist who used the bartender’s dispensations to “get the feelin’ of my old position back like, you know,” and the melter in the Western steel town for whom the “hard stuff” almost instantly recalled the days when he was discharged because “the boss he knowed I knowed more ‘n a minute about steel than he did in a month,” as well as the hobo who used his whiskey as protection against the bugs and flies all these and others support, sorely, this proposition that the worker’s bottommost desire is to find the chief basis of his belief in himself there in his work, and that, failing this, he endeavors in all the other parts of his living to make the necessary adjustments.
Yes, I am convinced that there is a connection between the town’s jobs and the town’s morals or immorals. Through the hours of the morning on the new job or in the evening after supper at the boarding-house, we would feel each other out and do our best to impress each other with our “high spots” just as do two bond salesmen at the club or two society leaders over their tea-cups. This job and that, and its importance, this promotion and the other, especially this occasion or that when the worker showed that he understood his job better than did his foreman these are men’s “talking points” as they try to “sell” themselves to each other; these are the things they hold onto all their lives. The sad thing is that with so many workers the stock of these high moments runs out so quickly with the resultant drawing on the reserves of this or that drinking bout or this or that conquest of the other sex. In the wealth of detail in the features of that conquest it is all too easy to see that here at least the narrator feels that he has proved that if fortune had only gone differently he might have shown himself an outstanding salesman, or if fate had only handed him a dress suit instead of a pipewrench, the world might have been the better for a real statesman!
Instead of believing that vice is the overwhelming of the spirit’s forces by the body’s, we would come much nearer to the heart of the matter if we discerned in vice the energies of both body and soul combined / in an assault upon all the forces that oppose men’s having/ life and having it more abundantly. The harm of it is that the assault secures the hoped-for sense of victory the indispensable sense of victory only because it is made at the weakest spot in the line and so proves fleeting, false, and degrading. So that first line of defense does more than lessen men’s interest to break through on the job. It increases by the same amount the pressure to find on some weaker sector the gain that will justify a proper self-respect.
When all the fields have one after the other been entered and explored, there must somewhere be found experiences and satisfactions which will make the whole enough like the normal and average life of the normal average human to be properly called ” wholesome” else a man may not call himself a person. It is the fault of all of us to a greater or less extent if this craving for wholesomeness requires many men to vibrate back and forth across the line of the normal as from a restrictive job to a short but furious high spot of a vacation in order to feel that these extremes average into a fairly passable holding of the line. This ” wholesomeistic person” is interested in the pay envelope, but most of all he wants it to help him find in his work the justification for feeling himself a man because of what he does a man because a workman, a workman that need not be ashamed.
Much wrong we do him when we assume that nothing will satisfy him except the management and ownership of the entire enterprise. That assumption binds our hands because it blinds our eyes to the high desirability of changing his whole life as well as his attitudes and convictions by changing the possibilities for his normal satisfactions on his job. That change requires not only the improving of the foreman and the others he sees as the company, but also the lessening of the fear of joblessness, the ill humor of fatigue and the ignorance of the deeper motives of his associates in the whole industrial proceeding.
The harm that all these do is done because they so vitally affect men’s feelings. Built, all of them, upon the bottom wish to consider ourselves self-contained, self-controlled, and worthy personal units in the world, it is our feelings that lead us all to the release of all our energies. Our thinkings give us our facts and the logical connections between them. Our feelings enable us to set a value on those facts and connections. All the yeast in the world gives bread no value until the feelings of hungry humans speak and the arms of hungry humans reach. Short experience will convince anyone that it is impossible to overstate the influence on these infinitely delicate scales within us of a few days or weeks of joblessness, a few months of fatigue, or a few years of the conviction that the company doesn’t care and that doing the job ” don’t get you nowheres.”
So long as human beliefs and attitudes are so slightly the result of thinkings and so largely the result of feelings of hope and fear, fatigue, disappointment, pride, so long will it be worth while to see the cause of any man’s abnormal beliefs and attitudes in whatever abnormal conditions may surround his job. And here it must be noted that the normal conditions of a decade ago may become abnormal to-day, because they have remained while others changed as when, for instance, other industries shorten their day ‘and leave one or two to continue with the long turns. “You take the best-trained and mildest-mannered lion imaginable the result of a life-time’s careful handling and in five minutes of bad treatment which rubs him all the wrong way, you can drive him back into a wild beast and, perhaps, keep him there for life!”
In these words an expert trainer puts well another extremely important difference between feelings and thinkings. Ask a man how long he has possessed such and such an idea and you can make a rough judgment as to the probable difficulty of disproving it. But, by its intensity, the emotion of an instant may prove more effective than others which have been possessed for years. Thus a few months or even years of plentiful jobs do not by any means cross off those feelings of despair which burn themselves in on the soul during a few months or weeks of unemployment as in 1913-14, and to a less extent in 1919.
Thus, also, many employers and many union members find it quite impossible to-day to discuss each other without a heat which badly warps the straightness of their thinking, perhaps as the result of attitudes forged in the heat of intense emotions years and years ago. “Well, you see, he was the leader of the union durin’ the strike. A fair-minded man he was and a decent strike it was, at the start. But finally the company orders every family out of all its houses in eighteen hours everybody’s gotta be out, y’understand. Well, his wife, two days later, had a baby when they was campin’ out an’ died. He’s been what ye might call a company-fighter ever since.”
This was the report of a famous radical given me there in the second mine town. “No, I’ve never believed in the fairness of the worker or the unions since the time they went out on us after we had treated them the best we knew how for years,” was the way an employer told of his own hurt. “And they all acknowledged that they had no complaint!” “Well, what can we do?” said the workers in very much the same situation in another city. “If we don’t go out the boys where they haven’t got the advantages we’ve got can’t win. If we lose our jobs we can still keep our friends and live in the town here, but if we refuse to help our buddies make their fight, then we can’t go on living here that is, ‘thout bein’ called yellow. What’s the answer?”
Each is trying to solve his problem in the way that allows him to feel himself true to what he decides is his highest loyalties. Yet each fails to see the conditions under which the other’s choice must be made. And each is certain that the other’s action is made plain by that ” economic” formula of the philosophers. All of which means that in the world of human energies the “relativity of motion” holds as true as any Einstein may demonstrate for the world of natural forces.
If all of us stood still, then all of us could stand contentedly and “save our face” in standing. It is when war makes the unskilled worker into a munitions producer and puts him up the line out of his place that those who have not moved forward feel that they have in actuality been moved back, and are therefore unhappy. By the same token the profiteer is felt to have moved backward all those who would otherwise be perfectly content to feel that they had shared with others the universal set-backs of war times and conditions.
In the same way, too, men feel it proper to desire more progress in the way of better jobs after returning from the fields where so much blood was shed that all men might travel farther into life and more abundant life. As long as all these feelings for forward movement normally express themselves first of all in the form of pressure there on the earn-a-living sector, it behooves us to guard and protect them from every influence that disturbs them, unless those influences are found to be absolutely inseparable from the industrial process. Such disturbance as is to-day caused by the fear of joblessness, fatigue, and ignorance constitutes, I am certain, a very serious, costly, and needless brake upon both the self-respect and the effectiveness of our workers and fellow citizens in our basic industries added to by the further commotion caused by the war’s upsetting of old standings and statuses.
Before this latter can be ended it will be necessary for all to feel that something like the old relative positions and opportunities for the same relative motions forward have been re-established, with the bottommost moved up so as to meet the more particular measurements and requirements of a more democratic world. The process is trying. The very disturbance and commotion puts people throughout the country into the same touchy mood that followed my sleepless bed and crowded kitchen in the first mine town, because all these things reach and roil feelings even though they may not affect thinkings. Thereby the gap is widened.
If, then, the precise formula needed to bridge the gap comes not instantly to the lips, feelings are sure to be hurt, relations become strained or broken if, indeed, the war is not on the instant declared. But as long as men will fight oftener to save their face than to feed their stomach progress is assured as long, at least, as the public and the determiners of the conditions of industry understand the vastness of the forces which men carry in their souls and the delicacy of their control, and then arrange properly for the release of those forces. A word or two about such arrangements and we shall be done.
THE WAY OUT AND MANAGEMENT
If my opinions thus far are in general sound, it is evident that those who determine the conditions under which a man earns his living determine thereby pretty much the conditions under which he lives his life. This would seem to be supported by the fact that the whole circle of present day political and social as well as economic varieties of unrest unconsciously seek correction by attacks not on the social or political but on the industrial sector. By the strategy of the most practical and pressing necessity thus, as well as by the logic of our line of thought, the challenge of the whole range of our modern life comes to be deposited on the doorstep not so much of the owners of industry as of its managers. I am sure that most of the thinking and feeling which is going on at the top of the great industrial organizations is good enough to deserve better expression on that first line of contact.
Nothing is more certain than that this better expression will be worth all the effort or money it may cost to secure it. The average foreman’s failure at least in the fields I visited to obtain the worker’s desire to cooperate would be a matter for smiling if it were not so serious a drain upon the whole industrial process. The number is surely large of those workers who must smile in their sleeves when they think how easy it is to let a foreman suppose that they are giving all they have when as a matter of fact they have merely calculated to a nicety the amount required to save them from immediate joblessness. Such an artistic appearance of labor without its actuality is sure to be the result, whether the worker dislikes the boss or distrusts the company. In either case the company is sure to pay the bills though, of course, they are passed on to the consumer in the cost of production. Nothing is surer than that the company’s and the public’s bill for this failure of the foreman is colossal.
The foreman who fails to get the good-will and respect of his workers is pretty likely, also, to fail to make good use of the slender energies they do release. But it will always be difficult to get either persuasive or intelligent foremen for the handling of men on the long turns: tired workers require too much heat in their driver’s mouth to favor much light in his mind. When the shorter hours are put in force, management will make a most costly error if it does not exchange this driver for a leader with the ability to use for the best good of the company the energies he can interest his men to release. Besides huge inefficiency, murder itself is likely to occur if the old type of foreman tries to continue his old tactics with men no longer too weary to hope for the satisfactions of self-respecting work and accomplishment.
The need of lessening the foreman’s right to discharge a man at will without, perhaps, withdrawing it completely, hardly needs statement. Larger security on the job is the first requirement for safeguarding the worker’s self-respect. The better expression of company interests by plant policeman and paymaster’s office also needs no argument. But it must not be assumed by any means that the cause of the faulty expression lies wholly in these officials and their shortcomings. Just as the worker learns or thinks he learns about the company by this or that demonstration staged by the foreman, the guard, or the paymaster’s clerk, so the foreman must guess the kind of manner and message he must pass on down the line only by the demonstration of it he sees in the actions of the men just above him. Without doubt the worker’s wholesale and hard working explanation “Aw, he’s afraid he’ll lose his job!” is all too often the true diagnosis of the foreman’s conduct.
He cannot be expected to “put himself in the worker’s place” unless he can- be sure that he doesn’t lose his own place by so doing! And quite possibly the fault is not so much in the factory manager or superintendent above him as in the general manager above him or the vice-president or president or chairman of the board above him ! The labor gang, I am persuaded, is far from being the only place where men sigh to be given a greater chance to “turn themselves loose” without being rapped by a superior on the knuckles of their initiative. That better expression on the first line of contact, therefore, cannot be expected to favor larger satisfactions in the job until more “chiefs” assign responsibilities to all their associates as did one I have much in mind: “And finally this: Don’t bother to tell me how you propose to get the results we have agreed upon. That’s your job, not mine. But, in case your delivery of these results is interfered with by obstacles which you cannot move but I can, then have in mind that I try to earn my salary by sitting here with the door open waiting for you.”
If such words serve to send an executive out of the door with his head high and his heart resolved to give its utmost, there is small reason why their spirit cannot be extended clear down the line. At any rate, only when that is done will industry know something of the efficiency of the willing bird which flies farther than the thrown stone.
Meanwhile, this plan and that for solving the labor problem is discussed for weeks and months while the foreman continues to judge that he had better make his own job a little surer by passing in, as his own, the valuable suggestion of one of his gang, and then the “super” judges that he had better make a little surer of his place by passing it on to his superior as his! And no one can question the wisdom of their judgment until he knows how deeply or how superficially the president and the board of directors have thought about this matter of getting men to do their best. It will be recalled that the finest shower-baths I met were in the refinery for the use of the men under the control of the only person I have ever had the least desire to murder!
To the same effect is the general understanding that a company known recently to have inaugurated profit-sharing continues to employ foremen who make the workers pay them for their jobs! These words are not meant to discourage the initiation of plans and devices for the bettering of conditions and relations. The point is, that these must not be expected to lessen by one jot the necessity for fairness and squareness in all the relationships of the entire establishment nor, similarly, the necessity for improvements which save sweat and strain directly on the job where the work is done as in the case of the heavy sheet-bar there by the pair heater’s furnace. Instead of hoping to build a relationship of friendliness by means of the service or employment department’s restaurants, clubs, badges, etc., the purpose must rather be to help the entire organization to carry up and down, without obstruction, all the impulses which may be contributed by any at the top or at the bottom which are calculated to increase the effectiveness of any for the benefit of the whole. In these days of the multiple-unit enterprise, management is failing to offer to all kinds of workers, at top and bottom and in between, the assurances of a break-through that will be proportional to effort because it is failing to give proper thought to the development of those spiritual forces of its persons which are, after all, its final resources; and to the effective projection of these into every nook and cranny of the organization.
That can hardly be accomplished, though it will be helped, by a few classes for foremen. That can also not be accomplished by foremen or workers or executives who are supposed to be kept at their best by the fear of dismissal, instead of by the hope of increased opportunity and security. A discouraging feature to-day is the number of executives who depend entirely for their knowledge as to whether the projection of their interests and ideals actually reaches to the labor gang, upon the highly prejudiced testimony of the foreman or the highly unreliable report of the ” inside man” who makes his living by deception and who stands to lose his job the moment he fails to disclose a certain amount of trouble and unrest around him.
The result is that the worker’s ignorance as to the real heart and purposes of his employer is equaled only by the employer’s ignorance of the real wants of his workers. If it were not so, more employers would have confidence to ask the workers themselves to tell them what is on their minds and then see that nothing happened to them for telling. One reason why this is not done more generally in industry is that the manager is inclined to miss this point of the importance of feelings and so to rely upon his thinkings. Especially if he was once a worker, he is likely to think that his reasoning powers, by which he believes he has built up his business, will tell him what the worker wants even better than the worker himself can do it. The result is fairly certain to bring later disappointment to him and soreness to the men.
He should hang on his walls the “Eleventh Commandment,” “Thou Shalt Not Take Thy Neighbor for Granted.” Another reason for delaying so long the asking of the worker for his opinion in matters, not perhaps of finance or sales, but of the job and its conditions, is fear, fear that the worker will take advantage of the occasion merely to put more into that pay envelope. But except under conditions which appear to him to justify a sense of injustice or distrust, the most his self-respect will permit him to ask for is whatever represents at one and the same time the best interests of the company and of himself.
Where, therefore, this spirit of reasonableness is not in evidence, management will do well to seek, and seek diligently and deeply, for the abnormal conditions or relationships which are sure to be at the bottom of such abnormal and unreasonable feelings. In this collective dealing whatever may be its particular form the worker, if he is young, wants a larger opportunity to show what he can do with the assurance that it will get him some kind of proportionate recognition. If he is old, he wants a larger security for the holding of his job and his place in the line of job importances and standings.
In both connections he has something to give in return for these gains. He knows the exact amount of energy he puts into the job and how much he might put into it also how much more he could make what he puts in count, if somebody would make it worth his while. In one company now finding that it can pay better wages and still make steel more cheaply on the short day than on the old long turns, the men have helped largely to this end by contributing of their store of this knowledge of the job. As a result this job or position on the furnaces or rolls has been eliminated and that one has been combined with another for the saving of a man. Another thing the worker can give is his understanding of some of the difficulties of management and his resultant increased respect for management’s inability to work out all matters to everybody’s instant satisfaction. Of such understanding in these days of restless labor, freight tie-ups, and tight money, management needs all it can get from anyone but most from the worker.
It might be claimed that the worker, as a matter of fact, ought to want more than this for which he feels willing and able to give return. But with a larger chance to enjoy the satisfactions of a steadier, better job, with less stealing of these satisfactions by the foreman, he will be found to grow in ability and capacity to the same proportionate degree that the rest of us grow under the same stimulus namely, the necessity of “making good” by successfully meeting, one after another, the responsibilities of our jobs.
To anticipate without fear the gradual development of a partnership based upon the development of abilities and capacities requires nothing but mutual confidence in the fairness of each side. Such fairness any one is certain to find easy of expectation who has taken the trouble to add to his belief in the fundamental wish of the average manager to play fair the further belief of the worker to base his own self-respect upon the same honest foundation.
Each group must have a certain amount of consideration in understanding that the other is sure to be having its own troubles in molding the actions of all its members into that consistency of performance which is required to establish the kind of character that begets confidence. The shortcomings of this kind that exist in the past of both groups complicates enormously, it goes without saying, the possession of either this expectation or consideration unless they can be cancelled off against each other. All of which means that there can be no easy way out of the industrial problem. The reason is that that problem is a problem of relations between persons all of whom are daily forming and reforming their attitudes and hopes and beliefs and wants and faiths and fears on the basis of what they see or think they see, what they think, and especially what and then doing their best or their worst accordingly they feel. For which reason it is difficult enough to work out satisfactorily the relations between two perfectly friendly and perfectly expectant and considerate individuals.
Naturally enough it is sure to be enormously more difficult to work them out between great groups all of whom are bound, more or less, by their group loyalties, their economic necessities, and their economic and physiological margins to say nothing of the further difficulties of comparatively sudden gatherings together, strange confusions of tongues, and feelings that require that interpretation which often serves only as a “compound fracture of speech followed by mortification.” In such circumstances, it behooves each group to look with such forgiving eyes upon the inconsistencies of the other’s behavior as it would wish to have the other look upon its own. Both must face the demand for better collective morals before they can expect success as either corporations or as unions. These necessities and restrictions mean, for one thing, that there cannot possibly be enough promotions to go around, even when management equips itself to recognize ability wherever it discloses itself. But not all workers want promotion.
An immensely greater number do want to have a better idea of what the job is for. Huge numbers work year after year making parts of machinery without ever seeing the completed whole of which they have the right to feel themselves the co-producers and co-creators. Greater knowledge of its service to others makes my job better because more important. And the possession of a better job to-day than yesterday entitles me to think of myself as a better man. Luckily industry is awakening to the importance of this, as in a factory where movies are used to explain why a motor works to the workers who day after day make the motor’s parts. Along such lines there are almost endless opportunities for increasing the worker’s understandings and abilities without requiring the larger imagination called for in the more theoretical classes unrelated to the job.
Better jobs and steadier jobs, less tiring jobs, jobs whose human service is better understood, jobs with a better chance to enjoy the satisfactions of their doing without these being lessened by a grasping foreman representing an unknown employer: this is what the worker wants more than he wants to sit in the chair of the manager or clip the coupons of the owner. The challenge should not be too much for the American executive. Certainly he will find a greater satisfaction and perform a greater service in the meeting of it than ever he has known before.
A few decades ago the mass needs of the world called for the mass production of the great corporation. The need was met by the executive who was trained in the assembling and marshalling of the dollar in armies large enough to supply the power of massed finance. After him came the leader who possessed the ability to develop and direct men’s desires and demands in a way to furnish the organized mass sales required for the mass production made possible by the massed dollars. He in turn has been followed by the expert scientifically trained to secure the refinements in mass production which massed demand and competition made possible and necessary.
This executive still has some distance to go before we can talk legitimately about that science of industry which stands for the organized knowledge of the natural forces it employs. To-day the interests of the owners of the dollars which created the plant, and the originators and possessors of the desires and needs which keep the plant going, have the right to ask that the present-day executive give deeper thought toward developing that art of industry which will stand for the organized emotion of its human factors and forces organized and applied in ways which will at one and the same time meet most effectively the needs of both the makers and the users of goods, both the performers and the receivers of services. But if the manager is to meet this challenge of bringing about a better America by means of better jobs, he has the right to ask the cooperation of his customers in ways which, finally, are worth mentioning.
THE WAY OUT AND THE PUBLIC
Recent events throughout Christendom are calculated to make plain the interest of the public in this problem of the relations between those investors of brawn, brains, and bullion who comprise industry. To this interest the public is not hesitating to give voice in the form of its demand that ways be found whereby these relations can be composed with less general inconvenience and annoyance. This demand is not likely to be satisfactorily fulfilled until the makers of it see that it involves certain serious responsibilities. One of the most outstanding of these appears to me to be the organization of machinery for getting the worker and the job together.
Both industry and the public have to pay too high a price in the shape of the wasted opportunity of the unmanned job and of the injured morale of the jobless man to allow the getting of the two together to remain in the hands of the employer who likes to have forty men at his gate for every five jobs, the union which may similarly wish to juggle the market, or the job agent who puts money in his pocket every time one of his patrons is hired and, by the same token, fired. Nor can this function be performed well by a government department which, in the nature of the case, is compelled to favor the worker more than the work itself or the employer. This is practically the situation of the Department of Labor according to the terms of its establishment.
There should be no reason why that department and the Department of Commerce could not jointly be authorized to set in motion an interstate employment bureau which would facilitate the transfer of men from one part of the country to the other without the over-emphasis of one group’s interests or the over-centralization of authority which hobbled the recent federal bureau. Beyond doubt such a joint bureau should ask and receive the support of manufacturers, workers, and public in making at once a study of all the obstacles in the way of the maximum regularity of operation of all industries. In such regularity the wish of the owner meets the wish of the manager and the worker: all want steady work, whether for their dollars, machinery, and plant, their directing abilities, or the energies of their hand and arm and head.
Without doubt, too, such a study would not get far without seeing that the public has a chance to play a large hand in aiding this desired regularity, or in insisting that men shall not work themselves out of their jobs. It is well known that extremes of style tend to overwork men and women part of the year, and then to out-of-work them a larger part. Seasonal buying of such things as coal naturally puts upon both production and distribution the same strains of rush-hour peak loads with the consequent depressions that daily embarrass the transportation systems of cities. This strain seems to grow rather than diminish as the users of, for instance, railroad or manufacturing supplies tend to come together into larger and larger aggregations of buying power. Such aggregations present, however, the means for securing the hoped-for improvement with greater ease, when once the solution of the problem is seriously approached. Such aggregations and government could also co-operate to make the hobo no longer necessary by fitting seasonal jobs together in ways to avoid the need of migration.
Whether unemployment insurance as operated in other countries is to be considered or not, there is no question but that such a study of the obstacles is desirable in itself from every point of view before the public can think intelligently of getting at both of these corner-stones of the whole industrial problem the getting together of the man and the job, and the keeping of them together as long as is efficiently possible. If government cannot represent the public interest in this way, it is to be hoped that some group of enlightened employers may set about it in an unprejudiced and scientific manner, with, if possible, the cooperation of these workers.
The most important result of such studies and the organization that would follow them for increasing the regularity and the security of the job would be this: it would force the foreman and the whole managerial organization to abandon the all too general practice of capitalizing the fear of joblessness, and to organize for getting a much greater co-operation from the workingmen by means of a constant appeal to their faith in the surety of reward. Until some such fundamental change as this is made there can be but futile talk about the moral or progressive values of good character in connection with the relations between industry’s persons either as individuals or as groups.
Without this change, furthermore, industry will remain far behind education, religion, and salesmanship, all of which have in our day substituted for the old appeal to fear of punishment or penalty the appeal to hope, and faith in a proportionate reward. It is a question whether any plan such as that of the second industrial conference will serve to inform public opinion as well as one organized to give to all the facts of industry a continuous and unprejudiced study and interpretation without waiting until the situation is acute and those in the middle have come to share the prejudices and biases of one side or the other. But many plans will doubtless be found worth trying and will be certain to contribute some bit of guidance to the better step.
The main thing is for the public to realize that all its protestations of the paramountcy of its interest in the matter will not avail to secure serious influence for its opinions unless these opinions are free from the bias of feelings and are based upon real understanding an understanding as far removed as possible, for instance, from the almost total ignorance with which the public continues to treat the strikes of the steel workers, the soft-coal miners, and, perhaps to a less extent, the railway men. In short, the public’s right to an effective view-point in this matter will require it to think less about the relations between capital and labor and to know immensely more about capital and about labor.
Such an informed understanding would start at once to break down the present tendency to roll together the interests of about 400,000 manufacturers and of about 30,000,000 workers into the charming but highly deceptive simplicity of “capital and labor.” Those thousands of manufacturers are making tens of thousands of different kinds of things, meeting tens of thousands of different kinds of problems as put up to them by millions of different buyers of their goods and services. Still vaster is the extent of the problems of the wishings and wantings and standards and beliefs and prejudices and necessities and luxuries of all those thirty millions!
Most of our misunderstandings come from taking too much for granted missing the perspectives which make the nearer view so simple. Looked at from a distance, the differences between the foreman and the member of his gang, between the millwright or the rigger and the laborer, seem slight. “Out of work!” we are apt to say. “How can that be when I can’t get men to mow my lawn?” The truth is that the public cannot do a better and more valuable thing for itself and the country than to exercise all its power to make sure that the millwright may never find it necessary to ask for the chance to mow that lawn! For him to do so would deal a cruel blow against that self-respect upon which the public must depend to keep him at his bench every working-day, an upright, forward-looking, and sincere worker and citizen. For days after he takes the job of a common laborer he will not be able to hold his head among the friends with whom, after years of work and ambition, he now has the standing that goes to the possessor of skill with tools. As a matter of fact, there is a wider breach between the skilled and the unskilled laborer than between “labor” and “capital.”
It is the thread of self-respect and standings and statuses running through all these differences that ties the world of modern society together. It is impossible to overstate either the delicacy of this thread or its crucial importance to the whole great organization of present-day working and living and enjoying. We give to the dollar altogether too great an importance when we consider it the cause either of men’s industry or their intrigue, their virtues or their vices. The dollar is merely an especially convenient and simple means for facilitating the measurement of a man’s distance from the cipher of insignificance among his fellows.
If it does not serve that end it is not sought beyond the narrow limits required for the daily bread as in the mine town, where ” conspicuous leisure” proves more valuable to this end and so causes loafing in exactly the same way that the standing which the dollar can buy for the mine owner or operator in the big city, with its fine houses and limousines, brings him down diligently on time every day to his desk. Beyond a certain point, dependent upon the standings and statuses which the dollar can buy in the community, the increase of wages is thus quite as likely to lessen as to increase effort. Those who are sure that the dollar causes the harms of modern life will be disappointed to see those harms continue if ever private profit is done away with.
Without bothering first to get the money as now, men will still go on trying to make their particular jobs and the importance, skill, and usefulness of them in comparison with other jobs represent the particular degree by which they as citizens are moving forward from their earlier and less trained and less important selves, or at least holding their own in comparison with others.
As long as human needs must be met by the doing of jobs, these jobs will be the real criterion of character and worth, of applied serviceableness the real means of indicating a man’s importance to others and of understanding their importance to him. And as long as they are such, men will do deeds as base to get the chance to indicate their standing through them as they do now in order to obtain the additional and easily calculated manifestation of importance made possible by money.
German military and civil life was not appreciably better than ours when the guests sat down at table according to the degree of nearness to the Kaiser denoted by the job given by their government. So it seems to me that there is no need to try a new system of society. I find myself less a socialist than ever; the whole thing seems too vast and yet too delicate to put into the hands of a committee. What we need to do and at once is to apply more insight to the working of the system already in existence this long while. Any system will tie itself together only with the strength and certainty of the cord with which it can tie men’s givings to their gettings, their wantings to their havings, their presents to their futures. In any system the investor of money, of managerial mind, or of effective muscle will get out of the whole process of industry what he wants for his givings only with the silent understanding and cooperation of all of us.
As workers used to call my attention to this or that ” demonstration” they were noticing as to what “gets a fellow somewhures” and what does not, I found myself wondering whether amongst any of us there could be any such thing as character or virtue except as we could believe that the fulfilment of certain conditions of performance would without fail bring at some later date the enjoyment of the reward and whether we could hold our faith indefinitely in the face of demonstrations to the contrary. I doubt it.
The main difference is that education puts some in better position to see over a larger field or around more corners than others and therefore more able to find the demonstrations that support their faith. But it is the great public of all of us that determines what is the strength of the cord that ties the “to-be” to the “is” and makes the right reward follow upon right performance. If we in our capacity as railway employers allow it to come about that the tenders of switches and maintainers of track gain less recognition in the pay envelope or otherwise than men who work with the pick and the shovel elsewhere, then we must not complain if men desert the switches. If we in our capacity as bestowers of good-will and recognitions kowtow to the possessor of millions more than to the discoverer of new forces in the molecule, then we must not complain if men go in for the millions rather than the molecules.
If always “the wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the most grease,” then we must expect maximum squeaking. If we permit it to come about that the will to do brings no better recognition and no closer connection with the well-to-do than does the lack of it, then well-doing will begin to be a stranger to well-being. And when these are no strangers then the wish for the satisfactions of self-respect will begin to exert its pressure elsewhere than on the job. If, furthermore, that line which is known to tie right moral results to the right moral actions of individuals is observed not to operate for the performance of groups, then corporations and unions will alike seek to avoid the responsibilities of moral character.
And while the church may continue to urge upon us all as individuals the requirements of the moral law, we shall find it constantly easier and easier to evade them as more and more our actions become fused in the activities of the multiple-unit groups which are sure increasingly to operate as the great forces and factors of our modern life. Which means that a country is pretty sure to get as good government as it deserves and as good an industry no better and no worse because men will see no point in their exerting more political or industrial effort than they have noticed from experience is worthwhile.
When men are helped to find in their jobs the satisfactions that make many of us wish there were more hours in the day for the doing of our work, then and only then will men stop exerting pressure to lessen the time spent in their earn-a-living sector and to increase the money and the hours which they can take out of it with which to bring up the average of their lives as a whole. Disappointment is sure to continue, also, if this public of all of us with one hand educates ourselves to new and larger abilities and, with the other, fails to provide the better jobs without which these abilities will only serve to bring us disappointment and unhappiness. Such failure is likely to have serious consequences when the children of the present foreign-born workers come to the plant in larger numbers after the manner of the young crane-man of the billet dock.
Common labor with its untrained hands and usually the untrained direction of these hands is pretty surely the most expensive part of the productive process today. In addition it furnishes the most unreliable and unstable part of our industrial structure because its very lack of training makes it fairly ready to get off of one job and onto the next, so long as its requirements are equally simple. Especially at this time of labor shortage all of us should ask, for our own security, that industry invent more labor-saving machinery, especially in its hottest and roughest jobs, before it lets this shortage prevent it from discontinuing the long turns or before it feels itself built upon a secure foundation in men’s feeling toward the possessors of skill.
The schools, the churches, the libraries all the organizations for the bettering of American life will not suffice to serve or save the life of a country unless that country’s industry furnishes from its top to its bottom jobs which permit all of us to put into practicable and serviceable form the inspirations and ideals of our best living. That does not mean at all that jobs must be made easy or clean and comfortable or even interesting the worker does not want to loaf, and he can see fine points in a dull or monotonous job with an eye that should shame us.
It does mean that he wants to feel sure that, when he does give all he has to give, he and his value in it all will not fail to get something like the satisfactions in his heart and the recognitions for himself and his family to which he feels that service entitles him. Like all the rest of us, he follows the line not so much of the least resistance as that of the maximum recognitions per unit of effort. If we take millions of people, with all the interests of their heads and the desires of their hearts, and assume to dispose of them under the five letters of ” labor,” then the lines begin dangerously to stretch which bind the future and the present together in the way which alone makes possible whatsoever things are true and of good repute. Such a strain upon the lines the war has brought as men saw others getting unfair shares of money and other recognitions, while the high cost of living was met better by those who fought for larger wages than by those who, like the teachers, trusted us to see to their reward. One result of that strain is that men are seen to be working less hard and generally acting less reasonably which in turn gives the employer a grievance.
The strain upon those lines and they have only the tenuous strength of faith becomes highly dangerous when, at so critical a time, men begin to argue for doing away with further attempt at understanding each other and having instead resort to machine guns. That only plays into the hand of the Bolshevist agitators who see their work of disruption thus begun for them in support of their doctrine that there can never be any reconciliation between the seller and the buyer of human energies. Hundreds of thousands of honest workers have in the last year lost for a time at least their faith in us of America, because in our ignorance of them we have found it attractive to try to save ourselves by blaming the general unrest wholly upon them.
The sweat and tears and, yes, the blood of the long days and longer nights among the “boys” of the open-hearth floor, the black “rooms” “inside” or the greasy pits of the “house” or the “yard” will not have been in vain if they may somehow serve to lessen the number of those who with the best of intentions are withholding that understanding and recognition which is indispensable to the whole scheme of organized life and progress a recognition that must be built on some such “close-up” knowledge of men’s hearts as these pages have tried to give, and on the sympathy without which knowledge seems somehow to fail to carry on.
Ten thousand men, so it is said, must join their forces together for the putting of the daily loaf upon our daily table. But every single one of those forces is released not so much by the force of the others as by virtue of each one’s faith in the others faith that his co-operation will be rewarded by theirs. This will always be so as long as humans are human with hearts as well as heads. Before we lay the blame upon those others or talk about trying some other plan, all of us, whether we happen to think of ourselves as in the group of persons called Capital or Management or Labor or the Public, should arrange to put into this present scheme a larger measure of the two elements which are likely to prove sovereign for these trying times a cool head and a warm heart.
An essay on Ca’canny
The following chapbook expresses the reduction in efficiency under distrust. This depletion of productivity is, exactly, what’s recovered in Plan B. Add to that the creativity expressed in sabotage switched to competitive advantage and the huge wreckage of Plan A becomes more believable.
By Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
The interest in sabotage in the United States has developed lately on account of the case of Frederic Sumner Boyd in the state of New Jersey, as an aftermath of the Paterson strike- Before his arrest and conviction for advocating sabotage, little or nothing was known of this particular form of labor tactic in the United States. Now there has developed a two-fold necessity to advocate it: not only to explain what it means to the worker in his fight for better conditions, but also to justify our fellow-worker Boyd in every thing that he said. So I am desirous primarily to explain sabotage, to explain it in this two-fold significance, first as to its utility and second as to its legality.
Its Necessity in the Class War
I am not going to attempt to justify sabotage on any moral ground. If the workers consider that sabotage is necessary, that in itself makes sabotage moral. Its necessity is its excuse for existence. And for us to discuss the morality of sabotage would be as absurd as to discuss the morality of the strike or the morality of the class struggle itself. In order to understand sabotage or to accept it at all it, is necessary to accept the concept of the class struggle. If you believe that between the workers on the one side and their employers on the other there is peace, there is harmony such as exists between brothers, and that consequently whatever strikes and lockouts occur are simply family squabbles; if you believe that a point can be reached whereby the employer can get enough and the worker can get enough, a point of amicable adjustment of industrial warfare and economic distribution, then there is no justification and no explanation of sabotage intelligible to you.
Sabotage is one weapon in the arsenal of labor to fight its side of the class struggle. Labor realizes, as it becomes more intelligent, that it must have power in order to accomplish anything; that neither appeals for sympathy nor abstract rights will make for better conditions.
For instance, take an industrial establishment such as a silk mill where men and women and little children work ten hours a day for an average wage of between six and seven dollars a week. Could any one of them, or a committee rep resenting the whole, hope to induce the employer to give better conditions by appealing to his sympathy, by tolling him of the misery, the hardship and the poverty of their lives; or could they do it by appealing to his sense of justice? Suppose that an individual working man or woman went to an employer and said: “I make, in my capacity as wage worker in this factory, so many dollar’s worth of wealth every day and justice demands “‘that you give me at least half.” The employer would probably have him removed to the nearest lunatic asylum, he would consider him too dangerous a criminal to let loose on the community!
It is neither sympathy nor justice that makes an appeal to the employer. But it is power. If a committee can go to the employer with this ultimatum: “We represent all the men and woman in this shop.” They are organized in a union as you are organized in manufacturers’ association. They have met and formulated in that union a demand for better hours and wages and they are not going to work one day longer unless they get it. In other words, they have withdrawn their power as wealth producers from your plant and they are going to coerce you by this withdrawal of their power; into granting their demands,” that sort of ultimatum served upon an employer usually meets with an entirely different response: and if the union is strongly enough organized and they are able to make good their threat they usually accomplish what tears and pleadings never could have accomplished.
We believe that the class struggle existing in society is expressed in the economic power of the master on the one side and the growing economic power of the workers on the other side meeting in open battle now and again, but meeting in continual daily conflict over which shall have the larger share of labor’s product and the ultimate ownership of the means of life. The employer wants long hours, the intelligent workingman wants short hours. The employer wants low wages, the intelligent workingman wants high wages. The employer is not concerned with the sanitary conditions in the mill, he is concerned only with keeping the cost of production at a minimum; the intelligent workingman is concerned, cost or no cost, with having ventilation, sanitation and lighting that will be conducive to his physical welfare. Sabotage is to the class struggle what guerrilla warfare is to the battle. The strike is the open battle of the class struggle, sabotage is the guerrilla warfare, the day-by-day warfare between two opposing classes.
General Forms of Sabotage.
Sabotage was adopted by the General Federation of Labor of France in 1897 as a recognized weapon in their method of conducting fights on their employers- But sabotage as an instinctive defense existed long before it was ever officially recognized, by any labor organization. Sabotage means primarily: the withdrawal of efficiency. Sabotage means either to slacken up and interfere with the quantity, or to botch in your skill and interfere with the quality, of capitalist production or to give poor service. Sabotage is not physical violence, sabotage is an internal, industrial process. It is something that is fought out within the four walls of the shop: And these three forms of sabotage-to affect the quality, the quantity and the service are aimed at effecting the profit the employer. Sabotage is a means of striking at the employer’s profit for the purpose of forcing him into granting certain conditions, even as workingmen strike for the same purpose of coercing him. It is simply another from of coercion.
There are many forms of interfering with efficiency, interfering with quality and the quantity of production: from varying motives—there is the employer’s sabotage as well as the worker’s sabotage. Employers interfere with the quality of production, they interfere with the quantity of production, they interfere with the supply as well as with the kind of goods for the purpose of increasing their profit. But this form of sabotage, capitalist sabotage, is antisocial, for the reason that it is aimed at the good of the few at the expense of the many, whereas working-class sabot age is distinctly social, it is aimed at the benefit of the many, at the expense of the few.
Working-class sabotage is aimed directly at “the boss” and at his profits, in the belief that that is his religion, his sentiment, his patriotism. Everything is centered in his pocket book, and if you strike that, you are striking at the most vulnerable point in his entire moral and economic system.
Short Pay, Less Work “Ca Canny”
Sabotage as it aims at the quantity is a very old thing, called by the Scotch “ca canny” All intelligent workers have tried it at some time or other when they have been compelled to work too hard and too long. The Scotch dockers had a strike in 1889 and their strike was lost, but when they went back to work they sent a circular to every docker in Scotland and in this circular they embodied their conclusions, their experience from the bitter defeat. It was to this effect. “The employers like the scabs, they have always praised their work, they have said how much superior they were to us, they have paid them twice as much as they have ever paid us: now let us go back on the docks determined that since those are the kind of workers they like and that is the kind of work they endorse we will do the same thing. We will let the kegs of wine go over the docks as the scabs did.
We will have great boxes of fragile articles drop in the midst of the pier as the scabs did. We will do the work just as clumsily, as slowly, as destructively, as the scabs did. And we will see how long our employers can stand that kind of work.” It was very few months until through this system of sabotage they had won everything they had fought for and not been able to win through the strike. This was the first open announcement of sabotage in an English-speaking country.
I have heard of my grandfather telling how an old fellow come to work on the railroad and the boss said, “Well, what can you do?”
“I can do most anything,” said he—a big husky fellow.
“Well,” said the boss, “can you handle a pick and shovel?”
“Oh, sure. how much do you pay on this job?” “A dollar a day.”
“Is that all? Well,—all right. I need the job pretty bad. I guess I will take it.” So he took his pick and went leisurely to work. Soon the boss came along and said:
“Say, can’t you work any faster than that?”
“Sure I can.”
“Well, why don’t you?”
“This is my dollar-a-day clip.”
“Well,” said the boss, “let’s see what the $1.25’ a-day clip looks like.”
That went a little better- Then the boss said, “Let’s see what the $1.50-a-day clip looks like.” The man showed him. “That was fine,” said the boss, “well, maybe we will call it $1.50 a day.” The man volunteered the information that his $2- a-day clip was “a hummer” So, through this instinctive sort of sabotage this poor obscure workingman on a railroad in Maine was able to gain for himself an advance from $1 to $2 a day. We read of the gangs of Italian workingmen, when the boss cuts their pay—you know, usually they have an Irish or American boss and he likes to make a couple of dollars a day on the side for himself, so he cuts the pay of the men once in a while without consulting the contractor and pockets the difference One boss cut them 25 cents a day. The next day he came on the work, to find that the amount of dirt that was being removed had lessened considerably. He asked a few questions:
“What’s the matter?”
“Me no understan’ English”—none of them wished to talk.
Well, he exhausted the day going around trying to find one person who could speak and tell him what was wrong. Finally lie found one man, who said, “Well, you see, boss, you cutta da pay, we cutta da job.”
That was the same form of sabotage—to lessen the quantity of production in proportion to the amount of pay received- There was an Indian preacher who went to college and eked out an existence on the side by preaching. Somebody said to him, “John, how much do you get paid?”
“Oh, only get paid $200 a year.”
“Well, that’s damn poor pay, John.”
“Well.” he said, “Damn poor preach!”
That, too, is an illustration of the form of sabotage that I am now describing to you, the *’ca canny” form of sabotage, the “go easy” slogan, the “slacken up, don’t work so hard” species, and it is a reversal of the motto of the American Federation of Labor, that most “safe, sane and conservative” organization of labor in America. They believe in “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.” Sabotage is an unfair day’s work for an unfair day’s wage. It is an attempt on the part- of the worker to limit his production in proportion to his remuneration. That is one form of sabotage.
Interfering With Quality of Goods.
The second form of sabotage is to deliberately interfere with the quality of the goods. And in this we learn many lessons from our employers, even as we learn how to limit the quantity- You know that, every year in the western part of this United States there are fruits and grains produced that never find a market; bananas and oranges rot on the ground, whole skiffs of fruits are dumped into the ocean. Not because people do not need these foods and couldn’t make good use of them in the big cities of the east, but because the employing class prefer to destroy a large percentage of the production in order to keep the price up in cities like New York, Chicago, Baltimore and Boston.
If they sent all the bananas that they produce into the eastern part of the United States we would be buying bananas at probably three for a cent. But by destroying a large quantity, they are able to keep the price up to two for 5c. And this applies to potatoes, apples, and very many other staple articles required by the majority of people. Yet if the worker attempts to apply the same principle, the same theory, the same tactic as his employer we are confronted with all sorts of finespun moral objections.
Boyd’s Advice to Silk Mill Slaves.
So it is with the quality. Take the case of Frederic Sumner Boyd, in which we should all be deeply interested because it is evident Frederic Sumner Boyd is to be made “the goat” by the authorities in New Jersey. That is to say, they want blood, they want one victim. If they can’t get anybody else they are determined they are going to get Boyd, in order to serve a two-fold purpose to cow the workers of Paterson, as they believe they can, and to put this thing, sabotage, into the statutes, to make it an illegal thing to advocate or to practice. Boyd said this: “If you go back to work and you find scabs working alongside of you, you should put a little bit of vinegar on the reed of the loom in order to prevent its operation.” They have arrested him under the statute forbidding the advocacy of the destruction of property he advised the dyers to go into the dye houses and to use certain chemicals in the dyeing of the silk that would tend to make that silk unweavable.
I’M Bounded very terrible in the newspapers and very terrible in the court of law.
But what neither the newspapers nor the courts of law have taken any cognizance of is that these chemicals are being used already in the dyeing of the silk. It, is not a new thing that Boyd is advocating, it is something that is being practiced in every dye house in the city of Paterson already, but it is being practiced for the employer and not for the worker.
Let me give you a specific illustration of what I mean. Seventy-five years ago when silk was woven into cloth the silk skein was taken in the pure, dyed and woven, and when that piece of silk was made it would last for 50 years. Your grand mother could wear it as a wedding dress. Your mother could wear it as a wedding dress. And then you, if you, woman reader, were fortunate enough to have a chance to get married, could wear it as a wedding dress also. But the silk that you buy today is not dyed in the pure and woven into a strong and durable product. One pound of silk goes into the dye house and usually as many as three to fifteen pounds come out. That is to say, along with the dyeing there is an extraneous and an unnecessary process of what is very picturesquely called “dynamiting.” They weight the silk. They have solutions of tin, solutions of zinc, solutions of lead. If you will read the journals of the Silk Association of America you will find in there advice to master dyers as to which salts are the most appropriate for weighting purposes.
You will read advertisements —possibly you saw it reprinted in “The Masses” for December, 1913—of silk mills, Ashley & Bailey’s in Paterson, for instance, advertised by an auctioneer as having a plant for weighting, for dynamiting silk par excellence. And so when you buy a nice piece of silk today and have a dress made for festive occasions, you hang it away in the wardrobe and when you take it out it is cracked down the pleats and along the waist and arms. And you believe that you have been, terribly cheated by a clerk. What is actually wrong is that you have paid for silk where you have received old tin cans and zinc and lead and things or that sort. You have a dress that is garnished with silk, seasoned with silk, but a dress that is adulterated to the point where, if it was adulterated just the slightest degree more it would fall to pieces entirely.
Now, what Frederic Sumner Boyd advocated to the silk workers was in effect this: “You do for yourselves what you are already doing for your employers. Put these same things into the silk for yourself and your own purposes as you are putting in for the employers’ purposes.” And I can’t imagine—even in a court of law—where they can find the fine thread of deviation—where the master dyers’ sabotage is legal and the worker’s sabotage illegal, where they consist of identically the same thing and where the silk remains intact. The silk is there. The loom is there. There is no property destroyed by the process.
The one thing that is eliminated is the efficiency of the worker to cover up this adulteration of the silk, to carry it just to the point where it will weave and not be detected. That efficiency is withdrawn. The veil is torn from off production in the silk dyeing houses and silk mills and the worker simply says. “Here, I will take my hands off and I will show you what it is. I will show you how rotten, how absolutely unusable the silk actually is that they are passing off on the public at two and three dollars a yard.”
Non-Adulteration and Over-Adulteration
Now, Boyd’s form of sabotage was not the most dangerous form of sabotage at that. If the judges had any imagination they would know that Boyd’s form of sabotage was pretty mild compared with this: Suppose that he had said to the dyers in Paterson, to a sufficient number of them that they could do it as a whole, so that it would affect every dye house in Paterson: “Instead of introducing these chemicals for adulteration, don’t introduce them at all. Take the lead, the zine, and the tin and throw it down the sewer and weave the silk, beautiful, pure, durable silk just as it is. Dye it pound, for pound hundred pound for hundred pound.” The employers would have been more hurt by that form of sabotage than by what Boyd advocated. And they would probably have wanted him put in jail for life instead of for seven years. In other words, to advocate non adulteration is a lot more dangerous to capitalist interests than to advocate adulteration. And non-adulteration is the highest form of sabotage in an establishment like the dye house of Paterson, bakeries, confectioners, meat packing houses, restaurants, etc-
Interfering with quality, or durability, or the utility of a product, might be illustrated as follows : Suppose a milkman comes to your house every day and delivers a quart of milk and this quart of milk is half water and they put some chalk in it and some glue to thicken it. Then a milk driver goes on that round who belongs to a union. The union strikes. And they don’t win any better conditions. Then they turn on the water faucet and they let it run so that the mixture is four-fifths water and one-fifth milk. You will send the “milk” back and make a complaint. At the same time that you are making that complaint and refusing to use the milk, hundreds and thousands of others will do the same thing, and through striking at the interests of the consumer once they are able to effect better conditions for themselves and also they are able to compel the employers to give the pure product. That form of sabotage is distinctly beneficial to the consumer. Any exposure of adulteration, any over-adulteration that makes the product unconsumable is a lot more beneficial to the consumer than to have it tinctured and doctored so that you can use it but so that it is destructive to your physical condition at the same time.
Interfering with quality can be instanced in the hotel and restaurant kitchens. I remember during the hotel workers strike they used to tell us about the great cauldrons of soup that stood there month in and month out without ever being cleaned, that were covered with verdigris and with various other forms of animal growth, and that very many times into this soup would fall a mouse or a rat and he would be fished out and thrown aside and the soup would be used just the same. Now, can anyone say that if the workers in those restaurants, as a means of striking at their employers, would take half a pound of salt and throw it into that soup cauldron, you as a diner, or consumer, wouldn’t be a lot better off? It would be far better to have that soup made unfit for consumption than to have it left in a state where it can be consumed but where it is continually poisonous to a greater or less degree. Destroying the utility of the goods sometimes means a distinct benefit to the person who might otherwise use it.
Interfering With Service. “Open Mouth” Sabotage
But, that form of sabotage is not the final form of sabotage. Service can be destroyed as well as quality. And this accomplished in Europe by what is known as “the open mouth sabotage.’’ In the hotel and restaurant industry, for instance—I wonder if this judge who sentenced Boyd to seven years in state’s prison would believe in this form of sabotage or not? Suppose he went into a restaurant and ordered a lobster salad and he said to the spick and span waiter standing behind the chair, “Is the lobster salad good?” “Oh, yes, sir,” said the waiter, “It is the very best in the city.” That would be acting the good wage slave and looking out for the employer’s interest. But if the waiter should say, “No, sir, it’s rotten lobster salad. It’s made from the pieces that have been gathered together here for the last six weeks,” that would be the waiter who believed in sabotage, that would be the waiter who had no interest in his boss’ profits, the waiter who didn’t give a continental whether the boss sold lobster salad or not. And the judge would probably believe in sabotage in that particular instance.
The waiters in the city of New York were only about 5,000 strong. Of these, about a thousand were militant, were the kind that, could be depended on in a strike. And yet that little strike made more sensation in New York City than 200,000 garment workers -who were out at, the same time. They didn’t win very much for themselves, because of their small numbers, but they did win a good deal in demonstrating their power to the employer to hurt his business. For instance, they drew up affidavits and they told about every hotel and restaurant in New York, the kitchen and the pantry conditions. They told about, how the butter on the little butter plates was sent back to the kitchen and somebody with their fingers picked out cigar ashes and the cigarette butts and the matches and threw the butter back into the general supply. They told how the napkins that had been on the table, used possibly by a man who had consumption or syphilis, were used to wipe the dishes in the pantry. They told stories that would make your stomach sick and your hair almost turn white, of conditions in the Waldorf, the Astor, the Belmont, all the great restaurants and hotels in New York.
And I found that that was one of the most effective ways of reaching the public, because the “dear public” are never reached through sympathy. I was taken by a lady up to a West Side aristocratic club of women who had nothing else to do, so they organized this club. You know—the white-gloved aristocracy! And I was asked to talk about the hotel workers’ strike. I knew that, wasn’t what they wanted at all. They just wanted to look at what kind of person a “labor agitator” was.
But I saw a chance for publicity for the strikers. I told them about the long hours in the hot kitchens: about steaming, smoking ranges. I told them about the overwork and the underpay of the waiters and how these waiters had to depend upon the generosity or the drunkenness of some patron to give them a big tip; all that sort of thing. And they were stony-faced. It affected them as much as an arrow would Gibraltar. And then I started to tell them about what the waiters and the cooks had told me of the kitchen conditions and I saw a look of frozen horror on their faces immediately- They were interested when I began to talk about something that affected their own stomach, where I never could have reached them through any appeal for humanitarian purposes.
Immediately they began to draw up resolutions and to cancel engagements at these big hotels and decided that their clubs must not meet there again. They caused quite a commotion around some of the big hotels in New York. When the workers went back to work after learning that this was a way of getting at the boss via the public stomach they did not hesitate at sabotage in the kitchens. If any of you have ever got soup that was not fit to eat, that was too salty or peppery, maybe shorter hours, and that was one way they notified there where some boys in the kitchen that wanted the boss. In the Hotel McAlpin the head waiter called the men up before him after the strike was over and lost and said, “Boys, you can have what you want, we will give you the hours, we will give you the wages, we will give you everything, but, for God’s sake, stop this sabotage business in the kitchen!” In other words, what they had not been able to win through the strike they were able to win by striking at the taste of the public, by making the food non consumable and therefore compelling the boss to take cognizance of their efficiency and their power in the kitchen.
Following the “Book of Rules.”
Interfering with service may be done in another way. It may be done, strange to say, sometimes by abiding by the rules, living up to the law absolutely. Sometimes the law is almost as inconvenient a thing for the capitalist as for a labor agitator. For instance, on every railroad they have a book of rules, a nice little book that they give to every employee, and in that book of rules it tells how the engineer and the fireman must examine every part of the engine before they take it.
The man should go the length and the width of the train and examine every bit of machinery to be sure it’s in good shape. It tells how the station master should do this and the telegraph operator that, and so forth, and it all sounds very nice in the little book. But now take the book of rules and compare it with the timetable and you will realize how absolutely impossible the whole thing is. What is it written for?
An accident happens. An engineer who has been working 36 hours does not see a signal on the track, and many people are killed. The coroner’s jury meets to fix the responsibility. And upon whom is it fixed? This poor engineer who didn’t abide by the book of rules! He is the man upon whom the responsibility falls. The company wipe their hands and say, “We are not responsible. Our employee was negligent. Here are our rules.” And through this book of rules they are able to fix the responsibility of every accident on some poor devil like that engineer who said the other day, after a frightful accident, when he was arrested, “Yes, but if I didn’t get the train in at a certain time I might have lost my job under the new management on the New Haven road.”
That book of rules exists in Europe as well. In one station in France there was an accident and the station master was organized in the Railwaymen’s Union. And they went to the union and asked for some action. ‘J he union said, “The best thing for you men to do js to go back on the job and obey that book of rules letter for letter. If that is the only reason why accidents happen we will have no accidents here after.” So they went back and when a man came up to the ticket office and asked for a ticket to such and such a place, the charge being so much and would hand in more than the amount, he would say “in the book of rules a passenger must have the exact fare.” This was the first one. Well, after a lot of fuss they chased around and got the exact change, were given their tickets and got aboard the train.
Then when the train was supposedly ready to start the engineer climbed down, the fireman followed and they began to examine every bolt and piece of mechanism on the engine. The brakeman got off and began to examine every thing he was supposed to examine. The passengers grew very restless. The train stood there about an hour and a half. They proceeded to leave the train. They were met at the door by an employee who said, “No, it’s against the rules for you to leave the train once you get into it, until you arrive at your destination.” And within three days the railroad system of France was so completely demoralized that they had to exonerate this particular station master, and the absurdity of the book of rules had been so demonstrated to the public, that they had to make over their system of operation before the public would trust themselves to the railroads any further.
This book of rules has been tried not only for the purpose of exoneration: it has been tried for the purpose of strikes. Where men fail in the open battle they go back and with this system they win. Railroad men can sabotage for others as well as for themselves. In a case like the miners of Colorado where we read there that militiamen were sent in against the miners- We know that they are sent against the miners because the first act of the militia was to disarm the miners and leave the mine guards, the thugs, in possession of their arms. Ludlow followed! The good judge O’Brien went into Calumet, Mich., and said to the miners—and the president of the union, Mr. Moyer, sits at the table as chairman while he said it:
“Boys, give up your guns. It is better for you to be shot than it is to shoot anybody.” Now, sabotage is not violence, but that does not mean that I am deprecating all forms of violence. I believe for instance in the case of Michigan, in the case of Colorado, in the case of Roosevelt, N. J., the miners should have held onto their guns, exercised their “constitutional right” to bear arms, and, militia or no militia, absolutely refused to give them up until they saw the guns of the thugs and the guns of the mine guards on the other side of the road first. And even then it might be a good precaution to hold on them in case of danger!
Well, when this militia was being sent from Denver up into the mining district one little train crew did what has never been done in America before; something that caused a thrill to go through the humblest toiler. If I could have worked for twenty years just to see one little torch of hope like that, I believe it worthwhile. The train was full of soldiers. The engineer, the fireman, all the train crew stepped out of the train and they said, “We are not going to run this train to carry any soldiers in against our brother strikers.” So they deserted the train, but it was then operated by a Baldwin detective and a deputy sheriff Can you say that wasn’t a ease where sabotage was absolutely necessary?
Putting the Machine on Strike
Suppose that when the engineer had gone on strike he had taken a vital part of the engine on strike with him, without which it would have been impossible for anyone to run that engine. Then there might have been a different story. Railroad men have a mighty power in refusing to transport soldiers, strike-breakers and ammunition for soldiers and strike-breakers into strike districts. They did in Italy. The soldiers went on the train. The train guards refused to run the trains. The soldiers thought they could run the train themselves. They started, and the first signal they came to was “Danger”- They went along very slowly and cautiously, and the next signal was at “Danger”. And they found before they had gone very far that some of the switches had been 1 timed and they were run off on to a siding in the woods somewhere. Laboriously they got back onto the main track. They came to a draw bridge and the bridge was turned open. They had to go across in boats and abandon the train. That meant walking the rest of the way. By the time they got into the strike district the strike was over. Soldiers who have had to walk aren’t so full of vim and vigor and so anxious to shoot “dagoes” down when they get into a strike district as when they ride in a train manned by union men.
The railroad men have mighty power in refusing to run these trains and putting them in such a condition that they can’t be run by others. However, to anticipate a question that is going to be asked about the possible disregard for human life, remember that when they put all the signals at danger there is very little risk for human life, because the train usually has to stop dead still. Where they take a vital part of the engine away the train does not run at all. So human life is not in danger. They make it a practice to strike such a vital blow that the service is paralyzed thereafter.
With freight of course they do different things. In the strike of the railroad workers in France they transported the freight in such a way that a great trainload of fine fresh fruit could be run off into a siding in one of the poorest districts of France. It was left decay. But it never reached the point of either decay or destruction. It was usually taken care of by the poor people of that district. Something that was supposed to be sent in a rush from Paris to Havre was sent to Marseilles. And so within a very short time the whole system was so clogged and demoralized that they had to say to the railroad workers. “You are the only efficient ones. Come back. Take your demands. But run our railroads.”
“Print The Truth or You Don’t Print at All.”
Now, what is true of the railroad workers, is also true of the newspaper workers. Of course one can hardly imagine any more conservative element to deal with than the railroad workers and the newspaper workers. Sometimes you will read a story in the paper that is so palpably false, a story about strikers that planted dynamite in Lawrence for instance (and it came out in a Boston paper before the dynamite was found), a story of how the Erie trains were “dynamited” by strikers in Paterson; but do you realize that the man who writes that story, the man who pays for that story, the owners and editors are not the ones that put the story into actual print? It is put in print by printers, compositors, typesetters, men who belong to the working class and are members of unions.
During the Swedish general strike these workers who belonged to the unions and were operating the papers rebelled against printing lies against their fellow strikers. They sent an ultimatum to the newspaper managers: “Either you print the truth or you’ll print no papers at all.” The newspaper owners decided they would rather print no paper at all than tell the truth. Most of them would probably so decide in this country, too. The men went on strike and the paper came out, a little bit of sheet, two by four, until eventually they realized that the printers had them by the throat that they could not print any papers without the printers. They sent for them to come back and told them “So much of the paper will belong to the strikers and they can print what they please in it.”
But other printers have accomplished the same results by the sabotage. In Copenhagen once there was a peace conference and a circus going on at the same time. The printers asked for more wages and they didn’t get them. They were very sore. Bitterness in the heart is a very good stimulus for sabotage. So they said, “All right, we will stay right at work boys, but we will do some funny business with this paper so they won’t want to print it tomorrow under the same circumstances.”
They took the peace conference where some high and mighty person was going to make an address on international peace and they put that man’s speech in the circus news; they reported the lion and the monkey as a making speeches in the peace conference and the Honorable Mr. So- and-so doing trapeze acts in the circus. There was great consternation and indignation in the city. Advertisers, the peace conference, the circus protested. The circus would not pay their bill for advertising. It cost the paper as much, eventually, as the increased wages would have cost them, so that they came to the men figuratively on their bended knees and asked them, “Please be good and we will give you whatever you ask.” That is the power of interfering with industrial efficiency by a competent worker.
“Used Sabotage, But Didn’t Know What You Called It”
Sabotage is for the workingman an absolute necessity. Therefore it is almost useless to argue about its effectiveness. When men do a thing instinctively continually, year after year and generation after generation, it means that that weapon has some value to them. When the Boyd speech was made in Paterson, immediately some of the socialists rushed to the newspapers to protest. They called the attention of the authorities to the fact that the speech was made. The secretary of the socialist party and the organizer of the socialist party repudiated Boyd. That precipitated the discussion into the strike committee as to whether speeches on sabotage were to be permitted.
We had tried to instill into the strikers the idea that any kind of speech was to be permitted; that a socialist or a minister or a priest; an I. W. W. man, an anarchist, anybody should have the platform. And we tried to make the strikers realize. “You have sufficient intelligence to select for yourselves. If you haven’t got that, then no censorship over your meetings is going to do you any good.” So they had a rather tolerant spirit and they were not inclined to accept this socialist denunciation of sabotage right off the reel. They had an executive session and threshed it out and this is what occurred.
One worker said, “I never heard of this thing called sabotage before Mr. Boyd spoke about it on the platform. I know once in a while when I want a half-day off and they won’t give it to me I slip the belt off the machine so it won’t run and I get my half-day. I don’t know whether you call that sabotage, but that’s what I do-”
Another said, “I was in the strike of the dyers eleven years ago and we lost. We went back to work and we had these scabs that had broken our strike working side by side with us. We were pretty sore. So whenever they were supposed to be mixing green we saw to it that they put in red, or when they were supposed to be mixing blue we saw to it that they put in green. And soon they realized that scabbing was a very unprofitable business. And the next strike we had, they lined up with us. I don’t know whether you call that sabotage, but it works.”
As we went down the line, one member of the executive committee after another admitted they had used this thing but they ‘‘didn’t know that was what you called it!” And so in the end democrats, republicans, socialists, all I. W. W.’s in the committee voted that speeches on sabotage were to be permitted, because it was ridiculous not to say on the platform what they were already doing in the shop.
And so my final justification of sabotage is its constant use by the worker. The position of speakers, organizers, lecturers, writers who are presumed to be interested in the labor movement, must be one of two. If you place yourself in a position outside of the working class and you presume to dictate to them from some “superior” intellectual plane, what they are to do, they will very soon get rid of you, for you will very soon demonstrate that you are of absolutely no use to them.
I believe the mission of the intelligent propagandist is this: we are to see what the workers are doing, and then try to understand why they do it; not tell them it’s right or it’s wrong, but analyze the condition and see if possibly they do not best understand their need and if, out of the condition, there may develop a theory that will be of general utility. Industrial unionism, sabotage are theories born of such facts and experiences. But for us to place ourselves in a position of censorship is to alienate ourselves entirely from sympathy and utility with the very people we are supposed to serve.
Sabotage and “Moral Fiber”
Sabotage is objected to on the ground that it destroys the moral fiber of the individual, whatever that is! The moral fiber of the workingman! Here is a poor workingman, works twelve hours a day seven days a week for two dollars a day in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. For that man to use sabotage is going to destroy his moral fiber. Well, if it does, then moral fiber is the only thing he has left. In a stage of society where men produce a completed article, for instance if a shoemaker takes a piece of raw leather, cuts it, designs it, plans the shoes makes every part of the shoes, turns out a finished product, that represents to him what the piece of sculpturing represents to the artist, there is joy in handicraftsmanship, there is joy in labor. But can anyone believe that a shoe factory worker, one of a hundred men, each doing a small part of the complete whole, standing before a machine for instance and listening to this tie tack all day long—that such a man has any joy in his work or any pride in the ultimate product?
The silk worker for instance may make beautiful things, fine shimmering silk. When it is hung up in the window of Altman’s or Macy’s or Wanamaker’s it looks beautiful. But the silk worker never gets a chance to use a single yard of it. And the producing of the beautiful thing instead of being a pleasure is instead a constant aggravation to the silk worker. They make a beautiful thing in the shop and then they come home to poverty, misery, and hardship. They wear a cotton dress while they are weaving the beautiful silk for some demi monde in New York to wear.
I remember one night we had a meeting of 5, 000 kiddies- (We had them there to discuss whether or not there should be a school strike. The teachers were not telling the truth about the strike and we decided that the children were either to hear the truth or it was better for them not to go to school at all.) 1 said, “Children, is there any of you here who have a silk dress in your family? Anybody’s mother got a silk dress?” One little ragged urchin in front piped up.
“Shure, me mudder’s got a silk dress.”
I said, “Where did she get it?”—perhaps a rather indelicate question, but a natural one.
He said, “Me fadder spoiled the cloth and had to bring home.”
The only time they get a silk dress is when they spoil the goods so that nobody else will use it: when the dress is so ruined that nobody else would want it. Then they can have it. The silk worker take pride in his product! To talk to these people about being proud of their work is just as silly as to talk to the street cleaner about being proud of his work, or to tell the man that scrapes out the sewer to be proud of his work. If they made an article completely or if they made it all together under a democratic association and then they had the disposition of the silk—they could wear some of it, they could make some of the beautiful salmon-colored, and the delicate blues into a dress for themselves—there would be pleasure in producing silk.
But until you eliminate wage slavery and the exploitation of labor it is ridiculous to talk about destroying the moral fiber of the individual by telling him to destroy “his own product.” Destroy his own product! He is destroying somebody else’s enjoyment, somebody else’s chance to use his product created in slavery. There is another argument to the effect that “If you use this thing called sabotage you are going to develop in yourself a spirit of hostility, a spirit of antagonism to everybody else in society, you are going to become sneaking, you are going to become cowardly. It is an underhanded thing to do.” But the individual who uses sabotage is not benefiting himself alone. If he were looking out for himself only he would never use sabotage. It would be much easier, much safer not to do it.
When a man uses sabotage he is usually intending to benefit the whole; doing an individual thing but doing it for the benefit of himself and others together. And it requires courage. It requires individuality. It creates in that workingman some self-respect for and self-reliance upon himself as a producer.
I contend that sabotage instead of being sneaking and cowardly is a courageous thing, is an open thing. The boss may not be notified about it through the papers, but he finds out about it very quickly, just the same. And the man or woman who employs it is demonstrating a courage that you may measure in this way: How many of the critics would do it? How many of you, if you were dependent on a job in a silk town like Paterson, would take your job in your hands and employ sabotage? If you were a machinist in a locomotive shop and had a good job, how many of you would risk it to employ sabotage? Consider that and then you have the right to call the man who uses it a coward—if you can.
Limiting the Over-Supply of Slaves.
It is my hope that workers will not only “sabotage” the supply of products, but also the over-supply of producers. In Europe the syndicalists have carried on a propaganda that we are too cowardly to carry on in the United States as yet. It is against the law. Everything is “against the law,” once it becomes large enough for the law to take cognizance that it is in the best interests of the working class. If sabotage is to be thrown aside because it is construed as against the law, how do we know that next year free speech may not have to be thrown aside? Or free assembly or free press? That a thing is against the law, does not mean necessarily that the thing is not good- Sometimes it means just the contrary: a mighty good thing for the working class to use against the capitalists.
In Europe they are carrying on this sort of limitation of product: they are saying, “Not only will we limit the product in the factory, but we are going to limit the supply of producers. We are going to limit the supply of workers on the market.” Men and women of the working class in France and Italy and even Germany today are saying, “We are not going to have ten, twelve and fourteen- children for the army, the navy, the factory and the mine. We are going to have fewer children, with quality and not quantity accentuated as our ideal who can be better fed, better clothed, better equipped mentally and will become better fighters for the social revolution.” Although it is not a strictly scientific definition I like to include this as indicative of the spirit that produces sabotage. It certainly is one of the most vital forms of class warfare there are, to strike at the roots of the capitalists system by limiting their supply of slaves on their own behalf.
Sabotage a War Measure
I have not given you a rigidly defined thesis on sabotage because sabotage is in the process of making. Sabotage itself is not clearly defined. Sabotage is as broad and changing as industry, as flexible as the imagination and passions of humanity. Every day workingmen and women are discovering new forms of sabotage, and the stronger their rebellious imagination is the more sabotage they are going to invent, the more sabotage they are going to develop. Sabotage is not however, a permanent weapon. Sabotage is not going to be necessary, once a free society has been established.
Sabotage is simply a war measure and it will go out of existence with the war, just as the strike, the lockout, the policeman the machine gun, the judge with his injunction, and all the various weapons in the arsenals of capital and labor will go out of existence with the advent of a free society. “And then,” someone may ask, “may not this instinct for sabotage have developed, too far, so that one body of workers will use sabotage against another; that the railroad workers, for instance, will refuse to work for the miners unless they get exorbitant returns for labor?” The difference is this: when you sabotage an employer you are saboting somebody upon whom you are not interdependent, you have no relationship with him as a member of society contributing to your wants in return for your contribution.
The employer is somebody who depends absolutely on the workers. “Whereas, the miner is one unit in a society where somebody else supplies the bread, somebody else the clothes, somebody else the shoes, and where he gives his product in exchange for someone else’s; and it would be suicidal for him to assume a tyrannical, a monopolistic position, of demanding so much for his product that the others might cut him off from any other social relations and refuse to meet with any such bargain. In other words, the miner, the railroad worker, the baker is limited in using sabotage against his fellow workers because he is interdependent on his fellow workers, whereas he is not materially interdependent on the employer for the means of subsistence.
But the worker will not be swerved from his stern purpose by puerile objections. To him this is not an argument but a struggle for life. He knows freedom will come only when his class is willing and courageous enough to fight for it. He knows the risk, far better than we do. But his choice is between starvation in slavery and starvation in battle. Like a spent swimmer in the sea, who can sink easily and apathetically into eternal sleep, but who struggles on to grasp a stray spar, suffers but hopes in suffering—so the worker makes his choice.
His wife’s worries and tears spur him forth to don his shining armor of industrial power; his child’s starry eyes mirror the light of the ideal to him and strengthen his determination to strike the shackles from the wrists of toil before that child enters the arena of industrial life; his manhood demands some rebellion against daily humiliation and intolerable exploitation. To this worker, sabotage is a shining sword. It pierces the nerve centers of capitalism, ‘stabs at its hearts and stomachs, tears at the vitals of its economic system. It is cutting a path to freedom.