The battle between Labor and Capital: Workers’ perspective

This manifesto was included in the Annals of America. 

Manifesto of the Industrial Workers of the World:   As the weaknesses and failings and manipulation of industrial capitalism continued to be more apparent in the 1890’s and early 20th century, socialism and communism grew in strength as alternatives. Trade unions formed, based mainly on specific industries or trades. The IWW was formed as a class-based backlash against elite capitalists in an effort to organize all workers under a single organization to politically compete against capital.  In describing the worker, the IWW manifesto states: “His wages constantly grow less as his hours grow longer and monopolized prices grow higher.” They also argue that the employers organize them into specific job descriptions that are outdated and artificial in order “that workers may be pitted against one another and spurred to greater exertion in the shop, and that all resistance to capitalist tyranny may be weakened by artificial distinctions.” At the same time the “capitalists carefully adjust themselves to the new conditions. They wipe out all differences among themselves and present a united front in their war upon labor. Through employers’ associations, they seek to crush with brutal force, by the injunctions of the judiciary and the use of military power, all efforts at resistance” and that their “methods depend for success upon the blindness and internal dissensions of the working class.” 

I find this acutely correct in its assessment of capitalism of that era. Without some regulation to protect workers safety and with “big business” currying favor from government via political machines and the spoils system, the worker had little recourse. The “market” will not protect the worker from injustices unless there is a “moral economy.” This moral economy cannot be legislated in a top down fashion, but must be accomplished via a sense of doing what is right for the right reasons. Some of the changes proposed by the IWW were definitely needed; however, the class conflict advocated by this organization is not the way to bring about the change. Their stated goal: “one great industrial union embracing all industries, providing for autonomy locally, industrial autonomy internationally, and working-class unity generally [that] must be founded on the class struggle, and its general administration must be conducted in harmony with the recognition of the irrepressible conflict between the capitalist class and the working class.” 

This is where they are wrong. There does not exist an “irrepressible conflict” unless we create it through hatred and an “us vs. them” mentality. The capitalist must care for workers as human beings and individuals; this would cause him to pay a living wage and encourage intrapreneurship within the business. The worker must see himself as owner and contributor to the business and feel the need to make the working environment better. Is this idealistic? Sure, but only the ideal is worth working toward.   


3 Replies to “The battle between Labor and Capital: Workers’ perspective”

  1. I can’t take issue with the sentiment, but then there’s ugly facts. Foremost, U.S. business interests, and the Bush administration, tried/are trying very hard to push a NAFTA-equivalent bill through the legislature.
    It would definitely undermine wage-supports at home, furthering job outsourcing, but provide the benefit of free market in anything: cheaper consumer products.

    The real question is equitable distribution. Suburban Americans don’t give a rat’s ass for their own city-dweller, and they certainly don’t feel the hunger pangs of a Tegucigalgan shanty dweller. I don’t escape either;
    I worry about lax pollution controls in the developing countries (although the Bush admin is gutting ours, but that’s another story).

    How can self-interest be aligned with policy that fosters equitable development and stewardship? I don’t know, but deconstructing cross-cultural stereotypes, and reducing population growth to a level where sustainability might occur, seem obvious starting points. If those two
    items aren’t solved you get protectionism (which benefits only the richest), open shooting-wars (Sandanista scandal) and Haiti (experiment in autolysis of all natural resources except disease).

  2. A living wage is a wage that allows the worker to live…above just having barely enough to eat, feed his family, and reproduce. A wage that permits the worker to be a human being, not just having to focus on the animal necessities. It is not a defined financial value, it’s a moral value. I know the market doesn’t have morals, that’s why people need to. What do you think a living wage is?

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