History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Birth of the I.W.W.

By the summer of 1904, many progressive-minded elements in the American labor and Socialist movements were convinced of three basic principles: (1) the superiority of industrial unionism over craft unionism in the struggle against the highly integrated organizations of employers; (2) the impossibility of converting the conservative American Federation of Labor into a type of organization which would achieve real benefits for the majority of workingmen and women; and (3) the ineffectiveness of the existing organization of the industrial and radical type to build a movement which would organize and unite the entire working class. Clearly, in the eyes of these elements, a new organization of labor was necessary, one that "would correspond to modern industrial conditions, and through which they (the working people) might finally secure complete emancipation from wage slavery for all wage workers."1 It was this conviction that led to the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World.

One of the men who led the way to this new development was Eugene V. Debs. From the time he had organized the American Railway Union on this basis in 1893, Debs advocated the industrial form of organization. He played a leading part in the formation of the American Labor Union. In 1902, and during the period between 1902 and 1904, his speeches and writings were full of references to the superiority of industrial unionism and the necessity of combining this principle with uncompromising action based upon the class struggle. His most important contribution in this period, and one of his chief theoretical works, was Unionism and Socialism, A Plea for Both, published in , Appeal to Reason in 1904 and reprinted as a pamphlet shortly thereafter.

The study began with an analysis of the development of unionism. Debs then emphasized that modern industrial conditions required a modern type of unionism. "This is the industrial plan, the modern method applied to modern conditions, and it will in time prevail." But Debs was convinced that the A.F. of L. could not be quickly converted into a mod

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