Socialism as It Is: A Survey of the World-Wide Revolutionary Movement

By William English Walling | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
SOCIALISM ANP THE LABOR UNIONS

One of the grounds on which it is proposed by some Socialists to give manual labor a special and preferred place in the movement is that it is supposed to be the only numerically important non-capitalist element that is at all well organized or even organizable. Let us see, then, to what degree labor is organized and what are the characteristics of this organization.

First, the labor unions represent manual wage earners almost exclusively—not by intention, but as a matter of fact. They include only an infinitesimal proportion of small employers, self-employing artisans, or salaried employees.

Second, the unions by no means include all the manual wage earners, and only in a few industries do they include a. majority. Those organized are, as a rule, the more developed and prosperous, the skilled or comparatively skilled workers.

Third, their method of action is primarily that of the strike and boycott—economic and not political. They demand certain legislation and in several cases have put political parties in the field; they' exert a political pressure in favor of government employees. But their chief purpose, even when they do these things, is to develop an organization that can strike and boycott effectively; and to secure only such political and civil rights as are needed for this purpose.

The unions are primarily economic, and the Socialist Party is primarily political—both, to have any national power, must embrace a considerable proportion of the same industrial wage-earning class. It is evident that conflict between the two organizations is unnecessary and we find, indeed, that it arises only in exceptional cases. Many Socialists, however, look upon the unions primarily as an economic means, more or less important, of advancing political Socialism—while many unionists regard the Socialist parties primarily as political instruments for furthering the economic action of the unions.

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