Hellraisers Journal: James P. Thomas on Revolutionary Industrial Unionism, Part I: Craft Unionism Creates Union Scabs

Solidarity Forever
For the Union makes us strong.
-Ralph Chaplin


Hellraisers Journal, Sunday January 27, 1918
From the International Socialist Review: Revolutionary Industrial Unionism

From the January edition of the Review, we find the testimony of James P. Thompson given before the Commission on Industrial Relations at Seattle, Washington, on August 12, 1914.

Industrial Unionism:
What It Is

[Part I.]

James P Thompson, IWW, ISR p366, Feb 1918

CALLED as a witness, before the Federal Industrial Relation Commission, he testified as follows: Mr. O. W. Thompson, Council for the Commission: Will you please give us your name? Answer: Mr. J. P. Thompson: James P. Thompson. Question: And your business address? Answer: 208 Second Avenue S., Seattle. Question: And your occupation? Answer: Organizer of the Industrial Workers of the World. Question: That is the organization with headquarters in Chicago? Answer: Chicago. Question: Of which Mr. Vincent St. John is general secretary ? Answer: Yes, sir. Question: How long have you been an organizer of the Industrial Workers of the World? Answer: I have been an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, that is drawing a salary from them as an organizer, since 1906. I was one of those who worked for it before it was born, I mean I helped organize it. Question: You say you helped work for it before it was born; you mean as a similar organization? Answer: I mean I was one of those who worked to have it formed and took steps in starting it. Question: How long have you been engaged in the work of propagation or agitation or whatever you want to call it, along that line? Answer: Well, let me see, I think I got to be a sort of an agitator when I was a fireman on the Great Lakes when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old. Question: As you look over the labor field and look into the condition of the workers and look at the organization then in existence, what was in your mind that gave you the idea that a new organization should be formed? What was the reason that led you to that conclusion?

Answer: Why, I saw the one big union of employers forming; I saw that in case of a strike in a shop that one craft would strike and the other crafts in that shop would remain at work and help the company to break the strike. From that I got the idea that every one in the shop should be organized together, from the man that scrubs the floor to the man who starts the engine. Then I saw that when we even succeeded in tying up a shop in that manner that they would sometimes be able to get scabs, what we call strike-breakers. I saw then an organization must be formed in such a way as to cut off raw material from going into such a mill where strike-breakers were working, and refuse to handle the scab product brought out from such a mill or factory. Then we saw as we studied, that the one big union of bosses, employers, associations, and so on that they met even those tactics by transferring orders to other shops, to other members of the employers’ association, and so we got the idea that every one in a craft should stand together in the shop, and every shop in the industry should stand together, and then we saw, like in the case of the strike of the coal miners, we saw the railroad men haul scabs in on one train and haul scab coal away on another, and from that the idea formed that not only should every craft in an industry stand together, but the workers of one industry should back up the workers of another industry, and that we should all combine into one big union, having for our motto an injury to one is an injury to all.

Question: Looking at the standpoint of the older organizations, wherein would you claim that there is a difference between yours and theirs so far as the question of organization is concerned? Answer: The former, as I have pointed out, is chiefly organized by crafts. They teach everyone in a craft to stand together. Now, we say for the same reason that every one in a craft should stand together, for that same reason every craft in an industry should stand together, and every industry should stand together, the workers of one industry with another. And, fundamentally, the difference is vital, the craft union is founded upon the attempt to simply better the condition of the wage worker under present conditions; while the I. W.W. is founded upon a recognition of the class struggle, and that a revolution is rapidly approaching, and that the thing most vital for any working man to do is to organize not only for the every day struggle with the capitalist, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown.

Now, your civil government has broken down in three states, I think I heard you say, it will break down in every state. There will be a general strike and revolt that will be too big for anyone to handle, only the organized workers. Now, by the way, I am the author of the I. W. W. Preamble, and I would like to have you read, if you want to figure on our principle, the last paragraph, which says: “The army of production must be organized, not only for the every day struggle with the capitalist, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown.” I look to the time when the organization known as The Industrial Workers of the World, or a revolutionary organization formed on the same lines, will be the class who will save civilization from going back to barbarism. I see a time when our speakers can influence when no one else can.

Question: Well, Mr. Thompson, getting more to specifics on that proposition, how would you figure, for instance, that the old organizations, the craft unions, would fall down in the matter of production in case the capitalistic system went to pieces? Answer: The craft union today is a result, you understand. Of course, you understand, that when any organization is first formed, it is supposed to conform to the conditions of the times. And when those conditions change, if the organization does not change to meet the changed conditions, then we have what we call an out-of-date organization. Now, there are ideas that go along with out-of-date organizations, and the American Federation of Labor is out-of-date in form, it is out-of-date in spirit, it is a representative of the past, as far as organized labor is concerned, it is dying of dry rot. The I. W. W. has got the red-blooded part of the working class. And we are not organizing on craft lines, but on class lines. And the I. W. W. is aiming, not only to better our conditions now, but to prepare for the revolution.

Question: Just coming again to specifics, Mr. Thompson, what can you state to this commission, what facts or data of any kind can you give to them from which they can draw the same conclusions that you are drawing? Answer: Well, I would say to the commission, I understand that the law that created you, says that you should investigate the underlying cause of the social unrest. I think it foolish to ask the man who is satisfied with the system, the cause of unrest. He would not tell you if he knew, many of them would not anyway. You have quite a lot of hypocrites, you have had men who were afraid of losing their jobs, if they told the truth. But I would advise that if you really want to know the underlying cause of the social unrest, that you should ask the revolutionist. Now, I claim to be a revolutionist.

Question: Well, I—J. P. Thompson breaking in on the question—And I claim to be able to answer that question, the cause of social unrest.

Question: Well, I will come to that, Mr. Thompson, but before getting to that, the Commission is commanded by Congress to examine into organizations of labor. J. P. Thompson: Yes, sir.

Question: We are examining now thru you, as we have done thru others, into the Industrial Workers of the World. You have made a statement that the older unions were organized under a condition which has passed away, that they carry with them a philosophy of action which does not fit present needs, and that they are on the wane, but you are on the come? Answer: Yes.

Question: Now, what I ask is, it is clear—of course, it must be to you; that these conclusions, they may be correct—it is not for me to question them here as counsel. Answer: I understand that.

Question: I simply want to get from you the facts so that the Commission itself when it reads your testimony may say, “Well, from what he states, which appear to be the correct facts, his conclusions are correct, or they are incorrect.” Now, what I would like you to give the Commission is some data with reference to the old organizations which will prove the statements you make, or tend to prove them. Answer: Why, you want documentary proof?

Question: No, we don’t limit you. You can take your own way of stating it. You can state what you hear, or what you have seen yourself, or what you believe, but I simply ask you for facts rather than conclusions. Answer: Well, since one of the printing industry was represented here a moment ago in the form of one of the employers, I will call attention to the fact that in San Francisco last winter the pressmen went on strike in the job printing shops, and the union—so called union printers—remained at work. The union bookbinders and so on remained at work. And by remaining at work they helped the Company to fill their orders, and helped the company to break the strike of the pressmen. And I also will take the testimony while it is warm, from Colonel Blethen, that these people sign contracts running out at different times. That is sufficient proof of what I said about them breaking one another’s strikes. It is a fact, not a dream or anything like that.

Question: That objection would go to the question of sympathetic strikes, that is to say, that the old organization does not indulge sufficiently in sympathetic, what are commonly called sympathetic, strike? Answer: No, I don’t like the word sympathetic strikes.

Question: But I am talking about the word as the general public use it. Answer: Well, the general public don’t use the word in that sense, that is, sympathetic. Now, here is the idea, if there is a strike in a restaurant, and a harness-maker up on some street somewhere would go on strike in sympathy, you know, you might say it was sympathy, but we can get that in the dictionary; sympathy, that is the way we look at it. We say that the ice wagon driver and the bread wagon driver and the driver who delivers meat or ice or supplies of any kind to that scab restaurant are strike-breakers, and it is a question of whether they want to be union men or scabs, not a question of whether they want to strike in sympathy, but a question of whether they want to help break the strike or win the strike, and if they do these things, we call that union strike breakers.

Question: Well, now, in what other respect is the old organization unable to meet the new conditions? Answer: The old organization is not based on the recognition of the class struggle, and an organization that is not revolutionary—a labor organization that is not revolutionary— cannot rally to its support any red blooded members of the working class. I will add further, that I believe that the red blooded part of the American Federation of Labor, when it comes to a show down, will back up the I. W. W. better than they will the American Federation of Labor.

Question: What do you mean by the class struggle, as you have stated it? Answer: Well, whenever you get ready to ask me that question of the cause of social unrest, I think I could probably lay the foundation of the whole thing right there in a nutshell. Counsel: Well, I said you might follow your own methods, Mr. Thompson. Answer: Well, I understood you said later you would ask about that. Counsel: Yes. J. P. Thompson: The reason I say this, I would like to answer the whole thing at once in one way. Counsel: You may go on and answer it, take up the question of Industrial unrest, its cause—. J. P. Thompson: The class struggle all comes under that. Counsel: And your cure. I want to get from you your opinion. J. P. Thompson: Certainly, that is the idea, and it is worth whatever it weighs, that is the idea.

Counsel: Go right ahead. J. P. Thompson: Now, the real cause of all social changes and revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in their more or less confused ideas of right and wrong, or of truth and justice, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch. That is one of our sayings. We say that in order to understand the social problem it must be looked at as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of the human will, consciousness and intelligence, but on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence. Now, when we speak of the world, of the working class, we mean the workers of the world. We are as broad as the world. We claim that in studying economics we must consider it from the standpoint of the world. You never hear us talk about immigration being a bad thing, we believe it is a good thing and so on. And so you might question me on that, if you wish, later. But here is the point, that, I will just take for example in this country, since I am an American for many generations, and naturally quite familiar with the history of this country.

In the day of what we call petty industry in this country, the tool of production was of a kind that could be used by the individual. The man who used the tool owned the tool. In the early days of our forefathers, all they had to do was to kill some Indians and get the land and then they could settle down on that land and make a living. They didn’t have any railroads. The only railroads they had were in the form of an ox team, and they took their commodities to market. They didn’t have shoe factories. The worker who made shoes made them by hand and carried his tools under his arm.

When the farmer in those days wanted clothes he didn’t go to the factory for them. The women folks used to be the textile mill in the home. They used to make the home-spuns, knit the socks and the mittens, and made the clothing, the home-spuns. Now, if a man was up against it, as we put it today, why they would say: “Go out and take up a piece of land and settle down and make your own living.” Well, now there has come a change. There is an unrest here, look for the cause in a change in the economics, in the mode of production.

The tool of production is not now a thing that can be used by an individual. The labor process has taken the co-operative form. You can not, if you own a textile mill, you cannot weave the woolen cloth without the sheep shearer, or the cotton cloth without the cotton picker. You can’t weave cloth, woolen or cotton, without the ironworker to make the looms, and you can’t have the building without the labor of the building workers. The tool of production today is not an individual tool, not a thing that one man can use. The co-operative plan or form has entered into the labor process. Now, here is what is the matter in the world, we have social production but we have private ownership of the means of production, and this divides the human race into two classes, the class who own the means of production and don’t operate them, and the class who operate them but don’t own them. You never saw a railroad operated by the class that owns it, nor you never saw a railroad built by the owners of it. [To be continued…]

[Paragraph breaks added.]


International Socialist Review Volume 18
(Chicago, Illinois)
Charles H. Kerr and Company
July 1917-June 1918
ISR Jan 1918
James P Thompson on Industrial Unionism
-also source for image of Thompson.

See also:

James P. Thompson

Commission on Industrial Relations
-Fifth of Eleven Volumes of Testimony
4097-5086: Volume 5
4190: Seattle, Wash., Wednesday, August 12, 1914—10 a. m.
Present: Commissioners Commons (acting chairman), Lennon, Garretson, and O’Connell; also W. O. Thompson, counsel.
4217: Afternoon Session
4233: Testimony of Mr. James P. Thompson

Hellraisers Journal, Wednesday January 31, 1917
Washington, D. C. – Government Printing Office Publishes Reports
Published! 10,000 Copies of Eleven-Volume Sets of Testimony Submitted to Congress by Commission on Industrial Relations


Casey Jones the Union Scab – Mark Ross
Lyrics by Joe Hill.