‘On the Advance’ by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 24. September 19, 1908.

A substantial report from comrade Flynn to the IUB on two weeks spent organizing for the I.W.W. in Philadelphia during the summer of 1908.

‘On the Advance’ by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 24. September 19, 1908.

A year ago when I visited Philadelphia, there was no I.W.W. in existence and my weeks’ agitation found only about twelve bonafide, but scattered advocates of industrial unionism. Today thru the hard work and determined efforts on the part of these few unaided and encouraged, by passing organizers and speakers, there is a thriving movement in Philadelphia, now establishing its own headquarters, and if the Quaker City has not its quota of representatives at the convention this year, it can only be blamed on the capitalist class and panic.

This year my two weeks’ sojourn in Philadelphia started out under rather inauspicious circumstances, as the facts already forwarded to the Bulletin, concerning the Bakery Workers, will amply show. However, once we were rid of Mr. I. Roth and his attempts to make our organization a cloak for his label-selling and scab-furnishing schemes for the stooges, our general agitation meetings were highly successful.

The first week we held three open-air meetings, commencing August 20th, on the City Hall Plaza. An “Ancient Order of Hiberian” Convention was going on that week in Philadelphia, and the celebration on this evening took the form of an Irish parade, from which we were able to extract an excellent crowd of about 300 people, in spite of the attempts of the North American to conceal our identity by a meager little five-line announcement tucked away in an inconspicuous corner. The convention had declared for Home Rule for Ireland, while we declared for Home Rule for the United States, by the people of the U.S., the working-class, and for two hours industrial unionism as the means of organizing to bring this about was expounded by Fellow Worker McAlvy and myself.

The meeting was almost over and I had gone through the crowd for Bulletin subscriptions when some gentleman wanted a question answered. When I took the stand again the questions came thick and fast, and an entirely new crowd, even larger than the first, collected, so I had the unique experience of a double meeting.

Some of the questions were very learned, as for instance, one of a pompous old gentlemen who asked “Isn’t it a fact that the machine does the work today, not the working-class!” and to whom my polite answer, “Why then doesn’t the capitalist put the machine over in the corner and let it turn out wealth!” was very exasperating, for he roared out like a bull, “What do you people, you Socialists, want anyhow? Got free schools, free speech, free land” (at this a single taxer made a wild dash at him through the crowd and tackled him to prove it) “right to choose an occupation, everything, and then you kick!” and he took his fat, well-cared-for self out of the crowd, who howled with delight when I reminded him as he went, that we had free hospitals and work-houses and jails and poorhouses for the working-class, likewise.

The man who was worried about immigrant labor, the man who wants to know how you are going to tell how much each one deserves (strange how solicitous they are for absolute justice, under the cooperative commonwealth, though the capitalist, getting four-fifths of their product doesn’t worry them a bit today!), the man who wants to know do we advocate confiscation, all were there in force and the result of the cross firings were five subs for the Bulletin gathered in and many copies of Herve’s Anti-patriotism and other pamphlets sold.

We followed this up by another large meeting at 4th Street and Lancaster Avenue, on Saturday, Aug. 22d, at which again we were able to spread many copies of “Anti-patriotism” and even some copies of Marx’s “Value, Price and Profit” as a result of an argument over abstract economics on both evenings with gentlemen who could not understand why when labor received its wage, that was not its full product. There were but few questions asked, although we had made clear attacks on the A.F. of L. form of unionism, its methods as well, its leaders and their policies, in fact the working-class audience seemed satisfied we were in the right and were not to be inveighed, for all their union buttons, into trying to defend their organizations or their leaders, although our Chairman McClure pleaded with them to do so.

Meanwhile on Friday afternoon, I had met the A.F. of L representative, organizer for the International Bakery and Confectionery Workers, Rudolph Shirer. On being introduced to Fellow Worker McClure and myself, he pulled out a little mirror with and advertisement of the Union Label, of the B. & C., W.I.W. of A. and handed it to me. This was very instructive as to what the label stood for and we were properly impressed.

He then showed me a copy of the constitution of their union and trying to be very friendly and very revolutionary said, “We believe in Industrial Unionism, you know.” We didn’t know, for even though their constitution specified that all who worked in and around a bakery shop should be organized, we did not see how that organized the industry from the raising of the wheat to the bread-delivery as capitalists organize for production, nor how a union label guaranteed anything unless they were so organized, which made the unqualified statement “Union Made.”

He informed us that if all the unions who believed in Industrial Unionism pulled out of the A.F. of L. the A.F. of L. would organize the unorganized in their places. Fellow Worker McClure asked: “Why do you not organize the unorganized today, then?” To which the organizer could make no reply.

We asked him how he could explain the numerous accounts in the Bulletin of the Int. trying to smash the I.W.W., and we gave him a half dozen accounts to read over, but he could stay nothing except that it was very interesting but he had never heard anything about it before. He accused some of our men of scabbing on the A.F. of L., but when we said that any men who had gone into the shop in question, under I. Roth’s direction, had been taken out and asked if the A.F. of L. after complaining of our men would do the same square act for the I.W.W. it was indeed as Kipling says, “Another story.”

The I.W.W. men had a shop completely organized, but the boss found the A.F. of L. label in demand and a better asset in his business, so he signed a contract with the local business agent of the International, and then ordered the men either to join the International or get out of his shop, virtually locking-out I.W.W. men. The organizer of the Int. admitted this had been done but couldn’t see anything wrong with it. If an I.W.W. man takes an A.F. of L. man’s job, he is a “scab” and we must do something to make matters right. If an A.F. of L. man takes an I.W.W. man’s place, and we put it up to them to do something, then its, “When the devil was ill, the devil a monk would be, but when the devil was well, devil a monk was he.”

The International has a fine declaration of principles class-conscious Socialism to the core, perhaps the result of borers from within, but while they many have “bored” it into the constitution, it never comes out from between the covers and the contract is still tied up and the label still sold at the same bargain counter.

Sunday, Aug. 23d, we held a hall meeting in the Hungarian Socialist Federation Hall in the afternoon, but our advertisement had been delayed so that our crowd was small, though intelligent and attentive, who for over an hour and a half listened to real “constructive” Socialism and bought up pamphlets on the same. Three subs were raked up on this occasion. The Hungarian Socialist Federation has a comfortable headquarters and seem to be imbued with the I.W.W. spirit, as witnessed by a thriving Hungarian local.

Monday, Aug. 24, found us again on the City Hall plaza, where after an hour and a half successful meeting, several of us proceeded to a meeting of the A.F. of L. Carpenters and Joiners. Fellow Worker Irwin had, after a difficult fight, secured the right of the floor for me, although one of the opponents had made the crushing argument, “She’s a fanatic and besides isn’t much of a speaker.” The union listened very attentively for about forty-five minutes and applauded several radical utterances, although they were inclined to be more apathetic to the bulk of the talk.

I had been given a tip that Gompers’ proposition to endorse “our friends” (namely, the Democratic Party), was on the order of business for discussion, yet when I asked them how they, with the bulk of their men out of work, were interested in a possible use of the injunction by the employer, one way or the other, since no work certainly means no strike, they applauded very heartily. If we could use the injunction to get work, we might be interested in it, otherwise this burning issue doesn’t even kindle a spark of interest in our hearts or brains. I understand they tabled Gompers’ proposition, after we left. I had heard Mr. Huber, President of Carpenters and Joiners’ International Brotherhood speak during the open-shop struggle in Duluth, Minn., last January, and some of the gems of unionism he had let forth on an unsuspecting audience of Superior, Wis., were as follows:

Open-shop fights disturb the harmony between employer and employe.

We always advise peace and harmony.

Our motto: A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

Union men are good American citizens, are willing to take guns and defend their country.

The readers of the Bulletin may readily understand how appropriate this all was upon which to build a talk before this local union.

After briefly outlining for them the class-struggle, I showed them how Mr. Huber’s first utterance was the exact opposite of the truth, that the great virtue of the open-shop fights was the lesson of the class-conflict it taught the workers by disturbing “the harmony between employer and employe.” Then I discussed how the organization of the Building Trades is not in line with capitalist industry and how we must be organized to “take and hold” as well as administer industry in our own interests, dwelling on the evils of the contract system as well as prohibitive dues and initiation fees which, as Frederick Engels put it, “Means the breeding by every such union of its own blacklegs.”

Mr. Huber’s “defense of our country” claim came in for its own drubbing for certainly if we had a country, we might be asked to defend it, but we are not interested in shooting down workingmen of foreign lands in wars, or home workingmen in labor conflicts, to defend the propertied class in their possession of their country. A gun in the hand of a working man to defend “his” country, is a gun against his own class, as Gustave Herve well points out in his splendid address on “Anti-patriotism.”

At the conclusion of the talk, the union passed a rising vote of thanks and we industrial unionists departed, satisfied that we had reached some receptive minds that would keep the ball a’rolling. The representative of this union, lest we forget, however, was the one in Philadelphia who protested against I.W.W. men being allowed to sit at the Unemployed Conference and was instrumental in having them barred out. We have reached the rank and file, in spite of him. Let us hope they will soon be satisfied that a ”fair day’s wage” is nothing less than the whole product.

The weather man is not yet an I.W.W. man, consequently Tuesday and Wednesday were both days of pouring rain, which prevented any outdoor activity and thus we were unable to hold our two scheduled meetings.

Thursday night saw us out again at the old stand and by this time a bundle of Bulletin and Handbooks No. 1 and No. 2, had arrived, so we had a good supply of “Pettibone dope.” After a two hours’ speech, by Fellow Worker Lutherman and myself, many questions were asked, some on economics by the ever-present single taxers which enabled us to sell several copies of “Value Price and Profit,” by Marx, “Socialism from Utopia to Science,” by Engels and others along this line. There was a poor workingman present who was afraid the working-class never would be able to do anything for themselves. “They are not intelligent enough,” and never have done anything in all history.

Of course they never have done anything through all history, except work, and make resolutions for other classes, as witness the French Revolution, but history never yet had so ripe a time for proletarian revolution, in fact all the forces of modern industrial evolution are forcing it upon us, whether we like it or not. The man who doesn’t see anything wrong with things as they are has not touched the pulse of the American people, for they instinctively feel as the poet says:

While earth produces, free and fair,
the golden waving corn,
And fragrant fruits perfume the air,
And fleecy flocks are shorn,
While thousands cry with aching heads
The never-ending song, we starve, we
die, Oh, give us bread,
There must be something wrong.

And the American working-class are going to make a revolution, intelligent or otherwise. It is for us to make it one of intelligence and organization.

Two more meetings sufficed to bring our work to a close. Saturday and Sunday afternoon meetings sold all the literature from headquarters and every scrap of literature [from the Labor?] News Company, bearing on the subject, we could lay our hands on, besides. I doubt not but we could have sold twice as much if we had been supplied as on Sunday afternoon on the City Hall plaza, every book was sold out before I left the stand. The sales of these two occasions alone, must have amounted to five dollars a meeting.

Two hours on both days, Fellow Worker Anton and myself talked on Industrial Unionism and answered questions from crowds of at least 400 people and I felt certain as I left Philadelphia, the historical little Independence Hall will look down on stirring times again in that city. They have a record behind them in Philadelphia to live up to, some of the pictures in Independence Hall would shame a workingman who had not the manhood to fight for his class. Thomas Paine, who fought hard in two Revolutions, French and American, said “where liberty is not, there is my home,” and he seems almost to look down reproachfully on passers-by who do not recognize even yet the truth of the saying, nor show Paine’s spirit to remedy such a shameful state.

His famous definition of country, “The world is my country, mankind are my countrymen,” was little more than sentiment in his time and could not be otherwise, today it has a practical working basis, for an international capitalist class has wiped out all national boundaries and made of the world one great system of industry. Is it up to us to take the next step-and Philadelphia is in the vanguard to do its share-that labor may “take and hold” everything they need to live.

Fellow Workers Irwin, McClure, Lutherman, Anton, Mullen, Davis and others are to commended for the assistance they rendered to make these meetings successful.

The Industrial Union Bulletin, and the Industrial Worker were newspapers published by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) from 1907 until 1913. First printed in Joliet, Illinois, IUB incorporated The Voice of Labor, the newspaper of the American Labor Union which had joined the IWW, and another IWW affiliate, International Metal Worker.The Trautmann-DeLeon faction issued its weekly from March 1907. Soon after, De Leon would be expelled and Trautmann would continue IUB until March 1909. It was edited by A. S. Edwards. 1909, production moved to Spokane, Washington and became The Industrial Worker, “the voice of revolutionary industrial unionism.”

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/industrialworker/iub/v2n24-sep-19-1908-iub.pdf

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