‘Report to the Fourth Annual Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World’ by Vincent St. John from Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 27. November 7, 1908.

Legendary I.W.W. leader Vincent St. John reports to the 4th annual wobbly convention held in Chicago during September, 1908. The convention would see the final break between the Socialist Labor Party and the ‘direct actionists’ in the I.W.W. The SLP’s insistence on political action, and others total rejection of it, split the organization. The De Leonists would form their own I.W.W., the Detroit-based ‘yellow I.W.W.’ which was renamed the Workers’ International Industrial Union in 1915 and lasted until 1924. Though it lasted for 15 years, it never got off the ground, or indeed led a strike. The new leadership of the Chicago-based I.W.W. largely came from the old Western Federation of Miners and included, along with Vincent St. John, Frank Little and William D. Haywood.

‘Report to the Fourth Annual Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World’ by Vincent St. John from Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 27. November 7, 1908.

To the Delegates of the Fourth Annual


Fellow Workers: I herewith submit to you my report as General Organizer and Assistant Secretary.

I left Goldfield, Nev., on December 16th and arrived in Chicago on the 19th, expecting to take up the work for the organization. Shortly after my arrival, however, I was compelled to enter the hospital, where I remained until the month of February.

Arrangements having been made for a trip through the coal fields of the state before my leaving Goldfield, it was the first work that I attempted. Starting on the trip March 17th, the trip extended as far south as St Louis, Mo., which point was reached April 3d. I arrived back in Chicago on the 11th of April. On the trip twenty dates were filled. Results were little, except in the way of agitation for Industrial Unionism. While the coal miners are in need of revolutionary industrial unionism as much as any other workers, no concrete results can be expected amongst them until the I. W. W. is in a financial position to place in the field a sufficient number of organizers to cover a certain area at one and the same time, thus crystallizing the discontent amongst them until sufficient numbers are aroused to make it possible for the organization to protect those workers in the industry who have cast their lot with a militant organization of their class. This is made absolutely necessary by the combination between the mine operatives and the officials of the U. M. W. A., a compact that is used for no purpose but to keep in subjection the mine workers of the state.

Since April 11, I have been in the office, and aside from a few meetings held in Chicago and one at Chicago Heights, my work has been mainly to handle the correspondence.

I have appended to this report a tabulation of the work of the fellow workers who have acted as national and voluntary organizers for the General Office.

Also a list of unions chartered since the last convention, and a list of those disbanded. The number of locals organized is 76; district councils, 3; number of locals disbanded, 63.

The big majority of the locals that have disbanded can be traced to the inability of the general organization to finance the number of organizers needed to see that the membership of these locals have a thorough understanding of the aims and objects of the I. W. W. before leaving them to their own devices. There are several cases, as will be noticed, where the disbanding of locals is the result of the combined opposition of the employer’s associations and their zealous allies, the Officials of “harmony of interests” organizations which call themselves labor organizations for no other purpose than to better accomplish their task of deluding the workers. These cases call for definite action on the part of this convention. That it go on record that however great the provocation, in the interest of our class acts of retaliation will not be countenanced by the I. W. W.

Careful consideration of the needs of an industrial organization has convinced me that henceforth charters should be issued only to bona fide industrial unions—that educational clubs take the place of mixed locals, such clubs having no voice in the conduct of the affairs of the I. W. W.

I would recommend that the number necessary to secure a local industrial charter be increased to twenty signers, and also that in order to hold a charter it be required that payment of tax must be made to the General Office on the basis of at least twenty members, educational subs to be chartered as such with a charter list of at least ten names.

Strict constitutional provisions should be made governing the issuance of referendum.

The purchase of per capita stamps should be monthly, or every two months at least, so that a fair basis of representation will at all times be had.

The referendum taken while I have been in position to observe have established this fact: Some locals will send in returns over and above the number of members on which they are paying tax. For example, one local union sends vote of twenty on a referendum when the books show the said local to have paid on an average membership of three for the past six months. Vote of local unions on referendums should be based upon the stamps purchased from the General Office on the month prior to the date of the referendum being initiated. The purpose of the referendum is to get an honest verdict from the membership. Its object must be zealously guarded, if it is not to become the opposite whenever the economic strength of the I. W. W. makes it of sufficient importance.

Strict constitutional provisions should be enacted governing the powers of district councils, national industrial unions and departments.

Strict constitutional provisions should be enacted governing the filing and trial of charges against members of the I. W. W.

The status of the general secretaries in conventions should be clearly defined. In this connection I wish to say that you cannot legislate integrity into any man or set of men. It is the work of education. Nor can you erect a movement upon the shifting sands of suspicion. Differences of opinion we should discuss fully and freely. Insinuations and the questioning of each other’s motives, unless backed by concrete proof, should have no part in the discussion of differences of opinion.

“Popularity with the workers” of Revolutionary Industrial Unionism has been called in question by an official of an organization that was formerly part of the I. W. W. Popularity it today a question of power. If the adherents of Industrial Unionism are going to wait until it has the power to make itself popular, before granting to it their allegiance, there is little hope for any movement that aims at the overthrow of the present system. The past six months has seen new authorities appear in the labor movement. Marx has been eclipsed by Webster; Engels by Johnson of dictionary fame, and their compeers by the compilers of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Verily, the world do move. The gentleman is in error. The time is not far distant when the wage slave will recognize that in the constructive program of Revolutionary Industrial Unionism lies the only hope for emancipation from the wage system.

The last convention of the W. F. M„ in Denver, Colo., brought to light insinuations of a serious nature against my standing as a member of the working class. Men upon the floor of that convention who have been associated with me in the past made every effort to force those making the insinuations to place them in concrete form before the W. F. M. They were unable to do so. Nevertheless, the insinuations have been scattered broadcast by at least a part of the labor press, as well as the capitalist press. In my judgment this calls for notice on the part of this convention. No one purporting to have knowledge of the fact that any officer of the I. W. W. is a Pinkerton should be allowed to go unchallenged to produce the proof.


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/v2n27-nov-07-1908-iub.pdf

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