‘The Agricultural Workers’ Convention’ by E.W. Latchem from One Big Union Monthly. Vol. 2 No. 11. November, 1920.
The 10th Semi-Annual Mass Convention of Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union No. 110, held at New Rockford, N.D., from Sept. 27th to Oct. 1st, has passed into history. To better understand the business transacted, it may be well to consider some of the economic conditions existing in the industrial world prior to the formation of the A.W.I.U. No. 110, also a brief survey of organization activities since.
One hundred years ago most of the work, which is done in the factories now, was part of the various duties incidental to work on the farm, which necessitated long hours of the hardest kind of toil with crude tools.
The introduction and development of the factory system has transferred the work from the farm to the factory, where giant complex machines now do much of the work formerly done on the farms. All that is left to do on the farms, is the work incidental to growing, harvesting and marketing the crops and most of that is done by machinery, very few workers being needed, except at harvest time.
In spite of the use of all this labor saving machinery, those who work on the farms are still working the same long hours that our ancestors did 100 years ago, except where the workers have used their organized power. In fact, the farm worker today (both farmer and hired help) are about the worst paid, the worst housed and the worst treated workers in the country.
In 1915, the harvest workers presented an organized demand through a new organization, which had sprung up as if by magic, known as the Agricultural Workers’ Organization No. 400 of the I.W.W. (This was later changed to Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union.)
This new organization was the result of discussions between the harvest workers themselves at open forums conducted by I.W.W. locals for the purpose of evolving ways and means of perfecting an organization that would make solidarity possible for the workers on migratory and seasonal work. Job delegates from I.W.W. locals bordering on the wheat belt had been trying to organize those workers, but had discovered that no solidarity could be obtained by the method of organization then in use.
The first demands presented by this new organization, which were printed in leaflet form, with appropriate slogans, and distributed to all harvest workers, were: “A minimum wage of $3.50 for a 10-hour day, time and a half for overtime and decent living conditions.”
The wages paid in previous years had seldom gone above $3.00 for a 14-hour day. By the new method of organization and tactics made possible thereby the organized harvest workers were able to get the 10-hour day in localities where they had control, and to force the “going wages” up to $3.50.
The principal reason for the success of the new organization, in 1916-17, was the minimum wage and hour demand, which cemented the workers together on common ground. It was something that all workers instinctively desired but had been unable to get as individuals, and now an organization was in the field, that not only voiced those desires, but at the same time made their realization possible. The enthusiasm and spirit of solidarity aroused in the workers as a result of this organization policy has withstood four years of the worst kind of persecution on the part of the master class.
During the year 1918, most of the organized harvest workers of military age were in the army, but still the organization managed to live and withstand the most severe persecution.
No set demands were possible in 1919, owing to the poor crops and unsettled state of affairs in general, but the organization regained most of its membership which had been temporarily lost during the war on account of military service. The fall convention went on record for a maximum ten-hour day for the coming year, but neglected the most essential element to its success, and that was: proper publicity among the harvest workers, which had made previous campaigns a success.
Most of the members in the harvest fields this year did not know that such a thing as a ten-hour day demand had been passed and were confused by the various conflicting reports that were going round. One of the most important essentials to the success of previous campaigns had been overlooked, making solidarity impossible.
Matters were further complicated by the new method adopted by the farmers to counteract any concerted action for a shorter work day. Instead of hiring by the day as formerly they hire by the hour and try to make the worker believe that the long-hour day was invented for his benefit, so that he can make more money. Some few cases were reported of workers who had been duped into lengthening their work with hours b. this argument. To meet the situation, the 10th convention passed the following resolutions:
(1) “That we cut out working by the hour and work by the day.”
(2) “That we get out a leaflet dealing with the 10-hour day.”
(3) “That all members who are proven to have raised their hours be expelled.”
Other resolutions were passed pertaining to literature in regard to persecution and the need of organization, also about the Industrial Court laws of Kansas.
Unlike previous A.W.I.U. conventions, which usually donated large sums to papers, etc., this convention decided that we could make better use of the money for organization work.
The matter of discussion caused by gambling in the harvest fields, which has been “hanging fire” for several conventions, was again taken up but came no nearer a solution than formerly, owing to the confusion caused by the various conflicting opinions in regard to that “favorite pastime” whereby the lowest of all parasites, the ‘“‘tinhorn gambler,” is enabled to fleece the worker out of what has been left him by the big parasites.
Another matter of note was the abolition of the districts, which have been part of our structure up to now, owing to their failure to function.
The results of this year’s organized effort can be summed up in about an average of $1.00 more than the farmer had intended to pay, in spite of the fact that no such a thing as minimum wage demand had been made. The ten-hour day was established wherever the workers had the moral courage to force the issue, and this in spite of the confusion caused by conflicting reports.
The most important step taken to get better solidarity in the harvest fields was the adoption of a resolution calling for the election of a “job steward” on all jobs where the A.W.I.U. has job control (this should read seven or more members) for the purpose of keeping in touch with workers in other places. This will make possible an industrial district council of all jobs in a certain district, and this in turn, will make possible the election of delegates from the industrial district council to the general convention of the A.W.I.U. and replace the present crude and unwieldy mass convention, which has pretty well disgusted everybody. This matter of a delegate convention was well thrashed out at the mass convention last spring and a delegate convention had been decided on but the failure of all districts in the West forced the organization to fall back on the mass convention.
The history of the I.W.W. has been one of continual change and readjustment to meet new situations arising from changing economic conditions or that have been made necessary by our growth and development. These readjustments are made easier by a thorough discussion of the problems to be solved as well as the various solutions offered. Discussion broadens our vision, so that needless wrangles, that come as a result of misconceptions, may be avoided.
All difficulties confronting the A.W.I.U. can be easily overcome when once we get a clear conception of the issue and the remedy. The most important problem at present is to provide for a new structure that will meet the needs of the agricultural industry. The above resolution is the first step towards a solution, but won’t amount to anything unless it is properly understood and worked out by the members.
The 10th semi-annual mass convention adjourned at 12 noon, Friday, Oct. 1st, singing “Hold the Fort.”
One Big Union Monthly was a magazine published in Chicago by the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World from 1919 until 1938, with a break from February, 1921 until September, 1926 when Industrial Pioneer was produced. OBU was a large format, magazine publication with heavy use of images, cartoons and photos. OBU carried news, analysis, poetry, and art as well as I.W.W. local and national reports. OBU was also Mary E. Marcy’s writing platform after the suppression of International Socialist Review., she had joined the I.W.W. in 1918.
PDF of full issue: https://archive.org/download/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1920-11_2_11/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1920-11_2_11.pdf