Olive M. Johnson, A Union Must Have Numbers


Olive M. Johnson
A Union Must Have Numbers
The following is copied from the SLP pamphlet
Olive M. Johnson, _Industrial Unionism_, 1935,
the section subtitled 'A Union Must Have Numbers'

Of late there is no question that pops up with more regularity to the S.L.P. agitator than that of Industrial Unionism:

You say that the Industrial Union is the basic thing? That it constitutes the framework for the now order? That it and it alone can furnish the force in the coming revolution? Granted. What then are you doing about it? Why haven"t you an Industrial Organization right now? Or, when is the S.L.P. going to start its industrial organization? Or, is there any Industrial Union now in existence?

To this the S.L.P. answers: There is no Industrial Union now in existence. The S.L.P. has no intention of starting an Industrial Union now or ever. When such a union will be started depends entirely on when the working class as a class in fairly representative numbers has become so imbued with the idea of Industrial Unionism as a revolutionary force that it is ready to turn from its worm condition. It is the working class itself which must organize the Industrial Union. The work of the S.L.P. is to propagate the idea, to tell the workers HOW; the WHEN rests with the working class."

The above questions emanate from the foolish notion that an Industrial Union can be started like a grocery store, by selecting a good stand and starting on a small scale. The W.I.I.U. worked on that notion and failed -- was bound to fail and become a nuisance. There are such attempts started today -- only punier and more foolish. All they will succeed in making of themselves is more or less emphatic nuisances in their different localities. We might as well make up our mind, therefore, that it will be one of the pests we shall have to bear with in the future, for so far from the nuisance abating there will probably be an epidemic of it as time goes on. Movements, like children, are bound to get measles and other infantile disorders. The only thing for the S.L.P. to do is to pay absolutely no attention to such eruptions except insofar as they directly interfere with our work. To be sure, such a group is bound to become a nuisance to the S.L.P. in some manner. First it will try to use the Party. Since the S.L.P. is, in this country, the one and only true exponent of Industrial Unionism, the egotist promoters of "a sample Industrial Union" imagine that all they need do is to attach the Industrial Union label to an ordinary rag-chewing society and the S.L.P. must endorse its existence and promote its being. If the S.L.P. refuses, as refuse it must, the rag-chewers instantly turn vicious: The S.L.P. is turning against De Leon! The S.L.P. is proving false to the idea of Industrial Unionism! That proving ineffectual, the vicious ones resort to lies and slander of the Party and its officials; new and untrained members and sympathizers are seen, with attempts to stuff them and turn them against the Party. Fortunately the Party has developed a tremendous power of resistance, not to say total immunity, to these infantile disorders. At worst they only amount to a slight itch between the toes.

The bona fide Industrial Union cannot be started on the corner-grocer plan. The first essential of a union is numbers. A political, party, large or small, being essentially a propaganda unit, can do its work. The union is different; it cannot be a gradual growth; it must have numbers from the start, or die a gradual death. In the first place, members of a small revolutionary union -- or any insignificant union, for that matter -- will be marked men on their jobs, and soon be eliminated. In the second place, as soon as a union is actually connected with a trade or an industry, it will be subject to attack both by the A.F. of L. or other similar organizations, or by the employers. A small union, with no backing by labor in general, will soon be weeded out or in some manner eliminated. Again, if it has any kind of local strength in any industry, there is bound to be trouble. If nothing else, it will have a strike on its hands. The grievances of the workers are legion. A union spells betterment, better wages, shorter hours, removal of abuses. If a union, during a gradual constructive period, cannot effect these things, the workers are not going to stick to it. This was one of the rocks on which the I.W.W. stumbled and fell.

The S.L.P., on the other hand, is not required to make promises. It can propagate the revolution directly and in the open and show the workers that revolution alone can effect any change for the better in the workers' conditions. Hence it is subject to none of the pitfalls of a union propaganda group.

When the workers move to the Industrial Union, they must of necessity move as a mass, as a force large enough to be irresistible, both to attacks from labor fakers and from the employers themselves. When they move, they must move as a revolutionary force, not as a reform force. Reform, immediate demands, will spell death. Not more work, better work, more wages or shorter hours must be the goal, but the ownership and control of industry. No union group of untutored workers can ever be held together long enough -- if no immediate -- benefits are procured -- for the revolutionary idea to be inculcated. The idea must precede the union. In other words, the revolutionary union must already exist in the workers' minds before it is put on paper or gathered in the shape of an organization. To perform this mental revolution is the work of the S.L.P.