In 1905, at the peak of the struggle, while the Soviets were coming into being in Russia, in the USA the International Workers of the World (IWW) was formed; the most radical proletarian organisation ever in the USA, the only revolutionary class organisation before the rise of the Afro-American movement. Today there is much to be said and learned from the IWW. Although many of its militants were anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists who had migrated to the US from Eastern and Western Europe, the IWW cannot merely be written off as the American equivalent of French anarcho-syndicalism.What was there in the IWW that is so extraordinarily modern? Although it was based on an old class nucleus, the Western Federation of Miners, the merit of the IWW was that it attempted to organise the American proletariat in terms of its intrinsic characteristics. It was primarily an immigrant proletariat, and therefore a mixture of ethnic groups which could only be organised in a certain way. Secondly, it was a mobile proletariat, a fact which very much militated against identification with any particular job or skill, and which also militated against workers developing ties to individual factories (even if only to take them over).
The IWW made the notion of the social factory a concrete reality, and it built on the extraordinary level of communication and coordination possible within the struggles of a mobile workforce. The IWW succeeded in creating an absolutely original type of agitator: not the mole digging for decades within the single factory or proletarian neighbourhood, but the type of agitator who swims within the stream of proletarian struggles, who moves from one end to the other of the enormous American continent and who rides the seismic wave of the struggle, overcoming national boundaries and sailing the oceans before organising conventions to found sister organisations. The Wobblies' concern with transportation workers and longshoremen, their constant determination to strike at capital as an international market, their intuitive understanding of the mobile proletariat - employed today, unemployed tomorrow - as a virus of social insubordination, as the agent of the "social wildcat": all these things make the IWW a class organisation which anticipated present-day forms of struggle, and was completely independent of the tradition of the Second and the Third Internationals. The IWW is the direct link from Marx's First International to the post-communist era.
The violence and the continuity of the American strikes during the first two decades of the century show how politically correct Marx's intuition was thirty years earlier when he wanted the headquarters of "his" International to move to New York. It is difficult to locate the high point of these struggles, but the trajectory of the cycle is roughly analogous to the European one and to that of the Russian proletariat. A particularly memorable moment was the 1905 struggle of 5,000 teamsters in Chicago, which ended in clashes with the police at a cost of 20 deaths and 400 wounded.In addition to the refusal to bargain, what is most striking in the IWW's experience is the rejection of any institutionalisation of the conflict, the refusal to sign contracts so as to periodicise the struggle, and the refusal to consider the struggle as a factory affair seeking primarily to develop the struggles possibilities of social communication. What it resulted in was an organisation which, similar to the Italian Camere del Lavoro, was based on territorial principles. Yet all this is fundamentally similar to European struggles and the workers' councils approach. This common principle is in fact that the struggle and the organisation find their base by overturning the material condition in which capital places the proletariat: in Europe by overturning workers' aristocracies into political vanguards, and in the USA by overturning mobility into a vector of workers' organisation. Why was vagrancy the main charge through which the IWW cadres were thrown into jail? Why was the Wobbly agitator's work-style modeled on the existence of a mobile proletariat, today working in construction, tomorrow unemployed, the day after a seasonal picker, then a textile worker, or a waiter on trains? The organisers of the seasonal workers followed them in their migrations from the Mexican border to Canada. Thus, Ford's notion of a social wage originates from this proletarian approach to income which does not crystallise sectoral divisions, but has an egalitarian approach to income.
Therefore, the two pillars of the IWW organisation are internationalism and egalitarianism. What is completely foreign is what we call factory-power, precisely because a factory which was not the social factory was foreign to the Wobblies' world. Also foreign is any relation to skills. Thus, before the massification of labour was introduced by the assembly line, the mass worker was subjective reality shaped by Wobbly agitators. It was a programme of total confrontation with the social factory and social capital. Unlike all European examples, the history of American struggles is probably the only one in which the workers' movement does not seek either a remodernisation of productive structures nor an organisation of the productive forces more backward than that of capital itself in a given stage of development. Probably the workers' power projected by the Wobblies sought to leave the management of business to the bosses and let the working class determine socially necessary labour and income.
This is why, rather than laying down a list of grievances to be dealt with at the bargaining table, they one-sidedly fixed wages and working hours, write them down on a piece of paper at the factory gates, and left it to the bosses to come down and take their note in order to respect it, thereby executing workers' orders.