This document was used by New York Amazon workers in 2022 to successfully establish their right to unionize. -THE EDITORS
The below transcription and marking of “Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry” was done by Philip Mooney in 2019 and then posted in the public domain on the Marxist Internet Archive.
“Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry” was written with the object of aiding the most active workers in the steel industry and steel workers generally in organizing the industry. There can be no doubt that a mastery of the principles developed in this pamphlet, principles based on practical experiences, would result in a greater efficiency on the part of all those now engaged in organizing the industry. It is really a manual of organization methods in the organization of the unorganized in the mass production industries.
The organizational principles and methods here developed can be easily adapted to problems of organizing other mass production and large-scale industries such as auto, rubber, chemical, textile, etc. There is a great poverty in the labor movement of such literature. This poverty is felt also in labor schools. This manual should prove very popular for trade union courses in the various workers’ labor schools. Let us hope that this is a beginning of the development of such literature to fill the need in the present growth of the trade union movement.
Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry
By William Z. Foster
National Chairman of the Communist Party and Leader of the 1919 Steel Strike
II. Organization Forms and Functions
1. Structure of Organizing Forces
2. Structure of the Union
3. Functions and Tasks
III. Mass Agitation
2. Publicity and Printed Matter
4. Mass Meetings, Demonstrations, etc
IV. Mass Organization
1. Individual Recruitment
2. Open Recruiting
3. Recruitment in Struggle
V. Special Group Work
1. American Whites
VI. Company Unions
VII. Special Organizational Work
2. Fraternal Organizations
4. Other Organizations
The methods outlined below of doing organization work in the steel industry are based upon the general principles of organization strategy and tactics developed in my pamphlet entitled: Unionizing Steel. They embody the lessons of the 1919 strike and of other steel struggles and they are suggested to the Steel Workers Organizing Committee for its consideration. The general principles in my pamphlet may be very briefly summarized as follows:
1. The organization work must be done by a working combination of the progressive and Left-wing forces in the labor movement. It is only these elements that have the necessary vision, flexibility and courage to go forward with such an important project as the organization of the 500,000 steel workers in the face of the powerful opposition of the Steel Trust and its capitalist allies. As far as the Right-wing reactionaries (crystallized in the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor) are concerned, they will not and cannot organize the steel workers. In 1936, even as in 1919, their attitude is one of sabotage and obstruction.
2. The organization campaign must be based upon the principles of trade union democracy. That is, every effort must be made to draw the widest possible ranks of the workers into the activities of the leading, decisive committees, and also into the work of the organizers and the union generally. Only with such democracy, or systematic mass participation, can the great task of building the union be successfully accomplished.
3. The organization movement must be industrial and national in character. That is, (a) it must include every category of workers in the steel industry, not merely a thin stratum of skilled workers at the top; and (b) the drive must be carried on energetically and simultaneously in every steel center, not simply here and there spasmodically in individual mills or steel centers.
4. The campaign must develop a strong discipline among the organizers and workers in order to prevent the movement from being wrecked by company-inspired local strikes and other disruptive tendencies. The necessary discipline cannot be attained by issuing drastic orders, but must be based upon wide education work among the rank and file and the development of confidence among them in the cause and ultimate victory of the movement.
5. The organization campaign must be a fighting movement. It must realize that if the steel workers are to be organized they can only rely upon themselves and the support they get from other workers. While every advantage should be taken of all political institutions and individuals to defend the steel workers’ civil rights and to advance their interests generally, it would be the worst folly to rely upon Roosevelt, Earle or other capitalist politicians to adopt measures to organize the steel workers. There is every probability that only through a great strike can the steel workers establish their union and secure their demands, and this perspective must be constantly borne in mind.
6. Although the steel workers must not place their faith in capitalist politicians, they should utilize every means to develop working class political activity and organization in the steel areas. Especially there should be organized local Labor parties in the steel towns and thus foundations laid for an eventual Farmer-Labor Party.
7. The movement must be highly self-critical. That is, there should be a constant re-examination of the organization methods used. Only in such a way can the necessary adjustments be made in tactics to fit the different situations. And only thus can the workers and organizers avoid defeat and pessimism and be given a feeling of confidence and sure success. It is a fatal mistake to try to apply blue-print methods of organization to an industry that presents so many and varied situations as steel. Flexibility in the work is a first essential, and to achieve this requires drastic self-criticism.
The situation in the steel industry is now highly favorable and if the organization work is prosecuted energetically, with due regard for the mistakes and weaknesses of past strikes and struggles, it will succeed. The present campaign of the Committee for Industrial Organization, of which John L. Lewis is the head, has many advantages over 1919. The industry is increasing production, the political situation is more favorable for maintaining the civil rights of the workers to meet and organize, the workers are in a more militant mood, the right of the workers to organize is more generally recognized, the campaign is being carried on upon the basis of one industrial union instead of 24 crafts, the illusions about company unionism are less now than ever, the campaign has the solid support of a dozen powerful trade unions, there arc ample funds for the organizing work, the language problem is not as severe as in earlier years, the radio now enables the message of unionism to evade the employers’ censorship and to be carried directly into the steel workers’ home. And, lastly, there is now in the field a strong Communist Party (which was not so in 1919) that is lending all its support to the success of the campaign.
The steel workers have every reason to enter into the present campaign with full confidence of victory. Now is the time to break down the open-shop slavery that has cursed the steel industry ever since the defeat of the heroic Homestead strikers in 1892. Now is the opportunity to build the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers into a great union, powerful enough to bring a happier life to the steel workers and their families.
1. The steel workers cannot be organized by agitation alone ; it requires thorough organization work to unionize them.
2. The work must be coordinated and planned—per organizer, per locality, per day, per week, etc.
3. Not mechanical blue-print tactics, but flexibility. The degree to which the proposals below can be applied depends on local conditions; the workers’ mood and strength of organization, the attitude of the bosses and government towards the campaign, etc.
4. The organization work must be carried out upon the basis of an energetic drive, not spontaneously and spasmodically, or merely a slow, gradual growth; sags in activity and loss of momentum are very dangerous in the drive by weakening the confidence of workers.
5. A strong discipline should prevail all through the campaign, but each unit must develop a healthy initiative, based on a vigorous trade union democracy.
6. A central aim must always be to draw the largest possible masses into direct participation in all the vital activities of the union ; membership recruitment, formulation of demands, union elections, petitions, pledge votes, strike votes, strike organization, etc. This gives them a feeling that the union is actually their movement.
7. Self-criticism at all times is absolutely indispensable to the working out of proper tactics.
8. High morale among the organizers and enthusiasm and confidence among the workers are indispensable conditions to the success of the work.
9. Organizers do not know how to organize by instinct, but must be carefully taught.
10. Every organizer and unit in the campaign must be activated at all times. The whole organizing force should move forward as one machine to the accomplishment of its goal of building the union.
11. Hard work and sobriety are basic essentials for success. Chair-warmers and irresponsibles should be made to feel unwelcome in the organizing crew.
12. Every step taken in the campaign must have as its central purpose the direct recruitment of new members. The main slogan is: “Join the Union”.
II. Organizational Forms and Functions
1. Structure of Organizing Forces.
The organizing force of the steel campaign should be formed on the following general basis:
(a) The full-time and part-time organizers in the localities and districts should be formed into definitie committees, each with a secretary and with sub-committees for publicity, Negro, youth, women and defense. They should hold regular weekly meetings at definite times and places.
(b) A corps of volunteer organizers should be created, carefully selected to avoid unreliable elements. Each paid organizer should be commissioned as a captain of a crew of volunteer organizers and made immediately responsible for their work
(c) Each local of the Amalgamated Association should appoint an organizing committee of several members.
(d) In the company unions informal organizing committees should be set up to bring the company union membership systematically into the Amalgamated Association.
(e) Organizing committees should be set up in the various steel mills and in their departments, functioning either openly or privately, as conditions dictate. These should become the basis for future local unions.
(f) The Central Labor Unions and other unions (especially the railroad organizations) should set up local committees to support the steel drive and to organize their own trades. The steel drive should aim at 100 per cent organization of all workers in the steel towns.
(g) Similar supporting committees should also be formed among fraternal organizations, churches and elsewhere, where active sympathizers be found for the steel campaign.
(h) These local union, mill and other organizing committees should meet together weekly (so far as is practical) jointly with the paid and volunteer organizers.
(i) One or more national conferences of all the local unions and organizing forces should be held to coordinate the whole campaign of organization.
(j) Periodic meetings of organizers should be held to study concrete methods of mass agitation and organization.
2. Structure of the Union.
(a) Local unions should be formed on the principle of one mill, one union. In large mills the local union should be sub-divided into branches according to main departments, but the local union branches should be kept linked together by a broad representative committee.
(b) In the localities and districts the local steel unions in the several mills should be joined together into Steel Councils based upon a broad rank-and-file representation.
(c) The obsolete constitution of the Amalgamated Association should be adapted in practice to permit of this form of departmentalized industrial union.
3. Functions and Tasks.
(a) Organizers should not work haphazardly. They should each be given very specific tasks and held responsible for their fulfillment, specified individuals being charged with the work in certain mills, language groups, company unions, etc.
(b) The principles of socialist competition should be introduced to stimulate the work of the organizers, to create friendly organizing rivalry between worker and worker, department and department, mill and mill, town and town
(c) The greatest care should be taken to guard against spies and provocateurs entrenching themselves in the organizing crew and official leadership of the union but the organizers should avoid starting a “spy scare”. Spies that are uncovered should be exposed to the workers.
(d) Care should be taken to protect all lists of members. Loss of such lists and other important documents to company sources is highly demoralizing to the workers, and careless organizers should be disciplined.
(e) An absolutely strict control should be maintained over the finances, as loose financial methods always constitute a grave danger in large campaigns.
(f) The headquarters of the organizing committee and the union should be located conveniently to the mills, but not directly under the eyes of the mill officials.
(g) Organized protection of organizers, officers, local headquarters, etc., should be provided for in local situations of acute struggle.
(h) All organizers should submit detailed weekly reports on their activities.
(i) Organizers and other union officials handling funds should be regularly bonded with a bonding company.
III. Mass Agitation
The main objectives of the educational work should be to liquidate fear and pessimistic moods among the workers ; to convince them of the necessity for trade unionism to win their demands and the possibility for success in the present campaign ; to rouse the enthusiasm, confidence and fighting spirit of the workers ; to win public sentiment behind the campaign.
The mass of workers support the drive and join the union in order to improve their conditions by securing the satisfaction of their most urgent economic demands. This elementary fact should never be lost sight of. The whole campaign of agitation must be based upon the popularization of the sloganized major demands of the workers, together with their local demands. The whole steel industry should be saturated with these slogans.
The economic demands of the union should be put forth immediately, but finally formulated and adopted at a broad national rank-and-file conference and then ratified by huge local mass meetings, pledge voted, etc., everywhere in the steel areas.
2. Publicity and Printed Matter.
The publicity material should be short and concrete, with concise facts about conditions in the industry and arguments for organization. Occasionally it should be printed in the most important foreign languages, the foreign-born workers liking to read their native languages even when they speak and understand english.
(a) Handbills should be issued regularly by the local organizing committees and upon occasion by the various local steel unions.
(b) Bulletins should be issued regularly by the local organizing committees giving local news of the movement, and especially stressing the progress of the campaign in other localities.
(c) House-to-house distribution on a mass scale should be organized for handbills, bulletins and other literature.
(d) A circulation as extensive as possible should be secured for the weekly paper, Steel Labor.
(e) Shop papers should be issued wherever practicable by A.A. local unions.
(f) Advertisements in the local papers are valuable and should be used regularly for important announcements to the steel workers.
(g) Every means should be exercised to secure systematically favorable write-ups in the local press on the campaign.
(h) Stickers are effective, but care must be exercised that they do not become a nuisance and antagonize public opinion, by being stuck up indiscriminately.
(i) The wearing of union buttons in the plants is a very important organizing force, but care must be taken that it be not introduced until there is sufficient mass support and that the proper time is seized upon for its introduction, in order to prevent discharges of workers.
(j) Advertisements in movies in small towns are often practical and effective.
(k) Posters and window-cards should also be utilized on special occasions.
-The full text of the Foster pamphlet is at marxists.org.