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Jack Houston’s Editorials in the OBU Bulletin: 3 July 1920

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The Workers Against the Bosses

Necessarily there is a constant scrap going on. This is so where the bosses are trying to bribe the workers to side with the boss. A thousand schemes are put forth to make the worker believe that it is in his interest to be tame and subservient, that he can best serve himself by playing a lone hand at the expense of his fellow workers. Having made this analysis and having habituated himself to being a human jelly-fish, neither loyalty nor good faith can never [=ever] be expected from such a creature, rather spying and treachery and duplicity of every kind is to be looked for.

But all men cannot be favorites of the boss nor bosses in embryo. The experiences of the modern industrialist plant make labor, under its daily grind, more and more irksome. The open air was the condition under which man entered into relations with his fellows to make the living together, in the distant days where he had just emerged from the status of brute beast and had crossed the threshold which introduced him into manhood. Since these distant days it has been the open air for bis [=him?]. A million years of open air cannot be forgotten in a few decades of the foul, polluted atmosphere of a capitalist factory. The urge is for shorter and even shorter hours, inside of his veritable prison. The strict discipline required for efficiency, which is enforced by the machines as well as the boss, tends in the same direction. The machine system of production, too, requires that he should have some education and some ability to rationalize. He comes to see social production in the large, to see how all the processes are dove-tailed, interlinked, felted together.

Next he gives some attention to the problems of distribution. As a starting point, a point of departure, he has an immediate object lesson in the store of the product created by himself and his mates which he and his mates receive as wages. He knows that the wage received as money which he carries home to the Missus, the best Chancellor of the Exchequer known to history, is pronounced by that skillful economist to be utterly inadequate to meet all the requirements of her budget. A little enquiry and the benefit of some statistics and he comes to the conclusion that the standard of living among workers is about the same as his own, that is, they are all having an equally hard time to make both ends meet, that wages are just about what will keep a worker alive and going along, in one part of the world as well as in another.

What becomes of the rest of the product? It goes in rent, interest and profit after the cost of the raw material, the up-keep of the machinery and plant and the overhead charges have been paid. Rent and interest are really profits which are paid to landlords and banks, for, if the industrial company had bought the land and had no borrowed money it would have to have to treat its whole investment as capital and all the money it made over paying wages and the sums paid out for raw material and up-keep and overhead would be entered on the books as profit.

Now don’t forget that the boss owns everything under the system by which we make the living together. He owns the plant and the machinery: he owns the raw material; he owns the money paid out in wages and he owns the product, the product of labor. When he pays the wages he secures the actual ownership of the skill and efficiency that resides in the worker, not only the highly specialized skill of the trained workman but the equally or even more highly skilled efficiency which is the transmitted joint heritage of the human race. Let no worker ever forget that if it were not for the virtual ownership of the skill and efficiency which is the only asset of the workers, the ownership of the plant, the raw material and the money capital would be of not the slightest use to the Money Bags of the world.

The ownership of the ability to make the living which resides in the workers, by the owners of the capital invested in the business where the workers labor, makes slaves of the workers. There is no other name that will describe the relations of the bosses and workers. It is slavery and abject slavery at that. Hence it comes that the bosses are against the workers and the workers are against the bosses. Hence it comes that the worker that sides with the boss is a treacherous and a disloyal human with the culture and the psychology of a yellow dog.


We find among our fellow workers in the mines, mills and factories two distinct types: those who know how profits are made and can explain how the boss makes this profit by selling commodities at their value, and those who don’t know.

Those who don’t know that profits are made by selling commodities at their value fall easy victims to all kinds of social quacks with patent schemes to fix up the differences between capital and labor and are invariably fooled and ruled, and those who do know are Socialists and can do a straight piece of thinking on economics themselves.

What characterizes a bourgeois cast of mind more than anything is one[‘s] belief in the fallacy that profit is made by selling commodities above their value, and all fool[ish] panaceas for prolonging capitalism by increased production or by reduced prices are based on this misconception.

Karl Marx threw an eye-opener into the science of economics by stating: If you cannot explain profits on the supposition that they are derived from selling commodities at their value, you cannot explain it at all.

This statement received scant treatment among the university professors. First they ignored it, then they belittled it, and finally admitted it.

Marx was about as popular in his day as Galileo some 3 centuries previous had been when he stated that the earth was round. In those days it was a clear case that Galileo was crazy. How could he maintain the sun appear in the east in the morning, circle the sky over the earth, and disappear in the west in the evening [?]. For us the explanation is easy: Galileo had a telescope, which had just been invented, and by the use of it he was able to learn more about the stars and the sun than were those who observed with their eyes only.

Galileo was not recognized in his own time for his great contributions to the science of astronomy, that the earth was round when everybody could see [words missing]. Neither was Marx recognized in his time for his discoveries in the science of political economy. But facts are facts, and when the misconceptions have been dispersed the facts still remain.

For anybody to speak about how to save society today and not know working class economics is as pretentious as to argue astronomy on the supposition that the earth is flat.

In “Value Price and Profit” Marx gave the finest little key that a mentally bound wage slave could ever wish for to open the locks on his chains with. In this Marx says: “To explain the general nature of profits, you must start from the theory that, on an average, commodities are sold at their real values, and that profits are derived from selling them at their values, that is, in proportion to the quantity of labor realized in them. If you cannot explain profit upon this supposition, you cannot explain it at all. This seems paradox and contrary to every-day observation. It is also paradox that the earth moves round the sun, and that water consists of two highly inflammable gasses. Scientific truth is always paradox, if judged by every-day experience, which catches only the delusive appearance of things.”

Bosses’ Circus Disbands

The delegates to the American Federation of Labor may feel ill at ease over the attacks the convention in Montreal has been subject to in the labor press, but they have at least the consolation that the biggest mouthpiece of the bosses’ association in Canada, the Montreal Star, has endorsed everything the convention has done. Almost every day while the convention lasted this capitalist sheet had only gushy editorials extolling the wisdom of Sammy [Gompers], and the delegates and heartily approving the way in which the convention went through its performance.

Perfect harmony existed between the speeches of Sammy and his lieutenants and the editorials in the Star. The A. F. of L. must be playing make-believe with the bosses, or else the bosses must be playing make-believe with the workers.

The climax was reached when the convention assumed the attitude of a spoon-fed overgrown baby and permitted Secretary Colby, of the U.S. government, to law [=lay] down the law as regards the attitude [we] should take to Soviet Russia.

Mr. Colby had sent a letter to the convention in which he stated that the Soviets were beyond law and order and therefore could not be recognized. This hint was enough, and to the glee of every labor hating boss the convention turned down the Russian workers.

A large part of the convention delegates’ time was devoted to the fulminations against the O.B.U. They tried the old gag in private conversations by making out that the O.B.U. meant for the boilermaker and tinsmith to tell the machinist what to do. This kind of stuff is getting threadbare and deceives nobody but themselves. You[‘ve] got to be a Simonpure on craft psychology to swallow it, and as the crafts are superceded [superseded] by industries this line of talk gets obsolete. Between having tinsmiths and boilermakers telling machinists what to do and having Colby and the Montreal Star telling the workers what to do, it is easy to make a choice. And between fighting the boss in crafts and sections and lose out or fighting him united from cellar to garret all in the O.B.U., it is also easy to make a choice. This choice is in favor of the O.B.U., and is being made by an increasing number of workers every time they face the proposition. It takes more than hot air from the A. F. of L. officials to chase the O.B.U. off the map.

Scabbing! [news item extracted from p.4]

Chicago.—The failure of the various ice wagon drivers, packing house and milk teamsters’ unions to call a sympathetic strike to aid the cooks and waiters on strike since May 1 provoked a controversy at the June bi-monthly meeting of the Chicago Federation of Labor and led to the advocacy of One Big Union by several members.

Agnes Maloneu, delegate of the waitresses’ union and organizer for Chicago, declared the treatment accorded to strikers was equivalent to labor treason. She stated that if the teamsters were to refuse to deliver food to the hotels for two or three days the strike would necessarily be settled. The teamster’s representative declared that if they were called out to aid every strike they would not be able to work at all.

A delegate of the machinists’ union advised throwing off the shackles of the internationals and forming one big union.

Page revised: 6 August 2013

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