William Z. Foster ran for U.S. president on the Communist Party ticket three times: 1924, 1928 and 1932. Before he joined the Communist Party, he was active in the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW was fighting for “one big union.” They fought and won a fight for free speech in Spokane, Wash., in 1909. The following is excerpted from Foster’s book, “Pages from a Worker’s Life.”

By William Z. Foster

Black had been through the fight [for free speech] and had conducted himself well. He was a Western floating worker, a ranch hand, miner, logger, construction worker. Alive and energetic, he voiced the typical IWW bitter hatred of the bosses.

Black’s idea was this: A contractor had offered him some sewer digging on a sub-contracting basis. Black proposed that he take the sub-contract, which involved no financial outlay for him, and that we wobblies [IWW members] be his workers. As a good IWW member, Black said he opposed exploitation of the workers, so he would make the sewer-digging job a “home” for us. He, himself, would be satisfied to make merely regular day wages. Nobody but wobblies would be given work.

We had nothing to lose, so we took it on. For a few days everything went fine. Black worked in the ditch with us; and we joked, smoked and talked of the revolution as we dug. This easygoing arrangement did not slow the job; if anything, we did more than a usual day’s work.

Soon, however, Black began to change. He became impatient with our talk; he complained that it interfered with the work; he spent more and more time on the top, “looking down our collars” as we worked. In short, he started to “rawhide” us.

Black was fast taking on the typical employer’s psychology. He was one of those who are quick to seek personal emancipation by climbing out of their class over the shoulders of their fellow workers. It is the type that gives birth to spies, strikebreakers and corrupt labor leaders. Lurking beneath his thin veneer of working-class revolutionary phrases had lain the seed of petty-bourgeois greed, planted there by his capitalist environment. Black was giving just one more illustration of the truth of Marx’s great principle that the way people get their living determines their social outlook.

Black’s progress capitalist-wards was swift. In the third week of our job he fired one of our gang for not doing enough work. Then he gave up eating dinner with us, and no more did he join in our revolutionary talk. He even complained against the union and hired two non-wobblies.

Meanwhile, we were boiling higher and higher with resentment. Things came to an open break when he took on the non-unionists. We struck. Whereupon Black denounced the union like any capitalist and called in the police to help smash our strike. He did not succeed, however, as the IWW in Spokane was strong and militant. The general contractor, who had urgent need of the work, stepped in, eliminated the sub-contractor, Black, and reinstated the discharged workers. Then we returned to work. Thus ended Black’s experiment at combining IWW-ism and capitalism.

But Black had had a taste of exploiting workers. The capitalist tiger instinct in him was roused. No more working for wages, no more revolution, no more IWW for him. He was now out to “get his.”

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