Direct Action & Sabotage: Three Classic IWW pamphlets from the 1910s.

Author:Franks, Benjamin
Position:Book review

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Walker C. Smith & William E. Trautmann, Direct Action & Sabotage: Three Classic IWW pamphlets from the 1910s, Salvatore Salerno (ed.)

Chicago: C.H. Kerr and Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2014; 116pp; ISBN 9781604864823

The volume is made up of three pivotal texts from the early period of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) written by William E. Trautmann, Walker C. Smith and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. It is supplemented with IWW illustrations from the period, a contemporaneous supportive note from the novelist Jack London and a well-informed introduction by Salvatore Salerno that helpfully contextualises the trio's pamphlets. The three central texts demonstrate the importance of direct action to revolutionary syndicalist organisation and to sites of struggle beyond industrial production. These overlapping, accessible pamphlets provide important insights into the theoretical underpinnings and practical applications of direct action and sabotage. Support for workers' direct action and sabotage marked the schism within the wider labour movement. The craft unions and social democratic American Federation of Labour opposed it, for the reasons that the revolutionary syndicalist IWW advocated it: direct action places power into the hands of the individual worker, removing reliance on intermediaries like political parties and union negotiators.

Whilst these texts contain occasionally naive consequentialist justifications for direct action (pp34, 67), all the authors then point to the immanent goods of industrial direct action: the embodiment of moments of solidarity and transcendence. Direct action assists in, and embodies, the development of transformative social organisation. The pamphlets thus highlight how sabotage is not only reactive--a response to the specific, repressive actions of the bosses and their agents--but also prefigurative of future social relations.

The diversity and creativity of direct action is highlighted by the three authors, as such methods include machine-breaking, over- and under-contamination (the former to highlight how capitalists damage goods and customers' health in the search of profit), strikes, go-slows, work-to-rules, and informing the public about the true contents of the goods they buy. Such diverse methods require complex, often informal...

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