The Workers’ Power

There are times when social and economic problems become so bad that people are forced to choose between the social system that makes their lives difficult and a new one that will make their lives better. Times like that are called revolutionary times. They don’t come often, but when they do the question of HOW to make the change that’s needed becomes as important as WHAT that change should be.

We face that kind of choice today. Capitalism—the social system we live under—no longer serves the interests of the people. It creates countless problems that it cannot solve. It uses technology to throw people out of work and to make those who keep their jobs work harder. It creates hardship and poverty for millions, while the few who own and control the economy grow rich off the labor of those allowed to keep their jobs. It destroys the cities that we built up. It is destroying the natural environment that is the source of the food we eat and the air we breathe.

Every effort made to prevent these problems, or to keep them from growing even worse, has failed. The reason is that the country is controlled by a small capitalist class that owns the industries and services that everyone depends on. The workers built and they operate all of those essential industries and services. However, they do not own and control them. They are the majority, but they have no voice in deciding what to produce or how much to produce. Their needs and desires count for nothing when those decisions are made.

When a small group owns and controls what everyone needs to feed, house and clothe themselves and their families, when that small group makes every important decision that affects the lives of the vast majority, it is called despotism. Capitalism is an economic despotism, and like any other form of despotism, it spoils and corrupts everything that is good and decent. Look at what it does to us.

Generations of workers built the industries that can produce more than enough to wipe out poverty and guarantee the economic security of every man, woman and child.

Capitalism has twisted this great achievement of labor’s collective genius by causing wealth and power to collect in the hands of a few. Technology that could and should be used to lessen the need for arduous toil and to enhance our lives is used instead to eliminate jobs and increase exploitation. Poverty is as widespread as it has ever been. Wages go down even as productivity rises. Joblessness, homelessness, helplessness and despair are spreading. Economic insecurity and social breakdown place an unbearable strain on our families, our children and ourselves. Emotional stress, crime, prostitution, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, and many more signs of unhappiness and hopelessness, are on the rise.

Is this what we want? Is this what we have worked so hard to build? Should we keep a social system that is destroying the lives, the liberties and the chance for happiness that our work and productivity make possible? Is it really worth the price to keep a small and despotic class of capitalists living in obscene wealth?

Or shall we do the common sense thing by making the means of production our collective property, abolishing exploitation of the many by the few, and using our productive genius to create security and abundance for all?

If you agree with us that the time for such a change has come, then there are certain things we must understand. The first is that workers can expect no help from the beneficiaries of capitalism. Individual capitalists may see the handwriting on the wall and join with the workers. As a class, however, the capitalists, just like the slave-owning and feudal classes before them, will try to keep their strife-ridden and poverty-breeding system. The workers can only rely on themselves to build a better world and free themselves through their own classconscious efforts.

The second thing to understand is this: Workers make up the vast majority of the population. By workers we mean the working class. We mean all whose intellectual and physical labor contributes to the development, manufacture and distribution of the goods, services and information that our complex society needs. We mean all those who must sell their physical and mental talents and skills on the labor market, and who depend on the wages and salaries they receive in exchange. We mean white-collar and blue-collar, production and office workers, those who research and develop as well as those who build, distribute and serve. We mean the whole working class, including the unemployed and those forced to settle for part-time or temporary work.

The working class makes everything and it makes everything work. Collectively, it has tremendous potential power. However, workers can apply their collective strength only through organization.

How must they organize themselves?

First, they must form a political party of their own to assert their right to make the change that’s needed and to challenge the stranglehold the ruling class has on the political government. That’s what the American colonists did in 1776 when they declared their right to “alter or to abolish” a destructive government and to form a new one to serve their own interests. They wrote that right or principle into our Constitution so we could use it again whenever it became necessary. That’s why the Constitution has an amendment clause. It empowers the people to make any change they deem necessary. In the language of Abraham Lincoln: “The right of peaceable assembly and petition and by Article V of the Constitution—the right of amendment—is the constitutional substitute for [armed] revolution.”

This means that the working class, by organizing a political party of its own, can make full use of its constitutional rights to speak out for social change, to explain the socialist program to all workers, and to vote for the change they want. This is the civilized and nonviolent method. It permits the forces of progress to declare their purpose in the open, and to mobilize themselves for political victory and conquest of the capitalist state.

However, no ruling class has ever willingly given up its power and privileges. There is nothing in the history of our own ruling class to indicate that it differs in this respect from the slave-owning and feudal classes of old. Therefore, behind the socialist ballot the workers must organize a power that is capable of enforcing its decision at the polls. Socialist Industrial Unionism is that power. Unlike AFL-CIO unionism, which boasts of being a bulwark of capitalism, Socialist Industrial Unionism declares its intention to abolish class rule.

Economic power is the source of all power. Modern armies cannot function without a constant stream of goods and equipment that flow from the industries. Although an army is a military power, it is dependent on the industries; hence on the workers who operate the industries.

The working class runs the industries from top to bottom. The potential economic power that rests in its hands is enormous. Properly organized into Socialist Industrial Unions, that potential can become an irresistible nonviolent force for social change. This is true because the workers are in the best strategic position to take possession. “Taking possession” in an orderly yet resolute manner is just what the working class must do the moment that its victory is declared at the polls. This is not a general strike that would lead the workers away from the source of their power and leave them exposed on the open terrain. It is a GENERAL LOCKOUT OF THE CAPITALIST CLASS!

Finally, the Socialist Industrial Union supplies the working class with the democratic instrument needed to administer production under the Industrial Republic of Labor. It is at once “the battering ram with which to pound down the fortress of capitalism, and the successor of the capitalist social structure itself.”

All power to the Socialist Industrial Union!


Under socialism, all power to make social decisions will be vested in the people.
Our industries, their ownership, and how they are run are far more important to our lives and welfare than any other aspect of our existence. Socialist society and government will be based on these truths. Accordingly: The industries (the means of producing all goods and services) will be owned collectively by all the people.

The industries will be administered democratically from bottom to top by representatives elected directly by the workers in each industry and subject to their control. All representatives will be subject to recall at any time by those who elected them.

This industrial administration will, in fact, be the new government.

Production will be carried out to satisfy the people’s wants. The useful producers will receive in goods and services the social equivalent of their work. Those unable to work will share in that abundance.

There is nothing in this picture which in any way resembles the workings of class-divided capitalism and its political state.

The government of socialist America will have the job of coordinating and administering our industrial activities. It will, accordingly, have an industrial base. And it will be so constituted that all authority will come directly from the workers, integrally organized in Socialist Industrial Unions.

In each plant (and in each school, hospital, etc.), the rank and file will collectively determine workplace policies and will elect a committee to plan the overall plant operations. In each subdivision of a plant, the workers will participate in determining how best to implement the plans of the committee and assure the efficient running of their economic unit.

Besides electing their immediate supervisors, the workers will also elect representatives to a local and a national council of their respective industry—and to a central congress representing all the industries and services.

This all-industry congress will ascertain what goods and services are wanted and will determine the resources needed to supply them. It will draw up the necessary production, expansion and improvement plans and allocate these to the various industries. The congress will also arrange a distribution of the output with the workers receiving the full social equivalent of the labor they contributed.

All persons elected to posts in this economic administration, at whatever level, will be subject to rank-and-file control, and to removal whenever a majority of those who elected them find it desirable to replace them.

This is the only democracy possible in highly industrialized America: democracy founded on social ownership of the instruments of production and distribution and on economic freedom. It is the only form of society that can solve the problems capitalism has imposed upon us. It is the only social structure that can release the abundance for all now locked up in the capitalist economy.
For you as an individual, socialist industrial democracy will mean a full, happy and useful life. It will mean the opportunity to develop all your talents. It will mean direct participation in the decisions of a society of free human beings.

In socialist society, class divisions and exploitation will have been eliminated. Production will be carried out for use by all rather than to serve the profit interests of a small minority. There would be no “crises of overproduction,” no unemployment due to the accumulation by a ruling class of commodities that workers could not afford to buy.

The only limit on production would be social needs and wants. The allocation of resources will be democratically planned by a society in full control of its productive forces.

In socialist society, for the first time, the people will consciously direct their economic activity and democratically provide for their own well-being and security. Not only useful labor, but the fruits of that labor as well, will be available to all.

The principles of workers’ democracy—i.e., the right and power of the majority to recall all elected representatives, the abolition of bureaucratic privileges, etc.—would ensure that control of the socialist industrial government remained in the hands of the rank and file.


Two hundred years ago production was simple. Communities lived and worked in isolation from one another. Artisans and farmers produced most of what was consumed locally. Under those conditions a government based on territory, with representatives elected from states and congressional areas, made sense. It fit in with the economic and social conditions of the times. Then things started to change.

Slowly at first, then rapidly after the Civil War, local production gave way to national production and distribution. Transportation and communications got better. The self-contained community disappeared, and each came to depend on all the others for the goods they consumed.

Production and distribution are much more complicated today. Together with modern communications and transportation, they form a web of connected parts that cuts across all arbitrary boundary lines. Congress can’t control or direct any of this. Government based on territory is outdated. We need a new form of government that fits in with modern conditions. We need a democratic form of industrial government.

Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • •

Download this document in PDF format
(2 pp, 236K)

Return to SLP Statements and Leaflets
Return to SLP's Home Page