General Strikes, by William Trautmann

In this post we reprint an article from William Trautmann, one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World. Trautmann’s discussion of general strikes is relevant to the current conversations happening about occupations and calls for general strikes. For Trautmann, a successful general strike will be a lockout of the capitalist class, which is to say, occupations of workplaces which prevent capitalist economic activity from happening.

The General Strike as a means to demonstrate the power of organized discontent is an excellent method, if carried out on the principle that the workers should not neccessarily abandon for any length of time their places of employment. The general strike presupposes that the propaganda for redress of actual wrongs perpetrated by the capitalists and their agencies has aroused sufficient wage earners to join in a compact demonstrative movement, the climax of which is reached in a general suspension of labor by all workers in a given district or land. General strikes, if carried on for the attaining of a given, stated object have usually been successful; not so much was the mass demonstration as such so feared by the capitalists, but the manner and method with which such general suspensions had been conducted. After the general strike of railroaders and other workers in Italy in 1904, a general strike inaugurated for the purpose of forcing the government to prevent the interference of armed gendarmes in the conflicts between the workers and capitalists, it was Premier Minister Giolitti voicing in a capitalist newspapers the opinions of the oppressors, who expressed their amazement in the words that “not so much the spontaneous action of hundred-thousands in ceasing work was menacing and appalling, but the order and promptness with which an organized return to work was arranged and carried out.” It was the organization alone and its methods that commanded respect; once demonstrated, the effects are felt and make themselves manifest long thereafter; and repetitions disastrous to capitalist rulership are feared in proportion as the workers profit by experience and keep their organizations intact as fighting bodies.

But a general suspension of work for any indefinite time by the proletariat as the final action in the struggle against capitalist control of industries will be superfluous if it is to be an organized effort, for in such an event the working class will be sufficiently trained to carry the fight into the place where the workers are exploited.

It will be noted, when reviewing the methods applied by industrial unionists that there is a remarkable tendency to shift the scene of conflicts from the domain outside of the factory doors to the place of employment, within that boundary line called “private property.” This tendency manifests itself stronger with every passing day; we can observe, for instance, that workers in big institutions remain at their machines they usually tend, and while all wheels turn in usual speed, the hands that made their revolutions profitable refuse to function; not one but all in concert when they have grievances thus to have them adjusted. It is evident that these tendencies are only the result of the changes in the industrial situation, the workers realize that it is well-nigh impossible to wage a guerilla warfare against concentrated capitalist institutions, in which they are defeated piecemeal at every venture. These tendencies will ultimately lead to the last test of strength between the two classes.

It will be might by which in the last instance the question of right will be decided. It will be the might of the organized proletariat that will determine whether the producers shall have the right of full enjoyment of the proceeds of their labor. That might, properly and ingeniously directed, will not exercise itself in bloody skirmishes upon the streets and barricades; not in conspiracies and diplomatic parleys: it will line up in battle array with the dominating class of today in the places where wealth is produced and workers are exploited, in the factories, mills and mines and upon the land. The improved methods applied by the industrial unionists indicate that they are endeavoring to transplant the field of conflict, and there is a growing tendency not to surrender the control of the huge fabric of production by leaving the workshop and staying out in long-drawn-out strikes, but to keep the hand on the throttle of the engine of production. Irritation, passive-action strikes, sabotage and other methods adapted to this growing tendency are examples of working class solidarity, properly prepared and organized, and working class intelligence correctly, intelligently and ingeniously directed. Learning from the past experience, and learning fast, too, the workers begin to see that the last conflict for supremacy and complete and permanent control of the means of life, and instruments of production and distribution will not be started by the workers leaving the places where they create wealth, but by staying as an organized body and taking possession through such methods as will be necessary to apply in order to settle for all times, the ownership of the vast resources of wealth. The producers being organized industrially and politically to carry on and continue production, but for the universal enjoyment of all products by all who create wealth, will not abandon that field, and surrender the control to those who claim to be the owners; the last act in this conflict will be the turning out of the exploiters, and the raising of the banner of Industrial Freedom over the workshops of the world in a free society of men and women-that is in the Industrial Commonwealth.

This is an excerpt from Trautmann’s pamphlet Industrial Union Methods, first published in 1912. The whole pamphlet is worth reading and is available for free online at