The British writer R. H. Tawney once described capitalist management of the workplace as “autocracy checked by insurgency.” And, indeed, a kind of insurgency takes place when workers band together to form unions. Worker unions are a key working class organization because of the potential power workers gain from collective resistance but also because of the potential role of unions in social transformation.
Unionism in USA has not grown in a gradual way but in cycles that are tied to working class insurgency. The two greatest periods of union growth came in large strike waves — in the World War 1 era and again in the early 1930s.From 1909 to 1921 union membership doubled through a vast insurgency that saw thousands of strikes every year. Nearly a million workers organized themselves into industrial unions outside the AFL. The hardest edge of the new unionism was the Industrial Workers of the World. But the IWW was just the tip of the iceberg.