An article by C.L Finigno in 1913 edition of the IWW Lumberjack Union paper.
“If there is a word in the English language that has been misconstrued, misconceived and misunderstood, the word “rights”” has suffered more than any other one. We have often heard of the workers’ rights, we have seen that word in the magazines, newspaper and law books, we have heard the praise and rights of labour from the mouth of ever scoundrel in the land and ever pimp of society. But we have never seen these rights spoke of, enforced by anybody and those that were enforced had to be done by the workers themselves.
All the songs of the poets, all the twaddle of the sophists, all the politician’s panacea, and all the dupes’ illusions hasn’t altered one iota of the misery of the working class.
We have heard people express views in which they claimed certain rights. Now, let us be impartial, let us put the existing prejudices aside for the meantime, and let us look facts in the face, just as they are. In order to do this we shall turn on the light by unmasking the man-made laws and man-made morals and by showing reasons in place of sophistry, logic in pace of superstition, facts in place of fiction, and tests in place of suppositions.
Before we can reach an intelligent conclusion we must agree on the meaning of the word “right.” So we shall look in the Webster’s Standard Dictionary and see what Noah has to say about it:
Absolute Rights: Those rights that are inherent in the individual, in-alienable and indefeasible as the right to life, liberty and personal security.
In other words anything that can be taken away cannot be considered as rights, even your liberty and personal security are a sham, and how well we know it.
You may have liberty providing you don’t interfere with the bosses’ profits; but just as soon as you intercept their rule your liberty isn’t worth an oyster shell.
The right hand among the Hebrews was often used to denote power. The real fact of the matter was that the raising of the right hand meant to demand rights by the power of the hand.
Amongst the Romans the extended right arm with a closed fist represented the rights of the Roman people; but we know that it was the closed fist, and not pose or words that indicated their rights.
The State has a right to do anything with its subjects, because it has the power, and it is almost universally admitted that the state can not do wrong. It is all powerful; how can it do wrong?
The judges are sending people to prisons almost every hour of the day. Most of these victims are members of the working class. Who gives the judge a right to pass a judgment on another? It is the power of the state that’s backing up the judge’s decisions.
The soldiers have a right to shoot and kill whenever ordered, because they have the power of the state backing them up, and the more they kill the greater they become in the eyes of the state.
The police, as a rule, are the most lawless set ever gotten together. Over 50 percent of the total crimes are committed by these lawless and disorderly gents, and it is safe to say that another 25 percent of the crimes are encouraged by them. After all this, the state will make a hero out of every policeman, and you workers know what they have been getting from them. They are the state, and you get the club.
The employers have a right to discharge their workers any time they want to. They can violate all the laws known, but there is never anything done to them. All the machinery of state is standing back of them in every move to crush the workers.
The workers never had have any rights at any time, regardless of what may have been said about their rights. For example, in some places the employers refuse to hire workers because these workers happen to belong to the union. In other places they issue injunctions against the workers, so that they may be made to work against their wishes, or to keep them from going out on strike. But if you should speak about the workers’ rights, most anybody would tell you that the workers have rights and that they can work where and when they please. The fact is, however, that they cannot, until they have power enough to enforce their rights, or what they so consider.
The rights of the individual are not based on the individual, but who the individual is and what position they hold in society. The rights of a class depends entirely on what class you are speaking of, and the rights of society are all conflicting, from the lowest to the highest strata of this so-called society, with the exception of those rights which are inherent, indefeasible and inalienable, that being truly the only reason. Therefore the rights of the workers are incogitable, as far as we know, as far as we will ever know, and until we become cognizant of that fact the workers as a class will remain in slavery.
The greatest of all the inherent rights the workers have is the right to think. That right cannot be chained, nor can it be controlled by any power as long as life itself exists.
But still this great right, this most powerful right, has never been used, and it has been left by the workers. The doctrinaires who have gone before the workers have always taught them to believe, not to think, because if the thinking apparatus of the workers was ever put in motion, the very doctrinaires would have been thrown aside like a useless object.
Power is the only real right there is, because you have a right to do anything you want to, providing you have the power to do it with. This power we speak of can be gotten by thinking, by putting the thoughts into actions, and by solidifying yourself with the rest of your fellow workers (just as the ruling class do). We can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. Fellow-workers, the only thing asked of you is to do your own thinking. Do not let some smooth-tongued grafter chloroform your mind. The habit of looking upon life as a burden is almost universal, and it only demonstrates how perverted our ideas have become. But we know that life is not a burden, and if it is so, is because we have made it so. Moreover it shall continue to be so until we change it.
You may say that the workers have the greatest numbers today and still have no (power) rights. It is all true, but you must consider that the workers are not standing together as they should, to possess the power you hear spoken of. The workers are divided against themselves in every conceivable way; they haven’t yet realized the great battle cry, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” and they haven’t enlisted into the grand army of producers, where the workers interest and welfare are identical.
Fellow workers, organise into the One Big Union. By so doing you will have power; with that power you can demand your rights, because rights are not bestowed upon you – they are acquired by power. Do you want your rights? If you do help us to get them by joining the fighting union. No one deserves liberty who does not contribute their share to the emancipation of their fellow-worker. Let us all do our part, and let no one shirk his duties.
Gaze backward through earth’s veil of night Who broke our chains? Who gave us light? Who raised us up? Who brought the day? Was it imperial Caesar, say!
O ye who bend the knee to kings Who worship forms and gilded things Lift up your eyes a while and see The might ones who made us free
Whatever their creed, Whatever their clime Their souls were strong, their faith sublime They wore no crown, they knelt to none They with the soul-truth were as one
They dreamed the dream, they wrought the deed They ploughed the field, they sowed the seed; They sent hope’s searchlight through the gloom And made the barren deserts bloom
Through them eternal right was taught Through them its wondrous works were wrought With breaking hearts and bleeding hands Stone by stone they built the lands
With eyes afire and souls aflame Up from the rank and file they came These! These! the ones whose spirits make, Injustice, quail, tradition shake!