Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV: The Labour Conferences at the Luxembourg and the National Workshops - Socialistic Fallacies
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CHAPTER IV: The Labour Conferences at the Luxembourg and the National Workshops - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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The Labour Conferences at the Luxembourg and the National Workshops
The Revolution of February 24th broke out on the evening of that day, the Government was completed in the offices of “La Réforme” by the addition of the names of Louis Blanc, Flocon, and Albert, who were originally appointed secretaries. On the 25th, in reply to a grand manifesto, in which Lamartine defends the tricolor, the Government announces that “National workshops are open for workmen without wages.”
By the creation of twenty-four battalions of the National Guard, with a pay of a franc and a half a day, the Government proposed to employ the unemployed workmen. But it went too far. The Provisional Government undertook by a decree to guarantee the support of the workmen by work, and to guarantee work to all the citizens. This was the proclamation of the right to work.1 Louis Blanc had commenced by requiring a ministry of progress, he ended by accepting a “government commission for workmen,” of which he was to be the president, and Albert the vice-president. It was established on March 1st, and consisted of one hundred and fifty to two hundred workmen, more or less delegated by themselves. Louis Blanc, who lost his head from the very beginning, indulged in phrases of the most prodigious inconsequence, such as the following: “We have assumed the formidable responsibility of regulating the happiness of all the families of France.” At the same time the Provisional Government gave effect to the decree published in the “Moniteur Officiel” of March 9th. “Article 1. The working day is cut short by one hour; consequently in Paris, where it consisted of eleven hours, it is reduced to ten, and in the provinces, where it has hitherto consisted of twelve, it is reduced to eleven. Article 2. The exploitation of workmen by sub-contracting and piece-work is abolished.”
A decree of March 8th directed the establishment in each mayoralty of a free enquiry office for situations. This remained a paper measure, and could hardly be otherwise. The other decrees provoked recriminations and disputes, but they could not be of use to workmen whose need was work and not leisure. The deputations to the Luxembourg became more numerous, all of them formulating more or less real grievances and proposing chimerical remedies.
A second general meeting took place on the 10th of March. This was to be composed, so far as possible, of three professional delegates. Louis Blanc said: “I was going to find myself in the midst of those workers whose lot had been the object of my preoccupation. I was going to be able to work in their midst… Yes, I admit I experienced a moment of immense pride. If this is wrong, forgive me; it is the happiness of my life.” This sentimental clap-trap called forth an ovation. The delegates selected by lot the members who were to form a permanent committee. The industrial chiefs were invited to form another, but the mere presence of Louis Blanc inspired them with justifiable mistrust. He had announced the suppression of labour in the prisons and convents, but nothing followed. On March 28th, the bakers went out on strike. Louis Blanc drew up a scale of wages which the prefecture of police published in the form of an order. The different trades applied to the Luxembourg, Louis Blanc intervened, and the terrified industrial chiefs gave way. He was acclaimed and carried in triumph as though to the works of Derosne and Cail. But the paper-makers' and hatters' hands went on strike a fortnight after accepting a scale of wages and betook themselves to the national workshops.
Louis Blanc dreamed of organising the workmen's associations, of which he had boasted, and did organise three of them, the tailors, the saddlers, and the trimmers of lace for military requisites. On March 20th, Louis Blanc published his plan. These societies were to be based upon labour as a point of honour. All wages were to be the same, and since the proprietors declared themselves ruined, they were to hasten to sell their undertakings to the State, which was to give them in return “bonds carrying interest, and mortgages upon the value of the surrendered undertakings.” This is how he placed the instruments of labour in the hands of the workmen. In the plenary assembly of April 3rd, he abandoned the equality of wages which had been severely criticised by the workmen themselves. The plan subsequently drawn up by Vidal and Pecqueur, admitted of agricultural phalansteries, and substituted public magazines for ordinary trading. Nevertheless its authors “did not desire to ask for a monopoly for the profit of the State.” But inasmuch as the maga zines were only to take five per cent., they would not be long in ruining private enterprise.
The State was not to supply the initial capital, but was to be responsible for all discounts and to issue a paper currency at a forced rate for the payment of duties and wages in these establishments. It was to be the universal insurer and banker of the people. Louis Blanc, invoking memories of the House of Peers, set up the Luxembourg in opposition to the future National Assembly. “The people has arrived, the people must remain. I shall be very strong when I can say treat with it, and now repel it if you dare.” The Luxembourg Conference took part in the Revolutionary manifestations of March 16th and April 17th, and put forward an electoral list in opposition to the Provisional Government. At the elections, while Lamartine was successful with 259,800 votes, Louis Blanc only obtained 121,000, and one workman alone out of the Luxembourg list was elected. Louis Blanc was furious, and on April 27th repeated Hannibal's speech against the “Social Order.” This was the last formal sitting. The National Assembly expelled Louis Blanc and Albert from the executive committee. The Conference of the Luxembourg met again on May 13th, and the insurrection of May 15th took place amid shouts of “Vive Louis Blanc, the minister of labour.”
The Luxembourg programmes failed to alleviate the industrial, financial, and commercial crisis. The hours of labour were restricted, but work itself was not forthcoming. The decree of February 24th had promised the organisation of national workshops. Several yards were opened, and one franc fifty was given to those who came to claim work or bread. M. Emile Thomas, a former pupil of the “Ecole Centrale,” proposed to organise the national workshops with his companions. From March 9th to March 12th he enrolled 9,000 men, on the 31st he numbered 30,000, and on April 30th 100,000. On June 16th the committee of labour received a return of 103,000 men enrolled; the figure was raised to 119,000, the leaders were accused of exaggerating the effectives for the purpose of taking advantage of the difference.
Eleven men composed a “squad;” five squads a brigade; four brigades a lieutenancy; and four lieutenancies a company. Each principal overseer commanded three companies, and was himself subordinate to the fourteen divisional chiefs. An army was thus organised, which was not only unsuited to labour, but incapable of receiving it. Not only were the workmen bad navvies, but there were no works ready for them. Those who were enrolled were at times employed, and at times unattached, and drew 2 francs a day and 1 franc 50 accordingly. The staff was constantly swelled by an influx from the provinces.
The workmen who might have had employment with individuals, put forward impossible claims, and the national workshops were nurseries for strikes. Their inmates led a life of idleness, and after March 26th the members of the squads had their wages raised and received assistance in the form of food and medicines. A number of them enrolled themselves in more than one brigade and drew double and treble wages, while some of the brigade leaders made lists of their effectives and appropriated the wages of fictitious employées.
Emile Thomas prided himself upon instituting a club in the Parc Monceau, composed of the delegates of the brigades from the national workshops as a counterpoise to the committee of the Luxembourg. In effect he organised an army of insurrection, which proposed to dictate to the National Assembly, which thereupon urged the dissolution of the club, and Trélat, the minister of public works, caused Thomas to be arrested at night and transported to Bordeaux.
It has been said that the insurrection of June was due to the dissolution of the national workshops; nevertheless the National Assembly had on June 19th voted a credit of three millions in their favour, but the vote was preceded by an unfavourable report by M. de Falloux proposing various modifications in the organisation of labour. An enquiry gave great dissatisfaction to the brigade leaders by exposing the defalcations. On June 22nd a decree enjoined all the young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five to enlist in the army. In the morning a number of workmen went to the Committee of the Luxembourg to threaten them and to demand the organisation of workshops for every calling. The insurrection broke out on June 23rd, and on the same day the National Assembly decreed the suppression of the national workshops.
See, in addition to works dealing specially with these matters, “L'Histoire des classes ouvrières,” by Levasseur, vol. ii., p. 343, and G. Cohen, “Annales de I'Ecole libre des sciences politiques.” 1897.