Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK VIII: THE ACTUAL CLASS WAR - Socialistic Fallacies
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BOOK VIII: THE ACTUAL CLASS WAR - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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THE ACTUAL CLASS WAR
Strikes and Trade Unions
The class war manifests itself in actual practice in the shape of partial strikes, in anticipation of the general strike which is to force bourgeois society to capitulate.1
I think it may be useful to recall certain elementary notions relative to strikes. The strike is an economic phenomenon, depending upon the following principles:—
These are the economic and judicial principles upon which the normal right to strike is based.
The normal exercise of the right to strike has been subjected to the following deviations:
The strikers consider that the obligation to give notice ought to be observed by the employer, but not by the wage-earner, the sudden interruption of labour being, for the latter, involved in the right to strike. He considers that by taking the employer by surprise he is performing an act of legitimate warfare; for he has been told, and believes, that the right to strike is not the pacific exercise of the right to break a contract of labour, but a fight—a conviction which has been encouraged by the weakness of several governments. Strike leaders have sufficient perspicacity to take into account the fact that deputies like to give way to sentiment, that ministers dread the accusation of shedding the blood of the people, and that prefects are afraid of being made scapegoats in the event of anything untoward occurring, and they redouble their provocations accordingly. The unhappy police are expected to maintain order, but upon condition of doing nothing of what is necessary in order to effect this object.
Troops are sent to preserve order, but are kept in concealment, and, although the military regulations forbidding them to allow themselves to be disarmed are not repealed, both officers and privates know that they must suffer in silence and without a murmur. A series of experiments has convinced the strike leaders that everything is permitted to them: if they commit offences or crimes in connection with a strike, they have the benefit of all kinds of extenuating circumstances. They fully appreciate their position, and are able to exhibit themselves as conquerors and to inspire the workmen with legitimate confidence, seeing that their tactics and proceedings are justified by success. If the government be obliged to institute a few prosecutions, an amnesty intervenes to stultify their results. The victims of the prosecutions know that repression is more apparent than real, and openly proclaim their knowledge.
Pathetic speeches, appeals to conciliation, and all the vague and honeyed sentiments which have emanated from the platform during the last twentyfive years with respect to every strike of the slightest importance, have ended, as was easily foreseen, and as I have always said they would, in putting premiums upon violence, in organising the aggressive tactics of the strike leaders and in elevating those tactics, through the agency of the leaders of the General Confederation of Labour, to the dignity of a system.
Every time that the elementary principles of law are lost sight of, similar results are arrived at. Those who, at the present time, give way to such weakness, are applauded as good and sympathetic people. In point of fact, they are playing the game of resolute men who derive their principal strength from the mildness of others, and they are not entirely exempt from responsibility for the brutality, pillage and sanguinary encounters which have characterised certain strikes. If the Government had always done its duty, the General Confederation of Labour would not be a power, and its leaders would not be able to talk of a general strike and of the right to damage industrial property and plant with the cool impertinence in which they indulge themselves.
In France they all seem of opinion that the law relating to trade unions confers complete immunity upon leaders and members alike. While the English Trade Unions Act of 1871 is based upon the principle that a union can only exist on condition of being registered and of submitting to certain obligations as regards publicity, the Unions are under no restriction except that of making a declaration by two of their members. Once this declaration is made, they are free, and there is no existing method of controlling them. They are under no obligation, moral or material, to account for their proceedings. The Law of 1884 does not contain the article (3) of the Law of 1901 restricting the contract of association, which enacts that “every association founded for an illicit reason or in view of an illicit object, contrary to law and good morals, or the object of which may be to injure the national territory or the Republican form of government is void and of no effect.” In point of fact the trades union is an anarchist association, carrying on its business in accordance with the views of those who conduct it, and those who do not approve of the conduct of those who administer it, have only one means of shewing their disapprobation, namely, that to withdraw.
The English Trade Unions are obliged to furnish a statement as to their property and the purposes for which their funds are applicable, the conditions under which any member may become entitled to any benefit assured thereby, and the fines and forfeitures to be imposed, and the provision for appointment of a general committee of management, and for the investment of funds, and for an annual or periodical audit of accounts.1 Every registered Trade Union must transmit to the Registrar, on or before June 1st of every year, a general statement of all its financial operations.1 Every member is entitled to receive a copy of such general statement without payment.2 The property of Trade Unions is vested in trustees who are responsible for its proper administration and are liable to be prosecuted for malversation or misappropriation of funds entrusted to them.3
The Act of 1871 was completed in 1875 by the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, which provides that:—
(Section 4). “When a person employed by a municipal authority, or by any company or contractor upon whom is imposed by Act of Parliament the duty, or who have otherwise assumed the duty of supplying any city, borough, town or place, or any part thereof, with gas or water, wilfully and maliciously breaks a contract of service with that authority, or company, or contractor, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that the probable consequences of his so doing, either alone or in conbination with others, will be to deprive the inhabitants of that city, borough, town, place, or part, wholly or to a great extent of their supply of gas or water, he shall on conviction…or on indictment…be liable to pay a penalty not exceeding twenty pounds or to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three months, with or without hard labour…”
(Section 5). “When any person wilfully and maliciously breaks a contract of service or of hiring knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that the probable consequences of his so doing, either alone or in combination with others, will be to endanger human life, or cause serious bodily injury, or to expose valuable property, whether real or personal, to destruction or serious injury, he shall on conviction…or on indictment…be liable either to pay a penalty not exceeding twenty pounds, or to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three months, with or without hard labour.”
It is evident that the strike of Paris electricians was intended to injure public order; consequently it had not the economic character of an ordinary strike. It is clear that the strikes of persons employed in the supply of food and upon railways or in gasworks, with which we are threatened, are not strikes of an economic, but of a political order. The leaders of these strikes put into practice the theory of violence as set forth by M. Georges Sorel. Their object is to frighten the bourgeoisie and thereby to dominate the public services. The more these are disorganised, the easier this operation becomes.1
The leaders of that section of the Socialist movement which operates by “direct action” have manœuvred with great skill. They have penetrated among the instructors at the “Ecoles Normales,” who, after mastering certain manuals without testing the assertions contained in them in the light of facts, are admirably prepared for the reception of a few complementary formulæ, composed of a medley of Socialist and anarchist principles. They have also attempted to attack the army, and we now know how far they have penetrated.
The example of the instructors at the “Ecoles Normales,” encouraged the strike of post office employees. We see various associations of officials in agitation who, under whatever name they go, give evidence of a movement which, unless it be checked, will lead us to the administrative and political dissolution of this country.
As a first and simple measure, the Government should call the attention of all its employees clearly to the following principles:—
What really matters is that a similar spirit should have penetrated into the government and the administration; the audacity of certain teachers and employees is derived from the fact that they reckon upon support in Parliament, and upon the hesitation of ministers at certain times. If they were convinced that every grave infraction of discipline and of professional duty would be repressed, without passion but also without weakness, the handbill of the Central Committee would not be displayed on walls and in the newspapers, and we should not have been treated to the interviews with M. Négre and his associates. But these manifestations are instructive, because they prove that employees, paid by the taxpayers, place themselves in opposition to them in order to raise the net cost of the services which they perform, and that, instead of considering themselves as entrusted with a mission, they imagine that administration is an end in itself, instituted for their own particular benefit.
If there is a post office, its duty is to secure that my correspondence is efficiently dealt with and not the convenience of the junior postman. The post office is not organised for them, but for me, who pay for it; and if they are dissatisfied, let them give up the salaries with which I, as a taxpayer, am obliged to supply them.
The Sovereignty of the Strikers
Tyranny of strikers—Fressenville—Montluçon—Mines of the Pas-de-Calais, according to M. Clemenceau—Necessity for armed force—Orders to police and military—Claim to monopoly of labour during a strike.
Every government is under an obligation, under pain of abdication, to assure a minimum of security and to safeguard at least the appearance of freedom of labour. It cannot permit incitement during every strike to acts of incendiarism and pillage such as were witnessed at Fressenville on April 11th, 1906. It therefore employs police and troops and has to proceed to arrest a few imprudently violent spirits. Thereupon those who sympathise with the strikers immediately say what the supporters of the Sisters of the Convent of St. Esprit said, and characterise their acts as the “provocations of the Government.” A few recent examples will prove the truth of these assertions.1
From April 6th to May 21st the town of Montluçon was in the hands of a small body of strike leaders who, thanks to the cowardice of the authorities charged with the duty of ensuring order, terrorised the bulk of the population and interrupted work from April 30th. A force of soldiers was despatched, but was shut up in the factories; the Labour Exchange (“Bourse du Travail”) was allowed to order the tradesmen and proprietors of cafés and restaurants to close their establishments on pain of pillage and destruction. On the following day, patrols of strikers were allowed to stop the workmen or to refuse to allow them to proceed without permits, for which they were obliged to pay. The leaders felt themselves to be masters of the situation to such an extent that they put up tents, which they furnished and heated in front of the establishments which they placed under an interdict.
M. Clemenceau, in his speech at Lyons in April, 1906, gave a description of the acts of violence which were being perpetrated at the same moment in the mines of the Pas-de-Calais, in the following words:—
“Can they tell me that to ransack the houses of the workers, to pillage farms and markets, to drive women and children from their homes to drag into the public square a wretched woman, with tattered garments, whose only crime is to be the wife of a man who remains at work, to seize miners on their way home from a mine and make them carry insulting placards, to force them to their knees with blows and constrain them to ask for pardon for having worked, and join the ranks of idlers for their crime—can they tell me that these are acts which a Government is unable to repress without denouncing itself as a Government of reactionaries?”
M. Clemenceau had often reproached various Ministers with having sent troops to the scenes of strikes. He was himself obliged to send 60,000 men to the Pas-de-Calais and the Nord.
But when the mob sees officers, privates and police resigning themselves to insults and to threats, it proceeds to assault them, and when it is impossible to order military and police to submit to be disarmed, wounded and killed without resistance, the result is a number of casualties.
The Socialists have introduced a new theory as regards strikes. In connection with the dock strike at Marseilles, M. Jaurès said, on July 5th, 1904:—
“We, as Socialists, have always proclaimed that a strike suspends, but does not put an end to, the contract of labour; that a relationship, a bond, subsists between an enterprise and its workmen, even when they are on strike, such as prevents its proprietor from calling in other workmen in the place of those with whom it is his duty to negotiate, except by a veritable abuse of power.”
According to this theory, the wage-earners are entitled to stop work, but the employer must consider them as irremovable. They have left the work which it was their duty to perform; their employer remains permanently bound to them, the work which he requires remains their property and he has no right to give it to others. Thus a trader, A, may refuse to sell a particular commodity at a price, X. The would-be purchaser is not to have the right to buy the same article at a lower price from B.
If the employer is unable to satisfy the requirements of his workmen on strike, and if he be permanently bound to them, he has but one resource—to close his works. Would M. Jaurés, in such a case, consider that the workmen have a perpetual monopoly of the work which is not to be carried out there?
This theory of the law was adopted by the committee which proposed the draft law relating to the contract of labour introduced by M. Doumergue on July 2nd, 1906, and adopted by him. The Rheims “Conseil de Prudhommes” has followed an example derived from such high authority.1
Some new legislators will be logical and propose that workmen be paid wages during a strike or that they should at all events draw sums by way of indemnity for the stoppage of work, for if they are out of work, this is due to the ill-will and stupidity of the employer, and must be taken into account accordingly.
The Nation at the Service of the Strikers
The development of crimes and offences committed in connexion with strikes is attributable to the weakness of the public authorities.
At the end of the first strike of post office assistants a number of postmen were cashiered. On June 23rd, 1906, some Deputies took steps before the President of the Cabinet with a view to their being reinstated. The Prime Minister relied upon the necessity of discipline, whereupon M. Maujan displayed a singular conception of government by exclaiming that “the representatives of the nation can grant what the Ministers withhold.” All the postmen, including a number who possessed all the qualities which entitled them to be turned out, were reinstated, so that the post office employees formed the conviction that an undesirable employee, burdened with charges of the gravest kind, has only to place himself at the head of a movement, whereupon he becomes sacrosanct, no one can touch him, and he will give orders instead of receiving them. Employees of this kind take up the position of those Chinese rascals who become converted to Christianity in order to obtain the protection of the missions. They can commit crimes and offences with impunity, and if a Chinese magistrate interferes with them, they cry out that they are being persecuted.
During the strike at Fourgères, on January 11th, 1907, M. Betoulle put forward a demand for a subsidy of 100,000 francs for the strikers; the Minister of Labour declared that the Government recognised the urgency of the motion, and M. Lefas, the Deputy for the district, gave his support. Assuming the number of workmen to have been 6,000, this would only have amounted to 16fr. 66 per man: the gravity of the proposal lies, not in the amount of the proposed subsidy, but in the principle involved. It causes the intervention of the public authority in favour of one of the parties to a dispute, increases the influence of the strikers, and engenders in them illusions of a deceptive nature.
The question first presented itself in 1884, in the Paris Municipal Council, with reference to the strike at Anzin, upon a proposal to vote a subsidy of 10,000 francs. I opposed it and obtained its rejection by 55 votes against 20, by means of arguments which I venture to reproduce.
M. Yves Guyot: I entreat you, gentlemen, to reject this proposal, in order to remain faithful to the principles of political liberty from the economic point of view, which you have adopted in the Municipal Council.
M. Joffrin: Not I.
M. Yvesguyot: If you now intervene between employers and workmen you will give the lie to the principles to which you have rallied. Let each individual intervene individually in favour of the miners and do what he chooses. (Applause.)
We can only intervene with the money of the taxpayers. If you intervene in contracts existing between particular parties, under the pretext of an existing strike, there is no reason why you should not take part to-morrow in other strikes, and continue to do so without exception. For why should you withhold your concurrence from any single one of them? You would have a perpetual interven tion of the Council in particular agreements. We can no more subsidise the workmen than we can subsidise the company….
You are asking for a policy of repression in advocating the intervention of the City of Paris.
Actuated by feelings of pity, you propose a subsidy of 10,000 francs. What are you doing? You are going to decoy the miners and engender deceptive illusions in them; you are going to induce them to believe that the City of Paris is committing itself in their favour.
The intervention which is being proposed to you to-day is a disgraceful one…
If I were to adopt this policy, I should not be content to ask for 10,000 francs, for when these 10,000 francs are exhausted, what are you going to do? If you want to adopt an effective measure, decide to place 100,000 francs weekly at the disposal of the miners' families.
M. joffrin: This provision would be rejected in the same way as mine.
M. yvesguyot: The mine, whatever you may allege, constitutes a piece of individual property, and the concession at Anzin was originally granted to a number of private individuals.
They talk of profits realised. It would seem as though some Frenchmen have no other wish than to see all their fellow-countrymen ruined in all their undertakings. For my part I regret that there is not a large number of mining companies in existence which have realised the same amount of profits; this would be better than to find that 45 per cent. of the concessions are not being worked, as stated by the Commission of Inquiry of 1883.
I suggested to the Municipal Council that, to be logical, they ought to open a special account, entitled, “Premiums and Encouragements to Strikers.” My ironical suggestion has been realised. The seventh Municipal Council subsidised no less than twenty two strikes. It gave 2,000 francs to the strike of match-makers, who are in the employ of the State. I do not know whether the Prefect approved of this intervention of the Municipal Council against the Government. On July 11th, 1891, the Council had voted a grant of 10,000 frs. to the employees of the Orléans Railway, who were on strike, and on July 24th a grant of 20,000 francs to the railway employees generally. These two resolutions were overruled, but the administration was not equally firm in all cases. It compromised by only distributing funds to the strikers' families after the strike was over; as though, by this hypocritical expedient, they could avoid giving moral and material support to the strike.
So clearly was it the desire of the Municipal Council to assist the strikers that M. Mesureur, the proposer of the subsidy for the strike at Decazeville, which had been preceded by the assassination of M. Watrin, said in the Municipal Council, “Something more is wanted than a platonic manifestation of sympathy with the miners. What is wanted is active help.”
Whilè the Municipal Council was thus subsidising strikes, the question was raised for the first time in Parliament on November 25th, 1889. M. Ferroul introduced a proposal intended to open a fund of 150,000 francs for the assistance of the victims of the strikes in the Nord, the Pas-de-Calais, and at Tours. As Minister of Public Works, I gave the same reception to this proposal as I had given five years previously to that which had been put before the Paris Municipal Council. When I said that “a strike is a voluntary act,” I was violently interrupted from several benches on the extreme left. But I asked again whether we were to “make a Budget” in favour of strikes, and whether we were to adopt the rule of the “subsidising of strikes by the State.” The proposal was rejected by 364 votes to 117.
The principles invoked for its rejection have not altered, and it is interesting to note that at the time when the subsidy to the strikers of Fougères was proposed to be taken as urgent, no one recalled them.
Strikers ask for arbitration. It is their principal watchword. They even ask for compulsory arbitration. But they will only accept it on terms favourable to themselves. “The trade union at Lens will decide to-morrow whether the miners are to give way or whether they will continue the strike.” (November 8th, 1902).
I do not admit that an independent third party can regulate the relations between employers and employed: he is not responsible for the termination of contracts. But in the event of an arbitration, work should be resumed simultaneously with the commencement of the reference.
All the successive governments since 1892 are in part responsible for the crimes and offences committed in connection with the strikes. It suffices for a strike to be partially apparent for them to feel themselves in danger, and rightly so, thanks to the idleness of the public and to the ignorance and cowardice of a number of Deputies. They forget that their duty is, not to serve the interests of the strikers, but to ensure the security of property and of persons.
Naturally officials who feel that they are not protected by their departmental chief have only one preoccupation—to avoid “incidents.” If one striker were killed, this might mean the administrative decease of the Sub-Prefect. His only preoccupation is to come to terms with the strikers and to be able to assure the place Beauvau1 that all is for the best “in a model strike,” as M. E. Combes said in speaking of the agricultural strikes in the South of France.
On May 3rd, M. Sarraut, Under-Secretary of State, said in Paris, he “had good news from Montluçon, that order was not disturbed.” The strike ended on May 21st. What punishment overtook the officials who sent information of this character to the Ministry of the Interior? And finally, are the leaders of the Labour Exchange prosecuted who have committed the offence of suspending traffic in a town and of usurping all public functions?
It appears as though in France we suppose that the courts have no existence when there is a question of acts done during a strike, and that the organisers and leaders of strikes are inviolable, and we see the rise of a new order of privileged persons, above the law and outside its operation.
The magistrates also incur their share of the responsibility. The penal code strikes with greater severity at offences committed in association than at those committed by isolated individuals. But when it is a question of bands of strikers, this aggravating circumstance becomes an extenuating one. And the magistrates seem to think it lawful that persons in combination should threaten, strike and ill-use men, women, and girls who are guilty of wishing to work.
How are the magistrates to display energy, when they stand in fear of the weakness of the Ministry in the Place Vendôme? And why should they display energy? Would not their sentences be set aside by one of the amnesties which appear with such regularity that they can have no other result than to annihilate justice? Acts committed during strikes and in connection with strikes and always included in such amnesties. Truly, the leaders of strikers would make a great mistake if they were to restrain themselves.
The Electricians' Strike
On Friday, March 8th, 1907, shortly after five o'clock in the afternoon, it was observed in parts of Paris that the supply of electricity had failed. Lifts stopped suddenly, cafés, restaurants and a portion of some of the great streets of Paris, to say nothing of private houses, were plunged in darkness.
The President of the Council, M. Clemenceau, has told us that he felt the same surprise as the ordinary passer-by and that the existence of the strike was only revealed to him by the extinction of the lights in his study.
How is this possible? We have a formidable Prefecture of Police, doubled in power by the detective service, and despite the millions which are spent upon these institutions and the numbers of agents employed by them, no one suspected an act which had been determined upon overnight at the Labour Exchange and had been the object of a circular addressed in the morning to some hundreds of men. Was there incapacity or complicity on the part of the police? This is the first problem to suggest itself.
Paris remained in darkness during the Friday night. No effective measures were taken to make the generators work. M. Jaurès complained of M. Clemenceau's whims in sending soldiers to replace the defaulting electricians. But this was not the case; not a single soldier had been sent on the Friday evening, and it was on that evening that they ought to have been despatched to the generators, which ought to have been at work by eight o'clock.
The majority of the workmen employed are not men with technical knowledge whom it would have been difficult to replace; they are merely stokers, and one is therefore entitled to ask why the authorities made no attempt to replace them. The answer is a simple one. They were afraid of being attacked, and they could not obtain workmen unless the latter felt themselves to be protected. Now, were the electrical works protected? Were they immediately occupied by troops? The night between the Friday and the Saturday remains full of obscurity.
In the discussion which took place on March 11th between M. Jaures and M. Clemenceau, M. Jaurès declared that there was no question of a public service. Nevertheless in the strike of the Southern Tramways, the strikers relied upon the public character of the service to demand the forfeiture of the Company's concession. M. Jaurès seems to think that there can be no public service except on condition that the State or the Municipalities carry it on directly. He confounds the means and the object.
M. Jaurès, who is a doctor of philosophy, is familiar with all the subtleties of the schoolmen which are useful for giving the go-by to questions of difficulty.
But what was this strike all about? The strikers wanted to bring pressure to bear upon the administration and the Municipal Council in order to obtain more advantageous conditions of wages and of pensions from the holders of the concessions who employed them. Consequently the very motive of their strike implies a recognition by them of the character of the service in which they have a part to play.
This strike at the same time shews the error committed by the administration in paying attention to questions of this kind. If an administration is willing to determine the wages and conditions of labour of the employees of a company which works a concession, why does it not also pay attention to the prices at which such a company ought to pay for its coal, machinery, raw material and tools? This would be all the more justifiable in that, by forcing them to pay higher prices for them, it would give a reason to the miners, mechanics and other workmen employed by the firms which supply the company for obtaining an increase of wages.
All these proposals can have but one result—to make the taxpayer pay more dearly for a service of a public nature; and, if the end be attained, the result implies that a contribution is levied upon everyone for the benefit of a small body of wage-earners who become a privileged class. It is the organisation of privileges for the benefit of a few and to the detriment of all, while democracy must stand for equality, and imply government by all.
Thus a form of oligarchy is introduced, and this fact alone demonstrates the flagrant contradiction which exists between Socialism and Democracy. In a Democracy, inasmuch as the administration and the Government represent the common interest, it is not for them to trouble themselves with the relations between the holders of concessions and their employees; they need have one preoccupation only—to secure a supply of electricity to the Municipality and the consumers at the lowest possible price. The Municipality only had the right to interfere in the fixing of this price in exchange for the wayleaves which it grants over the public highways.
In his interpellation on March 11th, M. Jaurès repeated over and over again that the strike was legal and that its organisers had respected the law. Is this so? Did they not declare the strike without a moment's notice? Was not their going on strike done by surprise? Yet there is an obligation to give notice in the electrical, as in other industries. They paid no regard to it, and consequently did not respect the law in the manner attributed to them by M. Jaurès. One knows who were the organisers of the strike. MM. Griffuelhes, Yvetot, Passerieu, and some others proudly laid claim to the honour. They should also have borne the responsibility.
The holders of the concessions ought to have brought actions against them and claimed damages. They did not do so, and thereby gave fresh strength to the organisers of “direct action,” since the latter have obtained fresh proof that they can with impunity persist in practices which, far from prejudicing them, increase their notoriety and importance.
But employers of labour and traders, among those who suffered damage, ought to have brought actions against the holders of the concessions. The latter would have taken refuge in a plea of vis major, but would have been ordered to institute proceedings against the organisers of the strike without delay, and we should have seen what relief the law can give.
When an event occurs such as the electricians' strike, people agitate and demand fresh legislation, and Parliament sometimes doubles the number of existing laws or manufactures bad ones. But one ought first to inquire whether legislation cannot force its authors to incur some responsibility. Speaking generally, it is not the laws which are wanting, but the moral energy of those who ought to apply them.
In this connection, the General Confederation of Labour supplies a remarkable example. It knew how to act. It knew, down to the smallest detail, how to lead the electricians, but manufacturers and traders also have trade combinations. What advantage did they take of the fact? They remained passive, and the General Confederation of Labour was able to justify the strike by saying, “We had only to act in order to obtain what we wanted. Everyone capitulated before us.”
If the law be insufficient, it must be amended.
When the holder of a concession is unable, in accordance with his contract, to put an end to a contract of service, it is impossible to admit that third parties may do so. The contract would no longer depend upon the will of the contracting parties, but upon persons who are not parties to it and who have so far been declared free from responsibility for an act which the parties interested could not do themselves.
The Tyranny of Minorities
At the general expense—Municipal workmen—Gasworkers—10,600 privileged workmen at the expense of 564,000 others—A minority imposing its will upon all—Particular as opposed to common interest.
In connection with the electricians' strike I called attention to the fact that the class struggle was opposed to the conception of democracy. The object of democracy is liberty and equality; every individual should be free and possessed of equal rights. There should be no castes in the enjoyment of privileges and able to exploit others for their own advantage.
Now, the object of the electricians' strike, the threatened strikes of workmen employed in other public services and finally the trade combinations of officials and instructors, is to make everyone pay for advantages accorded to a few. The workmen employed in municipal services enjoy a privileged position under the pretence that the City of Paris ought, like the State, to be a model employer, with this difference, that its resources are derived, not from its capital, but from the ratepayers. This privileged position extends to workmen employed in municipal concessions. The favourable conditions accorded to the gasworkers cost the consumers of Paris four millions of francs. I do not yet know the cost of the concessions made to the electricians. But the figures are of less importance than the principle. The workmen who enjoy these advantages are 10,600 in number, out of a total of 575,000. This proves their audacity, but there should be some margin between audacity and success.
Now the 564,400 are ratepayers. They pay the octroi for their meat, fish, butter and coal. It is to their interest to have public services for their money, that is to have them at the lowest possible price, and the workmen of the City of Paris and of the Municipal Services make them pay more than the current rate of wages would require. The 564,000 workmen are mostly in receipt of less wages than those who are employed in the Municipal services, they are not entitled to pensions or leave; and have not the certainty of employment on every day of the year. What is the result? The workmen who are less well-paid than those who have succeeded in enlisting in one of the Municipal services, pay for them. And these, who form only a small minority of less than two per cent., claim to dictate to the public authorities and send forth this injunction—“If you do not obey, we will throw everything into confusion.”
Evidence of this has been given by the workmen in the electric generating stations, following the omnibus employees, the merchant seamen liable to serve in the navy, the tramway employees and others. That a combination of interested persons should attempt, by the suspension of a public service, to impose its will upon a deliberative body and an administration representing the general interests of the community is an intolerable form of tyranny. It is the claim of a minority to dominate the majority. By having recourse to the procedure which they have employed, the strikers call attention to the antagonism existing between their own particular interest and that of the community at large.
Where the public only suffers from indirect reverberations, it does not always notice them; but when it is directly affected, it understands that, as between itself and the striker, there is not community, but opposition of interests.
It is a good thing that this should be from time to time demonstrated, since there are so many people who are unwilling to learn from experience except it be at their own expense. The post office employees had already given an object-lesson, the electricians repeated it, and the General Confederation of Labour is giving a general idea of the delights to be provided by the general strike which they are announcing and preparing. They are organising the tyranny of minorities.
Destruction of Property and Plant and the General Strike
Theory of “Sabotage”—The general strike—Common ownership of works—Direct action.
The leaders of the Confederation of Labour have openly confessed their intentions in interviews published by the “Matin” newspaper.
M. Pataud, general secretary of the trade union of employees in electrical works, says:—
“If there is no right to strike without the right to destroy industrial property and plant (le sabotage) we are going to exercise it. And the Government alone will bear the responsibility, as it assumes the responsibility for our anti-militarism.”
M. Merrheim, a member of the General Confederation of Labour, says:—
“Yesterday's surprise is only the prelude to tomorrow's. We are going to work every day with greater fierceness to prepare that to-morrow, and neither a Clemenceau, a Briand, still less a Viviani will prevent that ‘to-morrow’ from being what we wish.
“No more laughter, exploiters and capitalists; the surprise packet is open, and will only close in order the more completely to swallow you up!”
M. Yvetot, general secretary of the Confederation of Labour, says:—
“If they had not obtained immediate satisfaction, the gasworkers would have joined them, by way of solidarity. Paris would then have been shrouded in darkness. Imagine a simultaneous traffic-strike, and everything is said. Yesterday's experience, in the light of these observations, supplies the supporters of a general strike with a formidable argument. A general strike without barricades or bloodshed, is the sure and all-powerful arm of the revolution.”
M. Bousquet, secretary of the trades union of persons employed in the provision trades, says:—
“Four or five bodies in France have the power by themselves of preparing a revolution, or at least an economic convulsion attended by enormous consequences. To take an example. Supposing that by an understanding among the proletariat, the possibility of which has just been demonstrated, the lights were to go out in the greater towns, as has just happened in Paris; the supply of gas were to fail; the water were to give out; and the telegraphs, the post and telephones were to cease to work, how would the central capitalist Government know what was going on in the provinces, and give its orders? Furthermore, if the food supply were also stopped, what would happen?
“I conclude that the Government, such as it is, is obliged to reckon with the power of the workmen, for the very good reason that, while it is preoccupied with an economic object, there are people who see a different one—the object of demolishing capitalist society.”
M. Griffuelhes, of the General Confederation of Labour, also sees a presage of more important events in the electricians' strike. Like M. Merrheim, he has put his views into writing:—
“The conscious act of the electricians enables one to deduce an identical act by the gas workers, finally disembarrassed of the preoccupations of politicians, of which certain individuals take advantage: it gives one a glimpse of the day when the post office employees shall perform a labour of wisdom of a preventive kind, when the unhappy slaves of the Metropolitan shall paralyse its traffic, and the railway employees shall have awakened and shall stop the engines from running. The day that sees these crises will come, whatever be the present conditions, just as the day came which saw Paris without light or electrical power.
“On that day, our bourgeois will experience ‘emotions’ of a more intense and lively kind than those of the last few days.”
Another, M. Passerieu, assistant secretary of the electrical trade union, says:—
“But are we not joint proprietors in M. Sartiaux' works? Have we not incorporated our labour in them? Here is wealth which we have assisted in creating and developing; we want our share of it. If the soldiers make themselves the slaves of capital in order to keep our lawful portion from us, they become enemies in our eyes. So much the worse for them. We are going to use every means to prepare for the equitable distribution of wealth. And ‘every means’ is ‘direct action’ and the destruction of property. When the workman feels himself tortured by hunger, in sight of the wealth which he has himself produced, he meets the capitalists' crimes with just reprisals, or rather by the most legitimate of legitimate defences.”
This is how the leaders of the Confederation of Labour believe that the destruction of property can be practised with impunity and that when it is practised, those who have carried it out will have leisure calmly to contemplate its effects.
They declare that they are preparing “direct action” and a “general strike,” and they believe that “capitalist society” is bound to let them do so.
A little later, M. Griffuelhes gave the following indication of the procedure of the General Confederation of Labour:—
“What are statistics? What do they prove? Certainly numbers count in politics, and a vote is a factor not to be despised. In politics, it is possible to make calculations, to say that 1=1. But we are not politicians; we believe in a social transformation by means of workmen's combinations. Our weapon is not the ballot, but the strike. Therefore it cannot be said that a statistical calculation of the number of our adherents will yield any information whatever for the purpose of calculating the importance of a strike.
“Here are 10,000 weavers who have been on strike for six weeks. They obtain no satisfaction because the shops which are supplied by their employers contain an inexhaustible supply of material. In revenge for this, 700 to 800 electricians stop work for two nights. They obtain entire satisfaction. Cannot we say, then, that 700 are more than 10,000.”
What M. Griffuelhes calls politics is the power of the vote. The military assumption that victory is on the side of the big battalions has been transferred to the solution of political and legal questions. Units are counted on the supposition that they are all of the same order, and that the greatest number triumph.
But M. Griffuelhes is not a supporter of these pacific means. He counts up his troops and selects them, and says that by concentrating his attack on some particular point, with particular combatants, he is able to interrupt the working of the social organism.
This is quite correct. M. Griffuelhes is a conspirator of the same kind as Blanqui. But Blanqui still relied on guns and swords, whereas M. Griffuelhes means to employ other methods such as our penal codes has not foreseen, while the law of 1884 has placed the trade unions at his disposal as fighting organisations. This points to a gap which will have to be filled up and it is not so large as he imagines.
In any case, he and his associates are candid enough to declare that the strike is a method of carrying on the social war, and that they are to be looked upon as belligerents.
The government, which fails to justify its existence, if it does not guarantee the general security against enterprises of this character, must fortify itself with the laws necessary to resist them and must apply them. Since the law of 1884 contains no restrictions of this kind, trades unions give themselves up to their manœuvres with the accompaniment of violence, as though their acts become lawful when committed by their members.
The law does not give the Government any means of ascertaining the number of persons of which a trades union is composed, or what such unions are doing, and has thereby legalised the existence of secret societies.
Labour Exchanges in France
Subsidising the arsenals of the social war—The Labour Exchange versus labour—The Labour Exchanges versus the State—Inspectors of labour and the Labour Exchanges.
Not only does the “infamous bourgeoisie” tolerate the organising of a general strike, it contributes to it, subsidises it, and supports it.
In Paris, the bourgeoisie places a municipal edifice at the disposal of the agitators, paid for by the ratepayers of Paris and supported by them. By its help the leaders of the trades unions are supplied with allowances, heating, lighting, etc. For what purpose? To enable them to prepare for such events as the general strike. It is there that men can be heard declaring that, if they are resisted, they will organise a sanguinary insurrection; they announce that the electricians will have recourse to the destruction of property which, in their case, will consist in the organised making of short-circuits accompanied by fires and explosions as the necessary consequences; they announce that the strike of March 8th, 1906, was only a first attempt, but that they will take care, on the next occasion, to have the gasworkers with them. They give notice that in future, whenever a Municipal Council, a Parliament or a Government, declines to submit to one of their demands—demands which are always made in the name of a minority contrary to the general interest—they will have recourse to some means of this kind until the final catastrophe is attained, of which they allow their dupes to catch a glimpse, just as prophets of the millennium gave hints of the last judgment.
They quietly prepare this work in a Municipal palace, at our expense; and scattered over various districts of France there are one hundred and twenty-four other Labour Exchanges, so called because they are solely pre-occupied with strikes, all of them supported in the same way by the municipalities. The members of the General Confederation of Labour are justified in being full of scorn for a capitalist society which gives them so large and devoted a measure of assistance towards its own destruction.
I denounced the Labour Exchanges in the Chamber of Deputies on May 8th, 1893, and my speech caused them to be closed. M. Mesureur reopened them in 1895, with the result that the disorders took place which M. Rousselle denounced in the Paris Municipal Council. But they are still subsidised and their heads declare that “the Labour Exchanges have entered into acute antagonism with the State.”
In a circular dated January 19th, 1900, M. Millerand, Minister of Commerce, instructed the inspectors of labour to enter into communication, either personally or by letter, with the secretaries of the Labour Exchanges and to request them to inform him of all violations of the laws for the protection of labour. M. Viviani repeated these instructions and ordered the inspectors to “ask the trades unions to report violations of the law relating to the weekly day of rest, and to give effect, as promptly as possible, to the information they might receive.”
The Labour Exchanges carry on the tradition of the Revolutionary Committees of 1793, which were originally charged with the surveillance of suspected persons and finally with the duty of arresting them. If ever a law be passed against employers of labour, similar to the “loi de prairial,” they will be quite ready to carry it out.
The American “Labor Unions“
The “Western Federation of Miners”—Murder of Mr. Steunenberg—The “Martyrs in the cause of Labour”—Attacks upon Mr. Roosevelt—The “Western Federation of Miners” dictates a verdict—The Haywood case—Fear of being summoned to serve on a jury—Intimidation of magistrates—The right to commit crimes.
I have spoken on several occasions1 of the American “Labor Unions,” whose policy may be summed up as—monopoly of labour for the trade unionists and right to boycott non-unionists and employers who oppose their commands. They do not improve with age.
Mr. Steunenberg, Governor of Idaho, was killed by a bomb in the beginning of 1907. Moyer, the president of the “Western Federation of Miners,” Haywood, the treasurer, and Pettibone, a member of the executive committee, were prosecuted as accomplices in the murder, which was committed by one Orchard. The “Western Federation of Miners,” in conjunction with other “Labor Unions,” immediately organised demonstrations, in which the accused were represented as “martyrs in the cause of labour.”
Mr. Roosevelt, in a letter to Mr. Sherman, a Member of Congress, stated that the accused were “undesirable citizens.” These words redoubled the zeal of their partisans, at whose head was V. Debs, who had attained to notoriety by his violence in 1893 during the Pullman strike, as president of the “Amalgamated Railway Union.” They reproached the President with venturing to influence the jury, as though the conferences and meetings held in favour of the accused were not directed to any such purpose. Still, they declared that “death cannot, will not and shall not claim our brothers.” Did their brothers kill Governor Steunenberg, or not? That was not the question. The only question was that which President Roosevelt in his letter to President Jackson put in the following words: “You and your associates are not asking for a fair trial, but are dictating a verdict, and this cannot be approved.” What they required was that a fresh crime be added to the preceding ones and, in order to obtain this result, they incurred the guilt of exciting to violence and assassination. Can men be considered as ordinary labourers who lend themselves to such culpable proceedings? And do they deserve any other epithet than that of undesirable citizens?
The first case, that of Haywood, was tried at Boise City, Idaho. Orchard, who was prosecuted independently, gave evidence. He deposed to the complicity of Haywood, Moyer and Pettibone in the murders of a detective at Denver and of two mine superintendents, in the blowing up of the Independence Railway Platform, Colorado, which caused the deaths of thirteen non-unionists, and in the assassination of Governor Steunenberg. He obtained sums of money from the leaders of the “Western Federation of Miners” for each of his crimes. He made unsuccessful attempts upon Mr. Peabody, Governor of Colorado, upon Judge Gabbert, of the Supreme Court of Colorado, and upon several other persons who had incurred the displeasure of the “Western Federation.” Orchard's evidence was supported by evidence of comings and goings, both before and after each criminal act, which proved his relations with the leaders of the Federation.
The defence before the jury was in entire conformity with the proceedings at the meetings which had protested against the prosecutions. One counsel denounced the “vipers and vultures of Wall Street.” Another declared that the conviction of Haywood would be looked upon as “an injustice and as the consequence of a vile and murderous aggression on the part of unscrupulous capitalists.”
The “Western Federation of Miners,” after Orchard had given his evidence, identified themselves with Moyer, their president, Haywood, their treasurer, and Pettibone, a member of their executive committee, by re-electing them to their offices.
Senator E. Borah, an energetic supporter of the prosecution, put the matter in these words—“they have killed Steunenberg in order to show that they never forgive an enemy.” And he added that the defence was nothing but an apology for the murder of the representatives of the law.
On Saturday, July 27th, 1907, at eleven o'clock in the morning, the jury retired to consider their verdict. Their deliberations extended until the Sunday morning at eight o'clock. One knows that in the United States, as in England, the jury must be unanimous. Four jurors found Haywood guilty, while eight were in favour of an acquittal. Time was needed to convince the four jurors that Orchard's regular interviews at Denver, before and after the crimes, were merely coincidences, that Haywood had never known the character of the man with whom he had been on terms of intimacy for a number of years, and that the prosecution was entirely due to the machinations of capitalists.
The verdict of the jury was a surprise even to Haywood's friends and created a profound impression in the United States. No fair-minded man, whether friend or enemy, attributes it to concern for justice and truth; everyone looks upon it merely as a confirmation of the instructions given to the jury to acquit, given by the demonstrations against which Mr. Roosevelt protested.
The day after the acquittal, all the Labor Unions of Denver decided to give this “martyr in the cause of labour” a triumphal reception. On August 3rd a deputation appeared at the station. Haywood got into a car drawn by six white horses, from which he delivered an address to the 30,000 men who had met to do him honour. It was announced at the same time that the prosecutions of Moyer and Pettibone would be dropped. The members of the Labor Unions were confirmed in the conviction that they are inviolable because they are to be feared.
All jurors are not heroes. Mr. John Cummings, of Chicago, relates that in that city, seven hundred summonses were necessary in order to empanel a jury in a murder case in which trade union leaders were involved. In the same city men guilty of violence in the course of a strike of draymen were all acquitted.
The magistrates are intimidated by moral pressure as well as by material danger. Whosoever ventures to disapprove of the unlawful acts of a Labor Union is at once denounced as an instrument of capital, devoted to suspicion and contempt. The arrest is an “outrageous and impudent invention of a lawless plutocracy.” If a police officer arrest a member of a union who has committed a murder, he is denounced for having tried to distinguish himself “in order to earn blood money.”
On the other hand, the judge who has grovelled before a Labor Union is pointed out as “an able and distinguished lawyer, a magistrate full of sympathy with honest men and a terror to all criminals.” Even Mark Twain has never carried audacity and irony to this extent.
Each Labor Union constitutes a separate group, regulated solely by passions and interests which are opposed to those of the rest of the nation and of the human race. If it has the hypocrisy to disavow some of its acts, it none the less indicates to the judges, the juries, and the President of the United States that it has the right to commit crimes, and those who have the audacity to advance such pretensions do not represent one-tenth of the workmen of the United States.
The Exploitation of Intimidation
M. Jaurès' schemes—The end justifies the means—Buchez—The use of violence, according to M. Georges Sorel—Violence in strikes—The leaders of the Confederation of Labour are politicians—Parisian panics—Steudhal's saying—“Fear is not in the danger, it is in ourselves”—Social bankruptcy as an ideal—The socialist tyranny announced and realised.
On May 2nd, 1907, my excellent friend M. Faubert encountered a member of the Confederation of Labour who occasionally condescends to have a chat with him. He asked M. Faubert, with a selfsatisfied air, whether he had seen the “Humanité” newspaper.
M. Faubert: Certainly not, it is always lost in the same fog. I am still waiting for the suggested legislation promised by M. Jaurès in his speeches on June 12th and 14th, 1906. When challenged by M. Clemenceau, he announced that he would disclose the secret of the society of the future after an interval of four or five months. That time has now expired and I do not see what he is thinking about.
The Confederate: He cannot disclose them independently; they have to be accepted by the United Socialist Party.
M. Faubert: Then we shall never see them. But why did he give such an undertaking?
The Confederate: Because he has not yet submitted to the party discipline.
M. Faubert: Yes, the Socialist party gives its tenor every liberty, but does not consider itself as bound by him. I admit that the party is not distinguished by curiosity. Its members are content that the tenor should sing, “Come, let us march to Paradise,” without asking him to describe the stages on the road or the plan on which this Paradise is constructed. However, from the moment when M. Jaurès scorns all the facts, and all the economic laws which are derived from them, and believes that a positive law can do everything, it is his duty to put these positive laws into writing and to reveal them to the world. Jaurès promised ten months ago to bring them down from Sinai. Moses did not keep the Israelites waiting so long.
The Confederate: He will bring down the tables of the law, amid thunders and lightnings, which will make capitalist society tremble.
M. Faubert: I recognise the usual metaphors. M. Georges Sorel has likened the general strike, in the “Mouvement Socialiste,” to the last Judgment in the Apocalypse; he declares that Christians have made such good use of it that Socialists, in their turn, should exploit the sentiment of mad terror and chimerical hope which it inspired.
The Confederate: All means are good.
M. Faubert: The end justifies the means. That is a Jesuit formula, adopted by a Catholic Socialist, Buchez, who tried to prove that the “sovereignty of the people” and the “sovereignty of the end” are identical.
The Confederate: That is ancient history. We are more modern now. Read the “Réflexions sur la violence,” published by M. Georges Sorel, in the same review (January 15th, 1906, p. 18):—
“Experience shews that the bourgeoisie easily submits to be plundered, provided that a little pressure be applied and that they be frightened by the threat of revolution: the party which is able to handle the spectre of revolution most boldly will have the future in its hands—The workmen are able to inspire fear. The members of revolutionary trade unions know how to make excellent use of this situation, and they are teaching the workmen that it is not a matter of going to ask for favours, but that they must profit by the cowardice of the bourgeoisie to impose upon them the will of the proletariat.
M. Faubert: The will of the proletariat? That is a wide generalisation. You should say, the will of a dozen leaders of the Confederation of Labour.
The Confederate: Certainly, it doesn't matter, for they act with the consent of the whole number, and, as Sorel says, they have succeeded.
“The violence of the workmen possesses an extraordinary efficaciousness in case of strikes. The prefects are afraid of being induced to bring the force of the law into play against the violence of insurrection and bring pressure to bear upon employers in order to force them to yield: the safety of works is nowadays considered as a favour of which the prefect can dispose at will, in order to intimidate both parties and lead them with more or less adroitness to an agreement. There have not been wanting numbers of occasions upon which the leaders of the movement have seized upon this situation: we must recognise that they have made use of the weapon which was placed in their hands by a rare piece of good fortune. They endeavour to intimidate the prefects by popular demonstrations…. The administration, beset on all sides and terrified, seldom fails to intervene after a time with the employers and to impose upon them a transaction which becomes an encouragement to the propagandists of violence” (p. 29).
Here you see, in the actual words of the philosopher of the party, what has been the effect of concessions, negociations, government meddling with strikes, interpellations in the Chamber of Deputies, and the conciliatory sentiments of tenderhearted persons. The only effect has been to teach people to use violence.
M. Faubert: That proves that the men who are at the head of the Socialist party are politicians who know how to take advantage of the weapons with which their adversaries supply them in the belief that they are disarming them.
The Confederate: You cannot blame them for that.
M. Faubert: I do not do so. They are acting within their rights; but I think that they are acting under an illusion in trying to terrorise the bour geoisie. M. Georges Sorel says, “experience shews that the bourgeoisie easily submits to be plundered.” What facts can he cite in support of this assertion. When, on the contrary, it is a question of defending that property to which “the democracy clings with all its fibres,” to use M. Jaurès' own words, it exhibits an energy which has never belied itself. There is no night of August 4th to be put down to the account of the bourgeoisie.
The Confederate: The question does not arise in the same manner.
M. Faubert: It does, in effect.
The Confederate: But would you deny the fear in the hearts of the bourgeoisie last year with regard to the first of May? Had not a number of people made preparations, while others went away?
M. Faubert: That may be, but that only proves that those people were lacking in confidence in the Government. They had no faith in its power to fulfil its primary function—that of ensuring internal security. The Government took certain measures, and if some of the bourgeoisie fled, the soldiers of the army of the Confederation stayed at home. They do not seem to me to have displayed much more courage.
The Confederate: Can you deny the ease with which the bourgeoisie takes fright? See what has just happened in the small-pox scare. I read in the “Progres Medical” of March 30th that:—
“There have not been so few cases of small-pox in Paris for five years: if we are to believe the ‘statistique municipale officielle,’ the number of eases in the last two weeks was 8 and 12 respectively, instead of an average of 20. Whence, then, comes this strange panic, which shakes the people of Paris and makes the fortunes of the institutions which supply vaccine?”
Owing to a few newspaper articles, people took fright at once and crowds waited at the vaccinators' establishments. Ladies, when by themselves, spoke of nothing but their vaccination, and looked with suspicion upon anyone who did not share their terror. One might venture anything with people who are frightened at once, without making inquiries.
M. Faubert: Steudhal said long ago that “fear is not in the danger, it is in ourselves.”
The Confederate: It only remains, then, to inspire it. See what we have already succeeded in doing with white-lead, and what we are about to do for absinthe. Do you believe that all Parisians will not suffer from colic on the day when they are convinced that the journeymen bakers are playing “la sabotage” in their bakehouses?
M. Faubert: You have just said “all Parisians,” Fear, then, is not the special characteristic of the bourgeois. Do you think that the members of the Labour Exchange and their wives are less frightened of the small-pox than the bourgeois? Fear is not a capitalist privilege.
The Confederate: The workman has nothing to lose.
M. Faubert: Disabuse yourself of that idea. It is he who has most to lose. The bloated multimillionaire will invest his capital abroad if it be threatened, and he will transport himself abroad too, if he feel his person to be unsafe. He will no longer be interested in French industries and will spend less money in France. As Cobden says, wages rise when two employers are running after one workman, and fall when two workmen are running after one employer. Your policy, the object of which is to frighten capital, produces a certain result—that of making it take flight. If it does so, it will not transform itself into wages, and a strike with violence will produce a certain result—a strike of employers. It will transform artificial unemployed into actual ones.
The Confederate: So much the better. That will be the beginning of the general winding up.
M. Faubert: And then we have gone bankrupt. Is that then your ideal?
The Confederate: Yes, the bankruptcy of capitalist society!
M. Faubert: Well, but explain for us the constitution of your collectivist society.
The Confederate: You want to know too much. But when I asked you whether you had read “l'Humanité” I did so with reference to an observation of M. Marcel Sembat to the effect that poor Yves Guyot had for a long time been denouncing the Socialist tyranny, but he was hardly listened to.
M. Faubert: Very well, then; but it seems to me that he was quite right and that the others were wrong in not listening. Those who profit by the Socialist tyranny act like all tyrants; they abuse their power and act in such a way that people begin to listen to the man who denounced it at the time when people like M. Goblet placed themselves at the head of the Socialist Union. It is one of the results of the threats and the violence of your friends.
“A land without strikes”—New Zealand—The “Arbitration Act,” 1894—Set-back to boards of conciliation—Interference of the Court—The butchers' strike—The Lock-out in the timber trade—Hypocritical attitude of the Unions with regard to strikes—Difficulties in carrying out the Act—Absence of moral support of persons interested.
Gribouille's1 disciples have formed the profound conception of abolishing strikes by forcing every individual to be a member of a trade combination and by regulating all questions of wages and of the organisation of labour through the medium of incompetent and irresponsible tribunals.
In support of their theory they cite a book published in 1900 by the Agent-General of New Zealand, under the title of “A land without strikes,”2 to glorify the Act of 1894, entitled “An Act to encourage the formation of Industrial Unions, and to facilitate the settlement of industrial disputes by conciliation and arbitration.” The Act did not in terms render arbitration compulsory, but it did so by implication, by imposing the making of joint or collective contracts. It provides for boards of conciliation and in case of their failure, for a short reference to arbitration. As soon as the workmen have formed a union, they are able to impose this jurisdiction even upon employers who are not connected with a union. They have power to impose arbitration upon such employers when none of the members of the workmen's union have an interest in the dispute. Even if the employer has no unionists among his employees, he is not protected against proceedings.
Strikes and lock-outs are prohibited. This legislation has ended in submitting the regulation of all industrial conditions to the determination of the Courts, and they have acted as the repositories of legislative powers delegated to them by Parliament.
The workman, as an individual, is no longer subject to bye-laws. He has to be a unit in a Union, the object of these workmen's unions being to prevent labour from becoming too oppressive. A union always has five objects in view—higher wages, shorter hours of work, overtime, the restriction of the number of apprentices and the exclusion of non-unionists.
It has been stated that since the passing of the Act the boards of conciliation dealt with 99 per cent. of all disputes; but their decisions have no force, and are so well recognised as nugatory that their proceedings are now admitted not to justify their existence, and disputes are carried direct to the tribunal of arbitration.
The preliminary difficulty encountered by the tribunal is to find out what are the points in dispute. Its award then has to enter into details of such minuteness that it is impossible to ascertain what it sanctions and what it forbids, and every difference of opinion between employer and employee as to the interpretation of the award gives rise to a fresh dispute.
In these circumstances, the employer always places the narrowest construction upon the award, a minimum wage is treated as a maximum, and general antagonism is substituted for all sense of moral obligation as between employers and employees. This leads to decrease in production and consequent increase in the cost of living and decline in the purchasing power of customers. Workmen spending the greater part of their wages as consumers have found their position by no means improved.
New Zealand relies on its export of mutton and is obliged to consider the net cost of producing it. When the butchers in the slaughter-houses, in combination with the employees in the cold storage warehouses at Wellington, Canterbury, Otago, Gisborne and Southland, claimed an increase of salary, the tribunal of arbitration rejected their demand, whereupon they went out on strike on March 7th, 1906. On March 8th judgment was given against them for damages amounting to £700. The Attorney-General and a Judge of the Supreme Court were of opinion that this was neither a debt nor damages, nor a penalty for a breach of contract, but a penalty in the strict sense of the word, so that the defendants would have to go to prison, if they failed to pay.
The strike came to an end on March 20th, the defendants either paying the fines or disappearing to seek employment in other colonies. Mr, Hall Jones, representing the New Zealand Government, nevertheless said that this was not a set-back for the Act, but that the Government had merely to amend it, in order to render its operation more effective.
But these are not the only trades effected. On May 20th the Western Australian newspapers announced that Mr. Holman and two employees of the Sawmill Society had been cast in damages at Perth, or to imprisonment in default, for having aided and abetted the strikers in the timber trade. On June 4th the same newspapers reported that proceedings had been taken against employers in the timber trade for organising a lock-out.
Here is evidence that compulsory arbitration is unable to prevent either strikes or lock-outs.1
With the official optimism which is the character istic of all governments, one of the Ministers had asserted that the Unionists disapproved of this resort to strikes. At the very moment when he was making this statement, the Trades Unions of Wellington and the Labour Council were passing a vote of sympathy with the strikers. Vain efforts were made to induce other Unions to express disapproval: there may have been some apparent changes of attitude, due to various influences, but their general attitude was left in no doubt.
The Hon. John MacGregor, a former member of the New Zealand Upper House, recognised the set-back to compulsory arbitration.1
Unionists who fail to submit to the process of the Tribunal of Arbitration are liable to damages, but in New Zealand, as in other countries, they have succeeded in putting themselves above the law with impunity. Officially, the Unions dissuade their members from violating it, but they encourage them to do so by underhand methods, thereby escaping all pecuniary responsibility. Individuals may be cast in damages, and sentenced to imprisonment in default.
But an American visitor to New Zealand, who was so much attracted by the “Arbitration Act” that he wanted to import it into the United States, was told by a New Zealander that it was hopeless and would not work because the prisons of the United States are not large enough. Supposing you obtain a judgment for damages against four or five thousand members of a Union which violates the Arbitration Act or refuses to satisfy the judgment of the Court. They decline to pay. Where are the prisons with a sufficient capacity to contain them? And what will become of their families while they are serving their term? They could not be left to die of starvation.
The working of compulsory arbitration in New Zealand has demonstrated its impossibility in the absence of the moral support of all the parties interested; from the moment when it fails to obtain it, it stands condemned. Could it obtain such support in other countries? Those who say so, have the universal experience of mankind against them.
Coercion implies submission and not consent; consent alone creates a moral obligation. This explains the superiority of contract as a motive for action to arrangements imposed by authority. Compulsory arbitration would be followed by the same consequences in other countries as in New Zealand, namely, contempt for the law on the part of those who realise the possibility of violating it with impunity and of declining to accept the decisions of the Courts, while claiming to exact respect for that law from their adversaries. They would make a unilateral law of it, placing precisely the same construction upon it as that which is put forward in regard to Article 1780 of the Civil Code in France. “I claim,” says the author of this article, “that, without the constitution of the Tribunal of Arbitration, the workmen would have had a far larger share of the increased prosperity of the colony than they have in fact obtained.”
Yves Guyot, “La Tyrannic socialiste” (1893)—“Les Principes de 89 et le socialisme” (1894)—“La Comèdie socialiste” (1897)—“Les Conflits de travail et leur solution” (1903).
Trade Union Act, 1871, Sched. i.
“Reflexions sur la violence,” see infra, chap. ix.
Revue Internationale du commerce, de l'industrie et de la banque, 30 juin, 1906.
See “Le Temps,” March 28th, 1907. The “Conseil de Prudhommes” is a tribunal for the settlement of disputes between employers and employees.
Where the Ministry of the Interior is situated.
See “Les conflits de travail et leur solution.”
Gribouille was the wiseacre who threw himself into the river in order that his clothes might not get wetted by the rain.
See also M. Métin, “Le socialisme sans doctrines” (Paris, F. Alcan); L'arbitrage obligatoire, par Bertrand Nogaro (Paris, Roustan); “Australian Socialism,” by A. St. Leger.
“The Individualist,” June, 1907.
“The Times,” Financial and Commercial Supplement, April 8th and May 6th, 1907.