Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: Strikes and Trade Unions - Socialistic Fallacies
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CHAPTER I: Strikes and Trade Unions - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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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kept in concealment, and, although the military regulations forbidding them to allow themselves to be disarmed are not repealed, both officers and privates know that they must suffer in silence and without a murmur.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.
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.