Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III: The Nation at the Service of the Strikers - Socialistic Fallacies
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CHAPTER III: The Nation at the Service of the Strikers - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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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.
Where the Ministry of the Interior is situated.