Front Page Titles (by Subject) 17: The Repression of Industrial Unions 1 - Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
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17: The Repression of Industrial Unions 1 - Frédéric Bastiat, Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Pascal Salin. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. Academic Editor, David M. Hart (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).
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The Repression of Industrial Unions1
[vol. 5, p. 494. “Coalitions industrielles.” 17 November 1849. This article was part of the debate in the Chamber on 17 November 1849. n.p.]
I come to support the amendment of my honorable friend M. Morin; but I cannot support it without also examining the commission’s draft. It is impossible to discuss M. Morin’s amendment without involuntarily, so to speak, entering into the general discussion, and this obliges us to discuss the commission as well.
In effect, M. Morin’s amendment is more than a modification of the principal proposal; it compares one set of arrangements with another, and we cannot come to a decision without doing this comparison.
Citizens, I am not bringing any partisan spirit to this discussion, nor any preconceived ideas based on class, and I will not speak to enflamed feelings. In any case, the Assembly can see that my lungs cannot battle with parliamentary storms; I need its most benevolent attention.
To help our understanding of the commission’s proposals, allow me to recall a few words by the honorable recorder, M. de Vatismenil. He said, “There is a general principle in Articles 44 et seq. of the penal code, and it is this: A union, either between employers or between workers, constitutes a misdemeanor on one condition, which is that there should have been an attempt at executing it, or the actual start thereof.” This is what the law says and it answers immediately the observation made by the honorable M. Morin. He has told you, “Workers will not be able to get together therefore and meet their employer to discuss honorably with him (this is the expression he used), to discuss honorably with him the subject of their wages!”
“Pardon me, but they will be able to meet,” added M. de Vatismenil. “They will absolutely, either by all coming together or by appointing committees to negotiate with their employers. There is no difficulty with this; the misdemeanor, according to the terms of the Code, begins only with an attempt to set up the union or the actual start of its activities, that is to say, when, after having discussed the conditions and in spite of the spirit of conciliation that employers, in their own interest, always bring to this type of affair, the workers tell them, ‘But, after all, since you are not going to give us all we are asking, we are going to withdraw and, through our influence, influence that is well known and that is based on the identity of interest and comradeship, we are going to persuade all the other workers in other work-places to stop work.’”
After reading this, I ask myself where the misdemeanor lies, for in this Assembly, I consider that there cannot be what might be called a systematic majority or minority on a question like this. What we all want is to stop misdemeanors. What we are all seeking to achieve is not to introduce into the Penal Code fictitious and imaginary misdemeanors in order to have the pleasure of punishing them.
I ask myself where the misdemeanor lies. Does it lie in the union, in the stoppage of work, or in the influence to which allusion is made? It is said that it is the union itself that constitutes the misdemeanor. I admit that I cannot accept this proposition since the word union is synonymous with association. It has the same etymology and the same meaning. When you disregard the aim, it sets itself and the means it employs; union cannot be considered a misdemeanor, and the recorder himself senses this, since when replying to M. Morin, who asked whether workers could discuss wages with employers, the honorable M. de Vatismenil said, “They certainly will be able to; they will be able to present themselves individually or all together and to appoint committees.” Well, to appoint committees they certainly need to agree, to act in concert, and to associate; they have to form a union. Strictly speaking, the misdemeanor therefore does not lie in the very fact of the union.
Nevertheless, some people would like to see it that way, then say: “There must be a start of operations.” But can the opening operations of an innocent action make this action guilty? I do not think so. If an action is wrong in itself, it is clear that the law can move against it only if operations have begun. I will even say: “It is the opening of operations that causes the action to exist.” Your language on the other hand amounts to this: “To look is a misdemeanor, but it becomes a misdemeanor only when someone starts to look.” M. de Vatismenil himself acknowledges that we cannot look for the thoughts that inspire guilty actions. Well, when an action is innocent in itself and is manifested only in innocent facts, it is clear that such an action is not incriminating and can never change its nature.
Now what is meant by the words, “start of operations”?
A union may reveal itself, may start operating in a thousand different ways. No, we are not concerned with these thousand ways; we are concentrating on the stoppage of work. In this case, if it is the stoppage of work that is necessarily the start of the union’s operations, then you have to say that the stoppage of work is of itself a misdemeanor; let us therefore punish the stoppage of work and say that the stoppage of work will be punished. Whoever refuses to work at a rate that does not suit him will be punished. If this is so, then your law will be sincere.
But are there any consciences able to accept that the stoppage of work in itself, independently of the means used, is a misdemeanor? Does a man not have the right to refuse to sell his work at a rate that does not suit him?
The answer will be given that this is true when it concerns an individual, but not true when it concerns a group of men in association.
But, sirs, an action that is innocent in itself does not become criminal because it is multiplied by a certain number of men. When an action is wrong in itself, I can see that, if this action is carried out by a certain number of individuals, it can be said that there has been aggravation; but when it is innocent in itself, it cannot become guilty because it is carried out by a large number of individuals. I cannot therefore see how it can be said that the stoppage of work is a guilty act. If one man has the right to say to another, “I will not work under such and such a condition,” two or three thousand men have the same right; they have the right to withdraw. That is a natural right which ought to be a legal right as well.
However, people want to add a veneer of guilt to the stoppage of work, so how are they going to manage it? The following words are slipped into parentheses, “Since you are not giving us what we ask, we are going to withdraw our labor; we are going to act through influences that are well known and that stem from the identity of interests and comradeship. . . .”
This then is the crime; it is the influences that are well known, it is violence and intimidation; there lies the crime, and it is there that you should attack. Indeed, it is there that the amendment of the honorable M. Morin attacks. How can you refuse him your votes?
But then another chain of reasoning is brought before us, which says the following:
“The union includes the two characteristics that enable it to be classified as a crime. Union in itself can be condemned and it then produces disastrous consequences, disastrous for the worker, for the employer, and for society as a whole.”
First of all, the fact that the union can be condemned is exactly the point on which we disagree, the point that needs to be proven, quod erat demonstrandum. It can be condemned depending on the aim it sets itself and especially depending on the means it employs. If the union limits itself to the force of inertia or passivity, if the workers act in concert, have reached an agreement, and say, “We do not want to sell our product, which is labor, at such and such a price; we want such and such an amount, and if you refuse we will go home, or seek work elsewhere,” it seems to me that it cannot be said that this is an action that can be condemned.
However, you claim that it is disastrous. Here, in spite of all the respect I profess for the talent of the recorder, I believe that he has embarked on an avenue of reasoning that is at least highly confused. He says, “The stoppage of work damages the employer, as it is troublesome for an employer if one or more of his workers withdraw their labor. It damages his business with the result that the worker undermines the freedom of the employer and consequently infringes Article 13 of the Constitution.”
In fact, that is a total reversal of ideas.
What! I am standing before an employer, we discuss the price, the one he is offering me does not suit me, I commit no act of violence and withdraw, and you tell me that it is I who am undermining the freedom of the employer because I am damaging his business! Take care lest what you are proclaiming is none other than slavery. For what is a slave if not a man obliged by law to work under conditions that he rejects? (On the left: Hear! Hear!)
You ask the law to intervene because it is I who am violating the property of the employer. Do you not see that, on the contrary, it is the employer that is violating mine? If he calls upon the law to ensure that his will is imposed on me, where is freedom or equality? (On the left: Hear! Hear!)
Do not tell me that I am mutilating your argument, for it is contained in its entirety in the report and in your speech.
You then say that when the workers form a union they harm themselves, and you use this basis to say that the law should prevent the stoppage of work. I agree with you that in the majority of cases, the workers do themselves damage. But it is precisely for this reason that I want them to be free, since freedom will teach them that they are damaging themselves, whereas you want to draw the conclusion that the law must intervene and shackle them to the workshop.
However, you are setting the law on a road that is very wide and extremely dangerous.
Every day, you accuse the socialists of wanting to have the law intervene in all circumstances and wanting to remove personal responsibility.
Every day, you complain that, wherever there is misfortune, suffering, or pain, people constantly call upon the law and the state.
For my part, I do not want the law to be able to say to a man who stops work and consequently consumes part of his savings, “You must work in this workshop even though you have not been granted the price you are asking for.” I do not accept this theory.
Last, you say that he is damaging society in its entirety.
There is no doubt that he is damaging society, but the same reasoning applies. A man considers that by ceasing to work he will obtain a better rate of pay in eight or ten days’ time. Doubtless this is a loss of output for society, but what do you want to do? Do you want the law to remedy everything? That is impossible; we would then have to say that a trader who is waiting for a better time to sell his coffee or sugar is damaging society. We would then have to be calling upon the law and the state incessantly!
One objection was made to the commission’s draft that I believe was treated very lightly, too lightly for such a serious subject. It was said: “What is this all about? There are employers on the one hand and workers on the other; it is a question of settling wages. Obviously what is desirable is that, since wages are settled by the free play of supply and demand, demand and supply should be as free or, if you wish, as constrained as each other. There are only two ways for this to happen: either we should leave unions perfectly free, or we should abolish them entirely.
An objection is made to you, and you agree with it, that it is perfectly impossible for your law to keep an equitable balance, that since the unions of the workers are constantly being formed on a grand scale and in broad daylight, they are easier to detect than the associations of employers.
You admit the difficulty, but you also add, “The law does not pay attention to such details.” I reply that it ought to do so. If the law can repress an alleged crime only by carrying out the most flagrant and enormous injustices against an entire class of workers, then it needs to pay attention. There are a thousand similar cases in which the law has indeed paid attention.
You yourself admit that, by dint of your legislation, supply and demand are no longer equal players since a union of employers cannot be prosecuted, and it is obvious why: two or three employers have lunch together and form a union, and nobody knows anything about it. A workers’ union will always be detected because it is formed in broad daylight.
Since the one escapes your law while the other does not, its inevitable result is that supply is affected where demand is not and, insofar as it acts, it alters the natural level of earnings systematically and continuously. It is this that I cannot approve. I say that since you cannot draft a law that applies equally to all relevant interests, and since you cannot treat them equally, leave them their freedom, which subsumes equality.
But while it was not possible to achieve equality in the commission’s draft, is it at least theoretically possible? Yes, and I believe, indeed I am certain, that the commission has made a great effort to achieve at least apparent equality. It has, however, not yet succeeded, and to be convinced of this you need only compare Article 414 with Article 415, the one relating to the employers with the one relating to the workers. The first is excessively simple; no mistake can be made. Both the law when it prosecutes and the delinquent when he defends himself will be perfectly aware of what they are doing.
“The following will be punished: 1. Any association between those who give employment to workers that tends to force wages down, if there has been an attempt at such or if such a process has begun.”
I draw your attention to the word force, which gives great latitude to employers to defend themselves. They will say: “It is true that two or three of us have had a meeting. We adopted measures to bring about a decrease in earnings, but we have not tried to force this through.” This is a very important word, which is not found in the following article.
In fact, the next article is extremely elastic; it does not include just one fact, it includes a huge number of them.
“Any union of workers in order to stop work at the same time, to prohibit work in the workshops, to prevent anyone from entering them before or after certain times and in general to suspend, prevent, or make work more expensive (the word force is absent), if there is an attempt at such or if such a process has begun, etc.”
And if it were said that I am finding fault with the use of the word force, I would call the commission’s attention to the importance that it itself gave to this word. (Murmurs.)
A member on the left:
The right is not allowing silence. When correct things are being said, they always interrupt. Tell us a story and you will be listened to.
M. Frédéric Bastiat:
In its wish to achieve a certain equality, at least theoretically, since it is impossible in fact, the commission had two avenues it might have taken with regard to the expressions unjustly and abusively contained in Article 414.
Obviously they had either to delete these words, which open a wide breach for the defense of employers from Article 414, or they had to include them in Article 415 to offer the same opportunity to workers. The commission preferred to delete the words unjustly and abusively. On what did it base this decision? It based its decision precisely on the fact that, immediately after these words came the verb force and this word is underlined five times on just one page of its report, which proves that it attached great importance to it. Indeed it expressed itself very categorically on this, in the following terms:
“When a set of measures contrary to the law has been established to force a decrease in earnings, it is impossible to justify it. An event of this nature is of necessity unjust and an abuse, for to force earnings down is to produce a decrease which is not the result of the circumstances of the industry concerned and of free competition, but rather the outcome of a pact as illegal as it is contrary to humanity. It thus follows that the use of the words unjustly and abusively is contrary to common sense.”
Thus, how has the deletion of the words unjustly and abusively been justified? By the claim that their use constituted a pleonasm; the word force replaces all of this.
However, sirs, in the case of the workers, the word force was not included, so that the workers from now on do not have the same opportunity to defend themselves. All that is now stated is that they may not increase earnings, with nothing now said about unjustly or abusively forcing them up. Here again there is a fault, at least in the drafting, and an inequality that is grafted on to the much more serious inequality of which I spoke just now.
Such, sirs, is the commission’s approach, one that in my view is faulty in every respect, faulty in theory and faulty in practice, a system that leaves us in total uncertainty as to what constitutes the offence. Is it the union, is it the stoppage of work, is it the abuse, or is it force? We do not know at all. I challenge anyone, the most logical of minds, to see where impunity begins or ends. You say to me, “The union is criminal. However, you may appoint a committee.” I am not sure, though, that I can appoint a committee and send delegates to it when your report is full of considerations according to which the union is the very essence of the offence.
The next thing I want to say is that, in practice, your law is full of inequalities; it does not apply exactly and proportionally to both parties whose antagonism you wish to remove. This is a singular way to remove antagonism between two parties: treating them in an unequal manner!
As for M. Morin’s proposal, I will not spend much time on it. It is perfectly clear and perfectly lucid. It is based on an unshakeable principle, one accepted by everyone: freedom of action and repression of abuses. No intelligent mind would fail to support such a principle.
Ask the first person you see, whoever you like, whether the law is unjust or partial when it is content to repress intimidation and violence. Everyone will tell you that these are real crimes. Besides, the laws are drafted for the ignorant as well as for scholars. The definition of a misdemeanor must persuade the intelligent, it must satisfy every conscience; when the law is read, people should say: “Yes, that is a crime.” You talk about a respect for the law; this is an integral part of respect for the law. How do you expect a law that is unintelligent and unintelligible to be respected? That is impossible. (Approval from the left.)
What is happening here, sirs, appears to draw importance from the perfect analogy between what has happened in another country, England, of which M. de Vatismenil spoke yesterday and which has such great experience of unions, conflict, and difficulties of this nature. I believe that this experience is worth consulting and bringing to the rostrum.
Mention has been made of the numerous and formidable unions that have come into being since the abrogation of the law or laws, but you have heard nothing of those that took place before. These unions should have been mentioned as well, since in order to evaluate the two systems the systems have to be compared.
Before 1824,2 England was ruined by so many unions, which were so terrible and forceful, that this scourge gave rise to thirty-seven statutes in a country in which, as you know, antiquity is, so to speak, part of the law, and in which even absurd laws are respected solely because they are ancient. The country must have been very worried and tormented by this evil for it to have decided to pass thirty-seven statutes, one after the other, in a very short space of time, each more forceful than the last. Well then! What happened next? They did not manage to contain the evil, which continued to worsen. One fine day, they said: “We have tried very many approaches and thirty-seven statutes have been passed. Let us try to see whether we might succeed through very simple means, justice and freedom.” I would like this reasoning to be applied to a great many questions, and we would find that their solution is not as difficult as we think; but in the end on this occasion, this reasoning was formulated and acted upon in England.
Thus, in 1824 a law was effected on the basis of Mr. Hume’s proposals, proposals that resembled closely those advocated by MM Doutre, Greppo, Benoît, and Fond.3 It was for the complete and total abrogation of what had hitherto existed. Justice in England found itself disarmed when faced by unions, even against violence, intimidation, and threats, facts that, however, are aggravating to the union. To such behavior one can apply only laws that relate to threats and the accidental skirmishes that take place in the streets. So one year later, in 1825, the minister of justice requested a special law that would leave unions totally free but increase the penalty incurred for ordinary violence; that in a nutshell is the whole basis of the 1825 law.
Article 3 says: “Anyone who, through intimidation, threats, or violence, etc. . . . will be punished by imprisonment and a fine, etc., . . .”
The words intimidation, threats, and violence return in each sentence. The word union is not even mentioned.
There then follow two other extremely remarkable articles, which would probably not be accepted in France because they are virtually encompassed in this maxim: anything that the law does not forbid is allowed.
They say: “Those who organize a meeting, those who form a union and who seek to influence the level of wages, those who enter into verbal or written agreements, etc., . . . will not be subject to this penalty.”
In a word, the widest and most complete freedom is expressly granted in it.
I say that there is some analogy in the situation, for what the commission is proposing is the former English system, that of the statutes. The proposal by M. Doutre and his colleagues is the one proposed by Mr. Hume, which abolished everything and which allowed no aggravation for concerted violence, although it cannot fail to be known that violence meditated by a certain number of men offers more danger than the individual acts of violence committed in the street. Last, the proposals made by the honorable M. Morin perfectly match the ones that were effected by the definitive law in England in 1825.
Now you are being told: “Since 1825, England is not at ease in this system.” She is not at ease! But I, for my part, find that you are giving an opinion on this question without going into it in sufficient detail. I have traveled in England several times and have asked a large number of manufacturers about this question. Well then, I can state that I have never met anyone who did not applaud this development and who was not highly satisfied that England in this respect had dared to look freedom in the face. And perhaps it is because of this that later, with regard to many other questions, she dared again to look freedom in the face.
You refer to the union in 1832,4 which in effect was a formidable union, but you have to be careful and not present the facts in isolation. That year, there was a shortage and wheat cost ninety-five shillings a quarter; there was a famine and that famine lasted several years. . . .
The recorder, M. de Vatismenil:
I referred to the union in 1842.
There was a famine in 1832 and another, more severe one in 1842.
I spoke about the union in 1842.
My argument applies even more strongly to 1842. What happens in years of shortage like these? The income of nearly all the population is used to buy the things necessary for their subsistence. Manufactured products are not bought, the workshops have no work, and a great many workers have to be laid off; there is competition for work and earnings are reduced.
Well then, when earnings suffer a significant decrease at the same time that there is a dreadful famine, it is not surprising that in a country with total freedom unions are formed.
This is what happened in England. Was the law changed for this reason? Not at all.
The causes of the unions were seen, but they were braved out. Threats and violence were punished wherever they occurred, but nothing else was done.
You have been presented with a terrible picture of these associations and it has been said that they tend to become political.
Sirs, at the time of which I am speaking, a major question was being debated in England, and this question was being inflamed still further by circumstances, the dearth. There was conflict between the industrial population and the landowners, that is to say the aristocracy, who wanted to sell wheat as expensively as possible and, to do this, prohibited foreign wheat. What happened? The unions, which were recently jokingly called trades unions and which enjoyed freedom of union, saw that all the efforts made by their unions had not succeeded in raising the level of wages.5
Which is a bad thing.
You say it is a bad thing. On the contrary, I say that it is a very good thing. The workers saw that the level of earnings did not depend on the employers, but on other social laws, and they said to themselves, “Why don’t our wages rise? The reason is simple; it is because we are forbidden to work for foreigners or at least to receive foreign wheat in payment for our work. We are therefore mistaken in blaming our employers; we ought to be blaming the aristocratic classes, who not only own the land but also make the law, and we will have an influence on earnings only when we have reconquered our political rights.”
On the left:
Truly, sirs, to find something extraordinary in the conduct—so simple and natural—of the English workers, is almost to bring a protest against universal suffrage in France to this rostrum. (More agreement from the left.)
The result of this was that English workers have learned a great lesson through freedom. They have learned that raising or lowering wages does not depend on the employers; and right now England has experienced two or three very difficult years as a result of potato blight, failed harvests, and the railway mania, and also because of the revolutions that have desolated Europe and closed the outlets for her industrial products. Never had she experienced crises like these. However, there has been not one instance of reprehensible union behavior and not a single act of violence. The workers have abandoned all this as a result of their experience, and this is an example to bring before our country and to meditate on. (Approval from the left.)
Last, there is one consideration that strikes me and that is more important than any of this. You want the laws to be respected, and you are very right in this, but you should not extinguish in men the sense of justice.
Here are two systems before you, the commission’s and M. Morin’s.
Imagine that alternatively, by virtue of both one and the other system, workers are prosecuted. So here we have workers prosecuted by virtue of the present law on unions; they do not even know what is being asked of them. They believed they had the right, up to a certain point, to form a union and to act in concert, and you yourselves will acknowledge this to some degree. They say: “We have devoured our pay; we are ruined. It is not our fault but that of society, which is ill-treating us, the employers, who are harassing us, and the law, which is prosecuting us.” They come before the courts in a very irritated mood; they project themselves as victims, and not only do they resist, but those who are not being prosecuted also sympathize with them. Young people, ever ardent, and political writers side with them. Do you think that this is a very flattering or favorable position for justice in our country?
On the other hand, prosecute workers on the basis of M. Morin’s proposals. Bring them before the court and let the public prosecutor say: “We are not prosecuting you because you have formed unions, you were perfectly free to do so. You have asked for an increase in wages and we have said nothing. You have acted in concert and we have said nothing. You have wished to stop work and we have said nothing. You have sought to act by persuading your comrades and we have said nothing. However, you have used arms, violence, and threats and so we have brought you before the courts.”
The worker whom you prosecute will bow his head because he will realize his wrong and will acknowledge that the justice of his country has been impartial and just. (Hear! Hear!)
I will end, sirs, with another consideration, which is this:
In my view, there is now a host of heated questions among the working classes on the subject of which, I am deeply and intimately convinced, the workers are making a mistake, and I draw your attention to this point. Whenever a revolution breaks out in a country in which there are a series of classes one above the other and in which the top class has arrogated to itself certain privileges, it is the second in rank that reaches the top; it naturally invokes the feelings of right and justice to gain help from the others. The revolution is carried out, and the class that was second in line reaches the top. Most oft en it does not take long to build up privileges for itself. This happens for the third in line and then the fourth. All this is odious, but it is always possible as long as there is a class below that can bear the costs of the privileges that are being disputed.
However, it so happened that in the February revolution it was the entire nation, the entire people, right to the very lowest of its masses, that has been able or that may be able to govern itself, through elections and universal suffrage. And then in a spirit of imitation, which I deplore but which I think is somewhat natural, the people thought that it might cure its grievances by also establishing special privileges for itself—since I consider the right to credit, the right to work, and many other such claims as privileges in the proper sense of the word.6 (Murmuring.)
And in fact, sirs, they might be granted if beneath them or within reach of them there were another class even more numerous, three hundred million Chinese, for example, who could bear the cost. (Approving laughter.) But this does not exist. Therefore, every privilege will have to be paid for by the men of the people, without any possible profit to themselves, through a complicated system and, on the contrary, by suffering all the losses caused by the system.
So the Legislative Assembly may be called upon to combat these claims to privilege, which should not be treated too lightly since, after all, they are sincere. You will be obliged to struggle. How will you struggle advantageously if you reject the working class when they are asking only for something that is reasonable, when they are purely and simply asking for justice and freedom? I believe that you will gain great strength by proving your impartiality here. People will listen to you more and you will be regarded as the tutors of all the classes, and in particular this class, if you show yourselves to be totally impartial and just toward it. (Lively approval from the left.)
To sum up, I reject the commission’s draft because it is just an expedient, and the character of any expedient is weakness and injustice. I support M. Morin’s proposal because it is based on a principle, and only principles have the power to satisfy people’s minds, to win over their hearts, and to unite all serious minds. We have been asked: “Do you wish then to proclaim freedom to satisfy a platonic love of freedom?” For myself, I reply: “Yes. Freedom may cause a few problems for nations but freedom alone will enlighten them, raise them up, and improve their moral life. Without freedom there is only oppression and, mark well, you friends of order, that the time has passed, if ever it existed, when the union of classes, a respect for law, the security of interests, or the tranquillity of peoples could be based on oppression.”
[1. ](Paillottet’s note) Articles 413, 415, and 416 of the penal code punished unions between employers and those between workers, though in a very inequitable way. [Paillottet may be mistaken here, as Bastiat refers to Article 414, not 413, in the course of his speech.] A proposal to abrogate these three articles had been sent back by the Legislative Assembly for examination by a commission [presided over by M. de Vatismenil] that judged the abrogation inadmissible and considered that it was essential to maintain the repressive dispositions, while amending them to make them impartial.
[2. ]The law of 1800 forbade workers’ unions. They nonetheless developed as secret societies and routinely practiced violent action. Violence increased by 1822, caused by a sharp increase in food prices (43 percent in two years). A parliamentary commission, headed by Joseph Hume, proposed a radical modification authorizing unions but forbidding coercion or violence. The law was enacted in 1824. Unions flourished anew, but some violent demonstrations erupted again in Glasgow, Dublin, and London. A new law was enacted in 1825. It confirmed the freedom of association, but limited it through more specific definitions of offences.
[4. ]As Bastiat notes, many conservatives opposed the right of workers to voluntarily form trades unions (or “labor unions” in American English), but he argued that the right to associate belonged to factory owners as well as to the people who worked in their factories as long as there was no resort to violence by either party. In England, trades unions had been severely repressed until 1824 and were not fully decriminalized until 1867. The 1830s saw several efforts to create a nationwide association of trades unions, the first being the National Association for the Protection of Labour, which was formed in 1830 and which at its peak a few years later had joined together some 150 unions with a combined membership of twenty thousand to thirty thousand. Robert Owen also attempted something similar with his Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834.
[5. ]This section and the following ones refer to the position of Richard Cobden and the Anti–Corn Law League. See also the entry for “Anti–Corn Law League” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[6. ]Bastiat’s pamphlet Capital and Rent (OC, vol. 5, p. 23, “Capital et Rente”) appeared in February 1849 and aroused the anger of the anarchist socialist writer Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who attacked it vehemently in his journal Le Peuple. Bastiat requested the right to reply to Proudhon’s criticism of an individual’s right to charge interest, and there was a back and forth of articles in the journal until Proudhon suddenly ended the exchange. A short time later Bastiat published the exchange along with a new conclusion by himself in the book Gratuité du crédit (1850) (OC, vol. 5, p. 94, “Gratuité du crédit”).