Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI.: TRADE SYNDICATES. - The Tyranny of Socialism
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CHAPTER VI.: TRADE SYNDICATES. - Yves Guyot, The Tyranny of Socialism 
The Tyranny of Socialism, ed. J.H. Levy (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co., 1894).
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The Law of Liberty taken to mean a Law of Monopoly—Employers and the Syndicates—The Railway Syndicate—Abuse of the Law of Syndicates—Cooks as Members of Syndicates—The Bovier-Lapierre Law—The Hatter between two Syndicates—The Employers’ Misdemeanour—The Law proposed by the Senate—Obligatory Syndicates—The Enemies of Syndicates.
This Protectionist spirit of exclusion is again evinced in the way in which the Socialists, and those who, through inconsistency or timidity, follow their lead, understand the law relating to trade syndicates of 21st March, 1884. The men who demanded it and prepared it look upon it as a law of liberty. The Socialists wish to use it as a law of monopoly and oppression, have essayed to make syndicates obligatory, and by the pretensions which they have advanced, and the actions which have so often accompanied them, have seemed to make it their business to prove that the law was far in advance of the age capable of applying it legitimately.
That certain demands, originating with the workmen, have been well founded; that some employers regarded the law relating to syndicates with much ill will, and wished to prevent their workpeople from belonging to them; and that some dismissed those workpeople who had taken an active part in their organisation, we willingly admit. Such facts as these seem to us the more natural inasmuch as many of the workmen, who established the syndicates, turned them into engines of war, and never concealed their intention of using them, not as instruments of bargaining and conciliation, but of social discord. Many artisans thought that, as soon as syndicates were formed, they would be the masters of the workshops, and would escape all control and discipline.
I recollect the conversation I had on this subject with the Syndical Chamber of the Railway Employés at Tours, on June 14th, 1891, the day following the Railway Servants’ Strike, which originated in the dismissal of twenty-five of the Orleans Company’s hands. I spoke as follows:—
“Do not abuse the law relating to syndicates. Look you, here is an example. Here is an employee, Mr. X., who has been guilty of acts towards the State Railway Company, which must be put down. The director of the company makes his complaint, I commission an engineer to verify the facts. M. Millerand says he will question me in the Chamber on the subject; I beg him to come into my room to talk the matter over with me; he comes, and withdraws his interpellation. Another Deputy having announced that he, too, is going to question me on the subject, I beg him to inform me of the day of the interpellation, because I shall dismiss Mr. X. on the previous day.
“Mr. X. has left France, and we are not talking about any of those present; but be careful to remember that if the law relating to syndicates gives you rights, it does not give you the right to do anything—that you cannot make use of it for the purpose of causing trouble to the service and of breaking the discipline. Whenever employers violate the law in regard to you, we shall cause it to be respected; but when the workmen wish to abuse the law, to make use of their powers in the syndicate to upset the work even of their comrades, we shall not support them. Take care lest, in misusing the law relating to syndicates, you provoke a reaction against it. When the day arrives that a small tradesman cannot dismiss his cook, because she is a member of a syndicate, syndicates will cease to exist.”
M. Bovier-Lapierre wished to justify the pretention to fixity of tenure on the part of workmen belonging to syndicates, and brought forward the Bill which bears his name, and which the Chamber of Deputies ended by adopting. This law is aimed only at the employers. It subjects them to imprisonment for from ten days to a month, and to a fine of from 100 to 2,000 francs, if they disturb the operations of trade syndicates. Its wording is somewhat naïve, as it allows refusal to hire, based on sufficient reasons. If an employer refuses to engage a workman without giving his reasons, how will the law fathom his motives? But if an employer dismisses a workman attached to a syndicate, this workman can always declare that it was to his membership of a syndicate that he owed his dismissal. The Bovier-Lapierre law has, if not for its object, at least the result, of making all workmen irremovable provided they are members of a syndicate. The employer is bound to retain them, under penalty; and a majority of the Chamber was found to vote for these regulations!
Here is an event which will demonstrate the consequences of the application of the Bovier-Lapierre law. At Bordeaux, there is a syndicate of working hatters. The syndicate had forbidden its members to work below a certain rate of wages. A hatter, considering their demands excessive, went to Barsac, and there hired some workmen who consented to accept his terms. After waiting for some time, the members of the Bordeaux syndicate renounced their claims, presented themselves before the employer, and succeeded in being re-admitted into his workshops. But once inside, they would no longer tolerate the competition of the Barsac men, intimidated the employer, and compelled him to send back the new-comers. The dismissed workpeople summoned the employer to appear before the Conseil des prudhommes, and he was sentenced to pay to each one of them 200 francs damages. There is in this series of episodes a body of facts which might bring about consequences, startling at least, if the Bovier-Lapierre law were to be applied.
The Bordeaux Syndicate began by oppressing its adherents, by preventing their acceptance of work at a certain price. Then it oppressed the employer by compelling him to expel the workmen he had hired at Barsac. Finally, it was again guilty of oppressive measures, in driving people out of the workshops, whose presence it declined to tolerate. Under the rule of the Bovier-Lapierre law, the position of a manufacturer, under these difficult circumstances, would have been very troublesome, it must be admitted, supposing the Barsac workmen to have belonged to a syndicate like those of Bordeaux. The employer would, at one and the same time, have had to answer to the summonses of two syndicates, and whatever might have been his decision, the syndicate to which he had refused to listen, could have had him sentenced to one months’ imprisonment, and a fine of 2,000 francs!1
The Senate, after having rejected the Bill as submitted by the Chamber (which Mr. Goblet did not even dare to take up again) and accepted a reciprocal one, amended the 414th Article of the Penal Code by adding thereto: “With the object of striking at the right of workmen, or of employers, to decline to become members of a trade syndicate.” They appended to this a provision aimed at “the decisions come to by several employers or workmen, whether formed into a syndicate or not.” But as this Article nearly reproduced the provisions of Article 414 of the Civil Code, of what use was this new Bill? This is what the Reporter himself, M. Trarieux, asked; and at the sitting of 7th July, the Senate threw the whole out by 195 votes against 33, and with all the more reason, inasmuch as it would not have given satisfaction either to the Socialists or to the Deputies who, with M. Bovier-Lapierre, wished to create a misdemeanour for the employers, and to forcibly insist, under pain of fine and imprisonment, on the presence in workshops of workmen who would stir up trouble and insubordination there, and defy all rules which did not suit them!
The Bill accepted by the Chamber of Deputies on November 3rd also strengthened this dissolvent operation in deliberating whether those who had followed the same trade for less than ten years could become members of a syndicate.
But M. Bovier-Lapierre and his friends seem to us to have made futile efforts towards satisfying Socialistic demands; for the representatives of the Bourse du Travail have declared that this Bill is of little importance to them as they do not recognise the law of 1884, and have declared that they only intend to be grouped and registered according to their own convenience and fancy.
Even those who accept the legality of syndicates are not satisfied with the part allotted to them. We have seen the Tours Congress demand the right to regulate wages and superintend workshops. The Congress of Bienne (April, 1893) demanded obligatory syndicates for every trade, which would fix the conditions of labour, the normal day, and the rate of wages. Their decisions would carry the weight of law for all masters and workmen.
I take leave to affirm that even a legal syndicate has no right to do just what it chooses—that it has not the right to create a monopoly, and to deprive a labourer of work if he declines to belong to one. But when I do this, I am told at once that I am an enemy of syndicates.
To me, on the contrary, it appears that the enemies of syndicates are those who want to convert them into monopolies, to confiscate the whole of one part of the national activity for their benefit, and to make them the appendages of the audacious and cunning men who have been able to get them under their own control, and to transform organisations intended for the development and guarantees of individual liberty into instruments of oppression.
The enemies of syndicates are those who, by their practice and speech, seem to be bent on justifying the law of 14–17 June, 1791, abolishing the old corporations and stipulating “that they shall not be re-established under any form or pretext whatsoever.”
The enemies of syndicates are those who declare that the law of 1884 is null and void for them, and that they intend to construct corporations, having for their principal object, not the discussion of trade interests, but the preparation for social war.
Siècle, 5th May, 1892.