Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII.: NATURE OF %u201CLABOUR LAWS.%u201D - The Tyranny of Socialism
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CHAPTER VIII.: NATURE OF %u201CLABOUR LAWS.%u201D - Yves Guyot, The Tyranny of Socialism 
The Tyranny of Socialism, ed. J.H. Levy (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co., 1894).
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NATURE OF “LABOUR LAWS.”
(I.) Spirit of Privilege—Working Men’s Associations and Public Works—Privileges and the Municipal Council of Paris—(II.) Taxation and Co-operative Societies—Privilege means Progress!—Profit-sharing—Its Nature—Profit-sharing, and the State Labourers—(III.) Compulsory Arbitration—(IV.) The Law relating to Accidents—Professional Risk—Compulsory Insurance—(V.) Labour Hygiene—Confiscation—President of the Council and Property—(VI.) Factory Regulations—(VII.) Arbitrary Interference and the Police—(VIII.) “Labour Law—Weekly Interpellation—Article 416—Article 1781—Workmen’s Certificates—Laws of Progress are Laws of Equality—Constitution of the Fourth Estate—Retrogressive Legislation.
I. All laws having for their object the protection of working men, the substitution of authoritative arrangements for private contracts, the prohibition of some, the sanctioning of others, are born of the spirit of privilege.
In the purchases made by the State, the decree of June 4th, 1888, gives to workmen’s associations, for labour and supplies, a sum not exceeding 50,000 francs, and the right of preference over other tenderers should their contract prices be equal. The Chamber of Deputies has extended these provisions so as to include the Communal depots.
It was suggested to the Municipal Council that it should supply the necessary tools and the raw materials to every working men’s association entrusted with municipal work; and I heard, in the Committee of inquiry of 1882, some working men’s associations energetically reject the gift, saying, “Where do you expect us to make our profits, if we cannot ourselves supply the raw materials?”
Has not the small tradesman, the contractor of the past, who pays his taxes like every other citizen, the right to complain of this favouritism shown to a competitor for the sole reason that it bears the title of “Working Men’s Association?”
In the conditions for its contracts of 1887, the Municipal Council of Paris, in the interests of the workmen employed on its works, required a maximum of work, and a minimum wage: what did it do by this if not grant them a privilege? And other workmen, who were simply taxpayers, the moment that the rate of pay for municipal work became thus higher, would have to pay more for their services, and receive less in exchange.
II. Imagining, moreover, that Co-operative Societies are nothing but workmen’s associations, the Chamber of Deputies, following the Senate, voted for a Bill exempting them from stamp duties and registration dues, from income tax on their bonuses, and from all commercial taxation and licenses. When I demanded equal taxation for Co-operative Societies, the Reporter, M. Doumer, called my amendments reactionary, proving once more, that progress, as Socialists understand it, whether they be bold or timid, consists in the setting up of privileges.
Clause VI. of the law relating to Co-operative Societies enacts that, in productive societies, the assistants shall share in 50 per cent. of their profits. If there is only one assistant, will he have the right to this 50 per cent.?
The law contains one useful provision: it allows merchants or manufacturers to permit their workmen and clerks to share in the profits, without this profit-sharing involving them in any responsibilities; and it allows them to renounce all control and all verification of accounts.
In order to regard this as genuine profit-sharing, one must be inclined to be satisfied with payment in words. Under these conditions, the truth is, that the master may give a premium to his clerks and workmen according to his profits. But is not this premium one form of piece-work, and an incentive to over-production? How is it then that certain Socialists accept and demand this share of the profits?
As far as we are concerned, we are strong advocates of this method of payment of labour, as of all systems which give an incentive to the independent thought and activity of the working man; but this premium should be regarded as a part of the wages, the fixed rate of which might be made still lower, inasmuch as the contingent profits would yield a larger compensation.
M. Guillemet brought forward a Bill, making it compulsory on all holding State, Departmental, or Communal contracts for a period exceeding five years, to allow their men to share in the profits. But do all those who obtain State contracts make a profit? The largest, the railway companies, with one exception, only exist by the guarantee of the interest. Do you think that they yield any profit?
M. Guillemet also asked that the State should introduce profit-sharing in all factories, manufactures, and industries, which it manages itself, and of which it sells the products. He forgot that the State is not a capitalist, and that it only derives its funds from taxpayers; that the surplus it makes when it compels smokers to buy only tobacco that has come from its own factories, is not a profit but a tax; that the workmen in State factories, when their wages are paid, have no right whatever to share in funds which can have only two legitimate objects—either the reduction of taxation, or the payment of public services. M. Guillemet appealed to the example given by Portugal, in its tobacco factories. Unhappily, the financial administration of that country is not sufficiently encouraging to induce us to follow in her foot-steps.
The Commission asked me, as Minister of Public Works, if I would give an interest in the profits, to the employees of the State railways. I replied, that before disposing of such profits, it was necessary to have them; that it was possible to give the employees all sorts of premiums, but that it was making use of a wrong expression to use the word “profit.” It seems that one of my colleagues had promised to give the workmen a share in the “profits” of one of the State departments that does not sell its produce. I was bitterly reproached for not being so generous.
III. The Parliament adopted a law on arbitration, promulgated on December 28th, 1892; but those who cried it up as a sovereign remedy, as though it would be enough to establish a tribunal in order to do away with lawsuits, had so little faith in its efficacy that they wanted compulsory arbitration. At the very moment when Messrs. Clémenceau, Millerand, and their friends were demanding it with a violence which contrasted strangely with the character of a conciliatory law, the miners of Carmaux, of their own accord, declined arbitration. Would then compulsory arbitration have become optional in cases where the sentence did not suit either party? Without doubt it is better to explain oneself, and to understand one another than to abuse one another and fight. The Code of Civil Procedure had already anticipated arbitration. The new law places it at the disposal of people, who can use it if they like; and thus far we have seen strikers contemptuously reject it.
M. Jourde wished to make arbitration compulsory on the State for its workmen; and he was right from the moment that certain of his colleagues wished also to impose upon it the obligation of profit-sharing. Compulsory arbitration is, for both parties, the suppression of free contract.
IV. A Bill relating to accidents, has for several years been passing to and fro between the Chamber and the Senate. In its scheme, the Senate reverses the procedure as to evidence, and in this has always seemed to us to be right. It no longer rests with the workman, wounded whilst at work, to prove that he has not committed some awkward mistake, or imprudence. But from this to compulsory insurance is all the further, inasmuch as, in the system proposed by the Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, it would be the big concerns, which are always hardest hit nowadays, in the matter of accidents, which would there-by reap the benefit, whilst for small establishments, it would be one more difficulty added to their constitution and an added working expense. A singular way this, in which to encourage agriculture, to subject every one who makes use of a thrashing machine, to this obligation! And why not those who have a cart? It is the carters who run the greatest professional risk.
The Bill contains eighty-four sections. The legislature will have to conclude the examination of this measure. The late Chamber might have agreed with the Senate; but the word “compulsion”1 is such a beautiful, high-sounding word, showing at one and the same time, energy, authority, decision, the love of good, contempt for narrow interests, care for the general good, crushing under its feet all difficulties—and all rights, that people have preferred to make pretence of discussing the scheme and to put it off to a later date, so as to make the word “compulsory” sound like a gong in the ears of the electors!
V. As regards the security of labour, from the point of view of hygiene, we have Mr. Lockroy’s scheme, M. Ricard’s long report, another scheme by M. Jules Roche, and finally a law, promulgated on June 13th, 1893. The schemes never include anything but factories and workshops. Why do they exclude agricultural labour? Does that unite all the conditions necessary to health and security?
Inspectors are thrust into all the workshops and manufactories, but, in the past, in all the schemes, they made them take an oath that they would not divulge any of the secrets that they might accidentally learn! This clause has vanished from the final text. With regard to the difficulties of applying the law, that problem has, according to custom, been left to the Council of State to solve by the aid of an administrative regulation.
VI. In the various schemes relating to the security and health of the workmen, those who infringe the rules are to be subject to police correction, and to a heavy fine for each infringement committed. Not only this, but if the manufacturer has not carried out the measures of safety demanded of him—by whom? by the inspector?—in a given time, the prefect can order the closing of the factory—a re-assuring prospect likely to tempt people to invest their capital in trade!
The Bill which has been passed gives the manufacturer the guarantee of a judgment pronounced after a new summons. But the initial provisions of these Bills and propositions show to what an extent the most simple principles are obscured. With regard to hygiene, no longer “labour,” but general, M. Charles Dupuy, the President of the Council, said, on June 26th, 1893: “Do you then think that we shall stop before the pretext of property?” And to this tangible thing, property, he opposes the vague thing “solidarity.” When I reminded him that the whole of our civil society is founded upon individual proprietorship, he answered: “That is political economy!” And he thus obtains the frantic plaudits of M. Jourde, a Socialist and Boulangist deputy.
VII. To show the door to the employer in order to install the syndicate in his place, is the policy steadily pursued by the Socialists, with whom the majority of the Chamber voluntarily associate, without, however, ever satisfying their requirements.
The Chamber of Deputies passed a law authorising employers to draw up regulations for the regulation of workshops. If the law had gone no further, it would have been useless. M. Ferroul and his friends requested that these regulations should not be elaborated without the consent of the workmen. The Chamber did not accept this proposition, but it voted for M. Dumay’s amendment “prohibiting all with-holding of wages, whether under the name of penalties, or under any other name.”1 What would the employer’s practice be under these conditions? He would only have one: dismissal. Did M. Dumay fancy he was rendering a service to workmen by replacing other rules by this more stringent one?
It is true that, M. Dumay being a supporter of the Bovier-Lapierre law, he hoped that the employer could not have recourse to this last measure with regard to the workman belonging to a syndicate, under penalty of being brought before the police court and incurring fine and imprisonment.
In these various ways, the adjudication of labour contracts has passed from civil law into criminal law. At every moment, as regards female labour child labour, sanitation and the safety of workmen—the employer runs the risk of being brought before the police court, of being condemned to pay a fine pending imprisonment, of having his goods confiscated, and of being defamed by placards. Can these penal ordinances result in the raising of the dignity of trade, of attracting to it men of a higher class, of aiding in the development of our country’s prosperity? In the sitting of 8th May, I spoke as follows regarding register offices:
M. Mesureur.—Is the “old petty official”1 dead? (Laughter.)
M. YvesGuyot.—No, he is not dead. (Renewed laughter.)
A MembeR ON THELeft.—He is very ill!
M. YvesGuyot.—No; he is very well! It is just because he has a certain competency in matters of police that he opposes this project. Ah! gentlemen, with all your laws relating to the regulation of labour, the hours of labour, and hygiene, what are you really doing? You are increasing the powers of the police. (Hear! hear! on the Left and in the Centre.) You create inspectors and police agents; you create new misdemeanours; you open new avenues for arbitrary interference; you create fresh culprits. (Hear! hear! from various places.) And it is exactly in my quality of “old petty official,” if you like, that I have the greatest distrust with regard to municipal and police interference in the details of every-day life, that I am opposed to the Bill now submitted to you, just as I was lately opposed to the Bill relating to co-operative societies, and on another occasion, opposed to the law for the limitation of the hours of labour.
SeveralMemberS ON THEExtremeLeft.—As also to all labour laws.
M. YvesGuyot.—The result of this will be that there will be a certain number of laws made for workmen, whilst in this place we are all commissioned to make laws for the general benefit of all citizens. (Hear! hear! Disturbance on the Extreme Left.)
Do you, for instance, believe, that if we pass a law such as the suppression of the octrois, it is of no interest to workmen? Do you believe that if we pass a law relating to the regulation of markets, of which we have just been speaking, that it does not concern the working people? Is there a single one of the laws that we make here, that does not concern working men, by the very fact that they are citizens and consumers, and that their numbers are great. (Interruptions.) When we discuss the budget, does it not concern the working men as much as other citizens?
“Labour laws!” this is the expression which is made use of to describe the adoption by the legislature of Socialistic ideas. The Chamber of Deputies had reserved one or two days a week for the discussion of “Labour Laws.” Whilst I was a Minister, these days were regularly enlivened by questions, in which I was asked why I had not performed a certain number of Socialistic miracles. As I had always declined to promise any, and declared that I would not try to perform them, the Socialists became all the more infuriated as they asked me, and honoured me by an “hebdomadal interpellation—an expression which shocked them, doubtless because they did not understand it, when I made use of it to describe their habit. As on January 14th, 1893, being no longer a Minister, I could not be held to be afraid of wishing to avoid these questions by opposing the setting aside of one day a week for so-called “Labour Laws,” I took advantage of this to protest against this phrase.
I know that, even after the Revolution, there existed, as survivals of the old order of things, some “Labour Laws,” such as the 7th Article of the Law of Germinal of the year XI., which punished all co-operation on the part of workmen, for the purpose of causing a cessation of work or to raise the price of labour, with six months’ imprisonment; such as Articles 414 and 415 distinctly putting employers and workmen in different categories until the law of December 1st, 1849, came in force, which established the equality of the law and of punishment for both, with the restriction that workmen could, for five years, be made subject to the supervision of the chief police; such as the 1781st Article of the Civil Code, according to which the employer’s word was accepted as to the amount of wages and as to their payment: or such as the law relating to workmen’s certificates.
Yes, these were “Labour Laws,” containing unequal and oppressive clauses with regard to working men; and the law of 1864, which modified Article 416 in granting freedom of spontaneous co-operation without any concerted plan, was an illogical and incomplete law, but, none the less, a progressive one. We have thus characterised and continue to characterise the law of 21st March, 1884, the first Article of which has been definitely substituted for Article 416. We also consider the law of April 2, 1868, progressive, which rescinds Article 1781 of the Civil Code, as also the law of 1883 which has done away with the compulsory workmen’s certificates.
But why do we thus regard them, if it is not because they have granted to the working man liberties which he did not possess before — have awarded him an equality before the law of which he had been deprived? If you admit, with me, that these laws are progressive, explain to me upon what grounds you attribute the same character to laws of privilege and inequality, to coercive and police laws? You tell me that this coercion, these police regulations, these privileges and inequalities, are made for the benefit of the workmen; but you will in this way surely turn the working men into a separate class? You will give a legal status to the “Fourth Estate? By your own confession, equality before the law, and liberty, will be mere empty inscriptions which ought to be scratched off the fronts of our monuments. Very good. But then what is law? An instrument of privilege and robbery. What are politics? No longer the act of leading our country towards ever greater destinies, and of guiding it to an ever higher ideal of justice, but the art of giving to one part of the nation the largest share of the legal estate. Do you think that in thus stirring up interests and passions against one another, you are helping to forward social peace? Do you think that by thus cutting up the nation into trade and local interests, you will enlarge its mental horizon and add to its greatness?
SOCIALISTIC MORALITY AND RESPECT FOR THE LAW.
“That blessed word,” as Mr. Chamberlain called it.—Ed.
I notice that in the Official Journal, I am erroneously reported to have voted for this.
This is a reference to M. Guyot as author of Lettres d’un Vieux Petit Employé.—Ed.