Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: THE SOCIALISM OF EMPLOYERS. - The Tyranny of Socialism
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CHAPTER V.: THE SOCIALISM OF EMPLOYERS. - 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 SOCIALISM OF EMPLOYERS.
(I.) Share of Responsibility in the Socialist Movement—Limitations of the Workman’s Obligations—Mechanics’ Institutes—Whence Their Moral Check is Derived—Too much Philanthropy—Paternal Administration—The Workman’s Docility—No Gratitude—M. Cosserat’s Experience—Relations between Workmen and Employers—Master” is an Improper Word—(II.) Definition of Contract—Labour Contract—Its Limits—Vendor and Purchaser of Labour—Erroneous Antithesis of Capital and Labour—Wages do not come from Capital—(III.) Labour—Article 1780—The Law of December 27th, 1890—It ought to Abolish Strikes—(IV.) Rules for Employers in their Relations with their Workpeople.
I. Employers, too, are responsible to a very large extent for the Socialist movement. Not that I reproach them with harshness or asperity, and with not being sufficiently interested in their workpeople. On the contrary, I reproach them with being too much concerned in them, and that, in meddling with them, they have misunderstood the true character of the labour contract.
The employer is, in the nature of things, neither the religious guide, the political guide, nor the intellectual guide of his workpeople. When M. Chagot intervened to have a religious funeral for a workman, who had desired a civic one, he made a mistake. When M. Solanges makes use of his position of manager of the Carmaux mines to procure his election as a Deputy, what is the result? It is that the miners revenge themselves three years afterwards and select M. Baudin as their messiah
The workmen are under only one obligation with regard to their employer, and this is the performance of the productive labour for which they receive their wages. If the employer wishes to exact anything beyond this, he is guilty of an error. He invites servility, revolt, or hypocrisy; and is preparing for himself a terrible return.
If employers have too often failed to recognise this truth, it is because most of them still labour under the old idea of the headship of a tribe. They consider that the duties of their workpeople are as unde fined as their own rights. It is by virtue of this idea too that they desire to be benevolent and to take care of their people’s destinies. They are propelled at one and the same time by generosity, and an interest, which I characterised in the following manner, in the Senate, on July 21st, 1890:—
“Large tradesmen, large manufacturers, railway companies, have felt the necessity of strengthening the labour contract on the side of the workmen, so as not to be exposed to fortuitous desertions. They, therefore, instituted aid societies and pension funds; they opened schools before the establishment of free education, and they have provided their workpeople with medical aid. In short, they have granted them numerous material advantages in order to keep the workmen as much as possible near the establishment which employed them. I am assuredly far from disputing all the well-being which has been the result of this, nor the progress of those institutions which have originated thus. But, on the other hand, it must be admitted that this material progress has, in some directions, given an increase of arbitrary power to those who instituted it; for the more they surrounded those whom they employed with comforts, and, at the same time, the more they felt at ease with regard to them, the more they thought, as a matter of fact, that the workman was bound to them by his own interests, and that he would be more ready to endure an increased dose of arbitrary control, as he would hesitate to forego the security assured to him, his wife, and his children, by the institutions and fore-thought with which he had been surrounded.”
“I think, gentlemen, that it is useful to point out this contrast between these institutions for material well-being which have been established by the large industries, and the irritation which you have seen growing up amongst the very people who profited by these institutions—a situation which people interpret thus: Really, workmen have not the least gratitude for the good we do them! And yet, perhaps, workmen have not always been entirely in the wrong in this, because they have been made to pay dearly, from the moral point of view, for the well-being with which they have been favoured.”
On November 19th, 1891, whilst referring to the strikes of the Pas-de-Calais, I added: “The Coal Companies have made the great mistake of wishing to exercise too much philanthropy.”
The Journal Officiel reports “ironical exclamations on the Left,” which proves that those who uttered them did not understand what I said any better than they will probably understand what I have just said: and yet, from the point of view of the coal companies, experience is decisive.
M. d’Audiffret-Pasquier exclaimed at the time of the Anzin strike: “We spent more than a million and a half of francs in charities to our workmen. Our administration is paternal.” Yes! and therein lies the mischief! The companies have constructed barracks wherein they have immured their work-people. They have established co-operative societies which they have themselves administered. They have founded aid societies and refuges.
The workman perceived that he had no real share in the administration of these funds. He saw that in these co-operative societies, all the company’s money which he touched reverted to it, and that sometimes he did not even touch it at all. Finally, in these barracks he felt himself to be under the supervision of the company, which frequently interested itself in the religious instruction of his children, and in the habits of his wife or young daughter. When he left his work he still felt himself to be dependent. They withheld some of his money for the aid society and pension fund. He knows how much he has paid. He cannot compare eventual and distant advantages with the expenses which he realises. He knows that if he left the mine, or if he were dismissed, he would forfeit his deposits. He sees himself chained to the mine, tied down to it; and, on the other hand, the board of management did not dare to dismiss him for fear of being accused of an endeavour to rob him, and despoil him of his deposits. In this way, it saddled itself with discontented, and sometimes incapable, workmen. Finally, the workman learnt more or less vaguely that these funds were not in a sound financial condition, and he accused the companies of making use of them for their own purposes. And this mistrust, generally erroneous, was justified by the Bessèges and Terrenoire disasters.
The companies made use of these advantages to work upon the miners. They wanted to form them into regiments, and to discipline them by these processes. They succeeded admirably, so admirably that one day the docility of the miners was transferred to some agitators who placed themselves at their head, and they obeyed them as they had formerly obeyed the company’s engineers and agents.
In reality, these combinations of pensions had as a result the transformation of a man’s time-service into life-service. The workmen felt their fetters, and soft though they might be, they seemed to him unendurable: thence proceed his violent plunges and his impatience, which have recently manifested themselves in such a startling manner at Amiens.
M. Cosserat, a spinner, had started some pension funds, aid societies, and savings banks, and a cooperative society. His workmen asked him to do away with these institutions. M. Cosserat invited them to make known their preferences to him by votes, with the result that 552 votes were given in favour of suppression, and 76 against.1
After a result of this kind, the master says: “Workmen are not grateful. You may be as kind as you like to them, they are never content!”
There is no obligation on them to be so. Employers should make the best terms they can with the workpeople in their own interest, and the workpeople should do the same.
Good personal relations will only come as an outside question. Good humour, good character, loyalty in trade and financial matters, may facilitate such relations; but no further importance should be attached to them, nor any other rôle allotted to them.
I am going to make use of the English word employer, which is much more accurate and more just than the word master, which ought to disappear from our economic vocabulary, because it sanctions the idea of protection and tutelage on the one side, and of submission and deference on the other. This alters the true character of a labour contract, and most of the errors and faults committed arise from such points as are not clearly defined in the minds of those who have to decide them.
II. Acollas gives the following definition of contract: “The concurrence of one or more wills upon a given subject, in so far as this concurrence produces the effect of a law.”2
We will accept this definition, which be applies, moreover, to the contract of hiring.
After having drawn a dramatic picture of a miner’s life, he says: “Assuredly, it may seem paradoxical to place such a contract amongst those which favour individual autonomy; nevertheless, nothing is more correct. If the miner did not hire out his services, he would stand still for want of work and die. In hiring his services, he changes the risk of early death from hunger for the risk of death long delayed. . . . Therefore, that which the miner does in hiring himself out favours the autonomy of the miner.”
We may add that he is free to hire, or not to hire, out his services; to seek other occupation, etc. What is important is, to clearly specify that in the contract of hiring the workman only parts with one thing: his labour, and that his personality, apart from this service, remains entirely intact.
Amongst primitive peoples, in the horse-dealings at fairs, as well as in retail trades, in the market-places, you hear vendors and purchasers say: “Do that for me! I will let you have it at such a price, because it is you.” The individual is mixed up with the act of sale and transaction. But these habits disappear in proportion to the development of commerce. The corn merchants of Odessa, San Francisco, or Chicago, no longer have any personal knowledge of their customers in London, Antwerp, Paris, or Marseilles. It is no longer sympathy for this man or that which determines the rate of purchase and sale of the commercial exchange. The purchaser. who said to a vendor, “I am moved by the friendliest sentiments towards you, I regard you with paternal feelings; therefore, entertain some feelings of gratitude towards me, and prove them by selling me your goods at a reduction,” would meet with a poor reception.
When an employer and a working man meet, it should be simply as two negotiators: a vendor and a purchaser of labour.
What is the value of the labour? For how much will the vendor of labour sell it? How much can the purchaser of labour afford to give for it?
I purposely do not make use of the two terms under which this question is generally introduced: capital on the one hand, labour on the other; because the purchaser of labour does not represent capital, he represents consumption. He strives to produce an article of which he has no personal need, and of which he thinks others will have need. Moreover it is not with capital that he pays his workmen’s wages; or if it is, alas for the tradesman who is reduced to this, for bankruptcy awaits him. It is with his credit or his returns that he meets his wages.
It is therefore a clumsy error to represent the employer as the embodiment of capital, and to set labour in opposition to it. The employer does not rely upon his capital to pay his workpeople, but on the sale of his goods. He does not calculate his wages according to the amount of his capital, but according to the selling price of his merchandise. The employer does not purchase labour according to his wealth, but according to the amount of his turnover.
III. The contract of hiring is the same as any other contract, of which Article 1780 of the Civil Code lays down the true principles:—
Art. 1780. Service can be engaged only for a specified time or undertaking.
It seemed to me necessary to render this contract more stringent, and in my ministerial capacity I helped to pass the law of December 27, 1890, which completes it in the following manner:—
A letting of service made without the term of its duration being specified is terminable at the option of either of the contracting parties.
Nevertheless, the cancellation of the contract by the will of one only of the contracting parties may give rise to a claim for damages.
In order to fix such compensation, account shall be taken of trade custom, the nature of the services engaged, the time which has run, the work performed, and payments made, with a view to a retiring pension, and generally, all the circumstances which might prove the existence and fix the extent of the injury.
The contracting parties cannot relinquish in advance their future rights of claim for damages in accordance with the above provisions.
Disputes which may arise from the application of the preceding paragraphs shall, when taken before the civil tribunals and courts of appeal, be dealt with summarily.
This article gives a guarantee to the workman or employee against improper dismissal; but, at the same time, it prevents a sudden strike, provided that employers know how to avail themselves of it, and that the tribunals enforce it rigidly.
When, as was the case at Roubaix, workmen leave their work declining to conform to the delay of 15 days, which the custom of the place required; when miners or metal-workers throw up their work without a day’s notice being given; when clerks, with a right to pensions, such, for instance, as those employed in the State factories, throw up their work; when anybody, having undertaken specific engagements, break them, it is absolutely necessary that employers should have recourse to Article 1780, and see that the strikers are condemned in damages. The glass-makers of the Rhone acted quite rightly in this matter. In order to ensure the recovery of these damages, the employers can demand security from their workmen. Whether they actually make them pay damages or not is a secondary question: the important point is to demonstrate to the workman that the labour contract is not an empty word, but a reality, and that neither of the parties to it can break it at his own caprice and fancy.
Ideas on these points are still so vague that, when workmen have gone out on strike, the employer generally seems to think that the contract still holds good. He commences to debate with the delegates of “his” workmen, yet they have ceased to be this from the moment that they left his workshop or yard.
The employer should regard the labour contract as broken, and each striker as having ceased to be a part of his staff; and he should establish a hard and fast rule that he will, or will not, take back workmen who have left his employment, according as it may seem best to himself.
A striker has no better claim to reinstatement than has a vendor to compel a purchaser to accept delivery of goods which he has previously refused to send him, having originally contracted to do so.
One of the objections to “workmen’s houses” is, that, on the occasion of a strike, an employer who houses his workpeople finds himself unable to turn them out, and he thus retains in his neighbourhood, by his side, around his offices or his pits, a population which he cannot change, and which prevents the arrival of a fresh one.
IV. It is the Socialism of employers which has developed the spirit and the need of Protection amongst workpeople, and their readiness to accept Collectivist theories. The increased personal inter-course between employers and employed has multiplied difficulties, occasions of friction and discontent, and the pretexts for discontent. Employers who strive to anticipate all their workmen’s wants tend to make them improvident and ungrateful. Instead of developing their intellectual and moral qualities, they wither and corrupt them.
To my mind the rules which employers ought to follow, with regard to provident institutions, may be reduced to the following:—
If the manufacturer wish to interest the workman in his business, he should always be kept informed of its position.
Every institution which has the result of alienating the mutual independence of employer and employed, and of rendering the Labour Contract indefinite and immutable, is bad.
La Reforme Économique, 23rd April, 1893.
Acollas, Manuel de Droit civil, vol. ii., p. 718.