Association is a distinctive principle of modern life. Out of the development of its economic uses there have come also startling phases of a contest which, under some form or another, has always agitated society. Each successive struggle has enlarged the boundaries of the agitation. But there has never been seen before any practical attempt to realize unity by organizing the greater portion of the race—those who labor—for self-protection, mutual development, and even class ascendency. The promulgation of the idea and the experiment have been left to the present, and have resulted from resistance to a force which, however beneficent when rightfully controlled, has been made more than subservient to the selfish interests of a class and of individuals.
The contest is that between labor and capital, and the movement specially under consideration is directed by the International Workingmen’s Association. Naturally enough the chief seat of the struggle and the origin of the organization are found in countries where feudalism has graven most deeply dividing lines, and where those social forces which the era of industry and commerce creates, acting only in the interests of capital, seek to maintain the old order and its class advantages, while striving at the same time to obtain fuller direction of the new. A world-wide federation of labor bears in its statement the idea of fraternity. Its roots are far down in the “earth, earthy,” while its summit seeks the heavens. There may be Utopias within its shadow, but there must also be generous and genuine truth to give form and substance to a purpose so grand, a spirit so comprehensive.
In outlining this remarkable movement, which I have selected for an exposition of the aggressive side of the labor question, it is necessary to sketch the present condition of the sturdy trades unions. Hitherto these have been chiefly protective and defensive. They now seem to be growing creative, developing sociological forces which demand the attention alike of those who investigate principles and those who administer affairs.
It is not the writer’s design to attack, defend, or excuse, but to analyze and state, so that the reader may perceive with him the extent and character of a movement which promises to be fundamental, — one of those elemental efforts which impress society for centuries after their guiding impulses have passed away. Although this is a class-movement, and is therefore narrow to a certain degree, as have been all that have preceded, it should be borne in mind that the laboring class comprises seven tenths of mankind. Their efforts at unity are in many respects the healthiest of all signs. Let us know what the millions aspire to do and be. Society will be the gainer by every quickening movement. Its foundations are made more secure by discussions which are inclusive of all interests. The wider the range of open agitation, the less dangerous it becomes to order and progress. Whatever concerns each concerns all, and one may be sure that the present movement among laboring people in all civilized countries towards widely extended organization needs only to be examined impartially, to reveal correctives for errors and justice for wrongs that may exist on either side of the issues involved. There is one thing that cannot be done safely, that is, to ignore or simply denounce these organizations. They must be met and considered in a spirit of fairness. It is impossible for millions of men to combine, without having some just reasons for such action; nor can there exist a movement almost as wide and pervading as civilization, unless there be forces underlying it which permanently affect the condition of man.
In the growth of this movement the idea of individual self-help, as well as of protective organization, seems to have come from the British agitators. France has given equality and enthusiasm, but always lacked individual effort and individual liberty, looking to an outside force, that of the government or community, for direction and assistance. Germany, in its discussions, has brought to the movement the aspiration for unity which is so thoroughly a part of its intellectual life, and by the broad generalizations which are characteristic thereof has given to it the cosmical aspect now being rapidly developed. Yet the British trades unions afforded the groundwork. Through their experience alone could the initiative have been formed.
Since 1849 the European democratic movement has passed into other hands. The aspects of to-day are very different from those that then controlled. It is claimed that it is no longer aristocratic privilege, but organized power, in the form of capital growing yearly more potent through economic association, with which democracy must contend, either to overthrow or control. Just now, to overthrow seems most desirable to the many; but to the wiser even if more radical minority control is possible and pre-eminently more desirable. Although such ideas as these were not prominent in dictating the efforts that followed recovery from the overwhelming defeat of Republicanism in 1849, they have in great part grown out of those efforts.
In Great Britain the working leaders turned their attention to amelioration. For fifteen years, or until our war was closing, there was little or nothing done directly for political results. Co-operation on the one side and trades-unionism on the other were the great levers which were used. The latter has proven an especially powerful agency of the new democratic propagandism; co-operation, as developed in England, having lost much of its earlier socialistic character. But this is aside from the general scope of the present paper, which has to do with the growth of the international movement, with its far-reaching ideas and aims.
The trades unions of Great Britain, as of other countries, find their prototypes in the ancient guilds, — organizations, however, whose characteristics are much more strongly preserved in what we know of Chinese associations for similar purposes or in the Russian arteels, than they are in the great amalgamated trades societies like those formed by the engineers, the carpenters, the miners, or our American Knights of St. Crispin. The invention of labor-saving machinery, and consequently the association of capital, destroyed the guilds, — leagues of master and man, working employer and employee. They also created and rendered necessary, according to the defenders of trades unions, the existence of such organizations.
It is, however, within the last two decades that trades unions have become really formidable. It is only within the last, in fact since the triumph of the American Republic over slavery has given such impetus to all radical agitation in Europe, that the movement has passed out of the mere defensive into the constructive, or, as I fear many will affirm, the destructive, phase it is now assuming. The Sheffield unions, or that of the bricklayers at Birmingham, illustrate what was too common in the earlier stages, when combination and conspiracy laws made all attempts of English workmen to unite, in order to increase their wages, criminal offences punishable with imprisonment and even transportation. The ugly shadow of those days is projected into the present, but very rarely elsewhere than in communities where workmen keep themselves aloof from the larger and better influences which have followed the efforts at unity of action. Masses of men seldom conspire; they may revolt and do bad things in the blind fury of passion, but the plot and cabal, whose mischievous aim can be attained only by stealth, share the open discussion which must inevitably follow in the wake of widespread organization. There is no positive means of ascertaining the exact number and membership of British trades unions. There was a Trades Directory published in 1861, giving a list of four hundred and eight towns in which unions or their branches were established. In 1867 the leading unionists estimated their membership at about seven hundred thousand, and since that date the societies have grown more rapidly than at any previous period. It is believed now they do not number less than eight hundred and fifty thousand members. Even with so large a membership, they only contain a small percentage of the various trades, except perhaps where these are actually close corporations, like the thirty-three small trades of Sheffield. Still, the unions exercise a controlling influence over their trades, as much probably from the genuine spirit of comradeship which is exhibited as from the direct aid the organization affords in any emergency. The building trades, for instance, are estimated to employ about nine hundred thousand persons, more than the entire membership of all trade societies. Only about one hundred thousand persons are members of the masons, plasterers, carpenters, and other unions connected with the occupations of building. The cities contain the largest number of society-men, averaging from seventy to ninety per cent of each of the principal trades.
The most powerful union existing, though not the most numerous, is that of “the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Machinists, Millwrights, and Pattern-Makers.” It had in 1867 (the last year for which I have been able to find official data) a membership of thirty-four thousand, belonging to three hundred and eight branches, located in Great Britain, Ireland, France, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the West Indies. There was a cash balance of five hundred and seventy-six thousand seven hundred and eighty-five dollars in its treasury, and an annual income of over three hundred and eighty thousand dollars. So perfect has its organization become since 1850, that strikes are almost unknown, and this because capital has found out it pays better to arbitrate than “lock out.” It is a fact worthy of note, and proves that these societies are not, as some would believe, unmixed evils; that the larger their growth and the more perfect their organization, the less inclination is there to resort to strikes, and the more ready are both sides to listen to reason. Organization among the men has made strikes too costly to themselves and the employers.
The “Amalgamated Carpenters,” quoted by Professor Beasley as the best union in existence, numbers eight thousand members, has one hundred and eighty-seven branches, and a fund on hand of seventy thousand dollars. The operative masons number eighteen thousand; the bricklayers, twelve thousand; the plasterers, eight thousand; the general union of tailors, twelve thousand; ironfounders, twelve thousand; boiler-makers, nine thousand; London tailors, seven thousand; Scotch carpenters, five thousand power-loom weavers, five thousand; locomotive engineers and firemen, fifteen thousand ; with sixty-four branches and an annual income of about thirty-five thousand dollars. These societies are not federal but individual, so to speak, nor must it be supposed that the large funds they gather and disburse are used wholly in aggressive movements. By far the larger portion of their dues are applied to beneficent purposes. Up to 1866, for instance, the “Amalgamated Engineers” disbursed (a period of fifteen years being included) $2,443,585, of which amount $1,399,200 had been devoted to assisting men out of work, including those “on strikes.” Not more than a third of this went directly to the latter purpose, while $1,024,385 is reported as expended directly for such objects as sickness, superannuation, accidents, funerals, etc.
But, large as are these distinct unions, the necessity of co-operation as well as the normal tendency of this movement for industrial and social reconstruction inspired active efforts for the federation of different societies. Most of these movements have been represented in trades councils, alliances, conferences, labor parliaments, and congresses. The “Miners’ National Association,” an affiliated group of societies, has a membership of fifty thousand. London, Manchester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Glasgow, Leeds, in fact, all the great manufacturing centres, have local trades councils or conferences, meeting regularly and representing from three thousand to one hundred thousand men respectively. A number of general conferences have been held, at Sheffield, Preston, Manchester, and London, in which the attending delegates have represented all the leading trades and from two hundred thousand to four hundred thousand members. The annual Trades Congress for 1870 (the third I believe) met on Monday, October 24th. The following statement of the subjects for discussion, will illustrate the character and scope of these assemblies: —
1. Trades’ unions and legislation.
2. Mines regulation bill; the truck system and weekly payment of wages.
3. Employment of women and children in agriculture, factories, and workshops.
4. Convict labor versus free labor.
5. Application of arbitration and conciliation in trade disputes.
6. Reduction of the hours of labor.
7. Co-operation and industrial partnerships.
8. Taxation, imperial and local.
9. Education, primary and technical.
10. Direct representation of labor in Parliament.
11. International fraternization of labor, war standing armies, and their injurious effect on industry.
12. Utilization of waste lands and unemployed labor.
Nor have the debates of these congresses been unworthy the themes. On the contrary, those that I have heard or read show close, concise, and logical power of statement and reasoning, clear conception of facts and their application, and a capacity for pressing points in debate, which would do credit to any legislative body in the world.
It is easy to perceive how, when the suggestion and opportunity came, the men were ready, prepared by such an agitation as this involved, to frame the international movement which has greatly exercised the governments of Europe.
One fact should not be omitted, as it illustrates forcibly the power the associative principle will possess, when once fully understood and applied by the masses for their own advancement. From a careful examination of parliamentary and other returns made in 1867, I estimate that at that date the wages class in Great Britain had accumulated funds to the amount of $437,216,660 specie. This vast sum belonged to the various co-operative, friendly, benefit, building, loan, and other similar societies, to the trades unions, or was deposited in the various savings banks. About one half was in the latter institutions. The basis of this calculation includes only those deposits and investments belonging to persons who receive wages. If the workingmen of England and America could once be made to realize the enormous power involved in such an aggregation of their small means, it would not be long before the character of the whole contest between labor and capital would change; the former would become self-employing, and the latter would seek opportunity to invest with it at moderate interest.
No very accurate estimates can be obtained of the Continental trades unions membership, for nearly every European government has had these organizations under open or secret surveillance. Italy has a very complete network of semi-political trades societies, of which Garibaldi is the honorary president. It numbers about four. hundred and fifty branches, has a membership of about one hundred and twenty thousand, and a fund of about three hundred thousand dollars. In Italy strikes have been quite frequent during the last five years, as also in France, Belgium, and Austria; in each of which countries the combination laws have been greatly modified. But this aggressive activity has been promoted by the growth of the international movement and the energy of its propaganda. In Spain four thousand workingmen’s societies are reported. They form the principal sources of the republican agitation there. In Denmark and Sweden the agitation is just beginning to make itself perceptible, and but recently, even in Asiatic Turkey, I read of a formidable strike occurring among persons employed on some public works. The Khedive of Egypt will probably find himself surprised some day by disturbances among the populations he has so skilfully made subservient to the aggrandizement of his own wealth, without the slightest regard to their condition or welfare.
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The International Workingmen’s Association, which at the present time assumes great political importance and is likely still more to disturb the victorious equanimity of the Prussian king and his great Minister, as it previously had the repose of their now captive rival, Napoleon III., is an organization whose animating impulse was at first so to instruct and unite the workingmen of Continental Europe, that, when strikes or other struggles occurred in Great Britain between employer and employed, the former should not be able to defeat the latter by sending to France, Belgium, Germany, or Switzerland, and, under the inducement of better wages, fill the recusants’ places in England with this foreign labor. Such was the practical point achieved by the association, but very much more than this is involved and has already resulted from its organization and efforts.
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The name of George Odger has become familiar to the readers of the Atlantic through Justin McCarthy’s attractive paper, “Some English Workingmen,” as well as to the general reader, from the frequency with which during the last few years it has appeared in all English political movements. It is a name that should be honored by loyal Americans, for this country has had no truer and few more useful friends in Great Britain than the London shoemaker. Associated with a chosen few of his own order, — as Thomas Mottershead, silk-weaver; George Howell, bricklayer, since secretary of the Reform League; William Cramer and Robert Applegarth, carpenters; John G. Eccarius, tailor; and a few others, — Mr. Odger by his tireless efforts and devotion kept alive an agitation for the Union cause against all the efforts of Southern agents to induce the London workingmen especially to lead in a demand on the British government for a forcible raising of the Southern blockade in order to procure cotton. Few persons on this side of the Atlantic know how near those agents came to being successful, though all can realize what would have been the disastrous results to us of such action by the British government. Mr. Odger was the representative man among the English leaders of the efforts which organized the International Association. The first meeting was held at St. Martin’s Hall, London, September 28, 1864. The membership was composed of such English trades societies as adhered to the idea, under the influence of the men I have named and of others, of different nationalities, resident for the most part in London. The organization was formed by chairman, treasurer, general secretary, general executive council, corresponding secretaries for different countries named and their affiliated sections therein.
At the present time the latter officers are sometimes residents of the countries they represent, though in most cases they live in London or Switzerland; both localities being tolerably safe for men of marked radicalism, — a statement hardly true of any other portion of Europe. The general council is chosen at each annual congress, and always with reference to the fact that the members reside in London, the head-quarters of the movement. So a majority of them are English; Robert Applegarth, secretary of the Amalgamated Carpenters’ Union, and one of the very best specimens of the workingmen so favorably described by Mr. McCarthy, is the chairman. There are twenty-one members, among them being several whose names I have already given. Cowell Stepney, one of the council, is a gentleman in the extreme conventional sense, being a brother-in-law, I believe, of the Tory Earl of Carnarvon, and himself a person of means and high culture. He has long been a student of socialistic efforts, and is known in England as an advanced radical of the philosophic school. The chairman, William Townshend, is an active and influential man among his class. The treasurer, John Weston, is known as a writer on class issues; while the general secretary, J. George Eccarius (who is also corresponding secretary for the United States), is a man of far more than ordinary power as thinker and writer. He is a Swiss by birth, resident in London since 1849. Speaking German and French as well as English, he is a very useful man apart from his intellectual value. He is the author of a vigorous work entitled “Refutation of the Economical Doctrines of John Stuart Mill,” which was reviewed at length by leading English journals. He is a practised journalist, being now employed as a London correspondent by one of the leading New York dailies, and doing considerable special work for the London Times and Daily News. France is represented by Eugene Dupon Karl Marx, who is also secretary for Germany and Russia; be is one of the ablest writers on socialism in Europe, and author of an important work in German entitled Das Kapital, which is deemed the gospel of the new movement. There are likewise secretaries for Belgium, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Denmark. These officers conduct the correspondence with the various sections and countries which they represent. Among those affiliated with the movement in Germany and elsewhere in Europe are such men as Dr. Jacobi, the turner Bebel of Leipsic, a leading member of the North German Parliament; Diezzen of Elberfeld, a tanner, and author of an able review of the various metaphysical systems; Liebknecht, and the other leaders of the Lasalle or Socialist-Democratic party of Germany. In Spain, France, and Italy the movement has a strong hold. Henri Rochefort may be at present considered the political leader of the labor movement in France, though there are a number of able workingmen who are more directly its representatives. As to membership, about one third of the English trades unions have connected themselves more or less directly with the International Association. In France, 433,785 unionists are co-operating; in Switzerland, 42,326; in Germany, 150,000; in Spain, about 20,000; in Austria and Hungary, 100,000; Belgium has an affiliated membership of about 20,000; Italy, one of at least 100,000; while in Holland, Denmark, and even Russia, there are sections organizing. The American National Labor Union, with its membership of over 200,000, is in full sympathy. A great deal of sympathetic affiliation exists in Poland, Russia, and other countries, which has found expression at the different congresses only through independent delegates, who are able to defy the government opposition. A number of newspapers sustain the international movement; some only generally, like the Paris “Marseilles” and the London “Beehive” (trades union organ), but most of them accept its programme and are its declared organs. There are two German weeklies and one French published at Geneva and Zurich; three in French and one in Flemish, published in Liege and other Belgian towns; one in Spanish at Barcelona; while in Germany the Berlin daily “Zukunft,” Dr. Jacobi’s organ, advocates this movement, as also do weeklies published at Vienna and Leipsic. Besides, there are papers published in Bohemia, Hungary, and Italy which sustain the general policy of the International Association.
Since the organization of the association, in 1864, four annual congresses have assembled. The first was held in September, 1866, at Geneva; the second met at Lausanne, the third at Brussels, and the fourth at Basle. The fifth was called at Mayence, but its assembling was rendered impossible by the Franco-Prussian war, to the policy of which, on either side, its membership is strongly opposed. At the Geneva congress about forty delegates were present. There were a few delegates from Paris, Lyons, and Brussels, but the majority were either English, or refugees resident in Great Britain or Switzerland. Fifty-five delegates were present at Lausanne. Sixteen were French, twenty-nine Swiss, six English, three German, and one Italian. The English delegates were the ablest and most influential. The Brussels congress attracted general attention, owing to the fact that the Belgian ministry had given indications of a determination not to permit its assembling. Very serious disturbances had occurred previously at Verviers, resulting in the calling out of troops and firing on the people, causing the death of a leading member of the Belgian section. The Basle congress was marked by a considerable accession of German influence, several of the great democratic associations having sent delegates. For the first time the United States were represented, the National Labor Union having at its Philadelphia congress elected a prominent member to attend the International Congress. The Socialistic-Democratic party of North Germany is a movement of those who hold that changes in the political situation is the first thing to be desired and worked for. Among these they advocate state aid rather than that self-help policy which is the aim of the economic reform, under whose impetus the co-operative and credit bank system of Germany has been built up; this party has given in its adhesion to the international programme. An industrial congress which met at Nuremberg (the fifth held by the same party) in 1868 made the following declarations, which form so concise a statement of the general aim of their movement that I give a translation entire: —
“1. The emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves. The struggle for their emancipation is not a struggle for class privileges or monopolies, but for equality of rights and duties, and for the abolition of the privileges of every class.
“2. The economical dependence of the workingman on the man who has monopolized the instruments of labor is the principle of slavery, whatever form it may assume, of social misery, of intellectual inferiority, and of political subjection.
“3. The political movement is the indispensable means of effecting the economical enfranchisement of the working class. The social question is therefore inseparable from the political question; the solution of the first depends on the solution of the second, and is only possible under a democratic government.
“Considering, also, that the efforts hitherto made for economical emancipation have heretofore failed from want of union between the different branches of labor in each country and the non-existence of fraternal ties between the working classes of different countries that the emancipation of labor is not a local problem nor a national problem, but a social problem coextensive with modern society, the solution of which depends on the theoretical and practical co-operation of the most advanced nations; the fifth congress of German workmen resolve that they will unite their efforts with those of the International Workmen’s Association.”
The adoption of this platform created a schism, the delegates of sixty-one associations adhering, while those of thirty-two withdrew. It is charged now that that astute politician, Count Bismarck, has since made adroit use of this division still further to hinder the movements of the more radical majority. Bebel and Liebknecht are among the prominent leaders of the latter, whose views are also sustained by Dr. Jacobi. This party grows in numbers and influence, and has already been a source of trouble to the Prussian government by its undisguised opposition to the continuance of the war against the French Republic, and more especially to the policy of territorial acquisition favored by so many Germans.
Having stated the general purposes, aims, and strength claimed by this new and, imposing politico-socialist movement, it is proper to give closer details and explanations, in order that we may comprehend its intentions more clearly. At the organization the following declaration was made: —
“The central council shall form an international agency between the different co-operating associations, so that the workingmen in one country be constantly informed of the movements of their class in every other country; that an inquiry into the social state of the different countries of Europe be made simultaneously, and under a common direction; that the questions of general interest mooted in one society be ventilated by all; and that when immediate practical steps should be needed, as, for instance, in case of international quarrels, the action of the associated societies be simultaneous and uniform. Whenever it seems opportune, the central council shall take the initiative of proposals to be laid before the different national or local societies.”
The governing idea of this movement is that society is entering upon one of its great constructive epochs. The danger which the leading workingmen foresee and are combating is, that it threatens to become feudal or oligarchic, only shifting the governing force from an aristocracy of class and caste to a plutocracy of money and commerce. According to this view, it is capital which is revolutionizing society through the economic advantages and necessities of association. The rise of the manufacturing system, as well as the rapid growth of that of exchange or banking, with the facilities afforded by the enormous progress of the great cities and the convergence and radiation to and from them of the scientific highways and messengers, — railways, steamboats, and telegraphs, — have given to capital, as such, an enormous and controlling influence. The factory system, with its costly machinery continually improved by scientific discovery, is converting workmen into a mere proletarian class, dependent upon associated or aggregated wealth for the means of obtaining a livelihood. According to the statement of an American writer who is connected with the international movement, “it is the evident tendency of the times to change all production into capitalist production, and to divide society into two classes, — capitalists, who own everything, and hands, who own nothing, but depend for their livelihood entirely on the capitalist class. At least, it is inevitable that production on a large scale, being cheaper, more scientific and thorough, and economizing time, force, and capital, should finally do entirely away with production on a small scale. When at last the soil is bought up by a few, when all the branches of labor are carried on exclusively, or almost exclusively, by machines, when all the capital of a country is in the possession of a moneyed aristocracy, who, consequently, will also frame all the laws, where shall the enormous majority of poor men go to find some more profitable employment, to make themselves independent, or to enter by co-operation into competition with the large capitalist producer?”
The same writer has stated in a strong and succinct manner the general objects aimed at by the International Association and discussed in the four congresses already referred to.
“It is useless for the working people of one nation to attempt to remodel society; there must be a combination of all the nations, and, meantime, attempts at a forcible revolution ought to be discouraged. The new society ought to be founded on universal education. Every individual ought to be developed, by all educational means at the disposal of science and art, into a truly humane being. … A society thus prepared for its great task will best know how to legislate for a new order of things. One thing, however, is clear, to wit, that such a future legislation will have to accommodate itself to the economical laws of the age. It will have to render production scientific, and to establish it on the largest possible scale. All new inventions and discoveries, instead of redounding, as now, to the benefit of the few and to the enslaving of the many, must be converted into means of reducing the toils of all, of beautifying life, and ennobling humanity. All the great indispensable means of existence, as lands, mines, machines, and means of communication, must be the common property of all, and must be made so gradually. Nothing can reasonably he private property, but the product of labor, one’s own labor.”
At Geneva and Lausanne especially considerable discussion was given to the question of education. All united in demanding that it should be general and thorough, but as to how and by whom it should be provided, there was some difference of opinion. Great reluctance is expressed by the French and some German delegates at intrusting the state with the control of education. At Brussels especially, where French influences prevailed, state education was regarded with hostility by a majority. The term was considered equivalent to enforcing a political system of training such as it was affirmed Prussia had established. To make good subjects and soldiers, rather than good citizens and men, was the present purpose of European state education. Such a view was opposed to that set forth in the discussions referred to. The common schools of this country were cited as an example of a general system, sustained by taxation, which did not train the children for the support of any special political form. Taking the average of the educational debates the necessity for making compulsory attendance a leading feature of any common-school system was generally acknowledged.
Opposition to standing armies has been a leading topic for debate. In the Lausanne and Brussels congresses, proposals for a general strike among the workmen as a means of resisting the inauguration of any wars but those for defence or resistance to tyranny, were debated at length. The following resolutions were adopted at Brussels: —
“The International Association calls upon workingmen to pronounce against war, to oppose it by all the means in their power, to refuse to countenance assassination, and to organize a propaganda for the education of the poor.
“The International Workmen’s Congress recommends workingmen to abstain from all work in the event of war breaking out in their respective countries. The Congress reckons upon the solidarity of workingmen of all countries for this strike of the people against war.”
Co-operation has of course been a fruitful source. of discussion. There are diverse views on the advantages accruing to the working classes, as such, of enterprises like the Rochdale Equitable Pioneer’s Stores or the Schultze-Delitzsch’s Credit Banks. The French delegates, as well as some of the Germans at Brussels, declared that their effect was not to ameliorate the condition of the laboring class, but only to lift up a comparatively limited number of individuals into the ranks of the middle class, and that thereby their chief tendency would be to make a fourth and more degraded class out of the great body of those laborers whose limited means, intelligence, and opportunities were such as rendered it impossible for them to unite successfully in movements like those named. The opposition to isolated co-operative efforts grows out of devotion to a larger ideal, and aims, whether wisely or not, to obtain first the right political conditions, and then by combined effort, with favorable legislation, seek the elevation of all through the operation of some understood laws which would result in an equitable, not equal, distribution of the earnings of labor. But the general tendency favors co-operative enterprises. At the Lausanne congress the following declarations were made on motion of Alfred A. Walton, an English delegate, who has written with considerable power against the British land system: —
“1. The congress urges upon the members of the International Workingmen’s Association in the various countries the necessity of using their influence to induce trades societies to apply a portion of their reserve funds to the establishment of co-operative productive concerns as the best means of utilizing the credit which they now give to the middle classes and governments for the purposes of their own emancipation.
“2. Those societies who do not deem it expedient to embark in co-operative production of their own, ought, by means of their funds, to facilitate the establishment and carrying on of such concerns, and use efforts to establish a system of credits based upon the securities and means of those who invoke its aid, and to found a system of co-operative banking which would enable them to issue promissory notes irrespective of metallic reserves.”
Opposition to the present system of banking is a leading feature of all these assemblies. It is a noticeable fact that among the working class in all countries, where these agitations have found their way, there is a widespread conviction that banking, as now conducted, is a fruitful source of the inequality of conditions. Trading and speculative capital is believed to find in it a potent instrument for making the rich richer and the poor poorer. This antagonism should be borne in mind. All the congresses have declared that banks of credit and issue should be controlled only by the state, which should advance money to the producer and merchant on proper security. The principle underlying the German credit banks received indorsement, and larger applications of the idea of associated guaranties were recommended by suggesting that trades unions and similar societies could safely bank on their united credits, loaning money and receiving deposits. A declaration of principles, submitted at the last congress, is now pending for the consideration of the next body, and as it expresses the views embraced in this agitation, it is here given: —
“1. That interest upon capital, under whatever form, is a tax levied upon the labor of to-day for the benefit of those who have already been enriched by the labor of yesterday; and that if these persons have a right to accumulate, they have not a right to do it at the expense of others.
“2. That in consequence, interest upon capital is a permanent source of injustice and inequality, and that all co-operative associations who persevere in the system transfer the principles of egotism from the individual to the collectivity.
“3. That political and economical creations, such as loan associations and the privileges accorded, whether to financial societies, railway companies, assurance companies, etc., increase to a frightful extent the spoliative power of interest upon capital, and solidarize the interests of governments and those of capitalists.
“4. That the interest taken by discount companies carries the action of interest upon capital to its utmost excess of immorality.
“5. That the application of the principle of solidarity by workingmen on a large scale is tire sole practical means at their disposal to struggle against the feudality of capital. The committee propose the foundation of an international organization, a workingmen’s bank, to make credit democratic and equal; and to simplify the intercourse between producers and consumers; that is to say, to relieve labor from the predominance of capital, and transform capital into the servant of labor.”
The debates on the duties of trades unions were quite remarkable. In the Brussels congress especially their relations to the general effort at industrial reconstruction were the subject of spirited discussion.
Capital, the speakers urged, is concentrated social force, while labor was only working force. Trades unions were concentrating this into power, and a readjustment of economic relations would give the classes they organize social as well as mere industrial vigor. From this stand-point the duty of trades unions, it was argued, was to concentrate on the wages system, denounced as slavery and destined to be overthrown. The unions must, therefore, become centres of social and political activity, as well as instruments of direct warfare on, or resistance to, capital. Strikes were declared to be but clumsy if necessary machinery, and it was urged that information be obtained and discussion had as to the most advisable means of making the producing classes their own employers and factors. A wide distinction was apparent between these theorists and the general management of the co-opperative supply system, especially as manifested in the English co-operative stores. The congress urged its various sections to consider co-operative production as the one thing essential, and especially to eschew the mere joint-stock company plan, which was denounced bitterly as tending only to make the workmen capitalists in a small way.
There is another duty the international movement imposes upon its sections, which if properly carried out would be of very great service. It is to institute inquiries into the general condition of labor. The following schedule was adopted at Brussels, to be modified, of course, by local necessities: —
1. Name of industry.
2. Age and sex of those employed.
3. Number employed.
4. Wages or salaries: (a) apprentices; (b) wages by day or piece work; (c) scale paid by middle men; weekly and yearly average.
5. (a) Hours of work in factories; (b) with small employers or at home; (c) night-work or day-work, time employed.
6. Meal-times and treatment.
7. Workshops and their conditions; over-crowding, ventilation, gas-light, cleanliness, etc.
8. Nature of occupation and effect upon physical condition.
9. Moral condition. Education, facilities for.
10. State of trade; whether uniform, by the year or season, or fluctuating, exposed to foreign competition, excess of labor, etc.
Also as to emigration, the distribution of labor, and the means of, or necessity for, a more thorough organization.
The circumstances governing different nations cause diversity as to methods among the delegates and sections of the international movement, but as to the principles that should govern their efforts there is a general harmony. All agree that it is essential to the rightful position of labor, that the form of society for which they strive shall be so far communistic in character as to require that the land, mines, water-courses, forests, all means of intercommunication, whether of travel or intelligence, banks, and the costly machinery needed for manufacturing and other purposes of scientific production, shall be the property of the community, used only for the common benefit. In the most moderate statement that can be made of their views, these instrumentalities of civilization and production are considered as public trusts charged with private remuneration. The debates at Brussels and Basle on the communal ownership of land and machinery were quite spirited. I condense the best statement of the opinions expressed, as well as define the positions occupied by delegates of the several nationalities.
The English members were self-announced as communists. Their interpretation of the term is much more limited than that usually given it. Webster defines communism as specially meaning “the doctrine of a community of property.” This doctrine has found no direct supporters in either of the four congresses whose discussions are under review; especially is it rejected by the English delegates, who are strenuous supporters of the individual’s right to the control of all he earns by his own labor and skill. Herein lies an important difference between the socialism under discussion and the communism which has formed the basis alike of Fourier’s, Owen’s, Cabot’s, Baleuf’s, St. Simon’s, and other similar speculations. The common interest or control is to extend only to natural elements for the sustaining of life or the leading artificial agencies which so greatly enhance its comforts, the possession of which by classes or individuals as property must, according to the view under consideration, in the end make them the masters of all social and political forms.
The German delegates agreed in the main with the English. A majority of the French and Belgian delegates also concurred, though their mode of stating these views was more impassioned.
The British agitators propose to make land the chief or only source of state revenue. Such a change in its tenure would as a practical question go a long ways towards relieving that people of the burden imposed by the national debt. So eminent an economist as John Stuart Mill indorses a principle of similar character. The Land-Tenure Reform League, of which he is president, announces as one of its cardinal principles the right of the state to tax the unearned or artificial increase of value of land. I quote from memory and may not give their statement of this principle verbatim, though I am confident of its essential correctness. The “unearned increase” refers to that constant rise in artificial value, especially in and around cities and towns, which is so fruitful a cause of speculation. The English and German delegates alike demand scientific cultivation of the land, are opposed to the minute subdivisions which are characteristic of France and Belgium, and see clearly that farm-life must be made attractive through associative economies and co-operative labor, or become so repugnant a business as to be abandoned to the landed capitalists and his proletarian help.
Most of the French and Belgian delegates announced themselves as “mutualists.” They declare that as a counterpoise to the communal control over the soil, by the railroads and telegraphs as well as banking, in order to maintain individual liberty, it is necessary to give the soil or its use to the person actually cultivating the same. They supported a freehold tenure, by which a state tax should be substituted for the land-owners rental. The laborer should own his tools. The tiller of the soil should therefore control it. Such views as these, less communistic in character, so far as land is concerned, than the positions assumed by either the English or Germans, were set forth by the most ultra of the Parisian delegates. Their enunciation shows the changes made in the minds of the socialistic ouvriers of that metropolis, by the progress of economic science. They used the same argument in demanding that machinery—the tools of labor—should be controlled by the laborer. One Frenchman, Tollien of Paris, offered a resolution declaring it to be the duty of the International Association to advise resistance to the introduction of new machinery, calculated to displace labor, until guaranties were first obtained that such introduction should not be a source of injury to the workmen. The resolution was not acted upon and is not likely to be adopted. From the same point of view they demand the organization of banking or credit as a “public function” and for the common benefit. The term “mutualists,” or its equivalent noun, was thus defined by a Belgian: “Mutualism desires that all commodities or services be exchanged for their equivalents. It desires that the workingman become the owner of the whole of what he produces. But the soil is not a product of man’s labor, and consequently is not a fit subject of exchange. What is produced from it, and the increase of value use and cultivation gives, not the soil itself, is all the agriculturist is entitled to enjoy. The soil is the prime origin of all capital, therefore it must be deemed inalienable in the collective humanity. Mutualism desires the reciprocity of guaranties, therefore society has need of such from those to whom it intrusts the cultivation of the land. Collective ownership is that guaranty. Protection in the results of labor and the enjoyment thereof, is the community’s guaranty to the individual.”
A programme so antagonistic to the old order, so revolutionary in its aim, as well as so extensive in its operation, has naturally aroused the active hostility of European governments. There was in the very constitution of this movement something different from all that preceded it, in that it necessarily eschewed secrecy, and aimed to obtain its objects by peaceful revolution. Its violence, if it could be so called, would be of a negative character, as action upon the suggestion that in order to resist the inauguration of unjust war there should be a general strike among the workmen of any one country, they to be sustained by the pecuniary and moral aid of their fellows elsewhere. It is not to be wondered at that the International Association and its various sections should be made victims of government persecution. In France for the last two years before the war with Prussia the secret police of Napoleon had been occupying itself chiefly in planning bogus conspiracies for the assassination of their master, and then charging them upon the leaders of the Paris section of this movement. Twenty-eight members were condemned to various terms of imprisonment under this persecution. At Vienna nine members have been sentenced, to and are now serving terms of imprisonment for six years and lesser terms. There have been armed attacks, provoked, as members of the association declare, by the fears of the governments and not the actions of the assailed sections: in Belgium, at Charleroi, Verviers, L’Epine, and Seraing; in France, at Aubin, Ricarmie, and Creuzot; in Spain, at Barcelona; and in Austria, at Olmütz, Rechenberg, and Turnau. In Russia one member has been sentenced to death and numbers have been sent to Siberia. Trials have occurred at all the chief towns of France, and at several points in North Germany. All these facts testify to the fears aroused by this agitation, the methods of which are in striking contrast with previous revolutionary programmes in Europe. The general secretary, Eccarius, stated the essential distinction when, in a letter written before the present war, rebutting the charge of regicide conspiracy made against Tollien and other Paris internationals, he said: “The people never conspire, and this is the movement of the peoples.”
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In bringing this article to a close, it is proper and essential to state the condition and character of the related movement in the United States. Political action is here always the earliest thing aimed at. The freedom of the ballot naturally leads men to organize for success through that potent instrumentality. Hence the first formidable manifestation made of a labor-reform issue comes before us in the form of a political party. It is of course true that the social and economic issues involved have modified to some extent the political aspects. But it has now fairly assumed the distinctive American character. In Europe all such movements are perforce revolutionary; in the United States they are reformatory. In the one instance it is necessary to overthrow; in the other the means are available to reform and modify existing laws and to change customs and tendencies by means of free and open agitation.
The “National Labor Union,” a loose sort of federative association, grew out of the trades union, but has nearly lost its direct relations therewith, being now in the main representative of a number of political clubs and leagues, known as “labor unions,” which are the chief representatives of the political labor movement in America. It owes its existence remotely, of course, to the fear of the adverse influences of capital, which it has been shown pervades so many active minds among the producing classes, but more directly to the collisions that are constantly occurring and to the discontent produced by the heavy hut necessary taxation resulting from the war. The “National Labor Union” was organized at Baltimore in 1866, by the second of a series of annual Labor Congresses, the first of which met at Louisville, in 1865, and the last in August, 1870, at Cincinnati. Until 1869 the National Union did not announce the formation of a distinct political party, though there had been a number of local and sporadic efforts, chiefly in Massachusetts. At the last elections this movement placed tickets in nomination in three several States, besides making nominations for Congress in about one third of the districts.
The annual sessions of the Labor Congress have been held in Louisville, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. There have been notable features in these gatherings, prominent among which have been the acceptance on equal terms as members of female and colored delegates. In the official constitution of the National Union a lady has been elected, and is now serving as second vice-president; while a colored man represents one of the great Central States in the executive board or council.
It is claimed that there have been represented at the annual congresses from two hundred thousand to four hundred thousand affiliated members. The loss of the distinctive trades or class character, through the direct assumption of a political object, owing to the fact that many unions have a prohibition of political action as organizations, will, it should seem, greatly reduce the direct membership, though labor on the stump may swell their vote to more than the proportions claimed. The platform is simple enough, and not nearly as radical as that put forward by their European confrères. However, the germ is the same and the end will be also. The National Labor Union denounces private banking and the national banks, and demands the issue by the government of “Paper Tokens,” to be stamped and accepted as money, inter-convertible into a three per cent interest-bearing bond; the public debt as now existing being funded into this new form, and the same made to represent all national values. The first difficulty, of course, with this panacea is that it aims to pay a debt in a medium never dreamed of when the debt was contracted. It makes that medium, having no intrinsic value, nor extrinsic either, except so far as the nation choose to give it such by accepting it as currency, take the place of specie or other medium of exchange, and then it makes a perpetual debt, with a fixed rate of interest, the measure of its value.
This is the chief feature of their programme. On the land policy, which is fundamental with the European agitators, the American movement contents itself with demanding that all public lands shall hereafter be reserved to homestead uses, thus opposing the granting of any more of its area in aid of railroads or other internal improvements. It supports eight hours as the legal measure of a working day. On the introduction of Chinese labor, it takes ground in support of voluntary emigration, but bitterly denounces the contract system, demands the abrogation of the Burlingame treaty, and declares that all contract labor must be prohibited under heavy penalties Our Mongolian “man and brother” receives but little countenance or sympathy from the labor reformers. It is, however, only just to say that, with the majority of such delegates as were at Philadelphia and Cincinnati, both of which assemblages the writer attended as a journalist, the motive was not one of race hostility or of feeling against the Chinaman as such, but a lively dread that his condition makes him a convenient instrument in the hands of oligarchic capital wherewith to destroy aspiring and ambitious labor. According to them the cry for cheapening production by lessening the price of labor, through the introduction of the Chinese, is only a cloak to cover the increase of gain by the speculative and employing capitalists. The major portion of the Chinese labor which will be imported for some time to come will be used in enterprises and employments from the reduced cost of construction or of production in which the general public will derive no benefit whatever Certainly the annual tens of thousands saved on the employment of Chinese by a railroad company will not increase the value of the road to the public or decrease the cost of their use of it one mill on all the thousands saved by the contractors in wages paid.
The American Union urges co-operation as a means of amelioration. It demands that the pecuniary cost of wars shall be directly borne by the wealth of the land, as the physical cost is borne by the people. These are the main features of their platform.
American trades unions are just beginning to assume a formidable national aspect. Locally they have long been vigorous, and certain trades have been and are as well organized as their English brethren. In one trade the American has gone beyond his elder and forerunner. I refer to the “Knights of St. Crispin,” the largest trades union in the world. Its membership is variously estimated at from sixty to eighty thousand; in the State of Massachusetts at nearly thirty thousand. Its future progress will be regarded with more than ordinary interest, because there is now being organized within it one of the most extensive schemes of co-operation ever projected. The details of this, as far as the writer has been able to obtain them, must be deferred to a second paper, in which co-operative enterprises as illustrating the ameliorative tendencies of the labor movement will be treated.
At the present time there are in the United States thirteen national and international trades unions, having nine hundred and ninety-two branches, and a membership of about three hundred thousand persons. The “Knights of St. Crispin” report three hundred branches. The “Iron Moulders’ Union” has two hundred and four branches, and seventeen thousand members. The “Typographical Union” has one hundred and twelve branches, and six thousand members. The bricklayers have a membership of fifteen thousand. In the cities of New York and Brooklyn there are about one hundred unions, with a membership of seventy thousand, and funds to the amount of sixty thousand dollars. In the State of New York the membership of different unions is set down at about twenty-five thousand. The anthracite miners in Pennsylvania are reported at thirty thousand enrolled in two organizations. One of these, like the Crispins, is stated to be engaged in perfecting a combined scheme of co-operative labor. It is an encouraging sign of the American labor movement and societies, that they show a strong desire to enter as organized bodies into production and self-employment, using their funds in that direction rather than in wasteful and imbittering strikes. It is but a tendency as yet, though the ability of some recognized leaders and the plans now being perfected, as well as the existence of several successful co-operative foundries and shoe shops in various places, indicate both intention and aptitude.
I have endeavored in this paper to give certain aspects of the movement under consideration in a clear, friendly, and unprejudiced spirit, seeking to impress upon the reader the full force of the aims of the agitation, because it seems necessary that efforts so important should be fully comprehended. In another paper it is my purpose to present in the same form of summary and generalization the character and result of the principal efforts at co-operation both in Europe and this country.
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