Report of the Brussels Section

Brussels Congress, 6-13 September 1868

Le Livre bleu de l'Internationale, rapports et documents officiels lus aux Congrès de Lausanne, Bruxelles et Bade par le Conseil général de Londres et par les délégués de toutes les sections de l'Internationale (Paris, 1871)

We must first declare that in our eyes the strike is not a solution, even partial, for the great problem of the extinction of poverty, but we believe that it is an instrument of struggle whose use will definitely lead towards the solution of this problem. This is why we believe we must respond to exclusive co-operators who see no serious movement amongst workers other than consumer, credit and producer societies and who in particular regard the strike as useless, or even as disastrous to the interests of the workers. We believe that it is necessary here to distinguish between types of strikes, both from the point of view of the organisation of the strike and from the point of view of the goal it pursues; but before coming to that, we want to answer two objections that have been made against strikes in general.

And we first find the objection of Adam Smith, an objection so often repeated both by economists and by socialists. The former, in fact, made use of this objection to turn workers away from any struggle with the bosses and to induce the workers to submit to the inflexibility of economic laws; the latter have used it as a weapon against the present social order, in which they claim that the proletarian absolutely cannot break any of the links of his long chain.

Here is this objection: “In all such disputes,” says Adam Smith, “the masters can hold out much longer. A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long-run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.”[1]

Those who today repeat these words of the father of political economy seem to have not noticed the immense economic evolution which has been accomplished since the time when Adam Smith wrote; the economic state in which Adam Smith lived is no longer completely identical to the one in which we live. On the one hand, the individual, isolated struggle of the wage-worker against the capitalist has been replaced by the collective struggle of workers’ associations. On the other hand, in a large number of industries, the employer, the boss, the master manufacturer, has been replaced by the association of capitalists, either in the form of the public limited company or in another form, and this elimination of the [individual] employer is even one of the most marked and most remarkable tendencies of the economic period that we are going through at the moment.

Now, from the first point of view, if it is true that an isolated worker, left to himself, can rarely go a week without working and even more rarely a month, this is no longer the same when we consider a workers’ association that has consulted well in advance and that can count not only on its own funds but also on the aid of other workers’ associations. From the second point of view, if it is true that up to a certain point that in Smith’s time an owner, a farmer, a master manufacturer, could generally remain a year or two without making his workers toil, it is no longer the case when we consider a limited company, the capital of which would swiftly withdraw if it ceased for some time to produce absolutely no interest; and moreover, even for the employer or for the capitalist who finds himself at the head of an industry, we can say that what Adam Smith says is not accurate, this boss or this capitalist not only having to live off the funds that he might have in his possession, but also having to meet his commitments both vis-à-vis his creditors and suppliers of raw materials and vis-à-vis his customers. Also, see how the facts increasingly show a striking contradiction to Smith’s observations, in the proportion as the interests of an industrial establishment become more closely linked to the interests of others, and as the alliance and agreement amongst workers becomes more widespread. If we can still cite a good number of strikes where the bosses triumphed over the workers’ demands, it is by the thousands that we can cite those where the workers ended up triumphing over the opposition of the bosses.

Certain opponents of the strike, who are most often theoretical and non-practical men, have made another general objection against the strike. They deplore the time lost by striking workers; that is, they say, stopping production as if there were a lack of products! They also add that when the worker remains inactive for eight or fifteen days, he does not consume less. This language is quite simply ridiculous, when we think that there are men in society who have not, during their entire existence, produced anything whatsoever, that is to say not a quarter of an hour of work. Have they, these opponents, even thought for a moment about the number of hours producers work each day? Thus we can, with the certainty of not being contradicted, say that most workers do not work one day a day, but a day and a half. Let us mention the miners, who go down into the pit at 5 o’clock in the morning and do not come out until 10 o’clock in the evening. If the observation of these men were justified, we would be led to reproach the worker for the time he loses when illness keeps him bed, when he still consumes but does not produce.

But we would like to know if the work which has not been done does not remain to be done? Opponents of the strike could respond to this remark, if they were given the opportunity to prove that the producers are not sometimes forced to be idle against their will. Are they unaware that, in almost all professions, there are what are called dead seasons? And, apart from these dead seasons, do we not regularly have idleness due simply to overproduction, to a congestion of unsold products? But when the observations of our opponents are well-founded, that should not prevent workers from going on strike, for the very simple reason that it is better to go down a bad path than to fall into a precipice.

Indeed, assuming that there is a strike because the bosses want to reduce wages or increase the hours of work, or because the workers want to increase wages or decrease the hours, the producer loses his time and his money but does he not regain both when the strike succeeds? If he only gets a reduction of one hour of work, does that not give him at least 300 hours a year? One fact is constant, that the trades which have no enduring organisation for a strike, no resistance societies, are in a deplorable state, while in those where this exists, the workers are not only happier from the point of view of earnings but also less harshly treated.

We said that it was necessary to distinguish between types of strike, both from the point of view of the organisation of the strike and from the point of view of the goal it pursues.

From the first point of view, that of the organisation required by the strike, it seems obvious to us that any strike that is poorly planned and badly led means that resources have not been calculated well, or that the timing was not favourable, and has very little chance of succeeding; now any strike that does not succeed is an immense disaster for the worker, because it is a loss of funds, because of the costs it necessitates and the idleness it causes, because it discourages all subsequent attempts, because in the end it belittles the man and deprives the workers of something of his pride and dignity. But it is precisely for this reason that we believe that the strike must cease to be a haphazard war, strife for the workers, but must be well organised, properly considered in advance and prepared for a long time.

From the second point of view, that is to say with respect to the particular goal which the strike may propose to attain, we find there is still a matter to be distinguished. Indeed, the purpose of a strike may be: either a demand for wages, or the refusal to accept a reduction in wages, or a demand for a reduction in working hours, or the refusal to accept an increase in working hours, or the abolition of workplace regulations prejudicial to the dignity of the workers, or the improvement of health and safety conditions in certain workshops or certain mines, or the refusal to work with defective tools or with raw materials of poor quality, the use of which may constitute a loss for the worker, or the intention of opposing the violation of contracts made with employers (as happened a year ago with the cotton dyers’ strike in Amiens), or the plan to thwart the machinations of the heads of industry against the very existence of the Workers’ Associations (as happened with the last strike of the Parisian bronzers and the strike of the fabric printers of Roubaix), or even opposition against the introduction of too many apprentices into the workshops.

When the aim of the strike is a wage increase, we know all the objections. There are usually two objections to these sorts of strikes. Here is the first:

Ricardo, McCulloch and many other economists claim that the wage rate is invariably fixed by the price of necessities. The higher the cost of subsistence, the higher the wages; the cheaper the food, the lower the wages.

Such is the inflexible law which, according to these economists, governs the rate of wages, and the demands and efforts of the workers can do nothing against the fatality of this law.

“Let bread drop by 5 centimes per kilogramme, with the current constitution of industry,” say M. Michel Chevalier, “it will not take six months for wages to have undergone a roughly equivalent reduction.” And it is not only economists who have affirmed the existence of this inevitable law, most socialist writers – Vidal, Pecqueur, both De Potters, Colins, etc. – also recognise it, not, it is true, by regarding it as an eternal law (this would be incomprehensible amongst socialists), but as an inevitable consequence of the present social order. “Today,” says Vidal, “the minimum subsistence is the normal wate of wages. Wages inevitably gravitate towards this minimum, like a liquid towards its level: it is the law.”

This would perhaps be the time to say a word about the alleged inflexibility of economic laws; but we will speak of this later in connection with another objections. Be that as it may, many economists – Adam Smith, Stuart Mill, Dunoyer, Carey, Bastiat, Baudrillart, etc. – deny the so-called law of McCulloch and Ricardo, and they seem to us to be perfectly correct. We are not suggesting that the cost of subsistence has absolutely no influence on the rate of wages, but we maintain that this influence is sometimes in the relation expressed by McCulloch’s law, sometimes it is found to be in a diametrically inverse relation. Let us explain: When the cost of subsistence increases, there is usually a slowing down in the activity of a host of industries, because the money of consumers then goes above all to objects of first necessity, and it may then be that the worker, by asking for an increase in wages, because this wage is no longer in relation to the price of subsistence, will obtain the increase requested, it may also be that the slowing down of industry, the lack of orders precisely means that the bosses can do without a good a part of their workers. By contrast, when the cost of subsistence falls, industry resumes, and then certainly the desire to lower wages may exist amongst the employers, but the demand for labour rising, the workers is better able than ever to increase his wages, which is precisely the opposite of McCulloch’s law. And this is what indeed happens; but, of course, when the workers reach an agreement, they unite, for if they were to wait for the wage increase from the free play of economic laws, they might wait a long time.

Moreover, a simple glance at the facts suffices to demonstrate that the dependence of the phenomenon of the rate of wages on the cost of subsistence is not very close.

An example: The wages of labour have hardly changed in the last ten or twenty years in a host of occupations, while in others wages have fallen steadily. The cost of subsistence generally varies from one year to another, even from one month to another, and taking subsequent years, we can even say that the cost of subsistence is constantly increasing.

Another example: In many industries there is a difference between summer wages and winter wages; as business often picks up around the summer in these industries, wages are higher in summer; and yet because of the greater expenses of heat, light, clothing, and food in winter than in summer, the wages should be higher. From all this, we can conclude that McCulloch’s law is false, and that it does not deserve the name of an economic law, since not only is it not the generalisation of a constant fact, but that it is not even a simple tendency, is not even a limiting law.

So popular common-sense has never taken it into account.

Now here is the second objection: The price of any product, it is said, is made up of two things: on the one hand, of the wages of the workers; on the other hand, deductions from capital (that is to say, interest, dividends, bosses’ income, middlemen’s profit, etc.). Now, with one of the two components of the product increasing, the [price of the] product itself increases, and consequently when wages rise, the price of the articles of consumption rises; then, the other factor of the product soon rises in its turn, because the strike, by raising wages, has caused the price of consumer goods to rise, this increase in price brings as a backlash an increase in the price of rents, leases and capital, and this rise in rents, leases and interest leads in turn to a new increase in the cost of products, since the income of capital, as stated above, form with the renumeration granted to labour, the price of any product. Thus, it is said, the gap between the value of wages and the price of consumer goods is no less great after a strike than before. Finally it is concluded that the strike for wage increases is useless, to say the least, even when it succeeds.

Certainly, we are far from concealing from ourselves the gravity of this objection; we even recognise its correctness for a large number of cases; but the conclusions drawn from it seem to us too absolute.

We will not dispute this sort of economic law, by virtue of which it is claimed that when one element of a product increases, the total price of the product tends to increase. But we will observe that this law is, like other economic laws, only a tendential law, that is to say one that is stopped in practice by a host of modifying causes. Indeed, each science has its own particular laws, and these laws are all the closer to the absolute as the science is simpler, as the phenomena to be observed are less complicated.

In mechanics, for example, the scientific laws are almost identified with the very expression of the facts; but in biology, and especially in social science, it is necessary to take into account a mass of variations depending on the surroundings and circumstances. It is the same with the famous law of supply and demand, which we are far from contesting, but which is nevertheless neutralised by a host of economic facts; the same is true of the law relating to the prices of products which we are currently examining.

If we consider a society where there are only workers without middlemen or capitalists, certainly any increase in the cost of labour would lead to an increase in the price of the product, since labour, in this case, is the sole element of the value. If we consider a society where there would no longer be middlemen between workers and capitalists, where all capital would be represented by stock without interest and dividends, and all work by a labour force paid wages, the economic law that we are examining would no longer express itself so close to an absolute truth as in the preceding case but it would be closer to it than it is today. Indeed, if in this case wages increased in any industry, there would be a marked tendency for the interest and dividends of capital to increase, because without that capital would soon be directed towards industries where the rent of capital is better paid, capital being blind by nature and having no more preference for one industry than for another.

But that is not the case today. Taking the current organisation of society, we say that the fact of the increase in the price of products after a rise in wages is nothing less than a general fact, and we will cite a few examples to support what we are saying:

1st Example: The competition that the boss is forced to maintain does not always allow him to increase his profits in proportion to the increase in wages, and then the increase in the price of products does not take place; the increase in wages is taken in this case from the boss’s profits, which decrease by the same amount.

2nd Example: Apart from the profits taken by the bosses, it often occurs that salesmen or even those who only procure the order receive 5, 10, 15, 20 and even 25% on the sale.

After that stipulate, in a clear and frank manner, that the price of a product will have to be increased, because we have increased the daily wage of the worker by a few centimes, as if the wage increase in this case, even without being taken from the boss’s profits, could not be taken from a part of the percent of salesmen and other middlemen.

3rd Example: When the increase in wages takes place in an industry which enjoys a monopoly (legal or natural, it matters not), and in which consequently the profits of capital are very high because of the lack of competition, it may be that, notwithstanding the rise in wages, the said profits are still higher in the said industry than in any other; then capital will not go elsewhere, and it is possible that the boss will not raise the product’s price; in fear that this increase in the product will lead to a decrease in consumption and consequently sales, in accordance with this economic law:

“When the price of a product rises arithmetically, the consumption of that product tends to decrease in a geometric progression.”

4th Example: When the rise in wages coincides with a reduction in the cost of production, the latter, which without this rise would only have increased the boss’s profits, can take place exclusively to the advantage of the workers, if the increase in wages is strictly proportional to the saving obtained, or to the advantage of both the worker and boss, if the saving in costs is greater in the other case, there is no reason for the price of the products to increase.

As for the strike opposing the introduction of apprentices into workshops, that is a very delicate issue. There are professions in which the workers are systematically opposed to taking on apprentices, as they fear seeing these apprentices, who have become workers in their turn, compete with them on the labour market; we understand this fear, but we cannot approve of the measure which it dictated to certain trade-unions [corporations]; the children of the people, thus rejected from certain industries, fall back on others, and then one of two things occur: either these industries accept them, and then find themselves one fine day overcrowded with hands; or else they spurn them, and then where will the child learn to work?

If it is just that the worker has a fair wage, that he has the right to live whilst working, the apprentice also has the right to learn to work in order to live.

We do not want monopoly wherever it comes from, and we will protest just as much against workers who want to monopolise work in their hands as against the idlers who have monopolised capital and property in their hands. Our motto is: Justice above all and for all.

But if it is right that the child of the people should be able to learn a trade, is it right that he should do so to the detriment of the very same, that is to say of the worker? No, obviously.

Well, this is the crux of the matter. At present, in many occupations, apprentices are like machines, which, by operating exclusively for the benefit of the bosses, are detrimental to the workers; that is to say, the machine eliminates jobs, and apprentices, after having learned under the eyes and by the advice of comrades, do the work at a price lower than that required for experienced workers. This is the evil of which the worker complains.

For us, this question of apprenticeship will only find its definitive solution in the solution of another question which is also on the agenda of this Congress; we speak of integral education, comprising the full and concurrent teaching of the sciences and trades. Apart from mutual education, another solution to this question of apprentices may lie in the generalisation of productive associations, associations where the apprentices, instead of constituting a benefit for the boss as today, work on behalf of the associated workers; just as the machine, which today also constitutes an advantage for the boss, would also work for the associated workers. But in the meantime, could not the resistance societies reach a very current and immediate solution to this question?

Could it not be that the work of the apprentice was counted, by the boss, as having been done by the workers? These, after having paid the apprentice what is due him, would pay the difference to the resistance society. Already, in several professions, a similar method is in use. Let us cite as examples the cigar markers, who each have an apprentice at their own expense, and the tailors, who have a particular expression to describe theirs: they give it the nickname beef.

If this system could be adopted, the obvious result would be that the worker, no longer having to fear competition from the apprentice, would devote more time to showing him how to carry out the work, and would very probably end up by making him a more perfect worker than those who emerge from the current organisation. This would therefore be beneficial for both the worker and the apprentice. To finish this point, we conclude:

- that a strike conducted with a view to systematically opposing any introduction of apprentices is not legitimate;

- that a strike conducted with a view to opposing the introduction of apprentices to do the work of workers at a lower cost can be considered legitimate, but that it is nevertheless then a matter of seeking a grouping which will allow the child of the people to learn his trade without harming the interests of the experienced worker.

As for strikes which aim to lighten the stupefying work of 15 to 16 hours a day and literally killing the workers in his body and his intelligence, and as for those which have as their object the abolition of regulations prejudicial to dignity, or to remind bosses of their commitments, or to oppose the coalition of the masters against the workers’ right of association, who would dare to challenge its perfect legitimacy and high morality? In this case, the cessation of work does not seem to us only a right, it is a duty.

We believe we have sufficiently demonstrated that the strike can therefore offer unquestionable advantages. But, in our opinion, strikes must be subject to certain conditions, not only of justice and legitimacy, but also of opportunity and organisation. Hence, for the question of opportunity, it is easy to understand that such and such a season, for example, may be more favourable to the success of the strike than another. As for the question of organisation, we believe that the strike must be conducted by resistance societies.

Without this, while sometimes necessary, strikes will constantly run the risk of going against the interests of the workers and will almost always lead to unrest, which are more vulgarly labelled, with malevolent intention, with the title of riots.

And how could it be otherwise? The law forbade the workers to gather around the establishments where work had ceased, and the workers having been unable to agree beforehand to choose delegates who combined the qualities necessary for an approach to be made with the bosses (that is to say, the decorum, the social skills which does not come from instruction but the education, the insight and the fortitude of character which are the result of knowledge of right and justice), the workers, we say, will gather in front of the establishments or the residence of the boss and will form, whatever we do or say, a tumultuous assembly that the bosses will not want to listen to. From there, persecutions, in a word, repression, which with a sensible organisation of resistance societies we could easily avoid. This is what the coal miners of the Charleroi basin understood; after having conducted so many unorganised strikes and, consequently, riots, they have just started seriously onto a new path, that is to say, with the creation of resistance societies, and the basin on Charleroi is already covered with these sorts of societies.

The strike, without a resistance society, still offers many inconveniences and great injustices from the point of view of reciprocity and dignity. Indeed, without organisation can there be the certainty of seeing, in the event of a strike by one category of workers who have contributed to supporting a strike of another category, the certainty of seeing, we say, this mutuality established in a fair and equitable manner?

To go on strike without a resistance society is to want to undertake an unequal struggle; the bosses being few in number, favoured by fortune and protected by power, will always easily agree. It is, in a word, war without tactics or ammunition.

However, let there be no mistake about the significance of our words; despite all we have just said against the strike not organised by a resistance society, we maintain that it is just, legitimate and necessary, when agreements are violated by the employer, and that it may then be attempted notwithstanding the chances of failure. Is it not always grand and beautiful to see the slave protest against barbaric and inhuman actions? And what action can be more barbaric and inhuman than that which consists in constantly cutting the ration of those who already live only on deprivation?

In the presence of low wages in certain industries (in the big factories and in the coal mines, for example), in the presence of the great centralisation of capital which means that the capitalists are there in permanent coalition to reduce the workers to the last extremity, in the presence of the enormous capital which these workers would require to operate by themselves vast factories or collieries, and in the absence of any organisation of credit which could facilitate the creation of production association in these industries, we ask, what other weapon than the strike, even without organisation, has been left to these proletarians against the indefinite reduction of the wage? Is it better for them to starve to death at work, without uttering a cry of indignation and without making any effort to rise up? Well, even if it is proved, as 2 and 2 make 4, that the strike in this case cannot give the workers any improvement, at least it should be accepted as the supreme protest of the disinherited against the vices of our social organisation.

We said at the start of this report that the strike can be useful and necessary; that, consequently, we are supporters of resistance societies in order to give to strikes resources and a wise and energetic direction.

Yes, despite our desire and the certainty that we cherish of one day seeing the social order completely transformed, that is to say the abolition of the exploitation of man by man, replaced by the equal exchange of products and reciprocity between producers, we maintain that it is necessary to establish resistance societies, as long as there are categories of workers whose complete liberation is currently impossible. Example: miners, whose instrument of work or raw material can hardly be acquired; navvies, who would require enormous capital to perform their transformations, etc. We again support this necessity, because while founding production associations, it will be take, with the current organisation of credit, some time for each of the different professions to acquire the instruments of labour that could require the use of many arms, and because, during the time required to create the necessary capital, the exploiters could reduce wages in such a way that the worker, instead of being able to save enough for his down payment, would fall into the situation of a man who does not know how to meet his commitments.

The resistance society is again necessary because it inspires a certain fear in the exploiter. The latter, when he is not quite sure of success, will be careful not to violate conventions, knowing that he would lose his authority in the case of the failure of his arbitrary attempt. This remark is so true that it can be applied to the exploited. In fact, workers who are forced to return to work which they initially refused because the wage had been reduced, feel the authority exerted over them by the disdainful exploiter much more when need forces them to return, crestfallen, into this prison, which should be a place of happiness and satisfaction for the hard-working man since that is where life, wealth and well-being come from.

The resistance society is of indisputable necessity, as long as the exploitation of man by man remains, as long as the idlers take anything from the work of others. It is necessary not only in view of what we have said, but also because it is only through it that the bosses and the workers will know who they are dealing with in the person of those who come to ask for work. The Association gives each of its members a certificate of morality and honesty. The employer and the worker will know that the Association keeps in its midst only workers free from all taint.

One of the causes of the steady decline of the price of labour, we may also mention, is that unemployed workers go from house to house offering their arms, and thus give the exploiter the idea that there is a greater abundance of unemployed men than there really are. Through association, demands for workers should be made directly to the committees which could still send workers only where the need arises.

Finally, apart from its usefulness for strikes, the placement of workers, etc., the society for maintaining prices is also useful through one of its complementary institutions, namely the insurance fund against unemployment, an essential complement to the resistance fund itself. Indeed, if it is necessary that the association raises funds to provide for the existence of its members in the case of strikes, that is to say, unemployment as a result of a dispute with the bosses, it is at least as useful for it to do the same for unforeseen cases of unemployment due to more or less temporary industrial crises.

If strikes, in order to be successful, need to be made and directed by resistance societies, in turn the resistance societies will be serious only when they are all federated, not only in a trade and in a country, but between countries and between trades; hence the need for an international federation.

It will not be out of place to give a word of explanation here. Thus, it will be easy to understand that a resistance society, although having succeeded in a locality in rallying all the workers of the some profession, will have done nothing stable and salutary unless the boss can find neither in neighbouring localities, neither in the country nor outside, the workers he may need to replace those who have stopped work for a legitimate reason. Already, without speaking of the English trade-unions amongst which federation has existed for a long time, a good number of trades have understood the necessity to federate from one town to another in the same country; let us mention, in Belgium, the typographical associations, which are all federate d with the free association of the composers-typographers of Brussels; let us also mention the carpenters, who have just recently embarked on this path. The same motive which has pushed the resistance societies of the same trade to come to an agreement amongst themselves will push them to come to an agreement with the other trades. This was understood by the federation of carpenters of Brussels, Antwerp, Pepinster, etc., which is affiliated as a whole to the International, and this has been understood for a long time by the typographical societies of Switzerland, which are also affiliated as a block.

But make no mistake, the bosses still have a way of getting out of trouble, which the federation can easily stand in the way of; this means consists in having made abroad what they have not succeeded in having made in the country. The federated associations, in this case, could refuse to carry out the work, knowing that this can only be a whim which will be of very short duration on the part of the bosses.  We say whim, because no one can imagine that a product supplied under these conditions can establish competition in work generally. It is enough for us to look at the costs of all kinds of things that would result from such a system.

Apart from what we have just pointed out, there may be something more serious in this way of working abroad. It is when the exploiters choose places where labour is supplied at excessively low prices. Here again, it will be the federation and the federation alone, which can remedy the evil by ensuring that, sooner or later, work is paid everywhere at almost a uniform price. That is to say, it is a question of arriving at a certain proportionality between the rate of wages in any country and the price of subsistence in that same country.

There are still other reasons which must commit associations to the international federation; to demonstrate the need for it, we will simply limit ourselves to quoting only two facts which the workers would do well to become aware of: when the Parisian bronziers had quit work, because their bosses had demanded that they dissolve their association, the workers only overcome this arrogance with the help of their brothers the English; 20,000 francs left London and forced the French bosses to raise the white flag.

In their turn, the workers of Geneva emerged triumphant from the struggle undertaken against the employers because the workers of France, England, Germany and Italy had come to their aid. As the Association was still in its infancy, things could not be done according to the strict rules of organised solidarity; so the different sections of the International Workers’ Association organised a vast subscription, and the Paris office alone procured in a fortnight alone a sum of 10,000 francs, and a single workers’ society, that of the typographers, made up 2,000 francs of this amount. This money undoubtedly contributed to the success of the Geneva workers.

These two facts, we believe, will suffice to demonstrate the necessity of international federation.

As for the last proposal, concerning arbitration boards, we have two options in mind. First of all and naturally the one which should consist of members half belonging to the bourgeoisie or exploiting class, half to the workers or the exploited. Since these two classes of men are interested in the dispute, it is necessary for each of them to find its defender or its representative. But let us see up to what point this method presents, for one of the two parties, guarantees of impartiality, without which any judgement could not be rendered according to equity. An arbitration board constituted in this way seems to us to be the counterpart of what are now called industrial tribunals, and we know how judgements are made there. These councils are usually chaired by a boss, who exercises a certain influence over the session, by the eloquence as a speaker and by the position he occupies in society, that is to say by his personal independence.

Note that the influence we have just attributed to the chair, apart from that which the chair gives him, exists for all the other members of his class; no one, we are sure, will deny the prestige exercised over a large part of our brothers, always at the mercy of those who possess the instruments of work and capital, by the qualities which we have attributed to the chair.

One of the most powerful methods of these gentlemen first of all consists, when they meet with workers, in inviting them to a kind of banquet, where the consumption of wine is allowed; the worker being unable with his meagre wage to afford this luxury, the bill will be paid by the capitalist, as you would well think. What we are pointing out here is nothing compared to what remains to be said about the dependence of the workers on the bosses; these being closely linked, for various reasons which it would be superfluous to enumerate, the worker of character could take into account his desire for independence when the need, that is to say lack of work, obliges him to go and solicit from one of them a job of some kind. What would be no less dangerous would be to entrust the judgement to workshop foremen who, apart from honourable exceptions, are too often, as they say vulgarly, tools of the bosses [trotteurs de manches], seeking to lower the wages of the workers in order to see their salaries increased.

In our opinion, there remains only one type of creation of an arbitration board that we make it our duty to submit to you.

The Federation, the Brussels’ section of the International Workers’ Association, by establishing within its midst a federal council (which cannot fail to be established in each of the sections of said association) has been of undeniable usefulness to us in the idea that we are going to put forward regarding organisation of the council which is the subject of our study. Indeed, by founding a federal council by means of three delegates from each of the trade unions [corporations], as is practised in the Federation, it will be easy, in this gathering of men, to find the elements necessary to constitute the arbitration council whose usefulness and necessity we recognise.

If the federal council is and must be in a position to judge the necessity and opportunity for strikes which arise in connection with a pay cut, it can only be the same for a multitude of disputes which may arise either between bosses and workers, or between workers only.

We could dwell here especially on the duties of workers towards apprentices, but that would lead us into too lengthy explanations. Finally, in all cases where the federal council has to step aside to make way for the arbitration council, the members of the federal council could appoint to serve on the arbitration council one member from each of the delegations that make up its council; and when the members forming the arbitration council do not agree on a decision to be taken or on the legitimacy of an act to be taken, they would have the supreme resource of adding three, five or seven of these workers who are called independent, that is to say citizens who are nether bosses nor wage-workers, but workers who are self-employed. The latter, because of their relative independence vis-à-vis the other two, would be considered as third-party arbitrators and would definitely decide the question that could have divided the arbitration board.

Lastly, we shall conclude this subject by saying that if we are such great supporters of societies for maintaining prices, as we say in Belgium, resistance societies, as they say in France, trade unions, as they say in England, it is not only with regard to the necessities of the present, but also with regard to the social order of the future. Let us explain. We do not consider these societies merely a necessary palliative (note that we do not say cure); no, our sights are much higher. From the depths of the chaos of the conflict and misery in which we are agitating, we raise our eyes towards a more harmonic and happier society. Therefore, we see in these resistance societies the embryos of these great workers companies which will one day replace the companies of capitalists having under their orders legions of employees, at least in all industries where collective force is involved and where there is no middle ground between wage-labour and association. Already in the major strikes that have broken out in recent years a new tendency is quite clearly beginning to emerge: the strike must lead to the production society. That has already been said during the strike of the association of joiners and carpenters in Ghent, as during the strike of tailors in Paris. And that will happen, because it is in the logic of ideas and the force of events. It is inevitable that the workers will come to grasp this little line of reasoning: “But while we are on strike because the bosses refuse to accede to our demands, consumers are still clamouring for the products of our industry; since our inactivity does not come from lack of demand but only from the obstinacy of our bosses, why should we not work directly for the public; the money that our fund spends to maintain inactive workers because of the strike could be spent on the purchase of raw materials and tools.”

Once this idea is understood, it will soon be realised. Only, it is important to note (and this is an important point) that these production associations that will result from the transformation of the societies for maintaining prices, will not be these petty associations like most of those existing currently; these latter, excellent as examples and as education which we wish well, do not seem to us to have any great social future, no role to play in the renewal of society because, composed of only a few individuals, can only succeed, as Dr. Buchner says, in creating, alongside of the bourgeoisie or third-estate, a fourth-estate having beneath it a fifth more miserable than ever. On the contrary, the production associations derived from the unions encompass entire trades, invade large industry and thereby form the NEW CORPORATION;[2] a corporation that bourgeois economists will gladly confuse (we know) with the old guilds, although the latter was organised hierarchically, based on monopoly and privilege, and limited to a certain number of members (just like our current small production associations), while the former will be organised on the basis of equality, founded on mutuality and justice, and open to all.

Here appears to us the real and positive future of the trade unions, because the strike, we admit, is only useful as an interim measure; perpetual strikes would be the perpetuation of wage-labour, and we want the abolition of wage-labour; perpetual strikes would be the fight without truce nor end between capital and labour, and we want, not precisely what has been called today the association of labour and capital (a hybrid combination, under which the capitalist, provider of finance, has an agreement with the workers to eliminate the boss, while still collecting interest and dividends from labour), rather we want the absorption of work by labour; since capital is accumulated labour, which must have only a simple exchange value equal to the value of the labour it has cost, it cannot be taken into account in the division of the products; product of labour, capital can only be the property of the worker, he cannot be associated with it.

So, this transformation of resistance societies taking place not just in one country but in all, or at least those which are at the head of civilisation; in a word, all these associations of all lands, federated, will intervene initially for the struggle, benefiting from this federation to apply the reciprocal exchange of products at cost price, and international mutual exchange will replace the protectionism and free trade of the bourgeois economists. And this universal organisation of labour and exchange, of production and circulation, coinciding with an inevitable and necessary transformation in the organisation of land ownership at the same time as with an intellectual transformation, having for a starting point integral education given to all, social regeneration will be carried out in both the material and mental domain. And humanity, henceforth based on science and labour instead of being based on ignorance and the domination of capital as today, marching from progress to progress in all branches of the arts, sciences and industry will peacefully fulfil its destiny.

End Notes

[1] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VIII: Of the Wages of Labour. (Translator)

[2] The term “corporative” (corporatif) was originally the French word for craft guild and was popular in the nineteenth century French labour movement to refer to the associations which would replace wage-labour. For more discussion, see William H. Sewell, Work and Revolution in France: The language of labor from the old regime to 1848 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980). It should be not confused with capitalist corporations or corporatism but rather considered as a self-managed industrial federation. (Translator)