Worker Solidarity

Peter Kropotkin

“Solidarité Ouvrière”, Les Temps Nouveaux, 11 October 1913

An event of some importance for the labour movement has just take place in England. We have known for some time that there has been a major strike in Ireland, in Dublin, and we have read in the newspapers about the outrage of the police beating workers in the streets.

Well, Irish workers have shown strong solidarity with their comrades in Dublin during this strike. The Irish Transport Union has just organised the shipment of food for the strikers. And three halls and offices of the Transport Union in Dublin – Liberty Hall, which is its centre, and two branches (High Street and Croydon Park) – have just been assigned to the food distribution service. Croydon Park House, where there are bread-making facilities, will be their central store and from Thursday, the 25th, supplies for the strikers began to be deposited there.

In addition, in England, the Congress of English Trade Unions, which took place in Manchester, allocated the sum of 125,000 francs to send provisions to their brothers in Dublin. Better than that. The English trade unionists had the good sense not to confine themselves to sending a sum of money. They came up with a new idea: they approached the co-operative of co-operatives (the Wholesale Co-operative) in Manchester, asking it to supply the provisions, and they themselves chartered a ship, The Hare, which they loaded themselves and which will carry the provisions to Dublin. It will already be there the day after tomorrow, the 27th, and the Dublin strikers will themselves unload it and distribute the food through their organisation which I have just mentioned.

Notice how quickly everything was done. Tuesday evening, the 23rd, the Congress voted for 125,000 francs for relief; the next morning, four envoys from the Congress arrived in Manchester and reached an agreement with the co-operative. On the same day a vessel was hired which was in the harbour and which the Manchester dockers, who were on strike, offered to unload first and then quickly load it with the provisions. Thursday morning began the unloading of The Hare; the dockers in Manchester are working hard, eagerly, to send the supplies to Dublin as quickly as possible. The same is done at the Co-operative, where 60,000 packages are prepared, each containing a packet of butter, tea, a pot of jam (with bread, this replaces the butter) and a bag of sugar – enough for eight days for a family of five. In addition, a shipment of biscuits is sent for the kids.

Here, then, is a new element which is looming in the struggles of Labour against Capital; it is a new mode of action which will give workers a new awareness of their strengths.

– Only a workers’ Co-operative could undertake to make 60,000 packages in such a short time, said a member of the Congress, and only workers’ unions could organise the loading of the ship so well – without government, bourgeois or socialist.

This reminds me of a conversation I had about twenty-five years ago at the Manchester Co-operative. We had lunch with five or six workers, administrators of this Co-operative, seated at a very simple table, covered with an oilcloth. At the time there was much talk of the socialist revival in England and I asked my hosts:

– Suppose that the Commune of Manchester is proclaimed some time in the future. Suppose it has the good sense to declare that the Commune is responsible for providing the food that will be wanted by each family. Not luxury, that is understandable, but what we consider necessary today. Suppose the Commune comes to you for distribution. How long would it take the Co-operative to organise door-to-door distribution?

– Someone will pay for the food?

– Yes, the Commune, by making the purchases through you.

– Then no problem.

And they began to discuss very seriously amongst themselves, as if it were a matter of the next day, as might occur.

– In ten days, let’s say twelve, everything would be back in perfect order, they replied after eight or ten minutes. Our apparatus, with the good will of the workers, would suffice. Each family would receive at home what they needed. Provided, of course, that there is no stoppage in payments for purchases. That would be the main difficulty.

– Mutual credit from co-operative banks would help, wouldn’t it? So it’s not money that bankers lend to each other; it’s credit.

– Certainly.

The seriousness with which these co-operators greeted my question struck me very much and I often reflected upon it. It was if they themselves had already asked such questions. The ideas of Robert Owen seemed to live amongst them.

In any case, the essential thing in this new order of ideas amongst the English workers is the constructive, organising spirit that we see in this new way of coming to the aid of the strikers; it is above all the collaboration, not only of the workers’ meagre purses, but also the dockers contributing by their work and by the spontaneous organisation of a company that arises from the needs of the moment.

It is only in this way – by building while we destroy – that the workers will achieve their emancipation. We must see that the bourgeois is worse than harmful: that it is unnecessary.

P. Kropotkin

London, 25 September