The International Workingmen’s Association. Wilhelm Eichhoff 1869

1. Foundation of the Association

The immediate motive for the foundation of the International Working Men’s Association was the latest Polish insurrection. The London workers sent a deputation to Lord Palmerston with an appeal in which they called on him to intervene on behalf of Poland. At the same time, they issued an address to the workmen of Paris, calling on them to take joint action. The Parisians responded by sending delegates to London. To welcome them, a public meeting gathered at St. Martin’s Hall, Long Acre, on September 28, 1864, at which Britons, Germans, Frenchmen, Poles and Italians were represented in large numbers.

This meeting gave birth to the International Working Men’s Association. Apart from the political purpose for which the meeting was called, it also raised the subject of general social conditions. It revealed that workmen of all nations had the same grievances, that they were subjected to the same basic evils in all countries. It showed that the interests of all of them coincided. It elected a provisional Central Council, later renamed the General Council which made its seat in London and was composed of various nationalities. The Council was provisionally entrusted with the central administration of the future Association, the publication of the Inaugural Address (a kind of programme), and the drafting of the Provisional Rules.

Unanimity and enthusiasm reigned at the meeting. Each nation was represented by men who did it honour. As a result, the. English workers, who had fought the ruling classes independently of, and uninfluenced by, the political and social movements of the rest of Europe since 1824, when the legislature was compelled to grant them the right of association, [395] now came out of their national isolation for the first time and agreed with the workmen of all nations on the necessity for joint action. Hence the enthusiasm: the gathering was aware that it was ringing in a new era in the workers’ movement.