The International Workingmen’s Association. Wilhelm Eichhoff 1869

6. The Geneva Congress, 3rd to 8th September 1866 [410]

Sixty delegates were present, of whom 45 were members of 25 sections of the International Working Men’s Association and 15 were members of 11 affiliated societies.

At the beginning of the debates, there ensued a heated discussion about the right of participating in the Congress. Many, individual members of the Association had come from France who, though they could not present credentials from any section, wished to be admitted as delegates of the Paris sections and to participate in the proceedings of the Congress. They referred to the French legislation which forbade them to have a regular organisation. Some members supported their demand. In their opinion, the organisation of the Congress had been neither complete nor final, and they should not therefore be too strict or scrupulous and should rather admit to the proceedings any individual member who subscribed to the principles of the Association. The British delegates maintained, however, that they had come as representatives of branches and societies each of which had many thousands of members and that on these grounds they demanded the representative system to be applied at the Congress; admission of individuals who represented no organised body would impair the rule of equality in voting and prejudice the rights of the British delegates. The Congress decided that the right of participating in the debates and in the voting should be granted exclusively to delegates who were able to present regular credentials.

After the credentials had been checked, the Congress proceeded to elect the Presidium and the Bureau, and a member of the London General Council, watchmaker Jung, was elected to the chair. He conducted the ensuing debates most skilfully. The hot-blooded Frenchmen, who would rather hear themselves speak, than others, made It rather difficult to run the proceedings, but the president’s tact, calm and dignity, supported by the firm and sensible attitude of the English and German workers, prevailed over every threatening disturbance.

It would take us too far to present even a brief summary of the debates here.

Detailed reports on the proceedings of all congresses of the Association are contained in the journal Der Vorbote. Politische und sociale Zeitschrift, which has been published since 1866 as the central organ of the German-speaking section of the International Working Men ‘s Association under the editorship of Joh. Phil. Becker by the publishing house of the Association at Pré-l'Évêque 33 in Geneva. [Note by Eichhoff.]

The discussion chiefly concerned the “Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council”, whose provisions were in substance endorsed by the Congress. The most important points were the following:

§ 1 of these Instructions concerns the organisation of the International Association. The Rules, set forth above, which had, stood the test of two years’ practice, were recommended for final adoption, London was proposed as the seat of the General Council for the next year, and the proposal to elect the General Council and a General Secretary, with a weekly, salary of £2 as the only paid officer of the Association was laid before the Congress.

The Congress sanctioned the Provisional Rules, decided that London should remain the seat of the General Council, confirmed the provisional General Council in London in its functions for the administrative year of 1866 to 1867, and fixed the opening of the next congress ill Lausanne on the first Monday of September 1867.

§ 2 of the Instructions concerns the international aid which the Association could give the workmen of all countries in their struggle against capital. This question, it points out, embraces the whole activity of the Association, which aims at combining and generalising the till now disconnected efforts for emancipation by, the working classes in different countries. In one case the Association could already claim credit for having successfully counteracted the intrigues of capitalists always ready to misuse the foreign workman as a tool against the native workman in the event of strikes. It is one of the great purposes of the Association to make the workmen of different countries not only feel but act as brethren and comrades ill the army of emancipation. As one more international combination of efforts it was proposed to carry out a “statistical inquiry into the situation of the working classes of all countries to be instituted by the working classes themselves”. To make it successful, the most relevant questions were listed in the scheme that is given below. By initiating so great a work, the workmen will prove their ability to take their own fate into their own hands. It was therefore proposed that all branches of the Association should immediately commence the work, and that the Congress should invite all workmen of Europe and the United States of America to collaborate in gathering the elements of the statistics of the working class; that all reports and evidence should be forwarded to the General Council which should elaborate them into a general report, adding the evidence as an appendix, and that this report together with its appendix should be published after having received the sanction of the Congress.

The proposed general scheme of inquiry contains the following items, which may of course be modified to stilt local conditions:

1. Industry, name of.

2. Age and sex of the employed.

3. Number of the employed.

4. Salaries and wages: (a) apprentices; (b) wages by the day or piece work; (c) scale paid by middlemen. Weekly, yearly average.

5. (a) Hours of work in factories. (b) The hours of work with small employers and in homework, if the business be carried on in those different modes. (c) Nightwork and daywork.

6. Mealtimes and treatment.

7. Sort of workshop and work: overcrowding, defective ventilation, want of sunlight, use of gaslight, cleanliness, etc.

8. Nature of occupation.

9. Effect of employment upon the physical condition.

10. Moral condition. Education.

11. State of trade: whether season trade, or more or less uniformly distributed over the year, whether commodities are subject to great price fluctuations, whether exposed to foreign competition, whether destined for home consumption or for export, etc.[411]

These proposals of the General Council were adopted by the Congress unanimously, and the workers’ statistical inquiry into and assessment of their own condition have been proceeding steadily, since.

§ 3 of the Instructions concerns the limitation of the working day. This, it says, is a preliminary condition, without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation are bound to founder. It is needed to restore the health and physical energies of the working class, that is, the great body of every nation, as well as to secure them the possibility of intellectual development, sociable intercourse, social and political action. For this reason the Congress should declare itself in favour of a legal limitation of the working day to eight hours. This limitation being generally claimed by the workmen of the United States,[412] the vote of the Congress would raise it to the common platform of the working classes all over the world. Nightwork is to be permitted in but exceptional cases, ill trades and branches specified by law, with the tendency being to gradually suppress all nightwork. This proposal, however, referred only to adult persons 18 years of age and older, male or female, though the latter should be rigorously excluded from all nightwork whatever, and all sort of work hurtful to the delicacy of the sex, or exposing their bodies to poisonous and otherwise deleterious effects.

The Congress acceded to these proposals with a majority of 50 to 10 votes. The minority, consisted of those French delegates who were content to have a legal limitation of the working day to 10 hours.

§ 4 of the Instructions attacks the social evil of “juvenile and children’s labour (both sexes) “ at its very root.

The tendency, of modern industry to make children and juvenile persons of both sexes cooperate in the great work of social production Is admitted to be a progressive, sound and legitimate tendency, although under capital it has been distorted into all abomination. In a rational state of society, every child of the age of 9 years should begin to become a productive labourer so that no able-bodied adult person should have to be exempted from the general law of nature, which says: work in order to be able to cat, and work not only with the brain but with the hands too.

For the present, however, the Congress is concerned only, with the working population. Here it distinguishes three classes of children and juvenile persons of both sexes, each of which is to be treated differently; the first class to range from 9 to 12, the second from 13 to 15, and the third front 16 to 17 years of age. It was proposed that the employment of the first class in any workshop or housework should be legally, restricted to two, that of the second class to four, and that of the third to six working hours, and that for the third class there should be legally provided a break of at least one hour for meals or relaxation.

It was said to be desirable to begin elementary school instruction before the age of 9 years, but the Congress dealt here only with the indispensable antidotes against the tendencies of a social system which degrades the working man into a mere instrument for the accumulation of capital, and compels parents by the necessity of obtaining a livelihood to sell their own children. The right of children and juvenile persons must be vindicated. They are unable to act for themselves. It is therefore the duty of society to care for their well-being.

If the bourgeoisie and aristocracy neglected their duties toward their offspring, it was their own fault. Sharing the privileges of these classes, the child was also condemned to suffer from their prejudices.

The case of the working class stood quite different. The working man was no free agent. In regrettably too many cases, he was even too ignorant to understand the true interests of his child, or the normal conditions of human development. The more enlightened part of the working class, however, fully understood that the future of its class, and therefore of mankind, altogether depend upon the formation of the rising working generation. The workers knew perfectly well that above all else the children and the juvenile workers were to be saved front the crushing effects of the present system of labour. This could be done only by converting social reason into social force, and, under given circumstances, there existed no other method of doing so, than through general laws enforced by the power of the state. If the working class supported the government in enforcing such laws, it would not thereby in the least fortify governmental power. On the contrary, it would transform that power, now used against it, into its own agency. By a general act it would achieve what it would vainly have attempted by a multitude of isolated individual efforts.

Proceeding from this standpoint, the Congress declared that no parent and no employer should be allowed to use juvenile labour, except when combined with education.

Three things were to be understood by education:

First, mental education.

Second, bodily education, such as is given in schools of gymnastics, and by military exercise.

Third, technological training, which imparts the general principles of all processes of production, and simultaneously initiates the child and young person in the practical use and handling of the elementary instruments of all trades.

A gradual and progressive course of mental, gymnastic, and technological training should correspond to the classification of the juvenile labourers. The costs of the technological schools should be partly met by, the sale of their products.

The combination of paid productive labour, mental education, bodily exercise and polytechnic training, would raise the working class far above the level of the higher and middle class.

It was self-understood that the employment of all persons up to 17 years inclusively in nightwork and all health injuring trades should be strictly prohibited by law.

The Congress agreed unanimously with these explanations, and added a resolution to the effect that the technical training of juvenile persons should be of a practical as well as of a theoretical nature so that not factory overseers and foremen but working men should be trained at the projected technological schools.