E. Belfort Bax

The Italian Prisoners’ Fund

(13 August 1898)

Italian Prisoners’ Fund, Justice, 13th August 1898, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We have often had occasion, in the columns of Justice, to criticise the policy and attitude of the older trade unions toward questions lying outside the purview of immediate trade disputes. The old trade unionists likes to maintain his British character of being a practical business man. But if they know anything of the condition of the trade union movement in Italy today, we think, for real meanness, the conduct of wealthier English unions toward their persecuted Italian brethren in the present crisis certainly is calculated to give the average honest man “pause.” The Italian trade unions, be it remembered, represent a small part of the total working population of Italy, and not one-hundredth part of the wealth of the British trade unions. Yet, notwithstanding this, at time of the engineers’ strike they were able, with great efforts, to send to the Amalgamated Society, of the strongest financially of the British bodies, large sum of £400 to help to make the strike a success. The Italian unions (which assume various names) are now struggling bitterly for very life. In some cases they have been dissolved, in others the leaders have been arrested, and in most the funds and books have been sequestrated by the police. The persecution of all workmen’s societies now going on over Italy – even mere co-operative and benevolent societies not being exempt from police interference and suppression – is altogether unparalleled in the history of English industrial life, within the past two generations at feast.

Now, in face of the frightful sufferings of the Italian proletariat, in face of the determination of the Italian government to strangle all attempts at workmen’s combination of whatever kind throughout the peninsular, what is it that our prosperous and “practical” trade unions do to show their sense of proletarian solidarity, or even their common gratitude? The trade unionists of Italy sent (for them) a large sum of money to a well-to-do English trade union to help it in an ordinary trade dispute. But the engineers’ strike was a bagatelle, affecting directly one trade, compared to the present crisis in Italy, which affects all. What, we ask again, have English unions contributed to save the Italian workmen’s organisations from ruin? The society in question (engineers) has, we believe, forwarded the magnificent donation of £20 to Italy, but the rest, so far as we are aware, have not contributed a single penny, even if (which is doubtful) they have taken matter at all into consideration. No, the matter-of-fact English workman, who believes the present system of society will “last his time,” and hence does not trouble about such things as the Social Revolution, and the trade union leader, whose aspirations tend in the direction of Parliamentary honours sinecures from the Liberal Party, are glad enough accept financial help from the “foreigner,” whom they ignore or abuse at other times, but when it comes to showing a commonly-decent interest for proletarian movements abroad, still more when it means a slight pecuniary sacrifice for their Continental brethren, even when these have quite recently made sacrifices for them, where are they? In numberless cases the families of imprisoned Italian workmen are in the utmost state of destitution. Thousands of pounds would be insufficient adequately to cope the present condition of things, yet the British trade unions sit with folded hands and do nothing.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 23.6.2004