Works of Karl Marx 1880
A Workers' Inquiry
First published:in La Revue socialiste, April 20, 1880;
Transcribed: by Curtis Price, 1997.
Not a single government, whether monarchy or bourgeois
republic, has yet ventured to undertake a serious inquiry into the position
of the French working class. But what a number of investigations have been
undertaken into crises — agricultural, financial, industrial, commercial,
The blackguardly features of capitalist exploitation which were
exposed by the official investigation organized by the English government
and the legislation which was necessitated there as a result of these revelations
(legal limitation of the working day to 10 hours, the law concerning female
and child labor, etc.), have forced the French bourgeoisie to tremble even
more before the dangers which an impartial and systematic investigation
might represent. In the hope that maybe we shall induce a republican government
to follow the example of the monarchical government of England by likewise
organizing a far reaching investigation into facts and crimes of capitalist
exploitation, we shall attempt to initiate an inquiry of this kind with
those poor resources which are at our disposal. We hope to meet in this
work with the support of all workers in town and country who understand
that they alone can describe with full knowledge the misfortunes form which
they suffer and that only they, and not saviors sent by providence, can
energetically apply the healing remedies for the social ills which they
are prey. We also rely upon socialists of all schools who, being wishful
for social reform, must wish for an exact and positive knowledge
of the conditions in which the working class — the class to whom the future
belongs -works and moves.
These statements of labor's grievances are the first act which
socialist democracy must perform in order to prepare the way for social
The following hundred questions are the most important. In replies
the number of the corresponding question should be given. It is not essential
to reply to every question, but our recommendation is that replies should
be as detailed and comprehensive as possible. The name of the working man
or woman who is replying will not be published without special permission
but the name and address should be given so that if necessary we can send
Replies should be sent to the Secretary of the Revue Socialiste,
M.Lecluse, 28, rue royale, saint cloud, nr. Paris.
The replies will be classified and will serve as material for
special studies, which will be published in the Revue and will later
be reprinted as a separate volume.
- What is your trade?
- Does the shop in which you work belong to a capitalist or to a limited
company/ State the names of the capitalist owners or directors of the company.
- State the number of persons employed.
- State their age and sex.
- What is the youngest age at which children are taken off (boys or girls)?
- State the number of overseers and other employees who are not rank and
file hired workers.
- Are their apprentices? How many?
- Apart from the usual and regularly employed workers, are there others who
come in at definite seasons?
- Does your employer' undertaking work exclusively or chiefly for local orders,
or for the home market generally, or for export abroad?
- Is the shop in a village, or in a town? State the locality.
- If your shop is in the country, is there sufficient work in the factory
for your existence or are you obliged to combine it with agricultural labor/
- Do you work with your hands or with the help of machinery?
- State details as to the division of labor in your factory.
- Is stream used as motive power?
- State the number of rooms in which the various branches of production are
carried on. Describe the specialty in which you are engaged. Describe not
only the technical side, but the muscular and nervous strain required,
and its general effect on the health of the workers.
- Describe the hygienic conditions in the workshops; the size of the rooms,
space allotted to every worker, ventilation, temperature, plastering, lavatories,
general cleanliness, noise of machinery, metallic dust, dampness, etc.
- Is there any municipal or government supervision of hygienic conditions
in the workshops?
- Are there in your industry particular effluvia which are harmful for the
health and produce specific diseases among the workers?
- Is the shop overcrowded with machinery?
- Are safety measures to prevent accidents applied to the engine, transmission
- Mention the accidents which have taken place in your personal knowledge.
- If you work in a mine, state the safety measures adopted by your employer
to ensure ventilation and prevent explosions and other accidents.
- If you work in a chemical factory, at an iron works, at a factory producing
metal goods, or in any other industry involving specific dangers to health,
describe the safety measures adopted by your employer.
- What is your workshop lit up by (gas, oil, etc.)?
- Are there sufficient safety appliances against fire?
- Is the employer legally bound to compensate the worker or his family in
case of accident?
- If not, has he ever compensated those who suffered accidents while working
for his enrichment?
- Is first-aid organized in your workshop?
- If you work at home, describe the conditions of your work room. Do you
use only working tools or small machines? Do you have recourse to the help
of your children or other persons (adult or children, male or female)?
Do you work for private clients, or for an employer? Do you deal with him
direct or trough an agent?
- State the number of hours you work daily, and the number of working days
during the week.
- State the number of holidays in the course of a year.
- What breaks are there during the working day?
- Do you take meals at definite intervals, or irregularly? Do you eat in
the workshop or outside?
- Does work go on during meal times?
- If steam is used, when is it started and when stopped?
- Does work go on at night?
- State the number of hours of work of children and young people under 16.
- Are there shifts if children and young people replacing each other alternately
during working hours?
- Has the government or municipality applied the laws regulating child labor?
Do the employers submit to these laws?
- Do schools exist for children and young people employed in your trade?
If they exist, in what hours do the lessons take place? Who manages the
schools? What is taught in them?
- If work takes place both night and day, what is the order of the shifts?
- What is the usual lengthening of the working day in times of good trade?
- Are the machines cleaned by workers specially hired for that purpose, or
do the workers employed on these machines clean them free, during their
- What rules and fines exist for latecomers? When does the working day begin,
when it is resumed after the dinner hour break?
- How much time do you lose in coming to the workshop and returning home?
- What agreements have you with your employer? Are you engaged by the day,
week, month, etc.?
- What conditions are laid down regarding dismissals or leaving employment?
- In the event of a breach of agreement, what penalty can be inflicted on
the employer, if he is the cause of the breach?
- What penalty can be inflicted on the worker if he is the cause of the breach?
- If there are apprentices, what are their conditions of contract?
- Is your work permanent or casual?
- Does work in your trade take place only at particular seasons, or is the
work usually distributed more or less equally throughout the year? If you
work only at definite seasons, how do you live in the intervals?
- Are you paid time or piece rate?
- If you are paid time rate, is it by the hour or by the day?
- Do you receive additions to your wages for overtime? How much?
- If you receive piece rates, how are they fixed? Of you are employed in
industries in which the work done is measured by quantity or weight, as
in the mines, don't your employers or their clerks resort to trickery,
in order to swindle you out of part of your wages/
- If you are paid piece rate, isn't the quality of the goods used as a pretext
for wrongful deductions form your wages?
- Whatever wages you get, whether piece or time rate, when is it paid to
you; in other words, how long is the credit you give your employer before
receiving payment for the work you have already carried out? Are you paid
a week later, month, etc.?
- Have you noticed that delay in the payment of your wages forces you often
to resort to the pawnshops, paying rates of high interest there, and depriving
yourself of things you need: or incurring debts with the shopkeepers, and
becoming their victim because you are their debtor? Do you know of cases
where workers have lost their wages owing to the ruin or bankruptcy of
- Are wages paid direct by the employer, or by his agents ((contractors,
- If wages are paid by contractors or other intermediaries, what are the
conditions of your contract?
- What is the amount of your money wages by the day week?
- What are the wages of the women and children employed together with you
in the same shop?
- What was the highest daily wage last month in your shop?
- What was the highest piece wage last month?
- What were your own wages during the same time, and if you have a family,
what were the wages of your wife and children?
- Are wages paid entirely in money, or in some other form?
- If you rent a lodging from your employer, on what conditions ? Does he
not deduct the rent from your wages?
- What are the prices of necessary commodities, for example:
(a) Rent of your lodging, conditions of lease, number of
rooms, persons living in them, repair, insurance, buying and repairing
furniture, heating, lighting, water, etc.
(b) Food — bread, meat, vegetables, potatoes, etc, dairy
produce, eggs, fish, butter, vegetable, oil, lard, sugar, salt, groceries,
coffee, chicory, beer, wine, etc., tobacco.
(c) Clothing for parents and children, laundry, keeping
clean, bath, soap, etc.
(d) Various expenses, such as correspondence, loans, payments
to pawnbroker, children's schooling and teaching a trade, newspapers, books,
etc., contributions to friendly societies, strikes, unions, resistance
(e) Expenses, if any necessitated by your duties.
- Try and draw up a weekly and yearly budget of your income and expenditure
for self and family.
- Have you noticed, in your personal experience, a bigger rise in the price
of immediate necessities, e.g., rent, food, etc., than in wages?
- State the changes in wages which you know of.
- Describe wage increases during so-called prosperity periods.
- Describe any interruptions in employment caused by changes in fashions
and partial and general crises. Describe your own involuntary rest periods.
- Compare the price of the commodities you manufacture or the services you
render with the price of your labor.
- Quote any cases known to you of workers being driven out as a result of
introduction of machinery or other improvements.
- In connection with the development of machinery and the growth of the productiveness
of labor, has its intensity and duration increased or decreased?
- Do you know of any cases of increases in wages as a result of improvements
- Have you ever known any rank and file workers who could retire from employment
at the age of 50 and live on the money earned by them as wage workers.
- How many years can a worker of average health be employed in your trade?
- Do any resistance associations exist in your trade and how are they led?
Send us their rules and regulations.
- How many strikes have taken place in your trade that you are aware of?
- How long did these strikes last?
- Were they general or partial strikes?
- Were they for the object of increasing wages, or were they organized to
resist a reduction of wages, or connected with the length of the working
day, or prompted by other motives?
- What were their results?
- Tell us of the activity of the courts of arbitration.
- Were strikes in your trade ever supported by strikes of workers belonging
to other trades?
- Describe the rules and fines laid down by your employer for the management
of his hired workers.
- Have there ever existed associations among the employers with the object
of imposing a reduction of wages, a longer working day, of hindering strikes
and generally imposing their own wishes?
- Do you know of cases when the government made unfair use of the armed forces,
to place them at the disposal of the employers against their wage workers?
- Are you aware of any cases when the government intervened to protect the
workers from the extortions of the employers and their illegal associations?
- Does the government strive to secure the observance of the existing factory
laws against the interests of the employers? Do its inspectors do their
- Are there in your workshop or trade any friendly societies to provide for
accidents, sickness, death, temporary incapacity, old age, etc.? Send us
their rules and regulations.
- Is membership of these societies voluntary or compulsory? Are their funds
exclusively controlled by the workers?
- If the contributions are compulsory, and are under the employers' control,
are they deducted from wages? Do the employers pay interest for this deduction?
Do they return the amounts deducted to the worker when he leaves employment
or is dismissed? Do you know of any cases when the workers have benefitted
from the so-called pensions schemes, which are controlled by the employers,
but the initial capital of which is deducted beforehand from the workers'
- Are there cooperative guilds in your trade? How are they controlled? Do
they hire workers for wages in the same ways as the capitalists? Send us
their rules and regulations.
- Are there any workshops in your trade in which payment is made to the workers
partly in the form of wages and partly in the form of so-called profit
sharing? Compare the sums received by these workers and the sums received
by other workers who don't take place in so-called profit sharing. State
the obligations of the workers living under this system. may they go on
strike, etc. or are they only permitted to be devoted servants of their
- What are the general physical, intellectual and moral conditions of life
of the working men and women employed in your trade?
- General remarks.