J. Walcher

In Defence of the Eight-Hour Day

(December 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 114, 16 December 1922, pp. 955–956.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The international capitalist offensive against the eight hour day has been carried on with special energy in Germany during the last few months. In this struggle no means is too small to be despised by the capitalists. At one time they throw a sop to the workers and another time they use the whip; anything to subdue them. But the greater the determination with which the German workers hold fast to the eight-hour day, the more energetically they ward off all attacks, the greater the tendency of the capitalists to use the whip.

The situation of the German proletariat daily becomes worse. The wages are miserable. But it is just these miserable wages which render it possible for the German capitalists to self at cut-throat competitive prices all over the world, and which thus give foreign capitalists a plausible excuse for introducing wage reductions and other retrogressive measures for their workers.

In Germany, the recognition that things cannot and must not go on as they are, has led to the mighty Shop Stewards Movement.

The German capitalists immediately recognized the dangers stored for them in the Shop Stewards Movement. They declared war against it, and threatened with dismissal every participant in the congress of German Shop Stewards. The capitalist exploiters were in such a hurry to carry out their threats, that even during the congress they conveyed notice of dismissal by telephone to a number of delegates from various provincial places.

In many cases the determined attitude and solidarity of the workers was successful in forcing the employers to withdraw the dismissals. But this was not the case with the Baden Aniline and Soda Factory in Ludwigshafen on the Rhine. The 22,000 workers of this factory had sent 3 delegates to the Shop Stewards Congress. These were dismissed without notice. All the workers immediately adopted passive resistance. The Shop Stewards negotiated with the directors with regard to withdrawal of the dismissals. The reply was the closing down of the works, the locking out of all the workers.

This impudent provocation roused the ire of the workers, to the boiling point The next day a conference of the confidential representatives of the workers declared the general strike for the whole of Ludwigshafen. And not the workers of Ludwigshafen alone, but the whole proletariat of the province declared its solidarity with the locked-out workers. The general strike spread over the whole province.

The local representatives of the trade unions at first adopted an uncertain attitude. But the committees of the organisations involved, especially the Factory Workers’ Union, whose attitude is decisive, declared the strike to be “wild”, and refused to pay out strike benefit. This was not all; these same trade union leaders, whose duty it is to represent the interests of labor against capital, ranged themselves on the side of the employers and of the occupation authorities, and organized a comprehensive campaign against the strike.

The brute force of the capitalists, the arbitrariness of the police, and the lies of the trade union bureaucracy and social democracy – this now quite customary trinity – combined to undermine the fighting will of the workers.

But this time, these methods, so often successfully employed, failed in their effect The misery of the proletarians, exploited as they are by the most brutal group of capitalists, has become so extreme, that instead of being a subjugating factor it has become a revolutionary factor. Official statistics show 95 per cent of the children to be tuberculous. At a great women’s demonstration held on the December 5., there were terrible and affecting scenes. Women tore off their clothes and showed that they wore only their upper clothing on their naked bodies. When the attempt was made to induce the women to persuade their husbands to return to work, in order to alleviate their misery, they replied: The more work, the more misery! We have nothing more to lose! We have lost everything already!

The misery has reached such a point that the fighters have adopted the one-time watchword of the Lyons silk weavers: “Live working or die fighting”. This is the spirit inspiring the strikers.

The fighters will not return to the factory unless as victors. But left to their own resources, their own organizations against them, they are not in a position to win the victory. The victory can only be secured for them if the whole international proletariat unites in active solidarity. In Germany the whole of the class-conscious proletariat is demonstrating its solidarity with the strikers. Despite the threats of the employers, despite the counter-agitation of numerous trade union bureaucrats, collections are made in all large factories, etc.

Large sums are raised, but not sufficient to support 30,000 strikers, with wives and children, for many weeks.

At the present time about 40 million marks are required weekly. Such an amount cannot be raised without the aid of our class comrades abroad.

We are fully confident that the appeal to foreign comrades to aid the Ludwigshafen workers will not be in vain. But it is not only a question of giving, but of giving promptly. Here it is indeed the case: “He gives twice who gives quickly.” Every individual foreign class comrade, if he thinks the matter over only for 5 minutes, must appreciate the fact that he is helping himself if he hastens to the aid of the strikers. The eight hour day is threatened throughout the world. We may say without exaggeration that the fate of the eight hour day is being decided in Germany. And as the real aim and object of this mighty struggle is to deprive the workers of the eight-hour day, it follows that the workers of Ludwigshafen are holding the fort for its defense and retention, and therefore they are the champions not only of the German proletariat, but also of the international proletariat.

The significance of this struggle should not be underestimated abroad. If the Ludwigshafen workers, thanks to the fraternal support of the workers of all countries, and despite the treachery of the Amsterdam trade union leaders, succeed in breaking the arrogance of the aniline kings, this will signify a turning point in the German labor movement. For then it will be proved that the time is at an end when the workers could only look on in impotent rage while the nerveless, battle-shy trade union bureaucrats sacrificed the class interests of the proletariat on the altar of capitalist “reconstruction”.

Remember, 30,000 militants are on strike in defence of the eight-hour day, and against the general capitalist aggression which affects the entire world proletariat.

Contributions should be sent to:

Arthur Börner, Neukölln, Elsenstraße 83, or Berlin NW. 7, Postscheckkonto No. 140 042.

Last updated on 5 May 2021