Documents of the First International 1867

The Annual Report of the American Secretary of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association (September 1866 To August 27, 1867)[383]

Source: Minutes of the General Council of the First International 1866-1868, 1964;
Written: by Peter Fox and approved by the General Council on August 27, 1867.

The first event relating to the province of the American Secretary which claims notice after my acceptance of that post was the arrival in England of the September [1866] number of the Ironmoulders’ International Journal published at Philadelphia by W. H. Sylvis, editor of the same and President of the International Ironmoulders’ Union. This number contained a lengthy report of the first National Labour Congress of the working-class delegates of the United States, which had been held in Baltimore in the course of the preceding month. A resume of the proceedings thereof and the resolutions in full were published in the Commonwealth in the course of October 1866. Particular attention was drawn to the fact that the Baltimore Congress had been made aware of the fact that a European Labour Congress was about to assemble at Geneva and that it had passed a resolution authorising the Executive Committee of the National Labour Union, then and there formed, to send, a representative to the next European Labour Congress.

From the above-named journal I learnt that the corresponding secretary of the United States National Labour Union was William Gibson of New Haven in the State of Connecticut. It is only since the beginning of August of this year that I discovered that this was a mistake and that Mr. Gibson’s address was Norwich (not New Haven), Connecticut. This error on the part of the compilers of the report of the Congress has been almost fatal to the operations of my department.

I did not however immediately attempt to open up communications with Secretary Gibson for this reason; because, I thought, the best possible overture would be the official report of the proceedings of the Geneva Congress. The causes of the delay in the publication of that report have been stated in the general report of the General Council. Their enumeration does not belong here.

In or about December of last year, Citizen Orsini came to the General’ Council and gave us the names of five European Socialists in New York with whom he exhorted us to correspond and who, he begged, might be entrusted with powers to act f or the Association in the United States. Five letters were accordingly dispatched to the citizens named by Orsini but neither I nor the General Secretary have ever received any response to any one of them. Thus my first actual overture proved abortive.

Orsini also informed the General Council that the existence of the International Association was noised abroad in New York and that Mr. Wendell Phillips, the great abolitionist and radical orator of Massachusetts, had declared himself ready to lecture gratuitously for the benefit of the International Working Men’s Association, if he saw any good likely to accrue therefrom; also that James Stephens, the Irish democrat and nationalist, had taken a card of membership of our Association.

In the month of March 1867, the report of the proceedings of the Geneva Congress in the English language began to appear in the International Courier of Lon — don. So soon as four numbers had appeared, i.e., in the month of April, I dispatched the said series of four numbers of the International Courier to four persons; namely, one batch to Secretary Gibson at his presumed address, a second to the above-named W. H. Sylvis, a third to the editor of the Voice, a daily newspaper devoted to the interests of the working classes and published in Boston, Massachusetts, and a fourth to the editor of the Workingman’s Advocate of Chicago, Illinois, the leading working-class organ in the Western States of the American Union. The newspapers directed to Secretary Gibson were accompanied by a letter setting forth the importance which the General Council attached to the existence of intimate relations and frequent correspondence between the General Council and the Executive Committee of the National Labour Union of the United States.

No response has ever been received to this letter and no acknowledgement of receipt of the journals has ever come to hand, but the explanation of this silence is that the letter and papers were addressed to New Haven instead of to Norwich.

One good result of the dispatch of the batches of newspapers ensued. The editor of the International Courier began about May to receive copies of the Chicago Workingman’s Advocate, and an exchange between the two journals was effected. From that time forth, the said editor, Citizen Joseph Collet by name, has not ceased to. give weekly extracts from the columns of the Chicago Workingman’s Advocate.

The report of the proceedings of the Geneva Congress was completed on May 1, and I immediately dispatched marked copies of the full report to the aforesaid four addresses.

Portions of this report have been reproduced in the Workingman’s Advocate, Chicago. Whether either of the other two papers took notice of the same, I have no means of knowing.

In the spring of this year, the General Council were requested by their correspondents at Lyons to make it known in the United States that hundreds of silk-weavers, discontented with their situation at home, were desirous of emigrating to the United States and planting their special industry there, if any American capitalists would defray the cost of their passage out and establishment there. I was directed by the General Council to write to several American newspapers and to several prominent statesmen on the subject. I did so, and the letters were taken out by Citizen Koczek, a Pole, who was starting for New York. I have never, however, received any response to these letters, nor have I heard from Citizen Koczek since his departure.

In June, I was directed by the General Council to write to W. H. Sylvis to crave assistance for the London tailors on strike. I wrote accordingly on June 11 and took advantage of the opening to state my disappointment at not having heard from Secretary Gibson. I asked Mr. Sylvis to give me the name of another official of -the National Labour Union. His reply, dated June 24, [the French text here has “June 25"] informed me of the reasons why the American iron trades could not respond favourably to the General Council’s appeal and also gave me the name and address of William J. Jessup, of New York, as the man to apply to in connection with the National Labour Union.

After laying this letter before the General Council, I received instructions to write without delay to William Jessup, informing him of the date of the Lausanne Congress and stating how glad the General Council would be to have an American delegate there. I wrote accordingly on July 19. I also recapitulated the circumstances of my abortive attempt to reach Secretary Gibson and sent my new correspondent the official report of the Geneva Congress.

To this letter I received a reply dated August 9th. This letter expresses the writer’s joy at the prospect of a closer intercommunication between the working men of the Old and New Worlds and especially with those of Britain. He thinks that when the National Labour Congress shall have met at Chicago (i.e., August 19) it will be too late to send a delegate to Lausanne. He adds that in making his report to the National Labour Congress, of which body he is the Vice-President and Corresponding Officer for the State of New York, he will read my letter “believing [it to be] of sufficient importance to make public.” He promises to keep the General Council well informed of what is done by the Chicago Congress. Citizen Jessup announces that whether he is re-elected an officer of the National Labour Congress or not (although I have no doubt he will be so re-elected) he will be glad to exchange papers and maintain a correspondence with the General Council in the capacity of Corresponding Secretary of the New York Working Men’s Union.

Although Citizen Jessup is of opinion that it will be too late for the Chicago Congress to take action, yet it is right to say that I have seen an editorial statement in a recent number of the Chicago Workingman’s Advocate to the effect that the propriety of sending a delegate to Lausanne will be one of the first questions that will be brought before the Chicago Congress.

At the beginning of this month Citizen Marx communicated to me a letter from F. A. Sorge in the name of the Hoboken branch of the International Working Men’s Association and the Statutes of the Communist Club in New York which had also adhered to our Association.

Also at the beginning of this month, the editor of the London International Courier showed me the address, in pamphlet form, of the Executive of the National Labour Union to the working men of the United States, convoking them to send delegates to the Chicago Congress. On the title-page of this pamphlet was written the name and address of Secretary William Gibson, and only then did I become aware of the mistake into which I had been led without any fault of my own, as to his address. Sighing over the loss of valuable time, I can only repeat the well-known proverb, “Better late than never!”

The eight hours’ movement. The agitation among the American working classes for more leisure, popularly called the eight hours’ movement, occupied the attention of the Geneva Congress. It may not therefore be out of place to state the substance of what I know has been done in this matter during the past year. The movement ripened with great rapidity and immediately found an echo in Congress and the State Legislatures. In Congress (the Federal Legislature) an eight hours’ bill was only lost by a tie vote.

Several of the State Legislatures have enacted that in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, a legal industrial day shall consist of eight hours. In the State of New York, such an act has been passed, but the working classes have not yet ventured to demand that it shall be put in operation. The working men of that state have lately held a delegate meeting to consult on the policy to be pursued. It was resolved that a simultaneous and general demand to put the act in force should be made on the 1st of November next, without reduction of wages, if possible, with a reduction of wages, if necessary. In most cases it appears from the debates of the assembly that a reduction of wages will be proposed by the working men.

In the State of California, an eight hours’ act has not yet been carried. Nevertheless for the last nineteen months, the eight-hour system has prevailed there. My last news from the state, however, is that the employers had struck against that system and that a widespread cessation of labour had been the consequence of their reactionary attempt.

The narrative of my, in the main, unsuccessful but still promising operations is now concluded. I will now touch on two other topics.

The first is that of cheaper postage with the United States. I am glad to inform the Council that on the 1st of January next, the half-ounce letter rate between the United Kingdom and the United States will be reduced from Is. to 6d., according to a postal treaty just concluded.

The second and last is to give the names and addresses of persons in America, to whom I would refer my successor.

1. W. H. Sylvis, Editor, Ironmoulders’ International Journal, and President of the Ironmoulders’ International Union. Box 2, 357. Philadelphia.

2. Mr. Cameron, Editor, Workingman’s Advocate. Chicago. Illinois.

3. F. A. Sorge; Box 101, Hoboken, New Jersey.

4. William C. Gibson, Secretary, National Labour Union. Box 1,055. Norwich. Connecticut.

5. William J. Jessup, Vice-President of the National Labour Union and the Secretary of the New York Working Men’s Union. 11, Norfolk St., New York City.

6. The Workingman’s Advocate, 72, Fifth St., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Peter Fox, Secretary of the United States,
August 27, 1867