Documents of the First International 1868

To the Trades’ Unionists of Great Britain and Ireland[390]

Source: Minutes of the General Council of the First International 1866-1868, 1964;
Drawn up by Males, Lafargue, and Copeland;
Approved at the General Council meeting of July 7, 1868;
First published: as a leaflet in London in July 1868.

Fellow Working Men,

Nearly four years have elapsed since a small number of working men, belonging to different countries, convened a public meeting a: St. Martin’s Hall, at which the International Working Men’s Association was established. They were doing the right thing at the right time. During that space of time the Association has acquired a position that no other organisation has ever attained in Europe. It is neither a rival of, nor in conflict with, any working men’s organisations; on the contrary, it aims at utilising and extending the influence of existing organisations in all countries, by endeavouring to bring about a common understanding and promoting common action between them.

As to its character, though it advocates complete political freedom, it is not a political association in the old acceptation of the term. While aiding all progressive movements it avoids the Contending factions, well knowing how futile it would be to expect any real amelioration in the condition of the labouring poor by trusting to the capitalists as a class. Slanderers assert that the Association has provoked strikes, it has not done any such thing; but it has enabled working men to resist lock-outs, and successfully terminate strikes rendered inevitable by the encroachments, bad faith, an,: wanton conduct of employers.

The fundamental principle of the Association is, that the produce of labour ought to be the property of the producer; that the brotherhood of labour should be the basis of society; and that the working men of all countries should throw aside their petty jealousies and national antipathies, and make common cause with each other in their struggle with capital. Labour is of no country! Working men have the same evils to contend with everywhere. Capital is but accumulated labour. Why should the labourer be the slave to that which he has himself produced? Too long have the capitalists profited by the national isolation of the sons of toil. Foreign competition has always furnished a plea for the reduction of wages. For a long time the Trades’ Unions of this Kingdom sufficed to keep wages up. Free trade has worked a change. The Continental workmen work longer hours, for less money, than the British do. If this country is yet producing cheaper than others, it is due to a higher development of her machinery. The distance in the race between the British and the Continental manufacturer for the prices in the markets of the world is rapidly diminishing; the British is ahead, but only just ahead.

These facts ought to convince the British workmen of the importance of the International Association. It has everywhere on the Continent fostered the formation of Trades’ Unions, and served as an engine for their common and fraternal action. In France its action in the lock-out of the Paris bronze-workers was characteristic. 1,500 men were locked out and 4,000 more threatened to be locked out, unless they abandoned their newly-formed trades’ society-one of the first that was formed after the British model. By the aid of the International Association that combination of employers was defeated. Since then trades’ unions have become naturalised in France, and the government, alarmed at the progress of the International Association, has again and again tried to suppress it by fining and imprisoning the Executive Committee of Paris. In Switzerland the strike in the building trades of Geneva resulted in a reduction of the hours of labour and an increase of wages per day, but the masters only gave in after they had ascertained to what extent the men received supplies from abroad. Instead of crushing the Association, the action of the master builders has tended to increase its influence.

In Belgium the International Association has played an equally prominent part. In consequence of the general crisis in the metal trades, the directors of the mines resolved upon working only four days a week. To make sure of the shareholders’ dividends they gave peremptory notice of a ten per cent reduction of wages. The miners refused to continue working on such conditions, and the overanxious government tried the persuasive influence of powder and lead upon them; many were killed, many more were wounded, and imprisoned. At that stage the Brussels Committee stepped in. They procured medical aid for the wounded, pecuniary support for the bereft, and counsel for the imprisoned. Since then they have succeeded in establishing a miners’ union in the coal basin of Charleroi. The untutored miners have thus been brought within the bonds of labour’s brotherhood which will be a safeguard against their oppressors riding rough-shod over them on a future day.

In Germany, on the occasion of Count Bismarck proposing a reform of the tariff, the Chamber of Commerce of Barmen and Elberfeld (the Prussian Manchester) objected on the ground that the Prussian manufacturers could not compete with the, English without a reduction of wages-a course that could not be pursued without danger in the face of the rapidly spreading influence and prompt action of the International Association.

In countries where the development of modern industry has not yet led to open war, its members content themselves with quietly propagating the principles held by their fellow workmen in the more advanced countries. The London Council is also in correspondence with the officers of the great Labour Reform Movement in the United States.

To British trades’ societies it has rendered signal service, by furnishing special information from abroad when required, and by circulating correct accounts of their disputes all over the Continent, and thus prevented the employers obtaining foreign labour to supplant that of their own men. In the accusation against the Paris Committee the imperial prosecutor stated one of the chief reasons for demanding the condemnation of its members was that they had not only brought an excessive influence to bear upon all strikes in France, but had efficiently supported those in foreign countries, and as instances he stated that during the strikes of the English zinc-workers, tailors, and railway employees, the Paris Committee had prevented French workmen from proceeding to England.

The ever-ready cry of the British capitalists that wages must be reduced because the workmen on the Continent work longer hours for less money than the British, can only be effectually met by endeavouring to approximate the hours of labour and the rate of wages throughout Europe. This is one of the missions of the International Working Men’s Association, and its annual congresses one of the most efficient means to accomplish it. At those gatherings the spokesmen of. the working classes of different countries meet each other face to face. The exchange of ideas which is brought about in the private conversations outside the regular meetings exercises as great, if not a greater, influence than the regular debates. It is there where everybody says what he has to say, and makes inquiries as to what people think of kindred topics elsewhere. At the London Conference of 1865[391] the French and Swiss delegates expressed it as their conviction that trades’ unionism would never take root on the Continent. At the Congress of 1867 [of the International Working Men’s Association at Lausanne] there were upwards of 40 delegates representing. Continental trades’ societies formed on the British model. The seed that had been sown in London had borne fruit.

The next congress will assemble on the first Monday of September next, at Brussels, a few hours’ journey from England. Brussels was selected at the last congress with the view of enabling the British workmen to send a greater number of delegates than they had been able to send to Switzerland. To make the British delegation a really respectable one the Council urges the affiliated societies to send as many delegates as possible.

Societies joining before the end of August will be entitled to send delegates of their own. Affiliated societies who do not consider it advisable to send delegates of their own, and trades’ societies desirous of rendering assistance are solicited to contribute towards defraying the expense of delegates appointed by the Council.

Amongst the questions that will be submitted for deliberation are: 1. Reduction of the hours of labour. 2. The influence of machinery in the hands of capitalists. 3. Property in land. 4. The education of the working class. 5. The establishment of credit institutions to promote and facilitate the social emancipation of the working class. 6. The best means to establish co-operative production.

By order of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association,

H. Jung, Chairman
R. Shaw, Treasurer
J. George Eccarius, General Secretary

256, High Holborn, London, W.C.

Money orders to be made payable to the Secretary. at the Charing Cross Office, W.C.