Chapter 5 - How to create a bourse du travail

Chapter 5

How to Create a Bourse du Travail

As we said above, forty-eight percent of the working class trade unions were affiliated with Bourses du Travail. Although already of great significance, this figure can only be fully appreciated if we also point out that, since the opening of a Bourse du Travail requires the existence of sympathetic local trade unions, and that at least one-fourth of them must be enrolled on the trade union charter, the mandatory requirements for establishing a Bourse du Travail were not satisfied for quite some time. We should also add that where such trade unions did exist, the formation of Bourses du Travail also depended on the prior form of association of the trade unions. We mention these points in order to highlight the fact that, after 1895, the membership of the Bourses du Travail continued to increase and that the formation of new Bourses du Travail should be understood as being preceded by the creation of new trade unions or by the extension, sometimes exaggerated, of the “jurisdiction” of some already-existing Bourses. Some idea of the brilliant future awaiting these centers for the association of trade union cadres can be gleaned from the fact that, alongside the 250,000 industrial workers currently federated, another 100,000 (nearly all the remaining French trade unionists) are only awaiting the opportunity to create their own Bourses du Travail or else are waiting to affiliate with neighboring Bourses du Travail.

The method employed in creating a Bourse du Travail varies depending on whether the local trade unions are isolated from one another or have already formed a federation.

In the first case, the secretary of one of the trade unions, or any other trade union member, would convoke an assembly of the trade unions, or at least of their administrative councils, in order to point out the usefulness of a Bourse du Travail. In today’s society, the Bourse du Travail must first of all be an association of “resistance”. It must resist pay cuts, the excessive prolongation of the working day, and the increase or (taking into account the fact that the workings of the price mechanism make such increases inevitable) the exaggerated increase in the price of consumer goods. The immediate function of the Bourses du Travail is to maintain as far as possible the equilibrium of the price of labor and the price of consumer goods. If the assembly after deliberation assents to this proposition, it then proceeds to nominate a commission composed of at least one representative from every group in attendance, which is delegated the task of implementing this proposal.

The first topic these commissions must study is the expenses that would be incurred in forming a Bourse du Travail, and the resources at the disposal of the future Bourse du Travail.

The essential services of a Bourse du Travail are: an office, a treasury, archives and library, the formation and maintenance of a general registry of the unemployed, and, eventually, a building for providing food and lodging for itinerant workers and also for professional training. Obviously, the number and respective importance of these services are subject to considerations relating to the resources available to each institution. Some Bourses have all of them, some only a few. Here we must take into account the possibility that finances may be limited and that a Bourse du Travail may not receive any municipal or State subsidies and may have to operate solely on the basis of the dues levied by its federated trade unions.

Among the indispensable expenses, we note the preeminence of renting a building. The building must include, at the very least: a room for an office, the meetings of the general committee and the executive commission, a room for the library and the archives and two or three for simultaneous meetings of trade unions. This expense can be generally expected to amount to about 800 francs per year.

Heat and light account for about 300 francs. Then comes the pay for the officers of the Bourse du Travail: Secretary and Treasurer. Some Bourses du Travail do not have a paid staff, and set aside two or three hours each evening for everyday business, correspondence, receipt of trade union dues and managing the library. Other Bourses du Travail which employ officers during evening hours grant them a stipend, depending on the work performed, which is sometimes a fixed sum and sometimes is based on an hourly rate. In the latter case the total stipend amounts to approximately 300 francs per year for the Secretary and 200 francs per year for the Treasurer. Finally, the wealthiest Bourses du Travail have permanent Secretaries and employ Treasurers for three hours each day. The usual pay scale averages one franc per hour. The number of hours of work required of the Secretary varies in accordance with the importance of the task; in any event, the monthly wage expenditures were never less than 200 francs in cities with a population of 20,000 to 30,000 (except in a few isolated cities in the south), and never less than 250 francs in cities with up to 100,000 residents, and eight francs per day in cities with more than 100,000 residents. The average yearly wage thus varied from 1800 to 2700 francs for Secretaries and from 900 to 950 francs for Treasurers. The duties of the Permanent Secretary are: handling correspondence, setting the agenda of meetings of the general committee (which the Secretaries attend as non-voting members), keeping the records of the registry of the unemployed, preparing the registry of the supply of and demand for jobs, and, lastly, supervising the library.

Other expenses include the office supplies, which often amount to anywhere from 200 to 500 francs, and the acquisition of books, which is generally provided for by a fixed monthly allowance. Bourses du Travail can be divided into four categories, depending on the importance of their locations and their essential expenditures (excluding training courses): 1620, 2300, 5350 and 8700 francs, respectively.

At first, the Bourses du Travail could only rely on their own resources to meet their expenses, that is, on trade union contributions. A Bourse du Travail whose budget is approximately 1600 francs, and which has between 700 and 900 members in fifteen trade unions, could fix monthly dues of each member at between 20 and 30 centimes, that is, an average of 10 francs for each trade union, and could thus preserve complete independence in its relations with the public authorities and the private employers. However, as the increasing number of conflicts between capital and labor exhausts the reserves of the trade unions, the Bourses du Travail are almost constantly compelled to petition the local and regional authorities for subsidies, which we shall now address.

Some Bourses are granted subsidies in the form of cash by the municipal general committee or the municipal finance commission. Others receive subsidies partly in the form of cash and partly in the form of various goods and services. In renting buildings, any one of three procedures can be followed. Sometimes the lease is signed by the Bourse du Travail and the whole rent is paid by the municipal tax office, or by the municipal administration itself. Or, the Bourse du Travail is often installed in a building owned by the municipality. Some municipalities pay their heating, lighting and maintenance costs, on the basis of a bill presented monthly by the administrative council of the Bourse du Travail. Finally, together with the subsidies granted for administrative functions, most municipalities also allow for special credits for job placement services, library acquisitions, materials for training courses, etc.

The average monetary value of such subsidies in both money and goods and services granted to the four categories of Bourses du Travail mentioned above, varies from 900 to 20,000 francs, the total being dependent not so much upon the numerical strength as upon the importance of the local trade union movement and, above all, the nature of the local municipalities’ views concerning the Bourses du Travail. Generally, the Bourses managed to succeed in getting the subsidies approved each year and they were disbursed every four months rather than monthly.

At this point, the building having been rented, the commission sets about composing a rough draft of the statutes. Once this is done, the plenary assembly of member trade unions is again convened and the results of the commission’s work are presented. If these preliminary plans and statutes are approved, the assembly elects a general committee or administrative council, composed of a fixed number of delegates from each trade union.

At this time the original commission’s task is accomplished. The general committee nominates an executive commission from its own ranks to replace the original commission, and assigns it the mandate of implementing the Bourse’s program and electing its officers. After concluding this business and after requesting the subsidy needed for its operations all that remains for the newly-created association is to abide by the formalities provided for by the law of March 12, 1884.

As we pointed out above, the process involved in creating a Bourse is different if a local trade union federation already exists. In this case the preparatory work is simplified or even eliminated. These local associations effectively possess, besides statutes, a dynamic, local meeting-places, councils, and officers. What, then, remains to be done? Merely to call themselves Bourses du Travail, and obtain the municipal aid which they could not previously hope for, which once again demonstrates the complacency of the trade unions with regard to the institution of the Bourse du Travail. We must nonetheless point out that when a local trade union federation is subsidized and is transformed into a true Trade Union Center, its statutes and its officers are not the same as the statutes and the officers of a Bourse du Travail. Because the two institutions have two distinct views regarding their interests, it could happen that trade unions may be ready to join a Bourse du Travail but may not want to enter the Federation, or that trade unions may prefer to withdraw from the Federation without leaving the Bourse du Travail. This latter case can only take place where the administration of the Bourse du Travail is different from the administration which remains faithful to the Federation.