The Activities of the Bourses du Travail
The services provided by the Bourses du Travail can be subdivided into four categories:
1. Mutual aid services, which include job placement, unemployment benefits, relocation aid, and aid for those injured on the job;
2. Educational services, which include the library and the information office, the social museum, professional courses and general education classes;
3. Propaganda services, which include the statistical and preparatory economics services, the organization of industrial, agricultural and maritime trade unions, the establishment of sailors’ homes and cooperative societies, and promoting the formation of trade union councils or inspectorates; and
4.“Resistance” services, which involve the organization of strikes and agitation against state legislation concerning economic action.
What is most important about this list is the variety of services and the multitude of requirements they fulfill. Where do the Bourses du Travail find the men possessing the specific abilities necessary for establishing a mutual aid fund, or the educational experience needed to oversee training courses, or the administrative and organizational skills which are indispensable for propaganda? They find them among their own ranks, among the manual workers (but workers who are thirsting for knowledge and who will spare no effort and no sacrifice in the interest of the triumph of their ideas and their enterprises) who hold their administrative positions. Their general committees usually have two or three such staff members, representatives of their particular trade unions. But what does this insignificant number represent in relation to the other twenty, thirty or forty workers who form the rest of the committee? Furthermore (and acknowledging exceptional cases) what help could these most competent men provide to the Trade Union Center, men who are devoted to discovering, beyond the secrets of the account books, the means to liberate their bosses from the competition of street vendors? On occasion one may also detect, although rarely, the presence of hybrid personalities, without any particular trade, who are attracted to the corporative organization by the seduction exercised upon any individual with an interest in social psychology by a movement which so obviously undermines the old public and economic superstructure. But such exceptions do not invalidate the general rule.
This is because no person who is not a member of a trade union can serve as an administrative officer of a Bourse du Travail nor can any person join a trade union without actually working in the pertinent trade. These, then, are the workers (elite workers, educated by their reading and also by means of their frequent involvement in controversies about the most varied problems) who administer the Bourses du Travail, teach the courses, and supervise the library, form associations and organize resistance against economic reversals.
What results have been obtained? Before taking a look at the interesting details, we shall, with the help of the statutes of a real existing Bourse du Travail, provide a general idea of these institutions.
“The Bourse du Travail” (in this case the Saint-Etienne Bourse) “is administered by a delegates’ committee composed of two members from each trade union. The meetings attended by all these delegates are known by the name of the General Administration. This General Administration is then subdivided into as many sub-committees as are required by the needs of the services rendered by the Bourse. At this time there are five such sub-committees, responsible for the following services:
1. Administrative Subcommittee, responsible for the executive functions;
2. Statistical and Financial Comptroller’s Subcommittee, responsible for auditing the accounts of the Bourse, collecting annual statistical data, and compiling information relating to the job placement service;
3. Subcommittee for the Oversight of Professional Training Courses. This committee is responsible for oversight of students attending professional training courses and for guaranteeing that the courses are properly conducted and meet as scheduled;
4. Propaganda Subcommittee. This committee is responsible for collecting all information useful to the workers in their efforts to organize trade unions and for helping them in any and all circumstances to succeed in their actions. This information is at the disposal of interested parties, including corporative groups, upon request;
5. Press and Library Subcommittee. This committee is responsible for editing the Bourse’s official journal. Its mission is to catalogue the official documents and articles published by the Bourse. It receives the correspondence and handles the subscriptions to the journal. It is also responsible for the acquisition and circulation of library books. When the general administration judges that it is necessary, it appoints extra-administrative subcommittees … but these committees disband as soon as their mandate is terminated….”
Having provided this general information, we can now outline the internal operations of a few of the services offered by the Bourse du Travail.
1. Mutual Aid Services.
a) Job Placement: The Bourses du Travail devote special attention to finding work for their members. The job placement office effectively constitutes the first and most important benefit which a federative association can offer the workers, and represents a powerful inducement for new recruits. Due to the lack of job security, private job placement offices, which must be paid, soon became such a heavy burden that many workers, frustrated by the prospect of continuous future wage deductions from their already considerably reduced wages, decided to themselves go in search of the work which would allow them to survive. It is also known (and the parliamentary tribune has provided us with irrefutable proofs to this effect) that it is the customary practice of employers to post the most precarious jobs, so that the visits the worker is obliged to make to the job placement offices are multiplied. One can therefore understand the solicitude with which the unfortunate worker approaches the Bourse du Travail, which offers him the job he is looking for without charging him anything, so that men who had been cut off from the trade unions, by ignorance or indifference, found work through the Bourse, as well as a kind of information whose usefulness and interest they had been unaware of only a short while before.
Many business owners, shopkeepers, and industrialists, however, remain unaware of or prefer to ignore the road which leads to the trade union job placement offices. Parliament, meanwhile, for unknown reasons, hesitates before the prospect of making the private job placement offices disappear. The Bourses du Travail then took up the search for means to render all job placement offices outside their control superfluous.
If it were only a matter of suppressing the private job placement offices, the task would have been relatively simple. It would have been enough to demand the creation, if not in every jurisdiction, then at least in the areas with active movements, of municipal job placement offices. Yet this tactic itself presented a two-pronged danger. First, it was possible that this might result in a fearsome overabundance of applicants, so that any business owner who was having problems with trade unions might cease to frequent the offices of the Bourse du Travail and instead seek the manpower he wanted from the municipalities. The Bourses du Travail, meanwhile, which, as we shall see below, aspired, consciously or not, to create a state within the State, were trying to monopolize all services pertaining to the improvement of the lot of the working class. On the basis of this consideration the Bourses therefore fought against the municipal job placement offices with the same ardor they employed against the private offices. Furthermore, the extension of job placement offices could finally endanger the existence of the existing Bourses du Travail, or at least prevent the creation of new ones. In effect, whether the management of the municipal offices for job placement is entrusted to city employees or, as was the case in some places, to trade unionists, the successful operation of such offices provided the municipalities with a pretext to forbid the creation of new Bourses du Travail, on the basis of the municipalities’ view that the purpose of the Bourses was job placement. What did the Bourses du Travail do then? Some (those located in isolated enclaves) attempted to organize job placement services by correspondence. Either directly, or through their member trade unions in neighboring localities, they put interested workers and employers in touch with one another. This was how the Nîmes Bourse du Travail operated, which exempted its worker correspondents from the requirement to pay for postage. Others forged contacts with isolated trade unions and encouraged them to form their own job placement services, in order to deprive their municipalities of any pretext for opening offices of that kind. Finally, job placement was not just a matter of study for Bourses du Travail situated a considerable distance from one another,1 such as Nantes and Angers or Tours, or Tours and Paris, but other Bourses du Travail sought, after 1897, to coordinate all the job placement offices through a central service entrusted to the Federal Committee.
This system of generalized job placement, encompassing all of France, was later created by the Ministry of Trade in coordination with the Federal Committee of the Trade Union Centers.
The National Office for Labor Statistics and Job Placement (the name of the most important of the mutual aid services instituted by the Bourses du Travail) will be subjected to extensive treatment after we examine the viaticum [relocation allowance and aid service—translator’s note] from which it was derived and for which it constitutes the indispensable complement.
b.) Unemployment benefits, after having enjoyed twenty years of popularity, momentarily fell into disrepute, as a result of the inconveniences they imposed upon the trade unions, and then after the formation of the Bourses du Travail, began to re-assume their privileged role. But they would no longer be offered, as in the past, for the exclusive purpose of mutual aid. The Bourses du Travail rejected the humiliating as well as ineffective mutualism of the trade unions of 1875 and adopted Proudhonian mutualism instead. Unemployment benefits are viewed as payments of a debt of solidarity contracted among the trade unions and, above all, as the means to withdraw the unemployed from the ranks of those willing to work for less than the prevailing wages.
The unemployment relief funds of the Bourses du Travail are raised by means of special levies or by discounts subsidized in the usual way, or else by trade union dues or donations collected during banquets or corporative meetings. It must be pointed out, however, that relief for this purpose was rare and that the municipalities had a tendency to ban it … undoubtedly because they saw it as a vehicle of political propaganda which they wanted to reserve for their own use. In 1896, for example, the Angers Bourse du Travail received a municipal subsidy of 2,000 francs, primarily earmarked for relief for jobless workers. This amount, later increased by the proceeds gathered at several banquets, allowed the Bourse to distribute 152 vouchers for 5, 10, 15, and even 20 francs. Later it made distributions from its own resources….
Brest created a mutual aid society which had close to 300 members in September 1898 and has distributed 1,190.20 francs in aid and subsidies since May 1, 1896 (the date it was founded). During the same period its income amounted to 1,231.50 francs. Grants, subsidies and dues together brought in 19,445.90 francs. It had 1,881.70 francs in its Savings Bank account. The Brest association admitted honorary members who were not, however, allowed to take part in the mutual aid society’s operations or provision of services—only trade union members (one fact of cardinal importance is that in order to be a member of the mutual aid society one must belong to a federated trade union) have the right to avail themselves of the benefits of the association.
c.) The viaticum, or relocation assistance. What is the viaticum? It is a subsidy which enables a worker who is looking for a job to stay in a city long enough to make the rounds of the factories or offices of his profession and (should he not be hired) to travel to another city.
This grant for temporary relocation has the sole purpose of combating vagabondage and provides moral and material support for those workers—who were still quite numerous and would later be even more numerous in proportion to the degree that machinery has supplanted manual labor—who are compelled to go from city to city in search of work. As such, the viaticum, like unemployment relief, was an application of the strict mutualism discussed above. Only two professional societies, The General Association of Hatters and the Federation of Printing Workers, in organizing their relocation aid services, have made efforts to protect their employed members against the competition of an overabundant and consequently devalued pool of labor power, as well as against the temptation of some of their unemployed members to work for substandard wages. The other Bourses du Travail, animated by the same sentiment, and in view of the fact that they were hosting increasing numbers of job-seekers, since they represented visible landmarks for traveling job-seekers from every point of the compass, were obliged, given their stated goals, to come to the aid of the itinerant unemployed and to look for resources and remedies with which to address this problem.
We must nonetheless point out that, in order to prevent abuses, the viaticum was always dispensed partly by means of money and partly in kind. Angers provided 1.5 francs to the unionized and 1.25 francs to the unorganized workers, on condition that the latter promise to register with the trade union within six months of receiving the relocation assistance. Should any worker not abide by this commitment, he would henceforth be refused all assistance. Furthermore, a traveling job-seeker was not allowed to apply again for aid at the same Bourse until six months had passed. One part of the aid was granted in the form of vouchers for food and lodging, valid at a hotel with which the Bourse had previously established an agreement. In 1896 the Angers Bourse du Travail distributed 186 vouchers which entitled the bearers to one meal, a place to sleep and a monetary grant, each voucher amounting to a total value of 1.25 francs.
Saint-Etienne obtained a grant of 400 francs from its municipal government which it converted into vouchers for food and lodging. Dijon distributed two francs to each traveling job-seeker and also put him in contact with the secretary of the pertinent trade union. Nice allotted two vouchers for meals whose cost was paid for by a monthly 1.25 franc membership subscription.
This was the form generally adopted by the Bourses du Travail for the operation of their travelers aid services and, as we have said, nearly all of them contracted with a local innkeeper for the travelers’ room and board. However, an increasing number of Bourses sought to avail themselves of the travelers’ sojourns in their cities by telling them about the principles of economic solidarity and the power needed to bring about social transformation. For this purpose they proceeded to host the itinerant workers at the trade union centers, transforming the meeting halls into dormitories by installing hammocks. This was how the Bourse du Travail of Nantes operated. One Bourse, that of Béziers, went even further in this respect: not only did it provide lodging for travelers, women as well as men, providing two separate special halls for them, but it even put at the disposal of those women who preferred not to eat at the popular La Fraternelle restaurant a fully-equipped kitchen so they could prepare their own meals.
Despite the excellent way all these services were organized, a series of obstacles did not fail to present themselves, which become apparent after a little reflection. First, the differences between the various Bourses du Travail often led professional vagabonds—who, we must confess, appeared among the workers—to voice unjust recriminations, especially against the secretaries. They complained about trade union egoism, and at times came to blows. In any event, the accusations directed against the Bourses du Travail, whose restricted resources limited them to offering modest subsidies, had unpleasant consequences. There was, however, no way to control the number of transients who were applying for relief. What happened then? A situation characterized by a large number of Bourses du Travail and trade unions dispensing relief along with the ease of acquiring their addresses, allowed the unscrupulous nomads to “keep dancing” along the roads from April to October of every year. Finally, the aid granted to those who chose not to join trade unions (and this was nearly all of the non-unionized workers, since few people, even among those with no particular trade, faced serious obstacles to joining a trade union) diverted resources away from production, in whose transformative process these people never made and would never make the least contribution.
All of these facts led the Federal Committee of the Bourses du Travail to resolve upon replacing the various aid programs administered by each Bourse du Travail with a collective viaticum, reserved for trade union members, controlled by those who were directly involved and which largely, although not totally, overcame the problems of the previous system.
The economics of this viaticum were, in reality, not at all original, since we had assumed a service provision model similar to those which already existed. In order to be eligible for travelers aid, applicants must have been dues-paying trade union members for three months (except in cases of unemployment, a certified disabling illness, or military service); and they must not have abandoned their home towns except as a result of a lack of work or for having carried out acts of solidarity in the course of trade union activities. If a jobless person were to have done without the services of a Bourse du Travail, it was presumed that he was not without resources, and the subsidy was granted to such people only for travel expenses to the nearest Bourse du Travail. Thus, the traveler who arrives in Angers from Paris receives only the amount of assistance needed to travel from Tours to Angers. Upon his arrival in a city and after having been given the addresses of workshops and factories by the secretary of his trade union, the traveler must make the rounds and his visits must be confirmed by one of the trade union members working at each job site who is specially designated for this purpose or, in the absence of union workers, by other means which can be arranged. And it is always understood that any transient worker found guilty of having accepted work at a price below the trade union rate or in a workshop blacklisted by a trade union, will lose his right to the viaticum.
As for the amount of the travel subsidy, it started at 2 francs for the first forty kilometers on the road from one Bourse to another, and then 75 centimes for each additional twenty kilometers. The maximum distance paid for in this manner was 200 kilometers. Upon receiving 150 francs, the worker’s right to assistance was suspended for a period of eighteen months, except in the unlikely event that, during the period of time required to receive such a sum, the traveler was unable to find any work.
Each Bourse administered its local relief program and levied a monthly 10 centime dues quota which was compulsory for every trade union member. Every four months the Federation Committee carried out an accounting of the amounts disbursed in this program and established, in the interests of a fair distribution of its expenses, the corresponding contribution of each Bourse du Travail.
This is the basic structure of the proposal submitted to the Bourses du Travail for deliberation in 1898, and which is still under consideration. As we said above, in its general outlines it merely represents a combination of similar services provided by the Union des Travailleurs du Tour de France and by La Federation des Travailleurs du Livre. The experiences of these two organizations, however, due to their small size (3,000 for the former and 6,000 for the latter) in comparison with the Bourses du Travail (250,000 members), could not provide models for the amount of dues to be levied on the members of the Bourses du Travail or of the subsidies and assistance to be contributed by the affiliated trade unions. Even if these amounts were to turn out to be nearly the same in all three cases, the amounts required for the proposal we are currently studying can only be established following a survey and study carried out by the Federal Committee of the Bourses du Travail. This inquiry consists in obtaining membership figures from the Bourses du Travail for each affiliated trade union as well as the annual unemployment rates for every corporative organization. The results for France as a whole (excepting Algeria, whose special situation is characterized by the movements of itinerant workers) showed that an average of 15% of the trade union membership was unemployed for at least 90 days each year. Therefore, 15 unemployed workers who each receive over the course of three months 2 francs in assistance each month would not exhaust the funds accounted for by the statutory dues of one hundred workers; out of every ten centimes taken in only nine would be disbursed. This result was later confirmed, first by the data of the Federation of Printing Workers, whose monthly rate of expenditure never rose above .85 francs per month from each trade union member. As for the travelers aid granted by the Bourses du Travail, its average rate was .87 francs.
Is it still necessary to point out the benefits offered by the viaticum? First, there is the opportunity for the Bourses du Travail to guide the itinerary of each traveler. This allows the Bourse du Travail to publish a bulletin (which we shall discuss below) on the outlook for jobs within its jurisdiction which gives the travelers some indication as to where to look for work, since the travel subsidy is only granted if the traveler never retraces his steps (unless he has a job offer). Second, it assures a serious control mechanism thanks to which the Bourses du Travail can deter voluntary drifters. In this manner the worker’s journey ceases to be an occasion for alms or an opportunity for proletarian mutual exploitation and is transformed into assistance obtained by the efforts of all those who join a trade union and contribute to the travel relief funds, which have proven strong enough to resist the influence of the employers. Finally, the non-unionized workers’ assurance of getting real help from the corporative societies in case of unemployment will soon lead them to join the trade unions, so that the Bourses will reap incalculable benefits as a result of this program. If the experiences witnessed up till now have actually justified the hopes of the Federation, then perhaps a future international congress of Bourses du Travail could extend the travelers aid program beyond France.
d.) The National Office of Labor Statistics and Job Placement. The basic assumptions underlying this center for employment and statistics can be found in the following two proposals adopted on September 15, 1897 by the Sixth Congress held in Toulouse (Official Report, p. 39):
“1. Narbonne and Carcassonne propose that the Federal Committee should seek means to establish an aid service to assist trade union members in moving from one city to another in search of work;
“2. Nevers proposes that a statistical service should be created which shall register the fluctuations of employment in each Bourse du Travail, and that this information should be sent to the Federal Committee, which will publicize the results for the benefit of all the Bourses.”
During the course of this same session of the congress, Saint-Etienne had already expressed the desire that, first, a general service for employment statistics should be established, so that each Bourse du Travail would be able to fill the available job offers in its jurisdiction as they became known; and also that any trade union member, by presenting himself at a Bourse du Travail as a person in search of employment, should be able to get immediate assistance. “Would it not therefore be a good idea,” declared a delegate, “to forge links between the Bourses du Travail, so that the Federal Committee would be able to send some of the surplus workers of one locality to another place which is in need of labor…?”
The congress, unexpectedly having to consider the issue, did not have a clear idea of how to meet the needs expressed by the related proposals of Narbonne and Nevers. It therefore limited its actions to approving the two proposals put forth by these Bourses du Travail, and the vague character of its approval was proof enough of the delegates’ indecision.
It did not, however, endorse the principle of creating an Office of Statistics and Job Placement, and if the next congress (the Eighth Congress at Rennes in 1898) was not to discuss any such project, this was because no one wanted to unnecessarily complicate the difficult mission of the delegates or hinder the efforts to resolve the problem of the viaticum. But the best proof that the Federal Committee did intend to implement this project at the Toulouse Congress, and that it was thus intimately related with the travel subsidy issue, is that it presented the project in one of the articles of the statutes for the viaticum, conceived as follows:
“All Bourses du Travail, in accordance with standards to be established by the Federal Committee, should submit weekly statistical reports for each trade union…. An abstract of these reports, communicated within 40 hours to all of the Bourses du Travail, will allow the latter to direct displaced workers towards those places where they have a chance of getting jobs and to warn them not to go to areas suffering from unemployment.”
This article, despite the imprecision of its terms, contains the essentials of all that would later be put into effect with the National Office of Statistics and Job Placement which would be created two years later by the Federal Committee, and which would begin to function in accordance with its specific mandate in 1898.
The first difficulty to arise concerned the character which the travel subsidy or the viaticum should assume in order to have the greatest possible effect. Should it assume the form of a simple act of philanthropy? Should it be a kind of alms-giving (albeit of a fraternal variety) contributed by those professions unaffected by unemployment and by those trade unions enjoying stable conditions to those unfortunates whose trades, lack of skill, age, and a thousand other causes condemn them to a periodic search for work? If the answer to this question were to be affirmative, then all that would remain for the Federal Committee of the Bourses du Travail to do would be to adapt the statutes concerning the viaticum which had already been implemented by the French Federation of Printing Workers and the General Association of Hatters to the organizations represented at the congress.
Furthermore, besides the insurance such a program offers its participants against temporary unemployment, could it also be a means to attenuate the fratricidal competition which, under the pressure of necessity, breaks out among the unemployed? Could it also contribute to some extent to the regulation of the economic market in such a way as to allow an almost instantaneous convergence of supply and demand, in order to prevent a labor shortage, a situation which could indeed momentarily serve the interests of some people, but on the other hand harms the interests of the hungry multitudes; it was also necessary to ask whether it could help prevent the kind of oversupply of labor which contributed to the growing disproportion between the price of labor and the price of commodities after 1860.
Such were the two concepts of the viaticum which were the subject of deliberation at the congresses of Toulouse and Rennes, respectively.
If it were not for the fact that the Bourses du Travail had hundreds of thousands of members, there could be no doubt but that the Federal Committee would have adopted the first, quite elementary system, tried and true, which had for many years helped hundreds of people to resist the temptation to become vagabonds, to avoid having to fight against such a precarious and miserable existence. But the Bourses du Travail were composed of over one thousand trade unions, with a total membership of approximately 250,000 workers, or 65% of organized labor in France. With such an impressive number of workers, the Federal Committee was consequently obliged to obtain the maximum benefit from the proposed service program. Thus, by pronouncing in favor of the second system of assistance, it held that the travelers’ aid should be complemented by a labor statistics service which would inform the workers about cities where labor was scarce and those where, due to a surplus of labor, there were few opportunities for work. Towards this end the Bourses du Travail were requested to submit monthly reports on the number of job openings for each employer enrolled in their job placement programs. This data would then be consolidated and summarized in a report for the Federal Committee, and a copy of this list would be sent within 24 hours to each Bourse du Travail for local distribution.
The program had just been started, yet already it aroused a fundamental objection: while some well-organized institutions might be able to provide precise monthly reports on market conditions, it was hardly possible to expect that the data for these reports could be collected four times each month. The Committee demonstrated sufficient prudence not to commit itself to attaining such a goal. It only expressed its hope for a successful resolution of this problem by placing special emphasis on the fact that the Bourses du Travail had instilled in the people the taste for economic and statistical studies, which were unknown and therefore despised prior to the appearance of the Bourses. It judged that the perseverance devoted to the implementation of its project had resulted in an emerging wish among men who were already fired with enthusiasm by the desire to understand their real condition to compose their history statistically, that is, to make it palpable for themselves and for the rest of humanity. Finally, considering that the trade unions and the Bourses du Travail had a by no means merely limited and historical interest in consulting these statistics, which had previously been so little known, once published somewhere they would, with the precision of the statistics published by the Federation, stimulate a three-pronged interest in the labor organizations:
1. By preventing, through the regulation of the “travels” of the unemployed, the squandering of the funds devoted to their assistance;
2. By preventing gluts in the supply of labor, which could lead to a reduction in wage levels;
3. By obtaining through the workers’ own efforts sufficiently precise data, which would enable those trade union members who want to relocate to do so without “having to hit the road” unless they had full awareness of the reason for doing so.
As it would seem, the Committee had more than sufficient reasons to have faith in the success of its endeavors. Moreover, not one day passed without various Bourses having to consult with one another concerning the labor situation in one industry or another. It was just such a relation which the Committee wanted to make permanent. A statistical service would obviate the need to go looking here or there for information by providing the convenience of knowing in advance where workers were needed.
Once this problem had been resolved, there still remained the question of how to collect information concerning the particulars of each job. First of all, in order to achieve the project’s stated goal, it was necessary to make the information provided by the Bourses du Travail as exact as possible, so that a worker in a small workshop, for example, would know whether the job listed under his trade involved surgical or optical instruments; it was also necessary to make the job classifications themselves as precise as possible in order to avoid regrettable mix-ups, especially when one job was called by different names in different localities, or when the job itself had many sub-categories, such as stucco-painter, tin-plater or zinc specialist, etc. Another difficulty to be overcome was the challenge of offering an up-to-date list of trades represented in the Bourses du Travail, and since the number of these trades as well as of the Bourses themselves was increasing each day, it is clear that the first problem to resolve had to consist in drawing up a complete nomenclature of trades, providing all the Bourses du Travail with a template along with the recommendation that they should always use this nomenclature to precisely designate the jobs they intend to list as available.
Secondly, by then there were 57 Bourses du Travail and the question arose concerning how the Committee could summarize all this information on the situation as a whole and send 57 copies of this report to the Bourses du Travail within 24 hours.
Faithful to its principles, and convinced that before asking for help a man should marshal all the means at his disposal, the Committee tried to launch its program by availing itself of its own personal resources, for the purpose of trying to ensure that, despite the flood of information transmitted by the Bourses du Travail, with so many trade unions, the overall picture would not be too overwhelming. It consequently decided that each registered trade should be designated by a number, and that instead of displaying all the jobs in their particular descriptions, the numbers would only be indicated on a general chart, which could be immediately translated by referring to a list posted in the public hall of each Bourse du Travail.
Notices of the following kind would be posted:
57 78 148 312 522
9 59 17 3 24
On this chart the upper figure represents the job code while the lower figure is the number of available positions.
Once the various lists of job openings arrived, the Committee had to decide upon a procedure for making and distributing the charts. Although this operation could not be handled by just one person, it was not beyond human capabilities, nor would shipping the copies of the charts to the Bourses du Travail demand much extra work. In short, the problem which remained to be solved was the question of how to make these fifty-seven copies.
The Federation’s financial resources were modest and it did not have a separate printing fund. The question therefore was reduced to whether or not using only his own handwriting skills, one man could prepare 57 copies of the job chart in just a few hours. At this point the Committee was obliged to admit its powerlessness. In vain it examined the problem from every angle, it imagined numerous other approaches, but it was unable to resolve this difficulty and it was forced to acknowledge that it was only by means of printing that the indispensable copies could be produced within the desired timeframe. The Committee could not, however, have the chart printed because it lacked the funds to do so.
The Committee thus found itself facing the alternative of either having to abandon its project, or to resort to State aid. Confident of the usefulness of its enterprise, it did not hesitate to adopt the second alternative and on November 17, 1899 it decided to submit a request to the State for an annual subsidy of 10,000 francs.
Just when this request was submitted, an unforeseen event made it possible to extend the scope of the Committee’s primitive program and to open the Office of Statistics and Job Placement long before it was thought possible to do so.
Preoccupied with the problem of getting jobs for thousands of unemployed workers, the government, immediately after the end of the Universal Exposition, carried out an investigation of public workshops and enterprises which were open or were scheduled to open throughout the country in 1900, inquiring concerning working conditions and wages of the personnel these enterprises recruited. How could the government connect the unemployed with these enterprises? For this task it needed an intermediary. The Ministry of Public Works offered this role to the Federation of Bourses du Travail. The latter, viewing this as an opportunity to implement its own Office of Statistics and Job Placement, accepted the government’s offer, but not without first getting the government to agree that workers would only be sent where labor was really in short supply and also that the wages and the length of the working day must be at least equal to those accepted by the region’s trade unions.
This concern led the Committee to send the following circular to the Bourses du Travail:
“Attached is a copy of the Report published by the Ministry of Public Works on the workshops which are currently accepting applications now that the Exposition workshops have closed.
“In this matter we have taken the precaution of setting out to discover whether the pay scales indicated in this Report are at least equal to the wage levels prevailing in each locality referred to, as well as whether it is indeed true that the localities in question actually suffer from a labor shortage that calls for an influx of workers.
“We must also inform you that, by means of the Office of Statistics which we shall soon open, we shall inform you as soon as possible of the normal wage level of the workers in each one of your trade unions. This will allow us to establish an informational resource for the workers in each city and to confirm, when requested by our members, whether an offered pay rate is the customary rate among trade union members.”
Once the wage levels are verified, the job placement process begins for the unemployed workers.
The process begins with the workers filling out job applications which are received by the Federation and approved by the local business owners, and then are forwarded to the Ministry of Public Works, which returns them along with coupons entitling each applicant to half-price train fare to his chosen destination.
Unfortunately, the workers have to wait at least two days for the Ministry’s letter. This delay in obtaining the authorized subsidy caused a good number of unemployed workers to undertake their journeys at their own expense rather than remain two or three days in Paris, where the cost of room and board is not compensated for by the 50% reduction in rail fare.
To complete the picture, we must also mention that, with the approach of the month of July, many workers were unable to afford all their travel expenses. The Federal Committee felt that this was an opportune moment to call attention to the words spoken by the President of the Cabinet before the Chamber of Deputies and to demand that the government attend to the situation of these workers as well as that of the Office of Statistics and Job Placement, requesting that they be granted various subsidies totaling 1,400 francs.
Just when this auxiliary aid service went into effect, the Labor Bureau, a department of the Ministry of Trade, invited the Federal Committee to specify, in the form of a list of regulations, how the Office of Statistics and Job Placement was supposed to function. It was on this occasion that the Committee drew up the statutes2 which were published in the Montpellier Le Travailleur syndiqué (June 1900) and which, after indicating the formalities required every week of every Bourse du Travail for compiling and transmitting the general report, specified the three conditions the government established for granting its assistance.
Finally, on July 5, as a result of the declarations made on June 1 in the Chamber of Deputies by the Ministry of Trade,3 the government agreed to grant a subsidy of 5,000 francs to the Federation of the Bourses du Travail for the second half of 1900.4
The Federal Committee immediately informed the Bourses of the detailed proposals for the new service in the following terms:
“The rules for the Office of Statistics and Job Placement, published in Le Travailleur syndiqué (June 1900), the organ of the Montpellier Bourse du Travail, outline how this new service of the Federation of the Bourses du Travail will function.
“You know that the mission of this Office is to produce weekly statistical reports of job openings in the jurisdictions of the Bourses du Travail, the phrase job openings being understood to refer to those positions which for one reason or another could not be filled by the unemployed workers in the immediate locality, or involve trades for which no qualified workers are available.
“These statistics are to be produced in the following manner: every Wednesday, all the Bourses du Travail are to fill out and send to the Office a form indicating the number of known job vacancies in each one of their federated trades, adding, whenever possible, the wage rate for each job. In order to avoid too much paperwork, all the Bourses are to indicate on this form not the name of the trade, but the numerical code for the trade assigned on the key, an example of which is attached to this letter. For example, assume the following jobs are available: one stock clerk, with a pay rate of 3 francs; three masons, one at 3 francs and two at 3.5 francs; and finally one metalworker at 5 francs. The Secretary of each Bourse du Travail will prepare his report in the prescribed manner.
“In the diagram below, the upper numbers represent the number of available positions, while the lower numbers are numerical job codes.
1 (4 fr.)/3 (1 @ 3 fr., 2 @ 3.5 fr.)/1 (5 fr.)
27 380 273
“When the chart showing the results of all the individual reports is posted at the Bourses du Travail together with the job code key, the unemployed workers, in order to know what trades are signified by the numbers on the bottom row (as shown in the example above), need only consult the job code key.
“We must especially emphasize one point: the figures provided for job openings, in order to be useful, must be as up-to-date as possible. For this reason it is necessary for the Secretaries of the Bourses du Travail to make a special effort to acquire information from the trade union secretaries at the last possible moment, that is, on Wednesday, or at the earliest on Tuesday evening; also, the list should be sent to the Office with the Wednesday evening mail so that it will be ready to be used to compile the general chart and then to be sent to the printer during the day on Thursday. Therefore, comrade Secretaries, we request that you send us your first data abstracts next Wednesday, and to continue to do so every following Wednesday.
“To conclude, we must also call the attention of the Bourses du Travail to the importance of precision in compiling these permanent statistics. The government, the Chamber of Deputies and the press all have a full understanding of the project. The high expectations engendered by this project and the financial assistance which has been disbursed to the Federation oblige all of us, the Secretaries of the Bourses du Travail and the members of the Federal Committee, to do our utmost to prove that the Bourses du Travail are capable of creating a national market for labor.”
Finally, on August 9 the Bourses du Travail received the first installment of the general job openings chart, which has been appearing regularly since that date.5
We should add that, in order to extend the reach of its data, as well as to facilitate the task of the Bourses, the Office shortly thereafter asked the local prefects and trade unions to provide information to the business owners and industrialists within their jurisdictions “concerning the number of workers necessary for each trade, the amount of their wages, the length of the working day and at what hours the latter begins and ends” and also requested that that the business owners and industrialists inform their local trade unions and prefectures of “how many workers they need, as well as the approximate length of time for which they are needed.”
“The responses to these inquiries,” the Secretary of the Office wrote to the Bourses du Travail, “will be transmitted to the Bourses du Travail or to the most directly interested workers organizations, so that if a request arrives from any locale for a certain number of workers, we will immediately dispatch a notice to the Bourse du Travail or the organizations closest to the locality in question, concerning the details of the request along with an order to the Bourses or other organizations to do everything necessary to fulfill the request or to tell us to pass along the notice to other Bourses du Travail.”
This was the mission entrusted to the Federal Committee, as mandated at the Paris Congress in September 1900.
Before concluding this section, we shall provide some figures which illustrate the none-too-brilliant current state of the Office of Statistics and Job Placement.
The chart below depicts the preliminary estimates made by the Federal Committee, as they appear in the preliminary draft budget presented at the Congress. Of all these budgetary forecasts, so painstakingly developed by the Federal Committee, which put its trust in the promises of various kinds of assistance and intended to grant an annual indemnification to the Secretaries of the Bourses du Travail for the extra work they would have to do in order to compile weekly registries of all the job openings in their jurisdictions, of all these forecasts, we say, prior to the opening of the Congress only one came true: the State subsidy. Furthermore, even this subsidy was actually less than the 10,000 francs which had been considered as indispensable for the exercise of the Office’s wide-ranging new tasks, and the Federal Committee was forced to engage in an energetic campaign in defense of an operation whose fundamental usefulness was not sufficiently grasped intellectually.
The Committee, however—and here we come to our conclusion—had a precise idea of the present and future functions of the Office of Statistics and Job Placement; its proposed goal was quite ambitious (and also required a great deal of energy and many sacrifices from each and every member) and should have been capable of implementation. Of this there can be no doubt. The economic crisis was throwing thousands of men out into the streets every day and the country’s ignorance concerning the oscillations of supply and demand condemned these men to remain where they were (but with what resources?) and to await the end of the crisis or to venture upon the road without any particular destination in search of a distant and hypothetical job. The workers organizations were helpless before the crisis: only the economic transformation could prevent its recurrence. Its effects could nonetheless be attenuated by finally bringing about what all the social economists and democratic governments have proposed since the Revolution: the creation of a labor market. And now is the time for the local markets formed by the trade unions and the Bourses du Travail to be completed by a national market, so that the workers from Marseilles who live in Toulouse or in Nantes will be able to know when and under what conditions they could obtain jobs in workshops or factories in their native city. Is anyone more qualified than the Bourses du Travail to carry out this mission?
Nor is that all. All kinds of statistics, compiled periodically or otherwise, which are published by the government or the Institute of Political Economy, are only of interest to the economist, who, thanks to them, formulates the principles which are useful to his own interests, or to the legislator, who, should he be inspired by them (however superficially), acts in such a manner as to disguise the injustice of the proposed laws submitted to him for examination. The ongoing statistical service of the Office for Statistics and Job Placement, on the other hand, will possess a practical and direct interest: that of publicizing, first to any unemployed worker or any worker who wants to get another job, information concerning jobs suited to their talents and paid at standard rates;6 also by immediately standardizing the available labor power in conformance with the demands of the workers; and finally, by offering a chance for success to striking workers, by steering unemployed workers away from the battle zones.7
e.) Miscellaneous Services.
To complete our list of the mutual aid services created by the Bourses du Travail, it will suffice to mention a few aid services for those who have fallen on hard times or become ill, and the attempt made by the “tailors and pattern-cutters trade union” of Nîmes to create a pension fund.
Special mention must be made concerning the “Caisse de Solidarité” (Solidarity Fund) recently created by certain trade unions affiliated with the “Association of the Trade Unions of the Seine”. This fund, unlike the traditional mutual aid funds, does not impose any age limits or health requirements on its subscribers, and does not accept honorary members. It imposes no age limits or health requirements because its founders take into account the fact that it is precisely when they reach the extremes of age or when a congenital or acquired disability diminishes their labor power that the workers are most in need of assistance. It was clear that they had to increase the dues subscription, above that of the mutual aid societies. But it is only fair for the strong to provide to the weak the same assistance that they will themselves receive when it is their turn to grow old or become ill. Furthermore, it does not appear, contrary to the opinion taught at the Sorbonne, that young people are hesitating at the prospect of joining this fund. Usefulness is the foundation of the solidarity which exists among us.
The benefits offered by the “Solidarity Fund” are as follows: assistance in case of illness, quarterly disbursements for soldiers (testimony to an unprecedented kind of solidarity upon which the association is relying in order to help prevent those of its members who join the army from renouncing their ties to the workshop and to work), aid for reservists and territorial troops, aid for the widows of deceased members, and for pregnant women (we must add that no distinction is made between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” pregnancies) and finally interest-free loans, guaranteed solely by the trade union of which the applicant is a member. The enrolment fee is set at 2 francs, and the monthly dues at 1.5 francs: the sick pay is 2 francs per day for a maximum of 30 days, provided only that the illness lasts more than six days and that the worker is completely unable to work. Pregnant women have the right to a special daily grant of 1.5 francs, in addition to the compensation in the amount of 2 francs they already receive for sick pay; the widow, or in her absence the children, the parents, the brothers or the sisters, or the legal heir(s) of a member of the Solidarity Fund, receives 30 francs; the soldier on active duty, 5 francs every four months; the reservist or territorial, 1.5 francs per day; loans are for 31 francs, payable without interest in minimum monthly payments of 3 francs.
What distinguishes the mutual aid services of the Bourses du Travail from the services of the mutual aid societies pure and simple is, first of all, the suppression of any age or health requirements, since we consider these services not as a means of self-protection against the accidents of life, but as a means of resistance, as we believe we have already said, against the effects of economic depressions, which are translated into long working days and low wages. Furthermore, its limitation to trade union members, a consequence of the motive mentioned above and of a luminous dedication—because it was not easy to expect it from mutualist legislation—to the principle of class division, is today acknowledged and scrupulously applied by all “organized” fractions of the proletariat.
Does this perhaps mean that mutual aid must discover, or more properly, rediscover, in the confrontations of the trade unions, the approval that the trade unions had denied it for so many years? There are two reasons why this may be possible: first, because the trade unions, which had for so long been called mutual aid societies (a form whose estimable character was celebrated not long ago by Leópold Mabilleau), believe that now they have a sufficient understanding of the defects to be avoided and second, that they are beginning to comprehend, some vaguely, others more clearly (by way of an increasingly expansive application of the principle of class struggle and by virtue of the socialist tendency to progressively eliminate all currently-existing institutions), they are beginning to comprehend, we say, the need to themselves construct the services which are today necessary for the men who are condemned to survive due to their daily search for increasingly precarious and underpaid jobs.
2. Educational Services
a.) Library. The Bourse du Travail, as the general statutes of all these associations say, “has the purpose of cooperating for the moral and material progress of workers of both sexes.” What means are better suited for this end than initiating the workers into the discoveries of the human spirit? It is in regard to education that one should be most pleased with the formation of the Bourses du Travail, from the moment when it became clear that only they were capable of undertaking the marvelous efforts which have led Edouard Petit, inspector-general of education, to say: “They are becoming the universities of the workers”. The poor, weak and isolated illiterates, and the political circles which scorned economic studies, were equally incapable (logically enough) not only of organizing professional and remedial training courses, concerning which we shall briefly touch upon below, but even of setting up libraries of any kind. On the other hand, there was a time when the scarce trade union libraries had to compensate for the severity of their books on science and technology with literary works that still to this day adorn the trade union halls. It is not necessary to point out that workers of all ages, whose ignorance of social events and of the laws which determine them limited their horizon, considered themselves captives, they and the generations to follow, of the search for starvation wages and degrading jobs; in addition, they were isolated and consequently could not carry out lively, intense discussions suited for honing the faculties of observation and critical thought, which is why they preferred, instead of elevated themes, the picturesque or stimulating narratives of popular story-tellers.
Only when they joined together, when they federated and concerned themselves every day with the improvement of the conditions of labor, and the trade union members were obliged to reflect upon the economic question, and to acquire suitably clear notions concerning social science, did they begin to take pleasure in the works placed at their disposal. Then they began to look at the world around them and discovered an authentic literary treasure trove, which was of use in alleviating their sorrows, until the time when the opportunity to eliminate them arises.
At this time, all Bourses du Travail have libraries and all of them are making serious efforts to add to their collections. Some have only 400 or 500 volumes, others have 1,200, and the Paris Bourse du Travail, which clearly enjoys a privileged position and has at its disposal a reading room covering 72 square meters, has more than 2,700 books. Furthermore, quality prevails over quantity at all of these libraries. Almost instinctively, the Bourses du Travail have chosen works dedicated to refining the tastes, to elevating the sentiments, and to extending the knowledge of the working class: the most conscientious studies of social critique, the most essential and valuable, the most sublime works of the imagination. Such was the nourishment offered to appetites which were so robust that they remain unsatisfied to this day. In the catalogues of these libraries we find, alongside the technology section composed of up-to-date and quite noteworthy treatises on scientific and technical discoveries in the fields of physics, chemistry and engineering, the masters of political economy, from Adam Smith to Marx. In literature, we find examples ranging from the prose and poetry of the 17th and 18th centuries to Emile Zola and Anatole France; in social critique, from Saint-Simon to Kropotkin; in the natural sciences, from Haeckel and Darwin to Reclus and the most eminent contemporary anthropologists.
On the other hand, the Bourses du Travail demonstrate a discriminating eclecticism, and one may browse on the shelves of their libraries through the highest achievements of genius, works such as Le Génie du Christianisme (The Genius of Christianity) and La Justice dans la révolution et dans l’eglise (Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, by Proudhon), The Pope, by de Maistre, as well as L’esquisse d’une morale sans obligation ni sanction, by Guyau (Essay on a Morality without Obligation or Punishment), L’Essai sur l’indifference, by Lamannais, and Les Ruines de Palmire, by Volney (The Ruins of Palmyra), or L’Origine de tous les cultes, by Dupuis (The Origin of All Forms of Worship). Would we be so bold as to say that all these books were read often? Of course not, but there are workers who have the curiosity which leads them to open these books and to become interested in the virulence of the great catholic polemicists and the poetic wealth of a Chateaubriand. As for the others, and here I am referring to those who need to have their interest artificially stimulated, this will be achieved when they become interested in reading the novels of contemporary authors who address the social question.
b.) The Museum of Labor.
The Bourses du Travail were not content with just offering their members exemplary libraries. With an always alert imagination, they wanted to create a museum of labor, whose plan we set forth not long ago in the Bourses’ official publication, L’Ouvrier des Deux-Mondes. We never get tired of repeating that the products which cost the worker so much, generate scandalous profits for the capitalists; that from one year to another the purchasing power of the masses diminishes, while that of the privileged increases. Wealth is constantly growing and poverty is becoming more horrible every day. Economic conditions can be expected which will, over time, increase the oppression of the worker and which will render his peaceful efforts to protect his existence ever more powerless. It is also said that…. But all of this is nothing but so many assertions. We need to do more.
It would be interesting to offer people the means to observe social phenomena for themselves and to extract all their meaning. What more convincing means exist than placing before their eyes the very essence of social science: products and their histories?
Here are some examples of the threads used in the textiles of Amiens. We know how much the workers who spin them are paid, as well as how much the spinners of other regions are paid. But what do these figures represent to us? Almost nothing, because we are unaware of almost all the other accessory circumstances, those which confer all their value upon these products. This is the case in regard to the cost of the raw materials in the producing countries and their cost of being admitted into the manufacturing process, that is, the increasing costs as the material is subjected to change of ownership, customs duties, salesmen’s commissions, and the requirements of feeding, housing and maintaining the workers; one must know all of this in order to really know the value of the worker’s wage; nor does one know how much the worker makes unless one knows whether the declared wage is for each day actually worked or for each day of the year; similarly, one needs to know where and in what quantities the factory owner sells his products, and what the products’ retail price is for the consumers, etc. What, therefore, are the foundations upon which the economic principles empirically deduced from elementary and perhaps uncertain statistics may be securely based?
Such are the concerns of numerous Bourses du Travail. How can they be satisfied? Quite simply: by creating a museum subdivided into as many sections as there are trade unions, which would contain displays of each manufactured product with its whole history. The workers would thus have the chance to encompass within a few minutes the origin of the fabric right before their eyes, the various places it is manufactured, its cost of production, the number of workers needed for its production process, as well as their wages and their cost of living; they will also know the sales price of the fabric, both wholesale and retail; and the number, the characteristics and the productivity of the machines which have woven the fabric. All this data will be kept up-to-date, constantly registering the relations between the capitalist and the worker, between the producer and the consumer, so that the truth about these matters will rapidly emerge before the eyes of the workers in the textile industry. At the same time, a balance sheet will be kept concerning strikes, mutual aid societies, legislation regarding unemployment, the labor laws and everything else which is incapable of putting an end to pauperization, just as a dike made of sand cannot contain the fury of the sea.
We must make it clear that these informational efforts shall have neither the purpose nor the effect of reducing the importance of the economic institutions inspired not only by the current need for defense, but also and above all by the intention of providing the working class with the means of production, distribution and consumption which will be necessary after the social transformation. These projects will serve only to show the people, in a new and eloquent way, the impossibility of a peaceful transformation.
Imagine a book laid out before our eyes covering all the products of human industry; for the minerals extracted from the depths of the Urals, the coal of Westphalia or Gard, and the delicate wicker-work of the Palatinate; and for the glassware of Bohemia and the plate glass of Pennsylvania or Tarn; for the diamonds of India and the tapestries of the Gobelins, the pottery of Aubagne and the marvelous ceramics of Sèvres; in short, for everything which procures a few pleasures for misers, a voluptuous lifestyle for artists or the mean-spirited satisfactions of the vain, and which cost others so much misfortune and so much suffering patiently endured and silently absorbed. Let us imagine, finally, these living testimonials of the inexplicable economic inequality, displayed simultaneously and constantly in every large city, which will incessantly remind the miner, the glassmaker, the baker, the potter, the ceramist, and the pattern-maker, that these labors, issuing from their hands and for which they earn barely enough to survive are finally destined to ornament the homes of other men. So, would these mute lessons not perhaps be more eloquent than the vain revolutionary lamentations that leave the café orators breathless?
Furthermore, there is no lack of material in the Bourses du Travail for such projects. They have, for purposes of assessment, the origin and the history of each product, from the entry of the raw materials into the factory to the final sale of the manufactured object, the trade federations of all countries, the reports of the consular agents of all nations, the trade unions of salesmen and accountants; for the mechanical conditions in which the product is manufactured, specialized treatises and the accounts of the workers; for the economic conditions, the declarations of the respective trade unions.
The future will tell what fate awaits this project, whose least merit will be to confer upon the curators of the museum’s fifty sections an understanding of economic science that many eminent economists would envy.
c.) Information Offices. The ambition of the workers associations was not limited to creating Museums of Labor. As we pointed out above, the principle benefit of the Bourses du Travail was that of promoting the progress of all of them, and subsequently that of steering them away from practices recognized as sterile and suggesting more fertile ideas. Yet, quite understandably, each Bourse du Travail and even the Federal Committee itself could forget where various innovations had been elaborated most appropriately and with the most satisfactory results. Hence the need, if one does not want to burden each Bourse du Travail with the task, to create a central office, or, ideally, a vast number of local offices of economic information.
The initiative for this project came from Solidarité des Travailleurs of Bagnères-de-Bigorre. “The groups,” according to Solidarité des Travailleurs,8 “are formed only in the big cities, where an intrepid spirit makes the proposal and only gets a response when his idea is already being implemented. And although even then the project proceeds in the darkness, the groups multiply, with few or with many members, whose inspiration is found in their founding charters. In Marseilles, for example, a new initiative is attempted, some feelers are sent out, perhaps nothing is achieved, while in Lille, on the other hand, a similar project has already been implemented and functions regularly. The experiences of the North are of no avail at all for the South. By a precise assessment of this situation, we arrive at the idea of a social library. We asked ourselves: Will we not perhaps have to complement our education? Would it not be possible to measure the efforts made by our education to aspire to a better social condition? All the soldiers in our great army have felt some satisfaction at seeing so many results, despite the unfavorable environment in which the workers act. At the same time, they have witnessed and recognized the sterility of isolated efforts that do not spread to all the cities and the countryside. These recorded facts will result in infusing all the workers with a greater confidence in the future. When victory seems to be certain an army is invincible.”
Based on these observations, Solidarité des Travailleurs proposes the first social library, the first information office, and that “all existing and even disbanded groups (trade unions, trade union centers, mutual aid societies, and producers’, consumers’, credit and insurance cooperatives, should send us their statutes and documentation concerning the resources at their disposal and the results they have obtained. Solidarité des Travailleurs will assume responsibility for centralizing and organizing all this information. Each group will form a special section, and each group’s secretary will be responsible for cataloging the material sent to him, for studying as carefully as possible and with the most attention to detail all the information he receives, for producing his own section’s report, for investigating the seminal aspects which gave rise to the prosperity of certain groups and the cause of the demise of groups which no longer exist…. Our library is also composed of books which address the social question … which, by means of the organization of a circulating library, we will loan to those groups that wish to consult them.”
One may note the economy of time and effort that has allowed the Bourses du Travail to create a certain number of offices of this kind. We would also like to point out that this project is easy to carry out and that it will soon be completed by the reading material and the educational subsidies now made available to their members by the Bourses du Travail.
d.) The corporative press. Some Bourses du Travail publish monthly bulletins containing the minutes of their meetings and various statistics concerning their training courses, the trade union movement, etc. They also include the minutes of the meetings of the Federal Committee, since the latter no longer has its own publication after the discontinuance, in 1899, of the journal of social economy, Le Monde Ouvrier.
We must confess, however, that most of these publications, for which we entertain such high hopes, do not really understand or know how to carry out their functions. At most, two or three of them, the bulletins of Nîmes and Tours, and L’Ouvrier du Finistère, are to various degrees making efforts to contribute to the elucidation of economic and social problems. The others do not even have enough information about how the Bourses du Travail that publish them function.
The task confronting the secretaries of the Bourses du Travail is undoubtedly beyond their capacities, if not their good will, and we ultimately consider it to be fairer to emphasize the tasks they have fulfilled before pointing out their errors. The responsibility for their failures in relation to journalism, however, is altogether theirs, because it depends entirely upon them whether the bulletins are useful and interesting … without any great personal effort on their part. All they have to do is publish the perhaps overly-documented reports of their study committees, or to recruit from among the members of their Bourses du Travail those valuable collaborators whom we have ourselves encountered and who have brought to light not just the living conditions of the workers, but also the vicissitudes of the trade unions, exposing their weak points and contrasting them with their strong points. Such people have enumerated their successes and carried out investigations of their defeats, in short, introducing those with little or no knowledge of the subject to trade union activity.
Villemessant revealed himself to be a psychologist on the day that he proclaimed that any man is capable of writing at least one excellent article. We have ourselves proven the veracity of this conclusive assertion by obtaining from workers who were at first thought to be incapable of such work, interesting monographs on groups and even studies on questions that arouse the enthusiasm of the proletariat. How many times have we published articles on the Bourses du Travail, whose first print run was reserved by the Bourses themselves, or copies of which the Bourses ordered later! That the corporative newspapers are not read is actually a completely understandable setback, since no one can be compelled to read publications that are without interest. It is up to the Bourses du Travail which publish them to give them adequate publicity: they effectively contain within themselves all the elements needed to create journals which would have no cause to envy the English or American corporative magazines. They should therefore begin the task of uniting all of these potential resources and thus adding to all the instruments of emancipation already at their disposal, the essential instrument par excellence: the newspaper, in which man, with his longings for a full life, is reflected.
e.) Education. The corporative groups’ concern regarding a professional education provided on their own initiative is not a recent phenomenon. Without going back further than 1872 we can already ascertain that this was the goal of the founders of the “Workers Trade Union Circle” and that all the trade unions of that time enthusiastically endorsed this project. “If we go back to the origins,” says the Report of the delegation of the Paris marble workers to the Lyon Universal Exposition (1872), “we note that since the beginning a central trade union school for professional design was considered to be necessary by a workers group. Other courses, considered to be useful for all trades, should be organized later, in accordance with the circle’s resources.”
“The first meeting concerning this objective was due to the initiative of citizen Ottin, a sculptor, who presented his proposal to the woodcarvers. Since the sketch of the design is of essential utility in this trade, the question was confronted with determination. Then the trade union center of the upholstery workers offered the use of their own local headquarters for holding the preliminary meeting for the planned school…. In this way,” the report continues, “the trade union centers which reciprocally borrowed the support of ideas and practical knowledge from one another, learned to recognize within their own ranks those individuals worthy of representing them and thereby made specific knowledge accessible to all by favoring the inclination of the more gifted as opposed to the less gifted.”
As a result, however, of the scanty means at the disposal of the trade unions for organizing technical training, nothing much was achieved in this field prior to the creation of the Bourses du Travail. Almost immediately after the latter institutions were founded they began to make up for lost time and over the course of the last fifteen years, they have achieved veritable prodigies in regard to the matter of organizing and operating their adult training courses. We have already mentioned the opinion of Edouard Petit, who judged that the Bourses du Travail that offered such courses were deserving of the title of workers universities. Whoever has read the book published by Marius Vachon on industrial education in France will understand the justice of such praise.
Under the rubric of education, the Bourses du Travail can be divided into two categories: those which restrict themselves to professional, theoretical and practical training, and those which, more ambitiously (taking the lead in strictness over all the other Bourses), added an eclectic educational program, applied to diverse fields of knowledge.
We are not in a position to explain, or even to summarize, everything which has been done all over France to react, according to the expression of a member of the Toulouse Bourse du Travail,9 against the dominant tendency of modern industry to transform the apprentice into a tool, an accessory to the machine, instead of an intelligent collaborator. Vachon devoted a large part of his work to this theme, and yet has not exhausted the topic. We shall limit ourselves here to mentioning some of the topics addressed by various Bourses du Travail and their views concerning the functions they aspire to fulfill in the field of education.
Among the Bourses du Travail of the first category we find those of Saint-Etienne, Marseilles and Toulouse. Marseilles created new courses: carpentry and cabinet making, metallurgy, shoemaking, tailoring, typography and lithography. Saint-Etienne, in addition to the latter two courses, introduced the following: geometry and architectural design, drawing for boilermakers, tin-platers and lathe operators, and a school of design for carpenters; apprenticeship for weavers; sewing, home economy, and arithmetic; metal working, spinning, surveying and masonry. The most recent general statistics, from the 1899-1900 academic year, indicate that for the period spanning October to July, 597 lessons of two hours each were taught. The average number of students was 426. All of these programs conclude by awarding prizes to the best students in each course offered by the Bourse du Travail, followed by a party (concert and dancing) whose financial proceeds are devoted to the acquisition of educational material for needy students, or for the children of the members of the Bourse du Travail.10
Montpellier organized five courses: shoemaking, sculpture, cabinet making, hairdressing and cooking. Toulouse, which enjoyed a considerable annual subsidy, offered twenty courses as well as a magnificent typographical training laboratory. The General Council of Haute Garonne budgeted 300 francs each year for awards to the best students, whose distribution was to be preceded by an exposition displaying the results of the work accomplished in the classes during the course of each year. The courses, which were also attended by soldiers, were inspected daily by the program’s administrators. Furthermore, the courses were so successful that the Bourse du Travail planned to have their students enter the competitions held by the Ministry of Trade for the staffing of overseas exchanges.
Among the Bourses du Travail of the second category, we find Paris and Nîmes. In Paris, some of the trade unions affiliated with the Seine Federation organized, in association with the Polytechnic Institute—which contributed the teachers—courses on electric power, commercial accounting, stenography, drafting, applied chemistry and mechanics, algebra and practical geometry, commercial and industrial law, automobile manufacture and, finally, German and English. It would be superfluous to talk about the quality of these courses, the Polytechnic Institute having, in the way of educational materials, provided very valuable examples. What is doubtful is whether the students were capable of making much progress, and this was due to reasons attributable to the organization of the Paris Bourse du Travail itself.
In the Bourses du Travail of the provinces the courses were attended assiduously by the same people all the time, because these Bourses, unlike the Paris Bourse,11 which was provided with large buildings within which the members could only relate to one another with difficulty and were separated from one another by large spaces, were small but stimulating focal points of trade union activity, in which the members could more easily and completely come into contact with one another, making it possible to offer the courses as if it were a real school, which the students were obliged, so to speak, to attend. In Paris, on the other hand, the trade union members, being after a fashion isolated from the administration of the Bourse du Travail, were unable to regularly attend their courses, which as a result resembled a sort of open lecture series. For this reason, the number of students is quite variable, their attendance sporadic and the results obtained less optimal than was desired.
Elsewhere in Paris, the courses are exclusively theoretical. The excessive number of trade unions concentrated on the Rue du Château-d’Eau and on the Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau (where almost every office is occupied by two organizations) precludes any thought of creating practical courses. For this reason many trade unions, particularly those of the Parisian typographers, mechanics, body shop workers, rope makers, carpenters, etc., decided to organize outside of the Bourse du Travail a notable vocational training program.
The Nîmes Bourse du Travail is the one which has done the most in regards to the simultaneous development of both vocational training as well as a complementary educational program embracing various fields of human knowledge.
Its technical training includes arithmetic, geometry, mechanics, mechanical drawing, accounting, commercial geography, legislation, and the science of commercial products. The complementary educational program includes Spanish, medicine, and practical surgery. In addition, the Bourse plans to offer courses on political and social economy, hygiene, sociology and philosophy.
We conclude this brief summary of the training programs offered by the Bourses du Travail by recalling that Clermont-Ferrand, prevented until now from organizing professional courses due to a lack of resources, offers its members during every winter season lectures given by professors from the local university, which are very well-attended.
The results obtained by these various modes of the dissemination of useful knowledge can be inferred and we shall not attempt to provide evidence for them. What, however, were the outcomes of the results of these programs? What economic consequences did they have? This is what the Bourses du Travail were asked at the Rennes Congress. If on the one hand a general education, under any circumstances, can effectively refine man’s sensibilities, technical improvement, on the other hand, amidst the conditions of struggle created by the hardships of existence, could only serve to reinforce man’s own inclination, however understandable, to egoism; and in this case the Bourses du Travail had a contradictory function: by finally becoming workshop foremen or small entrepreneurs, the old students of the Bourses could end up as adversaries of the Bourses’ own interests.
Furthermore, a very similar case had already arisen in some cities in respect to a proposal for training apprentices; and before the Rennes Congress had passed a motion establishing the principle that training in the Bourses du Travail should be for the purpose of improving the skills of adult workers and those youths who had already entered the laboratories and workshops, instead of training apprentices, the Toulouse Bourse du Travail was obliged to temporarily close its typography laboratory because the apprentices who had received their training there had, thanks to the wage differentials, replaced the adult workers in the typography shops of the city.
These observations help us to understand why the 1900 Congress later felt obliged to determine the facts concerning the following situations:
1. Whether, within the jurisdiction of each Bourse du Travail, the professional training courses have contributed to an increase in wages;
2. Whether they have increased the technical abilities of the workers in general;
3. Whether the workers who have benefited from such programs have remained workers and still stand in a principled community with their comrades in labor, or have instead gone on to form a reserve contingent of foremen, managers, labor supervisors, etc.12
The Congress responded in the affirmative to these three questions, and recognized that, far from hindering the efforts undertaken by the working class in favor of the collective and simultaneous emancipation of the workers, the professional training programs initiated by the Bourses du Travail produce beneficial moral and material results.
But our ambition did not stop at that point, and the high standards achieved by the training given in the Bourses du Travail gave birth to our desire to slowly but surely bring it about that all the Bourses du Travail should have schools which would provide courses situated between grammar school and the “modern” or “special” instruction received in secondary schools and institutes.
Do these proposals perhaps surprise our readers? Your surprise will be all the greater when we tell you that the greatest problem presented by this idea is not the length of the daily sessions (Demolis has convincingly claimed that the four hours in the classroom and the six hours of “study” imposed in some of the schools we know, are two-thirds superfluous), or even recruiting teachers, but the acquisition of the indispensable financial resources. Nonetheless, and without relying too much on problematic municipal subsidies, we may perhaps find these resources in the formation of educational cooperatives. It is unnecessary to add that, in case this project is successful, the Bourses du Travail will become classic libraries inspired by socialist principles.
Otherwise, as far as education is concerned, any audacity is legitimate. The courses taught by the Bourses du Travail have not only resulted in the production of “good workers”. They also provide the opportunity to distribute prizes, as was pointed out in 1889 by the administrator of the Saint-Etienne Bourse du Travail responsible for their distribution. The awards have the benefit of providing a stimulus for those who attend the courses.
“They are aware of the difficulties inherent in the initiation into any kind of skill and they understand the importance of these hours of study, which prepare them for the struggle which intelligence must prosecute against brute matter: the man who knows this has more self-respect … and to the extent that he is conscious of its value, this ennobles rather than brutalizes his labor….”
“The more knowledge we possess,” adds an editor of the newspaper L’Ouvrier en voitures, “especially concerning the manifestations of social life, the more power for resistance and attack we shall have to oppose to our oppressors … and I believe that by teaching as much as possible we bring ourselves closer to the ideal towards which we strive, which is the total emancipation of the individual.”
3. The Propaganda Service.
What are the different forms of propaganda conducted by the Bourses du Travail? And in what domains are these forms of propaganda employed? These are the two questions we pose at the beginning of this section. But in order to provide an adequate answer to these questions it is first necessary to identify and then to illustrate the workings of the two facets of workers trade union activity.
“The working class,” we have said elsewhere,13 “pursues a dual objective: first, protecting itself against immediate exploitation, shortening the working day and fighting against the ‘starvation wages’ to which it is reduced by an economic system in which the constant and progressive cheapening of the products of labor does not hinder capital in the ever more zealous pursuit of its own growth; secondly, laying the building blocks for a social state in which, whether by means of the scientific and impartial determination of the ‘value’ of things (the collectivist theory) or by way of the suppression of all ‘values’ (the communist theory), all men will be counted upon to contribute to production and where, as a result, the collective effort will make it possible for each to contribute in accordance with his individual potential, assuring everybody’s existence and rendering the administrative and political machinery instituted to impose respect for privilege superfluous. This dual objective necessitates a dual activity and a dual form of workers association.”
“For the direct exploitation of which the proletariat is the victim there are but three possible palliatives: the resort to centralized power—whose interest lies, in order to preserve itself, in attenuating rather than abolishing economic crises—which will necessarily be obliged to intervene on behalf of justice, whenever an attempt at oppression is brought to its attention or is denounced; the strike, or, which is the same thing, the refusal on the part of the workers to offer the use of their arms or their minds in conditions which they consider disadvantageous; and violence, which is, ultimately, the only thing which can put a stop to violence.”
“But due to capitalist exploitation, which is translated into an excessively long working day, in wage reductions, in the replacement of hand labor by machine labor, etc., in the context of professions which all have their own particular situations and characteristics, it is not easy for the workers to themselves minutely examine, each of them on his own (despite the interconnection of all social phenomena), to what extent and with what means they can effectively combat their oppression.”
“For example, in relation to the development of machinery in their own industry, they must study to determine what the length of their working day and the amount of their wages should be; they should calculate how far their demands can go without risking the closure of their factory. In short, the workers will have to assess as precisely as possible the reality of their immediate interests and the need to preserve the instruments of their own existence. These considerations gave rise to the first form of corporative association: the regional, and then the national and international federations of the workers in the same trade or that of workers in different trades brought together for the conquest of bread.”
“At first glance, the national trade union or trade federation, whose objective is the economic improvement of the workers’ conditions, the perfecting of the social order, and the extension to all of an equality which is only theoretically universal, seem to provide an answer for all these needs and seem to be in a position to exclude any other kind of association. Why, then, do the workers strive to complement them with organizations of another kind? Because they understand not only that labor unity can never be too strong and that it must by sought by every available means, but also that exploitation will definitively and always dominate the social domain until the moment that the stake is fatally driven into its heart. It is therefore not enough to attempt to restrain its repressed instincts. It is necessary to overcome them by abolishing exploitation itself.”
“Just as exploitation only exists by virtue of the commodity character conferred upon exchange, it will disappear if the fruits of labor, instead of being commodities, are exchanged solely in accordance with the needs of consumption. The workers—some unaware, others acting on the basis of social conditions—at the same time that they organize to put up fragile defenses against an inevitably increasing oppression, must also organize to reflect upon their own condition, to understand the elements of the economic question, to grow stronger culturally and materially and to make themselves capable, in a word, of the emancipation to which they are entitled….”
So it was that, as opposed to the trade federation, the federation of the whole array of trade unions was formed. The workers grouped by trade for the defense of their immediate professional interests thus occupied a broader terrain, in order to avoid the incoherent or “particularistic” efforts of purely corporative action.
The functions of the trade associations and the national trade unions therefore consisted primarily of identifying the problems in each trade and studying the necessary means to defend the worker against wage reductions, lengthening of the working day, the economic slump caused by new legislation, and the introduction of machinery, etc. Among these means, the most important is to get as many members of the local trade groups (“corporations”) to join the trade unions, since the significance of this number lies in the assurance it provides the trade unions in their efforts to make their demands heeded. Then came the problem of the strike, which the trade federations tend to regulate and generalize, recognizing the impotence of partial strikes or strikes called without due consideration.
As for the federations of trade unions, i.e., the Bourses du Travail, their mission includes research into the working conditions in the entire area of their jurisdiction and studying the means to improve them, as well as the establishment of mutual aid services and job placement offices, the dissemination of professional and economic information, collecting statistics on production and consumption, and, finally, the adaptation of those institutions which are susceptible of joining them, especially the corporative societies, both as regards the character of their members as well as the socialist goals they advocate.
a.) Industrial Propaganda. We will dispense with an explanation of what we mean by the industrial propaganda of the Bourses du Travail, as we have dealt with it already above. In brief, it comprises all the services we enumerated above: mutual aid services and educational services, besides the effective participation of the trade federations in certain strikes and the search for methods of carrying out agrarian and maritime propaganda, concerning which we shall speak momentarily. The number of Bourses du Travail as well as the number of trade unions which are members of the Bourses, along with the number of workers federated in these organizations, testifies to the success achieved on this terrain.
b.) Agrarian Propaganda. The idea of carrying out agrarian propaganda occurred to the Federal Committee in 1896, when the Committee was already busy, as we said above, with the consolidation of the existing Bourses du Travail, prior to an attempt to create new ones. A campaign to extend the urban workers movement beyond the confines of the cities was then considered. Having become enthusiastically convinced of the need to undertake such a project, two questions were submitted to various socialist personalities who were long-time advocates of agrarian propaganda:
1. What were the reasons for the mediocre results obtained from the organizational efforts undertaken until now among the agricultural laborers?
2. How should one go about organizing these workers into corporative groups? The following response, provided by an ardent propagandist, summarizes the points made by the other respondents, contributes a solution to the problem and finally makes possible an attempt to cultivate activities in the rural field whose application has until now been limited (understandably enough) to the industrial field.
“The (socialist) agricultural trade unions,” declared Arcès-Sacré, “were hardly formed when they were dissolved because the founders of these groups, with the happy results obtained by the urban industrial trade unions before their eyes, believed that they must use them as models.” This was an error. In order to reach their goal it was necessary to take into account the particular working conditions of agricultural labor and to also keep in mind the way these conditions varied from place to place, depending on whether the farms in each vicinity were dominated by large estates or were instead divided into many smaller parcels owned by the majority of the population.
Those who worked on the large estates—carters, herdsmen, shepherds, employees of the ranches or farmhouses, mowers, and beet harvesters—all work, depending on the season, between ten and fourteen hours each day. Most of them eat and sleep on the farms. At eight p.m. the doors of their dormitories are closed and no one is allowed to enter or leave. Sunday is their only holiday. Those who look after the cattle and the horses also get a little freedom on the job.
As for the wage laborers of the small and medium-sized farms, their servitude is similar to that of their counterparts on the large estates. But mixed with these wage laborers, we also find the former landowners who still have their villas and a few plots of land. This category, once numerous, is today declining at a surprising rate because it can only survive by paying such low wages and providing such miserable living conditions to its laborers that would be rejected today by a city worker. As a result, the children of these farmers nourish no other ambition than to learn a trade that would allow them to get an industrial job, or to join the army, or else to secure a place among those thousands of low-level and blue-collar employees the State maintains on the rolls of the civil service. Today, however, more than a few of these farmers have started to think: socialism—which was not so long ago considered to be a social crime—today appears in their eyes as a lifeboat. There can be no doubt that the peasant class will be the first to enter our ranks.
We must, however, add that one indispensable matter remains to be settled in order to assure success in the plan to create agricultural trade unions: that is, that these trade unions must not be composed solely of agricultural laborers, but also of independent craftsmen. The agricultural trade unions must above all admit into their collectives the workers of the various trades who work with the farm workers, who are needed for the farms’ operations and who constitute anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of the rural population. This is why the trade unions should assume the title of unified trade unions of agricultural and industrial workers.
The laws governing trade union membership permit this combination and there is considerable interest among our supporters in their creation. We have effectively proven that the industrial workers in the agricultural field include: millers, carters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and even wine salesmen, who generally comprise the most important categories among the socialist contingents in the rural districts. They are almost always the most resourceful and the most active. Candidates for political office are well aware of this, as it is precisely among these categories that they recruit the personnel for their electoral committees. We shall make use of their abilities for a higher purpose….
Having said this, we see how the agricultural trade unions can function in the districts dominated by large farms employing many wage laborers. Here it is not necessary to require the members to attend weekly meetings: the migrant farm laborers could not participate in weekly meetings. For this reason, meetings will have to be held monthly.
Along with the problems posed by itinerant farm labor, it will always be impossible to get a large number of members to attend meetings. Many fear that their ideas will come to the attention of their employers and that they will be fired. The only way to provide them with a sense of security and to at least get them to participate to some degree in the socialist movement, may be the following: in any village where the membership encounters obstacles which prevent them from attending meetings—or believe such obstacles to exist—they will nominate a secretary as their delegate, who does not have any direct connection with the trades of the membership. This delegate would be responsible in particular for consulting the trade union members about the issues scheduled to be discussed on the meeting’s agenda and representing all the members who are unable to attend. However imperfect this system may be, we see it as the only practical solution. This delegate will recruit new members in his district; he will be responsible for the distribution of propaganda and circulars, and also for correspondence and newspapers tailored to the needs of the membership.
The trade unions of each federation will be united in a federal committee composed of special delegates from the trade unions. This federal committee, which will have its own seat in the regional Bourse du Travail, will have the mission, among other tasks, of maintaining contacts with the other federal committees of the various Bourses du Travail, so that the serious issues agitating the socialist world will quickly be brought to the attention of all the workers….
With such a plan the objective of the federal committee was facilitated; all that remained was to note the new developments as they arose, adding the indispensable observations which make it possible to materially distinguish the socialist trade unions from the other kinds and to prevent them from occasionally contradicting the purpose for which they were created.
First of all, the Committee eliminated from the list of those eligible for membership all owners of property consisting of more than 16 hectares of mixed crops, plus one hectare of grapes, because these owners, even if they have the same problems as their colleagues, and may even live in more impoverished conditions than the sharecroppers or the tenant farmers, too often repudiated any kind of solidarity of interests in confrontations with the small landowners, and otherwise lacked the motivations of the tenant farmers to sustain a corporative struggle. Under these circumstances, the Committee preventatively issued a dual program for the trade unions: economic action and socialist propaganda. “The trade union,” it stated, “will concern itself with the conditions of labor and will strive not just to maintain but to raise the wage level by all possible means; it will intervene in the debates and the conflicts that will arise between the employers and the workers, and will try to obtain the best conditions from the employers, it will strive to get jobs for its members, so as to achieve the gradual reduction and then the disappearance of public hiring; to spare its members the payment of court costs, it will demand of the arbitration committees responsible for the amicable resolution of disputes between the workers and the employers, that they not be the exclusive judges of such conflicts.”
“Concerning the conditions of the sharecropping parcels and the rented farm plots, it will compile all possible data on the prices of land in the region in question, the total amount of the rents and the net yield of the land; with this data it will create rent tables and, in general, will provide the tenant farmers, sharecroppers and leaseholders all the information of a statistical and legal nature which will allow them to enter into disputes with the landowners on equal terms; it will demand of the smallholders that they not employ, where necessary, operatives, day laborers or domestics unless they accept their rules in advance, establishing by mutual agreement the wages to be paid.”
“It will organize and encourage collective labor contracts: transporting to neighboring markets the greatest amount of produce with the smallest possible number of animals, carts and personnel; collective grazing on communal lands and fields; the formation of cooperatives for manufacturing butter, cheese, etc.; organizing the use of threshing equipment. In a word, it will proceed to encourage as many collective organizations as possible to help lower the cost of equipment and tools, of transportation and land, and to raise the awareness of all the members on the subject of the collective acquisition of implements, seeds and fertilizers, as well as locating the purchasers of agricultural products in order to put them into contact with its members.”
“It will support the interests of its members in the matter of wages, before the arbitration boards, and in case of accidents which result in disability, fraud, etc., and it will assume responsibility for enforcing the judgments pronounced; it will grant money advances to those of its members who cannot wait for the execution of a judgment passed in their favor; it will make all necessary efforts, not only to prevent its alienation but to see to it that the communal legacy is augmented.”
In this section, which concerns trade union action properly speaking and which reflects the dual desire to offer the agricultural workers all the advantages of association as well as to familiarize them with communist practice, the Committee adds the following article, which yet more clearly emphasizes the latter concern: “In order to advance the moral development of its members, the trade union will create a library. It will also organize periodic conferences whose purposes shall be to:
“1. Point out the advantages of the trade union from the point of view of the immediate improvement of the conditions of the workers;
“2. Explain why this improvement can only be temporary and why it is subordinated to the worsening of the fate of other groups of individuals, and thus showing that the goal of all producers associations is the suppression of individual property;
“3. Explain how the economy works in society and show that at the same time that the new production methods increase the general wealth, the number of those who possess less than is necessary is growing considerably;
“4. Demonstrate the advantages of association and of labor in common with the aid of machinery, both in relation to the increase of production and the reduction of costs.”
Finally, in a Preamble attached to the statutes, the Committee, investigating the reasons why “income from the land is constantly diminishing”, insists once again on the communist goal of the trade union. Given the permanent decrease in the value of the products, each year reducing the level of income yielded by each hectare, “the financial situation of the cultivators cannot be maintained except in conjunction with a continual proportional extension of their property. But this extension is only within the reach of those farmers who have the necessary capital…. Then the economic crisis makes it necessary for the lands in production to yield more crops in inverse relation to the decrease in the prices of the crops, with the consequence that those farmers for whom this increased yield is impossible are ruined, because of a lack of capital, and also restricts the number of small tenant farmers who accept living under the conditions imposed upon them. Can the small farmers avoid this necessary outcome? No, the Committee concludes, because on the day that all the important agricultural estates affected by the association of the poor peasants “are threatened with a reduction in the incomes of the rich landowners, the latter will get organized, as is happening in Belgium and Germany” and in this struggle based on financial means, the estates with the least capital will succumb. So, what good will the efforts proposed by the Committee actually do? To demonstrate by experience “the advantages to be gained from work in common” and (once it has been proved that the capitalist system prevents any enduring improvements in the fate of the human collectivity) to make the workers of the countryside lose “their blind as well as senseless love of small-scale private property.”
How, then, is this method to be applied? The city workers know little of the country workers, and in addition profess a certain scorn for them, as if work on the land was not the very source of life. For this reason, if the Bourses du Travail want to introduce socialism into the rural areas, they will have to begin by training specialized propagandists well-acquainted with the conditions of existence of rural life and the economic problems affecting agricultural production; then it is necessary not to put these propagandists directly into close contact with the farm workers, which might engender a certain amount of distrust, but with the workers in the satellite trades of agriculture who, since they live in the rural areas, have the trust of the farm workers.
They should therefore form study commissions which, without ignoring the economic problems originating in industrial production, will pay particular attention to agricultural issues; the reports produced by these commissions should be discussed in periodic meetings of the full membership, with the reservation that, in order to prevent these discussions from assuming a superficial character, they should only take place during the next meeting after the reports are presented. This would make the Bourses du Travail propaganda schools of incomparable power, and they would therefore be in a position to henceforth match the influence exercised over the rural population by the landowners. As was pointed out at Toulouse (1897), the farm worker may possess the spirit of communist cooperation in a greater degree than the city worker: this spirit resides, by dint of his arduous labor, in his fervent desire to replace a precarious property with a stable one, and numerous and quite curious proofs of this have been provided, especially in Belgium and Germany. Thus, if the Bourses du Travail, patiently and skillfully, without wanting to force the course of events, make contacts with the farm workers, they will attract new soldiers to the proletarian army, soldiers who will be hard to convince—this is true—but who are gifted, once they have decided, with a tenacity and a valor that will withstand every trial, as was in other times demonstrated by the Vendée.
The methods whose guidelines we have just outlined above, among others, were immediately seized upon by several Bourses du Travail and put into practice. The Bourses of Narbonne, Carcassonne and Montpelier formed trade unions of agricultural workers. The Bourse du Travail of Nîmes tried to win over the agricultural trade unions of Gard and also undertook the technical and theoretical training of special propagandists. Afterwards, it made an effort to federate the agricultural trade unions won over to its cause in the cantonal Bourses du Travail and thus succeeded in bringing about the compact and definitive association of the rural workers with those of the workshops and factories.
Finally, who has not heard of the admirable propaganda campaign carried out by the Nantes Bourse du Travail, in conjunction with that of Brunelliere, to organize the vineyard workers of the lower Loire? Have not the socialists of Nantes provided obvious proof that, far from signifying the satisfaction of base instinct, socialism is an inevitable stage of evolution, because it has found a receptive audience and enrolls members even in the fields of Brittany, which is reputed to be hostile to all innovators?
c.) Maritime Propaganda. The agricultural workers are not the only ones who must yet be won over to the cause of the workers. There are still the sailors and the fishermen to be addressed.
When one speaks of sailors, one also evokes the image of the flesh merchant. But what does flesh merchant mean?
“Walking through the crowded streets of Bordeaux or Marseilles,” writes Edouard Conte, “you will see, painted on a shop window: ‘Tizio, maritime business’. You enter the tavern. Inside it looks no different than any other tavern, except that parrots and other exotic birds are chattering and singing in cages, and on the walls are paintings of sailing ships. The owner of the tavern appears as soon as you enter. She is a woman of about 50 or 60 years of age, most often horribly ugly. She has a snub nose, or is missing an eye, besides having one shoulder higher than the other. All over her body there are tufts of hair which, in the dim light, appear to be white or grayish. In short, she looks like an old prostitute from a third-rate whorehouse.”
“Through a door which opens upon another hole, girls come and go, laughing or singing, carrying plates and jugs. They are the hotel’s waitresses. The only male member of the staff is a young man of cheerful aspect, 30 to 35 years old, the old woman’s lover, who is quick with his hands, especially when a quarrel breaks out.”
“Such is the joy with which the sailor is welcomed practically even before his feet touch land. In fact, the parasite, the man-hunter, or pisteur, as he is called, jumps aboard the ship to get at his quarry and immediately approaches his man, loads his belongings in a wheelbarrow and nets him like a fish.”
“The sailor tells him: ‘I don’t have any money. All my savings are gone. The ship-owner will not pay me again for three days.’” The pisteur knows this and responds that his business has faith in honest men. Everything is settled. From that moment on, no one is more pampered than the sailor. The old woman calls him ‘my boy’ and speaks to him in the most affectionate terms. The man who is good with his fists offers him cigarettes. The waitresses welcome the recent arrival with such abysses of love that only a sailor could fill.”
“Are you thirsty? The whole kitchen is at your disposal. The chocolate that one of the women brings you in the morning to dispel the effects of her nightly ministrations is really extraordinary. The bill is there to prove it. They present it to him at the end of eight days and it takes more or less all the money in his wallet. More or less, because it would be too humiliating if he did not have to pay. Then, charitably, they loan him 10 or 15 francs.”
“‘Ah!’ says the sailor, waking up, ‘it is time to seek another ship’. ‘Another ship?’ asks the horrible old woman, whose smiles and doting solicitude suddenly disappear, while the waitresses swear to everyone that they have all been virtuous and well-behaved—‘You are going to sign on again? Here is the man who will take care of that,’ she says, pointing to the arrogant thug who does everything for her. In effect, he is also a job placement agent, that is, when his client is ruined he intervenes to get him back on his feet. But this will not happen without his obtaining another bit of profit: that is, at the very moment when the re-enlisted sailor receives his advance pay. Then he will have to pay the requisite commission as well as the advances so generously conceded by the hotel to the shortsighted and naïve sailor. ‘These boys,’ says the old woman, ‘if you don’t push them out the door into the street, they would spend their whole life here!’”
“The sailor is a good boy, naïve, resigned and fatalistic. He pays and boards another ship…. Nonetheless, he understands that he has been cheated on the bill and intimidated by the bouncer at the inn. Then he submits a complaint to the police. It is well known that the latter are on the side of those who fleece the sailors, since their fruitful connivance does not go unrewarded. If the victim persists in his efforts, they throw him in jail for having violated the local traditions!”
Such is the exploitation to which the sailor is subjected, who is a man when judged by his muscle-power and his physical endurance, but is still a child in his reasoning power.
Alongside the sailor one finds the fisherman, who suffers the same experiences as his comrade and who is treated very badly by the cannery owners and ship-owners. The latter made the deep sea fishermen (who fish the seas off Iceland, Newfoundland and the North Sea) believe that it would be better to be paid by the month instead of when they set sail, and after they lured the fishermen from their ships with an agreement to pay them 150 francs per month, and after having taken the fishermen’s hemp nets, acquired at the cost of great sacrifices, and replaced them with cotton ones, owned by the ship-owners, the fishermen are gradually reduced to receiving salaries of 80, 70 and even 50 francs per month. As for those fishermen who wanted to go into business for themselves, how could they succeed, when fish is selling at such ridiculous prices and also taking into account the fact that the fish must be salted and iced to be sold, and that the means needed for salting and icing the fish require a considerable amount of capital? This is why these fishermen are obliged, unless they want to throw these products of such difficult and dangerous labors into the sea, to hand them over at any price to the ship-owners, who are often also the cannery owners.
As for the sardine fishermen, the strikes they have conducted during the last few years have made their poverty a matter of public knowledge, and it was necessary for them to reach the point where it is practically impossible for them to survive in order to get them to stir from their customary resignation and passivity. Since 1895, in particular, there has been much agitation among the Atlantic Coast fishermen. Since then a certain number of them participated in the strike movement among the cannery workers that has raised the already old question of the suppression of the old systems of canning and the introduction of canning machines in some factories. This exceptional situation led the fishermen to carry out other actions on their own behalf as well.
And the time was certainly ripe. In addition to deep poverty, made worse every year by an absolute scarcity or an excessive overabundance of fish, both equally disastrous, the fishermen were also plagued by the maneuvers of the cannery owners and ship-owners to halt the decline of the fishing industry. Among these maneuvers there are several which deserve further comment in order to provide a demonstration of the ineluctable antagonism which exists between the producer and the middleman.
Some of the successes achieved in 1895 by several recently-formed fishermen’s trade unions led to the formation of corporative associations throughout the coastal regions and inspired the idea of using them to ration the supply of fish. For this purpose the fishermen decided: some would go out to sea only once a day and would remain ashore on Sundays; others would go to sea every other day; others, finally, would throw their surplus fish into the sea. Various other procedures were to be utilized in conjunction with the methods outlined above in order to increase the price of fish. But the cannery owners thought of means of defense against these tactics, among others the “Signature”; that is, the signed commitment on the part of the fishermen and the cannery workers to under no circumstances join a trade union, and also the organization of cartels in suitable locations, above all at the wharves of Port Louis, notifying all the local industries of the price charged for fish. Finally, steam-powered ships were used to insulate the industries from the pressure applied by the sailors’ associations.
The fishermen’s efforts to paralyze production were still not defeated. In 1896 the struggle continued with more determination. Could one say that it obtained favorable results? No, and this by virtue of the quantity of fish caught, since a series of fortunate hauls could be followed by numerous completely insignificant catches. It also seems that the efforts of the fishermen were doomed to fail because their coalition is always forced to yield to the combination of the retailers and fish dealers. As for the fishermen, steam-powered vessels are increasing in number and will eventually ruin the coastal population, if the fishermen do not find a way to free themselves from the power of the ship-owners. In reality, many fishermen, impelled by their deepening poverty and seeing with each passing year that the fish are tending to be located farther offshore, want to scuttle their sailing ships and enlist with a steamship. The pay is another inducement, which is relatively higher than that previously paid to such crews: the sailor receives about 72 francs, plus two percent of the proceeds of the sale of the fish, along with other profits, amounting to a total of about 120 francs per month. But as the number of steamships and, consequently, their capacity, increases, not only does the wage level decrease, but this development also renders the fishermen who still have sailing ships absolutely incapable of freely setting the price of their fish.
Despite this situation, the Federal Committee of the Bourses du Travail would have deferred any kind of propaganda in favor of the sailors if two facts were not brought to its attention: the first was the creation in Marseilles, Bordeaux, Nantes and Boulogne-sur-Mer of “Sailors Homes”, quite well-financed by the municipal councils, the chambers of commerce and the ship-owners of these various cities, but which sold their hospitality at the same price as was charged for the same services in other localities; some were closed to foreign sailors, some had sparse accommodations, and were uninviting in appearance. It must be asked: What is the meaning of these “Sailors Homes” if they are not institutions that could become part of either the Bourses du Travail or the corporative societies? And one must also ask: Why shouldn’t the Bourses du Travail consider using their capacity for organization and propaganda by contributing their administrative experience to the corporative societies for the purpose of uniting the industrial workers and the workers of the sea?14
The “Sailors Homes” under government administration impose serious inconveniences upon the sailors. Certain perhaps vulgar habits must be curtailed, the sailors must submit to interrogations by people who must be treated with respect and, in short, these places assume in their guests an overall demeanor that only a liberal education can produce. Yet if the workers had offered them a place of refuge with the most expensive food and lodging, where they could come and go as they please and where they would be treated with sincerity and frankness, that relations with the workers would thus be facilitated, then perhaps the sailors, feeling that they were in a fraternal environment, living among not censors but indulgent friends, would frequent such rooming houses.
This was the first fact that caused the Federal Committee to set in motion a propaganda campaign among the seafarers. The second fact was the attempt to form, in several fishing districts, an association whose purpose would be “to create, in all the fishing districts, cooperative warehouses devoted to distributing at cost price the foodstuffs and tools which are necessary in the fishing industry; to cooperatively sell the produce of the catch to the consumers or their principal merchandise without intermediaries, at local auctions; also, to build new model ships, providing the members with the means to successfully contend with foreign production; also, to equip any fishermen’s district with steamships. And in connection with this, shouldn’t the Bourses du Travail perhaps intervene among the fishermen, provoking the creation of cooperatives which, acting in conjunction with the Bourse of the workers consumers societies of Paris, would assure the direct sale in the “General Markets” of the products of the catch?
Such were the proposals approved at the Fifth Congress of the Bourses du Travail, held in September, 1897 in Toulouse.
The proposals were sympathetically received, according to the Committee’s report. Nantes, Saint-Nazaire and Le Havre were in favor of them. The effort required, however, was too great, especially taking previous failures into account. Seamen had already tried to organize in the past. Unfortunately, this category of workers was from time immemorial most concerned with spending its time ashore in a release of its surplus energy accumulated during its voyages and it was therefore hard to pin them down. Until now, at least, it has not been possible to get them to participate in socialist labor activities. The “Sailors Homes” themselves confess in their recent reports that “they have not recruited as many clients among the sailors as they had hoped.” We have also been told that the corporative society has enough on its hands with its struggle against the commercial coalitions without also further dispersing its energies in other projects.
The Federal Committee of the Bourses du Travail has not, therefore, obtained in relation to the organizations of the sailors and the fishermen, the satisfying results which have been obtained by the propaganda carried on among the peasants, but it is not dismayed, because it knows that time is the best teacher and because the fishermen, who had not foreseen their predicament, seem to have figured out for themselves the benefits which the sort of associations the committee thought of providing for them were capable of delivering. The region of Le Croisic has for the last two or three years had a cooperative society that is now thriving. Others were in the process of being formed throughout the other coastal regions. The most recent maritime strike in Nantes has provided an impetus for the organization of the sailors and fishermen of the villages between Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. Bordeaux has three maritime trade unions. The mission of the Bourses du Travail was thus simplified and no one doubted that this contagious example will help the cause of corporative association, which embraced a large number of industrial workers, and which already has affected numerous peasants, and will soon finally attract their comrades in labor and in struggle, the sailors, thus completing the general organization of the proletariat.
d.) Cooperatives. Propaganda among the sailors, as we said above, requires the collaboration of the Bourses du Travail and the cooperative societies. If the Bourses must effectively contribute exceptional means of propaganda, education and job placement in the formation and operation of the “Sailors Homes”, the cooperatives can only offer their indispensable commercial and administrative know-how. Now, it must be recalled how scornfully the trade unions treated the cooperatives for so many years; this is why we shall be asked how is it possible that those same trade unions can today reach an agreement for joint action with yesterday’s enemies.
The fact is, that at the same time that the cooperative societies, having experienced the general evolution of the workers associations, broke more or less openly with the mean-spirited practices which had caused them to censure first the socialists and then the positivists, the trade unions perceived the necessity of completing their day-to-day struggle by means of an intervention in the economic field, and not to just work for protecting wage levels, but also for the elimination of the causes of the weakness of the wage’s purchasing power. This simultaneous evolution of the cooperatives and the trade unions thus necessarily led them to reach an agreement.
Something that accelerated this process was undoubtedly the founding of the “Workers Glassworks”, where cooperators and trade unionists are found side-by-side, to the great surprise of Jaurès, which led to the expression of serious reservations in the meetings of the parliamentary socialist movement. From then on the cooperative societies have not ceased to express their sympathy for the trade unions, and the latter for their part have devoted themselves to the spread of the cooperative societies, in production as well as in consumption.
Do we need to provide examples of the sudden moral transformations in the workers cooperative society, managed exclusively by workers? Here are some, which we quote from the survey of producers cooperatives published in 1897 by the Ministry of Trade. First, a comparison is drawn between the numerical strength of these associations in 1885 and in 1895. We are informed as follows:
“The year 1885 marked the high point of the old cooperative movement; the year 1895, on the other hand, marks the full ascendancy of the new cooperative movement and, although we must resist the temptation to pretend to be able to predict the future, we should recall that, in comparison with the figures from 1881, we get an even more favorable impression.”
The associations no longer limited workers, properly speaking, to collaboration with the management, but opened up to the workers all the positions at every level, who thus ceased to be mere workers. This included, for example, accountants and “technical advisors, trained by their studies for the performance of diverse industrial and commercial functions.” Hence the meaning of the new term: integral association….
As for the matter of working conditions, many associations applied and even surpassed the decisions approved by the corporative congress. The cooperative society of the Paris upholsterers implemented the eight hour day and paid nine francs. It took a stand against piecework, except in the case where a worker did not contribute a normal amount of production in a day’s work.
The cooperative society of ice-cutters of Paris acquired and distributed, free of charge, in the neighborhoods near their “workshops”, all the products necessary for feeding their staff. They also worked eight hour days, like the upholsterers.
The advisory chamber of the producers’ society did not need office space. It issued the declaration that it “managed in an anarchist way”.
The mining enterprise at Monthieux established an eight hour day, and abolished piecework.
As for wages, the survey arrived at a precise statement. The average wage of the associates, it states, is as high as 1,410 francs per person; that of auxiliaries is as much as 1,160 francs. This difference in pay only results from the entry into the consortium of a limited number of large associations, “the majority of which,” states the survey, “pay equal wages for equal work.”
The cooperatives, at the end of each fiscal year, divide up only a relatively insignificant part of their profits among themselves; the rest is usually left in the cooperatives’ accounts for mutual aid services or pensions.
In 21% of the cooperatives, their members are obliged to join the trade union of their profession. 36% were established for the purpose of paying rates already determined by a “chart”, or trade union rates.
Of 215 societies, 110 have prohibited piecework; 10 share out their profits without distinction among associates and auxiliaries, and in proportion not to the amount of work done but to the hours or days worked. It is unnecessary to add that these ten societies reckon all work on a daily basis.
We must finally note that the consumers cooperative of the Seine department, in imitation—although in a more generous spirit—of the example set by the producers societies, formed an association called the Bourse du Travail of the workers consumers society, whose operations and tendencies were similar to those of the Bourses du Travail.
As the permanent liaison between the trade unions affiliated with the Bourses du Travail, and then called upon to guide them in the formation of cooperative societies with outdated statutes, which are therefore dangerous for the neophytes of cooperation, the Federal Committee was obliged to sooner or later propose to the Bourses du Travail that a study should be undertaken for the purpose of the requested reformulation of the statutes.
In 1898, the Rennes Congress examined and accepted the following modifications:
“1. Abolition of all piecework.
“2. Replacing the proportionate wage with the egalitarian distribution that then prevailed in most typographers’ societies’ partnerships.
“3. To put an end to the different treatment of associates and auxiliaries.
“4. That the producers’ cooperatives should seek their clients among the consumers’ cooperatives.”
Do we need to comment on these reforms? In regard to piecework it is obvious that, since it was condemned by all workers congresses, the Bourses du Travail had to begin by forbidding it in the cooperatives which they funded and sponsored. As for the organization of what the typographers call egalitarian partnership, this consists of dividing the price of each product by the number of partners who have collaborated in its production, so that all of them receive equal returns per hour of work…. The group in the partnership, which could include all the workers in a workshop or factory, for the purpose of assuming the egalitarian distribution of the proceeds of bad as well as of good work, is freely formed and administered; they are themselves responsible for the division of labor, which for the most part does not entitle anyone to any supplementary pay, and also prescribes the minimum amount of production (always calculated on the basis of the ability of the average worker) which must be accomplished within a given time period by each member of the partnership.
This procedure, as we see, is essentially communist and was invented, in our judgment, by the disciples of Proudhon. The skilled worker who in a ten hour day produced what the average worker produced in eleven or twelve hours is entitled to no more than the worker who has produced less. And even if it may appear that under these conditions there is no incentive to produce more, in reality such overproduction was advantageous for all because it increased their hourly pay. With this system the newest partners, or the oldest, benefit from the general effort without the more vigorous or more skilful workers being able to put forth arguments for reducing their own work rates.
The suppression of any distinctions between the associates and the auxiliaries will have the effect of equalizing the profits obtained by each worker for both the members of the society and the temporary employees. This equal pay already exists in most producers cooperatives. Finally, this fourth reform has the purpose of protecting the producers’ cooperatives from the reduction of sales prices (which is the source of wage reductions) to which they are subject, especially at the beginning of their existence, as a result of the attempt to secure a stable customer base. This reform was inspired by the example of the La Conciliation association of shoemakers of Limoges, which was founded after having reached an agreement with the L’Union consumers cooperative (700 members), which agreed to “accept the entire product line, imaginatively and spiritedly produced, at retail price, minus an 11% discount.”15
Finally, we shall add, by way of general information, that the Bourses du Travail, desiring that the instruments of production should be social property (indivisibly and inalienably) and not the property of groups of workers (even if these workers comprise the totality of the workers of any particular trade), tried to create, in regard to cooperative production, not a form of alienable capital, which some workers would sooner or later divide among themselves, but a capital which would gradually return to labor, considered as a moral person, the whole public wealth.16
These are the foundations upon which the Bourses du Travail will henceforth form cooperative societies. If one takes into account the considerable number of federated workers, the significant number of isolated trade unions which aspire to join the Federation, and all those people who will sooner or later join cooperatives, one can conclude that within ten years the French cooperative movement will be totally transformed.
- 1The Bourses du Travail found jobs for half the job applicants and filled four-fifths of the available positions. One Bourse du Travail, Marseilles, found jobs for almost 21,000 workers in one year (1895), and half of them acquired steady work.
- 2Documents in Appendix not included in the Spanish language edition of the book.
- 3The government promised to permanently and methodically conduct studies on the job openings for State employment from the departments and communes, that is, it promised to assure that when a workshop closed, another one would open, so that the workers who lost their jobs in the former, instead of being compelled to enter into competition with their comrades in private industry, would quickly find another job. Among other things, this would permit the “most rapid possible allocation of credit which the departments and communes believe would be suitable for devoting to the completion of their public works.” If this promise is not kept the problem of unemployment will certainly not be resolved, and only particular crises will be attenuated.
- 4To the credit account assigned to the producers cooperatives (Note by Maurice Pelloutier).
- 5It would be interesting to know the number of workmen placed by the office, but such information cannot be obtained. In France, the Bourses du Travail provide the worker with a form which he sends to a business owner, who, by returning a section of the form to the director of job placement, is supposed to report whether the worker and the business owner have reached an agreement. But the directors of job placement only receive these forms sporadically.
It may be objected that the worker or the owner is deterred from complying with these aspects of the employment report because of the five-centime expense of buying a postage stamp. But the Bourses du Travail in Belgium have the same problem, even though in that country the report only consists of a pre-stamped postcard with the following words: YES/NO. (Note by Maurice Pelloutier).
- 6One should not, however, think that the number of job openings would increase at the rate that might be expected at first glance. In reality, what the Office of Statistics actually registers is not the total number of vacancies in every city, but the number of jobs which local labor cannot fill.
It must also be pointed out that the number of job openings decreases as winter approaches, which can easily be explained: on the one hand, by the temporary desire on the part of some workers, who were migrant workers a few months before and will be migrant workers again in the spring, for stable employment; on the other hand, by the increase in the number of unemployed workers. (Note of Maurice Pelloutier).
- 7And this was done in such a way that the Office was able, in June of 1900, to help the workers of Le Havre, by delaying the receipt of appeals for labor made by that city.
- 8The Plan de bibliothèque, by Suberbie, secretary, in L’Ouvrier des Deux-Mondes, No. 19, p. 298.
- 9Raynaud: Etude sur l’enseignement professional.
- 10Report read at the Congress of 1900.
- 11Let us recall, in regard to this issue, that originally the Paris municipal council included, under the nominal aegis of the Labor Center, not only a central labor center, but also a certain number of satellite institutions, spread throughout the capital. This was the best system.
- 12Concerning this last point, it was feared that the investigation approved at the Rennes Congress (1898) would prove to be difficult, and even fruitless, because the Bourses du Travail were not in the habit of enrolling their own students in the first place; yet if it also had the result of showing the usefulness of that practice, and thereby allowing all the Bourses du Travail to know and to follow the experts of various professions in their vicissitudes, the investigation would have provided an excellent result.
- 13Les Syndicats ouvriers en France, Paris, 1898.
- 14Fifteen years ago we ourselves, in collaboration with a fireman with the “General Transatlantic Company” by the name of Provost and a commander named Servan, advocated the creation in France of Sailors Homes in Saint-Nazaire.
- 15Les Associations ouvrières du production, Vol. 1 of 8, published by “L’Office du Travail”, 1898.
- 16For example: The Workers Glassworks. But the system at the Workers Glassworks was still plagued by inconveniences: first of all, the producers cooperatives were kept autonomous and this is unfortunate because, regardless of what was done, the producers society, due to the fact that it was always at a disadvantage compared to the purely capitalist system of exploitation, could never realize the cooperative socialist concept; in addition, this system made it difficult in practice to determine the use to which the factory’s eventual profits should be put. What then should be done to both abolish the producers cooperatives while at the same time preserving cooperative production and rapidly fulfilling the destiny of cooperative labor, granted its usefulness? A very talented young writer, A.D. Bancel, seems to have found the solution to the problem by proposing that all socialist efforts should from now on be devoted to the development of cooperative consumers societies, so that the latter will rapidly be obliged to produce for themselves in their own cooperative establishments, as much as possible, if not all of the products we need. In this way the economic antagonism, the fruit of competition, which exists between corporative associations as well as private firms, will disappear and a normal circulation can be established between production and consumption.
Later, we can move towards the progressive replacement of cooperative producers societies, created without thought, without plan and without specifications, with a precarious existence and so many barriers to entry, with cooperative establishments that would be both the property and the work of always-open consumers collectives.
This theory, derived from a study of the English cooperative movement, deserves careful consideration, which shall be carried out in Bancel’s next book.