The International Workers’ Conference (Justice, 1889)

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The International Workers' Conference[edit source]


Wednesday, July 17th.

The third sitting of the Congress took place to-day. Jean Allernane was elected French Chairman, and Mr, Bowen, of the American Knights of Labour, foreign chairman of the sitting. The secretary reported that the proposal for the union of both Congresses had been carried subject to the strict verification of the credentials of all delegates from the Marxist Congress. This proposal had been adopted by seven nationalities to five. A letter to this effect had been sent to the Marxists.

Defnet, the secretary of the Belgian Labour Party, read a report on the condition of Belgian labour. The new Belgian law, establishing courts of arbitration, had not proved a success, as there was now an important strike against an employer who had refused to accept the verdict of these courts. Defnet laid great stress on the necessity for intimate relations between the Belgian, and the English miners. The report given by Jensen, the Danish delegate, stated that the Social Democrats of Denmark numbered 50,000, the trade unionists, 25,000. They had succeeded in returning a Social Democrat to the Danish Parliament, and their organs were becoming paying concerns. One of the Spanish delegates reported that the movement was progressing in his country.

At the evening sitting, Fortuyjn one of the Dutch Socialist delegates who has suffered imprisonment for the cause, was elected foreign chairman. The reply from the Marxist Congress was read. They refused to agree to the terms of the Possibilists that their credentials should be examined. They would only amalgamate if no conditions were imposed. In reply to this captious conduct of the Marxists Joffrin made a speech which was warmly applauded. He appealed to the foreign delegates to bear witness that the Posibbilists had avoided personalities and had done all they could to bring about the union of the two Congresses, and this, though they knew that the Marxist Congress was composed in part of fictitious delegates, some representing fictitious nations such as Alsace-Lorraine. A Russian delegation entered the hall at this moment. This added another one to the list of nationalities represented.

The discussion was soon afterwards opened on international labour legislation.

During the day several foreign delegate from the engineering trades visited the iron works at Decauville near Corbeil, amongst them being John Burns.

Thursday, July 18th.

This morning, the Danish delegate Jensen, was elected foreign chairman and J.B. Dumay, Socialist Municipal Councillor, French chairman. The discussion on International labour legislation was continued. T. Walker, delegate of the St. Pancras branch S.D. urged that the Trade Unions were not strong enough to win the eight hours working day by themselves. It would be easier to obtain it by an international law. This fact was becoming patent to an increasing number of trade unionists. H.W. Hobart, delegate of the Islington Branch S.D.F., gave an account of the formation of the Gas Workers’ Union in London. He said that the number of unionists had increased from 80 to 5,000 in fourteen weeks. They had secured an increase of wages with a reduction of the working hours. But having achieved this success they were now threatened with improvements of machinery which would destroy the advantage they had gained. Therefore, speaking as a Social Democrat he urged the Congress to regard an eight hours day and other such reforms as merely stepping stones and not as a solution of the labour problem.

J.H. Clement, delegate of the brushmakers of Charleville, described the sweating system in the district of the Ardennes. At Charleville boys worked in a glass factory for 21/2d. a day. The boys had organised a strike but the poverty of the district was so great that the boys were driven back to work by their mothers. Other speakers followed, demanding an international eight hours’ law, One day’ rest in seven, the better inspection of workshops, and the prohibition of work for young persons under 10 years of age.

The Portuguese delegate, Figueredo, and Louis Bertrand presided over the evening sitting. Dr. Merlino opened the discussion by a speech in favour of Anarchism and denounced all legislation. John Burns, in reply stated that workmen preferred Parliament and laws with eight’ hours work to anarchist freedom with fourteen hours work.

Certain resolutions prepared by the standing orders committee were then put in. The Italian delegation being divided into anarchists and Socialists, abstained from voting. The English would not accept clause 6 as they disapproved of overtime altogether. The Swiss and Russian delegates, being absent did not record their votes. With these reservations, the following nationalities voted yes:- England, the United States, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Austria-Hungary, Portugal and the 300 French delegates. There was no opposition vote.

The resolutions thus carried may be thus summarised:- Eight hours a day to be the maximum of the day’s work fixed by international law; (2) at least one day’s holiday to be given each week, and no work to be done on fete days; (3) the abolition of night work as far as practicable for men and women, and entirely for children; (4) the total suppression of labour for children below the age of fourteen, and protection of children up to the age of eighteen (5) complete technical and professional education; (6) overtime to be paid for at double rates, and limited to four hours in twenty-four; (7) civil and criminal responsibility of the employers for accidents; (8) an adequate number of qualified inspectors, to be nominated by the workers themselves, and paid by the State or the commune, with full power to enter workshops, factories, or religious establishments at any time, and to examine the apprentices at their own homes; (9) workshops to be organised by the workers, with subsidies from the municipalities or the State; (10) prison and workhouse labour to be conducted under the same conditions as free labour, and to be employed as far as possible on great public works; (11) no foreign labourers to be allowed to accept employment, and no employers to be allowed to employ such labourers at rates of wages below the trade union rate fixed for their trade; (12) a minimum wage to be fixed in every country, in accordance with a reasonable standard of living; (13) the abrogation of all laws against the international organisation of labour; (14) equal pay and opportunities for women and men for equal work.

Friday, July 19th.

The Polish delegate, Boleslas Limanovski and Dulbois were elected Chairmen of the morning sitting. Christie, delegate of the Edinburgh Branch S.D.F., was elected one of the vice-chairmen. Resolutions were passed that the resolutions upon international labour legislation should be sent to the conference called by the Swiss government at Berne, and that when the State prevents children from working it should provide free education and maintenance. The second question on the agenda was introduced by Hyndrnan. He urged the laying down of the principle that each national Labour Party must understand best the tactics to follow, and declared that any permanent central council, with power to issue orders to nationalities, must inevitably degenerate into a clique. Mr. B. Cooper (Cigar Makers) on behalf of the London Trades Council, congratulated Hyndman on his expression of goodwill towards the trade unionists. He regretted that his conciliatory ideas were not more known among English trade Unionists, for greater harmony might have been secured between trade unionists and Socialists. He deplored the action of the Trade Union Parliamentary Committee in ignoring the International Congress after being pledged to support it.

Other delegates spoke, among whom was Mr. Greenwood, the delegate from the International Glass Bottle Makers who have rendered so much assistance to their comrades on strike at Givors and Souvigny. He urged the formation of an international bureau of correspondence.

In the evening Verrycken (Belgium) read the the report of the Standing Orders Committee. This was favourable to the establishment of a correspondence bureau to facilitate international intercourse, but without power to give any orders. This was carried. The next resolution was one suggested by Mr. Eveleigh (Amalgamated Engineers, which made it obligatory to teach one other language – French or English – in the schools.

There was some little difficulty concerning the next resolution relating to “trusts” and “rings,” as considerable difference exists between the trusts of America and rings of France. There was somewhat of a divergence of opinion as to the best means of grappling with these capitalist combinations. Some thought it better to let the trusts alone. They would gradually become fewer by eating one another up, so to speak, and it would then be easier to take over the control of production. On the other hand, legislative interference was called for to mitigate, in the interests of the workers, the evils of these “trusts.”

Herbert Burrows pointed out that the formation of trusts or syndicates of capitalists was the last stage in the evolution of capitalism towards Socialism.

Saturday, July 20th

The discussion on the formation of trusts, rings was resumed this morning. Mr. Bowen the delegate of the American Knights of Labour made an excellent speech. Two resolutions were carried dealing with this question. The first dealt with rings and called upon the governments to oppose monopolies of raw material and articles necessary for existence; the second with trusts, declared that it was impossible to prevent their formation, but that the workers should organise to take over such trusts for the benefit of the entire community.

The hall was crowded to suffocation at the last sitting to-night. Annie Besant was voted to the chair. After a long discussion it was finally decided that the next International Congress should be held in Brussels two years hence. The organisation of this Congress was entrusted to the Belgian Labour Party, who will also conduct the International Correspondence Bureau for the next two years.

A number of resolutions were passed without discussion. Mr. Drew, representing the London Building Trades, presented one calling upon Governments and Municipalities not to give out contracts save at trade union rates of wages.

In conclusion Annie Besant and Lavy delivered enthusiastic speeches. Both alluded to the danger which surrounded the French Republic by the reactionary campaign of General Boulanger. Lavy said that the French workers, who had fought behind the barricades in'30, ‘48 and ‘71, were ready to take their place again if necessary. This was greeted with tremendous applause.

Thus ended one of the most harmonious, most business like, most encouraging of International Workers Congress that has ever been held. The full complement of delegates attending the Congress was 612, representatives of 14 different nationalities.

Owing to the amount of space devoted to our report of the International Workers’ Congress we are unable to give any account this week of the other doings of our comrades in Paris. We are obliged even to hold over our notice of the touching visit to the graves of the Communists in Pere la Chaise on Wednesday, when our comrade, Oliver, deposited under the wall a basket of flowers he had so thoughtfully brought from England.