THIRD ANNUAL REPORT
OF THE INTERNATIONAL WORKING MEN'S
THE DUTIES IMPOSED UPON THE GENERAL COUNCIL
BY THE FIRST ANNUAL CONGRESS†a
The Congress passed a resolution appointing the London delegates to wait upon the Swiss, the French, and the British postal authorities to bring the question of international penny postage — of cheap postage — under their notice.†332
The Swiss postmaster agreed to all the deputation urged, but observed that the French Government stepped [in their] way.
In France the delegates could get no audience, and the British Government only consented to receive a written statement which has been sent.
The other duties imposed upon the General Council by the first annual Congress were: 1. The publication, in several languages, of the transactions of the Congress, including the letters and memoirs addressed to that Congress. 2. To publish periodical or occasional reports in different languages, embracing everything that might be of interest to the Association. 3. To give information of the supply and demand for labour in different localities. 4. An account of co-operative societies. 5. Of the condition of the working class in every country. The Council was also charged with causing a statistical inquiry to be instituted, which was to contain special and detailed information about every branch of industry, in which wages labour is employed, in the most civilised countries of Europe.
To enable the Council to fulfil these various duties, the Congress voted a contribution of threepence per member to the Executive, and a salary of £2 a week to the General Secretary, leaving his appointment to the Council.
As soon as the London delegates had returned, and the Council was reorganised, information was received that some of our
Congress documents had been seized on the person of Jules Gottraux by the French police on the frontier.†333
The General Secretary was instructed to write to the French Minister of the Interior, but not receiving any reply, an application was made to the British Foreign Office. Lord Stanley, with the greatest readiness, instructed Lord Cowley, the British Ambassador at Paris, to intercede; the result was that within a few days our documents were restored, and a parcel of Tribunes du Peuple, which had evidently been seized from somebody else, superadded.
The Congress documents were then handed over to the Standing Committee, with instructions to prepare the report for publication. As there were no funds to pay the General Secretary this labour devolved upon volunteers, who had to do it in their spare hours, which caused further delay. When all was ready the lowest estimate to have a thousand printed in one language was £40. To comply with the Congress instructions required an immediate outlay of £120; the cash in hand on the 31st of December amounted to 18s. 4d.
The General Secretary was instructed to appeal to the affiliated societies of the British section for their contributions — only the London cigar-makers and the Coventry and Warwickshire ribbon-weavers responded immediately. The board of management of the latter association, with a highly commendable zeal to fulfil its obligation — having no funds in hand and many members out of work — forthwith raised a levy to the required amount from the members in work.
The Council then availed itself of an offer made by Citizen J. Collet, the proprietor and editor of the International Courier, to publish the report in French and English in weekly parts in the columns of his journal. He also agreed to stereotype the whole at his own expense with the view of publishing it in pamphlet form, and to let the Council share in the profits, if any, the Council undertaking no responsibility whatever in case of loss.
But hardly was this highly advantageous arrangement completed when, on account of not having complied with some legal intricacy, of which the government had previously taken no notice, Citizen Collet had to suspend the publication of his journal for several weeks, and it was not till March that the publication of the Congress report could be regularly proceeded with.†a
The numbers of the International Courier containing the report have been sent gratis to the branches. A German version could, for want of a similar opportunity, not be published.
When the publication was completed it was again want of funds that prevented, and still prevents, the publication in pamphlet form.
To make matters worse the French police seized a parcel of rules and cards of membership, purposely issued for the French section, the printing of which cost £4, which was borrowed money.†334 Besides this dead loss, there was the further injury of curtailing the contributions, which in France depend principally upon the scale of individual membership. Beyond all this, there were the old liabilities which were acknowledged as the debt of the Association by the Congress, but no special provision made for their liquidation. They have greatly hampered our action, and continue to be a source of trouble.
Under these circumstances it was utterly impossible to publish either periodical or occasional reports; nor have our correspondents taken the trouble to send us any special information with a view to such publication. The question of entering upon the statistical inquiry had to be abandoned for the present year. To be of any use at all it cannot be limited to the trades at present comprised within the circle of our affiliated societies. Such an inquiry, to answer its purpose, must include every trade, every country, and every locality. This involves not only a large expenditure for printing, stationery, and postage, but also an amount of labour in the shape of correspondence, compiling, and arranging the scattered and specific statements into a comprehensive and comprehensible whole, [so] that the possibility of having it done by volunteers in their leisure hours is altogether out of the question.
INTERFERENCE IN TRADES' DISPUTES†a
One of the best means of demonstrating the beneficent influence of international combination is the assistance rendered by the International Working Men's Association in the daily occurring trades' disputes. It used to be a standard threat with
British capitalists, not only in London, but also in the provinces, when their workmen would not tamely submit to their arbitrary dictation, that they would supplant them by an importation of foreigners. The possibility of such importations taking place was in most cases sufficient to deter the British workmen from insisting on their demands. The action taken by the Council has had the effect of putting a stop to these threats being made publicly. Where anything of the kind is contemplated it has to be done in secret, and the slightest information obtained by the workmen suffices to frustrate the plans of the capitalists. As a rule, when a strike or a lock-out occurs concerning any of the affiliated trades, the Continental correspondents are at once instructed to warn the workmen in their respective localities not to enter into any engagements with the agents of the capitalists of the place where the dispute is. However, this action is not confined to affiliated trades. The same action is taken on behalf of other trades upon application being received. This generally leads to the affiliation of the trades that invoke our aid.
Now and then it happens that the capitalists succeed in getting a few stragglers, but they generally repudiate their engagements upon being informed of the reason why they were engaged.
During the London basket-makers' dispute last winter information was received that six Belgians were at work under the railway arches in Blue Anchor Lane, Bermondsey. They were as strictly guarded against coming in contact with the outside public as a kidnapped girl in a nunnery. By some stratagem a Flemish member of the Council succeeded in obtaining an interview, and upon being informed of the nature of their engagement the men struck work and returned home. Just as they were about to embark a steamer arrived with a fresh supply. The new arrivals were at once communicated with; they too repudiated their engagements, and returned home, promising that they would exert themselves to prevent any further supplies, which they accomplished.†335
In consequence of the appeals made by deputations from the Council to various British societies, the Paris bronze-workers received very considerable pecuniary support during their lockout, and the London tailors on strike have in turn received support from Continental associations through the intercession of the Council.†336 The good offices of the Council were also employed on behalf of the excavators, the wire-workers, the block-cutters, the hairdressers, and others.