Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Politics & Programme of The First International - Part 1

International combination of efforts, by the agency of the association, in the struggle between labour and capital

(a) From a general point of view, this question embraces the whole activity of the International Association which aims at combining and generalising the till now disconnected efforts for emancipation by the working classes in different countries.

(b) To counteract the intrigues of capitalists always ready, in cases of strikes and lockouts, to misuse the foreign workman as a tool against the native workman, is one of the particular functions which our Society has hitherto performed with success. It is one of the great purposes of the Association to make the workmen of different countries not only feel but act as brethren and comrades in the army of emancipation.

(c) One great "International combination of efforts" which we suggest is a statistical inquiry into the situation of the working classes of all countries to be instituted by the working classes themselves. To act with any success, the materials to be acted upon must be known. By initiating so great a work, the workmen will prove their ability to take their own fate into their own hands. We propose therefore:

That in each locality, where branches of our Association exist, the work be immediately commenced, and evidence collected on the different points specified in the subjoined scheme of inquiry.

That the Congress invite all workmen of Europe and the United States of America to collaborate in gathering the elements of the statistics of the working class; that reports and evidence be forwarded to the Central Council. That the Central Council elaborate them into a general report, adding the evidence as an appendix.
That this report together with its appendix be laid before the next annual Congress, and after having received its sanction, be printed at the expense of the Association.

General Scheme of Inquiry, which may of course be modified by each Locality

1. Industry, name of.
2. Age and sex of the employed.
3. Number of the employed.
4. Salaries and wages: (a) apprentices; (b) wages by the day or piece work; scale paid by middlemen. Weekly, yearly average.
5. (a) Hours of work in factories. (b) The hours of work with small employers and in home work, if the business be carried on in those different modes. (c) Nightwork and daywork.
6. Meal times and treatment.
7. Sort of workshop and work: overcrowding, defective ventilation, want of sunlight, use of gaslight. Cleanliness, etc.
8. Nature of occupation.
9. Effect of employment upon the physical condition.
10. Moral condition. Education.
11. State of trade: whether season trade, or more or less uniformly distributed over year, whether greatly fluctuating, whether exposed to foreign competition, whether destined principally for home or foreign competition, etc. [The Minute Book of the General Council has the word "consumption" instead of "competition." -- Ed.]”

This section demonstrates Marx's scientific mind at work. The fundamental basis of his theory was to begin with “material conditions”. As he puts it, “To act with any success, the materials to be acted upon must be known.” In Capital, he cites such statistics at length in relation to Britain. Those figures he obtained from Government Statistics, but here he insists that the workers gather these figures for themselves, from their own experience. Why? Even at this level, Marx is insisting that the workers rely on themselves, and not on the bourgeois State. There is a political message there, both not to trust that State, and for the Workers to insist upon and develop their independence of it. By workers conducting such a survey they demonstrate their ability to do so, and build their own self-confidence. Moreover, the idea here was that workers in one country should be able to compare their condition to that of workers in other countries. On that basis the workers in the worst position would have arguments for raising their conditions. But, there would be no reason why workers in Country A should trust the data for country B, if that data was provided by Country B's bosses. The very collection of the data by workers, and the sharing of that data amongst workers was in itself an act of solidarity.

In some ways it might be difficult to understand how powerful this is, but I can give an example from my own experience. As late as 1973 when I went to work for a very large pottery firm the office staff were not unionised. Coming from another factory where the union had just been established, it was the first thing I was involved in doing. In fact, I was able to unionise most of the office staff very quickly. But, again, even at that time, because there was no union, there was no annual wage negotiation for office staff. It was similar of the kind of set up you read in a Dickens novel. Every Christmas, the Director, would invite staff into his office, one at a time, and hand them a note of how much, if any pay rise they would be granted. His final comment would always be, “Now you must not share this information with anyone.”

By this kind of paternalistic arrangement, and by keeping each worker atomised, the management were able to divide the workers, and weaken them. The first thing I did was to turn to the other young workers who were on my team, and say, “I've had X, its not very good, is it, how much have you had.” In itself this was saying I have no secrets from you, we are in this together. Before long all the young workers were discussing their wages with each other, which highlighted some glaring anomalies. It took longer to get the older workers to break the habits of a lifetime. But, one upshot was that on one occasion a young worker was asked to train another young woman who moved from another factory. It turned out that the woman being trained was earning about 50% more than the young woman training her. Both agreed this was untenable. Management argued that it was because one was older, but that argument clearly could not hold, especially given the huge variation. By this stage, a degree of confidence and solidarity amongst many of the young workers had been developed that when I asked if they would like me to go in with them to the Director, as their Shop Steward, they said no, they felt confident enough to go in themselves – the younger worker was only about 20 years old. In the end I did have to go into to confront the Director after they told me what crap he had come out with to them, and we did get them to phase in an equalisation of their salaries up to the higher salary. That event soon caused the older workers to begin discussing their salaries for fear that they might be losing out.

This proposal by Marx is that approach writ large. It is a fundamental basis of establishing common cause between workers, and in the process undermines the attempts of the bosses to divide workers. There was another example of this method of collecting and sharing data as a means of asserting workers self-government, and building solidarity at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the aftermath of WWI, there was rapid inflation, and widespread profiteering, including price fixing by the large cartels. The London Co-operative Society worked with the London Trades Council and Labour Part to create the London Food Vigilance Committee, which monitored food prices. Not only was the Co-op as a major retailer in a good position to monitor prices, but at that time, the Co-operative Wholesale Society was a major concern that could monitor wholesale prices, as well as itself having a range of productive facilities through which it could monitor producer prices. Similar alliances existed in other parts of the country. Its an example, of how the element of the Transitional Demand of a Sliding Scale of Wages, which calls for the monitoring of prices by Committees of workers could be practically implemented.

The Co-op used this exercise in combination with its educational work to propagandise against Capitalist enterprise. The Co-operative Women's Guild produced pamphlets on this basis warning of the dangers of Capitalist Trusts. The Co-operative News carried reports attacking Capitalist exploitation, and a cartoon depicted a Co-operative St.George slaying a Capitalist dragon, with the caption, “The People's Co-operative Fights With The Capitalist Menace.” Thirty such committees were established and campaigned for the Government to control imports, sell at cost price, and introduce the rationing of necessities, a measure the Co-op had itself introduced during the War. On the back of this campaign a demonstration of 50,000 people took place in Hyde Park.

Another example of that was that after WWII, the Co-op established its own Research Department that was able to conduct its own analysis in relation to food and materials and processes. The Co-op had been established originally, partly due to the adulteration of workers' food. Even after WWII, milk was one of the most adulterated foods, as well as the problem of brucellosis from unpasteurised milk that could cause blindness. As the country's biggest farmer, the Co-op had been well placed to lead the way in the production of clean milk, and thereby put pressure on other producers long before the government introduced the Milk (Special Designations) Bill in 1949. The danger of relying on the Capitalist State for such analysis or regulation rather than the workers themselves conducting such actions was illustrated with the example of asbestos, where the capitalist State knew of the dangers of its use for a long time, but kept quiet about it, because to have taken action would have badly affected Capitalist profits!

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