Documents of the First International 1867
Source: Minutes of the General Council of the First International 1866-1868, 1964;
First Published: in The International Courier March 13. Le Courrier International, March 16 and The Working Man, April 6, 1867;
Written: by Eccarius early in March 1867.
Fellow working men, it is but a few days since the thunderer of Printing House Square [The Times] presaged the ruin and destruction of the British iron trade if the Unionists persisted in not working under a certain price. The Belgians, it was said, with cheap coals and low wages, would engross the trade, both in the home and the foreign market. Two men, Creed and Williams, expatiated in the Times on the felicity of the Belgian coal and iron-masters not being bothered with vexatious factory laws and Trades Unions; the Belgian miners and iron-workers worked contentedly, with their wives and children, from 12 to 14 hours a day, for less than their British equals received for ten hours’ work a day. However, hardly was the ink of the print dry, when tidings arrived that these contented beings had revolted. The iron trade, says the Economiste Belge, has been queer for some time on account of the high price of coal and an indifferent yield of the mines. The same journal says:
“The ignorance of the mining population is so profound, their brutality so great, their way of spending their money so disorderly and so improvident that the highest wages would be insufficient.”
This is no wonder. The responsibility rests with those who keep them in a worse than brutish drudgery from the cradle to the grave.
At the beginning of last month, three furnaces stopped in the neighbourhood of Marchienne; the other ironmasters forthwith announced a reduction of wages of ten per cent; the coal-masters of Charleroi followed suit, yet the Economiste says that coals were never more in demand, nor at a higher price than at present. The affair was aggravated by a simultaneous rise in the price of flour, the coal and ironmasters being also the proprietors of the flour mills of the district. A great many of the work-people became exasperated, and not being organised and in the habit of deliberating upon their common affairs, they had no plan of action for their guidance.
They gathered upon the high roads and went from place to place to prevent such as might be disposed to work under the reduction. The colliers of Charleroi arrived by a flour mill guarded by a hundred soldiers whose guns were loaded with ball cartridges. This provoked an attack, the result is: killed, wounded, and prisoners. These poor, provoked and ill-used victims have left families outside the graves and the prison walls who are in dire want. Nobody ventures in Belgium to say a word in their behalf. Mistaken and misguided as these men were as to their course of action, they yet fell in labour’s cause, and those they have left behind deserve sympathy and support. Some pecuniary help to the widows and orphans, and the moral influence it would produce, if coming from abroad, would raise the drooping spirits of the whole class, and might lead to communications and interchanges of opinion which would give our Continental brethren a better idea of how labour’s battles must be fought, and what organisation and education the fighting army requires.
The Council of the International Working Men’s Association appeals to you to take the case into your consideration, for the cause of the labourers of one country is that of the labourers of all countries.
George Odger, President
J. George Eccarius, Vice-President
R. Shaw, Secretary