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The Labor Parliament[61]

Karl Marx

London, Friday, March 10, 1854

Of all countries Great Britain has seen developed on the grandest scale the despotism of capital and the slavery of labor. In no other country have the intermediate degrees between the millionaire, commanding whole industrial armies, and the wages-slave living only from hand to mouth, so radically been swept away from the soil. There exist no longer, as in continental countries, - large classes of peasants and artisans almost equally dependent on their own property and their own labor. A complete divorce of property from labor has been effected in Great Britain. In no other country, therefore, has the war between the two classes that constitute modern society assumed so colossal dimensions and features so distinct and palpable.

But it is precisely from these facts that the working classes of Britain, before all others, are competent and called upon to act as leaders in the great movement that must finally result in the absolute emancipation of labor. Such they are from the conscious clearness of their position, the vast superiority of their numbers, the disastrous struggles of their past and the moral strength of their present.

The London daily papers observe the "policy of abstention" with respect to the proceedings of the Labor Parliament. They hope to kill it by a vast "conspiration de silence". Having for whole months fatigued the public with interminable articles on the probable chances of realization for the scheme of such a Parliament, now they purposely avoid ever mentioning that it has actually sprung into life and already begun to work. This wisdom of the ostrich, which imagines it, avoids dangers by feigning not to see them, will not do now-a-days. They will be forced to notice the Labor Parliament, and, notwithstanding their simulated indiffer¬ence, some future historian will record that there existed in the year 1854 two Parliaments in England, a Parliament in London and a Parliament in Manchester, a Parliament of the rich and a Parliament of the poor, but that men sat only in the Parliament of the men, and not in the Parliament of the masters.

The following is the report of the Committee appointed to draw up a plan of action for the Labor Parliament[62]:

Your Committee believe the duty of this Parliament to be the rendering of the existing turn outs and lock outs victorious for the operatives, and the adoption of means whereby both should be prevented for the future; the securing for the working classes fair treatment during work; the rescuing of women and children from the factory; the means of education, and the abolition of stoppages and underhand abatements of wages. Believing further that it is their duty to endeavor to secure to those who labor a fair participation in the profits of their work; and above all this, to obtain for them the means of independent self-employment, with a view to their emancipation from wages-slavery altogether, and, being convinced that the final step thereto is the obtaining the pecuniary leverage for action, recommend for your consideration.

1. The organization of a system for the collection of a national revenue for labor.
2. A plan for the security of the funds thus raised.
3. The application of the same and the securing of the rights of the working classes.
4. The constitution of the Mass Movement.

I. The Raising of a National Labor Revenue.

a. A weekly levy on the wages, graduated according to the price of labor, as follows:

Up to 4/ per week  ½d.
Up to 8/ per week  ¾d.
Up to 12/ per week  1d.
Up to 15/ per week  1½d.
Up to 20/ per week  2d.
Up to 30/ per week  3d.
Up to 40/ per week  4d.

b. That the officers of the several bodies of working men, who act in conjunction with the Mass Movement, forward the moneys thus raised to its directing head.

II. Security of the Funds.

a. That the local officers forward weekly all moneys they receive on behalf of the Mass Movement to the directing head of the same as shall be further specified below. The duly appointed officers for the reception thereof to return receipts immediately for the moneys thus received.

b. That the directing heads shall invest all moneys they receive on behalf of the Mass Movement (having powers to retain in hand a sum not exceeding £50) in a bank, in their collective names; no such sum or sums, nor any part of the same, to be drawn out of the bank except on presentation of the minute-books of the said directing body, containing an order for the same to be drawn, signed by such a majority of the members of that body as shall hereafter be determined.

c. That the money thus drawn shall be paper money, (unless under £5); that the numbers of such notes shall be entered in a book, open to inspection and published in the papers; that the notes thus received shall be cut into parts, and each part intrusted to a separate member of the directing body; and where large sums are drawn, that they be held in equal portions by each member.

d. That each member, thus entrusted with a portion of the said money, shall give a promissory note amounting to his proportionate share of the money drawn, supposing the same divided into equal parts according to the number of the directing body; and that, should he refuse to apply for the purposes for which the money was drawn, such part of note held by him, the document thus held against him shall at once be put in force, but be cancelled on his paying over said part of note; that the promissory notes thus given shall be deposited in a chest or safe, which shall be placed in the custody of an independent and responsible party (not a member of the directing body), who shall not allow any document to be taken therefrom except in presence of all the directing body.

e. That thé money thus drawn for any payment or purchase be paid by the directors only in the mutual presence of each member of their body.

III.—Application of the Funds.

a. The funds collected shall be applied as follows: To support all towns and places now on strike and for liquidating all debts contracted during the late and present strikes and lockouts. That equal support shall be afforded to towns in proportion to the number out of employ. That on the same principle as when provisions run short on board of ship, each receives alike; thus the same relief shall be given without distinction of high or low paid trader. That, although all existing strikes and lockouts shall be supported, no future assistance will be given to any body of men who do not recognize and support the Mass Movement.

b. That the department be opened to regulate the price of labor. That for this purpose a monthly statement be issued for the price of the raw material employed in all the trades in connection with the Mass Movement; the price of labor in the same, and the selling price of the articles produced, and the other working charges. That on the evidence thus furnished, the directing body shall issue a statement of the profits of the employer; being open to receive from the latter a statement of any peculiar and additional charges which the employers may have to meet. That on the basis thus laid the price of labor shall be regulated, and the tariff of wages be fixed in accordance with the same. That a similar plan be applied to the agricultural interests of the country.

c. That, while workingman has an undoubted right to participate in the profits of the employer, he has a right higher still—that of employing himself; and that, for the purpose of the self-employment, as also for the purpose of more effectually regulating wages, by removing the power of surplus labor from the employer's hands, the funds of the Mass Movement be further employed in the purchase of land. That the estates be purchased in the names of individuals not being members of the directing body. That the estates be divided into farms, varying in size according to the nature of the soil and the purposes to which they are to be applied, viz: whether as individual tenancies or large cooperative undertakings. That the said lands be retained by and never alienated from the Mass Movement. That the land be let to tenants on short leases and at a fair and moderate rental. That the clause be inserted in the lease whereby any tenant making the fault in payment of rent shall immediately lose his right of tenancy. That a fourth clause be inserted whereby the tenant binds himself to pay the rental to the parties appointed by the deed of assignment hereafter named. That the parties in whose names the estates are bought execute a deed of assignment, whereby the tenant shall pay the rent, not to them, but to the individuals then being directors of the Mass Movement. That the directors of the time being shall execute a deed, binding themselves in a penalty of £5,000 each, to two individuals, not being purchasers of any estate; such penalty to be enforced should they, on leaving office, not execute a deed of assignment of the said rental to their successors in office; those successors to be bound in the same way.

d. That independence of self-employment and relief of the labor market from its surplus be still more secure, your Committee recommends a further application of the available funds for the establishment of cooperative factories, workshops and stores, such to be the property of the Mass Movement. Those employed therein to receive that amount of wages regulated by the tariff for the price of labor previously named, and one-half of the net profits realized on the articles produced and sold, the other half of the profits to go to the revenue of the Mass Movement. That the chief manager of each cooperative undertaking be elected by the operatives engaged therein, subject to the approbation of the directing body. That the said manager of each respective undertaking regulates the purchases and sales connected therewith, and return monthly to the directing body a statement of the purchases, sales, payments, and loss or profit connected with the same. That, in case grounds of complaint at difference arise between the operatives and manager, the operatives shall have the power of dismissing the manager and electing another by the majority of not less than three-fourths of their number. That one-half of the net profits of each cooperative undertaking be sent by each respective manager to the directing body. That the property for cooperation purposes purchased by the Mass Movement be placed under a system of security similar to that applied to the landed estates.

After a long discussion, the report of the Committee up to end of the portion marked "II" was adopted on Wednesday's sitting of the Labor Parliament[a]. The Committee appointed for drawing up this programme of action for the Mass Movement consisted of Messrs. Ernest Jones, James Finlen, James Williams, Abraham Robinson and James Bligh.

First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4039, March 29;
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 924, April 4, 1854
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] March 8, 1854.—Ed.

[61] This article is entered in the Notebook as: "Freitag. 10 March. Labour Parliament".

[62] The plan of action for the Labour Parliament given below was published in The People's Paper only on March 11, 1854. L When writing this article Marx presumably made use of a leaflet or a manuscript copy of the programme which had been sent to him together with an invitation to take part in the work of the Parliament (see Note 51↓).

[51] In 1853, with the growth of a massive strike movement of the English proletariat, a group of Chartists headed by Ernest Jones proposed to create a broad workers' organisation, The Mass Movement, which was to unite trade unions and unorganised workers with the primary aim of coordinating strikes in the various districts of the country. The organisation was to be headed by a regularly convened Labour Parliament consisting of delegates elected at meetings of both unorganised workers and of the trade unions associated with The Mass Movement. The Labour Parliament assembled in Manchester on March 6, 1854 and was in session till March 18, 1854. It discussed and adopted the programme of The Mass Movement and set up an Executive of five members. Marx, elected honorary delegate to the Parliament, sent a letter to it (see this volume, pp. 57-59).

The attempt to found The Mass Movement failed, because the majority of the trade union leaders did not approve of associating the trade unions with the political struggle and did not support the idea of creating a single mass workers' organisation. By the summer of 1854 the strike movement had abated and this also cut short the participation of broad masses of workers in the movement. After March 1854 the Labour Parliament never met again.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.61-64), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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