Karl Marx in the Das Volk 1859

On the London Building Trades Lockout


Source: Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions, Edited by Kenneth Lapides;
Written: by Marx in the Das Volk, August 20, 1859;
First Published: Articles on Britain, Progress Publishers 1871;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

London. The building workers’ strike, or to be more accurate, the master builders’ lockout, is continuing without an essential change taking place in the irreconcilable position of the two sides. On Tuesday the workers’ delegates held a meeting that was also attended by representatives of other trades, at which it was unanimously decided not to accept employment from any master who might demand a promise not to participate in the “society.” Simultaneously, a meeting was held by the “associated” masters in the Freemason’s Tavern, to which no newspaper reporters were admitted. As it was later to emerge, these furtive gentlemen had, after a stormy consultation, agreed that no member of the association should open his workshop until the building workers have expressly renounced the “society” and until “Mr. Trollope’s workers have put an end to their strike.” The last point will probably soon be wound up, for Mr. Trollope has recently entered into negotiations with the workers and has given most firm assurances to the effect that the accusations that are being raised against him (the dismissal of a worker who had handed him the petition for a nine-hour day, etc.) were the result of a misunderstanding.

As regards the other condition, the “locked-out” will on no account consent to it, unless they are compelled to do so by dire necessity; they feel that to renounce the “society,” to renounce all organisations, would mean making themselves regular serfs of the capitalists and casting away the little scrap of independence that is still left to the modern proletarians. The obstinacy of the masters, who lay claim to an authority over their “hands” similar to that of the American plantation owner over his slaves, has evoked the disapproval even of a section of the bourgeois reporters. Naturally, we have no cause to be dissatisfied with the building masters. After all, they are doing everything in their power to widen the already wide gulf between labour and capital and to intensify the concentrated, conscious class hatred which is the best guarantee for a social upheaval.

In London there are over 1,000 builders’ workshops in all. Only 88 of them, the biggest, are closed. The number of lockouts (dismissed workers) amounts to 19,000-20,000, not 40,000, as was maintained initially.

Generous money contributions are streaming into the “society” from all parts of the country, but so far the unemployed workers have refused to draw on these. Honour to the brave! Would the bourgeoisie be capable of such sacrifice for the sake of its class interests?