International Workingmen’s Association 1868

The Position of The International On Prussian Protectionist Tariffs

Source: MECW Volume 21, p. 5;
Written: by Karl Marx between May 5 and 12, 1868;
First published: in The Bee-Hive Newspaper, May 16, 1868.

Marx wrote this item on the basis of a letter from Johann Baptist Schweitzer dated April 29, 1868. The item was included in the report of the General Council meeting of May 12, 1868 published in The Bee-Hive Newspaper, May 16, 1868, but is not to be found in the Minute Book. Informing Engels of Schweitzer’s letter, Marx wrote to him on May 4, 1868 that he intended to use this question in the interests of the Party”, and insisted on an inquiry into the condition of the workers employed in the iron trade of the Rhine Province (see this letter and Marx’s letter to Engels of May, 7 and the latter’s reply of May 6-7, 1868.

The trades unions established in Germany by the agency and with the assistance of the International Working Men’s Association have furnished the chiefs of the iron trade in the Rhenish province, with an argument against the Prussian Government with regard to a reduction of the import duties on foreign iron. The Chamber, of Commerce of Elberfeld and Barmen is of opinion that a reduction of the import duties on iron will completely ruin the Prussian iron masters. The English capitalists maintain that they must reduce the wages of their workmen to be able to cope with the foreigners. The German iron masters demand the continuance of protection against the English to save themselves from utter ruin; yet the wages received by the Prussian workmen are less than half what the British workman receives, and the hours of labour are more. In its report of April 14th to the Government, the Chamber of Commerce states:

“The iron trade of Germany once prostrate a remedy is impossible. Much capital will then be lost, and thousands of working men deprived of the means of subsistence — a matter that would be the more critical, as the labour question becomes more and more serious, and the International Working Men’s Association assumes a more and more active and menacing attitude.”

This statement proves that the Association has not laboured in vain. The capitalists demand a public inquiry into the present state of the Prussian iron trade. The workmen insist that the inquiry shall include an investigation of the condition of the workpeople employed in the trade.