Frederick Engels in L'Atelier

The Masters and the Workers in England [132]

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 310;
Written: about October 25, 1847;
First published: in the journal L'Atelier No. 2, November 1847.

To The Worker Editors of L'Atelier


I have just read in your October issue an article entitled: Les maîtres et lea ouvriers en Angleterre; this article mentions a meeting reported by la Presse of so-called delegates of workers employed in the Lancashire cotton industry, a meeting which took place on August 29 last in Manchester. The resolutions passed at this meeting were such as to prove to la Presse that there is perfect harmony between capital and labour in England.

You did quite well, gentlemen, to reserve your judgment on the authenticity of a report which a newspaper of the French bourgeoisie has published, based on newspapers of the English bourgeoisie. The report is accurate, it is true; the resolutions were adopted just as la Presse gives them; there is only one small statement lacking in accuracy, but it is precisely this small inaccuracy that is the crux of the matter: the meeting which la Presse describes was not a meeting of workers, but a meeting of foremen.

Gentlemen, I spent two years in the heart of Lancashire itself, and these two years were spent among the workers; I saw them both at their public meetings and in their small committees, I knew their leaders and their speakers, and I think I can assure you that in no other country in the world will you find men more sincerely devoted to democratic principles or more firmly resolved to cast off the yoke of the capitalist exploiters, under which they find themselves suffering at present, than these Lancashire cotton factory workers. How, gentlemen, could these same workers whom I have seen with my own eyes throw several dozen factory owners off a meeting hall platform, whom I have seen, their eyes glinting and fists raised, cast terror into the ranks of the bourgeois gathered on this platform, how, I repeat, could these same workers today pass a vote of thanks to their masters because the latter were kind enough to prefer a reduction in working hours to a reduction in wages?

But let us take a slightly closer look at the matter. Does not the reduction in work mean precisely the same thing for the worker as a reduction in wages? Evidently it does; in both cases the worker’s position deteriorates to an equal extent. There was therefore no possible reason for the workers to thank their masters for having preferred the first method of reducing the worker’s income to the second. However, gentlemen, if you study the English newspapers for late August, you will see that the cotton manufacturers had good reason to prefer a reduction in working hours to one in wages. At that time the price of raw cotton was rising; the same issue of the London Globe which reports the meeting in question also says that the Liverpool speculators were going to take over the cotton market to produce an artificial rise in price. What do the Manchester manufacturers do in such cases? They send their foremen to meetings and make them pass resolutions like those which la Presse communicated to you. This is a tried and tested device which is used each time the speculators try to raise the price of cotton. It is a warning to the speculators to be careful not to attempt to raise the price too high; for in that case the manufacturers would reduce consumption and in so doing, inevitably produce a drop in price. So the meeting which gives la Presse grounds for so much rejoicing and acclamation is nothing but one of those foremen’s assemblies which do not fool anyone in England.

In order to give you further proof of the extent to which this meeting was the exclusive work of the capitalists, it should suffice to tell you that the only newspaper to which the resolutions were sent, the newspaper from which all the other newspapers borrowed them, was the Manchester Guardian, the organ of the manufacturers. The democratic workers’ paper, The Northern Star, also gives them; but adds that it has taken them from this capitalist newspaper, a damning observation in the eyes of the workers. [The Northern Star, September 4, 1847]

Yours, etc.