Mr. Tree to
Brussels , April 20, 1886. (Received May 3.)
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that there are evident signs of a general renewal of the strikes at the Belgium collieries. Strikes already exist at Jumet, Lodelinsart, Marchiennes, and Gosselies, and the movement seems to be spreading.
The attitude of the workmen is, however, pacific. The Government still keeps a military force in the neighborhood of the collieries.
Most of the glass works and other establishments have resumed operations, but the men are reported to have returned to work sullenly.
As far as I can learn, there does not seem to be any specific cause for these troubles here. There has been no recent reduction of wages. The workmen, however, and especially the miners, appear to be discontented with their lot, and there is no doubt that the wages the miners receive are very low. Professional agitators, who are numerous in Belgium, as in other countries of Europe, have been industriously circulating among the men and have found good soil to work in the general discontent which prevails in view of the struggle to live in a country which is so overcrowded. It is also apparent that the various anarchic organizations throughout the kingdom have, for political reasons, taken a hand in the troubles, and have contributed considerably towards keeping up the excitement among the workmen.
The true explanation probably exists in the fact that there are too many people in Belgium, and the most efficient relief that could happen [Page 29] both to the Government and the workingmen would be in emigration. They are industrious, economical, ordinarily peaceable and law-abiding, and would be a valuable acquisition to the populations of new countries which are in need of more men. Unfortunately for themselves the Belgians are not disposed to emigrate to any great extent.
Mr. Beerncart, in a statement he made in the Chamber of Deputies shortly after the suppression of the riots at Charleroi, said that the mines had not paid the owners two per cent, on the capital invested for the past 10 years, and that if the whole profits were divided among the workmen during that period it would have given them but twenty francs more per annum. If this statement is true, the wages of the workmen would not have been materially altered if the mines had been turned over to them entirely.
So far as the glass-works are concerned, the hostility to and destruction of them does not seem to have been caused so much by a question of wages as by the fact of the introduction by some of the proprietors of new labor-saving machinery. This was especially so with reference to the establishment Baudoux. This establishment employed about two thousand hands, none of whom, as the evidence shows, received less than 100 francs per month, and some of the glass-blowers made as much as 1,500 francs a month. Mr. Baudoux, being a very enterprising man, had introduced extensive improvements in the art of manufacturing, which the workmen were led to believe did, or would eventually, conflict with their interests, and when the riots at Charleroi broke out they marched to his establishment, and after breaking up the machinery set fire to the buildings and burnt them to the ground, together with his dwelling-house. His own men took no part in the destruction, and were at work when the strikers from the collieries and other establishments attacked the Baudoux buildings. They did not, however, make any attempt to resist the attack. It is said that a curious incident has grown out of the destruction of this establishment Baudoux. The men employed there, finding themselves now out of work, are taking measures to bring actions against the commune for damages occasioned to them by loss of wages in the destruction of the works by the rioters. The proprietors who have sustained damages to their properties also demand full compensation from the commune. As it is not likely, however, that the commune will be able to pay all of these damages, the proprietors will have to pocket most of the loss unless the Government comes to their relief.
I think there is some uneasiness felt over the situation in consequence of the recent disturbances. As evidence of this the Government has introduced in the Chamber of Deputies a series of measures, embracing a projet of law authorizing the department of finance to open a credit of one million of francs, in order to come to the aid of the industrial establishments which have suffered the most serious damage, and which have not the resources to make the necessary repairs without delay. It is proposed to aid them by making advances at 3½ per cent, interest, the question of reponsibility for damages by reason of the acts of the mob being expressly left open.
Also the projet of a law to punish the provokers of crimes and misdemeanors, even in cases when the provocations have not been followed by effects. The intent of the proposed law seems to be to reach those who by speeches in public places, or by placards or emblems, directly provoke the commission of acts defined by the law as crimes or misdemeanors. Also a projet of law forbidding the sale or distribution of fire-arms to persons not authorized to carry them, and merchants are [Page 30] required to keep a register of all sales, mentioning the name and domicile of the purchaser, with other details. Also projet of law regulating in the interest of the public security the manufacture, sale, transportation by land and water, the mode of employment, the detention and carriage of ordinary powder, and all other explosive substances and murderous engines acting by explosion.
The King, on the recommendation of the ministers of finance and of agriculture, industry, and public works, has also appointed a special commission by royal decree, charged to inquire into and attentively study the state of the working populations and the industries which employ them in the kingdom, and also the measures to be taken with a view to ameliorate the situation.
This commission numbers thirty-five members, and is composed of some of the most eminent men of Belgium, including members of both houses of Parliament, ministers of state, publicists, economists, mining engineers, university professors, editors, lawyers, clergymen, and representatives of the working class.
I have, &c.,