(l’Union Ouvriere = workers’ union)
by Flora Tristan (1843)
What happened for the proletarians is surely a good omen for the future of women when their ’89 will have rung. By a very simple calculation it is obvious that wealth will increase indefinitely when women (half of the human race) are summoned to bring into social service their intelligence, strength, and ability. This is as easy to understand as that two is double one. But alas! We are not there yet and while waiting for that happy ’89 let us note what is happening in 1843.
The church having said that woman was sin; the legislator, that by herself she was nothing, that she was not to enjoy any rights; the wise philosopher, that because of her structure she had no intelligence, it has been concluded that she is a poor creature disinherited by God, and men and society have treated her accordingly.
I know of nothing so powerful as the forced, inevitable logic that issues from a principle laid down or from the hypothesis that represents it. Once woman’s inferiority is proclaimed and posed as a principle, see what disastrous consequences result for the universal well-being of all men and all women.
Believing that woman, because of her structure, lacked strength, intelligence, and ability and was unsuited for serious and useful work, it has been concluded very logically that it would be a waste of time to give her a rational, solid, strict education capable of making her a useful member of society. Therefore she has been raised to be an amiable doll and a slave destined to entertain her master and serve him. To be sure, from time to time a few intelligent and compassionate men, suffering for their mothers, wives, and daughters, have cried out against such barbarousness and absurdity and have protested energetically against so unjust a condemnation. . . . Occasionally society has been momentarily sympathetic; but, under the pressure of logic it has responded: Well! Granted that women are not what the sages thought, suppose even that they have a great deal of moral force and much intelligence; well, in that case what purpose would it serve to develop their faculties, since they would have no opportunity to employ them usefully in this society that rejects them? What more frightful punishment than to feel in oneself the strength and ability to act and to see onese condemned to inactivity!
That reasoning was truly irrefutable. Consequently everyone repeats: It is true, women would suffer too much if their fine faculties endowed by God were developed, if from childhood they were raised in such a way that they comprehended their dignity as human beings and were aware of their value as members of society; never, no never, could they support the degrading position in which the church, the law, and prejudices have placed them. It is better to treat them as children and leave them in ignorance about themselves; they would suffer less.
Pay attention and you will see what frightful perturbations result solely from the acceptance of a false principle.
Not wishing to wander from my subject, although here is a good opportunity to speak from a general point of view, I return to my theme, the working class.
Woman is everything in the life of the workers. She is their sole providence If she fails them, everything fails them. Consequently it is said: “It is the woman who makes or unmakes the household, ” and this is the exact truth; that is why a proverb has been made of it. But what education, what teaching, what direction, what moral or physical development does the woman of the common people receive? None. As a child she is left at the mercy of a mother and grandmother who, themselves, have received no education: one, according to her nature, will be brutal and ill-natured, will beat her and mistreat her for no reason; the other will be weak and unconcerned and will let her do what she wants. (In this as in all that I assert, I am speaking in general; of course I admit that there are numerous exceptions.) The poor child will be raised in the midst of the most shocking contradictions-one day irritated by blows and unfair treatment-the next day mollified, spoiled by no less pernicious overindulgence.
Instead of sending her to school, she will be kept in the house in preference to her brothers, because one makes better use of her in the household, either to rock the babies, to run errands, watch the soup, etc. At twelve years of age she is apprenticed; there she continues to be exploited by her mistress and often is as maltreated as she was at home with her parents.
Nothing so embitters character, hardens the heart, and makes for meanness of spirit as the continual suffering that a child endures as a result of unjust and brutal treatment. At first the injustice wounds, grieves, and makes us despair; then when it is continued, it irritates, exasperates us, and no longer dreaming of anything but a means of revenge, we end by becoming ourselves hard, unjust, and mean spirited. Such will be the normal state of the poor girl at twenty years of age. Then she will marry, without love, only because one must marry if one wants to escape from the parents’ tyranny. What will happen? I assume she will have children; in her turn, she will be completely incapable of raising her sons and daughters suitably; she will be as brutal to them as her mother and her grandmother were to her.
Women of the working class, observe well, I beseech you, that in pointing out here what now exists concerning your ignorance and your inability to raise your children, I have no intention of bearing the least accusation against you and Your character. No, it is society that I accuse of leaving you thus untutored, you, women, you, mothers, who will so much need, on the contrary, to be educated and developed, in order to be able in your turn to educate and develop the men and the children entrusted to your care.
The women of the lower classes are generally brutal, mean, sometimes harsh. That is true; but where does this state of things come from that so little conforms to woman’s sweet, good, sensitive, generous nature? Poor working women! They have so many irritations! First the husband. (It must be acknowledged that there are few workers’ households that are happy.) The husband, with a bit more education, being the head by virtue of the law, and also by virtue of the money he brings into the household, believes himself (which he is in fact) very much superior to the woman, who brings only her small daily wage and is only a humble servant in the house.
Notice that in all the trades engaged in by men and women, the woman worker gets only half what a man does for a day’s work, or, if she does piecework, her rate is less than half. Not being able to imagine such a flagrant injustice, the first thought to strike us is this: because of his muscular strength, man doubtless does double the work of woman. Well, readers, just the contrary happens. In all the trades where skill and finger dexterity are necessary, women do almost twice as much work as men. For example, in printing, in setting type (to tell the truth they make many errors, but that is from their lack of education); in cotton or silk spinning mills, to fasten the threads; in a word, in all the trades where a certain lightness of touch is needed, women excel. A printer said to me one day with a naivete completely characteristic: “Oh, they are paid a half less, it is true, since they work more quickly than men; they would earn too much if they were paid the same.” Yes, they are paid, not according to the work they do, but because of their low cost, a result of the privations they impose on themselves. Workers, you have not foreseen the disastrous consequences that would result for you from a similar injustice done to the detriment of your mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. What is happening? The manufacturers, seeing the women laborers work more quickly and at half price, day by day dismiss men from their workshops and replace them with women. Consequently the man crosses his arms and dies of hunger on the pavement! That is what the heads of factories in England have done. Once started in this direction, women will be dismissed in order to replace them with twelve-year-old children. A saving of half the wages! Finally one gets to the point of using only seven- and eight-year-old children. Overlook one injustice and you are sure to get thousands more.
The result of this is that the husband at the very least treats his wife with much disdain. The poor woman, who feels humiliated at each word and each look that her husband addresses to her, revolts openly or secretly, according to her character; from that, violent, painful scenes arise that end by bringing about between the master and the servant (one can even say slave, for the woman is, so to speak, the property of the husband) a constant state of irritation. That state becomes so painful that the husband, instead of staying home to chat with his wife, hurries to flee, and as he has no other place to go to, he goes to the tavern to drink absinthe with other husbands as unhappy as he, in the hope of drowning his sorrow.
Why do the workers go to the tavern? Egotism has struck the upper classes, those who rule, with complete blindness. They do not understand that their fortune, happiness, and their security depend on the moral, intellectual, and material bettering of the working class. They abandon the worker to misery and ignorance, thinking, according to the ancient maxim, that the more brute-like the people are, the easier it is to muzzle them. This was true before the Declaration of the Rights of Man; since then, the notion represents a gross anachronism, a grave fault. Moreover, one should at least be consistent: if one believes that it is a good and wise policy to leave the impoverished class in a brute condition, then why recriminate ceaselessly against its vices? The rich accuse the workers of being lazy, debauched, drunken; and in order to support their accusations, they shout: “If the workers are poor, it is their own fault. Go to the barriers, enter the taverns, you will find them full of workers who are there to drink and waste their time.” I believe that if the workers, instead of going to the tavern, assembled seven at a time (a figure the September laws permit) in one room, to learn about their rights and consider what means to take in order to make them legally valid, the rich would be more unhappy than they are at seeing the taverns full.
In the present state of things, the tavern is the TEMPLE of the worker; it is the only place where he can go. The church-he does not believe in it; the theater-he understands nothing there. That is why the taverns are always full. In Paris, three-fourths of the workers have no home: they sleep crowded into furnished rooms, and those who are married lodge in attics where there is not enough room or air and consequently they are forced to go out if they want to exercise their legs or revive their lungs.. You do not wish to educate the people, you forbid them to assemble for fear they will educate themselves, talk about politics and social doctrines; you do not want them to read, write, or think for fear that they will revolt! But then what do you want them to do? If you forbid them everything that activates the mind, it is clear that the only recourse they have is the cabaret. Poor workers! Overwhelmed with every kind of misery and chagrin, whether in their households, at their employers’, or finally, because the repugnant and forced work to which they are condemned irritates the nervous system so much, they sometimes become almost crazy; under those conditions, in order to escape their sufferings, they have no refuge but the tavern. So they go there to drink absinthe, execrable medicine, but one that has the virtue of numbing them.
In contrast to facts of this kind, so-called virtuous, so-called religious gentlemen are encountered in society who, comfortably established in their houses, drink at every meal, and in quantity, good Bordeaux wines, aged Chablis, excellent champagne, and these men make long-winded moralizing speeches against the drunkenness, debauchery, and intemperance of the working class!
In the course of the studies I have made about the workers (I have been doing this for ten years), I have never met a drunkard, a true debaucher among those workers who are happy in their households and who enjoy a certain degree of comfort.Whereas, among those who are unhappy in their households and live in extreme poverty, I have found incorrigible drunkards.
The tavern is therefore not the cause of the evil, but simply the result. The cause of the evil is uniquely in the ignorance, misery, and brutalization into which the working class is plunged. Educate the people, and in twenty years the dealers of absinthe who keep taverns at the barriers will close shop for lack of drinkers.
In England, where the working class is much more ignorant and unhappy than in France, the workers, men and women, push this vice of drunkenness to the brink of insanity.
This means of distraction aggravates the evil. The wife who waits for Sunday’s wages in order to provide for her family during the week is in despair at seeing her husband spend most of it in the tavern. Then her irritation reaches a climax, and her brutality and ill-nature are doubled. One has to have seen close up these workers’ households (especially the bad ones) in order to get an idea of the unhappiness the husband experiences and the suffering of the wife. From reproaches and insults they go to blows, then tears, discouragement, and despair. . . .
After the bitter chargins caused by the husband, next come the pregnancies, the illnesses, the lack of work, and the poverty-poverty that is always planted at the door like the head of Medusa. Add to all that the incessant irritation caused by four or five crying children, unruly, tiresome, who turn round and round the mother, and all that in a small laborer’s room where there is no place to stir. Oh! One would have to be an angel descended on earth not to be irritated, not become brutal and ill-natured in such a situation. However, in such a family milieu, what becomes of the children? They see their father only evenings and Sundays. This father, always in a state of irritation or of drunkenness, speaks to them only in anger, and they get only insults and blows from him; hearing their mother’s continual complaints about him, they dislike and scorn him. As for their mother, they fear her, obey her, but do not love her; for man is so made that he cannot love those who mistreat him. And what a great tragedy it is for a child not to be able to love his mother! If he is troubled, on whose breast will he go to weep? If through thoughtlessness or from being led astray he has committed some grave fault, in whom can he confide? Having no inclination to remain near his mother, the child will look for any pretext to leave the maternal home. Bad associations are easy to make, for girls as for boys. From loafing one will go on to vagrancy, and often from vagrancy to thieving.
Among the unfortunates who people the houses of prostitution, and those who lament in prison, how many there are who can say: “If we had had a mother capable of raising us, we certainly would not be here.”
I repeat, the woman is everything in the life of the worker. As mother, she influences him during his infancy; it is from her and only from her that he draws the first notions of that science so important to acquire, the science of life, that which teaches us to live befittingly toward ourselves and toward others, according to the milieu in which fate has placed us. . . . As sweetheart, she has an effect on him during his entire youth, and what a powerful influence a young, beautiful, loved girl could have! As wife, she influences him for three-fourths of his life. Finally, as daughter she influences him in his old age. Notice that the position of the worker is quite different from that of the idle rich. If a child of the rich has a mother incapable of raising him, he is put into a pension or given a governess. If the rich young man has no mistress, he can fill his heart and imagination with study of the fine arts or science. If the rich man has no wife, he has no lack of distractions in the world. If the rich old man has no daughter, he finds some old friends or nephews who willingly consent to make up his game of Boston, whereas the worker, to whom all these pleasures are forbidden, has for his only joy, his only consolation, the society of the women of his family, his companions in misfortune. It follows from this situation that it would be of the greatest importance from the point of view of the intellectual, moral, and material betterment of the working class for the women of the people to receive from their infancy a rational, solid education, suitable for developing all their good, natural bents, in order that they might become skillful workers in their trade, good mothers of families, capable of raising and guiding their children and of being for them, as la Presse says, natural free-of-charge school-mistresses, and in order, too, that they might serve as moralizing agents for the men over whom they have influence from birth to death.
Do you begin to understand, you man who exclaim in horror before being willing to examine the question, why I claim Tights for women? Why I would like them to be placed in society on an absolutely equal footing with men, and enjoy it by virtue of the legal right that every person has at birth?
I demand rights for women because I am convinced that all the ills of the world come from this forgetfulness and scorn that until now have been inflicted on the natural and imprescriptible rights of the female. I demand rights for women because that is the only way that their education will be attended to and because on the education of women depends that of men in general, and particularly of the men of the people. I demand rights for women because it is the only means of obtaining their rehabilitation in the eyes of the church, the law, and society, and because that preliminary rehabilitation is necessary if the workers themselves are to be rehabilitated. All the ills of the working class are summed up by these two words: poverty and ignorance, ignorance and poverty. But to get out of this labyrinth, I see only one way: to start by educating women, because women are entrusted with raising the children, male and female.
Workers, under present conditions, you know what happens in your households. You, the man, the master having rights over your wife, do you live with her contentedly? Speak: are you happy?
No, no. It is easy to see that in spite of your rights, you are neither contented nor happy.
Between master and slave, there can only be fatigue from the weight of the chain that binds one to the other. Where the absence of liberty makes itself felt, happiness cannot exist.
Men complain endlessly of the cantankerous mood, of the sly and secretlyacrimonious nature that a woman manifests in nearly all her relationships. Oh, I would have a very bad opinion of the female race, if, in the state of abjection in which the law and customs have placed them, women submitted to the yoke weighing on them without uttering a murmur. Thanks be to God, that is not so! Their protest from the beginning of time has been incessant always. But since the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a solemn act that revealed the neglect and scorn of the new men for them, their protest has assumed an energetic and violent character ter, which proves that the exasperation of the slave is at its height. . . .
Workers, you who have good common sense, and with whom one can reason, because as Fourier says, your minds are not stuffed with a lot of theories, will you assume for a moment that woman is legally the equal of man? Well, what would be the result?
1. That from the moment one would no longer have to fear the dangerous consequences that, in the present state of their legal servitude, necessarily result from the moral and physical development of women’s faculties, one would instruct them with great care in order to draw from their intelligence and work the best possible advantages;
2. That you, men of the people, would have for mothers skilled workers earning good wages, educated, well brought up, and very capable of instructing you, of raising you well, you, the workers, as is proper for free men;
3. That you would have for sisters, for lovers, for wives, for friends, educated women well brought up and whose everyday dealings could not be more agreeable for you; for nothing is sweeter, pleasanter for man than the conversation of women when they are educated, good, and converse with reason and good-will. . . .
Workers, this little picture, barely sketched, of the position that the proletarian class would enjoy if women were recognized as the equals of men, must make you reflect on the evil that exists and on the good that could be attained. That should inspire you to great determination.
Workers, you do not have the power to abolish the old laws and make new ones-no, there is no doubt about that; but you do have the power to protest against the iniquity and absurdity of laws that interfere with the progress of humanity and that make you suffer, you in particular. Therefore you can-it is even a sacred duty-protest energetically, in opinions, words, and writings, against all laws that oppress you. So try hard to understand this: the law that subjugates women and deprives them of education oppresses you, you, proletarian men.
In order to raise him, instruct him, and teach him the ways of the world, the son of rich parents has governesses and knowledgeable teachers, skillful directors, and, eventually, beautiful marchionesses, elegant, clever women whose functions, in high society, include the taking in hand of the education of the sons of good families as they come out of school. It is a very useful function for the well-being of these gentlemen of the high nobility. These ladies teach them to have civility, tact, finesse, adaptability of mind, fine manners; in a word, they make of them men who know how to live, proper gentlemen. If a young man has any ability at all, if he has the luck to be under the protection of one of these pleasant women, his fortune is made. At thirty-five years of age he is sure to be an ambassador or a minister. Whereas you, poor workmen, for your upbringing and instruction you have only your mothers; to make you into men who know how to live, you have only women of your own class, your companions in ignorance and misery.
I have just demonstrated that the ignorance of the women of the lower classes has the most dire consequences. I maintain that the emancipation of the workers is impossible as long as women remain in that condition of abasement. They arrest all progress. At times I have witnessed violent scenes between husband and wife. Often I have been the victim, receiving the most rude insults. Those poor creatures, not seeing any farther than the ends of their noses, as the saying goes, became furious at the husband and at me, because the worker lost several hours of his time in occupying himself with political and social ideas. “Why must you occupy yourself with things that do not concern you?” they screamed. “Think about earning enough to eat and let the world go where it wishes.”
This is cruel to say, but I know some unhappy workers, good men, intelligent and well meaning, who would ask nothing better than to devote their Sundays and their little savings to serving the cause, and who, in order to have peace at home, hide from their wives and mothers the fact that they come to see me and write to me. These same women hold me in execration, say horrible things about me, and, but for the fear of prison, might push their zeal to the point of coming to insult me in my house and beat me, and all that because I am committing a great crime, they say, in putting into the heads of their men ideas that force them to read, to write, to talk among themselves-all useless things that make them waste time. This is deplorable! However, I have encountered some women capable of understanding social questions and who prove to be loyal.
Therefore, it is not in the name of the superiority of women (someone will not fail to accuse me of this) that I tell you to demand rights for women; no, truly. First, before discussing the question of woman’s superiority, it is necessary that her social individuality be recognized. I rely on a more solid base. It is on behalf of your own interest, men; it is for your betterment, you, men; finally, it is for the universal well-being of all men and women that I enlist you to demand rights for women, and, while waiting, to acknowledge them at least in principle.
Therefore it is up to you, workers, who are the victims of inequality in practice and of injustice-it is up to you to establish at last the reign of justice on earth and of absolute equality between men and women.
Give the world a great example, an example that will prove to your oppressors that it is by the law that you wish to triumph and not by brutal force; but you seven, ten, fifteen million proletarians could have this brutal force at your disposal!While claiming justice for yourselves, prove that you are just and impartial; declare, you strong men, men with bare arms, that you recognize woman as your equal and that in virtue of this, you recognize for her an equal right to the benefits of the UNIVERSAL UNION OF WORKING MEN AND WORKING WOMEN.
Workers, perhaps in three or four years you will have your own first palace, ready to receive 600 old people and 600 children! Well, proclaim through your statutes, which will soon become YOUR CHARTER, proclaim the rights of women to equality. Let it be written in YOUR CHARTER that you will admit to the palaces of the UNION OUVRIERE, to receive intellectual and professional education, an equal number of GIRLS and BOYS.
Workers, in ’91 your fathers proclaimed the immortal declaration of the RIGHTS OF MAN, and it is to this solemn declaration that you owe today your status as men free and equal in rights before the law. Pay homage to your fathers for this great work! But, proletarians, there remains for you, men of 1843, a work no less great to accomplish. In your turn, free the last slaves who still remain in French society; proclaim the RIGHTS OF WOMAN, and in the same terms as your fathers proclaimed yours, say:
“We, French proletarians, after fifty-three years of experience, recognize that we are duly enlightened and convinced that the neglect and scorn of the natural rights of woman are direct causes for the ills of the world, and we have resolved to state in a solemn declaration, inscribed in our charter, her sacred and inalienable rights. We wish women to be instructed concerning our declaration, in order that they may no longer permit themselves to be oppressed and debased by the injustice and tyranny of man, and that men may respect in women, their mothers, the liberty and equality that they themselves enjoy.
1. Since the object of society must be the common happiness of man and woman, UNION OUVRIERE guarantees man and woman the enjoyment of their rights as workers.
“2. These rights are: equality of admission to the PALACES of UNION OUVRIERE whether children, the injured, or old people.
“3. Woman being in our eyes the equal of man, it is understood that girls will receive an education that, although distinct, will be as rational, as solid, and as extensive in moral and professional science as that of boys.
“4. As for the injured and the old, treatment will be in every way the same for women as for men. ”
Workers, you can be sure that if you have enough impartiality and justice to inscribe in your charter the few lines that I have just set forth, this declaration of the rights Of woman will soon pass into custom, and from custom into law, and in twentyfive years you will see inscribed at the head of the book of law that will regulate French society: ABSOLUTE EQUALITY for men and women.
Then, my brothers, and only then. the UNITY OF HUMANITY will be CONSTITUTED.
Sons of ’89, that is the work that your fathers have bequeathed to you!
RESUME OF THE IDEAS CONTAINED IN THIS BOOK
whose purpose is to:
1. CONSTITUTE THE WORKING CLASS by means of a compact, solid, and indissoluble UNION.
2. Arrange for the representation of the working class before the nation by a defender chosen by the WORKERS’ UNION and salaried by it, in order to establish firmly the fact that this class has its right to exist, and to secure acceptance of this fact by the other classes.
[In the second and third editions the word “right” is replaced by “need.”]
3. Appeal, in the name of justice, against usurpations and privileges.
[In the second and third editions article 3 is omitted and is replaced by article 4 of the first edition (below).]
4. Secure recognition of the legitimacy of arms as a form of property. (In France twenty-five million proletarians have no property except their arms.)
5. Secure recognition of the legitimacy of the right to work for all men and all women.
[In the second and third editions this article 5 becomes 4 and article 5 reads as follows: Secure recognition of the legitimacy of the right to moral, intellectual, and professional education for all men and all women.]
6. Explore the possibility of organizing work under present social conditions.
7. Construct in each department PALACES OF THE WORKERS’ UNION, where children of the working class will be instructed, intellectually and professionally, and where working men and women who have been injured at their jobs, and those who are infirm or aged, will be cared for.
8. Recognize the urgent need to provide women of the people with a moral, intellectual, and professional education, so that they may become moralizing agents of the men of the people.
9. Recognize, in principle, the legal equality of men and women as being the only means of constituting the UNITY OF HUMANITY.
* Union ouvriere 1st ed. (Paris, 1843), p. 108, quoted by Jules Puech in La Vie et l’oeuvre de Flow Tristan (Paris, 1925), pp. 126-27. This original resume was slightly altered for the second edition (see brackets). These changes are from Union ouvriere, 3rd ed., 1844, reprinted by EDNIS, Editions d’Histoire Sociale (Paris, 1967), p. 108. According to Puech, p. 490, the second and third editions were identical in this respect