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Organizations for Mutual Aid by M. H.


A French gentleman, M. Court, has lately published in La Religion Laïque a series of articles upon this subject that have attracted much attention. He proposes the establishment of a national fund for the support of the aged and infirm, managed by eight members chosen annually, half by the Chamber of Deputies, half by the Senate. The fund is to be raised by legacies and donations; by a gift from the state of ten millions of francs; by a percentage deducted by the state, the departments and the communes from the pay of those who contract to furnish materials for building, to do work, etc.; by a tax upon all who employ servants or other laborers (one franc a month for each employé); and by a deduction from collateral inheritances (successions collatérals). In time, about every member of the community would be subjected directly or indirectly to taxation for the support of the institution, and would have a right to its benefits.

To the ordinary mind the plan appears wholly impracticable from its magnitude, if for no other cause; but it is evidently presented in good faith, and is further proof of the general growth of the sentiment that capital owes a debt to the labor of the world which cannot be satisfied with the mere payment of wages. Most of the "sick funds" or other provisions for the care of disabled workmen in great industrial establishments owe their origin to the initiative of the proprietor. M. Godin, the founder of the Familistère, a palatial home for the families of some five hundred men employed in his iron-works at Guise, was one of the first to institute a fund for mutual assistance and medical service, supported by means of a tax of twenty cents a month on the salary of each workman. Foreseeing the troubles that would arise should he attempt to manage this fund in the interest of his men, he wisely refused to have any share in this work, and induced them to elect a board of managers from their own number having entire responsibility in the matter. The board is composed of eighteen members, each of whom receives from M. Godin an indemnity of five francs a month for time lost in visiting the sick, committee-work, etc.

"The assessment," writes M. Godin, "for the support of the fund to which the workmen consented amounted to about one per cent. of their earnings. The chief of the establishment at the same time contributed all the money resulting from fines for spoiling work and for infractions of the rules of the manufactory. Thanks to this combination, the three principal causes of discord between patron and workman on the subject of relief-funds are removed. First, mistrust and suspicion are avoided. The managers of the treasury are of their own number, and therefore the workmen feel perfectly free to hold them to strict account for every sou received or disbursed. Second, as the fines for breaking the rules are devoted to the fund, the workmen themselves are the sole gainers. This teaches them to respect the rules, and they are little disposed to side with the refractory when they oppose a fine. Third, fines for spoiling work cause no ill-will; indeed, they are submitted to with a good grace. The fine benefits the fund; and, moreover, as in the case of fines for breaking rules, the workman has always a jury of his peers to appeal to: the board of managers is always at hand to approve or disapprove of the fine."

The fund thus administered has proved a great blessing to those who have claims upon it, and the members of the board have worked together over twelve years in the most exemplary harmony; or, in M. Godin's words, it has "parfaitement fonctionné sans conflits, sans contestations d'aucune sorte, et de manière à donner d'excellentes résultats." The average yearly receipts have been eighteen thousand nine hundred francs; average disbursements, eighteen thousand seven hundred and ninety-four francs. Possibly these facts and figures may be of service to some of our chiefs of industry who are studying to improve the condition of their employés.