Is our civilization
just to working men? It is not. Try it by whatever test you will, it
is glaringly, bitterly and increasingly unjust.
If it does not seem so, it is because
our moral perceptions are obscured by habit.
The tolerance of wrong dulls our
sense of its injustice. Men may become accustomed to theft, murder,
even to slavery—that sum of all villainies—so they see no injustice
in it, yet that which is unjust is unjust still, and whoever will go
back to first principles will see that it is unjust. Work is the producer,
the fashioner, the bringer forth; the means whereby intelligence moulds
matter to its purpose. The earth and the heavens are they not, as the Scripture
tells us, the work of God?
And what kind of a world is that
on which we find ourselves? It is a world in which only the raw materials
are furnished us—a world in which human life can only be maintained
and human wants met and desires gratified by work. Beast, bird and fish
take the food they find, and are clothed they know not how. But man must
work. Created in the image of the Creator, he, in a lower way, must create
in his turn. Food, clothing, shelter—all the things that we call wealth—are
brought into being by work. Nature yields to labour, and to labour alone.
These are truisms which everybody
knows. The first man knew them.
Yes, the first man knew them; and
if we would see how they are ignored in the facts of today, imagine
that, in the slumber of night, that first man stood by your bedside
in one of those great cities that are the flower, crown, and type of
our civilization, and asked you to take him through it.
Here you would take him through
wide and well kept streets, lined with spacious mansions, replete
with everything that can enhance comfort and gratify taste, adorned
with magnificent churches. Again, you would pass into another quarter,
where everything is pinched and niggard—where families are packed together
tier on tier, sometimes a whole family in a single room, where even such
churches as you see are poor and mean, and only the grogshops are gorgeous.
Which quarter do you think Adam would understand you to mean if you spoke
of the working man's quarter?
Knowing that wealth comes only by
work, would he not necessarily infer that the fine houses were the
homes of the working men, and the poor, squalid houses the homes of
the people who do no work? You might by ocular demonstration convince
the simple old man that the very reverse of this is true, but how would
you convince him that it is just?
Here is the eternal law—wealth comes
only by work. Here, wherever our civilization extends, is the social
fact, those who work hardest and longest, those whom we style the working
classes, are the poorest classes. The very word working man is synonymous
with poverty. A working man's hotel is everywhere a poor hotel; a working
man's restaurant is a mean restaurant. In a working man's store you will
find only the cheaper and coarser goods. What physician wants a working
man's practice if he can get any other? What minister a working man's church?
Who wishes his son to become, or his daughter to wed a working man? We
prate vainly of the dignity of our labour; facts give our words the lie.
Labour is everywhere condemned and despised. Everywhere it slinks to a
back seat; aye, even in the house of God! Magnificent churches are dedicated
to a carpenter, to a fisherman, and to a tentmaker, but are they working
man's carriages which stand on Sundays before the door? Are their well-dressed
congregations composed of the class of which the carpenter, the fisherman
and the tentmaker of eighteen centuries ago belonged? Why even in the
cathedrals of that Church which most boasts that before her priesthood,
all are equal, the carpenter, the fisherman and the tentmaker of the present
day must go into the five cent place or the ten cent place. The good places
are the soft seats—they are for the people who have got above labour.
It were idle to complain of this.
The prettiest theory must bend to the logic of facts. God intended
labour to be honourable among men. That is clear, for He made wealth
the reward of labour. But somehow or other, as we have managed to
fix things in the civilization of which we are so proud, labour has been
divorced from its natural reward, and this being the case, the signet
of respectability is gone.
But it may be said, in speaking
of working men, we mean, for the most part, mere handworkers. Manual
labour is but a low kind of labour. The great agent of production is
mind, not muscle.
Granted that the more intelligent
work—the work we call brainwork ought to be paid more than mere manual
labour, this does not prove it just that manual labour should get so
little. What can the brain produce without the hand? Suppose Adam, when
driven from Paradise, had set himself under a tree and resolved to make
a living with his brain, what would have become of him? Suppose that the
hand-workers of the world were to stop work today, what would become
of brainworkers? Furthermore, is not all handwork brainwork, and have
not those in the ranks of hand-workers just as much natural intelligence
as those in any other walk of life?
But I make no narrow definition
of the term working man. Whoever does productive work of any kind
is really a working man. But all exertion is not work. The gambler
I do not call a working man, whether he gamble with dice, or cards,
or in stocks or produce. The thief I do not call a working man, whether
he picks pockets or wrecks railroads. The confidence operator I do not
call a working man, whether his gains be dollars or millions; and whether
he dwell in an almshouse or in a palace—whether he ride in a prison van
or in a coach and pair, I do not call the mere appropriator a working man.
A man may toil from early manhood
to hoary age to increase his gains, he may in the struggle for wealth
wear out his body, distort his mind, warp his instincts, and lose his
soul, and yet be not a working man, if his struggle be merely to take—not
But him I call a working man, who,
with hand or with head, takes the part of a producer in the complex
machinery of which human wants are satisfied. Whether his work be physical,
or whether it be mental, if he would aid in providing for the needs of
the body, of the intellect, for the needs of the soul—him I call a working
man! And using the term in the widest sense, I still insist that our
civilization is unjust to working men.
Is it not notorious that brainwork
is, on the whole, as much underpaid as handwork? Are there not many
brainworkers who, at times, are tempted to envy the hand-worker? How
many authors, how many inventors, how many newspaper writers, how many
teachers, do you know of who have got rich by work? I do know of some
newspaper writers who have got rich, but it has been by being led into
"fat things." I do know of some teachers who have made fortunes, but it
has been by successful speculation. I do know of one author who by the
sheer earnings of his pen has bought himself what most of us would call
a fine house, though it is not as good as some millionaire's stable,
but he writes detective stories for boys' papers. Even in business, do
not statistics show that something like 95 per cent of all that start fail?
Getting rich by hand-work-that is
utterly out of the question; and if you have a strong vigorous brain,
and want to get rich, use it not to do productive work, but to appropriate
the work of others. That is the way to get rich.
When I was a boy and went to Sunday
school, I used to want to be rich. Dollars was the sum I used to
dream about, for fortunes were not so large in those days. But since
I have seen more of life, since I have seen how great wealth masters
the man, I fear the responsibilities. But poverty, in such a civilization
as ours, this does not merely mean hard work and poor fare, but weakness
and contempt; the dulling of the intellect; the cramping of the soul.
The injustice of our civilization to working men is not so much that it
deprives them of physical gratifications they ought to have, but that
it deprives them of higher things—of leisure and opportunity for mental
and moral growth.
The working class is everywhere
necessarily the least cultured class.
Go into our prisons and you will
find them tenanted not from the rich, but from the poor. Inquire into
the history of the girls you may find at night prowling the streets of
our great cities, in nine cases out of ten it was poverty that sent them
I listened last night with deep
interest to the discussion of education.
I fully agree with all that was
said as to the superiority of the moral to the intellectual. To merely
develop the intellectual faculties without commensurate development
of the moral sense seems to me but to make the man a monster.
But what is the education of the
school as compared with the education outside the school? How little
will it avail if you teach the child in school that honesty is the best
policy, when from the time he can think, the lesson that he everywhere
learns is if you would escape pain and gain pleasure, if you would win
respect and consideration, get MONEY. Get it honestly if you can, but
at any rate get money. You ministers may preach every Sunday, of hell and
of heaven, but the hell that the mass of your congregation most fear is
the hell of poverty. The heaven which most attracts them is the heaven
of wealth; nor is it strange that it should be so.
This is the necessary result of
that fierce struggle for existence, which rages wherever our civilization
extends, and becomes fiercer and fiercer as it progresses. But the fierce
struggle is not natural; our moral perceptions tells us that. The very
construction of man, with his capacity for thought and capacity for
feeling, show us that he was intended for better things than to spend
nine-tenths of his powers to get an animal existence, as most men have
And when we look into the social
laws, which are as truly the laws of the Creator as are the physical
or moral laws, we can see that civilization, instead of enriching one
class and impoverishing another, ought to make it easier for all to
live. My time is too short for argument, but let me try, as well as I
can, to show this in a word.
Here, let us say, is a primitive
community—one part engaged in fishing, one part in agriculture, one
in mechanical operations. Now, if in one of these occupations, either
by the increase in productiveness of nature or by invention or discovery,
which increases the productiveness of labour, the power of obtaining
wealth is increased, the benefit will not be confined to those engaged
in that particular occupation, but by virtue of what is known to economists
as the law of values, must be shared by all.
This principle that increased efficiency
in one department of labour virtually increases the productiveness
of all labour—the principle that the growth in wealth of one people is
a benefit to all other peoples with whom they exchange—runs through all
the social laws, and by virtue of the principle, every invention and every
improvement ought to make it easier for those in every department of
industry to get a living. By virtue of this principle, the rudest manual
labourer ought now to live in affluence as compared with his predecessor
in a rude state of society.
What is the fact? The fact is that
in the very heart of our civilization there are great masses with whose
lot the veriest savage could not afford to exchange—masses, who not
only can get a bare living by the hardest toil, but who often cannot
get a living at all, and would starve but for charity. In the primitive
condition, of which we have a record in the Bible, we hear nothing of pauperism;
nothing of women compelled to unwomanly toil; nothing of little children
forced to monotonous employment; nothing of hungry want in the midst
of overflowing plenty-things so common to-day. Six centuries ago before
any of the great modern inventions had been made, before even our most
prolific vegetables and fruits had been introduced, when all the arts
were rude beyond comparison with the present state, pauperism was unknown
in England; eight hours was the ordinary day's work, and the rudest manual
labour, as such investigators as Prof. Thorold Rogers tells us, lived
in a rude plenty, which is affluence itself, as compared with what they
get now, and even in times of actual scarcity were unvexed by the fear
of want. Is our civilization just to working men, when that is the fruit
of all this advance?
Is not civilization unjust to working
men when want so exists in the midst of plenty? Read the papers to
day. Everywhere you will read of reduction of wages, or of strikes
against reduction of wages. What is the reason? Overproduction, they
say. That is to say, there is such a plethora of food—such a glut of
goods—that the working man must stint his family.
From the Esquimaux of the North
to the Terra del Fuegan of the South there is not a savage tribe that
can comprehend the chronic poverty that exists in the heart of our civilization.
Is it any wonder that that which
most astonished Sitting Bull on his recent visit to the East was the
children that he saw at work—children, who, as he said, ought to be
at play. Ought it not astonish us? Discovery and invention have multiplied
a hundredfold, yea, a thousandfold, the power of human labour to supply
human needs; yet when machinery is in its latest development you will
find young girls and little children straining brain and muscle in monotonous
work for ten and twelve hours a day. We do not offer our children up
to idols; we do not sacrifice our virgins to propitiate the dark powers—we
are Christians; but we do give them to disease and death in mill and
mine and factory.
These are the bitter fruits of injustice.
What is that injustice? Many minor
injustices there may be, but the first, the widespread, the great injustice—an
injustice sufficient to account for all these effects—is so glaring
that all who will look may see it.
Read the first chapter of Genesis,
consider the relation between man and the planet which he inhabits,
and you can have no doubt what it is.
It is the injustice, which robs
man of his birthright. It is that we have made private property of
what the Creator intended for the common heritage of all.
Let me quote the words of a Christian
bishop, Thomas Nulty, Bishop of Meath, "The land in every country
is the common property of the people of that country, because its real
owner, the Creator, who made it, has bestowed it as a voluntary gift
upon them. The earth has He given to the children of men." Now, as every
human being is a child of God, and, as all His children are equal in
His eyes, any settlement of the land of this or any, other country, that
would exclude the humblest of God's children from an equal share in the
common heritage, is not merely a wrong and an injustice to that man,
but is an impious violation of the benevolent intention of the Creator.
Is not that truth—is not that truth
with which religion has to do? Think of it.