by Winston S. Churchill
Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.
In America we succeeded in eliminating hereditary power, in obtaining a large measure of political liberty, only to see the rise of an economic power, and the consequent loss of economic liberty. The industrial development of the United States was of course a necessary and desirable thing, but the economic doctrine which formed the basis of American institutions proved to be unsuited to industrialism, and introduced unforeseen evils that were a serious menace to the Republic. An individualistic economic philosophy worked admirably while there was ample land for the pioneer, equality of opportunity to satisfy the individual initiative of the enterprising. But what is known as industrialism brought in its train fear and favour, privilege and poverty, slums, disease, and municipal vice, fostered a too rapid immigration, established in America a tenant system alien to our traditions.
Before the advent of industrialism, poverty was negligible, there was no great contrast between rich and poor; the artisan, the farmer, the well-to-do merchant met on terms of mutual self-respect, as man to man; economic class consciousness was non-existent; education was so widespread that European travellers wonderingly commented on the fact that we had no “peasantry”; and with few exceptions every citizen owned a piece of land and a home.
Property, a refuge a man may call his own, and on which he may express his individuality, is essential to happiness and self-respect. Today, less than two thirds of our farmers own their land, while vast numbers of our working men and women possess nothing but the labour of their hands. The designation of labour as “property” by our courts only served to tighten the bonds, by obstructing for a time the movement to decrease the tedious and debilitating hours of contact of the human organism with the machine,—a menace to the future of the race, especially in the case of women and children. If labour is “property,” wretches driven by economic necessity have indeed only the choice of a change of masters. In addition to the manual workers, an army of clerical workers of both sexes likewise became tenants, and dependents who knew not the satisfaction of a real home.
Such conditions gradually brought about a profound discontent, a grouping of classes. Among the comparatively prosperous there was set up a social competition in luxury that was the bane of large and small communities. Skilled labour banded itself into unions, employers organized to oppose them, and the result was a class conflict never contemplated by the founders of the Republic, repugnant to democracy which by its very nature depends for its existence on the elimination of classes. In addition to this, owing to the unprecedented immigration of ignorant Europeans to supply the labour demand, we acquired a sinister proletariat of unskilled economic slaves. Before the war labour discovered its strength; since the war began, especially in the allied nations with quasi-democratic institutions, it is aware of its power to exert a leverage capable of paralyzing industry for a period sufficient to destroy the chances of victory. The probability of the occurrence of such a calamity depends wholly on whether or not the workman can be convinced that it is his war, for he will not exert himself to perpetuate a social order in which he has lost faith, even though he now obtains a considerable increase in wages. Agreements entered into with the government by union leaders will not hold him if at any time he fails to be satisfied that the present world conflict will not result in a greater social justice. This fact has been demonstrated by what is known as the “shop steward” movement in England, where the workers repudiated the leaders’ agreements and everywhere organized local strikes. And in America, the unskilled workers are largely outside of the unions.
The workman has a natural and laudable desire to share more fully in the good things of life. And it is coming to be recognized that material prosperity, up to a certain point, is the foundation of mental and spiritual welfare: clean and comfortable surroundings, beauty, rational amusements, opportunity for a rational satisfaction of, the human. instincts are essential to contentment and progress. The individual, of course, must be enlightened; and local labour unions, recognizing this, are spending considerable sums all over the country on schools to educate their members. If a workman is a profiteer, he is more to be excused than the business profiteer, against whom his anger is directed; if he is a spendthrift, prodigality is a natural consequence of rapid acquisition. We have been a nation of spendthrifts.
A failure to grasp the psychology of the worker involves disastrous consequences. A discussion as to whether or not his attitude is unpatriotic and selfish is futile. No more profound mistake could be made than to attribute to any element of the population motives wholly base. Human nature is neither all black nor all white, yet is capable of supreme sacrifices when adequately appealed to. What we must get into our minds is the fact that a social order that insured a large measure of democracy in the early days of the Republic is inadequate to meet modern industrial conditions. Higher wages, material prosperity alone will not suffice to satisfy aspirations for a fuller self-realization, once the method by which these aspirations can be gained is glimpsed. For it cannot be too often repeated that the unquenchable conflicts are those waged for ideas and not dollars.