Canada - Some Industrial Problems
( Originally Published 1915 )
THE contest between capital and labor in Canada has never become that armed camp divided by a chasm of hatred known in other lands. This for two reasons : First, the labor of yesterday is the capital of to-day, and the labor of today is the capital of to-morrow. Second, from the very nature of Canada's greatest wealth—agricultural lands—the substantial proportion of the population consists of land owners, vested righters, respecters of property interests because they themselves are property holders. The city dweller in Canada has been from the very nature of things the anachronism, the anomaly, the parasite, the extraneous outgrowth on the main body of production.
To take the first reason why capital and labor has not been divided in hostile camps in Canada, because the labor of yesterday is the capital of to-day—I am not dealing with speculative arguments and opinions. I am trying to set down facts. The owner of the largest fortune west of the Rocky Mountains in Canada began life with a pick and shovel. The owner of the rich-est timber limits in British Columbia began at a dollar and twenty-five cents a day piling slabs. The wealthiest meat packer east of the Rocky Mountains was "bucking" and "breaking" bronchoes thirty years ago at twenty-five dollars a month. The packer who comes next to him in wealth began life in Pt. Douglas, Winnipeg, loading frozen hogs. The richest newspaper man in Canada began life so poor that he and his father hauled the first editions of their paper to customers on a hand sled. The four men who are to-day the greatest powers in the railroad world of the Dominion began life, one as a stone mason, another as a lumber-jack, a third as a store keeper, a fourth as a telegraph operator. I do not think I am wrong in saying that the richest whole-saler in Canada reached the scene of his present activities with his entire earthly possessions in a pocket handkerchief and a tin lunch pail. Of two of the most powerful men who ever came out of the maritime provinces, one swept a village store for his living at a dollar and fifty cents a week; another reached St. John, New Brunswick, from his home in the back-woods, dressed in a home-made suit, which his mother had spun and carded from their own wool. The fact that the door of opportunity is open to the talented tends to prevent the opening of a chasm of hatred between capital and labor, though it must be admitted that the warfare of capital and labor in the States was developing in the era when Rockefeller and Carnegie were lifting themselves from penury to the heights of financial power.
Infinitely more important is the second reason. For a long time at least the stanchest, strongest and sta-blest part of Canada's people must be rooted to the soil. Up to the present half her population has been rural, and less than three per cent, absorbed by the factory, the railway, the labor union. Of her population of 7,800,000, only 176,000 workers belong to labor organizations, and ninety per cent, of these have never been on strike. These figures alone explain why class hatred has never widened into a chasm dividing society in Canada.
Why Big Business has never dominated govern-ment in Canada will be dealt with in a later chapter, but if Big Business can not violate law with impunity at one end of the social scale, it may be safely said that anarchy will never violate law at the other end of the scale.
At the same time there are symptoms appearing in the industrial conditions of Canada as gravely dangerous as anything in her immigration problems. These need only be stated to be apparent. Where wages have increased only ten per cent. in a decade, the cost of living has increased fifty-one per cent. according to an official commission appointed by the Ottawa government to report. Though Canada is an agricultural country, in food products alone, she pays ten million dollars duty' yearly. In one farming province ten million dollars' worth of food is yearly imported. Why is this? Why is Canada not producing all the food she consumes? Because in certain sections only one settler goes out to the farm for four that live in the town.
In the West, if you add up the population of all the cities, you will find that one-fourth as many people live in the cities as in the country. In one province you will findthat out of half a million population, three hundred thousand are living in cities and towns. This is the province that imports such quantities of food. It is also the province that has more labor trouble than all the other sections of the Dominion put together. Demagogues harangue the city squares for "the right to work," "the right to live ;" and mill owners, farm-ers, ranchers, railway builders go bankrupt for lack of men to work. It is the province where the highest wages in the world are paid for every form of labor. It is also the province where the greatest number of people are idle, and neither you nor I nor anybody else, can convince the idle stone mason who demands eight dollars a day that he keeps himself idle by not accepting half that figure. He is not dealing with "the robber baron" capitalistic class. He is dealing with the humble householder who wants to build but can not afford workmen at eight dollars to five dollars a day, when he could afford workmen at four dollars to a dollar and fifty cents a day.
In 1800 only four per cent. of the United States population was urban, and ninety six per cent. was rural. By 1910 only fifty-three per cent. of the population was rural. Similarly of France and Great Britain. Sixty-five per cent. of France's population is rural, and France is prosperous, and her people are the thriftiest and most saving in the world. They with their tiny savings are the world's bankers. In the United Kingdom, the rural population has decreased from twenty-eight per cent. to twenty-three per cent. of the total population. How about Canada? In 1891 thirty-two per cent. of Canada's people lived in towns and cities. By 1901 thirty-eight per cent. were town dwellers. By 1914 the proportion in towns and cities is almost fifty per cent.
The entire movement of population from country to city is reflected in the astounding growth of the cities. In 1800 Montreal had a population of seven thou-sand; in 1850, sixty thousand; by 1914, almost half a million. Similarly of Toronto, of Winnipeg, of Vancouver. From nothing in 1800, these cities have grown to metropolitan centers of three hundred thousand, and their growth is the subject of fevered civic pride. It ought to be cause of gravest alarm. In the history of the world, when men began to hive in a crowded cave life, those nations began to decline. The results are always the same an extortionate rise in the cost of food, the long bread line, charity where there ought to be labor and thrift, food riots, terrible tragic contrasts of the very rich and the very poor, all the vices that go with crowded housing. When charity workers investigated in Toronto and Montreal and Winnipeg, they found foreigners living forty-three in five rooms, twenty-four and fifteen and ten in one. Wherever such proportions exist as to rural and urban population, ground rentals and values ascend in price like overheated mercury. Men begin to build perpendicularly instead of latitudinally. The cave life of the skyscraper takes the place of the trim home garden, and so greed of gain—interest on extortionate real estate values—takes its toll of human life and virtue, clean living and clean thinking. In one section of Canada during ten years, where there had been an increase of 574,878 in the country population, there was an increase of 1,258,645 in the city population. Between 1901 and 1911, where 39,951 newcomers settled in the country districts of Quebec, 313,863 settled in the cities. For one who chose life in the open, eight chose the tenement and the sweatshop. In 1901 Canada had 3,349,516 people living in the country, and 2,021,799 living in the cities. By 1911 there were 3,924,394 living in the country, and 3,280,440 living in the cities.
All this signifies but one thing to Canada a swift transition from agricultural status to industrial life ; and whether such an artificial transition bodes good or ill for a land whose greatest wealth lies in forest and mine and farm remains to be seen. For the time it has resulted in a cost of living almost prohibitive to the very poor. The sweatshop, the tenement, the Ghetto, the cave life hovel of Europe have been reproduced in the crowded foreign quarters of Canadian cities. It means more than physical deterioration and moral contamination and degeneration of national stamina. It means if Canada is to become a great manufacturing country, feeding the human into the hopper of the ma-chine that dividends may pour out, then she, the youngest of the nations, must compete against the oldest and the strongest Germany, England, France, the United States ; but if she is to be a great agricultural country,. then she has few peers in the whole world. Neither need she have any fear. The nations of the. world must come to her, as they went down to Egypt, for bread. The man on his own land, be his work good or ill owns his own labor and takes profit or loss from it and can blame no one but himself for that profit or loss. With the renting out of a man's labor to some other man for that other man's profit or loss come all the discontent and class strife of industrial warfare. Of industrial strife, of labor riots, of syndicalism, of social revolution, of the few plundering the many, and the many threatening reprisal in the form of legislation for the many to plunder the few of this dog-eat-dog, internecine industrial strife—Canada has hitherto known next to nothing; but she is at the parting of the ways. The day that a preponderance of her population becomes urban instead of rural, that day a preponderance of her population must ask leave to live from some other man-must ask leave to work for some other man, must ask leave to put the collar of the industrial serf on the neck as the sign of labor owned by some other man. That day the preponderance of Canada's population will cease owning their own vested rights and will begin attacking the vested rights of other men. That day plutocracy will be-gin plundering democracy, and the unfit will begin plundering the fit, and the many will demand the same rewards as the few, not by winning those rewards and rising to the plane of the few, but by expropriating those rewards and pulling the few down to the level of the many. To me it means the sickling over a robust nationhood with the yellowing hue of a dollar democracy,the yellowing hue of gnashing social jealousy, the yellowing hue of moral putridity and decadence and rot. Hitherto every man has stood on his own legs in Canada. There has been no weak-kneed, puling greedy mob bellowing for pap from the breasts of a state treasury—demanding the rewards of industry and thrift which they have been too weak and shiftless and useless to earn. But Canada is at the parting of the ways. The day more men live in the cities demanding food than live on the soil producing it which God forfend that day Canada goes down in the welter of industrial war and social upheaval.
Hitherto no statesman has arisen in Canada who remotely sensed the impending evil, much less made an effort to avert the doom that has come like a cloud above the well-being of every modern country. The man who makes it a national policy in Canada to at-tract the settler to the soil rather than to the city hovel will in the future annals of this great nation be rated above a Napoleon or a Bismarck. This to me is the crux of the very greatest and most acute problem con-fronting the Dominion's future destiny.
In a country where organized Iabor numbers only 176,000 out of 7,800,000, labor problems can hardly be set down as acute. They do not split society asunder as they do elsewhere. I am glad of it. I am glad that in Canada up to the present labor is only capital in the inchoate. I should be sorry if the day ever came when labor was the serf, arid capital the robber baron, as let us frankly acknowledge it is else where.
In this connection three points should be emphasized, Whether they should be praised or blamed I do not know ; but the points are these ;
The Senate in Canada being appointed for life has acted as a breakwater of adamant and reinforced concrete against all labor or capital legislation that has arisen from the passions of the moment. More than once when labor or capital, holding the whip handle in the Commons, would have forced through hasty legislation as to compensation, as to liability, as to non-liability—the leaders in the Commons have said frankly in caucus to the Senate : We are dependent on the vote for our places here, You are not. We are letting this fool bill through, but we are letting it through because we know you will kill it. Kill it !
In the next place, "the twilight zone" between federal and provincial power in matters of labor has proved an unmitigated curse. When the syndicalists of Europe, known in America as the Industrial Workers of the World, succeeded in tying up railroad construction and almost ruining the contractors of two transcontinental systems in British Columbia a few years ago, endless delay in terminating an impossible situation occurred through the province trying to throw the burden of dealing with the matter on the Dominion, and the Dominion trying to throw the burden on the province. Both province and Dominion were afraid of the labor vote. The losses caused during that three months' strike in the construction camps indirectly afterward fell on the Canadian people; for the embarrassed transcontinentals had to come to the Dominion government for aid; and the Dominion government is, after all, the people.
"I pray God," said a Cabinet Minister in Ottawa to me at the time, "that Imperial Federation may never come if it adds to our woes another 'twilight zone' as to Dominion and Imperial powers."
It seems almost ungracious in this connection to say that Canada's far famed Arbitration Act has been overrated. That it has accomplished some good and settled many controversies no reasonable person will deny, but it is not a panacea for all ills.
Here is the difficulty as to arbitration. It is not unlike the situation of Belgium regarding Germany in the great war. Arbitration depends on "a scrap of paper." What if some one tears up "the scrap of paper"? What if one side says there is nothing to arbitrate? Twenty years ago—yes—wages, hours, conditions of labor—could have been arbitrated; but to-day the contest in the industrial world is often not for wages and hours of labor.
"Demand three dollars a day for an eight-hour day, today," I heard an Industrial Worker of the World shout in a Vancouver strike. "Demand four dollars a day tomorrow, till you secure four dollars a day for a four-hour day—till your ascending wages expropriate capital—take over capital and all industry to be operated for labor."
In the great struggle between the railroads and the I. W. W.'s in British Columbia, Canada's Arbitration Act fell down hopelessly simply because there was nothing to arbitrate. Labor said: We shall paralyze all industry, or operate all industry for labor's profit solely. Capital said—you shall not. There the two tied in deadlock for months, and there all arbitration acts must often tie in deadlock in industrial warfare. That is why I hope industrial warfare will never be-come a part of Canada's national life. That is why I hope and pray every Canadian settler will become a vested righter by owning and operating his own acres till Death lays him in God's Acre.
In a country where the public debt is only $350,000,000 or forty five dollars per head, and the national income is $1,500,000,000 from farm, factory, forest and mine—or two hundred dollars per head and that fairly well distributed—for the present there is little to fear of social revolution. It is not the social revolution that I fear for Canada. It is the canker of social hate and jealousy preceding revolution. If fifty percent of the population can be kept owning and operating their own land,, that social canker will never infect Canada's national life as a whole.