BUT of the snows and sorrows of the winter of 1904-5 sprang the now celebrated "unemployed" agitation which profoundly stirred the life of England. That agitation did immeasurable good, because it touched not only the reason but the heart and the imagination of the nation. It brought vividly before the English people as a whole those terrible facts relating to the workless, which, though known to all expert philanthropists, spring out of the "industrial" chaos of our time. The principle of fellowship, the idea of corporate life and corporate responsibility symbolized for centuries by the order and polity of the Church, has not yet been applied, in anything but slight manner, to the industrial life of England. The life of commerce has been left to the ebb and flow of "natural forces," to the bitter spirit of competition, and to the thrall of capital, modified in its worst results by the spasmodic efforts of private philanthropy, and a harsh official poor law. But there has been no Divine ordering of commercial and industrial life, no Kingdom of God within it, with its controlling and hallowing power. As a result we have that "fluctuation of the market" that disregard of human well-being which issues in time of crisis in the sacrifice of many thousands of the workers.
Of this condition of chaos the unemployed crisis was but a sign, a symbol. But though the unemployed in large numbers we have always with us, that crisis moved the imagination of the nation, as it had never been moved upon this subject before. Why? I have already in the first address suggested one great reason, viz., because the Holy Spirit has quickened in the moral conscience of the nation a sensitiveness unknown before. But I would now suggest another reason, viz., the organization of the "unemployed." Due consideration has not, I think, been given to the influence of those organizations of the workless which took place in various towns of England in the winter of 1904-5. The "registration" by the distress committees now going on is, be it remembered, but an official following of the rough-and-ready registration previously essayed by the Labour leaders. The daily parade and roll-call organized in certain English boroughs brought the unemployed, as such, for the first time into a sort of ordered fellowship. Men of the learned professions, men of politics, men of crafts, clergy, tradesmen, agricultural labourers, all sorts and conditions of men, have been organized in their several bands or unions; but this is, so far as I know, the first time that, upon a large scale, we have organized the outcast and the workless. Out of their despair, out of their loneliness, out of the solitude of their individual lives, they were called into comradeship, into fellowship with one another. A sad fellowship truly, but yet a fellowship. And the humblest fellowship is better than the most lordly isolation. So Christ of John Baptist said, "The least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he," because John, great though he was, stood solitary, alone; while the least in the Kingdom of Heaven (the Church) is a member of a mighty fellowship and order. No criticism of those daily roll-calls in the market place and those daily parades in the streets of our cities is of value which fails to take account of the thrilling symbol presented by this ordering into a new fellowship of the outcast workers of society. This it is which moved the heart of England, kindled the dull imagination of the English people, and finally issued in the beginning of reform--the "Unemployed Workmen's Act."
If I may refer to our own experience in Leicester, I would say that this is what converted both our own town and many another. For a time Leicester had refused to believe in the reality of the tragedy. But "seeing is believing," and in the good sense of that aphorism, Leicester saw and believed; for as yet she had never seen the unemployed as a sad but plain reality. The "unemp'oyed" to most eyes had been simply a line of letterpress in a newspaper; or, at the most, a few guardians and clergy and public men and women might personally know the facts. But how many citizens had ever seen the unemployed en masse 1
The street parades in Leicester, followed by the now memorable pilgrimage to London, convinced the city that here was, in fact, a tragedy of the first degree. I shall not forget the first time I saw
the procession of the men move out of the Market Square for their ordinary mid-day street parade; nor will many thousands ever forget that memorable moment when the thin brown line of the "ragged army" moved out of the Market Square for the London Road, en route to the Metropolis, to the refrain of "Lead, kindly Light." Many eyes were dim, and the heart of Leicester turned tenderly to her sons in sorrow.
The effect upon the greater public of the nation was the same. I have seen the most unlikely people moved to tears. I recall one town councillor who, when we entered the largest hall in his town to rest there for the night, turned aside to hide his emotion, as the men, weary and wet, filed in. The same effect was produced upon all men and women of goodwill as we passed through town or village; or entered into the sacred precincts of the House of God. All were strangely moved by this pathetic fellowship of sorrow and misfortune. The city man said that "something must be done," the politician paused in his platitudes about "this great and prosperous country," the Bishop hesitated with unwonted tenderness as he spoke at the Abbey service to his "dear brethren in Christ," and the Dean gave the Benediction with an unexpected thrill in the words he uttered.
As for the common people, they heard us gladly, and we returned to Leicester with our faith in human nature strengthened and refreshed. He who "knew what was in man," thought it worth while to live and die and rise again for him. During that pilgrimage we too had learnt again how worth while it was. How kind the people were! How really good! From the children, who were always enthusiastic for "the poor unemployed,'' to the peasant men and women who freely gave their mites into the treasury of God, to help us, all united to make our pilgrimage one of peace in earth and goodwill towards men.
The fact is, these fellow-citizens of ours realised as they gazed upon the Leicester men of sorrow, that they were symbolic of that forgetfulness of the poor which has been the mark of every great historic civilisation. This "ragged battalion "from the Midland city, signified the existence of social injustice and industrial wrong. Amid all the conflict of opinions the people penetrated to this truth as the real reason for the march. By a true instinct, they knew that, while it may be that a few men deliberately shirk their "daily round and common task," the mass of men are willing, if not eager, to fulfil it. The people, greeting us, knew the false ring of that social cant which dismisses a real tragedy, by the cynical gibe of "loafers," "cadgers," and that specious falsehood of politicians that unemployment "cannot be helped." The people's instinct and their humanity stand out in sharp contrast with this hypocrisy.
For, indeed, a great cause is herein at stake. The cause of humanity itself--and nothing less. All sociologists now agree that in periodic contraction of the markets, the labourer is ruthlessly sacrificed, and honest, intelligent workmen, apart altogether from their own will or fault, will find themselves out of work for months, perhaps for years. Further, the introduction of new machinery frequently takes place more rapidly than the power of labour to alter its conditions and adapt itself to the new circumstances thus created.
The great cause represented by the unemployed agitation of last year, may be stated thus:--The appeal is not merely for the right to live, but for the nobler right to work, in order that they may live. The law of God, "Six days shall thou labour," is obliterate for many men, by the trend of industrial events. "They cannot work if there is no work to be done," men say. True, but is the responsibility to God's law only individual; is it not also corporate, social, national?
By common consent it is both individual and corporate; and the appeal of the workless is to this corporate or national responsibility. "If," they say, "for the good of all, new machinery be introduced; if, for the good of all the markets of the world must have free play; then, for the good of all, by the will of all, be just to us, and do not leave us to ruin. For you cannot build up the good of all on the ruin of many, and we are many. We appeal from the tyranny of machines to the national will and conscience. We appeal from the mere brute force of commerce, unrestrained and unhallowed, to the will and law of God, 'Six days shalt thou labour.' No advantage of mere mercantile prosperity will save the good of all, if this law be violate. We, the unemployed, exist to-day in thousands, and our ruin is the nation's peril, and the nation's shame."
This appeal is unanswerable in its truth, and, therefore, its moral force. How shall it be answered, and what are the remedies? The first remedy lies in the transfer of the workless from factories to the land, from the city to the field. Here on primeval soil, the primeval law may be fulfilled. It is in vain to beat against the factory doors which machinery has closed,
"In close and crowded cities, where the sky
Frowns, like an angry father, mournfully."
The unemployed, sons of the nation, must be taken by the nation out of these "close and crowded cities," to till the soil--all that are fit for the exchange of town for country life. For the rest, further depopulation of the country must be arrested. The villages of England are decaying, her little country towns are growing smaller, her market gardens are contracting, her corn lands are disappearing in green fields. It is impossible that England can hold her own among the nations of the world, except the rehabilitation of the rural districts be essayed. But I plead urgency for the problem, not now for imperial, but for domestic and humane considerations.
Pending final reform, farm colonies constitute stepping-stones to better things. Experts assure us that a vast amount of good can be done by these means. One of the first steps is the classification of the unemployed into three great divisions--(a) the unemployable (b) the chronically unemployed, and (c) the temporarily unemployed. Under (a) we include adult epileptics and the feeble-minded, who must be segregated from the rest, in colonies specially adapted for them. Further, there are the ne'er-do-wells and habitual vagrants, and inebriates, for whom colonies of a penal character must be constituted. The Belgian colony at Merxplas, is an instance of such a system. There are other classes (e.g. youths and girls, totally untrained, and, therefore, unfitted for regular labour) to which the nation must give special attention. Under (b) we are face to face with an enormous problem, involving wide considerations, e.g. How far might this problem, which is always with us, be solved by diminishing child-labour, women's-labour, reduction of the over-long hours of labour, alien immigration, etc.? How far is it due to the exodus from rural districts to the towns? Would not adequate provision for the old, for those over sixty years of age, still further reduce the number of the chronically unemployed? Above all, we must depend upon the better ordering of industry, as a whole, to effect a permanent remedy. The third class (c) of the temporarily unemployed, is to be dealt with not by the present, absurd system of our Poor Law, but by recognition of the fact that their condition is due to causes mainly outside individual control. Other avenues of work must be found, crises in trade must be scientifically treated; and national resources at times of depression over the whole of trade must be invoked. As the half-hour limit of this address forbids any exposition of detail, a statement of principles alone must suffice.
The second remedy lies in the better ordering of industry and commerce. Labour bureaux, systematically organized, and safeguarded from possible abuse by unscrupulous employers, would be an immense boon to the working classes. Upon the larger question of the ordering of industry itself, I am not competent to speak, but that this century will see an extraordinary development of the principle of the national control and ordering of industry I am convinced. Meanwhile, the unemployment of men of middle life is coincident with the enormous increase of employment for women, girls, and boys. The domestic life of England, and the national good, is being imperilled for the sake of mercantile success. Is the game, even if successful, really worth the candle? Are we for ever, are we for much longer, to sacrifice the highest welfare of our labouring classes, men, women, children, the beauty and purity of home, the health and strength and happiness of our race, to the tyrannous demands of the factory system of to-day? Can we view without alarm the decadence of home in all industrial cities, directly caused by the absence of wives and mothers who are in the factory all day? Is the terrible rate of infantile mortality to be continued, merely because factory machines are monopolising the natural guardians of the babes? Are boys and girls always to be withdrawn from schooling just when they are ripe for learning? Are our youths and maidens always to dissipate their golden early days in indiscriminate and unskilled modes of earning their own living? If reforms were essayed in these directions, if the school age limit were slowly but surely raised until we reached at least the level of the regulations of the German Empire, would not the scope of employment for fathers and elder brothers be enlarged, and the curse of unemployment vastly lessened?
Again, in regard to the aged poor, are we not already ripe for great reforms? Can a nation, which has .spent ,£250,000,000 in twenty-five years in carrying out the present unsatisfactory poor-law system, be said to be incapable of financing a well-devised system of old age pensions? Is it impossible to devise such a system of pensions for old age which would withdraw from the labour world many who at present diminish the chances of work for many men of middle life? Can we any longer honourably withhold this long-delayed measure of reform? Archbishop and cardinal, priest and layman, politician and philanthropist, peer and peasant, all have united to urge this measure of reform upon our statesmen. But that statesman who shall make an everlasting name by the social redemption of the aged poor has not yet arisen in the land. No great statesman has yet grappled with the greatest of all problems, the social redemption of the outcast and the poor. England now awaits him. Gladstone was the last great statesman of the era of political liberation; Disraeli the great statesman of Imperial imagination. But no statesman of first rank, as yet, has given his life and genius to the problem of the poor. I must believe that God will in this hour of need call such a man to service and to power.
The new epoch now before us demands a great constructive policy in England's home affairs. No mere "philanthropy" in the older meaning of that phrase will suffice. No private corporation can finally be substitute for national co-operation. Neither the Church Army nor the Salvation Army can safely be entrusted with powers beyond those they at present have attained. They remain admirable as societies established to palliate such evils rather than to remove them. Nor will emigration do more than palliate. Englishmen indeed may well view with apprehension rather than with approval the transportation of thousands of her stronger sons and daughters to the "plantations beyond the seas." With our population weakened by the physical and moral deterioration within our greater cities, with our rural districts decimated, and with a falling annual birth-rate, how? can we regard without alarm the present proposal to solve the problems of poverty and unemployment by yet further deportation of thousands of our best?
We have arrived, I believe, at the climax of such efforts.
Emigration, "charity" societies for saving the waifs and strays which are produced by abominable social conditions, the Poor Law as we know it, harsh, inhuman, and unredemp-tive (together with the unorganised, disordered condition of industry and commerce)--all these things must yield up their traditional claims to stronger and more constructive measures. The social redemption of the outcast and poor cannot be achieved save by the gradual transformation of those social conditions which perennially create them. It is not enough to palliate evils, we must attack the causes which produce them.
Here, then, is the remedy, and the hope of future good. But the nation must effect it; the national will and power must take action; the immense resources of the nation must be evoked. Power must be delegated to municipalities and local bodies. All must act together, in faith, and hope, and love. Only so shall the tragedy of unemployment cease, and the poor and workless be redeemed.