Tuesday, 22 March 2016

THE 'REAL' WANT OF THE TOILER

[By ONE OF THEM.]

 The awful contrast between rich and poor, which every year is becoming intensified, is claiming the attention of progressive politicians all over the world to-day. This great difference between the toiler, and those who reap the fruits of his industry is one of the most startling phases of our modern civilisation. Not only in our fair Commonwealth does the evil exist, but in America, England, and on the Continent is this great unrest, this yearning of the downtrodden for a happier condition. In America, choked down by the force of iniquitous trusts, and the powers of bribery and corruption; on the Continent, kept under by the bayonets of "Divine" authority, and in our land, favoured perhaps by better conditions, and spasmodic attempts to relieve the distress, still the secret canker is unsettling the minds, and undermining the manhood of the nation. And why? Because a select few are eating the "bread," and drinking the "wine" which is the birthright of the whole human race. A more equitable distribution of the world's goods, a fairer percentage of the wealth which the millions of toilers create, would bring the sunshine of hope into many a heart that is black with despair, and the rose of health to many a pale cheek. Clergy, in cassock and band, glibly tell us that the real want of the ''masses" is God, and that  the "people" should be content in "that station of life unto which it hath pleased God to call them." That ancient theology may have been eminently suitable to the dark days of medieval times, but to-day the idea of suffering in this world so as to enjoy the glory of the world to come, will not commend itself to the active European mind. The "want" is not a belief in an ancient system of priestcraft so much as something tangible on account as it were. As regards a medium for the amelioration of the distressed of the working classes, Christianity, as practiced by our so-called Christian churches, must be admitted to be a gigantic failure. While presumedly teaching the  three great duties of charity, brotherly love, and duty to one's neighbour, the modern church illustrates brotherly love by carrying on angry controversies re points of doctrine, practically ignoring the fact that the great Master came into this world to assist the needy, its "duty to one's neighbour" by quarrelling over preferment, and worldly goods, and by holding with both hands that which should be given to the poor, and its loving charity by assuming that all who cannot see eye to eye with itself are in danger of hell fire, that phantasm of a middle age superstition. We are inclined to the belief that if the Christ were to come to this earth again he would overturn the tables of the money changers, and drive out nine-tenths of his servants with the scourge. But, some will say, is not Christianity the mainstay of all that is honourable, and noble, and self-sacrificing to-day !  Would that it were so. Alas, the ruling passion of the day is self, and were there more true Christianity there would be less complaining in our streets.
* * *
 Men and women wear out their lives in the hopeless struggle for existence thousands are born and die without having known what happiness meant, and yet we send missionaries to China, quite oblivious of the fact that the money is needed in a greater sense here at our very doors, to help many a poor unfortunate who has gone under in the race for life. What is needed in this country is legislation to compel the holders of vast tracts of country to  throw them open for selection, taking the Government valuation, and to settle the people to develop the dormant resources of the country. Until this is done there can be no real improvement in the condition of the worker, for, as Tolstoy cleverly puts it, "no man who farms another man's land, or works in shop or factory with implements not his own, and buys the necessaries of life at whatever price, is asked of him, no matter how sober or industrious he may be, can ever become rich, while any man, however depraved, who becomes a factory owner, or gets into the good graces of the Government, or keep a house of debauchery, can amass wealth at the expense of his fellowmen, provided he be backed up by the force of military organisation, a state of things which ought not to be tolerated in a civilised community." Now, there is a world of philosophy and sound common sense in this, and every worker knows that without legislation there could be no freedom for the toiler. Though here and there there may be an employer who has a heart, the great majority would, without law, work the employe from "early morn till dewy eve" for a shilling a day. Surely a man who spends his days in exhausting labour is entitled to at least a fair share of the wealth thus gained, and a right to live as well as the capitalist.
*  *  *
 The cry of capital, and one section of the press, is that progressive legislation is ruining the country, and upsetting the trade of the State; but stay, was there ever a reform, or for the matter of that a reformer, but was looked at askance by the moneyed classes ? Has progressive legislation ruined New Zealand, as some alarmists prophesied? Did the repeal of the Corn Laws ruin Great Britain? We trow not. New Zealand stands to-day pre-eminent, both financially and socially, as the most prosperous colony of the group, and cheaper bread for the workers of the motherland did more for that country than ruin a few farmers. Progressive legislation may press for a time heavily on the few, but the great aim of political progress is, and ever must be, the greatest good of the greatest number. The real " want" of the worker of the world is, firstly, legislation to break the iron chain forged by centuries of usage, a fair start in the race for life, and a portion of wealth in pro ratio to his power of earning. It will not suffice to preach to him of heaven and God ; what have these things to do with one whose whole time is occupied in retaining his footing on earth. A fair prospect on earth is far more alluring to the ordinary mortal than that of the orthodox golden harp in some future state. The well dressed worshipper looks with disdain, and shrugs his shoulders at the man who creates his wealth ; he is to him an impossible person, "so improvident, and addicted to drink." The fact that he is a fellow-creature, with hopes and fears, loves, and secret yearnings after better things does not cross his mind, nor recks he that "chill penury" dogs the unfortunate's steps like a shadow crushing out all that is best in him.
 That distress is rife in the Commonwealth is patent to the least observant, in spite of the vapourings of the press, re the well dressed and happy-faced Australians who assembled on the occasion of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. In our great cities there are many Australians who assembled on the occasion of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. In our great cities there are many Australians who are neither well dressed nor happy faced, deep down ; swept out of sight on such occasions is this human rubbish, but it is there all the same, and London itself can show no greater depths of crime, and poverty, vice, or misery than are to be found in the fair cities of our Austral land.  The presence of this "submerged tenth" is a blot on our civilisation, and a menace to the future of our country, and it behoves us all to be up and doing—for we all can do something towards the uplifting of our fallen brothers and sisters. We are sorry to say, but it is true, that the power to help is nullified to a great extent by the apathy of those whom it is desired to help.  Manhood suffrage is one of the most potent weapons in our armoury, and yet how many there are who neglect to record their vote. Working men, if you would only exercise that power, fought for and obtained by pioneers who saw before them, we should have better laws, and live under far better conditions. Let every man regard his vote as a sacred trust, and use it intelligently, that this fair sunny land may never fall under the curse of plutocracy, which is ruining the worker in the older nations of the world. Democracy may be weak at present, but its weakness is that of waxing youth, and not of waning age, and if men " will only to themselves prove true"  this rising power will some day rule the world.
The Tocsin 3 Oct 1901

No comments: