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THE LABOR QUESTION
AT THE CHICAGO LABOR DAY PICNIC, SEPT. 3, 1900
Y far the greatest problem, the most far-reaching in its stupendous importance, is that problem, or rather that group of problems, which we have grown to speak of as the labor question. It must be always a peculiar privilege for any thoughtful public man to address a body of men predominantly composed of wage-workers, for the foundation of our whole social structure rests upon the material and moral well-being, the intelligence, the foresight, the sanity, the sense of duty, and the wholesome patriotism of the wage-worker. This is doubly the case now; for, in addition to each man's individual action, you have learned the great lesson of acting in combination. It would be impossible to overestimate the far-reaching influences of, and, on the whole, the amount of good done through your associations.
In addressing you, the one thing that I wish to avoid is any mere glittering generality, any mere high-sounding phraseology, and, above all, any appeal whatsoever made in a demagogic spirit, or in
a spirit of mere emotionalism. When we come to dealing with our social and industrial needs, remedies, rights and wrongs, a ton of oratory is not worth an ounce of hard-headed, kindly common
The fundamental law of healthy political life in this great Republic is that each man shall in deed, and not merely in word, be treated strictly on his worth as a man; that each shall do full justice to his fellow, and in return shall exact full justice from him. Each group of men has its special interests; and yet the higher, the broader and deeper interests are those which apply to all men alike; for the spirit of brotherhood in American citizenship, when rightly understood and rightly applied, is more important than aught else. Let us scrupulously guard the special interests of the wage-worker, the farmer, the manufacturer, and the merchant, giving to each man his due and also seeing that he does not wrong his fellows; but let us keep ever clearly before our minds the great fact that, where the deepest chords are touched, the interests of all are alike and must be guarded alike.
We must beware of any attempt to make hatred in any form the basis of action. Most emphatically each of us needs to stand up for his own rights; all men and all groups of men are bound to retain their self-respect, and, demanding this same respect from
others, to see that they are not injured and that they have secured to them the fullest liberty of thought and action. But to feed fat a grudge against others, while it may or may not harm them, is sure in the long run to do infinitely greater harm to the man. himself.
The more a healthy American sees of his fellowAmericans the greater grows his conviction that our chief troubles come from mutual misunderstanding, from failure to appreciate one another's point of view. In other words, the great need is fellow-feeling, sympathy, brotherhood; and all this naturally comes by association. It is, therefore, of vital importance that there should be such association. The most serious disadvantage in city life is the tendency of each man to keep isolated in his own little set, and to look upon the vast majority of his fellow-citizens indifferently, so that he soon comes to forget that they have the same red blood, the same loves and hates, the same likes and dislikes, the same desire for good, and the same perpetual tendency, ever needing to be checked and corrected, to lapse from good into evil. If only our people can be thrown together, where they act on a common ground with the same motives, and have the same objects, we need not have much fear of their failing to acquire a genuine respect for one another; and with such respect there must finally come fair play for all.
The first time I ever labored alongside of and got thrown into intimate companionship with men who were mighty men of their hands was in the cattle country of the Northwest. I soon grew to have an immense liking and respect for my associates, and as I knew them, and did not know similar workers in other parts of the country, it seemed to me that the ranch-owner was a great deal better than any Eastern business man, and that the cowpuncher stood on a corresponding altitude compared with any of his brethren in the East.
Well, after a little while I was thrown into close relations with the farmers, and it did not take long before I had moved them up alongside of cowmen; and I made up my mind that they really my beloved formed the backbone of the land. Then, because of certain circumstances, I was thrown into intimate contact with railroad men, and I gradually came to the conclusion that these railroad men were about the finest citizens there were anywhere around. Then, in the course of some official work, I was thrown into close contact with a number of the carpenters, blacksmiths, and men in the building trades, that is, skilled mechanics of a high order, and it was not long before I had them on the same pedestal with the others. By that time it began to dawn on me that the difference was not in the men but in my own point of view, and that if any man is thrown into
close contact with any large body of our fellow-citizens it is apt to be the man's own fault if he does not grow to feel for them a very hearty regard and, moreover, grow to understand that, on the great questions that lie at the root of human well-being, he and they feel alike.
Our prime need as a nation is that every American should understand and work with his fellow-citizens, getting into touch with them, so that by actual contact he may learn that fundamentally he and they have the same interests, needs, and aspirations.
Of course different sections of the community have different needs. The gravest questions that are before us, the questions that are for all time, affect us all alike. But there are separate needs that affect separate groups of men, just as there are separate needs that affect each individual man. It is just as unwise to forget the one fact as it is to forget the other. The specialization of our modern industrial life, its high development and complex character, means a corresponding specialization in needs and interests. While we should, so long as we can safely do so, give to each individual the largest possible liberty, a liberty which necessarily includes initiative and responsibility, yet we must not hesitate to interfere whenever it is clearly seen that harm comes from excessive individualism. We can not afford to be empirical one way or the other. In the coun