THE CHALLENGE TO OUR RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS IS INDUSTRIAL UNREST
Israel Mattuck, 08 March 1913
Exodus 6: 9. "And Moses spake so unto the Children of Israel, but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage."
There is in the present state of industrial unrest a definite challenge to all institutions or individuals who speak in the name of religion. It is a challenge that is becoming constantly more insistent and perhaps more difficult to meet. Yet unless religious institutions as they now exist are ready to confess their impotence and to admit all their claims to be but emptiness, they must heed the challenge and rise to meet it. There are not wanting signs to indicate that this unrest is increasing in turbulence and grows constantly more threatening. Each day's news brings us the reports of another strike that is imminent and of another industry that is threatened with paralysis because of some difficulty between employer and employed. We have learned to know that these contests are not merely momentary storms that pass away quickly and signify nothing; or even if we look no deeper than the surface, the insistent recurrence of them must warn us of some force working below the crust of things, a force of gigantic power that can cause the earth to quake; a force that must be considered in all our reckonings for the future.
When confronted with these troublesome facts we are tempted first to put them aside as signifying nothing more than that certain men are prompted by their selfishness to an endeavour of getting for themselves more than they now have. To many perhaps industrial unrest conveys only the suggestion that labouring men are dissatisfied because they are not getting any more wages than they do get and that this desire for more wages is the only and the whole source of the trouble. Though, however, there is no denying that a desire for higher wages and the effort to obtain them has been a factor in producing the present conditions, it is not fair to offer that as an exhaustive explanation, nor is it fair to thrust aside the whole problem of our present industrial troubles by attributing it to o'erleaping selfishness. For though there is an element of self-seeking, let us not forget at the same time that it is selfishness which withholds from the labouring man that which he asks for, and let us also keep in mind that in His wisdom God often uses low motives of men to obtain the high results which He designs. In His hands selfishness of a class of men may become the means for bringing a greater measure of justice into the world and for driving society a little nearer to its goal of perfection.
It is, I believe, fairer to say that the state of unrest in the industrial organisation of society has been produced and is being maintained by the intellectual evolution of the labouring class into a consciousness of its own social value and the consequent desire to cultivate self-respect and independence. The dignity of labour from being a cant phrase in the mouths of demagogues has come to be a living truth and an inspiring reality to the man who lives by the toil of his hands. A working man has almost become proud of the fact that he is a producer and to consider himself an economic aristocrat. Whether he is right or wrong in this claim to superiority on the ground of his producing powers, we cannot but admire and welcome the growing consciousness of the value of his class and the self-respect attendant upon it. A man's value to society is much enhanced when he becomes conscious of his own powers and practises them for the achievement of some worth. The realisation which has dawned on the working man has changed him from a yoked ox into a serving man. He is no longer the machine without a soul that responds to the push of the lever or the turn of the wheel, but a child of God, aspiring, hoping, thinking and trusting.
We can therefore only hope that this consciousness will grow stronger and clearer; for certainly we must recognise the blessing of God in whatever raises the estate and the condition of men. It is, however, only natural that this realisation has brought the toiler into conflict with the accepted and earlier conditions of his life. There is no question but that the worker has always been considered a legitimate object of oppression on the part of him for whom he works. It was his business to obey orders, to think little, and to plan less. By the constantly increasing minuteness in the division of labour he was being turned more and more from the work of a man to the work of a machine. The invention of perfected machinery had even deprived him of giving evidence of particular skill or deftness. At his work he found no use for the faculties which meant his manhood: he was compelled to restrain what powers other than physical that he possessed, and his natural desire for obtaining his subsistence was used by his superiors as the instrument by which they forced him to adopt this position, the physical worker, to the detriment of his intellectual and perhaps even spiritual expression and development. As it is usually put, he had to live; what was he to do? If he was paid for being a machine, he accepted the condition because he needed the pay. He had naught left but the hope that at some time he would regain his manly estate. It is true there has been a multiplication of the agencies whose work it is to give him an opportunity of developing intellectually and otherwise, but what use was there in this development if his added power could find no adequate use in his daily work?
Can we wonder then, at the growing dissatisfaction among the working man? There was in him the bitter feeling of the opposition between what he conceived to be the dignity and worth of his position and his efforts, and his actual condition wherein he was the constant object of repression; the opposition between the consciousness of a personality who sought to develop and express, and the machine into which he had been reduced; and to avoid this opposition he now asks for a greater voice in deciding the conditions of his labour and for some authority in the control of industry. Heretofore the employed has not been consulted either about his own interests or about the interests of the industrial organisation of which he formed a part. The employer decided hours of labour, rates of remuneration, and fixed the rules under which the work was to be done. There may have been some employers who have in their designs kept in mind the interests of the men who worked for them and perhaps even considered the interests of society. But isn't it safe to say that for the most part these men kept their eyes fixed on the possible profit to be made and that the desire for a high dividend was the chief controlling factor in all their planning? Long hours and little pay meant bigger profits, and the hours were as long and the pay as small as the working man could be forced to accept. So long therefore as the working man took himself to be no more than a machine, wholly innocent of any personality that he might have or any powers that he might possess, the scheme worked very well, but now that he feels himself to be a man he is asking for some voice in the control of industry, for some say about the conditions under which he must work; for employer and employed alike are the servants of society and it is their business to serve not themselves but the human family. They work one for the other and the relation between them is not that of dependence on the part of one and independence on the part of the other, but inter-dependence between the two and both together are the servants of a cause greater than they.
The incident that has loomed so large in our minds during the past days well illustrates the degree to which this is the cause of social unrest. I refer, of course, to the incident which has brought on the threatened strike of one of our railroads. A man is discharged because he refuses to obey an order; an order which was contrary to a written rule which he had promised to obey. Alone he is incapable of forcing any consideration from the men in whose hands his destiny lay. His only chance is in the support he receives from all his fellow-workers, and they are ready to give him this support. There may be, there are, diverse opinions as to the merits of the case, but the question at issue is evident. Was he to be merely the machine, carrying out what orders he received or was he to be a man with thought and initiative; ready to obey the rules that he had promised to obey, but refusing to disobey them even when ordered, because he believed the following of them under the conditions to be wrong. And whatever the outcome of this struggle may be, it will leave us the wiser by the knowledge of the issue which it has made clear.
This then, we must realise, and every day is impressing us with it, that it is the desire of the working man to have some voice in the management of industry and to have some control of the conditions under which he must serve. His aim in this is not merely a selfish desire to obtain more wealth, increasing his luxuries or his pleasures, but we can perceive in his efforts a deeper significance and a higher purpose even though he himself be unconscious of it. It is the effort of a class coming to a consciousness of its importance and seeking for a recognition of worth from other men. It is the rebellion of self-respect against what seems to be slavery; it is the struggle of personality against automatism; it is the desire to serve not an individual but society.
Because, therefore, what we perceive to be social unrest is not merely economic, it is moral and spiritual, for this reason social unrest is a challenge to religious institutions, demanding of them an exercise of their power and an exercise of their influence. Asking them to contend against the conditions which have produced it. Even if our industrial troubles were due to nothing else than the desire on the part of some for a greater share in the profits, religion would have to take some notice of the fact, and from it would be required a decision as to the justice or the injustice of the claim; but now that we see it to be the effort toward spiritual and moral development of men who have been repressed and restrained, surely our religious institutions would be guilty of neglecting their duty if they failed to use their powers toward eliminating the causes which produced this disturbance.
As the existence of sin is a challenge to the regenerating powers of goodness, so the existence of social evils is a challenge to the influence for social good which religion may possess. Or has its power become so little and its strength so weak that it stands impotent before these wrongs caused by the hand of man? We are, I believe, on the eve of a great reform. Human hearts are tingling with an eagerness to behold the dawn of a better day. Human eyes are straining with all their might to catch the first rays of the new light; and human hands are labouring earnestly to produce this better day, even while human hearts are praying for its speedy advent. The cry has gone up to heaven as the cry of the Israelites of old when they were enslaved in Egypt, and God is not heedless of the struggling efforts of His children and not unmindful of their woes. Surely then, religion, the great guide of men, must be the director of their energies toward this goal, and that power which speaks in the name of God dare not be silent while men cry unto Him, but if it be faithful to its task it must answer that cry with a promise of help, a promise of divine help.