Page images
PDF
EPUB

do. Our best-loved poet crystallized this American spirit in the now so familiar lines,

[ocr errors][merged small]

President Roosevelt, using an adjective that has come to be peculiarly associated with him, declared that "our country calls us not for the life of ease, but for the life of strenuous endeavor."

The title of a recent volume on America by a distinguished Frenchman is significant: The People of Action. The Author, speaking of the apparent passion for money-making, declares that “it is a question not of being rich, but of becoming so. ... To be rich, for an American, is not to be a social parasite, but a social force.” We do not seek to become rich in order then to stop working; our rich men on the average work about as hard as the poor. Emerson, in his essay on Wealth, said that the American “is born to be rich; not to amass money, which is despicable; not to enjoy it, which is trivial; but to master himself in mastering it.” The power that expresses itself in conquering obstacles, and the new power that comes from success in the game, appeals to our manhood. We despise the idler, whether a tramp or the son of a millionaire.

It is not that work is "noble” in some mysterious way, it is that working is interesting, working calls into play our powers, develops our character, gives us the solid satisfaction of feeling ourselves of use, and a vital part of the nation's life. And from the social viewpoint, a life of productive work is the only fair life to live. For there is so much work that must be done; and if one man shirks his part, others must do more than theirs.

Indeed, there is a vast deal of work that cries to be done but must go neglected for lack of hands and brains to do it. We need thousands of miles of roads built in this country-only twelve or fifteen per cent of our roads are surfaced. We need more railway tracks laid, more terminal facilities, more engines and cars built, more tunnels and bridges. We need canals, and deepened waterways, levees and reservoirs and irrigating channels. We need plants to utilize our waterpower, over ninety per cent of which is now wasted. We need the planting of millions of trees to replace the lumber that has been cut. We need hundreds of thousands of houses built for those who are now packed too closely in tenements. We need more schools, we need more teachers, we need-but the list is too long to complete.

There is a perennial tendency in this country toward the aping of the old-world aristocracies and the growth of an idle class. During the War this tendency was overborne by the pressure of an aroused public opinion; and even upper class women who had hardly done a stroke of useful work before donned their khaki, rolled up their sleeves, and got into the game. With the coming of peace again, there has reappeared the type of rich man whom the French call the flâneur, and our irrepressible American slang terms the "lounge-lizard.” Still more in evidence is the well-to-do woman, who has servants to do her house-work, and spends her time in a round of social calls, bridge parties, or other trivialities, with perhaps a little ineffective "social work” to salve her conscience, and piano-practice to keep her essential uselessness from being too apparent.

This social approval, or tolerance, of a class of drones in our busy American life, must be vigorously fought. It is to be hoped that we shall not have to resort to a conscription of labor-although William James, and other distinguished Americans, have thought that, if properly managed, an excellent proposal. But we must keep in the foreground our fathers' ideal of a life of useful activity for all-which is the Biblical ideal also—: Six days shalt thou labor. We command you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

The sin of uselessness becomes more obvious when it is contrasted with the overwork of so many others in our society. With all our labor-saving machinery, we have not lessened the labors of many of our citizens. Some industries still employ thousands of men for twelve hours a day and seven days a week. Many other industries require nine or ten hours. And this is not at agreeable and easy work, but at the hardest and most monotonous, and sometimes the most dangerous, of human occupations. In the steel industry, for example, according to the Report of the Interchurch Commission of Inquiry, in 1919, approximately half the employees were subject to a twelvehour day, the percentage of employees subjct to this schedule having increased during the ten years previous. In the blast-furnace departments of twentyfour establishments, 4,049 men out of 6,315 worked eighty-four hours a week. In many departments a seven-day working week was standard.

The two wrongs, idleness and overwork, are separable. But in general it may be said that idleness at one end of the social scale involves overwork at the other end; if you shirk your share of the nation's work, some one else must do more than his share.

Leisure is desirable, and necessary, for every one; not chronic leisure, but leisure coming after work. This leisure is necessary if our citizens are to be anything but unthinking "hands”; if they are to read, and think, and be developed human beings, if they are to become intelligent enough to participate wisely in the sustaining of our democracy. For the mere matter of greatest efficiency in one's work, overlong hours are a mistake. Experiments have pretty conclusively shown that in most occupations the average man can accomplish more in an eight-hour day and a six-day week, than when working more continuously; employers who have given most careful study to the problem of industrial fatigue are practically unanimous in favor of the shorter working-periods. From the broader human point of view, it is evident that a forty-eight hour week is the maximum that can decently be demanded of a man or woman in any routine occupation. There must be some energy left to put into reading books, enjoying pictures, listening to music, digging in a garden, or in some other way developing one's capacities as a human being.

Professional people, employers, sometimes fail to realize this, because their own work often spreads out into ten or more hours a day. But their work is varied, and interesting; it develops their minds, it brings them in touch with other minds, whether through personal contacts or through reading. It is one thing to work ten hours a day, at one task or another, as a college student, a manager of a large concern, a lawyer, a doctor, or a minister. It is far more fatiguing to work ten hours as a mill-hand. Moreover, the work of the student or professional man or employer is largely under his own control; he can stop if he is tired, he is not some one else's servant. The mill-hand, if the mill runs for ten hours a day, is forced to work for those ten hours every day, at the risk of losing his job. This is not exactly slavery, but it comes altogether too near it.

Particularly disastrous is the overwork of women. For a man may be seriously overtired and beget healthy children; but an overtired mother means a sickly or abnormal child. Many children today are suffering from overworking of their mothers; and with the increasing movement of women into industry the danger becomes more and more alarming. This is no argument against the participation of women in industry. Work in moderation is healthy; and women, if they are not needed at home, for housework or the care of children, ought to work outside the home. The time is past when a woman can be regarded as essentially an ornament, a mere useless luxury for some man to possess; though that, of course, was never more than a badge of upper-class status, for the great majority of women since life began have worked as hard as men, if not harder. But while it is no argument against utilizing the labor of women, it is a decisive argument against overworking women. Unjust as it is to force any human being to overwork, it is utterly disastrous when that overwork is bound to weaken the vitality of the coming generation.

It seems utopian to expect all employers to be humane enough to consider the welfare of unborn children, or of the State as a whole. It is therefore necessary to have stringent legislation on the statute-books forbidding the labor of women beyond the limit which physiologists and psychologists may agree upon as safe for any given occupation. Probably certain occupations should be forbidden to women altogether, though these will not be many. In particular, the law must forbid work, of many sorts, before and

« PreviousContinue »