What can be done ? First, we can hold fast to our thoughts as to how labor should be treated. This of itself is a great thing, — not to succumb, not to give up our ideal, because the facts are the other way. It is a great temptation to settle down to the idea that as things are and have been so they must be. It involves a strain, and is a positive virtue, to hold fast to an ideal when the facts contradict it. There is a fatality about our thoughts. If we think things cannot be different from what they are, we but add so much to the dead inertia of the world, which keeps them as they are ; while if we will not succumb, we may be part of the very forces that will help to make things different. Let us keep our faith; let us keep our discontent and spread it in the community; let us never cease to ask that ethics become a principle in business life, that the Golden Rule be made the rule of industry, till the common remark that "business is business," when applied to the remuneration of human labor, shall be turned into a reproach and a shame to those who use it.
1 Cf. Odyssey, xi. 489, and Gladstone's comment thereon in " Studies on Homer," iii. 74.
2 Cf. Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, ii. 70): "Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform, combination not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate".
Secondly, let us make our thoughts as clear as possible as to what constitutes a fair return to labor for its services in the work of production. It is impossible to speak of what are just and unjust wages in terms of money; the purchasing power of money changes according as the cost of producing commodities becomes greater or less. What we have a right to ask for the workingman, who year after year renders service to society, is that he shall have enough in return to enable him (1) to run a fair chance of living out the average term of human life; (2) to have a family of moderate size; (3) to let his children go to school till they are at least fifteen years of age ; (4) to let his wife attend to the duties of a mother and a housekeeper; (5) with reasonable economy to lay aside something for his support in old age. These are the wages, whatever their money equivalent may be, which every one who works with his hands — I care not how commonplace and rude his work may be, so that it be necessary work to society — should receive. There is not a day-laborer who works on our streets who ought not to have so much. I advocate nothing at all for those who will not work — not even charity; though for those who cannot work — for those whose minds or whose bodies are too feeble — I ask the ten-derest consideration and the amplest charity. But for those who can and who do work, such remuneration as I have described above I ask for as simple justice. Competition may reduce wages below this point, — nay, it does. There are plenty of skilled as well as unskilled laborers who do not get such remuneration. Employers, whether private or public, allow them to bid against one another, and, to the end of putting money into their own pockets or of reducing taxation, allow them to work on terms that tend to cut short their lives, to drive their children of tender years into the factory or the street, to force their very wives to work with them or in competition with them, and to bring all sometime or other to misery, to want, and perhaps the poor-house. It is all a monster iniquity. Below the point I have described, competition should never be allowed to determine the wages of the laborer.
Thirdly, we can do something by encouraging every honest attempt of labor to get at least this minimum of remuneration for itself. The Unions that workingmen form and the "strikes" they enter upon are not useless. The Unions may have many unjust and foolish rules, their members may sometimes overreach and go on false principles in entering upon " strikes." To demand equal wages for all alike, whatever their degree of skill and competence, is plainly unjust; to use violence against those who take their places when they leave work is criminal ; to "strike" against an employer who is barely making his way, or to take advantage of his necessities, is as deserving of censure as for the employer to treat in a similar way his men. But where a business is successful, where dividends and profits are large, there, I conceive, it is both allowable and just that workingmen should share in the prosperity which they help to create, and the public should encourage them in every effort to reach at least that minimum of compensation which I have described.
Fourthly, if we are in business ourselves, the matter comes home to us in a peculiar way. I am well aware that a man starting in business cannot always do as his heart prompts. He starts in a competitive field. There may be employers ready to undersell him and drive him out of the market. He has to make himself a foothold in the midst of a stream that would be glad to carry him away. He is perhaps thence obliged to begin by paying the market rate of wages to his workmen ; he has to appear to stand in a purely commercial relation to his men. Meanwhile, however, the higher thoughts may truly dwell in him. He may still cherish the wish to establish a real brotherhood with his employees, to run the race not against them but with them, to treat them as his co-workers and his partners ; and gradually, as his enterprise succeeds, he may carry his thoughts into effect, — not with professions, but rather cautiously ; not disappointed because his men do not at once believe in him, but determined by perseverance and evident good-will to make them believe in him. In technical language, he may either raise their wages, or allowing their nominal wages to remain the same, may make them share in his profits. This to my mind would be, so far as present circumstances ordinarily allow, the ideal form of industry. At any rate, it would be ethics carried into business life ; it would be the Golden Rule entering a realm where it is ordinarily thought to be inapplicable. Love is thought to be a dream; it is, in fact, the only thing that is practical. It so truly belongs to the world that there is no harmony or security, or even peace, without it.