The Great Combine.
“Your war has ended at last,”
said Wilbrid, after a long pause. “Ours
is but beginning; and our conquest will not be limited
by an empire’s boundaries, or even by those
of a continent. It will embrace the earth.”
Having spoken he turned to the window and peered at
the blood-red sunset contemplatively.
I surveyed his tall, spare figure,
his steel grey hair and sharply-cut features, the
latter pinked by the evening glow.
Here is a new Kaiser, I thought.
“You said a ‘world conquest,’”
I remarked to him. “Don’t you think
the days have gone when persons should ‘talk
big’? The great war should henceforth limit
the ambitions of those who dream of world’s dominion
“Do not misunderstand me,”
he said. “We shall conquer the world because
of the human appeal of our creed. Its basis is
that the strength of a nation lies in the welfare
of its producers the working class, and
not in its mighty armaments or individual wealth.
There is not an atom of national strength in the accumulation
of much money by any individual. Where wealth
is in the hands of the few, misery stalks among the
many; and, where the masses are ill-fed and hopeless,
moral and physical strength cannot exist.”
Then he walked from the window to
his desk and back again; his arms still behind him,
flinging his phrases at us as he passed to and fro.
“Great things can only be achieved
by combination,” he went on. “The
victory of the Allies is proof of that. We are
going to combine all workers, and, in order to make
our combination supreme, we will not only organise
those at work, but, also, those out of work. It
is going to be a combination of all who can labor,”
he snapped out.
“Up till now,” he continued,
“there have been more men in the world than
there have been jobs to go round; so there have always
been many unemployed. Those unemployed are the
men who keep down the wages of the workers. If
there were no men or women to take the jobs from those
who work, then the workers could demand shorter hours
and a better share of the wealth they produce.
It is the unemployed who have been keeping up the
competition in wages. That is where they have
been useful to the employer.
“Up till now the workers have
struggled to hold their jobs; and have fought to maintain
or raise their wages without taking into account the
thousands of unemployed who need work.
“Those out of work are humans
after all, and when hunger drives them to take the
work at lower wages, they’re called ‘scabs’
and other vile names; and we have treated them as
our bitterest enemies.
“Can you blame a man whose wife
is sinking and whose children cry for food, if he
is willing to take a job at less than the wage you
“Would not any man lower the
wages scale and take another man’s job for less,
in order to save the life of his wife and the new baby?
Should any union principles stand between him and
his wife’s life? That is why we are going
to combine with the unemployed.”
It had grown dark, so he stepped to
the wall and touched a switch. As the light flooded
the room I ventured a reply.
“Don’t you think the human
appeal in your creed is rather one-sided,” I
remarked. “Why not purge your workers’
unions first! You know there are certain trade
unions that make the entrance fees so high, that many
of their own trade are excluded.”
“There is a Wharf Laborers’
Union in Australia that has an entrance fee that is
considered to prohibit new membership, and it has as
its secretary a Federal Minister of the Crown.”
“I guess you’re right
just there,” Nap put in. “The Union
of Glass Blowers of the U.S.A. demand 1000 dollars
as initiation fee; so they get fine pay and they’re
‘some’ people, I guess.”
“There are unions in Australia,”
I rejoined, “that not only demand a high entrance
fee, but, in order to continue a monopoly of employment,
are limiting the number of apprentices who desire to
learn their trade.
“There are unionists who, when
work is slack and members are unemployed, will advocate
shorter hours at the same rate of pay so as to make
room for their unemployed mates.
“And, perhaps, you are not aware
that Australia is a land where Nature is so generous
that in its short history it has reached the highest
level in the world’s wheat and wool production.
Yet in that land, twenty times the size of your Germany
and with one-thirteenth of your population, the workers
discourage immigration of people of their own British
race, because they foolishly fancy the newcomers would
create competition in their high-priced work; and
that is in a wonderful land crying out for development
and only having an average population of one person
to the square mile.”
I finished in a highly-strung manner,
but Wilbrid came forward and put his hands on my shoulders.
“My boy,” he said calmly,
“you are right, and I am also right. That
selfishness on the part of the workers is but the fear
of having their wages cut and becoming unemployed
with the advent of further competition. Remove
that fear and keep the unemployed from cutting wages
and the selfishness will disappear. The Humanist
creed recognises all men as sparks of Divinity.
There will be no ‘scabs,’ ‘pimps,’
‘blacklegs,’ or other vile, cruel epithets.
The men and women who work will combine with those
unemployed. The result will be such a world’s
combination of labor that all sources of profit-winning
will be in the hands of the men who toil. It
will indeed be a conquest of the world.
“Already we control the Governments
of Germany and Austria. France and England will
certainly follow at the next elections. The French
workers do not forget that, during the war, their
Government successfully organised the whole of the
industries; and the English toilers remember how the
Asquith Government successfully controlled all the
great munition factories and limited the employers’
profits to 10 per cent., giving the surplusage to
the State. Now I note that the British workers
are demanding that just as the State successfully controlled
great works during the war and claimed the profits
in excess, so it should control all works now and
let the profits go also to the Common Good yes,
that’s the term. It’s almost a divine
inspiration. The Common Good is the doctrine
of the Humanist! Watch the cause! It will
sweep the earth!”
As he shook hands with me, I could
feel his nerves twitching.
Nap and I walked back to the great
camp almost in silence, and little sleep came to me