The Adjustment of Our Industry to Surplus and Unskilled Labor
There are two sides of this question to which I wish to refer this evening. One is that we fail to recognize the enormous value which the immigrant has been to us from the industrial point of view, and second, that the immigrant has not come to America simply because there has been an opening here, a place in which he can do better than he did in the home country, but that in a very large sense the immigrant has been brought to this country to do our work for us. I was deeply impressed with this point of view, and the lack of sympathy with it, when I undertook to help some friends to raise money for an institution that was working among immigrants in Chicago in connection with one of Chicago's greatest industries, an industry which would have been absolutely impossible without the immigrants who came to do the dirty work. I was assured that the business men of the city had absolutely
(223) no feeling of responsibility to the immigrant, or the sense of debt which Chicago owes to the immigrant. The attitude of the Chicago business man is "We have given them the opportunity to come here, we have thrown the doors open to them. they have their chance to take advantage of higher wages which America pays to the downtrodden population of Europe. They have come, and now if things haven't gone well with them it is their affair. " That is an attitude which, it seems to me, is entirely unjust. We can not simply turn upon the immigrant and put him under a microscope, as the immigration commission is doing, and ask how he is built and what he is going to do. We must recognize the enormous responsibility we have to these immigrants who have made possible the industrial development which has taken place in America in the last fifty years.
There was a time when the immigrant came and took possession of our soil, as we have done ourselves. We are all immigrants, as Mr. Dooley has said. The difference is that some came in the Mayflower and others came in later ships. Germans and Scandinavians came and took possession of the soil-the Scandinavians in the northwest and the Germans in the middle west-and they became the backbone of that part of the country, its intelligence and its morals. The Irish came and did our work-certain types of work-and did is -very well. Then there came a time when it was necessary that a great deal of work should be done at very low wages. This was necessary for the development of our industries. The numbers that came then and since have been due to the invitation which this industry has offered to them. All the tremendous industries we have at the present time; the pushing of the mines in Pennsylvania, the pushing of the great steel and iron industries, the work of the stockyards and of the railroads, have brought these people across the. water. Into this work has gone the life, blood of these people and we must meet the responsibilities we owe them.
Every ship that comes in and drops off immigrants at Ellis Island is dropping off what represents potential wealth, workmen who are coming to increase our wealth and give us means of further production. They come because there is a demand for them. Many industries have sent their agents abroad to induce them to come. Transportation companies have spread their
(224) advertisements all over Europe to induce men to come, more than ought to be encouraged.
These immigrants are exploited by employment agencies, and even by the companies which employ them. They are employed, then discharged and employed over again that they may pay again and again for the same job. Is it fair now to turn on the immigrant and ask whether he is a worthy person to be in this country? Is it fair to think of him simply as a per, sort whom we have rescued from Old World tyranny and to whom we have given political freedom? Must we not consider our responsibility to him in the industrial situation into which he has come, and which he has helped to make possible?
There is one American institution that will do more for the assimilation of this foreign population than any other means , and that is the public school. The question is whether the school is meeting the problem of the immigrant. It is not simply a question of whether the immigrant is willing to go into our school , but whether the school is willing to adapt itself to this essential part of the community. The immigrant has not simply made himself a part of us, but we have made the immigrant a part of us, because we have wanted him to come and help us pile up our national wealth. So we have this definite responsibility for assimilation which we must meet at the school door. Have we made a serious attempt to adapt our system of education to meet this demand? Our schools are for all children, and we have with us hundreds of thousands of immigrants eager to learn the English language. Do we use our schools for that purpose? Do we try to make it possible for these immigrants to learn our language? Have we made use of the industrial life as a basis for education? We have not, as you know. America is behind England, behind Germany and behind France in the matter of industrial education.
I am inclined to think that one of the reasons why we are behind is that we have left certain kinds of labor to certain groups of people whom we are willing to conceive of as immigrants. The French and the English and the Germans are doing their own work.
It is only by education we can assimilate the immigrants, but that education must be along the industrial life of these
(225) people. Industrial education is one of the most important phases of our modern educational movement. More can be given to a child in the way of industrial education than in any other way. I know we come up against the labor union with this question, but the question is larger than the, labor union. All the members of the labor union want their children properly trained. I would rather have my boy trained as an artisan up to the fifteenth year of his life. He would get more character by such a training than in any other way, and if he got the right sort of training he would get more liberal education than can be given today in our schools.
In industrial education we are on common ground with the immigrant, hence in industrial education we have the best means of assimilation and bringing together all these alien people. We must turn about and face this fact and recognize the responsibilities to these millions of people who, from the point of view of the lives they have lived and the deaths they have died in our factories and mines, have just as much right in this America as any one, We must face that responsibility, and recognize the opportunity we have in our hands, We must go back to their industrial life and to our industrial life, and find in so doing the means for the real bringing together of us all.