DURING the years 1896 and 1897, while I was at work in the office of the Superintendent of the Fitchburg Railroad in Bost on, my prospects and work in life were waiting, so to speak, for a mental decision on my part of the simplest kind. I was called upon either to gel into harmony with a certain popular movement in business life or to remain on the outside as a mere spectator. Without any trouble at all I could have placed myself in the swim and taken my chances with this new system that was just then beginning to develop all over the country in industrial circles. The situation can be described in a very few words.
On the one hand there was the scientific organization of workingmen, and on the other hand there was the scientific organization of the details of the laboring process and of methods of management. While at the time my understanding of the situation was somewhat narrow, nevertheless it was soon impressed upon me in a number of practical ways that a great change was about to take place in the status of the individual, whether as a worker or as a manager.
But just at this point in my business career when I was looking over the field and trying to figure in some way on my future in the railroad business, I happened to be in a peculiar mental condition. I was actually making a study of my mind, and in the course of this study had come to the conclusion that in order to preserve my individuality it would be necessary for me to treat my mind as I would my business or my body. That is to say, I was called upon to direct its energies and superintend its activities. Those who look upon the mind in this light as a personal domain to be studied, cared for, and cultivated, are the men of force and character in any community.
Be this as it may, this mental study had the effect of building up my individualistic character. It emphasized my personal responsibility to myself and to society, and it culminated in the simple conclusion that every man who desires to steer his course along healthy and progressive lines must try to do his own thinking. Such at any rate was the individualistic spirit with which I looked on my surroundings while I was at work in the Superintendent’s office. The conclusions I arrived at by means of this study emphasized the personal factor in every problem and renewed my attachment to the men on the railroad with whom I was associated, and to the principles they represented. I refer now to the actual workers, such as foremen, trainmen, and supervisors, who of course were in no way responsible for the general policy of the railroads.
As a matter of fact, at the time, great changes were being inaugurated all over the country, both in method of operation, and in matters of management. For one thing the accident situation was at last attracting a little attention, abuses in many directions were being discussed, and a new generation of wide-awake employees was coming to the front and receiving a hearing.
In course of time, as a part of this overturn on the Fitchburg Railroad, the Superintendent and the office force, of which I was one, went out in a body. I was just close enough to the management, and sufficiently familiar with the aims of employees, to understand the nature of this overturn. I did not look at the matter from the point of view of the politician or the philosopher. I simply knew that a certain class of men of sterling character and unquestioned ability were, with practically no excuse, being turned out of office. The officials who took their places were also good men, but they belonged to a different school, and they were called upon to do business in a different way.
On all sides the general principle of merging, consolidating, and organizing was getting under headway and half a dozen railroads in New England had already been rolled into one. Meanwhile, of course, business was expanding in every direction and, as everybody seemed to agree, was becoming too complicated for any form of personal management or control. Personally, I did not take much stock in this argument, for I noticed that with increase of business no attempt was made to increase the number of supervisors or to retain in any other way the bond of personal relationship. Personal contact between men and managers began to give way to a cold-blooded system of correspondence which, at the present day, has reached enormous and ridiculous proportions. Illustrations of these facts are interesting.
I can remember the time, for example, when an employee’s ’pass’ was a bond of sympathy between the men and the management. Upon request, any official could hand an employee what he wanted, on the spot. He did n’t have to say, ‘Who are you and what is your record?’ He knew his men, and he treated them liberally according to his best judgment. But just as soon as the public and the politicians got mixed up in this pass business the employees’ side of it was ruined, and every human factor connected with it was scattered to the winds. To the merchant the pass was a form of rebate, to thousands upon thousands of professional people in different lines it was a form of recompense amounting, in some cases, to a bribe. The railroads themselves have taken, or rather have been given, the blame for this state of affairs. The recipients, on the other hand, seem to have satisfied public opinion with the old apology offered by Adam: ‘The woman tempted me and I did eat.’
To-day the employee’s pass has lost all its personal use and significance. It is part of the bond in many of the schedules. Apart from this, if the employee desires a trip-pass he must show in writing that he is legally entitled to it. Instead of coming from the official just above him, it calls for the signature of one of the highest officials on the railroad. And the employee’s application for this pass before and after he gets it has a curious history. En route to a storehouse for safe-keeping, it probably figures in a dozen separate reports. It is copied into records, certified, approved, and stamped by numerous officials, clerks, and conductors, until in course of time it has complied with the multifarious requirements of the Interstate Commerce Law.
The working of what is known as the Sixteen-hour Law furnishes another illustration of the alienation of the employee from the employer which has followed in the train of the new system.
For example, time was when, if I wished to get away from my tower duties for an hour or two for some urgent personal reason, I could, with the permission of the superintendent, call upon one of the other men to help me out. For twenty-five years I watched this method of handling the business in a reasonable and human manner and never knew it to be abused. The management looked upon us as men. Today, on the other hand, if I want to get away for a couple of hours in order to go to a funeral, my superintendent will refer me to the law in the case as promulgated by the Interstate Commerce Commission: ‘No man can exceed his time limit of nine hours except in cases of emergency’; and, according to the announced ruling in such matters, I cannot plead emergency for anything that I can foresee. But when a man is dead I can easily foresee the funeral. Therefore the only funeral a tower-man can go to nowadays is his own. There is absolutely no encouragement for loyalty or esprit de corps in mechanical situations of this kind.
Along these lines, then, on the railroads and elsewhere, the severance of the human tie between employee and employer has become more marked from year to year. Just at present there is everywhere, in thinking circles at any rate, a tremendous awakening to these simple and serious facts. Whether the mistakes of management in this direction can be rectified, and the aim and policy of organized labor modified in any way, is a question. The vital mistake was in depriving the immediate superior of the authority and individuality that belongs to his office.
On the other hand, it is useless to blame employees for taking their cue from the mechanical system that pays them their wages. The business reform along these lines at the present day has both sides of the situation to deal with. It is surely my duty, then, along with my personal narrative, to describe as best I can these social and industrial movements with which in a practical way I have been associated; and of all these problems this matter of the weeding out of the human and personal elements in all kinds of working relationships in America is, as it seems to me, by long odds the most important. Additional illustration of the matter, then, will not be out of place.
For instance, the history of affairs in this directionon the old Fitchburg Railroad is a case in point. Here we have a practical demonstration, extending over fifteen or twenty years, of the tendencies, amounting in fact to efforts, of industrial management to widen the gap and lessen the opportunity for personal intercourse between the employer and the workingman.
When first I appeared on the scene, the railroad territory now known as the Fitchburg Division of the Boston and Maine consisted of five or six different railroads or divisions of railroads. At Boston, Fitchburg, North Adams, Troy, New York, and one or two other places, superintendents had their headquarters. After the consolidation of these railroads and branches into the Fitchburg system, these different headquarters were abolished. To-day a single superintendent located in Boston covers the whole territory, and probably this man has in his charge six times as many employees as were originally taken care of by five or six separate managers. That is to say, no effort whatever has been made to preserve a reasonable and necessary ratio between supervisors and men for the purpose of maintaining some kind of human relationship between them.
A writer in a recent issue of the Christian Register comments thus on a cognate phase of the labor situation: ‘It is a curious fact that the recent strikes show that the alienation of the poor from the rich has increased in spite of the social interest that has been spent upon them.’
Looking into the matter in the case of the railroads, and indeed of nearly all other large industries, the alienation of the employee from the manager is not by any means surprising; and the absence of this human factor works out to a logical conclusion in all problems of efficiency and safety on railroads and elsewhere.
A brief contrast, of a personal nature, between the old and the new methods of management on railroads, will throw additional light on this subject.
My superintendent for a great many years on the Fitchburg Railroad was Mr. J. R. Hartwell. He knew each trainman, engineman, and station agent personally. He also knew each engine, its condition and capacity. He rode over his division each day and kept in personal touch with every movement, both of men and equipment. He was always in tune with every throb of the traffic. As chief clerk under Mr. Hartwell, my duties embraced business of every description on the division. I hired the trainmen, kept the pay-rolls, and supervised the train runs and the placing of the equipment. Correspondence of nearly every description passed through my hands. I knew instinctively what a superintendent of Mr. Hartwell’s character would do in almost any situation that arose, and in his absence I used his authority freely. Under Mr. Hartwell’s administration both the employee and the public got fair and quick measure of justice. In attending to the duties of the office I had the assistance of a single stenographer. Apart from correspondence that was unavoidable, however, there was an infinity of detailed business that was attended to by word of mouth, by telephone or telegraph.
On the other hand, to-day, if the business on any given division has doubled, the office force has been multiplied by six, and the correspondence and reports by twenty. Matters of the most trifling description, to which formerly the man in authority said yes or no, as he would in any private business, now have to go the rounds of several departments, and give work to a dozen typewriters. Everybody is busy reporting and investigating; business on the typewriters is being rattled off practically by the ton, and this kind of railroad débris, entailed to a great extent by the mechanical administration of affairs, and carefully tabulated and preserved for years to cover the law, fills acres of floor-space.
Altogether, the modern railroad superintendent, his methods and duties in the year 1912, present a curious study in industrial economics. I copy in part a strange, yet as it seems to me an absolutely truthful, account of the situation, from a recent issue of The Railway Age Gazette.
Nearly everybody in authority on American railroads, according to this writer, is engaged in investigating something and advising somebody. Consequently, for one thing, it costs more to find out who broke a light of glass than to pay for the material and put it in. Nobody is supposed to answer a question or a letter until nearly every one else has had a chance to ‘investigate and advise’ on the matter.
A division superintendent of to-day, we are told, is anywhere from one day to a week behind with his explanations and advices, and he has absolutely no hope of catching up; meanwhile, ‘The call-boy is doing to-day’s business. Each out-bound train depends upon him to furnish a crew.’
The train-dispatcher, however, is the real storm-centre of the railroad business. ‘He alone has to do with the present. He always has the information you want on his tongue’s end, and with the same breath he tells some brakeman’s wife on the ’phone when her husband’s train will be in. But,’ the writer continues, ‘when we close the door to the dispatcher’s office we shut out the sound of the telegraph instruments, throbbing with the details of to-day’s business, and as we pass the doors of the various offices down the hall the steady rattle of typewriters indicates that events from twenty-four hours to a month or more old are being investigated and explained. They cannot possibly catch up with the present . How would an official feel to step to his job some morning and find that he was free to supervise what was going on in his division that day, that there was no need to explain increases in operating expenses, decreases in net tons, engine failures, car-shortages, delays, accidents, wash-outs, fires, labor troubles, or why passenger-brakeman Jones allowed some prominent politician to get off at the wrong station and thereby miss a scheduled speech? The sensation would indeed be novel, and it would take time for him to become accustomed to such a change in conditions.’
But while this mechanical way of doing business results, in my opinion, in confusion and inefficiency in nearly every department of affairs, the harm lhat has been done to the minds of employees, managers, and society at large is, at the same time, almost inconceivable. Only by studying the situation can one understand and account for the artificial relationship that is becoming such a significant factor to-day in American industrial circles.
With the men of the old school on the Fitchburg Railroad I was on very friendly terms, and I was naturally much annoyed at the unceremonious treatment they received at the hands of the new system. In the course of a few years practically every man of my acquaintance, who held a responsible position on the Fitchburg Railroad and who continued to exercise any independence, received his ‘walking papers.’ Most of them, however, fitted themselves easily into the working of the new system, although many of them did not.
It was not so much the loss of their jobs that troubled these men as it was the knowledge that, so far as recognition was concerned, their life-work had been wasted. To a unit of the system at the present day, dismissal is, for the most part, a financial consideration: his salary is the tie that binds; but at the time I am now referring to on railroads it was the abrupt severing of personal and business relationship, and the banishment from spheres of honorable work and usefulness, that cut these old railroad men to the soul. I do not think that people at the present day have any idea what this momentous change in relationship between the employer and the employed really meant, and means, to individuals and to society at large. To illustrate this point I am going to picture the process in actual operation as it concerns one of the old-timers on the Fitchburg Railroad when he was called on to get down and out to make room for the new machinery.
Beginning far back in the seventies, and for about twenty-five years following, one of the best-known men on the railroad was a detective who was known all over New England as ‘ Big Mike.’ In those days even the General Superintendent was distinguished by a descriptive nickname. These titles were always characteristic, but their exact meaning was not always apparent on the surface. For example, Mike was called Big on account of his heartwork on the railroad. By night and day the human side of his detective work was to him the ever-present and all-absorbing consideration. A few days before I left Boston to return to my levers in the switch-tower, Mike came to see the Superintendent on a final visit. The story was then going the rounds that, some time previously, Mike had caught a young fellow in the act of pilfering from a freight car. For reasons of his own, however, instead of sending him to jail in due process of law, Mike, it was said, had simply taken his word of honor in some way, and then let the boy go.
Under the new system, of course, this was a capital offense. The management, he was told, would never countenance such proceedings. What was the use of machinery, that is to say, of clerks, typewriters, lawyers, courts of justice, and prisons, if a simple detective were allowed to settle the case of a young thief in this way. Such at any rate were the excuses and explanations for his discharge, and he had to go.
Just what a great honest heart was capable of doing in this detective business on railroads, however, was probably only known in all its significance to Mike himself. Even to his friends and associates on the railroad the strange fact that he was actually running his department in the life-interest of these embryo criminals was not fully appreciated until some time after his departure. In other words, here and there, in different places in New England, there was actually a scattered school of these young fellows, whom Mike at different times had arrested and, after a personal investigation, had befriended in some way. By hook or by crook he had kept them out of jail, and enabled them to begin life anew with at least one firm friend at their backs. In this way to an extent that is almost incredible, Big Mike had become a private probation officer on his own responsibility. In the younger set of these unfortunates he was particularly interested, for the reason that five out of six of his captures on railroad property were under seventeen years of age. His regard for these youngsters developed in time into a passion for helping them out.
In working out their reformation, however, his method was somewhat unique. To begin with, according to reports, he always managed to give his students a good sound beating as a sort of preliminary to a mutual understanding. One day, for example, he chased one of these embryo thieves, a brawny young fellow, into Walden Pond. A desperate fight in the water ensued. The contest was decided in the detective’s favor, and finally he dragged his beaten antagonist to dry land. Instead of locking him up, however, he took this young culprit to his own home. He kept him on probation for a few months and then engaged him as his personal assistant in the detective business. To-day, this student holds high rank in the profession. In my hearing one day Mike explained his attachment to the boy, somewhat as follows: ‘You see,’ he said, ‘I never in my life came so near getting licked myself and drowned into the bargain, as I did that afternoon in Walden Pond. I had the greatest respect for that kid from the start.’
On the afternoon of his departure, Mike was given a sort of farewell reception. Fifteen or twenty men from the different offices in the old granite building on Causeway Street, Boston, were present. The boys tried to make it pleasant for him, but he refused to be comforted. The work of a lifetime was thrown back in his face and he could not conceal his dejection. His desk or locker was in one corner of the room. Just before he took his departure he placed the contents of this locker on the table. In all there were about fifty relics or mementos of adventure. To each one of us he presented one of these articles as a token of remembrance, accompanying each gift with a fragment of the story connected with it. Throughout the proceeding Mike acted like a broken-hearted man. With that farewell to his old-time associates, this champion of the human side in the detective business passed absolutely from the world of affairs. He went into seclusion and even his best friends saw him no more. One afternoon, however, a year or two ago, the writer, passing a public playground in the South End of Boston, caught sight of him. He was intently watching his old-time favorites, the boys, at play. When he became aware of my approach, he turned abruptly and walked away, and it dawned upon me that Big-hearted Mike, like Timon of Athens, in the old story, had really and finally turned his back upon the world.
The most interesting of all my experiences in life so far have been concerned with the adventures of my pen. My set-back in railroad life had a good deal to do with my literary activity. I soon gave up all thoughts of promotion in the railroad service, and upon my return to the signal tower I devoted nearly all my spare time to the construction of sentences. The thinking man wishes to share his thought with other men, and naturally the first thing for him to do in working out a programme of this kind is to cultivate ways and means of expression. That I was entirely ignorant of the rules of composition, or of the usual requirements of a successful writer, did not bother me for a minute, and as for my knowledge of grammar I did not give it a thought. But, on the other hand, I seemed to possess a faculty, an indefinable something, that was independent of these technical foundations. I could at least tell a plain story in a plain way. And besides backing up my craving for expression, there was somehow and somewhere in the storehouses of my mind an infinite array of sentences of matchless form and magical significance acquired during years of thoughtful reading, and there came to me in course of time a sort of intuition of rightness both of form and substance. To a greater extent than I can possibly explain, a sentence has always been to me a matter of euphony, not only in the measured ring of the words, but also as it were in the sounding significance of the thought. Such at any rate in my own case is the anatomy of style.
Nevertheless, in making the best of my natural equipment, a good deal of hard work was necessary.
To begin with, I simply went to work to practice the arts of condensation and clearness of presentation for their own sakes. The simple satisfaction of being able to put into words what I saw with my eyes, and fancied in my mind, was sufficient reward for the exertion it entailed. And I was assisted in my efforts at the time by a very commonplace incident. Shortly after my return to the switch tower, I wrote a short story on some railroad subject and sent it to a publisher in Boston. It was returned without comment. I then sent the same article by way of a friend to another publisher, and the verdict from him was somewhat as follows: ‘If the man is a switchman, in all frankness I say, let him stick to his job.’
I took the advice in good part and immediately went to work on plans for improvement. I took Shakespeare’s play The Tempest as a sort of model with which to experiment. I studied the plot, the characters, and the scenes. When thoroughly familiar with these features I proceeded to write the story in my own words, being careful to leave nothing out, and weaving the whole into a straightforward narrative, containing about one thousand words. I wrote and rewrote the story at least one hundred times. In this task, my ingenuity in condensation, and in the presentation of my material, was taxed to the utmost. The time and labor, however, were well spent, and then, just as I was hesitating about my next literary move, my attention was called to a short-story announcement in a magazine called the Black Cat.
Ten thousand dollars was to be divided into prizes. Just for the fun of the thing I determined to try my hand at story-writing. I was successful beyond my dreams. Within a year, in prizes and otherwise, I earned about one thousand dollars. For the time being, I put aside all social and industrial problems and abandoned myself to the spell of this kind of intellectual enjoyment.
During the years in which my chief intellectual occupation was story-writing, I was engaged in a few side excursions which were not only interesting in themselves but, as it would now appear, were just what was needed to steer me back into a more substantial groove of intellectual effort. One day, I heard Mr. Sam Jones, then Mayor of Toledo, deliver an address at one of the Mills meetings in the Parker Memorial building in Boston. He made a simple yet inspiring plea for more brotherhood in our social and industrial dealings with each other. I then and there made up my mind to pay him a visit in order to study his ideas in practical operation. The opportunity to do so came in the year 1900. I made the trip to Toledo and spent nearly a week, several hours a day, in the Mayor’s company. I visited his office, his house, his factory, and incidentally I filled my note-book with observations and records of sight-seeing. I said to myself, here is a man who has the time, the opportunity, and the means to work out the problem of social and industrial relationship to a finish. What is his plan and what are the results?
‘To begin with,’he said to me, ‘I consider the whole question of better social and industrial conditions as mainly a moral one. I have given up hoping for or believing in regeneration by party or collective methods of any kind. I am not one of those who think you can vote righteousness or brotherly conduct into anybody or into any nation. All machine methods of uplift, whether in industry or politics, are futile. You might just as well go on to the street and take a dozen men out of a crowd, call them musicians and bid them play, as try to vote a social conscience into any community.'
There was no concealing the fact that the Mayor of Toledo was an enthusiast. He had an absorbing sympathy for struggling, misdirected humanity, and his appeal was for brotherhood, coöperation, not competition, between the units of society. His application of these ideas to the management of his own factory makes very interesting reading.
My brother Dan,’he said to me,’has general charge of the place. we began work here in a small way in 1894, employing six men; now we have over one hundred. We manufacture oil-well appliances, and particularly a sucker rod which is an invention of my own. Yes, —of course it is patented. Do I preach against patents and yet use one? Yes, I am sorry to say Society compels me to. I suppose my excuse is that I can do more good with it than without. A man meets this dilemma in a hundred forms and must figure it out with his own conscience.
‘In running our shop we set out upon a basis of absolute equality. Equality in everything but wages, and I should n’t be surprised if we include even that before long. As it is, to-day we pay a minimum rate of two dollars. We pay no less to anybody. At the same time we have considerable work that could be done just as well by boys for less than half the money, but we don’t want child labor at any price.
‘Again we have no bosses or foremen in the shops. No iron-clad regulations or orders deface the walls. Of course certain things creep in that have to be stopped, for instance newspaper reading during working hours.
’Well, there is a typewritten letter on a pillar yonder explaining the case in a fair way, and it is quite sufficient. It reads like this: “According to our ideas of justice and equality, what is fair for one is fair for all. If one reads a newspaper during working hours all have the same right; obviously this would ruin our common interest; therefore let us all abstain from newspaper reading during our eight hours of work.” ’
In conclusion Mayor Jones summarized his Golden-Rule settlement as follows: ‘A shop with one hundred workers, the day’s work eight hours, a minimum daily wage of two dollars, no bossing or disagreeable features, and a Mutual Insurance plan to which we all belong. For those who remain with us six months a week’s vacation with full pay, and a dividend at Christmas. So far this has amounted to five per cent on the year’s salary. With the money each man receives a letter of Christmas greeting and sympathy from the firm.’
A more inspiring and satisfactory state of affairs cannot well be imagined than this Golden-Rule settlement, and it lasted just as long as Mayor Jones lived to direct its activities and inspire it with his presence. Shortly after his death, however, the shop and the system connected with it fell to pieces, for the simple reason that the plan without the head and the authority to superintend it was at least one hundred years ahead of its time. A few years later, when I again visited Toledo, I found that the whole splendid system had dissolved into its original competitive parts, simply for lack of authority and leadership.
This visit to Toledo broke the spell of short-story writing, although it was not until a year or two later that I finally withdrew from the field. Meanwhile, I spent a great deal of time in studying the social and labor situation and in visiting factories and business establishments to get in touch with actual conditions. It was after considerable experience of this kind in mills, mines, and factories that I finally settled down to a systematic study of the accident situation on the railroads.
When a man becomes simply the henchman of a political party, a labor union, or a corporation, his opinions, as a rule, have a biased foundation. The necessity for a broader conception of individual responsibility and exertion in all the walks of life is at the bottom of the philosophy contained in this autobiography. With this philosophy in the foreground of my mental equipment, I worked from the year 1903 until 1908 in the swatch tower at West Cambridge, studying the service on American railroads from every conceivable point of view. The deeper I looked into the matter of preventable accidents, the more I became convinced of the personal nature of the difficulties with which the problem was surrounded. Here is a situation, I said to myself, that I can at least clarify and explain. On this one word accident I can now concentrate an individuality that for twenty-five years has been trying to find an outlet.
Roughly speaking, my breaking-in, physically, technically, and intellectually, had consumed the best part of twenty-five years. During these years, so far as material or financial betterment was concerned, I had been actually going backward. In South America when I was seventeen years of age I received twice as much salary as I have ever received in the United States. I married when my pay was thirteen dollars a week, and I am sorry that I am obliged to crowd out this inner circle of my story with the simple statement that I look upon my married life as an ample and happy reward for all the disappointments and difficulties contained in the rest of my experience.
Just at present, then, I am concerned with life in the open. Before I managed to get a public hearing on the subject of railroad accidents, I spent two or three years in fruitless efforts. I sent a number of appeals to railroad managers in different parts of the country. I proposed safety leagues, badges, buttons, safety officials on every railroad, anything to excite individual interest in the matter. Most of these ideas are now in practical and successful operation on many railroads. But from only one of the managers in that early period did I receive anything more definite than an acknowledgment of my communications. From Mr. Kruttschnitt, Vice-President of the Southern Pacific, I received by letter the first actual recognition and encouragement. This I think was early in 1906. I followed this up by addressing the legal department of the Boston and Maine Railroad, and the reply I received was as follows:—
I have your letter of March 16th.
I also received yours of the 16th ult., enclosing ' Observations of a Signalman,’ etc. I trust you will pardon me for not acknowledging the receipt of your communication. I have been away most of the time for the last month and have only just had an opportunity to read your remarks. I think it splendid, and I believe that you have hit upon some of the difficulties of our system. I am sending your paper to President Tuttle.
Yours very truly,
EDGAR J. RICH,
This letter led by a simple evolution of events to the publication in the year 1908 of The Confessions of a Railroad Signalman.
Mr. Rich, of course, had no knowledge whatever of my writings until they appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, but it was his intense loyalty to the railroad, together with his comprehensive conception of the true interests of the public and of the employee, that strengthened my own position in the matter, and renewed my devotion to the work in hand.
It was in the month of June, 1907, that I finally took the bull by the horns. In the June number of the Atlantic Monthly an article was published entitled ’The Personal Factor in the Labor Problem.’ I knew just as well as the writer of this article all about President Tuttle’s kindly feeling toward railroad men. To Mr. Tuttle belonged all the credit for the harmonious relations that obtained at the time on the Boston and Maine railroad between management and men. But unfortunately, harmony was not the only consideration, either then or now, in the problems concerning efficiency on railroads, although politicians and the leaders of labor unions may be of that opinion.
At any rate, after carefully reading the article in question, I went right into Boston and requested an interview with the editor of the Atlantic Monthly. I said to him, ‘Do you know what this so-called harmony on the railroad really means? Would you like to follow its trail, and note by the way its actual significance in terms of service, —the relationship for instance between this kind of harmony and the railroad accident ? ’
The nature of the editor’s answer can be gathered from the articles that followed in the pages of the Atlantic. Leaving these articles then to tell their own story of my subsequent activities,
I now find myself toward the close of my autobiography face to face with the present day and its problems. As I look at the labor situation for instance, society is just now in a precious pickle. The need of the hour is for rightminded people who understand the situation to describe it without political or sentimental prejudice.
Thd alienation of the employer from the employee, one or two phases of’ which I have described in this chapter, has borne fruit. Organized labor of its free will, and organized management, to a great extent, perhaps, by compulsion, have substituted machinery for personality, and these machines are now clashing — with results that are known to all men. In describing the situation as it should be described it will be necessary to use, as it were, a chisel instead of a pen.
From the point of view of the individualist, then, the tendency of modern industrial methods and legislation is to reënslave the world. To a great extent this conclusion is arrived at from a study of the excessive demands and unfair policies of organized labor. The first item in this modern industrial programme is the surrender of the individual workingman. He is called upon to sink his industrial personality and to stifle his industrial conscience in the interests of his union, or his class. This class doctrine is not hidden under a bushel. It is proclaimed at every labor meeting, you read it in countless books, it is openly preached on street corners, and in all public places of assembly. Finally the movement receives support from an army of well-meaning reformers, the victims of imaginative sociology, who are next in turn to be doctored personally and professionally by some of their own theories.
The modern industrial policy to which I refer says in effect: We propose to run the earth; that is to say, to name our own terms, to nominate our own managers, to regulate our own wages and conditions, to feed, clothe, and carry the masses of the people, according to the plans and standards of the industrial commonwealth which it is our purpose ultimately to establish. We have the numbers, the votes, the organization, the concentration, in a word the federation; consequently in every sense of the term the future belongs to us.
Beginning with the worker himself, the process of enslavement spreads outwards. It overshadows the press, the pulpit and the platform. The limitations it has imposed upon management are as glaring as they are dangerous. On the railroads the problems of efficiency and safety must now pass through the sieve of industrial expediency. This modern industrial policy says to the common people, to the great mass of consumers, ‘Be with us or go hungry.’ To the traveler, ‘Be with us or walk.’ To the politician as well as to the inoffensive voter, it offers an unquestioning alliance, or the private life. To the ministers of the Gospel it presents the ultimatum: ‘Consider our terms or consider religion as a dead issue.’ It invites the educator to twist his philosophy and teaching in its direction, or to be publicly branded as a mere academic or intellectual. To employers, managers, inventors, pioneers, and capitalists, it holds forth no olive branch or alternative. To all nonaffiliated industrial units such as these it merely suggests a return to the wood pile. The majority of thinking people are not yet ready to interpret the sounds and the rumbling in the distance in this light, and many of those who have the requisite knowledge and insight are politically or industrially enslaved by the difficulties and delicacies of their positions. To all doubters of the reality and truth of the picture I have drawn of present conditions, I have but one word of advice, Circumspice.
In a recent issue of the London Daily Mail, the noted novelist, Mr. Galsworthy, informs his readers that in his opinion ‘ democracy at present, not only in England, but in America, offers the spectacle of a man running down a road followed at a more and more respectful distance by his own soul.’
From the literary point of view this is certainly a very attractive statement, but it is far from being a correct diagnosis of the situation. On the contrary, as it seems to me, democracy in America to-day is making heroic efforts to keep up with its soul, and this soul in many directions is actually getting ahead in the race.
Digestion and assimilation are problems of the social as well as of the individual stomach. In any period of civilization an overdose of soul can anticipate a day of reckoning just as inevitably as an overdose of tyranny or corruption.
Every once in a while Society gets an unexpected reminder of these facts. Just at present, for example, ideas of humanity and of social justice are everywhere clashing with authority. In religious and educational matters, in the home and in every field of industry, Society is now confronted with the all-important problem of reasonable and necessary discipline. The situation in a general way owes its vitality to the benevolent intentions of hosts of earnest and conscientious people who are now determined to give poverty a helping hand and labor its due share of reward. In practical, every-day operation, however, this kind of moral enthusiasm, generous and praiseworthy as it surely is, has some of the dangers as well as many of the useful properties that are associated with steam. And unfortunately for the proper control of this all-comprehensive and irresistible moral pressure, civilization in America to-day is in a tremendous hurry. Under stress of mental and moral overstrain — and here we have the spectacle of the man running down the road trying to keep pace with his soul — there seems to be no time, no opportunity, for the patient consideration of social and industrial safeguards. In fact, the thinking process of Americans in general is now being managed by a few specialists as scientifically as the laboring process. The men who coin political catch phrases, introduce moving pictures, teach systems of industrial efficiency, or dictate opinions and policies to be followed by millions of working people, are all trying to make it easy to think as well as easy to work.
Meanwhile, Society itself is in a spendthrift mood. It is intoxicated with a wealth of material resources and moral opportunities. Just at present it is supremely interested in the laboring classes. Every practical manifestation of this public sympathy, however, is nowadays quickly converted by its recipients into terms of political and industrial power; and this power is now frankly and openly at odds with authority, and with personal and property rights of nearly every description. The extent of industrial power acquired in this way, on the railroads for instance, can be illustrated by a matter-of-fact statement made recently to an audience in Massachusetts by Chief Stone of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. He spoke substantially as follows: —
‘ Practically speaking, I am not responsible to any one. I have so much power I really don’t know what to do with it. It is simply running over.’
Now I think it will take but a few words to convince open-minded people that the industrial chaos at the present day, a partial picture of which I have drawn, contains within itself the germs of reconciliation and cure. The labor union to-day flourishes and commits excesses by virtue of power intrusted to it by the spirit of humanity, which has become the sign-manual of progress of every description in the twentieth century. This spirit of humanity or, in other words, this soul of democracy, which Mr. Galsworthy would have Americans look upon as a tail-ender of some kind, is actually in alliance with every manifestation or echo of righteousness that is able to express itself in any way throughout the length and breadth of civilized society. The initial outburst of pent-up feeling put in motion by this alliance has already swept scores of social and industrial disgraces from the map of society; but in the natural order of things, there is wholesale demoralization in the chaotic yet fundamentally healthy situation that remains. The next few years in America are to be an era of renaissance. The soul of democracy is now beginning to take stock of its handiwork. For one thing it will, in the near future, place a restraining hand quietly but firmly on the shoulder of organized labor, and in doing so it will give millions of other toilers a greater measure of social and industrial justice.
Finally, the writer, whose life-story my readers have been following in these pages, has this parting word to his brother individualists, everywhere:
And crowd your canvas,
And, ere it vanishes,
Over the margin,
After it, follow it,
Follow the Gleam.’