Believing that the social question is at bottom a religious question, we
deem it of happy augury to the world that in your Encyclical the most influential
of all religious teachers has directed attention to the condition of labor.
But while we appreciate the many wholesome truths you utter, while we feel,
as all must feel, that you are animated by a desire to help the suffering
and oppressed, and to put an end to any idea that the church is divorced
from the aspiration for liberty and progress, yet it is painfully obvious
to us that one fatal assumption hides from you the cause of the evils
you see, and makes it impossible for you to propose any adequate remedy.
assumption is, that private property in land is of the same nature and has
the same sanctions as private property in things produced by labor. In spite
of its undeniable truths and its benevolent spirit, your Encyclical shows
you to be involved in such difficulties as a physician called to examine
one suffering from disease of the stomach would meet should he begin with
a refusal to consider the stomach.
Prevented by this assumption from seeing the true cause, the only causes
you find it possible to assign for the growth of misery and wretchedness
are the destruction of working-men’s guilds in the last century, the
repudiation in public institutions and laws of the ancient religion, rapacious
usury, the custom of working by contract, and the concentration of trade.
Such diagnosis is manifestly inadequate to account for evils that are alike
felt in Catholic countries, in Protestant countries, in countries that adhere
to the Greek communion and in countries where no religion is professed by
the state; that are alike felt in old countries and in new countries; where
industry is simple and where it is most elaborate; and amid all varieties
of industrial customs and relations.
But the real cause will be clear if you will consider that since labor must
find its workshop and reservoir in land, the labor question is but another
name for the land question, and will reexamine your assumption that private
property in land is necessary and right.
See how fully adequate is the cause I have pointed out. The most important
of all the material relations of man is his relation to the planet he inhabits,
and hence, the “impious resistance to the benevolent intentions of
his Creator,” which, as Bishop Nulty says, is involved in private property
in land, must produce evils wherever it exists. But by virtue of the law, “unto
whom much is given, from him much is required,” the very progress of
civilization makes the evils produced by private property in land more wide-spread
What is producing throughout the civilized world that condition of things
you rightly describe as intolerable is not this and that local error or minor
mistake. It is nothing less than the progress of civilization itself; nothing
less than the intellectual advance and the material growth in which our century
has been so preeminent, acting in a state of society based on private property
in land; nothing less than the new gifts that in our time God has been showering
on man, but which are being turned into scourges by man’s “impious
resistance to the benevolent intentions of his Creator.” ....
Your Holiness will remember the great London dock strike of two years ago,
which, with that of other influential men, received the moral support of
that Prince of the Church whom we of the English speech hold higher and dearer
than any prelate has been held by us since the blood of Thomas à Becket
stained the Canterbury altar.
In a volume called “The Story of the Dockers’ Strike,” written
by Messrs. H. Llewellyn Smith and Vaughan Nash, with an introduction by Sydney
Buxton, M.P., which advocates trades-unionism as the solution of the labor
question, and of which a large number were sent to Australia as a sort of
official recognition of the generous aid received from there by the strikers,
I find in the summing up, on pages 164-165, the following:
If the settlement lasts, work at the docks will be more regular, better
paid, and carried on under better conditions than ever before. All this
will be an unqualified gain to those who get the benefit from it. But another
result will undoubtedly be to contract the field of employment and lessen
the number of those for whom work can be found. The lower-class casual
in the end, find his position more precarious than ever before, in proportion
to the increased regularity of work which the “fitter” of the
laborers will secure. The effect of the organization of dock labor, as of
all classes of labor, will be to squeeze out the residuum. The loafer, the
cadger, the failure in the industrial race — the members of “Class
B” of Mr. Charles Booth’s hierarchy of social classes — will
be no gainers by the change, but will rather find another door closed
against them, and this in many cases the last door to employment.
I am far from wishing that your Holiness should join in that pharisaical
denunciation of trades-unions common among those who, while quick to point
out the injustice of trades-unions in denying to others the equal right to
work, are themselves supporters of that more primary injustice that denies
the equal right to the standing-place and natural material necessary to work.
What I wish to point out is that trades-unionism, while it may be a partial
palliative, is not a remedy; that it has not that moral character which could
alone justify one in the position of your Holiness in urging it as good in
itself. Yet, so long as you insist on private property in land what better
can you do?
... read the whole letter