Dans une civilisation où la technique et les loisirs peuvent constituer une menace à l'émancipation des travailleurs comme à l'épanouissement de leur personnalité, le syndicalisme peut se révéler une ressource formidable pour le relèvement culturel des masses laborieuses et le développement d'une culture ouvrière respectueuse de toutes les valeurs humaines.
Trade Unionism and Culture
Our industrial civilization is characterized by the power of technique and the importance of leisure time. These two factors may serve in the emancipation of man, enabling him to gain greater domination over creation or, on the other hand, may contribute to his debasement.
Faced with these two outsanding problems, it is the fate of man himself which is at stake, with his dignity, his personality, his liberty. The whole thing reduces itself to the question of knowing whether one or the other is going to carry man along to his destruction, or whether, thanks to the unsuspected possibilities which they also present, they will provide the masses with opportunities for culture.
The traditional vocation of the labour movement has always been to aspire to freeing men from inhuman conditions and bringing them an income and security. It could play an irreplaceable part in correcting the evil consequences of the domination of technique and the poor use of leisure.
The specific objective of trade unionism is primarily economic. But it is not merely an association of material interests of one part of the population. It represents a mode of life, a method of expression and of evolution of the human person in its moral as well as economic exigencies. As a matter of fact, by its very nature, it is a reaction against individualism, it appeals to solidarity, it calls for an orderly social life m which respect for the dignity of man, the fair distribution of goods and the progress of the individual are the conditions in labour relations and even in the whole of society. It constantly brings up the problem of liberty, justice and solidarity.
Moreover, trade unionism which confined itself to complete conformity with whatever is accepted around it would soon become indurated, and would no longer have any reason for existence.
The amalgation of labour organizations may involve a great danger — the risk of reducing union members to mere ciphers, as certain mass-production concerns have been blamed for doing.
Nevertheless the labour organization, properly speaking, is the most natural grouping of the workers, in the sense that it is made for them and that in it they are most at home.
It is a medium which is capable of satisfying their human aspirations and developing their individual and collective conscience. If it is really democratic in its acts, the individual worker will be led, in accordance with his desires and ability, to assume social responsibilities, to experience community life, and, in this way, to serve the whole of society better.
As a matter of fact, just as union activities, while remaining specifically economic, run over into the social and political fields, so they cannot fail to reach the cultural, the human sphere.
Up to the present time, the labour movement in our country has not completely ignored the education of its members. It can be stated that, of all professional groups, it is certainly the one which has put forth the most efforts in this field.
The labour movement has always been interested in raising the cultural level of the people. At its very beginning, in all countries, in America, and even in the Province of Quebec, it was seen not only to call for an opportunity for all children to attend primary school, but, and in this it made the first move, as in many other fields, to the great scandal of many people, it asked the State for free education and compulsory school attendance. It took many years before this claim was satisfied. Today the trade unions have allies in other circles who advocate an opportunity for secondary and even university education for all who have talent, regardless of their financial means. As we all know, a great deal of ground remains to be covered before this legitimate wish is realized in our country. Unfortunately there are still people who, although they do not put it quite so blundy, consider money as a valuable citrerion of selection to open the way to the higher levels of education.
To reach its cultural objectives the labour movement must not keep apart from the rest of society. It must co-operate with institutions engaged in cultural activities in any sphere whatsoever. But, on the other hand, all such institutions should begin by accepting organized labour as a respectable movement which has its normal place in our society and should recognize that it has a part to play other than that of demanding wage increases and regulating working conditions.
Unfortunately, it is far from certain in our circles that we are really ready for such co-operation. It is to be hoped that prejudice will disappear in the not too distant future and that we will even go so far as to ask the unions for this cooperation.
In a civilization in which technique and leisure time may constitute a threat to the emancipation of the workers and to the development of their personality, trade unionism, because of its economic power, its organizational strength and the undeniable influence which it exerts over a large part of the population, reveals itself as a tremendous means of cultural revival for the working classes and for the development of a labour culture which respects all values.