March 15, 1926 (15th Parliament, 1st Session)


James Shaver Woodsworth



When the House
took recess I was giving some of the budgets which had been prepared to shew the amount necessary in order that a family might maintain a decent standard of living. Perhaps it might ibe of interest to give the figures with regard to what employees in this country are actually paid. In the 'Canada Year Book, 1924, at page 707, we find the wages in the Canadian manufacturing industries in
1921 and 1922 were:
The average earnings of the 74,884 salaried employees covered in 1922 were 1,787 of the 387,689 factory hands, 937, and of the two classes together, $1,075. In 1921 salaried employees averaged $1,819, wage earners, $996, and all employees, $1,133.
The number of male workers reported increased in
1922 by 3.5 per cent, while the number of female workers was greater by 11.1 per cent. Out of every 1,000 persons employed by manufacturers in 1922, 755 were male and 235 were females: in the preceding year the ratio was 778 to 222.
With regard to the female employees, at least in seven of our provinces there is provision for a minimum wage, but so far, except in British Columbia, there is no provision for minimum wage in the case of male employees. Now, it may be said that there is a very widte discrepancy between the amounts that are considered necessary for a decent standard df living and the amounts actually paid. That is true, and the community is undoubtedly carrying the burden. People of small wage manage to get along-some of them at least-by immense sacrifices to themselves and to their children, entailing a tremendous burden upon the community. I am going to read t-o the House a paragraph or two very typical of the descriptions which are given of the condition of the poorer families of Canada round about Christmas time; we find similar cases in almost all our large cities. The one to which I refer is

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taken from the Toronto Daily Star of Monday, December 14, 1925. It reads
Largest Weekly Wage $24 Since Man Started To Work
"If I could make $20 a week regularly I would be happy."
A sick and doleful man, tossing restlessly underneath soiled bed clothes. His feverish eyes turned in the direction of his wife, who was standing silently in the far corner of the damp and dim little room. She gravely nodded her corroboration.
"kes," she said, "we could do nicely on that."
It didn't seem much to ask of the world-$20 per week for a man slaving in a tannery.
"I once earned $24 a week for awhile," reflected the sick man, as if that time were the financial oasis of his life, when it was all smooth sailing.
Five To Support
But with five people to support, rent to pay, doctor's bills to meet, food to buy it could hardly be called a princely allowance. '
This is another of those families that have never got out of the mire. There are three little girls in the family, all, from outward appearances, in various stages of anemia. There was also a little brother, but he died.
It is not to be wondered at if they do look like children whose parents have been skating on thin ice. The $24-a-week days are a thing of the past, and now the father's total earnings for a week cannot be more than $18, and generally he loses two, or perhaps more, days a week. If lie loses two his wages are $12. His rent is $5. Divide the balance by five and you get $1.40. With Jive people getting no more than that each week somebody has to go without.
Behind In Hent
Sometimes they get three months behind in the rent, and then it takes them a great deal longer to recover. Invariably they are in debt with the doctor, paying him off sometimes at the rate of 50 cents a week.
This as a typical situation for one of the families on the list of The Star Santa Claus Fund. It is not an isolated case; quite the contrary. There are thousands like it.
The record in any city of any size would show thousands of cases very similar in character to this. That is what it means to the family living on low wages. Just think what a great burden this entails on the community at large. I believe that any medical man will bear me out-and there are a very large number of medical men in. this House -that to no small extent the patients in our hospitals coming from the poorer homes in our cities are there because of the lack of proper care at home. Those who have had anything to do with poor relief in our cities know what large sums are given by the various institutions and societies and by the churches toward the support of the people who are obliged to live below the line. I know of one society in my own city which has had to consider seriously. the question whether or not it was right to supplement by charity the wages paid to the working people there-wages that are altogether inadequate
to support them in anything like a decent standard. We have also the same testimony from our prisons and penitentiaries. A considerable number of the inmates of these institutions were tempted to crime simply because they had to keep themselves on less than would maintain a decent standard of living.
I remember some years ago trying a little experiment of my own. I requested the health officers to give me a spot map showing the location of the contagious diseases in my city over a number of months. I then went to the associated charities and asked them to prepare me a similar map showing where their cases requiring relief were located, and I asked the juvenile court for a spot map indicating in what districts cases of juvenile crime were prevalent. I placed these maps side by side and I found that they were almost identical in detail. I do not know which is the most fundamental-the want of health, or poverty, or juvenile crime, but I would say that the three were closely connected. And the worst is not the effect on the individual or even on the individual family but the effect on the younger children and the coming generation. If we give less than a decent standard of living we simply mortgage the future generation.
Objections to anything like a minimum wage come from two sources. There is sometimes objection on the part of labour itself. It is feared by some labour leaders that the minimum wage might tend to become the maximum, and that, I think, might be a real danger if we proposed to fix a minimum wage in every industry. But I am not talking of a minimum for each industry; all I advocate is a basic wage that would apply to all men, a wage below which it is not safe to allow any family to live. There is also an objection from industry; we are told that industry cannot bear the burden. Well, I suggest that so long as we have such accumulation of wealth as we have in this country we need not worry a great deal about this matter. So long as there are a few people who possess large fortunes while the masses in Canada have comparatively little there is no reason why these masses ought not to have their standards raised. You have but to glance at the income tax returns to realize the very unequal distribution of wealth in Canada, and so long as industries are earning large dividends, so long as our financial institutions are prosperous, there is no reason whatever why individual workmen should subsist on low standards.
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In my opinion any industry that cannot pay its employees a decent wage is parasitic, and that industry might just as well pass out. Surely if an industry is worth carrying on it ought to afford a decent living to the people who are engaged in it. As I said a little while ago, we ought to regard wages as a first charge on industry. As it is to-day, we consider interest as a prior charge; rents are regarded as a prior charge and we have profits in various forms as a prior charge as well. We must reverse this way of thinking, and recognize that wages, which mean the very life of the employee, ought to constitute a first charge on industry. As a matter of fact wre do not treat our employees on as good a principle as we do the lower animals, for we have on the statute books laws for the prevention of cruelty to animals. A man is not allowed to work a horse and not give it proper food; he is not even allowed to keep a wild animal in confinement without adequately caring for it. Yet we have many people in this country who are working for anything but an adequate wage, a wage which would enable them to provide even the barest necessities of life. We ought surely at least to go as far as that.
It is said that dreadful things may happen if this or any other reform, for that matter, is carried out, but I would point out that no dire results have attended the minimum wage for women. It may be that certain employers have been unable to engage the girls they would have liked to employ, and it may be that the costs of production have been somewhat increased and, of course, passed on to the public. But we are coming to recognize that on the whole no serious results have ensued from the enactment of minimum wage laws for women. Why therefore should there be any danger in enacting a similar law for men who have families to support? I am again speaking of a basic wage; I am thinking of those classes of men who generally have been unable to organize themselves into trade unions and who therefore are the most helpless in our community life.
Perhaps I might pause for a moment to answer a little more fully a suggestion that has been made, that in the event of a minimum wage law being carried into effect there might be a danger of there not being enough work available for those seeking employment. I would call the attention of the House to a very interesting treatment of the Economics of Unemployment by Mr. J. A. Hobson, the well known British economist. In this book issued about a year or so ago he takes the

point of view that on the whole the present organization of industry has really allowed for an altogether undue proportion of savings, which have been put into fixed capital-that is to say, into factories, railways and so on, and that whilst undoubtedly this great piling up of capital that has gone on in the past has conduced to build up our present civilization, the time is about come when this is in danger of becoming top-heavy, and when, if we wish to save this system, we shall have to alter it very materially.
His line of reasoning is something like this. Supposing we have a factoiy turning out $100,000 worth of goods, and supposing $50,000 worth of that output is paid in the form of wages or for raw materials-I am not giving exact proportions; this is simply to illustrate -the owner of the factory is able to retain for himself $50,000. He does not spend that foolishly on himself, as a good many who are opposed to the system imagine he does; he puts the greater part of it back into the business. He does it because he follows tradition; he does it because his competitors are doing so; he does it because of the very necessity of his growing trade. Therefore he puts a good portion of his profits back into his business, and next year, we will say, with his enlarged factoiy he turns out $200,000 worth of goods. Now he is able to retain a half of that, $100,000, with which he builds new factories. This process continues until on all sides we have very large and extensive means of production. Ultimately he seeks investments abroad, and the same process is repeated there. One hundred or one hundred and fifty years ago this capitalist system, control of factories in the hands of the few, came into existence, and undoubtedly it has produced most remarkable results in the extension of factory and railway investments all over the world.
But the point is that now we have set up factories in China, in India and in other places, all organized on the same principle, all turning out huge quantities of goods for which markets have to be sought. Mr. Hobson has come to the conclusion-and without doubt he is one of the leading economists in Great Britain-that there is an altogether undue proportion of what is produced put into fixed capital. The workers have not sufficient purchasing power to buy back what they have produced. He suggests that if a larger proportion were put into commodities we would start industry going again. I am giving that theory for what it is worth. It is not altogether the theory that I should like to advance, it is not altogether the theory that is held by

Legal Minimum Wage
the group which I represent, but I give it because it comes from a man of undoubted authority in the economic world.
I think there is one particular in which he is correct-that the ownership of the means of production being in the hands of a few has, as Keynes clearly pointed out in his book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, enabled capitalists to retain the greater part of the cake which they and the workers in the community have been producing. That has been going on for a good many years, and it has been satisfactory perhaps from the world's standpoint for some time, but we are fast coming to the point where those countries which formerly were the markets for our goods are now becoming our competitors in the manufacture of similar goods. In a word, we are being thrown back upon ourselves, and it is well worth our considering whether from the larger economic aspects we would not, as Hobson has suggested, gain by distributing a great deal more in the form of wages and services than we are doing at the present time.
However, I am not arguing from the larger economic aspects of the question. I am trying to look at the situation from the standpoint of the individual family and of the groups that to-day are living on too small a wage. I would ask that to-night this House should in some way provide means for the discussion of this question and for the carrying out of the avowed purposes of the clauses in the Versailles treaty. Perhaps I may be permitted to quote to the government from a document that I have been quoting to the House pretty regularly at intervals for the last four years. The National Liberal convention in August 1919 put itself on record with regard to labour and industry as follows:
Resolved that the committee recommends that the National Liberal convention accept in their entirety as a part of the Liberal platform in the spirit they have been framed and in so far as the special circumstances of the country will permit, the terms of the labour convention and general principles associated with the League of Nations and incorporated in the conditions of peace.
These methods and principles for regulating labour conditions so set forth in the treaty are as follows:
1. The guiding .principles that labour should not be regarded merety as a commodity or article of commerce.
3. The payment to the employed of a wage adequate to maintain a reasonable standard of life as this is understood in their time and country.
I think, Mr. Speaker, that in presenting this resolution and asking that the guarantees of the Peace treaty should be made statutory, I am simply asking that the programme of the Liberal party-now the government of this country-should be carried out.

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