June 10, 1935 (17th Parliament, 6th Session)


James Shaver Woodsworth



You can talk about a chain gang, but we all remember that in the streets the automobiles wait until the light changes and then almost as in a chain gang go forward together until they are stopped again. I think that is a close parallel to the situation we face in dealing with legislation of this kind. In the old days we had more or less free competition which developed certain qualities in the individual that were good1; it helped to develop the present type of economic life. But it also developed a great many abuses and caused an enormous amount of suffering. Now that accidents have become so frequent and the traffic is so badly congested, surely the time has come that we should in some intelligent way devise regulations that will enable us to get on with the business of the world. That I take it is what we are trying to do to a limited extent by this bill. Gradually we must get rid of that old time pioneer psychology and develop a social psychology, recognizing that we are living in a cooperative world and must therefore act in a cooperative fashion.

Trade Commission-Mr. Woodsworth
There is one other point I should like to mention. I said I felt like voting for this legislation because it is at least an attempt to do something to meet the existing situation. Frankly, I am dreadfully disappointed with the attitude of the Liberal party throughout this entire parliament. They have stood pat, they have refused to give their own solution; they know that the problem is there- if they do not the whole country does-yet they refuse to lift a little finger to help solve that problem. It would seem they have no solution. The only ones among them who are vocal say: Let us go back to the good old days of free competition, laissez-faire and all the rest. But that is not good enough for to-day. So, although I have not any great confidence in the effectiveness of legislation of this kind, I welcome it as at least a move in the right direction.
The fact is that we are facing what the old socialist writers used to call the inherent contradictions in the present capitalistic system. We cannot make it work very much longer. I had an instance of that only the other day, someone writing me in regard to the enforcement of the minimum wage. In trying to enforce the act we are turning a lot of girls out of work, as the employers cannot afford to pay the wage. I can see some ground for the contention that the hon. member for Weyburn brings forward so often, that is the difficulty of enforcing this type of legislation, the ineffectiveness of it. But I differ from him in that, while he wants to go back, I want to go forward. He wants to go back to a system that is outgrown. We cannot go back; the only thing is to go forward. And the Conservative party, contrary to its name, has ventured at least to look forward. I do not think it is looking forward very far; I do not think its proposals are going to get us very far, but at the same time it is saying: We must make some attempt to solve this problem. But in working out its policies it is going to be faced with these "inherent contradictions of the present system." For example, the attempt to do anything towards enforcing fair practices may easily penalize certain more efficient firms. I think probably that would oe its most dangerous effect. That is one of the dangers connected with it. In the United States, to which reference was made earlier this evening, we have had millions and indeed billions of dollars poured out in an effort to make this system work. The effort has been to put purchasing power into the hands of the people. That seemed very essential; I believe it to be so, but so far that effort has not been successful. Instead of raising real wages and
thus the standard of living of the people, it has succeeded only in putting up prices and creating greater dividends. Whether we like it or not to-day we are faced with fundamental contradictions in the system. Capitalism cannot be made to work very much longer; that is at least my opinion, and that is why I am advocating changes in the system.
It is not that I want to have a regimented population, as a matter of fact, we are regimented to-day by those people in St. James street, in Wall street and other financial centres; we are under their control. I want a cooperative system under which we will be free. Our present system-though collective [DOT]-we do not control; we have an overhead control. What I advocate is a control exercised by the people themselves in a democratic-fashion, a control that will no longer permit a few people to own the very tools by which we live, the machinery through which wealth is produced, but under which that machinery and those tools of production will be under the control of the people themselves.
That is the viewpoint I want to present once more to-night. I do not think it is understood by the majority of our people, but I feel confident that larger numbers are coming to understand. The best we can do for the time being is to seek to interpret these little pieces of legislation as movements in the direction of-indeed a part of-the larger movement which I have tried to outline tonight.
I propose to vote for the bill, though criticizing some of its clauses. I do so in the hope that it may prevent a few of the abuses that now exist and may lead us a little further along the road of reconstruction. Further it may help carry forward our education by showing the people generally how unworkable is any regulative measure under the existing system.

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