June 20, 1938 (18th Parliament, 3rd Session)


James Shaver Woodsworth

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)


No; sitting in a post office is a peaceable thing, and William Lyon Mackenzie resorted to arms. His grandson the Prime Minister spends the week-end in lauding the action which his grandfather took, and yet his government here is using violence against men who themselves have used no violence and are simply protesting against intolerable conditions. I could not but think that this very well illustrates the aptness of those words of James Russell Lowell in The Present Crisis:
'Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves
Of a legendary virtue carved upon our fathers' graves,
Worshippers of light ancestral make the present light a crime;-
The trouble is:
We see dimly in the present what is small and what is great,
Slow of faith, how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate.
I will not read all the poem, but I would
commend to every hon. member, if he does not know them, these verses, which are great in sentiment, whether or not they are regarded as the greatest among poems:
They have rights who dare maintain them;
we are traitors to our sires,
Smothering in their holy ashes freedom's new-lit altar-fires;
Shall vie make their creed our jailor? Shall we, in our haste to slay,
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of to-day?
New occasions teach new duties: time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of truth;
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea.
Nor attempt the future's portal with the past's blood-rusted key.
If there was anything in the career of William Lyon Mackenzie which deserves commendation to-day, much greater is the commendation which we should give to these unemployed men who have the courage to stand out and let the public know the plight of themselves and their fellows.
Somebody behind me suggested that this police action was taken on Sunday. I am afraid I am not a Sabbatarian. I do not care much whether it was done on Sunday or another day, but I am concerned in the question whether it is all in keeping with the real spirit of Christianity. I have been quoting Lowell. I could not but think of yet another of his poems, called A Parable, the words of which were instilled into me in my childhood:
Said Christ our Lord, "I will go and see How the men, my brethren, believe in me," He passed not again through the gate of birth,
But made himself known to the children of earth.
He wandered about and everywhere:
With carpets of gold the ground they spread Wherever the Son of Man should tread,
And in palace-chambers lofty and rare They lodged him, and served him with kingly fare.
Unemployment-Vancouver Situation
And so on, and so on.
But still, wherever his steps they led,
The Lord in sorrow bent down his head,
And from under the heavy foundation-stones, The son of Mary heard bitter groans.
And in church, and palace, and judgment-hall,
He marked great fissures that rent the wall, And opened wider and yet more wide As the living foundation heaved and sighed.
I pass over the next stanzas:
Then Christ sought out an artisan,
A low-browed, stunted, haggard man,
And a motherless girl, whose fingers thin Pushed from her faintly want and sin.
These set he in the midst of them,
And as they drew back their garment-hem, For fear of defilement, "Lo, here," said he, "The images ye have made of me!"
We have had these thousands of poor unemployed men, not merely in Vancouver, but in eveiy one of our great industrial centres, and the policy of this government, acquiesced in by its supporters, is degrading them. Then when in desperation they take some overt action, in the name of justice we rise and say that some repressive measure must be taken.
The Prime Minister has the audacity to say that the government "has shown patience and forbearance." Patience and forbearance! The only patience and forbearance they have shown is to do the natural and easy thing- that is, to do nothing. What about the patience and forbearance of these men who for the last month have been lying on newspapers in a public building, sending out some of their number to beg as did the old time friars, from door to door. Begging for charity- do you think these men like to live on charity? Not a bit of it. They want work and wages, but under present conditions they cannot have work and wages.
The fact I wish to emphasize is that notwithstanding the action of yesterday the problem remains still the same. It is true that the men are out of the art gallery and the post office, but the problem remains still the same. I suppose the Prime Minister or the Minister of Justice will tell us how bad these men are and offer some excuse for government policy. I remember very well a few years ago when the then Minister of Justice got up and told me that the penitentiaries were fine; he read reports from his officials that stated there was nothing much wrong. He made out a lot of our charges to be very foolish. And that was not very long ago. I do not refer to the present Minister of Justice but his predecessor. And now there comes a report which fully substantiates the serious reports of the prisoners and others whom we had quoted. I suppose that now,
after these months and years have gone by, something will be done; but why should not something have been done then? Why should we be tied by a bureaucratic practice that tends always to give official reports priority over anything else?
The fact is that the present dominion government recognized responsibility towards the men, because some months ago they provided work projects that gave the men a few months' work. Then when spring came the men were turned off. I admit that under normal conditions it is probable that the men could have found work in the spring, because normally work opens in the spring. But notwithstanding the speech of the Minister of Finance (Mr. Dunning), I submit that for the great majority of the workers in the country times are anything but prosperous, and though there may have been more work than a year ago there are still large numbers without work; and for those without work the situation is as serious as it ever was. It may be that the curve is rising and more profits are being made. On the other hand, for these unemployed men the position is stationary; they cannot sink much lower than they are to-day.
The government, I assert, recognized its responsibility and provided work for them and then suddenly turned them off, washed their hands of the responsibility and left the problem to be dealt with by the city of Vancouver. I suggest very seriously to the government that even at this stage the least they can do for these men is to provide them with shelter and food until such time as work can be found for them. That is the least that can be done for the men. A number of them found shelter in a public building and a number received food through the generosity of the citizens of Vancouver. Let me repeat that the least that this government can do is to provide for these men shelter and food until such time as work can be given them. Unless the government does that, I would feel like warning the government that we have not yet seen the most serious troubles that may occur on the west coast. I suppose the Minister of Justice, who is muttering something to himself, will presently get up and accuse me of inciting to trouble.

Full View