Ray Stannard Baker
The Outlook/November 9, 1901
SINCE early morning German workingmen with their wives and children have been coming up from the crowded, red-tiled houses of the German town where I am visiting, loitering across patchwork fields, and reaching at last the hillsides. They are clad in Sunday best, poor, but neat and clean, with bright patches of color and a certain engaging quaintness of style. The man of the family goes first, his hard black hands clasped behind him, and his wife follows with the children. She is talking in the mellow German intonation with a neighbor further down the hill, who also has a flock of children. Occasionally they stop to rest for a time on one of the green seats provided by some Verein, and look out over the familiar valley where the town lies asleep in the June sunshine with the lazy breath of banked fires rising from a hundred tall chimneys. It is an orderly gathering, even to the good-humored, prankless children—as orderly as the well-kept paths, the pine-trees set in prim, clean rows, the white signs which indicate the direction and provide other advice and warning—all the work of a motherly, if severe, government. Thus they stroll upward along the paths, which, though devious, have a way of coming out invariably at a pleasant little inn with tables set outside among the trees. And they never end until the workman is just thirsty enough, and not too thirsty.
Here white-aproned waiters rush about with tall wooden mugs of pale beer and sandwiches of Wienerwurst. In a corner a funny little orchestra, three fat men each with a mug of beer before him, is playing two violins and a ’cello. Among these familiar surroundings the workman gathers his family at a table and orders a mug of beer; one does well for all of them, and they drink out of it in turn. When it is empty they have it filled again; three or four in the afternoon, costing ten or fifteen cents (for it is a cheap beer, containing little alcohol), are quite enough to give them a glow of friendliness, so that toward evening, when the singing begins, they may all lend their voices with vigor and enjoyment. Here, too, come the young lovers hand in hand or with arms around each other, as if it were the most commonplace thing in the world, and they are so evidently and beamingly happy that one cannot but envy them; they, too, drink out of one mug and divide a sandwich, and say much to each other without caring particularly whether their neighbors overhear or not. The host, a jolly, red-cheeked man in a worn black dress-coat, comes often about with his good-humored “Guten abend” and his pleasant inquiries as to whether the beer is good, and he bows only a bit more solicitously to the well-to-do householder who sits with democratic simplicity among the men whom he perhaps employs than he does to the workman whose purse allows him only a single mug at a time. Looking upon this jovial gathering, one is almost convinced that here at last is contentment. Apparently these men and their wives are without a worry or a care in the world ; here is a taste of the free country after the grimy city; the beer is good, the weather is bright, the music is sweet among the trees, and sweeter still to these born lovers of music, and here are friends and neighbors overflowing with a whole week’s gossip. What more could a man want? And when evening approaches, and while the young people’s voices are filling the woods with song, the workman goes downward again toward the twinkling city. He is rested and refreshed after the day’s enjoyment, having gone to no violent excesses of drink or food or exercise or expenditure. His family has enjoyed it with him, and his children are learning the same simple means of pleasure.
And this is the workman’s Sunday as it is spent almost everywhere in the Fatherland. Even in the big black cities, which are yearly growing bigger and blacker, where there is no escape from streets and houses, the workman still finds, on Sunday, some imitation of the country, perhaps in a high-fenced innyard where the trees grow in green tubs, and where there is always sociability, music, and beer—that trinity of Teutonic happiness. Somehow, somewhere, not always as happily or as moderately as among the hills of the picture, the German workman finds opportunity for getting a little enjoyment out of life. It may not be of the high order approved by those who have set up Anglo-Saxon standards, and yet one has only to compare the simple, care-free, temperate Sunday of the average German workman with what is too often the spendthrift, viciously idle, and drunken Sunday of many American and more English workmen, to appreciate its worth.
A picture such as I have painted of the workman’s Sunday may well seem too brightly colored. It is, indeed, the result of first impressions, which were vivid and perhaps over-enthusiastic. But it is true, every line of it—as true as ever a one-sided picture can be—and I have here given it first prominence with intention, because it shows the really fine side of German work-life, the ideal side, the Sunday which makes the other six days of the week at all endurable. It is a most vital element of German life, which one is too likely to forget in considering the crowding evidence of toil, poverty, and restriction presented by a more intimate view of existing conditions. The more one learns of the grim and forbidding reverse presentation of the toiler’s existence, the more keenly he appreciates those rare qualities of temperament, strengthened by centuries of bitter training, which enable the German workman to go on year after year with a smooth brow gathering figs of thistles. With all his simple enjoyment, it is probable that no civilized workman in the world would change places with the German. For few indeed work longer hours for smaller pay, eat coarser and cheaper food, or live in more crowded homes; and none gives more in time and substance to a government which in return hems him in and restricts him with an infinite multiplicity of rules and regulations and curtails his right of free speech, none has less control over that which is his own, for even the spending of a part of his meager wages is ordered by law, and few there are who possess less influence in making the laws which regulate their conduct. And yet—and here one rises to wonder and admiration—these men have learned how to extract enjoyment out of a life the conditions of which, judged by our standards, are so close to poverty and servitude as to be almost within the bounds of misery.
Consider the workman in the manufacturing and ship-building towns of northern Germany, where industrial development and prosperity have caused a demand for every sort of labor which equals or exceeds the supply. Practically there are no workers out of employment, neither men nor women, and wages are generally higher than they ever were before in Germany. Here one sees the workingman under what would seem to be the most favorable conditions. Yet in many respects, as I shall point out, his circumstances are by no means as satisfactory as they were several years ago, and there are signs that, though his patience has seemed unlimited, even he is beginning to feel, and chafe under the stress of, the strenuous conditions of German industry. The German workingman, even he who is a master of a trade, is supposed to work eleven hours a day, or sixty-six hours a week—rarely less, often longer. At Stettin, in Pomerania, where there are a great ship-building establishment, ironworks, and many other manufactories, a carpenter in the ship-yards, as I was informed by Mr. John E. Kehl, United States Consul, will receive about ninety cents a day for eleven hours’ work. In America a carpenter commonly expects $2.50 to $3 a day for eight hours’ work, and sometimes more. A blacksmith in the German city earns less than the carpenter, a molder more, or about one dollar a day; a painter receives about seventy-five cents, while a laborer is doing well to get fifty-five to sixty cents a day. Carpenters, and other workers not employed regularly, commonly earn more per day, or they may do piece-work, which brings them larger returns. In some parts of Germany, notably in the Rhine districts, wages range higher than those here given, while in other districts which I visited they are lower.
These returns for long hours of work, small as they are, show large increases over the wages of a few years ago. For instance, in 1885, carpenters who now receive ninety cents a day were paid only seventy-three cents, while painters’ wages have risen in the same time from fifty-one to seventy-five cents. But if wages have increased, the prices of all sorts of commodities also have largely risen, and rent, owing to the rapid growth of cities and the influx of workmen, has gone upward by leaps and bounds. In fifteen years the industrial population of Germany has increased from 7,340,789 to 10,900,000. It was only a few years ago that Germany was famous for its cheap living. A workman could live in comfort for a sum almost unbelievably small. Now, however, the staples of food actually cost the German more than they do the American—a statement which may seem startling enough, considering the reputation of the United States for high prices. In Stettin, beef, which in 1893 cost fourteen cents a pound, had risen in 1899 to twenty-three cents. Mutton was twenty cents (compared with twelve cents in 1893), veal thirty cents, pork twenty cents, ham thirty-five cents, butter twenty-eight cents, coffee twenty-three cents, sugar seven cents, flour five cents, and tea—a very ordinary quality at that—$1.65 a pound. Eggs were forty-five cents a dozen, large chickens seventy-five cents each, milk five cents a quart. It must be here admitted, however, that in most of these commodities, which among American workmen would be considered absolute necessities of life, the German workman never indulges. He must have coffee and plenty of it, and a little meat. Butter is practically unknown to him, lard being used in its stead. He rarely uses milk, eggs, or white flour, and he never thinks of buying any of the better cuts of meat. Canned goods, familiar to every American worker, are absolutely unknown to him. His staple food is rye bread, which he buys in enormous loaves. His wife or his little girl goes to market for this bread, and brings it home clasped in her arms, unwrapped. I have seen a little tot of a tow-headed girl staggering homeward with a loaf almost as big as she was, and as she walked she gnawed lustily at the flinty end of the loaf. Indeed, I have heard it said that the eating of this hard-crusted bread gives the German workman teeth of unequaled excellence. And this bread is good, thoroughly good. The Government, which supervises everything and everybody, guards the rye bread of the people with jealous care. The bakers are watched, compelled to give full weight and make good bread. I have eaten it in a number of different towns, and it was always sweet to the taste and wholesome. This bread is fairly cheap, costing usually from thirty-five to fifty pfennigs (nine to twelve cents) a loaf, though it, too, has risen in price with increased demand. Upon this great loaf the German Empire may be said to rest; all Germany has grown up on it. In one form it is the basic ration of the German army, and many a peasant can live very well for a considerable time though he has nothing else to eat.
Next in order of importance after the rye loaf is sausage. In Germany the Wurstwaaren shops are a sight to interest and attract foreign eyes. Such a variety of sausages, big, little, and middle sized, brown, white, and black, soft and hard, raw and cooked, covered and uncovered, one never before imagined possible. Step into a sausage-shop of an evening and you shall see the German workman’s wife in all her glory, for here she finds the truest outlet for that feminine shopping instinct which even here has taken root. Shall she buy brown or white? shall she have one slice of a big blood sausage or a ringlet of little liver sausages? And usually she goes away with a stick of dry wurst about the size and shape of a policeman’s club, and for purposes of defense quite as useful. But this sausage, too, is wholesome and good (though growing always dearer), for the Government never allows the sausage-makers a moment out of its surveillance. Indeed, it may be said that nowhere in the world is the food generally purer than in Germany. The most stringent laws against adulteration have been enacted, and everything is inspected and re-inspected by a cloud of officials. I have had meat served me at table on which I could make out plainly the inspector’s blue stamp. And that is one great advantage which the German workman possesses over the American and English.
After sausage comes cheese. One is never at a loss in a German city to find a cheese-shop. Just go outside and sniff, then follow your nose. I presume that there is not such a cheese-shop in America, unless transplantations have been made in Milwaukee or Chicago, as these curious little places in every German city. Here are cheeses in great variety, as to size, as to strength, and as to price; I have not gone to extremes in trying these cheeses, but some of the less pronounced are very good indeed.
These are the main articles of the German workman’s diet. To these he adds plenty of black coffee, unsweetened; occasionally he has meat, soup, potatoes, cabbages, or other vegetables, and frequently dried and smoked fish, of which the German markets present a great variety. This is the regular diet of the workman; indeed, the entire lower half of Germany departs little from it, although varying conditions in different sections of the country change it slightly. Added to this food there is invariably beer in as great a quantity as the workman can afford. This beer, though often poor and weak, is always unadulterated and as wholesome as beer ever can be—the Government looks out for that.
Usually the workman has five meals a day. To work eleven hours, especially if he lives miles from the shop or factory, which is often the case, a man must be stirring at cock’s crow. As soon as he is up, usually in the gray twilight, or in winter by candlelight, he has a cup of strong, hot black coffee and a wedge of rye bread. This is the first meal. Second breakfast comes about eight o’clock, and if a man is working he stops at that time and sits down for a few minutes while he eats. Again he has black coffee, hot if possible, and rye bread with sausages or cheese. Then comes the long nooning of an hour or sometimes longer. It is a sight well worth seeing, the rush of workmen from a German factory at noon. Usually for fifteen minutes or more before the whistle sounds, short-skirted, comely women, girls, and old men have been gathering at the gates with baskets and bottles, and at the sound of the whistle they all rush in and are swallowed up by the outflowing current of men. Dinner is the most pretentious meal of the day. Usually there is meat soup, sometimes with the meat from which it has been made, boiled potatoes or another vegetable, bread and beer or coffee. Having finished eating, the men drop down to rest, saying little, thinking little, and waiting for the whistle to call them back again. The German workman is, for the most part, silent, slow, heavy, and apparently without emotion on these working days. He seems always tired. At four o’clock in the afternoon there is another meal, called vespers, for which there is a recess of ten or fifteen minutes. More coffee from the little blue dinnerpails and a wedge of rye bread, spread, perhaps, with lard, and the workman is ready again for his task. The last meal of the day comes after nightfall, when the toiler reaches home; it is as simple as the others, consisting of the inevitable coffee or beer, bread, smoked fish or sausage or cheese. That is all, and when it is eaten the workman is quite ready for his bed. And this must continue year after year, for German families are large, and there are always little mouths to feed. No American workman would think of living as cheaply as this, and yet the German does it, partly because he cannot afford more food and partly because he knows of no better way; yet he has enough, coarse and plain though it is, to keep him well, with perhaps fewer doctor’s bills to pay on account of stomach troubles than his rivals in other lands. The total cost of the food for a family of a man, wife, and two children during one day has been estimated in Pomerania at about thirty-five cents.
I have been told that the German system of frequent meals and frequent rests assists greatly in enabling the workmen to endure without injury the long hours of work; but I should think that the rate of work would be quite as potent a factor. The German works carefully, thoroughly, but with infinite slowness. Every operation is performed with almost machinelike steadiness; but there is nowhere a spark of that briskness, that electricity of expending nervous force, which one feels in a great American workshop. The German has saved his nerves; perhaps that may help to account for his stolid endurance.
Not only does the German workman eat cheap food, but he lives in the cheapest quarters—often not more than two or three rooms for a large family, and frequently one of these is without windows. Yet the home is ordinarily pretty well kept up, as the homes of workmen go. There are often flowers in the windows—for the German, both high and low, loves his flower-garden—even if the comfort within is small. There is little kitchen equipment, and fewer dishes. The workman’s wife has no knowledge of cooking except in its most primitive form. The family food, as I have shown, is nearly all bought in a form ready for consumption—bread, cheese, sausage, dried fish, beer. Soup and coffee require a modicum of skill in cookery, the vegetables merely requiring boiling. Give a German woman of the lower class’ a new article of food requiring cooking and she would not know what to do with it. All this is the result, in part at least, of untold years of practical serfdom on the part of the German peasantry from whom these workmen have sprung—a peasantry which was and still is, to a large extent, fed from the kitchen of the landlord, like a house-servant, so that both men and women might work without loss of time in the fields. The simplicity of a diet largely cold or bought ready to eat, and the haste with which all culinary matters are swept aside, may be set down as one of the influences which has maintained cheap labor in Germany; but it has left the Germans, as a nation, the worst cooks in the civilized world, and it has not tended to raise the estate of the German woman, nor to develop an attractive family life.
Rents vary greatly with conditions, of course. In Stettin, Mr. Kehl informed me, apartments of two or three rooms in tenement-houses could be had for $2.25 to $2.50 a month. The municipality insists upon clean streets and sewers in tenement districts in all parts of Germany, and in certain towns, notably in Krupp’s city of Essen, an effort has been made to give especially good homes to the workingmen, although the rents are not lower than elsewhere.
Clothing such as workmen wear is cheap in Germany—almost the only necessary of life that is cheap. Leather shoes, being very expensive, are comparatively little worn, except on Sunday. In their place the workman has his pantoffels made of a thick wooden sole, the toe being covered over with leather. In winter these are worn with thick, home-knit socks, and in summer they are frequently slipped on the bare feet. One imagines that they slide off easily, but I have often seen boys who wore them run at the top of their speed, there being an art in turning down the toes when the foot is lifted and clamping the pantoffels so that they cannot slip off. The clacking of wooden soles on the floors of a German workshop is a sound quite foreign to American ears. The old-fashioned blouse falling from a yoke at the shoulders is still worn by German workmen, though it is disappearing.
Coal costs at Stettin $4.52 a ton—that is, soft coal. Kerosene is much more expensive than it is in America. It will be seen, therefore, that while food and other necessaries of life, with the possible exception of clothing, are in Germany as high as or higher than in the United States, wages generally will average hardly more than one-third as much. Yet the German workman is able to exist because he is willing to do without all sorts of comforts familiar to every American workman. I have described the conditions as I learned about them in Pomerania, because it seemed necessary in such an account as this to be specific, but keeping always in mind my own observations as well as the published reports and statistics concerning other parts of the Empire. Professor von Halle, of the University of Berlin, who has made a very close study of industrial conditions in and around Stettin, informs me that the extraordinary growth there has served to increase rentals and prices of commodities very rapidly. He also found that Stettin was one of the first stopping-places for the great tide of workingmen which is constantly flowing from east to west. The Rhine districts of Germany, the center of the coal, iron, chemical, and other industries of the Empire, are the great loadstones of labor. Raw peasants from the Russian border stop at Stettin and other Baltic towns and at Breslau, remain for a time, and then go on westward looking for better wages and finding conditions equally hard. Indeed, this silent march of empire westward has so drained some of the eastern districts of Germany that numbers of Russians, Russian Poles, and Austrian Bohemians must be brought into the country yearly to help with the agricultural operations. The same conditions exist in southern Germany, where the Italian is making his appearance, as in America, to do the hard manual labor. Few of these foreigners, however, are allowed to remain even though they may wish to do so.
One of the strangest influences upon the development of the German workingman has been his compulsory military service, and it is very far from being an unmixed evil, though it demands two of the best years of his life.
It has certainly had a profound influence in training the German to obedience, methods of order, hard work, plain living, and frugality. It has also braced him physically. On the other hand, it has tended to weaken individuality, deaden the initiative faculties, and to produce a state of helpless dependency upon authority. Moreover, it has encouraged the tendency of the young men to leave the farm, so that today farm work in Germany is almost exclusively in the hands of women, and agriculture is in an alarmingly demoralized condition. Take the young peasant from the fields, dress him up in a uniform, show him cities, teach him to handle himself well, give him a glimpse of the opportunities and earnings of industrial pursuit, and it is hard enough when his army service is finished to drive him back to the plodding, underpaid life on the land. As a result of this, and of the vast demand for workers in the factories, there has been a steady flow of men from the farms to the city. In 1882 42-1/2 per cent of the population was engaged in agriculture; in 1896, fourteen years later, the number had been reduced to 36 per cent. Farm work has fallen almost wholly into the hands of women, and a decreased production of foodstuffs in proportion to the population, with the necessity of importing food from abroad, has been responsible for the increased prices of commodities. Indeed, the Agrarians, the landowning lords, predict the ruin of agriculture, and are clamoring for protection, which means the exclusion of foreign foodstuffs—a demand which the Government has not dared to admit except in a very limited degree (as in the practical exclusion of certain American meats), for fear that prices of foods will go so high as to cause serious disturbances among the industrial classes.
Military service has also had its powerful influence in continuing and confirming the low estate of womanhood in the Empire. Half a million men constantly under arms, removed from wage-earning industries and receiving practically no payment from the Government which employs them, make it necessary for just so many more women to work in the fields and at other labor of the most menial kinds. One sees them, not only on the farms, but everywhere in the cities, passing brick, stirring mortar, sawing wood, digging ditches, loading lumber, and doing all manner of heavy labor. And yet the woman must bear children and take care of her home; the result is that many workingmen have little or no home life; it is smothered out by toiling wives. Children are often left in charge of neighbors or in nurse homes and get little home training—a condition which has certainly coarsened the moral fiber of the German. Infant mortality is very high in Germany ; in places it seems to a stranger as if every fourth child was bow-legged or at least weak in its legs. The Germans sometimes call this malady Englischerkrankheit (English sickness)—why one doesn’t quite see, for the disease is rare in England. It is due, as I have been informed, to a lack of proper nourishment and to beer. The working women of Germany number something over two millions, and the Empire could not do without their services, yet the competition of so many cheap workers in the labor market tends to keep down wages—a condition which has received much consideration by German thinkers.
To an American observer nothing is more striking than the attitude of the German Government toward the working population of the Empire. Its leaders, from the Emperor down, are unequaled for the lively intelligence with which they recognize conditions and for the promptitude with which they act. It is perfectly plain to them that the hope of Germany lies with the manufactories; therefore the industrial classes must be trained, protected, and encouraged. One who follows public discussion of the subject, for instance, in the Reichstag, is curiously impressed with the attitude of insensibility toward the individual desires or hopes of the workman. As a man the workman is not to be considered for an instant, but as an implement to carve a way for Germany to industrial and commercial greatness, to colonies, and a vast navy, he is very precious indeed. Everything is done, therefore, that can be done to make this implement keener, brighter, and more efficient. The individual is nothing, the workman everything. Hence the military service teaches the young man implicit obedience to authority, makes him a perfect servant in the hands of the great governing power, and teaches him to rely implicitly upon it. And during every moment of his subsequent life the workman treads a pathway plainly marked out for him by the infinitely numerous rules and regulations of the Government. When a workman is born, he must be baptized in a Government church and obtain a certificate; he must be confirmed to religion in a Government church; if he marries, the same power issues the permission and stands sponsor for the ceremony; and when he dies, he is buried under Government supervision. He must not say what he thinks freely, as the Englishman relieves his mind in Hyde Park, or the American assails the administration from the political stump, for if he talks too much about how he is being governed he is likely to be clapped in jail as a disturber of the peace. He may not even spend his money wholly as he pleases. Instead of allowing a man to have his wages and to do what he pleases with them, giving him the self-discipline of learning to save and plan against the rainy day, the German Government says to its workmen: “You must be frugal whether you want to or not.” Consequently tens of thousands of workmen must buy little cards, paste stamps on them for every week, and turn them over to the police at the end of every year. These cards insure the workman against sickness and accident and secure his relief during old age, so that if anything befalls a workman he does not become a charge on the State or on the employer (who, indeed, pays part of the premium for the insurance). This has made poverty almost unknown, and, considered from the point of view of a financial and governmental enterprise, it has been vast and successful beyond praise. One in every twenty persons in the Empire has been supported at some time by these insurance funds. In 1897 there was a reserve fund of over $202,500,000, and the amount of insurance paid to the sick was over $26,000,000, to those who had suffered accidents over $15,000,000, and to the aged and feeble over $14,000,000. Moreover, there are many other aid and pension systems, both state and private, many workmen even being compelled to insure in a death fund so that their funeral expenses may be paid and they may be laid away in the little green cemetery with cast-iron crosses, perhaps containing their tin-type at the head of their graves.
And so year after year the workman goes on sticking stamps—and the police see that he never fails in this respect—having no responsibility for the future nor for the welfare of his family, knowing that, whatever happens, the funds will support him. He depends absolutely upon the great, powerful, dim Government above him to take care of him and shield him from harm. He is not especially interested in organizing trade-unions, though sometimes he does indulge in the fury of a strike. He buys lottery tickets regularly from the lottery, which is also a Government enterprise, and nearly all that is left goes for beer and cheap shows. Thus supported and relieved of responsibility, is it any wonder that the German workman goes smooth-browed and simple-minded to his Sunday enjoyments? These enjoyments are all of the present and of the senses material, for he takes no thought of the morrow.
If the German workman does begin to consider his condition, he does one of two things: he either becomes a Socialist or he commits suicide. So Socialism, though held down by bands of steel, is rampant everywhere in Germany. Even the Emperor, with characteristic frankness, once said to his troops at Potsdam:
“For you there is one foe, and that is my foe. Considering the existing Socialist difficulties, it may be necessary for me to command you to shoot down your own relatives, brothers and parents, in the streets, which God forbid; but you must obey my orders without murmuring.”
And the extent of Socialism, which has few means of public expression, every attempt at really free speech in this regard being squelched without mercy, is probably not realized even in Germany, though the Socialists now cast annually some million and a half of votes in the Empire.
In the matter of suicides Germany has long been known for its terrible records. Saxony has the highest rate of suicide of any country in the world. Barker gives its annual rate as 31.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, and that of the entire Empire as 14.3, compared with a rate in the United States of only 3.5 per 100,000, while England shows 6.9. About 11,000 persons kill themselves every year in the German Empire, and these belong chiefly to the working classes.
In short, the German method of dealing with the working classes is exactly opposite from the American way.
In Germany it may be said that the tendency is to make better workmen; in America and England the tendency is to make better men. The Anglo-Saxon policy is to “cast the bantling on the rock,” and let him work out his own salvation through temptation. In Germany the policy is quite the reverse: the workman is protected from disciplining temptation, and ruled in a thousand ways by the Government instead of being allowed to rule himself. American discipline is from within, German from without. The German workman is without hope even in religion, for it is rare that a German workman is ever seen in church after confirmation; there is little or no chance for him to rise; he has before him no possible career in politics, nor any hope of becoming a Carnegie or a Huntington. Consequently he is without ambition to do his work faster or by better methods; he is content to do what his father did, without thinking, though the all-seeing Government is making herculean efforts through its scores of technical and industrial schools—the best in the world—to stir him from his stolid and precedent-bound lethargy. The German workman is slow, therefore his wages are small. It is less expensive in Germany to hire muscle than it is to install expensive machinery. Therefore in all sorts of German manufacturing establishments one sees clouds of workmen bending their backs to burdens which in America are borne swiftly, noiselessly, and more cheaply by electricity or steam.
Not only does the Government do its best to stir the workman to greater activity, but in several instances individuals are attacking the problem with energy. At Jena I visited the famous Zeiss lens works, where an experiment of an eight-hour day is being tried, it being understood that the men shall study their tasks and increase the speed of work until they are able to do as much in eight hours as hitherto in ten or eleven. The experiment is being conducted with great intelligence both by workers and proprietors. It must be said, however, that there is much in its favor. The workmen are nearly all young and of the very brightest class of intelligence, and the work done is exceedingly fatiguing to eyes and hands, so that weariness caused by a longer day’s work tended to reduce the quantity and injure the quality of the product. I was informed by Director Fischer that, so far as it had gone, the experiment was a success. It is certain, however, that in a great majority of manufactories such an innovation as this would fail utterly, for the workmen are hopelessly unambitious, conservative, and helpless; they prefer to live the old, simple life, get what enjoyment they can, and strive as little as they can.
And yet, though the tendency is to do only those things for the workman which will make him a better implement for the service of the nation, there are a few philanthropists who are doing their best to make the workman’s life more enjoyable and profitable for his own sake. At Jena I visited a fine free reading-room, which will ultimately be expanded into a library. It is the result of private enterprise, and is said to be the best if not the only one of its kind in the Empire. Heretofore workmen in Jena and nearly everywhere else have had to go to a beer garden or cafe to see the newspapers and other publications, and there are few opportunities for them to get books anywhere, even if they had time to read them. Curiously enough, workmen who read nearly always choose science and philosophy, rarely fiction. The parks of Germany are everywhere fine and extensive, and, though kept with little reference to the workmen, the workmen are at liberty to use them, which they do to a great extent. Free swimming-baths have been established in the rivers near many cities, sometimes by private means, oftener by the municipality. These are popular with the younger element of all classes. At Chemnitz, a large, grim manufacturing city in Saxony, where there are immense factories for hosiery and machinery works, I visited a new free municipal bath, which is proving a successful civilizing agency. One who realizes the mighty industrial progress of Germany is struck with the vital question as to whether the workman will be able to keep pace. Surely the limit of his wages has nearly been reached; he cannot at present earn more; and the manufacturers who are crowded to narrow margins between the fierce competition of the Americans and the British cannot afford to pay more. But the population continues to expand, there being 12,000,000 more people in Germany in 1898 than in 1870, and that almost without immigration; foods and rents are going up continually; the Government is demanding always more and more for its army, its navy, and its colonies. When will the danger-line be reached ? Will the German toiler plod always onward, working always for continually diminishing profits, drinking his Sunday beer—forever the model of patience and simple enjoyment of life?
(Source: UNZ.org, http://unz.org/Pub/Outlook-1901nov09-00637)