- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 31 Oct 1930, p. 265-273
- Butler, Harold B., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Some words of Mr. Bennett's which sum up the real problem before the League of Nations and before the International Labour Organization. The beginning of the League 11 years ago. The conversion from ideal to fact which has come about through necessity. Why these two organizations are necessary. A look at unemployment figures in Europe, in Great Britain, in Canada and in the United States. Even greater distress in China and India. Unemployment in Japan. The lack of any national remedy. Political consequences of economic depression. What the League has been attempting to do, and what is its future program. The problem of a diminishing gold supply. A brief resume of what the International Labour Organization has done with regard to the industrial side of the problem. The factor of the machine, making it more than ever important that there should be some sort of international equalization of labour conditions. International treaties or conventions to set up standards over the last ten years of the International Labour Conference. International codes and laws regarding night work for women, child labour, the eight-hour day, etc. The net result of a higher standard of living in both Europe and Asia. The speaker's conclusion that it is now a mistake to regard the League as a sort of something up in the air, and that there is a tendency to confuse the aims of the League with the League itself. The position of the League now. Support for the League of Nations.
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- 31 Oct 1930
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AN ADDRESS BY HAROLD B. BUTLER, C.B., DEPUTY DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL LABOUR OFFICE, LEAGUE OF NATIONS, GENEVA.
31st October, 1930.
MR. WILLIAM TYRRELL, Vice-President, introduced the speaker, who said: I naturally felt gratified on arriving at Toronto this morning-a city in which I flatter myself on having a large number of good friends, because this is the third time I have been here. But I was also particularly gratified to find in the Mail and the Globe--because we are a non-political organization, and therefore I was perfectly impartial in my selection of newspapers--the best introduction that anybody from the League of Nations could hope to find; I read the reports of the speeches delivered yesterday in London by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, and by the Prime Minister of Canada, both of them emphasizing the indispensability of the League of Nations to the future prosperity not only of the British Empire, but of all countries. I should like to take as my text some words of Mr. Bennett's which seem to me to sum up the real problem before the League and before the International Labour Organization, which is a part of it, perhaps as well as it could be summed up. He said this:
"It must be in the minds of everyone here tonight that the very life of democracy depends on the maintenance of Peace. There can be no progress unless governments are able to work out their problems in peace and tranquility."
I remember that, when the Leauge was started some eleven years ago, it was considered a rather fantastic adventure. It was not seriously thought by a great many people that the time had yet come in the world for attempting seriously to realize the ideal of international co-operation. And yet at the end of eleven years I think one may clearly say that the League of Nations is no longer an ideal, but a fact. And the conversion from ideal to fact has simply come about through necessity. Unless the League and the Labour Organization had been actual necessities, one may be perfectly certain that they would not exist at this time. They are necessities because the world is so closely linked together (and it becomes more closely linked every year), that without some kind of international machinery there would be little hope of promoting the progress of democracy and of civilization. That truth has been more acutely realized within the last twelve months than at any previous time, because the whole world has been in the trough of the deepest depression that most of us in this room have ever known; and it has been realized that it is no longer possible, under the present conditions of civilization, for any one country, however great, to stand alone in prosperity. The prosperity of one is the prosperity of all.
When one looks around at the present situation one cannot help realizing its gravity. Perhaps there is no better method of realizing this than to take unemployment figures as they stand at this moment. One can say without exaggeration-and probably it is an understatement-that there are six and a half million men and women out of work in Europe, a large proportion of them being in the two most industrialized countries, Great Britain and Germany. There are probably something like one and a half million completely out of work in Great Britain, with another three-quarters of a million partially or temporarily unemployed; while in Germany the figure is in the neighbourhood of three million. Turning to this continent, I saw that the other day it was officially calculated in Washington that there were three and one-half million people wholly out of work and another million partly so. Hence, I suppose one can say without exaggeration that there are something like five million persons out of work on this continent. That makes a total of eleven and one-half millions. If you go to Asia, of course, you cannot find any figures, but there is no doubt that in China and India there is probably greater distress than in any other country, and that they are in themselves the roots of a great deal of the world's depression. In Japan, an industrialized country, for which information is available, there is certainly a very great deal of unemployment at this moment; so I am sure it would not be an overstatement to say that perhaps fifteen millions of people are out of work in the world.
Of course a good deal has been done in different places to seek a remedy for unemployment. In every country where it has been acute, large sums of money have been spent in order to hasten relief work, to push on construction programs a little bit in advance of their normal time. These efforts have no doubt had a considerable effect in diminishing the incidence of unemployment; but of course they are a palliative and not a cure. There are at this moment about 43,000,000 people covered by unemployment insurance in Europe and other countries, and in addition there are ten other countries which grant state subsidies in some form or other to voluntary schemes of insurance. This has undoubtedly mitigated very considerably the effect of unemployment; indeed, I think there is no doubt that without such schemes the unrest would be very much more formidable than it is; but, again, that is not a cure, but only an attempt to lessen the evils of the disease.
At this moment the world finds itself confronted with a situation for which apparently there is no remedy; at any rate, for which it is quite clear there is no national remedy. I think the realization of that fact by itself is a great gain and it is beginning to lead the statesmen of a good many countries to revise their views as to the best method of dealing with industrial depression. But in addition to that, it has impressed itself very much on the various organizations of the League as being a great problem which lies in front of us; because, without developing that at all, you will realize that you cannot have economic depression without risking dangerous political consequences. You cannot separate economics and politics; and distress, depression and lower standards of living are bound to have more or less serious political consequences.
I want, therefore, for a few minutes, to suggest to you what the League has been attempting to do, and what is its future program. I think you may divide the economic problem into two different aspects. There is a strictly economic or financial aspect, and there is an industrial or social aspect. The first, the financial aspect, is the province of the economic organization of the League, which works through two very strong committees of the bankers and business men who meet regularly at Geneva, and who may be said to represent thoroughly the best talent available for giving advice on those subjects. I should just like to remind you that even during these past ten years a great deal has been done through League action to improve the position. In 1920 the Brussels Conference, which was mainly a bankers' conference, recommended very strongly the return to the gold standard. Well, that was effected in a far shorter time than most people at that period anticipated; and if, as is the case, practically every country in Europe is now back on the gold basis, I am sure it is largely the result of that recommendation, backed up by the persistent pressure of public opinion, which is naturally generated at every meeting of the League Assembly. The second Commission at every meeting discusses the economic position, and from year to year insistence was laid on the importance of getting back to a gold basis, which undoubtedly had considerable effect.
Then a great deal of very valuable work was done in the restoration of Austria and Hungary and Greece and Bulgaria to a proper financial footing. But that was not enough, and I think nobody would look at the state of Europe as it is today and say that it was altogether rational. Within the last year or two a new word has been introduced into the English language from Germany, and has become extremely popular. We all talk now about "rationalization". Well, I am sure rationalization is a necessity in Europe, and that that is a problem which is lying in front of the League at the present moment. In attempting to deal with it a movement has been started which is called "Concerted Economic Action". In the first place the title adopted was "Tariff Truce", but little progress was made in that direction, and the title was changed. But I am rather disposed to think that the atmosphere is far more favourable now than it was a year ago to some sort of concerted action, because I think the realization is growing that without it the state of affairs is bound to become worse rather than better.
Then there is another problem on which I touch with great hesitation, because I do not pretend to be an expert, and I expect that a good many people in this room know a good deal more about it than I do; but one of the features of the general situation to which a great deal of attention has recently been called is the wrong distribution of gold in the world. One factor which I think distinguishes the present from any previous time is that the gold supply of the world, instead of increasing, is steadily diminishing. The production of gold in the United States and in Australia and South America is on the down grade. Apparently all the experts say that the production in South Africa, which is responsible for more than 50 percent of the world's supply, is going to begin to diminish in the very near future; and the only country in which there is any increase in the production of gold is Canada. But even so, the supply is diminishing; and it has been suggested by one of two very eminent economists, notably by Sir Henry Strakosch, who is a great authority on this subject, that part of the world's troubles, at any rate, are due to the fact that there has not been enough gold available to finance the increased production of the world; and the cites the fact that in some countries, notably France and the United States, through the natural operation of trade, more gold has been accumulated than they can use effectively for credit and commercial purposes. That and has become extremely popular. We all talk now about "rationalization". Well, I am sure rationalization is a necessity in Europe, and that that is a problem which is lying in front of the League at the present moment. In attempting to deal with it a movement has been started which is called "Concerted Economic Action". In the first place the title adopted was "Tariff Truce", but little progress was made in that direction, and the title was changed. But 1 am rather disposed to think that the atmosphere is far more favourable now than it was a year ago to some sort of concerted action, because I think the realization is growing that without it the state of affairs is bound to become worse rather than better.
Then there is another problem on which I touch with great hesitation, because I do not pretend to be an expert, and I expect that a good many people in this room know a good deal more about it than I do; but one of the features of the general situation to which a great deal of attention has recently been called is the wrong distribution of gold in the world. One factor which I think distinguishes the present from any previous time is that the gold supply of the world, instead of increasing, is steadily diminishing. The production of gold in the United States and in Australia and South America is on the down grade. Apparently all the experts say that the production in South Africa, which is responsible for more than 50 percent of the world's supply, is going to begin to diminish in the very near future; and the only country in which there is any increase in the production of gold is Canada. But even so, the supply is diminishing; and it has been suggested by one of two very eminent economists, notably by Sir Henry Strakosch, who is a great authority on this subject, that part of the world's troubles, at any rate, are due to the fact that there has not been enough gold available to finance the increased production of the world; and he cites the fact that in some countries, notably France and the United States, through the natural operation of trade, more gold has been accumulated than they can use effectively for credit and commercial purposes. That means that there is shortage; other countries are going without gold which they need to maintain their purchasing power. I am not going to make any pronouncement on that theory, but I will only say that it has led to the creation of a special committee at Geneva which had been studying this question very closely, and which has just issued one report which goes a certain distance in endorsing the view that the gold situation is one of the fundamental elements in the present economic depression; because, as will be easily appreciated, if the value of gold is going up, that means that prices are going down, and the universal experience in every country, as our investigations have shown, is that the fall of prices and the rise of unemployment go almost parallel in every case.
Then let me turn for a minute to the industrial side, and try to give you a very brief resume of what the International Labour Organization has done. What we aimed at doing was to create something like world standards for labour conditions. That is a matter of very great importance as commerce becomes more international, and as industry spreads wider and wider throughout the world. Before the war there were comparatively few industrial countries, and nearly all the international trade was done by those countries. That situation has completely changed. Both in Europe and in Asia you now find new industries springing up and entering into competition with the older industrial countries, both Europe and America, in the world's markets.
There is another factor which makes it more than ever important that there should be some sort of international equalization of labour conditions. Before the war the individual worker counted for a great deal more than he does now. What matters more and more now is the machine, and the best machine and the best management are just as much available in Japan or China as in Canada, the United States or Great Britain, and in fact are being used. Some of the very best textile mills in the world can be found in Japan, and if they are operated by labour which is working much longer hours and on much lower wages, and generally on an inferior level, there is no doubt that that is going to be a very serious factor in the cost of production, and may set up something that may properly be called unfair competition.
During the last ten years the International Labour Conference, which contains the representatives of governments, of employers and of workers, has passed twenty-nine international treaties or conventions, as we call them, setting up standards. In order that those conventions shall become effective it is necessary for the government of each country to send in to the Secretary-General of the League a formal document of ratification, as is done in the case of any other treaty. At this moment there are 408 such ratifications deposited with the Secretary-General. That really means that in Europe an international code has been practically established; that child labour under 14, and night work for women, have been abolished; that the eight-hour day is more or less general. That change has not only affected Europe, but to a large extent it has also affected Asia. In both Japan and India child labour has likewise been abolished. The Japanese Government has ratified three conventions dealing with child labour; hours have been reduced, night work of women has been abolished, and beginnings have been made of accident compensation and other social reforms. In fact, I think there is no doubt that in the last ten years Japan and India have made greater relative progress than any other countries.
The net result of all this certainly is that in both Europe and Asia the standard of living is very much higher than it was before the war, and though most countries have suffered economic depression and unemployment, I think anybody who has toured much in Europe will bear me out when I say there is no doubt that the general standard among the working classes is far higher than it was twenty years ago. I know from my own observations that this is true of Great Britain also, but I would say that greater relative progress has been made on the Continent than in the British Isles.
The conclusion that I would like you to draw from what I have said is this: I believe it is now a mistake to regard the League as a sort of something up in the air, and I think there is a tendency to confuse the aims of the League with the League itself. After all, the aim of the League is to promote peace through international co-operation, but the League itself is just a piece of machinery, and the extent to which it realizes the aim for which it was created depends entirely on the will of the countries at the back of the League to operate that machinery.
When one has got a parliament established, one does not confuse it with democracy; one realizes that parliament is just a machine to achieve democracy; and very often, when one's parliament has got on its feet, people do not grow very enthusiastic about it; in fact, they are more inclined to be critical than enthusiastic. I think the League is rather in the same position at the present time; people are inclined to be more critical than enthusiastic, and to say that it has not done all kinds of things that it should have done, forgetting that it has been in operation only ten years, and represents a very revolutionary attempt to change the general evolution of mankind. But if you try to destroy a parliament, then there is usually a row, because people rise up and say you are trying to obliterate democratic institutions. So I believe if there was a serious attempt--which is not at all likely--to overthrow the League there would be a row, and that many people, who are criticising it most for not having done as much as they would like, would be the first to come out in its defence. In other words, the ten years of its experience have shown it to be really indispensable. It would have been utterly inconceivable 200 years ago, because the world was not ready for anything of that kind; 100 years ago the idea of some sort of international collaboration was mooted after the Napoleonic wars, and an attempt was made to set it on foot, but it failed, because at that time it was much too soon.
As I have said, if the present time was still too early I think the League would already have failed; and the fact that it has not is the real proof of its necessity. When you come to think of it, there is no other way. If you look at this great country, you look forward to a prosperous future by adopting exactly the same methods as the world must adopt if its future is likewise to be more prosperous than its past. In other words, you are trying to link up this continent closer and closer by communications, by better education, by a higher standard of living, by greater efficiency all round; and it is only in that way that Canada can and will progress.
Well, the world is in exactly the same situation. Unless the tendency towards closer linking up, and towards the general raising of the standard of life, which is already very strong, is continued, the world will go back. It cannot stay where it is; it must either go forward or go back, and if it goes forward it must have the machinery to enable it to do so; and the only machine yet invented is the League of Nations. It may not be a perfect machine; it is not; but it is the only machine, and until a better one is invented, I would ask you to endorse the words of the Prince of Wales when he said last night that every thinking man and woman ought to support it. (Loud applause.)
THE CHAIRMAN thanked the speaker, on behalf of the Club, for the extremely interesting way in which he had dealt with his important subject, adding that while the League of Nations is not a perfect machine it is a very flourishing organization.