Maclean's Edtorials

Can LABOR Solve the Railway Problem?

April 1 1938
Maclean's Edtorials

Can LABOR Solve the Railway Problem?

April 1 1938

Can LABOR Solve the Railway Problem?

Maclean's Edtorials

“Ottawa, March 3 (CP). Deficits of the Canadian National Railways from 1922 to 1936 inclusive totalled $526,302,014 and unpaid interest due the (Government on loans advanced hv the Dominion to the railways amounted to $492,691,400, making a total for the fifteen years of $1,018,993,414. This was disclosed in a return tabled by Transport Minister Howe in the House of Commons today.”

Five years ended March 31, 1937

Dominion (Government income tax

receipts............ $375,348,980

Sales lav receipts . . $393,062,068 Canadian National Railways cash deficits paid by (Government (including interest on bonds held by the public, but not including interest on loans advanced by

the (Government).............. $251,510,810

Unemployment relief costs met by Dominion (Government......... $221,403,390

TABLES involving astronomical figures are skipped by most people because they look dull.

Don’t skip the figures set down above.

They affect your pocketbook.

They may affect your job.

Note the stupendous sums collected from the public by the Government via two tax channels.

Note the amounts spent on but two items Canadian National Railways deficits and unemployment relief.

The two spending items arc the two main reasons why the Finance Minister cannot make ends meet.

They explain such things as the eight per cent sales tax on every article you buy.

If in Five years Canadians had not had to put up $251,510,810 to meet C. N. R. deficits, but had been able to devote their share of that sum to business expansion and personal buying, it is not unlikely that the amount spent on taking care of unemployed workers would have been much less.

Everyone agrees that something ought to be done about the railway situation just so long as that something doesn’t affect them.

The Government, a number of Members of Parliament, some C. N. R. spokesmen, and others declare that the only solution is more trafFic.

If more traffic fails to materialize, then the taxpayers must keep on paying the shot, because any other solution would involve the railway

workers, who have several hundred thousand votes.

The railway workers themselves fear all schemes of rationalization because to them rationalization means loss of employment.

Nobody can blame any group of workers for Fighting for security.

The point is, though, does security lie in million-dollar-a-week deficits, subsidized duplication and waste effort, or does it lie in readjusted, profitable operation which lessens the burden on the country generally?

It seems to us that labor, for the sake of the very security it desires, would be wise to assume an active role in seeking rationalization of Canada’s railway systems.

The idea isn’t a new one with us. We just think it needs revival and encouragement. It was suggested a year ago by Allan Meikle, member of the Executive Board of the Canadian Federation of Labor, and warmly endorsed by the Federation’s president, Zenon David.

In his book, “The Railway Problem and the Workers,” writing on reduction of costs, Mr. Meikle said:

“Since over sixty per cent of operating expenses consists of wages, approximately this percentage of any saving would be in labor. In this regard the railway worker is in a peculiar position. He was not responsible for the duplication of mileage, the extravagant construction programs, the reckless competition between the Government of Canada and a privately-owned corporation, nor for any of the fundamental errors in judgment which produced the present crisis. His immediate interest has been reasonable hours of labor and working conditions at the highest rate of pay possible. It is self-evident that his interests in the long run will be best preserved if the industry he serves is operated at its fullest economic efficiency. For these reasons he should be prepared to recognize that some rationalization of the Canadian railway industry is not only necessary but inevitable. His problem is thus to see to it that this rationalization is effected without hardship to individual workers and without sacrificing the established standards of work and wages.”

Mr. Meikle adds: “The rationalization of the Canadian railway systems is the logical thing. If it occurs in spite of the workers’ opposition, they may be thrust aside and receive scant consideration in the new' adjustments. But if it occurs with the acquiescence of the workers, subject to a stipulation that their interests must be first considered, the Labor movement has everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

We cannot see how that can be construed as unsound reasoning.

Great Britain, on precisely the same basis, converted railway chaos into profitable operation. (The story of how it was done is told in “Recovery on Rails,” published in Maclean's March 1 issue.)

The United States is contemplating a similar program.

What is good for countries of great populations and enormous wealth is surely good for a thinly populated country sunk in debt.