October 31st: The commune of Anderlecht has voted a credit of 40,000 francs for the purchase of wooden shoes as the shortage of leather prevents most of the people from buying boots.
November 1st: A decree dated October 14th prepares for the seizure of all textile materials, ribbons, hosiery, etc. No more than one-tenth of the stocks can be manufactured, under a penalty of 10,000 marks. A decree dated October 17th makes the declaration of poplars all over Belgium compulsory.
It was scarcely necessary to underline some passages of this report. However bad may be the impression it causes, it would be twenty-six times worse if we had the leisure to follow step by step the progress of German economic policy in Belgium. It is evident that the German administration, in spite of its former declarations, is resolved to ruin Belgian industry and to throw out of work the greatest number of men possible. All raw material must go to Germany in order to be worked there. As it has become evident that the Belgian workers will not submit to war work so long as they remain in their surroundings, they must be torn away from their country and compelled to follow the materials and machines over the frontier. Labour has become an inanimated object necessary to the prosecution of the German war. It is as indispensable to Germany as cotton, nickel and copper. It will be treated as such. If the men resist, they will be crushed. If the soul of Belgium will not yield to persuasion, it will be taken away from her, like her cattle, her corn, her iron and her steel. And so Belgium will become a weapon in Germany’s hands, a weapon which will strike at Belgium. And the only thought of the deported worker turning a shell in a German factory will be, as is suggested by Louis Raemaekers’ cartoon, “Perhaps this one will kill my own son?”
THE MODERN SLAVE.
I. THE CREEPING TIDE.
We must now deal with the second factor which makes the conditions worse in Belgium than in Germany. While German peace-factories, ruined by the blockade, have been turned into war-factories, the majority of Belgian industries have remained idle. In spite of the high wages offered by the Germans—some skilled workmen were offered as much as L2 and L2 10s. per day—the workers resisted the constant pressure exerted upon them and preferred to live miserably on half-wages or with the help given them by the “Comite National” rather than accept any work which might directly or indirectly help the occupying power. If a few thousands, compelled by hunger or unable to resist their conquerors’ threats, passed the frontier, all the rest of the working population kept up, under the most depressing conditions, a great patriotic strike, the “strike of folded arms.” If they could not, as the 20,000 young heroes who crossed the Dutch frontier, join the Belgian army on the Yser; they could at least wage war at home and oppose to the enemy the impenetrable rampart of their naked breasts. It should not be said, when King Albert should return to Brussels at the head of his troops, that his subjects had not shared the sufferings of his soldiers. They should also have their wounds to show, they should also have their dead to honour.