I said to a very wealthy man, who employed thousands of men in his establishments in different cities:
“Have you had many strikes?”
“Never had a strike; I never will have one,” he said.
“How do you avoid them?” I asked.
“When prices go up or down, I call my men together in all my establishments. In ease of increased prosperity I range them around me in the warehouses at the noon hour, and I say, ’Boys, I am making money, more than usual, and I feel that you ought to share my success; I shall add five, or ten, or twenty per cent. to your wages.’ Times change. I must sell my goods at a low price, or not sell them at all. Then I say to them, ’Boys, I am losing money, and I must either stop altogether or run on half-time, or do with less hands. I thought I would call you together and ask your advice.’ There may be a halt for a minute or two, and then one of the men will step up and say, ’Boss, you have been good to us; we have got to sympathise with you. I don’t know how the others feel, but I propose we take off 20 per cent. from our wages, and when times get better, you can raise us,’ and the rest agree.”
That was the law of kindness.
Many of the best friends I had were American capitalists, and I said to them always, “You share with your employees in your prosperity, and they will share with you in your adversity.”
The rich man of America was not in need of conversion, for, in 1886, he had not become a monopolist as yet. He had accumulated fortunes by industry and hard work, and he was an energetic builder of national enterprise and civic pride, but his coffers were being drained by an increasing social extravagance that was beyond the requirements of happiness of home.
Society life in the big cities of America in 1886 had become a strange nightmare of extravagance and late hours. It was developing a queer race of people. Temporarily, the Lenten season stopped the rustle and flash of toilettes, chained the dancers, and put away the tempting chalice of social excitement. When Lent came in the society of the big cities of America was an exhausted multitude. It seemed to me as though two or three winters of germans and cotillions would be enough to ruin the best of health. The victims of these strange exhaustions were countless. No man or woman could endure the wear and tear of social life in America without sickness and depletion of health. The demands were at war with the natural laws of the human race.
Even the hour set for the average assembling of a “society event” in 1886 was an outrage. Once it was eight o’clock at night, soon it was adjourned to nine-thirty, and then to ten, and there were threats that it would soon be eleven. A gentleman wrote me this way for advice about his social burden: