He found in his path, which was also the nation’s path, three great foes—drunkenness, the old envenomed quarrel between employer and employed, and that deep-rooted industrial conservatism of England, which shows itself on the one hand in the trade-union customs and restrictions of the working class, built up, as they hold, through long years, for the protection of their own standards of life, and, on the other, in the slowness of many of the smaller English employers (I am astonished, however, at the notable exceptions everywhere!) to realise new needs and processes, and to adapt themselves to them. Could any one have made such an omelet without breaking a great many eggs? Is it wonderful that the employers have sometimes felt themselves unbearably hustled, sometimes misunderstood, and at other times annoyed, or worried by what seems to them the red tape of the new Ministry, and its apparent multiplicity of forms and inquiries?
Men accustomed to conduct their own businesses with the usual independence of regulation have been obliged to submit to regulation. Workmen accustomed to defend certain methods of work and certain customs of their trade as matters of life and death have had to see them jeopardised or swept away. The restoration of these methods and customs is solemnly promised them after the war; but meanwhile they become the servants of a public department almost as much under orders as the soldier himself. They are asked to admit unskilled men to the skilled processes over which they have long kept so jealous a guard; above all, they are asked to assent wholesale to the employment of women in trades where women have never been employed before, where it is obvious that their introduction taps an immense reservoir of new labour, and equally obvious that, once let in, they are not going to be easily or wholly dislodged.
Of course, there has been friction and difficulty; nor is it all yet at an end. In the few danger-spots of the country, where heads are hottest, where thousands of the men of most natural weight and influence are away fighting, and where among a small minority hatred of the capitalist deadens national feeling and obscures the national danger, there have been anxious moments during the winter; there may possibly be some anxious moments again.
But, after all, how little it amounts to in comparison with the enormous achievement! It took us nine months to realise what France—which, remember, is a Continental nation under conscription—had realised after the Battle of the Marne, when she set every hand in the country to work at munitions that could be set to work. With us, whose villages were unravaged, whose normal life was untouched, realisation was inevitably slower. Again we were unprepared, and again, as in the case of the Army itself, we may plead that we have “improvised the impossible.” “No nation,” says Mr. Buchan, “can be adequately prepared, unless, like Germany, it intends war; and Britain, like France paid the penalty of her honest desire for peace!”