“Two men I honour”, said Carlyle, “and no third. First, the toil-worn Craftsman that with earth-made implements laboriously conquers the earth and makes it man’s. Venerable to me is the rugged face, all weather-tanned.” When Carlyle said this, few people had any thought for the labourer or manual labour as particularly dignified. Well-to-do and educated people are so-called gentlemen, since they would avoid all contact with the toilers. To be able to get one’s work done by others was counted as the most valued of gentlemanly privileges.
We all know the story of great Vidyasagar. One day a well-dressed young man, not finding any porter at a village station, called a Brahmin, clad in coarse cloth and promised him a few piece to carry his light suitcase. When they reached the destination, the youngman offered him the wages for this labour, and then the Brahmin’s identity was disclosed. He was none other than Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar.
To labour with one’s own hand has an ennobling influence on character. God has given us hand to work with. When Rabindranath started his school at Santiniketan, each pupil was required to wash his clothes and utensils and dust his room. How much we will gain in self-help, if we attend to our personal needs!
If we realize the place that labour occupies in human life, we will have a readier appreciation of the dignity of labour. Without labour, we would neither have our food, nor any rest. The world is what it is because of the toilsome life led by the workers in fields and factories. It is written in an ancient Jewish book.—’Every-one is wise in his work’. Without work, a city cannot be “inhabited”. All works is divine and respectable.
But the worker was deprived of the fruits of his labour. In the past, he toiled so that another might enjoy. He slaved so that another might be idle as in ancient Greek Society. He came to be despised because of his poverty, and his work also was despised. In course of time, work ceased to have any dignity, and it was the ‘idle rich’ who earned social prestige. But Gray in his Elegy warns us against this attitude”-“Let not ambition mock their useful toil”
Recognition of the worker and his rights has come late and slowly. For all his labour, the worker had for a long time no right except the right to bare subsistence wages. But man’s attitude is changing. To deprive a man of the fruits of his labour is being recognized at unjust. The Communist Manifesto (1848) of Marx and Engles has largely brought about this change. The teaching of the socialist has done much to alter men’s view as regards labour and labours. No work is mean so long as it is useful to the society at large.
Since then the world has progressed far. In different countries, higher wages and greater comforts are being given to labour in recognition of the part of labours. The want of cheap domestic labour is forcing many social idlers to sweep the floor and wash their clothes with their own hands. Manual labour is no longer despised. Necessity has given it dignity.
In no country is the dignity of labour better understood than in America. There the students do manual work during their vacation, to meet partly the expenses of higher education. Said Abraham Lincoln “If the Almighty had ever meant a set of men that should do all of the eating and none of the work, he would have made them with mouths only and no hands. And if he had meant another class to do all the work and no eating, he would have made them with hands only and no mouth.” Limbs are given for use; to keep them idle is to abuse them. True honour lies in the pride of being able to do one’s own job by one’s own self as also for the society, may be for money.