The Immigrant Coming Here To Suffer 1900

The old fable that the streets in America are paved with gold, which has lured many an immigrant here only to endure cold and hunger, is being repeated in a new form and is likely to throw upon our town an army of ignorant foreigners this summer, for whom there is no possibility of finding work. The new bait is not golden paved streets, but but the prospect of work on the rapid transit tunnel.

The steamship agents are spreading all through Southern Europe stories of the plentiful work and big wages which this enterprise will supply. Their glowing promises are being supported by letters home from Italians already in this city, who have found in work for Mr. McDonald and other contractors heretofore, wealth beyond any dreams they had indulged in their sunny homes. it is not strange that these alien visitors should misunderstand the conditions under which this work is to be done, and perhaps it not strange that the steamship companies should foster any delusion which promises to increase their business, but the combination of tales is likely to bring suffering to a great many innocent immigrants and to make a troublesome situation in the city.

For years the bulk of the employees of city contractors have been Italians. They came here from poverty so abject that they were willing to work for prices which were scorned by men who had had a few more years' experience of American comfort. There has been nothing to prevent contractors hiring men at the lowest prices save the "pull" of the politicians through whom contracts are awarded. That has usually been sufficient to put a certain number of party workers on the pay rolls at pretty good wages, but it has left an army of day laborers to be supplied from among the recent immigrants who were willing to work cheaply. The conditions for this tunnel work are changed. The law fixes the eight hour day for laborers on the tunnel and it provides that union wages shall be paid. Under those circumstances the contractor has nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by employing immigrant labor. In the first place, the man who has been accustomed to live on the small pay and scant fare which prevail in Southern and Eastern Europe cannot do as much work as the meat-eating American working man. That is as idle as to expect to get the same steam from half a ton of coal as from a ton. It is a question of fuel in both cases.

If the contractor must pay the highest current wages he certainly wants the most efficient workmen, and they are those accustomed to the rushing American ways. Then the contractor has a great deal to gain by pleasing the politicians who recommend workmen. In the course of his three years' undertaking the politicians can put a good many obstacles in his way if they are so disposed. Friends at court never hurt anybody. The district leaders will recommend voters.

There are enough of them in New York who will be glad to take tunnel jobs at short hours to dig the whole of the big ditch. This absorption of the best laborers on the tunnel may throw open other employments to the new comers and it will undoubtedly strengthen the labor market in the city. But there are enough idle men in New York today to dig the tunnel if only all the idle were willing to work. The tunnel will not clean out the crowds in parks nor lessen the lines at free bread distributions, probably, but it will help honest men who want work and cannot find it. It will bring in men who can become voters long before the job is done and get influence in that way. Between these classes the places left for immigrants will be few, even if no declaration against employing aliens is made.

These facts ought to be circulated in the regions from which our immigrants are drawn, before the summer rush now preparing gets under way. They will not be, however. The rush will come and the Commissioners of Immigration ought to send back as many of those for whom the prospect of work is almost hopeless as the law will allow. The tunnel will be a blessing to all who get work on it, but it ought not to be allowed to draw in an army of foreigners to beg or starve.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Immigrant Coming Here To Suffer 1900
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle January 24, 1900
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