The Immigrant and Social Unrest, April 19, 1920



Miss Jane Addams, Head Resident,
Hull House, Chicago, Illinois.

I should like to begin tonight by reminding you that the world is full of social unrest of which the immigrant is more acutely conscience and perhaps understands better than do native-born Americans. We forget that there are [redistributions] in land, recognition of peasant proprietorship continually being carried on in the various countries of Europe, not only those in which actual revolutions have taken place as in Hungary and Russia, but in other countries such as [Romania] where there has been no violent revolution and in less well known lands where social changes are constantly taking place. The [Romanians] in this country have heard about these events in [Romania], as the immigrants from other European nations hear of theirs, and are very eager to know definitely as to what is happening to their own families over there, and as to what share they themselves might have in it all if they had returned, -- not only a share in the distribution of land but a share in establishing a new state.

They are all also terribly worried about untoward experiences which may have befallen their kinsfolk in these [page 2] remote countries. For five years many of them have heard nothing directly from their families and they are wrung to the heart over the possible starvation of their parents and brothers and sisters, sometimes of their wives and children. For weeks and months and years, for instance, some of them have not been able to hear from Eastern Poland. They know of the historic events, but they have gotten no news concerning the particular people who are dear to them. They are now beginning to get letters from Hungary, but still nothing is coming out of Russia, so that many Eastern immigrants are disturbed and very unhappy for these purely human reasons.

On the other hand they are eager, these Poles, and Bohemians, and Croatians, to be called by their new names. They are keenly alive to the fresh start made in Poland, in [Czechoslovakia], in [Yugoslavia], and they are quite conscious of the great happenings in Eastern and Southern Europe.

A little while ago in a mine in Northern California, a manager noted a growing disturbance among the Slav employees. He grew nervous, as he saw the miners dividing into two camps, which were given over to much ardent discussion. He made up his mind to send for the State Militia. [page 3] but before he did so, a man arrived from the State Immigration Commission of California, who spoke various languages. He discovered that the miners were not planning an I.W.W. uprising, or anything of that sort, but were divided in regard to the candidate for the presidency of the new [Yugoslav] Republic. For the moment, their minds were far from wages and hours and conditions of work, so fully were their spirits back in the old country. Many immigrants are exhibiting that absolute absorption in regard to things that are happening over seas. In the Senate it was recently stated that one and a half million European immigrants had applied for return passports. In addition to those who wished to aid their families were those who hoped to have part in the [redistribution] of land.  There are many who want to go back to work out the things there which they had hoped to attain when they came to this country. But, for whatever reason they ↑may↓ have made ↑their↓ application, they cannot go to many of these countries, and their enforced retention constantly makes for unrest. A member of this conference told me that from a small Western city where there were 800 Russians, 275 had gone to the Western Coast hoping to sail back to Siberia and thus to reach Russia. [page 4] I do not know how many Russians have gone from Chicago to Seattle and other Western ports, but a man who has once emigrated from the old, freely moving world, is made very restive by the sense of being tied down.

There is another reason for social unrest among immigrants. They know something of the experiments that all though this country are being made for ↑toward↓ a greater degree of democracy in industrial affairs, and they are often disappointed because the movement seems so slow to them. One of the most successful experiments in giving a larger measure of self-rule to workers was brought into being by a Committee of immigrant operatives in the clothing trades, through the Hart, [Schaffner] & Marx agreement in Chicago. The men have organized into shop committees and methods have been devised by which a difficulty may be carried on from one joint committee to another until an equitable adjustment is reached. At least the men have a fair hearing and they know that so far as justice may be obtained, it is given them. Such an experiment was successfully carried on in Chicago for ten years and is now being extended to the clothing industry throughout the country. Both the Manufacturing Associations and the Amalgamated Unions have come into it. There are other [page 5] experiments in the same direction and industrial workers are securing self-government in industry, a little here and a little there, but the fact that there are delays, some of them unnecessary doubtless, tends to social unrest.

There is a great deal more which might be said about this subject from the immigrant's point of view, but let us for a moment turn to the American's point of view in regard to the immigrant and social unrest. Let us remember there has been almost no immigration to this country during the World War, and that the immigrants now with us have been here at least for the five years duration of that war. In what situation do they find themselves after this period of life in America. They are feeling, some of them with good reason, that they are being looked upon with suspicion and regarded as different from the rest of the world; that whatever happens in this country that is disagreeable and hard to understand is put off upon them, as if they alone were responsible. They feel that they are now being watched in quite a new way for doing the very things they have been doing for many years without any question. I have lived in an immigrant community for more than thirty years. The people of foreign birth in that neighborhood have always held meetings, have always discussed new methods [page 6] of social adjustment, and have often urged a reorganization of the social order itself. No harm has come from that. On the contrary, I can remember young men who met together at Hull House and in other halls in Chicago, twenty and thirty years ago, and made statements that the authorities today would not allow them to make, who have turned out to be prosperous citizens, thoroughly bourgeois and some of them a little too conservative. Several of these eloquent young men grown older are now in Congress. We do not want young people to be too sure that this world is already just right, or the world would never advance at all. If they discuss its reformation ↑as they are prone to do,↓ it is inevitable that they should occasionally say very radical things, but if a man, as the English say, is not a little too radical when he is young, he will be much too reactionary when he is old. But if the immigrants now hold meetings and say the things they are accustomed to say, they are likely to be arrested and even deported. They cannot understand it; they do not know why they should now be treated so differently and they are puzzled and irritated. It really does seem that we are falling back into the old habit of judging men, not by their individual merits or capacities, but that we are thrusting them back into the old categories of race and [page 7] religion; that we designate them by the part of the world in which they were born and then feel justified in judging them in the mass. Most immigrants have come to America because they wanted more opportunity for themselves and their children; because they believed that this was a land of freedom and equality. It is a grave matter to [willfully] destroy the ideal with which they came to us, -- the ideal that is in the hearts of thousands of people still on the other side, who once wanted to come over here, but who are now hesitating and perhaps will never come, because they are convinced that they will find more opportunity in other lands. American manufacturers are already beginning to say that they want more labor; that we cannot allow one and a half million people to return to Europe, because American industry needs them, but after all, human labor depends upon many things. If this country ceases to offer opportunities for free development, a certain type of immigrant will cease to come and we will lose more than his labor power. We will lose an idealism and a vitality which is very much needed.

Sometimes when I hear ↑a↓ Russian say: "I used to dream constantly of America, and of the time I might come here, but now I go about with the same longing in my heart for Russia, [page 8] and am homesick to go back to her." We do not like to hear a man say that, for we would rather believe that America gives him his greatest opportunity for free development.

Why are we so suspicious and timid in regard to the immigrants of a type we have long had with us, and who has never brought us to grief? After the French Revolution, the English passed through the same reactionary period we are now having here. England then feared the doctrines of the French Revolutionists, as we now fear the Bolshevism. They enacted many oppressive and restrictive laws, thereby halting the social progress of England for decades, because later, of course, England was obliged to get rid of these measures before its development could proceed in an orderly manner and much energy was consumed in ↑merely↓ breaking down the barriers. Apparently that is the way in which the Anglo-Saxon mind takes the revolutions of others.

I beg of you, let us get back into simple human relationships with these men and women who have come to our shores and ↑who↓ are surprisingly like the rest of us. They come with great hopes and work hard to secure a better future for their children. Some of them fail and some of them succeed, and all become modified day by day, as they live with their neighbors, according to the good will, justice and even-handed [page 9] enforcement of the law which surrounds them all. Nothing so produces social unrest as a sense of injustice, a conviction that the law is unfairly enforced.

To this group of social workers, many of whom are closely identified with immigrant interests, I should like to say, "[Reassure] your neighbors as best you may. Tell them that this day will pass. That America will again come to regard them as simple friends and neighbors." America's progress will be impeded much or little somewhat in proportion as social workers have the courage and conviction to carry on American traditions and ideals and to interpret them to immigrant populations.