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Labor Action, 16 June 1947


“An Abiding Belief in Old-fashioned
Virtue” and Slavery


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 23, 9 June 1947, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Some would say that the following tale, reported at some length in Life, could have happened only in French Canada, but such a comment would only reveal an awareness of the essentially reactionary nature of Catholic-dominated Quebec. Actually, however, the story of industrial servitude which we recount has been duplicated in other parts of the industrial world of capitalism where there is a profit to be made from the labors of the workers.

Ludger Dionne (no relation to the productive Dionne), a French-Canadian rayon spinning manufacturer, took himself a trip to Germany this spring to find some cheap labor for his mill, whose labor force had declined sharply now that the farm girls he exploited during the fall and Winter months had “take(n) off to the woods,” as lie said. So this industrialist, with an “abiding belief in old-fashioned virtues” (Life), decided to become “the savior of the working girl.” The UNNRA officials to whom he went to ask for 100 girls readily consented, being overwhelmed with the problem of displaced persons.

The qualifications of the girls demanded by M. Dionne were that they be of good health, good Catholics and of high virtue. This throw-back to feudalistic industrialism carefully checked on the girls whom he found to be “relatively healthy and impressively Catholic.”

Originally he was going to choose Ukrainian girls for his soul-saving venture, but two Catholic priests steered him to a Polish camp and there he had his choice among 12,000 camp inhabitants. The industrialist arranged for their trip to Canada by plane to increase his labor force to five hundred — still three hundred short of his goal. But he is now planning to bring over another hundred girls. “I hate to see machines idle,” declaims Dionne.

Because of the backgrounds he demanded of the girls, it was rumored that industrialist Dionne demanded that all the girls be virgins. This, of course, he denied. Someone must have tipped him off to the meaning of the “ravages of war,” and then again, you know, these days, it is hard to tell. Even doctors say you can’t always be sure. No, all he wanted was good girls, and he learned that the girls of his choice went to mass every morning.

To show that he wants to be decent about it all, the paternalistic industrialist is paying the girls 21 cents an hour for a 48-hour week! What is more, he even gave them a contract for two years. The 48-hour week will cause no great hardship because Dionne had already ascertained the girls’ interests by asking all of them: “You don’t like to run around nights, do you?”

Just in case anyone thinks this a piece of chicanery and is revolted thereby, rest assured that the girls are really well provided for. Of course, they must pay back their passage money. After all, it wasn’t their money! Of their $10 a week, they are going to pay only $6 for room and board. Since the legal minimum wage in Canada is 20 cents an hour, the one cent difference is going to be banked for them so that when they leave his employ after two years, they will have a little nest-egg to go, on. You can figure it out: one cent an hour over the legal minimum, 48 cents a week, 52 weeks a year, two years, why that’s ...

M. Dionne, who was “amazed to see the goodness of these girls,” is taking no chances, however, which is right and proper, given these perilous times. The girls will be taken charge of by the nuns of the Order of the Good Shepherd, for whom Dionne built a $250,000 annex to the stone convent near his mill. But it is a lie that the girls will be virtual prisoners. Dionne himself told the girls, who are permitted out at night: “You can see your sweethearts.” It is only for their own protection that they must see their sweethearts only “in the convent parlor, and at 10.30 (they) will have to go.”

Whatever one says about this, it must be admitted that the magnanimous industrialist has helped to solve Canada’s labor shortage and it is pure cussedness for one parliamentary member to have charged Dionne with, dealing in “a fire sale of human misery.” After all, he did get the girls out of Europe, and if he is only paying 21 cents an hour for 48 hours a week, remember, money isn’t everything. The girls will be aided in fighting the gross materialism of modern life, through the spiritual help of the Order of the Good Shepherd. And the comforts of religion are, as everyone knows, quite priceless!

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