Gareth Jones

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Gareth Jones 'Famine' Diaries - Chicago 2008


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Wales and Germany have one grave problem in common-how to tackle unemployment.  In both countries there is an army of workless young people who feel that there is no place for them in the world.  Whether they live in Merthyr or in Berlin, in Pontypridd or in Munich, they face the same spectre of idleness and poverty. 

In South Wales isolated attempts are being made to alleviate the boredom and the apathy of the unemployed.  In Bryn-mawr, in Trealaw, in Merthyr, and elsewhere greater activity has entered the lives of the workless, and this has raised their spirits and benefited the community. 

In Germany the fight against the deterioration of youth has been carried on with energy.  The German Government say: “We must bring the unemployed off the streets.  We must give them hope.  We must show them that they are wanted by the State, and thus conquer their pessimism.  We must make them healthy by giving them work in the open air.  We must give them physical drill.  We must interest them in literature, in history, and in geography.  We must teach them crafts.  We must use them to improve our roads, our forests, our land, our bridges.  But, above all, we must teach them order, discipline, and loyalty to the State.” 

Voluntary Labour 

To carry out these aims the German Government has encouraged a Voluntary Labour Service, which has set up thousands of labour camps throughout Germany.  Last summer 290,000 young Germans were given work, bread, and health in these camps.  In Saxony, for example, which has about twice as many inhabitants as Wales, there are about 600 camps with from 30 to 200 people in each.  Thus if Wales were in Germany there would be about 300 camps training the youth of the country.  

The members of the camps are all volunteers.  They work about six hours a day, some on roads, some in draining marshes, others in clearing the results of floods, some in building sports grounds.  Besides these six hours, four hours are devoted to lectures, discussions, sport, and physical drill.  For, as the President of the Saxon Labour Service said: “It is the man and not the work which is important.” 

The spirit of those who join these camps is similar to that of young Welshmen who seek work.  A number of unemployed who wished to offer their services were asked why they wanted to join, and nearly all gave similar replies, which ran as follows:  

i. “I am sick and tired of not having enough to eat.”

ii. “I am sick and tired of dragging about the house with nothing to do.”

iii. “I want to learn something.” 

The Work They Do 

These young men do not work fork profit, for they only receive fourpence a day in pocket-money, the pay of the pre war German soldier.  They are given, however, plain but good food, work-clothes, exercise, health and comradeship, and work from four to nine months in the camp.  The State subscribes 2s. per day per man, and the cost to the Government in 1932 was about £5,000,000. 

All the work done is for the public good and not for the benefit of an individual.  Urban district councils or rural councils, co-operative societies or churches, employ the labour of the voluntary labour camps for public works.  Thus the financially embarrassed public bodies of Germans have been able to get excellent work done at small cost and to the benefit of the health and spirits of the unemployed. 

The camps may be set up by the private initiative of clubs, such as the Y.M.C.A., by political groups or by societies.  There are Hitler camps, there are Protestant camps, Socialist camps, and other kinds but in general the neutral camp, where men of all parties and sects come together is preferred.  Now, however, that Hitler is in power, the Nazis will be favoured.  In each camp there is a leader who has been especially trained and put to a severe test, and who is usually over 25 years of age.  His influence upon the young workers can be very great. 

Unions’ Opposition 

In the beginning of the movement the Trade Unions opposed the Voluntary Labour Service, in which they saw a menace to the wage agreements they had struggled for, and at present the Builders’ Union is still a deadly enemy of the camps.  But the Trade Unions have now realised that it is better to give work to the unemployed, if they volunteer for it, even at an infinitesimal pocket-money rate, than to allow their health and moral to suffer. 

Moreover, many thousands abandoned the Trade Unions in order to be able to volunteer for the camps.  Contractors also fight against the Labour Service and accuse it of stealing their trade.  In spite of the opposition, and in spite of financial difficulties, the movement is growing.  Indeed the Hitler Government wishes to make it compulsory and turn it into a kind of national conscription scheme. 

Germany led the way in unemployment and health insurance.  Perhaps by these labour camps Germany may be leading the way to a method of rescuing the youth of Europe from the effects of unemployment.  The German authorities are still groping in the dark, and have great difficulties to face.  But their experiments may be of great value to areas such as South Wales which have the same unemployment problem to tackle. 








Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany.


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