The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Mr. C. Hennis of the United Nations’ International Labor Organization took place in Geneva in 1974.
Mr. Hennis: The International Labor Organization is interested in promoting social justice and protecting the worker.
Srila Prabhupada: By natural arrangement, the social body has four divisions: the brain division, for guidance; the arm division, for protection; the belly division, for sustenance; and the leg division, for assistance. Every one of them is meant for maintaining the social body, and the whole body is meant for maintaining every one of them. But if you think about it objectively, the brain is the first division, the arms are the second, the belly the third, and the legs the fourth.
To keep your body healthy, you care for all these different divisions. But if you simply take care of the legs and not the brain, then you do not have a good, healthy body. The United Nations is taking care of society’s fourth division, the workers. What care are they taking of the first division? That is my question. At the present moment in society, there is very, very little care for the first-class men, the thoughtful men.
Mr. Hennis: The International Labor Organization has as one of its major aims to promote social justice. And that means that every class of worker has its proper place in society, should have a full measure of human dignity, and should have a proper share in the rewards for labor. . . . We are trying to insure a measure of uniformity in social justice, in treatment of labor and protection of labor, and in security, occupational safety, and health, and in all these things that are of importance to the worker, as well as in payments to professional workers such as architects, nurses, doctors, veterinarians, and so on.
Srila Prabhupada: According to the Vedic conception of society, the higher three classes—the intelligent, the protective, and the productive classes—are never to be bound to an employer by a salary. They remain free. Only the fourth class, the laboring class, is employed.
My point is that the United Nations should now think how the whole human society can live peacefully, with a real purpose in life—not whimsically, without any purpose in life. Wherever I go, when I ask any gentleman, “What is the purpose of life?” he cannot explain, That means there is no truly intelligent class. Nobody knows life’s real, spiritual purpose—realizing the self and realizing God.
Mr. Hennis: Well, I think that the International Labor Organization is devoted to the reduction of inequalities between the different classes of men with a view to getting them all a better share of the good things of life, and by that, they may begin to reach a greater degree of human happiness—as they understand it, as the people themselves understand it. It may be that they don’t understand it well.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. For example, in America the laborer class is very highly paid. But because there is no spiritual guidance—no intelligent class—the laborer class is wondering, “Now I have some money—so how shall I use it?” And often they misspend their money on drinking. You may think that you are guaranteeing the laborer class a good living, but because there is no intelligent class to guide them—no brain in the social body—they will misspend their money and create disturbances.
Mr. Hennis: Well, we try to look after that in an indirect way. As I said, we don’t tell people how to spend their money. We don’t tell them what to do in their free time. We do try to make sure that they have proper facilities for leisure, that they have proper opportunities, sportsgrounds, swimming pools, and so forth, although that’s not our primary concern. But what we do try to do—and this will interest you very much—we have a very big program concerned with workers’ education. We endeavor to provide programs of education to the worker in teaching him how to understand the problems of modern industry, to understand the problems of management, the people on the other side of the bargaining table; to understand how to read a balance sheet, for example, in a company or understand what are the problems that face the management as distinct from the workers in a firm; to understand the basic rudiments of economics and finance and that kind of thing.
Now clearly, if a man wants to drink, he wants to drink. But we feel … we are not interested in the drink particularly, except in that it represents a hazard at work. Then it may be dangerous to the man in his occupation. There, of course, we are interested in it.
Srila Prabhupada: No. That is not the point. The point is that everyone in society should be guided by the intelligent class, the brain. Therefore the brain must be properly maintained. That is our point.
Mr. Hennis: Well, I would say, to the extent that all this has a bearing on improving a man’s position in his job, improving his skills at work, and improving his ability to represent his fellow man in trade unions and that kind of thing, we are concerned with it. We are concerned with improving his general culture, his general education, and in particular his education as a worker in relation to industrial and trade-union life in general. We hope by this means a man will improve his status, and by improving his status, he will have other things to think about than just getting drunk.
Srila Prabhupada: We want the laborers to work intelligently, for life’s real purpose. And life’s real purpose is to please God and realize God. Not that the laborers should simply become hard-working like asses, without any intelligence, without any purpose in life. Of all the animals, the ass is the most hard-working—but he isstill an animal, because he does not know why he is working. You see? No intelligence. We don’t want that. We want an intelligent class to offer guidance, so that laborers can work with intelligence and realize God. That is the difference between you and us.