Extracts from the Annual Reports
Extracts from ITUC Conference on June 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 1903 at the Technical Schools, Newry
On Housing the Working Classes
ITUC President Walter Hudson said: In our large Cities and Towns, the labouring class, with their present wages, cannot pay a rental of more than 2s. 6d. or 3s. per week. Take, for instance, the position of many employed by large corporations, the Railways having termini in Dublin (who have a maximum wages for Passenger Porters at 15s. 6d. for Goods Porters at 18s. per week), there is no chance amidst the prohibitive rent in Dublin for married men with such a miserable wage to secure a pleasant home.
The Earl of Belmore, speaking at the recent Industrial Conference, said, “If you want to stem the tide of emigration, if you want to keep the people at home, you must strive to better their condition. If the industrial institute is to be a power for good in the Country it must tackle the social question boldly, and see that the working classes are better housed and better cared for. Look at the filth and squalor in which many of our workmen are condemned to live, the foetid atmosphere they are condemned to breathe, the entire absence of proper sanitation, and if some tardy and half-hearted attempt is made by the local authority, and an improvement scheme brought in, the owner gets 30 years’ purchase for his pest-stricken property, instead of being prosecuted for the protection of society.”
A much greater degree of responsibility for providing housing accommodation very properly rests upon our Corporate and other elective bodies. The reiterated statements of the fabulous prices fixed upon condemned areas by owners are for ever being dinged in our ears without any apparent effort to prevent such unwarrantable opposition. If the slum owner cannot, or will not, clear and re-build, such property should no longer remain at a premium to the owner. There is here a good case made out for further legislation giving to Municipalities compulsory powers of purchase of such properties, and any useful land at a fair valuation. All unused land should be taxed at its relative value. Loans for the purpose of giving effect to the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, should not be reckoned against the borrowing powers of local authorities; allowing a longer period for repayment; giving a corresponding relief to suitable occupiers in the acquisition of houses under the Artisan and Labourers Acts. It should also be enacted that the title-deeds of the property to be acquired should be a sufficient security for the purchase-money, without requiring the lodgment of one fifth of that sum. It should cheapen the cost of transfer of house property to occupiers, similar to what has been done in the case of land transfers. With regard to town tenants, the setting up of tribunals for the fixing of fair rents at given periods, the principle of which has long been adopted in the case of land, would secure to the tenants the benefits of their own improvements. Tenements should as rapidly as possible be brought under municipal ownership, and a strict system of registration and inspection should be exercised over all remaining in private hands. These amendments with other details would go very far towards the solution of the housing question, providing the working classes do their part in the selection of those who are to compose the local governing bodies.
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On Excessive Hours of Shopworker
Henry Rochford (Hairdresser’s Association) moved: That this Congress reiterates its opinion that the earlier closing of shops, and the consequent relief from excessive hours of labour at present endured by a large number of male and female shop assistants, can only be brought about by compulsory early closing; and we again instruct the Parliamentary Committee to make every effort to secure the passing of Sir Charles Dilke’s Shops Bill at present before Parliament.
He said what he wanted the Congress to do was to pass the resolution to bring about the closing of hairdressing shops on Sundays. At present it was half-past 12 o’clock on Sunday morning before the men employed in those shops were paid their wages. He thought he was correct in stating that the greatest friends of the keeping open of hairdressers’ shops were the trade unionists themselves.
Mr MONROE (Belfast) seconded the resolution, which was supported by Mr TREACEY (Dublin).
Mr E W STEWART, on behalf of the Shop Assistants, moved as an addendum: —
Add—”And this Congress further declines to regard Lord Avebury’s Shops (Early Closing) Bill as providing practical proposals to deal effectually with the questions of the early closing of shops and the limitation of the hours of labour, being optional in character, cumbersome in operation, and so hemmed in with safeguards as to be useless in practice, and hereby empowers the Parliamentary Committee to take all necessary steps to oppose the Bill in the House of Commons.” He said he wanted Congress to give a specific decision against the Avebury Bill.
Mr George LEAHY (Dublin) seconded.
Mr ROCHFORD accepted the addendum, which then became portion of the resolution, which was adopted.
English Delegate on anti-trade union stance of the Courts
Mr. J. B. MACDONALD (secretary of the Labour Representation Committee, London) said, This was his first visit to Ireland, but he did not see why it should not be only one of a number to follow, because when English capital and Scotch capital and Irish capital were combined in their own interests it was time English workers, Scotch workers, and Irish workers should stand shoulder to shoulder to demonstrate their strength. He was there representing about 900,000 trades unionists of England and Scotland, but his organisation was very much younger than theirs, having as yet achieved only its third or fourth year. But their growth had been phenomenal, because the need was also phenomenal, and because the work which they had set themselves to do was one of the greatest and most pressing importance to the wage-earners of the country.
For thirty years they had been under the impression that the principles of trade unionism were safe, and that it was legal to picket, and that it was not within the power of the law officers to take away their funds. They had, however, been living in a fool’s paradise. A certain vagueness about some of the Acts of Parliament had been seized by the courts to nullify the effects of those Acts and work against their intentions. The result of this was that in England and Scotland there was a combination of Trades Unionists, and Co-operatives, Socialists, and other labour organisations determined in future to fight on a common political platform. The time for moving was now ripe, but what were they to do in order to be effective? They, the workers of the country, were seven-ninths of the electors of the country; yet when they wanted to bring their most vital concerns before Parliament they had to send deputations, with hats in hand, to try and pump an idea of what they wanted into the heads of their representatives. If that was representation, then representation was a farce, a sham, and a delusion. They could only end it by sending men who belonged to their own class to represent them in the House of Commons.
On the Right to Strike
Mr Keir Hardie, MP said, ‘It was not enough simply to point out the position to which trades unionism had been reduced by judge-made decisions, which in some of their aspects went practically in the teeth of the Acts of Parliament. They must also make up their minds and be quite clear as to what it was they desired in connection with further laws for the protection of trades unionism. They were practically agreed upon two points
(1) the right to peacefully persuade blacklegs to refrain from working, a right which was at the present moment an offence, and meant prison and the seizure of a union’s funds for the compensation of the employer; and
(2) the right, at present construed by the law officers into an illegality, of a trades union bringing out its men in order to support the demands of the men of another union.
But there was a third point upon which there was not the same agreement—whether under any circumstances trades union funds were to be confiscated to compensate employers for loss and damage sustained in consequence of a strike or other labour disturbance. He hoped the Congress would speak with no uncertain voice on that point. He might remind them that a trades union itself had not the power to sue employers. They took up this position that neither should an employer have power to sue a trades union; and also that the funds of a union being mostly contributed for purposes other than that of working strikes should be free from confiscation.
They demanded complete immunity for the funds of unions. The recent attack upon trades unionism was the outcome of the feeling prevailing in certain circles against labour itself, and the same parties who were attacking municipal undertakings were also attacking trades unionism. It was part of the one movement. These men desired to rule absolutely, and to grow rich at the expense of the nation. They wanted to break down any power of resistance which the workers did possess, and they knew that if they could grapple with the trades union movement their task of robbing the worker would be a comparatively easy one.
But what was the remedy? Not by resolutions or abstract declarations in favour of labour representation, but by action. They blamed them for voting wrong, but they must provide them with opportunity of voting right. They must put in motion the machinery which would bring labour candidates forward when vacancies occurred; they must create the funds by which elections had to be fought; and they must wean the worker from allegiance to either of the existing parties in the State.
Proceeding, Mr Hardie said—They were speaking about the industrial development of Ireland. They were looking forward with hope to commercial development in Ireland—yet that might prove a heavier curse than all the English misgovernment of the past put together. Commercial development as they knew it in England and Scotland and elsewhere meant the complete destruction of the labour of the worker in the interest of the capitalist and the landlord class. Here also labour was called upon to speak out, and make sure that when the industries of Ireland come to be developed it ‘should not mean as it so often meant, the further demoralisation and degradation of the nation, but should, through their development, bring benefit and peace and prosperity to every section of the community.
That meant that the development of Irish industry must be on Nationalist or Socialist, as distinguished from the commercial or capitalist lines. Dealing with the question of labour representation, he said that when the labour members came from Ireland, as they would come, they would work together outside all the political differences that had weakened their ranks in the past, realising that they had one common interest, which was greater than national feeling, greater than religious difference, the principle of seeking to uplift the people to whom they belonged, and to make their life more worth living than it had been in the past. He trusted their deliberations would result in benefit to those whom they represented, that the trades union movement in Ireland would be the stronger for their having come together, and that the old differences of race and the like would be weakened by their co-operation in their own broad interests.