Extracts from the Annual Reports
Extracts from ITUC Conference on May 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd, 1907, at the City Hall, Dublin
On housing agricultural labourers
From the address by James McCarron (Londonderry) President of the ITUC: This is the third occasion on which we have met in the Capital, and this time under very favourable circumstances. We open Congress simultaneously with that of the great Irish International Exhibition,* where the handicrafts of the sons of toil of many lands can be seen, and which, we hope, will be an incentive to Irishmen, regardless of creed or politics, to emulate the industrial progress of the workers of those countries, the results of whose skill are nowbeing displayed in Dublin.
Permit me to say… that since we met last year in Athlone the Trades Disputes Bill has become law, and we may, I hope, be pardoned in congratulating ourselves on the passing of that measure, which restores to us that birth-right of freedom which again enables us as Trade Unionists to do what we have always contended we were justified in doing—-that is, disposing of our funds according to rules, and of our labour as we desire.
There are many matters that militate against the industrial prosperity of this country, and consequently many reforms are urgently needed which, we as workers—-in fact, which all Irishmen —should agitate to bring about; and, if accomplished, would, I believe, go a long way towards promoting Ireland’s prosperity. Let us ask ourselves: What is the cause of the rural labourers flocking into our cities and towns, where, literally speaking, there is no employment for them? Because Ireland is fast becoming a huge cattle-ranch where men and women are being daily displaced by herds and sheep. In districts where formerly hundreds were employed in agricultural pursuits there are now only a few cattle to be found. Where are those healthy peasants now, who once were the pride of the land? Alas! they are populating the slums of the large towns in this and other countries, many of them physical and moral wrecks, a menace to organised labour, and a burden to the community and to themselves. Some remedy must be found to make rural life more acceptable. But what is the remedy ?—aye, that is the trouble.
The Labourers Act recently passed may remedy this state of affairs to some extent; but in order that cottages and allotments should be occupied by the people for whom they are intended, work adjacent to his home must be found for the labourer; and the only means of accomplishing that, I make bold to say, is to amend the Land Act so as to compel the owners of land to cultivate a certain proportion. This may seem a somewhat coercive suggestion, but an evil that is the cause of the draining of a country’s life-blood can only be got rid of by the application of drastic remedies. It may be argued that this would be interfering with the freedom of the tenant farmers who have at exorbitant prices bought out their farms. But surely a party and a Government who agreed to the granting of £12,000,000 (twelve millions) in relief of the old landlords cannot refuse to compensate the tenant farmers, if necessary, for any loss the suggested legislation might inflict upon them.
On land tax
Another question of great importance to the workers is the taxation of land values, I don’t, of course, refer to land used for agricultural purposes, but rather to the land adjacent to and upon which our cities and towns are built, which if used for agriculture would realise but a few pounds per acre, but when occupied for commercial purposes, brings, in many instances, several pounds per foot. Yet the “owners” who receive such rents never contribute one penny of capital or experience, one moment of anxiety, in bringing about the conditions which enhance the letting value of what they term their “property.” It cannot be contended that there is either equity or justice in a law which entitles a few men, who neither sow nor reap, to appropriate the wealth created in this way by the energy and industry of a whole community. How long is this iniquitous system to continue? When will this millstone.
I ask you, fellow-workers, is it not our duty—and not ours alone—but the duty also of the business and trading classes of this country to unitedly strive to bring about the reforms of which I have spoken …particularly the Housing of the Working Classes—which press heavily upon the whole community. We read in the daily Press of the alarming extent of the death rate amongst the children of our poor as compared with those of the rich—attributed, and rightly so, to the unsanitary conditions under which the children of the workers (a nation’s greatest asset) are compelled to live. No more noble work could engage us than agitating to make the homes of the little ones more healthy and happy by removing them from the dens in which so many of them are housed, and by providing open spaces by clearing away the physical and moral contaminating districts to be found in all our large cities.
The interests of capital and labour are not identical in all things; but on the question of widening the opportunities of trade and commerce by removing the restrictions I have referred to, and in uplifting the workers and the poor by obtaining the reforms suggested, our interests are identical; and, consequently, capital and labour should have a common platform from which such reforms could be advocated.’
McCarron condemned the exclusion of ‘Outworkers’ from the new Workmen’s Compensation Act that broadened the grounds on which they were entitled to compensation if they were injured at work. ‘Outworkers’ were people employed in their own home, usually women, to produce goods. Many made clothing items. McCarron said, ‘We feel bound to protest against the exclusion of the out-workers from the Act. Why is this class of worker—the most oppressed, and who requires more than the ordinary protection of the law—excluded? Surely, it was not the intention of Parliament to place a premium on out-working by exempting from all responsibility employers who sweat these poor wretches.
As most people are aware, the sweaters’ victims, especially in the tailoring trade, work under the most unsanitary conditions, where germs of typhoid and many other diseases abound. In fact, many of the so-called workshops are veritable death-traps, yet no protection is vouchsafed to those who are compelled to work in dens of this description. This, I think, should prove the power of combination to those who persistently refuse to become members of trade unions. Here you observe that the most oppressed and downtrodden workers are denied the protection afforded to others working under much more favourable conditions, and the reason is because the sweaters’ victims have no organisation to voice their wrongs and to demand the redress of the grievances under which they suffer. Some may, perhaps, contend that people who do nothing to help themselves should not receive help. That, from a trade-union standpoint, is a short-sighted policy, inasmuch as the manufacturers who employ those people are in competition withfair employers, and are consequently able to place their products in the market—viz, clothing, furniture, &c —much cheaper than the fair employer, with the result that the latter is undersold and the legitimate workers displaced. We should, therefore, as representing the trade unionists of this country, demand in the interests of justice and equity that all workers should be afforded the protection of the Workmen’s Compensation Act.
The Education Question is one there is so much controversy about that I feel diffident in making any reference to it. However, one cannot help complaining of the exceptional treatment given to England, Scotland, and Wales as compared with Ireland, so far as concerns monetary grants, proper equipment of schools, and payment of teachers, &c. But the burning point (and I admit it is a thorny one) agitating trades unionists is whether secular or religious instruction should or should not be taught at the same school. I am of opinion that, as combined workers, we should demand of the Government a proper system of secular education.
But it should be understood that this united demand must not prevent those who are so disposed, as subjects of the State, supporting a scheme for religious training in public schools if those responsible for the education of the children desired it. But what about higher education? Are we satisfied with the present system, which places universities out of the reach of all but the moneyed classes?
IRISH COUNCILS BILL – ‘A Constitutional Cripple’*
Mr E W Stewart moved that the standing orders be suspended to consider a special report of the Parliamentary Committee relative to the Irish Councils Bill then before the House of Commons.
Councillor P. T. Daly seconded, and the motion was adopted.
The report was as follows: The Parliamentary Committee, having had under consideration the statement of the Chief Secretary when introducing the Irish Council Bill, and also the provisions of that Measure, desire to place on record the following opinion, viz:—
That in its present form the Bill holds out little hope to the Irish working class of effective efforts to improve their conditions, and our opinion is based upon the following reasons:—
1. The Bill proposes to set up an ultra-administrative body (within the sphere of the eight Departments relegated to it) with limited finance quite insufficient to satisfy the pressing needs of Ireland, without any power to add to the sources and volume of its revenue, and bereft of any authority to enforce even its limited decisions.
2. In the body proposed to be set up, the Measure retains the highly objectionable and undemocratic principle of a nominated element, which has invariably been hostile to working class interests.
3. The Measure contains no specific provision for payment of representatives — a condition now universally acknowledged as necessary to adequate labour representation on public boards.
Under these circumstances we can only regard the Bill as it stands as a constitutional cripple, more likely than otherwise to hamper and irritate industrial improvement in Ireland, unless subject to far-reaching amendments in its financial and other provisions.
Mr E W Stewart said that the Parliamentary Committee looked at the Bill entirely from the worker’s point of view, and they were not, as a Trades Congress, interested in its political aspects. The Parliamentary Committee had come to the conclusion that the present proposals in the Bill could not and would not have satisfactory results so far as the workers were concerned, and he moved the adoption of the report.
Mr Murphy, PLG (Belfast), seconded the motion. He said that it was only wise and right that, while they did not pose as politicians, as workers they should express their views upon the measure as it affected their particular interests. It was only the wish of the Parliamentary Committee that this Bill would materially assist the workers in carrying out the ideas and aspirations they all had in common.
Mr Canty opposed the adoption of the report, as he said he had sufficient confidence in the Irish Party to say that justice would be done to the workers. He thought it was waste of time for the Congress to deal with the matter … and it was premature for the Congress to discuss a Bill which the Irish nation had not considered.
He thought it was folly for them to come there mixing in politics where there was a political Party to deal with such matters.
Councillor P T Daly expressed himself opposed to the Bill, in consequence of its shortcomings. He thought the Committee’s report did not go far enough in condemning it.
The report was adopted, there being only one dissentient
*The principal organiser of the 1907 Exhibition was William Martin Murphy, who would lead the employers in the Dublin Lockout of 1913
*The Irish Councils Bill was a diluted form of Home Rule which was eventually rejected by the Irish Party