Extracts from the Annual Reports
Extracts from Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress on August 5th, 6th and 7th and 8th, 1918 in the City Hall, Waterford
On the socialist commonwealth
ITUC President William O’Brien said, There are other problems which we will have to face, such as the development, in the interests of the people, of the national resources of the country, railways, mines, bogs, waterways, etc., and these must be exploited to the full, not in the interests of capitalism, but in the interest and on behalf of the whole people of Ireland. But I have spoken too long to give these the attention that might be given. On one other, and this is a most important question, I would say a word. I mean the securing of real as distinct from merely nominal wages. To meet the tremendous rise in the cost of living we have, all of us, been clamouring for more wages, and some of us have even been winning for our members increases nominally equivalent to the increase in the cost of living. But with every increase in nominal wages we find that real wages remain stationary, or else depreciate; that as wages are increased the cost of living rises often out of all proportion to the rise in wages; that the value of money is decreasing; that the pound sterling does not buy as much as ten shillings four years ago. We go on in an unending and vicious circle, and even the living wage is not a way out of our difficulty. A living wage, a real living and not a mere subsistence wage, may be fixed to-day, but to-morrow it must be raised, for the cost of living so long as present conditions prevail, will be once more raised, and again out of all proportion to the purchasing power of the living wage. The living wage of to-day simply becomes the subsistence wage of to-morrow.
To attempt to level up wages is a fatuous policy—a mere temporary expedient, and as a makeshift I have shown its futility. The only real and genuine remedy is to be found in the control of industry in the interest of the community by the working- class. I need not elaborate the arguments which make this conclusion inevitable in logic and in fact, and to do so would be to anticipate the debate to take place on what is in principle, the most important and revolutionary proposal before this Congress. Let us just add that when we speak of the control of industry we mean the control of industry, of all industries, agricultural and manufacturing; the control and management in every sense of each industry by the workers in that industry, and of each and all in the common interest of the whole community, the people, the nation.
The proposal, as I say, is important and revolutionary. But it is the only proposal which can ultimately satisfy the conditions of the new social order which we all desire shall supersede the present system of wage slavery, under which the worker is a mere piece of goods, a commodity, dehumanised and degraded, in the hell of labour’s chattel market.
Out of that hell it is Labour’s aim and purpose and intention to lift the workers of Ireland. It was Connolly’s ideal; it is our ideal. It is the greatest and noblest ideal any movement in our or any time has set before itself, a flaming torch pointing the way to freedom and happiness and all the joys and sweets of life.
For this brave men and brave women, the countless thousands of the pioneers and fighters of the toiling and battling working class, have worked and suffered, bled and died, counting weary labours, and great sacrifices, and life itself as nothing beside the glory that should one day rest upon the world’s proletariat and crown it with the victory of freedom. This, I say, was Connolly’s ideal; and it is our ideal. For it we shall fight on, for it we shall toil on, for it, if need be, we shall give up our comfort, our personal prosperity and our lives. By it we shall stand or fall. It means toil and trouble, suffering- and sacrifice, hardship, and often reverse and defeat, unending conflict and unceasing and unwearying labour. But it means much more; it means the glory of battle for the right, the satisfaction of the good deed against the ill. It means the high and sure and certain hope of the full and complete emancipation of Labour, the social, economic and political freedom from bondage of that great, heroic, unconquered and unconquerable working class of James Connolly’s love. Aye it is well worth all we have and hold dear, for it is liberty through the Co-operative Commonwealth. It is the Workers’ Republic, the building of which on this Irish soil is the sacred trust and legacy handed down to us by the great saints and martyrs and soldiers of Labour who have gone before us, and greatest of them all of him who sanctified it with his life’s blood, James Connolly.
” And by their graves we swear this year of story,
To battle side by side,
Till Freedom crowns with immemorial glory,
The cause for which they died.”
A vote of thanks to the Chairman for his address was proposed by Mr. Thomas Farren (Stonecutters), seconded by Mr. Jno. Cronin (Limerick Trades Council) and carried by acclamation.
Standing Orders Committee reported that there were 240 delegates present representing a membership of 253,000.
The Report of the National Executive for the year was then considered.
On reorganising the trade union movement
With the object of furthering the industrial and political interests of the Labour forces of and district, and having in view of the fact that because of the small numbers of workers engaged in particular trades.
Trade Union organisation has not been effectively carried on in the district, the National Executive of the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party has undertaken to promote the formation of the “Trades and Labour Council” on the following basis, viz. :
Name.—The and District Trades and Labour Council (in association with the Irish Trades Union Congress and Labour Party).
Object.— To promote the organisation of the working class industrially and politically, to strengthen the Trade Union Movement, and generally to support the policy and progress of the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party as declared at their Annual Congress.
Membership shall be open to all workers of either sex employed in the town of or surrounding district, and to any local Trade Union or branch of a Trade Union eligible for affiliation to the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party.
Finance.—Individual members shall pay to the Council ,a minimum contribution of one penny per week and are expected, in addition, to become subscribers to the National Organisation and Representation Fund (3d. per month).
Trade Unions or branches of Unions shall pay to the Council an affiliation fee of one penny per member per month, or one shilling per member per year, and in addition the individual members shall be expected to become subscribers to the National Organisation and Representation Fund (3d per month).
Government.—The members of the Council shall be allocated to sections according to the department of industry they are normally engaged in, e.g.:
Distributive Trades Section.
Building Trades Section.
Transport Trades Section.
Engineering Trades Section.
General Workers’ Section.
Domestic Service Section.
An Executive Committee shall be appointed consisting of one member representing each of the sections (elected by the section separately), one member from each affiliated Trade Union or branch of a Trade Union; and a number of additional members—not less than three or more than five—who shall be elected by the whole Council.
The Executive Committee shall appoint a Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer from amongst its own members.
It shall be a condition of membership of the Council that every member shall join a Trade Union catering for his particular trade or occupation, as soon as a branch of any such Union is established in the district or at a convenient centre.
If any member removes from the town or district of to seek employment elsewhere he shall report on arrival to the Secretary of the Trade and Labour Council, or the branch of the Trade Union of the Trade or occupation lie proposes to follow, in each town where he seeks employment, and shall not accept employment at less than the Trade Union rate of wages in that district.
When any general movement for an advance of wages or improvement of Labour conditions is contemplated, intimation and full particulars shall be sent to the Secretary of the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party who will endeavour to assist by advice and counsel.
While the National Executive does not accept any responsibility for the financial support of members on strike or locked out, the officers will try by such means as are in their power to secure a satisfactory settlement of the dispute.
Since this Scheme was considered one of the affiliated Unions has been doing the work outlined above. We held several organising meetings during the year covering a pretty extensive area. Meetings were held in Cork City, Limerick City, Bruff, Co. Limerick, Sligo, Waterford, and Wexford with very good results so far as the organisation of the Trades Unions’ was concerned.
Your Executive further considered the question of organizing the constituencies and issued the following circular;
IRISH TRADES UNION CONGRESS AND LABOUR PARTY,
I am directed by the National Executive of the Trades Union Congress and Labour Party to submit to you the following list of questions ‘and ask you to be good enough to let me have the information sought at your earliest convenience:—
(l). What constituency, or constituencies, in your district does your Council consider should be contested?
(2). What financial responsibility will be undertaken by (a) your Council, (b) by any of your affiliated Unions?
(3). What organising work (if any) has been done in your district and what is your Council prepared to undertake in the future?
(4). What support has been given in your district to the Organising Scheme by which subscribing members paying 3d. per month are enrolled?
(5). What are the prospects regarding Local Labour Representation? How many Labour members of Local* bodies, Town or Urban Council, Poor Law Board, etc., are there in your district?
(6). How many candidates does your Council consider it would be possible to run in your district at the next local elections?
(7). What suggestions can your Council make as to how the Women voters can be organised and associated with our work as a Labour Party?
State generally the conditions and prospects of your district re Labour representation, and give suggestions as to what you think should be done to place the need for Labour Representation effectively before the workers, and to organise the necessary machinery to achieve that end.
Fraternally yours,P. T. DALY, Secretary.
Extracts from Special Conference of Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress on November 1st, Mansion House, Dublin
On Election Policy
Mr Thomas Johnson (National Union Shop Assistants), on behalf of the National Executive, said that “the main purpose of the Irish Labour Party was not the election of one or two, or one or two dozen, to any Parliament, but the building up of an organised political Labour consciousness in this country, definitely democratic; democratic on all issues, not democratic on only a single issue, temporary and evanescent.’
Since its last meeting on September 14th, 1918 they had been ‘reading daily of the tottering of thrones and the births of new Republics’. This had ‘compelled the Executive to review the whole position’ and it was up to the delegates to confirm their decision then ‘or throw it out. The statement was as follows:
Six weeks -ago when the National Executive decided that it was for the best interests of Ireland and Labour that a number of constituencies should be fought by Labour Candidates at the forthcoming General Election there was little sign of an early peace. The prospect before us was that the election then expected would be a “War Election,” to be followed at the end of the year by a dissolution and a second election.
The unexpected call for an armistice on the part of the Central Powers has brought us face with the Crisis which was not expected to develop until the ‘Peace Election’ was at hand.
We had hoped to use the period between the two elections for an active educational propaganda directed towards ensuring that the building of the new Ireland shall be in the hands of men and women who view the problems of political and social development from the standpoint of the working class, to determine, as far as our means and abilities allowed, that the Irish Republic—if such were to be the form of Government determined upon by a people guaranteed the right to choose its own sovereignty—should be a Workers’ Republic, not an imitation of those Republics of Europe and America, where political democracy is but a cloak for capitalist oligarchy.
But circumstances have decided that the election now upon us is to be the ‘Peace Election,’ not the ‘War Election.’ The Grand Inquest about to be opened, has for a jury the nations of the world, the verdict will be given according to the weight of evidence adduced, and that will depend upon the degree of unanimity marked at the polls on the demand for self-determination.
A call comes from all parts of Ireland for a demonstration of unity on this question, such as was witnessed on the Conscription issue. Your Executive believes that the workers of Ireland join earnestly in this desire, that they would willingly sacrifice, for a brief period, their aspirations towards political power if thereby the fortunes of the nation can be enhanced (applause)
In the light of these new circumstances, the National Executive has reviewed the position and has decided to recommend the withdrawal from this Election of all Labour Candidates (applause). They do so in the hope that the democratic demand for self-determination, to which the Irish Labour Party and its candidates give their unqualified adherence, will thereby obtain the freest chance of expression at the polls. We shall show by this action that, while each of the other political parties is prepared to divide the people in their effort to obtain power, the Labour Party is the only party which is prepared to sacrifice “party” in the interest of the Nation in this important crisis of the history of Ireland (loud applause). We shall also thereby demonstrate to the peoples of all nations as emphatically as peaceful means allow, that at this hour, when other small nations of Europe are asserting their freedom, Ireland, too, demands all the rights of a free nation (prolonged applause).”
Mr Thomas McPartlin (Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, Dublin) seconded the motion. Possibly it is right, he said, that he who was one of the men selected to uphold the banner of labour during this General Election ought to be the one to second the adoption of the statement of the Executive. He did so gladly, because from first to last in connection with this election he was influenced solely by the good of the working classes. He had no other thought. Neither at the public meetings or the Conferences at any time did he advance any interests except those of the workers for whom he had always fought. His action that day in seconding the motion was influenced bv the same motives. … He was solely influenced by the amount of good it would do in keeping the workers of Ireland united for the fight that would come in the future.
There was no doubt that in the next six or eight or twelve months unity amongst the workers would be more than ever necessary in this country and in every country. They had contended that their right to sell their labour in the way they thought best was far more important for them than if they held all the seats in England or Ireland. It was far more effective for them to have the industrial workers organised to fight the Capitalist class than to grip political power. He thought every workingman would agree with that; but they knew as workers when the industrial army had been well organised and when the workers were united that it was necessary to get a grip of the political machine to hold what they had gained.
At no time did they recognise that the hold of the political machine was as important as having control of the workers in the economic, or-industrial field. That was what they wanted-—to strengthen the workers through Trade Unionism. During the time that they had- been making preparations for the General Election they had opportunities of talking to the workers; and some of them spoke pretty straightly to them and would speak more straightly in the future. Some of the delegates were steeped to the neck in some political movements, but he wanted to say that the only movement for the working classes was the Labour movement.
During the previous week reports had appeared in the papers from a political party, and suggestions were taken from them that there was collusion between the Labour Party and a political party in the country. He wanted to say as far as he was aware In Ireland there had been no negotiations or collusion, good, bad, or indifferent by the Labour Party with any political party, nor was there likely to be in the future…
The seconding of this motion gave him an opportunity of pointing out to the workers that the representatives of all political parties were out for graft, to grab as much as they could. Carson up in the North would pat the workers on the back for the next couple of months; but he would be only doing the same as the United Irish Leaguers would be doing in the south; and it would be the same with the Sinn Fein Party. If they had Sinn Fein becoming the dominant power they would have to fight them as they had to fight the rotten and corrupt party in 1914.
They would be another political mouthpiece of the capitalist class in this country. They would do probably the same as the others. They would invite foreigners to exploit the labour of the Irish workers, because they would do work cheap. They had a chance now of getting at the workers.
While the others were, contesting the fate of Ireland at the polling booths; they could decide the fate of the capitalists when the election- was over. That was what they should concentrate their minds upon… They had got an opportunity of bettering the working classes without resorting to the elections, and they were satisfied that what was done in the Conference would show the workers through the country, with the Labour Party’s position placed before them, that they were not going to be tied up with any political party in Ireland.
Mr N Rimmer, National Union of Railwaymen, Dublin) said he whole-heartedly supported the recommendation of the Executive. If adopted it would be an epoch-making resolution in connection with the future of the Irish Labour movement. There was no doubt of it whoever was responsible for the idea, whether it was collective or individual, there were certainly the germs of statesmanship in it (hear, hear).
Mr D R Campbell (Belfast Trades Council) said he wanted to get a little more information as to the views of the Executive upon this matter. He had followed Mr. Johnson very closely, but confessed that he had not been able to understand the subtle distinction between a War Election and a Peace Election. He knew, however, it was in their own constitution for the first time that they were to be a definite political party; but the recommendation of the Labour Party was that there should be no Labour candidates at this election, either in the cause of the Trade Union Congress or otherwise. If that were to be so it was going back on the policy hitherto held by the organised workers who were to run a candidate against all comers.
It was not a matter of adopting that as a progressive programme. It was going back of what they were quite a number of years ago. One might ask this—In what circumstances would it be possible to run a Labour candidate for a Peace Election and not a War Election? That suggested that there were conditions and other questions arising at the War Election that would not hold good at a Peace Election. Mr McPartlin had advised them not to belong to any political party or touch any party but to stick to the workers’ party. Were they to leave the field open to other parties that were definitely political? Was it to be left to the Nationalists and Sinn Feiners in the South and to give a walkover to the Conservative crowd in the North?
Was that the suggestion, or was it held that they would come out a better equipped political party by lying low in this particular election and leaving the others to thresh the matter out?’ As far as he could gather that was the claim as to the Nationalist position all along—the national question so much transcended all other questions at the particular moment that all questions of the working classes of economic consideration or the really faithful representation of a class should be left in abeyance. Had not that been the argument of the political parties so far asIreland was concerned—” Wait until the National question is settled ” ?
He asked himself the question “Would a Labour man going forward not appear in the eyes of the proletariat as good a spokesman of his class as the representative of any other political party” ? On the whole he regarded the whole situation as embracing too much of a somersault for him to execute.
Having regard to the whole circumstances he thought the delegates ought to have more information as to the cause of the change of front from the time the Manifesto was issued. He did not see why they should take this step backward without further knowledge as to why they were taking it.
Mr. Walter Carpenter (International Tailors’ and Pressers Union, Dublin) in supporting the recommendation of the National Executive, said he did so for quite a different reason from that which Mr Campbell had doubts about. The constitution that the Congress would be asked to adopt before separating was an absolutely revolutionary socialistic programme. For that reason he was glad the suggestion of the Executive was brought forward, so that at the coming elections the men they would select as their candidates would not be wasting their time as they had done at previous elections declaring that they were not Socialists (hear, hear). But one of the chief reasons which he had for supporting the resolution was that he for one did not believe that the working classes of Ireland were educated enough to justify the Executive in running candidates.
He hoped the constitution would be adopted in its entirety because it was the only hope for the working classes. It would give the Executive the opportunity they wanted; and that was to go amongst the working classes and educate them up to a class consciousness which they had not got at present (hear, hear).
A poll was taken, and the voting was—For the motion, 96; against, 23.