Extracts from the Annual Reports
Extracts from Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress on August 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th, 1920 in the City Hall, Cork
On the need for direct action
From the ITUC Executive report: The year has been eventful for the Labour movement. While in other countries our comrades have been discussing heatedly the wisdom or effectiveness of what is called “direct action” to achieve political ends, circumstances have compelled the Irish workers on several occasions in the past year to use the strike weapon for political and social purposes. In the Motor Permits Strike of December-January; in the great Two Days’ Strike to procure the release and save from death the political prisoners on hunger strike in Mountjoy; in the embargo on food exports in spring, and in the present strike against the carrying of munitions of war, the workers used their “industrial franchise” for political and social purposes. The denial of political freedom to Ireland forces the workers to test the power of his economic franchise, to declare his will with much more emphasis than by the mere recording of a vote at a ballot box. The activities of your Committee for the year have been for the greater part with these struggles, and, as a consequence, other very important, but less urgent, work has, to our regret, been left unfinished.
On Motor Permits Strike
From the ITUC Executive report: After the announcement of the making of the Motor Permit Order had been made in the Press, the Secretary of the National Executive received a letter dated November 22nd from Mr Foran on behalf of the Transport Workers’ Union to the effect that this order would interfere with their members, and a day or two later from the Automobile Drivers’ and Mechanics’ Union a cutting from a newspaper containing a resolution adopted at a meeting in Trades Hall, Dublin. No other communication was received by the National Executive from the Automobile Drivers respecting their intention to strike. A meeting of the National Executive was held on November 28th.
At this time the President and the Secretary of the Automobile Union were absent in London seeking an interview with the Chief Secretary and the Parliamentary Labour Party. The National Executive invited representatives of the Automobile Drivers and the Transport
Union to meet in conference to endeavour to arrive at a common policy. In the course of the discussion it was seen that the two unions principally concerned were pursuing different lines of action…
No whisper of any negotiations with the Police Commissioner reached the Joint Committee. On the contrary, any suggestion of accepting defeat had been met by the Motor men’s delegates with utter implacability. Under no circumstances would the Automobile Drivers’ Union allow its members to work under a permit given by the police! Judge, then, if you can, of the astonishment with which the Committee read the correspondence printed in the newspapers on Monday revealing the fact that, while the Joint Committee was discussing the taking of a ballot (having before them the excuse for Mr Mitchell’s absence that he was unwell) the President and Secretary of the Automobile Drivers’ Union were negotiating terms of surrender with the Chief Commissioner of Police. The majority of the Joint Committee agreed with the view that a widespread or general strike would lead to even more disastrous defeat for the whole movement than the defeat of the Automobile Drivers alone. They would have been prepared to accept an honourable defeat, having made a demonstration of protest, but they would not have considered for a moment an appeal to the police for a modification of the Order to cloak their defeat, and, under the pretence that they had won a valuable concession, hailed their humiliation as a glorious victory!
It may be noted that the Automobile Drivers’ officials were in conference with the Commissioner of Police and Mr Wayte on the Wednesday evening and Thursday evening prior to the aggregate meeting, but no mention of this was made to the Joint Committee at their meeting on Thursday.
On the Arrest and Deportation of Secretary
From the ITUC Executive report: About 1 am on Wednesday, March 3rd, the house of our Secretary, Alderman Wm O’Brien, was visited by a company of soldiers in charge of an of-ficer, and, guided by a policeman, his house was searched, a number of papers removed, and Mr O’Brien himself placed under arrest. He was taken to Mountjoy Prison in a military wag-gon, where he was kept for a few hours. Early on Thursday morning he was deported to Wormwood Scrubbs Prison. No one was informed at the time of his whereabouts, nor of the reasons for his arrest. The facts were brought before the Parliamentary Committee of the British Trades Union Congress, and to the Chairman of the British Parliamentary Labour Party, in the following terms:
Dublin, March 5th, 1920.
1 have to inform you that about midnight, March 3rd, the house of our Secretary, Mr Wil-liam O’Brien, was visited by a company of soldiers, who placed him under arrest. His house
was searched and a number of papers removed. Mr O’Brien was taken away in a military waggon; since when neither his mother or sister, with whom he lived, nor any other person, so far as we know, has been informed of his whereabouts. It is reported in the Press that Mr O’Brien was taken to England early yesterday morning (Thursday), but of this we have no
confirmation. These are the bald facts. No charge of any kind has been made, and none of his colleagues can think of any possible justification, even from the point of view of the British
Authorities, for Mr O’Brien’s arrest and deportation.
As it is generally known, Alderman O’Brien is treasurer and one of the chief executive offic-ers of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. He is also secretary of the Irish La-bour Party and Trade Union Congress. These organisations have done much within the last year or two to put fear in the hearts of the upholders of the present political and social sys-tem enthroned in Ireland. They have many enemies among the frequenters of the Kildare Street Club, the real seat of Government in Ireland. It was to keep Alderman O’Brien out of politics and out of trade union activities that his deportation was arranged for.
On the Two Days’ General Strike
From the ITUC Executive report: In the ‘beginning of April a large number of men, something over a hundred, who had been arrested for political offences and were imprisoned in Mountjoy, had gone on hunger strike to enforce the compact that had been entered into, whereby political offenders would be dealt with as in a special category. The hunger strike of these one hundred men began on the 5th April, and by the 10th their condition had become critical. The Military Governor of Ireland, Lord French, had laid it down definitely, in reply to appeals from certain of the visiting justices, that he would make no relaxation in their treatment…
An urgent meeting of the Resident Committee (of the ILP&TUC) was called by telegram for 10.30 on Monday morning, the 12th of April. The Committee decided, in the grave circumstances then prevailing, to issue a call to the workers throughout the country to make a solemn and decisive protest—swiftly and without warning:—by a general stoppage of work. A Manifesto was immediately issued, and was on the streets in the evening- papers at twelve o’c’ock. Telegrams were sent all over the country conveying the decision of the National Executive…
The response to the call for a general strike was immediate and universal, outside the Belfast area. The country closed down completely. Probably never has there been so sudden and dramatic a strike in the history of the Labour movement anywhere. Without previous warning the whole nation had responded. In all parts of the country the workers showed their initiative and resourcefulness. In preparation for the possibility of an extended stoppage, Workers’ Committees began the organisation of the food supply. Local Town Councils in many towns handed over the use of the municipal buildings to the Workers’ Committees.
On the evening- of the second day the news came that the British authorities had capitulated. The strikers were released and removed to the various hospitals in the city. On this news
becoming known, orders were given to the country that work was to be resumed next morning-, and this order was carried out with the same faithfulness and unanimity as the call to cease work had been obeyed.
Munitions of War
Immediately following the refusal of the London dockers to ship munitions of war to Poland, a steamer arrived in Dublin containing a cargo of military equipment, includ-ing military motor wagons. The Dublin dock workers refused to discharge this cargo, and the work was done by the military themselves. A few days later the same steamer brought a cargo to Kingstown, which again had to be discharged by the military. The railwaymen at Kingstown refused to work a train until it was proved that there were no mu-nitions of war in the trucks. About this time a circular letter was received by the branches of the National Union of Railwayman containing a copy of the resolution passed by the Execu-tive Committee of that organisation.
The resolution read as follows: That, having regard to the false statements on the important questions as to International relations as made by Bonar Law in the House of Commons con-cerning the Allies’ policy with regard to Russia, and the obvious futility of the League of Na-tions; this Executive Committee, being convinced that the policy of Poland is being carried out at the behest of the Capitalist Nations of Europe, feel compelled to recognise that in or-der to render humane service to the people of all countries, the action of the dockers in re-fusing to load the “Jolly George” is worthy of practical support. “We therefore, instruct our members to refuse to handle any material which is intended to assist Poland against the Rus-sian people.”
This resolution was cordially approved by the Irish railwaymen. Acting in accord with its spirit and interpreting it as equally applicable to Ireland, the members of the National Union of Railwaymen employed at the London and North Western Railway steamers, North Wall. Dublin, refused to assist in the unloading of certain packages containing arms, or to work on the steamer under an armed guard. This action led to the dismissal of over four hundred men…
We are fully aware of the gravity of the issues involved in this conflict. We are challenging not only the right of an Imperial power to subjugate “a small nation by armed force but we are also challenging the generally accepted conception of the relations between employer and employed. Railway companies, backed by the Government, contend that the workman’s duty is simply to obey orders, to carry any materials that may be handed to him, irrespective of the
use to which these materials may be put—in other words, that the workman is part of a sys-tem, of a piece of machinery; he is not a responsible agent. The worker’s contention, on the other hand, is that when he knows that he is being used for a purpose against which his soul revolts, he would be violating his conscience if he were to agree to be so used. This conten-tion involves a claim that the workman is a responsible human being—not a cog in a ma-chine; that he is a conscious co-operator in the work in which he is engaged, and has a right to decide whether or not he will participate in the work according to whether its purpose is worthy or degrading. Such a conception of industrial relations is doubtless revolutionary—but it is the conception which shall prevail in the Irish Commonwealth of the future.
THOMAS FARREN, Chairman.
J. C. O’CONNOR, Vice-Chairman.
J. T. OTARRELL.
LUKE J. LARKIN.
T. C. DALY.
L. J. DUFFY.
WILLIAM O’BRIEN, Secretary.
Treasurer and Acting Secretary.
July 24th, 1920.