Extracts from the Annual Reports
Extracts from the Special Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress on February 21st, 1922, in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin
A different type of Conference
The report of the year’s work which we now submit deals more fully with matters political than in-dustrial. Though it is true that the greater part of the activities of your Executive, in their public as-pect, has been necessarily connected with the urgent political and social crises which have arisen, a greater amount of attention than the report would suggest has been given to industrial matters. But these were not of outstanding importance, and, therefore, they are not specifically referred to in our report.
On the Russian Famine
From ITUC Executive Report: Following a resolution of last Congress, the National Execu-tive held consultation with the Ministers of the Dail, with a view, if possible, of securing that an appeal should be issued which would have a National backing, and that, if possible, assis-tance might be rendered through the Government’s auspices. It was thought possible that some intergovernmental
arrangement might be made for the exchange of food, timber, flax, oil, or other raw material which Russia had in the past been able to export. Our hopes in this direction failed. We, therefore, issued an appeal to the Unions on behalf of the starving children of Russia.
We recognised at the time how difficult it was for the Unions to organise contributions in face of the great amount of unemployment and distress which had followed the war in Ire-land. We, nevertheless, felt that the suffering in Russia was infinitely greater, and that the Labour Movement in Ireland might show good-will and sympathy in some small degree by material assistance.
The following is the appeal:—
DUBLIN, March 9th, 1922
To THE AFFILIATED UNIONS AND COUNCILS
Since last year’s Congress the National Executive has been endeavouring to arrange that as-sistance from Ireland for the victims of the Russian Famine should be provided on a larger scale than could be hoped for from a relief fund. We hoped that it would have been possible for the Governments of Ireland and Russia to agree to a direct exchange of commodities—Ireland supplying food and agricultural machinery, and Russia supplying timber and certain other goods. Notwithstanding that the Irish Government has shown a willingness to give fa-vourable consideration to these proposals, we regret that the prospect of any immediate out-come is dim.
We feel compelled now to ask that Irish trade unionists should do something to show that their ears are not deaf to the insistent cries of millions of starving children. To prevent over-lapping we have arranged with the Irish “Save the Children” Fund that they should accept any contributions sent in response to this appeal, and to earmark them for the Russian Fam-ine Relief. This organization has issued an appeal, from which we extract
The Irish Save the Children Fund is part of an international effort towards the relief of child-suffering throughout the world. It is administered by an Irish National Committee (Cumann
Cun Saorta na bPaisti) affiliated to the Union International de Secours mix Enfants, which has its headquarters at Geneva. Similar national committees have been formed in Great Brit-ain,France, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, Armenia, Greece, Italy, and other countries. Each National Committee has a double duty—to care for the children of its own country, and to bring
such help as it can to the children of other lands where need exists.
The importance of this movement is not to be measured by the monies received or disbursed (large as these are), but rather by the spread of the idea that children shall be cared for eve-rywhere, without distinction of race, nationality, religion, or class. Almost alone in a world tortured by fratricidal strife, it asserts the principle of International Brotherhood. Founded
in 1920, the International Union counts among its ardent advocates such men as Dr Nansen, Cardinal Mercier, General Smuts, and was twice singled out for commendation in successive
Encyclicals by the late Pope Benedict XV.
Irish kitchens are now at work in the district of Saratov, and money and foodstuffs (Irish condensed milk) have been remitted to Russia for the maintenance of some three hundred Russian children during the winter and spring months. Eye-witness after eye-witness has tes-tified that the reality of this horror exceeds a thousand fold all our imagination. Thirty mil-lions of human beings, in the famine areas, are dying or dead. For months past they have been struggling to keep alive on a diet of oak-leaves, straw, powdered bones, clay, and horse-dung. And each day even this small store is getting nearer complete exhaustion. Every day famine claims new victims, and typhus fever, as in Ireland in ’46 and ’47, follows hard upon famine…
Three great agencies are at work: The American Relief Administration, the Society of
Friends, and the Union International de Secours am Enfants, all under the general supervi-sion of Dr Nansen as High Commissioner. Between them they contrive to support a million and a half of Russian children out of a total number of not less than ten millions. On its side the Soviet Government has given proof of both good-will and energy.
Not only have the stories circulated of alleged pillage of relief trains been shown to be
wholly false, but the Soviet Government has plainly exerted itself both in supplying seed for this year’s harvest and in bringing relief to the sufferers. The Soviets themselves are main-taining, as Dr. Nansen tells us, over two millions of the famine-stricken.
When we remember that Russia has only just emerged from seven years of foreign and civil war, that her railway system is hopelessly disorganized, that the provinces affected by the famine are those which in normal years are the richest part of the country, it will be realized that the Russian Government is loyally doing its part in a work which concerns all Christen-dom.
Alas! it is now too late (as Dr. Nansen has told us) to save the bulk of the population—for at this season the remoter villages are quite inaccessible—but we can at least see to it that those
who can still be reached receive succour. In particular, we are bound to make sure that those children for whom we have assumed responsibility are properly maintained as long as the
need exists, and that as many others as may shall be helped also.
At the present rate of exchange the gift of one shilling will feed a Russian child for one whole week; twenty shillings will suffice to maintain it until the next harvest. And just as in the Irish cottier who had survived the famine of the previous year once more planted such seed as he could scrape together, so it is now with the Russian peasant. Incredible as it sounds, so strong is the peasant instinct that not even the pangs of immediate hunger have prevented them from making ready, as far as the gifts of the seed corn go, for the coming harvest. Many districts are and will remain waste, but in others the sowings are said to be not much below the average.
“If we can only help these people to carry on through the next few months, normal prosperi-ty may once more return to the diminished population of South Russia.”
. . Secretary,
In response to the above appeal a total sum of £258 was subscribed by the Unions.
From ITUC Executive Report: After long consideration we published, on April 11th, the fol-lowing statement in the Dublin newspapers:—
MANIFESTO OF NATIONAL EXECUTIVE
The National Executive of the Labour Party has had under earnest consideration recent de-velopments in the political and military life of the country. Evidence has accumulated dur-ing the past few weeks showing how anxiously the organised workers feel respecting the immediate future, and how strongly they protest against the assumption of authority on the part of military in civil affairs.
The organised workers in Ireland, as in every country, have in the past set their faces against militarism. We protested against the rule of the gun and the bayonet when handled by for-eign
armies; we protest against the rule of the gun and the bomb when handled by Irish armies and by irresponsible individuals.
The Labour movement resolutely opposes, and will use all its power against, any body of men, official or unofficial, regular forces or irregular forces, who seek to impose their will upon the people by virtue of their armaments alone.
We deplore the growth of the idea that the Army may be a law unto itself; that the posses-sion of arms gives authority which may be exercised regardless of the civil power. This crit-icism is not directed only against one section of the Army—both forces have sometimes shown that they have learned lessons in arrogance from the British occupation!
These alarming developments call for immediate and determined action on the part of the civil population. An end must be made of this internecine strife amongst those who so re-cently were comrades-in-arms, acting under the authority of the civil Government.
We speak for the masses of the workers of Ireland, who are not willing that their coun-try should be freed from one tyranny only to set loose the elements of fratricidal strife. If the country is to resume warfare we shall endeavour to ensure that it is for something worthwhile for the workers to enter into the struggle. We are not willing to look on idly while brothers take up arms against brothers, fathers against sons.
The time has arrived, in our judgment, when the vital forces of the Nation, the workers of town and country, agriculturists and artisans, farmers and labourers, should make known their
will that the armed forces of the country should be under, and be amenable to, civilian au-thority, responsible to the people.
The National Executive of the Labour Party purposes to ask the leaders of the several organ-isations to state their intentions in regard to the future. We ask the workers who are members
of the several armies to refuse to be drawn into violent actions, and we ask the workers gen-erally to stand ready to take action when the call comes.”
Extracts from the 28th Annual Meeting of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress on Monday, August 11th, 1922, in the Mansion House, Dublin
On Postal Commission
Mr. J. McGowan (Postal Workers’ Union) said: I wish to draw attention to page 5 dealing with the Postal Commission. Anything I may have to say in connection with this matter must not be taken as evidence of dissatisfaction at the result of the Commission. As a matter of fact, we were very pleased with the result of the Commission, and I take this opportunity of returning thanks to the two Labour members on the Commission for the very valuable work they performed. In case any of the delegates here “are likely to be misled as to the real state of affairs, I would direct your special atten-tion to the last few lines of the report, viz.: ” And have issued an interim report which in practice restored to the
lower grades of the service the bonus which had been withdrawn.”
Now, lower grades in the services have not shared in the recommendations of the report. For in-stance, cleaners, charwomen, doorkeepers, etc., the very lowest paid in the service, have not been included in the recommendations. Immediately on publication of the report we made representations to the Commission, and the only satisfaction we could get was that the classes had not been over-looked, but that they could not include them. The portion of the report referring to the bonus, there-fore, seems to be misleading. The lower grades and the lower dogs in the service have not been in-cluded in the recommendations.
On the Cost of Living Index
Mr. Fitzgibbon (Civil Service Clerical Association) said that, The Commission was impressed
by the fact that the figures of the cost of living prepared by the Board of Trade for the Holt Commis-sion of Inquiry into the Post Office showed that the rate of increase for a selected limited number of Irish towns from 1904-1913 was proportionately higher than in Great Britain. The
Commission proved that the Board of Trade index figure was not exact, and I think that proves of some value, if not considerable importance, for the workers generally.
The report goes on to say: “The British index figure does not accurately apply to Irish conditions, and that an Irish cost of living figure should be prepared by the Government as soon as possible.” And it adds: “The Commission, therefore, recommends temporary additions to basic wages of certain permanent classes of Post Office servants, and to the consolidated wage of certain temporary classes. The Commission recommends that these temporary additions should date as from March 1st last, and that they should be continued until an Irish cost of living figure is agreed on for use in the calculating of bonus, or until the adoption of the final report of the Commission.”
I understand the Government is preparing the Irish cost of living figure, and I presume it is the
intention to use that figure to vary the wages in the Civil Service on the basis of previous conditions. That figure will also be used by the employers when they seek to reduce wages, but in the first
instance it will be applied to Government workers. I should mention that at the Commission it was agreed that the index figure to be accepted must be an agreed figure by both parties.
The hopelessness of the Post Office service can be gauged from the fact that there are about forty different departments set up by the Government, and it is intended to keep these people in separate camps. It wanted to keep 2.5d. looking down on 2d., and not only that, but it wanted to have a sepa-rate union for each of them.
On proposed General Strike during Civil War
Mr O’Neill (IT&GW) said: While we are discussing this question many of our fellow-workers are in danger of being shot down by the opposing parties. I would propose a resolu-tion
calling for an immediate truce, and should the call not be responded to, we instruct the workers to refuse to assist in any way the armed forces in Ireland. We might as well take the bull by the horns. There is no use in dilly-dallying, and for that reason I propose the resolu-tion.
Mr Burden—I beg to second the resolution. It appears to be the view of the delegates that they are prepared to withdraw all services of Labour from both parties. I think there should be an addendum to the resolution that the Executive of the Labour Party should get into communication with all organisations that are affiliated with this Congress, and tell them it is the unanimous wish of this Congress that, in order to stop this war, they are prepared to withdraw all Labour from both sides.
Mr Cunningham (Roscrea)—As to men in the Labour movement assisting both parties, all I can say is that every other day some of our men have been commandeered by the Free State Party, and compelled, at the point of the revolver, to drive lorries where ambushes were in operation. It is not fair to our organisation, and no man as a trades’ unionist, whether a rail-way worker or a motor driver, should take part with either side. It is the workers and not the monied classes that are suffering in the present state of things in Ireland.
Mr Lynch (Dundalk)—We should do all that is humanly possible to bring about peace. Nei-ther side has got any mandate from the country to carry on this war. We see the politicians in a big division of jobs, and the anxiety of these people is to entrench themselves and their comrades and members of their families. As a result no harvest has been reaped, and not suf-ficient land has been tilled to provide people with the necessaries of life. They do not care whether the harvest is reaped or not ; they do not care as long as they achieve power some-how.
We should do everything possible to carry out the resolution proposed by Comrade O’Neill. A magnificent fight was put up against the power of the British Empire, and what was done once can be done again. All we are waiting for is a lead. It is for the Con-gress to give it, and it will be followed courageously and fearlessly. If you are prepared to take the risk your lead will be followed.
Alderman T Lawlor (Dublin)—We heard a lot of criticism of the men of the opposing forc-es. On one side and the other they are dictating terms at the mouth of the revolver. What we, as a Congress, desire is that the unarmed men should go out and tell both conflicting parties what our position is. I think this is a golden opportunity for Labour to make a demonstration. It has been standing in the breach for a number of years. If the Free State is entitled to be armed, when our lives and the lives of our dependents are in danger, then I suggest the time has arrived when we should be armed too. I think that is a practical suggestion.
There is no use in our passing resolutions when nothing is done. The responsibility rests on ourselves as to how far we are to go to protect ourselves. We can only meet force by force, and the only way to meet force is by arming ourselves.
Mr J T O’Farrell (RCA)—I have listened to this discussion, and I think a very serious and a very responsible situation has been discussed in a rather irresponsible manner. The Congress should use the best judgment in the matter. The National Executive dealt with the military situation, and tried to bring about peace, but, seeing that the National Executive failed in its task, we should try some more practical suggestions that might be successful. A number of suggestions have been offered, I believe, sincerely and seriously.
I think that there should go forth from this Congress some serious expression of opinion
on behalf of the Labour movement. One or two suggestions were made as to what kind of an army there should be, and as to what say the people should have in the conduct of the army. Miss Molony made the suggestion that each man in the army need not fight when called upon. I think that would be an unusual kind of army. Alderman Lawlor seriously sug-gested that we should take up arms against militarism; but how can we condemn the use of arms and militarism if each individual is to be allowed the use of arms?
Such a proceeding would leave the country in a worse position. We have a number of sug-gestions as to ceasing work and withdrawing labour from each of the armies now operating. That is not going to end the war. Those carrying on the war have carried it on by the com-mandeering and seizure of motor cars; they have seized buildings, and even commandeered labour.