Extracts from the Annual Reports
Extracts from the Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress on August 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th, 1925, in Newry
On the Industrial situation and Unemployment
In September, 1924, the Association of Chambers of Commerce passed a resolution calling upon the Government to appoint a representative Committee which would inquire into the whole industrial situation, and make recommendations for the prevention of strikes and lock-outs, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce invited an expression of our views upon the proposal. We replied that we were prepared to assist in the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the whole industrial situation, but that we were strongly opposed to measures of compulsory arbitration, which seemed to be the real motive of the Association’s resolution.
Nothing further came of this proposal. It will be remembered that there was some talk of a general conference of employers and employed in September, 1923, to which we gave encouragement (see page 73 of the 30th Annual Report), but this also had no practical result. We are still of opinion that a genuine attempt by a representative body of employers and workers to survey the whole industrial situation and endeavour to reach agreement upon lines of policy calculated to bring improvement would be of considerable value, even if it were only to focus public attention upon the seriousness of the present situation and secure a general understanding of the difficulties and differences of principle and method with which all parties concerned have to reckon.
On November 11th, 1924, following upon a Labour Party motion in the Dail… a deputationfrom the National Executive interviewed members of the Government— President Cosgrave and the Ministers for Finance, Industry and Commerce, and Local Government—in order to impress upon them the urgency of the need for providing employment and extending Unemployment Insurance Benefit. The impression we gathered was that the Government was at last beginning to realise the seriousness of the situation, but was not prepared to undertake any heavy financial commitments, and had no plans for big schemes of reconstructive work ready to put into immediate operation, while such measures as were contemplated would not absorb very large numbers of unemployed, and could not be applied for several months at the earliest.
Realising that no effective action by the Government could be hoped for unless there were strong pressure put upon them by the country, the National Executive caused to be prepared a 16-page pamphlet giving the history of the Government’s handling of the problem since the establishment of the Free State and showing the urgency of the matter. Copies of this pamphlet—” Unemployment, 1922-24: The Record of the Government’s Failure”—to the number of 17,000 in all, were printed, and were sent out to the press of the country, while supplies were furnished free of charge to affiliated organisations, accompanied by a request that they should be utilised as propaganda material for an energetic campaign on Unemployment. We have little information as to the steps taken by local organisations, but it is evident that the general campaign for which we had asked was not instituted.
Notwithstanding this lack of support, pressure on the Government was kept up by the Labour Party in the Dail, particularly when the expiry of the special arrangements in regard to Unemployment Insurance, made by the second Unemployment Insurance Act of 1924, left large numbers of unemployed workers without benefit. A demand was made for the introduction of further Unemployment Insurance legislation, and in order to overcome the Government’s opposition a fresh attempt was made to organise support in the country. A strong resolution by the National Executive was sent to the Press in June, and affiliated organisations were asked, by a circular dated 17th June, to pass similar resolutions and send them to the Government in the hope of securing a new Unemployment Insurance Act before the Dail adjourned in July. The response on this occasion was better, but still left much to be desired.
The National Executive feels that, whatever may be the explanation, the chronic unemployment which has afflicted the workers of the country for so long has not aroused the conscience of the general public, and has not provoked the indignant protest which might have been expected from the unemployed, and that consequently some share of the responsibility for the Government’s inaction in the matter must be borne by the workers themselves.
The lengthy discussion on Unemployment initiated by the Labour Party in the Dail on June 30th, on the Estimates for the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, served to bring some realisation of the seriousness of the matter. During the debate a suggestion was put forward for the holding of a conference of employers and employed to consider the problem. This suggestion was endorsed by President Cosgrave, who stated that though he felt the initiative in summoning the conference should not come from the Government, they would facilitate it in every way.
On Political Organisation
Although a number of local Labour Clubs of individual subscribing members of the Party have been formed from time to time, the number of Clubs actually in effective existence is very few. The carrying on of a Club, particularly in rural areas, presents considerable difficulties, and it can hardly be hoped that these will be overcome until the Party has available the services of an Organiser who can travel frequently from Club to Club.
The work is naturally somewhat easier in the vicinity of the Metropolis, and the experience of two Clubs in the Dublin suburbs, Rathmines and Pembroke, has shown the value of this form of organisation. Both these Clubs are quite small, but they have managed to keep their members together by holding lectures and by other activities, and there can be no doubt that they formed an indispensable rallying point and basis of organisation for the elections to the local authorities, in which they scored remarkable successes.
Pembroke Club made a new departure by establishing a Labour Athletic Club, which has attracted many young men in the district and proved very successful. The red jerseys of the only Labour Athletic Club in Ireland have been seen at several of the ordinary athletic contests near Dublin, and the Pembroke entrants have, for a new Club, acquitted themselves very creditably. The National Executive regard this as an extremely valuable development of Labour activity, and would be glad to see the example of Pembroke copied elsewhere.
The elections to Local Authorities showed a very welcome revival of Labour enthusiasm throughout the country, and the time would seem to be ripe for a definite attempt to build up a really effective political organisation. The Party cannot rely in the future, as it has had to do in the past, merely upon the machinery of the Trade Union branches for political purposes. The work is of a special kind, and if it is to be properly carried out special machinery must be used for it. The presence of Labour members on local authorities in large numbers indicates a need for some local political organisation to keep in touch with the work of the authorities, and to strengthen the hands of the Labour members by propaganda and educational work, and at the same time creates a favourable occasion for the establishment of such organisations.
The National Executive accordingly proposes to convene at an early date a -conference of Labour members of local authorities for the double purpose of considering the possibilities of stimulating and co-ordinating Labour activities on these bodies and of initiating local organising work and the establishment of Labour Clubs on a permanent basis throughout the country.
It must, however, be realised that the extension of our political activities raises the question whether our present Constitution makes sufficient provision for this side of our work. The sections of the Constitution, as adopted in 1918, relating to political activities, have been rendered somewhat out-of-date by the changes in the government of the country, the size of constituencies, etc., that have taken place since then, and moreover the Constitution, as a whole, hardly gives sufficient prominence to the political side of the movement. In addition, the position of Trades’ and Workers’ Councils requires to be re-considered, and a special problem is presented by the situation in the area of the Northern Parliament. It is accordingly suggested that the incoming National Executive should be specially charged by Congress to review the whole situation in regard to political work, and to prepare such amendments to the Constitution and make such other proposals as it considers expedient, for consideration by the next Annual Congress or by a Special Congress summoned for the purpose’.
Elections to the Belfast Parliament
Although the General Election for the Belfast Parliament in March, 1925, was contested by the Labour Party (Northern Ireland), and not by us, we wish to record here our gratification at the excellent results achieved. Three members were returned to the Northern House of Commons—Messrs Beattie, Kyle, and McMullen—one in each of three out of the four Belfast constituencies. The National Executive made a grant of fifty pounds to the Belfast Election Fund.
On the Attempt to Disrupt the Irish Labour Movement
The position created by the attack on the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union led by Mr James Larkin, together with other minor, irresponsible attempts to form new Unions, was
fully considered by the National Executive at its meeting in September, and it was decided to issue a general warning to Trade Unionists….
The National Executive of the Labour Party and Trade Union Congress, elected at the Annual Congress in August, views with anxiety recent developments in the Labour ranks, more especially in respect of the ruinous disputes in Dublin, which have caused grievous loss and distress, not only to the workers directly concerned, but to many others who had no direct part in the conflict.
Strikes such as those at Marino and Inchicore, even if successful, could not have brought any benefit to the workers, either materially or morally. Workmen lost wages, businesses were dislocated; the erection of houses, for which the workers have such crying need, was held up; tradesmen not connected with the dispute were disemployed, and no material advantage was even hoped for—certainly was not attained—while the moral damage to trade unionism in loss of strength and prestige is incalculable. No good cause was served by these disastrous strikes, their only use seems to have been to pander to the vainglory of individuals desirous of making a show of power.