Extracts from the Annual Reports

Extracts from 1901 ITUC Conference on 27th-29th May, 1901 at Sligo Town Hall

On beginnings of ITUC

Mr SIMMONS, ITUC Vice-President opening conference on May 27th: When, eight years ago, it came into the minds of some of the trade unionists of Ireland to inaugurate and initiate an Irish Trades Union Congress, various pessimists at that period were of the opinion that the efforts of the promoters would result in failure. Later on in the day, when the delegates would have assembled in force, their presence would prove a sufficient answer to those pessimists and show that their views were inopportune and that the Irish Trades Union Congress has been a success.

It would be necessary to remind some of the delegates of the origin of the Congress. Eight years ago Irish trade unionists were practically denied representation in the British Trades Congress. During the time trades councils had liberty to be represented, most of the Congresses were held in England, at remote places, and the last Congress at which they were admitted to representation was held at Norwich. Though they laboured under great difficulties, they were willing to attend the British Trades Congress, not because they admired going to England, but because, as Irish trade unionists, “they desired to hold out the hand of friendship to their English brothers across the water.

The representatives of the Scotch Trades Congress, who would be present later on, would bear him out in saying that it was these circumstances which had driven them to establish the Scotch Congress, which had been just as successful as the Irish Trades Congress. He had no hesitation in saying that if the gentlemen who had forced Irish and Scotch trade unionists to establish their own Congresses were aware of the success which had since followed these undertakings they would have been very slow to drive Irish and Scotch workers from the fold.

Some gentlemen had a feeling of hesitation about holding the Congress in Sligo, but Sligo had come to the front just as well as any other town. The Secretary of the Parliamentary Committee had informed him that Sligo was more than well represented; and the Congress which they were about to hold, he was sure, would be as successful as the initial Congress held in the city of Dublin.

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Presidential Address

Alexander Bowman, President of the ITUC making his annual address on May 27th:

The conditions of life and labour in Ireland being dissimilar to those prevailing in other parts of the Empire, a distinctively Irish Trades Congress is best fitted to be the organ and mouthpiece of the Irish workers (applause). Apart from this, or, indeed, any of the reasons I have heard assigned as justification for the act of those leaders in the Labour movement in Ireland who, in 1894, decided to found the Irish Congress, there is one which, in my opinion, not only warranted, but actually demanded such action, viz., the disparity between the industrial development of England and Wales, and, indeed, of Scotland also, as compared with Ireland. Two bodies or communities cannot satisfactorily progress side by side except their starting point be identical and their rate of progress equal. When we contrast the industrial position of the richer island with that of the poorer—the position of Great Britain with that of Ireland—we must recognise that these countries can make best progress by each going forward from its own standpoint and at its own rate.

In saying this, I hope I shall not be misunderstood, for I desire above all things that the workers of Great Britain and of Ireland should appreciate the essential identity of their interests, and that they should as far as possible co-operate with each other for the promotion of all that concerns the well-being of the workers of both countries (applause). In Great Britain commerce and industry have reached the highest point of development known to history, whereas in Ireland our industries are practically only in process of being born or re-born.

The duty of trade unionists in the one set of circumstances is utterly unlike their duty in the other. Hence the justification and necessity for the continued existence of the Irish Congress (hear, hear). In the former case the duties of labour organisations, by means of individual unions and federation of such unions, are the securing of advanced rates of wages and the improvement of the general conditions of labour. This work has been well and effectively done, with the result that the general conditions of labour are much more humane on the other side of the Channel than on this, while the rates of wages paid in the several trades in the several trades are from ten per cent, to, in many cases, fifty per cent, more than here. In fact, the primary duty of British trade unions has been to secure to the worker the largest proportion of the product of his energy and skill that is economically possible.

Trades councils in England and Scotland have been mainly concerned with the duty of influencing local governing bodies with a view to securing the adoption by them of such powers as they possess for the amelioration of the conditions, sanitary and social, under which the people live (hear, hear). The work of the United Trades Congress is in like manner to direct its attention to the Legislature, in order to promote or assist in promoting legislative reforms in the interest of the workers. We have some idea how well this duty has been discharged when we think of the number of Acts relating to factories, workshops, and mines, to truck, to ’employers’ liability, to workmen’s compensation, to the housing of artisans and labourers, and the many other laws in the interest of the workers which have been enacted during the past thirty years (applause).

In Ireland our position, and, therefore, our duty, is very different,” our main industry being agriculture, and this carried on under the most hampering and depressing conditions, our textile, metal-working, shipbuilding, and brewing trades, with their cognate industries, only furnishing employment for an inconsiderable proportion of our people. The establishment of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, under the management of the Hon. Horace Plunkett (applause), furnishes us with good grounds for hope that the golden age lies before Ireland in the not very distant future (hear, hear).

The duty of Irish trade and labour unions is to assist by every means in their power to create and establish Irish industries (hear, hear). We are sometimes told that we expect, or, at least, desire, too much from the Government. I think those who charge this upon the Irish people do so because they fail to apprehend what the Government really is. The Government is simply the expression of the average general thought materialised into action. If the Government can provide for the technical education of the people more efficiently and economically than private educationalists, it is then not only our right, but our duty to insist that the work shall be undertaken and accomplished by it (hear, hear). We are often told of the difficulty we experience in maintaining our position in the markets of the world; our most pressing competitors are the peoples of the nations whose Governments most liberally endow technical training institutions.

Let those who would bar the way to a wider and more thorough technical education look to America, Germany, France, Belgium, and Denmark for a lesson; let them consider the ways of these, our rivals in the world’s markets, and be wise in time. We, as workers, can do much to create, foster, and stimulate in the minds of the young men and women of this country a desire for a complete technical training. When Young Ireland, thus trained, enters upon its life work it will do so with muscles more susceptible and faculties imbued, in some degree, at least, with affection for its work.

A people possessing the innate artistic and imaginative qualities of the Irish race, fitted by proper training, is quite certain to be able to render a good account of itself as artisans or as manufacturers (hear, hear). Then shall Ireland cease to be the Cinderella of the nations, and adopt the role of Mercury. We must ever bear in mind that no one of the all too many sections into which the population of this country is divided has a monopoly of patriotism. Our people are so sharply divided by race, by religion, and by politics, that they have never been able, under present conditions, to make a really effective, hearty, and unanimous effort for the well-being of our common country. In trade unionism we have a platform broad enough and an ideal lofty enough for every Irishman (applause). Our platform is so broad that it can afford standing room for every man who, loving Ireland, is willing to do any useful work for her material advancement, and our ideal is the uniting of all sects, creeds, and parties in the attempt to raise our common and beloved country to that material, moral, and social position to which she is entitled (hear, hear).

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May 28th, 1901

The General Election

Your Committee, at the General Election last autumn, sent the following circular to all candidates for Irish constituencies. Much difficulty was experienced in reaching many of the candidates, owing to their frequent change of location during the contests. Hence the number of replies received fell very far short of the total number of circulars (over 150) sent out:

Irish Trades Union Congress.

Parliamentary Committee,

Trades Hall, Dublin,

September, 1900.

Dear Sir—Understanding that you have been selected for the Parliamentary representation of [constituency], the Committee of the Irish Trades Union Congress have directed us to ask if, on election, you will support in the House of Commons the Undermentioned reforms, which have been called for by the organised workers of Ireland. The favour of an early reply will much oblige yours faithfully,

ALEX. BOWMAN, T.C. (Belfast), Chairman.

E.L. RICHABDSON, T.C. (Dublin), Hon. Sec.

‘1.—The Compulsory Application of the Fair Wages Resolution of the House of Commons (February, 1891) to all Contracts for Local Bodies in Ireland.

2.—Amendment of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, abolishing all restrictions limiting the compulsory land-acquiring powers of local authorities.

3.—Amendment of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, embracing within its scope all wage-earners; “scaffolding” to include painters’ plant; abolishing the thirty feet limit, etc.

4.—Amendment of the Merchandise Marks Act, providing for the stamping of place of origin on all articles imported from the Continent.

S.—Abolition of Nightwork in Bakehouses.

G.—Compulsory maintenance of Workshops by ALL employers in Tailoring trade.

7.—Registration of Plumbers Bill; Sir Chas. Dilke’s Shops Bill; Steam Engines (Persons in Charge) Bill.

S.—Appointment of permanent Female Factory Inspector in Ireland.

9.—Establishment of Government Receiving Depot in Dublin.

10.—Old Age Pensions. Payment of Members of Parliament.

The following Members returned generally favourable replies

Messrs. Field, Harrington, M’Cann, and Nannetti (Dublin); P Doogan (E Tyrone); J P Boland (S. Kerry); J C Flynn (N Cork); D MacAleese, the late (N Monaghan); D J Cogan (E Wicklow); B McFadden (E Donegal); P A McHugh (N Leitrim); P J O’Shaughnessy (W Limerick); K E O’Brien (M Tipperary); P J H Carvill (Newry); W Redmond (E Clare); W E Lundon (E Limerick); J F X O’Brien (Cork); M Joyce (Limerick); .J L Carew (S Meath); J O’Mara (S Kilkenny); P O’Brien (Kilkenny); D Sullivan (S Westmeath); T M Healy (N Louth); J O’Dowd (S Sligo) ; W Abraham (N-E Cork); J J O’Shee (W Waterford); T J Condon (E Tipperary); Dr R. Ambrose (W Mayo); J. Nolan (S Louth); J Campbell (S Armagh); Capt Donellan (E Cork); E Crean (S-E Cork); J Mooney (S Dublin); J J O’Kelly (N Roscommon); P J Power (E Waterford); James O’Connor (W Wicklow); J Gilhooly (W Cork); J Boyle (W Donegal); W O’Malley (W Galway); J Roche (E Galway); T McGovern   (S Leitrim). Mr Wm Martin Murphy, who contested N Mayo; Mr R McGhee, S Louth; Mr M Austin, W Limerick, and a few other unsuccessful candidates, also replied favourably.

Although the questions posed studiously avoided Home Rule and other contentious issues, only Nationalist candidates appear to have responed.

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