Extracts from the Annual Reports

Extracts from ITUC Conference 0n June 8th, 9th and 10th, 1908, at the Minor Ulster Hall, Belfast

On the late Belfast Dockers’ Lock-out

From the report of the ITUC Executive: Your Committee considered the question of the Belfast Dockers’ dispute and unanimously adopted the following resolution :—

That this Committee re-affirms the principle of compulsory arbitration adopted by the Irish Trades Union Congress, and believes that it is now necessary that a Conciliation Board Bill should be passed by Parliament making it compulsory on both employers and employed, before a strike or lock-out takes place, to submit the points in dispute to such a Board with a view to a settlement, and thus avoid such unfortunate conflicts as have recently taken place in Ireland.

The action of the Belfast local authorities in calling out the military had at this date been several times referred to in Parliament by questions and statements, without any satisfactory results. But on the 5th March this year the following resolution was moved by Mr Wardle (Stockport) on going into committee of supply, and accepted by the Government:—

That in the opinion of this House the powers now vested in chief magistrates to call upon the War Office to supply troops during times of trade disputes are open to grave abuse, are a menace to the liberty of the subject, and ought to be inquired into and reported upon by a Committee of this House.

As a result the Government have since appointed a Select Committee to inquire into the question. Arising out of the Belfast lock-out, the Harbour Commissioners proceeded against Mr Larkin for trespassing, without permission, on their property (viz—the dock quays), and on the case coming before the High Court, the King’s Bench Division (Lord O’Brien, LCJ, Madden, and Wright, J J) on February 10th, 1908, held that the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, in legalising peaceful picketing does not confer a right to enter upon private property against the will of the owner; and that the words “at or near” do not include “in or on” a house or place where a person resides, or works, or carries on business.
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On Irish versus British unions

ITUC President John Murphy (Belfast Trades Council): Attempts are being made to sever the trade unionists of Ireland from their fellows in England and Scotland upon the specious plea that we are able to govern ourselves in all things, and should not, therefore, be allied to the “English” bodies. The patriotic gentlemen who advocate this course do not care about the injury their agitation will do, as they are only anxious to cover themselves with the glory of having begun a new and successful movement. Already some employers have taken advantage of the new doctrine, and have said to representatives of amalgamated unions that they object to deal with English societies, and, of course, that they can manage their business without the help of outsiders. Unfortunately for the aims of these insidious agitators, Ireland is still far from being an industrial country, and the total number of trade unionists in the country would hardly suffice to make one large stable trade union.

It will be obvious to all reasonable persons that discord of this nature at the present juncture in Ireland must result in weakening forces by no means too strong at the best, and this Congress should set its face like flint against a propaganda so foolish and baneful. Trade unionism is largely a thing of English growth and development introduced into this country, and if those who are preaching the new doctrine to which I have referred were only consistent, they would advocate the abolition of trade unionism entirely as a wicked Saxon invention.

The labour movement is not of a narrow national character, and should be a bond of union and not a separating sword between the people, of England and ourselves. The outlook may be somewhat clouded at the moment, but the necessity for better organisation and closer union is as great as ever. The present stage in our trade union history has only been reached through struggle and suffering, and this Congress should be fully alive to the necessity of holding fast by the principles which have brought about much steady improvement in the condition of Irish workmen.
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On Old Age Pensions

From the report of the ITUC Executive: Your Committee have pleasure in reporting that after nearly 30 years trade union agitation, in which the Irish Trades Congress since its foundation in 1894, continuously participated, the righteous claim of the worn-out veterans of industry for humane and self-respecting consideration in the evening of their lives, has at length been conceded. The Government, by the mouth of the Prime Minister in his Budget speech on the 7th May, declared that the time had come when by granting Old Age Pensions of 5s per week at 70 years of age (provided their income did not exceed 10s per week or £26 per year), the worn-out toilers should “once and for all be placed beyond the machinery and associations of the Poor Law.” Your Committee, however, regard the age limit far too high, and think that the income limit might reasonably be increased. But they cordially accept the principle of the measure, and hope, by helping to put further pressure on the Government, to bring these two points more in consonance with the popular desire. It is proposed to make municipal bodies —city, county, and district councils, or committees appointed by them—the pension authorities, and to place at their service Government pension officers for the purpose of making such inquiries as may be necessary into the bona fides of the applications. Applicants will be supplied at the Post Office with a form of application, which, when properly filled up, will then be transmitted to the pension authority, who, with the aid of the pension officer, will investigate the claim, and if both agree that the applicant fulfils the requirements, the pension follows as a matter of right.

In the event, however, of a disagreement between the pension authority and the officer, an appeal may be taken to the LGB. When the application is granted, the pensioner will be furnished with a book of monthly or weekly coupons, which will be payable at any post office in the United Kingdom. Your Committee being anxious to make clear whether or not the receipt of superannuation benefits up to 10s weekly from trade societies would debar applicants from the scheme, put themselves in communication with the President of the Local Government Board (Mr John Burns), and received from that gentleman a prompt reply, emphatically declaring that “every man entitled to receive the maximum superannuation benefit of 10s weekly from his trade society, will also be entitled to claim and receive the full weekly pension under the Government scheme.”

Your Committee regard this statement as highly satisfactory, and submit the following extract from “Hansard” (Parliamentary Debates, May 7th, 1908):—

Mr Arthur Henderson pointed out the hardship of excluding from the scheme members of trade organisations who by their thrift and industry were entitled to superannuation benefits, and instanced the case of the engineers and printers, and other trades.

The President of the Local Government Board (Mr John Burns)—

No, no. I am sorry to interrupt the hon member; but he has assumed that 6,000 members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers whose superannuation ranges from 7s to 10s per week, would be disentitled to a 5s pension under this scheme. He is entirely mistaken. The whole of the 6,000 men will be entitled to what this pension scheme confers, and it is over 10s and not up to 10s that is the mark.

Mr Arthur Henderson thanked his Right Honourable Friend for that interruption; but was he not aware that there were in the rules of the engineers arrangements whereby the men could rise to a maximum superannuation allowance of 10s a week?

Mr John Burns—Under this scheme every man entitled to that maximum of 10s superannuation would be able to receive the 5s.

Mr Arthur Henderson was delighted to hear that. It seemed to him to be going further than what he gathered from the speech of the Prime Minister, & Co.

Click here to launch page 20 the 1908 Annual Report (PDF) 

On Primary Education

R O’Keeffe (Amalgamated Society of Carpenters, Dublin) moved: That this Congress is of opinion that the present system of Irish Primary Education in National Schools requires improvement; that the majority of those schools require drastic structural alterations in respect of sanitation and classroom accommodation, proper systems of heating and ventilation, open and covered playgrounds, with an all-round increase to the teachers’ salaries, so as to provide them with a living wage; and that this matter of Irish National Education should have first place in any Irish reform proposed by the Government. And that power should be obtained from Parliament to enable local authorities to levy a rate to provide for primary school accommodation when desirable.

The principal defect in the education systems in Ireland was that a poor man’s son or daughter, however clever they might be, could not be permitted, or with any degree of facility, be allowed to reach the top of the ladder. There was no co-operation between the National Board, Intermediate, and University Boards. The subjects taught in the National schools were not those likely to be of the greatest value to the boy and girl in after life, and useful subjects were crowded out.

The schoolrooms in which the children were taught were a disgrace to any country, while the salaries paid to the teachers were inadequate, and the lowest paid to any civil servants, with the result that the best of their teachers left the country, with the consequent detrimental effect on the children.

Mr D K Campbell (Belfast), in seconding, said that the condition of the National schools in Belfast was nothing to boast of, but at the same time it was good compared with other portions of the country, and that was not saying much for it. Many of the schools in the city had very inadequate accommodation, and in nine cases out of ten they were attended by double the number of children they could properly accommodate. In England and Scotland power was given to local authorities to levy a rate for education, in some cases amounting to almost 2s, while in Ireland the rate for education could not exceed Id in the £. There was no reason whatever why the education of the young should not have the first claim on the rates, so that they might be properly housed and given a proper, scientific, and sound education.

Mr J Larkin (Dockers Union) said it was not the Government at all that was at fault, but the people at home, who allowed the present management of schools to be run on sectarian basis. Until they would get rid of the clerical power and get more labour representation in connection with education, there would be no improvement. If they would only go through the country and express their honest opinions—but they dare not; the men of Belfast would not say what they thought, because they were afraid of the people, and the people of Dublin were afraid to do it also. He was one of those who stood for secular education, clear and above board.

Mr W J Murray (Belfast) said the time had come when the Congress should take its stand on this question, and emphatically declare that all clerical control of the schools should be stamped out of the country (hear, hear, and no, no).

On a division the resolution was carried by 48 votes to 10.

Click here to launch page 33 the 1908 Annual Report (PDF)