Extracts from the Annual Reports

Extracts from ITUC Conference on June 5th, 6th and 7th, 1911 in the Town Hall, Galway

On ending Sweated Shops and Looking after needs of School Children

D R Campbell, ITUC President said, It is to be regretted that the formation of the “Boards” provided for under the “Trades Boards Act” has not been proceeded with in a more earnest fashion. Already in the sister isle some of the scheduled trades are beginning to reap the benefit of the Act, and nowhere should its application be more welcomed than in this country.

As an instance of how this Act is BEING ADMINISTERED FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE TOILERS, let me quote a few figures relating to past and present earnings of those engaged in some of the scheduled trades. The starvation wage earned by the women chain-makers at Crudley Heath has been increased from 1d per hour to a minimum of 2.5d per hour, and that of the lace finishers of Nottingham from 1.5d per hour to a minimum of 3d per hour. This indicates the boon this piece of legislation has been to the poorly-paid worker. But the latest instance, that of the “boxmakers” of London, Birmingham, &c, serves to illustrate even more forcibly the great need there was for such “Boards” as the Act provides for. The wages of these workers, who, like outworkers in all other trades, labour in and pay the rent out of their own homes, ranged from 1.5d to 1.75d per hour. The new rates fixed by the Board of Trade are:—

From July 1, 1911, 2.75d per hour

From February 1, 1912, 3d per hour

From February 1, 1913, 3.25d per hour

Calculated on a fifty-two hour week, this last-mentioned rate will yield a wage of 14s. Id., and the difference between 7s. or 8s. 1d to a Hoxton box-maker only a Hoxton box-maker knows (applause).

It behoves, however, the workers and, indeed, trade unionists generally, to keep a CLOSE SUPERVISION OVER THE SELECTION OF INDIVIDUALS to represent the workers on these “Boards,” as already there is evidence of the “gentle influence” of the “master hand” being brought to bear in this respect. The subject of “sweating”, having loomed so largely in the public eye in my native city during the year, I may be excused if I briefly refer to it. Arising out of a scathing condemnation of the “low rate of wages paid to outworkers in the linen and cognate trades,” contained in the report of the Public Health Officer for Belfast (Dr Bailie), the Health Committee of the Corporation inquired closely into the charges, AND FOUND THEM FULLY JUSTIFIED(applause). Subsequent public demonstrations organised by the workers of the city were held, at which a “sworn inquiry” into the conditions and wages paid in the linen and allied trades were demanded, and all possible measures used to enforce the demand being met.

It is pleasing to record that the Government, after considering the matter for nine months, has finally announced that an inquiry will be held. This achievement is due in a large measure to the persistence with which the case for the workers was put by Mr Joseph Devlin, MP, the only representative of the city having any sympathy for, or the slightest actual knowledge of, the condition of the people who toil for bread (applause)…

THE ACT FOR THE FEEDING OF NECESSITOUS SCHOOL CHILDREN has conferred an inestimable boon on the children of the poor in the sister isle. Why such a beneficent piece of legislation was not made applicable to Ireland from the outset passes my comprehension. Surely, if there was one spot in the Empire where such a humanitarian act as the feeding of the hungry was a crying need, that spot was Ireland (applause), where, on the meagre wage earned by the majority of workers, it is absolutely impossible to feed the children.

The operations of the Act in England have demonstrated that not only can the school children be fed cheaper but that the consistent, scientific dieting has been exceedingly beneficial from a health standpoint. To attempt to instruct the child whose stomach is empty, is a piece of refined cruelty—incompatible with our claim to be a civilized community—more barbarous than the lowest animal (hear, hear). In different parts of the country, from city and urban councils, and other public bodies, have resolutions gone forth demanding that the scope of the measure referred to shall be speedily broadened to include our island. Let us join with them in that demand (applause), so that the hungry child shall have proper nutrition, the best piece of education it is in our power to bestow.

THE MEDICAL INSPECTION OF SCHOOL CHILDREN should also be made compulsory in this country. There is now only one opinion on how to secure a healthy population, viz—by careful attention to the children in their early years. The experience gained by the application of this method, and notably by the operation of school-clinics in various parts of England, demonstrates that thousands of useful lives are yearly sacrificed on the altar of apathy. Let us be active, then, and use our undoubted influence to remove such a terrible reproach (hear, hear).
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The Workers’ Union – a Maverick Organisation

Complaints to the ITUC regarding the Workers’ Union were investigated during the previous 12 months.

The various Unions—the Brushmakers, Dublin Corporation Workmen, and Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union—were communicated with, as well as the Workers’ Union, and invited to send representatives to the meeting of your Committee.

The three Unions first mentioned sent representatives as requested. The Brushmakers representative alleged that during the dispute with Messrs Varian, of Dublin… members of the Workers’ Union were employed doing the work of the men who were on strike; the Corporation Workmen’s representative alleged several acts in the Dublin area which, in the opinion of their Society, were detrimental to Trades Unionism, particularly the publication in the Dublin Press of matters of a confidential character, the publication of which was injurious to the labour movement; the Transport and General Workers’ Union representatives alleged that the Workers’ Union were working in opposition to the interests of the labour movement in Dublin. They quoted the letter produced by the Dublin Corporation Workmen delegates at last Congress and published in The Harp, and said that in Dublin and other districts in Ireland they had reason to know that the members of the Workers’ Union had undercut their members and helped employers to reduce wages.

The letter forwarded to the Richmond Asylum Board was a case in point. The Transport Workers had endeavoured to establish a “minimum standard,” and while they were so engaged the Workers’ Union had written the letter in question. In the absence of any representatives from the Workers’ Union, your Committee decided to postpone the consideration of the matter to a special meeting to be convened to deal with the question, and the Secretary of the Committee was instructed to procure from the Richmond Asylum Committee a copy of the letter above referred to, the Workers’ Union having repudiated the authenticity of the letter published in The Harp. The Workers’ Union having refused to send representatives to attend the special meeting or the ordinary meeting, the matter was fully considered at the meeting of your Committee, held on February 18. After consideration of the correspondence and examination of the charges, it was decided that the Workers’ Union had been guilty of acts which were detrimental to the interests of the labour movement, and, in the opinion of the Committee, was unworthy of recognition in the Irish labour movement.

The Committee further decided to recommend the forthcoming Irish Trades Congress at Galway to refuse affiliation to the [British based] Workers’ Union, or to any of its branches. This decision was duly communicated to the General Secretary of the Workers’ Union, Mr Charles Duncan, M P. Your Committee desire, in justice to the Workers’ Union, to say, that they allege that no official complaint was ever received by them from the complainants—a statement which was denied by the representatives of the complainant Unions. The Workers’ Union further contend that it is outside, the province of your Committee to investigate the charges pending such complaints being officially communicated to them. In view, however, of the statements of the complainants’ representatives, your Committee felt their duty was to submit their decision for your consideration.

The following is the letter complained of and referred to above, forwarded to the Richmond Asylum Committee by Messrs Wallace & Co, to whom it was written, and with whom the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union allege they were in dispute: —

THE WORKERS’ UNION, Branch Dublin, No. 78, 20th August, 1909,

Hillel Hall, Francis Street, Dublin

Dear Sir, With reference to the discussion which took place at the Richmond Lunatic Asylum, I would like to point out to you that the Workers’ Union never has fixed a rate of wages for Coal workers, so that the Chairman (Mr Jones) must have had wrong information given him. However, if your men join our Union we will give them Trade Union protection. Several contractors, for peace sake, I suppose, have made their men join our Union, such as Mr Thompson, Townsend Street. I understand there is a lot of men in your firm will not join the Transport Union. I must point out to you our Union is conducted on different methods to the Transport Union. Up to the present it has both the respect and goodwill of employers and employees. Of course, we never try to force a man to join us against his will, but as ours is a recognised Trades Union, recognised and affiliated by the Irish Trades Congress, we give every man who joins us Trade Union protection. We enrol members every Saturday evening at 8.30, 15 Winetavern Street. Yours truly, PAT J MCINTYRE,* Secretary.

*McIntyre was subsequently dismissed by the Workers Union for his strike breaking activities. He went on to edit the Toiler, a newspaper that denounced the ITGWU and its leader, Jim Larkin, in the 1913 Lockout. McIntyre eked out a living as a freelance journal until the First World War broke out. He then published a newssheet that promoted the British war effort from a nationalist perspective. Arrested in 1916 he was executed by firing squad on the orders of Major John Bowen Colthurst at Portobello Barracks, Dublin, along with two other journalists, Francis Sheehy Skeffington and Thomas Dickson. Colthurst was later found guilty but insane by a courts martial.
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Mr William Walker (Belfast) moved a resolution dealing with the Insurance Bill. He said that while the Congress heartily endorsed the principle of the Bill, they urged the Parliamentary Committee to take such steps as would secure the following, amongst other, amendments:—
That the provisions of the Bill be extended to include provision for insurance in the event of death. That the number of members to constitute an approved society be reduced from 5,000 to 1,000, and that societies five years in existence prior to the passing of the Bill, should be considered approved societies….

Mr Hayes (Belfast Bakers) said it would be impossible for his society to muster together 5,000 members, because there were scarcely five thousand members of their trade in existence in Ireland. He thought that owing to the economic conditions of the country there should be an amendment introduced reducing the number of members necessary to qualify a Friendly Society to administer the Bill to its members. He hoped that the Irish Party, regardless of whether the measure benefited Unionists or Nationalists, would not permit Ireland to be excluded from the operations of the measure (hear, hear).

Miss Galway (Belfast) said that owing to the low wages of the women workers in the linen trade of Belfast their society were not able to pay sick or unemployed relief at present, and if the contributions of the workers were stopped by the employees under the new Bill, she feared it would be the means of taking from their society a large proportion of its members. In this respect State Insurance would hit their society very hard.

Mr M J O’Lehane (Drapers assistants, Dublin) proposed the following addendum to the motion: —

That for the purposes of the Bill a special Board be established in Ireland, such a Board to be elected by the County and Borough Councils, and by the Approved Societies, and that any surplus which may accrue be retained in Ireland for expenditure in Ireland; that the Parliamentary Committee be instructed to communicate at once with the various Trade Unions and Trade Labour Councils, requesting them to forward immediately any suggestions or amendments upon which they may decide, and that a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee be held not later than the 1st July to consider the position and forward amendments to the proper quarters.”

Mr James Larkin seconded, and spoke strongly as to the necessity of amending the Bill in the interests of the workers.

Mr O’Lehane’s addendum was carried

Mr Johnston (Amalgamated Shop Assistants) Belfast, moved, and Mr H Rochford (Dublin Trades Council) seconded, the following addendum: —
That Congress strongly urges upon the necessity of enlarging the medical insurance clause of the Bill so as to provide the dependents of the insured persons with free medical attendance.

Passed unanimously.

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