Extracts from the Annual Reports

Extracts from Irish Trades Union Congress and Labour Party on August 6th, 7th and 8th, 1917 in the Guildhall, Derry

On living conditions of Irish workers

William O’Brien, Chairman, said that, If there is anyone listening to me who has any admiration for our vaunted civilisation, I would advise them to spend a day with an insurance agent whilst going his rounds in a working-class district in any of our large cities, or do a canvass in the slums during some of the local elections, and I promise them they will come back with grave doubts that the civilisation so much admired is anything “but a farce (hear, hear). They will be sure to come across the dingy little arch inside which there is a yard surrounded by a lot of dirty little hovels, each containing nine or ten persons; one filthy lavatory and a water-tap in the centre of the yard—common “to all the residents, who may number 80 or 100 souls. They will also see the large tenement house with eight or ten families, REEKING WITH DIRT AND DISEASE, where men, women and children use the one w.c, and the ash-bin at the bottom of the stairs to receive all the refuse, and keep the house “perfumed,” in the intervals between collections, which are usually about twice each week. They will search in vain for bath or wash-house, or any of the other things that makes life pleasant; but they will find cooking, washing, eating and sleeping all in the one room ; and in many of them provisions made for all the calls of nature. I often wonder, when I meet some well-fed looking gentleman in our principal streets, do they know that the clothes some of them are wearing have been made in these rooms in some instances by unfortunate sweated workers in the last stages of consumption, as I have seen them (hear, hear.) I think if they did, they would insist that the shops where they leave their orders should have them made in properly-ventilated workshops, even if they had to pay the Trade Union rate of wages (applause.)

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On children reared in tenements

William O’Brien, Chairman, said: After the big lock-out in Dublin in 1913, a Departmental Committee was appointed to enquire and report on housing in that city ; and the conclusion they came to was, there was nothing so bad in Western Europe ! They also made financial recommendations, which have not been given effect to yet, and will probably not be until the workers are forced into another social upheaval (hear, hear.)
The Municipalities are not able to deal with this question on the large scale that is necessary, so the State must be forced to take this matter up. In England at present there is a Housing and Town Planning Conference in existence, the object of which is to extract twenty millions or more from the Government for housing in England and Scotland. And, by the way, a large number of members of Amalgamated Societies in Ireland are paying a levy to support that movement, although
(Pages 10-1)
Click here to launch page 13 the 1917 Annual Report (PDF) 

On damage to Liberty Hall in Easter Rising

From report of the deputation to meet the Chief Secretary, Sir Henry Duke: Your Executive had before them the consideration of the report of the Committee having charge of claims for damage done to property during the insurrection in Dublin, in 1916. The Committee refused to consider the application of the Transport Union for re-coupment for damage done to Liberty Hall.
In this connection the following letters were sent by your Committee :— ;

Dublin 20th February, 1917.
Labour Party,
1, Victoria Street,
London, S.W.

I am directed to inform the Labour Party that the action of the Labour Exchanges in Ireland is at present, and for some time past has been, causing grave anxiety to the workers. Non-employment benefits due to some of the Tradesmen under the provisions of the Act have been denied because of the refusal of the Tradesmen in question to take up work in the Unskilled Labour market.
My Executive also beg to direct the attention of the Labour Party to the action of the Government in reference to the damage done to the Hall of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. The Citizen Army were tenants of the Irish Transport Union just as the Irish Volunteers were of the premises in Dawson Street. The Citizen Army were not in the Hall after Easter Monday, and two days afterwards the Military bombarded the Hall of this Working Class Organisation practically leaving it uninhabitable.
From the time the Citizen Army left Liberty Hall in revolt they did not occupy any portion of the building and from first to last there was not one shot fixed by them from Liberty Hall. When the Military took possession they took away property of the Union which has never been returned.
We have raised the question here locally. The answer we have got is that the property was taken away by souvenir hunters. When I tell you that one of the things taken was a cottage piano and another a baby grand piano you will understand how much credence is to be given to the souvenir hunters story. I may add that property belonging to persons residing in the Liberty Hall area but not belonging to the Union has been made good, either by the return of the goods or by payment of monies in lieu thereof. Hoping that these matters will secure the hearty support of the Party.
With kind regards.
Fraternally yours,
P. T. DALY, Secretary.

DUBLIN, 10th March, 1917.
Labour Party,
1, Victoria Street,

My Executive have directed me to again draw your attention to the question of the destruction of Liberty Hall, the Head-quarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, and particularly to the fact that all the papers in connection with the Irish Trades Union Congress and Labour Party were taken by the Military from the building and have not been returned.
I would like you to understand that there have been engaged in the European War close on 5,000 members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and I am in a position to state, and to verify my statement, that’ close on 2,000 of their members have been killed. I need hardly tell you what these men think of Liberty Hall, and if the Government, of which you are a member, are going to compensate capitalists for the destruction of their property, what answer will they have for those men if they refuse to compensate them for the destruction of theirs?
I am also directed by the National Executive of the Irish Trades Union Congress and Labour Party to inform you that the question of minimum wage for agricultural labourers has been considered by them, and I am to inform you that whilst the members of my Executive favour the establishment of Wages Boards generally, they consider, and have desired me to impress upon you, that, preliminary to the consideration of such question, the minimum wage suggested in Great Britain for this class of Labour should apply to Ireland.
I am further directed to inform you that several of our Affiliated bodies throughout the country have brought under our notice the question of the exportation of food stuffs from this country. They say that this is making it very difficult for them to control their members, and if it goes on they fear the men engaged in the handling of it will refuse to handle it in the immediate future.
Yours fraternally,
P. T. DALY, Secretary.

The Right Hon. Arthur Henderson replied as follows:—
12th March, 1917.

I beg to acknowledge receipt of your favour of the 10th, and knowthe position your Executive takes up with regard to the destruction of Liberty Hall. I must frankly say that I see no possibility of obtaining any Government assistance, though I am making enquiry into the matter.
I note what you say with regard to the question of the minimum wage. Before finally deciding my attitude on this point I should like to have fuller information. Then with regard to the possible refusal on the part of members of your affiliated bodies to handle food stuffs intended for export from Ireland: merely to make the bald statement as to a possible refusal without giving full and detailed information, is not sufficient. I am quite prepared to assist your affiliated societies, but only when satisfied that there is a disposition on the part of those concerned to give this country adequate and proper assistance, without stoppages of work, during the period of the War.
Yours sincerely,

Trades Hall,

Your Committee also communicated with the Chief Secretary, to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but up to the time of making this report no action has been taken on the part of the Government to re-imburse the Transport Union for the damage done to their property.

Click here to launch page 30 the 1917 Annual Report (PDF) 

On the Wages of Agricultural Labourers.

From Executive Report: Your Executive gave this matter their earnest consideration and claimed that the minimum wage should be applied to Ireland. They further pointed out the necessity for having a uniform wage fixed by all the Unions catering for this class of Labour, and suggested a minimum of 27/- per week. Your Executive look forward to the realisation of this uniformity of wage and the future organisation of agricultural, and other classes of Labour, through the scheme of better organisation alluded to in this Report, and dealt with in the circular drafted by Mr. Johnson.
Click here to launch page 41 the 1917 Annual Report (PDF)

Fair Wages in Public Contracts

Mr. T. Cassidy (Derry) moved, and Mr. Hall (Belfast) seconded the following resolution :—
” That this Congress, representative of the organised workers of Ireland, again demands that all public bodies, in all contracts to be paid for out of public funds, should make provision against the dangers of sweating by inserting such conditions as may prevent the abuse arising from sub-letting, and that every effort should be made by them to secure the payment of such wages and conditions of employment as are generally recognised by the trades unions in each trade for competent workmen; that public advertisements be given only to those newspapers paying their workers recognised wages and conforming to recognised conditions of the trade ; that the delegates to Congress pledge themselves collectively and individually to make this a primal and test question for all candidates at the forthcoming elections for Borough, District, and County Councils, and Poor Law Guardians ; that the National Executive are hereby instructed to take all necessary steps to have the foregoing resolutions carried into effect, and that for this purpose a special appeal for financial assistance be made to the societies affiliated to Congress.”
Replying to Mr Clarke, Mr P T Daly said the Committee appointed three years ago to deal with this question would continue its work.
The resolution was adopted.
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On Minimum Wage

Mr D McGee (Dublin) moved: That this Congress reiterates its former demand for the establishment of a minimum wage of 30/- per 48 hour week for all employees of Public Boards in Ireland, and that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Borough Councils of Ireland and to the General Council of Irish County Councils.”

Mr C Doherty seconded the resolution.

Mr Flanagan (Belfast), contended that 30/- was insufficient, and said that the minimum should be at least 40/-. Mr Logue, TC (Derry), referred to the action of Sir Thomas Russell in connection with the agricultural labourers. Sir Thomas, he said, had for some time been utilising his public office to regulate the wages of the agricultural workers of Ireland so as to have a lower rate than the trade union standard. He had utilised his Department to get a minimum of 25/- a week without privileges and 12/6 a week with privileges. If they allowed a Government official to interfere in this matter it was tantamount to saying that it was not necessary to have trade unions, and it was a menace to trade unions in having a minimum established.

Mr W Murphy and Mr Bennett having spoken, Congress allowed Mr McGee to withdraw his resolution and to substitute the following, which was adopted: Seeing that the Government have largely fixed the price of the Foodstuffs of the country, we hereby demand of the Government to establish a Minimum Wage commensurate with the high cost of living, so as to put the workers in a position to secure the necessaries of life.

Click here to launch page 67 the 1917 Annual Report (PDF) 

On Trade Boards Act

Mr Owens (Belfast) moved, and Mr McCallion (Derry) seconded, the following resolution, which was adopted: That this Congress notes with satisfaction that the Government is giving consideration to the question of extending the Trades Boards Act to the retail and distributive trades, and in view of the low wages paid in laundries, dressmaking shops, millinery workrooms, shops, and to girls in the printing, stationery and allied trades in Ireland, we urge that the question is one pressing for legislation, and we demand that any rates of wages fixed be based on a normal week of 48 hours.”

Click here to launch page 74 the 1917 Annual Report (PDF)

On Female Factory Inspectors

Mr D Houston (Cork), for Mr Dawson Gordon (Belfast),moved the following resolutions: That this Congress urges upon the Government the great necessity that exists in Ireland for additional Female Factory Inspectors, as the present staff is totally insufficient for the carrying out of the duties imposed upon them, and we earnestly urge upon the Government to take immediate steps to remedy the matter by increasing the present staff by the appointment of Irishwomen.

That owing to the low vitality of the Linen Workers, due to the condition of employment and the speeding up system in Spinning Mills, this Congress calls upon the Home Office to have the Factory Acts so amended as to reduce the recognised working hours to 48 per week; and that the Trade Board Act apply, guaranteeing a living wage to all workers in the Industry.
The Trades Congress, Mr. Houston said, should insist upon a competent and sufficient staff of Inspectors as there were transgressions of the Act every day all over Ireland.

Miss Molony (Dublin) said the conditions in many trades in Dublin were a real scandal, especially in connection with some of the laundries, girls having to work in portions of them in which other people would not place their animals.
The resolutions were adopted.

Click here to launch page 74 the 1917 Annual Report (PDF) 

On Half-Time Labour

Mr. Hynds (Belfast) moved, Mr. Duffy (Cork) seconded, and Congress adopted, the following resolution: That, in the opinion of this Congress, the half-time system of labour as at present in operation in our mills and factories is a curse to the child physically, mentally, and morally, restricts the opportunity for the employment of adult labour, tends to beat down the wages of the workers in the industries affected, and should therefore be abolished.

Click here to launch page 79 the 1917 Annual Report (PDF) 

On Labour Exchange Promises

Mr Edward McCabe (Dublin) moved, and Mr Owen Hynes (Dublin) seconded resolution: That this Congress enters its emphatic protest against the action of the Dublin Labour Exchange holding out promises to men of long periods of employment, promises which they afterwards failed to fulfil.

Whereas, it has been reported to us that the Dublin Labour Exchange, in order to secure workers for jobs in Great Britain, represents, through the officials, that the work will last for a number of weeks at rates per hour, which, in many cases are not paid, with promises of overtime which is not worked, and that on these promises many men have been known to accept work through the Dublin Labour Exchange; that after working for a week or two their services are dispensed with, it is hereby resolved that this Congress demands that in cases where guarantees are given and unfulfilled the employer, or the Labour Exchange should be compelled to make good any guarantee which has not been fulfilled and any time falling short of that promised.

That this Congress regrets that the Fair Wages Resolution of the House of Commons is evaded on work carried out on Railways under Governmental control in Ireland, and that copies of this resolution be forwarded to the Minister of Labour, and to Mr E A Neale, Chairman of the Railway Control Board in Ireland.”


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