Extracts from the Annual Reports

Extracts from Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress on August 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, 1919 in the Whitworth Hall, Drogheda

On Labour Organisation

From the Executive report: During the year the organisation of the workers has proceeded steadily. Large numbers of agricultural workers have become Trade Unionists and show every promise of being an active and virile force in Labour’s army. Much dissatisfaction is felt at the low scale fixed as the minimum by the Agricultural Wages Board notwithstanding the efforts of the Labour members of that Board to raise the scale to the rates- established in England, Wales and Scotland.

Where the organisation has been good considerable advances have been obtained, and as we write claims are being pressed and some strikes are in operation. It is being proved with farmers as with the general body of employers that seldom are advances of wages obtained except by the pressure of organised power.

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International Labour Charter

From the Executive report: A Commission was appointed to draw up a report on International Labour legislation. This Commission collaborated with the International Trade Union Conferences also sitting at Berne, and finally agreed upon an identical programme—an International Labour Charter.

It is too long-to quote in full, but we make the following quotations from the report as adopted:
Under the wage system, the capitalist class endeavour to increase their profits by exploiting the workers as much as possible. Such methods, if they are unchecked, undermine the physical, moral, and intellectual powers of the workers and their children. They prevent the development, and even endanger the existence of society. The capitalist attempt to degrade the workers can only be entirely removed by the abolition of the capitalist system. But the evil can be strongly mitigated, both by the resistance of the organised workers, and by the intervention of the State. By this means the health of the workers may be protected, and their family life maintained, and they can secure the opportunity of attaining the education needed to enable them to fulfil their duties as citizens in the modern democracy.
The limits which capitalism has reached are very different in various countries. One of the dangers here involved is that the industry and labour of the more progressive countries are impaired by a system of sweated labour in the more backward countries. The need to establish an international standard of labour legislation has been rendered doubly urgent by the terrible upheaval and fearful devastation of the life forces of the people brought about by the War. The foundations of a League of Nations however will make it possible to satisfy this need.”
Then follows “without prejudice to any more far-reaching resolutions which may be adopted by Trade Unions,” a long series of demands for minimum requirements which are already carried out in part in some countries, and must be converted into a code of international law by the League of Nations on the conclusion of peace.

These demands deal with the following:—

Compulsory primary education. Technical and higher education to be free and available for all.

Restriction of the hours of labour of children and “young persons.”‘

Restriction of employment of women (a) at night, (b) in dangerous occupations, (c) before and after child-birth.

Sunday rest.

Prevention of accidents and protection of health.

Home industries.

Wages Boards, and legal minimum rates of wages.

Unemployment and accident insurance, etc., etc.

Amongst the etceteras we should perhaps quote in full a clause of especial interest to members of the Gaelic League:—-
Employers who employ at least five workers of foreign tongue shall be required by law to post up in the mother tongue of such workers all labour regulations and other important notices, and also to arrange at their own expense for such workers to be given instruction in the language of the country.

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The Irish delegates signed the Minority, or Adler-Longuet declaration on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as opposed to Parliamentary Democracy. But although this was the official title of the discussion it does not convey a correct idea of the points at issue. The truth “is “that a tendency early revealed itself to condemn the Soviet system of Government root and branch without ‘hearing the case for the Soviet, and in the absence of the Russian Bolshevik Social Democratic Labour Party, which is responsible for the establishing the Soviet Republic, as well as of those parties which are known to support the Soviet. To this course strong opposition was made within the Commission.

In the end the majority within the Commission carried the Branting declaration with its implied condemnation of the Soviet. This appeared most unfair to the Irish delegates for the following reasons—(i) The Soviet system was not discussed on its merits. Parliamentary democracy as known in France and Great Britain is not necessarily the last word in democracy. (3) Under the name of the Majority lumped all the violent manifestations together regardless of the fact that so far as the evidence goes these not the results of the new system but of the military actions of the “Russian counter revolutionaries supported financially by the Entente governments and at one time by the late Imperial German Government. (4) The Russian opponents of the Bosheviki at the Conference were obviously giving only one side of the story and were not expressing the more recent opinions of their respective parties (Menshevik Social Democrats and Social Revolutionanes}. (5) The Bolsheviki of Russia and many of their supporters in other countries were not present at the Conference, and indeed would not have been admitted into Switzerland by the Swiss Government. (6) The supporters of the Branting declaration made no attempt to examine the Soviet system but attempted to bind the Labour and Socialist movements to a political and not an industrial form of democracy.

The Adler-Longuet declaration, while not perfect, more nearly expressed the point of view of the Irish delegation-and as such was signed by the Irish delegates. In the end the real decision under more favourable circumstances on the Soviet and on Bolshevism was postponed to a later Conference. The majority accepted the proposal for a mission of enquiry into Russia, and this was supported by the Irish delegates who took part in the selection of the members of the mission at the meeting of the Permanent Commission.

The memorandum on Ireland

In addition to the printed reports and memoranda prepared beforehand with the authority of the National Executive which were distributed to the delegates, the Irish delegation prepared on the spot a special Memorandum on Ireland for the use of the Conference delegation to Paris. This Memorandum contained that section of our report dealing with the Irish Working Class and National Aspirations, the heads of our general arguments, a sketch of the military and economic conquest of Ireland, a review of the present situation in Ireland, and appendices dealing with Irish statistics, and the Conclusions of Karl Marx on the relations between Ireland and Great Britain. The Memorandum was the joint work of the two delegates, and was printed in French and German editions. Branting, Chairman of the delegation to Paris, promised the delegation’s attention to our claims.

The delegates and the Irish claims

The delegates were interviewed on behalf of many European and American papers, and in their turn they interviewed several Swiss editors, and secured the support of the Labour and Socialist press in several continental countries, and as well, the support of sections of the non-Socialist press. The Memorandum was sent to every important paper throughout the world, to many leading men and women, to the more important political organisations in every European country, including Governments. It was quoted from extensively in the press, and is still being noticed in various papers. It is on sale in every kiosk and in every important bookstall in Switzerland.

Propaganda outside the conference

The Irish delegates were highly gratified with the keen attention and interest shown fay their fellow-delegates in the written and spoken declarations made on behalf of Ireland. In this connection they noted the particular attention given by the French, the Austrians, the British, the Dutch, the Greeks, the Germans, and the Jews. On all sides the warmest sympathy with Ireland was expressed, and there were many welcome and acute enquiries as to the strength and policy’ of the “Irish Labour movement, the attitude of the workers in Great Britain, the prospects and policy of Sinn Fein, the relations between the workers in the Unionist parts of Ulster and the workers in the rest of Ireland, the December General Election, the Insurrection of Easter Week, the resources of Ireland, the attitude of the people generally, etc. Huysmans, Longuet, Kautsky, Bernstein (who was there as a visitor), Adler, Troelstra, and other leading delegates showed an accurate and fairly comprehensive knowledge of Irish affairs. Other delegates were friendly, but not very well informed.

In Paris

On their way home the Irish delegates spent some four days in Paris. There they met Sean T O’Ceallaigh, the envoy of Dail Eireann, and on comparing notes with him, found that on the whole, his experience in Paris corresponded with their own in Switzerland, and that both delegations had come to practically the same conclusions as a result of their experiences.
In Paris the Irish delegates had again a most hearty welcome in Socialist and Labour circles. Longuet, Jouhoux, Dunois, and other leaders of the Socialist and Trade Union movements, were interviewed with eminently successful results. The two great Socialist dailies, Le Populaire and L’Humanite, were enlisted on the side of Ireland, and certain misleading impressions- due to British propaganda, and especially the propagation of the idea that the Lloyd George Convention of 1917-1918 was a real offer of free self-determination, were promptly and effectively corrected in the Trade Union daily, La Bataille.

Arrangements were made for the publication of a new Paris edition of the Memorandum on Ireland. Enquiries were made into the strength and methods of organisation of French Trade Unionism, and the Confederation Generate du Travail was consulted upon the forthcoming International Trade Union Conference.

The strength and weakness of the conference

Taking a broad and general view of the Conference, it seemed to us that its outstanding merit was its success in bringing the delegates of so many countries together, and more particularly in its bridging of the bitter and vindictive differences between the parties representing countries lately at war—for instance, the present German Majority and the present French Minority, both of which had supported their respective Governments during the war. If it was a merit that the number and importance of parties represented, it was a demerit that the Russian Bolsheviki, the Italians, the Serbians, the Belgians, the Swiss and the Americans were not present. Viewing it from another aspect, the Conference was strong upon the political side, but weak, and to our mind regrettably so, upon the industrial side. From this resulted our definite impression that the delegations present, with few exceptions, among which, however, we include our own, felt that they had not the full driving force of the industrial organisations behind them, and hence they were inclined rather to advise or appeal to than to command the Governments and the Peace Conference. But it would be unfair and unjust to record this impression without qualifying it with noting that this weakness was, obviously due in large measure to the terrible disintegrating effect which the war has had upon all organisations, institutions, and personalities upon the Continent, an effect which cannot be realised by anybody who has not seen the shadow the war has cast upon the whole political and social life of the Continent. The shadow of the war hung heavily over the Conference, as did the divisions which it had created in the working-class movement and parties, and it coloured all the speeches, declarations and debates. Besides, it must be remembered that the Conference was but a preliminary Conference for the creation of a new International, and not a definite Congress of the parties represented. Hence its timidity in certain respects, and its reluctance to do anything which would impair the new-born unity of the workers, or tend to-exclude definitely any national section. Hence, too, its general tendency to the Right and Centre instead of the Left, as we would have preferred.

But for all that, and with all its inherent and accidental defects, the Conference was successful in bringing the Labour and Socialist parties of all countries together again, in making easy the way for the new International, and in laying down in a clear and definite and, in our opinion, satisfactory manner, the general’ principles of international Brotherhood of Peoples based upon territorial arrangements and an international morality which would secure the peace of the world, not only durable but just for our people as for all others.
This, indeed, was the key-note of the Berne Conference—it was Inter-National as never before, and it was at the same time international in the full historic sense.

General Conclusions

As a result of our experiences in Switzerland and France, and outside our experience in and around the Conference, we have come to certain general conclusions, political, industrial, and social, which we believe will be of value as well as interest to the Labour Movement, and the people generally, in Ireland.

(i.) Outside certain small circles, there is a general indifference to the claims to the independent state of Ireland, but no hostility…. This, we think, is due to several causes. Chief amongst them is the lack of knowledge, information, and propaganda .about Ireland. Next to it we should put the effects of British War Propaganda during the war, a decidedly anti-Irish propaganda which is, however, partially discounted by the common knowledge it is propaganda. In short, Europe knows little, and cares little about Ireland, especially since Parnell’s day.

(2.) The indifference can be turned into interest in many cases into active friendship in some, once the veil of ignorance is lifted. But in lifting it, it must be remembered that time lost over several years must be made up, and that in making up this time. Ireland will, have to compete for attention with a score of causes and countries which are not only geographically closer to Europe, but economically nearer as well, and have acting on their behalf, well organised and freely financed agencies, committees, newspaper reviews, and so forth… Ireland was practically unknown in thestock of this clearing-house until the Irish delegation’s pamphlet went the round of the pagers and the bookshops.

(3.) Outside the Labour and Socialist movements, the statesmen and Governments, so far as we could ascertain, were actuated by only one motive : that of material gain, and territorial grab. In ways we were appalled by the terrible cynicism of Europe; above all by open, naked, and unashamed, disregard of the Peace Conference for all principles of right and justice.

(4.) On.the other hand, we found that if the men which rule in all but Socialist countries can be convinced affairs are materially an advantage or a disadvantage to they will begin to pay attention and court to Ireland. Thus we emphasise Ireland’s capacity for food production, Ireland’s capacity for military action as a menace to European Peace, and Ireland’s ability through the Irish in Australia and America, to thwart the diplomacy of Europe, would gain for Ireland most friendly attention abroad.

(5.) We return home again with our convictions upon (a) the abolition of customs frontiers, and*(b) the material and moral advantage of the liberation of Ireland and of Ireland’s capacity for independent government strengthened ten-fold.

(6.) Finally, we have grown still stronger in our conviction that the Soviet Government of Russia is Ireland’s best and most disinterested friend, and that at least so far as justice and principle are concerned the Labour and Socialist Governments are our only hope, and our only friends amongst the Governments.

In view of all this, we felt a strong temptation to remain much longer in Berne, Geneva, and Paris, in a missionary capacity, but in the absence of the necessary authority, and our knowledge of the needs of the movement at home, compelled us to give up the idea of carrying out this vitally essential work.


Click here to launch page 32 the 1919 Annual Report (PDF)