James Connolly


Home Thrusts

(19 August 1899)

The Workers’ Republic, 19 August 1899.
Transcribed Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Several hundredweight of stones.

To break them with a hammer, until they are small enough to be used for the purposes of macadamised roads.

This is the task at which it is proposed to set the paupers who apply for admission to the North Dublin Union. [1]

Several hundredweight of stones to be broken as a proof that the applicant is not a bloated millionaire, a huckstering politician, a successful publican, a house landlord, or any other sponge upon the community, but a real, bona-fide working man unable to find a fellow countryman willing to make a profit out of him.

And this brutal motion is made by a man elected to the Board of Guardians as a “Labour” man.

Mr Chambers, PLG.

Step this way, Mr Chambers, please.

Look at him, gentle reader, touch him, feel him, listen to him, run your fingers through his hair, observe his expanded chest, reverently contemplate his immaculate shirt front; put your ear to his watch-pocket and try and catch the throbbings of the thing that serves him for a heart; assure yourself that he actually is alive and

A Labour Man.

And then think hard.

What is a Labour man? A Labour man is, or ought to be, a man who seeks to make every public position a weapon in the hands of the workers in their struggle against their oppressors.

A Labour man is a man elected by his fellows to a public position, in order that he may do his utmost to reverse the traditionary practices of our masters, by which the rights of property are held to be superior to the rights of human beings, and to establish instead that reign of Justice in which Humanity will be supreme, and property its servant.

Such is a Labour man.

A Labour man on a Board of Guardians should make it his duty to render the Workhouse as pleasant, bright, and cheerful as possible for the inmates.

He cannot make it too bright and cheerful. If he makes life in the Workhouse so comfortable that men are better off inside than working outside at the present rate of wages, if men are tempted to leave their work and go into the Union, because the conditions of labour are so miserable and the Union so pleasant, then the employers will be compelled to pay higher wages and render life outside more tolerable in order to keep their workmen.

But that would raise the rates, you say. It would, undoubtedly, but who pays the rates?

The master class!

Just so! Thus you could have them both ways. Raise the rates on the employing class in order to make life in the Union so pleasant that the workers might be tempted to give up work and go into the Union, and then the employing class will be compelled to pay higher wages, etc., in order to induce the workers to remain in their employment.

That is good sense, sound policy, wise tactics. Of what other use is your vote to you, ye wage workers?

The master class realise the power of the Board of Guardians. Therefore they fight to get on it, and when on it use their power to make the life of the inmates a hell upon earth.

Thus men die a lingering death in squalor and misery outside, rather than face the degradation put upon them in the Union, and thus an unlimited supply of unemployed is kept at the beck and call of the master class.

A man, who, elected to the Board of Guardians as a “Labour” man, instead of doing his best to break up, or at least oppose and expose this system, deliberately lends all his power to aid this conspiracy against the working class, by putting forward such a motion as that moved by Mr Chambers, is either a fool or a knave.

Now, Mr Chambers, you have the right to choose under which category we will class you.

Have you lacked honesty enough to remain true to the interests of the men who elected you, or have you only lacked intelligence enough to know where those interests lie.

One or the other it must be.

This action of Mr Chambers, coupled with the despicable conduct of his brother Labour Electoral men in the City Hall [2], ought to prove to the satisfaction of the workers that there can be no good gained for Labour by the action of men who believe in the present property system.

The social system of today is a system based upon the robbery of the working class; the governmental and administrative systems of today are, in all their manifestations, so many instruments in the hands of our masters for keeping down the working class while the aforesaid robbery is being accomplished.

The working man has no right to take part in the work of government or administration, except that he might use his position to smash the machinery of oppression, and stop the work of robbery.

To do this requires a complete reversal of all the theories and precedents established by the class hitherto in possession.

Instead of which, Mr Chambers proceeds to emulate the meanest of the capitalist crew, by insulting those of our class who are so unfortunate as to require Poor Relief.

Chivalrous Mr Chambers!

Any cur can kick the bottom dog. But to take his part, ah, that requires A MAN.




1. Regional Poor Law Unions, administered by elected Poor Law Guardians, were responsible for running workhouses for the poor.

2. Those elected to Dublin Corporation under the auspices of the Labour Electoral Association had abandoned their independence and done deals with right-wing politicians and parties.


Last updated on 2.3.2004