From The Workers’ Republic, 3 June 1900.
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh for Red Banner, No.20.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
The Irish Trades’ Union Congress.
What have the working class of Ireland a right to expect from that gathering?
We know what we have received in the past – much talk, and many schemes whereby we might through combination better our lot as slaves, but never a suggestion on the point of how we might proceed to abolish our status as slaves, and elevate ourselves instead to the dignity of freemen.
For what, after all, are the various nostrums of Technical Education, Fair Wages Clause in Public Contracts, Amendments to Employers’ Liability Acts, etc., what are they in essence but devices to modify the severity of the slave driver’s lash, whilst still expressly recognising his right to apply the lash?
Take Technical Education. It is a scheme to provide the workers with increased knowledge of how to handle the tools with which they make a profit for their masters; it will not increase the wages of labour, but it will increase the number of really efficient workers seeking for employment, and competing against each other for wages.
If thorough Technical Education were made universal it would make skilled labour as plentiful as unskilled, and wages would be adjusted accordingly.
That is in any event the tendency introduced into modern industry by machinery; it is the inevitable result of the division of labour in the workshop, consequent upon the use of steam and electricity; but why trade unionists should imagine that it is their duty to spend valuable time in advocating reforms (?) which will destroy the distinction between skilled and unskilled labour, not by uplifting the latter but by degrading the former, we fail to understand.
It may be pleaded that as Technical Education would enable us to compete better with other nations it is a beneficent measure to that extent. Granted. But what is most urgently needed in Ireland is a frank discussion by organised labour of the basis and principles of the vile capitalist system which compels you to compete or die; to snatch the bread out of your neighbour’s mouth, or starve yourself.
Technical Education will come. Of that be assured. The master class will introduce it in their own interests, my friends, so please use your time at your annual palaver at something a little more useful to yourselves and your class.
The Fair Wages Clause is somewhat more sensible, but does not deserve all the enconiums passed upon it. What is it at most? If carried out in its entirety it would ensure that the rate of wages paid in Government or Municipal service or contracts would be as high as the terms your trade unionists are able to force upon private employers. That is all!
Not a great lot to talk about, is it?
Especially in view of the fact that were you wise enough to think for yourselves, instead of blindly following the interested advice of the middle class on the one hand, or the muddle-headed traditions of English trade unionism on the other, you could carry your trade unionism into politics, and elect sufficient men of your own class to all public bodies, parliament included, to make these bodies the mouthpieces of your own interest, and their conditions of employment the ideal standard.
But that would be Socialism, you say. Oh no it wouldn’t, not by a long shot. But if you had a majority of your representatives in the legislative chamber, and that majority proceeded to make capitalist property illegal, and to vote that all the land, mines, railways, canals, factories, shops, docks, and shipping belonged to the people of Ireland, and would in future be worked by them on a co-operative, democratic basis, that would be Socialism – and that would be freedom.
But as long as you recognise capitalist property, as long as you yield up to the master class the private property you of right possess in the product of your labour, and accept instead a fraction thereof in the shape of wages, then no matter how you may strive to limit the power of the master, he is master still – and you are but his slave.
Probably you won’t talk about Socialism at the Congress. You will rather orate about the “dignity of labour,” although well aware that the majority of delegates have to ask their masters’ permission before they dare venture to attend the Congress.
Last year you resolved against the Overtaxation of Ireland, which only concerns our Irish upper class, who wanted your help against the English upper class. That was the result of your leaders being more anxious to get a word of praise from the Home Rule press than to know what they were talking about.
Last year your president said there was no antagonism between employers and employed. This year the same individual is in Dublin, busy organising the men of his trade who have been shamefully locked out by their masters. Does he still think there is no antagonism?
Consider, my trade unionist friends. We Irish are today the only working class in Europe who are not in revolt against the slavery of the capitalist system; we are the only people with whom the highest ambition in life is to get a good wage from their masters; we are the only people who have not risen intellectually to a conception of what life might be without masters; we are the only people, outside of England, who are trade unionists only in the shop, but become the veriest lackeys of our masters at the political ballot box; and we would all die for the freedom of our country, yet would continue that country in the hands of employers and landlords, who could at their will refuse us the right to live upon it.
Are there amongst the delegates to the Congress sufficient MEN to retrieve our name in the eyes of the world?
Then let them stand up for the only hope of the disinherited working class – the Socialist Republic.
Last updated on 27.3.2005