James Connolly


The Corporation and the Children

(24 November 1900)

From The Workers’ Republic, 24 November 1900.
Reprinted in Red Banner, No.21.
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At last meeting of the Dublin Corporation a motion was under consideration dealing with the practice of street trading by children. It was resolved to refer the matter to the Law Agent to see if the Corporation had power to frame bye-laws dealing with the subject.

So runs the bald newspaper report. Not a word in the Corporation, never a sentence in the papers as to the evil social conditions which compel parents to send their children out to hawk articles on the street for the sake of the help to be derived from the few additional pence so earned. The Corporation, it is true, recognises that there is an evil, but the evil recognised by the Corporation is only that resulting from the noise and importunities of the youthful merchants in their efforts to sell their wares – that, and the competition which these embryo capitalists offer to the shopkeeping class to which our corporators belong. The other and greater evil, viz., the hopeless misery in which the parents of such children must exist to compel them to expose the latter to all the dangers of street sellers – dangers including the inclemency of the weather, inevitably sowing the seeds of disease; the pollution of the filthy talk they must hear going on around them; the temptation to immorality to which the young girls are exposed by the attentions of all manner of dissolute blackguardism; the education of the streets supplanting and obliterating the influences of school and home – that parental misery and degradation the Corporation will not refer to. Why? Because that misery cannot be investigated without publicly incriminating the capitalist class and the capitalist system. The corporators know that as long as the wages of the working class are at the present low level, the lower grade of manual labourers will always find it to be next to impossible to live and rear a family without taking the earliest possible opportunity to utilise the services of the youthful members of the family to assist in their own maintenance, by street selling or otherwise. Knowing this, the astute middle class who control the Corporation recognise that to evoke a discussion upon the conditions which compel children to act as street sellers would lead to an investigation into the social conditions, wages, etc., of the parents, and this could not be investigated without condemning the majority of the capitalist class, for whose benefit those parents are exploited.

Thus the question of street trading by children is seen to be linked inextricably with the capitalist system. In every country capitalism brings in its train the exploitation and degradation of children; coins into profit their tender limbs, and blots the sunshine out of their young lives. In countries where the factory system has taken root, as in England, the children are caught up into the factory, and there made to supplement by their pitiful earnings the wages of their parents. The millowner reduces the wages of the factory hand and, when remonstrated with, tells his wage-slave to send the children to work and their earnings will make up for the reduction in wages. In Ireland there are few factories, so when the competition for employment drives down labourers’ wages, or trade depression throws the labourer out of work, he uses his children also to supplement his earnings, and as he cannot send them to the factory he sends them, too often, to the street. Whose is the fault? The capitalist class, and all who uphold the capitalist class and their accursed social system.

The Corporation will take action in this matter. They will pass bye-laws to empower the police to harry these unfortunate youngsters; to chase them from their standings, to cuff them and maltreat them as if they were criminals, and eventually to make criminals of them. Thus the “respectable” traders for whom the Corporation caters will no longer be bothered by their poor competition; thus the precious children of our masters will no longer have their susceptibilities shocked by the sight of the ragged and shivering children of the poor endeavouring to earn a living; thus the misery and squalor of our life will be pushed into the background and only the bright side allowed to show itself – and what more could the municipal statesmanship of the shoddy capitalist class devise?

Where, it may be asked, were the Labour men in the City Hall when the subject was under discussion? Why, they were wirepulling with the politicians as to which middle class candidate they would agree to sell the labour vote to in the various contested wards at the municipal election. That is all the Labour members, save the mark, are good for. At least two of them, Alderman Doyle and Councillor Richardson, publicly accused each other in the Trades’ Hall of such conduct, and in the opinion of their hearers, each fully substantiated his charge against the other.

Thus while the rich proceed with their schemes for the aggrandisement of their class, the working class are betrayed by their representatives who spend their time in political intrigues for personal profit.


Last updated on 14.7.2005