James Connolly


The Lenten Pastorals:
A Challenge


From Irish Worker, February 28, 1914.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.

A year ago at the meeting of the Maynooth Union a paper was read on Syndicalism which attracted widespread attention at the time because of the sympathetic attitude towards organised Labour taken up by the reverend author of the paper in question, and because the same sympathetic note was struck by most of the speakers who took part in the discussion following the reading of the paper. We were amongst the number of writers to the press who commented upon this phenomenon, and in our press, the Irish Worker, we emphasised the fact that in the main the speakers who gave this turn to the discussion seemed to represent the younger clergy – the younger clergy who had been students while the modern labour movement was influencing the literature and thought of the world. Now today we are confronted with another phenomena upon a somewhat similar field. The united Irish Hierarchy have issued to the faithful in Ireland a joint Pastoral upon the labour question in the light of the Dublin dispute.

As representing the union most actively involved in that dispute, we take it that it will be thought no impertinence or undue self-importance on our part if we avail ourselves now of the opportunity to comment upon the Pastoral from the standpoint of labour, and to place before our readers the construction we place upon the events with which that Pastoral deals. We are workers. And we speak for the class to which we belong.

As workers then we feel that we have no apology to offer for our share in the recent dispute. The Pastoral admits that it is the right, nay, that it is the duty of the workers to combine for their own advancement; it admits that there will always be the possibility of disagreement, leading to conflict even when the best intentions exist upon both sides; it contends that against such possibilities of strife the best remedy in Ireland is a strong Irish Trades Union, and impresses upon all the desirability of a Conciliation Board to obviate the dangers of industrial war. Well, then, we submit that on all these points – and they are the cardinal points of the Pastoral – our action in the past has been entirely upon the lines suggested. We found the workers disorganised, and we proceeded to organise them. We taught them to use their organisation for their own moral and material advancement, and as a result have endued them with a higher sense of the dignity of manhood and womanhood, and weaned them from their former habits of dissipation and recklessness. Against the possibility, the certainty of disagreements between employers and employed when the latter sought for relief from intolerable burdens of toil and low wagery we established an Irish trade union, absolutely independent of British control or influence, and appealing solely to the spirit of self-reliance we sought to inculcate in the Irish working class.

And finally, in order to prepare a way of escape out of the strife that might follow upon hotheadedness on the part of employers or upon our own part, we proposed in the Dublin Trades Council and in our own press the establishment of Conciliation Boards for the prevention, or if that failed, for the settlement of labour disputes. In other words, our activity has been entirely upon the lines indicated in the Pastoral as being the proper lines to follow in our position. If, then, our activity did not bring peace but a sword the fault lies with those who prefer to take the sword rather than suffer the loss of any portion of the profits and domination they lusted for, and had so long enjoyed at the cost of the suffering and damnation of so many thousands of our class. From beginning to end of the dispute – if it can be said to have ended – we have offered to meet and to discuss with our opponents; from beginning to end our opponents have refused to meet and discuss directly with us, even in the two abortive Conferences, insisting upon keeping the two directly interested bodies from getting into friendly discussion. We would most respectfully challenge the Hierarchy to name any one point of importance that we refused to concede, which they, had they been in our place, would have conceded, to our opponents. They cannot name one and be true to the position they take up in their Lenten Pastoral.

It is of little practical value in this rough work-a-day world of ours to enunciate principles, however sublime, and to refuse to take into account the very imperfect human material with which those principles have to deal. We had and have to deal with a set of employers the most heartless and the most ignorantly selfish in Christendom, employers too lazy to adapt themselves to modern methods of business and seeking by fiendish undercutting of wages to meet the legitimate competition of employers elsewhere who do use modern methods and adopt modern business ideas. In any large centre elsewhere the manager who persisted in using the antiquated methods and the slipshod lack of system that characterises the Dublin employers as a whole would be fired out of his job quicker than he could draw his first week’s salary. But up to the present the constantly available supply of cheap labour has prevented the development of up-to-date methods of business in Dublin, and when the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Trade Union began to push up the rate of wages and to destroy the supply of cheap labour, instead of the Dublin employers moving with the times and changing their wasteful methods accordingly their only thought was to destroy the union, and to remain in the unprogressive, slovenly, unenterprising state which now and in the past has excited the laughter of every observant visitor.

In any other city an attempt to raise the wages of tramwaymen from the low standard at which they were in Dublin would not have caused a lock-out. The wages would have been raised, and the managing director would have sought by cheaper fares and other attractions, to attract greater receipts to compensate for greater outlays. It is now well-established that cheaper fares by tram or rail or steamer mean greater numbers travelling and hence greater receipts.

But in Dublin such a thing was impossible. An increase of wages was not met by a development of enterprise, no, but the suggestion of an increase was met with an outburst of eighteenth century barbarity and a perfect carnival of ferocity towards labour. This attitude of Mr. William Martin Murphy is typical of the whole class in Dublin to which he belongs. Like the Bourbons “they learn nothing and they forget nothing.” The whole world is advancing around them, labour is everywhere stirring out of the depths of subjection and advancing upward to the heights of citizenship and towards the responsibilities of freedom. But all this shaking up of old systems of thought, all this stirring into life of the dormant germs of social consciousness amongst our long oppressed people leaves them absolutely untouched. As the tiger reared upon flesh can never lose his craving for that food, so the Dublin employer reared as employer upon the flesh and blood of cheap labour can never wholly relinquish, and in most cases cannot even partially relinquish, his lust after cheapness in the labour he exploits. The highest industrial authorities in the world declare that cheap labour never pays in the end; the Dublin employers declare that unless they can have a plentiful supply of cheap and helpless labour, civilisation’s hopes in Ireland are for ever doomed. The ineffective pigmies of capitalist Dublin oppose their ridiculous theories to the world-wide experience of the giants of international capitalism.

In face of this the beautiful theories of the Lenten Pastorals seem rather weak and ineffective. The whole record of the Dublin master class has been marked by a contemptuous and cynical disregard for every principle of social conduct set forth by his Holiness Pope Pius X, or his Holiness Pope Leo XIII. Not an independent professional man, not an unselfish literary man or woman of genius, not a clergyman of any denomination, not an important public servant who investigated the merits of the dispute had during our long agony failed to acknowledge finally the justice of our cause or to be won to admiration by the patient suffering and steadfast adherence to an ideal exhibited by the Dublin workers. Be it remembered that even his Grace the Archbishop of Dublin publicly expressed his agreement with the proposals for a settlement which we put forward. On the first occasion the employers met his prayer for peace by importing British scabs; on the second, when he blessed our peace proposals on the eve of Christmas, they contemptuously refused even to look at them. Again we ask, we challenge the Hierarchy to name the point of importance which we refused to concede which they, were they in our place, would have conceded to our opponents.

Let it be at once understood that the strictures upon socialism and syndicalism embodied in the Pastorals leave us unmoved. As complete systems of thought these two principles do not exist, whatever some extremists may say or imagine. As lines of action they do exist, and their influence is wholly beneficial. It is only when taken as offering a completely worked-out system of thought capable of dictating human conduct in all possible phases, and hence governing human morals accordingly, that either of them came under the strictures of theologians with any degree of justification. But in their present stage in the labour movement, viz., as indicating lines of activity in the industrial and political world – the only stage in which they are ever likely to be popular or useful in Ireland – the most consistent socialist or syndicalist may be as Catholic as the Pope if he is so minded.

And it may help the learned authors of the Lenten Pastoral to a becoming frame of mind that the recent exposure of the soul-corrupting and murderous tenements in which this capitalistic system condemned so many thousands of their and our co-religionists to rot and suffer and die was not due to any crusading against slums or the things that make for and maintain slums on the part of either Hierarchy or of the parochial clergy, but was solely due to the fierce revolt of the victims, and the reckless campaigning of their leaders. If and when a purified Dublin arises, with clean streets, healthy homes and happy citizens, it will surely be remembered that whatever its foundations may be in lime, mortar or brick, its real foundations were the hunger, suffering and martyrdom even unto death of the working class men, women and girls of Dublin; that their hunger, suffering and martyrdom by challenging the conscience of the civilised world laid the foundation of that sweeter, happier city of which we and Ireland shall yet be proud.


Last updated on 19.8.2007