James Connolly


The Outrages at Jacob’s


Irish Worker, 14 March 1914.
Recently republished in Red Banner, No.5 (PO Box 6587, Dublin 6).
Transcription: Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the course of the abortive Board of Trade Inquiry into the Labour situation in Dublin, Mr Tim Healy, acting as Counsel for the employers, waxed eloquent upon the high esteem in which the people of Ireland held the Quakers owing to the exceedingly charitable work performed by members of that religion during the years of the great Irish famine. As a piece of historical information it was based upon facts; as what it was intended to be, a justification of the industrial practices of Messrs Jacob’s, it was a senseless pandering to a foolish sentiment. Foolish, because as no sect or party can be held responsible for the acts of individuals acting as individuals, neither can individuals shelter themselves behind the record of their sect or party in matters foreign to their own conduct as individuals. That the Quakers organised charitable relief to the Irish victims of an absurd and aggressive social system does not justify the Quakers of another generation seeking to mercilessly crush the Irish victims of that system in their day. The difference of method employed does not materially alter the fact of the aggression. A work girl, sweated in a biscuit factory, is, or should be, as sacred in the eyes of humanity as a tenant farmer, rackrented and starving on an Irish farm.

Especially does this show true when dealing with practices by members of a sect, which are totally antagonistic to the principles of that sect, which in another and stricter day would have led to expulsion from that sect as the acts of unworthy members.

And this is especially and emphatically the record of Jacob’s. If Quakerism – the principles of the Society of Friends – claims to be the embodiment of the most rigid application of the higher moral teachings of Christianity, it must be conceded that the commercial principles which in Messrs Jacob’s are practised in their crudest, most shameless form, are the negation or denial of those principles – are, in fact, the very essence of diabolical cruelty.

Let us be a little more explicit. At the calling off of the strike in Dublin [1] it was understood that since the workers were willing to handle all goods, the employers’ lock-out would also be called off. Especially was this believed as the employers had been declaring their desire for peace and restoring harmonious relations with their employees, and as at each conference they had been vehement in their repudiations of any intention to victimise.

Furthermore it must be conceded that the great majority of the employers have so acted as to justify their claims. Among those who have refused to fall in line with the effort to restore harmony in Dublin, and whose mean and petty souls saw only in the occasion an opportunity to wreak vengeance, the employers of women labour are the worst offenders, and the worst among the worst are the firms of Paterson’s, Match Makers, and G. Jacob’s, Biscuit Manufacturers. Paterson’s we will deal with another time; at present Messrs Jacob’s deserve our attention as exhibiting the basest characteristics, and the most cowardly swinishness in dealing with its former employees. It is difficult to believe that in Ireland there could be found any man capable of giving vent to passions as low and bestial as must have filled the man whose actions we are about to describe.

Messrs Jacob’s have recently been luxuriating in a crop of threats of actions for libel against journalists who dared to mention the conditions under which their slaves have toiled in the past. We propose to give them in this article a few grounds for action against us, and we cheerfully invite them to go ahead with their action and give us the greater audience before which we may expose the scoundrelly and blackguardly conduct of their Manager, Mr Dawson, to the girls who have applied to him for re-employment.

Let it be remembered that in Jacob’s case the girls were locked out because they refused to surrender their right to wear a Union Badge, or be false to the Irish Women Workers’ Union.

We have been told that when the girls apply for re-employment this manager, after brutally insulting them before the scabs whom he brings in, in order that he may parade the applicants before them, compels them to submit to his examination of their clothes, their hats, skirts and blouses, to submit while he pinches their arms, and examines their physical condition, and that all through this degrading examination he keeps up a running fire of insulting remarks of which the following are a fair sample:–

“So you had to come back when you got hungry, had you?”

“You have bad teeth, that is with eating the rotten English food, from the food ships.”

“Did you get that coat from Larkin?”

“It is a wonder that the Englishmen did not give you a better pair of boots.”

“Why did you not go to the Liberty Hall kitchen instead of coming here? Oh, I forgot, this kitchen is closed, and you are coming here for us to feed you now.” [2]

“So you are one of Larkin’s girls? It’s a wonder he didn’t feed you better.”

“Is this one of the Liberty Hall blouses you have on?”

“Where did you get that skirt? Did you get it from Larkin?”

But why go on sullying our paper with further quotations from the language of this brute, especially when we know that no quotation in print can convey the vile nature of the insults heaped upon girls whose boots he is not worthy to clean.

In addition to this the girls have to strip to the waist, take off boots and stockings, and then in a semi-nude state go before a doctor to be examined. After submitting to all this they receive the final verdict from the manager. Usually that verdict is a refusal to re-employ – a refusal that was determined on before the ordeal, and was only delayed in order to give this vile brute of a manager an opportunity to gloat over the sufferings of the girls.

In the re-employment that has taken place the higher-paid girls have been usually refused, and only the lower-paid get a ghost of a chance. And boys or girls who get maimed in this service have absolutely no chance of re-employment. The firm seizes gloatingly upon the opportunity to victimise them.

That such things should be possible and provoke no protest from those who are eternally preaching to Labour upon its immoral conduct and lack of true Christian charity. Could the records of all the Labour Unions combined exhibit any vileness to equal this gloating over poor girls whose one fault it was to be beaten in a struggle to maintain their rights as workers to organise in the manner they thought best?

As we have said before, the brute capable of such conduct is not morally fit to blacken the shoes of those girls – our sisters.

Now, bring on your libel action!




1. The workers returned to work in early 1914.

2. Strikers and their families received food and clothing at Liberty Hall during the lockout, much of it sent by workers in Britain.


Last updated on 20.8.2003