James Connolly


Yellow Unions in Ireland


Forward, 20 June, 1914.
From the collection: Ireland Upon the Dissecting Table, Cork Workers’ Club 1975.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

[In the first part of this article Connolly castigates the Catholic clergy of Co. Dublin and then goes on:–]

How little difference there is at bottom between such priests and the Ulster Orangemen in their hatred of Labour may be judged from the following report of part of the proceedings of the Irish Trades’ Congress. I extract this from the chief Orange organ in this City – the Belfast Evening Telegraph!

“Before the Irish Trades’ Congress concluded, Mr. James Connolly called attention to a circular which, he said, had been issued to their employees by the firm of Messrs. Davidson & Co. Ltd., Belfast, who were Government contractors. It was much on the same lines as that which had been issued to their employees by the employers of Dublin, and which had caused so much trouble in the city last year.

“The employees were asked by Messrs. Davidson to sign a declaration that they were not members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, or any similar unskilled Union, and that they should not become members of any such Union while in their employment.

“That Congress Mr. Connolly contended, could not adjourn without taking action upon this matter. In the firm of Davidson & Co. they had contractors carrying out Government contracts; the circular was in direct contravention of the spirit under which Government contracts were given out.

“This circular had been issued by a man who had been displaying great zeal in recent times for civil and religious liberty. For the last few days they had been discussing the question of Home Rule there, and when it was being considered it was well to remember that in the yards of this firm of Messrs. Davidson & Co., drilling for the defence of civil and religious liberty was going on every night; but here they had in this circular the conception of this firm of civil and religious liberty, and could better proof be afforded to them of the littleness of their action?

“He moved – That this Congress condemns the attempt of Belfast employers to introduce a ban upon the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and all other Unions of unskilled labourers, calls upon trade unionists everywhere to take action against all employers taking such action against their fellow members, and demands that all firms taking this course against trade unions should at once, be struck off the list of contractors for public bodies.

“Mr. Johnson (Belfast) said this circular was no new thing with this firm, and on that ground it was sought to be excused. He held in his hand a copy of a similar form dated 29th April, 1906. Perhaps Mr. Davidson was the most virulent and unrelenting antagonist of Home Rule in Belfast. Deputations of trades unionists coming from England and Scotland were got hold of and brought to his works, and there introduced to his anti-Home Rule workers, and he sent abroad to trades unionists and others the statement of the industrial case against Home Rule in Ireland. That was the man who had issued that circular to his workers in Belfast in 1906, and repeated it in 1913 and 1914.

“The motion was put and carried unanimously.”

A reporter from the Telegraph called upon Mr. S.C. Davidson, of the Sirocco Works, in reference to the statements by Mr. Connolly and Mr. Johnson, published above.

“Mr. Davidson said he thought Mr. Connolly could not have had before him a copy of the resolution passed by the House of Commons, on 10th March, 1909, which applied to contractors for the Government. If he had he would have seen that this resolution was applicable, not to the class of labour that Government contractors employ, but only to the rates of wages which workers engaged upon Government work shall receive.

“The question, he said, was raised by one of the Labour Members of Parliament some years ago when a representative of the Government was sent over to Belfast and fully investigated the matter at the Sirocco Works. The result of this report was that the Government were entirely satisfied that everything was perfectly in order and in accord with their requirements.

“Mr. Davidson informed our representative that the firm has always, and at present, employs a very large number of trade unionists in different departments of the works, but while strictly recognising all real trade unionists societies and rules, the firm do not recognise a society which would foist on to them, as trade unionists, men who have acquired no knowledge of any trade whatever.”

Here is an exact copy of the declaration above alluded to as being enforced upon the labourers employed by this firm:

Declaration: –
“I, the undersigned, hereby state that I am not a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, or any similar Unskilled Labourers Society or Union; and that so long as I am employed by the firm of Davidson & Co. Ltd., I will not join or become a member of any such Unskilled Labourers’ Society or Union.”

Date   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Signed    .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Here you see the Catholic priest and the Orange employer meeting upon common ground, brothers in the hatred of our Union. And to complete the picture, I need only mention that the recent annual national conference of the National Transport Workers’ Federation at Hull, when I sought permission to appear before the delegates and explain that their affiliated Unions – the Seamen and Firemen’s Unions, and the Ardrossan branch of the Scottish Union of Dock Labourers – were still working the boats of the Head Line which is victimising our members in Belfast and Dublin, I was refused permission to state our case, or to appear before the delegates at all.

What a mix-up of a world!


Last updated on 14.8.2003