From Irish Worker, November 14, 1914.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
Signs are not wanting in Ireland to-day that there are strenuous and exciting times before the forces of organised Labour. The fever and excitement of the war is practically over, the talk of certain victory and a short war has disappeared from the conversation of even the most optimistic of the employing class, and everywhere we see that the class that rules and robs us is making preparations to take whatever advantage the war may offer to increase its profits, and increase its power over our lives. Capitalist society is so built that the clash of interests is inevitable; here and there at all times, and all over for a short time, these clashing interests may be forgotten in a wave of patriotism or a frenzy of religious enthusiasm; but such unity never survives for long the constant attrition of the divergent interests of the various classes and individuals. Sooner or later the old war of self-interest resumes its domination, and the conflict inherent in capitalist society with all its ugliness and horror, assumes control and direction of the minds, passions and lives of men and women.
When this war broke out there was in England, and amongst those whose outlook on life is that of England, a fine simulation of the self-abnegation of patriotism. Employers in England told their employees that the firm would make up the wages of each man volunteering to the front, and workers left wives and families to trust to the tender mercies of their masters and their government. They were all out against the ‘common enemy,’ and all distinctions, rivalries and clashing interests were laid aside. It was fine!
But it was too fine to last. Already the Government has shown its bias against trade unionism, and against the working class. The demand of the Parliamentary Labour Party for £1 per week for soldiers is treated with the contempt earned by its sponsors when they delivered the goods before they stipulated for a price, went recruiting for the army first, and only thought of demanding proper payment for recruits after thousands upon thousands had surrendered their liberty and became food for cannon. All through England and Ireland committees under various names are engaged in procuring the manufacture of goods for the army by voluntary labour, whilst the persons – mainly women and girls – normally employed at the manufacture of those goods are turned out on the streets to starve, or else compelled to seek a livelihood by begging these committees to supply them with work under conditions they would scorn if offered at other times by private employers.
A moratorium suspending payment of large sums has been granted to and is freely availed of by the rich, whilst eviction notices are descending as thick as snowflakes upon the helpless poor, and wives and widows of England’s soldiery every day throng the police courts begging for permission to keep together a little longer the household gathered by the loving labours of the ‘heroes at the front.’ Relief of Distress Committees in their work seem to unite in regarding every applicant as a degraded criminal upon whom every insult can be heaped that class hatred can devise, until poor women resolve to die in their slums rather than have their wretchedness marked by the insulting questions and insinuations of the investigators. In Ireland the demand of organised labour for representation upon such committees is made subordinate to the whims and prejudices of every little mind from Lord Mayor Sherlock down to the toadies whose delight it is to eat dirt that has been trodden on by the feet of Lady Aberdeen.
A consignment of flour is sent here from Canada, and the Government ostentatiously gives the work of discharging it to the lowest collection of blacklegs that has ever disgraced Dublin. A law is on the Statute Book empowering the Corporation of Dublin to feed the children starving at school, and the Corporation mocks the law and the children by appointing on that committee the bitterest enemies of the measure, and a chairman who has made up his mind that it shall never be enforced, whilst the claim of the Dublin Trades Council to be represented is met with a flat refusal, as is also the claim of the Ladies’ Committee which for years has fed the children of two of our Dublin schools.
War is ever the enemy of progress. It is only possible when humanity is stifled, when the common interests of the human race are denied. The first blast of the bugles of war is also the requiem note of human brotherhood. It is but a step, and a short step, from exulting in the sufferings of a foreign enemy to contemptuous indifference to the sights and sounds of suffering amongst our own poor in our own streets. The poor of the world would be well advised, upon the declaration of war in any country, as their first steps to peace, to hang the Foreign Minister and Cabinet whose secret diplomacy produced such a result. If each country hanged its own Foreign Minister and Cabinet before setting out to the front, wars would not last long; and if a jingo editor were hanged each week it lasted, the most jingo being the first to hang, not many angry passions would be stirred up to make the work of peaceful understanding difficult.
Wanting such a desirable result the workers must realise now that all the machinery of the State, and all the extra machinery now being set up to aid the State, are being deliberately utilised to accentuate the weakness of the individual worker, to intensify the dependence of his dear ones upon charitable and anti-labour organisations, to concentrate in the hands of the enemies of his class all the new agencies of government as well as the old, and in short, to weaken, discredit and destroy every power that the workers have hitherto built up as weapons for their peaceful social regeneration.
Our trade unions are attacked by every insidious weapon, our standard of life is menaced in a thousand evil ways, a corrupt press calls aloud for the suppression of every Irish journal that refuses to prostitute itself. The time is ripe for a forward move against all those gathering forces of evil, every man and woman who has reaped the advantages which organised Labour has won in the past must now rally to the flag. All jealousies must be forgotten, all rivalries laid aside.
Labour is the only force that can save Labour. Rally then to save Labour from its encircling enemies, and know that in saving Labour you save the most effective force for the redemption of Ireland.
Last updated on 19.8.2007