James Connolly


To Hell with Contracts


Workers’ Republic, 16 October 1915.
Reprinted in Red Banner, No.9.
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dublin is face to face with another Labour War – a war forced upon us as needlessly and as calculatingly as ever was conflict. The docks is the scene of battle, and the ranks on both sides are marshalled for the fray.

As usual it begins with an act of perfidy on the part of the employers. Our readers are aware that since the great increase of prices following the declaration of war the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union has consistently stood by its original position that the Irish Working Class could not afford to lose any standard of comfort it had gained, and that therefore every increase of prices should be met by a demand for an increase of wages.

The capitalist class as a whole have reaped harvests of gold since the war started. Every single article has gone up in price. Even the ordinary agricultural products of our own country have increased, in many cases more than doubled their prices in the shops. More and more the women find it impossible to keep the table supplied, or to buy clothes for themselves and their children. A very large part of the increase is due to the excessive rates charged by shipowners, as well as to the grievous taxation laid upon us by the Budget. In view of all the foregoing circumstances the Union asked for an increase last February of One Shilling per day on the docks, and got it upon the Casual Boats, and on the Constant Boats obtained an increase of 8d. per day. Upon the introduction of the War Budget and the instant upward leap in prices the Union again made a similar demand, realising that large as it looked upon paper it was yet not large enough to overtake the increasing price of provisions and other necessaries of life.

Negotiations were opened between the Union and the Shipping Companies, the time fixed for expiration of the notice being October 1.

The first meeting took place between the representatives of the Shipping Companies running Cross Channel steamers other than the daily boats. These Casual Boats as they are called agreed to pay Seven Shillings per day as the established wage, and the Union agreed that the question of Overtime should be adjourned till the ensuing week.

The next Conference was between the representatives of the Scotch Boats, Burns and Laird Lines, and the Union Officials. As in the previous settlement in March it was understood that whatever terms these Companies agreed upon would be accepted by their fellows in the trade. The employers after much haggling and discussion offered an increase of 2/-, which the Union declined to accept. Then the Conference broke up, with the understanding that the terms would be submitted to a meeting of the men on Sunday, October 10.

Before this date arrived things began to move, the Conspiracy of the Employers began to develop. A letter came signed conjointly by the representatives of the Burns and Laird Companies definitely stating that if the 2/- offer was not accepted on Sunday it would be withdrawn, and the matter placed in the hands of the Board of Trade. [1]

Then the Casual companies wrote in breaking their agreement with the Union, declining to pay more than they agreed to pay in March, and refusing to discuss the matter of overtime. These are the gentry who howl loudest about breach of contract, and yet are first to go back upon their solemnly pledged word whenever they imagine they can profit by doing so.

In face of this sudden treacherous conspiracy against them the men instantly closed up their ranks, and on Sunday at a General meeting of all concerned resolved to withdraw their labour rather than allow the treason of the employers to bear fruit. Again on Monday this was re-affirmed, and as a necessary preliminary to successful fighting full power was placed in our hands to fight or settle as we thought wise, to call out or leave in just as the circumstances in our opinion dictated.

As the matters stand at time of writing the Scotch boats are withdrawn, the men working casual boats are notified to refuse to commence work until assured that the company concerned will pay the rate of wages agreed upon by them at the Conference of Friday, October 1st, and in view of possible eventualities all the men on strike are undergoing a daily course of military drill.

The Transport Union knows how to fight, and has a rank and file that any union might be proud to have. The War Clouds are hovering over Dublin, but we are not shrinking. Let the battle come; on whatever field it may be waged it will be met by men with stout hearts and fearless.

We have known all along that the war upon the German nation masked a conspiracy against the rights hard won by the democracy at home. We were not fooled by the war cries; we shall not shrink from meeting and defeating the conspiracy. [2]



1. In other words, referred to binding government arbitration.

2. On 23 October, the casual lines agreed to pay the increases as negotiated, and all other lines (except the City of Dublin) conceded an increase of 3s.


Last updated on 14.8.2003