From Workers’ Republic, 4 December 1915.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
What is the real relation between Dublin strikes and Dublin trade? How have they, how do they mutually affect each other?
There have been many industries destroyed in Dublin whose loss it is the habit of certain writers and speakers to attribute to strikes and labour agitators. How far is that attitude of mind justified? These are some of the questions that need careful consideration – and answer.
One answer to them can be found by a glance at the rate of wages paid in Ireland as compared to what is paid in Great Britain for the same class of work. It will be found that Irish workers are invariably paid far below the British rate, except when the pressure of trade unionism has forced the wages upward to an equality. This discrimination against equality of treatment for Irish workers is universal in Ireland whether the employer is a private individual, or a public authority, such as a Corporation or an Urban District Council, and ranges all the way from the wages of a tramp navvy to the ‘salary’ of a national school teacher.
Now observe well what that fact implies. It means that Irish employers deliberately refuse to pay Irish workers as well as British employers pay British workers, and that they do this even when no competition exists. That is fact, number one.
Fact number two is just as important. It consists in the fact that whenever a period of unrest occurs, when the workers in these islands feel and respond to the strivings for a better existence the Irish employers stand forth in the fight as shining examples of obstinacy and pig-headedness. Whilst the British employers, or their agents in Ireland recognise that in the work-a-day world of business there can be no such thing as complete victory, and therefore steer clear of any declaration that would be difficult to recede from, the Irish employer nails his colours to the mast so awkwardly that he can not take them down when he wants to. Hence we continually see the spectacle of the British companies settling with their employees and turning to work with a zest, whilst the Irish employer is still ruffling his feathers in wounded dignity, and keeping up the fight to his own destruction.
In such cases the British capitalists urge the Irish employer on to the fight, cheer him madly to his face, wink at each other behind his back, and grab his trade whilst he is fighting.
Then when the fight is over the Irish employer looks around for his trade, finds it being done by his British rivals, and starts bewailing the ‘wicked agitator.’ Look around the history of many important Irish industries that have disappeared in the course of the past hundred years, and searching below the superficial crust of shallow-minded writers you will everywhere find the same tale.
Lots of important industries have disappeared from Ireland because Irish employers were encouraged to refuse to treat their workers in a humane and reasonable fashion, and so lost their trade to British competitors who gloried in their fight, and exulted in their downfall.
In every big industrial dispute in Ireland the firms controlled by British capital are always the first to accept a reasonable settlement, the Irish firms are always the last. The British firm wants to get back to profit-making, the Irish firm thinks mainly of humiliating and crushing the workers who dared to defy them.
The explanation is first that the British firms are rather pleased to see their Irish competitors run their heads against a stone wall, and their business to bankruptcy; and second, that British capital is grown up and has assumed the responsibility of the adult, but Irish capital is still immature, and has all the defects of the “hobble-de-troy, not big enough to be a man, and too big to be a boy.”
Great indeed is the responsibility of the journalist or publicist of any description who urges on the Irish employer to fight against a set of conditions to which his British competitors have long ago adapted their business.
The Irish workers are gradually accustoming themselves to a self-imposed discipline in the interest of all; they are learning that it is treason to the trade union for any gang or group or individual to strike if the striking endangers the interest of the whole.
What or who will teach the Irish employer that his power is a trust to be administered for the good of all, not a whip to be used like a child to gratify his foolish whims?
Last updated on 15.8.2003