James Connolly


Unemployment in Ireland

(26 February 1916)

Workers’ Republic, 26 February 1916.
Reprinted in Red Banner, No.12.
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The mass meeting in the Mansion House of Dublin, under the auspices of the Trades and Labour Council, to protest against the restriction upon Irish importation of paper materials, though not attended as well as it might have been, served nevertheless to draw attention to a great evil. That evil, the war made by the British Government upon every form of employment in Ireland that does not directly subserve the interests of the Empire, is taking on daily more and more significance. For months not only the Government but also all the subsidiary Boards and Commissions by which it governs Ireland have set their faces against any form of activity that might serve to give employment to Irishmen of military age and capabilities. In the building trade every kind of public work has been held up by the orders of the Government, and within the past week notice has been given that the War Office has power to forbid any building operations in Great Britain and Ireland, whether such operations be public works or purely private enterprises. We are all aware that such power will be most drastically enforced in Ireland, even if loosely applied in England. The whole trend of the Government’s policy at present is to force into the army through stress of unemployment all Irishmen capable of bearing arms, and to seduce out of Ireland into England all Irish men and girls whom it can persuade to accept war work in the latter country.

Within the past week a number of young Irish girls have been deported out of the County Kerry to take up munition work in England. These girls are being sent off among strangers out of their own country, away from all who could counsel and advise them, and left subject to a thousand temptations. No indignant protests against these deportations have been heard of from the people who raised such outcries in Dublin when homes in England were being provided for some of the children of the starving strikers. [1] No AOH rowdies have attempted to prevent these young Irish maidens being sold into slavery. Although every trade union in England protests that the Munitions Act binds the workers hand in foot in galling bondage, the vile crew that shrieked out their lies against us in 1913 are now openly conniving at the deportation of young Irish girls to England to serve in that bondage, without a trade union, without a counsellor, without a friend to help them should they repent the bargain they have made in their innocence and ignorance.

From the same district a number of labourers also recently left for government work in England. One of the number who came back since the Conscription Act was passed has just received a notice from the War Office informing him that he is called up under the Military Service Act. The notice reads:

I beg to give you notice that under the Military Service Act (1916) all single men are now considered to be in Army Reserve whether attested or not. You are therefore liable to be called up any time after the 2nd March.

Thus the traps are being set everywhere for the Irish. The armed men of Ireland cannot be conscripted. They have resolved that if they must fight they will themselves decide where they will fight. No government can take that power out of their hands. But if they cannot be conscripted by force then their weaker or more foolish brothers can be conscripted by hunger and trickery.

And the brave Irish girls can be deluded into trusting themselves into the service of a government which will visit upon their heads in England vengeance and spite for every manly stand made in Ireland.

The Printing Trades are now marked out for the next open blow. They also must furnish their quota to the army of England. Unemployment is the whip that is to lash them into the ranks. Perhaps no trade union in Ireland has so consistently shown itself to be so subservient to its masters, so ready to abandon the ranks of the fighters as have the printers under the rule of the present governing body. For that very reason it is probable that they have been chosen as the first trade body in Ireland to be openly attacked. They failed to learn that their greatest safety lay in audacity, that the capitalist cannot be conciliated. Attempt to conciliate the capitalist and, like all bullies, he assumes that your peacefulness is cowardice, and immediately forces the fight upon you. On the other hand if you force the fight upon him he whines for mercy immediately.

It is in vain that the printers will call upon the employers in the printing trade to resist this new move of the Government. The employers have recently planned the formation of a Scab Union for Printers. They will welcome a period of restriction which will increase the number of members on the Unemployment Benefit of the bona-fide Union. Such drain upon its funds will soon destroy its resources, and a little judicious (?) management will pave the way for all the further attacks the employers have planned upon the status of the employees in the Printing Trade. Restrictions upon apprentices, girl labour, division of labour, and all the other questions the employers want re-opened are at the back of the minds of the Employers in the Printing Trade when they consider the effects of the restriction order. If it means bad trade for a while, they argue, it also means an opportunity of smashing the printers’ trade union. They will bear with the bad trade for the sake of the greater freedom it will give them to exploit the workers.

Nor is that all they see in the effect of the order. They also see in it an opportunity to still further concentrate the industry. Time was when Dublin was as full of small bakeries as it is now of small printing establishments. Nowadays the baking trade is concentrated in the hands of a few firms. The hope of the great guns of the Master Printers Association is that the restrictions upon the importation of paper materials will before long bankrupt the small printers by the score, and all their trade will fall into the hands of the great firms who alone have capital enough to tide them over the crisis. Then when the restrictions are removed the ground will be cleared for a few firms to monopolise the business in the printing trade as completely as a few firms monopolise it in the bakery trade.

Thus the capitalist class use governmental power to develop the power of the great capitalists.

Thus the British government of British capitalists use their power to aid their fellow thieves in Ireland in return for help in holding Ireland for the British Empire.



1. During the 1913 lockout.


Last updated on 15.8.2003