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Workers’ International News, February-March 1943


Tom Burns

Labour’s Opportunity in Southern Ireland


From Workers’ International News, Vol.5 No.9, mid February-mid March 1943, p.10-13. [1]
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


To the dictates of allied police, newspapers in Great Britain and America have had occasion to deliberately whip up campaigns against the neutrality of Eire. Isolated instances are seized upon and magnified a thousand times over, twisted, distorted, and magnified for the presentation of “truth” to the public. The Sunday capitalist rags usually feature a contribution from a writer – just back from Eire.” This special department for propaganda sets out deliberately to confuse the minds of the British and American workers over the position of Eire, and can be said to incite them against the Irish working class. Here we propose to give an objective review of the economic and political situation in the 26 countries.

The Second World War has undoubtedly affected the political and social life of Eire. Being an agricultural country, exporting in the main livestock and farming products, the cutting down of her exports to Britain by the British Government, gravely affected internal conditions. This market was responsible for 11/12ths of Eire’s agricultural exports. The drop which took place can be thus seen:









The Irish Times, Oct. 28th, 1941, speaking in general on the adverse balance of trade estimates that as the result of it, 12-15 million in capital is being invested abroad each year.

The lack of the following vital imports is resulting in mass unemployment and hunger: wheat (Eire imports 2/3rds of her wheat consumption), animal feeding stuff, artificial manures, coal, petrol and most of her raw materials for her industries. The attempts by the new Government sponsored Irish Shipping Co. to buy ships abroad has brought poor results. The Minister for Supplies, stated in the Dail (Parliament) that this Committee had only been able to buy 5 ships. It recalls the fact that when Frank Aitken, Minister for Co-ordination and Defence went to America in 1941 both for arms and ships he received a cold rebuff from Yankee Imperialism. No arms were given and it was only after a lot of wrangling, that the American democrats sold him a dilapidated ship. Despite the present hullabaloo and the many committees that the American Capitalist class are setting up today, to feed Europe after the war, as we are told, the hunger of the Irish masses today is readily ignored. The paternal Roosevelt, representative of big business in America, is once again unmasked.

Many industries have closed down in Eire, and others are carrying on, on a 2 to 3 day basis per week. The rise in unemployment despite the drawing into the National Army of an average of 50,000 men each year, the forcible transportation of the unemployed into rural areas to dig turf, the compulsory enrolment into Government Construction Corps, plus emigration, is symptomatic of a deep crisis which is developing.

Unemployment in 1942 numbered 102,000, being 6,000 more than Jan. 1939. Emigration has increased in war years to 40-50,000 of a yearly average. According to the Secretary of the Irish Labour Party, without the above mentioned sources, unemployment would have reached 250,000. When we take into consideration that the total workable population, on their own farms and elsewhere is 1,339,085, unemployment ravaged every home.

As the unemployed man only receives 10/6. per week from the Unemployment Assistance, 5/- for his wife and with a total maximum amount of 29/- per week no matter how many children there are, poverty is more widespread as the cost of living leaps. In mid-November 1942, the index was 273, being 100 points over the 1939 figure, The increase is around 48%. The Irish Times points out that the £1 is today worth 11/-.

Steep Rise in Cost of Living

The food prices as they affect large purchasers was shown in a table in the Irish Labour Party paper Torch. A hospital which buys direct from the wholesaler increased its expenditure on food in Jan. 1942 in comparison to 1939 thus: Beef 25 per cent, Mutton. 29 per cent, Eggs 150 per cent, Oatmeal 97 per cent, Sugar 55 per cent, Tea 74 per cent, Margarine 30 per cent, Condensed Milk 8 per cent, Rice 912 per cent, wholemeal 104 per cent, steam coal 77 per cent, coal 77 per cent, gas coke 192 per cent. Coal for instance when bought by the worker costs 6/- per cwt. For the unemployed worker who can only buy in quantities of stones or half-stones, a cwt. would eventually cost 10/- or more. And such coal is practically unuseable, coming from poor seams in Wales and containing a big percentage of stone. The Dublin Gas Company is today forced to lower further the already poor pressure of gas because of the damage to the plant, by using poor quality coal. The alternative supply of turf and firewood is definitely inadequate and completely fails to meet a fraction of people’s needs.

The poverty, which Engels described as unbelievable on his visit to Ireland in 1868 has been brought up to date by an Irish Capitalist Government. The very rich and the very poor live side by side. The national income of the nation shows that 11 per cent of the population owns 35 per cent of the wealth of the country. 2,652,565 people have therefore an average income of £36 per head per year. 22 Persons have an income of £20,000 or over per year.

Data issued by the Government shows that 37.3 persons per thousand are in receipt of public assistance. In Dublin alone, the astronomical figure stands at 33.6 per thousand. The amount received ranges from about 1/- to 5/- per week and in many cases it is the only income received. Young workers who will not be coerced into the army or the Construction Corps are ruthlessly deprived of all assistance.

The St. Vincent De Paul, which handles most charity rackets issued a statement in October 1942 which states:

  1. Poverty and destitution are widespread in Dublin. Many of our men and women are so weak from undernourishment that, even if employment were offered them, they could not undertake any kind of heavy Work.
  2. Thousands of people are without sufficient personal and bed clothing.
  3. The never-ending struggle to provide food and clothing often results in non-payment of rents and constant fear of eviction.
  4. The poor have no reserve of food or fuel for the winter.

The Fianna Fail Government planned to meet the increasing unemployment rate by at first sending young unmarried men to the bogs to dig turf. With poor barrack accommodation and meals, the pay was only 4/- per week. The scheme collapsed in a few weeks. A well organised campaign by the Dublin unemployed workers resisted these slave camps. Despite the fact that be alternative was to be cut off the dole and destitution, the courage shown was great; especially as added to this was the tremendous campaign carried on by the press, pulpit and the police assault. Peaceful unemployed demonstrations were broken up by the police with batons and the leaders arrested and interned without trial.

Construction Corps on Mayo Model

The introduction of the Construction Corps, in 1941, by the Government meant that unemployed youth were forced, at the penalty of losing the dole, to join this organisation. Work was to be of “national importance”; military discipline was enforced and the members were attired in the ordinary soldiers’ uniform. Wages were only half those of the soldiers; being 7/- per week. It was readily called by the unemployed “the scab army.”

Both in the press and elsewhere no opposition to the Construction Corps was tolerated. For bringing out a leaflet explaining the reactionary nature of such a movement and explaining in short why capitalism brought the Construction Corps into being; and how the Government would utilise this force to break strikes and drive down wages, a Secretary and Chairman of a Labour Party branch in Dublin, were arrested and interned without trial. The open air meeting called for the next day was banned. Only after 10 days were they released due to pressure from the labour movement.

Even with compulsion, the Construction Corps only enrolled a tiny section of the backward unemployed. The Government, for a long tune, dodged giving the total figure of recruits, but in later months it was stated at 700. This was quite an exaggeration, hopeless as the amount was, as a parade was held and only 250 took part. The prestige of James Connolly, the great Irish revolutionary socialist, is so high amongst the working class, that the demagogue De Valera attempted to delude them, when he renamed the military barracks which house the Construction Corps: “The James Connolly Barracks”.

In an Irish prototype of Hansard in 1942, it was stated by a Government speaker in answer to a Labour T.D. (M.P.) that 36 members of the Construction Corps had been interned in Cork Jail without trial for refusing to scab on a building strike. The censorship in Eire is so severe that such an item never had the slightest hope of being reported to the public. It is interesting too that in September 1939, when the Government introduced the Emergency Powers Act, allegedly against the IRA. De Valera in reply to Mr. Norton, leader of the Labour Party in the Dail, stated that this order will not be used against the workers seeking to improve their economic standards.

Dictatorial Powers Used Against Workers’ Organisations

The growing dictatorial powers now being assumed by the State are used openly to smash all working class opposition. An outspoken Labour Party M.P., Mr. Murphy, of Cork, was arrested and detained without a trial or charge being brought forward. His house was ransacked. He was later released without any explanation being given. The Irish Press, organ of the Government, advocates the suppression of parliamentary questions.

The rapid lowering of the standard of living of the working class and the small farmers has revolutionised political thought. The inevitable failure of the Fianna Fail Government, representative of the young Irish capitalist class, to improve social conditions has become apparent to the masses. The stupid blunders emanated by the Government Ministers to build up ample supplies of necessities has taught the working class a sharp lesson.

The most important element in the radicalisation of the. industrial workers, was the introduction of the Trade Union Act, 1941. This measure was aimed to discipline the trade union movement and prevent them seeking increases in wages by independent means. The workers called it ‘Green Fascism’. It was a revelation to see and discuss with workers, who were one day trying to defend De Valera’s policy, in a confused way, although not wholeheartedly, as the price to keep out of war – and the complete change the next day when the news appeared that the TUC rights were to be smashed by the Government. The brilliant tradition of struggle of the Irish organised workers continued once again: this time directly against the reactionary capitalist state machine. Mr. E. Childers, M.P. and Secretary of the Irish Manufacturers Federation openly boasted to the press that thanks to their influence the Government introduced and passed the TU Act. A new demand of this organisation – made to the press – is that strikes be prohibited.

The TU act, came into operation in May 1942. Future negotiations by the TU can only be carried out under Government this license to be obtained with the consent of the Government. Also a Trade Union must, in applying, deposit £2,000 into the High Court, and such money can be forfeited by even an isolated strike. The Government has powers to inspect the membership books of the unions. The unions must maintain at their offices the names and addresses of members, date of commencement of joining the same for all former members in the last 5 years. If he has ceased to be a member, reasons must be given. Failure to do this job is an offence and subject to a. court trial. A Wages Standstill Order No.83 was brought into force under the Emergency Powers Act and forbids unions to obtain increases in wages. (Note: This order was not discussed in the Dail.) Flowing from these two orders, negotiations for wage increases could only be contracted through a Tribunal, set up by the Government. A new Amendment (Order 166) allows a maximum bonus of 2/- to be obtained when there is a sharp rise in the cost of living.

The Tribunal is elected by the Government Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the usual bosses stooge in the Chair, the Committee to consist of 5 members.

This Act assists the growth a company unions and already a body known as the Federated Employers Ltd. is to register as a TU and apply for a license. The Secretary Mr. J. O’Brien, in an interview with the Irish Times, stated that in 3 years they had brought together 45 employers organisations and are attempting, to centralise the Employers Federation. He too boasts of his movement having collaborated with the Government in the TU Bill.

Workers Rallied Behind Councils of Action

The TU bureaucratic leaders envisaging a peaceful existence within capitalism were stunned at their Government friends running out on them and refused to carry on a struggle against this menace. Opposition to the bill was organised by the Dublin Trades Council. A monster parade was held in August 1941 (reported in August 1941 Socialist Appeal). Councils of Actions were set up throughout Dublin and the surrounding areas. For the first time, the Dublin TU had acceded to a united front with the Dublin Constituency Council of the Labour Panty. Local Labour Party branches were in the main the rallying centres of the Councils of Action. The old sectarian ideas held by the TU leaders, of industrial action without political action was for the first tine trampled underfoot. An energetic campaign was carried out demanding the withdrawal of these two Orders, linked with a programme dealing with fuel, food, unemployment, housing etc. The Government tried to (lain!) down this enthusiasm by meeting the slogan of “Remove McEntee” (Minister responsible for presenting the Act) with his replacement with another figure.

When the appeasement policy of the TU leaders failed, only then did they oppose the Bill as such. Their policy is still today trying to get the ‘best’ out of the Bill, and attempting to take full charge of the opposition. 40 unions have registered, under protest. (This is about the total number of unions in Eire). The militant Irish Women Workers Union refused to take out a licence. Their position is not known today.

The railway workers at Dundalk resigned en masse from the Local Security Force (Home Guard) as a protest against the two Acts. Similar happenings were recorded throughout the country. At the August demonstration, the response was so widespread that a Dublin ARP demonstration had to be called off. Soldiers in uniform marched alongside their fellow unionists. The Government had readily foreseen such an occurrence and the Military Police present tried, with no success, to eject the soldiers from the parade. Nation-wide demonstrations are still going on. In Dublin on October 25th, 1942, 25,000 marched. At least 30,000 attended a rally immediately after. In Killarney recently, a large meeting was attended by 5,000 local workers and small farmers from the surrounding areas.

Phenomenal Growth of Labour Party

The growth of the Irish Labour Party has proceeded accordingly and the recent Municipal and County Council is an important symptom. A total of 215 seats were won by Labour. Both Fianna, Fail and Fine Gael lost considerably, finishing the contest with 245 and 127 respectively. When it is taken into consideration that the Labour Party was practically an unknown entity, up to 1941, the results are amazing. In Dublin, Labor gained a sweeping majority and now have 13 representatives. Prior to this election, they only numbered 3. In many other areas they captured power. In Co. Kildare, FF lost 8 seats and the LP polled more than all the other parties and groupings combined, gaining 11 seat’s, and control of the Council. The manoeuvre by FF throughout the country to have their candidates masquerading as ‘Independent’ failed in a good many instances.

Turf workers and isolated farm workers have entered the struggle and in the National Organiser of the LP’s weekly reports, show, turf workers on strike are being organised into the TU movement by the LP Direct negotiations “for wage increases are entered into by the LP on the spot with the County Councils. Many victories have been won. The Government records that 7,493 turf workers in the counties of Cork, Donegal and Kerry went on strike in 1941 for higher wages. 1941 was comparatively peaceful year. In May 1942,1,000 workers struck for higher wages in Co. Westmeath. The dispute was organised by the LP. Similar large disputes occurred in Co. Kildare, Cork, Co. Longford, Donegal, Roscommon. The Government wage for bog workers are atrociously low – (6¾d. per hour. Cork Co. Council as the result of the struggles, has increased the rates to 10d. per hour. The workers have started to turn to Labour movement for a solution to their problems.

LP branches have grown 250 per cent from last year. The “theory” held by the leaders of the LP and recently put forward as party policy is a hotch potch of confusion. The party has always been a reformist organisation of the typically Social Democratic type, recently it has turned in the direction of the theories of Douglas Social Credit. It maintains that by a better control of currency, workers would get a suitable standard of living, unemployment would be abolished, security for everyone, etc. would be achieved. The early weakness of the leaders showed itself some years ago when the Catholic Church via the National Union of Teachers demanded that the aim of the party be changed, from fighting to attain a Workers Republic as envisaged by Connolly, to a Watery add meaningless Irish Republic. The policy today is therefore an attempt to find a poor substitute and has never been thought out. An opposition is increasingly growing for a clear cut programme. At one stage the Labour and TU leaders began a whispering campaign amongst, the TU delegates prior to National Conference and directed against this opposition, declaring it is Trotskyist controlled. They it generally play on the backward religious views of the Country delegates and falsify the role of the Dublin and supporting branches.

De Valera Fears Election

According to law, a General Election should be held in June 1943, although the Government can take advantage of a loophole which can give it office for a further 2 years. It is not impossible that an election would show a majority for the LP. The reactions of the Government to the elections clearly suggest that they fear a fresh poll. The various views put forward by Government ministers, although contradictory, show one aim – to avert the elections. Mr. Little, Minister for Posts and Telegraph shows a sympathy for a Coalition Government. De Valera says, “If the people show a desire for change we will have election”. The Fianna Fail Ard Fheis (National Convention) has not met for two years the internal friction over policy being so great. Branches have mostly disintegrated. It can be said that little is left of this, the greatest popular movement Ireland has ever known.

Gen Mulcahy, prominent member of Fine Gael, favours a National Government, Cosgrave leader of Fine Gael, puts the same idea, but wants his party to win power first. The Irish Times, the reactionary conservative organ of British capital and to some extent the leading policy former for the Irish capitalist classes, speaks about the raving lunacy of an election during war-time, and reminds FF and FG of what happened in the municipal elections. Tailing behind this gang are the British and Irish so-called “Communist” Parties who demand that the labour movement enter a Coalition Government. The Stalinist objective is the agitation for a National Government in Eire and in company with the demand put forward, by the Communist Party of Great Britain which urges that Britain and Eire make a trade agreement and so facilitate Eire’s entry into the Imperialist war. Any trade, agreement entered into would mean that Eire received the various necessaries of life and important raw materials would be a way of relieving, to a limited extent, the unemployment problem. For such a concession; the Stalinist horse-dealers desire that Eire break her neutrality and become a partner in World War No. Two.

Stalinists Strengthen Pro-British Capitalists

In many ways, the Stalinists carry on their vile propaganda. The Irish Freedom, which has very little in common with its title, adopts a more subtle line. In the Sept[ember] issue 1941 they featured an article on the front page under the nom-de-plume of Donnybrook. This Stalinist hack declared that those who do not want Eire to enter the war are Hitler’s friends, and concluded by stating that Ireland must choose between Germany and the Allies. This was the Stalinist line being presented openly. The Editorial made no political contribution against such an Imperialist policy. The series which Donnybrook promised was so unpopular that it only lasted two issues. The reformist LP paper Torch condemned outright such an article and declared in an editorial that labour wants neither an old master nor a new one. Mr P. Musgrove, Editor of the Irish Freedom, who recently utilised J. Connolly’s writings and published them in book form with a long preface, attempts to confuse the Irish and British workers over Connolly’s socialist position, making out that it is necessary to support the present war – as being a continuation of the revolutionary principle of Connolly: This is one extra lie to the long list of Stalinist distortions. Connolly in the last war stood violently opposed to the gang social democrats who betrayed the international, movement and gave support to World War No.1. In his writings and in the model slogan – “Neither King nor Kaiser”, Connolly advocated the complete independence of the working class movement and declared that it is the duty of the socialist movement, to organise the oppressed against the native and foreign capitalist forces who dominate Ireland entirely.

The Eire CP before folding up in July 1941, urged in their paper Irish Workers Weekly that a General election should be averted and called for a strengthening of the Fianna Fail Government with the introduction of Labour representatives (Sept. 27th, 1941). Such an attitude was put after the proposed introduction of the vicious anti-Trade Union Act of the Government. It is not surprising that the Irish workers remain hostile to Stalinism. The destroying of the Irish Republican Congress was achieved by the Stalinists. Following out the disastrous policy of Popular Frontism, they split the Congress and by a narrow majority opposed the policy of Congress having as its aim the achieving of a Workers Republic. The resolution for a Workers Republic was moved by Roddy Connolly, son of James Connolly and seconded by the fearless militant, Mick Price. This movement, under Stalinist domination broke into smithereens after, pursuing a class-collaboration policy, thus disillusioning many hundreds of young revolutionary workers from city and the countryside.

The decision taken by the CP to dissolve, met with the immediate hostility of the few active members. No prior discussion took place. The resolution was just presented at an ordinary branch meeting. Voting was 11 for and 9 against. The attempts by the leaders to overwhelm the young opposition by long arguments failed. Even then, it was only by the votes of non-members that the resolution was successful. Demoralisation was widespread that it was customary to allow the elderly social committee workers to be present during party business. Their votes were cast for the resolution. The Irish Workers Weekly was voluntarily taken out of circulation some months after. Mr. P. Musgrove is the latest leader to be sent to Eire to raise the corpse of Stalinism and at the present day they are working as a small faction in the Irish LP pushing a concealed pro-war line.

The Slogan for Irish Revolutionaries – Labour to Power

In the bosses’ business pamphlet Irish Industry, the editor, Mr. McEvoy states:

“Wages in this country are far higher than in Japan for instance. Can our Irish manufacturers produce commodities to meet the products of Japan in price? The hours of working in this country per week, are shorter than in many countries from which we might import commodities. Social industrial insurance, holidays with pay, add considerably to the cost of production.” (December 1942)

The Irish capitalist class can offer no way out of the present chaos, but only a dreary future of even worse conditions, with the loss of the existing democratic rights. Mr. Lemas, Fianna Fail Minister, stated in the Dail on Budget Day 1942, that there must be a lowering of the standard of living after the war. Dr. Ryan, Minister of Agriculture, states that the British market is likely to collapse after the war so far as dairy produce is concerned and that livestock trade is not likely to be remunerative. The intentions of the ruling class are made plain enough by the following statement by Mr. W. O’Reilly President of the Irish Manufacturers Federation:

“Compulsory military service has certain evils, but provides a greater degree of good in the completion of character formation and the securing of a sound training in some branches of industry, combined with the inculcation of that greatest of all virtues, discipline.” (January 1943).

The absence of a revolutionary socialist party in Ireland which continues the socialist traditions of Connolly has resulted in many of the most serious and self sacrificing of the Irish youth joining the IRA. This has been facilitated by its pose as a “revolutionary” body which continues the best traditions of struggle for Irish freedom. It has also been facilitated by the false policy and treachery of the Stalinists, and the policy of tail-ending behind the capitalists pursued by the leadership of the Irish Labour Party. The bureaucratic “military” attitude of the IRA and their refusal to participate in the recent struggles of the working class; the sacrifice of the best members of the “army” in individual adventures, while failing to produce a radical programme to face up to the tremendous events which are ravaging the lives of the Irish masses: all these have resulted in the tendency to break with the IRA in the South and seek for a solution in the working class labour and trade union movement.

The general disillusionment of the masses in Fine Gael and the Fianna Fail and their turn towards the Labour Party opens up the possibility of harnessing this youthful energy, courage and enthusiasm to the socialist revolution. This is the task of the left wing in the Labour movement. A task which can be achieved only by a serious and bold struggle around a revolutionary socialist programme:

These are the central ideas which must motivate the struggle of the revolutionary socialists in the 26 counties, of the South and the 6 counties of Ulster.



1. Tom Burns was a pseudonym of Gerry Healy

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