Introduction. On 7 December 1913, representatives of workers, British Unions, and a British MP presented proposals for ending the strike to the employers: that strikers should be treated fairly and reinstated in their jobs. These were rejected by the employers who agreed to give jobs to workers whose jobs had not been filled. The employers also insisted that staff must sign the ‘Employers’ Agreement’, that is, a pledge not to join the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), although this was denounced by trades unions in England and Ireland, by the press, and by Government mediators in the dispute. Connolly stated that the ITGWU would not abandon its members but would fight to the end for their rights. Connolly condemned employers for violating the basic rules of morality that held society together, that is, that every individual be treated with respect. He claimed that public opinion, popular and elite, in Ireland and abroad, agreed with him in this respect, and called on employers to end their lockout of ITGWU workers. In his view, it was better for the working class to fight for their rights, even if it meant worse deprivation, than to accept permanent degradation.
Source. James Connolly, “To the working class of Dublin”, Irish Worker, 13 December 1913.
Once again the Employers of Dublin have received an offer, the acceptance of which would have enabled them to restore themselves in the estimation of the civilised world and to appear as normal human beings with human hearts and consciences. And once again they have refused to respond and to recognise the common humanity of the work people. On Sunday morning, December 7th, the representatives of Labour met in Conference with the Masters in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, and after agreeing upon a proposal to set up a Conciliation Board to be established by 7th March, 1914, and to suspend all strikes and sympathetic strikes until that date, the following proposal was laid before the masters, it being explained that its acceptance by the employers was a necessary condition of our final acceptance of the proposal just set forth:— ‘The employers undertake that there will be no victimisation, and that employment will be found for all workers within a period of one month from the date of settlement.’
This Clause in the proposed settlement was drafted by Mr Arthur Henderson, MP, and agreed to by the representatives of the Joint Labour Board from Great Britain along with delegates of the local Lockout Committee, but was absolutely rejected by the employers. In its place they offered a clause in which they stated that “they will take on as many of their former employees as they can find room for”, and “will make a bonafide effort to find employment for as many as possible”. After sending this outrageous proposal back to them twice with a declaration that we still stood by the proposal drafted by Mr Henderson, MP, the Conference finally broke up on that point.
While there may be guileless people in this world who do not know the evil meaning of the threat conveyed in the Employers’ Proposal, we are certain that in the ranks of the working class there are none so simple as not to know what these gentry mean when they tell us that “they will take on as many of their former employees as they can find room for”. They were always of that mind, and we know that since the very beginning of this fight they were willing to take on as many as they could find room for, but that they had no room for members of the Irish Transport Workers’ Union. That condition remains unaltered. We had heard outside that the ban upon our Union—the Employers’ Agreement—had to be withdrawn, but neither in their presence by word of mouth, nor in Conference by typewritten or other document, was any such assurance given us. As far as we have any knowledge, that document still remains.
Remember that the Employers’ Agreement is denounced by every enlightened public opinion in these islands; that it is denounced by the whole trade union world; by the public of Dublin; by the Press of Great Britain; by the report of Sir George Askwith; by the verdict of the Industrial Peace Committee; and remember that the men, women, and girls locked out are idle because they nobly refused to sign this degrading document, and then ask yourselves could we consent to abandon those heroic workers to the tender mercies of the men who had planned their degradation?
Could we consent to the victimisation of workers who refused to sign a document which everybody of common sense denounces as iniquitous? We could not! There may be somewhere trade union leaders who can regard with calmness the certain victimisation of a number of their rank and file, but, thank God, we are not of their number. We regard the rank and file fighters as the real heroes of this struggle, and we will never consent to their being sacrificed, not while there is a shot in our locker or a shred of our organisation together. We have no fear or doubt of our ultimate success in this fight, but if we had we would not consent to the sacrifice of those who had trusted us and honoured us by their trust. We would rather go down nobly fighting for our noble comrades than survive ignobly by consenting to their victimisation. Brothers and sisters, the fight must go on. And be it long or short the victory will be the victory of the rank and file.
Acting general sec.,