Introduction. Representatives of the workers’ presented their case to the Court of Inquiry in Dublin Castle on 4 October 1913. The Inquiry was set up by the Government to investigate the origins of the dispute, to resolve the grievances of workers and employers, and to end the strike. In their submission to the Commission of Inquiry, ITGWU leaders, defended their actions, and emphasised that they wanted only justice for the working classes. They did not wish to please or displease the police, the courts, the employers, or even the general public, but simply wanted to defend the rights of the poor and improve their working and living conditions. Responding to employers’ complaints about the great number of strikes in recent years, the ITGWU argued that the employers were themselves to blame, and urged them to take responsibility for the desperate poverty of the poor, and then to do something about it. If not, the wealthy classes would have to face the prospect that the poor and unemployed would revolt. ITGWU leaders criticised employers for failing in their responsibilities to their workers, and compared them to bad landlords who neglected their tenants. Even worse, they accused employers of preventing others looking after the welfare of workers by resisting attempts to set up trade unions for unskilled workers, those who most needed protection. For these reasons, the ITGWU determined to fight for recognition of its union.
Source. James Connolly, The Workers’ Republic, in Desmond Ryan (ed), Socialism and Nationalism: a selection from the writings of James Connolly (2 vols, Dublin 1987) ii 292–299.
With all due respect to this Court, it is neither first nor last in our thoughts today, nor at any other stage of the inquiry. The ultimate tribunal to which we appeal is not this Court, much as we desire to assist its operations, but rather the verdict of the class to which we belong. We do not claim to be philanthropists labouring to preserve social amenities for the sake of some nebulous, changing thing known as ‘the public’. We do not pretend to be animated by a fierce zeal for public order, though we hope we shall never wantonly disturb it, nor do we profess to be inspired by a single-minded desire to aid capitalists to conduct their business at all costs. No, we are banded together for the purpose of elevating our class, of organising that class for the conquest of its rights.
If the public, the forces of law and order and the capitalist class are willing to co-operate with us towards that end, well and good. If, on the other hand, the social and political forces represented by these three terms unite to defeat and subdue us and to thwart our just aspirations, as we believe they have done in this case, we shall still press onward believing that eventually victory, and the verdict of history will be on our side.
This mental attitude of ours explains our position in this dispute. The learned counsel for the employers says that for the past five years there have been more strikes than there have been since Dublin was a capital. Practically every responsible man in Dublin to-day admits that the social conditions of Dublin are a disgrace to civilisation.
Have these two sets of facts no relation? We believe that they stand to one another in the relations of cause and effect, the long period of stagnation in the labour ranks of Dublin was responsible for the growth in your midst of labour and housing conditions scarcely to be equalled outside Bombay or Constantinople.
Now that the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and its officials have set out to arouse the people; now that fierce, and it may be sometimes reckless, fighting has inspired the suffering masses with a belief in their own ability to achieve some kind of emancipation; now, in short, that the luxury, comfort, and even the security of the propertied classes are menaced, we see the quickening of a faint sense of social conscience in Dublin. But until aroused by the shock of industrial war, the propertied classes of Dublin have well deserved their unenviable notoriety, for, like the typical Irish landlords of the past, ‘enforcing their rights with a rod of iron and renouncing their duties with a front of brass’.
They tell us that they recognise trade unions. For answer we say that when they did so, it was wherever the necessity of a long apprenticeship made it difficult to replace a worker if he went on strike, but whenever no such apprenticeship existed to protect the worker the Dublin employers made fierce and relentless war upon trade unions amongst the unskilled labourers.
Messrs Tedcastle and M’Cormack is an instance among shipping firms. The Tramway Company has seen at least two attempts to organise its men. It fought and crushed the attempts, and the workhouse, the insane asylum, and the emigrant ship received the ruined lives of those who made the efforts.
They complain that the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union cannot be trusted to keep its agreements. The majority of shipping firms in Dublin to-day are at present working, refusing to join in this mad enterprise engineered by Mr Murphy, and with perfect confidence in the faith of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. They complain of the sympathetic strike, but the members of the United Builders Labourers’ Trade Union, a union recruited from the same class of labourers as the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, have been subjected to a sympathetic lockout because of their refusal to pledge themselves not to help the latter body if they so desired it at any time in the future. ...
A more unreasonable pledge was never asked for. It is as if, instead of waiting until the contingency arose, the Transport Union were to call a strike in a shop because the employer would not sign an agreement not to lend his own money to another employer if he needed it. To such an extent has the madness of the employers led them.
We on our side say that we are proud of the spirit of solidarity exhibited in Dublin; we are proud of the manner in which organised labour in these islands has rallied to help us in defeating the attempt of the employers to dictate to the workers to what Union they should or should not belong.