In Dublin at present we have two very important strikes each affecting hundreds of men.
The Tailors' strike or lockout and the strike of Dockers on the Quays.
In each case we are confronted with the grim fact that in the world today there are but two classes - the Master Class and the Working Class - and that those two classes are at perpetual war with each other.
The Master Class, the dominant ruling class, strives by every means in its power to keep the Working Class in such a state of subjection that the process of spoiling or robbing the worker of his earnings, may go smoothly on with as little risks or dislocation as possible.
The Working Class on the other hand perpetually rises in protest against the incidental details of the robbery, organises to reduce the stealings of the Masters, and ever and anon throws down its tools, and enters on a bloodless insurrection against the conditions of its servitude.
These protests, these organised movements, these unarmed insurrections of labour, these strikes are the inevitable accompaniment of the capitalistic system of society - they are the salient proofs that the Socialist alone knows what he is talking about when he declares that the normal condition of society is not peace, but war; that the Class War is the one, great fact in the modem world.
"Ireland sober is Ireland free," said Mr George Leahy, President of the Irish Trades Union Congress. How utterly inane and idiotic the saying was should now be apparent to the most unthinking. If all the Tailors and Dockers of Dublin were total abstainers would that alter the fact that in order to obtain a remedy for some paltry grievances these men were compelled to surrender their means of livelihood and leave themselves workless upon the streets.
"There is no antagonism between Capital and Labour," Mr George Leahy declared also at the same Congress, and, lo! strikes on the Dublin quays, lock-out of the tailoring trade, strikes in Limerick, disputes in half-a-dozen smaller concerns every week, why it looks as if masters and men alike resolved to show the world how little Mr Leahy knows, or how incapable he is of talking common sense.
The Dock Strike has for us certain attractions greater than most industrial disputes in Ireland. The reason being that work on the docks is carried on under thorough capitalist conditions.
There the capitalist system of exploiting labour can be seen better than in most industries in this undeveloped country.
There are no small employers, no working capitalists, no personal relations between masters and men. There is only one connecting link between the employers and the employees, and that link is to be found in the gold, silver, or copper coins the worker draws as the reward for his labour.
The "Cash Nexus" abhorred of Carlyle is the only point of contact betwixt the dockers and the men who live upon their labour.
Down the quays the workers are not regarded by their masters as human beings - they are only reckoned as so many items in the balance-sheet, and troublesome items at that.
This is Capitalism pure and simple, and to it the workers oppose their organisation - trade unionism pure and simple.
With the accent on the word "simple".
The workers on the quay have such voting strength that they can return as their representatives on the City Council practically whoever they like, yet in the North Dock Ward their representatives are a lawyer, a publican, a shipping agent - and Alderman Fleming.
It is hard to classify Alderman Fleming. He is what the Americans style a "Labour Fakir", that is to say a man who was once a worker, and has used the labour vote to crawl into a position in a public body where the capitalist class find it to their interest to "square" him, and use him in order to delude the working class to support capitalist nominees.
That is Fleming.
The dock workers are thus pitted against a powerful combination of interests representing the entire propertied class; and the shipping companies have not only the power of their stored up capital against the poor funds of the men's union, but have also their representatives and friends in the City Council and Parliament, elected by the men themselves.
The masters have the power of money, they have the political power, and they have the municipal power, and in every case they have derived that power from the men against whom they are now using it.
But of course it is better to be thus fought with the weapons you handed to your opponent, than to vote for a Socialist, isn't it?
Under Socialism the docks and the shipping would belong to the nation, and the work would be carried on co-operatively by the dockers in the public interest, under the management of men elected by the dockers. The stevedores, instead of being tyrannical bosses over the men, would be elected from the ranks of the men for their skill in organising effectively the work required, would be the servants of the men, and all labour would be remunerated according to the full value of the work performed.
Strikes would be impossible, because, as the workers would be their own bosses, there would be nobody to strike against. The Municipal Council would be an executive body representing all the industries of the city, and charged with the supervision of the industrial affairs of the population; and with the Municipal Council, and not with any private individuals, would all trades and industries require to deal in all matters affecting trade organisation, labour, and the reward of labour.
But that would be Socialism, and Socialism is an awful thing to contemplate, you know. And so the dockers are left to the leadership of men, some of whom are politicians of the same stripe as their masters, and others of whom told them a few weeks ago that if they were only sober their masters would not oppress them - they and their country would be free!!
Republished in Owen Dudley Edwards & Bernard Ransom (eds), James Connolly: Selected Political Writings, New York 1974.