No body of workers that ever met in Ireland have ever had before them a more important and delicate function to fulfil than you have. You are meeting in the capital city of Ireland in a year that the millions of the Irish race the world over have been looking eagerly forward to as the year of the political resurrection of the Irish Nation. And you are also meeting in a year whose opening months saw the close of the greatest general engagement between the forces of Capital and Labour that Ireland ever witnessed. To the thoughtful delegate both these considerations will operate to make him or her approach the Irish Trade Union Congress of 1914 with feelings of disappointment. There must be disappointment upon the political field because not only is the political Ireland of our hopes but miserably caricatured in the Ireland offered to us in the Home Rule Bill, but even that Bill lies under the menace of still further dismemberment and emasculation. Still over our head hangs the threat that the political charlatans who control our national destinies will commit the unparalleled outrage of dismembering this country in order to please the unnatural hatred of their own country which a section of Irishmen and women have had instilled into them by the foul brood of aristocracy which for so long fattened upon the vitals and drank the life-blood of Ireland. The Exclusion of Ulster, or any part of Ulster, is the fearful price we are asked to pay for our weakness as a nation - a price so dishonourable that rather than consent to submit such a question to the arbitrament of a vote all patriotic Irish men and women had better far consent to accept the destiny of being rebel slaves of England in an undivided Ireland, as preferable to contented accomplices of English statesmen in the partition of Ireland. That there are in Ireland to-day accepted leaders of the Irish Race who feel that they can receive from an English minister a proposal to dismember their country without being compelled to instantly avenge that insult by throwing such a minister out of office is bad enough, but that such leaders can come back to Ireland and still secure the confidence and be sure of the plaudits of the Irish people is worse, as greater proof of the degeneracy of national life in Ireland.
Disappointed as we may well be at the fact that such a suggested abandonment of the high national ideals of the past could be met in the sordid huckstering spirit we see around us on this question, so also must we feel disappointed that the Labour Movement in Ireland did not emerge from its recent ordeal with more substantial spoils of [success?].
But in this case our disappointment is tempered by the reflection that never did men and women better deserve success than did the heroes and heroines of the Dublin Labour Struggle of 1913-1914. As the souls of the politicians descended to the mire of national betrayal the souls of the workers ascended to greater heights of comradeship and solidarity. By all that makes for the greatness of a people, by heroic refusal to surrender principle, by comprehension of all the true essentials of liberty, by devotion to the common cause, by undaunted facing of all the powers of government and by scorn of its batonings and its jailings, by its patient martyrdom of hunger and its blood atonement of deaths by violence by uniformed bullies, the working class of Dublin have redeemed the honour of their race in an age saturated by the spirit of the huckster and the worshippers of mammon. Never did Ireland in her most heroic moments rise to higher altitudes in the estimation of all lovers of progress than she was raised to by the fact that her working class - although surrounded by the most unclean pack of wolves that ever yelped at the heels of honour, and threatened by the most unscrupulous coalition of tyrants known to industrial and political history - by their own strength had forced forward to the front the question of the moral responsibilty of all for the sufferings and degradations of each. That responsibility which the teachers and rulers of all the ages have been engaged in evading or denying was at last raised by the Dublin Working Class into its true position, and forced upon the consciousness of an unwilling public compelled by the events of a great dramatic industrial war to consider its portent. To the Dublin Working Class belongs the honour of making the sentiment of an injury to one is the concern of all one that all Labour Organisations and all political parties must henceforth be measured by.
That the Irish people as a whole did not realise the great moral issues involved in this struggle was to be expected and deplored. We are cursed in this country with the most unscrupulous, and where not unscrupulous the most evil minded set of journalists that ever consented to prostitute their talents in the service of a purchaser, and when a naturally open minded people have to depend upon a Press served by such creatures it is but natural that the interpretation of public events which that people receive should be of the distorted and filthy nature such a Press must furnish. It was not so reasonable to expect that even a small section of the Labour world should fail to rise to the same height as the Labour Movement of Dublin as a whole did rise. But a stream cannot rise higher than its source, and when Trade Unionists take their inspiration from the columns of the Capitalist Press, and accept the praises of that press as evidences of wisdom instead of regarding such praises as proofs of foolishness or worse, then it is but natural that their Trade Unions will fail their brothers in the hour of trial.
We are not mentioning these disappointments in order to carp at or belittle your and our Congress and the movement it represents. Rather do we mention them in order to stimulate you to still further exertions by pointing out the real underlying causes of our present unsatisfactory position, socially and politically. That underlying cause is to be found in the industrial divisions amongst the Working Class. We have too many unions in Ireland, too many Executives with separate Balance Sheets to nurse; too much temptation to nurse these separate Balance Sheets at the expense of Solidarity. We need to set our face resolutely towards the task of joining all the workers of each industry into one Industrial Union; all General Workers into one General Workers' Union; all such Unions into One Big Union, able to launch the powers of all in the instant service of each. We need to realise that the Master Class has definitely decided to make war upon the Working Class; that for the purposes of that war they have co-ordinated and disciplined all their forces, and hold them ready to use at a moment's notice whenever the further subjection of Labour seems possible of achievement. We need to feel in every fibre of our consciousness that all the offices and positions through which civilization performs its every function are manned, equipped and sentinelled by alert and implacable enemies of our class, and so feeling we must labour to create a public opinion of our own - a Working Class public opinion that shall eventually supersede and destroy the public opinion of the master class as the standard by which our patriotism and the value and efficiency of our institutions are to be judged. At present the slave spirit is, so to speak, dominant in our souls, and as a result we unconsciously and instinctively accept inferior position and inferior treatment in all things as being right and proper for our class. Hence as we are subjected socially we are ignored politically, and forced to be content with the merest of husks educationally. This slave spirit arises from the fact that the disorganised, or badly organised, position of our class renders us impotent upon the industrial field, and any industrial impotence finds its accompaniment in our political outlawry and national helplessness in this hour of our national danger.
From all this the moral is plain. The true path of salvation for our class is along the line of a closer organisation of our forces: let us regard the industries of this country as our own; let us organise our Trade Unions as we would organise them were it our purpose to conduct industry and to have the operatives regimented and brigaded for the task. Let us in short proceed upon the principle that if the employer needs a man or woman in an industry we need him or her in the Union of that industry.
As we reach the completion of that task we will feel the result in the increasing self-respect of the worker, and in the increasing determination to exert upon the political field that working class independence such unity will give upon the industrial. Political power must wait upon economic or industrial power; you must be strong on the dock, ship, railway or workshop before you can be strong in the halls of legislation. But if political polwer will only come as the ripened fruit of economic power political agitation need not wait. Nor yet need wait political organisation. Let them march abreast - the army of organised Labour the director of the campaign on both fields.
Had we such an organisation of Labour to-day there would be no fear of the Exclusion of Ulster, nor any other betrayal of our national hopes.
The Ulster Volunteers may be able to frighten a Liberal Government willing to be frightened, but were a Labour Movement able to call out the Textile Operatives of Belfast, or even its spinners, and to keep them out until Ulster threw in her lot with Ireland, the paralysis of industry and loss of profit to Belfast capitalists would frighten the guns out of the hands of the Carsonite army without the shedding of a single drop of blood.
In conclusion we say to our fellow delegates with all solemnity that we believe that there are no real Nationalists in Ireland outside of the Irish Labour movement. All others merely reject one part or another of the British Conquest, the Labour movement alone rejects it in its entirety, and sets itself the Re-conquest of Ireland as its aim.
Let that be the end and aim of all our deliberations. - Yours fraternally,
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.