There is a strike of shopmen and other workers on in the Midland and Great Western and Dublin and South Eastern Railways in Dublin. The employees are out on strike because no answer has been given to their repeated requests for an increase of wages to meet the abnormal increase of prices resulting from the great war. That is the central fact of the situation. But arising out of that fact there comes that inevitable touch of humour, such as never fails in Ireland to light up the most serious situation. The General Manager at the Broadstone depot is a man named Keogh. That gentleman writes to the Press and with the most owlish gravity informs all and sundry that there is no dispute between the railway company and their employees, that he does not recognise the Transport Union, and that he never heard of any complaint on the part of the men now on strike. Then he adds, as if it were an unimportant matter, that he had received two communications from the Union, one of them three months ago, and another a week before the strike, but this notwithstanding the men left work without giving notice. After tying himself up in a black knot in this fashion Mr Keogh sent out the Chief Engineer to tell the strike pickets that if they would send in a deputation on the following day he would arrange for them to meet a body of the directors. The men reported this to their Union, and at a mass meeting of all the men on our advice a deputation was appointed to hear what the directors had to say and to lay the facts before them. When the deputation attended on the following day they were ushered into the Board Room where they met - Mr Keogh and the Chief Engineer. Not a director was present. Seeing they had thus been inveigled in by a lying promise the men stood on their dignity and retired. In chagrin at this the Management stopped the Week's Pay due to the men, in the hope that the unexpected loss would lead to demoralisation. To put it more plainly,
Mr Keogh Stole the Wages of the Menjust as truly as does the less respectable but more honest thief who picks a pocket in the street.
The Transport Union immediately paid the men a week's strike pay, and ordered the stoppage of all coal destined for the Midland. Three boats were held up on Sunday night.
Is it not a humorous situation to hear an incompetent jack-in-office, on a railway notorious for its muddling inefficiency and rotten service, say that he will not recognise the right of the men to negotiate through a Union of their own choosing? At the present moment the Government of Great Britain has recognised the right of its working class citizens to speakthrough their unions, and at every crisis the responsible minister calls together the heads of Unions to consult with them and profit by their advice. In every European country it has been recognised that national organisation on an effective scale is only possible through the co-operation of organised Labour, but this poor derelict manager of an almost derelict railway, a railway made more derelict by his poor managership, with his head full of eighteenth century ideas refuses to recognise the rights of his fellow countrymen to organise in an Irish Union.
Imagining he is another William Martin Murphy he swells his chest to repeat the war cries of the employers during the great lock-out; swells himself like the ox in the fable - and will either burst himself, or cause others to die laughing.
He need not imagine that the world to-day, in 1915, is interested in his attempt to restart a conflict like that of 1913-14, or in his attempt to become another disrupter of the public peace. The men must get their increase. That is the vital point, and all squirmings and dodgings about recognition do not affect the issue. Through their Union they have put in a request that their wages be so advanced that they may maintain the same standard of life as heretofore. That modest request must be acceded to, and all the rest of the palaver from Mr Keogh may be dispensed with.
As serious men we cannot afford to turn back in our march to consider the babblings of another age even from the lips of a General Manager.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.