A UNION OF FORCES
Some issues ago we pointed out how the British Government was tightening its grip upon this country by a deft use of economic power. We wish again to recur to this theme in order to point out some more applications of this pressure upon the people of Ireland.
In the great industrial dispute of 1913-14 one of the most malignant firms upon the side of the employers was the firm of Messrs W. & R. Jacobs, Biscuit Manufacturers. No firm engaged in the dispute touched as low a depth of meanness as did this firm; so vilely used their power when the fight was over.
The helpless girls who had come out on strike from this firm in a noble effort to vindicate that right to organise upon which all our hopes of peaceful progress and higher civilisation are based, when they failed and had to re-apply for employment were subjected to every form of personal insult and dishonour that the foul minds of those in charge in the firm could conceive.
Hundreds were victimised and denied employment for ever, after being paraded before the jeering gaze of the poor lost creatures who had scabbed upon them; scores sank into hopeless wretchedness through being denied employment elsewhere because of the manner in which the Messrs Jacobs blacklisted them wherever they applied for work, and more than we care to recall were forced by the vengeance of Jacobs into the lost sisterhood of the streets.
As soon as the war broke out the responsible heads of this firm of pious sweaters and soul murderers joined hands with the recruiters in the attempt to swell the ranks of the British Army. They who had outrivalled the lowest in their methods of warfare upon the rights of the workers of Dublin became clamorous that the men of Dublin should go out to fight and die to protect them from the Huns.
By every means they could devise they strove to swell the British Army, and turned up their eyes in horror at the atrocities retailed in the newspapers - were as horrified at the atrocities supposedly committed by the Germans in Belgium as they had been happy and exultant over the atrocities committed by the police in Dublin.
For some time back this firm has had its reward by being kept going with Government orders, and its male employees mostly resisted the attempt to seduce them into the army that keeps the Messrs Jacobs upon the necks of Labour. But within the past two weeks the firm is reported to have summarily dismissed every man of military age.
Messrs Jacobs in 1913-14 used their power over the means of livelihood of their employees to coerce them out of the trade union of their choice on the pain of starvation; now that same firm is again using its power over the means of livelihood of the workers to coerce them into an army that stood ready to shoot them down in 1913-14.
In the course of the Board of Trade Inquiry at Dublin Castle this slimy firm of sweaters instructed Mr Timothy Healy, the counsel for the employers, to state before Sir George Askwith that his firm was selected by Larkin to be attacked because it used Irish made flour instead of English. The statement was, of course, a double-barrelled lie, because the firm only uses a very small proportion of Irish made flour, and also because the place of origin of the flour had nothing to do with the dispute.
But at that time it suited Messrs Jacobs to pretend to a great hostility to things English, and a great love for things Irish. Now it suits Messrs Jacobs to throw off the mask, and come out in their true lights as being willing to use all their economic power to help England, by starving Irishmen into the British Army, and thus to ensure that death and misery will hang like a cloud over scores or hundreds of Irish homes.
A Rich Man's War and a Poor Man's Fight! Already there is formed in every ward in Dublin and in most Irish towns and cities a Recruiting Committee to devise means of bringing pressure to bear upon Irishmen to join the Army. One of the earliest moves in the activities of this pernicious Committee (which by the way is invariably composed of the veriest snobs and the worst employers in the district) lies before us as we write. It is a circular to Employers, and is headed by the following question.
Are you willing to permit Canvassers sent by the Department of Recruiting for Ireland to interview men of military age in your employment on your premises at a convenient time during business hours?
This is followed by a demand for the Names and Addresses of men of military age in employment of above person or firm.
This precious circular is being sent to every employer in Ireland, and from now on the Recruiting agents will descend like a flock of vultures upon every working man, and compel them in the presence of their employers and foremen to state their reasons for or against joining the British Army.
Thus there will be gained information invaluable for the spy system of our rulers. The employers or their agents will stand by and listen whilst the employee reveals his political convictions, and every man of advanced opinions will be marked out for early victimisation.
Not in Russia in its worst day was there any political terrorism exercised like this. Not anywhere in the world has it ever before been the case that the agents of the government and the agents of the capitalist stood side by side in workshop or factory, and compelled the wage-slave to reveal his inmost political thoughts.
The employer thus gets an accurate knowledge of the political opinions of his wage slaves, and the Recruiting Agent enters down the name and address and political opinion of every able-bodied Irishman, and turns the list over to the G Division (the political police) to be placed safely in the records of our British Rulers.
British rule in Ireland is thus revealed in its most loathsome aspects. It is seen nakedly as existing by terrorism, as recruited by hunger, as denying the most fundamental rights of political and social freedom. It is the perfect fruit of capitalism. The capitalist system came into this world covered with mud and blood, and dirt. It has its origin in the forcible theft of the common lands, the property of all, and the sanctification of that theft by laws made by robbers to legalise their robbery. At every stage of its progress it has been nourished upon the unpaid toil of the workers, and its state machinery is ever oiled with the blood of the poor.
The rise of capitalism and the rise of the British Empire were synonymous, and built upon similar crimes - the one is but the political embodiment of the meanest form of the other. Taking their origin in the plunder of the Catholic Church, each substituted the license of the strong and the unscrupulous for the economic security which with the growth of education would have eventuated in the greater freedom of the multitude.
The essential meanness of the British Empire is that it robs under the pretence of being generous, and it enslaves under pretence of liberating. The essential meanness of the capitalist system is that the capitalist pretends he is giving you a job when in reality he is securing you as a slave the fruits of whose labour he can legally appropriate.
The wages of the labourer is simply the modern equivalent for the rations of the slave - the fodder for the human beast of burden.
When the capitalist in Ireland wishes to drive you by hunger to enlist in the army to defend his property he deprives you of your means of living, and insults your intelligence by telling you that you are "released for active service".
The case of Messrs Jacob, and of the Recruiting Committee in its circular to the employers establishing a spy system to serve the double purposes of labour-hating employers and foreign rulers, is a sample of this natural union of the forces which make for the social and political enslavement of the people of Ireland.
We say this "natural union", for it is only natural that they who desire the industrial enslavement of the workers of Ireland should also desire the perpetuation of a form of Government as far as possible removed from the control of the people so enslaved. It is also very natural that the Government which keeps Ireland in subjection as a nation in order that it may prevent its industrial progress should also desire to prevent the growth of self reliance, and the spread of sound principles of industrial democracy, amongst the working classes of that subject nation.
Just as natural is it that those who desire the liberation of the Irish nation from foreign control should join hands with those forces of Labour whose ideal of industrial democracy cannot be realised as long as the economic future of their country is at the mercy of another country controlled by rival interests.
The abolition of the British Empire in Ireland is a necessary condition for the liberation of all the human factors making for the active intellectual life and political growth of democracy, as also it is a necessary condition for the utilization of all the natural powers of the soil of their country for the social enrichment of the country.
We are at the parting of the ways. All the forces of oppression, political and social, have joined hands to perpetuate our subjection. Shall not all the forces aspiring to social and political freedom unite to end our subjection?
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.