We have already pointed out in these columns that in the midst of the present world horror the forces of Organised Labour are the only forces still consciously and painstakingly pushing on the work of upbuilding a saner and juster civilisation. Each day confirms this view of matters. We receive in our office newspaper exchanges from all parts of the world, and it is noteworthy that in them all, next in importance to the news of the war, we always find prominence given to the efforts of Organised Labour to maintain the standard of living of the workers, and to secure their position against present and potential attacks. The Organised Labour Movement in effect says that no matter what the outcome of the war may be from a military standpoint it is essential that its finish shall see the working class of the world deprived of none of those rights and liberties they had won before its outbreak.
The full realisation of that wish we must regretfully say is in many countries an utter impossibility. In Great Britain, for instance, the Labour Leaders have so shamelessly sold the hard won position of their members that it is quite certain that the end of the war will see the capitalist class securely entrenched in possession of economic power greater than this generation has ever seen. It matters little what legal guarantees the Government may have promised or even given to the Labour Leaders. Legislation does not control the Lords of Industry; it is the Lords of Industry who control legislation. As we have often put it: The Class which rules industrially will rule politically.
The end of the war will find the British worker utterly demoralised by the advent of new conditions in the workshop. The apprenticeship system smashed, the Division or Dilution of Labour everywhere introduced, women and girls thoroughly expert in the work of performing certain processes hitherto part of the work of men, new machines installed, and the whole system of labour completely revolutionised in administration, in technique, and in outlook. All the old safeguards will be broken down, and in his efforts to erect new ones more in conformity with industrial development the worker will be hampered and baffled by the existence of vast masses of unemployed derelicts from the disbanded armies - unemployed derelicts making a reserve for the Capitalist Class with which to break strikes and enforce their will.
Every force that seeks to maintain for the labourer the position he had before the war, and to improve upon that position is for that reason a valuable force for the preservation of civlisation. The civilisation of any country to-day is judged by the position of its working class. A degraded working class means a degraded country, and a country weak against its foreign enemies. A working class upon a high plane of intelligence, in possession of social rights and strongly entrenched upon the political and economic field means a country dignified, respected, progressive, and powerful against foreign attack.
Reasoning from the foregoing the reader who has been attentively observing the trend of events in Ireland will appreciate the fact that the strikes and Labour struggles now on in this country are not mere isolated phenomena without bearing upon the progress of the race. Rather he will see that all of them - the prolonged fight of the City of Dublin Dockers, the campaign of the Dublin Building Trades for an increase of wages, the continued and successful agitation for the betterment of conditions in the Gas Works, the spread of the Transport Workers' Union through the South of Ireland (of which the report of the meeting in Listowel in this issue is further evidence), the increases gained by the same Union in Cork, Sligo, Tralee, Kingstown, and Fenit, and all the other manifestations of activity on the part of Organised Labour, are so many evidences of the resolve of the workers to preserve and extend their heritage of freedom, despite the madness of the rulers of the world.
Germany has shown a lesson to the world in this respect. That country had the best educated working class in the world, the greatest number of labour papers, daily, weekly, and monthly, the greatest number of parliamentary and local representatives elected on a working class platform, the greatest number of Socialist votes in proportion to the entire population. All this was an index to the high level of intelligence of the German working class, as well as to their strong political and industrial position. This again was an infallible index to the high civilisation of the whole German nation. Germany had builded well upon the sure foundation of an educated self-respecting people. Upon such a foundation Germany laid her progress in peace, and her success in war.
Let Ireland learn this lesson. The labour fights the public hears of in Ireland are not signs of mere restlessness - they are the throbbing of the hearts of the worker aspiring after a civilisation that shall make the Irish nation of our time a worthy representative of the free Ireland of the past.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.