CHAPTER XXII. LABOUR BECOMES A POWER IN IRISH LIFE
In the play and interplay of movements and events at this time in Ireland we cannot leave out of account the Labour Movement - that is, the official Trade Union organisation as distinct from the Labourers' Association. Hitherto it had mainly concerned itself with industrial and social questions and had not made politics or nationalism an object of direct activity. The workers had their politics, so to speak, apart from their Trade Unions, and the toilers from Belfast were able to meet the moilers from Cork for the consideration of their common programme and common lot without infringing on the vexed issue of Home Rule, on which they held widely divergent views - often enough without understanding the reason why. They were a good deal concerned about municipal government and how many men they were able to return to the Dublin, Belfast and Cork corporations, but they had not counted highly and, indeed, scarcely at all in the scheme of national affairs. The Parliamentarians were too strong for them. Yet it was the workers who always provided the soundest leaders of nationality and its most incorruptible and self-sacrificing body-guard. The thinkers expressed the ideals of Irish nationhood; they lived them and were even prepared to suffer for them. But the time had come when this parochialism of labour in Ireland was to end. To the enthusiasm and impetuous force of James Larkin and the fine brain of James Connolly Irish labour owes most for its awakening. The rise of Larkin was almost meteoric. He was one day organising the workers of Cork into a Transport Workers Union; almost the next he was marshalling a strike in Dublin, which made him an international democratic figure of extraordinary power. He was a man of amazing personality, who exercised a compelling influence over the workers. He shook them out of their deadly stupor, lectured them in a manner that they were not accustomed to, brow-beat them and, though he made them suffer in body over the weary months of the strike, he infused a spirit into them they had not known before. He made the world ring with the shame of Dublin's slums and he did much to make men of those who were little better than dumb-driven animals. He united the Capitalists of Ireland against him in a powerful organisation, and though they broke his strike they did not break the spirit that was behind it. Some men will say the Rebellion of Easter Week had its beginnings in the Dublin Strike of 1913; others that Carson was the cause of it; whilst many ascribe it to the criminal folly and short-sightedness of Redmond and his followers, who allowed British politicians to bully and betray them at every point and made Parliamentarianism of their type intolerable to the young soul of Ireland. History in due course will assign each its due meed of responsibility, but of this we are certain, that the men who came out in Easter Week and bore arms were largely the men whom Larkin had organised and whom Connolly's doctrine had influenced. From the point of view of mental calibre Connolly was by far the abler man. He was not as well known outside Labour circles in Dublin as he has come to be since his death, but to anyone who has given any thought or study to his life and writings he must appear a person of single-minded purpose, great ability, ordered methods of thought and a fine Nationalism, which was rooted in the principles of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen. Connolly preached the gospel of social democracy with a fine and almost inspired fervour. He was an internationalist in the full Socialist sense, but seeing the harrowing sights that beset him every day in the abominable slums of Dublin City he was an Irish Reformer above all else. Mr Robert Lynd writes of him, in his Introduction to Connolly's Labour in Ireland:
"To Connolly Dublin was in one respect a vast charnel-house of the poor. He quotes figures showing that in 1908 the death-rate in Dublin City was 23 per 1000 as compared with a mean death-rate of 15.8 in the seventy-six largest English towns. He then quotes other figures, showing that while among the professional and independent classes of Dublin children under five die at a rate of 0.9 per 1000 of the population of the class the rate among the labouring poor is 27.7. To acquiesce in conditions such as are revealed in these figures is to be guilty of something like child murder. We endure such things because it is the tradition of comfortable people to endure them. But it would be impossible for any people that had its social conscience awakened to endure them for a day. Connolly was the pioneer of the social conscience in Ireland."
In the chapter on "Labour in Dublin" Connolly himself thus refers to the Dublin Strike and what it meant:
"Out of all this turmoil and fighting the Irish working class movement has evolved, is evolving, amongst its members a higher conception of mutual life, a realisation of their duties to each other and to society at large, and are thus building for the future a way that ought to gladden the hearts of all lovers of the race. In contrast to the narrow, restricted outlook of the Capitalist class and even of certain old-fashioned trade unionists, with their perpetual insistence upon 'rights,' it insists, almost fiercely, that there are no rights without duties, and the first duty is to help one another. This is, indeed, revolutionary and disturbing, but not half as much as would be a practical following out of the moral precepts of Christianity."
Here we get some measure of the man and of his creed. To the part he played in the Easter Week Rebellion I must refer in its own proper place. That the Dublin Strike and its consequences had a profound effect on later events, this quotation from "AE" will show. In a famous "open letter" to the employers he declared: