1910s >> 1917 >> no-153-may-1917

Irish Notes

The position of workers in Ireland, with a few particular exceptions, is steadily getting worse. The continual increases in. prices, and the growing scarcity of employment, are steadily making working-class conditions more and more intolerable. The spirit of antagonism to the British Government, that pervades Ireland generally, has resulted in a comparatively small proportion of Irishmen joining the Army. As work, in those industries unconnected with the war (and Ireland is doing a very small proportion of war work) is getting slacker day by day, both for men and women, and the Army is not drawing off any appreciable percentage of the surplus employees, competition for work becomes more keen, and wages and working conditions are worse proportionately than in peace times. It is a well known fact that the much-vaunted war bonuses (which were only obtained after hard fighting) have in no way compensated for the rise in the cost of living.

Since the outbreak of war another circumstance assisting in the worsening of the pos’tion of the workers has been the entrance of fashionable ladies into competition with work girls in industries, and doing so for no pay whatever. The way they blackleg nurses is too notorious to need mention. The cream of the joke appeared to the writers when one of the temporary would-be members of the working class (we don t think) was hauled before a Belfast magistrate recently and charged with driving her motor car at such an excessive speed as to be to the public danger. In her defence she urged that she was late that morning and was hurrying to her work.

The Dublin papers are full of reports as to the general had conditions, the increasing difficulty of obtaining work, and the low wages of those in employment. The following extracts cast some light on working class conditions prevailing there:

“We have only to remember that investigations made by the Health Department in working-class districts showed that one-third of 436 families whose cases were dealt with have weekly wages of less than 25/-, whilst in the cases of 90 families inquired into by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the average wage worked out at 22s. 6d., and the average amount available for food, fuel, and clothing
was 18s. 1d. How do these people live? The question is asked every day, and nobody can answer it—except the poor people who carry on the struggle.”—”Sunday Freeman,” 8.4.1917.

The leading article of the “Dublin Evening Telegraph” (9.4.1917) asserts that girl munition workers in Dublin are earning the fabulous salary of 8s. per week —surely a tremendous incentive to pile up the munitions “to ensure the victory of the All lies” !

Dr. Sherlock at a meeting of the Dublin Port and Docks .Board, remarked that :

“It was undignified for the prince merchants to haggle about a few shillings in the wages of workingmen at a crisis like this, when the cost of living was so dear. He hoped to have an opportunity soon of focussing public attention on the fact that the rate of wages paid in Dublin was a standing disgrace, and a menace to its peace and good order.” —”Freeman’s Journal,” 10.4.1917.

A note in “Irish Opinion” (31.3.1917) also was in the same strain :

“Mr. Duke, the English Chief Secretary for Ireland, stated last week that there were no able bodied men unemployed in Dublin. On Tuesday last a deputation from the Dublin Trades Council waited upon the Corporation to ask their assistance in the matter of providing employment for the great workless army in the metropolis. ‘If employment is not given,’ said Mr. Thomas Farren, ‘there will be bread riots in Dublin very soon,’ and the Lord Mayor added that ‘ he knew also that artizans and labourers were on the verge of starvation owing to lack of employment.’ We know it, too. Every citizen of Dublin knows it. No one can pass through the streets of the city without seeing it—seeing thousands of and boys looking for work that is not to be found. Even a casual walk through the working-class districts will reveal scenes of poverty and privation that are not only appalling but incredible.”

“Freeman’s Journal” for 10. 4. 1917 contains a letter to the Editor on the pay of women field workers from which the following extract is taken :

“If more of our women and girls were engaged in the lighter kinds of field labour it would greatly increase the food supply. At present the wages too commonly offered are so miserable that few care to accept them. A case recently came to my knowledge where a woman was paid for field work, at a place some six miles from Dublin, nine shillings a week, with lodgings, but no board, not even a turnip. It is well known that a present prices nine shillings would scarcely buy sufficient food to keep a strong woman, engaged in hard work in health for a week. This unfortunate creature saved four shillings for her family in Dublin, but at the cost of starving herself, so that after a couple of weeks she had to return home broken in health.”

But soft ! this poor woman should not complain, for haven’t we all to economise now and help the war ? If you don’t believe Mick and Mack, pop into Lord Northcliffe’s breakfast room any morning and see him breakfasting on a penny kipper and 2 ozs. of maize meal and bean flour toke.

Housing conditions are not the least of Dublin’s ills, and have been the theme of romantic discourses by would-be benevolent individuals of all sorts and conditions.

We learn that members of the Dublin Corporation at times make quite a good thing out of dealings relating to slum property.

The way the matter is worked is somewhat as follows. When a government grant is obtained for housing the poor “on account of the lack of habitable dwellings for the masses” (“Dublin Evening Herald,” 6.4.1917) a member of the Corporation or a friend of a member, buys up certain property cheap. The Corporation declares the property insanitary, buys it off the owner at a fabulous price, evict the tenants, rebuild it (perhaps it was the least insanitary property in the neighbourhood) and somebody nets a nice little profit out of it. Money for nothing!

In the “Dublin Evening Herald” (6.4 1917) there was an article dealing with this matter, from which we will quote.

“It is evident that the Corporation Housing Committee are at the old game of slum purchase, and it is imperative ou the rent and rate payers of Dublin to be on the alert in order to frustrate the attempt by the Corporation to pay a fabulous portion of the proposed £230,000 which the Treasury may grant on the purchase of rotten bricks and mortar known as ‘slum areas’ (convenient term !). In the area known as Newfoundland Street (slum), where £27,000 (or £2,196 per acre) is being forced, a strong agitation beat the Housing Committee, but the latter have resorted to the contemptible trick of halving it called an ‘ insanitary area.’ “

The Dublin Tenants Association have forwarded a memorial on the matter to the Chief Secretary and other individuals (giving reasons for opposition) some clauses of which read as follows :

”Because 80 per cent. at least of the cottages and houses are structurally sound and in good sanitary condition. . . . Because the demolition of a few courts or lanes, together with a small expenditure on repairs and the proper enforcement of the sanitary laws will be sufficient to transform the whole area into an ideal working-class area

Because the inhabitants have almost unanimously resolved to resist eviction by every lawful means in their power. Finally, because at least one member of the Housing Committee, and also an ex Councillor and Poor Law Guardian, possess large interests there.”

What a thieves’ kitchen the Council Hall has come to be under capitalism !

MICK AND MACK.

(Socialist Standard, May 1917)