The event of this week was, of course, the great Labour Conference at London. It was also the great failure of the week, if not of the century.
For the first time in the history of the Labour movement in these countries an effort was made to gather together the forces of Labour for a definite purpose a fact that was in itself of sufficient importance to mark an epoch in the forward movement of Labour. There were to be representatives of the political movement and of the industrial movement. Delegates were to be there from the Federation of Trade Unions, from the Transport Workers' Federation, and from the Trade Union Congress, and all the joint energy and combined power of these great bodies were to be directed with a single mindedness of purpose towards the one great end of raising the siege of Dublin.
There was also to be a special attempt to lend impressiveness to this Conference by arranging for a special vote of all the Trade Unions affected, in order that the voice of the rank and file might be heard. To do this properly a delay of three weeks was enforced between the date of the resolution to summon a Conference and the Conference itself.
Thus conceived, the idea of the conference spread all over the civilised world, and all eyes from Johannesburg to Shanghai, and from Rio de la Plate to the Pottle River were strained with burning anxiety upon London on the fateful day of December 9th, 1913, and it was a thought noble in its conception and immensely fruitful in its possibilities. In the hands of men gifted with imagination or blessed with the vision of the pioneers of progress the chance to gather together into our fold all the manifold activities of labour would have been seized upon and used to its fullest extent, in order that the step thus gained might open the way to greater action upon similarly concerted lines in the future.
The employers saw this, the capitalist press saw this, all the watchful eyes of the capitalist world were tremblingly watching for the result of this, and as anxiously and tremblingly as it was watched for by the capitalist enemy so it was watched for eagerly and hopefully by the aspiring souls of the armies of labour.
But neither the enemy, nor the friend calculated upon the colossal stupidity, or criminal vanity of a few men being able to wreck all the hopes of labour upon a mere question of personality, as was done in the Conference which resulted from the plans so elaborately presented for our enlightenment before the day of meeting.
With a stupidity almost unthinkable, as a criminality positively Machiavellian in its cynical deliberation the proposal dealing with the original purpose of the meeting was put last upon the agenda, and the resolution best calculated to stir up fratricidal conflicts, rouse embittered feelings, and poison the atmosphere of debate was given priority. Amongst intelligent and honest people the purpose for which a meeting was called is always first to be considered; on Tuesday it was put last and received the scanty consideration usually given a subject when a Conference is about to break up.
And the voice of the members, in order to consult whom the Conference had been postponed for three weeks, what of them? Was the voice of the Conference their voice?
Well, Mr Bob Smillie, the honest and veteran Miners' leader, confessed in open Conference that his Union, one of the largest, had not given its members any opportunity to vote on the matter or to elect delegates. The following is a copy of a letter sent out by the President of the National Union of Railwaymen, and explains how solicitous it was that its members should not be 'anxious' over the Conference about Dublin:
Dec 6, 1913.
Special Conference of TUC on Dublin Dispute.
Two or three of the delegates have written me asking if they would have to attend the Conference which is to be held on Tuesday next. I have, therefore, to inform you that the EC have decided to send thirteen of their own members to this Conference, and it will not be necessary for you to attend. I send this intimation to you in case you are in any way anxious.
And the writer of the following letter from Scotland seems to think that the voice of the members has not been very zealously inquired after in his Union either:
Boilermakers' and Iron and Steel Ship Builders' Society,
2 Kinghorn Place,
10th December, 1913.
Mr M. McKeown,
Irish Transport Workers' Union.
I enclose Money Order for £25 payable to Mr John O'Neill to help you to carry on the fight. This is the best proof we can give of our sympathy. The special Trades Congress seems to have been a farce, as it was composed of permanent officials of the various Unions. This Union, I know, did not elect or instruct anyone to represent them, and I am making enquiries to know who attended and who authorised them, etc.
Kind regards and best wishes.
So this great historic meeting of the united forces of Labour was, it appears, carefully rigged in advance, and when it did meet it turned itself into a great laundry for the public washing of very dirty linen, and the officials smiled, whilst the enemy laughed in joyful scorn at the futility of the thing he had feared.
We think, with all due respect to those who think otherwise, that those who framed that agenda, and decided the order of the questions to be discussed, committed a crime, not only against the Dublin workers, but against the future of the Labour movement in these islands; and we think this quite irrespective of the voting upon the questions involved in the amendment proposing the isolation of Dublin.
The decision of the National Union of Railwaymen to re-open the London and North-Western boats from Dublin to Holyhead put their Dublin members in the position that they had either to be disloyal to their Union or to their class. So the Transport Union officials, in view of the long and heroic fight those men had made, told them that for the present, and pending negotiations, the latter Union would not demand from the men the payment of such a heavy penalty as refusal to obey their Union would involve. They could go back to work, but we were not filled with admiration for the Union which, with millions at its back, threatened its men with forfeiture of Union benefit unless they consented to betray their brothers. To compel men to scab at the eleventh hour is a poor job for the officials of a great Union, and the Transport Union officials did right to save the men from being placed upon the horns of such a dilemma. They have shown the mettle they were made of, and we can bide our time.
We were glad to see that in last week's Sinn Féin Mr Griffith had a few scathing words to say about the manner in which the police of this city are preparing themselves to secure convictions against all and sundry connected with the strike. It was time somebody outside ourselves came out openly in denunciation of this iniquity. The police in Dublin have proven themselves to be cold and callous perjurors of the most degraded type swearing away the lives, liberties and honours of men, women, boys and girls in a manner to make Harvey Duff blush to be named in their company.
And the promised Government enquiry on the lines published, with a Commission so constituted, is simply a whitewashing job. No responsible representative of labour will be on it, and no opportunity will be given to bring home to the police the responsibilty for the crime they have committed. The Government, in fact, dare not press the matter against these perjurors. We have it on good authority that the police informed the Government that if any attempt was made to proceed against them with a really fair enquiry made by responsible men they would go on strike.
They would down tools, or down batons. They often do so. Down batons on the heads of the poor people, but this idea of 'down batons' if the Government dares to investigate the police is a new idea, and as it is a government of treachery and pusillanimity the threat was effectual.
By the way, will the enquiry investigate the Police Magistrates as well? or is that too dangerous? The man who issued a 'proclamation' prohibiting a public meeting, and remains on the bench after the Crown Prosecutor admitted that his 'proclamation' was not a proclamation, and that the meeting was perfectly legal, that man surely needs investigation. But what a smell it would cause.