By Miss C. Cahalan, President Irish Union of Distributive Workers and Clerks
A wage cutting campaign is now in full swing. The war of guns and drums is over (at least for the present), and the war on wages has taken its place.
It is sought to justify this new warfare by shouting “the cost of living is coming down.” As the big gun war in Europe had the war-cry of “Little Belgium” and “Small Nationalities,” so this new war has its war-cry – the cost of living coming down, a phrase that has little meaning for the Irish working class, for they have never lived – they merely existed.
We are told by the Press (of which more anon) that Limerick bacon is down some pence per pound; that mutton chops and sirloin steak have fallen in price; that creamery butter and the new-laid eggs are considerably reduced in price. So are Havana cigars, French wines, Ford cars; and their influence on the family budget of a working man’s family would be just as remote as the price of mutton chops and creamery butter are. The fag ends of beef and mutton, margarine, American bacon, dripping, are much more like the menu of the working class population, even in the fictitious prosperity of the war period.
One wonders why so many of these workers with their pockets bursting with cold are still to be found living in slums and why they have not emulated their masters and taken up residence in fashionable squares and suburban villas on the strength of their war profits.
The movement as we know it to-day has accepted the capitalist system in practice; in theory it repudiates it.
The Labour movement has for many years been strenuously engaged endevouring to effect reforms in the system. Let us see what progress has been made in this direction. Broadly speaking, as a result of its activities it has drawn forth an admission from a few Churchmen, a number of politicians on the look-out for Labour votes, and a few liberal-minded employers that a working man ought to receive sufficient wages to keep himself and his family in decent comfort. What a smug nice sound it has! Decent comfort for the producer of wealth; lurking for the non-producer and spender. Decent comfort for the working man’s wife means a couple of rooms, often in a tenement, where she must cook, wash, scrub and rub, without a range or hot water supply or any modern convenience whatsoever; a mansion and staff servants for the boss’s wife.
The working man’s wife must needs do her marketing with two or three small children clinging to her skirts, often with a baby in her arms; the boss’s wife can either her stores by telephone or roll along to the shop in her automobile, while her children are taken care of by trained nurses and attendants. What does the working man’s wife think of the contrast? Will she agree with the boss’s standard of decent comfort for a working man and his family?
How long more is the working class of the world going to accept the standard of life laid down for them by the employing class? When and where and at what time will the masses set up THEIR standard of civilised life? When will they cease talking about the cost of living and assert their divine right to all the good and beautiful things of the earth? Will they rouse themselves and examine the position they are faced with and realise that any reduction in the present rate of wages disposes of the “decent comfort” stunt and will mean nothing short of starvation for the masses?
Let us glance at the position of the workers to-day. They till the land and produce corn, beef, mutton, milk, vegetables and all the necessities of life. What portion of these does the working man own? Are they not locked away in big stores and carefully guarded by the law or in the name of the law. Soldiers and policemen are even paid to guard them lest anyone should try to establish their claim to a portion of them. Men tan leather and make it into boots, yet their children often times are bare-foot.
Men and women spin wool and fine linen and beautiful silks, yet they are themselves clad in mean rags. Men build houses and stately mansions for the rich; the builders live in slums. Does this state of affairs reflect credit to the intelligence of the working class? That the workers of Ireland (with the exception of a small area) are intelligent has been proved more than once. It only needs to be directed.
Heretofore we were a bit too prone to allow our thinking to be done for us, to permit the Press, the pulpit and the platform to colour our views and turn our minds and our attention from our own interests.
Many workers were deceived by the outcry against profiteers, which far from it being inspired with altruistic motives were only true to their cult in playing the capitalists’ game in preparing the minds of people for the contemplated wage reductions.
Their hypocritical and newly discovered anxiety about the price of food of the poor is just a bit too thin for those of us who remember the villainous propaganda of the self-same Press against the self-same poor in the lockout, 1912-1913. If they desire to give us at least one proof of the fall in the cost of living they can reduce the price of their news sheets and its advertising rates, both of which are 150 per cent. over pre-war prices. “An ounce of example is worth a ton of precept.” So much for the Press anti-profiteer screech.
We have thousands of men and women unemployed to-day in Ireland. It runs into the millions in England, Wales and Scotland. Factories are closed down and works are idle. There are no purchasers at home because of export trade abroad. Yet millions of people in Russia are dying of famine – dying by the wayside from privation and want and hunger and cold – the direct result of the savage cruelty of the blockade of Russia and that Devil’s Decree, the Versailles Treaty. It is a bitter reflection that these modern Neros, the Big Four, were speaking and acting in the name of millions of working men and women who elected them to power and who are committed to their policy. The American, French, Scottish, and British members of Parliament elected by labour are no less culpable than the French Tiger and the Welsh Wizard. Thank Heaven the Irish working class are at least spared this shame.
Written by Cissie Cahalan and first published in The Distributive Worker, the Official Organ of the Irish Union of Distributive Workers & Clerks in December 1921.