From The United Irishman, 18 March, 1848.
This is a very different matter from the “combination of classes.” Combination of classes means patient acquiescence, even unto death, in all the “laws” which the better classes, through their Parliament, make for their own benefit, – a careful avoidance of the assertion of any right which the said better classes disallow (that is, poor men’s rights) – an assiduous courting and flattering of the said better classes, that they may leave off being robbers, and begin to be patriots, – and a vociferous cheering and bellowing with joy when any earl, viscount, or baron, condescends to attend a popular meeting, and declares himself an advocate for justice to Ireland. This is “combination of classes.”
But the combinations we want are associations of working men to protect their own lives and their own property, that is, their industry, the most precious and sacred property on earth, against better classes, and the “laws” made by them.
There are, to be sure, laws not only to take away all protection from the poor, but to punish the poor, if they combine to protect themselves. Well, such combinations are only the more needful, just as arms are most needed in those proclaimed districts of Ireland where Lord Clarendon has ordered them to be surrendered. The object of government in both cases is the same – to enable the better classes to rob.
France, which is now in the van of all the earth, has abolished the better-class laws against industry for ever; – in that glorious land the tyranny of Capital is struck down, and combination for the protection of Labour is now the law.
To understand how great a deed these workmen of France have done, we must remember that the great mission of modern, economic, or commercial “civilization,” is to turn out the greatest possible quantity of goods and produce at the cheapest possible price, for exchange and commerce – and for this purpose, to take the very most out of the bones and marrow of those who work. The “law” provides – that employers may combine, but artizans may not; and if the latter refuse the wretched pittance offered to them, and stand out for higher wages, then, in the words of Louis Blanc, “cupidity that waits its time has an easy victory over hunger that cannot wait.” The more highly this kind of civilization is developed, capitalists grow the richer, and the better able to wait their time – workmen the poorer, and the less able to make terms, until, at length, in these highly-civilized islands, Labour is well-nigh completely subdued under the hoofs of its tyrants. The maximum of toil at the minimum of renumeration is the fixed destiny of the poor, and if they dare so much as to remonstrate, the bayonets of the better classes are at their throats.
Even the old system of Guilds, or associations of master tradesmen and operatives together, which, by their regulations and bye-laws – fixing the hours of work and rates of wages, and limiting the employment of children – established something like mutual rights and duties between the chiefs of industry and their workmen; – even these are superseded by the system of employing vast capitals in great factories, where the sole nexus between man and man comes to be “cash payment,” where the giant mill-owner finds himself absolute lord of the lives and toiling sinews of hundreds and thousands of drudges, simply because he knows that a strike would desolate a countryside, and he, who can wait his time, must conquer hunger that cannot wait.
This is not merely the practice, but also the creed and gospel of modern society. Its chief preacher in Ireland is a certain old English gentleman with a fire-shovel hat, who consumes an Irish revenue of ten thousand a year under pretence of being Archbishop of Dublin. To this shovel-hatted old gentleman is chiefly committed the preparation of school-books for our National Schools; and there is nothing he inculcates with so much care (next to the folly and vice of nationality) as this very gospel of Mammon. He has written lessons in what he calls “Political Economy,” which will be found in the Fourth Book of Lessons used in the schools, and wherein he shows clearly that the poor ought to be “content,” whether they get work or no work, wages or no wages; that interference by law in their favour would only make matters worse; that high rents and taxes do not make bread dearer; and, especially, that fair competition, and no combination, – every man submitting to take what he can get, – is the true way to make the labouring classes rich and happy.
“The best way,” says this shovel-hatted man, “is to leave all labourers and employers, as well as all other sellers and buyers, free to ask and to offer what they think fit; and to make their own bargain together if they can agree, or to break it off if they cannot.” If this “best way” were used in all cases, and there were no combination among the better classes, does he think he would get ten thousand a year?
There is a popular prejudice that manufactures in Ireland have been destroyed by laws passed in the English Parliament for that purpose; but this shovel-hatted Englishman knows better. He says— “In Ireland Combinations have driven away most of the manufactures and commerce.” – (Easy Lessons on Money Matters.)
But the most impudent “easy lesson” this old gentleman has put forward is in his argument against strikes. He merely urges on workmen that they and all their class are so utterly subdued, worn down, and impoverished by the Lords of Capital, that no combinations they can form will avail them in the least; – that Capital is, and must be, the omnipotent ruler and disposer, and that they are like grass or flowers of the field in his hand. Thus the Bishop celebrates the glory and power of his obscene idol—
“Sometimes all the workmen of a great number of masters are ordered to turn out at once (viz., by a Trades’ Union); their families are then supported out of the funds which the committee have laid up for that purpose. They receive an allowance just sufficient to support them on the poorest food. But even this is diminished if the strike last several weeks, and they are forced to part with their bedding and furniture, and even their clothing.
…At last, when the funds of the Union are no longer sufficient to pay its committee, and it has become clear that the masters will not yield, the committee permit their slaves to give up their demands and return to their work; as many of them, that is, as have survived the diseases produced by bad food, by crowding in close rooms, by discomfort and hardship of various kinds, and by distress of mind and despondency.”
In other words, this heathen Bishop says to Hunger, “Cupidity can wait his time – you cannot wait! yield, slave, or perish!”
Now, we have quoted the “easy lessons” of Dr. WHATELY, with a special view to point these matters out to all national-school teachers, so that when their pupils are engaged upon these lessons, the teachers may explain to them that such doctrines are unchristian and inhuman; that they were put into those books by a shovel-hatted old minister of Mammon, who devours ten thousand a year, not because he has earned it, but because of a combination between the Government and better classes to rob the people; and that if the principle of “fair competition” were applied in his case, the work of the archdiocese of Dublin might be done for seventy-five pounds a year.
Let no teacher omit this comment upon Dr. WHATELY’s “easy lessons” – and it would be well to add that in France Labour now gives law to capital, and Hunger bridles cupidity; and the decree has gone forth that men, Frenchmen, and citizens of a free republic, shall not be permitted to labour like beasts, and for less than the reward of beasts, and must not dare to be “content” with such a beastly destiny.
Another conspicuous apostle of Mammon’s gospel in Ireland was DANIEL O’CONNELL, surnamed “Liberator.” All must remember the vigorous stand he made against combinations and trades’ unions; how he denounced them as contrary to the laws, not only of the English, but of GOD Almighty; and how he was praised by all the newspapers of the better classes, for the good service he had done in that matter. Much as they differed from him, they said, in political sentiment, they could not refuse him their approbation, for crushing those lawless wretches who combined against their masters. And well they might praise him; many a “capitalist” has since then swelled his investments in bank or railway out of the flesh and blood of the poor – many an artizan since then has seen his children sit down to a scantier meal, on account of the “Liberator’s” noble stand!
Meantime, in France, where the light of true civilization has at length dawned, Louis Blanc and Albert Ouvrier are taking evidence on the grievances of the several trades, and making various temporary regulations, fixing wages and hours of work. The approaching National Assembly, we may be sure, will continue this commission, and extend its powers, inasmuch as there will, probably, be a large proportion of workmen returned as members. Trades Unions now govern France.
This is the kind of legislation – and we hope national-school teachers will impress the lesson on their pupils – that we may expect to see in Ireland, when she is a free Republic “on the most democratic basis,” – one and indivisible – and not till then.