The Irish Trotskyists on trade union unity in the 1940's

Submitted by AWL on 25 October, 2014 - 5:27

Below is a leaflet produced by the Revolutionary Socialist Party, which was then the (small) Irish section of the Fourth International, some time soon after the splitting of the Irish trade union movement (Irish TUC) in 1945 by Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union leader William O’Brien and his allies.

Protesting against alleged “British domination” in the Irish TUC, they formed a separate Congress of Irish Unions, made up solely of Irish-based unions, and rejecting unions which organised both in Britain and in Ireland. The split would be healed in 1959, with the formation of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

There had previously (1944) been a split in the trade union-based Irish Labour Party, to form the National Labour Party, of which O’Brien was also a leader. The NLP complained of “communist domination” in the main Labour Party. In 1950, it merged back into the Labour Party.


TUC Betrayed! The present impasse in the TUC is not essentially a recent development, as the O’Brienite oppositionists try to infer. To the uninitiated, much less the sycophants in the anti-split bloc, the strategy was obvious through episodic tactics of O’Brien & Co. for at least six years.

There is an old saying that we are always wiser after an event, that [it] is quite easy to adumbrate a tendency, when it has manifested itself. The corollary doesn’t hold in this instance. To the people in the know, the launching of the Council of Irish Unions as a national faction inside the TUC as far back as 1939 (the year the Vocational Commission convened) should have been stigmatised as a reactionary tendency. The Council was inspired by O’Brien & Co. to allegedly fulfill the aspirations of purely Irish Unions. This platitude is absurd when we recollect that the TUC at that period was controlled by O’Brien & Co. and his philosophic “Yes-men”.

The creation of the Council of Irish Unions inside of a body that was representative of the aspirations of the workers of the 32 Counties, regardless of the National origin of their organisations, was superfluous to say the least. The outbreak of the Imperialist War presented O’Brien & Co. with the precondition for the atomisation of the Trade Union Movement. The anomalous situation in the TUC, as representative of 32 Counties, six of whom were belligerents, and as such were rather embarrassing to the ruling-clique in the 26 Counties who were formally neutral, was very opportunistically exploited by O’Brien & Co. as the pivot around which the split tendency revolved. O’Brien & Co. bearing out the contention of complete subserviency to the Capitalist class, emphasised that the Stormont junta failed to give its blessing to the Irish TUC, thus proposing to sacrifice the thousand of organised workers in the 6 Counties, as a sacrificial gift, for the greater prerogative of the incontestable hegemony of the TUC, when the 6 County membership was denied the Amalgamated Unions operating in Ireland.

The far-seeing Irish bourgeoisie, as the bourgeoisie of all lands, visualise the sharpening class conflicts proceeding from Capitalism in its epoch of decay, are preparing for the inevitable social explosions that will characterise the immediate period ahead. An Irish working-class in National isolation, its organisations controlled by autocratic ruling class agents of the O’Brien & Co. gender, would be completely defenceless in the face of the inevitable assaults that they intend to launch. Mr Lemass’s characterisation in recent speeches, of this post-war policy, i.e., “Trade Union Co-operation in Industry.’ ‘Work Harder,’ etc., in actuality means “Open Shops”, “Non Recognition of Trade Union Rights”, “Wage Slashing”,’ etc., presages the post-war catastrophic period of Bourgeois Democracy.

Once again the “Labour Lieutenants” of the Capitalist class, have performed for their bourgeois task-masters the evergreen tragedy of betrayal, on the working-class stage.

Bearing out the prognosis of all militant and far-seeing workers, O’Brien & Co., after decades of preparation and manoeuvre, have finally consummated the filthy and perfidious strategy of atomisation in the Irish Working-Class Movement.

Illusions have been entertained by large masses of organised workers, that the present break-up of the TUC proceeded in the first instance from personal animosity, i.e. the Labour Bosses cannot agree amongst themselves; disunity due to egotism, etc. Fundamentally, it is not a question of personal dislikes, although personal issues due enter at specific stages. On the whole, the disintegration of the TUC is more profound, more reactionary, than a clique fight among the Bureaucracy. It is precisely the question of the total disintegration of the Trade Unions and their complete subserviency and integration to the Capitalist State machine.

The Trade Unions, in their embryonic stage in this country as elsewhere, had to wage an irreconcilable struggle against the Bosses and Capitalist ruling-class of that period.

As a consequence of this intransigent and independent struggle against all the ideological opponents of the working-class, large masses of the exploited flocked to the Unions. Purely on the basis of a militant fighting leadership did the ranks of the Unions swell. The dominant Unit was the ITGWU, as the organisational position crystallised, as with all other Unions a new social grouping, as a result of their divorcement from the organised Rank and File, their dread of Democracy as a challenge to their fat salaries and lucrative perquisites, became a fetter on the forces they misrepresented. Too spineless to wage an independent fight against the Bosses, they crawled to the State power (whom they consider as an impartial agent) to seek the protection of the State against the workers they were battening on, and, on the other hand, their eventual liquidation by the Bosses.

This integration and shackling of the Trade Unions to the Capitalist State apparatus, demagogically called legalisation by the Bureaucrats, prostrated the Working-Class before the Governmental and Employers’ assaults, culminating in the Trade Union Act and Standstill on Wages.

The Bureaucrats sold out after a sham battle, when pious resolutions affirming their independence as social organisms were moved and passed at numerous meetings; the sycophants who peddled these pious fighting resolutions were the first to register their organisation and toe the Government line.

In line with the general pattern of the polarisation of the English Unions, the decimation of the Working Class political solidarity, we have initially the Vocational Commissions’ report laying down the incompatibility of International Trade Unionism and Vocationalism.

Secondly, we have the inspired breakaway from the Labour Party of the National Labour Party. Now we have its industrial counterpart, the Council of Irish Unions, all serving to redirect the leftward swinging workers into the Fianna Fáil camp.

Workers, you must draw the lessons from this new position in your movement.

This betrayal by the misleaders of the Working Class is no moralistic phenomenon, no National peculiarity; it is characteristic of Trade Union degeneration, the capitulation of the Bureaucrats and the Labour Aristocracy to the class enemy.

At this stage it is O’Brien & Co., when they have fulfilled their role as “Gauleiters” of the Capitalist class, they will be ignominiously cast aside and possibly the O’Brienite oppositionists will play a similar role, assuming that the historical and objective circumstances coincide. They also will be flung into the ash can of history when their period of usefulness has passed.

Make no mistake, the Bureaucrats of the TUC, when the Government puts on the “screws”, will sell out. They have forgotten how to fight, they cannot rally the workers, because the workers are disgusted with the whole Trade Union set-up. They have no time for the O’Briens, the Larkins, Lynch’s, Colgans and Dromgooles, the sell-out policy, the Bureaucratic indifference; the whole unprincipled mess nauseates them. Make no mistake, the present sabotage of the TUC is a definite policy to render impotent the Working Class in the period of disintegrating Capitalism.

When the rest of the world is surging towards Socialism, when Socialism is on the order of the day, the period of reaction and barbaric Fascism will be in its advent in Ireland!

For a democratically elected Irish executive for all English unions, still retaining international affiliations!

Greater democracy in all unions! Down with bureaucracy! The organisation of shop stewards and factory committees to canalise the militancy of the rank and file!

For complete independence of the trade unions from the capitalist state apparatus!

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