This article, which was published in the Workers' Republic in September in 1915 demonstrates Connolly's ideas around the treatment of working women in Ireland. Specifically the way that women were exploited by capitalism. 97 years later these ideas have lost none of their power and clarity.
This is the slogan, the war cry of all the press to-day. Protect your women! To that rallying cry many thousands of this nation have responded; with their blood set on fire by the lying hysterics of a lying press thousands of young men, and men not too young, have left home and kindred and marched forth to foreign lands to battle under a flag they have detested all their lives; marched forth to battle in the belief that their battling was in some mysterious way serving their women.
And whilst they battled and shed their blood abroad what was happening to their women? In the latest exploit of Dublin Capitalism we have the answer. There is in Dublin a firm known as Williams and Woods, manufacturers of preserves, pickles, sauce and confectionery. This firm employs a large number of girls and women.
Their industry is scheduled under the Trade Boards Act as a Sweated Industry. Under the provisions of this Act there is established what is known as a Minimum Wage Board, which has the power to fix the minimum rate of wages in any industry scheduled under the Board. Upon this Board there are representatives of the Employers, of the Workpeople and of the Board of Trade. It is therefore not a wildly democratic or revolutionary body. And it is well known that before fixing wages this Board takes into account the present state of prices, and makes allowance for a ‘reasonable’ profit. In fact every care is taken of the interest of the employer.
The industry of Messrs Williams and Woods came under the notice of this Board. A meeting was held at which the employers were represented, and at which the workers were misrepresented by a creature of the employers, and at this meeting the wages of women and girls in the employment were fixed at –
10/10 for Female Workers of 18 years and upwards, and 22/9 for Male Workers of 22 years and upwards. For younger workers the rates begin for Girls at 5/- per week, and for Boys at 6/-, proceeding by yearly increases to the amount stated for workers at 18 years.
These wages you will say are small enough in all conscience. They are! But small as they are Messrs Williams and Woods refuse to pay them. And in order to evade the law and to continue sweating their women workers, despite the law, this firm of loyal, God-fearing, Christian philanthropists have
Served Notice of Dismissal upon 150 Women and Girls over 18 years of age, and are making ready to take in a number of young persons to fill the places of the people they are discharging. Some of these women under notice have served the firm loyally for ten and fifteen years, and even longer, and now this firm, with less bowels of compassion than a tiger in a jungle, is preparing to cast them out to starve. What an evil name Dublin is getting because of its greedy, soulless, unscrupulous employers! Philanthropists, every one of them. Kind, charitable beings, who contribute to charity freely, giving away to charitable societies with one hand as much as a farthing in the pound out of the money they have stolen from the workers with the other.
Oh, let us march out to battle, and fight and die in Flanders or the Dardanelles in order that we may protect our women! And whilst we are fighting and dying abroad our women will be sweated, rackrented, dismissed in hundreds and turned out to starve by kind, loyalist firms like Messrs Williams and Woods.
Protect our women! Protect them at home! Protect them from dismissal, from hunger, from oppression. We call upon all our readers to warn their women and girls against entering the employment of this firm unless these notices are withdrawn. Down with Sweating.
PROTECT YOUR WOMEN!
[You can also read this article in the James Connolly Internet Archive, originally published in the Workers’ Republic, 11 September 1915]