The Slackers II
Workers’ Republic, 11 March 1916.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Simultaneously with this invasion by British shirkers we have witnessed a concerted and sustained effort on the part of the Labour Exchanges, and also on the part of firms in England under Government control, to entice able-bodied Irishmen out of Ireland to work in England. Advertisements are appearing in the daily press calling for the services of Irishmen to work in England, some even particularising Dublin men as being the kind of men they want. Thus we find that young able-bodied Irishmen are being seduced out of Ireland after being denied work on the grounds that they were fit for military service, and even whilst they leave Ireland in despair the country is filling up with cowardly runaways from England for whom these same employers are gladly finding employment at the jobs they refused to give Irishmen.
We are aware some captious critics will say that it is a new position for the Editor of the Workers’ Republic to take to calling men cowardly runaways because they are trying to evade conscription. Whoever does so misses the whole point of our complaint. We are against conscription until we have something worth defending. The British workers, no more than the Irish, have not any stake in ‘their’ Empire worth risking their lives to defend. That we freely grant.
But that being the case the duty of English workers is to stay at home and fight conscription, not to run away from that fight. We here in Ireland have been exempted from conscription for the present because, and only because, the best fighting material in the country have got arms in their hands and would have resisted conscription to the last drop of their blood. We have always admitted that we cannot remain at peace if the British Government wants us to fight. That Government can force us to fight whether we like or not. But neither that Government, nor any other Government, can decide for us the place where we are going to fight, if fight we must. And the best men in Ireland, the only men whom the Ireland of the future will care to remember, have decided long ago that if they must fight they will fight in Ireland, for Ireland, and under Ireland’s flag. 
The knowledge of these facts has temporarily saved Ireland from conscription. There are in England and Scotland thousands of young men eligible for military service who have banded themselves together to resist conscription. All honour to them! These men are upholding the sanctity of the individual soul against the tyranny of empires. As rebels ourselves we cannot refuse them our admiration. But what shall we say of the thousands of young, able-bodied English, Scots, and Welsh, now settling down upon Ireland – recreants, runaways, traitors to both sides, who will neither fight under conscription, nor fight against it! Loyalists to a man, jingoes and ‘Rule Britannia’ shouters every last one of them, they form the bulk of the audience at all West British functions, and spore the colours of the British Army on their persons as they parade our streets. But they are here to take our jobs, to take the bread out of the mouths of Irishmen whilst using those same Irishmen to go and fight for the Empire. Surely such unmitigated curs are typical products of Empire – of an Empire that has accustomed itself to the practice of hiring slaves to fight freemen.
We wonder what is thought of these slackers and recreants by those Irish men and women whose relatives are at present risking their lives in the British Army, or have already lost life or limb in the British service. What a picture! Irish soldiers fighting for England; English slackers staying at home to grab the jobs of Irish soldiers. And Irish employers driving out Irishmen of military age to serve the Empire, and giving their jobs to Englishmen and Scotsmen who refuse to risk their precious skins for the Empire.
No work in Ireland for Irishmen, lots of work in Ireland for Brit-Huns – every ship that goes to England carrying away Irish men to jobs in England; every ship that comes to Ireland carrying over Brit-Huns to jobs in Ireland.
Was ever a nation so beset?
And John E. Redmond’s appeal for recruits to fight for this British Empire which these Britishers refuse to fight for is pasted on every hoarding and dead wall in the country.
If the devil is not immortal he must surely die of laughing at the work of his agents in Ireland.
1. Writing to decline an invitation to speak at a Glasgow anti-conscription meeting from Arthur McManus, Connolly, November 23, 1915, used almost the same words. (See Socialist, Edinburgh, April 17, 1919. James Connolly, Socialist and Revolutionary, A. McManus.)
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Last updated on 15.8.2003