Archive for January 2013

Why we will mark the 100th anniversary of the Lockout

January 11, 2013

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100 years ago, the heroic workers of Dublin were engaged in an industrial dispute whose origins lay in the gross inequality and poverty under which they and their families lived. Sadly, many of their concerns still exist today. There are still hungry children in Ireland, poverty is still an issue for many families, there are still slum landlords, some employers still fail to recognise our unions, poor political leadership is prevalent. Our economic welfare still lies under the control of a wealthy minority, both native and foreign.

In 2013, the struggle for equality continues

The Spirit of 1913 committee intend to commemorate the Lockout through a series of discussions, events and articles which will highlight the ongoing failure to address the concerns and aspirations of the Working Class in Ireland today, while attempting to offer positive alternatives which may lead to greater equality in the future.

We will be supporting commemorative events organised by others, our activities will be one more contribution. In particular, we want to shine a light on the combative trade unionism which was responsible for so much of what we take for granted today; such as the five day week, paid holidays and equal pay for women.

Your thoughts and views on these issues are welcome.

Photographs from 1913

January 10, 2013
Larkin speaking from Liberty Hall

Larkin speaking from Liberty Hall

Scab coal being delivered with police escort

Scab coal being delivered with police escort

Mounted police

Mounted police

Baton charge in O'Connell Street

Baton charge in O’Connell Street

Funeral of James Nolan

Funeral of James Nolan

Funeral of James Byrne

Funeral of James Byrne

Jim Larkin, James Connolly, Big Bill Haywood of the Industrial Workers of the World, and Mrs. Bamber of the Liverpool Trades Council

Jim Larkin, James Connolly, Big Bill Haywood of the Industrial Workers of the World, and Mrs. Bamber of the Liverpool Trades Council

James Larkin (left)

Jim Larkin (left)

The collapse of tenement housing in Church Street, 1913

The collapse of tenement housing in Church Street, 1913

The Hare, a food ship sent by British unions, arrives in Dublin

The Hare, a food ship sent by British unions, arrives in Dublin

Larkin watching a food ship being unloaded

Larkin watching a food ship being unloaded

Plaque

Lockout, part 1: Unfinished Business

January 9, 2013

1913cover

In 1993 a number of trade unionists and socialists came together to organise commemorations of the 1913 Lockout in Dublin.  With financial help from printers’, musicians’ and motor trade unions they published this pamphlet. 

*For a facsimile of this pamphlet click here

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Foreword


by Brendan Archbold (IDATU)

The notorious combinations legislation of eighteenth century Britain which culminated in the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800, rendered trade unions illegal while at the same time branding them as criminal conspiracies. In 1824 the combination laws were repealed following tireless work by the reformer Francis Place and by member of Parliament Joseph Hume who successfully smuggled the necessary legislation through the House of Commons. Despite the introduction of new but more lenient combination laws within a year, it was becoming clear that unions were not about to go away.

By 1867 Parliament had conceded the vote to the vast majority of Britain’s male workers. It was only a matter of time before legislation with some semblance of even-handedness was introduced. The Trade Union Act of 1871 (otherwise known as the Charter of Trade Unionism) and the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875 represented Parliament’s attempts to legalise trade unions.

The Judges, however had other ideas. In 1901 two particular cases, Quinn V Leatham (involving the North of Ireland Operative Butchers Society) and the landmark Taff Vale judgement, demonstrated quite clearly that the politicians would have to produce watertight legislation before their lordships would bow to the ‘anarchy’ of organised labour. In the words of Justice Lindley in 1899, ‘you cannot make a strike effective without doing more than is lawful’.

A Royal Commission was established in 1903 by the Tory Government of the day. Three years later the Trade Disputes Act was introduced on 20th December, 1906 by the Liberal Government elected in January of that year. This Act was to stand for 84 years as the legal basis for the bulk of industrial action engaged in by Irish workers up to and after the establishment of the Irish Free State.

Armed at last with real protection from legal persecution, the trade unions could now concentrate on the struggle for better working conditions instead of concerning themselves with judicial ambush from the bench. Such was the protection offered by the 1906 Act, that it prompted the Inspector General of the R. I.C. in Dublin Castle, Mr. E. Chamberlain, to refer to it in a report on ‘The Recent Indiscipline of Certain Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary in Bel fast’ Chamberlain attempted to explain away the behaviour of his men by referring to

“their being in daily contact with all the devices, either by way of speeches or the so-called ‘peaceful picketting’ which are immune under our present laws”.

The significance of the Trade Disputes Act in Ireland can be gauged from Jim Larkin’s distribution of copies of the legislation to striking dockers in Belfast during the docks dispute of 1907. To the delight of the striking dockers and the bewilderment of the military and police, Larkin was able to insist on the right of ‘peaceful picketting’.

Employers were predictably uneasy. By 1913 the employers league in Dublin had decided that enough was enough. The Irish Transport and General Workers Union, Larkin, Connolly and all that they stood for would have to be crushed. The battle would not be fought on issues such as wages or working conditions, nor would it be fought on the issue of the right to belong to a trade union. The issue which was to cost James Nolan, a young Dublin worker, his life, would be the ‘kind’ of Trade Union a worker could join. Of course workers could join unions but not ‘Larkin’s Union’

The challenge to the ITGWU was met by Dublin’s organised workers and the rest is history.

Today however, while the challenge is still there, it takes a much more subtle approach. From employers we get what is commonly known as ‘Human Resource Management’ . Its not about ‘us’ and ‘them’ , we’re all in this together and we must learn to get along without involving outsiders, otherwise known as trade unions.

From the trade union leadership we get the Programme for National Recovery (PNR) and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress (PESP). Need we say more And finally, from Government we get the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. A piece of legislation which is designed to curtail the activities of trade unionists and to bring about what government and employers constantly refer to as `good industrial relations.

For those of you who, like this writer, see good industrial relations’ as no unemployment, a living wage for all and a peaceful and just society, let me disabuse you of any naive notion you might have that the Minister for Labour who introduced the Industrial Relations Act, 1990,

Bertie Ahern, might share that view. A good industrial climate from where the Minister sits is one in which there are no strikes, no pickets, no occupations or otherwise ‘bolshy’ behaviour from workers who should consider themselves lucky to have jobs in the first place, and the Industrial Relations Act is designed to bring that about.

So the struggle continues. We must fight today, just as energetically as they did in 1913 for the right to join a union and to have that union recognised as the legitimate voice of the workers in question. The significance of the ‘Pat the Baker’ strike will not be lost on those trade unionists who are familiar with the principle involved. So lets be brave in the struggle. After all, we have the trade union leadership on our side. Haven’t we ?

Lockout, part 2: Dublin Then and Now

January 8, 2013

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Dublin 1913 – 1993

_____________________________________________________________

by Des Derwin

The past is a foreign country, it has been said. Certainly most working-class people in Dublin, employed or unemployed, can thank their lucky stars that they live in 1993 and not 1913. Social conditions for masses of slum dwellers were then plausibly compared to those in Calcutta. The statistics are dire, but not dry, as presented in the accessible pages of “A Divided City” by the Curriculum Development Unit, or the works of James Connolly.1

Eighty rears later, still within the lifetime of a very few individuals for whom the period is a living memory, the physical city of Dublin is as different to-day as the average standard of living of its present proletariat compared to the mass misery of those who waged the heroic and desperate struggle that was the 1913 Lock-Out,

The city has been transformed by the unhappy destruction of its original integrity and much of its architectural inheritance, the happy destruction of its old slums, by the depopulation of the inner city and expansion to suburbs and far-flung housing estates where most working-class people now live. Dermot Bolger describes, in “Invisible Dublin”, travelling,

“from the heart of a crumbling city awash with folksy nostalgia and rotting buildings out into the new worlds, the colonies of children and cement tucked away in the distance.”2

Workers lives were transformed by industrial expansion and technological advance, by welfare provision, better housing, diet and healthcare, by education, consumer goods, contraception and more leisure time; in line with the enormous growth in the wealth and production of Western society, especially since the Second World War. Or, rather, a bit behind it, as Ireland joined in, especially since the early Sixties.

Tenement housing in 1913

Tenement housing in 1913

But the past is not really a foreign country. Because the improvement in the lives of those who produce the wealth is not just a matter of receiving a portion of that wealth. To a great extent the material advances “enjoyed” by workers to-day – where they are not still living like casual labourers in the Dublin of 1913 – were won by their’ own political and trade union struggles. Or by democratic and social movements, such as the woman’s movement, in which labour, at least intermittently, exerted its clout,

Those who dismiss trade unionism to-day, and particularly militant trade unionism, as a dinosaur, forget that to get us, out of the Jurassic Era of capitalism organised labour had to be forged in struggles like 1913. And that labour abandons that organisation at its peril.

For in a sense, the past, as any foreign country, can be revisited. Witness, wage cuts in Waterford crystal and Aer Lingus. Witness, the ‘Dirty Dozen’ cuts in social welfare, That what we have we can lose is known to even redundant Gateaux and Ranks worker as it is to every citizen of that other city with a famous event around 1913 – Sarajevo

Poverty may be relative, but it still hurts, sickens and kills. And poverty aplenty exists, and expands as the system which has flourished since the days of 1913 restructures or recedes. As acknowledged by the Combat Poverty Agency, “the main factor which contributed to the rise in child poverty in the, 1973 – 87 period was rising, unemployment, especially long-term unemployment.”3

With all the advances in living standards Ireland still fares relatively badly compared to most of Western Europe. In 1986 Irish living standards were 53% of the EC average, but by 1990 this had risen to 63%4. Blinking at that quantum leap? Other measurements are not so optimistic. A UN report for 1992 indicated that Ireland was the poorest nation in Western Europe, with the exception of Spain. Ireland had the second highest unemployment rate in the western industrial world and the rate of car ownership was approximately half that of the German figure.5

In 1991, 1.39 million people in this state relied on social welfare for all or part of their weekly income.6 Not all of these are ‘poor’, but many area. In 1987 nearly 23% of households with children fell below a 50% relative poverty line (less than half the average disposable household income). This compared to 12% of such households in 1973.7 A 1990 report places 19.5% of people below the 50% poverty line.8

Poverty may be relative, but what shocks most is cases of large-scale lack off basic needs or pockets of poverty intolerable by any standards, Then we think of 1913 as not so long ago and far away,

In July Dublin Corporation’s housing committee released an assessment of housing needs surveyed on the day of March 31st 1993. Households in need of accommodation rose from 4,377 in 1991 to 5,152 this year, a 20% increase. Homeless individuals sleeping rough or in hostels rose from 1,351 to 1,651, an 18% increase. A further 2,430 local authority tenants are living in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation.

Of the households on the housing waiting list, 2,856 have incomes below £4,000 per year. Of these, over 1,754 include children. Focus Point say the figures are inadequate and that their clients increased by 47% between 1991 and 1992. Their own 1991 survey suggested that up to 6,000 individuals were passing through the city’s hostels each year.9 Although there will be 500 new local authority housing starts in the city this year, the number of dwellings completed by Dublin Corporation in the whole country fell from 1,753 in 1983 to 6 in 1989.A further 59 were built up to mid-91 10

Also in July this year a Dublin Corporation report showed that more than 60% of its housing stock needs refurbishment and that more than 80% of local authority tenants in the city depend on social welfare.11 Behind this latter figure lies not, only the growth of unemployment but also the creation of ghettos of the unemployed. Cuts in local authority house building force anyone with a reasonable income into private housing.

The push to sell public housing to tenants again leads to those who can afford to buy up, eventually selling up and moving out. In 1984 a £5,000 grant was introduced for tenants wishing to surrender their dwelling to move and buy. Only the worst-off are left concentrated in particular Corporation estates and flat complexes, blighted of facilities and buying power, where all the social problems akin to poverty are piled together. Particular addresses on job applications send them to the waste paper basket and the zoning’ is hardened.

Just before the 70th anniversary of 1913, Willie Berminghams ALONE published an updated account of the living conditions of many old people in Dublin. The introduction (written for the original 1978 edition) begins,

“One of the most traumatic periods in Dublin social history was the great `lock-out’ of’ 1913. Whatever about the power struggle between employers and unions, it is now generally accepted that the crisis had its origins in the cruel conditions in the city’s tenements. Few people may be prepared to accept that living conditions as intolerable as these discovered sixty years ago are still being encountered in Dublin, with the distinction that instead of mass misery the victims have been found in chronic isolation.” 12  The introduction to the revised edition (1982) includes the following cases that had come to light since 1978:

“Mr. Brady’ was found dead by relatives who discovered him half naked in an iron bed in the sparse room of his Corporation-built house. On a bitterly cold morning, a brother-in law held a shaving mirror to Jack’s face – there was no breath of life.

The old widow ‘In the Basement’ on North Circular Road, froze to death on the floor of her rat-infested flat on New Year’s Day 1979. A blocked chimney had prevented her from lighting the fire and there was no other safe means of heating the damp basement. Her mentally retarded son was taken into care for a while at Mater Hospital, but he too died in the flat a year – almost to the day – after his mother perished’.

Eddie Kirwan, an old bachelor, died in the dark shell of his house in Phibsboro early in 1982. He had lived for many years without heat, cooking facilities, running water or a toilet. Electricity had never been installed in the two-storey dwelling, that stood like a haunted house less than a mile from O’Connell Street.

Still a few days or dinners this side of death, an elderly man was found living in a plastic dustbin at the public toilets in Drumcondra, a short distance from the gates of the Archbishop’s Palaces.

Another old man was discovered sleeping in the outside basement of a deserted house in North Great Georges Street, with the daily vista of a Georgian street whose facades and ceilings were being restored with great public admiration. This modern-day Rashers Tierney bought small groceries from a local store. The shopkeeper frequently noticed rat bites around his face. If still alive, his present whereabouts are unknown.” 13

The furore around these scandals, and, of course, the activities of ALONE itself, have since led to improvements in these conditions. Yet, ten years later, they are not entirely at an end for the aged poor. Or the homeless. Last Winter a redundant army barracks was hastily opened to the homeless after some untimely deaths among their number in the city. Infant mortality rates show the dramatic advances since the days of the Lock-Out.

In 1911 about 20% of all deaths in the city occurred among those less. than a year old, nearly all of these among the poorest classes.14 In 1988 only 1.3% of all deaths in the Dublin County Borough were infant deaths.15

Overall, mortality (all ages) for the Dublin Region appear lower than the rest of the country. Areas with above average mortality were located, according. to a study of 1986-87′ figures, mainly in the inner city and the suburbs to the west and north. Clusters occurred in the Ballybough-Drumcondra-East Wall area and in the Coolock-Priorswood area. On the south side the area between Dolphins Barn and the Liffey and Crumlin showed figures above the mean.16 At birth Irish women have the lowest life expectancy in the EC with males ranked fourth lowest.17

Traveller housing in 1988

Traveller housing in 1988

In 1986 22% of all Irish Travellers lived in Dublin. A 1987 healthstudy (for the whole country, although Dublin figures are not thought to be very different) showed a life expectancy for male Travellers of 10 years less than settled males, and for female Travellers of 12 years less than settled women. The Traveller infant mortality rate was 18.9(per thousand) compared to 7.4 for Ireland as a whole. 18

In 1992 Dublin. had 29% of Ireland’s population and 32% of its unemployment. A 1991 study showed that, among married men, urban and unemployed manual workers were almost ten times more likely to show symptoms. above the psychiatric case threshold than rural non-manual workers who were at work.19 A family of two adults and two children, with an unemployed head of the household spends 25% less on food than an equivalent family living on the average industrial wage.20

The following is quoted from ‘Dublin 1992 – a healthy city?’

“The Dublin sub-region recorded a net decline in industrial employment of 32.2% between 1971 and 1989. In 1971, the sub-region contained 37.3% of’ the national industrial employment by 1989 this figure had declined to 27%”. 21

Although Dublin dominated employment in the services sector’ in previous years, the growth rate since 1971 has fallen behind that of the rest of the Republic. During the period 1981 – 1989, it recorded a net gain of only 9,000 jobs in this sector.

Manufacturing growth has been regarded as a critical element in the expansion of our industrial base over the last few decades but the Dublin area has likewise performed poorly in this respect. It showed a significantly lower rate of growth in the number of manufacturing firms than other parts of the State over the period 1973-1989 (Dublin 33.4%, national 79.2%). Dublin’s share of the national total of manufacturing firms thus declined from 30.9% to 25% during this period. The net loss in employment in Irish owned firms during, the 1970s was 3,800. During the same period foreign-owned firms increases their employment in Dublin by only 230. This was in sharp contrast to what was happening in other areas.

By 1989, there were almost 25,000 fewer jobs in the manufacturing industry than in 1980. The vast majority of these losses were suffered by Irish-owned firms. During 199O there were overall net gains of 500 manufacturing jobs in Dublin, but whether or not this indicates a reversal of the previous decline remains to be seen.”

Perhaps the EC billions will make a difference. Perhaps.

In this year of 1993, the eightieth anniversary of the Lock-Out there are rich pickings for fans of the ironic. With 1913 in mind the following may produce a wry smile: the musical ‘Les Miserables’ opens in Dublin, offering, up poverty and revolt as light entertainment; Guinness, the traditional model employer of Dublin, announces plans to cut its workforce by over half; a major scandal in Dublin County Council, in relation to excessive land rezoning, effecting, the environment of Dubliners in the city and the new ‘towns’ around it, is exposed in `The Irish Times’; two dozen’ workers at Pat the Baker in Dublin engage in a bitter protracted strike hampered by new restrictive labour law and physically attacked by scabs for recognition of their union, SIPTU, the successor to Larkin’s ITGWU; the lowest number of strike days lost since 1989 (itself the lowest year on record) is announced in July; the biennial conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions accepts a consultant’s report that the unions should adopt a new approach to the new management techniques; the influential left-leaning columnist of the ‘Irish Times’, Fintan O’Toole, declares on 28th July that class war for the workers is over and that industrial and social partnership is the way forward for intelligent Irish trade unionists.

1. 1913: A Divided City’, Curriculum Development Unit, 1978.

2. ‘Invisible Dublin’ Ed. Dermot Bolger, Raven Arts, Dublin, 1991.

3. Combat Poverty Agency. Budget Submission, 1993.

4. OECD figures,based on changes in price figures. Quoted ‘Dublin 1992 – a healthy city?’, Dublin Healthy Cities Project with World Health Organisation.

5. UN Human Development Report. for 1992. Quoted in ‘Dublin 1992’.

6. Combat Poverty Agency. Budget Submission 1993.

7. Nolan and Farrell Report 1990.

8. Final report of EC 2nd Poverty Prog, 1990.

9. Irish Times, 24th July ’93.

10. Dublin Corporation Figures, quoted in ‘Dublin 1992’.

11. Draft Policy Statement on Housing Management, July 1993. (Irish Times, 30th July ’93.)

12. ‘ALONE again’, W. Berminham & L.O’Cuainaigh,. ALONE, Dublin, 1982, p.I8.

13. Ibib. ps. I3 & 14.

14. ‘1913: A Divided City’ p.54.

15. Vital Statistics, CSO, 1988.

16 ‘Mortality Patterns in Dublin’ Eastern Health Board (Johnson & Dack, 1989).

18. ‘Dublin 1992’

19. Barry et al. ‘The Travellers HeaIth Study, 1987.

20. Whelan et al. ESR1, 1991.

21 Murphy-Lawless, Combat Poverty Agency 1992. 22. Irish Times, Drudy and McXeon, 1991.

22. Paradoxically, it is projected. that Dublin will be Europe’s fasting growing city in terms of output growth in the 1990s. With a projected annual growth rate of 3.2% it is expected to come in second to Barcelona (at 3.4%) and ahead of 29 other European cities. (Cambridge Econometrics. Report on European regional prospects. Sun Tribune. 1st Aug 1993)

Lockout, part 3: The Irish Citizen Army

January 7, 2013

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The Irish Citizen Army

Labour clenches its fist!


by Cieran Perry

“An armed organisation of the Irish working class is a phenomenon in Ireland. Hitherto the workers of Ireland have fought as parts of the armies led by their masters, never as a member of any army officered, trained and inspired by men of their own class. Now, with arms in their hands, they propose to steer their own course, to carve their own future.”

(James Connolly, Workers’ Republic 30 October 1915)

One of the most notable aspects of researching this article was the lack of material to be found on the IRISH CITIZEN ARMY. An issue as important, and unique, as the formation of an armed militia of workers for their own protection against the State and scabs is something that one would expect to be well recorded and documented. The opposite is in fact true. Apart from “The History of The I.C.A.” by R.M. Fox, produced in 1943, there does not seem to be a documented history of the Irish Citizen Army.

There are a number of personal recollections from individuals who were members of the Citizen Army, including Sean O Casey’s overly opinionated version in “The Story of The I.C.A.” which he wrote in 1919. By definition, a personalised account is seen through the eyes of a particular individual and, while adding to our knowledge of the events, will naturally incorporate a persons prejudices/beliefs/interpretations.

Compared with the acres of print detailing the Republican history of 1916, the scarcity of an equivalent history of the Labour Movement’s contribution to the events leading to, during and after the Rising is all the more remarkable. Perhaps a neglected history of Labour militancy is more suitable to the conservative ethos of Irish society, especially in the light of the lack of militancy within the Labour Movement.

The Irish Citizen Army was born out of the struggle between the workers and the employers during the Great Lockout of 1913. According to William O’ Brien’s recollections in the book ‘Forth The Banners Go’, the name of the Citizens Army came from the Social Democratic Federation, who in the early 1880’s planned to form a Citizens Army to replace the States army.

Considering the strong working class character of the Irish Citizen Army, it is surprising that members of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy were involved in it’s formation. The diversity in the backgrounds of, on the one hand, Countess Constance Markievicz and Jack White and those of James Connolly and Jim Larkin, could not be more pronounced.

Jack White in his ICA uniform

Jack White in his ICA uniform

Jack White was the son of Field Marshal Sir George White V.C. who had won almost every honour possible in the British Army and was famous as the man who defended Ladysmith against the Boers. Coming from a military family with a Protestant ascendancy background it was strange that White should find himself organising the defence of the Dublin working class during the 1913 lockout.

Having fought against the Boers himself, White subsequently began to oppose militarism and left the army to travel around Europe. This travelling led to his increasing liberalism and on returning to Ireland he opposed Sir Edward Carson’s sectarian version of Protestantism along with the likes of Sir Roger Casement.

Countess Constance Markievicz was also of an Anglo-Irish ascendancy background. Her grandfather, Sir Robert Gore-Booth was an M.P. in the House of Commons in the mid 1800’s. As a landlord he was responsible for evicting some of his tenants so as to use their land for pasture, a situation commonplace in those days for the native Irish.

It is all the more remarkable that Markievicz, coming from such a comfortable existence, would, while in her forties, throw herself into the struggle of the Irish working class against their employers and the Irish people against their British rulers. During this period of her life she became the first woman M.P. in the British Parliament and also the first Minister for Labour in the first Dail Eireann.

In complete contrast, Jim Larkin’s background was that to be expected of most working class people of the time. Born of Irish parents in Liverpool in 1876, he began working at the age of nine. It was during this time that he began to read and listen to the socialists of the day. Having experienced the grinding poverty inflicted on the working class by capitalism, he joined the Independent Labour Party when he was only sixteen.

Four years after joining the National Union of Dock Labourers (N.U.D.L.) he became their National Organiser. In 1907 Larkin came to Ireland to organise his union. After organising the dock workers in Belfast in 1907 and Cork in 1909, Larkin clashed with the General Secretary of the N.U.D.L. over his confrontational methods and particularly the tactic of the sympathetic strike. After being sacked by the N.U.D.L. he formed the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (I.T.G.W.U.) on January 6th 1909. So began one of the most militant periods of Irish Labour history.

James Connolly, like Larkin, had experienced the extreme poverty that was the lot of most working class people. Born in Edinburgh in 1868 to Irish parents, Connolly began working at the age of eleven. At the age of fourteen, like many before him, lack of work drove him to join the British Army. Connolly choose the Kings Liverpool Regiment, then considered an Irish regiment.

His first visit to Ireland was in a British uniform and lasted seven years. Already a socialist at this time, his desertion from the army enabled him to begin his involvement with active socialism. In 1896 the Dublin Socialist Club offered him a job as a full time organiser on the strength of his writings in Justice, the journal of the Social Democratic Federation.

After arriving in Dublin he set up the Irish Socialist Republican Party (I.S.R.P.) but in 1903 he and his family were again on the move due to poverty, this time to the U.S.A., where he was to remain for seven years. By 1910 he was again back in Ireland, this time as an organiser for the Socialist Party of Ireland, which had been formed by William O’Brien a former member of the I.S.R.P. In 1911 Connolly became Belfast’s secretary of the I.T.G.W.U.. After Larkin’s arrest in August 1913 Connolly returned from Belfast to take over the organisation of the strike, and so into the industrial battleground that was Dublin of the time, came James Connolly.

THE SEEDS ARE SOWN

The idea of a strikers defence force had been mooted many times before the Irish Citizen Army was actually formed. Police brutality during previous strikes in Dublin, Cork and Wexford, had convinced some people of the absolute necessity of a defence force. Larkin himself had said during the 1908 Dublin Carters strike, that he would organise a “workers army”, to defend the strikers if the employers sent in the army, as they had done in Belfast in 1907.

The ICA drilling in the Phoenix Park

The ICA drilling in the Phoenix Park

P.T. Daly proposed the formation of a ‘Workers Police’, after a worker died as a result of a police baton charge during the 1911 Wexford strike for I.T.G.W.U. recognition. However this never materialised as the dispute was settled shortly afterwards. The offer from a military man like Jack White to organise and discipline a workers defence force, coupled with the sheer brutality of the police during the first weekend of the strike in August 1913, in what became known as Bloody Sunday, were the factors which actually resulted in the formation of the Irish Citizen Army.

LARKINISM PREVAILS

By 1911 Larkin had been so successful in organising the unskilled workers in Dublin that the employers led by William Martin Murphy formed the Dublin Employers Federation to combat the I.T.G.W.U. By August 1913 the employers decided that Larkinism must be smashed. Murphy, whose business interests included The Tramways Company and The Irish Independent Group of Newspapers, knew that Larkin’s tactic of the sympathetic strike posed a real threat to the employers power.

On Friday August 15th, Murphy took the initiative in provoking a confrontation with the I.T.G.W.U. by informing his employees in the despatch department of The Irish Independent that they had to choose between the union or their jobs. After forty employees were laid off, the following Monday the union blacked The Independent Group of Newspapers.

By Tuesday the union members in Easons had been locked out for refusing to handle Murphy’s papers. The following Thursday Murphy upped the ante by giving the tram workers the same ultimatum, sacking over two hundred men who refused to resign from the union. Larkin bided his time as he knew that the Dublin Horse Show was on the following week and there would be thousands of visitors to Dublin.

On Tuesday August 26th the I.T.G.W.U. struck back with over seven hundred tramway men walking off the job and leaving their trams where they stood. The following day began the clashes between the striking tramsmen and the scabs brought in by Murphy to replace them. The scabs service had to be discontinued after dark due to attacks from the strikers. In the meantime Murphy had been in contact with the Dublin Castle authorities who promised him that the Dublin Metropolitan Police (D.M.P.) would be reinforced by the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.). A camp of R.I.C. men from Cork was set up in Dun Laoghaire for this purpose. Special constables were also sworn in.

A BLOODY WEEKEND

At one of the huge nightly rallies in Beresford Place, Larkin announced a public meeting to be held the following Sunday in O’Connell Street in support of the strikers. In doing so he promised that

“that if one of our class fall then two of the other should fall for that one.”

The following day the I.T.G.W.U. leadership, Larkin, William O’Brien, P.T. Daly, William Partridge and Thomas Lawlor, were arrested and charged with seditious libel and conspiracy. All five men were released after giving an undertaking to be of ‘good behaviour’. The demonstration called for August 31st in O’Connell Street in support of the strikers had been proclaimed by the authorities.

Police baton charge on 'Bloody Sunday', August 31st 1913 in Sackville Street [O'Connell Street].

Police baton charge on ‘Bloody Sunday’, August 31st 1913 in Sackville Street [O’Connell Street].

At another mass rally in Beresford Place on the Friday before the proposed demonstration in O’Connell Street, Larkin burnt The Proclamation banning the rally and declared that he would hold the meeting “dead or alive”. The police broke up the Friday rally but Larkin managed to escape and hide out in Constance Markievicz’s home.

The next day Connolly and Partridge were arrested. With Larkin in hiding and Connolly arrested, William O’Brien decided to transfer Sunday’s meeting from O’Connell Street to Croydon Park on which the I.T.G.W.U. had a long term lease. Later on that Sunday evening squads of drunken police roamed the streets of Dublin beating up anybody who got in their way.

There were reports of baton charges by police against strikers in Ringsend and pitched battles between the people from Corporation Buildings and the police. During police attacks on people in the vicinity of Liberty Hall two workers, James Nolan and James Byrne, were beaten to death.

An eye witness to the killing of James Nolan, Captain Monteith of the Irish Volunteers, reports that a mixed patrol of about thirty five D.M.P. and R.I.C. attacked Nolan and clubbed him to the ground, leaving him in a pool of blood. Monteith himself was beaten up by these police for remonstrating with them but “had sense enough to lie (still) until the patrol passed on”. Later on that weekend Monteith’s fourteen year old daughter was beaten up by a drunken policeman.

Larkin was determined to go ahead with the meeting in O’Connell Street despite O’Brien’s decision to rally in Croydon Park. To avoid detection he disguised himself as an elderly clergyman until he got on to the balcony of the Imperial Hotel, owned by William Murphy, where he proceeded to speak to the crowd who had recognised him.

Within minutes he had been arrested. The police once again went wild batoning and clubbing everybody in the area despite the fact that most people in O’Connell Street that day were coming or going to church and most of Larkin’s supporters were in Croydon Park. Constance Markievicz was one of those arrested by the police. She had turned to wish Larkin good luck when

“the inspector on Larkin’s right hit me on the nose and mouth with his clenched fist. I reeled against another policeman, who pulled me about, tearing all the buttons off my blouse, and tearing it out all round my waist. He then threw me back into the middle of the street, where all the police had begun to run, several of them kicking and hitting at me as they passed…….I could not get out of the crowd of police and at last one hit me a back-hand blow across the left side of my face with his baton. I fell back against the corner of a shop, when another policeman started to seize me by the throat, but I was pulled out of the crowd by some men, who took me down to Sackville Place and into a house to stop the blood flowing from my nose and mouth and to try to tidy my blouse”.

(Terrible Beauty by Diana Norman, pg.89)

The viciousness of the police on that day left over five hundred people injured and made the front pages of both the Irish and British newspapers. Later that night Corporation Buildings were again attacked by the police in revenge for the battles of the previous day, but they were repulsed by a combination of residents and strikers. The police returned with reinforcements around 2am that night and proceeded to attack men, women and children and wreck their homes.

On the same day in Inchicore, an arrested picketer had been rescued by a crowd of strikers resulting in the police storming the local Union Hall, Emmet Hall. Again pitched battles broke out between strikers armed with sticks and stones and the police. The fighting continued into the night leaving hundreds of people injured.

Thousands of police had been mobilised but eventually a detachment of the West Kent Regiment were required to restore order. Such was the outcry against the savagery of the police that the authorities were forced to set up a ‘Commission into the Dublin Disturbances’. Naturally this was a whitewash and absolved the police of any blame.

The employers again upped the ante on September 3rd when the Employers Federation issued their ultimatum to their I.T.G.W.U. employees – resign from the union or loose your job. Four hundred and four employers locked out their unionised workers. Upwards of 25,000 people were locked out, which, including their dependants, affected over 100,000 people, a third of the population of Dublin. The working class of Dublin, who, even in times of employment had to suffer squalor and poverty, now found themselves destitute and facing starvation.

A THOUSAND HANDS

It was against this background that the idea of a citizens army took root in peoples minds. The funeral of James Nolan on September 3rd, attracted over 30,000 people and was guarded by I.T.G.W.U. men with pick-handles topped with a cylinder of steel, against police attack. The police kept their distance. Towards the end of October in a speech to the now regular rally at Beresford Place, Larkin announced that he was organising a citizens army to defend the workers.

This loose idea of Larkin’s became more solid with the offer from Captain Jack White to James Connolly to form a citizens army. On November 13th at another rally in Beresford Place, Connolly announced that a citizens army was to be organised along military lines by Captain Jack White and called for volunteers. While a thousand hands were raised in response to the request for volunteers, on the first public appearance of the Irish Citizen Army in Croydon Park on November 23rd 1913, a mere forty odd men turned up to drill.

Membership of the Citizen Army at any particular time is extremely hard to calculate due to the fact that some sections did not train or drill with the rest of the Citizen Army due to their unsociable working hours and other sections, such as the dockers, did not openly associate with the Citizen Army as they could be better utilised in other capacities such as acquiring arms, monitoring scabs and military ships etc… O’Casey in his book remembers thousands of Citizen Army men marching but most of these would not have been actual members.

The appearance of the Citizen Army, to quote Jack White himself, “put manners on the police”. The very fact that they had weapons, even if they were only pick handles, hurleys, broomsticks etc.., and were prepared to use them, forced the police to keep their distance.

The story of the Citizen Army company from Aungier Street and their dealings with the police is a good example of the situation the police found themselves in. The members of the Citizen Army from Aungier Street formed a marching band, with instruments bought with borrowed money, to accompany them on their marches. One evening after a march from Croydon Park to Liberty Hall this small company left the main body of the march and continued on its way to Aungier Street.

In Georges Street the police attacked them and tried to smash their instruments, a favourite tactic of the police at that time. The band managed to fight their way through and succeeded in getting their precious instruments to safety in their branch room. A police superintendent followed and threatened that his men would be waiting for them as they left. It was decided to face down the police.

Each member who wasn’t playing an instrument was to arm himself with a hurley to protect the band. The band marched out surrounded by its ‘armed’ guard playing the tune of ‘The Peeler and The Goat’. On seeing the hurleys and the willingness of the men to use them the ‘peelers’ decided to back off. The Aungier Street Citizen Army had made their point.

Ironically, after the Citizen Army had been formed as a force to protect the workers they were never called into action in any major way during the lockout. Their very existence subdued the police and more importantly the employers had decided on a change of tactics by starving the strikers into submission.

The generosity of the general English public and the treachery of the British Trade Union leadership has been covered in depth elsewhere, suffice to say that by substituting food ships and charity in place of solidarity actions, the British trade unions, as much as the Dublin employers, were responsible for the defeat of the Dublin working class.

Towards the end of the lockout with people drifting back to work, the Citizen Army began to lose what little members it had. After nearly six months of struggle, people wanted to keep their heads down and not attract attention to themselves by being associated with Liberty Hall and the Citizen Army. Being so tied to the labour movement meant that when the morale of the workers was high the Citizen Army benefited but when morale was low, the Citizen Army suffered and with the defeat of the strike, morale plummeted.

COMPETITION WITH VOLUNTEERS

The Citizen Army was in competition for members with the Irish Volunteers who were formed a few weeks after the I.C.A. The Irish Volunteers were appealing for members through an nationalist agenda, regardless of class. Membership was open to all, from Irish Republican Brotherhood (I.R.B.) members to followers of Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party (I.P.P.). The attractions of the volunteers over the Citizen Army were numerous.

The Volunteers were organised nationwide whereas the Citizen Army were confined to Dublin and the surrounding areas. The Volunteers were supplied with uniforms and equipment which the Citizen Army members had to buy themselves. The leaders of the Volunteers could devote more time to the training of their men whereas the time the leaders of the Citizen Army could devote depended on the pressures of the strike. For all these reasons, and more, recruitment to the Volunteers grew quickly.

Relations between the Volunteers and the Citizen Army were strained due to the presence among the Volunteers of employers who has locked out their employees during the strike. Nationalists, such as Sinn Fein leader Arthur Griffith, further added to the bad feeling between Labour and the Nationalist Movement by supporting the employers during the lockout. Venomously attacking the strikers, especially Larkin.

Referring to Larkin as “the English trade unionist” Griffith accused him of trying to destroy Irish industry to the advantage of British industry. During the Volunteers’ inauguration at the Rotunda on November 25th 1913, a group of men from Liberty Hall heckled the meeting, particularly targeting Lawerence Kettle whose family employed scabs on county Dublin farms.

The Citizen Army’s first handbill contained a list of reasons not to join the Volunteers, (controlled by forces opposed to Labour, officials having locked out union men etc..,) and a list of reasons to join the Citizen Army (controlled by working class people, refuses membership to people opposed to Labour etc..,).

Both Larkin and O’Casey were antagonistic towards the Volunteers, O’Casey bitterly so. This was not the case with all the Citizen Army though, Constance Markievicz had quite cordial relations with the Volunteers and most of the rank and file of both organisations got on quite well.

If the Citizen Army was not to disappear altogether a total reorganisation was needed. O’Casey suggested to Captain Jack White that the Citizen Army should be overhauled and improved

“so that it might become an influential fighting force in the ranks of Labour”.

On March 22nd 1914 a general meeting of workers was held in Liberty Hall to reorganise the Citizen Army The following proposed constitution was unanimously accepted by the meeting;

1. That the first and last principle of the Irish Citizen Army is the avowal that the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested of right in the people of Ireland.

2. That the Irish Citizen Army shall stand for the absolute unity of Irish nationhood and shall support the rights and liberties of the democracies of all nations.

3. That one of its objects shall be to sink all differences of birth, property and creed under the common name of the Irish people.

4. That the Citizen Army shall be open to all who accept the principle equal rights and opportunities for the Irish people.

5. Before being enrolled, every applicant must, if eligible, be a member of his Trades Union, such Union to be recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

A Provisional Committee was elected consisting of:

Chairman: Captain White, D.S.O.

Vice-chairmen: Jim Larkin, P.T. Daly, Councillor W. Partridge, Thomas Foran, F. Sheehy-Skeffington.

Hon. Secretary: Sean O’Cathasaigh.

Hon. Treasurers: Richard Brannigan, Constance Markievicz.

Sean O'Casey (right) with actor Barry Fitzgerald, 1959

Sean O’Casey (right) with actor Barry Fitzgerald, 1959

The drilling of the reorganised Citizen Army was also to be taken more seriously. Three battalions were formed, the City Battalion, the North County Battalion and the South County Battalion. Training was held twice a week in Croydon Park. Uniforms were ordered from Arnotts which the members had to pay for themselves. A distinctive feature of the uniform was the big slouch hat pinned up at one side by the ITGWU’s red hand badge. In the enthusiasm generated by the reorganisation attempts were made to extend the army around the country.

A manifesto was sent to various Labour bodies in Cork, Belfast, Derry, Sligo, Limerick, Kilkenny, Waterford, Dundalk, Galway and Wexford, but no success was had in organising outside Dublin. Companies were set up in areas surrounding Dublin such as Clondalkin, Lucan, Swords, Finglas, Coolock etc.,. On April 6th 1914 the Dublin Trades Council officially recognised The Irish Citizen Army.

As well as being secretary of the Citizen Army O’Casey also wrote the ‘I.C.A. notes’ in The Irish Worker. He let his antagonism towards the Volunteers spill over into print with constant attacks on the Volunteer leadership. As secretary he was responsible for booking halls for Citizen Army drilling. As most halls available had been taken by the Volunteers he had great difficulty in getting somewhere to train and he took every refusal as a direct snub to the Citizen Army. While some were indeed snubs it is generally felt that O’Casey exaggerated the situation so the Volunteers would be seen in a bad light.

All this inter-organisation rivalry and the success in building the Volunteers caused Jack White to resign from the Citizen Army in May 1914 and join the Volunteers. Larkin replaced White as chairman. O’Casey’s animosity towards the Volunteers also led him to a clash with Constance Markievicz over her links with them.

He insisted she sever her connection with the Volunteers or resign from the Citizen Army. He put forward a motion to the Citizen Army Council to this effect but lost the vote and resigned himself. Larkin tried to get O’Casey to reconsider his resignation and apologise to Constance Markievicz, but he refused and had nothing more to do with the Citizen Army

RELATIONS IMPROVE WITH VOLUNTEERS

Ironically, in the light of O’Casey’s feelings towards the Volunteers, the Citizen Army were given equal status as a guard of honour for the Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown in June 1914 while he was still secretary. With both organisations obeying the same commands it was the first time full co-operation between them was seen. Another public display of co-operation between both organisations occurred in October of that year during the Parnell Anniversary Commemoration.

By this time the Volunteers had split, with the majority supporting Redmond’s Home Rulers and the minority remaining loyal to the more militant elements represented by Pearse and Clarke. The Redmondites took the name National Volunteers.

Both sets of Volunteers and the Citizen Army had decided to march to Parnell’s grave in Glasnevin to honour his memory. After visiting the graveyard Larkin led the Citizen Army contingent back to Parnell Square where the Irish Volunteers had organised a public meeting. While this meeting was taking place a large detachment of the National Volunteers, on their way back from Glasnevin, tried to force their way through Parnell Square.

Outnumbered by over four to one a line of Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers confronted the Redmondites. A clash seemed inevitable. The Citizen Army were all armed but had no ammunition. Captain Monteith of The Irish Volunteers gave each of the Citizen Army men a round of ammunition in full view of The Redmonites.

Monteith and another officer of the Irish Volunteers then went and negotiated with two officers of The National Volunteers. For a very tense period of time there was a stand off situation but eventually The National Volunteers were persuaded to take an alternative route by Dorset Street. Having prevented unnecessary bloodshed Captain Monteith attempted to retrieve his ‘lent’ ammunition, but found that none of the Citizen Army men could remember receiving any!

Shortly after this event Larkin left for a fundraising tour of the U.S.A. He had planned to go earlier but had been dissuaded by people in the I.T.G.W.U. who understood the loss he would be to the union. By the end of October 1914 he had decided it was finally time to make his move. With no prior agenda and no organised fundraising plan, Larkin’s future plans were at best, hazy. William O’Brien of the I.T.G.W.U. tried to get an intended return date from Larkin but again he was non-committal. Jim Larkin, still General Secretary of the I.T.G.W.U., was to remain away from his union for over seven years.

CONNOLLY TAKES CHARGE

James Connolly now became Commandant of the Citizen Army (in place of Larkin) and Acting General Secretary of the I.T.G.W.U. The era of Connolly’s leadership of the Citizen Army ushered in a period of much closer co-operation between the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army. Even before Larkin went to the U.S.A. Connolly’s influence on the Citizen Army could be seen. The attitude to military training became a lot more serious and attaining arms became a priority.

In September 1914 an incident which shows the seriousness of their militarism was the proposed disruption of a recruitment meeting for the British Army in the Mansion House which was to be addressed by British Prime Minister Asquith and John Redmond. It was decided that a mixed party of Volunteers and Citizen Army men would take over the Mansion House the day before and would hold it for twenty-four hours to prevent the meeting from taking place. The plan was dropped when it was learnt that a strong force of British soldiers were already in occupation of the Mansion House.

Instead, on the night of the meeting, the Citizen Army turned out for an opposition demonstration in Stephens Green. They marched from Liberty Hall openly carrying their rifles and bayonets. The sight of a disciplined troop of Irishmen marching through the streets of Dublin openly displaying their weapons, created a great impression on the thousands of people attending the rally. What the crowd didn’t realise was that apart from some revolver bullets none of the Citizen Army had any ammunition.

The procurement of arms and ammunition was always a problem for the Citizen Army. Up until the Howth gun running incident the Citizen Army had the grand total of one Lee Enfield rifle and a few revolvers. As the Citizen Army were not informed or involved in the landing of the arms at Howth they were fortunate to be able to add to their arsenal at all.

The whole operation had been planned and carried out by the Irish Volunteers but while attempting to transport the arms into Dublin a force of police and British soldiers tried to stop them. While a stand off situation occurred between the two sides the Volunteers began to slip away across the fields with the guns.

A company of the ICA training at Croydon Park in Marino, 1914.

A company of the ICA training at Croydon Park in Marino, 1914.

As there wasn’t enough Volunteers to carry all the guns some had to be abandoned or hidden for further collection. Word reached the Citizen Army at Croydon Park of the days happenings and some members went to see if they could be of assistance. On arriving in the area they were delighted to find abandoned and hidden arms, which they brought back to Croydon Park for use by the Citizen Army. Rifles were also smuggled into Dublin through Liverpool, sent by supportive trade unionists in Britain. Another avenue for the procurement of arms was through British soldiers, either stolen by supportive soldiers or sold by entrepreneurial members of her Majesty’s Armed Services.

Connolly had been using the pages of the ITGWU’s ‘Irish Worker’ to argue against working class participation in the imperialist war. He urged people to join the Volunteers or the Citizen Army rather than the British Army. He was a great believer in the old maxim that England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity and with England involved in a war, now was the time for Ireland to assert itself.

With Connolly in charge at Liberty Hall nobody was left in any doubt as to where he stood. Soon after Larkin’s departure Connolly draped the now famous, “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser But Ireland” banner from Liberty Hall. He choose as his second in command in the Citizen Army another ex-British army man, Michael Mallin, who was head of the Inchicore branch of the I.T.G.W.U.

CONNOLLY AND CITIZEN ARMY INCREASINGLY PROVOCATIVE

With Connolly becoming more stringent in his criticism of the War the authorities began to censor The Irish Worker. In December 1914 the authorities closed down The Irish Worker along with Sinn Fein and Irish Freedom. Connolly tried to have The Irish Worker printed in Glasgow and smuggled into Ireland but the February issue was seized by the authorities as it came off ship.

Connolly decided to set up his own printing press in Liberty Hall and so produce his own propaganda. It was the end of May 1915 before a new paper was produced, which he called Workers Republic. From the very beginning this newspaper preached insurrection. A page under the title “ICA notes” was given over in each issue to the subject of military tactics and examples were given from other countries around the world where uprisings had occurred. In these articles Connolly concentrated on issues such as street fighting, building barricades etc.

In complete contrast to the conspiratorial methods and elitist tactics of the I.R.B. Connolly and the Citizen Army were very public in their intentions. Openly carrying arms and printing seditious material in Workers Republic they were pushing the authorities as far as they could. Without a doubt the authorities would have closed down Liberty Hall and the printing press had they not to worry about the resistance expected from the Citizen Army.

In the inquiry into the Rising, evidence was given that while most government officials wanted to close Liberty Hall their military advisers estimated that up to a thousand soldiers would be needed, with the inevitable resulting bloodshed. With the armed protection of the Citizen Army, Connolly was able to make his campaign for an uprising more direct and longer sustained than in any other insurrectionist period in Irish history.

Throughout 1915, as well as goading the authorities, Connolly began using Workers Republic to attack the Volunteers and their lack of activity. As he wasn’t privy to the I.R.B.’s military council plans he felt that the moderates were gaining control of the Volunteers and a rising was becoming more remote as time went on. In issue after issue of Workers Republic Connolly appealed to the rank and file of the Volunteers over the heads of the leadership, arguing that were the War to end before a rising could take place, Ireland would have lost a great opportunity to further its aim of independence.

It wasn’t only the authorities and the Volunteers who felt unhappy at the direction Connolly was taking. Within the I.T.G.W.U. there were elements who disapproved of the attention Connolly and the Citizen Army were attracting from Dublin Castle. As far back as the plan to disrupt the Asquith meeting, murmurs of discontent had begun. The installation of the printing press in Liberty Hall and the increasing public display of the Citizen Army added to the fears of a section of the I.T.G.W.U. that Liberty Hall would be closed down and the I.T.G.W.U. smashed as a result of the activities of the Citizen Army.

As most of the Citizen Army were members of the I.T.G.W.U., Connolly, with the support of key people like O’Brien, Foran and Partridge, had been able to persuade the union to support his actions. Incidents such as the time in November 1915 when Connolly sent armed pickets to deal with police harassment during the strike at the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, made it hard for those who disapproved of the Citizen Army in Liberty Hall to do anything about it.

Towards the end of 1915 the Citizen Army manoeuvres had been increasingly provocative. Numerous public displays and marches were held. One particular incident was a mock attack on Dublin Castle on a foggy night in October. Due to the short notice of mobilisation and the chosen target, even members of the Citizen Army themselves didn’t know if this was the real thing or a practice. This was an indication of the state of readiness of the Citizen Army for any eventuality.

THE BUILD UP BEGINS

Connolly’s increasingly belligerent writings and the Citizen Army’s actions began to worry the military council of the I.R.B. who had decided on a rising in principle and were afraid that the Citizen Army would proceed unilaterally and destroy whatever chance of success their own plans had. What the I.R.B. did not know was this was exactly what was going through Connolly’s mind at the time.

He was convinced that a rising must be attempted before the authorities struck first and suppressed the Citizen Army and the Volunteers. He had decided that, if necessary, the Citizen Army should go it alone in the hope that this would be the spark which would set the more militant wing of the Volunteers on the road to revolt. In late 1915 Connolly had asked each of the Citizen Army members individually whether they would be willing to go ahead with a rising without the support of the Volunteers.

At different times most of the Military Council of the I.R.B. Clarke, Mc Dermott, Tom Ashe, Pearse and Mc Donagh, individually came to see Connolly to try and dissuade him from attempting a rising as the time was not right. None of them had any luck in convincing him to bide his time, so in what has become known as the ‘kidnapping’ of James Connolly, the I.R.B. Military Council met with him and informed him of their plans for a rising.

This incident has never been fully explained but the end result was that during his disappearance from Sunday January 19th 1916, to the following Wednesday, Connolly agreed to hold off on any plans to go it alone. He also became a member of the I.R.B. and its Military Council. At last Connolly was to achieve his aim of a rising and the date was set for Easter Sunday April 23rd 1916, to coincide with the arrival of a shipload of arms from Germany brought over by Roger Casement.

Dr Kathleen Lynn, Captain in the ICA and founder of St Ultan's children's hospital in Dublin

Dr Kathleen Lynn, Captain in the ICA and founder of St Ultan’s children’s hospital in Dublin

Around this time it is estimated that there were approximately three hundred and fifty members of the Citizen Army. Unlike the Volunteers, women were given equal rights in the Citizen Army and some of the women soldiers carried arms and were in positions of authority within the army.

Constance Markievicz, Dr. Kathleen Lynn and Helena Moloney were all officers in the army. A Citizen Army Scout Corps had been formed around July 1914 and its members drilled and trained with guns like their seniors. James Connolly’s son Roddy was a member of the Scout Corps and fought alongside his father in the G.P.O. during the Rising. The situation began to hot up in the run up to the Rising.

On March 24th 1916 a squad of police raided the paper shop beside Liberty Hall searching for The Gael , a nationalist newspaper. Connolly was called from Liberty Hall and arrived as the police were searching the shop. When informed that the police had no search warrant he pulled a gun and ordered them out. Connolly, fearing that the police would return to raid Liberty Hall, sent out a mobilisation order to all Citizen Army members. Before the Citizen Army had returned another squad of police arrived at the paper shop with a warrant.

As the shop was connected to Liberty Hall, Connolly was afraid the police would use the same warrant to raid Liberty Hall. He told the Inspector in charge that as the warrant only related to the shop, they would be stopped from entering Liberty Hall, by force of arms if necessary. Rather than provoke trouble the police retreated. The mobilisation itself was a complete success. Nearly one hundred and fifty men arrived at Liberty Hall from all over the city. From that day on Liberty Hall was guarded night and day by the Citizen Army.

The Tuesday before the rising was due to start the plans were thrown into disarray by Eoin Mac Neill’s famous order to call off the rising. Further problems arose when “The Aud” the ship bringing arms and ammunitions from Germany, was discovered and it’s captain scuttled the vessel rather than let it fall into British hands.

Of all the I.R.B. Military Council members, Connolly was least affected by the discovery of “The Aud” and Mac Neills countermand. He looked on outside help as a bonus but in the event of this not materialising he was determined to go ahead. Throughout that Easter weekend, with the decision to call off or go ahead with the Rising being debated, Connolly was one of the strongest voices in favour of carrying on with the Rising.

With Mac Neills countermand, Liberty Hall became the centre of operations for the Rising. The Military Council of the I.R.B. met in Liberty Hall under the armed guard provided by the Citizen Army on Easter Sunday morning. They decided to postpone the Rising until noon the following day. Also in Liberty Hall that day, ‘The Proclamation of The Irish Republic’ was printed on the Workers Republic printing press by members of the I.T.G.W.U. who were guarded by a group of armed Citizen Army men. Connolly’s foresight had put the Labour Movement to the forefront of the fight for Irish independence.

THE RISING

Mac Neill’s action dictated that the Rising would fail, in military terms anyway. On leaving Liberty Hall on the morning of the Rising, Connolly remarked to William O’Brien that they were going out to be slaughtered. Of approximately five thousand people expected to take part in the Rising, Mac Neill’s orders reduced the numbers to around one thousand two hundred.

As the Citizen Army was a much smaller force and Dublin based, most of the expected numbers turned out. It is estimated that about two hundred and twenty Citizen Army members took part in the Rising. At the head of this force was James Connolly who had been given the position of Commandant General Dublin Division, Army of The Irish Republic. Facing the rebels was a force of around twelve thousand British soldiers.

Apart from James Connolly’s contingent of Citizen Army men in the G.P.O. the Citizen Army were also represented in most of the other battlegrounds, such as The Four Courts, Bolands Mill etc..,. One of the first actions of Connolly was to have the Starry Plough flag of the Citizen Army hoisted over the Imperial Hotel, a defiant signal to the arch enemy William Martin Murphy. The majority of the Citizen Army were involved in the fighting around St. Stephens Green under Commandant Michael Mallin and his second in command Constance Markievicz. It was a force of Citizen Army people under Captain Sean Connolly who attacked Dublin Castle.

The Rising lasted less than a week and all those who took part in or were suspected to have taken part in the Rising were interned in English jails. Sixteen of those considered to be leaders of the Rising were executed, included among them were James Connolly and Michael Mallin. Constance Markievicz had been sentenced to death but had her sentence commuted to life in prison. Eleven members of the Citizen Army, including Captain Sean Connolly, were killed in action during Easter week. Twenty seven women members of the Citizen Army had taken part in the Rising with one woman, Margaret Skinnider, wounded in action.

AFTERMATH OF THE RISING

In the aftermath of the Rising sections of Labour and the trade union movement were already trying to distance themselves from the events of Easter week and the actions of the Citizen Army. Aware that the British had already tried to destroy Liberty Hall during the Rising they were concerned that the authorities must not be provoked again.

At the Irish Trade Union Congress in August 1916 a motion was passed paying respects to all Irishmen and women who had died in the Rising and in the ‘European’ war. The executive’s report was at pains to emphasise the Citizen Army were merely tenants at Liberty Hall. It also quoted a British Army intelligence report claiming that ‘not more than half the Citizen Army were members of the ITGWU’

The Labour Movement, in the absence of a leader of the calibre of James Connolly, had begun to withdraw from the struggle for Irish Independence. None of the remaining trade union leaders had the foresight of Connolly in seeing the link between the right to self determination industrially, politically and nationally. Even the union leaders who supported Connolly, such as William O’Brien and Thomas Foran, confined themselves to sorting out the mess of the affairs of the I.T.G.W.U. Labour had lost its chance to be a major influence in the building of an independent Ireland.

Michael Mallin, Secretary of the Silk Weavers Union in 1913 and ICA Chief-of-Staff in 1916

Michael Mallin, Secretary of the Silk Weavers Union in 1913 and ICA Chief-of-Staff in 1916

Into this atmosphere came those Citizen Army members who had been released from British prisons in late 1916. By December 1916 the Citizen Army were back in Liberty Hall but under the name ‘Connolly/Mallin Social and Athletic Club’ with none of their previous freedoms. By February 1917 the Citizen Army were back drilling in Liberty Hall, to the dismay of some of the union officials.

The uneasiness about the Citizen Army and its presence in Liberty Hall which had been building up during Connolly’s time, began to affect relations between the Citizen Army and the I.T.G.W.U. A number of incidents took place which caused a major rift between the union and the Army, the first was the nailing of a Tricolour to the front of Liberty Hall by a member of the Citizen Army, against the wishes of the union. Another was the caretaker being threatened by a member of the Citizen Army who he had refused entry to.

The major incident which had seen the Citizen Army themselves barred temporarily and an end to their drilling in Liberty Hall for good occurred on the anniversary of James Connolly’s death. The union had put up a banner on the front of Liberty Hall which read “James Connolly – murdered May 12th 1916”. The police demanded that it be taken down and the union obliged. But women members of the Citizen Army made another banner with the same message, put it up again and refused to take it down.

It took a party of police to force their way onto the roof to remove it. After this the authorities closed Liberty Hall until they were given an assurance that the Citizen Army would be barred from the hall. A few weeks later it was agreed that the Citizen Army could use the hall as individual members of the union. The Citizen Army had lost its headquarters.

The Citizen Army was in a very difficult position in the aftermath of the Rising. The situation which had required the formation of the Citizen Army didn’t exist any more. It’s labour tradition made it wary of the Nationalist movement but its union base had made it clear that they saw no future for the army. While not sure where its future lay the Citizen Army reorganised itself into two companies, one south of the city and the other north of the city.

On June 18th 1917 Constance Markievicz had been released from prison and a troop of the Citizen Army, headed by the new Commandant, James O’Neill, marched to Westland Row station to meet her. They then proceeded to march through the city, their first victory parade since the Rising. A rousing welcome was given to Constance from the thousands who gathered to see her. On September 25th 1917 she led a contingent of the Citizen Army during the funeral of Thomas Ashe who had died while on hunger strike. On July 15th 1927 the Citizen Army once again marched after Constance Markievicz, this time at her funeral.

In the intervening years they had never solved the dilemma which faced them when they first reorganised after the Rising. What direction were they to travel in. Without the clear vision of a Connolly, they were lost. There are reports of Citizen Army involvement in the fight against the Black and Tans and even unconfirmed reports that the Citizen Army were involved in the burning of the Custom House. In this period details of the Citizen Army are very sketchy and almost impossible to find.

In relation to the Civil War it is reported that Constance Markievicz proposed that the Citizen Army support De Valera in his rejection of the Treaty. The majority of the Citizen Army, over one hundred and forty, are reported to have taken the side of the anti-treaty forces during the fighting. As with all organisations in Ireland at the time there was dissent among the ranks over its attitude to the Civil War. Some members became involved in the peace negotiations along with officials of the Labour movement, who were trying to broker a Peace.

For all intents and purposes the Civil War signalled the end of the Irish Citizen Army.

“However it may be for others, for us of the Citizen Army there is but one ideal – an Ireland ruled, and owned, by Irish men and women, sovereign and independent from the centre of the sea, and flying its own flag outwards over all oceans”

(James Connolly, Workers’ Republic 30 October 1915)

Lockout, part 4: Socialism and Irish Nationalism

January 6, 2013

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“Against the Red Flag”

Socialism and Irish Nationalism
1830 – 1913


by Mags Glennon

The 1913 Lockout was the culmination of several years of political organisation and agitation among the unskilled working class, carried out primarily through the Irish Transport Workers Union. The ITGWU had been founded by Larkin in 1909 specifically as a union of the unskilled, long deemed ‘unorganisable’ by the official trade union movement. The open militancy of the ITGWU was a new departure in the history of the Irish trade union movement and the organisation grew rapidly, from 4,000 members in 1911 to 10,000 by 1913. The ITGWU quickly came up against determined resistance from employers, the police and the British state.

However some of the most vitriolic abuse and opposition to this manifestation of the independent organisation of the working class was expressed by Irish nationalist organisations, not only the official Irish Parliamentary (Home Rule) Party but also by the more ‘radical’ Sinn Fein movement led by Arthur Griffith.

While James Connolly declared the indivisibility of the of the struggle for Irish independence from the fight for socialism he was essentially a lone voice whose ideology, based on the application of Marxist principles to the Irish situation, was a radical break from the previous two centuries of Irish nationalism which had laid the foundations for the collection of political beliefs that still dominate the discussion on the ‘National Question’.

Irish nationalism, as it developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries was an eclectic mixture of aspects of various political doctrines, not necessarily of Irish origin, which were gradually amalgamated in different forms by the groups who adopted a policy of Irish independence.

In the 1890-1910 period at least four main nationalist organisations existed, these being the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Around these a series organisations, some officially ‘non political’ had emerged such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League and a number of bodies promoting cultural expression and the Gaelic revival.

The genesis of what can be broadly termed as Irish Nationalism emerged from the ideals of the United Irishmen and the failed rebellion of 1798. All of the above organisations active in the early 20th Century claimed a heritage that stemmed from the radical ideas propounded by Wolfe Tone and his supporters in the 1790’s, Sinn Fein and the IRB more so than the Irish Parliamentary Party or the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

However the ideals put forward by the United Irishmen in the 1790’s were profoundly different the strain of Irish nationalism that emerged in the 19th Century. The Republican tradition founded on the ideas of Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson and others within the United Irishmen owed a large measure of inspiration to the political beliefs which led to the French revolution of 1789. There was, for example, a strong vein of secularism and anti clericalism running through the United Irish movement that found no expression in the later nationalist tradition of Sinn Fein and the Irish Parliamentary Party.

The constitutional nationalist tradition drew its inspiration from the long political career of Daniel O’Connell and the later Home Rule campaign directed by Charles Stuart Parnell. O’Connell, Parnell and John Redmond dominate the stage of Irish history and are portrayed as the champions of nationalist Ireland. Nationalists they undoubtedly were but their political motivation, supporters and ideology do not make them champions of the cause of the working class.

The first opportunity for organised political action by the Irish working class on the issue of national independence and the development of internationalist links with the English working class emerged in the 1830’s but were effectively blocked by Daniel O ‘Connell.

O ‘Connell, long revered in Irish history as ‘The Liberator’ was a consistent enemy of the working class and laid the foundations for the anti English and anti socialist premises at the root of much of Irish nationalism. O Connell’s family background is of interest as are some of his less publicised political activities.

O Connell was born into a family of the minor landowning catholic gentry. He received his education in France during the period of the French Revolution, which swept away the reactionary catholic ancient regime forever. These experiences are held as the formative influences on a political career in which he famously declared the Irish freedom was not worth the shedding of a drop of blood. It is a less well known fact that O Connell was a volunteer with the Lawyers Yeomanry Corps which rounded up supporters of Robert Emmet’s failed rebellion in 1803, was the suppression of Irish freedom worth paying such a price?

Robert Emmet

Robert Emmet

It is interesting also to note that Emmet’s rebellion, long derided as a revolt of the ‘rabble’, was in fact one of the most proletarian of Irish risings. Berresford Ellis’ ‘A History of the Irish Working Class’ provides details of tentative links between Emmet and a group known as the United Englishmen who represented labourers in London and textile workers in the North of England. Emmet’s proclamation, drawn up at the start of the Rising, provides for the nationalisation of all church and landed property and declares itself for universal suffrage.

Robert Emmet’s rebellion was to be the last armed uprising in Ireland for 45 years, a period of history dominated politically by Daniel O Connell. O Connell’s first political success was the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 which removed the last vestiges of the Penal Laws. The benefits of the measure were of great advantage to the rising catholic middle class which had long circumvented the restrictions on Catholic landholding by engaging in trade and commercial activities.

The political ambitions of the Catholic middle class, the economic backers of O Connell, found their expression in the rise of Catholic nationalism throughout the remaining years of the 19th Century and were the dominant economic forces opposing the trade unions in 1913.

O Connell’s position as the founder of modern Irish nationalism centres not only on the ideology he espoused but also on the methods of political organisation he adopted. The organisations he founded were based on the mass mobilisation of the poorest sections of Irish society in support of the objectives being promoted, catholic emancipation and repeal, the achievement of which would do most to further the political ambitions and advance the social and financial position of the middle class.

A second element of O Connell’s leadership style was the promotion of the populist model of political leadership, the placing of all faith in one messianic figure, ‘the liberator’, the uncrowned king’, ‘the chief ‘ or even ‘the boss’. Thus the confidence of a class, in this case the working class, to act autonomously in its own interest, was dependant on the approval and sanction of a popular hero. This trend is found most prominently in the nationalist criticism of the 1913 Strike which speaks of ‘Larkinism’ and ‘Larkin’s Union’, of a working class being led like sheep by a popular political figure rather than of the working class reacting against their intolerable conditions and fighting collectively for their rights.

The third aspect of O Connell’s style of leadership that endured into later years was the tactic of threatening the English government with the power of the masses. Once the people had been mobilised in support of a nationalist objective the fear of revolution in Ireland was often a sufficient inducement to the English ruling class to grant some concessions. Such compromises were a feature of the nationalist political process.

The small gains made were to the advantage of the directors of such campaigns but rarely did any political or material gain accrue to the stage army wheeled out to win them. O Connell turned back from the brink of illegality in the Repeal campaign and Parnell made the Kilmainham deal to quell rising revolutionary feeling during the Land War. The Fenians were roundly condemned for their ‘terrorist’ actions and the workers in 1913 for promoting ‘anarchy”, neither of which could be controlled and channelled by middle class nationalists.

In the 1830’s O Connell turned his attention to the question of the Repeal of the Act of Union with the vision of a semi autonomous Irish legislature in Dublin, modelled on Grattan’s parliament of 1782. The 1830’s also saw the establishment of the Dublin Trades Political Union, an umbrella group of artisans (skilled workers) and tradesmens organisations which supported the Repeal campaign.

O Connell entered into negotiations with the DTPU with the aim of bringing it under the direct control of the Repeal movement and diluting it’s working class orientation, a course of action which led to a great deal of friction on questions of class and strategy. In the late 1830’s two aspects of O Connell’s anti working class beliefs came to the fore, one being the question of trade union organisation in Dublin, the other his attitude to the Chartists.

The Trade Union controversy arose as a result of increased industrial agitation in Dublin and a violent spinners strike in Glasgow in 1837. The Dublin disputes were centred around the enforcement of a minimum wage, the limitation of apprentices in trade and the compulsory membership of trade unions.

O Connell, supported by the Archbishop of Dublin, attacked Trade Union leaders and was challenged to openly debate the issues involved. At this meeting O Connell complained that Irish Trade Unions were more militant than their English counterparts and that their activities had led to a decline in trade in Dublin. He also claimed that the tactics and philosophy of the trade unions had been ‘imported from Manchester’. The workers argued that the restrictive practises within their trades were necessary to maintain jobs and conditions. The trade union leaders also recognised the openly class nature of O Connell’s position.

What advantage is it to the tradesmen of Ireland that 1,300 situations have been thrown open by (Catholic) Emancipation ?… Has it given a loaf of bread to the thousand starving families of the poor operatives of this city ?”

(Freemans Journal Jan. 18th 1838;Quoted in:P.B. Ellis: A History of the Irish Working Class)

The President of the Carpenters Union said that Trade Unionists had

”Followed and aided Mr O Connell as long as he did not seek to oppress us, but when he seeks to take the bread out of our mouths it is time for us to defend the moral combination by which we support our children”

(Freemans Journal, Jan 9th 1838)

O Connell was also opposed to the demand for a minimum wage and believed that if employers made no profits then their employees wages must decrease. He persuaded the Whig government to set up a committee of enquiry into the trade unions but very little came of this.

During the Commons debate O Connell said

“There was no tyranny equal to that which was exercised by the trade unionists in Dublin over their fellow labourers”

(P.B. Ellis: A History of the Irish Working Class, p.106)

In 1838 O Connell voted against Lord Ashley’s bill to limit the hours children under the age of 9 could be employed in factories and limiting those under the age of 13 to a 48 hour week. He stated that it infringed the rights of industry and condemned the

“…ridiculous humanity, which would end by converting their manufacturers into beggars”

(History of the Irish working class; P.B.Ellis; p. 107)

The second incident that highlights the anti revolutionary nature of O Connell’s politics was his attitude to the Chartist movement. The Chartists enjoyed widespread working class support in Britain and campaigned for a peoples charter guaranteeing universal suffrage and parliamentary reform.

A number of the Chartist leaders were trade unionists who had emigrated from Ireland. Fergus O Connor, a prominent Chartist leader, sought an alliance between English workers and Irish peasants to pressurise the English parliament. The Chartists also supported repeal of the Act of Union. O Connell was firmly wedded to the promise of repeal from the Whig party and was consistently hostile to any unity between the English and Irish working class.

However, despite his best efforts, Chartist ideas made some progress in Ireland in the later 1830’s. Chartist groups were set up not only in the main towns and cities but also in smaller, mainly rural, centres such as Cashel and Loughrea. Although Chartist demands appear moderate in historical retrospect they were strongly condemned by O Connell, the clergy and employers. At his trial for conspiracy in 1844 O Connell proudly boasted, as part of his defence, that he had always supported the rights of property, opposed trade unions and prevented the spread of Chartism in Ireland.

“I shall ever rejoice that I kept Ireland free from this pollution”

(London Times, Feb 7th 1844: Quoted in J.D.Clarkson: Labour and Nationalism in Ireland)

The Chartists had realised that the defeat of capitalism in England, and the rights of landed property in Ireland involved an identity of class interests between English workers and Irish peasants. O Connell also realised this but the class interests of the ‘Liberator’ were firmly with his political backers, the capitalists and the catholic clergy and gentry.

O Connell’s class interests were best served by the suppression of any class conscious unity between the oppressed sections of English and Irish society as this would expose the collaboration of the upper classes of both countries to keep them in poverty and servitude in the interests of greater profits. O Connell’s ‘betrayal’ of the cause of the working class was not irrational or treacherous but was merely the obvious protection of his class interests and political powerbase should the Repeal campaign succeed.

O Connell revived the Repeal campaign in the 1840’s and again the majority of workers organisations supported it’s demands. He was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1841 and became even more reactionary, increasingly equating Catholicism with nationalism, a position which alienated radical Presbyterians from the national movement. O Connell always made clear that he was loyal to the English crown and did not wish to sever all Irish links with the monarchy but merely to establish an Irish House of Commons and Lords. In 1840 he set up the Loyal National Repeal Association.

Marx’s friend and collaborator Frederich Engels had a strong interest in the Irish question and made some interesting observations. He recognised the revolutionary potential of the mobilisation of the workers and the peasantry through the Repeal campaign.

” What people! They haven’t a penny to lose, more than half of them have not a shirt to their back, they are real proletarians and sans culottes, and Irish besides – wild ungovernable fanatical Gaels… If I had two hundred thousand Irish I could overturn the whole British monarchy”

(Fredrich Engels; G, Meyer, 1936)

However optimism and activity declined after O Connell’s failure to confront the British ban on the Clontarf monster meeting. The climax of the campaign had been reached but O Connell’s politics would not allow him to stray beyond the bounds of legitimate constitutional activity. Engels had predicted three months earlier that O Connell did not have the political capability to bring the movement to a revolutionary conclusion.

“If O Connell was really a popular leader, if he had sufficient courage and he was himself not afraid of the people, i.e. if he were not a double faced Whig, but a straight consistent democrat, then long ago there would not have been an English soldier in Ireland… Give the people freedom for one second and they will do with O Connell and his financial aristocracy what the latter want to do with the Tories”

(Elinor Burns: British Imperialism in Ireland; p 18)

The disillusionment this defeat engendered cast a shadow over political activity throughout the 1840’s. O Connell fought to prevent control of the Repeal movement falling into the hands of the more radical nationalists of Young Ireland. One of the most radical of this group was John Mitchell who described O Connell in the following terms-

“Next to the British government he was the greatest enemy Ireland ever had”

(Paul Dubois: Contemporary Ireland; p63)

The Young Ireland group began to gain increasing working class support despite it’s middle class leadership. 15,000 Dublin artisans signed a petition of protest against the expulsion of Young Ireland from the Repeal Association. Young Ireland, while being more radical than O Connell on national issues, equated the oppression of labour and the peasantry as being due solely to the oppression of Ireland by Britain. Thus capitalism and its evils were the ‘English system’ and would disappear with the creation of an independent Ireland, a belief also held by some Fenian writers and revived by Sinn Fein in the early 20th Century.

The logical conclusion of this argument was that, since capitalism was an English import, it was intrinsically evil for this reason, not for its impact on the poor as an exploitative ideology. However it was necessary to subsume the struggle for improved workers conditions to the general fight, of all classes in Ireland, for independence.

The oppressive features of capitalism would disappear with the ending of the English occupation. Consequently, such nationalists believed, there was no need to introduce another ‘English’ ideology, socialism, to combat capitalism. This belief failed to take account of the international nature of capitalism and thus the consequent need for workers to organise to defeat it in a similar manner.

Irish nationalist leaders were terrified that workers would become aware of this fact and thus the true nature of their oppression had to be clouded in myths which attempted to explain the foreignness of capitalism and to promote the belief that Irish leaders and employers would not exploit their fellow Irish workers.

In fact, as the 19th century progressed increasing numbers of the Catholic middle class became prosperous enough both to employ labour and become landlords. It was not English, but Irish, capitalism that presided over the poverty of Ireland, but these capitalists were the financial backers of nationalist politicians who were highly unlikely to criticise those who would ensure the stability of an independent or semi autonomous Ireland.

While the Young Ireland movement did recognise the fact that capitalism was a component part of the English occupation of Ireland its programme and ideology rejected socialism as a solution. John Mitchell, seen as one of the most radical in the leadership, referred to socialists as ‘something worse than wild beasts’ in his autobiography Jail Journal.

The situation grew increasingly farcical as the Famine approached. Young Ireland quite reasonably demanded an end to food exports to alleviate worsening shortages, however at the same time O Connell tried to force the Young Irelanders to denounce violence as a political weapon. After O Connell’s death some elements of Young Ireland developed links with the Chartists in Britain but such political activity had little relevance to a population more concerned with staying alive than engaging in politics.

During the Famine huge amounts of grain and other agricultural produce was being exported from Ireland, more than enough to feed the country. This was the profit of mainly absentee landlords and the peasantry were left to die rather than interfere with the laissez faire economic policy of the British government. John O Connell M.P., a son of ‘The Liberator’, commended the people for their willingness to starve to death-

“I thank God I live among a people who would die of hunger rather than defraud their landlords of rent”

(quoted in P.B. Ellis: A History of the Irish Working Class; p112)

The massive support for Chartism in England and the plans for a Young Ireland rebellion were both buoyed up by the tide of European revolutions in 1848. However both organisations were crushed almost simultaneously by British coercion acts. 1848 was one particular instance whereby there was a confluence of workers demands and nationalist aims. However, despite their strong support among the working class in Dublin, the Young Ireland leaders made a seriously damaging tactical error in planning to centre the rebellion in rural areas of Munster.

The failure of the Rising and the arrest or death of the most radical leaders, including James Fintan Lalor, contributed to the depressed state of radical nationalist activity in the following decades and may also have been a contributory factor in the decline of militancy among urban workers. Trade Unions increasingly turned towards more restrained methods of organisation and in the main shunned political activity.

The Fenian movement is interesting because it provides an Republican alternative to the bourgeois nationalism of constitutional parliamentarians in the later half of the 19th Century. The Fenian movement reverted to the old physical force tradition of Republicanism stemming from the United Irishmen and the Young Irelanders. However unlike them the Fenian tradition paid little attention to political organisation. It was almost exclusively a physical force grouping adopting the clandestine organisational methods that had previously been used by agrarian organisations.

James Stephens

James Stephens

Many in the leadership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (as the Fenians were also known) had contacts with the socialist movement both in Ireland and internationally. James Stephens, leader of the Fenians, had fled Ireland after the 1848 rebellion and was a member of socialistic societies in France in the 1850’s, as were Michael Doheny and John O Mahoney. Karl Marx had a strong interest in Irish affairs and supported the Fenians. He wrote –

“Fenianism is characterised by socialistic tendency (in the negative sense directed against the appropriation of the soil) and by being a lower orders movement.”

(Quoted in A Boyd: The Rise of the Irish Trade Unions; p56)

The leadership of the IRB was confined to a group of middle class intellectuals but the rank and file of the organisation was composed of urban workers, small farmers and rural labourers. There was also a strong degree of Fenian influence in the development of the land agitation campaign as evidenced by the involvement of Michael Davitt in particular.

Davitt had suffered a long term of imprisonment for his Fenian activities and later returned to Ireland to found the Land League. The IRB would not officially support the Land campaign as it was seen as a deviation from the overall importance of the Republican struggle but many individual members of the movement participated in the Land League.

A similar situation also arose within the Trade Union movement. Jim Connell, the author of the Socialist anthem The Red Flag, was a Fenian who became prominent in the Labour movement abroad. Frank Roney from Belfast was a Fenian who was described before a Parliamentary Commission as an ‘advocate of violence, assassination and terror’, he later emigrated to the United States and was an important figure in the growth of Trade Unionism in that country.

The Fenian movement was important too in that by its secret organisational structure and the level of infiltration it managed to effect, particularly within the British Army, it had the potential to be serious revolutionary force. Joseph Biggar, an MP in Parnell’s Home Rule Party, was a senior member of the IRB.

As previously mentioned Marx was a strong supporter of the Fenians and influenced the International Working Mens Association in support of Irish independence. He also worked on a campaign demanding the release of Fenian prisoners after a bombing campaign in England. J.P. Mc Donnell, a Fenian, became correspondence secretary in Ireland for the International Working Mens Association and was on its Central Council.

A branch of the International was established in Cork, then seen as the Irish city most likely to sustain a socialist movement. The International in Cork organised around the nine hours day campaign and large numbers were recruited. Rumours of increasing support led to the promotion of a Red Scare by the church. Branches of the International in Dublin, Belfast and Cavan also declined due to clerical interference.

Despite the involvement of individual socialists within the Fenian movement the organisation itself did not have a coherent class conscious policy for the advancement of the working class either prior to or after the establishment of an Irish Republic.

The Fenians were strongly denounced by all organs of respectable opinion in Ireland and the scare stories spread by the church in particular probably gave the IRB the name of being more radical than it actually was. The historian William Lecky referred to ‘the wild socialistic follies of Fenianism’. The main forces opposed to the Fenians were the Dublin Castle administration, the Catholic and Protestant Clergy, as well as the landlords and the middle class, who all saw the Fenians as a dangerous revolutionary force.

James Stephens was described as communist, an anti cleric and an agent of the Italian Republican Garibaldi.

The Fenian Rising of 1867 was a failure but the influence of the IRB remained and they were an important force in Irish communities abroad, particularly in the US and in Britain.

After the defeat of the Fenian rebellion the main focus of political activity in Ireland again turned to the Parliamentary field in the campaigns for Home Rule and Land Reform. The Land War is a classic example of the highjacking of a political campaign for the advancement of the political ambitions of nationalist parliamentarians. Michael Davitt had founded the Land League in Mayo in 1879 and it gained huge support throughout the country from tenant farmers at the brink of starvation who were forced to pay exorbitant rents to mainly Irish landlords.

In The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland Michael Davitt recalls a conversation he had with Charles Stuart Parnell during which the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party attacked labour organisations.

“What do labourers and artisans want that we cannot obtain for them by the efforts of the National League ?… What is Trade Unionism but the landlordism of labour ? I would not tolerate, if I were at the head of a government, such bodies as trade unions. They are opposed to individual liberty and should be kept down, as Bismarck keeps them down in Germany.”

(M Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland, quoted in A. Boyd, The Rise of the Irish Trade Unions p59)

Parnell feared that the working class would be organised into a force that would be too powerful for the government to deal with and refused to countenance the development of such a situation in Ireland. He believed that the growth of Trade Unions would

“Frighten the capitalist liberals and lead them to believe that a parliament in Dublin might be used for furthering some kind of socialism. You ought to know that neither the Irish priests or the farmers would support such principles.”

(M Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland: ibid p60)

The later half of the 19th Century was characterised by increasing conservatism on the part of the Irish Trade Unions who concentrated almost exclusively on industrial and economic questions to the exclusion of political issues. The unions were generally organised around specific trades and acted as friendly societies for the furtherance of the material benefits of their members.

Unskilled workers were largely unorganised and remained so until the advent of the ITGWU in 1909. However in 1870 a strike involving tailors in Cork rapidly spread to include unskilled workers, including dockers, railwaymen and women textile workers. It eventually involved workers throughout Munster and a strike also took place among agricultural workers in Kilkenny. In most cases the demands for increased wages and restriction of mechanisation were conceded.

One of the most exploited sections of the workforce in 19th Century Ireland were the rural farm labourers. Before the famine this section of the working class numbered 700,000, by 1911 it had declined to 200,000. This was due to a number of factors including unemployment, emigration, low wages, bad housing, mechanisation of agriculture and the move from tillage to pastoral farming.

The demeaning hiring fair system was used for the benefit of employers with labourers being displayed like cattle. Those volunteering to work for the lowest wage, often merely children, had the greatest chance of employment. The pattern of seasonal migration to Britain during the harvest period became increasingly popular.

Agricultural labourers were particularly vulnerable because they were mainly dependant for wages on employers who were usually small tenant farmers. The pre famine system of payment in kind and the granting of a small portion of land to the labourer for potato growing was replaced by the wages system. In 1873 attempts were made to spread the unionisation of agricultural labourers from Britain to Ireland led by Joseph Arch, leader of the English Agricultural Labourers Union.

Some branches of the union were set up, mainly to push for higher wages, but it proved impossible to sustain an organisation due to vulnerability of labourers to employer intimidation and the isolated nature of such employment, the general ratio being one or two labourers per farmer. Labourers achieved practically nothing from the Land War of the 1880’s. Not being tenants they could not buy out their holdings and existing on a subsistence wage they could never hope to buy land. Throughout the Land War labourers had refused to act as scabs for boycotted landlords.

Agricultural workers did gain from improved housing due to the passage of the parliamentary acts which from 1883 encouraged landlords to provide housing for their workers. Thus the living conditions of rural workers largely surpassed those of their town dwelling counterparts. Rural labourers had the dubious advantage of living in poverty in well built cottages while the urban proletariat existed in slum tenements.

The decline in the number of agricultural workers accounted for the growth in the number of general and unskilled labourers in urban centres in the late 19th century as they sought the higher wages available in towns. This led to friction between the urban workers and the new arrivals who were accused of working for lower wages and depriving city labourers of employment, a contributory factor in the growing alienation between urban and rural Ireland.

The passage of the Land Acts created a social and economic model which replaced the English landed aristocracy, the most visible form foreign exploitation, with a class of peasant proprietor who was dependant and owed a sense of loyalty to the politicians who had allowed him, through the parliamentary Land acts up to 1903, to purchase his land from the landlord. The Land Acts were important because the basis of peasant ownership and the creation of a conservative rural base within Irish society was laid at this time, not, as is often believed, during the De Valera era.

Although some land agitation took place after this period it was notable that such activities were roundly condemned by the Irish Parliamentary Party leadership despite the fact that the main activists among the small farmers and the landless labourers were members of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Just as Parnell betrayed the grass roots of the land campaign in 1881 as did the IPP in 1913 and Sinn Fein and the IRA did likewise in 1921. Maurice Goldring raises an interesting question based on the decline of land agitation in the countryside at the very time when the industrial struggle was commencing in urban centres

“England’s main preoccupation has been to prevent the convergence of the social and the nationalist struggles by playing on the social and religious differences of the Irish people. It cannot have been entirely by chance that the Irish peasants obtained the right to buy their land at the very moment when the workers struggles were taking on a new dimension with Connolly and Larkin.”

(Maurice Goldring: Faith of our Fathers P. 80)

The aftermath of Parnell’s death and the divorce scandal led to a decrease in the dominance of the Irish Parliamentary Party as the sole nationalist voice in Ireland. This was in part due to the weakness of the IPP, beset by internal factions and leadership rivalries. The rights and wrongs of Parnell’s divorce case became the central feature of Irish political debate for over a decade. It was not surprising therefore that this ridiculous discussion should drive the youth of Ireland into other forms of political activity, especially with the prospect of achieving Home Rule being very distant at this time.

The growth of the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein were prominent features of the early years of the 20th Century. These organisations were strongly nationalist in orientation and looked to the revival of an ancient Celtic heritage to rival the increasing Anglicisation of Irish society.

This revival of the concept of pride in language, culture and national identity was not confined to Ireland and had its parallels in most European countries at roughly the same time. The Gaelic revival was predominantly the pastime of the young middle class, the majority of whom had received a secondary or university education. Gaelic league membership, for example, included a high proportion of teachers. The cultural revival offered little to the working class, barely surviving on 20s per week in the slum tenements.

Coincidental with the development of the Cultural revolution there was also a significant increase in political activity among the working class. The mid 1890’s had seen a revival of militancy among the skilled workers of Dublin culminating in strikes in the building and other trades in 1896. The increased wages gained in these disputes brought new confidence to the unskilled but their lack of organisation meant that strikes in this sector were still largely doomed to failure. It was not until the arrival of Jim Larkin in Ireland in 1907 that unionisation of the unskilled made any significant headway.

The majority of cultural organisations in Ireland at this period did not claim to have any economic ideology, the only one which attempted to develop one was Sinn Fein, its economic outlook being largely that of its leader Arthur Griffith.

James Connolly arrived in Ireland in the late 1890’s and founded the tiny Irish Socialist Republican Party, which propounded the belief that the struggle of the working class for their economic independence was indivisibly linked with the struggle for national freedom, a freedom based on the principles of Republicanism rather than the Home Rule formula promoted by nationalist organisations. It condemned the illusions that bourgeois nationalists held in the possibility of reform coming from Britain.

“For over 100 years Ireland has looked outside her own shores for the means of her redemption. For over 100 years Ireland through her ‘constitutional agitators’ has centred her hopes upon the possibility of melting the heart or appealing to the sense of justice of her oppressor. In vain! England – the British Empire was and is the Bourgeoisie personified, the incarnate beast of capitalist property and her heart was as tender as that of the tiger when he feels his victims helpless in his claws.”

(Quoted in J Connolly: Sinn Fein and Socialism; p9)

Connolly disagreed with the argument of Sinn Fein for the establishment of a Irish parliament on the basis of the Act of Renunciation of 1782. This was the legal basis which allowed for the creation of the College Green semi independent legislature, often referred to as Grattan’s Parliament, which lasted from 1782 until the Act of Union in 1800. In essence Sinn Fein’s position was little different from that of O Connell fifty years earlier when he campaigned for the Repeal of the Act of Union and the establishment of a Lords and Commons of Ireland with limited powers and still subject to the monarchy.

Sinn Fein couched this moderate nationalist position in terms of ‘the restoration of our native parliament’. Connolly pointed out that Ireland had never had a parliament that was representative of her people. The 1782 legislature was merely a method of devolving some power onto a rebellious aristocratic caste by allowing this class a degree of political autonomy but left the economic and political exploitation of the masses unaltered. In fact there was no difference between this ‘native parliament’ and the colonial legislatures imposed on other possessions of the British Empire.

A second aspect of Griffith’s policy was his idolisation of the campaign by Hungarian nationalists to achieve a degree of independence for their territory outside of the Austrian Empire. Connolly vigorously criticised this aspect of Sinn Fein policy as it did not take account of the fact the Hungary had a limited franchise and suffered from chronic poverty and emigration. Hungary was also subject to large scale military and police repression of internal dissension.

Like O Connell Griffith was not a Republican but believed in a form of constitutional monarchy that was totally alien to Connolly’s socialist republicanism. In 1908 Connolly provide his own definition of the phrase Sinn Fein-

“Sinn Fein, Ourselves. I wonder how long it will be until the working class realise the full significance of that principle! How long will it be until the workers realise that the socialist movement is a movement of the working class, and how long until the socialists realise that the place of every other class in the movement is and must be a subordinate one”

(J Connolly: The Harp; April 1908)

Connolly also criticised Sinn Fein’s economic policies.

“With it’s (Sinn Fein’s) economic teaching as expounded by my friend Mr Arthur Griffith, in his adoption of the doctrines of Frederich List, socialists can have no sympathy, as it appeals only to those who measure a nations prosperity by the volume of wealth produced in a country, instead of by the distribution of that wealth among the inhabitants.”

(Irish Nation Jan. 23 1909)

Connolly realised that the economic doctrines of Sinn Fein were a barrier to the possibility of working class unity in the North East where the prospect of an Irish Toryism would offer no alternative to Protestant workers already hostile to nationalist ideas. Catholic and Protestant workers had united in the Belfast Docks Strike in 1907 and had been shot without discrimination of religion by the British army.

Sinn Fein also adopted a ‘Buy Irish’ policy claiming that this would lead to an industrial revival, while ignoring the fact that the increased profits would be to the benefit solely of the employers. During the 1913 Lockout the directors of Jacobs biscuit factory used a similar argument against the strike. They called on the Irish people to oppose the strike on the basis that it was unpatriotic to allow the import of English and Scottish biscuits while Jacobs products could not be exported.

Sinn Fein frequently criticised the actions of workers in industrial disputes, in 1911 it referred to ‘the English made strike’ and stated-

“Against the Red Flag of Communism…we raise the flag of an Irish nation. Under that flag will be protection, safety and freedom for all.”

(Sinn Fein: Sept. 30th 1911)

The anti-revolutionary nature of the Irish Parliamentary Party became increasingly obvious during the Lockout. William Martin Murphy, the leader of the employers in the strike, had been an MP and a prominent member of the Anti Parnellite faction of the Home Rule party. T.M. Healy, later to be Governor General in the Irish Free State, appeared as counsel for the employers during a government enquiry and described the actions of the Trade Unionists as being akin to ‘the Reign of Terror in Paris’.

The Home Rule Party was attacked in the columns of the English Daily Herald

“Not a solitary member of the Irish Party has appeared on any Irish Transport Workers Union platform, or protested against the arrest of Larkin and his friends, or helped the tramway workers in any way whatever”

(Daily Herald 30th Aug 1913)

A similar report was given by The Times

“Today Mr Murphy’s press and the official Nationalist press are at one in condemning Larkinism”

( The Times 4th Oct 1913)

In December 1913 The Irish Worker reported on a motion that had been proposed by a Home Rule councillor at a meeting of Dublin City Council.

“That we, the members of this municipal council, representing the nationalists of this city, do hereby condemn the action of Councillor William Partridge (Kilmainham Ward) and Thomas Lawlor (Wood Quay Ward) for their usurping audacity in going to England to support the socialistic candidates in opposition to the respective Home Rule Liberal candidates that were pledged to support the present government, that has resolved to restore our long lost rights – viz. the management of our affairs in College Green – thus the imported socialistic actions of Councillors Partridge and Lawlor, brands them for evermore as traitors to Ireland and to the Irish race the world over.”

(Irish Worker Dec 13th 1913)

The Irish Worker goes on to allege that the councillor responsible for tabling this motion was the organiser of scabs during the strike.

Similar sentiments are found in the paper Irish Freedom which was the journal of the republican section of Sinn Fein. In its new year message to it’s readers Irish Freedom reflected on 1913.

“We have seen with anger in our hearts and the flush of shame on our cheeks English alms dumped on the quays of Dublin; we have had to listen to the lying and hypocritical English press as it shouted the news of the starving and begging Irish to the ends of the earth; we have heard Englishmen bellowing on the streets of Dublin the lie that we are the sisters and brothers of the English…and greatest shame of all, we have seen and heard Irishmen give their approval to all these insults… God grant that such things may never happen in our land again.”

(Irish Freedom 27th Dec 1913)

These sentiments reflected the joint attitudes of the two main streams of nationalist opinion towards the revival of the fighting spirit of the Irish working class. The Irish Parliamentary Party attacked labour leaders for extending the logic of internationalism to campaigning among the Irish in Britain for the advancement of the working class. Such a policy conflicted with the Home Rule strategy of relying on favours from the Liberal Party.

The Irish Irelanders of Sinn Fein did not even pretend to see the matter in an intelligent political light. The honour of Ireland had been shamed by the open revelation of the truth, they appear to think it better for the working class to starve in silence rather than offend the delicate sensibilities of the world press.

This stand point of absolutist nationalism refused to recognise the international solidarity of the working class but rather that the Irish were dependant on ‘charity’ from the English. The racist attack on Larkin was in line with Sinn Fein’s usual smear against the strike leader.

Not all members of Sinn Fein subscribed to these attitudes but their protests received little coverage. Eamonn Ceannt, P.H. Pearse and Padraic Colum among others spoke out in favour of the right of the workers to organise. The author George Russell (AE) wrote a famous letter to the Irish Times in which he savagely attacked the starvation tactics of the employers

“You may succeed in your policy and ensure your own damnation in your victory. The men whose manhood you have broken will loathe you, and will always be brooding and scheming to strike a fresh blow. The children will be taught to curse you. The infant being moulded in the womb will have breathed into its starved body the vitality of hate. It is not they – it is you who are blind Samsons pulling down the pillars of the social order.”

(Irish Times 7th Oct. 1913)

Support also came from WB Yeats who accused the nationalist press of deliberately using religion to stir up opposition to trade unionism. He condemned the Ancient Order of Hibernians for their involvement in disrupting the plan to send the starving children of workers to England for the duration of the strike. The AOH (the Catholic equivalent of the Orange Order) and the Catholic Confraternities, at the instigation of the Archbishop, had patrolled the port and railway stations questioning parents and ‘rescuing’ children they suspected were being sent to England to be cared for in ‘Protestant or atheistic’ homes.

The concern of fanatical Catholics was not that the children might have enough to eat or that their parents might be the best people to decide on their care. The Irish Worker criticised the hypocritical piety of the respectable citizens of Dublin who stood aside for two months while the employers tried to starve the workers and their dependants into submission.

“The people who now hire motors to rush to ‘rescue’ transport workers children from a well arranged holiday did not make the smallest move in the direction of helping the hungry”

(Irish Worker 8th Nov. 1913)

Priests throughout the country regularly denounced the strike but mindful of the fact that their congregations, especially in Dublin, were made up of workers and trade union members the main tactic of the church centred on attempting to create divisions between the strikers and their leaders. Thus Larkin and other prominent figures in the Irish Transport Workers Union were accused of being atheists and promoting anarchy.

The Church made the pretence of being neutral on the actual issues at stake in the strike, arguing only for fairness on both sides, but in reality their sympathies were firmly with the employers. Priests encouraged the establishment of ‘respectable’ (i.e. scab) trade unions in opposition to the ITGWU as in a sermon from Fr. Condon reported in the Evening Telegraph

“In order that a union so formed have behind it moral sanction, its constitution, its ends, its results, and the means by which it means to pursue its end must all be in accord with the fundamental tenets of Christian morality”

(Evening Telegraph 18th Sept. 1913)

He then continued the speech to condemn the importation of morals from Britain.

The editor of the Irish Catholic, which happened to be owned by William Martin Murphy, declared that

“Volleys fired over the heads of mobs are always a useless performance”

(quoted in G. Gilmore: Labour and the Republican Movement)

Larkin was perfectly well aware of the motivations of the church and put them in a historical context during his famous speech in Manchester.

“Bishop Moriarty told us that the lowest pit of hell was not bad enough for a Fenian. Well I am the son of a Fenian. I prefer to go to the seventh pit of hell with Dante than to go to heaven with William Martin Murphy. Hell has no terrors for me. I have lived there. Thirty six years of hunger and poverty have been my portion….They cannot terrify me with hell. Better to be in hell with Dante and Davitt than to be in heaven with Carson and Murphy”

(Evening Telegraph 17th Sept. 1913)

The 1913 Lockout saw the logical conclusion of the policies and ideology promoted by the nationalist movement. Its alliance with the employers and the Liberals to ensure the political power base of a Home Rule parliament drove the catholic middle class into the political grasp of the English capitalists and the imperialism that they publicly claimed to despise. While Sinn Fein acted as the loyal radical wing of the nationalist movement they to realised that the path to political power would gain their supporters nothing if it was pursued through a principled alliance with the working class.

Despite its ‘republican’ pretensions some of Sinn Fein’s utterances were of a more pro imperialist nature than those of the Irish Parliamentary Party. However Sinn Fein made it clear that they actually wanted an independent Ireland to have its own colonies and seriously proposed the possibility of appointing a German prince as King in Ireland after the departure of the British.

They prospect of the creation of an independent political organisation of the working class, as in the industrial unionism and republicanism of the ITGWU, was a danger to the monopoly of the nationalist middle class on political activity in Ireland and also created the prospect of the development of a strong labour lobby in a Home Rule Ireland. The strength, experience and social power of the working class lay in their economic power, a factor fully recognised, if not often articulated, by non revolutionary nationalist politicians.

The anti working class practises and beliefs of Grattan, O Connell, Parnell and Griffith were based around the necessity of restricting the national struggle to the immediate demand of creating a bourgeois capitalist economy around a territorial Home Rule. This demand, firmly wedded to a parliamentarian constitutional practises, was but one aspect of the sidetracking of the economic grievances of the large mass of the population towards the acceptance of the belief that the alleviation of problems created by a combination of international capitalism and imperialist exploitation could be solved solely by the establishment of a nationalist territorial state governed by native capitalists in their own interests.

The decisive factor in determining the degree of national autonomy was not to be the greatest economic freedom of the mass of the population but rather the introduction of a system of parliamentary democracy based on the necessity of the continuing control of the means of production and wealth generation remaining in the hands of a limited minority. In the case of the bourgeois nationalists this would introduce some form of limited Home government that would allow the Irish Catholic middle class a strong measure of economic autonomy.

Constitutional nationalist leaders were well aware that the forms of government adopted would be in no way revolutionary and would in fact be closely modelled on current British structures. Of crucial importance to successive bourgeois nationalist leaders was their ability to control agitation, be it rural or urban. For these reasons the nationalists remained true to their class interests in 1913 and abandoned the workers, the only class that had remained consistently true to the principle of national liberation. It was for this reason that Connolly wrote

“The working class are the sole incorruptible inheritors of the fight for Irish freedom”


Sources

A. Boyd: The Rise of the Irish Trade Unions 1729 – 1970.
Kevin B. Nowlan (ed.): Karl Marx The Materialist Messiah.
Elinor Burns: British Imperialism in Ireland.
Emmet O Connor: A Labour History of Ireland.
Maurice Goldring: Faith of our Fathers.
Tom Garvin: The Evolution of Irish Nationalist Politics.
Emmet Larkin: James Larkin.
J. Connolly, Charles Russell & Selma Sigerson: Sinn Fein and Socialism.
Robert Kee: The most Distressful Country.
J. D.Clarkson: Labour and Nationalism in Ireland.
Thomas Brady: The Historical Basis of Socialism in Ireland.
J.W.Boyle: Leaders And Workers.
P Berresford Ellis: A History of the Irish Working Class.
C. Desmond Greaves: The LIfe and Times of James Connolly.

Lockout, part 5: The 1990 Industrial Relations Act

January 5, 2013

asti

The 1990 Industrial Relations Act

a massive dilution of workers’ rights


by Gregor Kerr
Irish National Teachers Organisation & Secretary of Trade Union Fightback
(personal capacity)

The 1990 Industrial Relations Act was the most comprehensive piece of legislation in the area of industrial relations in the history of the state. It has had a profound effect on the ability of trade union members to take effective strike action and many of its ramifications are only now becoming clear. In this article I propose to examine the historical background to the Act, the changes it has brought about and the reasons for its enactment.

HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS LEGISLATION

Early Years

Throughout the early years of the state, trade unions operated under 5 old British laws – the Trade Union Acts (1871), (1876) and (1913), the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act (1875) and the Trades Dispute Act (1906). It was the 1906 Act which extended immunities from litigation to trade unions and effectively conferred the right to take industrial action on workers.

In 1935 a Trade Union Act was passed which allowed unions to own more than one acre of land.

Negotiating Licences

On 30th April 1941, Sean McEntee published the Trade Union Bill (1941) which made negotiating licences obligatory for all unions and established a tribunal which could give exclusive negotiating rights to one or more unions in any particular employment. This Bill followed extensive consultations with William O’Brien of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), the then president of the Irish Trades Union Congress (ITUC).

Despite this consultation however, the ink was barely dry on the bill when McEntee enacted Emergency Powers Order No. 83, forbidding employers from making any pay increases and removing immunities from any strikers seeking pay increases. Unions could negotiate but pay increases were illegal! Workers responded with anger and there followed a 3-month campaign of street protests but despite this the Trade Union Act (1941) passed into law.

However in August McEntee was replaced as Minister by Sean Lemass. Lemass was forced to respond to the workers’ demands and he quickly amended the Emergency Powers Order to allow pay rises for certain groups of workers.

Labour Court

Lemass introduced two further pieces of trade union law. The workers did not need a negotiating licence for negotiations with their own employer and put in place appeals machinery on the issue of sole negotiating rights. The Industrial Relations Act (1916) established the Labour Court and set up Joint Labour Committees for “the sweated trades”.

In July 1946, in a case taken by the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR), the Supreme Court ruled that the sections of the 1941 and 1942 Acts allowing exclusive negotiating rights were unconstitutional. In 1950 McGilligan, the Minister for Finance, introduced a system of conciliation and arbitration for the Civil Service – where workers were denied access to the Labour Court.

Two Supreme Court cases in the ’50s (1954 and 1958) narrowed the definition of the term “worker” as used in the 1906 Act. This had the effect of excluding Public Servants and some other workers from the immunities extended in that Act.

Bill Withdrawn

In 1966, Paddy Hillery introduced a comprehensive Trade Union Bill whose main points included:-

  • union rules would have to include provisions for a ballot before strike action
  • a majority of all workers in a workplace would be required to authorise strike action
  • 1906 Act immunities would not apply to unofficial action but would cover all workers involved in official action
  • picketing of employers’ homes would not be allowed.

This Bill was heavily criticised by the Trade Union movement and Hillery was eventually forced to withdraw it. In doing so, he made a statement which today’s union leaders would do well to take note of –

“the only law that will work is that in which trade unions co-operate.'”

The late 1960s saw prolonged industrial unrest, culminating in the craftsmen’s dispute of 1968/’69 which at its height included over 30,000 workers and a seven-month bank strike in 1970.

National Pay Agreement

The State had to put an end to this outbreak of militancy and in 1970, following a breakdown in pay talks at the Employer- Labour Conference, the government introduced a bill to curb pay increases. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) responded with a surrender. When a National Pay Agreement -the first of a decade long series- was agreed, the Bill was withdrawn.

The Trade Union Act (1971) amended the rules on negotiating licences and deposits and in 1975 Michael O’Leary introduced a Bill which encouraged amalgamations. During O’Leary’s time as Minister, the Unfair Dismissals Act and the Employment Equality Act both became law. The Industrial Relations Act (1976) gave agricultural workers access to the Labour Court.

Commission Established

Throughout the ’70s ICTU sporadically lobbied for a change in the law which would give Public Servants the benefit of the 1906 Act immunities.

In May 1978 Fianna Fail Minister for Labour Gene Fitzgerald began the process which was to finish up with the 1990 Industrial Relations Act by establishing a “Commission of Inquiry on Industrial Relations”. However, just over a year later, his plans appeared to be thrown into chaos when ICTU withdrew from the Commission, protesting at the government’s continued failure to bring forward legislation to deal with the effects on Public Servants of the 1954/’58 Supreme Court judgements.

The Commission’s report was published in 1981 and met with severe criticism. Eventually in 1982 Gene Fitzgerald published the Trade Dispute (Amendment) Act which extended the 1906 immunities to all workers except Gardai and members of the army.

Consultation resumes

The process of ‘consultation’ resumed and in 1985 Ruairi Quinn published a “Discussion Document on Industrial Relations Reform’ However it was only in 1987 when Fianna Fail returned to government that discussions got under way in earnest. The “Programme For National Recovery” (October 1987) stated on page 27

“The Minister for Labour will hold discussions with the Social Partners about changes in industrial relations”

Within a year Bertie Ahern produced “Proposals for Industrial Relations Reform” which provided the basis for the Industrial Relations Bill (IRB), published in December 1989. This Bill was given almost unanimous welcome by ICTU. Peter Cassells (ICTU General Secretary) was quoted in Industrial Relations News (IRN) No. 47 (14/12/89) as saying that

“….if it worked properly it would make a positive contribution to the development of good industrial relations in Ireland.”

With minor amendments, the IRS became the Industrial Relations Act (1990) – the offspring of a decade of ‘consultations’ and discussions between government, employers and unions.

THE 1990 ACT – ITS CHANGES

Repeal

The 1990 Act repealed the 1906 Trades Disputes Act in its entirety and re-enacted most of its provisions but modified them in such a way as to tilt the legal balance away from workers.

The sections of the Act which are most likely to impinge on workers taking action are:-

  • Section 8 which provides definitions for the terms “employer”, “trade dispute”, “worker”, “industrial action”, “strike”.
  • Section 9 which makes it practically impossible to take action in defence of an individual worker.
  • Section 11 which deals with picketing.
  • Section 12 which deals with, among other things, ‘blacking’.
  • Sections 14 – 17 which introduce compulsory secret ballots before all types of industrial action
  • Section 19 which affects the granting of injunctions.
  • Sections 24 – 42 which establish the Labour Relations Commission

and set out its terms of reference.

An “employer”

An “employer” is defined in the Act as

“…a person for whom one or more workers work or have worked or normally work or seek to work having previously worked for that person. “

In most cases, the employer will actually be a company. It would appear from this definition that if a company sacked its workforce and re-opened as a ‘new’ company, the workers could not picket as they had not “previously worked for” the new company.

To my knowledge, this scenario has not yet been tested in court but in a similar case the owners of “Judge Roy Beans” pub/restaurant were granted an injunction restraining picketing in April 1991. Six workers – members of the Irish National Union of Vintners, Grocers and Allied Trades Assistants (INUVGATA) – had been employed by the previous owners of the pub but the new owner – Westman Holdings – claimed that they could not picket because he was not their “employer.

In another development, Michael J. McNamara Builders were granted an injunction. Fourteen members of the Building and Allied Trades Union (BATU) had been let go at one of the company’s sites although there was still work for them. The company claimed that there was no hope of the workers being employed again and therefore McNamara could not be defined as their “employer”.

Uncertainty

There is also some uncertainty about the definition given to a “worker” in the Act. A “worker” is

“…..any person who is or was employed…”

This raises doubts as to whether contract workers are covered. Given the growing trend towards personal contracts, this is another issue which could yet end up before the High Court.

“Industrial Action” is defined as

“….any action which affects…..the terms or conditions……of a contract.”

This includes all forms of action including overtime bans, works- to-rule etc. and its ramifications only become clear when it is taken in conjunction with the rules on secret ballots, which I will deal with later.

An Individual Grievance

One of the basic principles of Trade Unions has always been that “An Injury to one is an injury to all”. However, the Industrial Relations Act rules out any industrial action over an individual grievance, unless exhaustive procedures have first been followed through. These `procedures’ can involve use of the Unfair Dismissals Act, the Employment Appeals Tribunal etc. and could take anything from 4 to 6 months. Thus it will be impossible for workers to take quick decisive action in support of a sacked colleague. While the ICTU pamphlet “Industrial Relations Act 1990: A User’s Guide” states that

“…it is not possible to predict with certainty how this will be interpreted by the courts.”

we all know that the courts do not have a record of intervening on the side of the worker.

Free Hand

This section of the Act will give a free hand to anti- union bosses to ride roughshod over the rights of workers. If a worker attempts to organise his/her colleagues to join a union, the individual can be targeted by the employer and the other workers will be powerless to prevent his/her dismissal. Similarly if an employer changes unilaterally the terms or conditions of one worker’s employment and the other employees are prohibited from protesting in any way, a precedent can be established for attacking the rights of all workers in the employment.

The strength of trade unions has always lain in their cohesive, collective nature. Trade unionists have never conceded the existence of ‘individual’ cases but have operated on the basis of unity being strength. Section 9(2) of the 1990 Act could prove to be the weapon with which anti-union bosses will divide and conquer us.

Picketing

Section 11 of the Act introduces a number of changes to the laws regarding picketing. Section 11(1) states that it is lawful for workers

“…acting on their own behalf or on behalf of a trade union…..to picket…..a place where their employer works or carries on business….. “

Section 11(3) says that

“…..it shall be lawful for a trade union official to accompany any member of his union….”

on a picket. A “trade union official” is defined in Section 11(5) as

“…..any paid official of a trade union or any officer of a union or branch of a union…”

Small Workplaces

This has the effect of limiting picketing to employees of a particular company (and their officials). It rules out solidarity picketing even by members of the same union. Its consequences will be felt most severely in small workplaces and in employment’s where only a minority of workers are union members. Take for example the “Japan” boutiques dispute which lasted for over 5 months (January – May 1993). For most of the dispute there were only two strikers who had to maintain a picket on two shops (on Henry St. and in the ILAC Centre) for six days a week, including late opening hours.

In this dispute, because of the determination of the workers involved, the picket was maintained. Some branch officers of the union concerned – Irish Distributive and Administrative Trade Union (IDATU) – did give tremendous support on the picket line but the law prevented rank-and-file trade unionists from IDATU or other unions from picketing. If the type of picket line support that had been organised for the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike, for example, could have been used the strike would have been won in a matter of weeks.

Recognition

In the past, solidarity picketing has proved most useful to workers fighting for union recognition. Since the passing of the 1990 Act, there have been several strikes against viciously anti-union bosses. These have included Letts fish processors in Wexford, Nolan Transport in New Ross and Pat the Baker in Dublin. In all of these cases, the workers on strike have had to fight with one hand tied behind their backs because of the legal obstacles to the organisation of mass pickets which could have shut down the union busters.

Secondary Picketing

Under the 1906 Trades Disputes Act there was no distinction drawn between primary and secondary picketing. All that was required was that the picket be in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute. While it is true to say that the courts took a very limited view of what was permissible, the new Act goes much further. Section 11(2) permits secondary picketing

“…..if, but only if, it is reasonable for those who are so attending to believe…. that that employer has directly assisted their employer….for the purpose of frustrating the strike….”

This Section of the Act makes it practically impossible for strikers to mount a legal secondary picket. How can you prove that the second employer has “directly assisted” your employer? And how will you prove that he/she has done so for the express purpose of “frustrating the strike”?

Work Normally Done

ICTU’s “User’s Guide” says (Page 20)

“The mere fact that employees of another company are passing the picket line in order to carry out work for the employer in dispute would not in itself leave that company open to secondary picketing.”

If these workers are doing work which is normally done by them, their employer could not be said to be attempting to “frustrate” the strike Furthermore, employers who take up extra business as a result of a strike by supplying the customers of the employer in dispute cannot be targeted. Unless you can prove that your boss has asked the second employer to supply his/her customers, it would not be “direct assistance”.

Contract Workers

One of the groups of workers who will feel the effects of this section of the Act most severely will be the tens of thousands of workers – mainly women – who are employed in the contract catering and cleaning services. Take for example the University College Dublin (UCD) cleaners’ dispute in the mid-’80s.

The contract company with which the workers were employed was replaced. The workers picketed UCD demanding to be taken on by the new contractor. If a similar scenario were to take place now, the workers would not be allowed to picket their place of employment (UCD). This would be secondary picketing because the workers’ place of employment is not

“…the place where their employer works or carries on business….” (Section 8)

Further UCD could not be said to have

“..assisted the employer…..for the purpose of frustrating the strike.”

So in fact, a group of workers faced with this situation would have no legal way in which to fight for the retention of their jobs.

And what if an employer hires a self-employed contractor to do some of the work normally carried on by workers on strike? Because this person is self-employed, he/she cannot be picketed as he/she does not fall within the definition of “employer” in Section 8 of the Act.

Blacking

Trade unionists have always shown solidarity with workers on strike by refusing to handle scab goods (blacking). While the legal position on blacking has been somewhat unclear since the Talbot case in April 1981, nevertheless – before the 1990 Act – most unions would instruct their members not to handle goods from a company in dispute. The new Act appears to make things more difficult. Section 12(c) makes it illegal to interfere with

“…the trade, business or employment of some other person, or with the right of some other person to dispose of his capital or his labour as he wills.”

River Valley

This section of the Act was used in the River Valley Product’ dispute (February 1991). The strikers’ union SIPTU instructed its members in Roches Stores and Quinnsworth not to handle River Valley produce. The company sought, and were granted, an injunction rest-raining the union from interfering in their business

“…in any mode whatsoever.”

The effects of this are quite serious. For example, in the Pat the Baker strike, it is not legal for the union to issue leaflets calling on the public to boycott the company’s products as this would constitute an interference in their trade. Indeed Pat the Baker have threatened SIPTU with legal action over the “Use your Loaf” leaflets even though these leaflets do not directly call for a boycott.

Not Impossible

However while blacking has been made more difficult by the 1990 Act, it is by no means impossible. The secret is to look on blacking as “industrial action”. ICTU’s “User’s Guide” states

“A refusal to handle goods or services (a blacking) in support of other workers on strike, would be regarded as industrial action and before a union could instruct its members to take such action, it would have to have a ballot of those likely to be called upon to support it.”

Therefore, in relation to the Pat the Baker case, there is nothing to prevent the two main unions which organise Quinnsworth and Crazy Prices workers – SIPTU and IDATU – from organising a ballot of their members in these shops and campaigning vigorously for a vote in favour of blacking Pat the Baker produce. Provided the rules for balloting and serving of notice are adhered to (see below) a complete and legal boycott of the scab bread could be organised in the space of two weeks.

Ceausescu-land

Section 14 of the 1990 Act represents perhaps the most gross intrusion in internal trade union affairs ever. Not alone does it lay down strict guidelines on the holding of secret ballots before any form of industrial action – no matter how minor – but it also requires that these procedures be written into rule books. Any union which failed to amend its rules to incorporate Section 14(2) of the Act by July 1992 stood to lose its negotiating licence.

Section 14(2) (a) states

“…..the union shall not organise, participate in, sanction or support a strike or other industrial action without a secret ballot, entitlement to vote in which shall be accorded equally to all members whom it is reasonable at the time of the ballot for the union concerned to believe will be called upon to engage in the strike or other industrial action.”

This provision is taken almost word-for-word from Thatcher’s infamous anti-trade union legislation and was described by none other than the current Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Ruairi Quinn, as “Ceausescu-land” when the Act was being discussed in the Daîl.

Nobody appears to know how this “entitlement to vote” should be “accorded equally to all members”. If a ballot is taken after a meeting, have you afforded their `equal entitlement’ to those members who couldn’t be bothered turning up at the meeting?

Who should vote?

Neither is it clear in all cases who should be balloted. Speaking at a conference organised by the Irish Society for Labour Law in July 1991, UCD lecturer Tony Kerr said

“The inclusion (in the ballot) of persons who it is not reasonable to believe will be called upon (to take part in the action) will invalidate the ballot as will the non-inclusion of those whom it is reasonable to believe will be called upon.”

Where should the line be drawn? In employments such as Irish Rail, for example, will it be necessary to ballot all rail workers on something which might be a minor local dispute? And then will all rail workers have to take action for fear that otherwise the ballot will be declared invalid?

Postal Ballots?

This provision will almost inevitably lead to a greater use of postal ballots as it will be argued that this is the only way to ensure that all members get their ‘equal entitlement’ to vote. Workers will vote at home, without hearing the arguments for and against – a total negation of all democratic principles and of collective participation in trade union affairs, leading to isolation and lack of confidence.

“Interference”

Section 11(2)(b) raises more worries. The union must take

“…reasonable steps to ensure that every member entitled to vote in the ballot votes without interference from, or constraint imposed by, the union or any of its members, officials or employees…”

The questions again remain unanswered. What constitutes “interference or “constraint”? Where does “recommendation” end and “interference” begin? It is not inconceivable that some judge will at some stage rule that a Committee recommendation to vote for or against a particular proposal represents “interference”.

The legal profession must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of the number of days in court that this provision is likely to give them. Interestingly, there is no onus on the union to ensure that those voting are protected from “interference” or intimidation by the employer!

Sanction

If a group of workers does manage to make their way through these legal minefields, Section 14(2)(c) has another surprise in store for them. This gives the Executive Committee of the union

“…full discretion in relation to organising, participating in, sanctioning or supporting….industrial action notwithstanding that the majority of those voting in the ballot…favour such….action.”

(my emphasis)

So, the Union Executive is put above the democratically expressed wishes of the membership and is given a legal right (written into the union rule book) to overturn a majority decision in favour of action.

Notice

Having jumped through the secret ballot hoops and successfully negotiated the hurdles of the Executive Committee, the workers are now ready to take their industrial action? Not yet. In all cases 7 days notice must be given. Again this applies to all forms of action – even those which are taken to protect the health or safety of workers. The possibility of taking immediate decisive action is ruled out and the employer is given plenty of time to prepare his/her strike-busting tactics. Even workers whose work environment is dangerous or unhealthy will have to go through all the procedures before taking any form of protest action.

All-Out

The circumstances in which the ICTU All-Out picket can be granted is also tightened up considerably. If an application is made for an All-Out, all of the unions involved must be balloted. If a majority of all the votes cast are in favour of supporting the strike ICTU sanction the All-Out. However, even where workers vote to support a strike, their union may not sanction such support without first getting sanction from ICTU. The previous freedom to take supportive action outside ICTU’s All-Out arrangements is gone.

Consequences

There is considerable confusion as to the consequences of a union’s failure to abide by the rules on secret ballots. Section 14(3) of the Act states that the rights conferred through the secret ballot provisions

“…are conferred on the members of the trade union concerned and on no other persons.”

ICTU’s “User’s Guide” (page 29) says that this means that

“An employer could not obtain an injunction or recover damages merely on the grounds that a ballot was not conducted. Neither could an employer challenge the outcome of a ballot or the manner in which the ballot was conducted.”

If a union failed to comply with the ballot rules, only a member of the union could take legal action. This interpretation was also given on at least two occasions by Bertie Ahern during the Dail debate on the Act.

However in April 1993 the High Court granted an injunction to Irish Rail restraining National Bus and Rail workers Union (NBRU) pickets

“….because there has not been a proper ballot conducted.”

While this was an interim interlocutory injunction and as such sets no precedent, it nevertheless raises alarming worries. The NBRU has lodged an appeal but, once again, it has been demonstrated that trade unionists should put no faith in the ‘impartiality’ of the courts.

Injunctions

Section 19 of the Act supposedly restricts the right of employers to obtain injunctions. ICTU’s “User’s Guide” (page 32) claims that

“….it does seem probable that it will be more difficult for employers to obtain court injunctions than heretofore.”

The Act does say that an employer cannot apply for an ex-parte injunction (without the union being present in court) provided a secret ballot has been held and 7 days notice given. It goes on to state that an injunction will not be granted

“….where the respondent establishes a fair case that he was acting in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.”

Lawyers’ ingenuity

However, as UCD law lecturer Tony Kerr has pointed out

“…it is increasingly apparent that the ingenuity of counsel in discovering new questions for the courts to decide has not abated.”

Once the employer raises any doubt as to whether there is a “trade dispute” as defined in Section 8 of the Act, an interim/interlocutory injunction will nearly always be granted pending a full hearing of the action, which could take several weeks, or even months.

What is clear is that there are a lot of grey areas in the law on injunctions and in weighing up the ‘balance of probabilities’ very few judges will err on the side of the unions.

Labour Relations Commission

Part 3 of the Act establishes the Labour Relations Commission; (LRC), whose functions include the provision of a conciliation service an industrial relations advisory service and

“….to prepare codes of practice relevant to industrial relations”.

While these “codes of practice” are not legally binding, they are admissible in evidence in the Labour Court, High Court etc. and will be used in deciding the issue. In January 1992, in the wake of the previous year’s ESB strike, the LRC produced a code of practice for `essential services’. This is still being “considered” by ICTU and the Irish Business and Employers confederation (IBEC).

This essentially amounts to a long-drawn out process whose only aim is to prevent effective strike action. It is a direct attack on the right to strike and as such should be rejected outright by the unions involved.

WHY WAS THE ACT ACCEPTED?

Dilution of rights

Overall the Industrial Relations Act (1990) represents a savage attack on the trade union movement. In April 1990 – in one of the very few attacks on it by trade union leaders – it was described by Greg Maxwell, then General Secretary of the Union of professional and Technical Civil Servants (UPTCS) as the worst dilution of workers’ rights in the history of the state.

“If enacted it will be a victory for extreme employers’ views and the most explicit statement of anti-union ideology embodied in law in this country.”

he said.

Many trade unionists and commentators have quite rightly asked why ICTU so meekly accepted this legislation, and continue to implement it unquestioningly. In order to answer this question, I feel we must first appreciate why a change in the law was deemed necessary. After all, the 1980s had seen a dramatic fall-off in the level of industrial struggle and in 1989 – the year in which the Bill was published – the number of ‘days lost’ through industrial action hit a record low of 45,854.

Economic Policy

As I pointed out earlier, the Act came about as a result of over a decade of “consultation”. In the words of Kevin Duffy, Assistant General Secretary of ICTU (Nov. 1992)

“There was extensive tripartite discussion involving the ICTU, Government and the Employers Organisations before this legislation was passed. A process of negotiation took place.”

We all know that most employers would be only too delighted to see all industrial action made illegal. Government, too, would not be opposed to this idea. But the 1990 Act can only be really understood if it is taken as a supplement to government economic policy. In order to make the economy “attractive” to foreign investors it is necessary for government and employers to be able to point to industrial “peace”. Thus one of the reasons put forward in the PNR for changing the law was

“…to help create conditions for employment – generating investment.”

‘Social Partnership’

Because Fianna Fail had chosen the path of ‘social partnership’ to tame the unions, they decided not to follow Thatcher’s example of declaring war. Instead, through involving them in the ‘decision – making process’, they very cleverly got the ICTU leadership to agree to voluntarily disarm its membership.

Union leaders were prepared to go to any lengths in order to maintain their supposed position of influence.

New Realism

Another factor which contributed to the apparent meekness of the ICTU leadership was their embracing of ‘New Realism’. They do not see themselves as leading workers in a fight for their rights – that, they say, is an outdated view of trade unionism.

Modern trade unionism, they say, is about providing ‘services’ for members – credit cards, financial packages, insurance schemes and the like. They view their role as being that of mediator/referee – making a few strong public statements now and again to keep the workers happy but doing everything possible to make sure that ‘economic stability’ – whether it be local or national – is not threatened.

Thus for example, SIPTU’s advertisement in the January 1991 issue of “Management” – magazine of the “Irish Management Institute” – under the heading “Resolving Conflict is our Business”. In this context the Industrial Relations Act assists them in their task of keeping the members under control.

FIGHT IT

Massive Con

The ICTU (with the help of government and employers) have pulled off a massive con. They knew quite well what they were doing when they connived with the government to foist this Act on us. Shop stewards and rank-and-file activists should not accept this.

We must campaign against this attack on our rights and for repeal. Above all, we must support any group of workers who take action defiance of the Act or who are victimised by it.

Where workers come into conflict with the law, the law must be defied and those workers must know that they will have the full support of all trade unionists.

Rank and file campaign

Kevin Duffy may be of the view that the Act

“….has not made a great deal of difference to the conduct of disputes and it has certainly not created any insurmountable difficulties” (Nov. 1992)

but rank and file activists who believe that the lessons of 1913 still hold true today know that this is undiluted nonsense.

Motions should be proposed at all union branches demanding a campaign for repeal of the Act. Realising that ICTU – joint architects of the Act – cannot be relied on to lead such a campaign, it must be built from the bottom by making contact with other branches and with workers at the cutting edge of the struggle who have felt the full effects of the Act.

Remember the Industrial Relations Act will only be operable if workers and trade unions co-operate with it.