Archive for the ‘Pamphlets’ category

Lockout, part 1: Unfinished Business

January 9, 2013


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



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 In 1824 the combination laws were repealed following tireless work by the reformer Francis Place and by member of Parliament Joseph Hume who successfully smuggled the necessary legislation through the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


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 4: Socialism and Irish Nationalism

January 6, 2013


“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”


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


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.


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 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”.


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.


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… picket…..a place where their employer works or carries on business….. “

Section 11(3) says that

“… 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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Lockout, part 6: The ‘Pat the Baker’ strike

January 4, 2013

The Scab

Pat the Baker

1993 : Still fighting for Union Rights

As this pamphlet goes to the printers, in early August 1993, eighteen workers at the ‘Pat the Baker’ plant in Ballyfermot are entering their sixth month on strike. 80 years after the battles for union recognition in 1913 these workers are still fighting for the basic right to be represented by a union of their choice.

The strikers at ‘Pat the Baker’ have met with the sort of intimidation and violence of which William Martin Murphy and the infamous Dublin Metropolitan Police would have been proud. Management have refused to accept the 1991 Labour Court recommendation that SIPTU be recognised and have insisted instead that the workers are adequately represented by a so-called ‘works committee’. This ‘works committee’ – based in the parent plant in Granard, Co. Longford – is chaired by Frank Sheridan who has been to the forefront in physical and verbal assaults on the strikers.

When the Ballyfermot strikers placed a picket on the Granard plant in mid-June they were kicked, punched, beaten with sticks, spat on and verbally abused by a gang of thugs led by Sheridan. Several of the strikers had to receive medical treatment as a result of these assaults. While many of the Granard workers were prepared to listen to the union’s case Sheridan’s thugs broke up any discussions by pulling the Granard workers away. It is clear that Sheridan and Pat Higgins (the owner of ‘Pat the Baker’ ) fear the consequences of a victory for the strikers.

Their fear is indeed well founded. Despite Higgins’ claim that the workers are adequately represented by the ‘works committee’ conditions in ‘Pat the Baker’ are atrocious. Basic pay (before Tax) is as low as £139 for a five day week over six days with no extra pay for Sunday working. The shift premium is ridiculously low and there is no sick pay or pension scheme.

The workers currently on strike realised that the ‘works committee’ is nothing more than a management smokescreen aimed at giving the pretence of ‘representation’. They stand in the tradition of generations of Irish workers who have fought against exploitation and sweatshop conditions. They deserve the support of every trade unionist and indeed every member of the working class.

The most tangible way in which this support can be given is through a boycott of all ‘Pat the Baker’ products. As well as the ‘Pat the Baker’ brand these include K.V.I., Five Star and Yellow Pack bakery products as supplied by Quinnsworth and Crazy Prices.

Workers in these must be balloted by their unions (SIPTU and IDATU) and a total blacking of these products organised. This should, in fact, have been done months ago. Unionised workers in Quinnsworth, Crazy Prices and other shops are handling scab bread from ‘Pat the Baker’ every day.

A complete boycott of Pat the Baker produce and publicity material should be immediately organised. Workers, and all who support trade union membership rights can help to ensure the strikers victory by visiting them on the picket line in Cherry Orchard and by boycotting the scab products presently coming from ‘Pat the Baker’.

In another ongoing dispute workers at Nolan Transport in New Ross, Co Wexford have been on the picket line for over six months, again in a battle for union recognition. Nolans strikers have also been subjected to brutal intimidation and violent attacks by company thugs. Again the key to winning the strike is through the effective blacking of all Nolans trucks – something which should have been done months ago by the SIPTU leadership.

Workers at both Nolans and ‘Pat the Baker’ show that the spirit of 1913 lives on. It is unfortunate that Larkin’s legacy has been forgotten by most of the present-day trade union leadership.