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Proponents of austerity betray the legacy of 1913 Lockout – Crowe

2 February, 2013 - by Seán Crowe TD


Speaking at an event to mark the 100th anniversary on the 1913 Lockout in Dublin City today Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South West said the legacy of the lockout is not the Labour Party and its tradition of propping up right wing, Fine Gael led governments but the determination of workers on this island and their communities to defend themselves against attacks on hard won working and social conditions.

Full text of Deputy Crowe’s speech follows;

Brother and Sisters

In 1913 Dublin City had a population of about 300,000.  50,000 unskilled workers depended on work on the docks, in transport, the building trade and a limited number of factories and workshops.  Many of the traditional crafts were in decline.

Workers started work at 6am and if they were lucky finished 10 hours later.  Six days a week.

There was no sick pay, no pay for overtime, no retirement pension, no redundancy pay and no dole.

Unskilled workers relied on casual work depending on the favour of employers, the foreman or the stevedore.

Families depended on the slum landlord for security and for welfare, the publican or pawnbroker.

Labourers could be replaced at a moment’s notice from a pool of thousands of workers, many from the countryside who carried with them the inherent memory of An Gorta Mor, the great Hunger.  There was a readiness to work for any wage and in any conditions.

Dublin had a child death rate that was as high as Calcutta.Vermin, lice, disease thrived alongside poverty and hunger.

The beautiful Georgian houses were literally rotting away and the collapse of tenement that were officially condemned, was a regular occurrence.

Almost a quarter of the inhabitants lived in city centre tenements, 80% of them lived in just one room.

James Connolly, no stranger to poverty, described Dublin as a ‘hellish’ place for working class people.

It was into such a city that Larkin brought his ‘Divine Gospel of Discontent’.

An ego maniac, a red, an agitator, an internationalist, a trade unionist, a saviour, a leader, a man who wouldn’t bend the knee, a man wouldn’t bow down to the bosses and their lackies.

He didn’t want reform or change he wanted a revolution.  Along came Larkin like a mighty wave the song says.

The Irish Transport and General Workers Union recruited thousands of Dublin workers and Larkin’s newspaper the ‘Irish Worker’ grew to have a circulation of 90,000 as people became more and more radicalised.

Fearing the implications of this, the bosses leader William Martin Murphy first banned employees of the Irish Independent Newspaper, which was then based across the road between Princes Street and Middle Abbey Street from joining the ITGWU and then banned ITGWU members from his Tramway Company.

Murphy boasted that if his employees went on strike that it would become Larkin’s Waterloo. In his speech to the tramway workers in July 1913 Murphy directly threatened them that they would be starved back to work if they resisted.

Choose your union or your job he said.  The workers replied“We choose our union and our right to be free men.”

The Tramway strike began in August when the company sacked 100 workers for being members of the ITGWU.

Larkin accepted the challenge and called out workers in other Murphy companies and organised sympathetic action which included members of other unions who blocked the transport of the Independent.

In September Murphy persuaded all employers who were members of his federation to issue a demand to their workers that they agree to either to resign from the ITGWU or not to join the union.

Many did not sign, were not even members of that union but refused to be blackmailed.

The strike became a lockout and was a defining issue in Irish politics and society.

There were few if any who did not take one side or the other.

Among radical nationalists, Arthur Griffith attacked Larkin but Padraig Pearse and leading members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood were sympathetic and supported the workers.

Some of that support from the intelligentsia was channelled into the food kitchens and fund raising to supplement the strike, some of them attempted to have children sent to Britain to be cared for by the families of sympathisers. That of course was prevented by a handful of catholic clerics and played a significant part in leading to the end of the strike.

Dublin and Wexford footballers played a match to raise funds for the workers which attracted a large crowd. There had been a lock out in Wexford town in 1911 involving many members of local GAA clubs.

Wexford were All Ireland champions in 1913, the start of a four-in a row, so their agreeing to play Dublin was a bold and significant statement.

Soccer was also impacted when Larkin called on people to picket a match at Shelbourne Park between Shelbourne and Bohemians because he claimed that some of the Bohs players were scabs.

Maybe Cllr Larry O’Toole will issue a collective apology to us later about this.

The picket on the match led to a baton charge by the Dublin Metropolitan Police and was one of almost daily incidents of violence and bloodshed.

Two workers, James Nolan and John Byrne died as a result of injuries received at the hands of the DMP during baton charges on the night that a warrant was issued for Larkin’s arrest.  Police with the support of the military smashed up people’s homes, arrested workers and terrorised the populace.

An ITGWU representative from Dun Laoghaire James Byrne died in November following a hunger strike in Mountjoy after he was arrested and charged with the alleged intimidation of a tramway worker.  Another striker Alice Brady was shot dead by a scab.

The attacks on workers and the ITGWU led directly to the founding of the Irish Citizens Army as a defence force but of course it was to play an even more famous role as part of the army of the Republic in Easter 1916 and later.

The lockout ended in defeat in so far as the union had not won official recognition. A key part in people going back to work was that there simply was not the means to sustain so many workers and their families. People were literally starved back to work. Another factor was the refusal of the leadership of the British TUC to organise solidarity actions in Britain despite the huge support for the Dublin workers among many British trade unionists.

Although the Lock Out had ended formally in defeat, the bosses victory was a hollow one.

They had lost what we would now term the ‘PR battle’ and the Lock out had radicalised huge numbers of workers and swelled the ranks of the ITGWU.

By 1920 the ITGWU had well over 100,000 members, ten times what it had in 1913.

That alone is proof that the bosses attempt to destroy trade unionism in this city and in this country had failed.

1913, like the Easter Rising in 1916, remains a central part in the history and folklore of this city.

Dubs are rightly proud of their collective spirit and the solidarity displayed in the face of starvation and state brutality.

It has also left a strong awareness of the need for social solidarity, for working class unity, for workers and their communities to have leaders that would stand with and up for them.

Today is about remembrance but also has to be about action.

It will only be the most naïve fool who will not see through the parties who support the current politics of austerity and who pay lip service to Larkin and what happened in this city 100 years ago.

Foremost among them will be the Labour Party vainly seeking to give their spin on Larkin and Connolly and the sacrifices  they are engaged in, supposedly in the interests of Irish workers and their families.

The 1913 legacy is not a Labour Party and its tradition of propping up Fine Gael in right wing anti-working class coalitions.

The true legacy of 1913 is the determination of workers on this island and their communities to defend themselves against attacks on hard won working and social conditions.

100 years ago workers were being attacked in this city.Today as we gather here, workers and their families are facing new onslaught.

Poverty is back and children go to school hungry.

The bosses and their lackies are again trying to undermine workers’ hard won rights and living standards.

The rotten tenements now replaced by new slums, kips and apartments and propped up by pyrite.

The rich, the wealthy, the newspaper magnates with illusions of grandeur are still stalking the land

Kenny, Gilmore, Merkel and Cameron should take note, austerity is not working for workers and their families right across Europe.

Workers’ conditions have improved since 1913 but these have been hard fought for and will not be given up without a fight.

Brothers and sisters, Larkin and Connolly believed that an injury to one is an injury to all.

It’s a pledge and an idea that all workers and their representatives should commit themselves to, as we continue the struggle for an Ireland of Equals.

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