1913 Strike Jim Larkin
Throughout the United Kingdom, the divisions between the labour movement and employers had deepened greatly in the early years of the twentieth century. Strikes had occurred frequently in many places, but it seemed that industrial relations were becoming more settled in the beginning of the second decade of the century. For the most part, Dublin had escaped labour unrest. In 1900 the Dublin Chamber of Commerce confidently declared: ‘We are pleased to note the growing disposition of all classes to unite in promoting the best interests of our country’. This harmony did not last and in 1913, the Labour movement in Dublin became involved in a serious conflict with the employers, known as the Lockout.
1. Chronology of the Strike and Lockout
26 August 1913. The strike began. Tram workers deserted their vehicles in protest when William Martin Murphy forbade employees of his Tramways Company to be members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.
28 August. Larkin and other labour leaders were arrested on the following charges: seditious speaking and seditious intent to break the public peace, and to spread hatred towards the Government. They were released later that day.
29 August. Official proclamation issued prohibiting the proposed meeting in Sackville St (now O’Connell St) on 31 August. Great meeting in Beresford Place. Before 10,000 people, Larkin burned the Government proclamation prohibiting the gathering.
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30 August. Police issued a warrant for Larkin’s arrest for using seditious language inciting people to riot and to pillage shops. Riots in Ringsend, Beresford Place, and Eden Quay, during which the police baton-charged the crowds and injured many protestors. James Nolan, caught in the riots, died from injuries received from police.
31 August. Although warned by the police not to attend the planned mass meeting, Larkin appeared in the window of the Imperial Hotel, in disguise, to address the huge crowd assembled. He was immediately arrested, and a riot followed. There were riots throughout the city that night.
1 September. Dublin Corporation demanded a public inquiry into police conduct and allegations of police brutality. The inquest into the death of James Nolan began. Jacobs shut down part of its factory because of a strike by members of the ITGWU. Rioting broke out in Redmond’s Hill, in surrounding areas, and in other parts of the city.
2 September. The Dublin Coal Merchants’ Association locked out members of the ITGWU. Two tenement houses collapsed in Church Street, causing the immediate death of seven persons and serious injury to others.
3 September. William Martin Murphy addressed a meeting of about 400 employers, and persuaded them to act against the ITGWU. The employers drew up an agreement that pledged not to employ members of the ITGWU, and to sack those who refused to accept this decision. Thousands attended the funeral of James Nolan.
4 September. A labourer named John Byrne died from injuries received during rioting on Saturday night, 30 August.
5 September. A conference was held between employers, workers, and English trade unionists to try to resolve the dispute, without success. The jury at the inquest into the death of James Nolan decided that he died from fracture of the skull caused by a blow from a police baton, but that the evidence was not sufficient to say who dealt it.
7 September. The jury at the inquest into the death of John Byrne ruled that the cause of death was a fracture of the skull although they could not determine how the injury was caused.
9 September. The Dublin Building Trades Employers’ Federation adopted unanimously a resolution not to employ members of the ITGWU, and dismissed workers who did not accept this decision.
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12 September. Farmers in Co. Dublin gave notice to labourers who belonged to the ITGWU. Members of the Dublin Carriers’ Association fired workers who refused to handle ‘tainted’ goods, i.e., materials provided by or for employers who supported Murphy’s lockout.
15 September. Another conference took place between employers, workers, and English trade unionists, but ended in failure.
16 September. Serious rioting broke out in Finglas village, and the police opened fire to disperse rioters.
21 September. Strikers marched through the city centre and clashed with police.
22 September. Staff employed by Timber Merchants refused to work with ‘tainted’ goods, and joined the strike.
25 September. Troops were drafted in to protect property, and to deliver coal to Government bodies that were not involved in the dispute.
26 September. The Government Board of Trade appointed George Askwith, Thomas R. Rathliffe–Ellis, and J. R. Clynes MP to oversee a Court of Inquiry to investigate the causes of the dispute, and to try to end it.
27 September. The first food ship arrives from England with 60,000 ‘family boxes’ for striking workers.
29 September. The Askwith Commission of Inquiry into the causes of the Lockout began.
2 & 3 October. Employers gave evidence to the Commission, defended their actions against the ITGWU, emphasised that they were not against Unions in principle, but were resolutely opposed to the ITGWU because it threatened their very existence by forcing workers into sympathetic strikes.
4 October. Representatives of the workers presented their case to the Commission, and stated that they would return to work only if Employers lifted their ban on the ITGWU, and reinstated all workers.
6 October. The Court of Inquiry concluded. Askwith recommended that a Conciliation Committee be set up, to hear the case of workers and employers, and to attempt to resolve disputes before a strike or lockout was declared. Employers rejected Askwith’s proposals.
8 October. Serious riots occurred in Swords, Co. Dublin when striking workers tried to prevent farmers bringing cattle to market. Police and civilians were injured.
14 October. In response to the Commissioners’ Report, the Employers’ Federation announced that they would end the Lockout only if the ITGWU were completely reorganised, under new leadership, and that they would not promise to reinstate every worker because they would not fire workers who replaced those on strike.
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16 October. A crowd of about 4000 striking workers marched through the city to protest at the employers’ statement.
20 October. Archbishop William Walsh condemned the plan to send children of strikers to England for the duration of the strike.
21 October. The first group of children set sail for England, amidst loud protests from angry crowds at the ports.
12 November. Labourers in Dublin port stopped work.
18 December. Representatives of workers and employers met again to try to reach agreement but discussions ended two days later because of disagreement about the reinstatement of workers who had been on strike.
December 1913 & January 1914. Striking workers gradually began to return to work and the Lockout ended by degrees.
2. A Tenement City
There was good reason for discontent in Dublin in 1913. Unskilled workers lived in desperate poverty. Housing conditions were deplorable. Overcrowding was a serious problem, and bred disease and infection. Malnutrition was common. The death rate in Dublin (27.6 per 1000) was bad as Calcutta, and the city’s slums were amongst the worst in the world. Over 20,000 families lived in one-room dwellings. There were often more than ten families in town houses that were built for one upper-class family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These houses became dilapidated when wealthy elites left them and moved to the suburbs. The houses were often taken over by landlords who rented them out, room by room, to poor families, and they quickly became slums. There was little privacy. Facilities for cooking, cleaning, and washing were wholly inadequate. Sanitary conditions were worse. Many tenement buildings shared one lavatory in a yard. James Connolly was only too well aware of these conditions:
Ireland is a country of wonderful charity and singularly little justice. And Dublin, being the epitome of Ireland, it is not strange to find that Dublin, a city famous for its charitable institutions and its charitable citizens, should also be infamous for the perfectly hellish conditions under which its people are housed, and under which its men, women and children labour for a living.
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In 1913, events occurred which made clear the dreadful conditions of poverty in Dublin. On the evening of Tuesday, 2 September 1913, at about 8.45, two houses in Church Street suddenly collapsed, burying the occupants. The buildings were four storeys high, with shops on the ground floor. The sixteen rooms upstairs were occupied by about ten families, over forty people. Rescue parties worked through the night digging people out. Seven were killed in this disaster and many more were badly injured.
Most people were shocked that such an event could occur but others were less surprised. Mr R. G. Pilkington of the Dublin Citizens’ Association Committee on Housing wrote in the Irish Times that:
‘the mass of the citizens are in ignorance of the real wants of the city. … We have evidence to show that (owing to dilapidation) what recently happened in Church Street may occur in other parts of the city’.
After the Church Street disaster, a Committee of Inquiry was set up by the Government to study housing in the city. It reported disturbing findings in 1914. Of the 400,000 people living in Dublin, 87,305 lived in tenements in the centre of the city. Eighty per cent of these families occupied only one room each. The Committee defined ‘tenement houses’ as:
Houses intended and originally used for occupation by one family but which, owing to change of circumstances, have been let out room by room and are now occupied by separate families, one in each room for the most part.
Reporting on the conditions in the tenements, the Committee said:
There are many tenement houses with seven or eight rooms that house a family in each room and contain a population of between forty and fifty souls. We have visited one house that we found to be occupied by 98 persons, another by 74 and a third by 73. The entrance to all tenement houses is by a common door off a street, lane or alley, and in most cases the door is never shut day or night. The passages and stairs are common and the rooms all open directly either off the passages or landings. Most of these houses have yards at the back, some of which are a fair size, while others are very small, and some few houses have no yards at all. Generally the only water supply of the house is furnished by a single water tap which is in the yard. The yard is common and the closet accommodation is to be found there, except in some few cases in which there is no yard, when it is to be found in the basement where there is little or no ventilation. The closet accommodation is common as the evidence shows not only to the occupants of the house, but to anyone who likes to come in off the street, and is of course common to both sexes. The roofs of the tenement houses are as a rule bad. … Having visited a large number of these houses in all parts of the city, we have no hesitation in saying that it is no uncommon thing to find halls and landings, yards and closets of the houses in a filthy condition, and in nearly every cases human excreta is to be found scattered about the yards and in the floors of the closets and in some cases even in the passages of the house itself. …
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The tenement rooms were sparsely furnished. The basic items were bedsteads, bed-clothes, tables and chairs (boxes were frequently used instead of the last two).
David Alfred Chart (1847–1919), an eminent Irish historian and social scientist, edited several historical works, and wrote several histories of Ireland, in the first half of the twentieth century. He addressed the Dublin Social Inquiry and Statistical Society about poverty and slum housing in Dublin on 6 March 1914. He noted during one of his visits that:
‘in some tenement rooms the bedstead is not to be seen in its usual place in the corner, but in its stead there is spread on the floor a mysterious and repellent assortment of rags, which few inquirers have had the hardihood to investigate and which is believed to serve as a bed.’.
The contrast between the squalor of life in the city slums and the beautiful countryside only a few miles from the city could not have been greater. Visits to the countryside were a rare treat for slum children.
Many families were forced to pawn what little they had in bad times, and times were nearly always bad. One observer noted that:
‘the number of articles pawned in Dublin is very large. From inquiries which I made some years ago, I ascertained that, in a single year, 2,866,084 were issued in the city of Dublin’.
Family belongings were commonly pawned at the beginning of the week and redeemed at the end of the week when some money came in.
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3. Human Conditions in the City
The evil effects of overcrowding, physical and mental, were obvious. One observer who visited various tenements in the city recalled the depressing scenes:
I entered a ‘front-drawingroom’ on a sultry day in August. A child lay ill with whooping cough and was lying exhausted on the bed after a paroxysm [convulsion] of coughing. Flies were numerous in the room (it was a hot summer) and were passing and repassing from the food on the table to the face and body of the sick child. …
He also recalled a father:
… who appealed to me, as one in temporary authority, to procure the ejection of a suspected ‘unfortunate’ from the room above his own. He said he was trying to ‘bring up his children dacint [decent]’ and how could he do it with women like that in the house. …
Because of bad housing, poor sanitation and bad diet there were major health problems in the tenements. The most common and dreaded of the ‘killer diseases’ was TB [tuberculosis] or ‘consumption’, as it was commonly known. Diseases such as measles and whooping cough were highly contagious, and very dangerous to undernourished children. Overcrowding and poor hygiene meant that disease was everywhere. Infant mortality was most alarmingly high. Sir Charles Cameron, the Medical Inspector for Dublin, said: ‘It is certain that infants perish from want of sufficient food …’. About 20% of all who died in the city (1,808 in 1911) were children than a year old and nearly all those occurred among the poorest classes.
The appalling living conditions caused serious social problems. Alcohol played a very large role in the lives of many. It offered an easy escape from the dreary everyday troubles of life in the tenements. Workers who drank had little or no money to spend on their families. The problem was made worse by the custom, in some areas, of paying workers their wages in pubs.
Crime was widespread in the city, and often connected with drunkenness. The figures for serious crimes—murder, rape and larceny—were 100 crimes for every 10,000 people (higher than most large cities in Britain).
The high rate of prostitution was another great social problem. Poverty forced many women into this: It was the only way they could get the money they badly needed. Sackville Street (O’Connell St) and Grafton Street were notorious areas for prostitutes. Indeed, the custom in Sackville Street was that one side of the street was for ‘respectable’ people and the other for prostitutes. A girl of a tenement family was forced to grow up quickly and was often a surrogate mother to her younger brothers and sisters.
4. Employment in Dublin
The lack of manufacturing in Dublin meant that there was an unusually high number of unskilled workers in various jobs, mainly to do with the distribution and transportation of goods. These jobs were very often ‘casual’. Some employers felt that tenement-people were bad workers because they were physically weak. The English journalist, Arnold Wright, wrote:
It cannot be overlooked, that the very nature of their mode of living tends to reduce their value to the labour market … they speedily lose, not merely their sense of self-respect, but their capacity for sustained exertion.
The census of 1911 recorded 90,000 adult males in Dublin city. The naturally growing population was swelled by others from the country coming to live in the city. As a result there were always more workers than jobs. Unemployment rate was sometimes as high as 20%. With such competition for jobs, unskilled workers were in a very weak position to demand pay and conditions. Irish workers lacked the power and confidence of organised, skilled workers, such as were common in Britain and Europe. Trade Unions in Dublin were very weak.
Women fared even worse than men. While the average labourer’s wage was less than one pound a week, the average female earned about half that. Most women who worked were in domestic service in the homes of the wealthy. There were few other jobs.
5. The Opponents: James ‘Big Jim’ Larkin & William Martin Murphy
The 1913 Lockout is often seen as a clash between two influential men: James ‘Big Jim’ Larkin, founder and head of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), and William Martin Murphy, one of the city’s most wealthy and powerful industrialists, and the main force behind the Dublin Employers Federation Ltd. Both were very important as the representatives of workers and employers: Larkin with support of thousands of urban workers, and moral force, behind him; Murphy with wealth, power, and the support of a privileged elite.
Larkin, the Liverpool–born son of poor Irish immigrant parents, worked at different jobs before becoming involved with the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL).
He quickly attracted attention as a great organiser, who recruited hundreds of dock workers in the Union. As a result, he was made a full-time Union official. His job as organiser brought him to Scotland first, and then to Belfast, where he organised the unskilled workers. He went on to lead a successful strike for recognition of the union and for higher wages. He did the same in Cork and Derry before finally settling in Dublin. He became so involved in the labour troubles in Dublin and Cork that he began to embarrass the leaders of his own Union. While attempting to organise the general workers in Dublin, he finally pushed his superiors too far. In 1908 he was sacked from his £4-a-week job as organiser for the NUDL. Larkin, however, remained committed to building up a strong union among the Dublin general workers. The Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU)was founded on 4 January 1909.
Many of the founding members were influenced by syndicalism: the idea that all workers should unite in one great union, and use the ‘sympathetic strike’ to get better conditions. A ‘sympathetic strike’ was when workers supported striking workers by refusing to deal in any way with firms whose employees were on strike. Many syndicalists wanted, ultimately, to overthrow the capitalist system, and to establish socialism, that is, that all workers would be equal, would share responsibilities equally, and receive equal pay.
Due in the main to Larkin’s own personal appeal, membership of the ITGWU grew to around 10,000 within a few years. His tremendous ability as a speaker and his obvious compassion for the oppressed, made him the hero of thousands of workers. Among his own colleagues he was admired but not always liked personally. People like James Connolly (a leading socialist who returned to Ireland from the United States and became an official of the new Union), Thomas McPartlin, W. P. Partridge and others worked hard with him in building up the Union, but they often resented his arrogant and often angry manner.
Connolly had been reared in dire poverty in an Edinburgh slum, and had taught himself to read by the light of a coal fire. He spent some time in the United States and he returned to Ireland with a passionate interest in labour politics and socialism in general. He sought to apply Marxist thought to the Irish situation. He argued that the Irish working classes had been historically exploited by their fellow Irishmen and by British capitalists. Prior to the events of 1913 and after, Connolly argued for a socialist revolution in Ireland, a revolution which would bring his beloved dock-workers and urban slaves to political power.
Larkin’s strong personality meant that he was never an easy man work with. Liberty Hall became the headquarters of the ITGWU and the centre of all the Union’s activity. Larkin also wanted a newspaper to speak out for the workers of the city and, in 1911, the Irish Worker was published and appeared weekly. It had a circulation of over 90,000.
From its foundation, the Union organised successful strikes of carters, dockers, and railwaymen. One of these took place in Wexford in 1911, when two foundries, Pierce and Star Works, prohibited staff from joining the ITGWU. Workers protested, and employers locked out those who refused to accept their terms. The strike/lockout lasted six months, but employers buckled in the end, and agreed to improved working conditions. They demanded, in return, that workers form a different union: this was called the Irish Foundry Workers Union but it remained affiliated to the ITGWU. Success in Wexford, and elsewhere, encouraged ITGWU leaders to call more strikes. This provoked the hostility of employers, particularly in Dublin where many of the strikes occurred (over thirty between January and August 1913).
Larkin also tried to target heavy drinking. He was a teetotaller, and was firmly opposed to alcohol. His newspaper, the Irish Worker, often warned its readers of the dangers of drink. In 1913, reflecting on the appalling conditions that existed in Dublin, he said:
When I came to Dublin, I found that the men on the quays had been paid most of their wages in public houses, and if they did not waste most of their money there, they would not get work the next time. Every stevedore [worker employed in the loading or unloading of ships] was getting 10 per cent of the money taken by the publican from the worker, and the man who would not spend his money across the counter was not wanted.
Becuase of his anti-alcohol campaign, Larkin was greatly admired by wives and mothers who suffered most from the heavy drinking of their menfolk.
William Martin Murphy was the son of a Cork building contractor. His father died when he was only nineteen years old. Young Murphy had a natural talent for commerce and he guided the family business through years of immense growth. He got very wealthy through business dealings extending from London to Africa. By the early 1900s, he had become the foremost Irish businessman. His wealth and fame lay in his ownership of, or interest in, such enterprises as Clery’s Department Store, the Imperial Hotel, the Irish Independent newspaper and the Dublin United Tramways Company.
Because of his powerful position in business, Murphy had immense influence. He was greatly respected by his fellow employers in the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. The ITGWU’s success in winning concessions from employers was mainly because of the use of sympathetic strikes. In 1911, frustrated at their seeming powerlessness, employers responded to a call by Murphy to form a federation to break the ITGWU. The Dublin Employers’ Federation Ltd., led by William Martin Murphy, refused to recognise the ITGWU. A Cork Employers’ Federation had already been successful against Larkin in 1909. Murphy had the reputation of being a good employer who gave his workers fair wages. However, he would not tolerate dissension and refused to employ anyone who was a member of the ITGWU. He was well-known for his personal charity. One woman wrote in 1913:
Mr Murphy is a just and kind employer. Outsiders know little of his real goodness—I experienced it myself when my husband died after a long and expensive illness. The first letter I received was from Mr Murphy enclosing a cheque for £30—‘as my needs might be pressing’—and just asking me to say a prayer for the soul of his son who died a year before my husband, although he had never laid eyes on me or my children.
Murphy was a strong, aloof man. Wealthy, charitable, just and able, he was a loyal friend and a ruthless enemy.
6. The Beginning of the Lockout
Matters between Murphy and the ITGWU came to a head in the summer of 1913. Murphy refused to employ ITGWU members on the staff of his Irish Independent newspapers and in July 1913, he forbade staff in the Tramways Company to join the Union. On Saturday, 27 July 1913 Murphy called a meeting of his employees in the Tramways Company. He warned his workers of the consequences of strike:
I want you to clearly understand that the directors of this company have not the slightest objection to the men forming a legitimate Union. And I would think there is talent enough amongst the men in the service to form a Union of their own, without allying themselves to a disreputable organisation, and placing themselves under the feet of an unscrupulous man who claims the right to give you the word of command and issue his orders to you and to use you as tools to make him the labour dictator of Dublin. … I am here to tell you that this word of command will never be given, and if it is, that it will be the Waterloo of Mr. Larkin. A strike in the tramway would, no doubt, produce turmoil and disorder created by the roughs and looters, but what chance would the men without funds have in a contest with the Company who could and would spend £100,000 or more. You must recollect when dealing with a company of this kind that every one of the shareholders, to the number of five, six, or seven thousands, will have three meals a day whether the men succeed or not. I don’t know if the men who go out can count on this.
The following month, on 21 August, about 100 employees in the Tramways Company received a dismissal notice:
‘As the Directors of the Tramways Company understand that you are a member of the ITGWU whose methods are disorganising the trade and business of the city, they do not further require your service’.
This was a direct challenge to the ITGWU. There could only be one reply to Murphy. He and his fellow directors had started a lockout: the workers could only respond with a total withdrawal of labour. Larkin carefully chose the moment to strike in order to cause the maximum impact. Shortly after 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday, 26 August 1913—the first day of the Dublin Horse Show, one of the city’s busiest events—drivers and conductors stopped their trams and abandoned them in protest. About 700 of the 1,700 Tramways Company’s employees went on strike. The city was filled with tension on the days following. Strikers resented the workers who continued to operate the trams, and fights often took place between them. Workers who usually distributed the Irish Independent—[owned by Murphy] though not employed by Murphy—refused to handle it in protest. Messrs. Eason and Co., the large city newsagents, were asked by Larkin not to sell the paper. They refused. As a result dock-workers at Kingstown (Dún Longhaire) refused to handle any Eason and Co. goods from England or addressed to England.
Many clashes with the police took place, and fierce baton charges resulted in numerous injuries. On Saturday night, 30 August, police officers again baton–charged strikers, injuring many people and leaving one man, James Nolan, fatally injured. Stephen Gilligan, who was at the scene of the charge, described what he saw:
I was going down to the post office with a telegram. As soon as I landed outside I saw the charge of the police. The people were talking in threes and fours, and got no chance of moving. The first thing they knew was the batons coming down on them. I heard a voice saying, ‘Now give it to them, boys!’ I pretended I was a reporter and got safe. I saw the police charge the doorway and smash the sidelights. They charged round Eden Quay. The people for the most part kept to the quayside. I stood in the shadow of the Corporation weigh-house and saw poor Nolan trying to get away. I saw a police constable, 224C, Constable Bell, strike him with a baton. I saw him fall on his knees. The constable ran on, and then 149C struck him across the neck. I went back towards the Butt Bridge.
Larkin and the ITGWU saw the sympathetic strike as the finest example of workers’ solidarity. In their eyes, the bosses were always united—‘the employers know no sectarianism’, Larkin said, ‘the employers gave us the title of “the working class”. Let us be proud of the name’. That pride could best be shown by the principle of “one-out, all-out”. The sympathetic strike had the great strength of immediately showing the employers the power of the working class, and making it clear that no section could be bullied without taking on the whole class of workers.
‘The sympathetic strike’, James Connolly wrote, ‘is the recognition by the working class of their essential unity’. Professor Thomas Kettle, a young MP, a neutral observer of the battle between the employers and workers, was fairly sympathetic to the workers. However, he disapproved strongly of the sympathetic strikes referring to them, as ‘strikes-by-telephone’.
7. The Strike Intensifies
On 28 August, Larkin and four of his comrades had been arrested on charges of libel and conspiracy. They were soon released on bail. It had been announced that Larkin would address a meeting in Sackville Street on Sunday 31 August, but the authorities issued an order banning the meeting. Larkin subsequently burned a copy of the order and encouraged his listeners to fight any attempt to stop the meeting. On Sunday, Larkin, disguised with a beard, entered Murphy’s Imperial Hotel and appeared on a balcony on the first floor. He spoke briefly to the crowd before being promptly arrested. The police baton-charged the excited crowd on Sackville Street. Dublin was in a state of great unrest for the next week. Violent clashes between labour supporters and police broke out in other parts of the city—Gardiner Street, Sheriff Street, North Wall, Henry Street, Mary Street, South Wall, Christchurch, and Inchicore. Police conduct was seriously criticised by politicians and journalists. This led to a Government inquiry into allegations of police brutality. The committee summed up its findings, as follows:
We desire to report in conclusion that in our opinion the officers and men of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary as a whole, discharged their duties throughout this trying period with conspicuous courage and patience. They were exposed to many dangers and treated with great brutality. … The total number of constables injured during these riots exceeded 200.
Meetings of workers were held around the city, especially at Liberty Hall, the nerve–centre of the workers’ movement. The funeral of James Nolan, who had died because of a baton strike by police, was held on Wednesday, 3 September, and was attended by thousands of sympathisers. Keir Hardie, the British Labour leader, who supported the striking workers, gave the funeral address because Larkin was now held in Mountjoy Jail. On behalf of the British Unions, Hardie expressed solidarity with the locked-out workers, and urged the strikers to stay the course.
Murphy, also appealing for support, issued a statement on behalf of over 400 employers that repeated his opposition to the ITGWU. The employers drew up a pledge for workers, which stated that they were not, and would not become, members of the proscribed Union:
I hereby undertake to carry out all instructions given to me by or on behalf of my employers, and further, I agree to immediately resign my membership of the ITGWU (if a member) and I further undertake that I will not join or in any way support this union.
Those who refused to sign would be dismissed. Angered by this document, thousands of workers refused to sign. Many who were not even members of the ITGWU, could not sign it in conscience, even though they had no dealings with Larkin or his Union. James Connolly wrote of one such case:
A labourer was asked to sign the agreement forswearing the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, and he told his employer, a small capitalist builder, that he refused to sign. The employer, knowing the man’s circumstances, reminded him that he had a wife and six children who would be starving within a week. The reply of this humble labourer rose to the heights of sublimity. ‘It is true, sir’, he said, ‘they will starve; but I would rather see them go out on in their coffins than I should disgrace them by signing that’. And with head erect he walked out to share hunger and privation with his loved ones. Hunger and privation—and honour. Defeat, bah! How can such a people be defeated? His case is typical of thousands more.
At the start of September, the British Trade Unions held a congress in Manchester. Three delegates from Dublin attended, and the Congress, hearing their report, promised the support of the British unions to their colleagues in Dublin. Many striking workers were getting desperate. The Congress undertook to provide food for the starving families of the striking workers. A British union delegation travelled to Dublin to try to bring about a settlement. After meeting representatives of the employers, they returned home having made no progress. Although the ITGWU paid strike wages, these were not enough for workers who were already deeply impoverished before the strike began.
The situation in Dublin was getting desperate: starvation was widespread in the tenements. Then on Saturday 28 September a ship, The Hare, arrived in Dublin. On board were 60,000 ‘family boxes’, each box holding enough food for five people. Thousands of people lined up at Liberty Hall, holding vouchers ready to be exchanged for their boxes. The food-ship had a great effect on the morale of the strikers. It showed them that the workers of Britain supported them. Food kitchens were set up in Liberty Hall and, after all the British family boxes had been given out, bread and soup became the usual menu for the starving Dubliners.
On his release on bail from Mountjoy Prison, Larkin went to England to get as much support there as possible. Speaking to huge meetings, he got a rousing response from English workers. Sympathetic strikes continued in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Larkin and Connolly attempted to push the British trade unions into a general stoppage of work in support of the Dublin workers. However, the union leaders, were not prepared to go so far. This failure was something that Larkin and Connolly never forgave, and it left them bitterly disappointed
8. ‘Save the Kiddies’: deepening hostilities.
In October 1913, many families had no food for their children. Larkin and Irish labour leaders decided to send the children of the worst-affected families to sympathetic homes in England until the strike was over. The idea appealed to Larkin because it was so daring and he set about organising it. However, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, William J. Walsh, was strongly opposed because he believed the faith of Catholic children might be at risk in non-Catholic families. He declared that their mothers would ‘no longer be worthy of the name Catholic if they so far forgot their duty as to send away their little children to be cared for in a strange land’. Catholic priests and comfortable middle-class people picketed the ships that were to take the children to England. There were clashes at the docks when children started to board. More than any other event in the three-month old dispute, the sending away of the children raised the wildest emotions in people. James Connolly replied to the Archbishop, on behalf of the ITGWU:
‘Nobody wants to send the children away—the Irish Transport and General Workers Union least of all desires such a sacrifice. But neither do we wish the children to starve’.
There was too much opposition and anger, and the plan was dropped. The children remained in Dublin to share the same miserable conditions as their parents. The Chief Secretary, Augustine Birrell, reported on the affair to the Prime Minister:
It certainly was an outrage. For in the first place, there are no starving children in Dublin, and in the second place, the place swarms with homes for them. It was a new advertising dodge of a few silly women, but it has broken the strike.
Birrell’s report was not true on several counts, but the ‘save the kiddies’ campaign, lost the workers a great deal of public sympathy.
The Irish Parliamentary Party, whose members were mostly middle-class and drew their support from the farming community, was hostile to the strike. Even those who felt sympathy for the plight of the striking workers feared that the strike and lockout would distract attention from what, to them, was the much more serious struggle with Carson’s Ulster Unionists. John Dillon, Redmond’s second-in-command, expressed the party’s exasperation with the Lockout when he wrote:
‘Murphy is a desperate character, Larkin is as bad. It would be a blessing for Ireland if they exterminated each other’.
The dislike that grew between Larkin and Arthur Griffith was almost as intense as that between Larkin and Murphy. Griffith frequently attacked Larkin, calling him a ‘strike organiser’, and the ‘representative of English trade-unionism in Ireland’. He had little sympathy for the workers. He saw the foodships from England as a dangerous bribe. He strongly opposed the ‘save the kiddies campaign’:
‘The number of Dublin parents who would consent to send their children to be nurtured in the homes of the enemies of their race do not form five per cent of the parents affected by the strike’.
Having abandoned the plan to send Irish children to England, Larkin called on English unions to ‘black’ ships sailing into Dublin Port and to prevent English dockers from working in Ireland. The English unions refused. Larkin denounced them in strong terms and as a result no further aid was sent to Ireland.
9. The Askwith Inquiry
Many attempts were being made to solve the dispute. A Peace Commission headed by Professor Thomas Kettle failed to get anywhere. As the strike worsened, a tribunal of inquiry known as the Askwith Inquiry, was set up to meet representatives of employers and of workers, and to resolve their dispute. The Government appointed three officials to run this: Sir George Askwith, Sir Thomas R. Rathliffe-Ellis (an expert in mining matters who helped resolve a labour dispute in 1911), and J. R. Clynes (MP and labour representative).
They were instructed:
‘to enquire into the facts and circumstances of the disputes now in progress in Dublin, and to take such steps as may seem desirable with a view to arriving at a settlement’.
The Inquiry began on Monday, 29 September, and the officials presented their report on 5 October.
Speaking at the Commission of Inquiry on behalf of the employers, T. M. Healy stated that the employers were fighting for:
‘the industrial freedom of the city, which had been so gravely imperilled in the previous three years by the Larkinite movement’.
Employers who gave evidence at the Inquiry emphasised that they were not opposed to unions, but to the ITGWU alone, which they described as ‘a menace to all trade organisations’ because of its use of ‘sympathetic strikes’, that is, calling all members of their union to go on strike to support one group of workers.
In their report, the Commissioners joined with employers in criticising the ‘sympathetic strike’, which, they believed, injured workers and employers because it spread far beyond the original dispute and involved many people who had nothing to do with the original grievance or had no interest in it. The ‘sympathetic strike’ would, in the Commissioners’ opinion, embitter relations between workers and employers, and make it far more difficult to resolve industrial disputes because reprisals on one side were met by reprisals on the other ‘in such rapid succession as to confuse the real issues’. The Report concluded:
‘No community could exist if resort to the sympathetic strike became the general policy of Trade Unionism, as, owing to the interdependence of different branches of industry, disputes affecting even a single individual would spread indefinitely’.
Though the Commissioners criticised the ITGWU for using the sympathetic strike, they also condemned the ‘employers’ agreement’ that forbade membership of the union, and that threatened to dismiss workers who refused to comply as being ‘contrary to individual liberty’. The document ‘would force people to work under conditions which no workman or body of workmen could reasonably be expected to accept’. The Commissioners did not object to strikes or lockouts in principle, but said that before these methods be used, there should be an opportunity for independent inquiry to try to find a solution. They suggested that workers and employers should elect representatives to form a Conciliation Committee to discuss problems before taking drastic action.
The employers replied to the Commission, saying that they could no accept the proposals of the commission. ‘Larkinism’ had to be crushed, once and for all. They claimed that, though they favoured the principle of trade unionism, they could not accept the Larkin style of operation. Their lawyer summed up their attitude when he first addressed the Commission:
Trade Unionism in the mouths of these people [Larkin and his comrades] is a mockery; it exists only in name. The men are puppets in the hands of three or four of the leaders. Mr Larkin acts the part of a Napoleon; he orders this or that, and the men obey him, and that is what brought about the strikes.
Though the workers were willing to enter talks, the employers refused. They did not trust the Union to give up sympathetic strikes, and they were not prepared to reinstate all workers, and to dismiss those who had taken their places. The dispute continued
10. The ‘Fiery Cross’ Campaign & the Breaking of the Strike
Larkin was sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment for ‘incitement’ on 28 October 1913, but was released after two weeks. James Connolly organised the strikers in Larkin’s absence. Larkin was released on 13 November 1913. He immediately left on another tour of England to rally support for the suffering workers. The ‘Fiery Cross’ campaign, as he referred to his series of torch-lit meetings, caught the imagination of the British workers. Although his meetings attracted large crowds, he failed to bring about a general stoppage in Britain. The workers had a bleak Christmas in 1913. The food ships from England could no longer be depended on. Tom Kettle felt that ‘the critical moment has come. There is a limit to human endurance, and a point beyond which the belt cannot be tightened.’ The choice was gradually becoming clearer to each worker—surrender or starve.
By January 1914, most strikers had lost all hope. With the failure of the British Trade Unions to come out in sympathetic strike, the cause was doomed. The ITGWU leadership met secretly on 18 January 1914, and decided to end the strike. They advised members to return to work but not to sign the employers’ document, if possible. In early February, the Builders Labourers Union (about 3,000 men) agreed to sign the document and returned to work. Other workers throughout the city gradually followed. The strikers had realised that they could not win this battle on the terms set by Larkin. Within weeks, Murphy and the Employers’ Federation claimed victory and they had, indeed, broken the strike. They claimed that ‘Larkinism’ was completely defeated within the city. As the tram workers settled back into their jobs, they pledged not to join Larkin’s hated ITGWU under any circumstances. The workers had been defeated by the employers’ Lockout. Many of them remained convinced that there would be further conflict between capital and labour. This failure did not, however, destroy the ITGWU which became the biggest and most influential union in Dublin.
James Connolly wrote with great bitterness:
‘And so we Irish workers must go down into Hell, bow our backs to the lash of the slave drive. … and eat the dust of defeat and betrayal.’
Larkin and Connolly now directed their anger at the leaders of the British trade unions who refused to come out in support of their colleagues in Dublin. As the months went by, however, it became clear that the employers had not won a total victory. Workers who had promised never to join the ITGWU slowly began to drift back. Within a short time, the ITGWU was once more the largest union in the city. No employer was willing to sack large numbers of his workforce and face a second lockout.
In June 1914, all the Irish trade unions came together for their annual congress. Larkin gave a long speech to the delegates there, and he referred proudly to the events of the previous year:
The lockout in 1913 was a deliberate attempt to starve us into submission and met with well-deserved failure …. The employers claim a victory but the employers did not beat back organised labour in the city. I admit we had to retreat to base, but that was owing to the treachery of leaders in affiliated unions and betrayal in our own ranks.
William Martin Murphy and the employers believed that Larkinism had been decisively defeated at last. The Irish Times saw the position differently:
The very necessary business of ‘smashing Larkin’ is successfully accomplished; but that is very far from being the same thing as ‘smashing Larkinism’. There is no security whatever that the men who are now going about their work brooding over the bitterness of defeat will not endeavour to re-organise their broken forces and, given another leader and another opportunity, strike a further and a more desperate blow at the economic life of Dublin.
11. Connolly and the aftermath of the Lockout
The lockout and the strike had decided nothing: future relations between employers and workers remained unclear. Looking back over the whole episode in November 1914, James Connolly wrote:
The battle was a drawn battle. The employers were unable to carry on their business without men and women who remained loyal to their union. The workers were unable to force their employers to a formal recognition of the union and to give preference to organised labour. From the effects of this drawn battle both sides are still bearing scars. How deep these scars are none will reveal.
The Lockout left a deep legacy of bitterness between employers and workers, and between workers and police. This manifested itself in the Irish Citizen Army, an armed defence force founded by Connolly to protect workers during the Lockout. It remained, grew in strength afterwards, and played a role in the 1916 Rebellion. The bitterness surrounding the 1913 Lockout had a great effect, personally and politically, on many figures who would come to dominate the Irish politics in the following years.
Connolly and William O’Brien set about rebuilding the ITGWU and carefully avoided confrontation with the employers. Connolly saw the strike as a symbol of things to come. He came to believe that socialism could only succeed in Ireland if it allied itself with nationalism, and more particularly with Irish Republicanism.
The strike had taught Connolly that Marxism had a limited attraction for the Irish masses, given their devout Catholicism and their conservatism about to land and property, particularly in the countryside. Connolly’s most important contribution to Irish political thought was his argument that Irish Republicanism and socialism could be easily reconciled. By the beginning of 1915, his Irish Citizen Army had joined forces with the radical nationalists in the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The result was the 1916 Rising and its complicated rhetoric of Catholic national liberation on the one hand and international socialism on the other.
Connolly felt that the workers’ campaign:
… caught the imagination of all unselfish souls, so that the skilled artisan took his place also in the place of conflict and danger, and the men and women of genius, the artistic and the literati, hastened to honour and serve those humble workers whom all had hitherto despised and scorned.
He saw signs of hope in the actions of the British working classes during the months of the Lockout. Connolly and Larkin fell out with the leadership of the British Labour Party when they refused to order their members to go on sympathetic strikes in Britain for the duration of Larkin’s campaign. But Connolly had nothing but praise for the rank and file of the Labour Movement in Britain. In February 1914 he said that:
… in its attitude toward Dublin the Working Class Movement of Great Britain reached its highest point of moral grandeur—attained for a moment to a realisation of that sublime unity towards which the best in us must continually aspire.
It is clear that Connolly did not think that the employers or the imperial capitalists had won the day. He pledged himself to listen to any group who shared his basic vision of a new society arguing that:
‘because I realise human nature is a wonderful thing, I try to preserve my reception towards all manifestations of social activity.’
12. Patrick Pearse
The 1913 Lockout also had an important influence on the thinking of Patrick Henry Pearse. A respectable middle-class Dublin schoolmaster in many ways, Pearse was mainly interested in cultural nationalism and the Gaelic League. He looked forward to the passing of the Home Rule Bill and the establishment of an Irish Parliament. From 1913, he became more of a political nationalist. He criticised the British Government for destroying the national spirit in Irish children through their school system. After the Lockout and the shocking scenes on Sackville Street where police baton-charged hundreds of civilians, Pearse began to develop an economic critique of British imperialism. Commenting in 1913 at the height of the Lockout, Pearse wrote in A Hermitage:
Twenty thousand Dublin families live in one room tenements. It is common to find two or three families occupying the same room; and sometimes one of the families will have a lodger! There are tenement rooms in Dublin in which over a dozen persons live, eat and sleep. High rents are paid for these rooms, rents which in cities like Birmingham would command neat four-roomed cottages with gardens. These are among the grievances against which men in Dublin are beginning to protest. Can you wonder that protest is at last made? Can you wonder that the protest is crude and bloody? I do not know whether the methods of Mr James Larkin are wise methods or unwise methods (unwise, I think, in some respects), but this I know, that here is a most hideous wrong to be righted, and that the man who attempts honestly to right it is a good man and a brave man.
Pearse was now conscious of the same social problems that drove Connolly and Larkin. He sought a national and cultural revolution in Ireland. After the Lockout, Connolly sought a material and social revolution in Ireland. Both men were to find common ground in the General Post Office a few years later.
13. The Lockout Remembered
The brutality and suffering of the 1913 Lockout left a great impression on many generations of thinkers and agitators in Ireland. Two of Ireland’s greatest poets in the twentieth century celebrated the activities of the workers during those terrible months in 1913 and 1914.
William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) wrote an angry critique of the petit bourgeois employers who had starved the tramworkers and their families into defeat. His poem, September, 1913, was written in part as an attack on William Martin Murphy’s interference with plans to find a permanent home for Sir Hugh Lane’s Art Gallery and its many fine paintings. Yeats used a series of phrases that Larkin and Connolly might well have approved of, particularly in his description of the selfishness of Murphy and his supporters. Contrasting the heroism of Irish patriots with the narrow-minded materialism of the Dublin employer class, Yeats asked:
What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the ha’pence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone,
For men were born to pray and save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone—
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
Patrick Kavanagh (1904-67) wrote a piece celebrating the achievements of James Larkin shortly after the trade unionist’s death in 1947. Kavanagh used deliberately heroic and exaggerated imagery and phrases in the poem to portray the courage of Larkin’s many campaigns. Kavanagh particularly admired Larkin’s determination and his idealism during the 1913 Lockout. He called his poem On the Death of Jim Larkin: an elegy written in March 1947 . The most important parts ran as follows:
Not with public words now
Can his greatness be told to children
For he was more than labour agitator, mob orator
Whose flashing fiery sword merely was witness to
The sun rising
Cried Larkin, ‘Look!’
The fields are producing for you and the trees
And beyond are not the surf’s dockland
But seas roaring excitement in God’s poetry book.
It was thus I heard Jim Larkin shout above
A crowd who would have him turn aside
From the day’s shocking reality.
Jim Larkin opened a window wide
And wings flew out and offered to slow rising things
A lift unto high altars with proud carriage
And they swayed above this city in young knowledge
And they eat the loaf that nourishes great kings.
One of the most important effects of the dispute was to make people more aware of the urgent need to improve living conditions in Dublin. Prompted by Lady Aberdeen [wide of the Lord Lieutenenat of Ireland], a Civic Exhibition was held in July 1914. Among the most important items of the exhibition were a section on town-planning and a competition for a ‘Dublin Development Scheme’. This was now important issue, of concern to many citizens. The sacrifices of the thousands of workers during the Lockout slowly began to pay off. More attention was paid to improving housing, health, and sanitary conditions. No longer could the wealthy ignore the poverty of their own city.
The principal figures of the events in 1913—William Martin Murphy and James Larkin—never again reached the same degree of public influence. During the Great War, Murphy recruited for the British army; and even suggested to employers that they sack able-bodied men to force them to enlist. He went on to chair the Finance and General Purposes committee of Dublin Corporation. He died in 1919, leaving a personal estate of £264,005.
In October 1914 Larkin went on a fundraising lecture tour of the United States. He soon became involved with the American socialist and labour movement. He was arrested for membership of the Communist Labour Party in November 1919 and sentenced to five to ten years’ imprisonment on 3 May 1920. He was pardoned by Governor Al Smith of New York on 17 January 1923. He came back to a hero’s welcome in Dublin on 30 April that year.
When Larkin returned in 1923 he found a country very different from the one he had left. He disagreed with Connolly’s participation in the 1916 rising and was shocked that the party of his old enemy, Arthur Griffith, now held power in Ireland. He found himself out of favour with many of his old colleagues in the ITGWU and he went on to found a new union, the Workers Union of Ireland. He died a disillusioned man in 1947.
Through the sufferings of the workers of Dublin and the tireless efforts of men like Larkin and Connolly, the Irish Labour Movement had come of age. The great upheaval in Dublin in 1913 had without doubt started a process which brought about great changes in the living standards of the poor. As the American historian, J. D Clarkson, later wrote:
In the deepest sense, “Larkinism” had triumphed. The Dublin struggle had fired the hearts and minds of the working classes throughout the length and breadth of Ireland… Most significant of all, the most helpless of all classes had learned the lesson of its power and in the learning had proved itself worthy of Ireland’s bravest traditions.