When we weren’t all in it together

THE AVERAGE commentator on an Irish internet political discussion forum holds two opinions. First: that, unlike the French or the Greeks, the Irish will never stand up and say no.

Second: that, when some group, such as the Dublin Bus workers, actually does stand up for themselves he is absolutely against them, because strikes inconvenience him and he read somewhere that Dublin Bus workers are much better paid than, say, the black babies in Africa.

The events of the 1913 lockout prove that if pushed far enough, and given a bit of a lead, Irish people are capable of extraordinary acts when they believe their cause is just and they have no alternative but to stand in the gap.

The Bolshevik revolution happened in Russia four years later but with a few better bounces of the ball. It could so easily have been Ireland. The workers may have been, in the formal sense, defeated, but things as they had been were transformed by the action they took.

Let Us Rise! – The Dublin Lockout – its impact & legacy published co-authored by Oisín Kelly, Cillian Gillespie, Ray McLoughlin, Fiona O’Loughlin, Dominic Haugh, Joe Higgins, and Ruth Coppinger, and published by the Socialist Party is most useful when it hits you with facts.

The Irish Transport and General Workers Union had grown seriously in the previous few years, particularly among very badly paid and much abused unskilled workers.

Four hundred and four Dublin employers, under the leadership of William Martin Murphy, owner of the Irish Independent, banded together and locked 25,000 workers out of their jobs. They would not be allowed back until they agreed to leave the union. It was unusual only in that it was class war so openly declared by the bigger employers who, then as now, were fond on a quiet day of saying some version of “sure we’re all in it together”.

The liveliest chapter is Joe Higgins’s response to a Jack O’Connor speech. O’Connor effectively argued that if Larkin were alive today he would think the Haddington Road Agreement a great thing. Any argument that needs the support of a ghost is a poor one. Joe demolishes the rubbish which Jack O’Connor will nonetheless continue to talk.

During those months, the employers threw everything at their workers. James Nolan, John Byrne, and John McDonagh died after being beaten by the Dublin Metropolitan Police. The worst case was that of 16-year-old Alice Brady, who had been locked out of her job at Jacob’s; she was shot by a strike-breaker while making her way from Liberty Hall.

There was solidarity from coal miners in south Wales who, under the ‘Kiddies Scheme’, took children of locked out workers into their homes for the duration. Archbishop Walsh wrote a letter objecting to the fact that Catholic children were being sent to Protestant homes.

The book is weakest in terms of ‘what is to be done?’ The idea seems to be that if enough people join The Socialist Party all will be well; there is a half-page ad urging people to text in to join its Committee for a Workers’ International; every single one of the contributors is a member of the SP. There’s no room for variety.

A couple of years ago Clare Daly who, before she was a TD, was a leading trade unionist at Dublin Airport, would certainly have had a chapter in a book such as this. Now, after her resignation from the party, Clare is a bourgeois deviationist, at least in the minds of the SP commissars, who have learned nothing about why the Russian Revolution went wrong and have even managed to forget some things they once knew.

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