5. Syndicalism

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Syndicalism in Ireland 1917-23

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5. Syndicalism

  1. 1. Lecture Five: Syndicalism in Ireland, 1917-21
  2. 2. 1.Industrial agitation 2.1920 Local Elections 3.1920 Munitions Strike 4.1921 Treaty and Slide to Civil War
  3. 3. 1. Industrial agitation The Wages movement Expansion of trade unionism in Ireland: 100,000 members in 1916 225,000 member in 1920 Growing awareness / class consciousness Revival of pre-war Larkinite tactics Adaptation of Connolly’s Industrial Unionism – OBU - The promise that through industrial unionism Labour would ultimately realise the Workers’ Republic Congress transformed from ‘a bunch of trade unionis with no coherent politics beyond a few labourist assumptions from Britain into, potentially, an industrially and politically integrated movement, geared to tackling reality.’ (O’Connor, p.95)
  4. 4. The Great War and Wages - Seamen and dockers win pay advances in 1915 - Shipyards and railways taken over by government in 1916 - payment of war bonuses - Building in Dublin revived 1917-18 - Statutory minimum wage rates in agriculture in 1917 - huge growth in trade union membership among farm labourers - by August 1920, there were 19 trade boards covering 148,000 employees, majority in Ulster. - Ulster the main beneficiary of war economy - December 1916, railwaymen win wage dispute, first major victory since September 1911. - NUR membership grows from 5,000 to 17,000 in three months
  5. 5. The Great War and Wages Winter 1916/17 – food and fuel shortages - Labour movement embued with a social purpose, not just wages and work conditions - ITGWU main beneficiary of rural labour militancy - By 1920, ITGWU has 60,000 members in agriculture, the bulk of these in the twelve south-easterly ‘tillage counties.’ ITGWU grows from 5,000 members in 1916 to 120,000 members in 1920
  6. 6. 18 April 1918 – protests against moves to impose conscription in Ireland 23 April 1918 – general strike in opposition to conscription Ireland’s first general strike. Mostly ignored in the North.
  7. 7. 23 April 1918 – general strike in opposition to conscription Ireland’s first general strike. Mostly ignored in the North. - Between 1917 and 1923, eleven new unions were founded by breakaways away from the amalgamateds, and four of these adopted an industrial union structure. - the 1919 Land Campaign - increase in general local strikes - 12 taking place in 1919 alone - Workplace seizures or soviets, almost all involving the ITGWU, emerged from November 1918 onwards, substantially as strike tactics but indicating too a political ambition. - Most extensive seizures took place in May 1920, known as the Knocklong Soviet
  8. 8. - On August 26th 1921, the bakery and mills in Bruree County Limerick were occupied by its employees. All staff bar the manager and chief clerk joined the occupation. They hoisted a red flag and declared the “Bruree Soviet Workers Mill” was the property of workers and would sell its food cheap and reduce “profiteering”. Union officials claimed the Soviet was able to drop prices, double sales and increase wages
  9. 9. Limerick Soviet 14-27 April 1919 Robert Byrne, IRA member, on hunger strike in Limerick Failed attempt to free him leads to his death 9 April – Limerick declared a ‘special military area’ 13 April – local general strike called 14 April – a ‘soviet (self-governing committee) declared in part of the city 27 April – ‘soviet’ declared over
  10. 10. In the end the soviet was basically an emotional and spontaneous protest on essentially nationalist and humanitarian grounds, rather than anything based on socialist or even trade union aims.” Cahill, Forgotten Revolution, p.148.
  11. 11. - November 1918 – Labour party votes to stand aside in general election - In the long term, the Congress decision to stand aside confirmed in left thinking the presumed dichotomy of the social and national questions - In the short term, it appeared to radicalize the leadership, who rifled syndicalist arguments to rationalize their funk. - November 1918 Congress also saw the change in name of Congress to Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress - 1919 – militant action sweeps across Europe in wake of the Great War - Congress keeps to a wages movement campaign, despite the rhetoric - January 1919 – Tom Johnson drafts the Democratic Programme, adopted by Dáil Éireann as its social and economic policy, 21 Jan1919
  12. 12. Dáil Éireann - Volume 1 - 21 January, 1919 - DEMOCRATIC PROGRAMME. we declare that the Nation's sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation's soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation, and with him we reaffirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare. It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland. Likewise it shall be the duty of the Republic to take such measures as will safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical as well as the moral well-being of the Nation. It shall be our duty to promote the development of the Nation's resources, to increase the productivity of its soil, to exploit its mineral deposits, peat bogs, and fisheries, its waterways and harbours, in the interests and for the benefit of the Irish people. It shall also devolve upon the National Government to seck co-operation of the Governments of other countries in determining a standard of Social and Industrial Legislation with a view to a general and lasting improvement in the conditions under
  13. 13. 12 April 1920 – General strike called in support of hunger strikers – effective everywhere except Ulster - Throughout the national revolution, Congress policy scarcely noted that sixcounty colleagues were primarily concrened not with Ireland’s constitutional status but with preventing themselves from being corralled into a sectarian state, and Congress did nothing to maintain the left political unity achieved by Connolly in 1912.
  14. 14. 2. 1920 local elections But what are the workers themselves going to do? Are they always going to leave the rights of labour to be looked after by the enemies and false friends of labour? Will they always allow themselves to be bribed and bamboozled by the very employers and allies and hangers-on of employers against whom they have to fight such a stern and unremitting battle through their trade unions? For all the fraud and flapdoodle and foolery of political agitation, there can be no lasting concealment of the fundamental fact that there are only two parties – the party of the workers and the party of the shirkers, of those who use the means of producing wealth and those who own them, of labour and of labour’s enemies. So it follows that if labour ever hopes to claim its rights, ever aspires to create a new and juster (sic) social order, it must be prepared to fight – and fight alone. New Way, April 1918.
  15. 15. - 329 seats won by Labour in January 1920 local elections - seats won by councillors willing to take the Labour party pledge and vote with their fellow party members on the respective councils - I, the undersigned, agree, if elected a member of the [local] council, that I will be bound by the decisions of the [local] trades and labour council, and will sit, act, and vote with the other labour representatives on the council as a Labour party in the carrying out of these decisions. I pledge myself to resign my seat if called upon to do so by a special meeting of the [local] trades’ council, called for the purpose of considering my conduct as a labour representative.’
  16. 16. Labour Party programme: -The party called for ‘good houses for the workers: not a mere shelter where the worker’s family is crowded like cattle in a byre, but a home, comfortable, convenient and roomy.’ - It wanted low rents, and additional housing built immediately: the alternative offered was for the councils to ‘take possession of the unused house room of the wealthy.’ - It wanted councils to ensure milk supply for children and mothers, and all children attending school would have periodical medical examinations and necessary treatment, paid for by the councils. - Scholarships for technical schools, colleges and universities, as well as grants for ‘specific working-class educational efforts’ would be provided, along with school libraries and popular lectures in topics such as economics and history. - Councils would combine together to undertake public works such as the provision of house-building material, coal supply, and the ‘promotion of electric power schemes by the utilization of peat bogs, coal deposits, [and] water power.’
  17. 17. Sinn Féin programme: - To secure the expenditure of the rates raised in Ireland, inside Ireland. - To secure efficiency and purity of administration. - To establish and enforce the principle of free and open competition for public appointments. - To carry through an efficient public health policy. - To make the public boards the local units for putting into operation the policy of national development decreed by Dáil Éireann for the industrial and commercial expansion of our country, - and to secure their co-operation in the work of the Commission of Inquiry into our national resources
  18. 18. 3. 1920 Munitions Strike
  19. 19. In the eyes of the Irish NUR, the munitions strike was anti-Prussianism applied to Ireland. During the war, Britain and its democratic tradition was held up as the direct antithesis to the militaristic and disciplinary outlook of Prussia. In the immediate post-war period, Britain was often accused of slipping into Prussianism, of becoming a military nation, and of undermining the civilisation it had supposedly fought so hard to defend.
  20. 20. In the eyes of the Irish NUR, the munitions strike was anti-Prussianism applied to Ireland. During the war, Britain and its democratic tradition was held up as the direct antithesis to the militaristic and disciplinary outlook of Prussia. In the immediate post-war period, Britain was often accused of slipping into Prussianism, of becoming a military nation, and of undermining the civilisation it had supposedly fought so hard to defend. British support for Poland’s war against Russia – in the form of both troops and munitions – was cited as one example of this new militarism. It gave rise to the ‘Hands off Russia’ campaign, and in 1920 a sympathetic British labour movement called for a boycott of all munitions destined for Russia.
  21. 21. In the eyes of the Irish NUR, the munitions strike was anti-Prussianism applied to Ireland. During the war, Britain and its democratic tradition was held up as the direct antithesis to the militaristic and disciplinary outlook of Prussia. In the immediate post-war period, Britain was often accused of slipping into Prussianism, of becoming a military nation, and of undermining the civilisation it had supposedly fought so hard to defend. British support for Poland’s war against Russia – in the form of both troops and munitions – was cited as one example of this new militarism. It gave rise to the ‘Hands off Russia’ campaign, and in 1920 a sympathetic British labour movement called for a boycott of all munitions destined for Russia. This call, which came out of the refusal by London dockers to supply the ss Jolly George with Polish military supplies, was adapted by Irish NUR members, who argued that ‘if munitions were not to be handled by British workers to prevent them being taken out to Poland for the purpose of sacrificing lives in that country, they, in Ireland, also claimed the right that munitions were not to be distributed about this country to sacrifice lives here.’
  22. 22. In the eyes of the Irish NUR, the munitions strike was anti-Prussianism applied to Ireland. During the war, Britain and its democratic tradition was held up as the direct antithesis to the militaristic and disciplinary outlook of Prussia. In the immediate post-war period, Britain was often accused of slipping into Prussianism, of becoming a military nation, and of undermining the civilisation it had supposedly fought so hard to defend. British support for Poland’s war against Russia – in the form of both troops and munitions – was cited as one example of this new militarism. It gave rise to the ‘Hands off Russia’ campaign, and in 1920 a sympathetic British labour movement called for a boycott of all munitions destined for Russia. This call, which came out of the refusal by London dockers to supply the ss Jolly George with Polish military supplies, was adapted by Irish NUR members, who argued that ‘if munitions were not to be handled by British workers to prevent them being taken out to Poland for the purpose of sacrificing lives in that country, they, in Ireland, also claimed the right that munitions were not to be distributed about this country to sacrifice lives here.’ It was an analysis that the British labour movement either had not considered, or had chosen to ignore: either way, that movement, and in particular the NUR, was now faced with a strike that placed it in direct confrontation with the government over an issue of domestic, not foreign, policy.
  23. 23. NUR Executive: It instructed the membership [20 May] ‘to refuse to handle any material which is intended to assist Poland against the Russian people,’ and had been issued in support of the London dockers who had refused to load munitions aboard the ss Jolly George. The executive also passed a motion that called on the Triple Alliance to meet in order to discuss the situation in Ireland and ‘the continued unnecessary bloodshed. MRC, NUR archive, ‘reports and proceedings for the year 1920,’ 20 May 1920 Richard Hennessy: the railwaymen ‘were prepared to carry everything except the munitions… they wanted the country pulled together and to settle down to a form of sane government. That would never occur until the military retired from the government of this country’ 23 May 1920
  24. 24. the NUR executive called a conference of its Irish branches to discuss the issue, as well as a meeting between the British and Irish TUCs ‘to fully consider the Irish question with a view of finding a bridge between the Irish people and the government.’ The executive also asked the North Wall men to return to work in order to allow the British labour movement to act on their behalf. the NUR North Wall branch held a meeting in Oriel House, Westland Row. It was led by the branch chairman, Mr. O’Brien, and the men adopted a resolution: “[To refuse] to handle any munitions of war (with the exception of foodstuffs) for the army of occupation in Ireland; calling on the executive to withdraw the army, and on [our] comrades across the water to support us in this fight against Prussianism; and also on the members of the sailors and firemen’s union to refuse to do any work belonging to the dockers while these men are on strike.” 26 May 1920
  25. 25. 4. Treaty and slide into Civil War

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