Dublin Workers Lockout of 1913 was the prelude to the 1616 Easter Rising in Ireland

The 1916 Rising in Dublin on Easter Monday was what historians refer to as the start of the eventual overthrow of the British hold on Ireland. So what was the build-up to create this final animosity of the Irish people to start the Easter Rising (as it is called in the history books). Many say it was the Dublin Lock Out that started on August 26, 1913.
At the time of the noted Lock Out Irish workers were living in terrible conditions within tenements for example, on Henrietta Street’s Georgian tenements an astonishing 835 people lived in 15 houses. The overcrowding was necessary because people did not earn enough money to live beyond one room that housed a family of 6 or more people. These conditions produced an infant mortality among the poor of 142 per 1,000 births. This was extraordinarily high for a European city and the situation was made worse by the high rate of disease in the slums, which was the result of a lack of health care and cramped living conditions. Tuberculosis was the most prevalent disease at this time and it spread through tenements quickly causing many deaths amongst the poor. Deaths from TB in Ireland were reported to be 50% higher than in England and Scotland with the vast majority occurring in the cramped . These unskilled workers had to compete with one another for work each day with jobs generally going to whoever agreed to work for the lowest wages. The hiring was done in the pubs and if the prospective worker didn’t take a drink with the foreman and also buy him drinks he would not be hired. So you can see that the unskilled workers were at the mercy of their employers.
Employers who suspected that any workers were trying to organize were assured of being blacklisted which destroyed them of any chance of future employment. Into this situation strolled “Big Jim Larkin” who was the main protagonist on the side of the workers. Larkin was a Liverpoolian? and a union organizer who was sent to Belfast as a local organizer of the British-based National Union of Dock Laborers. In Belfast he organized a strike of dock and transport workers. He used the tactic of the sympathetic strike, which he get workers who were not directly involved in an industrial dispute to go on strike in support of other workers who were on strike. His success in Belfast using these tactics was moderately successful and boosted his standing among Irish workers. He next went to Dublin to initiate a similar plan in Dublin. This was a concern of the National Union of Dock Laborers because they were reluctant to engage in a full-scale industrial dispute with the powerful Dublin employers. Larkin was subsequently suspended by the NUDL. Larkin set up an Irish union, the Irish Transport and General Workers’Union.
The ITGWU was the first Irish trade union to cater to both skilled and unskilled workers. It quickly gained popularly with the workers in Ireland and spread to other Irish cities. Larkin used the ITGWU as a vehicle for his syndicalist? views. He believed in bringing about a socialist revolution by using the trade unions and calling general strikes. He learned by losing strikes between 1908 and 1910 and won strikes after 1911 when the membership grew from 4,000 to 10,000. This alarmed the employers and an important figure in this rise was James Connolly who was an Edinburgh-born Marxist of Irish parentage. Connolly was selected as the Belfast organizer.
Foremost among employers opposed to trade unionism was William Martin Murphy, who at the time was Ireland’s most prominent capitalist. Born is Castletownbere Co. Cork he was the chairman of the Dublin United Tramway Company and owned Clery’s department store and the Imperial Hotel. He also controlled major newspapers; the Irish Independent, Evening Herald and Irish Catholic and was a major shareholder in the B&I Line. He was a nationalist and former Home Rule MP in Westminster. His treatment of his workers at his many enterprises was poor or worse, with employees given only one day off in 10 while forced to work up to 17 hours a day. The Dublin tramway workers were paid less than their counterparts in Belfast and Liverpool and were also subject to punitive fines and long probationary periods up to six years. There was also a culture of company surveillance involving widespread use of informers.
Murphy was opposed to Larkin who he saw as a dangerous revolutionary and who he considered a threat to his business empire. In July 1931 Murphy presided over a meeting of 300 employers where he called for a strong response to this rise of trade unionism. He and his group were determined not to allow the ITGWU to unionize the Dublin workforce. On
August 15, Murphy dismissed 40 of his employees that he suspected of ITGWU membership and that followed by another 300 over the next week.
The result of this action was the locking out of workers by the employers in Dublin. They were replaced by blackleg labor from around the UK and a majority at lower wages than the locked out workers. The workers were sent 150,000 pounds by British Trades Union Congress and other sympathetic sources. These were doled out by the ITGWU to the replaced striking workers.
There was what has been referred to as “The Kiddies’ Scheme”, for the starving children of the Irish strikers. This plan had the children looked after by British trade unionists and was blocked by the Roman Catholic Church and in particular by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who claimed that Catholic children would be subject to Protestant or atheist influences while living in Britain. The Church openly supported the employers during the dispute and condemned Larkin as a socialist revolutionary. Guinness, which was the largest employer and biggest exporter in Dublin, refused to lock out its workforce and sent 500 pounds to the employers’ fund. 400 of the Guinness workers were members of the ITGWU and the company had a good working relationship with the union. The company also had a policy against sympathetic  strikes however  andsix workers were dismissed from Guinness.
There was a use of mass pickets and intimidation against strike breakers and the violence dealt out in return against the strikers set up a confrontation between the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the strikers. An attack by the police on a union rally on O’Connell Street (then known as Sackville Street) in August 1914 left two killed and more than   300 more injured. The Baton charge was in response to the appearance of Larkin, who was banned from holding a meeting, to speak to the workers. He was smuggled into William Martin Murphy’s Imperial Hotel and spoke from a balcony. This event is remembered as Bloody
Sunday (a term used for two later days in the 20th century in Ireland) because of the murderous charge of police. Another worker, Alice Brady, was later shot dead by a strike breaker as she brought home a food parcel from the union office and an ITGWU official died while being tortured in a police cell.
The outcome of these incidents was the creation of a workers militia, the Irish Citizen Army, to protect workers demonstrations. The lock-out eventually concluded in early 1914 when the TUC in Britain rejected Larkin and Connolly’s request for a sympathetic strike. On the brink of starvation many workers went back to work and signed pledges not to join a union. The ITGWU was badly damaged by the defeat in the Lockout. Subsequently after the Easter Rising by 1919 the membership of the Union surpassed  its numbers at the height of the Lockout in 1913.
In the next issue of The Irish Gazette we will tell the story of the Easter Rising in April 1916.

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