Dublin Lock-Out

In August of 1913 two workers were killed in Dublin, when the police baton charged a union rally in Sackville St (Now O’Connell St).  At the time Dublin workers were some of the worst treated people in the “civilized” world.  They were plagued with low wages, no rights, no tenure.  They competed for jobs in a system beset by bribery and corruption.  Dockside jobs were awarded from pubs where applicants were expected to buy drinks for the foremen.

James Larkin came to Dublin originally representing the UK based National Union of Dock Labourers.  The NUDL were not prepared to engage in a full scale dispute with the highly organised and powerful Dublin Employers group led by William Martin Murphy.  Larkin established the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.  Murphy had full support of the Catholic Church and the Police and accused the union leaders of fostering Socialism and Atheism.  He also controlled most of the media.

From August 1913 to January 1914 the Dublin employers broke the ITGWU with the Lock-Out.  They sacked any worker suspected of joining a union.  They also blacklisted them, preventing them from finding work elsewhere.

It was a charming episode in the history of Irish Employers.  They broke the union and in the process they broke the people and the economy of the city.  Most of the workers ended up taking the only employment they could get, they joined the British Army and died in the trenches of Flanders.

The ITGWU was rebuilt after the war and rose to become a powerful agent for change in Ireland.  We now live in a world where workers rights are enshrined in law.  Many workers cannot see the need for a union.  Employers continually lobby their position to government and push for changes in law and policy to their advantage.  Workers need a voice to lobby on behalf of workers.  Workers need unions.

If you want to see what the world looks like without unions, take a look inside Amazon.Com Guardian Article on Working in Amazon

The following poem was penned by Yeats at the height of the Dublin Lock-Out violence.  Yeats supported the cause of the workers and despaired a the treatment they received at the hands of employers.  Although the primary trigger for the poem was the Hugh Lane bequest the theme of Catholic Bourgeois Capitalism is evident throughout.

September 1913; by William Butler Yeats

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence 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.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry `Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’:
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
They’re with O’Leary in the grave.