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‘Labour’, Trades Unionism and Partition


Cruimh

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A discussion on a thread a few days ago reminded me of an Emmet Larkin article I had downloaded, but never finished, part of a series by him on Catholicism and Ireland from the Devotional Revolution onwards.

He makes a point I had never considered – in discussing the differences within the RCC both within Ireland and between Ireland and GB. For a while, especially with the rise of Labour in England, things looked encouraging for Trades Unionism and socialism in Ireland. However, see below, things went badly wrong at the end of 1913.

The conclusion to this third stage in this contest between Socialism and Catholicism in Ireland was quite different from the preceeding stages. In 1910 and 1912 the Irish Labour movement and its leaders, after the clerical onslaught, had faced the future with a confidence that was contagious. By the summer of 1914 the Irish labour movement was on the defensive, but not because the clergy alone were swarming to the attack. The cause of Labour in Ireland, and internationally, received some stunning blows in 1914. The first set-back came when the Transport Union was badly beaten in the great Dublin Lockout of September-February 1913-14, and the pride and backbone of the Irish Labour movement was literally decimated and all but financially wrecked. On top of this in March, 1914, John Redmond, leader of the Nationalist Party in the House of Commons, announced that he would accept an amendment to the House Rule Bill that would, in effect partition Ireland. An Ireland without Ulster would be an Ireland without Labour, for without the industrial north, Labour would have no chance in the Home Rule Parliament. Hardly had the excitement which greeted the amendment died down when the First World War broke out in August, 1914. The failure of the International Socialist movement to make a serious attempt to prevent the war was a bitter blow. Still there was more, for Redmond announced soon after Britain declared war that Ireland stood solidly beside her in that momentous crisis. The defeat of the Transport Union, the proposal to partition Ireland, the outbreak of the war, and the Nationalist Party rallying to the banner of St. George all took place in the short space of six months. The struggle between Socialism and Catholicism was lost, as were indeed so many other problems, in this welter of calamity. When it was partially resumed after the war, the issues had been transformed by the stress and strain of even greater events. By 1918 the Catholic Church in Ireland warily faced a revolutionary Nationalism that had already swallowed and digested whole, without any visible after-effect, revolutionary Socialism.
Page 480

Socialism and Catholicism in Ireland
Emmet Larkin, Church History, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Dec., 1964), pp. 462-483
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What had not occurred to me was the point that partition and the loss of the industrial North crippled leftist politics in Ireland – more even than the opposition of the Church, because as seen in GB, The Church was prepared to accommodate left of centre politics when it became apparent they would become a significant force.

There was an attempt in 1914 to challenge the Transport Union by the establishment, “under clerical auspices", of the Kingstown and South County Dublin General Workers' Union” but what plans to expand what Larkin called a Scab Union beyond Kingstown never came to anything. And there were tensions within the Irish trade Union movement in the 1940s and 1950s as seen by the establishment of the People’s College and the response by the Church – The Catholic Worker’s College. This was also complicated by the split within the movement – with the Congress of Irish Unions being intensely Catholic and anti-Socialist.

I’ll be interested in any thoughts or further information.
 
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Levellers

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"Such a scheme as that agreed to by Redmond and Devlin, the betrayal of the national democracy of industrial Ulster would mean a carnival of reaction both North and South, would set back the wheels of progress, would destroy the oncoming unity of the Irish Labour movement and paralyse all advanced movements whilst it endured." James Connolly

The scheme referred to is partition.
 

Cruimh

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"Such a scheme as that agreed to by Redmond and Devlin, the betrayal of the national democracy of industrial Ulster would mean a carnival of reaction both North and South, would set back the wheels of progress, would destroy the oncoming unity of the Irish Labour movement and paralyse all advanced movements whilst it endured." James Connolly

The scheme referred to is partition.
What year was that mate?
 

Seanie Lemass

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A discussion on a thread a few days ago reminded me of an Emmet Larkin article I had downloaded, but never finished, part of a series by him on Catholicism and Ireland from the Devotional Revolution onwards.

He makes a point I had never considered – in discussing the differences within the RCC both within Ireland and between Ireland and GB. For a while, especially with the rise of Labour in England, things looked encouraging for Trades Unionism and socialism in Ireland. However, see below, things went badly wrong at the end of 1913.



Page 480

Socialism and Catholicism in Ireland
Emmet Larkin, Church History, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Dec., 1964), pp. 462-483
JSTOR: An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie

What had not occurred to me was the point that partition and the loss of the industrial crippled leftist politics in Ireland – more even than the opposition of the Church, because as seen in GB, The Church was prepared to accommodate left of centre politics when it became apparent they would become a significant force.

There was an attempt in 1914 to challenge the Transport Union by the establishment, “under clerical auspices", of the Kingstown and South County Dublin General Workers' Union” but what plans to expand what Larkin called a Scab Union beyond Kingstown never came to anything. And there were tensions within the Irish trade Union movement in the 1940s and 1950s as seen by the establishment of the People’s College and the response by the Church – The Catholic Worker’s College. This was also complicated by the split within the movement – with the Congress of Irish Unions being intensely Catholic and anti-Socialist.

I’ll be interested in any thoughts or further information.

The Congress/Labour Party split in the 1940s was not ideological. William O'Brien of ITGWU was annoyed that Larkin's WUI had been reaffiliated to Congress and that the Larkins had been elected in 1943 for Labour, although Jim Junior was a secret member of the CP at the time. ITGWU were also alleged to have supported the FF Government's trade union legislation because it would have strengthened their membership if there were restrictions on English based unions.
 

MacCoise2

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It is definitely the case that partition favoured Irish conservative reactionaries north and south and we're still paying the price of that now.

A sectarian political unionist majority with no interest in working class politics in the North and FG/FF still the biggest party down here
 

bob115

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A discussion on a thread a few days ago reminded me of an Emmet Larkin article I had downloaded, but never finished, part of a series by him on Catholicism and Ireland from the Devotional Revolution onwards.

He makes a point I had never considered – in discussing the differences within the RCC both within Ireland and between Ireland and GB. For a while, especially with the rise of Labour in England, things looked encouraging for Trades Unionism and socialism in Ireland. However, see below, things went badly wrong at the end of 1913.

Page 480

Socialism and Catholicism in Ireland
Emmet Larkin, Church History, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Dec., 1964), pp. 462-483
JSTOR: An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie

What had not occurred to me was the point that partition and the loss of the industrial crippled leftist politics in Ireland – more even than the opposition of the Church, because as seen in GB, The Church was prepared to accommodate left of centre politics when it became apparent they would become a significant force.

There was an attempt in 1914 to challenge the Transport Union by the establishment, “under clerical auspices", of the Kingstown and South County Dublin General Workers' Union” but what plans to expand what Larkin called a Scab Union beyond Kingstown never came to anything. And there were tensions within the Irish trade Union movement in the 1940s and 1950s as seen by the establishment of the People’s College and the response by the Church – The Catholic Worker’s College. This was also complicated by the split within the movement – with the Congress of Irish Unions being intensely Catholic and anti-Socialist.

I’ll be interested in any thoughts or further information.
I don't know as much as I should about the details of the history of NI, so I'm wondering was the trade union movement or leftist politics particularly strong in NI after partition?
 

Hitch 22

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The dispute over political jurisdiction in Ireland and ethnic and religious distrust and hatred trumped worker solidarity and socialism. It's easier to build a power base and nurture division than it is to unify people in a utopia.
 

DrNightdub

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The 1913 lock-out is what everybody automatically thinks of in terms of breaking the union movement in the south, but my gut feel is that an equally significant defeat was inflicted in the north when the 1919 engineering strike was broken - this had encompassed Belfast, Clydeside and Lancashire, but from what I recall it was the Belfast engineers who held out longest. So that was the (mainly Protestant) skilled working class beaten, coming on the back of an unsuccessful strike of (mainly Catholic) unskilled dockers and carters in 1907 - the one that was led by Jim Larkin.

There's a brilliant history of the Belfast working class, called "Labour and Partition" by Austen Morgan, which goes up to about 1925 I think. it goes into the whole ideological battle for the loyalties or organised labour in the north between the left and unionism. I've probably said it before, but Morgan's dedication at the start of the book is incredibly on the money: "To the 'rotten Prods' of Belfast - victims of loyalist violence and nationalist myopia."

Another recent publication that I only got during the week so haven't read yet is Adrian Brady's "Irish Socialist Republicans 1909-1936", which could throw more light on the subject.

As regards the 1930s onwards, there was the whole Outdoor Relief struggle (Paddy Devlin wrote a book about it) and Brian Hanley (author of "The Lost Revolution") did some research on the post-ODR period, including a unusual episode when striking railywaymen bombed train stations in Belfast during the course of a bitter strike. The strikers in question had gone to the IRA to ask for the explosives - the strikers in question also happened to be members of the B Specials.
 

DrNightdub

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Just on the bit highlighted in bold in the OP: "An Ireland without Ulster would be an Ireland without Labour, for without the industrial north, Labour would have no chance in the Home Rule Parliament."

I'm not sure that I would entirely go along with that conclusion. Although Labour famously stood aside from contesting the 1918 General Election, in the 1920 local elections 1920 in the south, it won either 20% of the vote or 20% of the seats, can't remember which. At the time ITGWU membership had grown to about 120,000 and this was in the absence of a significantly developed industrial base outside Dublin - most of its members were agricultural labourers. Allied to a confident - not defeated - industrial working class in the north, that could've potentially made for a formidable alternative to both unionism and nationalism.

Then you've got the 1922 General Election, where Labour got almost the same number of votes as the anti-Treaty SF panel members (132,000 v 135,000).

I don't think it's by any means a given that in a Home Rule parliament, Labour would've automatically been eclipsed. Yes, if you only define Labour in terms of an industrial Labour based in the North, but no if you look at the wider picture.
 

Cruimh

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Just on the bit highlighted in bold in the OP: "An Ireland without Ulster would be an Ireland without Labour, for without the industrial north, Labour would have no chance in the Home Rule Parliament."

I'm not sure that I would entirely go along with that conclusion. Although Labour famously stood aside from contesting the 1918 General Election, in the 1920 local elections 1920 in the south, it won either 20% of the vote or 20% of the seats, can't remember which. At the time ITGWU membership had grown to about 120,000 and this was in the absence of a significantly developed industrial base outside Dublin - most of its members were agricultural labourers. Allied to a confident - not defeated - industrial working class in the north, that could've potentially made for a formidable alternative to both unionism and nationalism.

Then you've got the 1922 General Election, where Labour got almost the same number of votes as the anti-Treaty SF panel members (132,000 v 135,000).

I don't think it's by any means a given that in a Home Rule parliament, Labour would've automatically been eclipsed. Yes, if you only define Labour in terms of an industrial Labour based in the North, but no if you look at the wider picture.
I'm thinking he means that Labour could not hope to match the Success of the UK Labour party which was able to form a government in 1924 and became the dominant party in government in 1929?
 

McTell

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No
There's nothing more conservative than a trade unionist once he's getting down to business. Connolly was a failure in his lifetime, though we see the truth in some of his writings. He had stood twice for Dublin Corpo and failed to be elected - that's what the working class thought of him.

As for the Ulster Nationalists, they split with the NI Labour Party in the 1930s because the NILP supported the Spanish Republic and they supported Franco. Including clever young Tomas O Fiaich.
 

Cruimh

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There's nothing more conservative than a trade unionist once he's getting down to business. Connolly was a failure in his lifetime, though we see the truth in some of his writings. He had stood twice for Dublin Corpo and failed to be elected - that's what the working class thought of him.
Page 481 of the article :

Did Socialism in Ireland actually pose a threat to the faith and morals of Irish Catholic workingmen? Hardly! For, Socialism in Ireland was a phantom. It existed only in the minds of a handful of hardy Labour leaders, who had captured the Irish Labour movement more because of their integrity and abilities than their devotion to an ideology. Larkin and Connolly did not preach Socialism. They simply talked trade unionism, and the making of a world less terrible for the children of the working-classes. True, both believed that in making trade unionists of the Irish workers, they were making Socialists of them in the long run, and laying the foundations for the inevitable Social Revolution. Time, however, has proven a bitter handmaiden to those pious hopes, for, wherever trade unionism has gained in strength, the revolutionary content of Socialism has been correspondingly diluted.
Mind you, when you read some of the comments and articles in the Catholic press at the time it is hardly surprising that Connolly struggled.
 

McTell

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No
Yes, it was a control thing. You're on top of the heap, it's 200 years since the penal laws, the Brits want to grant home rule.

Then these "socialists" appear, the same people who caused problems in 1848 and the Paris Commune, you can't have that on your doorstep. You're into rosaries, guilt and prayers of devotion and they have created a new god called Marx...
 

Cruimh

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Yes, it was a control thing. You're on top of the heap, it's 200 years since the penal laws, the Brits want to grant home rule.

Then these "socialists" appear, the same people who caused problems in 1848 and the Paris Commune, you can't have that on your doorstep. You're into rosaries, guilt and prayers of devotion and they have created a new god called Marx...
It needs be remembered though that the Trade Union Movement had friends in the RCC - their hostility waxed and waned. And there were lively exchanges in Maynooth - and in the letters pages of the lay press. On more than one occasion Church Critics were mauled.
 

McTell

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No
If you want a laugh you can read about the "Limerick Soviet" of 1919, which was closed down on the word of the bishop. An American journalist watched a meeting (sorry, a soviet) and was amused that "all the red-badged guards crossed themselves" when the angelus bells rang. Boys oh boys.
 

PO'Neill

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Yes, it was a control thing. You're on top of the heap, it's 200 years since the penal laws, the Brits want to grant home rule.

Then these "socialists" appear, the same people who caused problems in 1848 and the Paris Commune, you can't have that on your doorstep. You're into rosaries, guilt and prayers of devotion and they have created a new god called Marx...
You couldn't be further wrong. The promises of home rule after the war was over would have been dropped by the usual British perfidy. If the Brits were in favour of self determination of small nations, then why was the British empire bigger at the end of WW1 than before it ??
 

mary_queen_of_the_gael

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The dispute over political jurisdiction in Ireland and ethnic and religious distrust and hatred trumped worker solidarity and socialism. It's easier to build a power base and nurture division than it is to unify people in a utopia.
It faced real problems - opposition from the RCC and all sorts of manoeuvring by the Unionist Party.
James Connolly had had a major row with William Walker, the Belfast gas and water socialist many years prior to partition. That is well documented. Essentially, the Belfast Labourites were mostly skilled Protestants who looked down on their unskilled Catholic confreres for a number of reasons still pertinent today.
The gas and water socialists made spectacular gains in the 1919 elections and in the Belfast Council elections, so much so that Carson summoned his troops in his infamous 1920 12th July rant which kicked off the Belfast pogroms, which targeted republicans, Jews, Catholics and most of all, radical Protestant who might cause fissures in the Protestant corporate phalange.
The upshot was that Unionism lite was wiped off the map along with any form of trade union radicalism. The ITGWU held on to only the deep sea port, where Ardoyne Catholics/IRA men held the line.
Unionist reaction always trumped union radicalism as the Orange card was designed to stuff up any source of unity across the denominational divide. Belfast’s radical Protestants were treated abominably and fled for their lives. Their councillors were man handled and Aare now but hardly a footnote in history. BY radical, I mean only a little to the left of Britain’s New Labour. Several of them were actually English but Belfast reaction aka Unionism would not allow them any space left democracy might take root.
Unionism is one of the most reactionary creeds to besmirch the European political landscape in the last 100 odd years and shouting about Rome Rule or pigs cured at Lourdes does not change that.
 
S

SeamusNapoleon

If you want a laugh you can read about the "Limerick Soviet" of 1919, which was closed down on the word of the bishop.
That is a highly simplistic summation of the ending of the Limerick Soviet which fails to mention either Sinn Féin or the broader trade union movement in Ireland and Britain.
 

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