The Belfast dock strike of 1907

JohnD66

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In 1907 James Larkin got his first job in Ireland, in Belfast, for the national Union of Dock Labourers.

He quickly set about organising the previously unorganised dockers and carters and ended up with a huge and bitter strike for union recognition on the Belfast docks in the summer of 1907.

At one point the RIC themselves went on strike due to the long hour and low pay in policing the strike. The British Army was called in and ended up shooting dead two people on the Falls Road (incidentally nowhere near the docks.

Article here on this

The Belfast Dockers and Carters Strike of 1907. | The Irish Story

A few points of interest: first as Emmet O'Connor argues this, the Dublin Lockout of 1913 and the other bitter strikes in Ireland in this era (eg the railway strike of 1911) were principally about union recognition rather than absolute poverty, he makes the point that much was made of the slum housing as a cause of the Dublin lockout, but that housing in Belfast was relatively good.

A second interesting point is the level of working class unionist support for Larkin, a Catholic and nationalist despite his upbringing in Liverpool. The Independent Orange Order vocally supported the strike for instance. But what is interesting also is that when Larkin went on to found the ITGWU an avowedly Irish union, the Indepedent Orangemen denounced it as 'Sinn Fein union' (their words).

I suppose the question is; was working class unity Belfast possible if the 'national question' was set aside? Most commentators seem to think that the unity of 1907 was possible because Home Rule had lain in abeyance since 1893.
 
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McTell

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It was about union recognition for unskilled workers. Same as the 1913 lockout.

Skilled workers' craft unions had been around for a long time and had more of a value. Labour historians twist it to make it sound as if all unions were unrecognised until the 1900s.

Truth was, they could ask for more wages only because the UK was exploiting large colonies around the world, and yet a few "socialists" still pretend to be anti-colonial.
 

Levellers

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Most of the left in England think the British Empire was a good thing with exceptions like Corbyn.
 

PO'Neill

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In 1907 James Larkin got his first job in Ireland, in Belfast, for the national Union of Dock Labourers.

He quickly set about organising the previously unorganised dockers and carters and ended up with a huge and bitter strike for union recognition on the Belfast docks in the summer of 1907.

At one point the RIC themselves went on strike due to the long hour and low pay in policing the strike. The British Army was called in and ended up dhooting dead two people on the Falls Road (incidentally nowhere near the docks.
Yet again we see British "neutrality" between unionism and nationalsim in Ireland as we seen so many times during the troubles. Unionist thuggery by it's working class who enjoyed the sectarian setup against their nationalist workers didn't start in 1907, also happened throughout the 1800's such as 1886 when the first Home Rule bill was presented, 1857 when the British economy slumped and in the 1840's when the Catholic Emancipation movement was active and so on. You could go back to the loyalist gangs known the as the Peep of Boys in the 1700's in North Armagh, Down and Monaghan etc as the Penal Laws were been eased due to the British fear of the ripples of revolutionary France and America.


Article here on this

The Belfast Dockers and Carters Strike of 1907. | The Irish Story

A few points of interest: first as Emmet O'Connor argues this, the Dublin Lockout of 1913 and the other bitter strikes in Ireland in this era (eg the railway strike of 1911) were principally about union recognition rather than absolute poverty, he makes the point that much was made of the slum housing as a cause of the Dublin lockout, but that housing in Belfast was relatively good.

A second interesting point is the level of working class unionist support for Larkin, a Catholic and nationalist despite his upbringing in Liverpool. The Independent Orange Order vocally supported the strike for instance. But what is interesting also is that when Larkin went on to found the ITGWU an avowedly Irish union, the Indepedent Orangemen denounced it as 'Sinn Fein union' (their words).

I suppose the question is; was working class unity Belfast possible if the 'national question' was set aside? Most commentators seem to think that the unity of 1907 was possible because Home Rule had lain in abeyance since 1893.
Temporarily when there was a chance for improvement unionist organisations and the unionist workers could tolerate nationalists getting similar - though of course knowing in the long term their better jobs in the ship yards, factory's etc weren't going to change. Any possible change to the unionist status quo would quickly go back to the good old days of unionist mobs with sectarian attacks, burning of homes, looting etc as the Civil Rights movement in 1969 found out. Doubtless the Trots will now come on declaring the 1907 strike was a right little utopia and come up with some conspiracy theory how green and orange Tory's destroyed the utopian unity of the privileged unionist working class with the taigs blah, blah, blah.


Belfast Riots – A Short History
http://www.theirishstory.com/2013/01/09/belfast-riots-a-short-history/#.WyTzalVKjGg
 
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JohnD66

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The role of the British Army in the 1907 strike was in one way run of the mill because the Army was routinely used to police strikes across the UK and most of what they did in Belfast involved escorting carts to and from the docks and cordoning off the actual docking area from pickets.

But in another way their deployment was rather odd because they took up positions on he Falls Road, nowhere near the docks, where the shooting incident took place. Nationalist and republicans were convinced this was a deliberate provocation to start rioting between Catholics and the troops so that the strike could be portrayed as a nationalist rebellion. EG IRB man Liam Gaynor BMH statement here.

But the Chief Secretary at the time, Augustine Birrell could hardly be portrayed as an Orange bigot. And he actually took the view that the strike was mostly the employers' fault.
 
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PO'Neill

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The role of the British Army in the 1907 strike was in one way run of the mill because the Army was routinely used to police strikes across the UK and most of what they did in Belfast involved escorting carts to and from the docks and cordoning off the actual docking area from pickets.

But in another way their deployment was rather odd because they took up positions on he Falls Road, nowhere near the docks, where the shooting incident took place. Nationalist and republicans were convinced this was a deliberate provocation to start rioting between Catholics and the troops so that the strike could be portrayed as a nationalist rebellion. EG IRB man Liam Gaynor BMH statement here.

But the Chief Secretary at the time, Augustine Birrell could hardly be portrayed as an Orange bigot.
Yes, to a point you are right. But Belfast, possibly with the exception of Glasgow whose ship yards and docks were still quite sectarian up to the 1970's, was not like strikes across in Britain. Belfast dockers like nearly all occupations were always organised in a sectarian manner. Unionist dockers worked on the docks which dealt with the cross channel from Britain which was more regular than the cross Atlantic cargo which was done by the nationalist workers. As for Augustine Birrell, he could be an Uncle Tom when it suited him.
 

JohnD66

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Yes, to a point you are right. But Belfast, possibly with the exception of Glasgow whose ship yards and docks were still quite sectarian up to the 1970's, was not like strikes across in Britain. Belfast dockers like nearly all occupations were always organised in a sectarian manner. Unionist dockers worked on the docks which dealt with the cross channel from Britain which was more regular than the cross Atlantic cargo which was done by the nationalist workers. As for Augustine Birrell, he could be an Uncle Tom when it suited him.
Yeah and different unions too, most Catholic dockers were in the ITGWU and most Protestants in the ATGWU (the British version), I understand.
 

making waves

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Unionist thuggery by it's working class who enjoyed the sectarian setup against their nationalist workers didn't start in 1907,
You really do like spouting this sh*te

in the 1840's when the Catholic Emancipation movement was active and so on.
Catholic Emancipation was a movement of rich, property owning Catholics - it had little relevance or support among working class Catholics.

Temporarily when there was a chance for improvement unionist organisations and the unionist workers could tolerate nationalists getting similar - though of course knowing in the long term their better jobs in the ship yards, factory's etc weren't going to change. Any possible change to the unionist status quo would quickly go back to the good old days of unionist mobs with sectarian attacks, burning of homes, looting etc as the Civil Rights movement in 1969 found out. Doubtless the Trots will now come on declaring the 1907 strike was a right little utopia and come up with some conspiracy theory how green and orange Tory's destroyed the utopian unity of the privileged unionist working class with the taigs blah, blah, blah.
Blah - blah - ignoring the working class unity in Belfast in 1907, again during the Engineering Strike in 1919, again in 1932 when Protestants flooded from the Shankill into the Falls Road to prevent the police shooting Catholics in an attempt to whip up sectarianism during the Outdoor Relief Strike or in 1969 when working class Protestants supported the Civil Rights Movement and participated in cross-community defence committees against sectarian thugs (on both sides) when the Troubles kicked off.

But while you have the republican sectarian outlook like PON you will always get the bigoted and petty attitudes like outlined here - as demonstrated by the one link that PON posts in his comments.
 

making waves

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It was about union recognition for unskilled workers. Same as the 1913 lockout.

Skilled workers' craft unions had been around for a long time and had more of a value. Labour historians twist it to make it sound as if all unions were unrecognised until the 1900s.
To be honest - that is bullsh*t - I don't know of a single labour historian who adopts that attitude - and this is not a surprise given that 'general unions' date back as early as 1820 and unskilled workers were actively organised as early as the 1860s.

Truth was, they could ask for more wages only because the UK was exploiting large colonies around the world, and yet a few "socialists" still pretend to be anti-colonial.
More bullsh*t
 

making waves

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Yeah and different unions too, most Catholic dockers were in the ITGWU and most Protestants in the ATGWU (the British version), I understand.
Yet - all the dock workers in Belfast regularly engaged in solidarity action with Catholic workers - indeed post 1923 the ATGWU was regarded as being far more left-wing and militant than the IGTWU on Belfast docks - and in Derry the Catholic dock workers (the majority) remained members of the NDLU (and later the ATGWU)
 

JohnD66

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Yet - all the dock workers in Belfast regularly engaged in solidarity action with Catholic workers - indeed post 1923 the ATGWU was regarded as being far more left-wing and militant than the IGTWU on Belfast docks - and in Derry the Catholic dock workers (the majority) remained members of the NDLU (and later the ATGWU)
Yeah the T&G was quite a left wing union. A lot of communist influence if I recall correctly.

I assume like everywhere there are very few jobs in the Belfast docks these days. But is SIPTU still a presence there? And I believe the ATGWU has become part of UNITE now. Is there still a split or is it all redundant today?
 

PO'Neill

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You really do like spouting this sh*te
What did I tell you folks, earth is flat again time with the Trots. :) So there wasn't any anti Catholic/nationalist riots in the 1800's and before that by the unionist mobs from working class areas .......... pity you couldn't read the link. Read Micheal Farrell's the Orange State and you might learn something.


Catholic Emancipation was a movement of rich, property owning Catholics - it had little relevance or support among working class Catholics.
Talk about spouting sh*te !!! So the millions of practicing Irish Catholics back then didn't support Repeal or turn up to monster meetings etc.


Blah - blah - ignoring the working class unity in Belfast in 1907, again during the Engineering Strike in 1919, again in 1932 when Protestants flooded from the Shankill into the Falls Road to prevent the police shooting Catholics in an attempt to whip up sectarianism during the Outdoor Relief Strike or in 1969 when working class Protestants supported the Civil Rights Movement and participated in cross-community defence committees against sectarian thugs (on both sides) when the Troubles kicked off.

But while you have the republican sectarian outlook like PON you will always get the bigoted and petty attitudes like outlined here - as demonstrated by the one link that PON posts in his comments.
As stated - Temporarily when there was a chance for improvement unionist organisations and the unionist workers could tolerate nationalists getting similar though of course knowing in the long term their better jobs in the ship yards, factory's etc weren't going to change. The temporary small time unity in 1919 was quickly followed with mass attacks on nationalists in the work place and community's. Likewise in the 1930's in reaction to unemployment rising in the north caused by world wide recession due to the Wall St crash. Read the excellent The Burnings by Pearse Lawlor and cut out the Marxist conspiracy theory stuff.

 
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making waves

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What did I tell you folks, earth is flat again time with the Trots. :) So there wasn't any anti Catholic/nationalist riots in the 1800's and before that by the unionist mobs from working class areas .......... pity you couldn't the link. Read Micheal Farrell's the Orange State and you might learn something.
Of course sectarianism existed - and continues to exist - these days fostered by SF as much as the unionist bigots.

Talk about spouting sh*te !!! So the millions of practicing Irish Catholics back then didn't support Repeal or turn up to monster meetings etc.
Repeal was not about Catholic Emancipation - it was about getting an Irish parliament in Dublin for Catholic landlords (like O'Connell) and Catholic merchants - coupled with the fact that O'Connell and his henchmen were viciously anti-union.

To demonstrate - in 1931 there was a mass movement of the rural poor in Clare, Limerick and Galway (up as far as Roscommon) - in Clare it encompassed up to 20% of the adult population - against poverty, tithes and the treatment of the landless by the Catholic tenant farmers. O'Connell's chief enforcer in the mid-west, Tom Steele, demanded that the British military order their troops to shoot the landless in order to suppress the movement.


As stated - Temporarily when there was a chance for improvement unionist organisations and the unionist workers could tolerate nationalists getting similar though of course knowing in the long term their better jobs in the ship yards, factory's etc weren't going to change. The temporary small time unity in 1919 was quickly followed with mass attacks on nationalists in the work place and community's. Likewise in the 1930's in reaction to unemployment rising in the north caused by world wide recession due to the Wall St crash.
Sectarianism is always whipped up by the vested interests on both sides - usually to derail any cross-community movement or strike. Only a sectarian would ever claim that sectarianism is the dominant and only force of consequence in the North. And something that is consistently ignored by the sectarians - including PON - is that no strike in the North has ever been broken by sectarianism and no trade union has ever been split along sectarian lines - despite be best efforts by bigots on both sides.
 

making waves

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Yeah the T&G was quite a left wing union. A lot of communist influence if I recall correctly.

I assume like everywhere there are very few jobs in the Belfast docks these days. But is SIPTU still a presence there? And I believe the ATGWU has become part of UNITE now. Is there still a split or is it all redundant today?
Yep - the few dock workers that remain in Belfast are members of UNITE
 

McTell

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No
To be honest - that is bullsh*t - I don't know of a single labour historian who adopts that attitude - and this is not a surprise given that 'general unions' date back as early as 1820 and unskilled workers were actively organised as early as the 1860s.


More bullsh*t

I'll quote you a huge banner on liberty hall in 2013 that said that 1913 was all about recognition for trade unions.
 

Catalpast

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You really do like spouting this sh*te


Catholic Emancipation was a movement of rich, property owning Catholics - it had little relevance or support among working class Catholics.


Blah - blah - ignoring the working class unity in Belfast in 1907, again during the Engineering Strike in 1919, again in 1932 when Protestants flooded from the Shankill into the Falls Road to prevent the police shooting Catholics in an attempt to whip up sectarianism during the Outdoor Relief Strike or in 1969 when working class Protestants supported the Civil Rights Movement and participated in cross-community defence committees against sectarian thugs (on both sides) when the Troubles kicked off.

But while you have the republican sectarian outlook like PON you will always get the bigoted and petty attitudes like outlined here - as demonstrated by the one link that PON posts in his comments.
in 1969 when working class Protestants supported the Civil Rights Movement and participated in cross-community defence committees against sectarian thugs (on both sides) when the Troubles kicked off.


No they didn't! - A few individuals at most -Stop exaggerating!:roll:

'The Troubles' so called, kicked off in 1968 and not 1969

- as anyone who was around at the time can tell you...:D
 

Catalpast

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Catholic Emancipation was a movement of rich, property owning Catholics - it had little relevance or support among working class Catholics.

Oh please - CE had huge support amongst the masses

The only reason the British Government caved in was to stave off what otherwise have been another 1798
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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Any consideration of the 1907 Dock strike should begin with Thomas Gallaher. Gallaher had began his rise selling tobacco from a hand-cart in Derry. By the first decade of the 20th century he:
  • was running the Gallaher works in York Street,
  • had a major interest in the Belfast Ropework Company (the largest in the world until the mid-20th century), and — what is immediately relevant here —
  • was Chairman of the Belfast Shipping Company, and the main 'face' of the Shipping Federation.
In each of those operations he had a particular interest in suppressing the unionising of the low-skilled, manual workers.

On 9 May 1907 the dockers found themselves locked out, and blackleg labour had been imported to supplant them. In retaliation the dockers took over Kelly's quay, where a ship was unloading coal. The harbour police were overwhelmed, and the dockers used coal and stones to bombard the strike-breakers.

What Larkin and his National Union of Dock Labourers achieved was to bring together the Prods of the cross-channel docks and the Micks of the deep-sea docks.

The iron-moulders of the shipyards joined the action on 31 May, which put much of the shipyard out of work.

On 18 June the stokers and hands of the Head Line came out.

The Heysham, Barrow and Fleetwood berths were on strike from 26 June.

Om 27 June the carters were locked out, and the railway companies declared that any of their workers who struck would be black-listed. The fiery municipal workers organiser, Alex Boyd, declared 'war to the knife' (he lost his seat on Befast Corporation the following year).

The coal-heavers were locked out from the 11 July, which caused an inevitable energy-crisis, closing much of Belfast industry.

Next up, the Twelfth. The Independent Orange Order was the new fellow on the block. It had been created (1903) by Tom Sloane (who had seen off the Official Unionist to become MP for South Belfast) and Arthur Trew's Belfast Protestant Association — but was on shakier ground now that Sloan was defecting back to the main Orange and Unionist cause, and the BPA's money-man had disappeared with the funds. Now the Independent Orange saw the strikers as
a democracy fighting for mere existence against an aristocratic and salaried monied class.
Look closely, and we can see the old divisions between class, power, politics and denomination intruding. This extended to Joe Devlin's abhorrence of anything vaguely 'socialist'.

Starting with Combe Barbour of North Howard Street on 18 July, the linen manufacturers were closing down for lack of coal. That exacerbated when the Power-Loom Manufacturers and the Unionist-controlled Corporation Tramways locked out their workers.

The Under-Secretary for Ireland was Anthony MacDonnell, a Mayo-born Roman Catholic and Home Ruler, but also ex-Indian Civil Service. Around this time he was planning a Bill to establish a Grand Council of Irish MPs, based in Dublin, to deal with Irish business: this foundered on the opposition of Nationalist MPs. It also infuriated the Ulster Unionists, and caused the replacement of Wyndham as Chief Secretary with the Unionist-nominee Walter Long. What — for the immediate moment — saved MacDonnell (who was severely censured) was his recognised competence, and his closeness to the King. Even so, he was on dodgy ground, and — despite blaming the employers for obduracy — asked for troops to be sent in.

This is when the police mutiny began. On 15 July a constable had refused to escort a blackleg lorry-driver, had been suspended, and Musgrave Street barracks were solid in his support. The Acting Commissioner came to face the police protest, and a general melée ensued. In short order eight hundred of the Belfast constabulary were refusing orders. MacDonnell, from Dublin Castle, sacked the first-offending constable, had a couple of hundred others dispersed to rural postings, and (1 August) the Royal Navy delivering 2,500 Cameroonians and Home Counties regiments (definitively, no Irish or Welsh would-be sympathisers) to Bangor.

The irresistible force had met the immoveable object — the employers were entrenched, and the National Union of Dock Labourers was running out of funds. So the NUDL 'agreed' to a deal, under the supervision of the Unionist Lord Mayor (25 July). Although this was claimed by the NUDL as a 'victory', it was at best a Pyrrhic one: the employers had made no concessions, and granted no union recognition. The other strikers were being picked off, firm by firm, and job by job.

Still, the importing of troops, and the rising popular antipathy to black-leg labour, had finally spurred Joe Devlin into committing himself, and tub-thumping from strikers' platforms. That led to the rioting of 11 August. The troops were deployed, with a full-on cavalry-charge up the Grosvenor Road. For two nights the locals had the invaders beat. The next stage was reading the Riot Act and shooting live ammunition: two killed.

The final defence of the strikers was broken when the Roman Catholic clergy and William Walker of the Independent Labour Party (but a small-u 'unionist') posted a demand for sectarian unity. By now the game was over. The strikers were returning to work on the employers' terms, and black-listing made sure anyone whose name was 'known' was punished.

Much of this would be re-enacted, on an even grosser scale, in Dublin in 1913-14.

Later: I've corrected the spelling for 'Gallaher', which seems to be the usual spelling. Some sources (including the hot-link used above, which misled me) use 'Gallagher'.​
 
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making waves

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Catholic Emancipation was a movement of rich, property owning Catholics - it had little relevance or support among working class Catholics.

Oh please - CE had huge support amongst the masses
It actually didn't - there was no mobilisation of mass support for Catholic Emancipation, and there couldn't be because it meant nothing to the working class and rural poor (and there is copious amounts of primary sources to demonstrate this). It had support among the Catholic landlords, merchants and larger farmers who had a vote - and O'Connell promptly sold out the forty shilling freeholders in order to get Catholics into parliament.

The only reason the British Government caved in was to stave off what otherwise have been another 1798
Wrong again - The Brits had just taken six years to suppress the Rockite Rebellion (which had nothing to do with Catholic emancipation) - coupled with a massive upsurge in strikes after the scrapping of the Combination Laws - and were terrified of another social movement (which did develop into the Terry Alt Rebellion). They granted emancipation to get the rich Catholics onside so that they could use them as a weapon to attack these social movements - which O'Connell was more than happy to do. Catholic Emancipation had zero impact on the lives of the vast majority of the working class and the rural poor.
 

making waves

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in 1969 when working class Protestants supported the Civil Rights Movement and participated in cross-community defence committees against sectarian thugs (on both sides) when the Troubles kicked off.


No they didn't! - A few individuals at most -Stop exaggerating!:roll:
Stop peddling the sectarian nationalist narrative

'The Troubles' so called, kicked off in 1968 and not 1969

- as anyone who was around at the time can tell you...:D
If you want to be accurate - the Troubles kicked off in 1920 with the establishment of a unionist parliament in Belfast.
 


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