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Thread: ‘Labour’, Trades Unionism and Partition

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    Politics.ie Member Cruimh's Avatar
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    Default ‘Labour’, Trades Unionism and Partition

    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.
    Last edited by Cruimh; 9th November 2012 at 03:41 PM.

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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.

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    Politics.ie Member Cruimh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levellers View Post
    "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?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cruimh View Post
    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.

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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

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    Politics.ie Member bob115's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cruimh View Post
    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?

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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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cruimh View Post
    What year was that mate?
    1914. Link here: James Connolly: Labour and Partition (1914)

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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.

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    Politics.ie Member Cruimh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob115 View Post
    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?
    It faced real problems - opposition from the RCC and all sorts of manoeuvring by the Unionist Party.

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