The 1913 Lockout Essay Writing

The Dublin 1913 Lockout

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 2 (Summer 2001), Volume 9

‘Bloody Sunday’, 31 August 1913-Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary baton-charge crowds on Dublin’s O’Connell Street. (Cashman Collection)


‘Bloody Sunday’, 31 August 1913— Dublin Metropolitan Police and RIC baton-charge workers on Sackville Street, killing two and injuring c. 500. (Cashman Collection)

At 9.40 am on Tuesday 26 August 1913 Dublin tram car men (drivers) and conductors pinned the Red Hand badge of the Irish Transport and General Workers‚ Union to their lapels and abandoned their vehicles. Within forty minutes most of the trams were moving again. The Dublin United Tramway Company chairman William Martin Murphy had contingency plans in place to use inspectors and office staff (many of them former car men) to replace the strikers. Trams would still not venture out at night, for fear of stoning, and crews would often carry revolvers for protection, but within a few days daytime services would operate relatively normally.
The dramatic opening of the 1913 dispute was a demonstration of weakness rather than strength. Normally tram strikes begin at daybreak with mass pickets to prevent vehicles leaving the depots. But on 26 August 1913, ITGWU leader Jim Larkin knew he could rely on less than 200 of the 800 DUTC employees. Another 200 Transport Union members had already been sacked by the company and the rest of the workforce frightened into submission. What followed was unbridled class war, only mediated by a distant British government distracted by domestic problems and the home rule crisis.

Murphy V Larkin

Nearly twenty years earlier William Martin Murphy had helped fund the establishment of the Dublin Trades Council in 1886, then an eminently respectable body dominated by traditional craft unions. Murphy had always cultivated good relations with the craft unions, most notably the printers. He also paid good wages to his employees on the trams. A conductor could earn 21s 6d (£1.07) and a car man 28s (£1.40) a week at a time when most labourers earned between 16s (80p) and 20s (£1). But conditions were poor, with employees working up to seventeen hours a day. Heavy fines, suspensions and instant dismissal were used to maintain a military style regime. Worst of all, an informer culture was cultivated in which passengers and fellow employees were encouraged to report every misdemeanour.
Murphy had no time for the syndicalist gospel preached by Larkin. The notion that the organised working class, in ‘one big union’‚ could use industrial action to overthrow capitalism was anathema to Murphy’s deeply conservative and intensely Catholic strain of Irish patriotism. He saw the ITGWU as a threat to the competitiveness of Irish companies, as well as representing a particularly pernicious form of modernisation. Murphy’s fear of the ITGWU’s ‘godless’ ideology was shared by most of Dublin’s middle classes, the Catholic church, business leaders, farmers and nationalist politicians.
In contrast to Murphy, Larkin has always had a good press. However, contemporary trade union leaders found him at best exasperating, and at worst, impossible to deal with. William O’Brien, one of Larkin’s ablest lieutenants in the lockout, eventually ousted him as leader of the ITGWU. O’Brien would spend most of his later years promoting the myth that the 1916 signatory, James Connolly, was the real architect of the ITGWU’s future greatness. In the process O’Brien presided over the systematic destruction of ITGWU records detailing Larkin’s role in the union. In the long run the removal of documentation only contributed to the growth of lockout mythology. The reality was that while Larkin was more ideologically eclectic than Connolly he was a more formidable organiser and an incomparable public speaker.

Sympathetic strikes

In August 1913 winning union recognition at the DUTC must have seemed eminently feasible. Over the previous six months, by using sympathetic strikes, Larkin had won a series of disputes that had increased wage rates for unskilled Dublin workers by between 20 and 25 per cent. Employers who refused to concede found their businesses blacked by other workers. The city’s carters and dockers, the backbone of the ITGWU, were Larkin’s most powerful weapon. Often the mere threat of sympathetic action was enough to force concessions. Anything less might well have failed in a city teeming with unemployed workers. Larkin’s greatest achievement and his most lasting legacy to the Irish labour movement was his ability to convince thousands of unskilled men and women, many of them illiterate and living on the breadline, not to pass pickets and accept that ‘an injury to one is the concern of all’.
The tactic could only be countered by employers adopting a similar  strategy—the sympathetic lockout. In a sense Murphy was Larkin’s most ardent convert—but he practised the syndicalism of the bosses. In 1911, using similar tactics, he had defeated the unions in the Great Southern and Western Railway, a victory so comprehensive that, while British rail workers took limited solidarity action with Dublin during the lockout, local railway employees remained quiescent.
Only a month before the lockout, the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Trades Council had agreed, at the behest of the Lord Mayor, Lorcan Sherlock, to establish a conciliation board to resolve future disputes. Murphy was president of the Chamber but had been ill at the time. When he learnt that Larkin was seeking to establish a presence in the Tramway Company before the conciliation process was in place he was determined to forestall him, to prevent strategic advantage going to the ITGWU. Once committed, neither side could withdraw without conceding a major victory to the other.

‘Bloody Sunday’

Even so, it is likely that the dispute would have petered out but for ‘Bloody Sunday’, 31 August 1913. Inflamed by the failure of the strike to stop the tram service, and spurred on by Larkin’s rhetoric, workers began rioting in Ringsend on Saturday 30 August. By nightfall the disturbances had spread to most of the city’s working class districts. Next day, due in part to the lack of control exercised by senior officers, members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary injured between 400 and 600 people in ferocious baton charges on O’Connell Street. Delegates to the British Trades Union Congress meeting in Manchester on Monday were outraged at the press reports. Much of their anger was directed at Dublin’s employers because they assumed that the local corporation, as in British cities, controlled the police force. Responsibility for policing rested in fact with the British authorities in Dublin Castle. The TUC committed massive support to the Dublin workers and over the next seven months more than £106,000 was donated in food, fuel, cash and clothing.

Dissension within nationalist ranks

While Bloody Sunday created unity across ideological and political divides in the labour movement, bringing together syndicalist revolutionaries such as Larkin and liberal supporters such as William Brace, the founder of the British Navvies’‚ Union, it caused deep dissension within Irish nationalist ranks. Despite the antipathy of many constitutional nationalists towards Murphy (as an anti-Parnellite he was no friend of Redmond’s) they saw Larkin as the greater threat. For forty years they had campaigned for home rule. Now that it appeared within their grasp, they sorely needed the support of both the governing Liberals and the rapidly rising British Labour Party to ensure the bill was passed. The Irish Party and its affiliates liked to present themselves as leading a united people with only a few recalcitrant unionists blocking the way forward. By a long-standing convention the Irish Party at Westminster supported social reform in Britain and the British Labour Party deferred to it on the question of whether such legislation should be extended to Ireland. When Irish suffragettes protested at the failure of the Irish Party to support votes for women within the proposed home rule parliament, or socialists objected at the party’s refusal to have free school dinners legislation extended to Ireland (because middle class ratepayers would have to foot the bill), British Labour held its peace.
But now that class war had broken out in Dublin an increasing number of British trade unionists and politicians began to question this policy. Even within the Irish Party MPs such as T.P. O’Connor and Richard McGhee, who had been active in the British labour movement and knew its leaders intimately, expressed their concerns. After Bloody Sunday, for instance, McGhee wrote angrily to John Dillon that, ‘It will be a serious mistake for our entire Irish Party to remain silent as if it approved of the devilish work [of the police]’. He added, ‘The trade unions of Britain are stirred to the deepest indignation. I know nothing that will cause more injury than for those unions to think that we the Nationalist Party are indifferent to the conflicts of William Martin Murphy and his victims.’ When the Dublin Employers’ Federation, a Murphy creation, sent a ‘whining’ delegation to Westminster, McGhee told them their organised drive ‘on what they are pleased to call Larkinism was regarded by us as an attack on trade unionism’.
Dillon was at his Dublin residence in North Great George’s Street throughout much of the lockout and was well aware of what was happening. He was, like McGhee, appalled by what he saw. However it was the activity of Larkin that appalled him. John Redmond, who spent most of that summer in Aughavannagh, was preoccupied by the North, as were other leaders of the party. It was largely left to Dillon to hold the line and, though he ranked the lockout as a greater threat to Irish Party hegemony than partition, his policy was to persuade colleagues that a studied public silence was the best approach where events in Dublin were concerned.
Within the city most nationalists opposed the lockout, not least because the powerful lobby of publicans and shopkeepers within the city council was outraged at the flood of free goods from Britain. All but one of the city’s MPs were completely out of sympathy with the strikers. Three of them were so old or infirm as to be relatively out of touch with events generally. At the same time a number of nationalist councillors representing working class wards engaged in a careful balancing act to retain the support of both middle class ratepayers and working class voters. They were acutely aware that Larkinite candidates could take their seats in the forthcoming municipal elections of 1914.

15,000 workers locked out

By 4 September 1913, Murphy had persuaded over 400 of Dublin’s employers to lock out any employee who refused to sign declarations forswearing the ITGWU. Within a few weeks at least 15,000 workers were locked out and dependent on the TUC food fund for survival. Thousands more, ranging from casual workers outside unions to hawkers and the self-employed, faced destitution because of the knock-on effects of the dispute. In contrast to the £106,000 raised by the TUC a distress fund established by Lord Mayor Sherlock raised a mere £6,482. Of this £2,000 was donated by Dr Charles McHugh, the Catholic bishop of Derry on behalf of the Lourdes pilgrimage fund, and another £2,435 by Dr William Walsh, Catholic archbishop of Dublin, from a diocesan collection. Less than £2,050 was raised by popular subscription. Clearly there was little sympathy for the locked out workers at home.
The other main source of relief was the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Its records provide no regional breakdown for 1913-1914 of how funds were spent. Assuming that £10,000 of the £18,000 raised that year was spent in Dublin, a very generous estimate, it would work out at around 2s 3d (12p) for each of the 85,000 people assisted in the city. In contrast trade union members received about £7 2s 5d (£7.12p) each. What was more, workers received assistance as a right determined by their union contributions. Aid from the SVP was channelled, as was the Lord Mayor’s fund, through the Catholic church. Charity is, by definition, discretionary and all the evidence suggests assistance went to the ‘deserving poor’ or families where parents were thought likely to give their children to Protestant proselytisers in return for food and money.
In fact a very bitter and unedifying battle developed between Catholic and Protestant food kitchens to win souls by feeding the starving. It was highlighted by a decision of M.H. Gill & Co, a Catholic publisher, to sack a Protestant employee with thirty-nine years service because of his voluntary efforts at the Dublin Central Mission Sunday food kitchen. The option for Gill’s was to face a boycott by co-religionists and financial ruin. A rally of Protestants to oppose the decision had no effect. The controversy proved a marker in the slow process by which the traditional Protestant hegemony of commercial life in the city was fading.
Yet in some respects the lockout had far less severe effects than might be expected. For instance there were fewer admissions to the Dublin workhouses in 1913 than in preceding years. Whether this was because of more stringent rules by workhouse guardians afraid of being overwhelmed by the destitute, or because so many workers were in receipt of TUC aid, remains unclear. What is certain is that admissions to the workhouses returned to normal levels after TUC funding dried up in early 1914. On the other hand mortality rates did rise during the lockout with children most affected. In the third quarter of 1913 the death rate for children from infectious diseases rose by almost 50 per cent.

‘Dublin kiddies’ scheme

The less than generous response of the city’s middle classes to the hardship of workers was partly due to Larkin’s ill-considered promotion of the ‘Dublin kiddies’ scheme. This was an attempt by Madame Dora Montefiore, a member of a prominent liberal Jewish family, to provide temporary foster homes for strikers’ children in Britain. Dr Walsh, who had been relatively sympathetic towards the strikers, denounced the scheme for putting the Catholic faith of the children at risk. He also believed it would expose them to the higher living standards of Britain and leave them discontented with their lot when they returned home. Catholic clergy mobilised ‘vigilance’ committees in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire, which prevented all but a small number of children from leaving the city. The supply of children rapidly dried up when the Murphyite press began publishing the names and addresses of parents. The tremendous effort put into preventing the children leaving Dublin was not paralleled by similar efforts to look after them at home. Apart from the trade union movement the only others to make serious efforts to feed strikers‚ children were activists in the militant wing of the female suffrage movement.

Larkin disowned by TUC

While the controversy over Madame Montefiore’s scheme isolated the strikers from much of Irish society, Larkin himself contributed to the process. His intemperate language not only alienated many potential sympathisers within the country, but within the British labour movement. He repeatedly attacked the TUC leadership for refusing to sanction sympathetic strikes in Britain aimed at ‘blacking’ goods from Dublin. Larkin, and his supporters ever since, have argued that this would have forced the capitulation of Murphy and his allies.
Such an analysis ignores the underlying realities. Larkin, as a revolutionary syndicalist, believed the lockout could act as a catalyst that would generate a general strike in Britain, bringing about the collapse of capitalism. His problem was that although syndicalism had taken quite a grip in Dublin, it was very much a minority interest within the TUC. Many British unions were still recovering from three years of almost constant strikes between 1909 and 1912 that had left them weakened and, in some cases, nearly bankrupt. Ironically union density in most British ports was much lower than in Dublin. If Larkin could not close Dublin port with around 50 per cent of workers unionised there was little hope of British unions achieving better results with 15 per cent unionisation. The more Larkin castigated British trade union leaders for their cowardice the more he isolated himself. Ultimately he would be disowned at a special TUC conference convened in December 1913 specifically to discuss the Dublin dispute.
Another factor in the defeat of the workers was the secret assistance of the Shipping Federation. When the lockout began, the federation, the largest employers‚ organisation in the UK, resisted appeals for help. This was partly because of commitments to strike-breaking activities elsewhere, but also because it did not believe Dublin employers had the will to fight. By October the federation had changed its mind and was supplying 600 strike breakers to keep Dublin port open. Most of them were accommodated on federation vessels in the Alexandra Basin for protection against intimidation. What was not known at the time was that the federation spent nearly £10,000 to help out smaller Dublin employers in danger of collapse during the dispute. Lord Iveagh, head of the Guinness dynasty, contributed a further £5,000. Murphy used these resources imaginatively. For instance a fund was set up for smaller employers to subsidise the purchase of motor lorries, which, it was quickly discovered, were cheaper to run and more productive than the traditional horse and cart and less susceptible to interference by mass pickets.

Irish Citizen Army

In addition the employers could call on the resources of the state. Military escorts supplemented those of police during the dispute. No fewer than 400 members of the ITGWU appeared before the courts on charges arising out of the dispute; many were subsequently imprisoned. In contrast, although strike breakers were involved in several shooting incidents leading to death or serious injury only one was convicted, and he was given a suspended sentence. Like the Black and Tans later, strike breakers were castigated as the sweepings of English prisons and slums. The evidence suggests, however, that at least a third were Irish. Their intervention spurred the ITGWU to establish the Irish Citizen Army. Larkin also decided to contest every prosecution of union members in the courts.
The blatant use of British troops and the police against the strikers also made many advanced nationalists reconsider their allegiances. They had already seen the Irish Party rely on the British government to coerce Ulster into home rule and now it appeared to be endorsing the same methods by employers on the streets of Dublin. The most famous convert from constitutional nationalism to separatism in this period was Patrick Pearse, whose ‘Letters from a Hermitage’ in Irish Freedom increasingly identified with the workers. Pearse raged that, ‘Before God I believe the root of the matter lies in foreign domination. A free Ireland would not, could not, have hunger in her fertile vales and squalor in her cities.’ Like Connolly, he would come to regard the workers and rural poor as the truest patriots. ‘There are no real Nationalists in Ireland outside of the Irish Labour Movement’, Connolly wrote in the aftermath of the lockout. ‘All others merely reject one part or other of the British Conquest—the Labour Movement alone rejects it in its entirety and sets itself to the re-conquest of Ireland.’
Much has been written about the influence of Connolly on Pearse’s thought, but any close study of their writings and speeches in 1913-1914 would suggest that Pearse exercised at least as strong an influence on the labour leader’s thinking about the national question. The lockout played an important role in blending the social and political agendas of separatists of varying hues.

Municipal elections

But it had little immediate impact on the local political scene. In the January 1914 municipal elections Larkinite candidates in Dublin put forward the most advanced social and national programme so far seen in Ireland. But only one of ten candidates was elected and, although they came close to winning in several other constituencies, the result was all the more devastating because of the high hopes with which they entered the contest.
Isolated by the TUC in Britain, rejected by the electorate in Dublin and facing starvation because the food ships had stopped, Dublin workers had to accept the inevitable and return to work. Despite various efforts by church leaders, British trade unionists and government agencies, Murphy refused to compromise. Attempts by a minority of employers to find a peace formula were equally robustly rejected. By February 1914 Murphy had achieved total victory, or so he thought. What none of the protagonists had foreseen was the advent of the First World War just six months later. Consequent severe labour shortages allowed the ITGWU, and the trade union movement generally, to recover from defeat. By 1920 the ITGWU was Ireland’s largest union with 120,000 members, compared with its pre-war peak of 24,135 at the start of January 1913.
In retrospect the lockout represents the coming of age of the Irish trade union movement. Perversely, the aid from Britain and the well meaning but ineffectual interventions of the TUC in the dispute made the younger generation of Irish trade union leaders all the more determined to assert their independence. During the lockout people ranging from female suffrage campaigners to Catholic curates began to question in fundamental ways what sort of society home rule Ireland would be. Issues as relevant today as then, such as children’s rights and the effects of the internationalisation of capital (globalisation) were hotly debated. The lockout was the first major urban conflict to impinge itself on the national consciousness. Ironically the next great urban event was the Easter Rising and the lockout was relegated to the role of curtain raiser to the national struggle.

Padraig Yeates is industry and employment correspondent of The Irish Times.

Further reading:

C.D. Greaves, The Irish Transport and General Workers Union: the formative years (Dublin 1982).

D. Nevin, James Larkin: lion of the fold (Dublin 1999).

TCD Curriculum Development Unit, Dublin 1913: a divided city (Dublin 1986).

P. Yeates, Lockout: Dublin 1913 (Dublin 2000).

For other people named James Larkin, see James Larkin (disambiguation).

James Larkin (Irish: Séamas Ó Lorcáin; 21 January 1876 – 30 January 1947), sometimes known as Jim Larkin, was an Irish trade union leader and socialist activist, born to Irish parents in Liverpool, England. He and his family later moved to a small cottage in Burren, southern County Down. Growing up in poverty, he received little formal education and began working in a variety of jobs while still a child. He became a full-time trade union organiser in 1905.

Larkin moved to Belfast in 1907 and founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, the Irish Labour Party, and later the Workers' Union of Ireland. Perhaps best known for his role in the 1913 Dublin Lockout, "Big Jim" continues to occupy a significant place in Dublin's collective memory.

Early years[edit]

Larkin was born on 21 January 1876 the second eldest son of Irish emigrants, James Larkin and Mary Ann McNulty, both from County Armagh. The impoverished Larkin family lived in the slums of Liverpool during the early years of his life. From the age of seven, he attended school in the mornings and worked in the afternoons to supplement the family income, a common arrangement in working-class families at the time. At the age of fourteen, after the death of his father, he was apprenticed to the firm his father had worked for, but was dismissed after two years. He was unemployed for a time and then worked as a sailor and docker. By 1903, he was a dock foreman, and on 8 September of that year, he married Elizabeth Brown.

From 1893, Larkin developed an interest in socialism and became a member of the Independent Labour Party. In 1905, he was one of the few foremen to take part in a strike on the Liverpool docks. He was elected to the strike committee, and although he lost his foreman's job as a result, his performance so impressed the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) that he was appointed a temporary organiser. He later gained a permanent position with the union, which, in 1906, sent him to Scotland, where he successfully organised workers in Preston and Glasgow. Larkin campaigned against Chinese immigration, presenting it as a threat that would undercut workers, leading processions in 1906 in Liverpool with fifty dockers dressed as 'Chinamen', wearing faux-'pigtails' and wearing a powder to provide a 'yellow countenance'.[3]

Organising Irish labour movement (1907–14)[edit]

In January 1907, Larkin undertook his first task on behalf of the trade union movement in Ireland, when he arrived in Belfast to organise the city's dock workers for the NUDL. He succeeded in unionising the workforce, and as employers refused to meet the wage demands, he called the dockers out on strike in June. Carters and coal men soon joined in, the latter settling their dispute after a month. Larkin succeeded in uniting Protestant and Catholic workers and even persuaded the local Royal Irish Constabulary to strike at one point, but the strike ended by November without having achieved significant success. Tensions regarding leadership arose between Larkin and NUDL general secretary James Sexton. The latter's handling of negotiations and agreement to a disastrous settlement for the last of the strikers resulted in a lasting rift between Sexton and Larkin.

In 1908, Larkin moved south and organised workers in Dublin, Cork and Waterford, with considerable success. His involvement, against union instructions, in a dispute in Dublin resulted in his expulsion from the NUDL. The union later prosecuted him for diverting union funds to give strike pay to Cork workers engaged in an unofficial dispute. After trial and conviction for embezzlement in 1910, he was sentenced to prison for a year.[4] This was widely regarded as unjust, and the Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, pardoned him after he had served three months in prison. Also in 1908, Arthur Griffith during the Dublin carter’s strike described Larkin as an "Englishman importing foreign political disruption into this country and putting native industry at risk".[5]

After his expulsion from the NUDL, Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU) at the end of December 1908. The organisation exists today as the Services Industrial Professional & Technical Union (SIPTU). It quickly gained the affiliation of the NUDL branches in Dublin, Cork, Dundalk, Waterford and Sligo. The Derry and Drogheda NUDL branches stayed with the British union, and Belfast split along sectarian lines. Early in the new year, 1909, Larkin moved to Dublin, which became the main base of the ITGWU and the focus of all his future union activity in Ireland.

In June 1911, Larkin established a newspaper, The Irish Worker and People's Advocate, as a pro-labour alternative to the capitalist-owned press. This organ was characterised by a campaigning approach and the denunciation of unfair employers and of Larkin's political enemies. Its columns also included pieces by intellectuals. The paper was produced until its suppression by the authorities in 1915. Afterwards, the Worker metamorphosed into the new Ireland Echo.

In partnership with James Connolly, Larkin helped form the Irish Labour Party in 1912. Later that year, he was elected to Dublin Corporation. He did not hold his seat long, as a month later he was removed because he had a criminal record from his conviction in 1910.

Dublin Lockout, 1913[edit]

Main article: Dublin Lockout

In early 1913, Larkin achieved some successes in industrial disputes in Dublin and, notably, in the Sligo Dock strike; these involved frequent recourse to sympathetic strikes and blacking (boycotting) of goods. Two major employers, Guinness and the Dublin United Tramway Company, were the main targets of Larkin's organising ambitions. Both had craft unions for skilled workers, but Larkin's main aim was to unionise the unskilled workers as well. He coined the slogan "A fair day's work for a fair day's pay".[6]

Guinness staff were relatively well-paid, and enjoyed generous benefits from a paternalistic management that refused to join a lockout of unionised staff by virtually all the major Dublin employers.[7] This was far from the case on the tramways.

The chairman of the Dublin United Tramway Company, industrialist and newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy, was determined not to allow the ITGWU to unionise his workforce. On 15 August, he dismissed 40 workers he suspected of ITGWU membership, followed by another 300 over the next week. On 26 August 1913 the tramway workers officially went on strike. Led by Murphy, over 400 of the city's employers retaliated by requiring their workers to sign a pledge not to be a member of the ITGWU and not to engage in sympathetic strikes.

The resulting industrial dispute was the most severe in Ireland's history. Employers in Dublin engaged in a sympathetic lockout of their workers when the latter refused to sign the pledge, employing blackleg labour from Britain and from elsewhere in Ireland. Guinness, the largest employer in Dublin, refused the employers' call to lock out its workers but it sacked 15 workers who struck in sympathy. Dublin's workers, amongst the poorest in the whole of what was then the Great Britain and Ireland, were forced to survive on generous but inadequate donations from the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) and sources in Ireland, distributed by the ITGWU.

For seven months the lockout affected tens of thousands of Dublin workers and employers, with Larkin portrayed as the villain by Murphy's three main newspapers, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Evening Herald, and by other bourgeois publications in Ireland.

Other leaders in the ITGWU at the time were James Connolly and William X. O'Brien; influential figures such as Patrick Pearse, Constance Markievicz and William Butler Yeats supported the workers in the generally anti-Larkin Irish press. The Irish Worker published the names and addresses of strike-breakers, the Irish Independent published the names and addresses of men and women who attempted to send their children out of the city to be cared for in foster homes in Belfast and Britain.[6][8] But Larkin never resorted to violence. He knew it would play into the hands of the anti-union companies and knew he could not build a mass trade union by wrecking the firms where his members worked.[6]

A group including Tom Kettle and Thomas MacDonagh formed the Industrial Peace Committee to attempt to negotiate between employers and workers; the employers refused to meet them.

When a meeting called by Larkin for Sunday 31 August 1913 was proscribed, Constance Markievicz and her husband Casimir disguised Larkin in Casimir's frock coat and trousers and stage makeup and beard, and Nellie Gifford, who was unknown to the police, led him into William Martin Murphy's Imperial Hotel, pretending to be her stooped, deaf old clergyman uncle (to disguise his instantly recognisable Liverpool accent). Larkin tore off his beard inside the hotel and raced to a balcony, where he shouted his speech to the crowd below. The police – some 300 Royal Irish Constabulary reinforcing Dublin Metropolitan Police – savagely baton-charged the crowd, injuring between 400 and 600 people. MP Handel Booth, who was present, said that the police "behaved like men possessed. They drove the crowd into the side streets to meet other batches of the government’s minions, wildly striking with their truncheons at everyone within reach… The few roughs got away first, most respectable people left their hats and crawled away with bleeding heads. Kicking victims when prostrate was a settled part of police programme." Larkin went into hiding, charged with incitement to breach the peace. James Connolly was arrested and told the authorities "I do not recognise the English government in Ireland at all. I do not even recognise the King except when I am compelled to do so".[9]

The lock-out eventually concluded in early 1914 when calls by Connolly and Larkin for a sympathetic strike in Britain were rejected by the British TUC. Larkin's attacks on the TUC leadership for this stance also led to the cessation of financial aid to the ITGWU, which in any case was not affiliated to the TUC.

Although the actions of the ITGWU and the smaller UBLU were unsuccessful in achieving substantially better pay and conditions for the workers, they marked a watershed in Irish labour history. The principle of union action and workers' solidarity had been firmly established. Perhaps even more importantly, Larkin's rhetoric condemning poverty and injustice and calling for the oppressed to stand up for themselves made a lasting impression.

In the US (1914–23)[edit]

Some months after the lockout ended, Larkin left for the United States. He intended to recuperate from the strain of the lockout and raise funds for the union. His decision to leave dismayed many union activists. Once there he became a member of the Socialist Party of America, and was involved in the Industrial Workers of the World union (the Wobblies). He became an enthusiastic supporter of the Soviet Union and was expelled from the Socialist Party of America in 1919 along with numerous other sympathisers of the Bolsheviks during the Red Scare of that year.

Larkin was reported as having helped to disrupt Allied munitions shipments in New York City during World War I. In 1937, he voluntarily assisted US lawyers investigating the Black Tom explosion by providing an affidavit from his home in Dublin. According to British Army Intelligence officer, Henry Landau:

Larkin testified that he himself never took part in the actual sabotage campaign but, rather, confined himself to the organising of strikes to secure both higher pay and shorter hours for workmen and to prevent the shipment of munitions to the Allies.[10]

Larkin's speeches in support of the Soviet Union, his association with founding members of the American Communist Party, and his radical publications made him a target of the "First Red Scare" that was sweeping the US; he was jailed in 1920 for 'criminal anarchy' and was sentenced to five to ten years in Sing Sing prison. In 1923, he was pardoned and later deported by Al Smith, Governor of New York.

Return to Ireland and communist activism[edit]

Upon his return to Ireland in April 1923, Larkin received a hero's welcome, and immediately set about touring the country meeting trade union members and appealing for an end to the Irish Civil War. However, he soon found himself at variance with William X. O'Brien, who in his absence had become the leading figure in the ITGWU and the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress. Larkin was still officially general secretary of the ITGWU. The ITGWU leaders (Thomas Foran, William O'Brien, Thomas Kennedy: all colleagues of Larkin during the Lockout) sued him. Their counsel told the court that Larkin had justified the occupation by false and malicious attacks on their characters to oust them and to gain sole control of the union. The Master of the Rolls, presiding, declared: "It is surprising that a man of Mr Larkin's intelligence should launch so desperate an invective against these people for irregularities, in the misapplication of funds and the falsification of documents, when I have before me a document which bears the name of James Larkin, which has been proved to be a mis-statement." Larkin's "mis-statement" asserted that the Transport Union had £1,746.69 in the Hibernian Bank in December 1913, but the union account was completely empty. Moreover, since all relevant union account books had mysteriously been destroyed, no explanation for the missing money was possible. The court duly found against Larkin, ordering him to pay the costs of both sides. The bitterness of the court case between the former organisers of the 1913 Lockout would last over 20 years.[8]

In September 1923, Larkin formed the Irish Worker League (IWL), which was soon afterwards recognised by the Comintern as the Irish section of the world communist movement. In 1924 Larkin attended the Comintern congress in Moscow and was elected to its executive committee. On his return, Larkin announced that he had addressed some 20 million Russians, having been elected as one of "the 25 men to govern the world" and boasted that he had been appointed a Chief of Battalion of the Red Army, whose 2.5 million men had "pledged to come to the assistance of Irish workers". However, the League was not organised as a political party, never held a general congress and never succeeded in being politically effective. Its most prominent activity in its first year was to raise funds for imprisoned members of the Anti-Treaty IRA.

During Larkin's absence at the 1924 Comintern congress (and apparently against his instructions), his brother Peter took his supporters out of the ITGWU, forming the Workers' Union of Ireland (WUI). The new union quickly grew, gaining the allegiance of about two-thirds of the Dublin membership of the ITGWU and of a smaller number of rural members. It affiliated to the pro-Soviet Red International of Labour Unions.

Larkin launched a vicious attack on the Labour leader, Tom Johnson, who like Larkin, was Liverpool-born. But whereas Johnson had spent most of his life in Ireland, Larkin had been as long in the US as he had in Ireland. Larkin trumpeted, "It's time that Labour dealt with this English traitor. If they don't get rid of this scoundrel, they'll get the bullet and the bayonet in reward. There's nothing for it, but a dose of the lead which Johnson promises to those who look for work". That incitement to murder Johnson in a still-violent post-Civil War country cost Larkin £1000 in libel damages.[8]

In January 1925, the Comintern sent Communist Party of Great Britain activist Bob Stewart to Ireland to establish a communist party in co-operation with Larkin. A formal founding conference of the Irish Worker League, which was to take up this role, was set for May 1925. A fiasco ensued when the organisers discovered at the last minute that Larkin did not intend to attend. Feeling that the proposed party could not succeed without him, they called the conference off as it was due to start in a packed room in the Mansion House, Dublin.

At the September 1927 general election, Larkin ran (a huge surprise for all) in Dublin North and was elected.[11] However, as a result of a libel award against him won by William O'Brien, which he had refused to pay, he was an undischarged bankrupt and could not take up his seat.

Larkin was unsuccessful in his attempts in the following years to gain a position as a commercial agent in Ireland for the Soviet Union, which may have contributed to his disenchantment with Stalinism. The Soviets, for their part, were increasingly impatient with what they saw as his ineffective leadership. From the early 1930s Larkin drew away from the Soviet Union. While in the 1932 general election, he stood, without success, as a communist and in 1933 and subsequently, he ran as "Independent Labour". In 1934, he gave important evidence on the 1916 Black Tom explosion to John J. McCloy,[12] allowing a case for damages against Germany to be reopened; presumably because of Germany's new Nazi government.[13]

During this period he also engaged in a rapprochement with the Catholic Church. In 1936, he regained his seat on Dublin Corporation. He then regained his Dáil seat at the 1937 general election but lost it again the following year.[14] In that period, the Workers' Union of Ireland also entered the mainstream of the trade union movement, being admitted to the Dublin Trades Council in 1936, but the Irish Trade Union Congress would not accept its membership application until 1945.

Return to Labour Party[edit]

In 1941, a new trade union bill was published by the Government. Inspired by an internal trade union restructuring proposal by William O'Brien, it was viewed as a threat by the smaller general unions and the Irish branches of British unions (known as the 'amalgamated unions'). Larkin and the WUI played a leading role in the unsuccessful campaign against the bill. After its passage into law, he and his supporters successfully applied for admission to the Labour Party, where they were now regarded with more sympathy by many members. O'Brien in response disaffiliated the ITGWU from the party, forming the rival National Labour Party and denouncing what he claimed was communist influence in Labour. Larkin later served as a Labour Party deputy in Dáil Éireann from 1943 to 1944.[14]

James Larkin died in his sleep, on 30 January 1947 in the Meath Hospital. Fr Aloysius Travers, OFM (who had administered last rites to James Connolly in 1916) also administered extreme unction to Larkin. His funeral mass was celebrated by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who had visited him in hospital before he died, and thousands lined the streets of the city as the hearse passed through on the way to Glasnevin Cemetery.



Larkin has been the subject of poems by Brendan Behan,[15]Patrick Kavanagh,[16]Frank O'Connor, Donagh MacDonagh and Lola Ridge; his character has been central in plays by Daniel Corkery, George Russell (Æ), and Seán O'Casey;[17] and he is a heroic figure in the background of James Plunkett's novel Strumpet City[18] and Lyn Andrews' Where the Mersey Flows.[19]


James Larkin was memorialised by the New York Irish rock band Black 47, in their song The Day They Set Jim Larkin Free, and Donagh MacDonagh's The Ballad of James Larkin was recorded by Christy Moore and also the Dubliners. Paddy Reilly sings a song simply entitled Jim Larkin that describes the lot of the worker and their appreciation of the changes made by Larkin and Connolly. The song The Lockout by Joe O' Sullivan describes Larkin's organisation of workers which led to the Dublin Lockout of 1913.


Today a statue of "Big Jim" stands on O'Connell Street in Dublin. The inscription on the front of the monument is an extract in French, Irish and English from one of his famous speeches:

Les grands ne sont grands que parce que nous sommes à genoux: Levons-nous.
Ní uasal aon uasal ach sinne bheith íseal: Éirímis.
The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.

The slogan, first used on the 18th century French radical paper Révolutions de Paris,[20] also appeared on the masthead of the Workers' Republic, founded by James Connolly in Dublin in August 1898. Originally the organ of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, this periodical later became the official organ of the Communist Party of Ireland, which was founded in 1921. The original slogan is usually attributed to Camille Desmoulins (1760–1794), the French revolutionary;[citation needed] but it appears, only slightly modified, in an essay written by Étienne de La Boétie (1530–1563) and first published in 1576.[21]

On the west side of the base of the Larkin monument is a quotation from the poem Jim Larkin by Patrick Kavanagh:

And Tyranny trampled them in Dublin's gutter
Until Jim Larkin came along and cried
The call of Freedom and the call of Pride
And Slavery crept to its hands and knees
And Nineteen Thirteen cheered from out the utter
Degradation of their miseries.

On the east side of the monument there is a quotation from Drums under the Windows by Seán O'Casey:

…He talked to the workers, spoke as only Jim Larkin could speak, not for an assignation with peace, dark obedience, or placid resignation, but trumpet-tongued of resistance to wrong, discontent with leering poverty, and defiance of any power strutting out to stand in the way of their march onward.

A road in Raheny, North Dublin, is named after him.

James Larkin Way[edit]

A road in L4 1YQ, Kirkdale, in his home city of Liverpool, just off Scotland Road, is called James Larkin Way.

Liverpool Irish Festival 2008[edit]

To celebrate Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, the Liverpool Irish Festival held a James Larkin Evening at the 'Casa' bar-the dockers' pub in central Liverpool. This was attended by Francis Devine who wrote the general history of the trade union movement in Dublin and the formation of SIPTU. It was introduced by Liverpool Irishman Marcus Maher, who travelled from Dublin to present a specially commissioned painting by Finbar Coyle to James Larkin's last remaining Liverpool nephew, Tom Larkin. The painting reflects on one side Dublin and on the other side the Liver Bird and his home city of Liverpool.


The Transport and General Workers' Union activist Jack Jones, whose full name was James Larkin Jones, was named in honour of his fellow Liverpudlian.

See also[edit]


  1. ^"James Larkin : Biography". Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  2. ^Bertram D. Wolfe (1965). "The Catholic Communist". Workers Republic. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  3. ^East Wind: China and the British Left, 1925-1976 (Oxford, 2012), p.18
  4. ^UCC web essay accessed Nov 2009Archived 11 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^"William P. Partridge Local Councillor and Citizen Army Captain-Hugh Geraghty | Lough Gara Lakes & Legends". Retrieved 2016-03-23. 
  6. ^ abcJack O'Connor (21 February 2013). "What our history really has to teach us about Big Jim Larkin". Irish Independent. 
  7. ^Guinness 1886–1939, SR Dennison & Oliver McDonagh; Cork Univ. Press 1998 ISBN 978-1-85918-175-1. See: Chapter 8, "The employees; work and welfare 1886–1914"
  8. ^ abcKevin Myers (19 February 2013). "The union cult of Larkin is built on factually baseless myths". Irish Independent. 
  9. ^
  10. ^Landau, Henry (1937). The enemy within; the inside story of German sabotage in America. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 276. Retrieved 28 June 2009. 
  11. ^"Mr. James Larkin". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  12. ^Landau, Henry (1937). The enemy within; the inside story of German sabotage in America. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 276–278. Retrieved 28 June 2009. 
  13. ^New York Observer, July 2006
  14. ^ ab"James Larkin". Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  15. ^Mikhail, E. H. (1979). E. H. Mikhail, ed. The Art of Brendan Behan. Vision Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-85478-224-6. 
  16. ^Persson, Åke (2000). Betraying the age: social and artistic protest in Brendan Kennelly's work. Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis. p. 204. ISBN 978-91-7346-381-2. 
  17. ^O'Connor, Emmet (2002). James Larkin. Cork University Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-1-85918-339-7. 
  18. ^Plunkett, James (1969). Strumpet city. Delacorte Press. p. 132. 
  19. ^Andrews, Lyn (1997). Where the Mersey Flows. Headline. p. 341. ISBN 9780747251767
  20. ^Prudhomme, Louis-Marie (1789). "Révolutions de Paris : dédiées à la nation et au district des Petits Augustins" (in French). Prudhomme. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  21. ^"Dico-Citations". Retrieved 8 January 2013. 


  • E. Larkin, James Larkin, Irish labour leader 1876 – 1947, E. Larkin, 1977.
  • James Larkin, Emmet O'Connor, Cork University Press, Cork, 2002.
  • James Larkin: Lion of the Fold, James Nevin (ed.), Dublin, 1998.
  • Lockout: Dublin 1913, Pádraig Yeates, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 2000.
  • Communism in Modern Ireland: The Pursuit of the Workers' Republic since 1916, Mike Milotte, Dublin, 1984.
  • Thomas Johnson, 1872 – 1963, John Anthony Gaughan, Kingdom Books, Dublin, 1980.
  • The Rise of the Irish Trade Unions, Andrew Boyd, Anvil Books, Dublin, 1985.
  • History of Monuments O'Connell Street Area, Dublin City Council, 2003, [1]
  • Guinness 1886–1939, SR Dennison & Oliver McDonagh; Cork Univ. Press 1998. See: Chapter 8, "The employees; work and welfare 1886–1914" and chapter 9, "Industrial Relations 1886–1914".
Jim Larkin at his 8 November 1919 booking for "criminal anarchism" in the state of New York.
Larkin's gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery
Statue of James Larkin on O'Connell Street, Dublin (Oisín Kelly 1977)
Statue of James Larkin with the GPO on left. Easter 2016

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