1913 Lockout – Jim Larkin/James Connolly

Lockout_Jim Larkin

Jim Larkin

‘And Tyranny trampled them in Dublin’s gutter until Jim Larkin came along and cried the call of Freedom and the call of Pride.’ (Sign at the foot of the Larkin statue on O’Connell Street).

Ironically enough, given the above statement, ‘Big Jim’ Larkin was born to Irish parents in Liverpool, England in 1876. Larkin’s past, as a child of poverty, would shape the leader’s political ideology throughout the course of the Lock-Out and as a bystander to the 1916 Easter Rising and the ensuing Civil War in the early 1920’s.
According to Emmet O’Connor in his lengthy biography of the leader titled James Larkin, Larkin was secretive. He didn’t like paperwork and his emotions were very much deducted from any formal biography written during his rise into the political culture of the modern Republic.

“He was unique in introducing an industrial dispute into mainstream Irish history, creating a positive view of that struggle in an otherwise hostile climate, ennobling strike tactics into a moral struggle,” writes the author.

Larkin moved to Belfast in 1907. He founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, the Irish Labour Party and later the Workers’ Union of Ireland, where he was to become a pivotal voice in the ensuing Lock-Out of 1913.

During the Lock-Out, Larkin became the embodiment of the working class, calling for change in working and living conditions.

“Larkin saw society as polarised in terms of class, and a trade union as essentially a class organisation,” writes Charles McCarthy in The Impact of Larkinism on Irish Working Class.

As McCarthy argues, Larkin did not exclude class in his orations; he simply exemplified needs of the working class and saw employers as the enemy.

After the Lock-Out, Larkin moved to the United States. His intentions were to raise funds for his union, but he became a supporter of the Soviet Union and later returned to Ireland in 1923 and campaigned for an end to the Irish Civil War.

Larkin struck a chord with the working class regions of Dublin, and Ireland as a whole, he spoke for the common person echoing a nationalistic tone that was less cutting than Connolly’s, but got the message across. He stood up, he fought and he won, depending on what political divide you come from.

By Liam Cahill

Lockout_James Conolly

James Connolly

“That the Thinker and the Worker are Manhood’s only Kings.” – James Connolly

If a picture tells a thousand words, the iconic image of James Connolly’s moustache, dark suit and tie strike a particular chord with the working class he so well represented. Connolly was a key player in a number of pivotal events in Irish history – from the Lock-Out in 1913 to Easter 1916.

Connolly spent a number of years in the United States, returning in 1910 to work as the Belfast organiser for the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) – which was headed by James Larkin. When Larkin left to travel to the United States, Connolly took charge of the union and worked as Editor of its socialist newspaper ‘The Irish Worker’.

In his influential book titled James Connolly, Samuel Levenson said Connolly was “feared and abhorred by all classes and groups of society.” Levenson suggests that Connolly was viewed with “suspicion and distrust” by many people within middle and upper middle class parts of Dublin.

If Irish history was a TV drama, the Lock-Out of 1913 was Connolly’s prelude to his 1916 finale. As head of the ITGWU, Connolly and Larkin found themselves caught up in a workers’ dispute which would turn out to be the biggest in Western European history, lasting five months and affecting over 20,000 workers. Despite this, Connolly’s role in the strike was as the prominent orator, taking over from Larkin, before both were jailed.

The Lock-Out allowed Connolly to speak to the people he cared about the most, according to Peter Berresford Ellis in his book James Connolly.

“Connolly was a man of high ideals, a man who lived and died for other people. His entire life was spent fighting for the poor, the exploited, the alienated,” writes the author.

Like Wolfe Tone before him, Connolly spoke with an increasingly nationalistic voice, echoing not only the concerns of independent working disputes, but also largely the idea that Ireland was not free until it was equal. In 1913, Ireland was on the footstep of a bloody fight that would cost the lives of thousands, leave the nation divided and spark the ‘Troubles’ years later.

By Liam Cahill