Lockout of 1913

views updated

Lockout of 1913

The great Dublin Lockout was a seminal event in modern Irish history that marked the coming of age of the trade union movement in Ireland. Before the arrival of the lockout's charismatic leader James Larkin, efforts to organize unskilled Irish workers had been relatively unsuccessful. Larkin's great achievement was to convince workers to adopt his syndicalist tactics and use mass solidarity action, including widespread use of the sympathetic strike, to win major concessions from employers.

In the first six months of 1913 a series of strikes by the newly formed Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU), which Larkin founded as a breakaway from the more conservative British based National Union of Dock Labourers, secured pay increases of up to 25 percent for members. In July employers agreed to a conciliation board to curb industrial unrest, despite opposition from the city's most powerful business leader, William Martin Murphy. When Larkin tried to organize workers in the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTC), of which Murphy was chairman, Murphy began systematically purging ITGWU members. On 26 August Larkin called a strike and urged workers to "black," or boycott, DUTC trams. Murphy, who was president of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, persuaded 400 of the city's main employers to lock out ITGWU members. Other workers who refused to sign declarations denouncing the ITGWU were sacked. Within a month 100,000 people, a third of the city's population, was suffering hardship as a result of the dispute. The general mortality rate in Dublin rose by 17 percent during the lockout and the rate for young children by almost 100 percent (Dublin Corporation Reports 1913–1914). These figures would have been much higher but for aid worth more than £93,000 sent by the British Trades Council.

Inevitably, the dispute degenerated into naked class warfare. Murphy's antipathy toward Larkin and the ITGWU was ideological as well as economic. Like many conservative nationalists, he feared syndicalism as a vehicle for anglicization, socialism, and secularization. These fears were reinforced by the "Dublin Kiddies' Scheme," which provided foster homes for strikers' children in Britain. In opposing the scheme, employers were able to mobilize support from the main churches, the middle classes, and constitutional nationalists against the strikers. Radical nationalists such as Patrick Pearse and feminists such as Countess Markievicz and Hannah Sheehy Skeffington supported the strikers.

The ITGWU and many other unions supporting its actions such as the Bricklayers, Builders' Labourers, Carpenters and Jointers, Carpet Planners and Women Workers' Union, would have collapsed without the help of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC). However, Larkin's syndicalism and his verbal abuse of leading British trade union leaders alienated the TUC as much as Dublin employers. By February 1914 most strikers had returned to work on the employers' terms. Nevertheless, the lockout marked the beginning of a decade of upheaval. Workers formed the Irish Citizen Army in November 1913 to defend themselves against the police, new alliances between socialists and radical nationalists were forged, and the lockout convinced many trade unionists that they must embrace political action to achieve their objectives.

SEE ALSO Connolly, James; Labor Movement; Larkin, James; Markievicz, Countess Constance; Murphy, William Martin; O'Brien, William; Trade Unions


Clarkson, J. Dunsmore. Labour and Nationalism in Ireland. 1970.

Greaves, C. D. The Irish Transport and General Workers Union: The Formative Years, 1909–1923. 1982.

Keogh, Dermot. The Rise of the Irish Working Class. 1982.

Larkin, E. James. Larkin, 1876–1947: Irish Labour Leader. 1965.

Nevin, Donald. James Larkin: Lion of the Fold. 1999.

Wright, Arnold. Disturbed Dublin: The Story of the Great Strike. 1914.

Yeates, Padraig. Lockout: Dublin 1913. 2000.

Padraig Yeates