Young and militant, women were some of the most energetic activists of the Lockout, Nell Regan
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Countess Constance Markievicz.
“In their 17 weeks’ fight no section had shown more pluck and endurance and solidarity than the women workers.” – James Larkin, January 1914, oration at funeral of Alice Brady
As strikers, organisers, relief workers and activists, large numbers of woman played a central role in the Lockout and many were imprisoned for that role. Until relatively recently, this has been represented by the stirring image of Constance Markievicz in the soup kitchens of Liberty Hall and a strikers’ wife receiving relief – both only a part of this complex story.
On August 26th, 1913, over 700 women from industries such as packing, confectionery and matchmaking were organised into the Irish Women Workers Union. Throughout the six months of the Lockout, all of its members remained out on strike.
Poorly paid and often working in appalling conditions, their militancy was noted by the police in late September when thousands of strikers marched from Croyden Park. As tensions rose in the city “ . . . a menacing attitude . . . was recorded and it was added that the large number of IWWU members were . . . no less vehement than their male colleagues”. Altogether, 41 women and girls were imprisoned for strike-related offences.
Among the most militant members were the Jacobs Biscuit factory workers, nearly 500 strong. The company declared a complete lockout after a majority of these women failed to turn up for work on Monday, September 1st and those that did refused to remove their union badges. Among these was Rosie Hackett, a 21-year-old messenger who had helped Delia Larkin, general secretary, to first organise in Jacobs.
Hackett is one of the few named women strikers in the Lockout, in part due to her later involvement in 1916 and the IWWU. She has recently become well known, as her name is one of five being considered for the new Marlborough Street Luas bridge. In age and temperament she was typical of these young, militant women.
By February 1914, of the 5,000 workers still out on strike, 500 were IWWU members, mainly from Jacobs. Most would not get their jobs back and some, including Hackett, could only find work in the IWWU co-op on Eden Quay, where they would be at the centre of Citizen Army preparations for the Rising in which they fought.
Symbol of bravery
The young IWWU member, Alice Brady, who died from injuries in disturbances, became a symbol for the bravery and resilience of women workers. The 16 -year-old, shot by a strike breaker delivering coal, died on January 1st from tetanus. Her funeral was a union show of strength and demonstration of public anger.
Thousands followed the cortege from her home on Luke Street to Glasnevin Cemetery, including Delia and James Larkin, James Connolly and Constance Markievicz. The orations at her graveside were covered widely. Connolly proclaimed that “every scab and every employer of scab labour in Dublin is morally responsible for the young girl we have just buried”.