The Lockout of 1913
President Michael D Higgins: ‘Knowledge of history is intrinsic to citizenship’
That is the context in which James Larkin and James Connolly sought to build the ITGWU, which the general union hoped would speak for Dublin workers.
Donal Nevin, trade unionist and author, wrote that the moment of the Lockout has to be looked at in a broader international context. It was not just James Connolly, or indeed Jim Larkin, who fervently believed that changes in workers’ rights could be brought about in a relatively short space of time; there were others internationally like Daniel De Leon in the US, and John Leslie in Scotland, who thought likewise.
In the Ireland of 1913 there were a number of different themes informing the atmosphere of change.
It was a time of agitated and urgent organisation on a number of themes – a cultural revival, a nationalist revival, and a suggested labour awakening. There was not only a sense of urgency but a sense of determination.
The Lockout, and particularly the events of Bloody Sunday, August 31st, 1913, saw artists responding to the society and to the crisis they saw unfolding around them. Nelson O’Ceallaigh Ritschel charts how writers such as George Bernard Shaw, AE – George Russell, and James Connolly, coming from different perspectives, arrived at a shared denunciation of the Lockout and in particular the police response to the meeting of Sunday, August 31st.
After the events of Bloody Sunday, Patrick Pearse wrote: “An employer who accepts the aid of foreign bayonets to enforce a lock-out of his workmen and accuses the workmen of national dereliction because they accept foreign alms for their starving wives and children….[is] a matter for a play by Synge.”
The Lockout of 1913 also compels us to ask questions about our role today in the wider international world of work – we are challenged to respond to the workplace tragedies of Pakistan, where 300 textile workers were killed in a fire, or more recently in Bangladesh, where more than 1,000 textile workers were crushed in a building collapse.
As global citizens we are required to respond to such disasters, informed by our own past, and those who assisted us, but conscious too of the benefits we have achieved in the past century as a result of those with the moral courage of a century ago, in establishing and seeking to vindicate the rights of workers.
In conclusion, I believe it is vital that a new generation have a deep and textured understanding of the 1913 Lockout. Without good history teaching, there is no shared idea of a public past.
Knowledge of history is intrinsic to citizenship. To have no knowledge of the past is to be permanently burdened with a lack of perspective, empathy and wisdom. These historic events, such as the Lockout, are part of what we are today – and understanding and responding to them is vital in providing a true understanding of our past and perhaps an insight into our future.
President Michael D Higgins gave the Michael Littleton lecture on the Lockout on RTÉ on June 18th, 2013.