Wilful city of savage dreamers...
Locked Out seeks to recall in all its complexity the 1913 events that marked the coming of age in Dublin of the Irish labour movement
The Jim Larkin statue on O’Connell Street, Dublin (Sculptor: Oisin Kelly). Photograph: Frank Miller
“At twenty to ten on the morning of Tuesday 26th August, 1913, the trams stopped running. Striking conductors and drivers pinned the Red Hand badge of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union on their lapels and abandoned their vehicles . . .” *
It’s not the Irish soccer team that has given us first the idea of magnificent triumph in a draw. Or even moral victory in the bitter ashes of defeat. Our history has done it time and again. James Connolly, and sympathetic labour historians ever since, would describe the 1913 Lockout as a drawn battle and moral victory although the bedraggled return to work in January 1914 would look far from it.
Others would see it as defeat. The Irish Times wrote of “settlement by starvation”, but warned that “the settlement of the strike has settled nothing. The very necessary business of smashing Larkin has been accomplished, but that is very far from being the same thing as ‘smashing Larkinism’.” And it warned employers not to rest on their laurels – in the “brooding bitterness of defeat” and their failure to understand or reach a mutual accommodation with their employees would be the seeds of a “further and more desperate blow”.
That was true in two important respects.
The Lockout did not destroy the ITGWU, but firmly embedded its ideas and necessity in the consciousness of the Dublin working class, as it did of James Larkin’s syndicalist message – “an injury to one is an injury to all” . The union, indeed the development of an Irish-based trade union movement, and the sympathetic strike would remain part of its armoury, although the latter perhaps more judiciously deployed in later years. And, for many involved in the union’s heroic struggle against the employers that winter, the lessons of defeat and what many would see as international betrayal would propel them, and the Irish Citizen Army they created to protect locked-out workers, decisively into alliance with the national movement and on the path to that other great moral-victory-in-defeat, the 1916 Rising.
This edition of our “Century” series, the fourth marking the decade of revolution 1912-23, is an attempt to recall the Lockout in all its complexity, as both what journalist Padraig Yeates has called “a far shabbier, bloodier and more mundane affair than the myth allows”, but also, firstly, as the brave coming of age of the Irish labour movement, a vita, distinct ingredient in the huge social earthquakes of that decade which would lay the basis for the transformation of modern Ireland. Labour was in the front rank.
* Padraig Yeates’s classic Lockout, Dublin 1913 remains the indispensible, authoritative work on the dispute.