Debate needed on legacy of 1913 Dublin lockout
OPINION:There are parallels between the poverty and inequality of 1913 and 2013
This year we celebrate the centenary of the 1913 Dublin lockout.
Our decade of centenary commemorations has so far done little more than provoke a flood of warnings. Be mature and include everyone in the celebrations. Look at all sides and make it a moment of healing.
Above all else, sustain the peace process North and South. Such fears seem irrelevant when analysed in the light of our current economic failure.
Why bother to rerun jaded and divisive battles when there are so many new and more urgent causes for battle? The centenary events were historic moments, even heroic. However, the only thing they have in common is failure.
The birth of a Labour Party that never won outright political leadership and appears unlikely to do so in the future.
The rising of a people that was not only an organisational shambles but also achieved little more than the destruction of Dublin.
The first Dáil and a democratic programme that was inspiring but, even at the time, was deemed to be no more than a paper exercise to keep everyone on side for the national struggle.
We do have a fascination with failure. Heroic failure, failure of the underdog, is in danger of becoming a form of success.
Its celebration offers little beyond making failure acceptable and limiting our expectations of ourselves.
Dublin in 1913 was a place of poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and overcrowded housing. The state did little or nothing to alleviate this.
Dublin workers and their trade unions developed new means of protest.
They stood up to demand better working conditions and to challenge the maldistribution of wealth that was at the heart of their problems.
Employers clearly won
Dublin employers reacted punitively. The lockout began in October 1913 and was over by January 1914. All sides claimed victory but the employers clearly won this battle.
Commemoration as a form of nostalgic recall serves little purpose.
It might confirm our love of the underdog, our admiration of plucky courage and our commitment to heroic failure. That all seems irrelevant to the issues we currently face. At best it serves to take our minds off current woes.
Our commemorations would be better developed as a form of national debate. We need to start by identifying the challenges that are posed to us today by what happened 100 years ago.
The lockout appears to pose two such challenges. The parallels of poverty, inequality and hardship in 1913 and 2013 are the first challenge. The second is the need for creativity and capacity in civil society to respond to an unjust status quo.
Public policy responses to the economic crisis are creating hardship and inequality. This is supposedly required by the troika and is clearly acceptable to our political leaders.
It is based on a particular model of development that is failing even on its own terms of achieving economic growth. It seeks a return to an economy that concentrated wealth in the hands of the few and that was environmentally destructive.
There is little public or political debate about alternative models of development, based on equality and environmental sustainability, that would be sustainable in the current context and capable of achieving wellbeing for all.
Civil society is notably absent from current social or economic struggles. Its situation is precarious due to reduced resources. It is searching for a purpose and strategy appropriate to a context of long-term economic crisis.
Social partnership no longer offers the potential to advance new ideas. The narrow protection of sectoral interests has taken over any ambition for societal change. Negotiation and lobby work run up against an ever more unresponsive political system.
There is little public or internal debate about the forms of organisation and initiative that would enable civil society to offer an effective response to the unprecedented challenges and opportunities we now face.
The commemoration of the 1913 Dublin lockout could provide a context and a stimulus for these debates.
What type of society do we want to emerge from the current hardships we face?
What role should civil society play in building this society?
How should civil society go about the task of generating a popular demand for such a society?
We would be better served by such debates rather than by nostalgic tributes to a long gone James Larkin and, in the interests of inclusion and healing, to the equally long gone William Martin Murphy.
Niall Crowley is an independent equality consultant and a contributing editor to Village magazine