A good year to remember Rosie Hackett, a fighter for workers’ and women’s rights
Opinion: A doughty fighter who helped reorganise a union that represented 70,000 women
The new Liffey bridge under construction. Rosie Hackett was recorded in the 1911 census as living in nearby Old Abbey Street. Photograph: Alan Betson
One hundred years after an ordinary young Dublin woman played an extraordinary role in the remarkable events unfolding around her, Rosie Hackett is back to make another little bit of history, this time at the start of the 21st century.
Rosie died 37 years ago after a life dedicated to her fellow workers, city and nation. Raised in humble circumstances, like many Dubliners she experienced the deprivation of tenement living. Rosie was, however, a natural leader and risked her livelihood, liberty and life itself to fight for the causes she believed in. She lost the former two on occasion and was fortunate to escape with the latter once or twice.
She was a tenacious fighter for the rights of all workers, but especially women. Through her links with the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, the Irish Women Workers’ Union and Irish Citizen Army she helped secure conditions many of us now take for granted.
It has been suggested recently that she might have been embarrassed by making Dublin City Council’s shortlist for the naming of the new Marlborough Street bridge ahead of James Connolly.
That may be right – it would be nice to think all five nominees would consider themselves unworthy – but it is hard to imagine Connolly, a firm supporter of workers’ rights and women’s rights, already honoured around the city, would not support his friend and colleague in becoming the first woman to have a bridge over the Liffey named in her memory. On this, the anniversary of the 1913 Lockout, there could hardly be a more appropriate choice.
Rosie, christened Rosanna, was born in 1892 in inner city Dublin. In 1901, she was living in a two-room rented flat, with six other family members and a lodger, in a tenement on Bolton Street. Later, at the time of the 1911 census she was living on Old Abbey Street – yards from the site of the new bridge.
She worked as a packer in a paper store, then became a messenger for Jacob’s Biscuits. Conditions were so bad at the factory that Jim Larkin said they would send the biscuit makers “from this earth 20 years before their time”.
On August 22nd, 1911 Rosie helped organise hundreds of Jacob’s women who withdrew their labour in support of male colleagues who were striking; with their help, the men won better conditions and a pay rise. Two weeks later, Rosie co-founded the Irish Women Workers’ Union (IWWU) with Delia Larkin. She was 18.