Legacy of the Lockout #Larkin150

The Great Dublin Lockout remains the seminal event in the history of the Irish working class. That epic struggle also ranks as one of the great battles in the history of the workers’ movement internationally.

Liberty (@SIPTU)
4 min readJan 21, 2024

Until recently, it was viewed as some kind of curtain raiser for the great decade of rebellion, insofar as it was acknowledged at all in establishment circles. This grossly understates its importance. True, that heroic resistance throughout the cruel winter of 1913 into 1914 did inform the character of the 1916 Rebellion through the leadership of James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army.

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However, what happened in Dublin then was part of a wider mobilisation of the working class internationally across several countries in the western developed world. This saw the number of workers involved in strikes in Britain reach 515,000 in 1910, 960,000 in 1911 and 1.5 million in 1912.

It was not a General Strike either as some people like to represent it, although there were numerous heroic examples of sympathetic action. Far from signalling the onset of the nationalist rebellion, the entire project was entirely conceived, planned and executed in all its utter brutality by Irishmen against their fellow citizens, the poor of the city.

Indeed, were it not for the solidarity displayed by workers in Britain, under the leadership of the Trade Union Congress, who sustained the people through shipments of food and basic necessities, they would not have been able to hold out as long as they did.

The real issue at stake was the character and nature of the Ireland that would follow Home Rule. The Irish ruling class in waiting, under the leadership of the city’s foremost employer, William Martin Murphy, was determined to ensure that the working people and the poor would have no say in the direction of public policy in the new Ireland.

To this end they set out to exterminate the vehicle by means of which the people might have exercised a say — the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. They set about the task with ruthless abandon even to the extent of demonstrating their readiness to starve thousands of innocent little children to death to achieve their objective.

Ultimately, due to a heroic display of solidarity which exemplified all that is best in the human spirit, they failed to smash the Union. It resulted, as Connolly described it, in a drawn battle. Within a short few years the Union was stronger than ever.

However, the subsequent decade of rebellion did not result in the evolution of a State informed by the values and ideals of those such as Jim Larkin and James Connolly who led the resistance. Instead of a new paradigm reflecting the core values of collective solidarity and community, both jurisdictions which emerged on the island were informed by the outlook of William Martin Murphy and his allies. Public policy reflected the imperatives of individual greed.

In the South, the Union Jack was replaced by the Tricolour over public buildings but the value system that emerged was actually worse. It became an Ireland characterised by unemployment, emigration and misery, epitomised by the culture of the Industrial Schools and the Magdalene Laundries. It has been a cold place for the working people and the poor.

This is graphically reflected in the continuing denial of the legal right to Collective Bargaining without which the concept of Freedom of Association is meaningless, according to the European Court of Human Rights.(It is respected in virtually every other country in the EU). Eventually, the economic backwater gave way to the frothy days of the credit bubble.

It all ended tragically on the 29th September 2008 when the then Government signed us all up for the recklessly incurred debts of those at the top of our banking system, mortgaging the futures of generations to come.

Now, five years (15 years) later as we trudge through the mire isn’t it time to abandon the Ireland informed by the William Martin Murphy’s and revisit again the culture of collective solidarity as the basis for building a new and sustainable future?

This article was published in a Lockout 1913 special of Liberty in October 2013 and written by former SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor.

The full paper can be downloaded and read here.