Originally posted August 26, 2013.
Today, August 26, 2013, marks the centenary of the beginning of the Dublin Lock-Out in 1913. Frequently referred to as an “epic struggle”, at its height it involved the locking out of 20,000 workers as employers refused to recognize their right to be members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). Lasting from August 26, 1913 to January 18, 1914, the Dublin Lock-Out was fundamental to workers’ right to unionize.
Two pivotal figures, Jim Larkin and James Connolly, were among those concerned for workers having better conditions and more power over their lives.
Low wages and long work hours contributed to the terrible conditions of Dublin’s poor in 1913. One third of the population lived in slums where 30,000 families occupied 15,000 tenements and disease and infant mortality was at a high. Lack of job opportunities and representation for unskilled workers along with work competition driving wages even lower were major contributors to poverty in Dublin at the time.
James Larkin, established the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), the first Irish trade union for both skilled and unskilled workers. After losing several general strikes, the ITGWU became successful and membership grew from 4,000 to 10,000 by 1913.
James Connolly was another important figure in the rise of an organized workers’ movement in Ireland. Connolly established the Irish Socialist Republican Party, and the newspaper The Workers’ Republic, before becoming involved with the ITGWU. Connolly would continue his activist struggle for social rights, including his participation in the 1916 Uprising.
William Martin Murphy, who vehemently opposed trade unions, was a leader among employers. In July 1913, Murphy headed a meeting of 300 employers, resulting in the collective response to inhibit the ITGWU unionization of the Dublin workforce. Murphy followed up with the dismissal of over 300 workers he suspected of ITGWU membership. Other Dublin employers followed Murphy’s lead, resulting in the Dublin Lock-Out, the most severe industrial dispute in Ireland. Tens of thousands of workers and their families were affected by the lock-out. Rallies, pickets, demonstrations and retaliation followed, with hundreds of injuries and several deaths.
In early 1914, the lock-out ended, when call for a sympathetic strike in Britain was rejected by the Trades Union Congress. Even though the ITGWU was not successful in securing higher wages and conditions for the workers, union action and workers’ unity were firmly established. This marked a turning point in Irish labor history; no future employer would ever try to break a union as Murphy had.