In 1913, many Dubliners were casual labourers working for starvation wages with no trade union representation. They lived in over-crowded tenements which were home to around a third of the population. Poverty, overcrowding and lack of healthcare con …
In 1913, many Dubliners were casual labourers working for starvation wages with no trade union representation. They lived in over-crowded tenements which were home to around a third of the population. Poverty, overcrowding and lack of healthcare contributed to one of the highest infant death rates in Europe.
In 1909, James Larkin launched the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) to represent unskilled workers. The employers reacted swiftly to this challenge, led by William Martin Murphy, President of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, who owned the Irish Independent Group and controlled the Dublin Tramways Company. In August 1913, Murphy offered his workers a stark choice: you can join a union or have a job. When ITGWU members on the trams struck for higher wages he locked them out.
Other employers joined Murphy, locking out any employee who refused to renounce the ITGWU and resign if they were already a member..
On Sunday, 31 August, Dubliners in O’Connell Street were baton charged by the police when Larkin attempted to address them. Up to 600 people were seriously injured.
Workers continued battling for their rights during the autumn and winter of 1913-1914. Dubliners suffered immense hardship during this period, and many would have starved to death were it not for the help received from the TUC, Cooperative movement, Labour Party, Socialist Party and other organisations in Britain who raised funds and sent food ships that enabled the ITGWU and Dublin Trades Council to feed trade unionists and their families.
The odds were stacked against the workers, and in early 1914 many were forced back to work.
Although employers claimed victory, the workers of 1913 laid the ground work for many of the rights that we today take for granted, ranging from holidays via health and safety rules to the Minimum Wage. However the fundamental right to collective bargaining is still denied to Irish workers.
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