Jimmy Kelly speaks at unveiling of plaque commemorating Lockout victims

Unveiling 1September 1st: As part of the Lockout commemoration ceremonies which took place on Saturday, Unite Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly spoke at a ceremony in memory of those who died during the Lockout.  Our pic shows (l to r) Dublin Council of Trade Unions President Mick O’Reilly, ICTU President John Douglas and Jimmy Kelly.

Speaking before the unveiling of a plaque sponsored by Unite in memory of the victims, Jimmy said:

In the 19th century, the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle stated that history is “the biography of great men”.  He was wrong.

History – and our present – is shaped by working men and women.

In 1913, James Larkin – and others less well-known such as William Partridge and Walter Carpenter, as well as workplace leaders like Rosie Hackett – provided workers with strategic and organisational leadership.  But the mobilisation we’re commemorating this year could not have happened if ordinary working people were not prepared to say “No more.  I have rights.  You will respect those rights.  And you will respect the rights of my fellow workers”.

Many paid for that determination and solidarity with their jobs.  And some paid with their lives, like those we’re remembering today.

It is an honour to have been asked to speak at this event commemorating the deaths of Alice Brady, James Byrne, John Byrne, James Nolan, John McDonagh and Eugene Salmon.

In particular, it is an honour to have with us today Nellie Matthews, who will be unveiling the plaque in a few minutes.  Nellie is the grand-daughter of  John Byrne.  John worked as a labourer, and was fifty years old when he was beaten senseless by police on Butt Bridge.  He died of his wounds in Jervis Street Hospital. 

The Byrne family has its roots deep here in the North Inner City.  Nellie grew up in St Joseph’s Mansions on Killarney Street, just around the corner from where we are standing.  Some years ago, St Joseph’s Mansions were replaced by Killarney Court – which is where Community Technical Aid has its offices today, and where all the meetings to plan the Community Re-Enactment have been held.  Nellie’s husband spent most of his working life in the ESB, and was a union member.

The story of the Byrne family is the story of working class Dublin.  John’s son, James, joined the British Army during WWI, like so many young men from the Inner City, and after the war he went to work for Guinness.  His personnel file in Guinness simply noted that his father had died – not, of course, that he had died as a result of police brutality during the greatest industrial dispute Ireland has ever seen.   What today is about – not just this particular event, but the Community Re-enactment as a whole – is reclaiming the stories of those who died, and of all those working men and women who said:  Respect my rights.

I would like to take a few minutes to recall the other victims..

  • Sixteen year old Alice Brady died from a ricocheted bullet on December 18th 1913 when a strike-breaker fired his revolver in front of a crowd on Poolbeg Street.
  • James Byrne, an ITGWU branch secretary in Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) died from pneumonia contracted on hunger strike after having been arrested on 20 October for alleged intimidation of a labourer at Heiton’s coal depot – an offence for which he claimed he was framed.
  • 33-year-old labourer James Nolan was attacked by police on Eden Quay on the same day as John Byrne.  Like John, he was taken to Jervis Street hospital where they died of their wounds
  • John McDonagh died during the vicious police assault on Corporation Buildings – just a few yards from where we are standing.
  • 17 year-old Eugene Salmon – one of the ITGWU workers locked out by Jacobs – died on September 2nd while trying to rescue his little sister in the aftermath of the Church Street tenement collapse.

Eugene Salmon’s story is emblematic of so many 1913 narratives told and untold.  He was one of nine children born to a bottle blower and his wife.  Six were still alive at the time of the 1911 census, where Eugene, aged 14, is listed as a ‘box maker and factory worker’.  At that time, the family of eight occupied three rooms in The Coombe.  By 1913, they had moved to a tenement in Church Street – one of two buildings, numbers 66 and 67, which collapsed.  Both buildings were owned by a Mrs. Ryan, and up to seven people died in the disaster.  Regulation of tenement conditions was, to use today’s phrase, light-touch.  This is not surprising, given that, a year after Eugene Salmon died, an inquiry found that 16 members of Dublin Corporation owned tenements.

This year, it’s become something of a cliché to say that ‘2013 is like 1913’.  I understand why people say that:  it’s shorthand for the frustration that so many of us, myself included, feel at the ongoing price of austerity being paid by working people for the mistakes of bankers and politicians.  

And it is also a reference to the crucial issue that remains outstanding. The issue at the heart of the 1913 Lockout – the right to organise and join a trade union of one’s choice in the workplace – remains an aspiration.   2013 – one hundred years after the Lockout – must be the year when workers’ rights are moved off the political back burner and take centre stage.

But it is also important to state that we – the working people of Ireland – have achieved a huge amount in the past hundred years.  Not to acknowledge this is to ignore the contribution and sacrifice made by those we’re commemorating today, and by subsequent generations.  We need to recognise our achievements as a movement – and to acknowledge the work we still have to do.  Here are just a few of the areas where, to quote a former Taoiseach, there is a lot done – and much still to do.

  • Our people no longer live in the kind of tenements which blighted Foley Street and other Inner city areas, and which killed Eugene Salmon – but many people have been left with a legacy of unsustainable housing debt from the housing boom, many others are on housing waiting lists and still others – in places like Croke Villas, O’Devaney Gardens and Dominick Street here in the North Inner City – saw their hopes of redevelopment smashed when developers pulled out of PPP schemes.
  • Men no longer line up at the docks to find out whether they’ll have a day’s work – but thousands of retail and service workers are on ‘zero-hours’ contracts, forced to be available for work but uncertain if they’ll bring home enough that week to feed their families.
  • Our children no longer join the workforce straight after primary school –  but access by working class children to third level education remains low, and the latest research indicates that the education class gap may even be widening.
  • Thanks to the trade union movement, workers can rely on a range of protections such as wage floors, health & safety regulations and employment equality legislation – but all these protections are vulnerable to the concerted efforts of employers to circumvent and undermine them.

Today, the greatest threat to the achievements of the trade union movement, and to the lives of working people, is austerity.  From wage cuts to increased charges;  from job losses to cuts in public services – it is working class communities in this city and around the country who are bearing the brunt of a failed policy.   The greatest tribute we can pay to those who died in 1913 is to continue fighting to end austerity, and next Monday, in our Pre-Budget Submission, Unite will be advancing proposals to do just that.

Aside | This entry was posted in Republic of Ireland news. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s