The Awakening of Ulster’s Democracy
Forward, 7 June, 1913.
From the collection: Ireland Upon the Dissecting Table, Cork Workers’ Club 1975.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
The largest Labour Demonstration seen in Dublin in this generation took place on Sunday, 25th May. It was on the occasion of the holding of a May demonstration, and if a little belated, it made up in size and in enthusiasm for the tardiness of the celebration.
But the mere size of the demonstration was not even its most remarkable point – that was provided rather by its character than by its dimensions. There have ere now been held in Dublin Labour Demonstrations greater in magnitude, and perhaps other generations have seen some even surpassing the one under notice. But all such demonstrations have been part of some other movement – for instance, a Labour Demonstration of the supporters of Home Rule, the Land League, or as in O’Connell’s days, of the Repeal Movement. It was of some such demonstration that Charles Gavin Duffy wrote one of his finest poems – the poem containing that verse so frequently quoted since by Home Rule politicians desirous of winning the English Labour vote: “Ever to toil, ever to moil, This is our social charter; And city slave and peasant serf, Each its unfailing martyr.”
Then as now the Home Rule politician was bubbling over with sympathy for Labour, provided that Labour knew how to behave itself, and keep its proper place.
Its proper place, of course, being as one of the assets of the political movement of some section of its masters. Thus Labour is ever encouraged to revolt against the Orange sweaters of the North, but nothing must be done to encourage any such revolt against the Nationalist sweaters of the South.
As the song says: “Oh, no, we never mention them: Their names are never heard!”
The revolt of Labour when it can be manipulated as an asset of the Home Rule movement is all right, but the revolt of Labour against the slum landlords, grabbers and sweating employers who control that movement is a very naughty, unpatriotic, anti-Irish, irreligious, blasphemous, immoral, factionist, traitorous, cloven-hoof sort of iniquity that ought to be suppressed.
Hence the significance of the demonstration of Labour on Sunday, 25th May, will be appreciated when it is understood that it was not only not under the patronage of any political party, but was out flatly and defiantly in opposition to them all. The reporters of the capitalist press were ordered off the platforms, and hooted by the assembled multitude.
The working class of Dublin in a greater proportion than that of any of the great cities of these countries, has made up its mind in favour of independent political action. The fact that it is sternly Nationalist does not alter that fact. With it Nationalism is not a thing to be argued about, any more than the existence of Ireland is a matter of controversy or speculation. But having that fact allowed, it does not propose any longer to be made the sport of politicians whom it suspects of using Nationalist aspirations to cloak and protect capitalist outrages.
Thus the rising vote in favour of Labour at all municipal elections in Dublin, despite the fact that such elections are made political tests by the United Irish League. Given Home Rule, and payment of election expenses, Dublin would go Labour at the first election.
It is often said that the Irish flag is a green flag to suit a green people, but the Dublin workers are not so green as to believe that a party which voted against the Right to Work Bill, the Minimum Wage for Miners, and the Minimum Wage for Railwaymen, which intrigued against the application to Ireland of the Feeding of Necessitous School Children and the Medical Benefits of the Insurance Act, can be described as anything else than a treacherous “friend” of Labour.
Some day a similar spirit will come up North, and the workers of the North-East corner will get tired of being led by the nose by a party captained by landlords, and place-hunting lawyers. Here in Ulster the ascendancy party does not even need to pretend to be favourable to the aspirations of Labour; it is openly hostile, and the inculcation of slavish sentiments is a business it never neglects. In that is the main difference between the parties – the growth of a rebellious spirit amongst the Nationalist democracy has compelled the Home Rule politicians to pay court to Labour, to assume a virtue even when they have it not, but the lack of such a spirit in this section has enabled the Orange leaders to openly flout and antagonise the Labour movement.
But times change, and we change with them. Ulster democracy is awakening also, and we long and will see in Belfast movements of Labour as great as, if not greater than any of which Dublin can boast. Already the dry bones are stirring. There is, thanks to our ceaseless propaganda at mill doors, more active and intelligent discontent in the mills of Belfast today than at any time past. The ranks of the Irish Textile Workers’ Union are being recruited by hundreds, an emphatic demand is being made for the extension to the entire linen industry of the Trade Boards Act, and a great demonstration for that purpose is to be held on Monday, 9th June, in Smithfield, to be addressed by A. Conley of the Clothiers Operatives of Leeds, and Councillor Tom Lawlor of Dublin. It is to be hoped that all the Belfast readers of Forward will attend.
In Larne the oppressive conditions in the Aluminium works have also produced a revolt, and the poor slaves there who have been working 84 hours per week have turned to the Irish Transport Workers’ Union for relief, with the result that a betterment is already in sight. The dock labourers in the same port have joined the above union to a man, and in fact Labour in the North is beginning to shake its chains.
On the Belfast docks also the section of the dockers who, under the influence of religious prejudice and political intriguing, have held aloof from organisation, are now joining in troops, and increases have already been obtained for sections of these workers.
In the shipyards the agitation in favour of an Eight Hour Day is being seriously discussed, and the forces of Labour generally seem to be gathering for a battle of battles for the things that really matter. In that glorious day Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right, but all those leaders who now trumpet forth that battle cry will then be found arrayed against the Ulster democracy.
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Last updated on 13.8.2003