The Larne Strike II
Forward, 28 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 first strike broken in Ireland by the direct intervention of the clergy has recently ended in Larne, County Antrim. At that port the workers in the Aluminium works, to the number of over 300, lately joined the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, and came out on strike for an improvement of their conditions. The overwhelming majority of these workers are Protestants, and on Sunday 15th June, they took advantage of their strike holiday to attend their respective places of worship. As they have been working 12 hours a day 7 days a week, this was the first occasion upon which a good many of them had had the opportunity to attend divine services. The Belfast papers upon Monday 16th June, announced that at all the Protestant churches on Sunday the strikers were asked to remain after services until the minister has an opportunity of speaking to them in private.
It is understood that at these private conferences in the Protestant churches after service, the clergymen urged upon the men to return to work and trust to the goodwill of the manager. As a result, upon Monday, the work gates were besieged by a mob of men clamorously begging for leave to return at any terms the manager chose to impose. The Irish Transport Workers’ Union upon the Saturday had paid half strike pay to all the men on strike, none of whom were more than three weeks in the Union, and had promised more substantial aid for the ensuing week. But the fires of sectarian and political bigotry had been let loose, the chief argument used being that as the headquarters of the Union are in Dublin it is a ‘Fenian’ and ‘Papist’ organisation, and by this specious devilry the strikers were whipped back to their work, and the twin forces of scabbism and Carsonism won a glorious victory.
Clerical interference in industrial disputes has been common in Ireland, but it is a matter of bitter comment in Labour circles here that the only occasion upon which this clerical dictation succeeded in acting the part of strike breaker should be among and with Protestants, in an Orange community, in the most Orange part of the North-East of Ulster.
During the six months lock-out of the foundry workers in Wexford almost all of the clergy used their influence from the altar, in the confraternities, and in the homes of the workers, to coerce them into giving up the Union, but although that was the only point at issue, the men resolutely but respectfully told the clergymen to mind their own business, and despite all that these gentlemen could do, the boys of Wexford fought on, and suffered on, until they won.
But in Larne! It is to laugh!
I have often said, to the scandal of my hearers here, that the North-East corner of Ulster is the only priest-ridden part of Ireland. And it is true if by ‘priest-ridden’ we mean a part of the country where by appeals to theological hatreds the populace can be got to act contrary to their material interests. In other parts of Ireland the populace compel the priests to become their leaders or to remain powerless to command political or social obedience; here at the command of sectarianism the interests of trade unionism, of social progress, of material well-being are all forgotten, and in the midst of a battle against abominably slavish conditions, the workers are induced to abandon their trade organisation, to bite the hand that fed them, and to throw away the only weapon that could protect them.
For 17 years they slaved 12 hours per day, 7 days per week, and were loyal and submissive and true blue. The agitators of the Irish Transport Workers’ Union succeeded in lighting in their breasts the divine spark of rebellion and in keeping it alight for a whole week. But the returning wave of sectarian bigotry guided by the hands of God’s ministers has again drowned the spark, and peace reigns once more in Larne.
And the irony of it all lies in the fact that the strike was practically won when the collapse took place. Internal arrangements had been made for a start on the basis of an Eight Hour Day, or 56 hours per week, and this has in fact been adhered to from the start. But whereas the output for gang or for men for eight hours would have remained as before the strike, now the gangs have been re-shuffled, with the end in view of compelling the Eight Hour’s shift to produce as nearly what a 12-hour shift formerly did, as scientific slave-driving operating upon disorganised men can do. This and a reduction in wages averaging from 2/6 to 3/- per week, sum up the glorious achievement of our clergy in Larne.
Net result of the strike – A reduction of hours to eight per day.
Net result of clerical dictation – Victimisation of men made possible, increased slave-driving of a merciless character, average reduction of wages from 2/6 to 3/- per week, and smashing up of the local branch of the Union.
A great victory for the apostles of ‘civil and religious liberty’ in the very home of their apostolate!
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Last updated on 13.8.2003