Belfast and Dublin
Forward, 23 August, 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.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
Some four weeks ago I mentioned that Dublin was now the centre of a storm of industrial discontent and rebellious activity on the part of the working class, and that this was, as contrasted with the apathy of Belfast, due to the fact that in Dublin and Nationalist Ireland in general the Home Rule question had passed out of the regions of controversy – was indeed considered a settled question.
A few of my amiable comrades in Belfast chose to consider this as an attack upon the city instead of taking it as it was meant, as a spur to greater activity upon correct political lines. Just as when the sweating for which Belfast is notorious is mentioned, the orthodox Orange press affects to wax indignant – not at the sweaters, but at “those who are besmirching the fair name of Belfast”, i.e., those who expose the sweaters.
The governing factor in winning these battles in Dublin is the fact that practically all classes of general labour are in one Union, and that the leader of that Union does not act, nor does his executive with him act, on old style trade union lines. The general policy is to use the general body of workers who are organised in order to win concessions for those who are being organised ...
The firm and skilful use of this power is what is making for the revolution in wages and conditions in Dublin that is at present going on. But this would not be possible but for that matchless loyalty to their class which I have spoken of as a characteristic of the Dublin workers.
In Belfast, as I have already suggested, there is wanting alike the necessary forms of organisation, and the class solidarity that make that organisation possible and effective.
General labour is split up into many ineffective and comparatively isolated fragments. The dockers and carters are in two distinct, unrelated organisations. The headquarters of the former is in Dublin, of the latter in Manchester. Hence the immense power which these two bodies can use on behalf of their fellows when united action is wanting in Belfast.
And as fan as class solidarity is concerned, the following quotations from the capitalist press will speak volumes. They illustrate how the campaign of religious and political ruffianism initiated by Sir Edward Carson and his accomplices has broken whatever class solidarity ever existed in this city, and hence how the first task to our hand here is the fronting and throttling of this beast of bigotry.
The first extract is from the Dublin Daily Independent, a Home Rule organ, of Tuesday, 12th August:
“From early yesterday morning until a late hour last night the vicinity of the Midland Railway terminus in Belfast was the scene of considerable turmoil arising out of an excursion to Portrush of the Transport Workers and Textile Workers Organisation. The party, which was composed to a large extent of women and children, went in a body through York Street, where a Unionist crowd, mostly composed of shipyard workers, evidently thinking that the outing had a party significance, attacked them with so much violence that a large force of police had much difficulty in getting the excursionists on to the railway platform.
“From seven o’clock in the evening a rowdy gathering began to collect in the vicinity of the railway Station awaiting the return of the excursionists. A strong force of police, under the direction of the City Commissioner, were present.
“Prior to the arrival of the train there was a scuffle between the police and the crowd, who sang Dolly’s Brae and other Orange ballads, to the accompaniment of revolver shots, which could be heard in all the adjoining streets and along Royal Avenue. There was also some stone-throwing, and a girl was removed to hospital.”
The second extract is from the columns of the Northern Whig, a rabid Orange and Unionist organ:–
“Disorderly scenes attended the departure and return of a dockers excursion to Pontrush yesterday. The excursion had been arranged in connection with the local Branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union – of which Mr. James Connolly is the Secretary – who were joined in the outing by a number of textile operatives.
“In the morning, when the excursionists, headed by a Labour band, marched through York Street to the terminus of the Midland Railway (Northern Counties Committee), their progress was followed by a hostile crowd of considerable dimensions, and largely composed of mill girls, and in the vicinity of the railway station there was some stone-throwing, though apparently no one sustained injury.
“The policemen on duty in the vicinity were quickly assembled, but the crowd dispersed without further trouble, and the excursionists left by the 9:15 a.m. train for the seaside resort.
“In view of the threatening attitude the crowd had adopted in the morning the City Commissioner (Mr. T.J. Smith, J.P.), arranged for a strong force of police to meet the excursionists on their return to the city in the evening about 9 o’clock, and he, with District Inspector Robt. Dunlop, attended at the railway station shortly before that hour, and directed the movements of the constabulary. A crowd of men, women, and mill girls, numbering about 1,000 people, assembled outside the station premises to await the transport workers, the greaten proportion of those present being hostile.
“The gates of the approaches to the station were closed and locked in order that the premises might be kept clean, and so as to obviate as far as possible any disorder within the precincts of the station a strong cordon of police was engaged in keeping the crowd back from these approaches.
“With the arrival of the excursionists at about 9 o’clock the mob in the street outside resorted to stone-throwing, and a few revolvers were discharged into the air, while feeling evidently ran high.
“The transport workers had originally intended to re-form their procession, and march through York Street and other principal thoroughfares, as in the morning, but this idea was abandoned before the city was reached on the return journey.”
A correspondent of Forward in a recent edition asked how it was that if the Orangemen were so bad they allowed Mr. Connolly to hold meetings in the principal streets of Belfast? Our answer is that neither Mr. Connolly non any other Socialist can now hold outdoor meetings in an exclusively Orange district, even those Belfast socialists who “will not have Home Rule” in their programmes, cannot hold open-air meetings in any exclusively Orange district. Socialist meetings in Belfast can only be held in the business centre of the town, where the passing crowd is of a mixed or uncertain nature.
Another answer to my friend’s question is to be found in the incident related. The excursion was of a purely trade union nature, the Labour Band accompanying it was its own band – known as the only non-sectarian band in Belfast, and has never been known to play any party tunes or attend any demonstration under the auspices of either of the orthodox parties in Ireland – and yet this peaceful excursion was attacked by stones and revolver shots by an Orange crowd.
The only reason anyone alleged for the attack being that the unions were Irish organisations with their headquarters in Dublin, and therefore what is known in Belfast as Fenians. This, and a pleasant desire to kill your humble servant, is generally recognised as having been the sole motive inspiring the hostile demonstrations.
All this demonstrates how immensely difficult is the task at present in Belfast. No part of these countries has a part more difficult. It means the propagation of twentieth-century revolutionism amidst the mental atmosphere of the early seventeenth century.
When striving to induce my Belfast comrades to adopt this policy, we are now propagating in our meetings, I was asked did I think it would make our propaganda easier. I answered that I did not, that on the contrary it would arouse passions immensely more bitter than had ever been met here by the Socialist movement in the past, but it would make our propaganda more fruitful and our organisation more enduing.
To this I still adhere. A real Socialist movement cannot be built by temporising in front of a dying cause as that of the Orange ascendancy, even though in the paroxysms of its death struggle it assumes the appearance of health. A real Socialist movement can only be born of struggle, of uncompromising affirmation of the faith that is in US. Such a movement infallibly gathers to it every element of rebellion and of progress, and in the midst of the storm and stress of the struggle solidifies into a real revolutionary force.
Therefore we declare to the Orange workers of Belfast that we stand for the right of the people in Ireland to rule as well as to own Ireland, and cannot conceive of a Separation of the two ideas, and to all and sundry we announce that as Socialists we are Home Rulers, but that on the day the Home Rule Government goes into power, the Socialist movement in Ireland will go into Opposition.
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