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Betrayal Of Limerick Soviet By ITGWU Leader

Betrayal Of Limerick Soviet By ITGWU and other Union Leaders

“After considerable delay, ILP &TUC leaders finally turned up in Limerick to reveal a plan that had been agreed with the nationalist activists, namely the evacuation of the population of Limerick. Understandably the Limerick workers were dismayed by this absurd proposition.”–Conor Kostic

Local republicans had called the Trade union leaders who proposed this “nincompoops”

But they were not stupid. A vastly experienced trade union leader such as William O’Brien, must have known that this outrageous proposal would undermine the limerick strike against British emergency powers  and the soviet backing the strike

The Limerick soviet, which had soared to unprecedented heights of working class activity, deflated with a whimper, with considerable damage to the position of the working class within the fight for Irish independence.

Limerick Soviet and General Strike of May 1 1919- From The Irish Working Class and the War of Independence by Conor Kostick, historian

file:///C:/Users/Admin/Downloads/180-711-1-PB%20(4).pdf

On Wednesday 16 April 1919 the dispute, (which gave rise to the Limerick City Soviet) looked as though it was about to escalate drastically as the local railworkers took the decision to go on strike, despite a circular to the contrary from the National Union of Railwaymen’s (NUR) headquarters in London. This raised the possibility of a national railway strike, which indeed, from reports sent to the NUR offices, seemed likely to spread across the channel. The strike was delayed by intervention from an unlikely source. William O’Brien, general secretary and a key leader of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Council (ILPTUC) sent a telegram to the Limerick railworkers saying, ‘railwaymen should defer stoppage pending  nation action. National Executive specially summoned for tomorrow.’  https://wp.me/pKzXa-1C5

In Limerick this was taken to mean that the next day a general strike of Irish workers was to be called on their behalf. As the leader of the soviet, John Cronin, said in an interview, ‘the national executive council of the ILPTUC will change its headquarters from Dublin to Limerick. Then if military rule isn’t abrogated, a general strike of the entire country will be called.’ In fact, having sought advice during the course of three days of talks with leading nationalists, the leadership of the ILPTUC were anxious to defuse the crisis, not escalate it.After considerable delay, they finally turned up in Limerick to reveal a plan that had been agreed with the nationalist activists, namely the evacuation of the population of Limerick. (William O’Brien was not on the leadership delegation which travelled to Limerick-PH) Understandably the Limerick workers were dismayed by this absurd proposition. As word of this scheme started to spread, the middle class, who had been cowed by the strength of the soviet, suddenly recovered their own political will and on Thursday 24 April Bishop Dr Hallinan and the Mayor entered into negotiations with General Griffin to obtain a compromise to the pass system. They then issued a letter the next day insisting on an immediate ending of the strike. Stalemated by their own union leadership, the strike leaders gave up and effectively called the strike off when they said that all those who did not need to show passes should return to work immediately. Rank and file workers, threatening to set up another soviet, tore up the posters announcing this retreat. But their position was an extremely difficult one. In Russia the soviets were based on direct elections from the workplace, so if a body of workers felt they were being misrepresented they could recall their delegate within twenty-four hours and give the mandate to another person. In Limerick the label ‘soviet’ was attached to the trades council because it was acting as a workers’ government. But the leaders of the movement were delegates elected through the slow moving workings of the individual trade union affiliates. To replace them in a matter of hours was impossible even if the majority of strikers desired to continue the fight. The Limerick soviet, which had soared to unprecedented heights of working class activity, deflated with a whimper, with considerable damage to the position of the working class within the fight for Irish independence. As a local republican newssheet put it, the people had been let down ‘by the nincompoops who call themselves the ‘Leaders of Labour’.

Outside of Limerick the curve of working class militancy was still on the rise. One mark of this was the strong response to the idea of holding a day’s strike on Thursday 1 May 1919 despite bans from the British and military authorities as well as local employers federations. Thousands participated in the action and the ILPTUC claimed that it was as effective as the general strike against conscription. In some ways it was all the more impressive in that this time there was no sanction from the church or nationalist leaders. In most small towns it was the ITGWU that was at the heart of the action, and their conference report that year boasted, ‘over more than three fourths of Ireland the cessation was complete and meetings were held at convenient centres at which the Labour propaganda was zealously pushed and the red flag of the workers’ cause displayed despite police interference.’

https://libcom.org/files/Forgotten%20revolution%20Limerick%20soviet.pdf

End of the Limerick Soviet

From The Forgotten Revolution by Liam Cahill

The workers defeated      https://wp.me/pKzXa-1C5

“They(the national trade union and Labour Party Leaders) had to look for an alternative that would save face all round. At some stage over the three days of meetings with the Dáil representatives, Tom Johnson and William MacPartlin came up with the idea of a peaceful evacuation of the entire city.”

“The struggle would have dragged on for some time longer had not his Lordship, Most Rev Dr Hallinan, and the Mayor, as representing the spiritual and temporal interests of the citizens sent a joint letter to the Trades Council on Thursday requesting the immediate end of the strike….” – “The Munster News”, Editorial entitled “The Strike-And After“.

The first notification the Executive of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress had of Limerick was a telegram sent by John Cronin, and received by William O’Brien, General Secretary of the Congress, on the first day of the strike, Monday April 14, 1919. The telegram read: “General strike here as protest against military restrictions.” O’Brien replied by telegram wishing the strikers success and asking to be kept informed of events. The General Secretary got no reply and rang up the newspaper offices looking for information. He got what information appeared in the evening papers. Communications were obviously not easy and some union leaders in Dublin suspected the authorities were intercepting messages from Limerick, and so, information was hard to come by. On Tuesday, there was still no information from Limerick, so the following day, O’Brien called together all the available members of the Executive and they discussed the matter informally. In the absence of information, they decided the best thing to do was to send someone to Limerick, and that job was given to Thomas Johnson, the Congress Treasurer. Johnson got a permit from the authorities and arrived in Limerick on the third day of the strike. He was born in Liverpool in 1872 and served from 1914 to 1916 as President of the Trade Union Congress, having attended his first Congress in 1911, as a delegate of the National Union of Shop Assistants and Clerks. From 1903 onwards, he had worked in Belfast for a cattle food firm until dismissed from his job as a commercial traveller because of his public opposition to Conscription, but his attitude to Republicanism was cautious. In 1918, he was appointed full-time Treasurer of the Congress. Johnson was a little old-fashioned in his trade unionism, neither Marxist nor nationalist. Yet he showed a remarkable sensitivity to the complexity of Irish society and had the capacity to understand North and South, both Belfast and Dublin. The great leaders of Irish trade unionism of the early decades of this century, Connolly and Larkin as well as Johnson were born in Britain. But in many ways, Johnson typified British trade unionism much more than the other two. Johnson was a hardworking organiser and a thoughtful public speaker, and he seems to have established an immediate rapport with the strike leaders. He was one of the most prominent people involved in the Caherdavin Incident, and the “Workers’ Bulletin” of April 23 paid him this tribute: “To the splendid efforts of Tom Johnson, the defence of Limerick owes much, and his intrepid bravery has won him many friends in Limerick and elsewhere.” Back in Dublin, two Limerick railway men arrived to look for support for the strike. They met their colleagues of the National Union of Railwaymen at the Inchicore Engineering works, a pivotal part of the network of the Great Southern and Western Railways. The response was lukewarm. The Dublin NUR men said that unless there was an extension of the strike to places like Cork and Tralee, Dublin would remain uninvolved. A spokesman for one of the biggest NUR branches in Dublin told the “Irish Independent” that while he sympathised with the Limerick people, he thought the policy adopted was a mistaken one. It did not inconvenience the military, who had ample means of transporting their supplies, but it meant starvation for their own people. They in Dublin had painful recollections of a somewhat similar state of things during their 1916 strike. The two NUR men briefed Congress Executive members on the position in Limerick as it stood at their departure. The Executive also met a delegation from the Railway Workers’ Emergency Committee, a national co-ordinating body representing the major rail unions. The Emergency Committee pointed out that if the Limerick men stopped work, the whole Great Southern railway system would be “put out of gear.” The railway men made it clear they were prepared to come out on strike, but only with other workers as part of a national strike. That same day, William O’Brien and other TUC leaders began a series of meetings spread over three days with the Executive, or Government, elected by the separatist parliament, Dáil Éireann. The aim, presumably, was to see to what extent the two bodies could, or should, co-ordinate their action over Limerick. Not unexpectedly, the Dáil Executive does not seem to have encouraged more widespread trade union action. They may have had practical objections to such action, but equally likely, Sinn Féin may not have liked the prospect of effectively handing over leadership of the militant part of the independence struggle so clearly to the trade unions. For a variety of reasons, many of the Dáil Executive would have wanted to maintain control, and the premier position, for themselves. The Congress leaders began to realise that any further escalation of support for Limerick would be entirely on their own heads and would lack the enthusiastic support of Sinn Féin nationally. They had to look for an alternative that would save face all round. At some stage over the three days of meetings with the Dáil representatives, Tom Johnson and William MacPartlin came up with the idea of a peaceful evacuation of the entire city. By doing this, the aim was to focus world-wide attention on the plight of the workers in Limerick, without the prospect of bloodshed. The available, resident members of the Executive met and discussed the idea, and O’Brien summoned the non-resident members, by telegram, to a meeting the following day, Holy Thursday. The full Executive agreed on the evacuation plan of action and arranged to meet in Limerick after the Easter weekend. In the meantime, O’Brien and the Vice-President, Thomas Farren of the ITGWU, who was also Secretary of the influential Dublin Trades Council, were to join Tom Johnson in Limerick immediately. O’Brien, in fact, never travelled to Limerick and this later became a focus of friction between local trade unionists and the national leadership. Outwardly, the National Executive seemed determined in its support for the Limerick strike. It unanimously condemned the action of the military authorities in proclaiming a military area in Limerick, in preventing the free movement of the Limerick trade unionists to and from their work, and in depriving them of their rights as workers and citizens. In a statement, it called for the immediate abrogation of the Order making permits to work obligatory in Limerick. The statement went on: “In view of this wanton attack on trade unionists, the National Executive appeals to the unbiased opinion of the workers and peoples of all countries as to on whose shoulders lies responsibility for the probably grave consequences which this unwarrantable and unnecessary action by the military may precipitate.” The following day, in Limerick, before any of his colleagues had arrived, Tom Johnson seemed to commit them to a national stoppage in support of Limerick. In a statement to the press, he interpreted the Executive’s resolution as an endorsement of, and full support for, Limerick. Johnson said he had authority to announce that the full strength of the Labour movement in Ireland, backed by the general public, would be exerted on behalf of the men and women of Limerick. The National Executive, in collaboration with the Strike Committee, would take such action as would ensure victory. “This”, Johnson declared, “is, in the first instance, Labour’s fight against the attempt by the British military authorities to choose who shall, or shall not, proceed to or from his or her Dáily work, but it is also Limerick’s reply to President Wilson’s question, ‘Shall the military power of any nation or group of nations, be suffered to determine the fortunes of peoples over whom they have no right to rule, except the right of force ?’ Limerick’s reply is ‘No’, and all Ireland is at her back.” Johnson said the National Executive were determined to give the Strike Committee all possible support. They realised that while it was Limerick today, tomorrow it might be other great cities like Cork, Waterford, Dublin, Derry or Belfast. The National Executive, he said, congratulated the Committee and workers on the splendid way they had upheld the banner of liberty. It would show that the men and women of 1919 were no less valiant than those of 1690, the year of the first Williamite siege of Limerick. The Limerick strikers could be forgiven for thinking the full weight of the Irish trade union movement was about to be thrown behind them in a national strike. But it was not to be. Firstly, there appeared to be difficulties about a speedy transfer of the full Executive to Limerick. No trains were running on Good Friday, but four members of the Executive made it to the city on Easter Tuesday. They were Thomas Farren of the ITGWU, Vice-President of Congress, John T O’Farrell of the Irish Railway Clerks’ Association, Rose Timmons and T C Daly, a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. Thomas Farren took part in the 1916 Rising and was one of a group of trade union leaders with nationalist sympathies who were arrested afterwards. O’Farrell, in the 1922 General Election, missed a seat in the Irish Free State Dáil by only thirteen votes but was elected to the Senate. The General Secretary, William O’Brien, remained in Dublin. Another visitor to Limerick that day was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Ireland, Sir Frederick Shaw, who conferred with General Griffin, the Commandant, Military Area. Matters cannot have been helped by the involvement of the Congress President, Thomas Cassidy, in organising the Easter Conference of his union. His Association’s General President had come over from Britain to assist him and was, in fact, the first person to tell Cassidy about the Limerick strike. Apparently, Cassidy and his President were travelling around the country on union business. That prevented him going to Dublin for the full Executive meeting summoned by O’Brien. Instead, on Easter Monday and Tuesday his Association’s Executive ordered him to Drogheda, County Louth, on union business. Cassidy considered, rightly or wrongly it is difficult to judge, that his own union’s affairs should take precedence over consideration of Limerick. William O’Brien felt it was better to wait to have the full Executive available to take decisions on what was a very serious issue. Consequently, Easter Tuesday, eight days after the strike had started, was the first day on which members of the Executive could travel to Limerick. In fact, they did not arrive in the city until the Wednesday, the ninth day of the strike, when they went into a long session of talks with the Strike Committee. The “Irish Times” – with hindsight, it seems correctly – interpreted the failure to meet the Tuesday appointment as “an indication that all is not not well in official labour circles.” From the moment they arrived in Limerick that Wednesday, the full Congress leadership were in almost continuous meetings with the Strike Committee discussing strategy and tactics. At their first long meeting, chaired by John Cronin, the Congress delegation consisted of: Thomas Farren, the Vice-President,T C Daly, National Union of Railwaymen, John T O’Farrell, Irish Railway Clerks’ Association, Michael O’Lehane, Drapers’ Assistants, Councillor Michael J Egan, a coachmaker from Cork, Tom Johnson, the Congress Treasureer, and Rose Timmons. O’Lehane was a staunch member of Sinn Féin. Egan was one of three Congress delegates, along with senior figures like O’Brien and Johnson on the nine man ‘national cabinet’ put forward by the Mansion House Conference to oppose conscription in 1918. The RIC duly reported to Dublin Castle on a strikers’ meeting held on this date. Officially, the Congress leaders claimed they were there to assist the Strike Committee, not to take charge of the dispute. But differences of opinion emerged even on that first day. Understandably, in the light of the earlier statements by the Executive and Johnson, John Cronin and the other strike leaders wanted the Congress to declare a national strike in support of Limerick. Some of the Congress leaders claimed their Constitution did not give them the power to do that – the calling of strikes, local or national, was a matter for the individual union affiliates. But the Congress leaders’ opposition to a national strike was much more fundamental than any constitutional niceties. They recognised the potential for Limerick to escalate into a bloody, revolutionary conflict with Britain if it was pushed to a national strike. The Congress had neither the physical means nor had it developed the political consciousness among its rank and file members to pursue or defend such a strategy. From their meetings in Dublin, they already knew they could not count on the wholehearted support of Sinn Féin, the IRA or the Dáil. There were doubts over whether the National Union of Railwaymen could be relied on to paralyse transport in such a strike, and without doubt, the Unionist workforces of Ulster would actively oppose it. There was uncertainty too over how trade unionists and Socialists in Britain would react to such a development in Ireland. People like Tom Johnson might accept that Limerick was justified in calling for a national strike, but the real question was whether it was the correct strategy, knowing it would have resulted in armed revolt. Johnson believed that some day an insurrection might be developed out of Labour agitation, but it should not be because of Limerick. The Congress leaders advanced the alternative plan they had already hatched before leaving Dublin: the complete evacuation of the city by its inhabitants, leaving it an empty shell in the hands of the military. The Executive leaders stressed that they did not propose this in any haphazard way, but had made undisclosed arrangements to house and feed the people of Limerick if they agreed to the plan. The merit they saw in their proposal was that it did not involve the prospect of any blood being shed, and it would make for very effective propaganda in Britain, Europe and the United States. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the strike leaders flatly rejected the proposal. Whatever chance there was of feeding and housing people in their own city, with the benefit of outside help, they could have little faith in the ability of the ILPTUC to feed and house about forty thirty thousand men, women and children outside of Limerick. In addition, property owners and professional people like doctors, solicitors or dentists, many of whom were sullen and reluctant inhabitants of Limerick under the Soviet, were not likely to abandon the city on the recommendation of a trade union body. Apart from the Dáil’s attitude, the railwaymen were central to the Executive’s dilemma. The railways were the pre-eminent method of mass transport of people and goods over long distances, and therefore were of crucial strategic and economic importance. Johnson’s assessment that the military would not stand idly by and let the railways be paralysed was almost certainly correct. The Limerick railway workers had served strike notice which was due to expire at midnight on April 16, the first Wednesday of the general strike. But, even as Tom Johnson was setting off for Limerick, his colleague William O’Brien was telegraphing the rail workers saying: “Railwaymen should defer stoppage pending national action. National Executive specially summoned for tomorrow.” This was sent after the TUC had consulted the rail delegates from Limerick, the Dublin rail workers at Inchicore, the Railwaymens’ Emergency Committee, a national co- ordinating body of all rail unions, as well as the national Republican leadership. That telegram had been the first real indication that whatever ways the Limerick strike might develop, they did not include a national strike. Some rail employees in Limerick had already gone on strike on the Tuesday April 15. These were members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, employed in the smith, machine and fitting shops. They were followed the next day by the boilermakers, but the stoppage of those categories in no way interfered with the running of the trains. The leaders of the Limerick strike remained optimistic that their strike would spread to the other parts of the province of Munster served by the Great Southern and Western Railway. Towards the end of their first week, John Cronin said delegates who had visited various centres had returned to Limerick with reports that other workers were unanimous in their support for Limerick. He said the railway workers in other districts were ready to go out “when the call was made”. But despite those early indications of some trade union help elsewhere in Ireland, the attitude of the British unions with members in Ireland and especially the National Union of Railwaymen, remained crucial. As the “Dáily Herald” put it: “The success or failure of the strike is dependent on the railwaymens’ action.” The British trade union answer was clear and sharp. The General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, Jimmy Thomas MP, sent a circular directing their Irish branches to advise their members that: “they must not take any official part in what appears to be an industrial move against political action, without the authority from the Executive Committee.” On Thomas’ instructions, a copy of his circular was sent to the Limerick Branch of the NUR and to all railway branches in Ireland. The circular followed a report on Limerick and a discussion at the National Executive of the NUR. For the British Trade Union Congress, H R Stockman issued a statement to the press. The Executives of the British trade unions concerned held that their Irish branches could not be allowed to strike in Ireland, because they were opposed to the use of trade union machinery for political ends. Significantly, officials were advised that their members in Belfast were “almost entirely opposed to a strike.” This was a point noted too by the “Irish Times” in its editorial on the morning the rest of the Executive arrived in Limerick. Irish emigrants were not without influence in the British trade unions. There was speculation that if an unauthorised stoppage went ahead in Ireland, there would be sympathetic strikes of railmen and other workers in areas where there were large Irish communities. The same was said about the general transport workers, particularly at Liverpool and other towns with big Irish populations. Stockman himself admitted that there was a very strong agitation among the rank-and-file of the railwaymen “on the English side of the Channel” in favour of sympathetic action in support of the Irish strikers. In August 1919, as the Anglo-Irish War intensified, Tom Johnson, as Secretary of the ILPTUC, reported that Irish workers on Tyneside and Clydeside wanted to organise and be affiliated to the Irish Congress. In April 1920, Irish workers in Liverpool and Hull struck in sympathy with Sinn Féin prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs Prison. The leaders of the British trade unions were not without sympathy for the Limerick workers in their difficulties, but they insisted that any action should be in accordance with their union rule books. It was decided to ask the Labour Party to raise the issue in Parliament without delay and to enlist the support of Liberal and other MPs for a demand that the Government deal with the Irish question on lines likely to remove the necessity for maintaining martial law in Limerick or anywhere else. The local newspaper “The Munster News” took the view that Stockman’s statement very probably marked the turning point of the dispute. It seemed to this newspaper that while Irish trade unions were frequently called upon to support strikes in Britain, reciprocity could not be counted on. Without the support of the British trade union Executives, the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress probably had little option but to rule out a national strike. But it was their “extreme” proposal of the peaceful evacuation of Limerick that prompted, and allowed, the Catholic Bishop to intervene in the strike and set in motion the events that led to its eventual end. On Thursday April 24, the Bishop, Doctor Hallinan and the Mayor, Alphonsus O’Mara, began what would be termed in modern parlance a round of “shuttle diplomacy”. The “Irish Independent” described it as “an anxious day of conferences and ‘conversations’.” It was the National Executive’s second day in Limerick, and in the morning the Bishop and the Mayor met the strikers and the national union leaders. That meeting was adjourned, while the two public figures went to a lengthy meeting with General Griffin. Griffin repeated his earlier offer, made to the employers and traders, of allowing them to issue permits themselves to their workers and customers. And he offered a further major concession. To lighten the restrictions on workers, he would agree not to check passes when they were going to or from their meals. These combined concessions were enough to change the minds of the Bishop and the Mayor. When the joint Strike/Congress Committee resumed their deliberations in the afternoon, they had before them a joint letter sent by the Bishop and the Mayor. They urged the leaders to end the strike. Further light is thrown on the contents of the joint letter by an editorial headed “The Strike – And After” in the local newspaper, the “Munster News”: “The struggle would have dragged on for some time longer had not his Lordship, Most Rev Dr Hallinan and the Mayor, as representing the spiritual and temporal interests of the citizens, sent a joint letter to the Trades Council on Thursday, requesting the immediate end of the strike…” A search of the Limerick Catholic diocesan records failed to locate a copy of the letter so its contents must be inferred from contemporary reports and comments. With the Catholic Church, the Chamber of Commerce and even some merchants with Sinn Féin sympathies now ranged against the strike, and the Trade Union Congress more a hindrance than a help, the strikers had run out of options. The “Irish Times” had no doubt that the change of attitude on the part of the Catholic Church was decisive. The Church’s earlier position of support was not maintained. “It is freely stated here that their views of the situation completely changed when they learnt of the drastic plans submitted by the Labour Executive to force the issue. They naturally discountenanced extreme measures and the Executive, knowing that the people would be guided by their clergy, wisely abandoned their plans.” As night drew in and word spread that momentous matters were being discussed, several thousand people gathered outside the Mechanics’ Institute. John Cronin appeared at a window and congratulated the people on their magnificent stand against tyranny. He said the fight would go on, and the flag would be kept flying. But it fell to Tom Johnson to make a dramatic announcement to the press. The Strike Committee called on all workers who could resume work without having to apply for permits to do so the following morning. Other workers who still needed permits would remain on strike, but there would be a national congress of the ILPTUC to consider further action. The effect of this decision was to allow the majority of strikers to resume work, but the six hundred employees of Cleeves would still be affected, as would a considerable number of workers in the Thomondgate district. From subsequent discussions at the annual Trade Union Congress it is clear the proposal to hold a special conference was never intended as a serious proposition. It was intended more to ease the psychological blow of capitulation for the strikers and to maintain a semblance of continuing pressure against the permits system. Councillor R P O’Connor, a member of the Strike Committee read the proclamation which was to be posted up on the streets: “Whereas the workers of Limerick have been on strike since Monday, April 14, as a protest against the military ban on our city; and whereas, in the meantime the question has become a national issue, we hereby call upon all workers who can resume work without permits to do so on tomorrow (Friday) morning. We further call upon all those workers whose Dáily occupation requires them to procure military permits to continue in their refusal to accept this sign of subjugation and slavery, pending a decision of the Irish Trade Union Congress, to be called immediately. We also call upon all our fellow-countrymen and lovers of freedom all over the world to provide the necessary funds to enable us to continue this struggle against military tyranny. Strike Committee, April 24, 1919 ” The announcement was received with mixed feelings, and in silence, by the assembled strikers. Many were glad to be returning to work, though others regarded the result as a defeat and felt their sacrifices had gone for nothing. The “Irish Times”, strangely, reported Johnson was received with cheers, but the “Independent” said the speeches of their leaders did not put the strikers in better heart. In his speech, Johnson said that, taking everything into account, they had taken the best course for the moment. They believed the fight had been taken up by the workers of Limerick on behalf of the people of Ireland as a whole. It was the duty of Ireland to continue it, and if Ireland was going to let the workers of Limerick down, Ireland must be ashamed of herself and need no longer call herself a fighter for freedom. He complimented the workers on the way they had governed the city so well – as good as any Government. The crowds dispersed quietly and during the evening copies of the proclamation were posted throughout the city. Some members of the ITGWU were far from happy. They tore up the posters and burned them in disgust. Some of them threatened to set up another Soviet, but these threats were probably not intended to be taken seriously. The feeling of resentment against the strike leaders was short-lived The following day, Friday, there was a hurried attempt to resume business, but it was mainly confined to a small section of traders. For some factories, there was a shortage of raw materials, and in others where furnaces had to be stoked up, there was not enough time overnight to prepare them for reopening. In the case of the bacon factories, they had no pigs to slaughter since fairs and buying had been suspended. For General Griffin, the decision in favour of a return to work by a large number of strikers was a triumph for the careful and shrewd way he had handled the strike. His background as a member of a Catholic family from Cork may have been a help. Griffin applied the military regulations with a firm, but light, hand. He was anxious, no doubt, to avoid any provocative action or confrontation that might spark off an escalation of the strike. In contrast to the days preceding Robert Byrne’s burial, there was not a high level of military or police activity in the city under the military regulations. Most troops and police were confined to barracks and the emphasis was on manning checkpoints on the boundaries of the military area. Even that was done in a low-key way. Only the bridges facing North across the Shannon were fully manned. After some days, no one was prevented from leaving the city without a permit and it was easy enough to cross the river by boat. On the South side of the city – where it met County Limerick – access was uninhibited. No one was actually charged with illegal entry and on only two occasions did soldiers shoot to prevent entry. On neither occasion was anyone caught, though on one of them, it was claimed a donkey was shot and became the first victim of the siege. Nevertheless, Griffin’s position was strengthened by the resolute way the military had seen off the challenge of the Caherdavin demonstrators on Easter Monday. General Griffin was hampered by not being able to use any of the city’s printing works to produce counter-propaganda. On the first evening of the strike, his soldiers posted a typewritten notice blaming the strikers for any hardship caused. But that was the only feeble attempt to counteract the strikers’ very active Propaganda Committee. The General was shrewd enough not to try to break the strike by military intervention. That might have provided further martyrs and justification for stronger action on the other side. He did not try to prevent the pickets from closing down businesses. Instead, Griffin chose to wait for the realisation to dawn that the strike either had to escalate or be ended. In this, he proved ultimately to have a number of unlikely and unexpected allies in the national and local leadership of Sinn Féin, the Catholic Bishop and clergy, the Mayor and the leadership of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress. Griffin’s “wait and see” strategy relied on splitting the city’s solidarity by offering tempting concessions to the employers, who were at best, reluctant parties to the dispute at any time. The initial strength of the strikers, and the early support of Sinn Féin people like O’Mara and Collivet the Sinn Féin TD, was enough to stave off the employers’ revolt. But once it became clear, in the second week of the strike, that the ILPTUC was not going to support a national strike, the General had only to restate his earlier concessions for them to be accepted with alacrity. In achieving an end to the strike, the General maintained the Government’s status and the Army’s morale, by dealing only with the employers, the Mayor and the Bishop. In that way, he denied any recognition to the strike leaders, something the employers probably welcomed because of its long term beneficial side effects for them. On April 26, the Saturday after the partial return to work, a statement from Johnson made it clear there had been a clash over strategy and tactics between the local leaders and the national leadership. The Executive had submitted “certain proposals of a drastic character” which they believed would be the most effective way of countering the military tyranny using peaceful means. To their regret, the Strike Committee had told them their proposals were not likely to receive the necessary support and they accepted that decision as final. Curiously, the “Irish Times” report says the Executive “endorsed” the local decision. It is not quite clear from the statement whether the Strike Committee had turned down the “drastic” evacuation proposal on its merits, or whether they were influenced by the Bishop’s opposition. Johnson made the, by then, almost ritualistic comments congratulating the workers on their administrative and organisational abilities, and he called for financial assistance to meet the losses already incurred and to continue the fight. The National Executive asked that any money be sent to James Casey, the Trades Council Treasurer, at the Mechanics’ Institute in Limerick. With that final statement, all the members of the Congress Executive, except Johnson, left Limerick. The conduct of the strike was now back in the hands of the local Strike Committee. The various subcommittees remained at work, and concentrated on helping people who needed money or food. For a time, the question of employers issuing permits to their employees flared as an issue. This was one thing on which the Strike Committee and the Congress Executive could agree on, even at the height of their disagreements – no worker could accept a permit to work from the hands of their employer. Some workers who took these permits were on that final Saturday were stopped by pickets and ordered back, while some carters refused employers’ permits given to them to make deliveries outside the city. The Thomondgate people seemed determined to continue a protest and they held a general meeting of some of the residents on the Friday night. On Saturday morning, a number of them blocked Thomond Bridge and deterred some people from crossing. The police were called and dispersed what seems like a half-hearted attempt at a blockade. Other workers resorted to ingenious devices to return to work without having to request permits. A few procured tents to camp outside the military boundaries and others went to live temporarily in the areas where they were employed. Late on Sunday night, April 27, the the Strike Committee issued another proclamation: “Whereas for the past fortnight the workers of Limerick have entered an emphatic and dignified protest against military tyranny, and have loyally obeyed the orders of the Strike Committee, we, at a special meeting assembled, after carefully considering the circumstances, have decided to call upon the workers to resume work on Monday morning. We take this opportunity of returning our thanks to every class of the community for the help tendered during the period of the strike.” The Limerick Soviet had ended as suddenly as it began, exactly fourteen days previously. John Cronin sent a telegram to the Congress Executive in Dublin announcing the end of the strike and stating that the strikers had decided the holding of a special Trade Union Congress should be abandoned.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 30, 2020 at 8:01 am

    Reblogged this on Socialist Fight and commented:
    Excellent analysis of the beyrayal of the Limerick Soviet by the cynical trade union bureaucracy. Vital lessons for today.

  2. April 30, 2020 at 8:01 am

    Excellent analysis of the beyrayal of the Limerick Soviet by the cynical trade union bureaucracy. Vital lessons for today.

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