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Cedar Lounge Revolution:Discussion on 1920 General Strike and Labour Movement

CLR:Discussion on 1920 General Strike and Labour Movement https://wp.me/pKzXa-1CL

https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2020/04/29/what-you-want-to-say-29-april-2020/

  1. Paddy Healy– April 29, 2020

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.

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Jolly Red Giant (socialist Party) – April 29, 2020

Paddy – once again you are presenting a false narrative of the revolutionary period in Ireland by claiming “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.”

This is not what happened – indeed the General Strike in 1920 was significantly more important given the establishment of workers soviets all over the country and ITGWU activists effectively controlling all movement in the country during the strike. There is a reason why the military authorities released the prisoners so quickly and MacCready demanded that William O’Brien be released from Wormwood Scrubs and brought immediately to Dublin.

  1. John Dorney– April 29, 2020  John Dorney is an independent historian and chief editor and writer of the Irish Story website.

New podcast here, latest from the Irish History Show, with Kieran Glennon on the ‘Belfast Pogrom’ of 1920-1922. Kieran’s grandfather Tom was an IRA member of that era in Belfast and later an officer in the FS army in Donegal in the Civil War. http://irishhistoryshow.ie/52-belfast-from-pogrom-to-civil-war/

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  1. Paddy Healy– April 29, 2020

End of the Limerick Soviet
From The Forgotten Revolution by Liam Cahill
The Workers Defeated
“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”.

 

  1. Paddy Healy– April 30, 2020

On My blog
The Biggest General Strike Which Ever Took Place in Ireland involved The National Question
12,13 April, 1920 General Strike in Support of Republican Hunger Strikers Demands
Town “Soviets” in many towns: In Bagenalstown County Carlow, they even declared, ‘a Provisional Soviet Government’ .At Kilmallock, County Limerick, ‘red flaggers stopped traffic’ and referred to themselves as a ‘Soviet regime
The Limerick Soviet took place before The Great General Strike of 1920 in support of hunger strikers demand for political status. The mobilisation around the Limerick soviet was “unprecedented” at the time of the Limerick Soviet.
The town soviets during the 1920 strike were a higher form of revolt than factory soviets. The town soviets challenge state power not just private property rights.
I believe that the depth and forms of organisation of workers evident in the 1920 strike, not only led to the freeing of the prisoners, but made the British think of a deal with the Irish Rich to defeat the popular rebellion
See the views of General Montgomery on my blog

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Jolly Red Giant – May 1, 2020

Take 2 –

It really needs to be stated that declaring the 1920 general strike as a strike in support of republican prisoners is a false narrative and one that has been built up by republicanism over a century – half the prisoners on hunger strike at the time were trade union members, including some leading activists like Jack Hedley.

It also needs to be noted that during the mass demonstrations that took place in support of the general strike, former British soldiers who were regularly threatened, intimidated and attacked by republicans, played an active part in the protests in many towns and were openly welcomed by the striking workers.

The general strike took place outside the official structures of the ITGWU and the ILPTUC – the leaderships had no control over it. Your blog talks about William O’Brien leading the ITGWU into the strike – he didn’t – O’Brien had been in prison in Britain for more than a month, having been arrested on 2 March and was on hunger strike in Wormwood Scrubs at the time.

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Daniel Rayner O’Connor-Author of Munster Soviets and Much More – May 3, 2020

The giant is absolutely right about O’Brien, who was locked up in England at the time of the Strike. However, he is in error about a lot else.
The strike was called by the leaders of Congress at liberty at the time, in particular Tom Johnson and Thomas MacPartlin. It could be argued that it was a pre-emptive move lest their members’ restlessness led to them moving independently. nonetheless, it was their decision.
Again, the said restlessness was an underlying cause for the strike. nonetheless the hunger strike was the occasion and its excuse. had there been no hunger strike, the stoppage would have been less complete.
As for the former British soldiers, a number of them were in the Ira, by this time; their expertise was much valued.

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Jolly Red Giant – May 3, 2020

Take 2

Sorry D.R. – suggesting that it ‘could be argued’ is stretching it – the strike would absolutely have taken on an independent character if Johnson and MacPartlin hadn’t acted in panic in causing the strike to attempt to maintain some semblance of control. The reality is that in most of the country the strike was run outside the official union structures and organised by ITGWU activists. The fact that Johnson and MacPartlin issues a notification is pretty much irrelevant to the strike actually taking place (indeed in most areas it had already been planned prior to the notification being issued. In reality the only place that the ILPTUC bureaucrats exercised any kind of influence was in Dublin – everywhere else it operated outside of any influence or control from the bureaucracy.

Of course the hunger strike prompted the strike – general strikes do not happen in a vacuum – and again it must be noted that half of those on hunger strike were trade union members, including leading activists like Jack Hedley and bureaucrats like O’Brien and Cathal O’Shannon. In the preceding four months the trade union movement had faced severe repression with the Voice of Labour being shut down, trade union offices raided and union activists and officials arrested.

And yes, a small number of former British soldiers were involved in the IRA, but republicans objected to the hundreds (indeed possibly thousands) of former soldiers that participated in the demonstrations (200 in Sligo for example) and the strike committees told the republicans to take a hike

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EWI – May 4, 2020

It really needs to be stated that declaring the 1920 general strike as a strike in support of republican prisoners is a false narrative and one that has been built up by republicanism over a century – half the prisoners on hunger strike at the time were trade union members, including some leading activists like Jack Hedley.

There was and had been considerable overlap between republicanism and trade unionism for decades.

Whether one was the dog and the other the tail, or whether there was any dog at all, is a matter of reasonable debate but that the two were so heavily intertwined had been a reality since the late nineteenth century at least.

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Jolly Red Giant – May 4, 2020

Take 2 –

There was open hostility within the SF/IRA leadership to the labour movement during the revolutionary period. The nationalist movement by its nature, was a cross class alliance (just like SF today) – and as such was constantly riven with class divisions (something that the nationalist leadership openly recognised). The nationalist leadership constantly attempted (and failed) to split the trade union movement along national lines and the one small union they did manage to establish became notorious for being a scab union during this period (a union controlled by unelected SF appointees).

The aspiration for national liberation what a natural and class-based aspiration for the Irish working class – and as such they gave tacit support to the IRA and the nationalist movement – but a thread running right through the revolutionary period is the class conflict (both political and economic) between the working class and the aspiring nationalist bourgeoisie.

While a small number of trade union activists were also active in the nationalist struggle – there was very little, if any, cross-over in the other direction. Unfortunately, one of the main elements who were willing to bend the knee to the nationalist leadership with the acolyte bureaucrats around William O’Brien (who himself constantly deferred to deValera and Griffiths on all matters).

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Alibaba – May 5, 2020

Whenever I come across conflicting interpretations of episodes of struggle, I ask myself: what were the demands of protesters? Nobody disputes that several thousand republicans were imprisoned during the war for Irish independence. Some of them went on hunger strike and demanded to be released. Tens of thousands demonstrated in support of this demand. In 1920 a two day national general strike obtained the release of several thousand republican prisoners. Facts. To counterpoint that ‘declaring the 1920 general strike as a strike in support of republican prisoners is a false narrative’ is simply untrue. Pot. Kettle. Kettle. Pot.

As mentioned by EWI there was a ‘considerable overlap’ between republicanism and the labour movement and the conscription crisis bears testimony to that. And as put by Conor Kostick: ‘A radicalised Irish population had defeated the threat of conscription at the end of 1918, had voted overwhelmingly for Sinn Féin in the elections of December that year (a party that was determined to bring Ireland out of the empire), and were engaged in a mass popular undermining of all the systems of British rule, through strikes, boycotts and support for the guerrilla campaign of the Irish Republican Army.’

https://independentleft.ie/irelands-biggest-general-strike/

Moreover noteworthy numbers of militant workers were drawn into campaigns and movements by republican leaderships since 1916. Some socialists related to revolutionary nationalists under the banner of ‘republican nationalism’. The Republican Congress of 1934 was one such initiative. Later others supported ‘republican socialism’ efforts. That is not to give full political support to such developments. It is rather to outline more facts which shouldn’t be forgotten because of the light it can shine on debate within the left.

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rockroots – May 5, 2020

I’m not informed enough to have an opinion on this particular part of history, but coincidentally this pops up on my newsfeed right in the middle of this debate – a 1922 general strike against (anti-treaty) republicanism…

https://ifiplayer.ie/all-ireland-strike/?fbclid=IwAR1Hwk5MFVFUZcQE3rYB5Km6rmPGBfcYq-iFvKEBqtrjv7v9FUzGmNQfWRE

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EWI – May 4, 2020

There was open hostility within the SF/IRA leadership to the labour movement during the revolutionary period.

If we’re talking of the common thread through the period (which had roots back to the late 1880s), then we’re referring to the IRB, which was a significant and continued presence in trade unionism all along.

The question of the dog and the tail refers to whether or not you believe that this trade union activity by IRB men was artificial, or an inevitable confluence between the interests of principled radical activists who were genuinely trying to make the world a better place (you can guess which view I take).

I will refer you on to the work done by the likes of Martin Maguire and Padraig Yeates, and note that both de Valera and Griffith were marginal to the planning towards the 1916 Rising (Griffith had been at the late 1914 conference which agreed to move ahead – but he was kept in the dark after that – and Dev was brought in only shortly before).

Finally, the conscription crisis demonstrated once and for all the fallacy of any fairy-tale belief that imperial concerns would trump solidarity for their Irish ‘brethren’ among the British trade union leadership. We know that the British unions were agitating for conscription to be imposed, and some of their number had been touring Ireland at recruitment rallies throughout the war. This treachery continued with the NUR’s actions during the WoI.

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EWI – May 4, 2020

*solidarity would trump imperial concerns, obviously

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Daniel Rayner O’Connor – May 5, 2020

Ali is correct in saying that we should bring to attention these facts. However, we should distinguish between our real differences and our common ground
I think all participants in this discussion, that is Paddy, JGJ, EWI, Ali and myself would agree on certain basics; that is that the independence struggle of a century ago, provided, in its three way division of state power, a major opportunity for Ireland’s working people to establish their own republic and that this opportunity was opposed successfully not only by the colonial regime and their republican opponents, but, more subtly by those whom the workers trusted to lead them after 1916.
This being said, I find it difficult, simply for reasons of lack of evidence to assert too definitely that Labour’s leaders at large called the strike to pre-empt a more effective one to be staged by the grassroots later. From any account I have seen. it would appear that their decision was part of their overall strategy to keep at arms length from the national struggle save at moments when they felt they would not isolate themselves by placing their red flag under the green.
That they succeeded in this was due to two facts. One is that there was no revolutionary party to bypass them and lead the workers to state power. An attempt had been made by Hedley (O’Hagan) and others to build one in Belfast in 1919, but it was crushed, leaving its leaders among the political prisoners in jail. The main hope was in the Socialist party of Ireland where the revolutionary wing, headed by Carpenter was struggling to turn this propaganda group into the Irish section of the Comintern, but they would not win until the following year. The matter was complicated by the continuing force of anti=-political syndicalism particularly among some of the best militants like O’Hagan’s friend, Sean Dowling.
Even more important was the fact that too many, including too many revolutionaries accepted some form of the strategy laid out by Johnson at the 1916 Congress meeting: to avoid getting too close to the national issue but to build Labour’s organisation so that it would be able to challenge for state power when Sinn Fein had won. this shown in the way that after the 1920 general strike, most workers returned to their jobs as if nothing had happened, including most of the Transport Union militants mentioned by JRG How it would challenge was never publicised. However. the strategy seemed to have worked in June 1922 when, in the pact election in the new Saorstat, Labour got the second largest number of votes for the only time before 2011. Then in the Civil War, the party’s support for the new state of which the forces were supporting the bosses offensive against the gains made by the class it claimed to represent caused too many of that class to look to those who had been shooting at those forces. The result was Fianna Fail.
One last point the 1922 general strike was not against the militaristic excesses only of the Anti-treatyites but against those of the treatyites as well. Since it was effectively a symbolic gesture, the ‘Staters were able to commandeer it to their narrative.

  1. Paddy Healy– May 2, 2020

Brilliant Article by Konor Kostic!!!
The Biggest General Strike in Irish History Conor Kostic January 9, 2020 Posted on IndependentLeft.ie Blog
Kostic’s Conclusion-Full Article on paddyhealyWordpress
What can be learned from the great general strike of 1920?
Unfortunately for the radical workers of 1920, their own organisations and leaders were far from eager to lead the movement towards a socialist Ireland. James Connolly was dead and Jim Larkin was in Sing Sing jail, leaving a generation of Labour and trade union leaders in charge whose values were closer to those of the modern Labour Party and ICTU than their socialist, former colleagues.

This event which took place 100 years ago on April 12 must be fully understood in order to find a way forward to the Workers Republic today!

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  1. Paddy Healy– May 2, 2020

Was the initial demand of the prisoners for “prisoner of war” Status?
Hunger Strike and Ireland, 1920
By Dr William Murphy, Associate Professor,History and Geography, DCU paddyhealywordpress

That April 1920 hunger strike was, without doubt, a success. Led by Peadar Clancy, a senior officer in the Dublin Brigade, 65 prisoners (some on remand, some convicted) began the protest, demanding that ‘prisoner-of-war’ treatment be extended to all. In the days that followed, the number on strike climbed, the press coverage grew, the crowds at the gates gathered in ever greater numbers, the Catholic hierarchy demanded ‘fairplay’, and the Trades Union Congress called a general strike, stating ‘To-day, though many are at the point of death, their titled jailers venomously shriek: “Let them die.” We workers, dare not allow this tragedy to come to pass.’

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Paddy Healy – May 2, 2020

John Dorney in blog  THEIRISHSTORY says:  “Their (1920 hunger strikers’) demands were for political status, but more concretely: better food, separation from ordinary criminal prisoners, no compulsory prison work, books, a weekly bath, the right to smoke and five hours exercise per day. “(Reference Charles Townsend, the Republic, The Struggle for Irish Independence, p.143)

  1. Paddy Healy– May 5, 2020

I am delighted that a serious discussion is taking place on CLR on the workers movement in the period from the 1920 general strike to the 1922 general strike. I believe that a correct understanding of these events is central to developing a a genuine revolutionary programme for Irish workers to-day. At what point can we say that the leadership of the Irish workers movement, political and industrial , DEFINITIVELY went over to the side of capitalism ?
Great to see Rayner participating in the discussion. It is true of course that the ILP&TUC represented the 1922 strike as being against “militarism” on all sides. But experienced people like O’Brien and Tom Johnson must have known that it would, in the context of contemporaneous events, become in practice a strike against the anti-treaty republican forces and in favour of the Treaty.

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  1. Daniel Rayner O’Connor – May 6, 2020

That was an objective summary of the ’22 general strike . The subjective reasons were more complicated. Johnson and his colleagues were struggling to maintain their independence of both post=treaty sides, still following a strategy that northern pogroms and Treaty split had rendered pear shaped. (Probably only a move to assert the Workers’ Republic by force of arms could have done this, but the situation was less propitious than it had been in 1919, and, anyway, Johnson was opposed in principle.) Actually, the stoppage seems to havehad some positive effects. It probably stimulated the major round of workplace occupations in May and June and, Helped labour get the second largest number of votes in the June general election.
What did for the party was Johnson’s constitutionalism, his readiness to sit in DE with only protests against the Treatyites’ regressive social and economic policies, while Anti-Treatyites were opposing them in arms. The Irony is that the latter would have carried out exactly sim liar policies, but to the ordinary worker, whose living standards were being cut this was not apparent.

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