The official centenary of Ireland’s biggest and most significant industrial dispute took place last Sunday, September 1, with dignitaries, onlookers and tourists gathering in Dublin’s O’Connell Street.
President Michael D Higgins was among over a thousand who marked the 100th anniversary of a police baton charge on a workers’ rally in the early days of ‘the Lockout’.
Hundreds were injured and two killed in violent clashes along the city centre street then known as Sackville Street.
Around 20,000 workers were involved in the bitter industrial wrangle with employers in the city over demands for better conditions and their right to unionise.
Strikers were locked out of their factories, with many families forced to the brink of starvation during the six month-plus stand-off.
The episode marked a watershed in the Irish Labour movement and ultimately led to better workplace conditions.
The statue of strike leader and Irish Labour Party figurehead Jim Larkin was the focal point for yesterday’s commemorative event. A famous speech delivered by Larkin from a hotel window was recited along with other dramatic performances involving actors in period costume.
Mr Higgins laid a wreath to remember those who died in the dispute.
The event culminated with a re-enactment of the mass clashes between police and strikers. Actors froze their movements at one point in a bid to recreate a famous black and white photograph of the original incident.
Labour Party leader, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the commemoration was hugely significant.
“The events of the Lockout in 1913 were a seminal moment for the Labour movement in Ireland,” he said.
But in a statement marking the anniversary, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams criticised the Irish Labour party.
He said that 100 years after the Lockout, “this state is one of only three EU member states in which workers have no legislated right to workplace representation. Irish workers deserve the legal protection of the government, particularly a government with a Labour Party component. What is the point of Labour in government if not to protect working families?”
The anniversary fell on a week which saw a renewed focus on the continuing actions of bankers against homeowners amid a new battle between wealthy elites and the general public.
Executives from Ireland’s largest banks were answering questions on the mortgage arrears crisis before a committee of Dublin parliamentarians. It emerged that banks have sent threatening legal letters to 13,000 homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages. The demands were controversially sent instead of outlines of the “sustainable solutions” required by the Central Bank, which oversees the state’s banking system.
Meanwhile, there were clashes in County Kildare when about 250 anti-eviction activists marched into a repossessed farm to retake the property from receivers acting for the former Anglo Irish Bank.
In scenes reminiscent of 19th century Irish ‘land war’, supporters of the evicted farmer stormed onto the Kennycourt Stud Farm by cutting through chained fences before roughly ousting security men from the area.
Mr Adams said Irish citizens were facing “difficult times”.
“The Lockout showed the courage and fighting spirit of the working people of Dublin in 1913. They chose to resist rather than submit. They showed the way forward,” he said.
eirigi’s Brian Leeson said the 1913 Lockout ranks “amongst the most important events of modern Irish history”.
“The spirit of resistance that carried those communities through such adversity continued beyond the Lockout. It was at the very heart of the Irish Citizen Army, an organisation which asserted in arms the right of the Irish people to not only political but also economic freedom. The experiences of the population of this city in 1913 played a huge part in creating the conditions that led to the 1916 Rising, the establishment of Dail Eireann and the Tan War that followed.”
The party is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Lockout and the foundation of the Irish Citizen Army in Dublin on Saturday, September 7.