Review: Lockout: Dublin
1913 By Padraig Yeates, Gill & Macmillan
In 1996, Fergal Tobin of Gill & Macmillan
told the reviewer that there was no commercial market for works of Irish
labour history. The publication of Padraig Yeates' new book by Gill
& Macmillan is all the more welcome, therefore, if only as an act
of faith: even more so if based on informed
For the first time, there is in print
a single blow-by-blow account of the Dublin Lockout. The leading personalities
are given full justice from the
flawed, but still heroic, Jim Larkin to
the implacable William Martin Murphy. But even more impressive than
the individual leaders are the
ordinary working people of Dublin fighting
for human rights. It could be said as justly of this book as was claimed
for Ulysses, written about events of a rather dull day nine years earlier,
that contemporary Dublin city could
be reconstructed from this work.
Yet, though very good, it is not great.
It resembles a certain type ofout-of-focus photograph. While the chosen
subject is shown in perfect
detail, the background context is distorted:
in places, grotesquely. In a still photograph, this is less important
than in an historical narrative.
Mistakes in an historical narrative, even
one that covers a relatively short period, such as the Dublin Lockout,
can have a cumulative effect, setting the unwary reader in a direction
increasingly at variance with the actual course of history.
Of course, Padraig Yeates is too good
an historian not to provide evidence that contradicts his initial judgement.
The trouble is that the reader who may have to look to this book for
a quick reference could use that initial, summary judgement and ignore
the details that contradict it.
The bias reflects the author's training
and experience. For years, he was a loyal full time member of Official
Sinn Fein/The Workers Party, becoming, subsequently, Industrial Correspondent
to the Irish Times, just ready to imbibe the spirit of economic partnership.
His training in the first encouraged him to regard the democratic struggle
for Irish selfdetermination as antithetic rather than complimentary
to the struggle for socialism. His employment as industrial correspondent
has led him to believe in class collaboration rather than confrontation.
The first experience causes Padraig Yeates
to execute a careful manoeuvre. In his preface (P.XXX) he emphasises
the hostility of the extreme
nationalists of the Irish Ireland movements
to Larkin's Irish Transport & General Workers Union. He hints, indeed,
that Murphy was an Irish Irelander in his desire for protective tariffs;
in fact he was at one with the Redmondite Thomas Kettle in rejecting
them in favour of subsidies. Apart from Murphy, he can name only two
Irish Irelanders who were hostile to the strikers: D.P. Moran and Arthur
Griffith. In any
case, all other Irish Irelanders varied between support for the strikers
and calls for negotiation - that being in itself opposed to the bosses.
Moreover, though, as a whole, the Home Rulers were closer to the employers,
they were more embarrassed than committed.
Just as Padraig Yeates tends to exaggerate
radical nationalist opposition to the strikers, so he pussyfoots over
the Unionist opposition to them. He quotes seriously the fantasy of
Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell that Carson and Larkin might ally
against the Liberal government (P.182. He
corrects Larkin's claim that only two Catholics
were among the members of the Employers' Association (PP. 441-3). He
does not contradict Lenin's even less accurate statement, one that has
had a far greater disorientating effect on students of labour history,
that the 'Irish nationalist
bourgeoisie is celebrating its "national
victory'', its maturity in "affairs of state'' by declaring a war to
the death against the Irish labour
movement'. In fact, the Association was
composed mainly of large employers whose class was, for historical reasons,
Unionist in a greater proportion than the total population.
Finally, while he remarks on the twelve
Ulster Unionist worker leaders 'serious and legitimate arguments against
home rule' and implies that the
Dublin Trades Council was moved by nationalism
to ignore them, he does not notice the more powerful reason for the
council to do so; the arguments avoided mentioning the Dublin lockout.
The Belfast men were politically as subordinate to the bosses as most
Dublin workers and unlike the Dublin workers they were prepared to accept
their bosses' line on trade union rights.
There is a further, more subtle, distortion.
Padraig Yeates over-simplifies the differences between Larkin and Connolly
(P.221) and exaggerates
similarly the resemblance between Connolly
and Pearse. It is true, of course, that Larkin's first reaction to the
Easter Rising was one of
disapproval but to imply that, in 1913,
he was opposed to military tactics while Connolly was advocating them
or that Connolly's view of the potential rising was always the same
as Pearse's is inaccurate. It was, after all, Larkin who wanted to resign
his union secretaryship to concentrate on the Citizen Army, while Connolly
insisted on combining the secretaryship and the army command. To understand
Connolly's position it is necessary to remember Trotsky's words; 'the
young Irish working class...has wavered between nationalism and syndicalism,
and is always ready to link these two conceptions together in its revolutionary
consciousness.' In so far as the two conceptions could be not just linked
but synthesised the task was performed by Connolly. He saw a nationwide
rising developing into a social revolution through the initiative of
the striking Dublin port workers. It was not his fault that the British
Seamen's Union leader, Havelock Wilson, sabotaged the strike or that
Eoin MacNiell's directive prevented the military rising going much beyond
Dublin. It remains true that Connolly was carrying out his internationalist
duty, as defined at Stuttgart in 1907, to stage a rebellion against
the imperialist war. It was those who supported their country's war
efforts on both sides who betrayed humanity.
Padraig Yeates is correct to see unionism
and Irish nationalism as capitalist ideologies. He ignores the political
differences between them.
Although he describes unionism correctly
enough as British 'nationalism', he does not realise that this made
unionism the nationalism of the oppressor, as Irish nationalism was
the nationalism of the oppressed. The unionists constituted a force
to maintain the status quo, and this weakened decisively any sympathies
they might have possessed in favour of democratic movements or movements
to the left of simple democracy.
The class partnership bias of Padraig
Yeates is shown in his treatment of Larkin's relationship with the British'IZTC
leaders. Here, his sympathy is with the latter, even to suggesting that
Larkin's oratory caused them to oppose his demand for a total blacking
of goods for Dublin (PP.434-5, 472). Again, the facts he gives
challenge this: the vote was lost by an 11 to 1 majority. Even given
that this was a card vote controlled by relatively few delegates, it
was too large a gap to be explained by personal pique. Over all this,
he hints that the British leaders' superior strategy made it impossible
for them to support Larkin. They saw the strike as a means to improving
trade union status in negotiations; he is said to have wanted to strike
to give the workers state power. This is true enough in the long run,
but Larkin knew better than to think that the Irish unions were in a
position to win such power in 1913. The lockout was an attempt by the
employers to deny their workers the right to organise. It was the employers
who were refusing to negotiate on the matter, and who were blocking
any attempts at a compromise. Larkin's call to black Dublin goods was
simply the most effective way to resolve the struggle.
There are other errors that are not directly
connected to the above categories, though they would not be there if
Padraig Yeates had not found
it easier to ignore his background to prove
his points. To take merely three examples: William Brace was not a Liberal
MP (P.100), but a Labour one, the 'Mollies', or rather 'Molly Maguires'
were not the followers of William O'Brien of Mallow but his bitter enemies,
the Redmondite Ancient Order of Hibernians (P.238): George Lansbury
was not leader of the Labour Party or even an MP in 1913 (P.435).
The above criticisms are important, but
they do not take away the essential value of the book. Every student
of labour history should read it, but she or he should remember this