Return to Recent Articles menu

Obituary: Jim Quinn

By D.R.OíConnor Lysaght.

7 May 2015

From all accounts it was not as impressive as such funerals as those of T.B.Macmanus, OíDonovan Rossa or (probably his favourite ) big Jim Larkin, nonetheless, Jim Quinnís  was an impressive affair, the largest seen by the crematorium MC in eight years. The stateís President sent an aide de camp, the President of Jimís union, SIPTU spoke, the leader of his party, the Labour Party, attended. It was not for these that people swelled the benches and then had to stand. The attendance was far more class conscious than the individuals mentioned. It was a gathering overwhelmingly of socialists, of those who had worked with him politically as well as on a personal level and who had respected him accordingly. Indeed, what was lacking in the numbers was a proportionate number of the contemporaries of his grandchildren. Most of those that were there were, like Jim, veterans of struggles going back five decades or more.

Jim Quinn was a militant of his class. Like many such militants he was more than this. He was also better cultivated than the average third level graduate of today, a talented amateur naturalist (the sea pearls he discovered on Bull Island can be seen in the Natural History Museum), as well as one who provided for his family, materially and intellectually. He was a wise counsellor, an excellent conversationalist and very good company.

Yet, for all this, he remained less known to the general public than many less impressive figures in and out of the labour movement. Part of the reason for this was class. A worker, ending his education at the current leaving age of fourteen to look for a job had to struggle harder then to get a place in the sun. Moreover, while an able member of his class could rise with a minimum of conformation to the mores of the time, Jim was not prepared to do so. As a young apprentice, he defied big Jim by leading an unofficial strike. Later, on his candidacy for Dublin corporation, Larkinís son Denis helped sabotage his campaign. Whether his Dail candidacy was similarly scuppered is unknown; it was a near miss. Jim remained a dissenting voice against the increasing class collaboration of his movementís leaders. As early as 1977, he was calling for his union to vote to expel the leadership of the Labour Party for its scabby role in the Cosgrave coalition,  His position ensured him membership of the executives of the Workersí Union and its successor, SIPTU.  It got him onto the Administrative Council of the Labour Party. At the same time, it meant that he remained a minority, often a lone voice on these bodies.

He remained such a voice. The present writer and others broke with Labourism to try to build a more genuinely socialist body that would replace the present Irish states with one of working class hegemony. Some green shoots are appearing after forty years, but capitalism is still able to frostbite them  Jim Quinn did not believe in such initiatives. It was not clear whether he believed that a major upsurge in militancy would cleanse the Augean stables that is the Labour Party or whether he thought that such an upsurge would cause it to split and leave it as a shell unable to fool the people any longer. At all events, he stayed as a loyal if protesting party member.

Though the writer disagrees with his position, he admits the issue is not clear-cut. In the disagreement between Lenin (for splitting) and Luxemburg (against), history found for Lenin, but since then the narrative is disfigured. It is easy to break from openly class collaborationist parties, but this can be carried to extremes. Many splits of the far left have been the results of social bonapartists who saw themselves as heirs to Leninís clothes, but there were also perceptions that at some place or another there were real opportunities for revolution that the majority was ignoring. Jim considered that, with all its defects, Labour provided an ambience within which socialists could work out their differences without fighting among themselves. Against that are the frustrations of his position, the fact that the practices of the Labour leaders alienate too many of those who must lead his class to state power. The debate continues.

What is there to add?  All that may be done is to send all sympathy to Jimís widow Ellen and to his family raised in the spirit and practice of socialists.

It is a cliché rather than a truism to say his like will not be seen again. There is potential for greater Jim Quinns to emerge. But for now: what a man! What a loss!

Return to top of page