DEFENCE NOT DEFIANCE

New ICTU Mural Belfast complementing statue of Jim Larkin Photo: © Michael Fisher

New ICTU Mural Belfast complementing statue of Jim Larkin Photo: © Michael Fisher

This was an important occasion for trade unionists in Belfast. The unveiling by the ICTU President John Douglas of a new mural complementing the statue of Jim Larkin at the ICTU (NI) office at Donegall Street Place. The Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir attended the ceremony. The work was commissioned from well-known Belfast muralists Danny Devanny and Mark Ervine. It depicts banners, signs and logos of the constituent unions, including the National Union of Journalists.

Michael Fisher (NUJ), Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, ICTU President John Douglas, John O'Farrell ICTU Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

Michael Fisher (NUJ), Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, ICTU President John Douglas, John O’Farrell ICTU Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

I represented the NUJ at the unveiling in my capacity as Chair of the Northern Ireland sub-committee of the Irish Executive Council. The artwork tells the story of organised labour from the Dockers’ and Carters’ Strike of 1907 and the struggle of women in the factories and mills, up to the current campaigns against austerity and for social justice.

Mural detail with NUJ logo beside BECTU and RMT Photo: ©  Michael Fisher

Mural detail with NUJ logo beside BECTU and RMT Photo: © Michael Fisher

Afterwards the proceedings moved to the nearby John Hewitt Bar. The Lord Mayor unveiled an item of particular significance for the Belfast Trades Council. It is a bell and commemorative plaque which were presented to Samuel Munro in 1893 when he was President of the Council.

TUC 1893 Congress Belfast

TUC 1893 Congress Belfast

The same year the former Northern Whig employee who came from Lurgan in County Armagh and represented the Typographical Association was elected as President of the Trades Union Congress then encompassing Ireland and Britain. On September 4th to 9th 1893 the TUC held their 26th annual Congress over six days at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. At the time there were 380 delegates from 226 unions, representing 900,000 members.

The Chair of NIC-ICTU Pamela Dooley gave a short speech followed by remarks from Paddy Mackel, Secretary of the present Belfast Trades Council which Munro had led. The story of this committed trade unionist who rose through the ranks and held the top post in the TUC was related splendidly by Francis Devine of the Irish Labour History Society, who finished with a poem he wrote himself in honour of Munro. He explained how Munro came from the old craft section of the trade union movement and was conservative and cautious by character. “Defence not defiance” was his way of operating.

Munro’s address to the TUC on the second day of Congress (September 5th 1893) was illuminating, according to Devine, and demonstrated radical foresight, with demands that were very advanced for their time for the organisation of women, factory reform and protective legislation, labour representation and temperance.

Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir & Brian Bingham at unveiling of bell at John Hewitt Bar Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

Belfast Lord Mayor Cllr Máirtín Ó Muilleoir & Brian Bingham at unveiling of bell at John Hewitt Bar Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

It was a shade ironic therefore that the memento of Munro should now be displayed in a pub! Brian Bingham from Belfast was present, a friend of Munro’s last known relative, his granddaughter, who lives in London and who presented the bell to the ICTU.

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COMMEMORATION OF 1913 LOCKOUT

SIPTU President Jack O'Connor at Jim Larkin statue Photo: © Michael Fisher (NUJ)

SIPTU President Jack O’Connor at Jim Larkin statue Photo: © Michael Fisher (NUJ)

Thousands of people gathered in Dublin’s O’Connell Street yesterday (Saturday 31st August) to commemorate the 1913 Lockout in which an estimated 20,000 workers had been involved. President Higgins laid  a wreath at the Jim Larkin statue after a salute by the Army No 1 band. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore attended along with Ministers Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbite, Jimmy Deenihan and Minister of State Joe Costello. Trade unionists were led by ICTU General Secretary David Begg and included SIPTU President Jack O’Connor (the successor of the ITGWU, founded by Larkin).

In traditional costumes and dress people recreated scenes from the 100-year old events, chanting “Down with Murphy, up with Larkin” while DMP police stood by. Readings from the novel Strumpet City were performed by by Bryan Murray and Angela Harding and an excerpt from the play “Lockout 1913”,  set on top of a tram placed in front of the GPO.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn welcomed everyone to the event saying it was about paying tribute to “thousand of working men and women who took part in this campaign to achieve decent treatment and fairness of work”. Hundreds of people dressed in period costumes as dockers, some as Jacobs workers and others as the poor of Dublin. This part of the event was organised by the North Inner City Heritage Group with Dublin Council of Trade Unions. The President remained as a spectator for a dramatisation of Larkin’s famous speech from a hotel window off O’Connell Street, his subsequent arrest and the riot that led to a police baton charge resulting in more than 300 injuries.

Joe Costello TD, Minister for Trade & Development at Jim Larkin statue Photo: © Michael Fisher (NUJ)

Joe Costello TD, Minister for Trade & Development at Jim Larkin statue Photo: © Michael Fisher (NUJ)