Dublin Labour Conference collapses
Workers on the steps of Liberty Hall carry news posters announcing the failure of the Dublin Peace Conference, December 1913. Front and centre, holding The Irish Worker poster, is Delia Larkin, sister of Jim Larkin and first General Secretary of the Irish Women Workers' Union, founded in 1911. Photo: National Library of Ireland, KE 205

Dublin Labour Conference collapses

Reinstatement of workers the key obstacle as deadlock continues

Published: 7 December 2013

The Dublin Labour conference, established to seek a resolution to the long-running industrial deadlock in the city, has ended in failure. Recent days had seen exhaustive negotiations involving representatives of the English Trade Unions, local Labour delegates and the Dublin employers and there had been hopeful signs that a resolution might result. 

The main objectives of the conference had been to deal with outstanding issues, principally:

   1. The withdrawal, on the part of the employers, of the document obliging all
        employees to be non-members of the ITGWU
   2. Reinstatement of former employees without victimisation
   3. Non-recognition of sympathetic strikes

Historian Padraig Yeates discusses the role of the British Trade Unions during the Lockout and the collapse of the Dublin Peace Conference. Was this the 'beginning of the end'?

The failure of the conference is a major blow, particularly given the high profile involvement of senior British trade union officials and politicians. They arrived on 4 December, among them Messrs J. A. Seddon, H. Gosling and C.W. Bowerman, MP, and they stayed with Messrs A. Henderson, MP (Chairman of the Joint Board), J. O’Grady, MP (Chairman, General Federation of Trade Unions). The negotiations commenced almost immediately: members of the English Trades Unions deputation visited the Trades Hall where they met with representatives of the Dublin Trade Unions; later in the evening, they met with the Dublin Employers’ Federation Committee.

The discussions continued throughout the following days and there was some optimism that a breakthrough might be achieved. It wasn’t. Instead, a breaking point was reached in the early hours this morning after a long night of negotiations involving, for the first time, a delegation of local labour activists, among them Mr James Connolly, T. MacPartland and William O’Brien.

A confidential police report outlines the state of affairs in County Dublin for December 1913. 'There appears to be no prospect of any immediate settlement and it is likely to drag on until it settles itself through exhaustion unless some settlement is arrived at in Dublin City.' It is reported that a number of labourers have returned to work and, along with the imported 'free labourers' require police protection. Click for full document. (Image: National Archives UK, CO 901/91)

At 5.45am, a statement was issued to the press regretting that no agreement could be found. ‘The negotiations broke down on the requirements of the workers’ representatives for complete reinstatement, which the Employers’ Executive Committee were unable to concede.’

A number of the English delegates left Dublin this morning, with others planning on leaving tonight. Before departing, one of those delegates, Mr Ben Tillet addressed a large meeting in the Antient Concert Rooms at which he advised politicians and clergy to step away from the dispute and advised workers ‘not to allow language, race, or sentiment to be exploited by the scoundrels, whether politicians or theologians.’

The Conference was being held amid reports of workers, including members of the Irish Transport Workers’ Union, returning to work.

At Dublin Port, it is claimed that about 120 members of the Union have resumed work and they are believed to have done so on the same terms as existed before the strike. These men are reported to be discharging grain for all firms, irrespective of whether they were involved in the dispute. Grain imported on the Caledonia, a large four-masted ship from Portland, Oregon, and the SS Antiope, has been discharged by members of the Union and carted away by free labourers. The industry that has been apparent along the quays, where ships have loaded and unloaded, has gone on uninterrupted, with picketing appearing to have been abandoned.

In other strike-related news, the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress earlier this week circulated to affiliated societies a report which included figures for the numbers of members to whom benefit was being paid. As of November 29th, the total number was 14,968, which broke down as follows: Irish Transport Union 12,829; Bricklayers 520; Builders' labourers 1,192; Amalgamated carpenters 200; Miscellaneous 227.

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