Industrial unrest spreads as strike action hits factories and farms
A list of services provided by the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTC) in the early 20th century. Workers and directors at the company are in conflict over pay increase demands and the right of the former to join the ITGWU. Photo: The Michael Corcoran Collection, The National Transport Museum

Industrial unrest spreads as strike action hits factories and farms

Coachbuilders, tram-workers and farm labourers all involved in organised disputes

Published: 14 August 1913

A settlement of the six week Dublin coachbuilders strike has not resulted in the anticipated return to work. 

A deal recently negotiated between the employers and the employees may yet unravel because of a failure to take account of the demands of unskilled workers represented by the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. The employers claim that they had considered the position of these men and decided to increase the salary of the unskilled hands, despite not receiving any demands from them during the negotiations. These demands have now been presented, but coming in the wake of the negotiated settlement, the employers have not only refused to accede to them, they have decided to post in each factory a notice to the effect that without the labourers' return to work,  the establishment would be closed down and the skilled men paid off.

Meanwhile, the dispute at the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTC) appears no closer to resolution. If anything, both the workers and directors appear to be steeling themselves for a more serious stand-off. 

The directors of the DUTC are believed to have considered their options should their workers decide on strike action, with reports that they will import men from England to work the trams. The Irish Worker has gone so far as to allege that Mr William Martin Murphy is behind efforts to induce employers to lock-out their workers, believing self-preservation to be his primary motivation. ‘Every dog and devil, thief and saint is getting an invitation to come and work for the Dublin Tramway Company’, the paper has reported. ‘Every man applying is asked 'Do you belong to Larkin’s Union?' if so, no employment.’

In the face of this mounting pressure, the resolve of the workers appears strong.  One of the tramway conductors has suggested that the ‘fight will be a walk-over or a very stiff one’. He added that with the exception of some of the older hands and the inspectors, the men ‘were united in their demand for a half-crown a week increase.’ As it is among tramway workers, so too it remains among farm labourers in parts of north County Dublin. Industrial unrest continues unchecked, with some 200 farm labourers involved in strike action that could have serious repercussions for harvesting operations.  Responsibility for organising the labourers is attributed to the ITGWU, which, The Freeman’s Journal reports, has been active, with mixed results, in the districts Santry, Coolock and Cloghran.

A confidential report on the law and order situation in Co Dublin in August 1913 highlights the activities and role of the ITGWU in organising farm labourers and points to the potential for future industrial unrest among tram drivers. It reads: 'I beg to state that the County Dublin is in a fairly quiet condition. Some uneasiness exists here and there in the county owing to strikes of farm labourers on several farms. During last month James Larkin led meetings throughout the county and got the farm labourers to join the Irish Transport Union and hold out for an increase of wages up to 17/s. On the farms where labourers have struck the police are patrolling and affording the farmers affected every possible protection and assistance. The tram drivers and conductors on the Howth line who have not struck are receiving constant...'
(Image: National Archives UK, CO 904/90)

However, The Freeman's Journal has also reported on cases where labourers were pressurised and intimidated to join the union. In one such case, Thomas Daly, a labourer on the farm of a Mr Robert Donovan, The Forest, Cloghran, was unable to deliver hay to the Smithfield market after his progress was thwarted by a large crowd who allegedly attempted to coerce him to join the ITGWU. Mr Daly, together with his employer and aided by a Dublin Metropolitan Police escort party later attempted to deliver the hay to the market, but they were followed for four miles by the hostile crowd, who booed and hissed along the way. 

Levels of unrest vary from farm to farm. Men employed on the farm of Mr P.J. Kettle of Kilmore, Santry, will remain on strike as their employer refuses to negotiate with officials of the union. However, on the farm of the chairman of the Dublin County Council, Mr P.J. O’Neill of Kinsealy House, Malahide, a settlement has been reached after the men agreed to address their grievances directly to their employer rather than through officials of the Transport Union.

Finally, in another related development, the Honorary Secretary of the Irish Women’s Reform League has urged the importance of trade union organisation among women.

Writing in The Irish Citizen and informed by recent disputes involving female workers at Messrs Somerset embroidery factory and female chocolate makers at the Savoy Café on Grafton Street, Miss Browning has stressed the importance of women filling important roles of oversight across the economy and society. Miss Browning declared that what was needed in Ireland were ‘women factory inspectors, women law makers, women police, women on the jury, women lawyers, women everywhere.’ She concluded by calling on women to ‘Rise! You must free all others to be free.’

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