Larkin’s English tour causes widespread upset
James Larkin (right), the union leader, on the boat to Britain after his release from prison. Photo: Illustrated London News [London, England], 22 November 1913

Larkin’s English tour causes widespread upset

The ‘man with the divine message’ denounces trade union and Labour Party leaders

Published: 9 December 1913

The Preston branch of the National Union of Journalists last night objected to a demand that they produce a journalists' union ticket before being permitted entry to the Public Hall where Mr James Larkin was set to make an address as part of his English tour to rally support for the Dublin strike. The National Union of Journalists claimed that they had not been consulted prior to the arrangement being made and they rejected the right of organisers of Mr Larkin’s meeting to impose such a condition on their members’ attendance. Most of the journalists who turned up for at the Public Hall were card-carrying members of the union, but their refusal to display them meant, firstly, that they were denied entry and, secondly, that the proceedings are not here reported.

What is known is that the pressmen were not alone feeling alienated. The Preston meeting was remarkable for a series of withdrawals which preceded it. The local trades council, the local branch of the Independent Labour Party and Burnley socialist, Mr Dan Irving, who was expected to chair the meeting, all withdrew for one reason or another. 

The Preston controversy is but the latest in a controversy filled tour by the Irish trade union leader. Many of his speeches have focused as much on denouncing the leaderships of both the trade union movement and the Labour Party in England as they have on encouraging support for the striking workers in Dublin. 

Larkin speaking in Manchester last week as part of what has come to be known as his 'fiery cross' tour. (Image: Illustrated London News [London, England], 22 November 1913)

Speaking last week in Liverpool, where he was joined on the platform by Mr James Connolly and where programmes were being sold by Dublin children now being cared for in England, Larkin accused British trade union leaders of being ‘the paid hirelings of the capitalist class, going about amongst the working classes and poisoning their mind’. He claimed that he never asked for a national strike, just that striking workers in Dublin not be ‘scabbed’ upon. More pointedly, Larkin accused the British trade union leader, Mr Joseph Havelock Wilson, of sending scabs on Dublin, while describing his National Sailors and Firemen’s Union as ‘The worst Creatures that ever cursed a country’.

None of this was unexpected. Before that Liverpool meeting, a circular was distributed appealing to sailors and firemen to attend and compel Mr Larkin to apologise for denouncing their leader and members of their Union as 'scabs' after the union had given £500 in a lump sum to carry on the Dublin strike. Larkin described this money as ‘tainted’ and said it was not wanted in Dublin. And far from apologising, he used his Liverpool platform to intensify his criticism of Havelock Wilson, his  every sentence coated in vitriol. Referring back to an old London dock dispute, he alleged that Wilson, ‘who could hardly write his own name, and who knew as much about grammar as of taking the wheel, had written behind the backs of the men to certain employers.’

Joseph Havelock Wilson has been accused by Larkin of sending scab workers to Dublin. (Image: © National Portrait Gallery, London)

Havelock Wilson was not alone in receiving such vituperative treatment. In a prior speech at East Ham Hall, where he had been introduced as the ‘man with the divine message’, Mr Larkin rounded on the Labour MP Mr Philip Snowden, who he described as ‘will-o-the-wisp, a blind man leading the blind.’ Indeed, having worked in the English trade union movement, Larkin added that it had been his ‘dishonour to help bring into being the English Labour Party. May God forgive me for it, and all of you too.'

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