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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL Novembre - history, 1907: Strike unites Belfast workers (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]
Mon, 4 Dec 2017 08:18:29 +0200
In 1907, the city of Belfast was marked by four months of a strike that unified two
communities, Protestants and Catholics, who had previously opposed. From April to August,
the working class beats the rhythm of the port and industrial city of Northern Ireland.
Back on a unitary struggle. ---- From Northern Ireland, there is only one conflict between
two religious communities, on one side the " Catholics " and the other " Protestants ".
It is obvious that through this screen of smoke that hides other realities, the mechanisms
are much more complex and the British colonizer seeks only one thing: exacerbate the
tensions to divide the working class. ---- In 1907, Ireland is still a colony of the
British Empire, political independence, not economic independence, will be in 1921
following the Anglo-Irish treaty signed on December 6 of that year. Northern Ireland, and
more particularly Belfast, is an industrial center, with a high concentration of
shipbuilding, flax and tobacco factories imported and unloaded in an important port.
The situation of the workers is more than unsustainable, Belfast is a dark, industrial
city, where poverty fills the suburbs. Between 1845 and 1852, the Great Famine,
orchestrated by the United Kingdom, had catastrophic demographic consequences: more than 2
million people who emigrated to Great Britain, the United States, Australia and Canada, a
population in strong fall, to the point that it was necessary to wait until 1911 to find
its level of 1800 (4.4 million).
At the beginning of XX th century, the working class is divided between Irish communities
and Scots-Irish communities, the latter from the forced colonization of the XVII th
century. A multi-month strike will unite them, echoing the uprising of the 1798 Society of
the United Irishmen led by Wolfe Tone, an Irish-Scotsman, to free Ireland from British
occupation and establish a republic.
The docks are getting organized
The docks of Belfast at this time gather 3 000 workers of which more than two thirds work
for the day, the Scots and the Irish do not work in the same places, the first take care
of the boats crossing the Irish Sea, the second the boats returning or departing for
longer distances from the other side of the Atlantic or to settlements where workstations
are handed down from father to son and 75-hour weeks follow one another. Despite this
difference, the two communities live in the same area adjacent to the docks, Sailortown,
sharing the same life, the same daily concerns where tuberculosis reigns.
This detail will not escape Jim Larkin (see below), the Irish-born secretary of the
British union National Union of Dock Laborers, who in a few months has a membership of up
to 2,000 workers among dockers, carters or the shipbuilding workers, coming into contact
with the inhabitants and residents of the neighborhood.
Wage differences between skilled and unskilled laborers and workers are important, so
workers demand a wage upgrade with the recognition of the unions in the various companies
that regulate the life of the docks and workers. arsenals.
The events followed one another: the workers of the Sirocco Engineering Works, Belfast
Steamship Company, owned by tobacco magnate Gallagher, went on strike, followed by the
charters of coal. He calls on the authorities and the police to protect the scabs, the "
yellows ", who live on a boat so as not to be attacked by angry workers.
At the end of May, Larkin asks the strikers to return to work to consolidate the unions
and resume the strike in the coming weeks. Returning to work, they find closed doors and
their positions occupied by a few scabs. The employers organize the Belfast lockout and
the workers decide to continue the strike.
Not as Catholics or Protestants, not as Nationalists or Unionists but as Belfast Workers
Two months to build a general strike
The strike spreads and the strikers go down the street. As they pass, the workers at the
Gallagher tobacco plants leave their workstations and join them. Different sectors are
concerned about the strike: sailors, firefighters, drivers and metal founders stop work.
In June, more than 3,000 dock workers are on strike with the demands of a minimum wage and
the 60-hour week.
The largest companies connecting to Great Britain are particularly affected, these are the
property of British railway groups who are worried about an extension of the strike. Daily
meetings of strikers to keep themselves informed, stand in front of the customs house of
the port gathering 10,000 people often brutalized by the police and the army strongly
present in the city. The 1 st of July, a big march is committed on the streets of Belfast
towards the town hall headed Jim Larkin.
Daily meeting in front of the Belfast Custom House
The press speaks of " a march in military order, without a word, where the sound of heels
echoes throughout the city ", the mayor's office, under the pressure of the marchers
agrees to receive a delegation but refuses to start negotiations . In a matter of days,
the railway agents refuse to transport the goods unloaded by the scabs and Larkin urges
the rest of the non-strikers to engage in a sympathy strike.
During July, no goods come in or out of the port of Belfast, transport is totally blocked,
engineers and boilermakers shipyards join the strike. The strikers attack the trucks by
burning them and confront the troops with rivets and bolts at the same time as the scabs,
which are led off to protect them.
RIC police officers, the Royal Irish Constabulary, are ordered to escort trucks carrying
merchandise but face permanent attacks from strikers. One of the police even receives a
telegraph machine launched from a window. Persuaded to put the people of Belfast back and
feeling their safety in danger, the ICR agents refuse to obey the orders of the hierarchy.
The feeling that their role is no more than to protect the interests of the Belfast
tycoons is growing at home and the police are mutinating: a meeting of 300 policemen is
held, calling to join the dockers on strike.
The police authorities are trying to stop the mutineers, but their colleagues respond by
extending the strike, up to 70 % of the agents. The situation became uncontrollable, the
mayor ordered the army to impose martial law on 1 st August in the streets of Belfast.
Nine warships are immediately deployed in front of the port. On 2 August, 200 police are
forcibly transferred outside Belfast, the seven leaders of the mutiny are laid off, a
crowd of 5,000 strikers provides support.
This strike remains a significant event in the solidarity between " Catholics " and "
Protestants ". For several centuries, in July, the Orange marches, Twelth in memory of
William of Orange, king of England, who fought the Irish in the XVII th century and Irish
markets are held, provoking one and other communities and ending most of the time in
riots. The Twelth of July 26, 1907, has a specific character since the banners and
fanfares of the two communities mix through the historically " Protestant " Shankill Road.
Some 100,000 demonstrators and solidarity demonstrators, forgetting their differences and
mocking the division, head to City Hall to attend a meeting that in turn brings together
200,000 people. Sectarianism gives way to the class struggle defying the Unionist
authorities who refuse that " Protestants " join the ranks of trade unionists.
The strike ends on August 28 on the orders of NUDL Secretary General James Sexton, who is
worried about the strike fund, which he says is leading the union to bankruptcy. He
summons the strikers to take part in the company-by-company negotiations, thus isolating
Officials from the NUDL and TUC, the Trade Union Congress, had previously discussed with
the Belfast bosses, leaving out the strikers and Larkin, negotiating a salary of 26
shillings, much less than the claim of 27 shillings minimum, and In return, the bosses
retain the privilege of hiring non-unionized labor to secure a pool of scabs in
anticipation of future strikes. The troops invade the Irish neighborhoods of Falls Road,
increasing harassment and repression and murder two activists, raising tensions between
communities, the trap closes on the workers in struggle.
The old tensions sweep the unity with the back of the hand under the satisfied glance of
the capitalist bosses and the British empire. The Belfast strike remains an important
moment in the construction of Irish trade unionism and in the struggle against the British
occupation which will accelerate in the following years and where strikes will punctuate
the chronology, from 1913 in Dublin and Sligo to the Easter insurrection in 1916 in Dublin
and the beginning of the war of independence in 1919. This strike marks above all, as we
have seen, the unity of two communities that separate everything except one thing: class
Martial (AL Saint Denis)
BIG JIM, A FIGURE OF REVOLUTIONARY INDEPENDENCE
Jim Larkin has made a lasting impression on the history of worker Ireland. Born in
Liverpool in 1876, resulting from the Irish immigration, he embraced socialist ideas at
the end of the XIX th century before engaging in the dockers' union, the National Union
Dock Laborer. He joined Glasgow where he organized the dockers, then left for Belfast.
After the strike of 1907, he left for Dublin, where, accused of embezzlement after
redistributing a strike fund to workers and striking workers, he was excluded from the
union and founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. In 1913 he embarked on
the Dublin strikes, which severely opposed workers and workers against Irish employers. He
leaves Ireland for the United States, militates at the side
from Eugene V. Debs to the Socialist Party of America and especially to the Industrial
Workers of the World. In the early 1920s, he became a supporter of the USSR before moving
away from Stalinism. Power plays within Irish trade unionism made him join the Irish Labor
Party and became a member of the Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) before dying in 1947.
Tireless unionist, real builder of the Irish labor movement in the first part of the XX th
century despite an enameled course more political digressions, it remains one of the
architects of the revolutionary aspect of Irish independence from the British Empire.
Close to trade unionist James Connolly, he worked for the creation of the Irish Citizen
Army, which took an active part in the 1916 Easter uprising in Dublin against the British
Ireland, a revolutionary home: 1919, SOVIET DE LIMERICK
1907, 1913, 1916, dates that marked Ireland and where the excitement is felt. With the
1917 Revolution in mind, the people of Limerick County, on the west coast of Ireland, rise
up against the 1914 Defense of the Realm Act which imposes social control and censorship
by the occupying British Army and which established a militarized area on the county in
response to the War of Independence which began in January 1919. Unionist and IRA member
Robert Byrne was killed in a city jail.
On 13 April, the general strike is declared, with 14,000 workers striking on a population
Administrations and banks are closed. A committee is set up with the population, it
organizes the distribution of foodstuffs and declares, on April 15, the Limerick soviet
which gives its driving licenses, while the British troops forbid the circulation between
the cities, and prints its own currency. British laws are suspended as well as the
maintenance of order, no looting or theft is deplored.
Currency of the Limerick Soviet
This self-management momentum is stopped by the lack of support of some trade union
centers but especially by the union of the petty bourgeoisie, the local Church but also a
branch of the Sinn Fein allergic to revolutionary upsurges. After twelve days of soviet,
the army will override the ban on driving. The strike ends on April 27 with a bitter taste
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