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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL Novembre - history, 1907: Strike unites Belfast workers (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

Date 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 Facing Together

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.

Exceptional solidarities

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 the workers.

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 solidarity .

Martial (AL Saint Denis)


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 occupation forces.

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 of 38,000.

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 of defeat.

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