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Review: Lockout: Dublin 1913 By Padraig Yeates, Gill & Macmillan

In 1996, Fergal Tobin of Gill & Macmillan told the reviewer that there was no commercial market for works of Irish labour history. The publication of Padraig Yeates' new book by Gill & Macmillan is all the more welcome, therefore, if only as an act of faith: even more so if based on informed

For the first time, there is in print a single blow-by-blow account of the Dublin Lockout. The leading personalities are given full justice from the
flawed, but still heroic, Jim Larkin to the implacable William Martin Murphy. But even more impressive than the individual leaders are the
ordinary working people of Dublin fighting for human rights. It could be said as justly of this book as was claimed for Ulysses, written about events of a rather dull day nine years earlier, that contemporary Dublin city could
be reconstructed from this work.

Yet, though very good, it is not great. It resembles a certain type ofout-of-focus photograph. While the chosen subject is shown in perfect
detail, the background context is distorted: in places, grotesquely. In a still photograph, this is less important than in an historical narrative.
Mistakes in an historical narrative, even one that covers a relatively short period, such as the Dublin Lockout, can have a cumulative effect, setting the unwary reader in a direction increasingly at variance with the actual course of history.

Of course, Padraig Yeates is too good an historian not to provide evidence that contradicts his initial judgement. The trouble is that the reader who may have to look to this book for a quick reference could use that initial, summary judgement and ignore the details that contradict it.

The bias reflects the author's training and experience. For years, he was a loyal full time member of Official Sinn Fein/The Workers Party, becoming, subsequently, Industrial Correspondent to the Irish Times, just ready to imbibe the spirit of economic partnership. His training in the first encouraged him to regard the democratic struggle for Irish selfdetermination as antithetic rather than complimentary to the struggle for socialism. His employment as industrial correspondent has led him to believe in class collaboration rather than confrontation.

The first experience causes Padraig Yeates to execute a careful manoeuvre.  In his preface (P.XXX) he emphasises the hostility of the extreme
nationalists of the Irish Ireland movements to Larkin's Irish Transport & General Workers Union. He hints, indeed, that Murphy was an Irish Irelander in his desire for protective tariffs; in fact he was at one with the Redmondite Thomas Kettle in rejecting them in favour of subsidies. Apart from Murphy, he can name only two Irish Irelanders who were hostile to the strikers: D.P. Moran and Arthur Griffith. In          any case, all other Irish Irelanders varied between support for the strikers and calls for negotiation - that being in itself opposed to the bosses. Moreover, though, as a whole, the Home Rulers were closer to the employers, they were more embarrassed than committed.

Just as Padraig Yeates tends to exaggerate radical nationalist opposition to the strikers, so he pussyfoots over the Unionist opposition to them. He quotes seriously the fantasy of Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell that Carson and Larkin might ally against the Liberal government (P.182. He
corrects Larkin's claim that only two Catholics were among the members of the Employers' Association (PP. 441-3). He does not contradict Lenin's even less accurate statement, one that has had a far greater disorientating effect on students of labour history, that the 'Irish nationalist
bourgeoisie is celebrating its "national victory'', its maturity in "affairs of state'' by declaring a war to the death against the Irish labour
movement'. In fact, the Association was composed mainly of large employers whose class was, for historical reasons, Unionist in a greater proportion than the total population.

Finally, while he remarks on the twelve Ulster Unionist worker leaders 'serious and legitimate arguments against home rule' and implies that the
Dublin Trades Council was moved by nationalism to ignore them, he does not notice the more powerful reason for the council to do so; the arguments avoided mentioning the Dublin lockout. The Belfast men were politically as subordinate to the bosses as most Dublin workers and unlike the Dublin workers they were prepared to accept their bosses' line on trade union rights.

There is a further, more subtle, distortion. Padraig Yeates over-simplifies the differences between Larkin and Connolly (P.221) and exaggerates
similarly the resemblance between Connolly and Pearse. It is true, of course, that Larkin's first reaction to the Easter Rising was one of
disapproval but to imply that, in 1913, he was opposed to military tactics while Connolly was advocating them or that Connolly's view of the potential rising was always the same as Pearse's is inaccurate. It was, after all, Larkin who wanted to resign his union secretaryship to concentrate on the Citizen Army, while Connolly insisted on combining the secretaryship and the army command. To understand Connolly's position it is necessary to remember Trotsky's words; 'the young Irish working class...has wavered between nationalism and syndicalism, and is always ready to link these two conceptions together in its revolutionary consciousness.' In so far as the two conceptions could be not just linked but synthesised the task was performed by Connolly. He saw a nationwide rising developing into a social revolution through the initiative of the striking Dublin port workers. It was not his fault that the British Seamen's Union leader, Havelock Wilson, sabotaged the strike or that Eoin MacNiell's directive prevented the military rising going much beyond Dublin. It remains true that Connolly was carrying out his internationalist duty, as defined at Stuttgart in 1907, to stage a rebellion against the imperialist war. It was those who supported their country's war efforts on both sides who betrayed humanity.

Padraig Yeates is correct to see unionism and Irish nationalism as capitalist ideologies. He ignores the political differences between them.
Although he describes unionism correctly enough as British 'nationalism', he does not realise that this made unionism the nationalism of the oppressor, as Irish nationalism was the nationalism of the oppressed. The unionists constituted a force to maintain the status quo, and this weakened decisively any sympathies they might have possessed in favour of democratic movements or movements to the left of simple democracy.

The class partnership bias of Padraig Yeates is shown in his treatment of Larkin's relationship with the British'IZTC leaders. Here, his sympathy is with the latter, even to suggesting that Larkin's oratory caused them to oppose his demand for a total blacking of goods for Dublin (PP.434-5, 472).  Again, the facts he gives challenge this: the vote was lost by an 11 to 1 majority. Even given that this was a card vote controlled by relatively few delegates, it was too large a gap to be explained by personal pique. Over all this, he hints that the British leaders' superior strategy made it impossible for them to support Larkin. They saw the strike as a means to improving trade union status in negotiations; he is said to have wanted to strike to give the workers state power. This is true enough in the long run, but Larkin knew better than to think that the Irish unions were in a position to win such power in 1913. The lockout was an attempt by the employers to deny their workers the right to organise. It was the employers who were refusing to negotiate on the matter, and who were blocking any attempts at a compromise. Larkin's call to black Dublin goods was simply the most effective way to resolve the struggle.

There are other errors that are not directly connected to the above categories, though they would not be there if Padraig Yeates had not found
it easier to ignore his background to prove his points. To take merely three examples: William Brace was not a Liberal MP (P.100), but a Labour one, the 'Mollies', or rather 'Molly Maguires' were not the followers of William O'Brien of Mallow but his bitter enemies, the Redmondite Ancient Order of Hibernians (P.238): George Lansbury was not leader of the Labour Party or even an MP in 1913 (P.435).

The above criticisms are important, but they do not take away the essential value of the book. Every student of labour history should read it, but she or he should remember this health warning.


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