deutsch |  english |  español  |  français  |  italiano  |  nederlands  |  polski  |  português  |  svenska  |  türkçe  |  中文  |  عربي  |  русский

latest news

Spain
Militant struggle by Students Union succeeds

02/12/2016: Mass student strikes force PP government to retreat

  Spain

Sudan
Three day nationwide strike shuts down the country, in unique defiance of Al-Bashir’s rule

30/11/2016: Escalation of the struggle needed to overthrow repressive regime

  Sudan

Turkey
AKP regime sliding towards personal dictatorship

28/11/2016: United workers’ struggle only antidote against Erdoğan’s rule

  Turkey

US
Trump prepares attacks on working people,immigrants and women

27/11/2016: We must prepare massive resistance!

  US

Kashmir
Brutal suppression of uprising

26/11/2016: Battle zone of proxy conflicts. United working class opposition needed

  Kashmir

Cuba
Fidel Castro, leader of 1959 revolution, dies at 90

26/11/2016: Castro's life and the Cuban Revolution

  Cuba

China
New stage in power struggle

24/11/2016: Xi Jinping becomes “core leader”

  China

Spain
Students' Union surges forward in historic congress

22/11/2016: Hundreds rally to celebrate 30th anniversary of SE and 40th anniversary of Izquierda Revolucionaria / El Militante

  Spain

Pakistan
ISIS terrorists attack Sufi shrine

21/11/2016: The struggle of Baluchi people

  Pakistan

India
‘Demonetisation’ shock

19/11/2016: Modi unleashes war on poor

  India

Sri Lanka
Fair is foul - IMF Budget unleashed

18/11/2016: IMF led austerity budget has unveiled in Sri Lanka

  Sri Lanka

Hong Kong
Government purges Legislative Council

17/11/2016: “Nothing short of a coup”

  Hong Kong

Socialism 2016
Electrifying and powerful weekend puts socialism on the agenda

16/11/2016: Struggle, internationalism and socialism, these ideas - and how powerful they can be in action, electrified the magnificent rallies and workshops of the Socialism 2016 weekend.

  Britain

 Video
Socialism 2016, London

16/11/2016: An electrifying and powerful weekend which put socialism back on the agenda

  Britain, Video

US
Anti-Trump protests

12/11/2016: In less than 24 hours, 40,000 people answered our call

  US

Ireland
The Jobstown trial and the threat to democratic rights<br />

12/11/2016: Biggest political trial in decades, as Socialist Party & Anti Austerity Alliance MP and councillors face threat of lengthy prison sentences

  Ireland Republic

Spain
Student strike gives first mass response on the streets to new PP government

11/11/2016: Interview with Ana Garcia, General Secretary of the Sindicato de Estudiantes (Spanish Students’ Union)

  Spain

Kazakhstan

10/11/2016: No to land privatisation - Release Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov!

  Kazakhstan

 Video
Irish Socialist MPs react to Trump election

10/11/2016: Ruth Coppinger and Mick Barry speak in Irish parliament

  Ireland Republic, US, Video

US
We need mass resistance to Trump and a new party of the 99%

10/11/2016: A Presidency of chaos and struggle

  US

US
Build a grassroots movement to stop Trump's agenda

09/11/2016: Polls showed that Donald Trump was the most hated Presidential candidate in the history of this country. Yet the Wall Street, Wal-Mart, warmonger Clinton couldn't defeat him…

  US

US
Deeply damaged, the two parties limp towards the finish line

08/11/2016: Whoever wins tomorrow will enter office facing unprecedented levels of popular hostility

  US

History
Russia’s 1917 socialist revolution

07/11/2016: November 7th anniversary of workers’ taking power

  Russian Revolution

Philippines
‘China pivot’ from Duterte

07/11/2016: Philippines leader seeks to play off superpowers to win economic concessions

  Philippines

Turkey
People's Democratic Party leaders arrested

04/11/2016: Urgent appeal to demand their immediate release

  Turkey

 Capitalist system “on the edge of the volcano”

03/11/2016: Draft documents for November CWI international meeting

  CWI

Spain
PSOE leadership hands power to the PP

03/11/2016: A new phase in the class struggle

  Spain

Ireland
Police vote to take strike action

02/11/2016: Unprecedented industrial action poses crisis for Irish government

  Ireland Republic

South Africa
Victimisation of #OutsourcingMustFall activists

02/11/2016: State tries to crush worker-student unity in struggle for free education

  South Africa

History
Suez 1956

01/11/2016: The decline of British imperialism and rise of the colonial revolution

  History

 Solidarity
International campaign backing Spanish student strike a great success

27/10/2016: CWI sections in 25 countries organise active solidarity and support

  Solidarity

Spain
Historic student general strike

26/10/2016: More than 200,000 students fill the streets against Francoist "revalidations"

  Spain

History

Northern Ireland - 1907 Dockers and Carters’ strike

www.socialistworld.net, 11/05/2007
website of the committee for a workers' international, CWI

Belfast workers in revolt

Peter Hadden, Socialist Party, Belfast, Northern Ireland

THIS YEAR the working class of Northern Ireland can celebrate one of the proudest moments in its history. One hundred years ago the city of Belfast was gripped by a revolt of the low paid and the exploited. For three months in the summer of 1907 the working class communities across the city stood firm and united in support of the historic strike by dockers and carters.

ALTHOUGH THE numbers directly involved in this dispute were not large - at the high point of the struggle in July just over 2,300 workers were on strike or had been locked out - the dispute galvanised the working class of the city, Catholic and Protestant, in active support. This was vividly demonstrated on 26 July when a massive 100,000 strong demonstration wove its way around the city, ending with a huge support rally at the City Hall.

The discontent which erupted in 1907 had been simmering for some time. Rapid industrialisation saw Belfast grow faster than any other city in Britain in the second half of the 19th century. By the turn of the century it was - by some way - the pre-dominant industrial centre in Ireland.

Growth of the shipyards, of heavy industry, of the linen mills and the huge expansion in trade created enormous wealth - but not for the army of unskilled and semi skilled workers who slaved to keep the looms and presses turning and who moved the raw materials and finished goods in and out of the city.

Trade unions at this time were overwhelmingly confined to skilled workers, those employed in the various trades, and were mostly organised along craft lines. Belfast had been affected by the wave of strikes in Britain in the 1880s and 1890s that led to the building of general unions for the unskilled and semi skilled, but not to the same extent as in other cities.

1907 marked the real birth of this "New Unionism" in Ireland. The Belfast strike and lock out prefaced the bitter struggle by the unskilled for union rights that culminated - in its first phase at least - in the 1913 Dublin lock out.

Two thirds of the city’s 3,000 dockers were hourly paid casual workers. The majority of the 1,500 carters worked either for a handful of shipping companies or else for small carting companies, mostly for pitiful wages.

Larkin’s arrival in Belfast at the start of 1907 as an organiser for the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) provided a catalyst allowing the anger at these conditions to surface. Very quickly he succeeded in recruiting Belfast dockers and setting up a local NUDL branch. The employers too were organised in their own bodies and were determined to resist unionisation and the disease that would become known as "Larkinism". Class lines were being clearly drawn.

At the end of April there was a dress rehearsal for the mightier battle to come when Samuel Kelly’s coal merchants locked out 400 workers declaring that "a union should not embrace such a class of employment." Although scabs were brought in from England, Larkin this time succeeded in resolving the dispute, winning reinstatement and union recognition.

The next dispute, which began just a few days later on 6 May, was not so easily resolved. 70 casual dockers working for the Belfast Steamship Company walked out, refusing to work with two non-union men. The Company Chairman, Thomas Gallagher, owner of Gallagher’s tobacco factory, sacked the strikers along with another 90 permanent dockers. Scabs were again brought in. The strike and lockout had begun in earnest.

Strike spreads

Although most of the workers involved at this stage - and in the earlier Kelly’s dispute - were Protestants, Larkin’s leadership position was accepted without difficulty, despite the fact that he was a Catholic. His response to the lockout imposed by Thomas Gallagher was to go on the offensive, mobilising support for the workers and attempting to spread the dispute. On 16 May 1,000 women workers walked out of Gallagher’s Tobacco plant although the strike quickly crumbled and they went back to work after a day.

Meanwhile nightly meetings were held in the docks, mass pickets were organised and street collections held to raise funds to maintain the dispute. Thousands became involved in this support activity.

As the dispute dragged on through June, dockers working for other companies began to raise their own demands mainly on wages with their employers. Larkin seized the opportunity to broaden the dispute by demanding wage increases from all the cross channel shipping companies and threatening to bring the whole docks to a standstill if they didn’t comply.

The dispute escalated sharply from this point. On 26 June 300 dockers working for a number of cross channel companies, most of them owned by the big British railway magnates, came out. At the same time the employers, rather than cave in, met in the chamber of commerce to form an Employers’ Protection Association. More scabs were brought in, some from Dublin and other ports in Ireland.

The next day 129 carters in two local firms came out in sympathy, but also with their own demands. A meeting of almost 1,000 carters decided to black the Belfast Steamship Company and the cross channel companies whose dockers had walked out. Larkin went further - on 3 July he threatened a general strike in the port.

The response of the employers was to significantly up the ante - the following day the Master Carters Association joined the fray by locking out 800 carters. Then, on 15 July, there was a further escalation when coal firms locked out a further 880 carters.

In the first weeks of the dispute the strike meetings, pickets and other activity were mainly confined to the docks area. With the involvement of the carters the focus of the dispute changed abruptly. The scabs who had been brought in to replace the locked out carters had to drive through the city and immediately became a target for the strikers and their supporters.

What then developed was an early example of "flying pickets". Pickets went from area to area to try to physically block the vans. Confrontations took place all over the city. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, gathered to confront and physically block the scabs.

The state - which is a class society is never neutral but in the last analysis will come down on the side of the ruling class - intervened on the side of the employers. Police were used round the clock to escort the scab vans.

Workers’ unity

Larkin and other leaders such as Alex Boyd, head of the Municipal Workers’ Union and also a prominent member of the Independent Orange Order, understood the need to build on the support that existed in the working class communities. They organised nightly meetings in working class districts all over the city. Thousands turned out to show their support.

With class issues to the fore across the city, the old sectarian divisions that had kept working class people apart began to soften and diminish. On 12 July the strike meetings were "suspended for one day" to make way for the Orange Order annual celebrations.

A request that a collection for the strike fund be held during their parade was turned down by the bigwigs at the head of the Orange Order. The breakaway Independent Orange Order, which had started out as an even more hard line Protestant organisation, but which had a working class leadership some of whom were heavily involved in the strike, did, however, take up a collection. They also passed an unusual resolution for a 12 July parade condemning employers who did not recognise trade unions.

With the momentum of the dispute developing, pressure was really starting to mount on the employers. Ewarts mill had to lay off workers because they could not get grain. Coal supplies to industry began to dry up as the impact of the lockout of the coal carters began to bite. Linen bosses across the city were facing the prospect of a general closure. Meanwhile an unrelated dispute involving ironmongers was forcing mass layoffs in the huge Harland & Wolfe shipyard. The dispute was rapidly escalating towards an all out confrontation between the forces of Capital and Labour across the city.

Then, in one of the most dramatic and historically significant developments of the dispute, the infectious "contagion" of Larkinism spread to the police. At the time of the carters’ lock out Larkin had made an appeal to the police by referring to the long hours they were forced to work escorting scabs for "not a penny extra".

A few days later one RIC officer, Constable Barrett, refused to escort a scab carter. He was suspended but managed to call two meetings in Musgrave Street Barracks which around 800 of the 1,000 strong RIC force attended. Demands were drawn up on pay and pensions and presented as an ultimatum to the senior officers. But instead of coming out on strike immediately the potential mutineers gave the RIC chiefs a ultimatum - either meet their demands by 6 August or they would strike.

At this point an historic victory was in sight for the strikers. Much of industry in Belfast was about to grind to a halt, with an overstretched and now mutinous police force unable - or unwilling - to protect the scabs. With workers in Britain blacking goods from Belfast the ruling class faced the possibility that the turmoil in Belfast could spread.

Rotten role of national union leaders

What stood in the way of escalation and likely victory was the cautious role played by the national trade union leadership. Obviously concerned at the potentially revolutionary implications of what was happening in Belfast, NUDL leader James Sexton came over from Liverpool to intervene. He arrived on 19 July along with two leaders of the General Federation of Trade Unions. Their aim, as was recorded at a GFTU meeting, was to "promote industrial peace".

Sexton opened negotiations with the coal merchants over the head of Larkin and the local leaders. He reached a rotten deal whereby the locked out coal carters would be taken back but would have to work alongside non-union labour. There was opposition on the strike committee to this deal but, nonetheless, the coal carters went back to work on 26 July. The Ironmongers dispute was also settled with union leaders pressurising reluctant workers to return to work.

This was a turning point in the dispute. The relentless pressure that had been building on the employers was eased as coal supplies to the factories of the city were restored.

This return to work came just as the dispute had reached its high point. Ironically the coal carters went back to work just as the massive 100,000 strong support demonstration organised under the banner of the Trades Council was about to take place.

The weakening of the strike, courtesy of Sexton and the GFTU leaders, allowed the employers and the establishment to take the offensive. The heads of the RIC took pre-emptive action ahead of the strike deadline set by the police meetings to crush this mutiny. Barrett was kicked out of the force and a quarter of the Belfast RIC were transferred out of the city.

1,200 extra troops were brought in at the end of July to take their place bringing total troop numbers up to around 6,000 and a military clampdown was instituted across the city. Efforts were also made to whip up sectarian division. The Belfast Telegraph issued black propaganda claiming the strike committee was favouring Catholics, making it more difficult for Protestants to get strike pay - a charge that was answered by Larkin and the strike committee.

The heavy troop presence led to riots, mainly in Catholic areas. West Belfast was saturated with troops. In one incident on 12 August, troops opened fire indiscriminately on a crowd during extensive riots in the Falls Road area. Two people were shot dead. There was a danger incidents like this could provoke a sectarian backlash.

The strike leaders, rather than fold their arms in the face of the threat of sectarian division, took the offensive. The strike committee issued hand bills which appealed to workers to stand firm against sectarianism: "Not as Catholics or Protestants, as Nationalists or Unionists, but as Belfast men and workers stand together and don’t be misled by the employers’ game of dividing Catholic and Protestant."

By and large the intervention of the strike leaders prevented sectarian violence from developing and workers across the city stood together in condemning these killings.

However the momentum of the strike was clearly waning. An agreement reached with the Master Carters’ Association was accepted by a mass meeting of the locked out carters on 15 August. There was to be a wage increase but crucially the employers retained the right to employ non-union labour.

This left the original strikers, employed by Gallagher and the English railway magnates, isolated. Over the course of the next weeks they were starved back more or less on the employers’ terms. The strike was defeated but it left a never to be forgotten legacy of working class unity and of militant struggle. n



Europe

 video

Video: Socialism 2016, London, 16/11/2016

 further videos

CWI - get involved


solidarity

tamil solidarity campaign kazakhstan

featured links

Socialist Party Ireland

cwi links

Marxist.net, CWI marxist archive

cwi comment & analysis

world economic crisis

analysis and commentary


cwi publications

marxism in today's world che

Che Guevara: Símbolo de Lucha

Por Tony Saunois

A socialist world is possible, the history of the cwi with new introduction by Peter Planning green growth, a contribution to the debate on enviromental sustainability

NEWS

Spain: Militant struggle by Students Union succeeds
02/12/2016, Socialistworld.net :
Mass student strikes force PP government to retreat

Turkey: AKP regime sliding towards personal dictatorship
28/11/2016, Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI Turkey):
United workers’ struggle only antidote against Erdoğan’s rule

Kashmir: Brutal suppression of uprising
26/11/2016, TU Senan, CWI :
Battle zone of proxy conflicts. United working class opposition needed

Spain: Students' Union surges forward in historic congress
22/11/2016, Danny Byrne, CWI :
Hundreds rally to celebrate 30th anniversary of SE and 40th anniversary of Izquierda Revolucionaria / El Militante

Pakistan: ISIS terrorists attack Sufi shrine
21/11/2016, Kristofer Lundberg, Socialist Justice Party (CWI Sweden) :
The struggle of Baluchi people

India: ‘Demonetisation’ shock
19/11/2016, Isai Priya, Tamil Solidarity :
Modi unleashes war on poor

Sri Lanka: Fair is foul - IMF Budget unleashed
18/11/2016, TU Senan, CWI :
IMF led austerity budget has unveiled in Sri Lanka

Socialism 2016: Electrifying and powerful weekend puts socialism on the agenda
16/11/2016, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales) reporters :
Struggle, internationalism and socialism, these ideas - and how powerful they can be in action, electrified the magnificent rallies and workshops of the Socialism 2016 weekend.

Video: Socialism 2016, London
16/11/2016, Socialistworld.net:
An electrifying and powerful weekend which put socialism back on the agenda

US: Anti-Trump protests
12/11/2016, Brian Watson, Socialist Alternative, US :
In less than 24 hours, 40,000 people answered our call

Britain: Fight for a united, working class approach to Brexit
12/11/2016, Editorial from the Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales) :
High Court bombshell

Morocco: Mass protests follow the assassination of a fishmonger
11/11/2016, PSL-LSP (CWI in Belgium) translation from French:
A feeling of “déjà vu”

Spain: Student strike gives first mass response on the streets to new PP government
11/11/2016, socialistworld.net :
Interview with Ana Garcia, General Secretary of the Sindicato de Estudiantes (Spanish Students’ Union)

Kazakhstan
10/11/2016, Andrei Prigor from Campaign Kazakhstan website:
No to land privatisation - Release Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov!

Video: Irish Socialist MPs react to Trump election
10/11/2016, socialistworld.net:
Ruth Coppinger and Mick Barry speak in Irish parliament

US: We need mass resistance to Trump and a new party of the 99%
10/11/2016, Philip Locker and Tom Crean, Socialist Alternative :
A Presidency of chaos and struggle

US: Build a grassroots movement to stop Trump's agenda
09/11/2016, Bryan Koulouris, Socialist Alternative :
Polls showed that Donald Trump was the most hated Presidential candidate in the history of this country. Yet the Wall Street, Wal-Mart, warmonger Clinton couldn't defeat him…

US: Deeply damaged, the two parties limp towards the finish line
08/11/2016, Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative, USA :
Whoever wins tomorrow will enter office facing unprecedented levels of popular hostility

Philippines: ‘China pivot’ from Duterte
07/11/2016, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info :
Philippines leader seeks to play off superpowers to win economic concessions

Turkey: People's Democratic Party leaders arrested
04/11/2016, Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI Turkey) :
Urgent appeal to demand their immediate release

Ireland: Police vote to take strike action
02/11/2016, Conor Payne, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland):
Unprecedented industrial action poses crisis for Irish government

South Africa: Victimisation of #OutsourcingMustFall activists
02/11/2016, Workers and Socialist Party (WASP - CWI in South Africa) :
State tries to crush worker-student unity in struggle for free education

History: Suez 1956
01/11/2016, Niall Mulholland, CWI :
The decline of British imperialism and rise of the colonial revolution

Côte d’Ivoire: Construction company workers force unprecedented bosses’ concessions
28/10/2016, CWI in Côte d’Ivoire:
Letter from Côte d’Ivoire Agencement workers

Solidarity: International campaign backing Spanish student strike a great success
27/10/2016, socialistworld.net:
CWI sections in 25 countries organise active solidarity and support

Spain: Historic student general strike
26/10/2016, Sindicato de Estudiantes (Students Union) reporters :
More than 200,000 students fill the streets against Francoist "revalidations"

CWI Comment and Analysis

ANALYSIS

Sudan: Three day nationwide strike shuts down the country, in unique defiance of Al-Bashir’s rule
30/11/2016, Serge Jordan, CWI:
Escalation of the struggle needed to overthrow repressive regime

US: Trump prepares attacks on working people,immigrants and women
27/11/2016, Tom Crean and Philip Locker, Socialist Alternative (USA):
We must prepare massive resistance!

Cuba: Fidel Castro, leader of 1959 revolution, dies at 90
26/11/2016, Tony Saunois, CWI :
Castro's life and the Cuban Revolution

China: New stage in power struggle
24/11/2016, chinaworker.info reporters:
Xi Jinping becomes “core leader”

Hong Kong: Government purges Legislative Council
17/11/2016, Dikang, Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong) :
“Nothing short of a coup”

Ireland: The Jobstown trial and the threat to democratic rights<br />

12/11/2016, Eddie McCabe, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) :
Biggest political trial in decades, as Socialist Party & Anti Austerity Alliance MP and councillors face threat of lengthy prison sentences

History: Russia’s 1917 socialist revolution
07/11/2016, Clare Doyle, CWI :
November 7th anniversary of workers’ taking power

Capitalist system “on the edge of the volcano”
03/11/2016, International Secretariat of the CWI:
Draft documents for November CWI international meeting

Spain: PSOE leadership hands power to the PP
03/11/2016, Izquierda Revolucionaria editorial :
A new phase in the class struggle

Hungary: The political revolution of sixty years ago
23/10/2016, Clare Doyle, CWI :
When workers fought arms in hand to end Stalinist dictatorship

Britain: The fight for real democracy in the Labour Party
20/10/2016, Editorial of the Socialist, weekly paper of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales):
Defend Corbyn and transform Labour into a party acting for working class

Crisis of social democracy in Britain
19/10/2016, Peter Taaffe, from next issue of Socialism Today (monthly magazine of the Socialist Party England and Wales) :
Which way forward for the Left?

US: The disastrous failure of ‘lesser evilism’
18/10/2016, Patrick Ayers and Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative (originally published at CounterPunch.org) :
Change through mass struggle  - a new party should act as an organizing and for solidarity

Spain: Crisis in social democracy
17/10/2016, Juan Ignacio Ramos, Izquierda Revolucionaria general secretary, from Socialism Today (monthly magazine of the Socialist Party England and Wales) :
PSOE and the class struggle

Britain: Tories whip up division over Brexit
17/10/2016, Editorial from The Socialist (weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party, England & Wales):
Fight for a socialist, internationalist exit

Art: Access, freedom and organisation in the arts
16/10/2016, Rob MacDonald, from the Bad Art magazine/website:
The artist and the workers' movement

South Africa: Local government elections leave ANC in crisis
15/10/2016, Weizmann Hamilton, from the new issue of Izwi Labasebenzi:
Socialist mass workers party needed

India: Uprisings of the oppressed
12/10/2016, New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India):
New period opens

US: Presidential debate shows need for an alternative
12/10/2016, Bryan Koulouris, Socialist Alternative:
After elections, explosive struggles will provide opportunities to win victories for working people

Brazil: Local elections see collapse of PT (Workers Party) support
11/10/2016, Andre Ferrari, LSR (CWI Brazil):
Mass disillusionment with political system but gains for PSOL left

Israel: Shimon Peres and the ‘peace dove’ myth
10/10/2016, Shahar Benhorin and Yasha Marmer, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel-Palestine) :
A life spent strengthening big capital, militarism and national oppression of Palestinians

Poland: Over 140,000 women demonstrate against total ban on abortion
05/10/2016, Paul Newberry, Alternatywa Socjalistyczna (CWI in Poland) :
Women want a real choice

Joint declaration by El Militante/Izquierda Revolucionaria and the CWI
29/09/2016, socialistworld.net :
Meeting between organisations reveals important common ground

Britain: The ‘Corbynomics’ challenge
27/09/2016, Hannah Sell, from the October issue of Socialism Today (monthly journal of the Socialist Party England & Wales):
What economic policies can end austerity and transform workers’ lives?

Leon Trotsky’s living legacy
21/09/2016, Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales) :
Review of "The Life and Death of Leon Trotsky", published in the latest issue of Socialism Today