Date Released: 31 July 2013
The effects of the 1913 Lockout are still evident in Irish society 100 years after the great struggle between employers and trade unionists, according to SIPTU President Jack O’Connor.
He said that although the employers had failed in their objective of destroying the ITGWU the outcome of the Lockout had allowed them, along with the Catholic Church and Home Rule political establishment to set the conservative nature of the Irish State that was founded less than tens year later.
The SIPTU President said that this approach of placing business interests above the common good had brought the country into a “state of existential crisis for the third time in 80 years.”
O’Connor was addressing an event in Liberty Hall on Tuesday, 30th July, marking the publication of Are Trade Unions still Relevant? Union Recognition 100 Years On, edited by Tom Turner, Daryl D’Art and Michelle O’Sullivan, and the republication of Lockout: Dublin 1913 by Padraig Yeates.
Praising Lockout as the definitive work on the period O’Connor said it clearly showed that it was the employers, led by William Martin Murphy, who had been unwilling to compromise during the dispute rather than the ITGWU led by James Larkin.
Addressing the current state of the trade union movement, Padraig Yeates said that it was failing to successfully organise workers in precarious employments as Larkin had done.
He warned that unless the movement succeeded in reaching out to these workers it faced an uncertain future and would be unable to institute the progressive social change envisaged by its founders.
Yeates added that unions also needed the support of “sympathetic governments” in ensuring “that state structures existed to facilitate collective bargaining and workplace organisation.”
Tom Turner said: “The argument underpinning ‘Are Trade Unions Relevant?’ is that they provide an independent voice for workers and address the power imbalance with employers. There appears to be no substantive alternative that allows a degree of democracy in the workplace.
“Countries with high levels of union density tend to be less unequal and have more comprehensive welfare systems. We argue that trade unions have a continuing relevance in the 21st century both for employees in the labour market and wider society.”
Daryl D’Art said research indicated that claims that women and younger workers were less interested in being union members were unfounded. Rather it was efforts by employers to inhibit union organisation, that was reducing membership.