#OTD in 1913 – Also known as “The Great Dublin Lockout”, the Dublin Transport Strike, led by Jim Larkin and James Connolly, begins.

The Great Dublin Lockout starts and one of the most bitter and divisive labour disputes in Irish history will run until February 1914 when starving workers are forced back to work.

Five years previously, in 1908, at a time when Irish labourers were working in atrocious conditions, Union organiser Big Jim Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU).

The 1913 Lockout occurred when William Murphy, owner of the Dublin United Tramway Company sacked employees who refused to leave the ITGWU. Larkin called all ITGWU members out on strike. Murphy responded by declaring a lockout. Other strike action occurred throughout the city often involving violent action between police and strikers.

A police baton charge on a meeting where Larkin was speaking on 31 August resulted in the deaths of two protestors and injuries to hundreds – police and civilians.

While Murphy controlled much of the media commentary in his role as proprietor of the Irish Independent, many prominent Irish nationalists and intellectuals lent support to the strikers including George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Pádraig Pearse, Pádraic Colum and Æ Russell who wrote a stinging open letter to Dublin employers citing “an oligarchy of four hundred masters deciding openly upon starving one hundred thousand people.”

“You are bad citizens, for we rarely, if ever, hear of the wealthy among you endowing your city with the munificent gifts which it is the pride of merchant princes in other cities to offer, and Irishmen not of your city who offer to supply the wants left by your lack of generosity are met with derision and abuse. Those who have economic power have civic power also, yet you have not used the power that was yours to right what was wrong in the evil administration of this city. You have allowed the poor to be herded together so that one thinks of certain places in Dublin as a pestilence. There are twenty thousand rooms, in each of which live entire families, and sometimes more, where no functions of the body can be concealed, and delicacy and modesty are creatures that are stifled ere they are born and you determined deliberately, in cold anger, to starve out one-third of the population of this city, to break the manhood of the men by the sight of the sufferings of their wives and the hunger of their children.

Eventually the strike petered out mainly through desperation, but it was the first time in Ireland that employers and labour understood the power of organised activity by the labour movement.

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