Workers control and nationalism in Ireland in 1922

Date:

The Limerick General Strike of 1918 called the Limerick Soviet (workers' council) into being. This was the first incident to draw general attention to the new spirit developing amongst Irish workers. The Limerick General Strike was however a strike against the imposition of British military permits and though it was regarded with distrust in some Nationalist quarters, it was supported by numbers of Limerick employers and shopkeepers. That the Limerick Soviet was used by workers to bring down prices and force up wages was a fact overshadowed by the military permit question.The state of war that increased in Ireland from 1916 until the truce in 1921, the occupation of the country by rival military forces which rendered impossible effective control by either force, facilitated seizures of plants by industrial workers and the land by peasants and agricultural labourers. The Nationalist Government Land Courts and Ministry of Labour endeavoured to check such seizures and to protect the property owners.

Already, the Irish struggle seemed to be shifting from the contest between British Imperialism and the Nationalists, to the contest between the Irish property owner and the proletariat.

Cork Soviet
The 'Workers' Dreadnought' contained many reports of the growing workers struggles and in particular the seizures of factories and land by workers in Cork (mills, creameries and later railways and docks). Workers at the mills and creameries at Quartertown, near Mallow County Cork, faced with wage cuts did not remain at home and starve, reported the Dreadnought, but seized the plants and formed themselves into a workers' council and ran production. The workers ruled off the books of the firm and began entering their own transactions (for cash only), A large contingent of the Republican Army arrived fully armed, publicly displayed its force by drilling through the town, and placed guards by the mills. The Commandant in charge, Moylan, notified the workers' council that he would hold their leaders responsible for any looting or damage to the mills. They replied by placing their own guards on them.

The Commandant then awaited instructions from the Dail Minister as to future action. The new Irish Government, which clearly and inevitably was on the side of the property owner, scorned to hesitate as to how far it was willing to intervene in the struggle. The Cork employers were, of course, dissatisfied with the hesitation and wired to Michael Collins, Chairman of the Provisional Government, demanding that the Government should restore the mills to the employers. Michael Collins wired back that the Government had "arranged to end the unauthorised action of certain persons, in taking over mills referred to".

This was only to be expected: the Irish Provisional Government was a purely bourgeois Government, and Arthur Griffith, the President, was a hardened old Tory in his political views where social questions were concerned.

What was not expected was that the executive of the Transport Workers Union in Dublin should have instigated the eviction of the Malow workers' council. Such, however, was the allegation made against the Executive by the Malow workers' council.

The council declared that the Transport Workers' Executive began by refusing lock-out pay. Later, the local Free State Army Commandant, in evicting the workers from the mill, announced that their Union had asked the Army General Headquarters to "shift them".

On August 12, 1922, the Workers' Dreadnought reported in an article called "workers control in Ireland",

"The movement has now spread through-out Munster and across its borders, and all the works that have been taken have been held, except at Bruro, Bruree and Kilmallock. The attempt to take the Lansdowne in Limerick and the Kanturk works, failed. But everywhere else the workers attempts at seizure have been successfull. The workers are now controlling sixty creameries and a number of farms. They control the Tipperary gasworks, where fourteen men are employed, as well as fourteen creameries in the neighbourhood. In the glen of Aherlow is an estate of 400 acres of arable land and 1,400 acre of woods and mountains owned by Marcy Dawson, a British naval officer who went mad. This estate fell under the control of the agent, a man named Henderson. Did he appropriate it? Dawson called in the Black and Tans to blackleg on the farm workers. The place was finally closed down after a prolonged dispute Eighteen months later, the workers' council of action re-opened the place. The workers repaired the disabled machinery and leaking boiler, set going the saw mill, which employs ten men, and is one of the best in that part of Ireland".

The 'Workers Dreadnought' went on to comment,

"Inexperience in certain directions, and the hostility met with in others, create some difficulties of course. The Soviets in Tipperary gasworks found no difficulty in collecting the money from the workers using slot meters, but when they attempted to collect the accounts off the well-to-do they found that only 50 per cent of the people concerned were willing to pay. The gasworks were needing coal and being obliged to pay cash for it - the collection of accounts was proceeded with as quickly as possible. On the necessary amount being collected, it was found that the woman clerk had banked it, as she always did in the name of the firm without realising that it would be impossible for the Soviet to withdraw the money from the bank. In order to get the coal required, it was necessary to get some more money. It is interesting to observe that the dispute which led to the taking over of the gasworks arose from the refusal of the firm to pay a journeyman's wage to an apprentice who had served his time. The apprentice was appointed manager by the workers' soviet, and he went on working at his old wage, without even getting or demanding, the increase on account of which the dispute had arisen."

The Farmers' Union carried on a warfare against the workers. They made raids on creameries, burning them down or taking away essential parts of the machinery if the vigilance of the workers was overcome.

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Extracts with the above commentary published in 1974 Workers Voice pamphlet
Also by Workers Dreadnought - 'Communism vs. reforms, mistakes of the Communist Party of Ireland' at http://www.wsm.ie/story2852

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