BOTTOM DOG Publication of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions
MAY DAY 2013
THE BOTTOM DOG BARKS ONCE MORE
Bottom Dog May Day 2013
STATE OF THE UNIONS
Editorial By Rob McNamara
BY NICK RABBITTS SOCIAL partnership, the Celtic Tiger, the subsequent recession, employee apathy and a loss of hope. These are all factors which have seen union membership in Ireland decline. Despite prominent protests which have seen workers take to the streets - witnessed in February when 8,000 people attended Limerick‟s anti-austerity march there is no point denying there is a downward trend in union membership which needs to be addressed. Just over a third of workers - 35.1% - in the Republic of Ireland are trade union members, a figure which has fallen from some 38.5% in 2003, and a massive drop from the figure in 1980, which saw more than half of the work force were in trade unions. In this country, the main workers union SIPTU - which represents 200,000 people - remains reasonably strong. Compared to the United Kingdom - where the late Margaret Thatcher did all she could to crush the unions, and destroy the hard-won conditions of hundreds of thousands of workers, Ireland is in a far stronger position. As the president of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, Mike McNamara is the most senior trade union representative in the area. He thinks the benefits of being part of a union run far deeper than the usual caveats of pay and conditions. Without unions in place, there would be effectively a „race to the bottom‟ on all fronts, he argues. “Health and safety might go out of the window, which will inevitably result in people taking shortcuts in relation to the production, building, and service industries, and it puts workers in danger,” he explained. With the recession running deep - particularly in Limerick - there have been many examples of non-unionised workers effectively being left „high and dry‟ when a business fails. Staff at GAME and HMV have staged sit-ins at each store in a bid to secure a fairer package. And last month, Patrick Punches Hotel, at Punches Cross, in Limerick City, closed with the loss of 50 jobs. With this, it emerged that staff there had foregone payments in a vain bid to keep the business open. Mike said that if a union had been in place, it would never have come to this. “The first thing is that a bond would have been put in place. [A union] would not have allowed a full deferral of wages. They might have reduced them for a certain period of time. But workers would not have been left high and dry. Not only this though, the union would also have been able to help management find a survival package,” he added. As president of the Trades Council, he is helping many non-unionised workers secure the rights they deserve. But ultimately, he hopes that his intervention - which he does “on the basis of having a social conscience” - will mean people realise the benefits of being in a strong union. “My philosophy in life is: if you can help people, then you should help them. But in doing so, I also show them that unions are not the rogues that people might believe them to be,” he said, “People can organise: if there is an organised unit, they will have a say in their organisation, and they will be able to shape their future.” Ballybrown National School principal Joe Lyons has been a member of the Teachers Union of Ireland
for 34 years. Now, the union‟s PRO for Co Limerick, he believes the links created through the union are beneficial to its members. “I think teachers, regardless of what part of the country they are in, come up against the same problems. Whether you are in a big school or a small school, there are issues to do with conditions of service and things like this. I feel that in a union, at least people can focus and try and reach their objective, which is to safeguard and try and improve the conditions and employment of its members,” he said. Change is needed, he argues, to bring younger people back into the fold of unions, however. The change in society has hindered unions, he says. For example, workers no longer go to a centre each week to pay their dues. This perhaps removes the awareness, perhaps. Joe says: “We have seen so many cuts and attacks on our conditions, certainly in teaching, that is has brought home to a lot of people how important it is for a trade union to represent you. But society has changed so much. If you look at years ago, unions had regular meetings. This does not happen any more. The old traditional model of a trade union has possibly become a bit outdated.” Social media should be harnessed to bring people to trade union meetings, he adds. Big employers have come and gone in Limerick - Ferenka and Ranks have all seen industrial strife down the years. But one massive employer which remains - albeit on a much reduced scale is the American computer maker Dell, which has a campus in Raheen. At its peak, some 5,000 people worked there in manufacturing - but there was no recognition of unions at the site, apart from a workers association, which many people felt was not useful. Gerry Hinchey, who worked on site for 11 years, thinks the workers lives would have been far easier were they represented by an external union. “Management would not have gotten away with some of the things they did,” he said, “Dell were allowed into this country with a proviso that there would be no union involved. I blame the government. There was no protection to the workers whatsoever.” Gerry says that if a big foreign direct investor were to set up in this country again without a union, it should be compulsory that a democratic workers council be set up. Limerick City Councillor, Diarmuid Scully, who chairs the economic com-
mittee, does not believe the presence of unions would act as a deterrent to big investors. He points out that in total terms, American firms have more money invested in Ireland than in Brazil, Russia, China and India combined. Cllr Scully says many IT companies do not engage with unions, because they need to respond quickly to changing markets. “Traditionally, trade unions have resisted such flexibility so companies try to avoid dealing with them. It‟s not a question of pay: salaries in the FDI sector are generally higher than elsewhere in the economy and working conditions are usually better, but the corollary of that is that staff are expected to show complete flexibility in terms of the work they do, and where and when they do it,” he opined. He believes union membership has fallen, due to the end of the traditional job for life. “If people no longer have a job for life, they may feel less inclined to get involved in a trade union, both because they may not have the same attachment to the job they are in, and because they may worry it might affect their own future job prospects elsewhere,” he said. Local Sinn Fein councillor Maurice Quinlivan, a member of SIPTU, agreed, saying a feeling exists out there that if you are part of a trade union, it may shunt your progress in a company. It is something which needs to tackled. Cllr Quinlivan also feels that unions need to be more visible in communities communicating more with their grass roots. He recalled when he joined SIPTU seven years ago, he did not hear anything more from them for a further two years. “I believe if the unions want to progress, they need to be out in communities, at family festivals, and getting everyone involved, not just the membership,” he said. With everything said, the general consensus is that the Irish work force now more than ever would be far far worse off without union representation. Cllr Quinlivan points out it was pressure from unionised workers which ultimately led to the setting up of the minimum wage, one of the highest in the EU. As Joe Lyons concludes: “It‟s very difficult in tough times if your conditions are being eroded all the time to convince people that being in a trade union is worth it. All you can say is that without a trade union, your conditions would be a hell of a lot worse.”
Legislate For Trade Union Recognition Now Here we are on the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Lockout, and we still have not established legislation for statutory trade union recognition. This is despite the fact that clear commitments were given by the previous government during the course of the Lisbon treaty debates that a right to collective bargaining would be provided for. Clear commitments were given by the Labour party before the last general election that legislating for collective bargaining was a priority for them. Indeed a clear commitment was made in the Programme for Government that they would „reform the current law on employees‟ right to engage in collective bargaining, so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. The absence of the right to collective bargaining and mandatory trade union recognition impedes the ability of unions to protect and improve the rights of the workers, particularly the lower paid. Government must stop shirking its responsibility to workers and knuckle down to business in the area of workers‟ rights. The Labour Party, for many years, has supported statutory recognition and gave commitments to introduce the necessary legislation in election manifestos. This Year has to be the time for the party to honour its pledges. With trade union density now standing at about 35.1% the majority of unions are going to great lengths, through specific organising campaigns, But unions are severely disadvantaged because of the absence of the right to statutory trade union recognition in the workplace.
The time is Now for the Trade Union Movement to unify and mount a serious campaign for the introduction the necessary legislation
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THE LOCKOUT 100 YEARS ON.. By Jack O’ Connor Padraig Yeates, author of Lockout: Dublin 1913 describes the event in another of his books A City in Wartime as having been „far more than an industrial dispute: it had been a political contest, a public debate played out as street theatre – much of it bloody – about the type of society people wanted under home rule. On one side had been the new Irish ruling class in waiting, Catholic, conservative and grasping; on the other had been a loose coalition of socialists, suffragists, trade unionists and radical nationalists who had varying visions of a more democratic, outwardlooking and secular society'. From a trade union perspective it was an epic struggle against grossly unequal odds, epitomising much that is noblest in the human spirit but also displaying it at its worst. While it can be said to have ended in a victory for William Martin Murphy and his fellow employers they did not succeed in achieving their key objective - the destruction of the Irish Transport and General Workers‟ Union. They realised that this new union posed a far more serious threat than the traditional, craft unions focussed on promoting sectional interests. The ITGWU represented the advent of industrial unionism in Ireland whose syndicalist ideology had helped transform the political landscape across Europe. Larkin and his principal lieutenants, including James Connolly, are often portrayed as impetuous firebrands and they undoubtedly invested a great deal of energy in spreading the socialist gospel as a means of mobilising workers and providing them with a vision of a better future. However it is doubtful if Larkin approved of the strike in the Dublin United Tramway Company that led to the Lockout. It is clear that members urged him to sanction strike action because they were being dismissed but they were a minority of the workforce and Larkin doubted if a dispute could be won. He appears to have ultimately agreed because he had been advised that staff in the DUTC power house would join the strike. In the event they remained at work and the trams were kept running by strike breakers recruited by Murphy. It is possible the dispute would have ended rapidly but for the gross mishandling of the situation by the police authorities. The brutality they displayed on Bloody Sunday galvanised support for Dublin‟s workers from the British labour movement. The key role played by the TUC in sustaining the fight in Dublin is largely forgotten today. It did
not suit the nationalist narrative of workers defying Dublin Castle and its minions, the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary. The police were in fact acting in direct support of William Martin Murphy and the Irish employers. He specifically requested police protection for his enterprises before using his position as President of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and founder of the Dublin Employers‟ Federation to launch the bid to smash the Transport Union. We also tend to forget that the Lockout could have been avoided. Plans were in place to establish a conciliation board for the city. Larkin had certainly frightened the employers by winning increases of between 20 per cent and 25 per cent for his members across a wide range of occupations and he hoped to extend these improvements to other workers through the conciliation system. The majority of employers were willing to negotiate in order to create industrial relations normality in the city. Murphy was seriously ill when this initiative was launched but on recovering he was horrified to discover Larkin was recruiting in the Tramway Company. The strike was Murphy‟s pretext to launch his counter-attack. He would trump Larkin‟s oft repeated threat of a general strike with a general lockout. Could it have been avoided? Without the provocation of a tramway strike it would have been difficult for Murphy to launch an all-out war. The irony is that most of the tramway workers (threatened with eviction from company houses and the withdrawal of their licences by the DMP) were among the first to return to work (on 20th October), just as Connolly was calling out the dockers to close Dublin port „tight as a drum‟. Larkin was furious because he knew the employers‟ had already recruited scabs to meet such an eventuality but he was powerless to intervene as he was in prison at the time. Connolly paid a high price as many
dockers never forgave him for a decision that only brought unnecessary hardship and suffering on their families. As we know, the ITGWU not alone survived and gave its members a new sense of their worth and dignity in the lockout, but went from strength to strength after the outbreak of the First World War. The war economy created labour shortages and the British government, anxious to maintain industrial peace, introduced conciliation facilities not so different from those planned for Dublin in the summer of 1913. The Irish Trade Union Congress grew from 100,000 members in 1913 to 250,000 by 1918 and the British TUC grew from 3.9 million to over six million members over the same period. Union membership grew particularly rapidly amongst vulnerable groups such as women. The National Federation of Women Workers, who recruited in Ireland as well as Britain, grew from 20,000 to 80,000 in the war years. The Lockout proved an important learning
exercise for Larkin and Connolly. It confirmed their view that industrial unionism alone could not transform society, they needed to mobilise workers politically. (This had already led them to promote the establishment of the Labour Party in 1912.) Unfortunately there was little agreement on how best to proceed. Larkin spent the war years in America, Connolly pursued the path of armed insurrection and many Dublin trade union leaders reverted to municipal
”the culture of the quick buck is a recipe for disaster” The socialism.
death of Connolly and other revolutionary leaders in 1916 saw the takeover of the separatist agenda by men whose social and economic values reflected those of William Martin Murphy. Public policy was re-infected with the culture of short term individual gain and the quick buck that has led us into our third exis-
tential crisis in 60 years. In the brief period between leaving the old umbrella of sterling and entering the protective custody of the euro, this same ruling class ran our economy so well we had to devalue five times. The most important lessons to draw from this historical experience are, firstly, that basing public policies on a value system that reflects the interests of the wealthy few and the culture of the quick buck is a recipe for disaster and, secondly, that the labour movement must know when to retreat, as well as when to advance. Our strategy as a movement cannot be determined by the outcome of a single battle, rather it must be focussed on a clear analysis of the situation and the setting of attainable objectives that strengthen our long term capacity to achieve the „industrial commonwealth‟ for which pioneers such as Larkin and Connolly and the heroic men and women who stood with them in 1913 strived.
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TIME TO ORGANISE ! Pay cuts. Longer hours. Intimidation and bullying in the workplace. Employments closing overnight with workers left high and dry. The common refrain from management that “If you don‟t like it there‟s the gate”. And of course the ever popular "Sure aren‟t you lucky to have a job.” Throughout the state working people are witnessing an ongoing assault on their terms and conditions that threatens to undermine decades of hard won gains for working people and roll back history more than 50 years. Not since the Lock Out 100 years ago has a fighting trade union movement been more necessary. And the first task of any union in this climate must be to organise. This is why SIPTU along with a number of other unions has now adopted the organising model of trade unionism. But when we speak about an “Organising” Trade Union what do we mean? An organising union is member led - everyone plays their part in ensuring the union is active in every workplace. It is based on a return to grassroots organising in order to build membership and power in both the workplace and civil society. The role of paid officials and activists is to provide support and advice to help members win in the workplace.Trade unions originally existed to organise their members democratically, and during their early growth, they typically put a strong emphasis on active recruitment and militant rank and file action, including strikes. In recent decades however, unions had tended more and more to act as service providers for their members: providing legal advice, training, benefits and so on; eschewing mass-based, militant action. Seen in this light, the organising model is not a new concept, but rather an attempt to recapture the strength of the labour movement through a return to first principles. So can unions still make a difference? Absolutely. Otherwise why are employers usually so dead set on opposing workers
BY PAUL GAVAN
organising a union? And the financial evidence is also there to back up the argumentunionised workers consistently earn more money than nonunion workers in survey after survey. Unionised workers also tend to have better working conditions. At a national level growing inequality is inextricably bound up with falling union density. The US provides the most graphic example of this. Unions are a force for good in the workplace, in the community and across society as a whole. Right now the need for workers to be organized has never been greater. It is only by uniting through a trade union that workers can both defend existing pay and conditions, and advance and win a fairer share of the fruits of their labour. The trade union movement represents the organized Economic power of workers. We need to increase this power by
increasing the numbers of workers who are actually organised in trade unions. If we do this successfully we can transform not just the world of work but also the balance of power in our society for the better At a national level trade unions still have the potential to become a rallying point for a broad based anti-austerity campaign to challenge the conservative consensus that has condemned our people to generation after generation of mass unemployment and mass emigration since the foundation of the two states on this island. What we need is a return to first principles, to rediscover the value of empowering workers through militant action and a campaign of resistance. But as the American union leader Samuel Gompers said “You can‟t do it unless you organise!”
Limerick Soviet Note Saved A VICTORY for the trade union movement was heralded in Limerick Auction Rooms, after a Limerick Soviet five shilling note was returned back to its “rightful owners". The Limerick Trades Council had begun a campaign in the days leading up to the auction to keep the note from 1919 in Limerick. Mike McNamara, president of the Limerick Trades Council said “It’s a fantastic day
for the workers and the trade union movement. It means so much to us. It’s our history and you can’t put a price on history. I think we did the workers of 1919 a great service here today,” he said.“Most of the Labour politicians in Limerick were borne out of the trade union movement, so it’s a big day for us. We would ask people not to put a price on our heritage, and to come to us with any materials they may have.”The promissory note was issued by the Workers of Limerick during the famous two week strike in 1919. Up to now it had been held by an elderly lady, whose identity has
not been disclosed. Mr McNamara earlier made an offer of €500 for the note but this was declined by the seller Surrounded by supporters after the auction, Mr McNamara said they were delighted to secure the note, and thanked all their supporters who offered donations in recent days. “We had pledges for donations and we sincerely like to thank both Mandate Trade Union & SIPTU for their help . We came here today to buy it, and were determined to do so. We only realised at very short notice - last Friday night - that this note was coming up for auction, and our campaign kicked in straight away,” he explained. The note will be placed in a secure display unit in the history room
Mechanics Institute in the coming days. The Limerick Soviet was a selfdeclared soviet that existed from 15 to 27 April 1919.At the beginning of the War of Independence, a general strike was organised by the Limerick Trades and Labour Council, as a protest against the British army’s declaration of a “special military area” under the Defence of the Realm Act, which covered most of Limerick city and a part of the county. The soviet ran the city for the period, printed its own money and organised the supply of food.
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THE SOVIET WHEN LIMERICK position as a telegraph operator at the City‟s General Post Office. During the following years Bobby became involved with the postal workers trade union, which was based at the Mechanics Institute on Glentworth Street at that time, the lane at the side of the “Mechanics” (as it was known) was called Post Office Lane and ran parallel to the GPO. It was here that almost all of the city‟s trade unions carried on their weekly meetings. In Limerick, around this time, many of the workers under the guidance and direction of the united Trades and Labour Council had begun to have a new found interest in political and nationalist awareness; in particular they were influenced by the writings of James Connolly and by Limerick‟s first working class newspaper “The Bottom Dog”. The Bottom Dog was a weekly newsletter published by the Limerick Council of Trade Unions under the guidance of its editor Ben Dinneen, who was secretary of the council at that time. The Bottom Dog had been in circulation from October 20th 1917 and continued for 48 editions up to May Day 1918. The editor became ill that year and by November 1918, Ben Dinneen, his wife and their son John who was just 4 years of
By Mike McNamara President Of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions On 30th June 1916 when the life of the Fenian John Daly had expired, huge numbers attended the funeral procession in his native city of Limerick, Daly, according to reports in the local press was “a genuine Irish Patriot to the fingertips”, his style of leadership in the Irish Republican Brotherhood had been an inspiration to the many young men who had joined the volunteer corps leading up to the 1916 rising, indeed, Tom Clarke and Sean McDermott were listed among his many close friends. A young and impressionable Irish volunteer named Bobby Byrne was in attendance at the funeral, Byrne had been influenced by the under currents brewing since the events surrounding the 1913 lockout and the failed rising of Easter week 1916, nationalists and trade unionists alike were striving for their freedom, each with their own ideology, but with similar goal‟s. Bobby Byrne had already been involving himself with the likes of Clarke and McDermott, whom he had got to know through John Daly. Unknown to Byrne at the time, his friendship with Tom Clarke and Sean McDermott had been closely monitored by the police, this led to Byrne‟s inclusion, in 1917, on a list of “Sinn Feiners” in government employment. His attendance at John Daly‟s funeral and his other nationalist activity was, in the years that followed, to cost him his job as a telegraph operator at the GPO in Limerick. A Sgt Walsh from the Limerick crime division, sent a Crime Report to Dublin Castle regarding Byrne‟s movements, what is interesting from that report is the fact that Byrne had been observed attending meetings of the Irish Volunteers at a Drill Hall in Limerick, and that the residence of his mother, with whom he resides, had been visited by the “late suspects Thomas J Clarke and John McDermott”. Robert Joseph Byrne was born on 28th November 1889 at no. 5 Upper Oriel street in Dublin, his father, also called Robert was a fitter by trade, prior to moving to Dublin the family lived in Limerick after the couple first married and it was here their oldest son John Byrne was born at no 3 Nelson street Limerick on 27th April 1883. All the other children were born in Dublin and they were Mary, George, Thomas and Francis. After the death of Robert senior the family moved back to Limerick and took up residence in the Donovan‟s Row area which was off John Street.In May 1907, Bobby, who had just turned 18 years old commenced work as a learner in the General Post Office in Limerick. It was approximately one year later when Bobby moved to Kinsale in Co Cork to work as a postal sorter, he later moved to Bandon, where he worked as a postal clerk and while there he resided as a boarder with the family of Ann Crowley of Cavendish Quay, Bandon. He returned to Limerick in October 1911 and took up a
age had succumbed to the ravages of the Spanish Flu that had swept across Europe. Labour Day had been celebrated in Limerick for the first time on May 1st 1918 and it proved to be a resounding success for the local Trades Council when up to ten thousand workers paraded through the city in what was described in the press as a “striking display of the strength and solidarity of organised labour in Limerick City, and the appeal of the Trades and Labour Council to celebrate the day was most successful” The events culminated in a series of rallies at the Markets Field where no fewer than three platforms were erected to accommodate the numerous prominent speakers who addressed the crowds. To the sounding of a trumpet, the workers assembled, passed a resolution extending “fraternal greetings to workers of all countries, paying particular tribute to our Russian Comrades who have waged such a magnificent struggle for their social and political emancipation”, and so it seems from the language used at Limerick‟s first May Day celebration, that the scene was set for what was yet to come, the seeds of revolution were firmly sown. By this time Bobby Byrne was getting more involved in the business of his trade union and was by now the chairman of his local branch. On 3rd September 1918 he attended a meeting at the Town Hall that had been called in response to the actions of the then Mayor, Sir Stephen Quin, who had invited the Lord Lieutenant to come and visit Limerick, however notwithstanding his attempts to agitate the workers, he did not receive much support and the meeting did not produce results. It did, however expose the agitators and soon afterwards Bobby was
brought before the management at the Post Office where a number of charges were levelled at him, most notably the fact that he had attended the funeral of the Fenian John Daly in 1916, and other spurious charges, he denied these charges but was subsequently sacked from his job. While there was no evidence to suggest that Byrne played any active role in the 1916 rising, it was significant that Sgt Walsh‟s crime report showed that two of the leaders of the 1916 Rising had been observed at Byrnes‟s mothers‟ house prior to the rising in early 1916. In late November 1918 Bobby Byrne was elected Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion of the Limerick City Brigade of the IRA. On 14th December 1918 a general election was held in Ireland and Sinn Fein swept to power on the promise of its policy of “withdrawing from the Westminster Parliament, using all resources to render the power of England useless in Ireland, the establishment of Irelands own supreme national authority and an appeal to the Peace Conference at Versailles in Paris for recognition of Ireland as an independent nation”. Sinn Fein held seventy three seats in the new parliament and held a majority in all but four counties, Antrim, Armagh, Down and Derry. The police did not delay in rounding up the activists, in order to quell the rising tide of selfdetermination, and on Monday 31st December 1918 a raiding party from John Street police station under the guidance of Head-Constable Healy, along with Sergeants Breen, Moroney, Corry and a Constable Guiry descended on Town Wall cottage, the home place of Robert Byrne‟s mother Annie Byrne. On a bedside dresser Sgt Breen discovered an unloaded revolver, while at the same time in the kitchen a number of rounds of ammunition and a pair of field glasses were found by Sgt Moroney along with Bobby‟s adjutant‟s notebook. Byrne was arrested on13th January 1919 under the powers of the Defence of the Realm Act and he was brought to Limerick Prison to await trial, his subsequent trial by Court Martial was held in the New Barracks (now Sarsfield Barracks) on Tuesday 21st January 1919, whereupon being presented with the evidence against him, Bobby refused to recognise the court and sentence was delayed to a later date. The 21st January 1919 was a memorable day in more ways than one, most notably because the first shots in the war of independence was fired when a group from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade of the IRA headed up by Sean Treacy and Dan Breen, without the knowledge or approval of the G.H.Q. ambushed two policemen and seized a quantity of gelignite at Soloheadbeg in County Tipperary, both policemen died in the ambush. Both Byrne‟s Court Martial and the Soloheadbeg ambush coincided with the first meeting of the new Dail. The death of the two policemen is widely regarded as the beginning point of the war of Independence, when a new type of guerrilla war was waged by the Irish volunteers.“Drastic Sentence on Limerick Man” this was how the sentence to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour imposed on Bobby Byrne was reported in the press on 3rd February 1919. Byrne immediately set about the task of organising the prisoners to campaign for political status, within the
prison, On the 5th February 1919 sixteen prisoners claiming political status barricaded themselves in their cells and set about smashing up the furniture, all the while the prisoners sang Republican songs, much to the amusement of the large crowds who gathered on the streets outside. The cause of the disturbance was the refusal of the prison authorities to class them as anything but ordinary criminals.The response of the authorities was swift and brutal, prison visits were cancelled and the prisoners were shackled to their beds and given little food or water to sustain them. The Trades Council set about informing the public of the plight of the prisoners and protested at the treatment meted out to the prisoners, they also produced and distributed a copy of the Jail Infamy throughout the City, their protest was ignored and in the days that followed the prisoners went on hunger strike to secure their objectives. After three weeks refusing food, Bobby Byrne was transferred to the Limerick Workhouse hospital in a very weak state on 12th March 1919. The board of Guardians of the hospital were furious that the prison authorities wanted to retain Byrne in lawful custody while in hospital and declared that while in their care he would be classed as a free man, this however did not deter the authorities from placing a jail warden and several armed police at the number one men‟s ward where he was being treated. The local IRA units were already secretly planning to rescue Bobby from the workhouse hospital, under the direction of commandant Peader Dunne, a meeting was arranged at the drill hall in Gerald Griffin street, where five volunteers from each company was selected to carry out the plan. Sunday the 6th April was the date agreed upon, as this was when the public were allowed to visit the patients. None of the battalion officers were to be in attendance and it was agreed that only two of the unit was to be armed, namely Michael Stack and Jack Gallagher, the rest of the men who numbered twenty in total were to pose as visitors and infiltrate the wards around the main ward. A car was arranged to spirit Byrne from the scene once his escape from custody had been made good. On 6th April 1919 the plan to liberate Bobby Byrne was put into action, volunteers took up their positions posing as visitors to gain access to the vicinity on the no. 1 men‟s ward which was located on the first floor. At 3pm on the sounding of a whistle volunteers rushed to Byrne‟s bedside, a message had already been relayed to him to alert him to the proposed escape by an earlier visitor. Constable Spillane and Constable O‟Brien who were sitting at either side of the bed drew their revolvers. Constable Spillane fired at Byrne, who was trying to get out of the bed, but was too weak to move, Spillane then threw himself down on top of the prisoner to stop his escape. Pandemonium ensued, and then one of the raiding party fired at Constable Spillane, the other guards were overpowered and tied up. Constable O‟Brien soon freed himself and as he approached the fleeing party, he was shot and killed, he was then relieved of his firearm.On reaching the outside, the raiding party could not locate the escape carriage ( the car was needed in Tipperary), it later transpired that due to the last minute change of plans the carriage
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TOOK ON AN EMPIRE went to the morgue entrance by mistake. It soon became apparent that Byrne was wounded and bleeding profusely, they then led him out to the main gate of the hospital which was located on Shelbourne road, where they enlisted the assistance of a Mr John Ryan, who took them on his pony and trap to his home in Knockalisheen. The volunteers pleaded with Mrs Ryan to leave Byrne rest there until they came back for him later in the night. Byrne was then brought to an upstairs bedroom. During the following hours his condition worsened and a Doctor was sent for. A Doctor Holmes, who was the district practitioner attended and described Byrnes‟ condition as hopeless, as he attended the dying man the doctor enquired as to who had shot him, Byrnes who was vomiting blood, replied that it was “the man that got shot”. Then turning to the doctor Bobby Byrnes spoke his last words, when he said “This is what is going to do it for me doctor, isn’t it”………… “I am not afraid to die in any case”. Robert Byrne died that evening at approximately 8.30pm in the presence of two doctor‟s and a priest , his mother Annie, his aunt Emily Crowe and other relations who had gone out to Knockalisheen on being informed of the situation, were all arrested that evening and brought to William Street police station for questioning . Large numbers of people descended on the streets around the vicinity of the barracks, as police and armoured cars were drafted in to the city.By order dated April 9th 1919 the British Military Authorities under the orders of Lieutenant General Sir Fredrick Shaw, Commanding in Chief of the Forces in Ireland, proclaimed Limerick a special military area under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act, 1914 (D.O.R.A.)and notices of the order signed by C. J. Griffin Brigadier General, Commandant, Limerick Special Military Area, was published in all the national and local newspapers. Barricades were erected and a boundary was commissioned, hundreds of military personnel along with police attended the barricades where they stationed tanks and armoured cars on all approach roads and bridges. Permits were introduced to regulate the movement of people entering or leaving the proclaimed area. Robert J. Byrne was laid to rest in Mount Saint Lawrence cemetery on 10th April following requiem mass at of St John‟s Catholic Cathedral where an estimated crowd of 10,000 mourners attended the removal and lined the streets as the cortege made its way through the city to his final resting place. The coffin was carried all the way by bearers from the Irish Volunteers‟ and members of The Trades Council. Shots were fired over the grave, but otherwise the procession passed off peacefully, it was kept under the watchful eye of the military authorities who had warned that anything in the shape of a military formation at the funeral would be immediately stopped. Lines of steel helmeted troops took up positions away from the main route of the procession and other troops were held in reserve at a number of barracks throughout the city in readiness for any emergencies, while all the time two military planes flew overhead. The reaction of the workers to the permit system was overwhelming and at a meeting of the Limerick Trades and Labour Council, held on 13th April 1919 which was representative of 35 of the city‟s trade unions, a resolution was passed that the workers of Limerick would no longer work under such conditions and declared a general strike. A committee was elected to oversee the implementation of the trades‟ council‟s plan. Sub-committees
were formed, with each having their own unique role, to deal with such issues as propaganda, finance, the collection and distribution of food and a vigilance committee tasked with keeping order among the strikers. And so the strike began, the following proclamation was issued Limerick United Trades and Labour Council Proclamation "The workers of Limerick assembled in Council, hereby declare cessation of all work from 5 a.m. on Monday April 14, 1919, as a protest against the decision of the British Government in compelling them to procure permits in order to earn their daily bread. By Order of the Strike Committee, Mechanics’ Institute Any information to the above can be had from the Strike Committee Immediately that dawn broke on Monday 14th the strike showed all the signs that it would be a success, upwards of 15,000 workers were on strike, international press reporters had a field day, they were in Limerick to report on the attempted transatlantic flight by a Major Woods in a Shortt Bros Biplane, which was by now, named “The Shamrock”, the Major had planned to land in the city for re-fuelling at Bawnmore , and Sir Stephen Quinn enquired from the strike committee if there would be any objection to Major Woods making the start of his flight from limerick, John Cronin, the strike committee chairman stated that there would be no objection provided that the Major acknowledged that the flight was started with the strikers permission. The city was at a standstill, and as reported in the New York Times on April 15th where the sensational headlines read, STRIKE GRIPS LIMERICK City Paralyzed by Unions in Protest Against Martial Law ,The eyes of the world was on the British Authorities, and this was a cause of great embarrassment for them, for the duration of the strike, the assembled international journalists gave their readers a day by day account of what was by now being referred to as the “Limerick Soviet” Food depots were established and prices were fixed by the committee, any shops who were open did so on the approval of the strike committee who presented them with special permits to display, if there was any evidence of profiteering shops were to be immediately closed down. Gas, Electricity and other essential services were allowed to operate with a skeleton crew and the banks and Government business, including the inquest into the death of Robert Byrne were allowed to continue. The City was now under siege, and food had to be smuggled across the river at night by boat with muffled oars, hearses from the workhouse hospital were brought through the barricades with food hidden in coffins, the workers committees were ingenious in their approach. A citizens police force was established to ensure that the authorised shops opened and closed at the appointed times and that queues were properly formed, the flow of traffic was also closely monitored. According to the strike treasurer James Casey, “the city was never guarded or policed so well previously, there were no reports of looting and not a single case came before the Petty Sessions for hearing, Public houses were closed and remained that way for the duration of the strike. The “Workers Bulletin” published by the propaganda committee kept the people of limerick informed on a day by day basis of the progress of the strike, however this provoked the military authorities to issue their own message to
the people and they immediately begun pasting posters throughout the city proclaiming, that “If owing to the wanton actions of ill-disposed persons, the inhabitants suffer through lack of necessities of life, the Government are in no way responsible and cannot do anything to ameliorate the consequences of such wanton action” The propaganda committee, relying in a style which was to call upon the traditions of the Irish people to suffer patiently the inconveniences occasioned by the strike, “as our forefathers did before us in the glorious in which we shall soon have millions of supporters from all over the world”. However the assembled press were by now reporting the involvement of Sinn Fein in the strike. The "Morning Post" claimed Sinn Féin was secretly conducting affairs and following a defined plan. "When the local Soviets have obtained possession and control of the local resources Sinn Féin will thus control the greater part of Ireland....Unless the Government intervene, local control by Sinn Féin will include what is most important of all - control of the roads and railways." Others soon followed in their reports that Sinn Fein was heavily involved in the events.By this time the clergy were becoming involved and issued their own statement, describing the proclamation of Limerick as “quite unwarrantable” and claiming that the military arrangements at the funeral of Robert Byrnes as “unnecessarily aggressive and provocative” and a lamentable want of consideration for the convenience of the citizen‟s at large, especially for the working classes” The chairman John Cronin, in a wire to the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress stated “General strike here as protest against permit restrictions” he was also being careful to not to develop his aims beyond the immediate struggle to remove the Military Permit Order. In response, on 17th April the TUC sent Mr Tom Johnson as a representative, with authority for announcing that the full strength of the Labour movement in Ireland, backed by the general public would be exerted on behalf of the men and women of Limerick. On the obvious advice of the TUC another subcommittee was set up to finance the strike and on 18th April, John Cronin announced that a fund was to be set up to supply the Soviet with money which was needed for purchases from outside the city and to keep its circulation inside its area. The sub-committee was composed of competent accountants and employees from the finance departments of Limerick firms. Meanwhile the railwaymen who had given massive support to the strike, and who had refused to handle freight for Limerick except where it was permitted by the Strike Committee
itself, or where it was under military guard, was now considering if they would expand this action into a full-scale railway strike. It was against this background that on Wednesday 23rd April, the Chamber of Commerce discussed whether its members should engage scab labour, as they were beginning to be hurt by the money shortage, however they decided against for the time being. Already the soviet were experiencing problems when dealing with the supply of fuel, the coal merchants were hostile to the strike and refused to open their yards. On Saturday, 19th April, a crowd of boys who were tormenting the sentry on duty at Sarsfield bridge were extremely frightened when the sentry drew their weapons at them. On the following Monday, there was further commotion when an Easter hurling match was held at Caherdavin, on the north bank of the river Shannon, which was outside the area proclaimed. On returning to the city that evening, some 300 individuals refused to show their permits at Sarsfield Bridge. Reinforcements quickly arrived from nearby William Street Station when up to 50 constables along with a tank and armored car assisted them. The protesters paraded in a circle, stopping at the check-point only for each to deny possession of a permit.
Later on that evening some of the protesters crossed the river by boat, while others stayed the night with sympathisers in the Thomondgate area. They were soon joined by Thomas Johnson, and they went about organising a midnight concert, Irish dancers entertained the crowds and supper was provided at a nearby temperance hall, where the protesters slept until morning. The next day, they boarded a train for Limerick at Longpavement station and avoided a military cordon at the city terminus by getting out at the opposite side of the platform to where the troops were waiting. The next day shots were fired by troops at the Munster Fair Green when people avoided showing permits, but no-one was hit. By now the Strike Committee was running out of money, while gifts of food were plentiful the funds supplied by the trade unions from outside the city
were fast disappearing, the executive of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union gave a grant of £1,000 to “raise the Siege of Limerick”. At the GAA convention in Dublin on 20th April, delegates passed a motion in support of the strike and they organised four matches to be held on May 4th to raise much needed funds. The Finance SubCommittee decided they would now have to issue their own currency, in the guise of promissory notes to be issued to the workers in order for them to secure goods on credit. Tom Johnson assisted them in the design for the special bank notes to be issued for and on behalf of the Limerick Strike Committee. The notes were issued in the following denominations, 1/s, 5/s and 10/shilling notes. Agreement had been reached with a number of trusted shop-keepers upon the promise of redemption by the Trades Council. Ultimately, these notes were redeemed leaving a surplus from a fund that had been subscribed to by sympathisers in all parts of Ireland‟. This was seen a great victory for the strike committee, because as the world watched through the daily release of the affairs of the strike committee through the columns of the international press, it appeared that not only did the workers of Limerick challenge the might of the British Military, they had now also challenged the Central Bank of England. During the days that followed, the National Executive Committee of the Irish Labour Party moved their seat of deliberation to Limerick and pledged the full support of the Party to the workers of Limerick and was seeking support for a national strike, however Cronin‟s hopes were dashed when the delegation stated that it had no power to call a national General Strike without the authority of a special conference of the Party and of Congress. Wild ideas of the evacuation of the city was discussed which prompted the Mayor and the Bishop of Limerick to visit Brigadier General Griffin in the hope of finding a compromise. On 24th April after long and protracted discussions with the Bishop of Limerick Dr. Hallinan and the Mayor of Limerick Mr Alphonsus O‟Mara the strike leaders shifted their position after extreme pressure was exerted on them to accept a compromise, what was on offer was that the Soviet should end and, if for a week after that, there was no trouble in the proclaimed area, the military authorities would withdraw the Military Permit Order. The leader of the Soviet John Cronin, then went and addressed the enormous crowd who were waiting outside the Mechanics‟ Institute in Glentworth Street, and announced the decision taken by the committee, he called on the workers who could resume work without the need for permits to do so immediately and that those who could not “to continue in their refusal to accept this sign of subjection and slavery” The final Proclamation of the Limerick Strike Committee was issued on 24th April 1919 and its closing passage defiantly read, “We also call upon our fellow – countrymen, and lovers of freedom all over the world, to provide the necessary funds to enable us to continue this struggle against military tyranny” Many of the workers were triumphant, but were glad the strike was over, other workers were furious and wondered if everything they had endured had been in vain and thus the debate about the rights and wrongs of the Limerick General Strike continued for some time after. The Limerick Council of Trade Unions, The Limerick Mechanics‟ Delegate Board and the Limerick Soviet Commemorative Committee continue to preserve this very important part of Irish History.
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Regeneration A Wasted Opportunity?
BY CLLR MAURICE QUINLIVAN
It is now almost six years since the publication of the Fitzgerald Report which proposed the regeneration project for designated areas in Limerick City. It is over five years since then President Mary McAleese, in a blaze of publicity, launched the vision documents that gave wonderful expression to the aims and objectives of the project. A real sense that good things would happen descended on our shattered communities. After years of neglect and abandonment the sense of hope amongst the people was palpable.
“This is a sorry indictment of a political establishment” However fast forward to the present day and that mood is much changed. Despite statements by Ministers Phil Hogan and Jan O‟Sullivan, the fact is most people in the regeneration areas have lost faith in the project. And little wonder at that. After all the years of reports, vision statements, talk and promises little progress has been achieved. March 2013 has seen the publication of the latest plans for most of the Regeneration areas. Whilst these plans are welcome
they represent only 10% of what was promised at the start of the process-a shameful betrayal of the solemn promises given six years earlier. The regeneration agencies themselves have openly admitted that some of the areas are even worse off today than at the beginning of the project. This is a sorry indictment of a political establishment who despite grand statements have shown little real interest in making good on the promise of regeneration in a substantial and meaningful way. Even allowing for the economic recession there are Reasons for suspecting that there are those within the power structures of our city who never really bought into regeneration, but rather saw it as an unwelcome and costly distraction from other priorities and interests. At he start of the project people in Limerick were led to believe that this time things would be different. We were assured that bureaucracy and vested interests would not be allowed to prevail over the real needs of long neglected communities this time. People were told that regeneration was an urgent state priority and that the process would be reasonably swift in transforming areas into safe and vibrant neighbourhoods. Alas, the reality has been very different. Not only has
he process been snail-like in its progress, it has resulted in neighbourhoods being reduced to looking like war zones, while continuing to suffer the scourges of economic and social deprivation, educational disadvantage, poor healthcare and childcare provision, anti-social behaviour and rampant criminality. Whilst progress was made in the fight against crime, recent comments from Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan that:
“Limerick‟s troubled estates are „on the boil‟ again,” must give grave cause for concern. The fact that there has been very few local people employed in the small amount of work done so far has led to serious resentment and despair among the local communities. Unemployed tradespeople have looked out of their homes as no locals are employed rebuilding their own community. This cannot be allowed to continue. The subsuming of the regeneration project into the local authority in June has done nothing to increase people‟s confidence. The very structures that have significantly contributed to the problems that created the need for the project in the first place have now been given responsibility for driving it forward. The same local authority that cannot find money for much needed housing repairs and allows some of its tenants to live in squalor is now in charge of a project that requires a very substantial house building programme. Most people in the regeneration areas fear that the decision to hand over the project to the the local authority may herald its real demise. Sinn Féin adopted a constructive and supportive attitude to regeneration from the very start. The party recognised the need for radical action to be taken if the massive problems confronting the communities concerned were to be meaningfully addressed. To allow regeneration to be whittled away to nothing would not only be a lost opportunity but would also be a massive failure on the part of both state and society, the social costs of which are incalculable. The question now is whether people are prepared to allow this to happen or whether they are ready to fight back in order to save the regeneration project and its potential to build a better future for people in this city.
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Job Creation The solution to the Unemployment Crisis Back in 1978 the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, famously declared that if unemployment ever reached 100,000 the government of the day would have to resign. Today the numbers out of work is over four times that number and there is no sign of any government resignation. Indeed, the policies of fiscal austerity that feed the economic recession and in turn ensures that unemployment remains high continue to be doggedly pursued. Less than five years ago with an unemployment rate of around four percent, Ireland prided itself on having reached almost full employment. What happened in the meantime? Well, if some commentators are to be believed it seems that from around 2008 onwards some 300,000 Irish people decided to simply stop working and live off an overly generous social welfare system. Of course, this is nonsense and most people accept that the current mass unemployment arises from the severe economic recession that has hit most of the western world as a result of the international financial and banking crisis that began in 2008. In Ireland it is now widely agreed that the madness of the Celtic
Tiger years featuring the unsustainable lunacy of the Irish property bubble and its irresponsible banking practices and taxation policies, combined with a general downturn in Europe and the US have been responsible for crashing the economy and creating the resultant high rate of unemployment. The thing about unemployment is that with the onset of economic recession it rises very fast, but its fall is much slower even in improved economic circumstances. Another thing is that as the recession continues not only does unemployment remain stubbornly high but the rate of long-term and youth unemployment increases at an alarming rate. Of course, in the case of Ireland some of this process is somewhat alleviated by the traditional means of mass emigration. The policy response to all this by government and the EU seems to be largely about creating the illusion of action rather than any real attempt to stimulate the economy and create jobs. The official response to the unemployment crisis is largely around the theme of “activation” – the great buzz word of the day. What this essentially means is getting the unemployment to go around
BY Padraig Malone in endless – and often mindless – circles looking for jobs that are not there. The unemployed are threatened with either a reduction or the cutting off of their “jobseekers” payments if officialdom considers that their efforts to get work are not up to scratch. This approach is particularly favoured by the IMF/EU/ECB troika who believe that the Irish social welfare system coddles unemployed people through being far too generous and not punitive enough. The same mindset is also prevalent among Irish policymakers who are only too eager to take their cue from the troika on
this issue. However, in essence this is just a rehearsal of the same old tune of blaming the unemployed for unemployment. People who advocate and pursue such policies are themselves unlikely to have experienced sustained periods of unemployment in their own lives and nor are they likely to anytime soon. Quite simply being unemployed is no joke; it brings with it real economic and social hardship. What should be relatively simple things like providing food, clothing, light and heating, and a roof over the head is often a daily and debilitating struggle. Things, previously taken for granted, such as a night out, going to the cinema or buying a newspaper or a book become unaffordable luxuries. All this also leads to the disruption of social contacts, psychological pressures, domestic difficulties and an overall reduction in self- esteem for the people concerned. Those in politics, the media, academia and such like who prattle on about the unemployed having it too easy should try it themselves for a while. It is often asked why what is sometimes referred to as” the massed army
of the unemployed” does not mobilise in defence of itself. The argument is made that if over 400,000 unemployed were to take to the streets then indeed the prophesy of Jack Lynch would be fulfilled. Mention is sometimes made of the unemployed movement of the 1950s, which took to the streets and even had one its leaders elected to the Dáil. The truth of the matter is that most unemployed people do not see themselves as being part of any massed army but rather as vulnerable individuals going through what they hope is a temporary disruption to their lives. They are in constant hope that things will pick up and that they will be able to return to the world of work and economic wellbeing and they have little interest in drawing public attention to their current straitened circumstances. In Ireland unemployment is quite erroneously stigmatized as a sign of some form of personal inadequacy and as such mobilising the unemployed will always be something that sounds easy to do in theory but is almost impossible in reality. This was somewhat borne out by Mike Allen, the founding General Secretary of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU), when he said that the first aim of the organisation should be to make itself redundant. All that being said, there is a need for the rights and interests of unemployed people to be vindicated and for their voice to be heard and, in this respect, organisations like the INOU are important. The trade union movement also has a vital role to play in supporting unemployed workers and in ensuring that they are not abused by the system. Of course, the trade unions have a much broader interest in tackling the unemployment crisis because mass unemployment poses the greatest danger to the wages and conditions of their members who are working. Mass unemployment is not only bad for the unemployed; it is a blight on the whole of society. As a country and a society Ireland – with currently the fifth highest rate of unemployment in the European Union (behind Greece, Spain, Portugal and Slovakia) – has a bad historical record in terms of providing work for its people. As long as official Ireland continues to pride itself on the implementation of austerity policies to the exclusion of any real employment creation approach this lamentable position is unlikely to improve in the short to medium term. At its simplest, the solution to unemployment is the creation of jobs.
INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL WELFARE By Frank McDonnell If you lose your job you should immediately apply for Jobseeker‟s Benefit (JB) or Jobseeker‟s Allowance (JA). You should apply at your local Social Welfare Office as soon as you lose your job. JOBSEEKERS BENEFIT (JB) Jobseeker‟s Benefit is a weekly payment if you are out of work and covered by social insurance (PRSI) contributions (both paid and credited). DO I QUALIFY FOR JOBSEEKER‟S BENEFIT? To qualify for JB you must be: • Resident in the State • Be aged under 66 • Be fully unemployed or unemployed for at least 4 days out of any consecutive 7 days • Meet the genuinely seeking work rule • Have enough PRSI contributions HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE ENOUGH PRSI CONTRIBUTIONS? You will have enough PRSI contributions if you satisfy either one of the following 2 ways: • Have 104 weeks paid PRSI contributions since starting work and • Have 39 weeks paid or credited PRSI contributions in the Relevant Tax Year (13 of the 39 must be paid contributions in the relevant tax year or certain other periods). OR • Have 104 weeks paid PRSI contributions since starting work and • Have 26 weeks paid PRSI contributions in the Relevant Tax Year and • Have 26 weeks paid PRSI contributions in the Tax Year prior to the Relevant Tax Year WHAT IS THE RELEVANT TAX YEAR? The relevant tax year is the tax year 2 years before you make a claim for a Jobseeker‟s Benefit payment. For making a claim for Jobseekers in 2013 the relevant tax year is 2011. HOW LONG CAN I GET JOBSEEKER‟S BENEFIT FOR? JB is paid for a maximum of: • 9 months if you have at least 260 paid PRSI contributions • 6 months if you have less than 260 paid PRSI contributions People getting JB for 6 months or more on 3rd April 2013(or 3 months for people with less than 260 contributions) will not be affected. CAN I GET ANOTHER PAYMENT WHEN MY JOBSEEKER‟S BENEFIT FINISHES? You may be able to claim a Jobseeker‟s Allowance payment if you meet the qualifying rules and pass a means test. JOBSEEKER‟S BENEFIT PAYMENT RATES 2013 Jobseekers Benefit €188.00 €124.80 € 29.80 € 14.90
Personal Rate Qualified Adult Each Qualified Child Each Qualified Child Half Rate JOBSEEKER‟S ALLOWANCE (JA)
If you do not qualify for a Jobseeker‟s Benefit payment you may qualify Jobseeker‟s Allowance. DO I QUALIFY FOR JOBSEEKER‟S ALLOWANCE To qualify for JA you must be: • Resident in the State • Aged 18 or over • Aged under 66 • Be fully unemployed or unemployed for at least 4 days out of any consecutive 7 days. • Genuinely seeking work and also • Satisfy a means test • Satisfy the Habitual Residence Condition JOBSEEKERS ALLOWANCE PAYMENT RATES 2013 AGE RATE 18-19 20-21 22-24 25 and over
€100.00 €100.00 €144.00 €188.00
€100.00 €100.00 €124.80 €124.80
IF I AM REFUSED A PAYMENT, CAN I APPEAL THAT DECISION? If you have been refused a payment, you can ask for that decision to be reviewed or you can appeal that refusal. For assistance with your appeal contact Frank McDonnell 087 Source: Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed (INOU)
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JIM KEMMY THE TRADE UNIONIST Jim Kemmy by Brian Callanan Jim Kemmy was a man of many parts: stonemason, trade-unionist, city councillor, mayor, TD (causing the fall of a government) and local historian, a towering presence in the life of Limerick, and beyond, for more than three decades, according to Professor Gearóid O Tuathaigh. Born in 1936, Kemmy was steeped in the world of the stonemasons, following his father and his grandfather who, incidentally, travelled to Russia in the 1890s to give bricklaying advice to Russian workers. With the early death of his father, Kemmy joined the stonemasons trade, learning an apprenticeship for seven years. But Ireland in those days was a difficult place: high unemployment and emigration. Jim Kemmy thus followed many of his compatriots to the London building sites in 1957. This was a transformative time in the life of the young Kemmy, being introduced by his English workmates to the trade-union movement and socialism, working to secure a better life for the workers. Coming back to Limerick in 1960, he brought with him a host of socialist impressions and ideas that were to influence him in the years ahead. Jim Kemmy‟s return to Limerick at that time was marked by his entry to the Labour Party, rising rapidly in the party ranks, and becoming a member of the
National Administrative Council and local director of elections in Limerick. However, differences between Kemmy and others in the Labour Party soon emerged, both within Limerick and at national level. There were several areas where Kemmy‟s thinking conflicted with many of his party colleagues. On Northern Ireland, Kemmy believed that any solution was to be found in recognition of the right of the Northern Ireland Protestant majority to opt for a state of their own choosing, with safeguards for the rights of Catholics, not a popular idea in the nationalist south at the time. Kemmy also believed in the separation of Church and State, calling for a more secular and non-denominational society. For example, he was active in helping to establish one of Ireland‟s first Family Planning Clinics at Cornmarket Row in Limerick. Significantly, all of Kemmy‟s positions on these controversial issues were minority views at the time, but since then have been mainstreamed into national life. Kemmy resigned from the Labour Party in 1972, bringing a like-minded group with him, and establishing an alternative movement, the Limerick Socialist Organisation. In 1974, he stood as an independent candidate in the local elections and was elected to Limerick Corporation. One of the features of this time was a local periodical, the Limerick Socialist, published by the Kemmy group, which tackled and mercilessly lampooned all the local interests: church, propertyowners, professions, politicians and even the trade unions. Jim Kemmy finally saw political success in June 1981, with his election to the Dáil. Shortly afterwards, in January 1982, the Fine Gael/Labour coalition, led by Garret Fitzgerald, introduced a stringent budget trying to cope with difficult economic circumstances. This included some very unpopular measures, especially the introduction of VAT on children‟s shoes, causing Kemmy and two other independent TDs to vote against the budget, collapsing the government. Kemmy was returned to the Dáil in the immediate election afterwards, but lost his seat later in November 1982. Factors responsible included the resurgence of the Labour Party but also the „ProLife‟ referendum at the time which Kemmy opposed, arguing that an absolute prohibition of abortion was not justified – this opposition costing him a substantial loss of votes. Out of the Dáil, Kemmy maintained his political life as a member of Limerick Corporation, working also as a trade union official and forming a new socialist party, the Democratic Socialist Party. The new party aimed to be „socialist, secularist and postnationalist‟. Success was achieved in 1987, with the re-election of Kemmy to the Dáil, although the only member
of his new party to do so. Facing these realities, he soon re-joined the Labour Party in 1990 and was subsequently elected as chairman in 1992, a reflection of his reputation as an icon of the labour movement. This post he wielded robustly, leading the party‟s annual conferences with a strong public profile, frequently voicing his own independent and controversial views, not necessarily the same as those of the party leadership. Kemmy‟s national political work was paralleled by an active role as a councillor in Limerick Corporation, such as chair of the local Committee for National Monuments (a role that gave him a passion for local heritage), and as City Mayor in 1991 and 1995. But Jim Kemmy‟s first interest was reported to be his local trade union work. Following his return to Limerick from England in 1960, he soon was active in the Stonemasons Guild, becoming local secretary. The stonemasons were a craft union, owing much of their origin to the guilds of the middle ages and, like the guilds, embraced a range of activities for their members: not just representation as in the modern trade unions, but also recruitment, training and setting of standards, functions that have since transferred to other institutions, with the later merger of the crafts into the wide trade union movement. Kemmy as secretary worked to advance the masons‟ aims, catering for the 100 members of the Limerick branch. Major themes focusing his attention included promoting his members‟ interests in dealing with employers, maintaining a unified approach shared by the different members and groups within the labour movement, and supporting the apprenticeship system. Kemmy‟s role in the trade union movement spanned a massive range of activities. The Limerick Joint Area Council was a forum where the employers and unions could get together on a regular basis. It provided a very useful vehicle to exchange views and information, but most important in heading off potential conflicts before they became difficult. As the union representative, Jim Kemmy was joint chairman. He was also active in the work of the Limerick Building Trades Group, a cooperation between plasterers, electricians, bricklayers (i.e. stonemasons), plumbers and carpenters in the local building industry. The work of the group was vital in creating a common purpose among the different union interests, with Kemmy acting as secretary for several years. Kemmy also was president of the Mechanics‟ Institute (Hartstonge Street), one of several in Britain and Ireland established in the 1800s to promote the lives of working people. In the Limerick Trades Council, he was chairman and spokesman for a time. This was an umbrella group for
the trades, not only the building trades (carpenters, brick layers, plumbers), but also a wider set of trades such as electricians, fitters and toolmakers, also involved in the manufacturing sector. The amalgamation of many of these fragmented unions was secured by the formation of BATU (Building and Allied Trades Union) in 1988, a consolidation actively promoted by Kemmy. Kemmy‟s interest in local affairs extended also to local history, resulting in the launch of Old Limerick Journal in 1979. Kemmy brought his socialist ideas to bear here too, arguing that the study of „remarkable‟ people and events has invariably meant history written from above and conceived in the narrow terms of the ruling families and a self-chosen cultural elite. His core argument was that folklore was the people‟s lore – the distillation of the everyday experiences of the generality of men and women, reflected by the local and human studies of Old Limerick Journal. The result was no fewer than 31
issues, with over 600 separate articles: profiles of individual personalities, interesting events and historical descriptions of local places. Print runs averaged 1,000 per issue, all sold. What was particularly significant was that the articles were written by over 200 separate individuals, a community of local historians. Kemmy was a strict editor and a prolific writer himself, contributing an article to every issue, and publishing other ventures such as the Limerick Anthology and the Limerick Compendium, both in the 1990s. Jim Kemmy died after an illness in 1997, with 10,000 people reported to have filed past his coffin. Following a secular ceremony, he was buried in Mount St Laurence‟s cemetery. Chief mourners were his friend, Patsy Harold, his brother and righthand man, Joe, his sisters Maureen McAteer and Joan Hartnett, his halfbrother PJ Pilkington and family member, Mary Troy. Jim Kemmy: Stonemason, Trade Unionist, Politician, Historian by Brian Callanan (Liffey Press, 2011)
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SUCCESS THE STEP FORWARD BY AILEEN MORRISEY MANDATE TU
Since the opening of the Mandate Training Centre in 2008 a wide range of relevant, diverse courses have been delivered, on a national basis, to members and staff. Many courses are delivered at times and in patterns that suit our member‟s working lives and member‟s availability. The training centre is a FETAC accreditation centre wherein many courses can lead to a FETAC awards. Many are apprehensive starting their course however they soon settle in and enjoy the experience. Members attending a training course often speak about the friendships that they make, how they support each other and how they want to attend other courses in the future. Several members have completed three or four courses and are on their way to gaining a major award. Some
of these members may not have attended training since leaving school. Mandate‟s Introductory, Advanced and Advanced Senior Shop Stewards courses are held in several locations throughout the country. These courses are designed to help shop stewards develop their skills and expertise. Having well trained shop stewards means that our members have representatives in their workplaces that can advise and assist them. These learners can achieve The Trade Union Representative FETAC level 5 awards. Safety, Health and Welfare at Work courses FETAC Level 5, are available for elected Health and Safety Representatives in order that they can carry out the duties of a workplace safety Representative.
A number of union representative courses are company specific shop steward courses. Partnership training for the Company/Union forum structures is ongoing for Tesco, M&S and Superquinn. The training is jointly delivered to both management and members by Mandate and the relevant company. Mandate Trade Union in conjunction with five other unions, the CWU, IBOA, INMO, TEEU, and SIPTU and with ICTU offer training through the TUS Skillnet. As part of this skillnet, a number of courses are available to members from each of our unions and to unemployed members and may be jointly delivered to participants. There will also be courses available specifically for Mandate members. The Computer Course FETAC Level 4, allows learners improve their IT skills. The Communication Course, FETAC Level 5, takes the learners into the areas of media, advertising, personal communications, group communications, presentations and social media. The VEC “Skills for Work” training initiative offer courses in IT, Communications and Maths at FETAC Level 3 are once
again available to Mandate members around the country. The Maths course explains how we use maths in everyday life, builds confidence to use maths when purchasing household goods and doing personnel budgets. In the main, companies will only give paid release for training as per the terms of a collective agreement for shop stewards or for Health and Safety training. Mandate has offered training in additional areas such as IT, Communications, English and Personnel Development A significant number of Mandate members have recognised the value of up skilling and training so they avail of this training in their own time. The delivery of high quality courses draws on a wide a range of experienced tutors and practitioners from the relevant areas of change management, industrial relations, information technology, employment law and media/communications. As Mandate‟s teaching methodology is student centred, the courses are designed to support and facilitate learning. These teaching methods aim to involve learners in their learning through small group work, case
studies and role play exercises to assist them in the transfer of their learning to their day to day work in the union or in their working lives. This encourages their active participation in local union roles and also raises the profile of Mandate Trade Union in workplaces. A significant number of Mandate members have attended Mandate training courses and have successfully achieved a FETAC award. All of these courses are available free of charge to members and are held at times and in local venues to suit our members. All courses are listed on Mandate‟s Web site www.mandate.ie. If you are a Mandate member interested in attending any of these courses or wish to have more details regarding training, contact your Mandate Official or phone Mandate‟s Training Centre at 01 8369699. Also see Mandate‟s newspaper, Shop Floor, for course advertisements. If you are not a Mandate member but are interested in this training, go to the Trade Union Skillnet website www.tuskillnet.ie.
Local Development Companies directed by previously agreed upon Strategic Plans for the area of the City or County they cover. They work to strengthen and promote local and economic development throughout the area they represent and assist the most disadvantaged in the area. The Strategic Plans referred too are drawn from the local knowledge of the area, the interaction with Communities and with businesses in these Communities. The ethos of these LDC is to insure that they provide their area with a quality location in which to enjoy life and work and a favoured destination for investors, visitors. LDC must work in Partnership to foster a proactive and inclusive society that works to preserve heritage and culture, embrace change and work to exploit new opportunities for the area. They should be working to facilitate the growth of a diversified rural/urban based economy in tandem with the development of a knowledge driven society that assists those most disadvantaged. In fulfilling these requirements the Companies will ensure the development of the area within their remit and providing the assistance that facilitates those living and working in the area and are realising their social, cultural, environmental and recreational expectations. There are six measures
BY PAT CONDON SIPTU
Ireland has since the late eighties early nineties seen the development of Partnership Companies which are to ensure the delivery of the Rural Development Programme and the Local Community Development Programme. These two programmes and indeed the fifty one Partnership Companies or Local Development Companies whichever they are referred too, have evolved after a cohesion process which took place in 2010 bringing together a whole myriad of City and County Development organisations. The fifty one remaining Companies operate two main funding streams for the communities they are charged with and mentioned above. The RDP funding is 85% funded from the Common Agriculture Policy, or CAP, and channelled through the Department of Agriculture, and the second the LCDP is funded through Pobal from the exchequer. The delivery of this funding to communities to develop these communities is charged to the Boards of these LDC who have a democratic structure with representation from all of the Social Partners, the State Agencies, the Communities, the County/City Managers and the Councillors. These twenty three person Boards make decisions on the basis of the rule set out under Corporate Governance, and
through which the LDC operate they are, Community Services and Facilities, Active Citizenship, Socio-Economic Planning, Recreation, Heritage & Culture and Environment. The present Government have produced a document known as “Putting People First” within which they propose to introduce an Alignment process whereby Socio Economic Committees would be the applicants for the two strands of funding outlined as the source of funding for LDC,s. The implications of such a development are considerable and wide ranging insofar as LDC cannot exist for the communities they represent without these two core funding strands. The Government propose to put in place a Public Private Partnership structure where the Local Authority would be responsible for the SEC, would provide executive support to the SEC who in turn will have the power to delegate other roles to the Local Authority or other bodies such as the administration of programmes under its remit. The SEC which will be established by each Local Authority, City or County, will comprise of 15 members representing the Local Authority, Local and Community interests and appropriate State Agencies. This type of process can and will facilitate a race to the bottom for the applicants and communities. It is critically important for people to understand the implications of this alignment process if implemented and the impacts it will have on local Communities. Since the development of LDC in the late eighties Ireland has changed. The Society we live in today is dramatically changed from the Ireland of the late eighties and everywhere you go in this Country you will see the benefits of
LDC. They have brought through these funding programmes life to local communities through developing links for the communities to funding for the development of the community. The building of Community centres the refurbishment of Community Centres, the building of community playgrounds are some of the structural facilities visible from these funding strands. But the delivery is not just based on Community structures as important and all as they are. The Community also needs the development of its society structures, and how society interacts. These type of developments are often referred to as “soft processes” and include the following integrated multi-programme local development model aspects, Rural Social Scheme, TUS, Better Energy Warmer Home Scheme, Rural Recreation, Rural Bus, Local Training Initiatives to name but a few. These deliveries are done through leveraging funding from other Agencies like the HSE and FAS or VEC, and are provided in the Community where the need is identified. Community development officers from the LDC would facilitate the integration in communities and work with removing barriers encountered by minority groups. These type of basic training programmes would not be delivered by the main education bodies and are essentially the road map for those most disadvantaged in areas to get back to a level whereby they would be able to progress through the normal education courses available and actively participate in society. The other major problem identified by communities in recent meetings was the fact that the local knowledge developed over the past twenty three or more years would effectively be lost. The strategic
planning process presently done by LDC would be transferred to the Local Authority and would be based on the City/ County wide boundaries and not on the natural areas of development. The transfer of LDC administration funds into Local Authority administration funds would create an additional more costly layer of administration and bureaucracy. It will result in the loss of local autonomy, representation, resources, skills, input and expertise in the decision making, strategic planning, and delivery of a range of economic social and local development programmes. This will also have a major effect on the active citizenship and volunteerism presently experienced in the current format of delivery of these programmes. Remember once these Companies are disbanded then they are gone forever. Our Communities are far more important than the envisaged power struggle of Councillors and City/County Managers. Local Authorities had the opportunities in the past to look after communities that were disadvantaged but they failed miserably in their attempts to do so. If the present system is not broken why change it. Europe looks at the Irish model of delivery of these programmes and hold them up as the model to be used by others. Throughout Europe there are different models of delivery and the one proposed by the Government is seen to be less than desirable by Europe. So the burning question is why is this been proposed?. Could the simple answer be that the distribution of these funds should go to the populated areas and not to the disadvantaged areas? After all when the distribution of the funds become politically motivated, ask yourself the question, where are the votes to be got?
Bottom Dog May Day 2013
ONE SOLID MAN BY NICK RABBITTS
NO man embodies the spirit of the trade union movement in Limerick quite like Shamie Quinn. Thomondgate man Shamie, a plasterer and Slater by trade, has been at the forefront of local industry since the tender age of 16, working on big building projects across the city. He has been a respected trade union figure in that time too, holding a variety of positions, including in his own the Operative Plasterers and Allied Trades Society (the plasterers union). And since the untimely death in 1997 of Jim Kemmy, Shamie has been the president of the Mechanic‟s Institute, the focal point of the craft trades movement in Limerick. A genial man, Shamie tells me before our interview that he does not understand why he has been picked for this key interview in the Bottom Dog publication. But the reasoning soon becomes clear, as he effortlessly rolls out stories of Limerick‟s best - and in some cases worst - days. Born in 1941 to Esther and Charlie, Shamie was raised in School House Lane, beside the family of one Frank McCourt. He would later live in St Joseph‟s Street, then Rhebogue, and Thomondgate, his home place of 32 years. In 1953, Shamie left Limerick with his father, due to the lack of job opportunities in the city. He would attend St Edmund‟s School in Hammersmith, up to the age of 14, before taking on his first job, working at the Ideal Homes Exhibition in Earl‟s Court, West London. Fortunately, he returned to Limerick two years later, and this is where his career - and life - really began to take off. He secured a job with the famous Lanigan Bros building and contracting firm, based in Carr Street. “Two brothers owned the company: Dinny Lanigan and Sean Lanigan. Dinny was a famous hurler for Limerick. Those two never got married,” he said. Lanigan Bros built a number of famous buildings across Limerick„s northside, including Our Lady of the Rosary Church, as well as a lot of the area‟s housing. But Shamie was set to work slating the roof and maintaining the buildings at St John‟s Hospital in Limerick. He admitted he had felt “nearly adopted” by the two brothers. “They nearly adopted me. I remember working out the Ennis Road. They owned all that property, around the Westfields. All the property out there was built by Lanigans,” Shamie recalled. He worked for Lanigans until he was 19 - but then sought a move to a rival builder Dineen‟s in the hope of more money ahead of his marriage to Eileen. Shamie also worked on a number of key projects in Limerick, including new houses around the North Circular Road. He returned to Lanigan Bros after a ten year absence. At that time, the company had fallen into the hands of an Eddie O‟Brien, who had inherited the firm from the brothers. Despite the change, he said they were still great employers. However, his introduction to Limerick‟s trade union movement came a lot earlier than this. At the age of 16, he used to attend the old Mechanic‟s Institute building on the corner of Hartstonge Street and Pery Square to pay his dues for himself, and his father Charlie. Access to the trades was far morregulated back then: you could only be-
Photo by Mike Cowhey come a craftsman if your father was also a craftsman.“We went up to „the room‟ as it was called. I paid my father‟s dues first, and then when I became a member, Jackie Flynn was the secretary. You would not get into the union, unless your father was there,” he explains. Back then, senior union figures were considered “elitist” by Shamie - standing separately to rank-and-file workers, and often wearing suits to jobs which involved manual labour. The Mechanic‟s Institute remains the most important building for trade unions in Limerick. It still today houses the offices of the Building and Allied Trade Union, the Plasters Union, the Painters Union, and the Carpenters Union and the Limerick Council of Trade Unions. But there was so much more to the building back then too, with musical entertainment, and recreation.“Tom and Paschal started here, the Boherbuoy Band played here when their centre in Edward Street was knocked. It used to be packed. The Limerick Pipe Band used to play here. A lot of people used to engage with this place,” Shamie explained. Throughout his life, the importance of the unions - in particular, his own plasterers union - is evident: “In my life, I have known nothing else, only the unions,” he tells me. The first time he was pitched into battle with an employer was when Lanigan Bros refused to move to a five day week and continued to impose the five-and-ahalf day working week on its staff, meaning they were forced to work on Saturday mornings. “There were strikes going on all over the country. There was a guy in the 1913 lockout, who was the chairman of the groups, Mr Mulhall. He was the leader of the building unions at the time. He decided we would support the bid for a five-day week. We were fighting and campaigning for it,” he recalled. Unfortunately, Lanigan Bros, the biggest building employer in Limerick at the time would not budge. The impasse caused a major falling out with the company refusing to employ local masons again, leading to the advent of concrete-built homes in the city. Despite a testing relationship with the firm, Shamie insists he has fond memories of working there. “The two Lanigan brothers were tough. But it was easy for me there: I could easily do what I liked there and they would not say anything to me. I was
never unemployed there, because when they had no work, they had a joinery shop in Carr Street. I would go in there and clean out around the machines. They always had a job for me,” he said. Securing decent pay and working conditions for craft workers was always Shamie‟s main goal. Ultimately, this is because he is a family man at heart. He married childhood sweetheart Eileen at the age of 19 - three years after they first met. It was she whom he described as “my strongest member of my union”. “I would be sitting at home, and there might be 200 to 300 fellas out on strike on the streets. Eileen would say to me: get out and fight - just get out. Do you want me to go back to living on ten pound a week - just get out!” Sadly, Shamie‟s „right hand woman‟ passed away four years ago. He has four children - three daughters, Eithne, Suzanne and Michelle, and one son, Brian, who is an organiser for the plasterers union. Family is important to Shamie - both his biological family, and those he counts as his second family in the Trades Council. In various disputes through the years, workers knew they could call on his support at short notice. Many building sites were shut down due to noncompliant employers here. “We used to close down nearly one site a week. At that time, we had the strongest union. We made several demands, and we got them. Otherwise, we would close them down. If [an employer] did not give them what they wanted, they could say they would have Mikey Mack [Mike McNamara] or Shamie Quinn there in the morning. Employers were worried: they used to say - keep him away,” he laughed. As for Jim Kemmy, Shamie admitted he had a somewhat fractious relationship with the late Labour TD. He refers to the two time mayor of Limerick mostly by surname throughout our interview. The pair began as heavyweights in Limerick‟s union movement, with Mr Kemmy working as a bricklayer for the Corporation (now Limerick City Council). But Shamie felt that following Mr Kemmy‟s election first to City Hall, then to Dail Eireann, he lost his edge. The pair had a major difference in terms of policy, which sadly divided them until the eve of Mr Kemmy‟s untimely death. “He wanted a different type of employment. He wanted no-price work, which is longer more stable employment. I said we should try and get more money. I
thought: „these guys have loads of money. All we do is stand together, and they will have to give it to us. We worked at things differently at this stage,” he explained. Although Shamie admitted there was always a respect between the pair, he felt Jim took the side of the bosses in many disputes. This left their relationship, in Kemmy‟s later years, as “completely different, upside down.” “He had gone soft,” he added. When Brian Callanan was researching Mr Kemmy‟s autobiography ahead of its 2011 release, Shamie said he took no part in the research, because he could not think of much to say about his compatriot. But Messrs Quinn and Kemmy did settle their differences in 1997 - over a gift of a book and a bottle of potin in St James‟ Hospital, Dublin. Taking up the story, Shamie tells of how he was in Lahinch the day before going to visit Mr Kemmy in hospital, where he was dying from cancer. “We were walking through the village, and I passed a bookshop. I saw a book: „The Butcher Boy‟. I thought I would bring it with me up to Dublin: he would love that. The next day, we were in Dublin, at St James‟ Hospital. I walked in, and saw Jim with his sister,” he said, “I went in the door, and Jim was sitting on the bed. I went over, and said to him „Well, Kemmy, how‟s it going?‟ I got you an old book. I gave him the book, and he stood up, and he put his arms around me, and he started crying, and I started crying too.” After this, he gave Jim a bottle of potin, told him to “take a slurp of it when he got a chance”. It was only days later when Jim Kemmy lost his fight against cancer. Earlier in his career, Shamie was involved in the Labour movement. But this was when the party still carried remnants of its founders Connolly and Larkin. It was around the time the party‟s wish was for the “sixties to be socialist”. Locally, Shamie observed another former Labour mayor of Limerick, Stevie Coughlan in action in a special room in the Mechanic‟s Institute, as well as former leader Brendan Corish on a national level. “I remember they would be smoking pipes, and playing cards. They would let you come in and sit down with them,” he recalled. But he noticed a shift to the right of what was traditionally the working man‟s party. Perhaps he was ahead of his time somewhat, given what we have seen now Labour are in government. He said: “There were very conservative people in there. They went to work in their suits.” Shamie became disillusioned with the Labour party following a recommendation made at a party conference in the 1950s that they go into government. After that, the Limerick Trades Council were his first, his last, his everything. As for today‟s Labour party, the junior partner in a Fine Gael-led coalition, he has two words for them: “a disgrace”. Shamie retired from the building trade in 2005 in order to care for his wife - but only after one, final, notable victory. Like many tradesmen in the early part of this century, Shamie worked for prominent developer Ger O‟Rourke on some of his many interests. But in 2003, after 2,000 building workers walked off their various building sites, due to conditions of employment, a pitched battle ensued. Mr O‟Rourke attempted to get his workers to sign a paper promising there would be no further walkout. Some workers signed it - but Shamie took action, demanding to see the paper, before ripping it up, with the words
„f**k you and your paper‟. Then there came further dramatic moments when Mr O‟Rourke drove up to the picket line and sacked one worker from each of the different trade‟s, a bricklayer, a carpenter, a plasterer and a general operative. To the amusement of the workers this became known as “The Drive by sacking” In protest at this, a commune of tents was then pitched outside the developers offices, which were then located in Dooradoyle. Even when the dispute was settled, workers were refused to be allowed back on site for a week. Mr McNamara says this bitter dispute saw the Trades Council take a different approach. “We started to study the law and use it back against the employers. Before it, people would not bother. After that, we had to be just as prepared as the employers were,” he said. Ultimately, the union leaders secured improved terms and conditions. Shamie has had a number of jobs throughout his career. He has served on the committee of the mechanic‟s institute, as well as being the national vice-president of the Plasters Union. A member of the national executive for 40 years, he is the chairman of the Plasterers Branch located at the Mechanic‟s Institute. A busy man. But it was his elevation to the presidency of the Mechanic‟s Institute following Mr Kemmy‟s death which is far and away the highlight of his career. It is a job he has done with dignity and pride for more than 15 years. These days, he admits he spends half of his life in Hartstonge Street - “it is my second home,” he admits. “The Mechanics is my life. I live for it. Every day I would be here. If Mike wants me to go somewhere, he would phone me and talk to me. If he needs something to be done, or he needs to set up something to get money for the mechanics, I would tell him „Grand I would do it‟,” he said. “Everything came from here - both the Labour movement and the Trade Union movement in the city and county of Limerick,” he said, recalling, “I remember when I came home from the old Mechanic‟s Institute after the nights, there would be a smell off you: that would be the smell of the mechanic‟s! I was told to throw my coat outside the door. This was when people were smoking at meetings, as there would be no ban,” Shamie recalls. The Mechanic‟s Institute moved from Lower Glentworth street to number 6 Pery Square in 1922, when the delegate board purchased their own building. The long building in which they are now located was built in 1940‟s to provide for an assembly hall for larger meetings, then in 1972 the corner building had to be sold off as it was falling into disrepair and there were no funds available for its upkeep. This move was one of Shamie‟s proudest legacies. The money they took in from Friday night events was reinvested into the new building. Now, it is hoped the Mechanics Institute will see yet another lease of life, with the creation of an educational facility, to bring in training, upskilling, and the development of workers skills. Shamie Quinn knew everyone who moved in the trade union world in Limerick. But since he is a humble man, and would never think of blowing his own trumpet, Mike McNamara, president of the Trades Council sums him up in these few words: “He is a man who was not afraid to get out and do the work, and mitigate the consequences afterwards.”
Bottom Dog May Day 2013
The Lessons of the Limerick Soviet By Pat O’ Connor
The first few decades of the 20th Century marked an intense period of working class and socialist struggle. At a time when the aristocracy and barons of industry called on the masses it employed to spill their blood in the pursuit of ruling class interest in the battle fields of Europe, the working class developed a new sense of confidence. This was represented in the emergence of a strong Trade Union Movement. In the aftermath of the Great War, uprisings occurred in Germany, Hungary, Austria and Italy. Of course the Russian revolution of 1917 set an example that the workers of Britain and Ireland followed in their struggle for the forty hour week. It was against this background that the events that became known as the Limerick Soviet began. The detail is eloquently outlined in several contributions in this publication. What emerges from this struggle though is the linkage between the social economic and national struggles. In 1919 despite Britain‟s protestations that it was the main defender of „small nations‟ it occupied all of Ireland with an iron fist. In a secret document issued by the Royal Irish Constabulary in March 1919 Ireland was described as being …’unquestionably in a highly inflammable condition … at no time was there more urgent necessity for the presence of an overpowering military force’. This declaration which was not for public consumption clearly outlines the role of Britain, an occupying force, in its relationship with the Irish populace. No surprise then that young Bobby Byrne was arrested in January for his Republican activities. Bobby as well as being a member of the Irish Volunteers was a leading figure in the Post Office Workers‟ Union. His subsequent hunger strike and attempted rescue which led to his death in a cross fire at the City Home hospital opened up a series of events that could have changed the course of Irish history. The declaration of a state of emergency by the British Government caused the trade unions and Republican activists to unite in a situation of Dual Power. The Limerick Council of Trade Unions co-ordinated all of the activities that would normally be carried out by capitalist commerce. They made their own bread printed their own money policed their own communities to such an extent that there
was a marked decrease in petty crime and no incidents of looting were reported. The Strike Committee also issued its own publication and the Workers’ Bulletin of April 18th. 1919 reported “ tis true that the British soldiers have been asked in the past to do the dirty work of their capitalist bosses ; men who enlisted „to fight for small nationalities‟ have been forced to dragoon their fellow workers , of course in the interests of freedom moryah…”. This passage captures the twinning of the National and Social struggle underpinning the imperialist and anti working class nature of the British occupation. This is in the same genre of Connolly‟s ideas when he declared that „only the Irish working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland’. 1910.The Limerick Soviet in its 2 week epic struggle was a microcosm of how the Irish struggle for freedom could succeed, whereby as Connolly prophesised working people could be the only class to deliver it. However, then as now the leadership and support required was not forthcoming. The Limerick General Strike of 1919 came to an end because the Labour leadership vacillated in its support. The Catholic Church through its Bishop Dr. Hallinan used the extreme suggestion of the Labour Executive to evacuate the city as a signal to unite with the Mayor in calling for an end to the Strike. In addition, the Railwaymen‟s refusal to back the Strike sounded a further death knell! Of course, the Chamber of Commerce also leant its comments as the Strike petered out adding the perennial chant that strikes always cause hardship! The memory of the
Limerick Soviet and its historic lessons were ignored in the early decades after 1919. In April 1940 there was a wreath laying ceremony attended by Bobby Byrnes‟ IRA comrades which was addressed by the then Mayor Dan Bourke. In the seventies Jim Kemmy and Raynor Lysaght wrote extensively on the period albeit from differing positions. In the same decade Liam Cahill wrote the definitive Forgotten Revolution on the Soviet. Also in the 70‟s Myles Breen wrote the play A Flame in Spring which ran for several days at the Belltable while a play was staged in the Ark Tavern in Corbally giving the perspective from the funeral of the RIC man killed in the City Home shoot out. There is now a rich tapestry of documents and technology on the historic fortnight in Limerick‟s history. In 1989 in Joe Harrington‟s mayoralty the 70th. anniversary was commemorated on a plaque on Thomond Bridge. The 80 th. and 90th. anniversaries were marked in the city by the Limerick Soviet Commemoration Committee. John Gilligan as Mayor in 2009 declared open the Robert Byrne Memorial Park on Clancy Strand. Mike McNamara President of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions has assembled a treasure of memorabilia from the period which can be viewed in the Mechanics Institute. He was also instrumental along with the Commemoration Committee in organising the newly instituted annual commemoration to the grave of Robert Byrne in Mount Saint Lawrence.
Bottom Dog May Day 2013
Can The Decline In Labour Support Be Halted? … BY Joe Kemmy It has been obvious for some time that there has been a sharp decline in support for the Labour party compared to the last election. Recent polls coupled with the poor showing of the Labour candidate in the by-election in Meath would appear to have set alarm bells ringing in the ears of backbench TD‟s if we are to believe what we read in the newspapers. It is interesting that a very poor showing in an election that Labour had little or no chance of winning should be responsible for a number of TD‟s and ordinary members questioning the policies being pursued by the government and in particular the role being played by Labour. The election was always going to be a battle between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael so perhaps the fact that Labour trailed in behind Sinn Fein and a candidate representing a new unknown grouping in 5th place was the cause of some surprise. The reaction to the poor vote was interesting, with some people in the party suggesting we "were not getting our message across" and others saying that because it was a two horse race it was always going to be difficult gain support for the Labour candidate in the circumstances. Whatever the reason, all are agreed it certainly was disappointing. I am not convinced we failed to get our message across on the contrary I believe voters fully understood our message. Voters simply did not like it and many felt that Labour was now preaching a message totally different to the message preached at the last election. The promises that were made and quickly broken will haunt Labour for a long time and the glib throwaway comment made by Minister Rabbitte on the week in politics "isn‟t this the kind of thing you tend to do during an election campaign", when referring to promises made by Labour only serves to make people cynical and lose faith in politics and politicians. When Eamon Gilmore led the party to a great victory at the last election, winning 37 seats things were looking good for the party. Everyone was aware that there were difficult times ahead and it was known that people would have to make sacrifices. As long as there was fairness it was possible that Labour could bring people with them as they sought to get the country back on its feet again. Some of us anticipated the reforms Eamon talked about and eagerly awaited them. I was heartened by a speech he made when he urged ministers to stay within the cap when appointing advisors, you can imagine my surprise when I read that an advisor to Minister Burton was being paid €35000 over the cap, other advisors to Labour ministers are also paid over and above the recommended payments and it is a pity that Eamon Gilmore did not stop these payments or insist that ministers pay the extra themselves. The salaries and pensions of TD‟s and ministers increased by large amounts when Fianna Fail were in power and there is no doubt whatsoever that they preferential treatment given to members of the Dail and Seanead should be the starting place for any cuts. Ministers in France receive €50000 less than Irish ministers and we probably have the highest paid politicians in Europe. The pay, perks and pensions paid to Irish politicians is a scandal and I expected the Labour party to bring pay and pensions under control. A table published by the Irish Times on October 30th shows that politicians in Ireland have huge salaries and pensions and it is obvious that the Labour Party failed to make any significant attempt to deal with the privileged position of politicians in this country. The table shows the lump sum Minister Lump sum Pension Per Year ministers receive in Brendan Howlin €139,008 €94,298 the first column and Eamon Gilmore €139,008 €83,029 the amount Ruari Quinn per annum €139,008 €92,298 they will Pat Rabbitte €139,008 €80,807 receive on retirement. Joan Burton €118,157 €73,857 Politicians elected
before 2004 can receive their Pension at age 50 and those elected after 2004 must wait until they are 65. Junior ministers will receive lump sums of up to €120,000 approx depending on length of service and pensions of €50,000. An article written by Sean McCairthaigh on November 9th in the Irish Examiner claimed that Irish taxpayers "are footing an annual €9.65 million pension bill for 111 former ministers. Figures supplied by the Dept. of Public Expenditure and Reform reveal 35
former senior politicians are paid combined ministerial and TD‟s pensions worth over €100,000 gross each year. They include over a dozen members of Fianna Fail-led governments which sanctioned large increases to politicians pay and pensions during their term of office. A further 68 former office holders receive pensions worth in excess of€50,000.All former ministers will receive the combined pensions for the rest of their lives. In total, the 111 former ministers will (were) paid pensions worth €9,653,365 in 2012-an average of €86,967 per retired politician, out of that amount, a sum of €582,137 will be deducted for the pension levy at an effective rate of 6.4%.The highest earners are Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahearn, who are largely blamed for overseeing policies which led to the collapse of the economy. After deductions for the pension levy the two former Fianna Fail leaders receive annual payments of €150,163. Many past office holders such as John Bruton, Michael McDowell and Alan Dukes, continue to draw their state pensions, despite earning six figure sums from current jobs. Former minister, Ray Burke, who was found by the Planning Tribunal to have received corrupt payments, has an annual pension of €110,943while former EU commissioner Padraig Flynn, who was also deemed to be involved in planning corruption by the Tribunal, gets an annual pension of €92,581".Public Expenditure And Reform Minister
Brendan Howlin complained recently about misconceptions that higher paid public service pensioners were being unduly protected by the government. He also indicated the government believes it is legally constrained from tackling the issue apart from taxation. The minister did not go into detail of the constraints, but he apparently is not constrained from pushing through legislation to cut workers‟ wages, in the wake of Croke Park 2. The above list is by no means complete, Charlie McCreevy, Dick Spring, also receive huge pensions as does Peter Sutherland, whose personal wealth is estimated at €128 million and is topped up to the tune of €50,000 by Irish taxpayers and former presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese get more than €330,000 per year between them from Irish taxpayers as well as the other salaries and pensions they may have. The Labour party was not to blame for the massive increase in salaries and pensions brought in by Fianna Fail. But Labour members and supporters are correct to expect that something is done about. Many of us have no desire to read about the huge pension pots accrued by Labour ministers as we try to convince voters that Labour stands for fairness and equality. The huge salaries and pensions that go to politicians is paid for by Irish people who can hardly keep a roof over their heads and are facing an ever increasing raft of new taxes on a shrinking pay packet, if they have a job. The silence of the party on the Shorthall affair was difficult to stomach for many members as they watched Roisin Shorthall being hung out to dry with hardly a single question being asked. It was left to two Fine Gael members, Leo Varadker and Lucinda Creighton to suggest that more clarity was needed from Reilly, of course there was no clarity and labour ministers stuck their collective heads in the sand while Reilly continues to dismantle the health service and waiting lists continue to grow, up by 40% in some cases in the last two years. More silence followed on the penalty point‟s controversy and I did not hear any labour spokesperson utter a single word of surprise. There was some criticism of Ming from Jan O‟Sullivan but it is probable that many more TD‟s had penalty points wiped out and people are puzzled that Labour seems unconcerned that some citizens would appear to qualify for preferential treatment. The party is also strangely quiet on the Lowry affair, only Alan Kelly, his constituency colleague calling on him to comment on the serious allegations made against him. I, like many others expected real reforms when Labour won 37 seats at the last election. We were able to convince voters to switch to labour for the first time. We had an expectation that Eamon Gilmore would be the driving force in a reformist and fair government. There is nothing just or fair about a government that pays its ministers more in one year than a person on a disability allowance or a pensioner would receive in 20 years. There is no reason for a government to award itself massive lump sums and pensions while expecting hardworking men and women to exist on a fraction of ministers pay. How can people of limited means pay a property tax? Waivers should be introduced for those who simply cannot pay. Time is running out for labour and the party must be seen to represent its traditional support base. It was good to see Eamon Gilmore stand up to Phil Hogan on the water charges issue when he stated that charges would not be introduced until water meters were installed. This was in direct contradiction to what Phil Hogan said, when he announced charges would come in next January. I am not sure if the slide in Labour support can be halted, it is evident from opinion polls that people expect more from labour and are not very happy with the performance of the party to date. It is true that labour inherited a broken economy as we are continually being told, however in attempting to fix the economy we must make certain that we do not tax people to the extent that they cannot turn on the heat, or put food on the table or clothe their children. Taxes must be fair and one‟s ability to pay must be taken into account. Cuts must be biggest at the top and politicians must lead the way and bring their salaries, expenses, and pensions to an acceptable level. Failure to do this will have serious consequences for the Labour party and it is the duty of all Labour party members to try to bring about the changes necessary to avoid a possible electoral disaster.
Bottom Dog May Day 2013
It is just my opinion… BY NICK GUDGE
Despite all the media hype, the general comprehension of Ireland‟s problem, (as opposed to the symptoms of the problem,) remains limited. Consequently a solution to our current financial plight remains slim to none (and, as our movies tell us, Slim‟s out of town!) Even worse, the likelihood of this type of catastrophe reoccurring in the next generation looks ominously high to me: more probable than possible. I see there are three truly significant underlying problems. These problems can be described as imbalances between two competing forces and, while related, are not the same, each requiring a separate but related solution. The first is the imbalance between the value that free market capitalism brings to an economy (in the form of innovation, job creation and growth stimulation,) and the inability of government to regulate such capitalism so that the likelihood of the type of rampant materialism clearly still evident in Ireland today, (that at regular intervals destroys small open market economies like Ireland‟s economy,) is minimised. Without adequate and ongoing regulation and an acceptance that too much growth is as big a problem as too little, our situation is destined to repeat itself. I call this problem „The imbalance between capitalism and social protection.’ The second problem concerns the rights of individual citizens to determine their own direction and the rights and abilities of those appointed by society to restrain that direction. While we widely accept the idea that restraints are needed to protect the weaker and poorer elements of our society and that some forms of social equalisation improve our society, putting school teachers and inappropriately experienced civil servants as the bulwark of restraint against multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires leads to only one likely result: inappropriate, inadequate and unenforced restraints. Failing to punish transgressions (mostly in the form of corruption) to the same degree that transgressions are rewarded, (i.e. those who undertake corrupt actions or actions that intend to corrupt should face bankruptcy and the removal of all assets including pensions into a National Social Budget not withstanding any criminal prosecution.) Society is reliant on a small group of individuals to create and maintain restraints in an evolutionary spiral of development. Those who lead this process must have a proven understanding and track record in this social necessity as well as the tools and staff to comprehend new and existing restraints and how they balance other elements in our society and economy. I call this problem - „The imbalance between an individual’s rights and those of society generally‟ The third major problem relates to our culture, the opinions and the expectations of the population and our unwillingness to accept simple cause and effect. We want one rule generally and another rule where it applies to ourselves. We want to be the exception, exempted, not have to pay if we can get away with it. We might want this for our friends and family too. In Irish society, avoiding tax is virtually a badge of honour. Our politicians do it, our top business people do it. We have set up a financial services centre to encourage institutions from all around the world to do it. We can hardly expect that if this is a cultural norm then we should expect those at the higher echelons not to do it. We can hardly complain when our civil service recommends austerity to gain a more balanced budget and then allows its most senior elements to avoid contributing. I call this problem the „The imbalance between personal responsibility and social responsibility.
The Imbalance between Capitalism and Social Protection From the point of view of capitalism, „rampant materialism‟ is to be encouraged and given free rein as it generates more sales and greater income. From a taxation point of view this is also to be encouraged as it provides greater income taxes and VAT receipts. Clearly the significant minority of individuals that have benefited hugely from this „grab what I can and youse can fend for yourself‟ including bankers, builders politicians and senior civil servants, remain undaunted. The attitude of „keep what we‟ve got and it will all blow over eventually‟ is prevalent in many places The problem is that history shows us that unreined capitalism leads to unsustainable growth and inevitable collapse. The solution is that capitalism is given its „free market‟ remit within specific constraints. These restraints act to balance or limit those factors that will lead to unsustainable growth, like wage inflation and inappropriate use of capital or other resources that will lead an economy into significant imbalance. It is an overall point of view that provides for a balanced prospect of more limited but sustainable growth. Since the 1980‟s many of these restraints have been reduced, ignored, outmoded and overturned. Clearly the remaining constraints have failed and both the economy and society generally has had to pay dire consequences. Examining these „constraints‟ is worth a few minutes of our time. Where any single element of an economy become overly large, they can significantly influence the entire economy. In Ireland these were property and Finance. It is business, economic and financial certainty as history over the past 100 years has repeatedly shown, that growth beyond a certain level (more than 5%) is both unsustainable and if maintained for an intermediate time of 5 or more years leads to collapse. Boom and bust are coupled more frequently than politics and corruption. Where our banks were growing at 20% per year, alarm bells should have been ringing in the Central Bank, the Regulator and the Government (as well as the bank shareholders,) instead there were congratulations, extraordinary bonuses and burgeoning salaries. The very people who should have been acting as a balancing factor were themselves contributing to the imbalance. Unless we understand this and ensure that this cannot happen again, the very nature of greed and selfishness will ensure that it reoccurs. The heart of this problem is that those who take the risk should received the rewards for success and they must also suffer the costs of failure. The shareholders took significant losses for their failure to ensure their directors governed effectively. The mortgage holders who bought at inappropriate prices and took mortgages that were unsustainable are now paying the price in the form of personal insolvency. Unlike these consumer groups, those who were involved in failing to provide and enforce social restraint and protection have not suffered to the same degree and many have not suffered at all. In fact it can be argued that they have benefited from substantial bonuses and pensions. Only if the price is paid for failure is the likelihood of failure decreased. Those with specific responsibility, both fiduciary (i.e. directors and managers,) and regulatory (civil servants in the Dept. of Finance, central bankers and regulator as well as the Minister and those on the relevant finance sub-committees, must bear the burden of loss, including all previously received bonuses, salary increases, pension benefits up to and including their entire pension and bankruptcy. Only then will those who take up these responsibilities in the future, (along with the substantial rewards that accompany these positions,) consider more carefully their ability to undertake these roles and the consequences of failing to fulfil their responsibilities. If this requires changing our legislation and/or constitution then we need to do this. In my mind enabling these effects retroactively is the most effectively way to ensure that they sit upper most in the minds of those currently in place. To work most effectively on behalf of society capitalism must be given clear and unequivocal restraints, without which anything can and has happened. Expecting those who operate capitalism to be party to these constraints is naïve and will eventually lead to disaster.
The Imbalance between an Individual’s Rights and Those of Society Generally It is widely accepted that a balance is needed between the rights of individuals (politically espoused by those considered „right of centre,‟) and the rights of society generally (politically espoused by those considered „left of centre.‟) The existing balance between these two sets of rights is considered „the centre‟ by its adherents, regardless of where exactly that balance point is. While we don‟t like to think of ourselves in these terms, compared with other European democracies Ireland is politically a „a right of centre‟ country. Historically we have taken our moral values from the Church and the USA, arguably the two most right wing significant political and economic forces in the world. The collective rights of the population in Ireland are invariably subsumed to the rights of a minority of individuals or groups of individuals (politicians and policy advisers and influencers,) who can influence the decision making process. In Ireland this process of influence decision making occurs regularly in an immoral if not an illegal way. We accept politicians who act illegally and immorally and we re-elected them. We punish politicians who act in society‟s better interest but against the interests of their immediate electorate. We accept civil servants who mismanage and get rewarded. Only in Ireland are directors who fail in their financial responsibilities paid immense largesse. Where is the balance? Clearly it has moved considerably in favour of the interests of individuals and away from the best interests of society or the country. Unfortunately the very people who should accept the responsibility to address this imbalance (politicians and civil servants,) are in that group that would most like it to remain as it is. Even more unfortunately those who might change the politicians (i.e. the voters,) persist in re-electing those they think will act in the voters best interest rather than our country and our society‟s best interest. Only by breaking the link between national politics and constituency politics will change occur. The media has made much of the idea of „moral hazard‟ i.e. that failing to punish someone for making a mistake simply encourages them to make the same mistake again. (This is a rule that appears not to apply to the majority of financial institutions who „cannot be allowed to fail‟.) I dislike the term moral hazard (in the sense it is widely used in Ireland,) because there seems little morality involved. People and institutions who either borrow or lend money must accept the real risk that they may not get it back and that there are consequences to not paying it back. Only then will banks and financial institutions undertake an appropriate level of risk assessment e.g. in the provision of mortgages, so that only an appropriate amount of funding is provided in any circumstance. This must apply both to capital (lending and borrowed amounts) and to responsibility (directors and managers.) Those who are paid to take such responsibility must carry the burden when their decisions are inappropriate as discussed previously. Those who operate to drive the balance between the rights of individuals and society out of balance (in either direction) must bear the consequences of their actions in a real sense. It must cost them and cost them dearly, be they capitalists or communists, politicians and developers or union leaders. Those in responsibility must bear a higher price for their failure to act responsibly in maintaining their balance. The argument that what they were doing was in their best interests is not sufficient and ours laws need to (and largely do) reflect this. We must enforce these laws stringently as a deterrent to future wrong doing. We must begin by applying the full weight of the law to all those who have failed in their responsibilities to maintain this balance in Ireland‟s recent past. This will not prevent all failure. Failure is a necessary part of risk taking. However it will mitigate the amount of failure (loss) with the amount of success (profit) as any business and individual should. This means that institutions are prevented from meeting those desires of the population or of individuals which are likely to lead to unreasonable or systemic failure.
Published on Apr 18, 2013