What would be a fitting tribute?

There could not be a greater opportunity to revitalise an ailing trade union movement than the commemoration and celebration of the 1913 Lock-out. We have seen, and commented on, how the state, in conjunction with parts of the movement, has initiated its commemoration; and we are unfortunately expecting a let-down in collective bargaining legislation, as Richard Bruton has been clear in his intention to reform the previous failed legislation and keep it within Ireland’s commitment to attracting foreign investment.

But how could the movement do justice to the men and women of the Lock-out?

Firstly, there would have to be a common understanding of what exactly the Lock-out was and where it came from. This is lacking at present within the movement.

The Lock-out was not just an industrial-relations struggle over union recognition. It was class struggle over a vision of how and for whom society should be organised, pitting against each other the two most prominent political fronts of the opposing classes in Ireland, William Martin Murphy and his employers’ groups on the one hand and Larkin, Connolly and the ITGWU on the other. It was also intrinsically of, and itself influenced, the rebirth of the national struggle that had been developing and that Connolly brilliantly saw in conjunction with the class struggle as two sides of the same coin.

The Lock-out placed class at the centre of Irish politics but also saw the formation of the Irish Citizen Army, which would play a central role in the Rising three years later, and would see the ITGWU, and many union members, play an important role in the popular revolutionary struggle for independence and sovereignty.

Simply put, the Lock-out was class struggle out in the open, related to the global changes occurring in capitalism and, in particular, in Ireland’s position within British imperialism. In that sense, the Lock-out was not only a national event.

This is the deeper understanding of the Lock-out that is required first for the union movement to appropriately recognise and pay tribute to this historic and hugely relevant event.

Secondly—and only if the point above is recognised—the formal movement can lead a national class awakening on a par with those times. The class nature of the struggle in 1913 should be recognised and celebrated as working-class pride and confidence in itself. This is a long way from the collaborationist and corporatist ideology of “partnership” but something that is necessary for revitalising the movement and shifting the balance of power in Ireland towards labour and working people.

To avoid the accusation of naïveté, we acknowledge that this will not happen overnight, and no-one should expect this; but resources and efforts need to be directed now towards class-conscious political education and organising. This centenary is the perfect opportunity for a willing trade union movement to do this. It can be done through shop-stewards’ courses, lunchtime seminars and weekend schools but also through union papers, web sites, annual events and social media and by linking with the many groups, parties and campaigns that push class-consciousness.

While talks of mergers, shared services and assets abound, this will do nothing to strengthen the movement, as Connolly pointed out, if it is not accompanied by a revolutionary ideology.

And finally, the movement should draw attention to the obvious and striking similarities that exist today and use the resonance that the Lock-out still has in working-class communities to build genuine campaigns to challenge imperialism in its modern guise and to fight on the street and in the work-place for democracy in all aspects of our lives—political, industrial, economic, cultural, and social. This should include marches and demonstrations but needs to move far beyond the usual “Grand Old Duke of York” demos and build a united class-conscious movement with a vision of socialism.