Larkin laid to rest in state funeral

Saturday 31 August saw the state do its best to bury the soul and spirit of Larkinism through its official commemoration of the 1913 Lockout. While this was the official state event, there is no doubt it also had the support and the involvement of elements of the trade union leadership, although their level of involvement or control over the event is not clear.

Certainly this year has seen an array of excellent and worthwhile commemorations, in the form of new research, essays and books, new web sites, series of podcasts, radio debates, community television broadcasts, public meetings, events in local libraries, local history events and many more that reflect the resonance this heroic event has with working people today.

The state-led service (as this is what it felt like) failed to capture this mood. It deliberately had no connection with contemporary workers or struggles. It was deliberately apolitical. It did not celebrate Larkinism, because that would be to celebrate political, class-conscious, militant solidarity and trade unionism; that would be to celebrate a threat to the state itself.

The Lockout is less important as an industrial relations event than as the first time the working class in Ireland placed its demands at the centre and the heart of Irish politics and made itself the central actor. To celebrate that is to celebrate class struggle, something neither the state nor parts of the trade union movement are keen on, which could not avoid the political demands and challenges faced by working people today and the failure of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party to address these in any meaningful way. So they chose the safe and neutral option of wreath-laying, songs, readings, and re-enactments.

Even more disappointing, however, was the fact that G4S Security, a firm notorious for its use of precarious work and its horrendous prison conditions, is reported to have pulled from the crowd those daring to express a political view counter to those of Fine Gael or the Labour Party, having searched everyone on the way in—leaving the event with no need for people to dress as the DMP. Topped off with a VIP zone for the President, Fine Gael and Labour TDs, it left a feeling rather as if this was William Martin Murphy’s final victory over Larkin.

The state clearly sees the potential danger posed both by this commemoration and by those to come over the next decade. It sees the potential they have to mobilise and focus the anger and frustration of working people and to link the demands for better living and working conditions with the demands for sovereignty and control. This has set the tone for future state events: dull, disconnected, and unimaginative.

Crucially important for union activists to appreciate is that 20,000 workers do not bring themselves to the point of starvation for trade union recognition or for any pay claim or terms and conditions of employment. They go to such extremes for a political vision of society—socialism—that Larkin, Connolly and the unions involved represented. The Lockout was an intensely political event, pitting one vision of society against another, exposing the class contradictions within the national movement and radicalising what would later become the republican and socialist wing of it.

It is up to us, politically class-conscious trade unionists, to capture this mood and organise within our unions to reclaim the politics of Connolly and Larkin from those who seek to bury them.