The Cork Harbour Soviet

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is delighted to welcome local historian Luke Dineen back to the Spirit of Mother Jones festival in 2014. Luke is 24 years old and is presently working on a PhD Thesis in UCC on the labour movement in Cork and Derry from 1917 to 1923. Luke gave a presentation on the 1909 Cork Lockout, a precursor of the Dublin Lockout, at the 2013 festival which stimulated some very interesting debate. In his presentation at the 2014 festival and summer school Luke will relate the story of the Cork Harbour Soviet of 1921.

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Robert Day (1885-1949). Photo from oireachtas.ie

In March 1920 at the height of the War of Independence in Cork, a Cork Corporation Cost of Living Commission was established by Lord Mayor Tomás Mac Curtáin to determine a proper living wage for Cork’s workers. In late September 1920 it reported that this wage was 70 shillings a week, rather more than most workers in the city received at this time. On 12 February 1921 it reiterated this.

Four days later, the Cork Harbour Board received a letter from the local ITGWU branch asking that the 70 shillings rate be put into effect by the Board. The Cork Harbour Board resisted implementing the wage for months and finally rejected the idea in June 1921.

Two months later, it rejected the claim again and a strike of the Board’s employees was declared. The Harbour Board, however, failed to realise that its refusal to grant this wage would lead to its workers seizing control of the Cork Custom House, where a red flag was flown and a soviet declared, in early September 1921.

The Harbour Board, traditionally a home of the city’s commercial elite, had a recent addition to its ranks – Bob Day, a trade union militant and the secretary of Cork’s ITGWU branch. Day, together with his close comrade William Kenneally, led the harbour workers in an endeavour that was reported as far away as New York.

The ‘Cork Harbour Soviet’ of 1921 of the 7th September existed for a very short time and is largely forgotten. Nevertheless, it revealed the place and militancy of workers in early 20th century Cork, the future position of the labour movement in Independent Ireland and, ultimately, the nature of the 1919-1923 Irish revolution itself.

The Cork Harbour Soviet of 7th September 1921 presentation by Luke will take place at the Firkin Crane on Wednesday 30th July.

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2 responses to “The Cork Harbour Soviet

  1. Bob Day was my paternal Grandfather. My father was Richard ‘Dick’ Day. Bob’s daughter Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Day passed away in April 2014.

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