Impressive Line-Up for Limerick Soviet 100

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Our best wishes to the Limerick Soviet 100 committee on their forthcoming events to mark the centenary of the Limerick Soviet, an uprising of around 14,000 workers in a city which then had a population of around 40,000 people.   The Limerick Soviet 100 committee has produced an impressive line up events for the festival which runs from 5th to 28th April.  The full brochure can be downloaded from their website here: Limerick Soviet 100

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Money issued during the Limerick Soviet

The Limerick Soviet came about during Ireland’s War of Independence (1919-1921) in the aftermath of the death of a key member of the Irish Republican Army who also happened to be a leading trade unionist in the city.  The reaction of the occupying British forces to the attempted rescue of Byrne led to the declaration of the city as a Special Military Area and draconian regulations were introduced including the insistence that all citizens carry permits and blocking many of them from getting to and from their places of work.  This forced the Limerick United Trades and Labour Council to react and on 14th April 1919 some 14,000 Limerick workers went on strike to protest against the restrictions.  The Strike Committee, led by carpenter John Cronin, took over the running of the city and began to organise and supervise the distribution of food, transport, communications and movement in the City and even printed its own currency during the period. The Limerick Soviet was born!

It promises to be a most interesting series of events.

James Connolly’s encounter with Mother Jones in New York

Our thanks to US Labour activist Saul Schniderman and Si Kahn for supplying an interesting article written by Professor L.A.O’Donnell from 1987 on the role of Irish emigrants who were active in the US Labour movement. Entitled “Irish Yeast in the Trade Unions” it was published in Talkin’ Union No 16 in September 1987 and makes reference to Mother Jones and James Connolly as well as Jim Larkin and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

The 1987 article as it appeared

The source for the description of the meeting with Mother Jones in 1908 in the Bronx is “Rebel Girl”, the autobiography of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.  Among the speakers at the 2019 summer school will be Lorraine Starkey who will discuss the life and work of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Irish Yeast in the Trade Unions

By L.A. O’Donnell

Irish immigrants escaping to the United States from famine and oppression in their native land came, not only to nourish their hunger, but also out of thirst for freedom and independence. Mostly poor, they filled the ranks of unskilled labor but quickly began organizing to protect their rights as workers and advance their wages and working conditions. From Terence Powderly of the Knights of Labor to George Meany of the AFL-CIO, Irish-Americans fought the good fight to secure their human rights and further the cause of social justice.

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Terence Powderly, leader of the Knights of Labor

Irish-Americans in the labor movement did not forget the cause of independence for their native land either. In 1920 they campaigned successfully for a resolution at the AFL convention demanding independence for Ireland. As recently as 1981, the Pennsylvania AFL-CO expressed “vigorous support for the cause of freedom in Northern Ireland” in a resolution adopted at its convention.

In Irish history, the movement for independence and the union movement were closely entwined. James Connolly and James Larkin were Ireland’s outstanding labor leaders as well as champions of Irish independence.  Connolly was executed for his important role in the Easter Week Revolt of 1916. Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, largest in present day Ireland. Connolly collaborated with him in his efforts to get the union firmly established.

Both men were born in Irish ghettos outside Ireland. Connolly in Edinburgh, from which he escaped at age fourteen by joining the British army for seven years, Larkin in Liverpool from which he escaped by going to sea. Both of them were gifted organizers who put their talents to work on both sides of the Atlantic.

James Connolly

James Connolly

Each of them spent considerable time in the United States attempting to raise money and campaigning for labor organizations and other causes. They found most trade unionists in America a good deal less radical than they themselves were. Connolly came over for a four month speaking tour in 1902 at the invitation of the Socialist Labor Party. He returned a year later for a seven year stay.

During his stay in America, Connolly brought his family over and scrounged a bare living at various jobs including one at Singer Sewing Machine in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  He was actively engaged in the Socialist Labor party until he tangled with its guiding genius, Daniel DeLeon, the “Socialist Pope”.  At one time he worked for the IWW organizing longshoremen on the New York docks.  His efforts were instrumental in the expulsion of DeLeon from the IWW. At the time he lived in the Bronx.

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Elizabeth Gurley Flynn addressing strikers at Patterson, New Jersey in 1913

In the Bronx, the Connolly’s were neighbours and close friends of the Flynn family whose best known daughter was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn – then still a teenager, but soon to become a famous rouser and organizer for the Wobblies. At an outdoor rally on a warm summer evening in 1908, Connolly, the Flynn girl and her husband listened to a fiery old Irishwoman scold her audience for failing to help the Western miners in their strike.

The speaker was Mary Harris “Mother Jones.”  Her tongue was so sharp, and she described the bloodshed and violence so vividly that Flynn – then pregnant – fainted. Connolly, luckily, caught her as she was about to fall. Mother Jones interrupted herself long enough to command “get that poor girl some water” and continued her scold. Jones was a United Mine Workers organizer and close friend to many labor leaders but particularly John Fitzpatrick, head of the Chicago Federation of Labor and Terence Powderley. Thereafter she took a maternal interest in James Connolly and Elizabeth Flynn, (a young trade union radical born in New York of Galway parents in 1890).

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Mother Jones with John Fitzpatrick, Chicago. From collection of George R. Rinhart

Returning to Dublin in 1910, Connolly became associated with James Larkin in establishing the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913 he was involved along with Larkin, in the great labor dispute of that year which reached its climax in the “Bloody Sunday Riot of August 31. The dispute dramatized the poverty, disease and overcrowding of slum dwellers in Dublin and convulsed the city entirely.  Connolly assumed leadership of the Transport Workers Union when Larkin left for America in October of 1914, ostensibly for a short fundraising trip, but one that actually kept him out of Ireland for nine years – the last four of which were in Sing Sing prison serving a sentence for “criminal anarchy” until pardoned by New York Governor Al Smith.

When James Larkin arrived in New York in 1914, haggard and exhausted from the 1913 upheaval he immediately called upon the Flynn’s, announcing simply, “James Connolly sent me.”  Thereafter, he was a frequent visitor to the Flynn household, delighting to drink tea with the family since he, like Connolly, was a teetotaller.  But Larkin did much more than drink tea in the United States. Until 1919, James Larkin actively engaged in the work of the IWW, especially in its efforts to oppose World War 1. His socialism and his hatred for Ireland’s subjugation combined to make him a passionate opponent of the war. He was a thundering, explosive and unpredictable public speaker who could bring a crowd to its feet at will.  He travelled all around the country demanding justice for the poor and an end to the war. For his efforts he was tried and imprisoned for “criminal anarchy.” Upon his return to Ireland in 1923 he discovered his union was in the hands of charismatic leaders who thwarted his attempt to resume leadership of it.  He died in 1947.

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Scenes from Dublin’s “Bloody Sunday” during the 1913 Lockout.

In the course of the 1913 upheaval in Dublin, Larkin’s union organised a force to defend workers against police attacks. Though numbering only in the hundreds, it was called the Irish Citizen Army and Connolly’s experience in the British military was drawn upon to train it. Though small, the ICA played a significant role in the Easter Rising of 1916, making up much of the soldiery which occupied the General Post Office in Sackville Street (now O’Connell St).  At the time Patrick Pearse, although proclaimed President of the Provisional Government and Commander in Chief, deferred to Connolly’s superior military knowledge and experience and permitted him to direct the operation. Connolly proved a decisive tactician but was able to hold out only one week before surrendering to the overwhelmingly superior numbers of British forces. In the action Connolly had sustained a bullet wound in the ankle which then grew gangrenous.

Leaders of the insurrection numbering over one hundred were methodically tried and sentenced to death for treason by the British. Connolly was the fifteenth to be executed in Kilmainham Prison (14th actually) after having been received back into the Catholic faith, shriven, given communion and last rights. His wife, Lillie and daughter Nora visited with him on the eve of his execution and found him calm, without illusions and resigned to his fate – perhaps anticipating release from a life of poverty and frustration.  Seated on a box before the firing squad because of his wound, he met his death on Friday, May 12th 1916 and entered the pantheon of martyrs for Irish freedom.

Public opinion in Dublin and throughout Ireland had seriously mixed feelings about the uprising in view of the many Irish sons who had enlisted in the British army and the belief that the rising was conducted by a small number of radicals. When, however, English authorities began systematically executing its leaders – especially the wounded Connolly – the tide of opinion shifted dramatically, and momentum for independence became irresistible.  Sobered by the response, the British halted all executions after Connolly’s. But it was too late.

Note: The late L.A. O’Donnell was professor of economics at Villanova University, USA and author of  Irish Voice and Organized Labor.  He wrote many articles on labor and economic history, emphasizing the contribution of Irish immigrants. He died in 2011. 

Saul Schinderman published 17 editions of this magazine from 1981-1988. He continues to publish Fridays Labor Folklore regularly which details items of interest in the labour movement in the USA. Copies of Saul’s regular publication are available at;
We are also including an article by Professor Rosemary Feurer of the Mother Jones Heritage Project entitled  Get off your Knees”: James Connolly, Jim Larkin and Mother Jones in the fight for a Global Labor Movement. This paper was presented at the 2014 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school on Friday 1st August.

Mother Jones for 2019 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parades

Mother Jones for the 2019 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parades.

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Chicago – the Windy City

For the very first time, the Mother Jones Heritage Project committee has been invited to participate in the Chicago St Patrick’s Day parades.

The Illinois based committee has commissioned a new Mother Jones Banner especially for the parade and this banner will include a reference to her origins in Cork. Included also will be a 10 foot inflatable Mother Jones, while emigrant Brigid Duffy will march dressed appropriately as Mother Jones herself.

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The new banner which will debut at this year’s Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The St Patrick’s Day parades in Chicago on Saturday 16th March and Sunday 17th are among the largest in the world with hundreds of thousands taking part. A million watch the event on Chicago TV while the Chicago River will turn green along with a number of prominent public buildings.

In welcoming this exciting development, Mr. James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee stated,

“This is a further example of the growing international recognition of Cork born Mary Harris/ Mother Jones’s contribution to the wider trade union and labour movements in the United States of America.

We are delighted that Chicago has decided to include Mother Jones for the first time and we hope it will become an annual feature of the parade. All Cork people in and around Chicago are asked to support and assist the Heritage Project group at the parade.

We congratulate the massive work being done on behalf of Mother Jones by this committee led by Rosemary Feurer, whose members regularly attend the Spirit of Mother Jones festival here in Cork.”

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Haymarket poster

According to Rosemary Feurer of the Heritage Project

“We are thrilled that Chicago St Patrick’s Day parade committee was enthusiastic about highlighting Mother Jones and we are excited about continuing to work with our friends in Cork, who helped to spark our own project.”

Mother Jones has several connections to Chicago, the Windy City. Following the loss of her four children and husband in the Memphis Yellow Fever epidemic of 1867, Mary Harris, a seamstress went to Chicago and opened a clothing shop on Washington Street. However on the night of 8th October 1871, much of the city was burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire along with Mary’s business premises. Mary was made destitute and had to start all over again.

Some 34 years later in 1905, as Mother Jones, she attended the inaugural planning meeting of the historically famous Industrial Workers of the World (IWW – The Wobblies) in Chicago, she was the only woman present at this meeting and was the very first signature on the subsequent IWW Manifesto.

Mary Harris was also very influenced by the Haymarket Square incidents in Chicago on 4th May 1886 and its aftermath which saw the execution of the Haymarket Four.

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Haymarket event

These events are commemorated each year in Chicago on 1st May and has led to the annual celebration of May Day as an international labour holiday.

As Mother Jones, she declared May 1st as her birthday, a symbolic act, attributed by her biographer Elliott Gorn as perhaps the day she was born into the labour movement.

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The Haymarket Monument, Chicago