Padraig Yeates’s review

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2014), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—Adrian Grant takes me to task (letters, HI 21.6, Nov./Dec. 2013) for my review of his book Irish socialist republicanism, 1909–1936 for my claim that he asserts that ‘Larkin’s arrival in Ireland and the establishment of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union heralded the advent of a united Labour movement with a socialist republic as its goal and a capacity to win leadership of the radical nationalist movement’, stating that he made ‘no assertion of the sort’ before adding in the next sentence, ‘I do claim that the ITGWU was an organisation with a socialist republic as its goal’. This is a reiteration of the very point for which I took him to task in the review. I give another example from the book. On page 14 he writes that ‘The formation of the ITGWU was a separatist act in itself and was the basis for the socialist republicanism that emerged in the following decades’. There are similar references in chapter one, describing the founding of the ITGWU, for instance, as ‘the real beginning of a viable socialist republicanism in Ireland’.  

The earliest surviving constitution of the ITGWU, from 1912, reveals no such grand design. It makes no mention of socialism, republicanism or separatism. It is a very workaday document with the emphasis on routine aims and objectives, and on organisational issues that would not look out of place in a British union rulebook. In the preface it certainly advocates the need for an Irish union to represent unskilled workers, it calls for the nationalisation of the means of transport (without specifying whether it should be carried out by an Irish or a British government) and it advocates ‘the land of Ireland for the people of Ireland’. But these objectives were shared by other affiliates of the Irish Trade Union Congress in the context of an expectation of Home Rule.

Over the coming decade many workers, including members of traditional British-based craft unions, became separatists, and a minority even became socialist republicans, but this was due to many factors. There was no grand design by Jim Larkin, when he founded the ITGWU in 1909, to pursue a socialist republic. He was simply embarking on the creation of a new union, albeit a fighting one, and, in the process, salvaging his own career. Indeed, as Adrian Grant shows, it proved impossible to wed the social democratic tradition from which the ITGWU sprang with the various manifestations of militarist socialist republicanism that emerged over the coming decade.

Finally, I would like to reiterate my view that Adrian Grant’s book is an important addition to our knowledge of the Irish left and deserves a wide readership.—Yours etc.,

PADRAIG YEATES

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