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Saturday 19 April 2014

Centenary of lockout commemorated

People dressed in period costumes re-enact a police baton charge on a workers' rally

The centenary of the famous Dublin lock-out has been marked with a state commemoration at a city site synonymous with Ireland's largest ever industrial dispute.

President Michael D Higgins joined other dignitaries and hundreds of onlookers and tourists in O'Connell Street, which was called Sackville Street in 1913, to mark the 100th anniversary of a police baton charge on a workers' rally in the early days of the lock-out.

Hundreds were injured and two killed in violent clashes that ensued on a day that became known as Bloody Sunday.

Around 20,000 workers were involved in the bitter industrial wrangle with employers in the city over demands for better conditions and their right to unionise.

Strikers were locked out of their factories, with many families forced to the brink of starvation during the six month-plus stand-off.

The Catholic Church came in for heavy criticism for blocking a move that would have seen workers' children temporarily looked after by trade unionists in Britain.

While employers claimed victory after the majority of workers drifted back to employment in early 1914, the episode marked a watershed in the Irish Labour movement and ultimately led to better workplace conditions.

The statue of strike leader and Irish Labour Party figurehead Jim Larkin was the focal point for today's commemorative event. A famous speech delivered by Larkin from a hotel window was recited along with other dramatic performances involving actors in period costume.

Mr Higgins laid a wreath to remember those who died in the dispute.

The event culminated with a re-enactment of the mass clashes between police and strikers on Bloody Sunday. Actors froze their movements at one point in a bid to recreate a famous black and white photograph of the original incident.

Current Labour Party leader, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the commemoration was hugely significant.

"The events of the lockout in 1913 were a seminal moment for the Labour movement in Ireland," he said.

"As leader of the Labour Party, I recall with mixed emotions the events of a century ago which convulsed this great city of Dublin. I recall with pride the solidarity and determination of the 20,000 workers who defied the power of the employers so as to establish their right to join a trade union in pursuit of decent conditions of work."

He added: "But I remember too the dark side of those days. I remember the brutality of the police who baton charged workers in O'Connell Street 100 years ago today. I remember the savagely cold hearted actions of the city's employers as they starved the workers into submission. I remember the indifference of the Catholic Church to the suffering of the workers and their families. I remember the inescapable fact that in the short term the lockout was a victory for the owners of capital.

"But the victory was short-lived and in time the demands of the workers were in large part met. The hundred years since has seen huge progress in the way we organise the workplace and huge strides in the conditions of workers. I am immensely proud of the progress that has been made and the important part played by the Labour movement in bringing about that progress.

"As we struggle to confront the challenges and seize the opportunities of a new century, today is a day when the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement can remember with pride our common roots and our common history and derive inspiration from it."

Press Association

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