Michael Quill forever changed labor relations in the USA. The founder of the powerful union representing New York City’s bus and subway workers, Quill’s numerous achievements helped transform the lives of millions of workers by his setting national standards for equal pay for women and minorities, health benefits and paid medical leave. However, it was his leadership of the 1966 Transit Strike that made “Red Mike Quill” a celebrity, famous for defying the Mayor and a jail sentence, when Quill shut down public transportation in the nation’s largest city.
Born in 1905 into a humble, Gaelic-speaking family in rural Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry, which was restive under British rule, Quill inherited his desire to fight for justice from his father. “My father,” recalled Quill, “knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around.”
During the War of Independence, the fifteen-year-old Quill fought in the 3rd Battalion, Kerry No. 2 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. On a solo scouting mission, Quill stumbled on a patrol of Black and Tans asleep in a ditch. Instead of fleeing, he quietly stole all their ammunition, gleefully returning home with his stolen loot.
During the war, Quill fought bravely and met almost all the top military leaders, providing him the rare opportunity of personally knowing many of Ireland’s most famous patriots. The war also started in Quill a lifelong animosity towards the Catholic Church. While on the run, Mike and his brother were gutted when their parish priest refused their request for temporary amnesty to attend their mother’s funeral.
Opposed to the Treaty creating the Free State with a partitioned British colony, Quill fought against Michael Collins’ National Army and in the conflict Kerry Republicans suffered greatly, especially at Ballyseedy, where 23 anti-Treaty fighters were murdered with dynamite by Free State soldiers. That fight’s unbelievable brutality and injustice never left Quill.
Being on the wrong side of the Treaty, Quill, unable to find work, left for America, arriving in New York the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1926 with just $3.42 in his pocket. Through his uncle who was a subway conductor, Quill got a job on the Interborough Rapid Transit company (which ran the original subway system in New York), first as a night gateman, then as a clerk or “ticket chopper”. The IRT quickly employed many of Quill’s comrades who were also ex- anti-Treaty fighters. Moving from station to station, Quill got to know many IRT employees. He learned they craved dignity and wanted to be treated like human beings, but Quill knew this meant fighting. He said, “You will get only what you are strong enough to take. You will have to fight for your rights—they will never be given to you. And you cannot win if you fight alone.”
While working night shifts, Quill, who had only attended national school, used dead time to read labor history, especially the works of James Connolly. To fight the low pay, terrible working conditions and long hours of I.R.T workers, Quinn used Connolly, the leader of the Transport Workers Union in Dublin, executed by the British for his role in the 1916 Rising, as his inspiration, and Connolly’s ideas guided Quill throughout his life. Like Connolly, Quill believed that economic power precedes political power, and that the only effective means of satisfying the workers’ demands is the creation of an independent labor party, which creates and supports strong unions. He would honor Connolly by also calling his American union the Transportation Workers Union and years later, as president of the TWU, Quill only had two pictures on his office wall, Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly.
In his union-organizing activities, Quill got the cold shoulder from many established Irish-American organizations. “When we first started to organize the union, we asked for help from the Knight of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians”, he said. “We were booed and booted out. The Irish organizations did nothing for us, and the Church campaigned actively against us.”
Rejected by mainstream Irish Americans, Quill was embraced by the American Communist Party, which helped him obtain the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. Quill, though, merely used the Communists, while knowing he wanted no part of them. When they thought he should attend “Workers School” for indoctrination, Quill told them he needed no indoctrination and soon left the party.
Fearing anti-union informers, Quill organized the TWU, using the methods of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret Fenian society dedicated to a violent rising against British rule. Employing cells of five so that no man knew the names of more than four other workers in the organization, messages were also sent in half-Gaelic and half-English to confuse company spies, known as “beakies.” One night, the “beakies” attacked Quill and five other activists in a tunnel as they were returning from picketing the IRT’s offices. Falsely arrested over the incident for incitement to riot, Quill gained huge notoriety amongst his fellow workers and the charges were eventually dismissed. On April 12, 1934, fighting back against 12 hour days, six days a week, at 66 cents an hour, Quill and six other men formed the T.W.U.
Quill soon became union President and succeeded in getting his union into the American Federation of Labor. He then began unionizing the other transportation companies of New York. In January 1937, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Coorporation dismissed two boiler room engineers from their power plant in Brooklyn for their union activity. Quill immediately called a successful sit-down strike and the BMT had to reinstate the men, which further raised Quill’s standing amongst the rank and file.
At a time in American history when bigotry and discrimination were commonplace, Quill became famous for fighting prejudice. An ardent opponent of the pro-Fascist Fr. Coughlin, Quill said, “Anti-Semitism is not the problem of the Jewish people alone. It is an American problem, a number one American problem.” He also fought for African Americans against the prejudice of many in his own union. He explained, “The bosses hired you and the same bosses hired the blacks. You are on one payroll; you come to work and leave through the same gate; you punch the same time clock. Unless there is one union to protect all of you, the employer will train these men and use them to displace you—at half your wages.”
Quill became an early ally of Martin Luther King who referred to Quill as “a fighter for decent things all his life” who “spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man.” Quill once asked, “Do you know what I’m most proud of? That in TWU we have eliminated racial discrimination in hiring and in promotions and within the union’s ranks. Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, American Indians and women are holding appointive and elective office.”
STRIKE AND JAIL
Perhaps Quill’s finest hour was during the Transit Strike of 1966. Newly-elected patrician Mayor john Lindsay wanted to get tough with Quill and the TWU. Journalist Jimmy Breslin summarized the conflict succinctly: “…[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Quill attacked the Mayor just as if he were a British soldier, chiding Lindsay for his “abysmal lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of labor relations.” He castigated Lindsay as “a pipsqueak, a juvenile” and jested: “We explored his mind yesterday and found nothing there.” To add insult to injury Quill intentionally repeatedly mispronounced the mayor’s name as “Linsley,” proving that even in the heat of battle Quill never lost his sense of humor.
Then Lindsay made a fatal mistake, jailing Quill, who defiantly said, “The judge can drop dead in his black robes!” While in prison, Quill suffered another heart attack and was sent to the worst of city hospitals. The only person who called Mrs. Quill asking if he could help was Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. No other politician inquired about the stricken Quill. While Quill was in the hospital a deal was reached granting the TWU a 15% wage increase along with improvements in the health, welfare and pension systems. In all, it was a great victory. The strike over, he was released from police custody, but just three days later Quill died at age sixty with many claiming that the stress of the strike led to his premature passing.
Mike Quill left an enduring legacy. Today the Transport Workers Union is composed of an estimated 60 percent minorities and Quill is still revered within it. He had an inclusive vision of labor, which minority workers respected, strengthening the movement. Pete Seeger dedicated a ballad to Quill and producers Macdara Vallely and Paul Miller have made a biographical film about Quill entitled Which side are you on?
POSTSCRIPT: Mike Quill and Vice-Admiral Nelson
In the Dublin City Centre, in the middle of its main street, is a curious steel erection which most people call “The Spire”. But from 1809 until 1966, something else stood there: a granite column with the English naval hero Nelson atop it, very much in the style of the one that stands in London’s Trafalgar Square today.
About 50 metres away from what was colloquially called “The Pillar” stands the General Post Office building, which operated as the command HQ of the 1916 Easter Rising and is therefore a traditional gathering place for State and other commemorations of the Rising.
As the 50th Anniversary of the Rising drew near, Mike Quill contacted Dublin City Council and offered to have the statue removed for free and replaced with a more suitable monument. Quill’s first choice was a statue of Jim Larkin, who led his and Connolly’s Irish Transport and General Workers Union in resisting the 8-month Dublin Lockout – the tram crews had walked off their vehicles once they reached the Pillar and Dublin Metropolitan Police had run riot against the people in O’Connell Street shortly afterwards on Bloody Sunday 1913. But Quill offered the Council other options too. A private trust and not Dublin City Council owned Nelson’s Column, he was informed and there the matter rested. Until, on 8th March 1966, the Pillar was blown up by Saor Éire, a socialist split from the Irish Republican Movement, in advance of the 50th Anniversary commemorations.
Sacked workers of Debenhams picketed offices of KPMG, the appointed liquidator of their former employer to protest threats of injunctions. The workers are demanding the statutory two weeks’ redundancy plus another two and that they be treated as the first creditors to be paid out, instead of being last, as is usually the case in receivership. Until they receive an agreed settlement, the workers are maintaining their 24-blockades on Debenhams stores, supported officially by their union Mandate, to prevent the company removing its stock.
Finding other means to keep themselves amused.
The British-based department store retailer Debenhams closed its Irish branches in Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Cork during the Covid19 lockdown earlier this summer and has yet to pay the workers their redundancy pay. Picketers attended Harcourt Street yesterday to gather outside the offices of KPMG, the multinational financial audit services company. KPMG recently claimed it has a potential buyer for a number of the Debenhams sites and while declining to name it, threatened to apply for injunctions against the picketers in order to remove stock and allow the new buyer to move its own stock in. RTÉ reported the company also claiming the union leadership had agreed and said that pickets in Cork were unofficial, both claims which however were denied by the new General Secretary, Gerry Light. RTÉ quoted Mr. Light as saying that the continuing pickets are officially backed by the union and that if there is a new buyer, they’d be interested in talking to them.
A placard displayed on the picket in Dublin pointed out that the workers have been blockading Debenhams sites for 131 days and one of the speakers at the picket acknowledged that keeping up an action over such an extended period of time is difficult. A number of speakers outlined the necessity to remain strong while Paul Murphy, socialist TD (member of the Irish Parliament) stated that the talk of injunctions was not a sign of strength of the liquidators’ position but rather one of weakness. Another speaker called for a strengthening of the pickets now and a number stated that any injunctions would need to be defied.
MESSAGE OF SOLIDARITY FROM THE FAMOUS ANTI-APARTHEID DUNNE’S STORES STRIKERS
Meanwhile, a message of solidarity came from some of the Dunne’s Stores Anti-Apartheid strikers, the famous strike 1984-1987 in pursuance of their union’s policy (then the IADTU, now incorporated into Mandate) not to handle good from South Africa (then under racist white minority regime).
Kate Gearon was shop steward (elected shop-floor workers’ representative) during the strike.
“What has happened the Debenhams workers is atrocious,” Ms. Gearon wrote. “Some workers have given decades of service to the company and then when it suits the company just abandons them.
“But what is inspirational is the fact the workers are trying to change legislation to protect all other workers from this terrible predicament.”
Ms Gearon added: “When we started our pickets on this day in 1984, people told us we couldn’t win. They said ordinary retail workers didn’t have the power to change legislation. Well 10 of us stuck to our guns and we forced the Irish Government to ban all South African goods.
“There were only 10 of us, there are 1,000 Debenhams workers. Imagine the changes they can force if they stick together in their trade union.”
Picketers outside the KPMG offices in Dublin chanted slogans including: “What do we want? Two plus Two!” “When do we want it? Now!” “When under attack– Stand up, Fight back!”and “Treat us right, treat us fair, or your stock ain’t going anywhere!”. The MC of the event also raised cheers when he told those in attendance that pickets were taking place simultaneously at KPMG officers in Galway and Cork.
Sites of Debenhams stores are being picketed on a 24-hour basis and solidarity can be shown by attending in person.
We hear talk from time to time about essential frontline workers, a discussion the origins of which can be traced to the call on the Government to shut down all non-essential work. That of course raised the issue of what is essential work and therefore, who are the essential workers. High among the category considered essential were health practitioners and their rate of infection, when statistics were published, was exceeding 25%. But there is another group of workers who are essential and vulnerable and although most members of the public are in contact with them on a weekly basis at least, nevertheless they are given little protection and rarely mentioned.
Essential workers include, apart from healthcare workers, those maintaining our supplies of clean water, electricity and gas, sanitation, agriculture, production of necessary equipment, public transport, transport of essential supplies, fire-fighting, telecommunication (but not commercial call centres), postal services …. All of these should be in the first rank of consideration for protection from the Coronavirus-19, because they are vulnerable and for the selfish reason that we need them. But much more exposed on a daily basis to a greater number of people are the shop and supermarket workers.
They are the most numerous of the essential workers in daily contact with the public, which puts them at risk and, if they become infected, puts the general public, the shopping customers at risk too. And yet, their levels of protection organised by their employers are very poor overall. Despite this, we rarely hear them mentioned in public discourse, they do not receive particular attention from the Left and even their own trade unions are inactive on the issue.
WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE
Let us take a moment to consider what should have been the measures put in place for these workers and for the public coming into contact with them:
Immediate training program in prevention for all staff, with regular refresher or reinforcement measures
Immediate supply of protective clothing, disposed/ washed after each break and shift, this to include face-mask and gloves
Hand-sanitiser at every work station
Wrap-around screens at all checkout points
Disinfection routines for all work stations at shift changes
No shelf-filling during hours open to the public or non-essential interaction between public and staff inside of six feet distance
Staff in necessary close proximity to members of the public, including security staff, to be given special protection in clothing and in shift arrangements and testing
Safe social distances enforced by restrictions on numbers of customers in store at one time
Safe social distances marked for queues and enforced
Regular disinfection of automatic checkout machines
Supply of hand-sanitiser at all entrances/ exits and checkout machines for the public
Prevention informational visual and audio prompts for public and staff
All companies obliged by Government to publish their protocols so as to educate staff and public and also give a point of correction if either feel that the protocols are not being adhered to.
Some readers may protest that management had no previous experience of a pandemic, that some of these measures were implemented but a delay was inevitable and some measures are too extreme. I would respond that any group of reasonably intelligent people, knowing the danger and typical transmission routes, sitting down to think of precautions, would come up with a similar list. Companies are supposed to carry out risk assessments of their procedures. Trade union officials and representatives would be trained in how to assess levels of risk and how to employ measures to eliminate or reduce the level of risk as much as practicable.
Should anyone consider any of those measures excessive, they should be able to point out which and to say why. Or likewise justify the claim that late implementation was unavoidable.
WHAT WAS DONE
Let us now take a moment to review which of those measure have been implemented, how and when.
I am not in a position to give a definite answer on whether staff were given intensive training in avoiding infection or not but from my observation while shopping of staff in a number of supermarkets I would feel confident in saying that they had not or, if they had, that the required practice was not being monitored by management.
Even to the day of writing this piece, in only one workplace, Eurospar in Fairview, have I seen all the staff wearing face masks. Workers in a number of other companies have told me that they are not supplied with them.
Hand-sanitiser was supplied to work-stations in some supermarkets (possibly all) but weeks after the pandemic hit Ireland (though it had been raging abroad for many weeks before that and covered in news reports).
No screens were in place at work-stations until weeks after the arrival of the virus and even now are rudimentary in many places. Single screens with spaces between permit staff and customers to position themselves in the open spaces, which I have seen both do at times. A number of cashier screens with an open section for customers to receive and load their checked-out purchases are well inside six feet of the staff member.
Whether there are any such shift-change disinfection routines at any supermarket I cannot say but in some supermarkets I have seen staff leave or take up work at a station without any evidence of its disinfection.
I have seen frequent shelf-filling during-open-to the-public hours in Dunnes, Tesco, Centra and Aldi (I have not been in a Lidl since the virus arrived) and even without gloves; also unprotected staff moving among customers on other pieces of work, including stacking and removing empty baskets. Even this evening in a Tesco outlet, although at least they were wearing orange (?) gloves, staff were attending to shelves (and without face-masks, as was the staff member stationed near the automatic machines).
In addition to the above, staff maintaining queue lines, including security staff: every single one without masks and all being passed by customers at distances inside of six feet. The most shocking case was of a security guard in Tesco Drumcondra being passed by customers at distances of between one and three feet – he had no mask and only his company uniform, which he probably takes home to his family and puts on again next day. As to testing, given the long waiting times reported for testing and even longer for results, along with the general level of care for employees shown by the companies, how likely is any are being regularly tested?
Yes but in at least one case, I saw that the security guard on the door monitoring numbers was absent for awhile. Of course, there are calls of nature but shouldn’t the protocols require the temporary replacement of the person at this post? Would we wish to be the ones who were infected because this probability had not been foreseen and provided for?
The safe social distances for queueing customers – but not among staff — are now being enforced in most supermarkets, weeks after the arrival of the virus (but I noticed today that the separation is actually less than the advertised two metres).
I have very rarely seen disinfection of automatic machines.
In a local Centra, the first I saw to erect perspex screens, there was a sanitiser dispenser at the entrance with instructions. On at least one occasion it was empty and I have seen customers pass it without using it or having it called to their attention. I saw none in any other chain supermarket, although in Aldi a spray was provided by the baskets with instructions to use it on the basket handles.
Prevention information posters may be seen but usually of the most generalised kind (like those from the HSE) and asking forstaff to be treated with patience; graphic posters very rarely, film and audio prompts never. In other words, the means supermarkets use when they really want something, like mood enhancement, customers aware of bargains or special promotions, urgent attention to a checkpoint machine or stores about to close – are precisely those that they are not using for promotion of infection prevention.
The Government has not obliged companies to publish their protocols (not even suggested that they should do so) and the companies have not done so themselves.
This is a serious lack of care provision for a large section of essential workers and with a potential collateral effect on most of the public. First in line of responsibility for this failure must beof course the companies but their main motive has always been profit. Next in line must be the Government, which has the power to implement emergency measures (and used it recently with giving extra power to Gardaí an courts to employ against individuals) but our governments have always been primarily in the service of capital. Who do I personally blame most for this area of neglect? Those whose very publicised reason for existence is the protection of workers and the promotion of a just society – the trade unions and the Left.
Among the statistics that are published on rates of testing positive and deaths attributed to the virus, there are breakdowns into age and gender groups and, at least in the earlier days, of healthcare workers. We never see, among those statistics, any for shop workers. Or for those who might in turn have been infected by them. The largest statistic given for route of infection is that of “social contact” and presumably that’s where they are, hidden. We remain uninformed and the low level of protection continues, with no real effort being made to change the situation.
PS: Readers may wonder at the absence of information directly from the workers themselves. The reason is that personally I am unaware of anyone in my acquaintance working in this sector and did not wish to cause the workers more stress than they have to deal with already.
For focus on steps trade unions and the Left failed to take, see article titled WHAT DID NOT HAPPEN in Rebel Breeze.
Staff wearing gloves (at last) but no masks. Distance instructions for shoppers at staffed checkouts but no masks — and what about floor staff, tending shelves, collecting empty baskets, ANSWERING QUERIES FROM CUSTOMERS AT CLOSE RANGE? !!
“Every little helps”? TOO LITTLE!
Criminal neglect by big employers of their staff and also, in the long run, of the wider public. And the unions?!!
Lots of empty spaces on shelves by the way. And I remembered the toilet paper!
(Para el informe en castellano haz clic en el enlace)
(Translated from Castillian by D.Breatnach)
(Reading time: 3 minutes)
MADRID 02/15/2020 1:57 PM ALEJANDRO TORRÚS
At last. The remains of 247 victims of Franco that have lain in a warehouse in Valladolid for over two years will be buried this Sunday in a memorial constructed within the Carmen cemetery. This will be the end of a long process that began in 2016 with the exhumations of communal graves in the cemetery itself, paralyzed since for a long time by the insistence of UGT to install a bust of Pablo Iglesias Posse. Finally, there will be a memorial, there will be the names of the more than 2,650 fatalities of the province, the 247 bodies recovered and there will be no bust of the founder of UGT and the PSOE.
(Trans: UGT is one of two main Spanish trade unions and is connected to the social democratic PSOE; both were banned — along with many other organisations — during the Franco Dictatorship but since then the PSOE has been in government more than any other party. Valladolid is about halfway between Madrid and the Bay of Biscay).
3) Letter sent by Julián Carlón to his wife and children from the Valladolid prison.- ALEJANDRO TORRÚS
“We want this tribute to be an act of democratic recognition and historical justice to all those who defended the Second Republic regardless of the party in which one was active,” explained Julio del Olmo, president of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) of Valladolid, responsible for the exhumation and custody of the bodies, to Público.
The event will begin at 12.00 noon this Sunday and will include participation of relatives of the victims, the Valladolid writer Gustavo Martín Garzo, musical performances and the presence of the Mayor of Valladolid, Óscar Puente and the Secretary of State for Democratic Memory, Fernando Martínez.
However, the tribute comes too late for many victims. For example, for Saturnina, who passed away a few weeks ago. Her perseverance and struggle and that of her husband facilitated the ARMH in identifying the place where the graves were in the cemetery and proceed to their exhumation. Saturnina was only a child when Franco’s forces shot her father, Julián Carlón, on October 1, 1936.
Saturnina, in fact, barely knew anything about her father. He was four years old when he was taken. “I only remember the day he was taken and the place where he was buried, which my uncle told me about,” she confessed tearfully to this newspaper in September 2019. “I don’t even know how he was killed. I just know he was taken away, that he never came back and that, from that day, there were only tears in my home. My mother never told me about my father because of fear,” she said. However, thanks to the indications of a relative, Saturnina kept a memory of the exact place where the bodies were buried after their execution.
REMAINS OF THREE WOMEN AND TWO MEN IDENTIFIED
To date, the Valladolid ARMH has managed to identify “with total security” five of the 247 bodies recovered. These are of three women and two men: Lina Franco Meira; Republican Army sergeant Francisco González Mayoral; the Mayor of Casasola de Arión, Mateo Gómez Díez; and mother and daughter María Doyagüez and María Ruiz Doyagüez.
“Of the four graves with the 247 bodies that we have found, we have only been able to certify those five people to almost 100%. Of many others, we can be almost certain that they correspond to one group or another of those shot, but we cannot name each skeleton. We lack the means and it is a tremendously complicated process,” laments Del Olmo, who, however, points out that the remains of the victims will be well preserved so that, if possible, they continue working on identifications.
Cases such as that of Lina Franco Meira, which has been identified, are exceptional when 81 years have elapsed since the end of the Civil War. Her bones could be identified thanks to a DNA test sample of one of her daughters, 93 years old. An exceptional case of longevity that has allowed name and surname to be given to some bones and, in addition, allows us to believe that among the rest of those sharing her grave are her other 14 neighbors of the town of Castromocho (Palencia) that were taken along with Lina Franco to Valladolid to be executed and buried.
“SO THAT FRANCO AND AMNESIA DO NOT WIN”
Franco’s forces not only killed Lina Franco and more than 2,000 people in this province (Castille-Léon). They also tried to erase their names, their life stories and their struggles. Now, 84 years after the coup, a memorial will recover their names and try to spread their fight in defence of Republican values. The challenge, however, continues and consists in being able to identify as many of them as possible so that Franco and amnesia do not win the battle.
“A man the ages will remember.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Kevin Rooney (reprinted by kind permission of author).
Michael Joseph Quill was born in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan Co. Kerry on 18 September, 1905. His parents were John Daniel Quill and Margaret (née Lynch). Fighting injustice seemed to be in his blood. He remembered: “My father knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around”. His Irish-speaking family’s home served as headquarters for the No. 2 Kerry Brigade Of The Irish Republican Army during the War Of Independence Of 1919-1921. His uncle’s house was so well known for rebel activity, it is said that the Black and Tans in the area referred to the house as “Liberty Hall”; a reference to James Connolly’s ITGWU Union Headquarters in Dublin which was to prove prophetic.
IRISH REPUBLICAN ACTIVITY
While still a boy of 14, Michael was a dispatch rider for the IRA during the War of Independence. He served in 3rd Battalion of the No. 2 Kerry Brigade. Once on a scouting mission, he stumbled on a patrol of Black and tans asleep in a ditch. He stole all their ammunition without rousing them. He eventually graduated to carrying a rifle and organized a group of about thirty boys in the village into an IRA scout group, and drilled several times a week.
When the Civil War began in 1921, Quill joined the Republican side which opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the War Of Independence. He took part in the re-capture of the town of Kenmare from The Free State Army in August of 1922, one of few Republican victories. He was said to have been involved in robbing a bank for the IRA during the war. He was much affected by the brutality and violence dished out by the Government Forces (Free Staters) to his Republican comrades in Kerry who were captured.
The worst atrocity was the Ballyseedy massacre where eight Republican prisoners were killed by being tied to a landmine, which was then detonated. In March of 1923, at total of 23 Republican prisoners in Kerry were killed in similar manner, or summarily executed by shooting on different occasions. Another five were officially executed by firing squad. The most of any county.
His mother died in September 1923. The local priest refused to request a temporary amnesty so that Michael and his brother John could attend her funeral without risking arrest by National troops. It left a lasting bitterness in him toward the Catholic Church.
During the Wars, he met many prominent Republican leaders of the time who passed through his area; including Eamon de Valera, Liam Lynch, Tom Barry, Liam Deasy, Dan Breen, Erskine Childers among them. While still young, he conversed with these great minds.
EMIGRATION TO THE USA
After the war, Quill found opportunities limited for him as he had supported the losing side. He was also blacklisted after a sit-in strike with his brother John at a saw mill in Kenmare. He emigrated to the US, arriving on 16 March, 1926 in New York, where he stayed with an aunt on 104th Street in East Harlem (New York).
He hustled to make a living working a series of menial jobs which included what was called “bootlegging”: smuggling alcohol during Prohibition, during which time the sale of alcohol was illegal in the US. He worked passing coal and peddling roach powder and religious articles in Pennsylvania coal country. While there he wrote his father his observation that “the cows and pigs in Kerry were better housed and fed than were the miners’ children in America.”
Quill returned to New York and met a young Kerry woman named Maria Theresa O’Neill, known as Mollie who came from Cahersiveen. With the onset of the Great Depression she became unemployed and decided to return to Ireland. She and Quill maintained a patient long-distance courtship, keeping in touch with weekly letters.
Quill found employment with the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) railroad in 1929. He worked several jobs before becoming a ticket agent. The IRT, the largest transit company in New York attracted employment from many Irishmen; particularly Republican veterans of the Irish Civil War like Quill. There was a joke that IRT stood for “Irish Republican Transit”. Their advantage over other immigrant groups was that they already spoke English. Coming from mostly farm land, they were also able for the twelve to fourteen-hour days demanded of them seven days a week. About half of the employees were Irish.
Moving from station to station, he got to know many of the employees. Along with deplorable working conditions, Quill also observed discrimination based on racism and bigotry, which he hated. He said: “During those twelve hour nights we’d chat about the motormen, conductors, guards etc. whose conditions were even worse. They had to work a ‘spread’ of 16 hours each day in order to get 10 hours pay. Negro workers could get jobs only as porters. They were subjected to treatment that makes Little Rock (Arkansas) and Birmingham (Alabama) seem liberal and respectable by comparison. I also saw Catholic ticket agents fired by Catholic bosses for going to Mass early in the morning while the porter ‘covered’ the booth for half an hour. Protestant bosses fired Protestant workers for similar crimes, going to Church. The Jewish workers had no trouble with the subway bosses. Jews were denied employment in the transit lines”.
INFLUENCED BY CONNOLLY’S WRITINGS
While working a 12-hour overnight shift, Quill passed the time with reading to supplement his education, which had ended with National school. The main influence on his political thinking was James Connolly. Connolly had also organised unions in New York, where he lived for a few years before returning to Dublin where he was executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising.
Quill’s second wife Shirley later wrote: “Connolly’s two basic theories were to guide Mike Quill’s thinking for the next three decades: that economic power precedes and conditions political power, and that the only satisfactory expression of the workers’ demands is to be found politically in a separate and independent labour party, and economically in the industrial union.” He then set about organizing a union. He stood on his soap box during lunch hour in power-houses and shops all over the city.
Quill recalled: “We were no experts in the field of labor organization, but we had something in common with our fellow workers; we were all poor, we were all overworked, we were all victims of the 84 hour week. In fact, we were all so low down on the economic and social ladder that we had nowhere to go but up.”
Quill and some of his fellow Irish immigrants became involved in Irish Worker’s Clubs that were established by James Gralton, and were affiliated with the American Communist Party. Gralton’s political views got him deported from Ireland in 1933 as an “undesirable alien”; even though he was born in Co. Leitrim because of pressure from the Catholic Church. This made him the only Irishman ever to be deported by the Irish government.
Quill didn’t find much difference in the attitude of Irish-American Organisations that were Catholic church-based. Quill recalled: “We went to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, but they would have nothing to do with the idea of organizing Irishmen into a legitimate union. We went to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and they threw us out of their meeting hall. They wanted no part of Irish rebels or Irish rabble. That was the reception we got from those conservative descendants of Ireland’s revolutionists of a hundred years ago.”
Making no bones or apologies, he said “I worked with the Communists. In 1933 I would have made a pact with the Devil himself if he could have given us the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. The Communist Party needed me, and I needed them. I knew what the transit workers needed. The men craved dignity, longed to be treated like human beings. The time had come to get off our knees and fight back.”
FOUNDING A TRADE UNION
On 12 April 1934, Quill, along with six other Irishmen including Thomas H. O’Shea and Austin Hogan from Co. Cork, and Gerald O’Reilly from Co. Meath formed the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). All seven including Quill were members of Clan na Gael, an Irish Republican organisation that succeeded the Fenian Brotherhood as the American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). They were said to have initially applied the rules and practices of secrecy from that tradition. Quill was to remain a silent financial supporter of the Republican cause in Ireland his whole life.
Like Quill, they were all influenced by Connolly’s ideas and writings; in particular, Connolly’s 1910 pamphlet “The Axe To The Root” where he wrote specifically about a recent 1910 transit workers strike in New York that had failed, known as the New York Express Strike.
Connolly wrote: “It was not the scabs (strikebreakers, replacements) however, who turned the scale against the strikers in favour of the masters. That service to capital was performed by good union men with union cards in their pockets. These men were the engineers in their power-houses which supplied the electric power to run their cars, and without whom all the scabs combined could not have run a single trip.”
The very name of the union was a tip of the hat to James Larkin and James Connolly’s Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU). In fact the word “Transit” is more normally used than “Transport” regarding that industry in the US. Thomas H. O’Shea was the Union’s first president, followed by Quill, who would remain president for the remainder of his life.
The Union began with a membership of 400, then eventually represented all 14,000 IRT workers. An African-American porter named Clarence King was elected to the first TWU executive board. In 1937 there was a sit-down strike on the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT); the second-largest Transit company in New York. Two BMT employees at the Kent Avenue Brooklyn station were fired for union activity. The 500 members of TWU in the company secured their re-instatement. It eventually represented all BMT employees as well.
Quill began to involve himself in city politics and was elected to the New York City Council in 1937 representing the American Labor Party. His whole career people loved or hated him, with no middle ground. He returned to Ireland to marry Mollie on 26 December 1937. They would return to New York to live, where she bore a son; John Daniel Quill, named after Michael’s father. Theirs proved to be an unhappy marriage of convenience. Quill filled this void first with drink, later with extramarital romance.
While in Ireland, he met with Michael O’Riordan from Co. Cork, who was headed to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republic in that country’s Civil War; which side Quill supported. Michael Lehane, the child of a neighbor from Kilgarvan, also went to Spain to fight fascism.
In 1939, he organized a rally against anti-semitism in a heavily Irish neighborhood in The South Bronx attended by four thousand. This was in response to Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-semitic campaign preaching to New York’s Irish. Fr. Coughlin was born in Canada of Irish parents, but moved to the US. He began radio broadcasting in 1926 in response to a Ku Klux Klan anti-catholic attack on his church in Michigan, but moved into political commentary and also moved far to the political right. Fr. Coughlin’s sympathies to the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini got him removed from the air later in 1939.
Having little use for the church, this is how Quill summed up his personal philosophy: “I believe in the Corporal Works Of Mercy, the Ten Commandments, the American Declaration Of Independence and James Connolly’s outline of a socialist society. Most of my life I’ve been called a lunatic because I believe that I am my brother’s keeper. I organise poor and exploited workers, I fight for the civil rights of minorities, and I believe in peace. It appears to have become old-fashioned to make social commitments; to want a world free of war, poverty and disease. This is my religion.”
TESTIFYING AT MC CARTHY HEARINGS
In April of 1940, former TWU President and founder Thomas O’Shea; who had been earlier been ousted from the union testified against his former fellow union leaders including Quill. He alleged that the union was in complete control of the communist party and their goal was to promote revolution through strikes. Quill testified in the US House Of Representatives before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and denied these allegations, calling O’Shea a “stool pigeon.” He told Chairman Martin Dies: “You are afraid to hear the truth about our union. You can’t take it, but the American labour movement will live.”
Also in 1940, the city purchased the BMT and IRT. This put Quill in the path of every New York mayor from then on, beginning with Italian-American Republican Fiorello LaGuardia. Years ahead of his time, in 1944, Quill introduced a bill in the City Council to establish free childcare centers for working mothers. Also in 1944, he ended a TWU wildcat (unauthorised) strike in Philadelphia initiated by a racist reaction to a contract that secured promotions to conductor for eight black porters.
After World War II and the Holocaust, Quill said “We licked the race haters in Europe, but the millions of Jewish dead cannot be restored to life”. He was re-elected to the City Council also in 1945. His election campaign manager was Shirley Ukin, a fiery former communist born in Brooklyn Of Russian-Jewish parents with whom he began a longtime affair. She had worked with him in TWU from the beginning. In the late 40’s the union expanded to include airline workers, utility workers and railroad workers.
Also after the war, under pressure from the government on communists in the labor movement but mostly his own dissatisfaction and mistrust caused him to purge the communists out of the Union. In 1948 he secured a large increase for subway workers from Democratic Mayor William O’Dwyer, a native of Bohola, Co. Mayo.
In the 50’s he supported the candidacy of Democrat Robert F. Wagner for mayor. Wagner’s German-born father, a US Senator for New York (Democrat 1927-1949) had authored the Wagner Act Of 1935 that created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which protected workers’ rights to organise and strike.
Quill’s past relationship with the communist party continued to be criticised. He was nicknamed “Red Mike”. Wagner was elected to three terms and his administration was able to come to collective bargaining agreements with the TWU.
IN THE US TRADE UNION MOVEMENT AGAINST RACISM
Mollie died August 16, 1959. In 1961 he married Shirley; his longtime girlfriend who had previously been married and divorced twice. She would later carry on his union work and write his biography. Also in 1961, Quill received a letter from twenty-five TWU members in Tennessee protesting the Union’s support for Civil Rights and de-segregation. He responded by inviting a prominent black Civil Rights leader to address the Union Convention, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he admired.
He introduced Dr. King as “The man who is entrusted with the banner of American liberty that was taken from Lincoln when he was shot 95 years ago.” This was indeed high praise as the only two pictures in Quill’s office were of President Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly. The two became friends. As far back as 1938, Quill made a statement much like Dr. King’s famous speeches: “If we, black and white, Catholic and non-Catholic, Jew and gentile, are good enough to slave and sweat together, then we are good enough to unite and fight together”.
In November 1965, John Lindsay was elected Mayor. The aristocratic Protestant Republican whose name he intentionally mispronounced as “Linsley” immediately rubbed Quill the wrong way. Quill quipped: “we explored his mind (Lindsay) yesterday and found nothing there.” This was amid the union negotiating a raise for its members due to inflation caused by the War in Vietnam, of which Quill was typically an early critic.
The TWU had always threatened a strike that could cripple the city of New York, the largest in the US; a city of 8 million where many people’s commutes involve travel across rivers. Manhattan, the center of commerce is an island. Quill knew and stated that this was from where came the union’s power. Quill had seen many Mayors come and go and such a situation had always been averted.
Before he took office, Lindsay felt empowered and entitled to “call their bluff”. He felt such a strike was illegal as it would endanger public safety as transportation is a public utility. He also seemed to feel the union was incapable of pulling it off as history had shown. Irish-American newspaper journalist Jimmy Breslin observed: “[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Mike Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Lindsay was sworn in on 1 January 1966. The same day, 33,000 members of the TWU announced a strike and 2,000 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) also joined them. This demonstrated James Connolly’s lesson from “Axe To The Root” put into action.
A legal injunction was issued to stop the strike along with an order for the arrest of Quill and eight others: Matthew Guinan, Frank Sheehan, Daniel Gilmartin, Ellis Van Riper, and Mark Kavanagh of the TWU and John Rowland, William Mangus, and Frank Kleess of the ATU) effective at 1am January 4th.
Quill tore up the injunction and famously said in his thick Kerry accent: “The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don’t care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike.” Only two hours after being imprisoned; Quill who was sixty years old and had health issues with his heart, suffered a heart attack and was sent to Bellevue Hospital. He had ignored all medical advice from his doctors and the strain of the battle was taking its toll. Ironically, he had to wait two hours for an ambulance because the strike had indeed brought the city to a grinding halt.
15,000 workers picketed City Hall on 10 January. The strike ended on 13 January with a huge victory. The TWU had secured the workers a package worth $60 million. Hourly wages rose from $3.18 to $4.14 per hour. Quill seemed to be on the mend and was released from the hospital on 25 January. Quill died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on 28 January. Like ancient Irish High King Brian Boru, he had won his greatest victory at the cost of his own life. His coffin was draped in the Irish
Upon his death, the TWU Express newspaper reported: “Mike Quill did not hesitate or equivocate. He died as he lived fighting the good fight for the TWU and its members.” His friend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said of him: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life: Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember. This is a man who has passed on but who has not died.”
In 1987, The Michael J. Quill Cultural & Sports Centre was opened in the predominantly Irish-American hamlet of East Durham, NY featuring an authentic Irish cottage and the largest scale map of Ireland in the world. There is also a Michael J. Quill centre in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. In 1999, the MTA named the West Side bus garage the Michael J. Quill Depot. The TWU today has a diverse membership of over 100,000.
*Originally posted by K. Rooney September 23, 2018
by Diarmuid Breatnach
In 1964 the TWU offered the Irish Government to carefully remove Nelson’s Column in O’Connell Street. Quill wrote that the scale of the statue and its location would give the impression to visitors that the Irish looked up to Nelson and that it meant to them what the Statue of Liberty meant to US citizens. The TWU volunteered to pay for its removal and its replacement with a more appropriate one among which they included Pearse, Connolly or Larkin.
The Irish Government passed the letter to Dublin Corporation (now DCC) who claimed that since the column was managed by a Trust, the Corporation had no power to remove it.
Two years later, the 50th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, a ‘dissident’ group of the IRA, Saor Éire, took matters into their own hands and demolished the structure, commonly known as Nelson’t Pillar.
Yet another repeat: the nth judicial victory of the riders against Deliveroo. On this occasion, the Superior Court of Justice of Madrid (TSJM) ratified the ruling in favor of 532 deliverers of the digital platform by recognizing them as employees and not as freelancers, as the Labor Inspection of the capital had ruled.
The TSJM dismissed the appeal filed by Roodfoods Spain S.L.U., the holding company of Deliveroo, against the ruling pronounced on July 22nd last year by Madrid’s Social Court No.19. Back then, the court had concluded that the distributors were workers of the company.
“In the provision of services by the deliverers affected by the process, during the period to which the liquidation act refers, labor conditions prevailed, which leads to the judgement of the demand”, states the text accessed by this media. (Trans: ??)
FIRST GREAT COLLECTIVE VICTORY OF THE RIDERS AGAINST DELIVEROO
Therefore, the TSJM insists on the relationship between the home delivery company and the riders: “The details or characteristics of an employment relationship concur when assessing the existence of habituality, periodic retribution, dependency and subject to orders and business instructions, alienation of benefits and risks and very personal nature of the provision of service”.
A Labor Inspection report estimated that the deliverers were false self-employed and that Deliveroo “covered up” an ordinary labor relationship with them. The General Treasury of Social Security took up the challenge and filed a lawsuit, which was decided by the judge. The oral hearing, held on May 2019, had the testimony of more than 500 riders.
The workers’ lawyer, Esther Comas, highlights the “importance” of the sentence. Not only because it affects 532 workers, “but because it makes a very exhaustive examination of the conditions of employees who, in turn, can be extrapolated to other colleagues in the same company and even from other platforms [Glovo and Uber Eats]”, the member of the Madrid Ronda Collective pointed out to Publico.
Also, the UGT union welcomed the decision of this court: “We consider this judgement very important since it summarises everything that we have been fighting for and which coincides, in its conclusions, with another ruling by the Madrid TSJ on Glovo’s working model,” UGT explained in a press release.
The collective fight of the riders adds another victory. In June 2019, Social Court No.5 of Valencia also ruled in favor of the delivery riders. Delivery riders in cities like Barcelona or Zaragoza await an oral hearing for the law to recognize them as employees, based on the judgements pronounced against Deliveroo and Glovo.
And, despite the infinity of reports prepared by the Labor Inspectorate in different provinces, digital distribution platforms continue to operate without a regulation that guarantees the rights of their workers. Also, taking into account that the number of employees in the sector is around 14,337 people, UGT estimates that Social Security lose up to 76 million euros, according to the report on digital distribution platforms by Work, presented last September 6th.
Friends and Comrades, self-respecting people of all organisations and none, Irish or migrants, who understand what it is to resist colonialism and imperialism and exploitation of labour: this is an appeal to act in defence of our self-respect.
As you must all be aware by now, the current Government of the Irish State plans to hold an event honouring the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police in Dublin on the 17th of this month. Some at least are probably already considering how to react to this shameful event; I hope you are and if so, that you will give my suggestions some consideration. If you have not yet decided to respond to this event then I hope all the more that you will consider what I have to say.
The need to protest this event in a large and unified way is great. It is a matter of our self-respect as a nation, as a colonised people (and colonised peoples) that never ceased resisting, as workers, as trade unionists, as Irish Republicans and all varieties of the Left in Ireland.
The RIC and the DMP were not only the eyes and ears of the English colonist regime but also its first rank arm of repression after the British Army; they were the enforcement bodies of the landlords and bosses.
ROYAL IRISH CONSTABULARY
Formed in 1822, the armed nationwide Irish Constabulary got the “Royal” appellation from Victoria, the Famine Queen herself, in recognition of that organisation’s role in the suppression of the Fenian uprising of 1867. During the evictions of poor peasants and agricultural labourers from their lowly cottages and huts, the RIC attended every one, having become the FIRST RANK force of repression in Ireland, the Army being relegated to their backup should it be required. The RIC was the ever-present force of repression during the Tithes War, the Great Hunger and the Land War and was the main force responsible for the suppression of the Young Irelanders in 1848. On 5th May 1882 in Ballina, Co. Mayo, there were children among the slain when the RIC opened fire on a demonstration celebrating the release of the Land League leader prisoners.
During the 1916 Rising, the RIC again played its part in repression of the resistance movement, particularly outside Dublin and it was they who attacked the Kent house in Cork, killing one son and arresting two others, including Thomas Kent which the British colonial regime executed, being one of the Sixteen the British killed in reprisal for the Rising. The RIC was the principal organisation supplying the names of non-participants in the Rising to be arrested and interned in jails and concentration camps in Britain.
After the Rising, the RIC continued one of its main roles as the eyes and ears of the British occupation in Ireland, collecting information on anyone who sang patriotic songs, spoke for independence or against the landlords, joined an Irish cultural organisation, agitated for women’s suffrage, organised a trade union branch ….
It was largely due to this role that the armed Republican forces made the RIC its first target in the War of Independence and in fact, the very first shots of that war were fired at the RIC in Soloheadbeg, killing two of them – this very month, 21st January 1919, 101 years ago and only four days after the date upon which this quisling State plans to honour that force.
When the “Black and Tans” and “Auxiliaries”, the RIC Special Reserve and the RIC Auxiliary Division to give them their official titles, were dispatched in March 1920 at Churchill’s initiative to terrorise and murder Irish people, outside Dublin they became part of the of the RIC and from then on, the existing RIC became responsible not only for its prior crimes but for those of the ‘Tans and Auxies too, such as the many murders, including those of the Mayors of Cork and Limerick; the torture of suspects and violation of women; the burning of farmhouses and cooperatives and even of villages and towns: Tuam, Trim, Balbriggan, Knockcroghery, Thurles and Cork – among others.
In 1922, while the RIC ceased to exist in the ‘Free State’, they became the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the Six Counties, with their even-more murderous reserve, the B-Specials. The B-Specials were incorporated into the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1970 and the RUC was renamed the PSNI (Police Force of Northern Ireland) in 2001. Both organisations have been active in carrying out or in collusion with sectarian murders, acting as members or in collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries and under British intelligence operatives.
DUBLIN METROPOLITAN POLICE
The DMP was the colonial police force specifically responsible for controlling Dublin, the capital city of the colony. During the 1913 Lockout it showed itself capable of serving Irish capitalists, whether native or of colonist background, without discrimination. Indeed the leader of the Dublin 400 capitalists out to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, was an Irish nationalist, Catholic and owner of The Irish Independent: William Martin Murphy.
Apart from any others this force of tall thugs may have killed or fatally injured with beatings in their cells, the DMP killed a number of workers during the eight months of the struggle, raided houses and sent many to jail. Two workers, James Nolan and John Burke, died of their injuries within days of the DMP’s baton charge on a street meeting in Eden Quay just by Liberty Hall on 30th August 1913. The following day, in what became known as Bloody Sunday Dublin 1913, the DMP was in action again on O’Connell Street and in Princes Street, mercilessly beating people there (including those already knocked down), during which they knocked unconscious Patsy O’Connor, a young Fianna boy of 16 giving first aid to one of the wounded. Patsy died two years later from his injuries at the age of 18.
In a rage at the defence by the residents of Corporation Flats of people fleeing the police charge on Eden Quay, the DMP returned there on the 31st, leaving hardly a door or stick of furniture unbroken or person unbeaten, including women and children.
The special political secret police in Dublin were the G Division of the DMP, spying and compiling files on active nationalists, republicans, socialists, suffragettes, Irish speakers, pacifists. After the Surrender of the 1916 Rising, it was they who came among the prisoners to identify them for the British Army, leading to many receiving death and jail sentences. During the 1916 Rising it appears that three DMP officers were killed by the Irish Citizen Army – while many hid in their cells.
During the War of Independence, the DMP G Division spied on and targeted Irish Republicans and other dissident groups. The Irish Republican Army of course targeted this force and killed a number of them. On the day when the IRA mobilised in Dublin to eliminate the special British Army counterinsurgency intelligence network, the DMP and the Auxiliaries seconded to them had already murdered Conor Clune and Volunteers Peadar Clancy and Dick McKee in Dublin Castle.
Later that day, the DMP and RIC went down to attack the GAA and murdered 14 unarmed people, including two players on the field, also injuring 60-70 people.
AN ADEQUATE PUBLIC RESPONSE IS NECESSARY
It is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary, as a matter of self-respect, that we mobilise a public opposition to this disgusting honouring of the spies on our people and the murderers of our martyrs.
There are many ways that this can be done but I would humbly suggest that two in particular are necessary:
A mass public demonstration near the day of the ceremony (or at least near it) and near Dublin Castle (where the event is to be held);
An electronic petition something along the lines of “Self-Respect: Against honouring colonial spies and murderers of our martyrs”.
Although our people have achieved a number of successes in struggle over the years, we have often failed too. In particular we failed to give an adequate response to the visit of the British Queen (and Commander-in-Chief of the Paratroopers) to Dublin, or to Wall of Shame in Glasnevin Cemetery. There were some other visits of notable imperialists which also did not receive an adequate response.
Failure is not fatal and we can recover from it – but we cannot build on failure. We can only build on success. This public response needs to be a success and in order to achieve that it cannot be the response of one organisation or of two but needs to be a broad one in which anyone can take part who are not racists or fascists. In order to achieve that, the organising committee should be broad enough to include activists from across the oppositional spectrum who are not part of a party of government (or part of previous government) in either jurisdiction in Ireland. Such an organising committee should be able to include representatives of socialist and republican parties and collectives and also trade unionists.
A broad demonstration of that kind should be free of paramilitary displays which would represent only a section and quite probably alienate another. But all Irish and migrant community and trade union flags and banners should be permitted (with the exception of racist or fascist ones) and the broad banner on the front should spell the general theme of the demonstration.
I am conscious that I am nobody in particular to make this call but given that I think such a response is necessary and that I really want to see this, I make the call anyway and pledge myself to help.
Racists and Fascists, posing as Irish “patriots”, malign migrants to Ireland and target them in racist propaganda. This is a fundamentally unpatriotic activity, flying against not only our own huge history of migration to other lands but also against the great history of migrants’ contribution to the struggle for Irish independence and socialism.
Of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, two were migrants and a third was the son of a migrant. Of the sixteen of the Rising executed by the English, two were migrants (Connolly and Clarke), another two were sons of migrants (Pearse brothers) and at least six bore family names of foreign ancestry (Casement, Ceannt, Clarke, Colbert, Kent, Plunkett). Numerous migrants took part in the 1916 Rising, mostly from England and Scotland but also some from the USA, one from Argentina, another from Finland and yet another from Sweden).
Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth), feminist, Irish Republican, Socialist, officer in the Irish Citizen Army, first woman elected to the British Parliament, first female Minister of the Dáil and first Labour Minister in the world, was born in England; she was sentenced to death in 1916 by the English but had her sentence commuted. Volunteer Eamon De Valera, a 1916 Rising garrison Commander, was born in the USA to an Irish mother and a Cuban father. The captain of the Asgard yacht that delivered the Mauser rifles for the 1916 Rising was an Englishman, Erskine Childers and among the crew were his wife Molly from the USA and Mary Spring Rice (born London). Childers fought in the War of Independence and the Civil War and was executed by the Irish Free State in 1922.
Jim Larkin, trade union organiser and Lockout resistance leader, who was in the USA during the Rising, was co-founder of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union and of the Irish Citizen Army, also of the Irish Labour Party. Larkin was born and raised in Liverpool and did not see Ireland until sent to Belfast by his England-based trade union.
A LONG HISTORY OF MIGRANT CONTRIBUTION TO IRISH STRUGGLES
The aforesaid should not surprise us as migrants have often participated in struggles for freedom and social progress in their adopted countries and they and their descendants have a long history of taking up those struggles in Ireland – often sacrificing their liberty and even their lives in doing so.
Patrick Sarsfield, a hero of the resistance to William of Orange in the army of James II was of Anglo-Norman descent (he was a prominent member of the Wild Geese and was killed in military service abroad in 1683).
Nearly all the leaders of the Society of United Irishmen, the first Republican revolutionary organisation of Ireland, were Protestants of various sects and descendants of migrants. Henry and Mary Joy McCracken were active in saving Irish traditional melodies; their ancestors were Huguenots (French Protestant refugees). Henry Joy was executed publicly in Belfast by the English in 1798, his sister walking hand-in-hand with him to the gallows. General Henry Munro, another Antrim Unitedmen leader, also executed in 1798, was of Scottish descent. Theobald Wolfe Tone, Anglican co-founder of the Unitedmen and often described as the “father of Irish Republicanism”, was also of Huguenot ancestry; he died in jail in Dublin, while his brother Matthew was hanged. Edward Fitzgerald, another leader of the Unitedmen who died of his injuries in a Dublin jail, was a Protestant and descendant of Norman invaders.
Robert Emmet, another famous United Irishman but martyred in 1803, bore a surname of English origin as did one of his prominent comrades, Thomas Russell (“The Man from God Knows Where”), also executed by the English that year.
The Young Irelanders were the next Irish Republican organisation in history, their leaders a mixture of Protestant and Catholic background. One of the most famous was Thomas Davis, the son of a Welshman in the British Army and an Irish woman descended from Irish chieftain Ó Súilleabháin Béara. Davis founded The Nation newspaper and composed a number of poems and songs, some of the latter being still sung today (e.g A Nation Once Again and The West’s Awake).
James Stephens and a handful of others founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood on 17th March 1858 in Dublin, the third Irish Republican organisation in Irish history and the life of which extended into the 1920s. Stephens is a family name of Anglo-Norman origin.
John Devoy of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the USA, who was very active in supporting the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, carried a family name of Welsh origin. Wales was also the likely origin of the of Michael Davitt’s family name, he who was chief organiser of the Land League’s base membership.
Volunteers Terence McSwiney and Kevin Barry, who both died in the same week in 1920, the first on hunger strike and the second hanged by the English, had family names of foreign origin.
WHO IS NOT A DESCENDANT OF MIGRANTS?
Of course, we are ALL descendants of migrants. The earliest date for human occupation of parts of Ireland has been calculated as being 7,000 BCE. Since the earliest date given for the existence of homo sapiens is 300,000 years ago in the Horn of Africa (although throwing spears in Germany have been assessed as being between 380,000 and 400,000 years old), it follows that human settlement in Ireland was comparatively late and that all Irish are descended from migrants.
Stone age people arrived first, then the metal workers of bronze, followed by people of Celtic culture working iron. Subsequently Ireland saw influxes of other groups, from Norse and Danes when they began to settle in parts of Ireland, followed by their cousins based in Normandy (and mercenaries they brought with them), then English and so on. Religious groups seeking security such as Jews or fleeing persecution, for example the Huguenots, also entered at various times. Just a study of family names common in the Ireland of today reveals some of those ancestries.
The Norse, Danes, Normans and early English came as invaders, some more came subsequently as planters and many others came just to make a living in Ireland, like most migrants of today. But descendants of all those groups, including of invaders and planters, contributed to and even led the struggle for Irish independence and social progress. Not only that but a significant number of those who arrived as migrants themselves took a stand for Irish independence, some of them paying the ultimate price.
Far from being “patriotic”, maligning migrants simply for being migrants is counter to the history of the general struggle for Irish independence and of Irish Republicanism in particular. It actually undermines the unfinished struggle for Irish independence and unification as well, of course, as the struggle of the working people for socialism.
TRADUCCIÓN AL CASTELLANO:
LOS INMIGRANTES EN LA HISTORIA IRLANDESA
Los racistas y fascistas, haciéndose pasar por “patriotas” irlandeses, atacan a los inmigrantes en Irlanda en su propaganda racista. Esta actividad es fundamentalmente antipatriótica, que vuela no solo contra nuestra enorme historia de migración a otras tierras sino también contra la gran historia de la contribución de los inmigrantes a la lucha por la independencia y el socialismo irlandés.
De los Siete Signatarios de la Proclamación de Independencia de 1916, dos eran inmigrantes y un tercero era hijo de un inmigrante. De los dieciséis del Azamiento ejecutados por los ingleses, dos eran inmigrantes (Connolly y Clarke), otros dos eran hijos de inmigrantes (hermanos Pearse) y al menos seis tenían apellidos de ascendencia extranjera (Casement, Ceannt, Clarke, Colbert, Kent, Plunkett). Numerosos inmigrantes participaron en el Alzantamiento de 1916, principalmente de Inglaterra y Escocia, pero también algunos de los EEUU, uno de Argentina, otro de Finlandia y otro de Suecia).
Constance Markievicz (soltera Gore-Booth), feminista, republicana irlandesa, socialista, oficial del ejército ciudadano irlandés y primera mujer elegida para el Parlamento británico, la primera mujer ministra del Parlamento irlandés y primera ministra femenina de trabajo del mundo, nació en Inglaterra; fue condenada a muerte en 1916 por los ingleses, pero la conmutaron la pena. El voluntario Eamon De Valera, un comandante de la guarnición del Azamiento de 1916, nació en los Estados Unidos de una madre irlandesa y un padre cubano. El capitán del yate Asgard que entregó los fusiles Mauser para el Alzamiento de 1916 era un inglés, Erskine Childers y entre la tripulación estaban su esposa Molly (de los Estados Unidos) y Mary Spring Rice (nacida en Londres). Childers luchó en la Guerra de la Independencia y la Guerra Civil y fue ejecutado por el Estado Libre de Irlanda en 1922.
Jim Larkin, organizador sindical y líder de la resistencia al Cierre Patronal, que estuvo en los EEUU durante el Alzamiento, fue cofundador del Sindicato de Trabajadores Generales y de Transporte de Irlanda y del Ejército de Ciudadanos de Irlanda, también del Partido Laborista. Larkin nació y creció en Liverpool y no vio Irlanda hasta estar enviado a Belfast por su sindicato con sede en Inglaterra.
UNA LARGA HISTORIA DE CONTRIBUCIÓN MIGRANTE A LAS LUCHA IRLANDESA
Lo anterior no debería sorprendernos, ya que los migrantes a menudo han participado en luchas por la libertad y el progreso social en sus países adoptados y ellos y sus descendientes tienen una larga historia de asumir esas luchas en Irlanda, a menudo sacrificando su libertad e incluso sus vidas al hacerlo. .
Patrick Sarsfield, un héroe de la resistencia a Guillermo Naranja en el ejército de Jaime II de Gran Bretaña, era de ascendencia anglo-normanda (era un miembro destacado de los “Gansos Silvestes” y fue asesinado en el servicio militar en el extranjero en 1683).
Casi todos los líderes de la Sociedad de Irlandeses Unidos, la primera organización revolucionaria republicana de Irlanda, eran protestantes de varias sectas y descendientes de inmigrantes. Henry y Mary Joy McCracken fueron activos en salvar las melodías tradicionales irlandesas; sus antepasados eran hugonotes (refugiados protestantes franceses). Henry Joy fue ejecutado públicamente en Belfast por los ingleses en 1798, su hermana caminó de la mano con él hacia la horca. El general Henry Munro, otro líder de Los Irelandeses Unidos de Antrim, también ejecutado en 1798, era de ascendencia escocesa. Theobald Wolfe Tone, cofundador anglicano de los Irelandeses Unidos y a menudo descrito como el “padre del republicanismo irlandés”, también era de ascendencia hugonote; murió en la cárcel de Dublín, mientras que su hermano Matthew fue ahorcado. Edward Fitzgerald, otro líder de los Irelandeses Unidos que murió por sus heridas en una cárcel de Dublín, era protestante y descendiente de invasores normandos.
Robert Emmet, otro famoso de los Irelandeses Unidos pero martirizado en 1803, tenía un apellido de origen inglés, al igual que uno de sus camaradas prominentes, Thomas Russell (“The Man from God Knows Where”), también ejecutado por los ingleses ese año.
Los Jóvenes Irlandeses fueron la próxima organización republicana irlandesa, sus líderes una mezcla de antecedentes protestantes y católicos. Uno de los más famosos fue Thomas Davis, hijo de un galés en el ejército británico y una mujer irlandesa descendiente del jefe irlandés Ó Súilleabháin Béara. Davis fundó el periódico The Nation y compuso una serie de poemas y canciones, algunas de las cuales todavía se cantan hoy (por ejemplo, A Nation Once Again y The West’s Awake).
James Stephens y un puñado de otros fundaron la Hermandad Republicana Irlandesa el 17 de marzo de 1858 en Dublín, la tercera organización republicana irlandesa en la historia de Irlanda y cuya vida se extendió hasta la década de 1920. Stephens es un apellido de origen anglo-normando.
John Devoy, de la Hermandad Republicana Irlandesa en los EEUU, que fue muy activo en el apoyo al Alzamiento de 1916 y la Guerra de la Independencia, llevaba un apellido de origen galés, lo qual también fue el origen probable del apellido de Michael Davitt, el principal organizador de la membresía base de la Liga de la Tierra.
Los Voluntarios del IRA Terence McSwiney y Kevin Barry, quienes murieron en la misma semana en 1920, el primero en huelga de hambre y el segundo ahorcado por los ingleses, tenían apellidos de origen invasor.
¿QUIÉN NO ES UN DESCENDENTE DE MIGRANTES?
Por supuesto, TODOS somos descendientes de migrantes. La fecha más temprana para la ocupación humana de partes de Irlanda se calculó ser en 7,000 aC. Dado que la fecha más temprana dada para la existencia del homo sapiens es hace 300,000 años en lo que hoy es Marruecos, se deduce que el asentamiento humano en Irlanda fue relativamente tarde y que todos los irlandeses son descendientes de migrantes.
Primero llegaron personas de la edad de piedra, luego los trabajadores metalúrgicos de bronce, seguidos por gente de la cultura celta que trabajaban el hierro. Posteriormente, Irlanda vio la afluencia de otros grupos, de nórdicos y daneses cuando comenzaron a establecerse en partes de Irlanda, seguidos por sus primos con sede en Normandía (y mercenarios que trajeron con ellos), luego ingleses, etc. Los grupos religiosos que buscaban seguridad como los judíos o huían de la persecución, por ejemplo los hugonotes, también ingresaron en varios momentos. Un estudio de apellidos comunes en la Irlanda de hoy basta para revelar algunos de esos antepasados.
Los nórdicos, daneses, normandos y los primeros ingleses llegaron como invasores, algunos más llegaron posteriormente como plantadores y muchos otros vinieron para ganarse la vida en Irlanda, como la mayoría de los inmigrantes de hoy. Pero los descendientes de todos esos grupos, incluidos los invasores y plantadores, contribuyeron e incluso lideraron la lucha por la independencia de Irlanda y el progreso social. No solo eso, sino que un número significativo de los que llegaron como migrantes tomaron posición por la independencia de Irlanda, algunos de ellos pagando el precio final.
Lejos de ser “patriótico”, difamar a los migrantes simplemente por ser migrantes es contrario a la historia de la lucha general por la independencia de Irlanda y del republicanismo irlandés en particular. De hecho, mina la lucha todavía inconclusa por la independencia y la unificación irlandesa, así como, por supuesto, la lucha de los trabajadores por el socialismo.
A Catalonian firefighter and trade unionist addressed a Dublin audience to talk about the independence for Catalonia movement and the role of the trade unions in it, the repression from the Spanish State and the how the firefighters found themselves between the rampaging Spanish police and referendum voters on the 1st of October 2017.
With some words in Irish and then speaking in English, the Chair of the meeting, Marc Loan of CDR Dublin welcomed the mostly-Irish audience to the meeting in Club na Múinteoirí (Teachers’ Club) on 13th November and outlined how the presentation would go, before opening up to questions and contributions from the audience. The meeting was part of a short tour of Irish cities by a Catalonian firefighter and trade unionist, organised jointly by three Ireland-based organisations in solidarity with Catalonia: With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, ANC Ireland and CDR Dublin.
The room lights were dimmed and an electronic presentation operated by Carles Pujol of the Irish branch of the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia) took the audience through dates in the history of Catalonia as a nation and its relationship with the Spanish Kingdom. Then the presentation switched to some dates in international recognition of the right to self-determination of peoples, before focusing on the fairly recent attempts of the Catalan Government to legislate for its needs, legislation reduced or eliminated by subsequent judgements of the Spanish court. And thence to the Referendum on Independence of 1st October 2017, at which point the Chair presented the guest speaker.
The Chair introduced the firefighter from Catalonia, a slim tanned man in his forties, with shaved and balding head and lively brown eyes. Oriol Duch had the previous day addressed an audience in Derry, hosted by Derry Trades Council and the day before that in Queen’s University Belfast, organised by Belfast ANC. Mr. Duch had worked at one job or another since the age of sixteen, had been a firefighter for 15 years and a member of his union, Intersindical CSC, for seven of those. From its website, Intersindical declares itself to be a class trade union, which is to say that it specifically excludes members of state repressive forces, senior officials of state departments or management officials of companies. Mr. Duch is employed as a firefighter at the Girona Airport, Catalonia but also volunteers for the firefighting service of the Catalan Government administration, the Generalitat.
“WE ARE NOT HEROES”
As Oriol Duch spoke about the involvement of the firefighters as a defensive screen for voters in the October 1st Referendum in Catalonia, the projection screen showed massive crowds marching and demonstrating for independence. Catalonian firefighters had taken part in uniform in a number of those demonstrations for the democratic right to self-determination and had organised a demonstration of their own (seen on the poster for the speaking tour). The firefighters had discussed what to do since the Spanish Government had threatened the Referendum organisers and social media was full of threats too from right-wingers, including Spanish police officers and Army members. They knew that among the masses coming out to vote, there would be vulnerable people including the elderly and children and decided that those who wished to would turn out voluntarily in their uniforms and stand between the Spanish police and the crowds wanting to vote.
Manus O’Riordan, whose father fought in the International Brigades at Gandesa, mentioned a song for Catalonia he had liked and sang his translation of it into English there and then. As the applause died down, an Irish voice called for the national song of Catalonia, a song of workers’ resistance, the Els Segadors (the Reapers), which all Catalans present sang, the whole audience standing in respect.
Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chair thanked the guest speaker, the panel and the audience for their attendance and contributions (a thanks separately expressed by Oriol Duchs too) and encouraged them to keep in touch with the three solidarity organisations. He also expressed the organisers’ gratitude to the Dublin Fire Brigade and to the Teachers’ Club.
On the day, the firefighters distributed themselves around in a number of places, Oriol Duch told his audience, by ad hoc arrangements, the organisers arranging by texts to send firefighters to areas where they were felt to be needed. On the Sunday in question, as voters queued outside the polling stations, mostly schools closed for the day, convoys of police arrived with Spanish police in riot gear who charged into the buildings, breaking down doors and windows, to beat people and seize ballot boxes. They also attacked people waiting to vote with batons, boots and fists, Oriol Duch said, as the firefighters attempted to stand between the unarmed civilians and the police. Over 800 people that day had required medical treatment, he said (including a number of firefighters).
As the firefighter from Catalonia spoke, the presentation began to show scenes of Spanish police beating people with their truncheons, throwing others to the ground, kicking and punching them, pulling people by their hair and putting them in choke holds
“People have called the firefighters heroes but we do not see ourselves that way,” he said. “We were doing what we could to protect people and save lives, which is what we do in our job.”
A MASS MOVEMENT FOR SELF-DETERMINATION
The Catalonian movement for independence is a mass movement that has been built especially by grassroots organisations, which have pushed the Catalan independentist political parties forward. Chief among these grassroots organisations is the National Assembly of Catalonia (whose former President, Jordi Sanchez, is one of the independentist activists jailed recently by the Spanish court). Firefighters for the Republic, of which Oriol is an active member, is a sub-group of the ANC.
Since the police attacks, others have come forward to direct mass resistance, in particular after the jail sentences of 9-13 years on seven elected public representatives and two leaders of grassroots organisations (ANC and Omnium Cultural) were announced in October. The “Catalan Tsunami” organisation contacted supporters through social media and masses followed their direction. For example, when the call to flood the Barcelona Airport with people had gone out, thousands had walked kilometres to get there and despite police violence, had effectively shut the airport down for hours. More recently, people had for a weekend closed by blockade one of two main motorways from the French State into the Spanish one, which passes through Catalonia (the other, passing through the Basque Country, was more recently shut down by Basques also — CS).
Oriol Duchs told the Dublin audience that the repression of peaceful people by the Spanish State included heavy jail sentences for “sedition” and police attacks on people in the street, “including firing rubber bullets, the use of which are banned in Catalonia but that is ignored by the Spanish police”. News media has reported that victims of rubber bullets fired at close range directly at people, contrary to instructions on their use, have caused a number of people recently to lose an eye. However, the police cannot control the masses of people, Oriol said.
After the applause for the Catalan firefighter had died down, the Chair opened the meeting to questions and comments from the audience.
Among the comments was that of an Irish woman who had been in Catalonia during the Referendum and talked about the frightening advance of the Spanish police in their riot gear and with their weapons. She disagreed with what Oriol Duchs had said in only one particular: “You ARE heroes”, she said, to applause and cheering from the audience.
An Irishman who had been there too as an international observer spoke about the police attack, which he said was fascist in nature. Another Irishwoman who had been there in a similar capacity said that she had witnessed much police violence but that the scenes depicted on the screen had reminded her just how violent those had been. She asked what people in Ireland could do to help.
From the panel the advice was to support Catalonia solidarity activities, to stay in touch through of the Catalonian solidarity organisations in Dublin, whilst from the floor an Irishman said that people should tell the elected public representatives what was going on and call for statements of support and interventions to the Spanish Government.
This brought about discussion of the posture of the Irish Government, as in recent Dáil questions to the Depart of Foreign Affairs, the responsible Minister of State had reiterated the Government line, that it was an internal matter for the Spanish State, that the rule of law had to be maintained and that the Spanish State is a democratic one with separation of judiciary and government executive. An intervention from the floor pointed out that one of the TDs (parliamentary delegates) had pointed out that in 1919 the First Dáil (Irish Parliament) had declared its independence of Britain and issued a call to the democratic nations of the world asking for recognition, although it was in violation of British constitution and law. The First Dáil had been declared illegal a few months later and its delegates hunted, arrested and jailed. “Catalonia today is Ireland 100 years ago,” he had said. Without the stance taken by that First Dáil, predecessors of all other parliaments of Ireland since, the present Government would not even exist nor would that Minister’s Department, the man commented..
“The struggle in Catalonia and the repression by the Spanish State is not ‘an internal matter for the Spanish State’”, Oriol Duch said. “It is a problem for Europe.”
Manus O’Riordan, whose father fought in the International Brigades at Gandesa, mentioned a song for Catalonia he had liked and sang his translation of it into English there and then. As the applause died down, an Irish voice called for the national song of Catalonia, a song of workers’ resistance, the Els Segadors (the Reapers), which all Catalans present sang, the whole audience standing in respect.
Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chair thanked the guest speaker, the panel and the audience for their attendance and contributions (a thanks separately expressed by Oriol Duchs too) and encouraged them to keep in touch with the three solidarity organisations. He also expressed the organisers’ gratitude to the Dublin Fire Brigade and to the Teachers’ Club.
Some of the attendance stayed around in the bar area to discuss for another hour or so.
According to information contained in a press statement issued more recently by the speaking tour organisers, Oriol Duchs the following day paid a fraternal visit to a fire station of the Dublin Fire Brigade, as well as to the DFB’s Training Centre and Museum and was given a conducted tour of all three facilities. Also in Dublin, the firefighter had visited Leinster House hosted by Independents For Change TD Thomas Pringle, where he had met TDs Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind4C), Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Sinn Féin) and Éamon Ó Cuív (Fianna Fáil) along with Senators Paul Gavan and Máire Devine (both Sinn Féin). In a related but separate building he had also met with TDs Gino Kenny and Richard Boyd Barrett (both members of Solidarity/ People Before Profit). Oriol Duchs also took part, shared with a Kurdish representative, in a seminar on international law organised by the Law faculty of Griffiths College, Dublin.
In Belfast on Monday he had spoken in Queen’s University Belfast without contact with any political representatives but in Derry had met Eamon McCann and Shaun Harkin, both members of Solidarity/ People Before Profit and public representatives on Strabane and Derry District Council, as well as Elisha McCallion, Sinn Féin MP for Foyle at Westminster,
He met too with Derry Trades Council which, indeed, had hosted his public meeting in that city. How was it then that, considering his publicity promotion as a trade unionist, member of a trade union that organised three general strikes in Catalonia since 2017, the press statement issued by the speaking tour organisers included no mention of engagement with Irish trade unionists in Dublin, in a city where so many Irish trade unions had their head offices?
“That was not for want of trying,” responded Diarmuid Breatnach, a member of With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, to the question. “We contacted a number of trade union organisations in Dublin in order to host a public meeting or to meet with Oriol privately. One trade union quoted us commercial hire prices and failed to respond afterwards, another promised a meeting but failed to make arrangements, a number simply did not reply. It was sad, really, not only for solidarity with Catalonia, for I think Irish trade unionists would have benefited much from the interaction with Oriol and his trade union.”
Hopefully they will display a different attitude to any future such visits.
ORGANISATIONS IN DUBLIN (joint organisers of the speaking tour)